SOTW: Crock Pot Creamed Lentil Soup

Yeah, I know we have lentil problems.  A lentil fixation.  A lentil leaning, as it were.  The truth is that lentils may well be the perfect legume, hearty full of all the goodness that the legume family can bring, but so very forgiving because they are so small.  Didn’t soak?  Bah.  Running out of time?  Never fear.  Lentils are the home cook’s best friend.   Lentils are easy, cheap, delicious, nutritious, and friendly to those of us who are a little lacking in the planning department.  If you haven’t drunk the kool-aid (and I am speaking purely figuratively here because I really, really don’t want you to drink kool-aid) on lentils with us before, it is high time that you did. Continue reading

Carb Attack – Another Warm Loaf for Ya

Gosh I can’t tell you how many nice comments I got from you folks about our recent weather situation.  We lost power for a few days.  Words of encouragement were a little light in the cold darkness during those days.  Our situation was nothing, I mean nothing, compared to what is happening in so many places north of us.  The Red Cross is collecting donations to assist the folks of the Northeast in their recovery which looks to be long and heartbreaking for so many.  I am humbly aware that we were lucky and that our luck was not shared.

Given the relative brevity of our power outage and the lack of damage to our health, hearth and home, I have to admit that there were parts of our little house in the prairie experience that I didn’t mind so much.  I’m down with lantern light, going to bed earlier, more blankets and cooler temps at night, and less noise from the outside world in my home through screens and such.  I did learn some lessons, a few of which are relevant to our food related endeavors.

First and foremost, when a major storm is predicted in your area, follow each and every dishwashing/kitchen cleanup with a resounding and thorough round of garbage disposal running, no matter who is already in bed.  Run that puppy until rocks would be gone.  Several days worth of sticking my hand in there to get whatever was still blocking the holes and clogging the sink was gross and became more so as time marched on.  Secondly, I learned that I use the oven to cook far more than I realized.  We are lucky enough to have a gas stove, so with the old fashioned magic of a match we were able to cook the food that was on the verge of spoilage, but I kept walking to the oven to turn it on.

And so, in celebration of having power (and I don’t mean to brag if you don’t have it yet and are only online through some sort of bizarro iPad WiFi hotspot like we had rigged), I’m spending this week on comfort food.  And with the news of a Nor’Easter getting ready to power its way up the coast on Wednesday, I admit to a desire for a little comfort and a ready supply of deliciously simple food.  Today I offer you a rustic expression of my eternal devotion to the carbohydrate.  Say what you will, but I believe in bread, bread with limitations (whole grains, no dairy), and maybe not so very much bread all the time, but I believe in bread.  They don’t call it the staff of life for nothin’ friends.

While trying to choose what to bake, I remembered a super yummy loaf that I made last year, when I still ate a lot of cheese, and began to wonder…  and play.  I dug out my cookbook to find the recipe that prompted the previous yum and a few hours later (in time, not effort, this is the joy of homemade bread) yum again, and this time with no ill effects for me.  Yay!

Peppery Cheeze Bread – inspired by Peppered Cheese Bread in Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (yes, you should get it)

  • 1 1/3c warm water
  • 2 1/4 t active dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 t salt
  • 1 t fine ground pepper (I used white in a foolish attempt to hide it)
  • 1 t red pepper flakes
  • 1 beaten egg (I used flax)
  • 4 c white whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 c sunflower cheeze

Pour warm water into large bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer) and stir in the yeast.  Allow to sit about 10 minutes or until slightly foamy.  Add salt, pepper, pepper flakes, all but 1 T of the egg and all but one cup of the flour.  Mix or stir until smooth.  Add sunflower cheese.  Mix or stir to incorporate.  Add remaining flour in bits and mix until incorporated or stir until too heavy for the spoon.  For stand mixer, change over to dough hook and knead for about 5 minutes.  If mixing by hand, add the rest of the flour and knead by hand to incorporate.  Continue to knead by hand (folding the dough in on itself repeatedly and pushing it flat) for about 5 minutes.  Put the dough in an oiled bowl, turn over once, cover and place in warm spot to rise for about an hour (until doubled).

Push the dough down, turn it out onto the counter or a floured surface.  Shape into a ball.  Cover until doubled, another 45 minutes to an hour.   Preheat to 375 during the last 15 minutes of rising. Slash an X on the top, brush with olive oil.  Bake on a preheated stone or pan for 45 minutes and cool on a rack.  Allow to cool at least 10 minutes before you cut in and devour it, wisely dipping it into some amazing soup I’ll share in a few days.  Delish.  Warm, flavorful and deeply comforting.

