Lunch lessons

At the risk of sounding like a nagging mother, you should never be too busy to eat well.
I know it’s hard to find time to cook with that full-time job, that silly commute, that passel of children or others who need constant care. I know you like to see your floors, have clean clothes to wear and retain some semblance of a social life.
But, really, you owe it to yourself to drive past the drive-thru.
Consider making weekend batches of soup that can be jarred and frozen, then reheated quickly in a workplace microwave.
Take some time to prep a pile of fresh greens, veggies and toppings and then divide it into Ziploc bags with small containers for dressing. Simply pour, mix and shake out onto a paper plate.
If you’ve made a roast, meatloaf or grilled chicken over the weekend, make extra for sandwiches. Even cheeses or spreads with fresh greens make a tasty sandwich or wrap.
And in the winter months, earthy stews in a wide-mouthed thermos can make your whole day better.
For the time it takes to watch a rerun or talk to your Aunt Gertrude, you could have some tasty lunches for the work week—packed and ready to go.
And if you do that, there should be time in the morning to make yourself a quick hot breakfast.
See?
Sometimes Mama knows best.

To get you started, here’s my Tried-and-True Meatloaf recipe:
Package of grass-fed ground beef or ground turkey
1 cup old fashioned oatmeal or dried bread crumbs
1 egg
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 envelope of onion soup mix (preferably without MSG or hydrogenated oil)
½ cup ketchup or barbecue sauce

Mix well, pack very lightly into a greased glass loaf pan, and bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes, or until cooked through.

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Pie crust as it should be

It’s all because my boyfriend likes apple pie.

And because my past apple pies, while tasty, didn’t knock my socks off.

So I went to the Food Network website, which is often where I begin searching for recipes when I want to try something new.

And there it was—Apple Pie As It Should Be. That recipe title alone—kind of conceited, kind of intriguing—got me curious. When I saw the addition of red wine vinegar in the buttery crust; I was ready to bake.

Usually, I think of pie crust as something that holds the good stuff together. I often eat only part of it, sometimes none at all.

But not this one.

The filling of this pie was lovely; but it was the crust that delighted me the most. Slightly sweet, flaky and flavorful, it was everything I’ve ever wanted in a pie crust.

It’s just too good to keep to myself.

So cradle your next pie filling in something special—pie crust as it should be.

Enjoy!

Apple Pie As It Should Be, from the Food Network website: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/apple-pie-as-it-should-be-recipe.html

Warm and wonderful—potato soup

Is there anything more delightful, food wise, than realizing a dish you’ve just prepared also happens to be the best version you’ve ever tasted?
Today I made potato soup. I hadn’t planned on it. As often happens, I had leftover ingredients and wanted to do something different with them.

Potatoes are versatile little tubers, and I love them prepared any which way.

Of course, it helps that I love soups. Creamy and hot, they’re perfect for cold weather—satisfying in a warm and cozy way.

Served with crispy crackers and a tasty cheese, or with warm homemade bread, soup is a wonderful meal.
And wonderful food should be shared.
So, here’s a (lovely) potato soup recipe (that includes step-by-step instructions) from The Pioneer Woman website:
http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2013/01/perfect-potato-soup/
Enjoy!

Make your own mayo

I’m on the warpath against high fructose corn syrup.

In a recent ingredient-reading flurry, I discovered that two of the condiments I was using on sandwiches had HFC in them: sweet pickle relish and mayonnaise.

Store bought relish and pickles are easy to replace—I now buy them at the local farmer’s market. I pay more, but I’m satisfied knowing that the product is free of cheap, unhealthy sweeteners. Plus, the flavor and freshness are superior to anything I’ve tasted from the grocery store.

But HFC-free mayonnaise is slightly harder to come by, so I’ve been experimenting with making my own. It isn’t hard to do. The only drawback is that it doesn’t keep for as long as commercial brands. Meaning, it can’t sit in the fridge for two months. Raw eggs spoil. And with no preservatives, it’s not a good idea to keep homemade mayo around too long.

