Monday, March 2, 2015

Ooh-La-La Lentils

I'm not sure if it's something that comes with age or what, but I'm totally finding new love for simple foods.  A decade ago, I would have found bread and butter dull and lifeless.  I wouldn't have thought that a good broth could be an experience.  I would have told you that lentils were bland and boring.  And I would have been wrong on all three counts. Quality ingredients prepared with a patient hand and a seasoned palate can elevate even the simplest of dishes.

Let's go back to those lentils.


Lentils have iron, protein, folate, fiber...they're pretty much a super food.  They've been cultivated and eaten by cultures around the world for pretty much forever, providing nourishment to our ancestors.  They are plentiful and affordable.  And, on top of all that, they are delicious.

There are many different types of lentils, but for this dish, I go for French green lentils.  They're a little harder to find than brown or even red lentils, but they have a great size and texture, and their flavor has a little something extra that I just can't get enough of.  This is basically my version of what I call "Stanley Tucci's Lentils", because his lentil recipe in The Tucci Table inspired me to enjoy them more often. You can serve this dish over rice or with a nice baguette on the side, or just eat them as is on their own.  I like the baguette route, because it mentally transports me to a European countryside, where I can sit enjoy the fresh air as I eat a rustic bowl of lentils.

First, chop up an onion, 2 cloves of garlic, a stalk of celery, and a carrot.  Heat a good couple of glugs of olive oil in a large pan, then saute the veggies over medium heat until they are soft.  Try not to let them brown at all.  Lower the heat if needed.


Rinse 3 cups of lentils, then add them to the pan, tossing so the the olive oil covers them.


Cover the lentils with chicken stock until they are fully covered by at least 1/4 inch.  You can use water too, but I like the flavor that the stock adds.  Sprinkle in a bit of cumin, some fresh ground pepper, about a teaspoon of salt, and a bay leaf.  Give it a stir and bring it all to a boil.


Once the lentils are boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for about 30 minutes, until the lentils are the texture that you want.  I prefer a bit al dente, but not crunchy.  Check the lentils to make sure that the liquid has not all boiled out, and add water if necessary.


Chop up some parsley and zest a lemon, and toss all that into the cooked lentils.  Take out the bay leaf.  Taste and season as necessary.  I like to squeeze a wedge or two of lemon in mine.


This is a hearty side dish, a great nutritious small meal, or even a healthy snack.  It reheats like a dream, so if you make plenty, it can last you a while.  You can also take leftovers and simmer them up in some more broth with some chopped tomatoes for a fantastic lentil soup.  Looking for something with a little more crunch?  Mix leftovers with some seasoned breadcrumbs and an egg and then pan fry spoonfuls in olive oil to make lentil fritters.

So...how do you feel about lentils?

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Honey Poached Pineapple

Some things are too good not to share.  But then again, some things are so good that you want to hoard them all to yourself, and hide in a closet eating a whole bowl of them without sharing with anyone else.  I'll let you decide where this one falls, but I will say this: Honey Poached Pineapple is a revelation.


I feel extremely lucky to have a library that appears to appreciate good cookbooks, and I recently checked out Fresh Happy Tasty, an amazing cookbook by Jane Coxwell.  It's a great source for flavor-packed recipes and gorgeous food-porn type photos.  On first skim, there were at least a dozen recipes that I couldn't imagine not trying, but this one stuck in my head the hardest.  The honey poached pineapple recipe looked simple, but my foodie senses were tingling, especially when she mentioned serving it with fresh mint, because mint and pineapple are one of those flavor combinations that make me absolutely swoon with happiness.  So, I grabbed a fresh pineapple and gave it a go!

It doesn't take long, and I know that a lot of people will scoff at the idea of cooking a pineapple in any way, but I'm telling you right now, this stuff is magical.  It's sweet, but has such great depth of flavor.  Your tongue and your belly will both be happy.  Happier than happy.  Ecstatic!

The original recipe called for half a pineapple, but really, what are you going to do with that other half?  Plus, once you taste the poached pineapple, you're immediately going to regret not making more, so why not just go all out and poach the whole thing?

Now, I'm not sure that I can pull off this first prep paragraph without sounding like a spoiled, pretentious snob, so please note the sarcastic tone in which I'm going to throw it all out there like Martha or Gwyneth, and please bear with me.

When preparing pineapple, I find it best to use the method of Hawaiian natives (or a girl who lived in Hawaii that I met once).  During my time on the islands (honeymoon, over a decade ago), our wonderful guide (on one river kayak tour) demonstrated this traditional (or not) method of slicing a fresh pineapple straight from the pineapple fields (or her knapsack), and I was enticed both by her skill and by the deliciousness of the pineapple (probably because I was starving from all the paddling and that was the first food we'd had in an hour or two).  As the scent of plumeria (which it turns out I am highly allergic too and spent a couple of days with a swollen face from sinus issues) filled the air, I knew that I had found my true Ohana (which means family...I learned that from Lilo and Stitch).