Interested in more whole grain bread?

Interested in a gluten free side for soup like dosas or soccacia?

Wondering what’s in our pantries…. it’s coming, I promise.

Keep It Simple, Remember?

I have to admit that from time to time, well okay most of the time, I get a bit carried away in my enthusiasm. I am prone to getting sucked in by some food porn. I occasionally strive to recreate some gastronomic experiences from days gone by while vacationing somewhere exotic (before kids). It’s so easy to get caught up in the desire to make something fabulous and to forget that sometimes the best dishes are those that require amazingly little. I’m sure I’ve mentioned her before, but if you don’t believe me about the stunning dishes that can be made with short lists of ingredients and relatively few high end tools or techniques, check out Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. The book is full of dishes that highlight the spectacular flavors that can be found with delicious ingredients combined with care.

Now, I am in no way comparing myself to Deborah Madison (rather providing her as a resource for further and more refined recipes than I could ever hope to achieve), but I’m pretty darned proud of the simple and lucious dinner that I put together last night. Being behind the eight ball on time, I did a quick fridge check, saw leftover rice and cremini mushrooms. Another look around the kitchen yielded handfuls of fresh basil leftover from the pesto this weekend, pine nuts, and a lemon. Done. This was so easy I’m a little embarrassed to share it, but it was so yummy that I would feel mean if I didn’t tell you about it.

Mushrooms Pignoli

  • Cooked short grain brown rice
  • Cremini mushrooms, sliced thick
  • Olive oil and salt for pan
  • pine nuts
  • fresh basil, cut (not minced)
  • lemon wedges (optional)

I’ve left out measurements because, as is our tradition, we left it all separate and combined it at the table, allowing each person to adjust the ratio of individual components to their own liking.  Warm olive oil in pan over medium heat.  Add mushrooms and sprinkle salt over them.  Let them alone for long enough to get a little caramelization (some browning that is yummy – if you move them too much, they will not brown, which will still taste very good).  Flip the mushrooms over to let the other side brown a little, but take them off the heat while they still have some moisture left in them – don’t let them dry out.  There.  You’re now done cooking.  Serve mushrooms over rice, with pine nuts (you could toast these for more yum), a sprinkle of basil.  You can also add some lemon if you need a little acid and it will be delicious, but I liked the extra earthiness of the dish without the lemon.  You could also, obviously, add parmesan, but I didn’t find it necessary so went without.  Simple, elegant, comforting, easy, and absolutely delish.

Want to go a step further?  Grow your own darned mushrooms in a laundry basket like the eco-geniuses at Milkwood did.  Yes, I said a laundry basket.  Check it out.  These folks are uber inspiring.

Favorite Chef Gush

Once again I am reminded that good food is just a few steps away, in the pages of my Deborah Madison bible, I mean cookbook.  A fabulous friend introduced me to this book and my kitchen has not been the same since.  Just to be clear, I am not a vegetarian, at least not at the moment; however, for the past few years my family and I have been pursuing a diet that includes less meat and highlights as many vegetables as possible.  Madison’s book title is absolutely spot on.  The dishes she includes can be eaten as an entree, or a side dish and are all based on the principle that real food tastes good and that real food combined in just the right way is transcendent.

Our recent Deborah Madison experience was her Chickpeas with Potatoes and Tomatoes.  Know what’s in it?  Mostly chickpeas, potatoes and tomatoes, along with a few other items for flavor like onion, garlic, carrots, herbs and seasonings.  It is exactly the kind of dish that I love to find.  The ingredients list doesn’t take up the whole page, is markedly lacking in exotics, and the procedure is 5 sentences long; the results are spectacular.  Because I’ve made this dish, I have children who eat chickpeas and enjoy it.  The first time I made it, my husband and I enjoyed it and my children passed, instead eating the rice and yogurt I served alongside the dish.  The second time, my son joined us; my daughter stayed in the resistor’s camp (this is actually where she lives most of the time, occasionally emerging to visit the rest of us).  This time (what’s that about the third time being the charm?), everyone played.  It still wasn’t her favorite, but she REALLY loved the chickpeas and the rest of us loved the whole thing, this time served with quinoa.  Deborah Madison knows what REAL food is all about.  Essential ingredients in combinations that entice the senses and tickle the taste buds rather than drowning them.   The more I set my palate free from factory food and chemical habituation, the more I am able to appreciate the simple and spectacular on my plate.  My body already thanks me; and now, having been at it a while, my children do too.  Life in the kitchen is grand.