Thursday, February 21, 2013

| cheap red wine lentils |

About a month ago, I was invited to a potluck lunch with some midwives. I love spending time with amazing women and I had a hunch that midwives would know how to COOK, so I went. I was not disappointed. This is, most definitely, the best lentil recipe I have ever tried (and, believe you me, I have tried many). I want to carry it in my pocket to hand out to people when they ask me what to cook with lentils. Which actually happens pretty often. Last week I was buying lentils at the store and the cashier said, "What do these taste like? I see people buying them all the time." I replied, "Um....they kind of taste like beans. They kind of take on the taste of whatever you cook them in. I don't recommend eating them plain because they also taste like dirt."

I am seriously thinking about printing this recipe and taking it to her so she can go to lentil heaven. And I hate using my printer. This recipe is that good.

(Original recipe from Deborah Madison's The Savory Way but it has been altered a bit)

You can use regular old lentils, no problem, but those little French green ones make the best version.  Here's the straight recipe (which you should double if you want to feed more than 3 people), plus my comments:

1 cup lentils: soak in hot water while you get started.

Melt together in a large pot 1T each butter and olive oil, and in them fry up a finely diced small onion, 2 garlic cloves, 2 bay leaves, and a pinch each of thyme and marjoram.  Add a handful of finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, and stir in a spoonful (t or T) of tomato paste.  Here comes the fun part: pour in 2 cups of cheap, fruity red wine (this is the perfect use for boxed wine; I used Franzia's sangria wine for the ones you had) and bring it to a boil.  Let it boil off the alcohol for a full minute, dump in the soaked lentils, plus some salt, return to a boil and then turn it down and let them slow cook.  Depending on how much water they soaked up, you may need to add more liquid.  It can be water or broth; the batch you tasted had a fair amount homemade turkey stock in it, and I do think that enriches the dish.

Expect to cook them 40-60 minutes.  Check for saltiness and correct that, then before serving give them a dash of red wine vinegar to spike everything up, a bunch of black pepper, and if you are so inclined, another T or 2 of melted butter or really good olive oil.  Throw another handful ofparsley in/on, and that's it.  

The friend I got it from told me it goes great with fine toast. I went out on a limb and make some buttermilk biscuits to go with it. Don't have a favorite buttermilk biscuits recipe? I gotcha covered. This recipe is from a friend of mine who is from Alabama, so you know you're in good hands.

2 1/4 cups self-rising flour (or 2 1/4 cups flour and 1 T baking powder)
1 t sugar
1/2 t salt
1/4 t baking soda
1/3 cup shortening (I used coconut oil)
1 c buttermilk (you can put 1 T of lemon juice in a measuring cup and then fill to 1 cup. Let stand 5 minutes to curdle)
Melted butter for the tops

1) Heat oven to 450.
2) Mix dry ingredients and cut in the fat. 
3) Add the buttermilk slowly, stirring as you go. The mixture should pull away from the sides and form a very wet dough.
4) Roll out on a floured surface. I don't even use a rolling pin...just kind of smoosh it down. You want it to be thick - about 3/4-1 inch thick. 
5) Cut into 3 inch rounds (I use a juice glass). 
6) Place on ungreased baking sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes. Brush tops with butter and bake a few more minutes, until golden brown.

Yield: 7-9 biscuits

Monday, February 18, 2013

| better than canned |

I know this may come as a surprise to you, but I secretly love spaghettios. Well, I thought I did. But I bought a can about a year ago and almost gagged when I tried it. Not sure why...I loved those things as a kid. Luckily for me, one of my friends gave me a recipe for something she calls wagon wheel pasta that tastes a lot like the spaghettios of my memory. Here is my version:

12 ounce box of ditallini (or other tiny pasta)
1 can tomato paste
1/2 t garlic powder
1 T sugar

Combine tomato sauce with about two cans of water, garlic, and sugar. Bring to a boil. Add pasta and reduce to a simmer. Cook until pasta is done. Stir frequently or it will get stuck to the bottom. If it gets too dry, just add more water.

And while I am on the subject of recipes that are better than canned....can I get a holla for homemade FRUIT SALAD? My favorite thing right now is to cut up a bunch of fruit (pineapples, strawberries, kiwis, bananas, apples) and then add a healthy dose of lemon juice and some sugar and water. Then...the secret ingredient? A dash of cinnamon. So good.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

| shepherd's pie again |

I've been making vegetarian shepherd's pie for several years now. It's always a little different and has never been quite tasty enough for me to write down the recipe. Last week I made two - one for us and one I took over to a friend. She reported back to me that her preschooler ate two slices (my preschooler, on the other hand, never touched his, though he did enjoy helping make the pie). She asked me to write down the recipe, so here it is. I do think this one was finally worth writing down.