But seriously, that woman did wonders with a knife, and I have used her pineapple prep method ever since.


Cut off the top and the bottom of the pineapple.  Then cut it into quarters.  Slice the outside rind off in strips.  Then take out the hard core with an angled slice.  After that, you can cut it however you need for what you're making.  For this recipe, cut it into cubes, about an inch big.


In a large pan, stir together 2 cups of water and 1 cup of good honey.  Someday I'll write a post all about honey and bees, but for now, suffice it to say that my stance is to get your honey locally.  Bring that to a boil.


Add 2 cinnamon sticks, one vanilla bean that has been sliced lengthwise and had the seeds scraped into the mix, and the zest of an orange.


Reduce the heat and add the pineapple.  Give it all a stir.  The next trick is to take a sheet of parchment paper (the book calls for waxed paper, but you know how I love parchment paper) the size of your pan and crumple it up.  Then uncrumple it and place it on top of the pineapple brew in the pan.  It helps keep more of the liquid in the pan, which, believe you me, is a very good thing.


Simmer it gently for 12-15 minutes.  Check it once in a while to make sure that the simmer is not too vigorous.  The pineapple will deepen it's yellow color, and it should be tender.  And it will smell fantastic!


Take out the cinnamon stick and let it cool slightly before serving.  If you want, you can store it in the fridge for several days.  I took a couple of jars to a friend's house for brunch, and it was a hit with everyone who tried it.

The suggestions in the book are to try it over yogurt with a little granola.  Mine never made it that far.  My preferred method is to spoon it into a bowl and then eat every last morsel, including sipping the poaching liquid.


This dish is sweet enough to stand as a dessert as well, and would be great as a healthy end to a meal.  It's full of flavor, and feels like a real treat, but without a ton of added ingredients.  Truly phenomenal.


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Honey Cardamom Dutch Baby

If you've been reading my blog for a while, you might already know that I am big on breakfasts.  Bacon is a close friend of mine.  Muffins and I are tight.  Waffles practically stood up for me in my wedding.  You get the idea.  I just love breakfast foods!

So, one of the breakfast foods that I think everyone should make at least once in their life is a good Dutch baby.  And I'm not just saying that because I'm half Dutch.  They are simple, gorgeous, and delicious.  Everything I adore in a breakfast food!


Monday, January 26, 2015

Decadent Hot Cocoa with Coconut Milk

It's still cold outside.


I am one of those extra-annoying people who love winter.  I love all the seasons, in their own time, but my love for winter seems to especially annoy my friends.  I can't help it.  Snow is like a magical covering that makes everything beautiful and sparkly.  Plus, what better excuse is there to stay in by a fire and eat all the delicious warming foods and drink amazing hot drinks...like hot cocoa!


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Hot Buttered Rum - Hot Buttered YUM!

*Warning*
This recipe is full of things that are not great for you in excess that taste delicious together.  I will make no health claims, but I will anecdotally tell you that when I feel myself getting the chills and possibly coming down with something, a hot buttered rum tends to chase it off.  Use judiciously.

In all seriousness, our highs this week are barely in the positive single digits.  The world is covered with a blanket of sparkling icy snow, and school has been cancelled because wind chills today are supposed to hit -30.  So the kids and I are bundling up and heading over to have a no-school playdate with friends.  And, well, mom friends need a little fun and warmth too, so I'm bringing the fixings for hot buttered rum!

Risotto Soup

It's so cold out right now.

Seriously.  Our highs this week barely hit the double digits.  On weeks like this, it's hard to avoid soups.  Delicious, delicious soups.  I could definitely live on soup.

One of my favorite soups to whip up for myself for lunch is Risotto Soup.  It's simple, takes very few ingredients, and is quick to throw together.  It's also decadent, rich, and filling.


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Potato Leek Pancakes

Chicago has a great holiday tradition of holding a Chriskindlmarket downtown, and, of course, I go there for the food.  I have to grab my tiny ceramic boot of mulled wine (more for the boot than the wine), the bite-sized nibbles of glazed gingerbread, the aromatic candied nuts, and a plate full of the crispy hot latkes.  My family has learned the routine, minus the wine for the kiddios, and we look forward to heading down and gorging ourselves through the market.

But there are times when you want a good latke and there doesn't happen to be a handy Old World German market around.  Then, you have to take matters into your own hands.
One of the things I love about doing the CSA and my garden is being able to stretch the veggies out into the winter.  I had a bed full of leeks in my garden, and they have kept pretty well in my fridge for months!  And the CSA brought us plenty of potatoes that keep very well in the pantry.  And leeks and potatoes happen to be an awesome combination!

Potato leek soup is pretty much a given, but once in a while, I like to stretch and make some Potato Leek Pancakes.  Same great combo of the oniony flavor of the leeks and the starchy potatoes, but in snackable bites!