red lentil chili

It’s no secret, I love lentils.  They do all kinds of good to me.  I’m also addicted to Pulse, which is a great time waster phone app that manages all my magazine, blog and recipe inspiration subscriptions.  This chili recipe popped up via the Meatless Monday feed (on a Monday afternoon, nonetheless), and I knew right away from the ingredient list that it would be a hit.  With a few adjustments, and a kick from my friend’s homemade pickled jalapeños, Monday’s dinner was underway.  As was meatless Tuesday’s lunch.

This soup can be ready in under 30 minutes, which, aside from imminent belly satisfaction, means only one other thing–  more time for Pulse surfing!  Do you use Pulse?  What are some of your favorite feeds?  Do you also get carried away in its awesomeness?

 

Materials (makes about 6 servings, adapted from Running with Tweezers)

1 medium yellow onion, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, finely diced
1/2 jalapeño, finely diced (scrape seeds out or omit for less/no heat)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup red lentils
3.5 cups water or vegetable broth
1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes
1 can beans (I used pinto)
1 Tbsp smoked paprika
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp brown sugar
a few generous splashes of hot sauce (I used Cholula)
salt to taste

Protocol

1. Heat oil in a medium saucepan, add onions and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.

2. Add garlic and jalapeño, if using, stir and cook for another minute or so.

3. Throw in the lentils, and stir well to coat.  Add water/broth, tomatoes, spices and hot sauce.

4. Bring to a boil, cover partially, then reduce heat to a simmer and allow to cook for about 30 minutes, and remember to stir every once in a while so nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot.

Super easy, filling and satisfies the meatless factor, whichever day of the week you choose to exercise it on.

a stroll down memory lane & toasted “brown bread” ice cream

During grad school, my friend Melissa and I used to frequent an ice cream shop in Hollywood called Scoops.  It was our treat after a full day at work, and the agonizing 4-hour forensic microscopy class that followed.  Aside from the animated mornings at the morgue, and the multiple scoops of sweet, iced butterfat before bed, my days were dreadful.  Dread.  Full.  Dealing with a certain professor and the grades she handed out was supremely dreadful.  But, I digress.  I made it through.  All that’s ancient history now.

Tai, the owner of Scoops, is an artisan ice cream designer.  All of his ice creams are unique.  Banana Oreo, maple bacon (yes, I know it’s everywhere now), strawberry Riesling, pear and goat cheese, and Guinness tiramisu are just a few of his formulations.  Tai has a suggest-a-flavor board at the shop where patrons can write down suggestions, so presumably, some of what he makes is based on someone else’s munchie-powered idea.  Not important.  Flavors vary daily, but what remains his most popular scoop, is the brown bread ice cream– a sweet base with crunchy, spiced bits mixed throughout.  So so good.

It’s been years since I’ve felt the torment of grad school and joy of Scoops, and only one of those was worth experiencing again.  Hint: it has nothing to do with refractive indices or polarizing microscopes.  This treasure had to be shared.

Brown bread baby, it’s good to have you back!

Materials (makes 1.5 quarts, adapted from David Lebovitz)

For the ice cream:
1 cup whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 cup sour cream
6 egg yolks
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1-2 Tbsp bourbon

 

For the brown bread:
1/3 cup grapenuts cereal
1 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Protocol

“Brown bread” crumbs
1. In a small skillet, melt butter and allow it to brown.  You don’t have to, but the nuttyness of it complements the bourbon.

2. Add cereal crumbs, sugar and cinnamon, and stir well to coat.  Cook for about 5 minutes, and set aside.  Store in an airtight container until ice cream is ready.

The brown bread crumbs can be made a day ahead or the day the ice cream is churned.  The first time I made this ice cream, I thought the cereal crumbs were just a bit too hard and crunchy, so I’ve since been soaking them in 1/3 cup water, and making sure all the water’s absorbed before mixing into the ice cream.

