coconut milk lentil soup

Despite it officially being Spring, Portland weather has been rather moody.  Ten minutes ago, there was a downpour.  Now, the sun is out.  All I want to do is slip into my velour jumpsuit, get under a blanket and read for hours.  Or do something equally as productive.  Or not.  And lucky for me, I can do just that.  Life’s really easy these days, and I’m taking full advantage, partly by treating myself to hot, home-cooked lunches (with naps to follow).

This dish is similar to the lentils I make as part my Indian feast, but because of the extra can of coconut milk, it’s soup.  Over time, it absorbs moisture and thickens, and is wonderful atop rice, couscous or quinoa, and even fresh greens.

Warm and comforting, here’s to you, a hug in a bowl.

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Materials

1 1/2 cups lentils (I used brown)
6 cups vegetable stock
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
2 cans coconut milk (I used one can full, one can “lite”)
8 ounces frozen spinach (or a few handfuls fresh spinach, kale or other greens), optional
coarse salt to taste

 

Protocol
1.  In a heavy-bottomed pot, combine lentils and stock, and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer, and allow to cook until lentils are soft (cooking time will depend on the type of lentils you choose).
2.  In a non-stick skillet, melt butter, add onions and cook on medium heat until translucent, about 15 minutes.
3.  Add the garlic and all spices, stir and cook for a minute.
4.  Transfer spiced onions and garlic into the pot with the lentils, and add the coconut milk and spinach, if using.  Simmer for about 10 minutes, then salt to taste.

crispy, baked sweet potato fries

Potatoes– my ultimate comfort food.  Baked, fried, mashed, in salads, kneaded in dough, on pizza, and always worth mentioning, as chips, mixed with sour cream.  But shrinking pants remind me that I shouldn’t partake as much as I prefer to.  I do anyway.

Sweet potatoes have been creepin’ up on the French fry scene for quite some time.  If on a restaurant’s menu, I convince Tim to order them, while I get regular fries.  The best of two potato worlds.  With a little time, and no deep fryer or several inches of boiling fat, crispy sweetheart fries can be yours.  I inhaled a handful fresh out of the oven, and paired the rest with a piece of lemony, herb salmon.  Some may have been dipped in homemade curry mayonnaise.

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Materials (serves 2)

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into thin strips, lengthwise
2-3 Tbsp olive oil
coarse salt to taste
1/2 tsp cumin, optional
1/2 tsp smoked paprika, optional
1/4 tsp Cajun seasoning, optional

 

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Protocol
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

2. Rinse sweet potato strips  in a colander, and place into a bowl of cold water.  Soak for 30-60 minutes (helps create crispier fries).  Drain, and pat strips dry with a clean kitchen towel.

3. Toss potato strips with olive oil, salt and spices and arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet.

4. Cook for 30-45 minutes, depending on your oven, and turn periodically, if necessary.

 

ceviche

Last week, my friend hosted a birthday party, and as lovely as it was awaiting a storm in a lush green backyard, surrounded by funny people, banana trees and hostas, the most memorable part was the food.  Coincidentally, the peach nectar vanilla vodka cocktails were also very agreeable.  Doesn’t take too much to send me into a tickled oblivion.  The reason for this rant, however… the ceviche *sigh*  I used to think it was weird because the fish is cold and not traditionally cooked, but I’ve been converted.   

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Of course I overate, and of course I asked about the recipe.  I was told, “Some white fish, a bunch of limes, tomatoes, onion, cilantro, avocado, and salt n’ pepper.  And garlic if you want.”  No amounts, no solid instructions.  This is also how my mom explains her recipes, so I was used to such a loose method.  Always spectacular, few variations of a dish are ever identical.

At the market, I ordered the fish by looks.  It turned out to be a few ounces over a pound, and the rest of the ingredients just kind of fell into place.  Ceviche probably doesn’t even need an exact recipe, but when I make something I really like, I want to be able to recreate it.  In the lab, data mean nothing if they’re not reproducible, and I’m all too familiar with the “n of 1″ concept.  That kind of nonsense science doesn’t fly in my kitchen.

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Materials (serves 5-6)
1 pound fresh tilapia (or cod, or any other white fish), deboned and chopped into small pieces
juice of 15 limes (about 2 cups)
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1/2 red onion, diced
2 tomatoes, diced
2 avocados, cubed
1 bunch fresh cilantro leaves
1/2 tsp coarse salt
1/4 tsp pepper

 

Protocol

1.  Place chopped fish into a bowl or plastic bag, add lime juice, salt and pepper, and stir.   The acid in the lime juice is what’s going to “cook” the fish, so make sure all the fish is covered.

2.  Set the dish/plastic bag in the fridge for about 45 minutes.  You can let it sit longer, but the “cooking” time depends on the size of the fish pieces.  Fish is done when it’s opaque/no longer translucent.  Every 15 minutes or so, stir the fish/lime juice mixture.