I’ve used a combination of grape seed oil with a splash of extra virgin olive oil with excellent results. I like fresh lemon juice for its bright flavor. I love being able to control the consistency, and the pride I feel in making something that tastes so fresh. What I don’t love is how much whisking it takes to get it to emulsify. So, I talk loved ones into being the whisk wiz, which allows me to add the oil slowly.

I’m not above using bribery to get an extra hand in the kitchen.

Sandwich anyone?

 

Here’s the Epicurious mayonnaise recipe I use:

Ingredients

  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt plus more to taste
  • 3/4 cup canola oil, divided

Preparation

Combine egg yolk, lemon juice, vinegar, mustard, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in medium bowl. Whisk until blended and bright yellow, about 30 seconds.

Using 1/4 teaspoon measure and whisking constantly, add 1/4 cup oil to yolk mixture, a few drops at a time, about 4 minutes. Gradually add remaining 1/2 cup oil in very slow thin stream, whisking constantly, until mayonnaise is thick, about 8 minutes (mayonnaise will be lighter in color). Cover and chill. do ahead Can be made up to 2 days ahead. Keep chilled.

Makes ¾ cup.

See the recipe at: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Homemade-Mayonnaise-241868

Caramelized onions—worth the wait

It takes me about 15 or 20 minutes to slowly coax chopped onions into a blissful state of dark caramelization. And it’s worth every second.

I recently made Mjudara (pronounced “mm-jud-da-ra”), a Lebanese dish of brown lentils, rice or bulgur, seasonings, and you guessed it, plenty of caramelized onions.

I used two giant yellow onions, thinking that would be plenty. It wasn’t.

It meant chopping onions by hand, which makes my eyes burn and water. It’s still worth it.

This particular dish suggests reserving half the caramelized onions for topping and leaving the rest in the pan with the other ingredients. But I’ve decided that if the topping is that tasty, I’ll call it a side dish and make as much as I want.

Happy eating!

Mjudara recipe from the Food Network website:

Lebanese Lentils, Rice and Caramelized Onions (Mujadara)

Read more at: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/aarti-sequeira/lebanese-lentils-rice-and-caramelized-onions-mujadara-recipe.html?oc=linkback

Ingredients
1 cup brown or green lentils (not lentils du Puy), sorted for debris and rinsed
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon cracked black peppercorns
3 medium red onions, thinly sliced
Kosher salt
3/4 cup basmati rice
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 (1-inch) cinnamon stick
2 tablespoons pine nuts, optional
Squeeze of fresh lemon juice
Greek yogurt, for serving, optional
Directions
Throw the lentils into a medium saucepan. Fill with enough cold water to cover the lentils by about an inch. Bring it to a boil over medium-high heat, then turn down to a simmer and cook until the lentils are tender but not mushy, about 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, as the lentils cook, grab a large skillet. Pop it over medium-high heat and add the oil. Allow the oil to warm for a minute, then drop in the cumin seeds and cracked peppercorns and cook, shaking the pan once in a while until the cumin seeds darken a touch, about 1 minute.

Add the onions, sprinkle with a dash of salt and cook until they turn dark caramel brown, stirring often. This will take about 15 minutes. Splash the onions with a little water if they stick to the bottom of the pan. You’ll know they’re done both by their deep chestnut color and by the slight crispiness developing on some of the onions.

Using a slotted spoon or spatula, remove about half of the onions to a paper towel-lined plate; these are for garnish later. Sprinkle in the ground cumin, cayenne and then add the cinnamon stick; saute about 1 minute.

Add the rice and cook, stirring often (but gently so you don’t break the rice!) until some rice grains start to brown. Quickly, add the cooked lentils, 3 cups of water and 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt; bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to low so that the pan is at a simmer, cover and cook 30 minutes. The water should be completely evaporated and rice should be tender. (If there’s still too much water in the bottom, put the lid back on and cook for another 5 minutes.)

Turn off the heat, keep the lid on, and allow the rice to steam undisturbed for about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, toast the pine nuts, if using, in a small skillet over medium-low heat, shaking often, about 5 minutes.

