Ina’s lentils

Wow. It’s been so long since I’ve posted here that WordPress had stopped auto-saving my username and password. That’s gotta change.

I’ll cut right to the chase — it’s cold here. 8-10 inches of snow cold. From an anti-winter person’s perspective, this is not ideal. So, what do you do when the wind practically numbs your nose off the minute you step across the threshold of your front door? When you literally have to psych yourself up to leave the safe confines of your apartment to face the blistering outdoors? (Too much?) You make the time you have indoors as toasty and make-you-forget-about-what’s-right-outside-your-window as possible.

This brought me to lentils. And really, these are pretty remarkable.

As many of you may already be aware, like many people out there, I consider Ina Garten’s cookbooks to be pleasure reading. The pages are smudged and folded as if they have been splattered with various soups and stocks while cooking away in the kitchen. More likely, however, is that they are smudged and folded from me reading and flipping through them as much as I do. “So,” you’re asking yourself, “why all the flipping and reading and lack of cooking?”

If you’re familiar with the premise of Ina’s show you know that her concept is based on stress-free entertaining, i.e. when she cooks things, she is cooking for a party, many people, or both. Well, I’m looking around my apartment and I’m seeing one person. And she can’t eat an entire rack of lamb, Ina. Sorry.

So, her recipes don’t always translate well in terms of cooking on a smaller scale. However, if you take a little time and use a bit of savvy, you can make it work. Maybe you need to cut down the recipe, maybe you can freeze part of the dish, or maybe you can find something you don’t mind eating over and over again. That’s what I did with these lentils, from her latest book How Easy Is That? I eat them all week — at first simply steaming in a bowl, then cold the next day, then a big scoop on top of a bed of greens (think chicken or egg salad on top of a green salad). Three easy steps and everything’s ready.

Without further adieu, a slightly modified version of Ina’s French Lentils. I hope they bring you as much warmth as they have for me. Or maybe you don’t have to wear at least three layers of clothing before simply heading out to the trash dumpster 20 feet away and don’t need the extra warmth. Either way, eat these.

-a

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Barefoot Contessa’s Warm French Lentils

• 2 T + 1/4 c olive oil

• 1 leek, white and green parts, sliced thin

• 2 carrots, diced

• 1 T garlic, minced

• 1 c lentils

• 1 whole onion, peeled

• 1/2 t ground cloves

• 4 t Dijon mustard

• 2 T red wine vinegar

• 2 t salt

• 1 t pepper

– Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a medium pan and add the leek and carrots. Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, then add garlic. Cook one more minute, set aside.

– Meanwhile, place lentils, 4 cups of water, the onion, and ground cloves in a large pot and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, add leek mixture, and simmer uncovered for ~20 minutes (until the lentils are almost tender). Remove and discard the onion and drain the lentils.

– While the lentils are cooking, make the “dressing” — whisk together 1/4 cup olive oil, the mustard, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Stir into the cooked lentil mix and serve.


Thanksgiving past

I know it’s been two weeks already, but it seems Thanksgiving was just upon us. I’m still reading about how to recycle leftover turkey and cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes and dressing and…

This year’s Thanksgiving was a new experience for me: the cheese shop was open both the day before and after the holiday, as retail stores tend to be, so time allotted to travel home was next to nil. Not only was I away from family for the holiday (for the first time ever! if you don’t count that year I had pneumonia) but the acquisition/consumption of a Thanksgiving meal was squarely set upon my own shoulders. No problem there! Because I wasn’t cooking for a crowd, just a mere two, I made a mini menu that I think worked out pretty well: turkey breast wrapped around apple-fennel stuffing (i.e. “stuffed”), roasted garlic buttermilk mashed potatoes and gravy, root veggies, cranberry relish, and pecan pie. Not bad.

There was one Thanksgiving element I missed out on that resonated with me more than anything, though: pumpkin pie. In my opinion, and maybe this is just my damn sweet tooth talking, pumpkin pie is almost more essential to a Thanksgiving meal than *gasp* the turkey. I know that’s basically sacrilegious to say, but I think for me it’s true. Or maybe I just love desserts. Either way…

So, I had a pumpkin void to fill but only my own mouth to feed. Yes, I could probably tackle a whole pie, but no one wants to see that. What to do?