 

Ice cream
1. Combine milk, 1 cup cream, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan and heat on medium-low heat.  Do not let boil.

2. Pour the other 1 cup cream into a bowl, add sour cream and set a fine mesh strainer over the top of the bowl.

3. In a second bowl, whisk the yolks.

4. Remove the milk mixture off the heat, and in a slow and steady stream, pour about a cup of the heated milk into the yolks, while whisking.  This is to temper the eggs so they’re not shocked and scrambled when they meet the rest of the milk.

5. Again, working slowly, pour the tempered eggs back into the saucepan with the rest of the milk, and return to low heat.  Stirring constantly with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, cook the custard until it coats the back of your chosen utensil.  Do not let boil.  Custard is cooked at about 175  degrees F, so if you’re using a culinary thermometer, don’t go over that.

6. Pour cooked custard over the strainer into the bowl containing the cream and sour cream bowl, add gently whisk until smooth.

7. Add vanilla and bourbon, and stir.  Allow ice cream base to cool in the refrigerator overnight, then process per ice cream maker’s manufacturer’s instructions.

8. About 5 minutes before the end of the churning process, add the “brown bread” crumbs.

Thanks, Tai for the great idea, the sweet memories and your contribution to my grad school “freshman 15.”

 

slow cooker Tom Kha Gai (Thai coconut soup)

It’s been ages, it seems, since I last used my slow cooker.  I bought it to have while my kitchen was being remodeled, but as soon as the stove was back in business, it was stashed away.  This is partly due to my semi-irrational fear that a slow cooker is not trustworthy enough to be left unattended.  Kinda like me around a bottle of Riesling or a jar of Nutella.

This soup is the result of the crock pot’s recent resurrection.  Flavorful and comforting, it practically made itself.  I could definitely get used to meals doing that more often.  Enjoy!

 

Materials (makes about 2.5 quarts)

3 14-oz. cans coconut milk (I used 1 can regular, and 2 cans “lite”)
4 cups vegetable broth
1 pound firm tofu, cubed
1 large lemongrass stalk, chopped into 1-inch pieces
2 Tbsp ginger, freshly grated
3 Tbsp fresh lime juice
2 tsp curry paste (I used Thai and True’s yellow curry paste)
3 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp brown sugar
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
3-4 Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
salt or soy sauce to taste

 

Protocol

1. Place all ingredients, except the fresh cilantro and mushrooms, into the slow cooker, and cook on high for 3-4 hours, or on low for 6-7.

2. Add the mushrooms during the last 20 minutes of cooking, and top with cilantro when serving.

quinoa with mint & roasted pistachios

Some time ago, I didn’t know to pronounce quinoa or what it was.  Now I love it, and often correct others when they don’t say something that even remotely sounds like “keen-wah.”  I can be annoying, I know.

Quinoa is a grain-like seed, but isn’t considered a true grain (e.g. wheat) because it doesn’t come from a grass.  And, because it provides all nine essential amino acids, it’s a complete protein.  In case you’re a dork like me and might appreciate the information, those amino acids are Leucine, Isoleucine, Lysine, Valine, Methionine, Tryptophan, Phenylalanine, Threonine and Histidine.  They’re essential because our bodies don’t produce them, so they must be consumed.  Lesson over.  There may be a pop quiz next week.

The combination of fresh mint and parsley (don’t even think about dried!), nutty quinoa, and crunchy pistachios is nothing short of glorious.  This dish is full of flavor, and every time I eat it, I feel as though I’m treating my body to a dose of vibrance.  I first tried a variation of this recipe about a month ago, and have been making it weekly since.  A little obsessive, yes, but it’s easy to make, full of protein and antioxidants, and is that good.  And when I like something, I like it until I don’t anymore.  I’ve yet to tire of this protein-packed bowl of awesomeness.

