Saturday, October 31, 2009

Now posting on: Improbable Pantry

I started this blog in October 2008, and have had a year to play with sharing my food experiences with you.  I've been wanting to make some changes, not the least of which was the name.  So, I've rebranded as Improbable Pantry, and hope you follow me over there.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Cold snowy Sunday in October

Every once in awhile, I follow a recipe start to finish, paying careful attention to every ingredient, every measurement, every nuance, to make sure I get it just right. More often, though, a recipe will get me thinking, and the thought evolves over time. Sometimes a few minutes, sometimes hours and sometimes days. As the time unfolds, the possibilities do as well. And what I imagine at the beginning, turns into something very different, influenced by my mood, the day, what I have, whether I'm in the mood to try something different, or the weather.

A few days ago, I saw Heidi Swanson's recipe for red lentil soup pop up on her blog. It got me thinking about lentils. I liked her simple recipe -- red lentils, onions, brown rice. Nothing to it. Except I didn't have any red lentils in the house, and plenty of those plain-looking brown ones. I did have lots of onions. And I'd been wanting to do a simple lentil soup flavored with lemon, perhaps with a little spinach. Simple.

Then, Sunday came, and it was snowing here in Boston. Snowing. In mid-October. I drove up from New York City in the snow, and was looking forward to an afternoon of hanging out at home, warming up the house with something fragrant and slow cooking. I am, to my core, a sucker for an everything-but-the-kitchen sink stew. I just get started, and don't know when to stop. And there were older veggies that needed eating up. Carrots, celery, potatoes, onions, scallions, lemons. I slowly shifted gears from a simple lentil soup, perhaps as an appetizer to something else, to a lentil stew that would keep us warm while it was cooking, while we were eating, and for the next few days. Intrigued by Heidi's brown rice, I decided to go for something that didn't take so long to cook -- bulghur, and which proved to provide a silky texture to the whole shebang.

Snowy Sunday Afternoon Lentil Stew

6 cups chicken stock (or water, or vegetable stock, or whatever)
1.5 cups brown lentils (pick out stones or dirt, and rinse)
1 large onion, roughly chopped
2 medium potatoes, diced
2 carrots, sliced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 cup medium bulghur
1 bunch spinach, chopped
2 scallions, minced
zest of one lemon
lemon juice, to taste
soy sauce (a tablespoon, or to taste)
parmesan cheese, finely grated
salt and pepper

Saute the onions and garlic in a few glugs of olive oil, until the onions are soft. Add the potatoes, carrots, lentils, and bulghur; stir, and cover with the stock. Bring to a boil and simmer for 20-40 minutes. Add water as needed to maintain a soupy, stewy consistency. When the potatoes, carrots and lentils are soft, and it all starts to meld into a stewlike consistency, add the spinach and lemon zest. Cook some more until the spinach wilts. Turn off the heat.

I let it sit on the stove for an hour or so, letting the flavors meld (and waiting for us to be hungry). About 15 minutes before showtime, crank the heat back up to high until it boils, reduce to a simmer, and season. I added salt and pepper (about five or six big pinches of salt).

At this point, you have a blank palette, and you can do anything. I kept it simple, and added the lemon juice and a little soy for umami taste. Other options: chili powder, cayenne, pimenton (smoked paprika), red pepper flakes, cumin, cinnamon -- depending on your mood. I kept it simple, and added the parmesan and minced scallions at the table. Serve with hearty bread, and it's a meal, with plenty of leftovers for another time.

I stopped short of overdoing the flavorings, keeping it very simple. Susan was enthralled with the subtle flavor of the lemon zest. (And I was enthralled with CREATING the lemon zest, with my new microplane -- what took me so long to pick up that fabulous tool?) I am not used to cooking with flavors that don't bonk you on the head, demanding to be paid attention to. So I added a tablespoon or so of lemon juice. But that's it. The taste was rich, but not overpowering. Warming. Perfect for the day.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Start with the spinach


Friday night, tired and wired, contemplating a quick call to the takeout joint. But it was COLD in the kitchen, and I figured cooking would warm it up. It always does. And cooking does tend to improve my mood. But I really didn't want to make a big deal of it. I just wanted to eat.