I found this great recipe on Dashing Dish, one of the many food blogs I follow like a crazy person. These mini pumpkin pies are perfect because a.) they’re pretty darn healthy (something insane like 40 calories each?!) and I don’t feel bad eating a plate-full, and b.) it’s a muffin-tin recipe, and if you know me even a little you know I will always gravitate toward those.

The pies are super-quick to make and, more importantly, to bake. (Short waiting period until eating!) Now I know there are some purists out there who think using a food processor is cheating (no sensual connection through your hands, blah blah blah) and I’m usually right there with ya, but using one here almost makes this recipe too easy. So, I did. However, I’m sure mixing it by hand would be fine too, maybe with a little different texture as a result. Enjoy!

-a

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Mini Pumpkin Pies

• 1/2 cup egg whites

• 1/2 cup pumpkin (I used canned, but if you’re feeling adventurous…)

• 1 t pumpkin pie spice (blend of cinnamon, cloves & nutmeg is fine)

• 1 cup sugar* (I actually used a little less)

• 1/2 cup low-fat cottage cheese

• 12 wonton wrappers

** Optional: whipped cream

– Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray.

– Blend all ingredients (except wonton wrappers) in food processor until smooth.

– Press wonton wrappers into prepared muffin cups.

– Equally distribute filling into each muffin cup.

– Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the center of each mini pie is just set. Top with whipped cream and sprinkle with cinnamon, if you want. And you’ll want.

* Instead of sugar you could substitute in 1 teaspoon of Stevia, the herbal sweetener, which the author of Dashing Dish seems to have an affinity for, but I didn’t have any so I used sugar.

P.S. Here’s the one down-side to the new apartment that I love (pictures to come): no dishwasher. Boo.


Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

MISSION:

1. Find new job in Madison, must be food-related.

2. Search for new apartment at impossible time of the year, i.e. when no one is renting.

3. Find new tenant to re-lease current apartment.

4. Prepare for impending doom, or rather, Wisconsin winter.

5. Keep sanity.

Time lapsed: 3 weeks. Accomplished.

Yes, it’s a lot. At times I can feel the weight of all the change, other times I kind of float though it, numbed. I know this is what I should be doing no matter the stress level. It’s an “unconventional route,” whatever that means, but what’s right is right.

“I am thankful to all those who said no to me. It’s because of them that I did it myself.”                           – Albert Einstein

Instead of sitting at a desk under artificial light working on health software I now work in a cheese shop. It’s called Fromagination and it’s a complete 180° from where I was. (Also, my official job title is “cheesemonger.” How great is that!) All day I learn about farmers from WI and the products they make. I get to hear their stories, meet their family members, and taste the foods they put so much care, so much thought, into. I know this may sound “food-nerdy” of me, but it’s amazing how much better a food can taste when you have someone there, standing next to you, sharing with you that particular food’s story. Just as the home cook hopes his or her family will find joy in the meal set at the dinner tab, I can see the anticipation and hopeful approval in the eyes of these farmers when we showcase and sample their wares in our shop. I can also see their pride when a customer takes a bite and closes their eyes with gastronomical approval.

Or maybe that was me, over-enjoying almost everything I eat. Either way.

And so, I sit at my kitchen table (well, my only table) with my view out at the Madison capitol building for one of the last times before I move… in two days… with nothing yet packed. Moving an entire apartment across town in two days can’t be that hard, right? It really is only a short distance, about 1.2 miles away, so it should be no sweat. I’ll keep telling myself that.

On another note, another thing I’ll keep telling myself is that “winter won’t be so bad,” up here in a place that experienced a windy snow day in the beginning of November, that has to shut down its airport mid-April because of snow and ice, and that is filled with people who don’t bat an eye at days where it’s 20°… BELOW. That’s a lot of nay-saying, I know. I think it’s me being prematurely crotchety. I’ll just have to transform myself into one of those people who don’t mind not feeling their faces when they leave the warm confines of their apartment.

In other news: cooking! The last big outdoor farmers market was this past weekend and I tried to soak up the (surprisingly large) bounty while I still could. I really have fallen in love with roasting — I challenge anyone to use a different cooking technique that changes almost anything you choose into its most delicious form (deep-frying doesn’t count) — and this week it was all about brussels sprouts.