Taste the rice for seasoning. Serve with the reserved caramelized onions, toasted pine nuts, if using, and a little squeeze of lemon.

Extraordinary Salads

Let’s be honest. If you were to ask most people what they’d choose for their last meal on earth, probably none of them would say “salad.”

We’ve all seen it, and eaten it—a pile of cold, limp greens with a few anemic slices of tomato on top and a blob of dressing accompanying it as a consolation prize. Also, “diet” and “deprivation” were two words that came to mind when I heard the word salad.

But no more.

A salad, done right, is a celebration of flavors and textures. It can be something anticipated, and savored, and then remembered fondly. Greens are often the foundation, but they needn’t be. Forget iceberg lettuce—most produce sections offer an abundant selection of leafy greens from romaine to arugula, and even beet greens and tender leafy herbs. Add raw or steamed vegetables for a hearty and satisfying base. Then, be creative. Meats, cheeses, pastas, grains, more vegetables, nuts, seeds, olives, bread, pickled foods—all add bright, flavorful morsels of goodness and crunch. Basically, if you like an ingredient –you can add it to a salad.
Here’s just a few of my favorites:

toasted pine nuts

artichokes

avocados

pecan pieces

olives

roasted or pickled beets

raw or steamed green beans

sweet piquante peppers

And then there’s dressing—another opportunity to elevate an ordinary salad to extraordinary status. Make your own, if there’s time. Or use a good quality store bought dressing that complements your meal, salad or satisfies your palate. Vinaigrette is easy to make, and best made fresh. Creamy dressings use more ingredients, but are worth the extra effort.

Served with hearty bread, salad makes a wonderful light meal. Adding diced chicken, beef or even fish (sliced seared Ahi tuna, anyone?), salad can be as satisfying as meat and potatoes.

Ingredients for Herb Vinaigrette dressing from Andrew Weil’s website
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
4 tablespoons whole grain Dijon mustard
1 1/2 cups extra-virgin olive oil
4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1 bunch parsley, stemmed
3 tablespoons basil, chopped
Instructions
Combine all ingredients except oil.
Whisk to combine, slowly adding oil to emulsify.

Bread is love

Bread may fall in and out of nutritional favor—but there’s nothing quite like the sight, smell and taste of a freshly baked loaf.

I’ve been baking bread for about 30 years now. I own my mother’s Amish bread bowl and my grandmother’s battered bread pans. So when I bake bread, I feel connected to them through a time-honored ritual we shared.

Many people think bread is difficult to make. It isn’t. With a few simple ingredients and about four hours of home time, I can have a beautiful, fragrant loaf, or even multiple loaves, on my table.

Bread machines, while an undeniable convenience, still require your presence at the start and finish. And, in my opinion, bread made by hand makes a superior finished product. Hand kneaded dough creates a lighter, softer texture and a more tender crust.

There’s also something soothing about the feel of warm pliable dough beneath my hands, the soft swishing sound of it pressing against the counter and picking up flour as I fold and press, fold and press. The rhythm lulls me into being fully in the moment. And the subtle sweet-sour aroma as the yeast does its magic makes me anticipate that tantalizing fragrance of just-baked bread filling the house.

Best of all is serving fresh bread to people you care about—I invite you to share the (bread) love.

Simple White Bread

3 cups bread flour

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons sugar

A package of dry yeast

1 cup warm water

3 tablespoons oil

In a large bowl, put half the flour, the salt, sugar and yeast. Warm the water to between 120 – 130 degrees Fahrenheit) and mix it in with the dry ingredients. Add the oil. Mix well with wooden spoon, adding flour until a loose ball of dough forms. Dump dough onto a floured surface, and knead for about 8 minutes adding more flour as needed. Oil bowl, place dough in bowl and turn once, coating it. Cover and let rise until doubled in size (about an hour). Punch down dough and let rest for 15 minutes, covered. Then punch down again and shape into a loaf. Place into a greased loaf pan or onto a baking pan. Cover and let rise until doubled (about 40 minutes). Bake at 375 degrees. Cool on wire rack. Makes one loaf.