 

Materials (makes 4 cups, adapted from the 2013 Food Lover’s Cleanse)

1 cup quinoa (regular or red)
2 cups vegetable or chicken broth (you can use water, but may need to add salt to taste)
4 Tbsp. fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
2-3 Tbsp. fresh mint, finely chopped
1/4 cup roasted, shelled pistachios, roughly chopped

 

 

Protocol

1. Place quinoa into a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, and toast for 4-5 minutes, stirring often to prevent burning.  The beads will begin to pop and brown.

2. When the quinoa starts to smell nutty (about 5 minutes), add broth and bring to a boil.

3. Lower heat to a simmer, cover partially, and cook until quinoa is tender, about 30 minutes.

4. Remove from heat, let sit for 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork and set aside to cool.

5. Add chopped parsley, mint and pistachios, and stir gently.

So easy.  Bon appétit!

apple beet juice

Whenever I’m feeling tired, unhealthy or huge because I’ve been sampling too many cupcakes, Ruffles or wine (or all of the above), I turn to homemade juice for help.  I’ve done a few straight juice cleanses, but have found that sometimes, replacing just one meal a day with a juice makes me feel better.  It’s also a lot easier to manage.  And let’s face it– food is too good to give up.

Any rules that may exist about homemade juice don’t have to be followed.  I like that.  It gives me a break from all the math.  Lemon juice and ginger are staples, but the other ingredients can be almost any combination of fruits or vegetables you like.  Almost, because produce with a higher water content works best, and potato juice wouldn’t be very appetizing.  Otherwise, be fearless and have fun!

Be careful when making this cocktail.  Beets stain.  They stain everything.  Cutting boards, fingers, back splash tile, and your favorite white shirt can and will fall victim to the “blood” spatter.  Timely crime scene clean up is of utmost importance.

 

Materials (makes about 10 ounces)

3 apples, cut into quarters
2 medium beets, cut into halves
1 inch piece of ginger
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

 

Protocol

1. Press ginger, apple and beet pieces (no need to peel) through juice extractor and watch the magic happen.

2. Add fresh lemon juice, stir and enjoy immediately.

Lemon and other citrus fruit zest is very bitter, and should not be put into the juicer.  Also, because they don’t contain preservatives and haven’t been pasteurized, fresh, homemade juices have a short shelf life.  So drink up!

homemade vanilla sugar

With holiday baking in full swing, my kitchen is powering through sugar and vanilla extract faster than I thought possible (I had a different analogy prepared, but I’ve already offended today).  Almost everything that comes out of my oven contains vanilla in some form or another.  And lots of it.  So when last week’s caramel sauce left two vanilla beans behind, the only warranted next move involved their reincarnation.  Whether whole or scraped of the caviar, vanilla beans can make an intensely fragrant and flavored sugar.  Because I’m a fiend, I’ll still use extract, but some recipes definitely benefit from the extra dose.

Materials

1 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, cut in half and split lengthwise
airtight container

 

Protocol

1. Place a cut vanilla bean into food processor, add sugar and pulse a few times.

2. Transfer to an airtight container and store away.  Pretty easy.

The aroma of vanilla will strengthen over time.  Just remember to sift the sugar through a small strainer before use.  Then add more sugar, and eventually another bean.

white chocolate chip, pistachio & sea salt cookies

Dinner’s been made and eaten, and the kitchen cleaned sterilized.  It’s time for dessert, but there’s nothing sweet in the house.  No, an apple isn’t the kind of sweet I want right now.  Unless it’s warm, sprinkled with cinnamon, flanked by a buttery crust and bathing in vanilla ice cream, an apple is just an apple.  I want a real dessert.  And now that I’ve mentioned it, my main taste tester does, too.  The problem is, I’ve already taken my face off, and have slipped into my velour jumpsuit (aka “comphies”), so going out for dessert is not an potion.  There may not be anything sweet in the house, but I do have white chocolate chips, a bag of shelled pistachios (a bad idea unless you practice restraint) and all the basic baking ingredients.

It’s settled– we’re having cookies!