Like many people I know, I thought the only form of brussels sprouts were green spheres of slime that grown-ups somehow managed to choke down. Not anymore! Roasting keeps a slight bite in the center while crisping up the papery edges of the outer leaves. Squeeze a little lemon juice over them while their still hot? All set.

Why are they called brusselS sprouts, anyway? Always plural? I’m pretty sure it doesn’t have a connection with Belgium. Talk to you soon, post-move!

-a

P.S. Just found a picture on Google and loved it — if you ever fly to Madison you can have this view of the isthmus from your window!

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Roasted Brussels Sprouts

• 1 lb. brussels sprouts, stems trimmed and outer (possibly browned) leaves removed

• 2 T olive oil

• big pinch of salt

• smaller pinch of pepper

– Preheat oven to 400°F.

– Simple: after prepping all of your brussels sprouts, put the sprouts on a foil-lined baking sheet. Pour oil and spices over the sprouts and toss. Arrange in single layer.

– Roast for 35-40 minutes, tossing a couple times to roll them around evenly. When finished, outer leaves should be slightly browned and crispy.

** Optional: squeeze on some lemon juice just before serving


to Chicago!

One of the perks of being up here in Madison is being within sane driving distance of Chicago. I used to think driving more than a half hour made any destination unworthy, but something about heading towards those big buildings and lake shores makes it all worth it. I would probably make the drive if only to get Intelligentsia coffee and ride the L, call me a nerd all you want. Who knew you could be in love with a public transit system?

This time my excuse to head down to Chi-town was a one-day culinary school experience at The French Pastry School, a super-fancy pastry school right next to the *ahem* Willis Tower downtown. A friend generously gave me a gift certificate for the program a few weeks back and I have been counting down. It was my first formal culinary experience and I’m still confused as to how I thought there was a possibility to walk away not liking it:

school (love) + cooking = obvious fit

Needless to say, I had a great day. We made dark chocolates filled with caramel ganache (hard!) and a roasted pineapple in a vanilla butter reduction, topped with mango sorbet, reconstituted basil seeds, pecan espresso tuiles, and a honey lemon madeleine on the side. Whew.

School aside, my favorite moments visiting Chicago occurred in the surrounding neighborhoods rather than downtown. I have particularly fallen in love with the Lincoln Park/Wicker Park/Lakeview area. Duhh. Who hasn’t. This past trip I got to stay with my cousin, Kara, in Wicker Park. She lives above a handmade craft/vintage clothing store, right on a main drag — café next door? Check. Cute bay window to people-watch below? Check. Nice digs. She works at a restaurant downtown, Sable, and I was lucky enough to get in last-minute on a busy weekend night. Gotta love that family discount connection. I had the veggie sliders and corn crème brûlée. Wow. Good cocktails don’t hurt either.

I also managed to hit, once again, my favorite café in town, Floriole, with my good friend, Matt. I read about Floriole, I think, awhile back in one of the many food blogs I follow, Lottie + Doof. It’s in the Lincoln Park-ish neighborhood, near DePaul University. If you ever have a chance to go, I can’t recommend it enough. I’ve been for coffee, breakfast, and now lunch. Hopefully Matt and I can continue the tradition of visiting there each time I’m in town. (Any takers?)

I made it to almost all of the places on my ever-extending list. Even tracked down Ann Sather, a place Rachael Ray visited for marscarpone-stuffed, batter-dipped, fried french toast sandwich thing. I couldn’t go that far, but you can see even their regular cinnamon rolls are monsters — look at them compared to my measly fork!

There was one place I was unable to cross off my list, however: I have tried three separate times, without success, to sink my teeth into some hot churros from Rick Bayless‘s Xoco. It will be conquered, though. Don’t you worry about that.

Recipes to follow soon!

-a


delays and changes

Have I really been absent since March?…Yes, yes I have.

Much has happened! Like the “about” section of this blog explains, I did not end up somewhere warm as I had hoped/promised, dear readers — presently residing in Madison, WI. Love the town, great people, nervous about the up-coming blizzard season that has been “predicted.” I moved here for a job that didn’t last. I could obsess over that awhile if I wanted, but c’est la vie. So it didn’t work out, oh well. As my new favorite quote says:

“Failure is only the opportunity to start again, this time more intelligently” – Henry Ford

SO, I’m starting again, hopefully more intelligently (?). The *tentative* plan is: stay in Madison, work a couple different food-related jobs (food? huh? that doesn’t sound like me at all), get a real strategy together, see what happens in Fall 2012. (read: move? culinary school? warmth? yes)

More recipes/pictures to follow soon. Sorry for the gap in updates, I’m back in the saddle now.