Unlike most days, I hadn't been pondering the contents of the pantry and fridge in between phone calls at the office, so I was starting from scratch. For starters, there was the spinach in the fridge, from Wednesday's farm share. It wouldn't last long. Boiling some water for pasta would be easy. And warm up the kitchen pretty quickly while fixed some other things.

A half tomato sitting in the basket. Cooking might improve it's flavor -- the tomatoes hadn't been great so far this year, so cooking would be kind. And there was another big one just sitting there, so I sliced half of it. And onion. Onion makes everything taste good.

But wait. I ran out of garlic the other day and hadn't replaced it. Enter the year-old pesto cubes in the freezer. I'd been wanting to use those up for awhile. They really won't last much longer. They have garlic in them.

So. Olive oil heating on the stove, add a vidalia onion (from the share), when translucent, add the tomato (from the share). Cook for about 15 minutes while the water heats up. Fascinating how cooking tomatoes this way will reduce them to almost nothing and concentrate their flavor. When the water boils for the pasta, add a pound of whole wheat penne, which will cook for 10 minutes, and set the timer for 8 minutes so I remember to add the chopped spinach to the pasta pot a minute or so before it's done. Remember the spinach? When the spinach goes in, add the pesto cubes to the skillet, and cook a little more. Then, at the last minute, on an inspiration, toss in a frozen cube of year-old tomato concentrate. Salt and pepper

Drain the pasta when it's done, rescuing a coffee mug full of liquid in case I need it to moisten things up a bit, and add the pasta to the skillet, for a nice quick meal.

Parmesan cheese would have been a nice addition, but somehow, it had disappeared, so I substituted the parrano cheese, which worked nicely.

Gourmet cuisine? No. A good hearty meal for one with leftovers for whomever was around over the weekend. Yes.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Roasting the box

The box today came with a surprise -- corn. It's OCTOBER! And a winter squash, on top of the two I already had. Plus a load of greens, on top of the bok choy I still had leftover from the trip to the Super 88 a week and a half ago. (Those bok choy are pretty resilient!) What to do?

It's time to kick off roasted vegetable season!

Peel and cube the squash into large bite size chunks, and get them roasting in a thin coat of olive oil at about 350.

After about 15 minutes, add one ear of corn (roll it in the oil already in the pan, and add some butterflied bok choy, also rolled in the pan. And add 5 or 6 cloves of garlic -- just toss them in.

While those are going, get some quinoa in the rice cooker. I like to use the regular yellow quinoa, with about 1/8 red quinoa, for a little visual interest.

Keep checking on the veggies. The bok choy were the first to finish up, so I pulled them out, put them on a large board, and chopped them roughly. Then the corn, cutting the kernels off the cob, and finally the squash and the garlic. They all went into a large bowl, with some salt and pepper. That's it, and then squirt in the soft roasted garlic, stir around and serve with the quinoa.

The squash and the corn had enough flavor and sweetness to carry the dish, with little surprises of roasted garlic every once in awhile. Susan wanted a little more "something" and added a touch of soy sauce.

I find the combination of roasted vegetables and quinoa goes well for a meatless meal, with the quinoa providing the protein component. I love how the orange veggies add color and sweetness, whether they're squash, yams, or carrots. And potatoes are always great -- and I have a drawer full of them thanks to Enterprise. Or, if you want some meat, add a sausage to the roasting pan (just one's enough) and add to the mixture.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Secret ingredient brownies


Susan's sister Elizabeth was in town over the weekend, and somehow the conversation turned to brownies. How does that happen? In any case, she was very excited about these, with a secret ingredient - black beans. I'd seen a recipe for black bean brownies before on Heidi Swanson's blog, 101 Cookbooks, and had been intrigued, so when Elizabeth's recipe arrived by e-mail today, I ran out for a can of salt-free black beans, and got to it. I left the walnuts out, just because Eleanor always makes them without nuts (even though she's not home -- go figure). Susan couldn't wait for them to cool, and when they did, we were both thrilled with the result. Tasty. Good texture. Next time I may add five minutes to the 30 minutes.

They use 1/4 the sugar of the baker's chocolate package recipe. And no one would know that they had beans. The recipe comes from the Whole Foods website.

Next time I may try 101 Cookbook's version, which uses agave nectar. Or maybe I'll swap in the agave in these. Stay tuned.