 

 

What I love most about these cookies is that the sweet, salty, chewy and crunchy all happen at the same time.  The pistachios can be chopped with a knife, but using a food processor creates coarsely chopped pieces, plus a bit of pistachio butter, which enhances the flavor.

  

 

Materials (for 25-30 cookies, depending on your scoop, and whether you eat raw batter like I do; adapted from Joy the Baker)

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 Tbsp vanilla
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp Kosher or sea salt
1 1/2 cups white chocolate chips
1 cup shelled pistachios, chopped in the food processor
coarse sea salt for sprinkling

 

 Protocol

1. Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees F.  Line a cookie sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper, and set aside.

Before I continue, I have to tell you that I love love love my silicone mat.  But, to see what difference it would make, I baked a batch of these cookies on parchment paper, and these cookies took 5 minutes longer to bake, looked different and had a slightly harder texture.  The silicone mat cookies baked faster and had a better consistency.  Both materials work.  It’s just a matter of what you have available.

2. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.

3. In another bowl, beat butter and sugars until light and fluffy.  Add the egg, and beat to combine. Add vanilla and beat until completely mixed in.

4. Pour in the dry ingredients, and mix until incorporated, but don’t over beat.

5. Using a spoon, stir in the chocolate chips and pistachios.

6. Scoop out about 2 Tbsp and form into a ball.  Place on prepared cookie sheet about 2 inches apart, and bake for 15-18 minutes, or until cookies are golden brown.

7. Allow to cool at room temperature for a few minutes; then transfer to a cooling rack.  Store cookies in an airtight container at room temperature.

I reheated day old cookies in a toaster oven for about a minute at 200 degrees, and they were as perfect as their freshly-baked cousins.

 

panzanella

Earlier this week, a woman at work brought in a box of what looked like 800 tomatoes.  Her vegetable garden is very giving, and, evidently, so is she.  The day this bounty came in, I didn’t want to be greedy so I took only three tomatoes, which is just what I’d need for a Margherita pizza or a Caprese salad.  But as the week continued, even though fewer and fewer tomatoes remained, there were still a lot left.  That’s when I took more.  Like, six more.  Don’t tell anyone.

Let’s make a salad.  A salad with bread!

Materials (serves four, or two famished souls, adapted from Ina Garten)

Salad
about 6 cups of peasant bread (or a baguette if you like crust), cut into 1-inch cubes
3 Tbsp olive oil
3-4 cups tomatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 English cucumber, diced
1/2 red onion, sliced into
20 sprigs of fresh basil, coarsely chopped

 

Vinaigrette
1/2 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp ground mustard, or Dijon mustard
1 large garlic clove, finely diced
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

 

Protocol

1. In a large saucepan, heat oil on medium, add bread pieces and stir to coat.  Cook until browned, stirring as necessary to prevent burning (took me ~10 minutes).  Set aside.

2. To make the vinaigrette, add all ingredients in a small bowl and whisk to combine.

Notice how the oil and vinegar don’t separate as they usually do?  The addition of mustard (a bonding agent due to its physical properties, which I could go into, but you might cry of boredom) creates an emulsion, which is a dispersion of molecules of one substance  (oil) in another (water) in which it’s usually not soluble.  In other words, two solutions that wouldn’t usually comingle, are now close friends.  Other culinary emulsifying agents include egg yolks and honey.  In case you don’t already know, science is too cool for words.

3. Before serving, toss all vegetables in the vinaigrette, add bread and toss again.  Feta is a nice addition, but not necessary or called for.  My sous chef (read: husband) loves cheese, so I sprinkled some in last minute.  I enjoyed the scant 1/2 cup of what was left over the next day, and though the bread was a bit soggy, the salad was still wonderful.