-a


cornflake chicken

Oh, hey 1950’s!

Cornflake chicken. Until a few weeks ago, I had never experienced cornflake chicken. It is a repeating staple for a wonderful couple for whom I cook, though, so I get to have it every week! Needless to say, it is currently my favorite chicken recipe.
Cheap, easy, modifiable. You can switch up almost every ingredient in this dish — even the meat! Not a chicken fan? I bet a nice pork chop would be delicious. Cornflakes provide a nice crunch to the outside, but crushed-up crackers (something whole grain would be good) or Panko bread crumbs could substitute for the exterior breading.

This recipe is also great because it can easily be modified to feed one person, or twenty!
Here’s the combo I have been eating recently, serving four people…

-a

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Cornflake Chicken
(courtesy of Mr. & Mrs. Mallor)

• 4 chicken breasts
• 2 T mayonnaise (<– Isn’t that unhealthy? It will keep your chicken moist!)
• 2 T plain yogurt
• about 1 cup cornflakes, crushed
• 1/2 T ground mustard
• honey
• salt and pepper

everything you will need

– Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with foil and lightly coat with cooking spray.
– Season chicken breasts liberally with salt and pepper (Remember: chicken is pretty bland. It needs seasoning help.).
– Mix mayo and yogurt together on a large plate. You could season with more salt and pepper, if you want.
– Crush cornflakes. A resealable bag works great here. Dump crushed cornflakes onto a large plate and add the ground mustard. Mix around with your hands so the mustard is distributed evenly.
– First, dunk all sides of the the chicken breasts in the mayo/yogurt mix. Shake off any excess. Second, coat chicken breasts in cornflake/mustard mix.

yogurt dunk

cornflake dunk

– Put chicken breasts on the foil-lined baking sheet. Drizzle honey over each breast.

– Cook for about 25 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through.
(If you are unsure about your chicken being done, check it! My roommate, Sam, cuts into everything he cooks — don’t worry! This never affects the taste :))

ooooh yeah


the first of many muffins to come…

Muffins have a soft spot in my heart (and stomach). Healthy, covered with icing as a cupcake, veggie-filled — it doesn’t matter. An individual cake, just for me, in a special little wrapper package? Perfect.
This is one I make quite often. The recipe is basic and fast and, with some of my modifications, I never feel guilty about eating more than one (which happens every time I sit down to eat one). It’s also great because, with a longer cooking time, it can be converted into a loaf of banana bread. Double yum.

This recipe has been adapted from one I found awhile back from The Fresh Loaf. I have changed a few things from the original: I use applesauce in place of some of the butter, and I substitute half of the flour with whole wheat flour for added texture (and to be healthy). I also sprinkle oats on the top of my muffins, just for a little cute touch.

-a

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Banana Nut Muffins

• 1/2 cup applesauce (plain or cinnamon)
• 1 T butter, softened
• 2 eggs, room temperature
• 2 or 3 ripe bananas
• 1/2 – 2/3 cup sugar (depending how sweet you like your bread)
• 2/3 cup whole wheat flour
• 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
• 3/4 t salt
• 1/2 t baking soda
• 1/4 t baking powder
• 1/2 t cinnamon
• 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped (or, your favorite nuts – maybe even chocolate chips!)
** optional: a pinch of additional spices, like nutmeg or cloves

– Preheat oven to 350°. Spray muffin tins with cooking spray or line them with paper muffin cups.
– In a large bowl, combine applesauce through sugar. Mash with a fork. Leaving lumps of bananas is a good thing!
– In a medium-sized bowl, mix together all the dry ingredients.
– Add the dry mix to the banana mix. Stir in walnuts. Spoon mix evenly into muffin tin.

fill the muffin cups almost all the way up with batter

– Bake for about 20 minutes (depending on your oven), or until a toothpick comes out clean.
Note: Make sure not to over-bake these. With the whole wheat flour in there, it’s easy to get a tough and dry muffin with over-baking.

I broke into one so fast I almost forgot to take a picture...