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.

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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.

Unearth the flavor with dried porcini mushrooms

I discovered them at my local farmer’s market. A vendor sold me the first batch of crinkly dried porcini mushrooms while sharing tips on how to use them.

So I went home and played in the kitchen. First, I poured hot water over a handful of them, let them soften, chopped them fine and added them to a cheese omelet. Delish!

I added them to Alfredo sauce served with homemade pasta. Delizioso!

Then, I poured the soaking liquid into a batch of vegetable soup, along with another handful of dried mushrooms— transforming it from ordinary to extraordinary. Mushroom flavored broth gave the soup a nutty richness that convinced me this ingredient belongs in my pantry.

Perhaps you’ll add it to yours?

Happy eating!

Here’s a link about how to use dried mushrooms from Bon Appétit

http://www.bonappetit.com/test-kitchen/cooking-tips/article/how-to-cook-with-dried-porcini-mushrooms

Porcini Mushroom Sauce recipe from Epicurious:

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Porcini-Mushroom-Sauce-102883

Fun facts from MushroomAppreciation. Com

http://www.mushroom-appreciation.com/porcini-mushrooms.html

Beautiful Pesto

I started basil plants from seed this year. So for the past couple of months, I’ve been using fresh basil to season everything from pasta to salads. This week, I dressed homemade fettuccini with fresh pesto and it was so delicious and satisfying; I wanted to post the recipe here.

Pesto

Handful of lightly browned pine nuts

One very large bunch of basil leaves

One clove of chopped garlic

Salt and pepper to taste

Combine ingredient s in a food processor until mealy.

Add about ½ cup of good olive oil, in batches. Stir in about ¼ cup of grated parmesan cheese.

Add to warm pasta and combine. Enjoy with extra cheese, if desired.

Playing with food

Remember your parent’s telling you, “Don’t play with your food?”

Well, that was then and this is now.

I recommend, no, I invite you to play with food, because experiments in the kitchen can lead to worthwhile discoveries—the kind where your new creation is something lovely, and best of all, delicious.

Today I decided to see what would happen if I browned slices of yellow onion, small red potatoes and chunks of button mushroom in bacon grease in my nonstick cast iron skillet. Once I had the ingredients where I wanted them, I deglazed the pan with a bit of red wine. Then I added about ¼ cup of broth, two cloves of roasted garlic, a handful of chopped fresh parsley, kosher salt and several hefty grinds of pepper. I popped the skillet into a hot oven to finish softening the potatoes, and then I served my new creation with seared wild salmon and a bed of fresh spinach.

And no one admonished me about messing up the kitchen or playing with my food. In fact, the only words I heard were, “thank you, that was delicious.”