By the way, last I looked, at least 18 more tomatoes were still looking for a new home.

kitchen lab 101: baking pan color

 

We all know that black absorbs energy, and white reflects it, but, did you know that darker baking dishes brown food faster than lighter colored dishes?  It’s absolutely true.  Darker surfaces absorb more heat, which means the food cooks faster.  I learned this recently while baking two of the same pastry in two different metal pans.  One browned, while the other needed an extra ten minutes.  To offset a darker pan’s efficiency, decrease cooking time or temperature, or just watch more closely.

 

vanilla beans

If you’ve ever been in my presence, you know that I always smell of vanilla.  It’s my absolute favorite scent, and I not only saturate myself in it, but almost everything I bake contains vanilla.  Tahitian, Mexican, Bourbon… extract, beans, perfume… anything vanilla is a treat in my manuscript.  When using extract in baking, I rarely measure and usually just pour directly from the jar.  And if I do measure, I add extra.  The richest vanilla fragrance, however, comes from the bean itself.  No extract can substitute the decadence a vanilla bean provides.  It’s the second most expensive spice in the world, and if you’ve ever worked with a real bean, you know why.  Saffron is number one, by the way.

Not sure why it took me so long, but I started making my own extract earlier this year.  As with most homemade products, there’s no comparison to store bought version, no matter how fancy.  Homemade vanilla extract means I control what alcohol is used and how long to age it.  It also means that I get to keep the pod, which can be used to make vanilla sugar and, most important, that my extract is studded with caviar.

Ten vanilla beans arrived in the mail today, and I can hardly wait to put them to work and share the recipes.  Glistening with moisture and sticky with caviar, some beans will become extract, others custard, ice cream or cake; a few will become sugar and at least one will be stored in a test tube in case of emergency.

Vanilla is but plain or ordinary.  My hands still smell divine and there may be a fragrant dot or two on the camera…

chocolate-dipped coconut macaroons

“Yuck, coconut.  I hate coconut!”

“Give it here, Percy.  I don’t mind coconut.”

“You don’t mind nothin’, girl!”

If you’ve seen Corrina, Corrina, you may recognize those quotes from the scene in which the kids are sitting around eating chocolates.  Percy bites into two bon bons and proclaims his hate for cream and coconut, while his chubby cousin quickly accepts the task of getting rid of them for him.  Too cute!  This was the inspiration behind chocolate-dipped coconut macaroons.  That, and my dad’s birthday is coming up and he, unlike Percy, loooves coconut, and chocolate!

These macaroons are super easy to make.  Only six ingredients, two bowls and a little heat.  The result is a chewy center and a crunchier outside that just begs to be bitten.

 

Materials (for approximately 13 macaroons; recipe adapted from the Barefoot Contessa)

7 ounces shredded sweetened coconut (1/2 standard package)
7 ounces sweetened condensed milk (1/2 can)
2 Tbsp vanilla (1 Tbsp is OK, but the extra vanilla gives a more intense aroma)
1 egg white
pinch of Kosher salt
8-10 ounces semi-sweet chocolate or chocolate chips

 

Protocol

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, and set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, stir together coconut, condensed milk and vanilla.

3. In another bowl, beat egg white and salt using an electric mixer until stiff peaks appear.

4. Gently fold the whipped egg white into the coconut mixture, and stir well to combine.

5. Use a small ice cream scoop, funnel or tablespoon and portion out about 2-3 Tbsp worth of final coconut mixture.  You can also use a piping bag with a large tip (or a plastic bag with a corner cut off), and pipe directly onto the parchment paper.

6. Bake for 20 minutes or until the macaroons are golden brown.

7. Remove from oven and rest on a cooling rack (a refrigerator works well for faster cooling).

8. In a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt chocolate on very low heat until creamy.  Use a whisk to stir.

9. Remove from heat, and dip one side or bottoms of cooled macaroons into the chocolate, or drizzle some on top.

The method doesn’t matter, as long as you are generous.  Place finished macaroons on a plate lined with wax paper (helps with removal) and allow to set for at least 30 minutes.  These sweet babies keep well in the fridge, but prefer to be stored in your belly.