Flourless Brownies

Makes 16

1 (15-ounce) can no-salt-added black beans, drained and rinsed
3 large eggs
1/3 cup melted butter, more for the baking dish
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon gluten-free vanilla extract
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons cane sugar
1/2 cup gluten-free semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup finely chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 350°F.

Butter an 8-inch baking pan. Place the black beans, eggs, melted butter, cocoa powder, salt, vanilla, and sugar in the bowl of a food processor and blend until smooth. Remove the blade and carefully stir in the chocolate chips and walnuts. Transfer mixture to the prepared pan. Bake the brownies for 30 to 35 minutes, or until just set in the center. Cool before cutting into squares.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Cooking what's inside the box

The fridge was full of farm share that hadn't been eaten, and I was going away for a few days, which meant that Saturday night was cook the farmshare night.

Tomatillos. I'd never cooked with these before. I've seen them before, but had never been moved enough to buy them. But there they were, a bag of perhaps a dozen plastic bag tied at the top, each in it's green husk. A quick perusal of my usual online recipe sources turned up little else than roasted tomatillo salsa. So I figured I'd go with the flow and make some. Since I'd never cooked with them, I figured I'd make this up as I went, tasting often along the way to get a feel for the fruit.

Roasting the tomatillos seemed to be pretty standard, and I saw two different approaches, both involving the broiler. In one, they're done whole, and moved around a bit during cooking to avoid burning. In the other, the tomatillos are halved, with no turning. I started out with the first method (why bother halving them if I don't have to (halve to?), but after a little while I saw the advantage of a stable flat surface, pulled them out, halved them and put them back.

The tomatillos by themselves are a bit sour, but not unpleasant. Susan was horrified...she was expecting something tomato like, with some sweetness, and the only resemblance really is the appearance. I thought that adding some lime juice might add a little interest, and onions and jalapeno peppers a little bite.

At the same time I broiled the one remaining chili pepper from the week before, and then remembered that I'd want to roast up some onions. These were all done dry, without oil.

In the meantime, I steamed the three ears of corn, figuring those would go well in the salsa.

Once everything was cool (well...tepid anyway), I chopped up the tomatillos, onions, pepper, cut the corn off the cob, added some lime juice, a bit of olive oil and salt and pepper, and served them up with some tortilla chips (the black sesame and flax version from Trader Joes).

The lime juice and onions worked well to temper the sour of the tomatillos, and the little bit of hot pepper added some interest. Two of the ears of corn added some sweetness. The recipes I looked at said that this should be better the second day, so Susan will have to fill me on that aspect. If I came across tomatillos again, I'd probably make something similar, but I'm curious about other uses.

Simple recipe:

- A dozen or so tomatillos, halved
- Two ears of corn, steamed for ten minutes, cut off the cob
- One hot pepper, halved and seeded
- One onion (not sure what's an elongated thing from the share box)
- Salt and pepper
- Juice of two small limes
- tablespoon of olive oil

Roast everthing under the broiler under they start to char just a bit. No oil needed. Chop, combine and add salt, pepper olive oil and limes. Taste, and adjust seasonings to your liking.

In the meantime, I had a bunch of dinosaur kale, and some beet greens. The lesson with the beet greens is to eat them within a day or so of arrival, because they don't keep well. But the dinosaur kale kept nicely, and I went with a pretty much straight rendition of Molly Wizenburg's recipe on her Orangette blog -- braised kale with garlic, onions and chickpeas. The key here is the low heat braise of the greens to bring out some sweetness. I added kernels from the last ear of steamed corn as well.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Weekend lunch al fresco

Summer's waning, it's not too hot anymore, but very pleasant to sit (in the sun!) in the backyard. What better than to put together the salad-ables from the farm share into an afternoon respite from the house chores.

Several handfuls of arugula and mixed greens
Tomato, diced
Cucumber, diced
Leftover corn on the cob, de-cobbed
Can of white kidney beans
Mint, chopped
Juice of one lemon
Olive oil, couple of glugs
Tahini, a tablespoon, or more to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste

Just throw in the veggies, and dress by drizzling the oil, lemon and tahini, then mix. Serve with a hearty bread.