You've got basically four components happening here: mashed potatoes, lentil filling, cream of mushroom sauce, and pie crust. If you need to shortcut you can obviously use cream of mushroom condensed soup (I'd add a little milk) and ready-made pie crusts. But if you're going fully from scratch, here's everything you need to do.

  1. Boil water and peel potatoes. You're going to need a fair amount of mashed potatoes for the top of your pie. I'm going to assume you know how to make mashed potatoes. I'd recommend using about 2 pounds of raw potatoes.
  2. Heat your favorite cooking oil in a wide saucepan that has a lid (you'll need it later). Dice a small onion, a couple cloves of garlic, one green pepper, and about a cup of mushrooms. Saute them until they start to get soft.
  3. Add about 1/2 cup of dry, uncooked lentils to the saute. Keep it heating for about 5 minutes as the lentils get toasty.
  4. Add some seasonings - I like to use thyme, paprika, marjoram, poultry seasoning, oregano (maybe not all at once, but some combination of them). Also salt and pepper.
  5. Add about a cup of red wine. Doesn't have to be the good stuff. Stir and reduce the heat so the mixture just simmers. Cover it up.
  6. Keep an eye on your lentils as you make the pie crust. When the liquid gets all absorbed check to see if the lentils are done. If they are not, then add more wine (you didn't drink the rest of the bottle did you?) and keep coking.
  7. Pie crust. Use your favorite recipe. If you don't have one, I like this one and I use refined coconut oil in it   instead of shortening, which I never have on hand.
  8. Almost done! You need cream of mushroom soup. It's actually pretty darn easy to make. Chop up about 1/2 cup of mushrooms very fine. Heat 2 T of butter in a saucepan. Once it is melted, add the mushrooms. Once they are looking sautéed, add 2 T of flour and stir until the flour starts to get a little golden. Add 1 cup of milk and continue stirring over medium heat until it thickens. Turn it off.
  9. When your lentils are done and you've got your potatoes mashed, assemble the pie. Dump your mushroom soup into the lentil mixture (the wine should be all cooked off). Pour the lentil/soup mixture into the pie crust. Top with potatoes. Bake at 350 for about 45 minutes, or until the crust looks golden. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

| cooking up cleaners |

If you cook, you probably also have to clean. I've been making my own cleaning recipes for about a decade now and I thought it might be nice to share my three absolute favorites. These are the ones I use on a weekly basis. If I were better at cleaning, I'd probably use them on a daily basis, but, whatever.

All you need to make the recipes below is:
- water
- tea tree oil
- baking soda
- liquid dish soap
- olive oil
- lemon juice

Chances are good you already have most of these sitting around in your house!

For cleaning up countertops after cooking, light dusting on non-wood surfaces, and anything I'd usually use 409 on I use a spray bottle filled with water and about 10-20 drops of tea tree oil. Tea tree is a natural disinfectant and has a nice smell (at least I think so - if you end up hating it, use lavender instead. It also has antibacterial properties.). You can keep this on hand indefinitely.

If I get sick of the tea tree smell, I sometimes go back to a vinegar/water mix. I do about half and half. Same uses.

For my kitchen sink, stovetop and all my bathroom surfaces I make up a batch of soft scrub. This one you have to make each time you use it, but it takes all of 15 second to whip up. If I'm cleaning a bunch of stuff, I'll put about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of baking soda in a cup and then add about 1-2 tablespoons of liquid detergent. I stir it up well and then lather it on a sponge for cleaning. If I'm just cleaning the sink or the stovetop, I just sprinkle the baking soda directly on the wet surface, then squirt on soap and rub it all together with the sponge.

For everyday cleaning of our wood table, I usually just spray it down with the tea tree water (warning: don't use the vinegar spray on wood). Once a week or so, I do a more thorough cleaning with olive oil and lemon juice. I take an old prefold diaper (any soft cloth will work but diapers are awesome because they are so soft and absorbent in the middle) and pour on about a tablespoon of oil. Then I take my fancy schmancy bottle of "real lemon" lemon juice out of the fridge and pour on an equal amount of lemon juice. I rub it all over the table and then use a tea towel or other clean cloth to buff off any oily residue. The table looks and smells amazing. And that's saying a lot considering our table is a 12 year old JC Penney special that we bought for about $200. 

If you use real lemons you could also take the juiced peels and rub them all over your kitchen sink to help it smell yummy. Another good use for lemon peels is cleaning wood cutting boards. Put a healthy amount of coarse kosher salt on the cutting board, then scrub it all around with the lemon peel. Let it rest for a minute or two, then rise off.

So there they are. My favorite cleaning recipes. If you just used these three recipes above, you could, quite literally clean most of your house. And you could stop wasting your money on $7 bottles of stuff that pretend to be organic and natural. Speaking of which, if you can handle coarse language, you need to check this out because it's hilarious.