3.  Once the fish is ready, add chopped onions, tomatoes and half the cilantro bunch.  I chopped it directly off the stem.  Use less if you don’t love it, or more if you do.  Stir, return to the fridge, and let sit for another 20 minutes.

4.  Just before serving, add avocado, gently stir, and top with more cilantro.  You may drain some of the juice if you prefer less liquid.

 

This ceviche is wonderful atop tortilla chips or tostada rounds, and is best eaten the day it’s prepared (the leftovers were a little too tart for my liking the second day).  It’s light, fresh, Summery and it’s absolutely OK to go overboard.  But first reassure your mother that you’re not consuming raw beef, or she may flip.

 

easy, creamy homemade ricotta

I’ve come to realize that homemade is, in almost every instance, better than store-bought.  Sometimes, things take longer, but the time invested is worth it, especially if you enjoy spending it in the kitchen.  I had leftover milk and heavy cream from a batch of vanilla bean ice cream, and noticed a container of buttermilk in the fridge.  Not wanting anything to go to waste, I did some Google-ing, and set my heart on making ricotta cheese.  Best decision I’ve made in a long time.

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There are a bunch of different ricotta recipes out there, but they all use similar ingredients.  I improvised with what I had, and was pleased with the end result.  If you don’t have buttermilk, and are desperate, you can sour milk using fresh lemon juice {place 1 Tbsp lemon juice into a 1 cup measuring cup, top off with milk, stir and let sit for 5 minutes}.  But buttermilk is better.  Without further ado…

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Materials (makes about 2 cups, adapted from In Jennie’s Kitchen & David Lebovitz)

4 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 cup buttermilk
3/4 tsp coarse sea salt

NOTE: I’ve also made this recipe using 3 cups milk and 2 cups heavy cream, with all else being the same, and the result was an even creamier ricotta.

 

Protocol
1. Line a fine mesh sieve with a few layers of cheesecloth, and place over a large bowl.  Set aside.

2. Combine all ingredients in a heavy saucepan and bring to a gentle (key word) boil.  The milk solids will begin to separate from the whey (liquid portion) within 20-30 minutes.  Continue to boil for another 5 minutes or so, until you see curdles floating on the top.  No need to stir at any point.

3. Remove from heat, and let sit for 30 minutes.  You can start draining immediately, but I noticed a slightly higher yield if ricotta is allowed to rest.

4. Gently ladle the curdles onto the cheesecloth.  Continue until all the curdles and whey have been transferred.

5. Allow to drain at room temperature for 20-30 minutes (any longer may not yield as creamy of a ricotta).  Pull together the ends of the cheesecloth and slowly squeeze any remaining liquid.  Immediately grab a spoon and taste the warm ricotta.  Then, transfer it to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator until use.

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I’d love to tell you how long this will keep in the fridge, but every batch I’ve made so far hasn’t lasted more than two days.  Yes, it’s that good, and I have no shame.  K, thanks.  Bye.

rustic potato, herb & goat cheese pizza

The part of the world I’m from consumes a lot of bread and potatoes.  And sometimes, the bread and potatoes are in one dish.  It’s as comforting as it is calorie dense, but here, we need not stress over that.  I don’t often make meals that I know will put me in a coma, but sometimes, it’s more than necessary; like after a long day of redesigning the guest room floor plan.  It may sound like 100% fun, but it’s a lot of work making sure my decided upon mood board of grey, white and gold will equally appease both ends of the guest spectrum, which so far includes a high-maintenance girly girl, and a clean-cut, tattooed biker (Harley, not “fixie”), both of whom have expressed admiration of the crystal pendant chandelier.  That project will be completed soon, but for now, and for many reasons, I need a lot of comfort in my belly.  I hope you do too, because this pizza delivers.

 

 

Materials (makes one, thin crust 16-inch pizza)

1/2 pound dough, homemade or 1/2 of Trader Joe’s pre-made dough
3 medium yellow potatoes, sliced into ~1/4″ slices (does not need to be exact or perfect)
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced into strips
3 Tbsp olive oil (2 for roasting potatoes, 1 for the pizza)
1/2 cup Mozzarella cheese, shredded, optional
4 ounces goat cheese, roughly crumbled
1/2 Tbsp oregano
1 tsp rosemary
coarse salt & pepper

 

 

 

Protocol
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Note: I used my small convection/toaster oven to cook the potatoes, and preheated my regular oven to 550 for the pizza.  Not imperative, but it simplified the process and saved time.

2. Place potatoes and onions in a sheet pan, and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper.

3. Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until potatoes are just cooked, but not soft and mushy.  Onions will be soft and translucent.

4. In the meantime, prepare dough.  On a lightly floured surface, roll dough out into the shape of your pizza pan or stone (I used a 16-inch round pizza pan).

5. Lightly brush with remaining olive oil, and sprinkle with shredded Mozzarella, if using.

6. Top with potatoes, and sprinkle with oregano and rosemary.

7. Bake pizza at 550 degrees F (or as high as your oven will go) for about 5-7 minutes, or until the edges brown.  Remove from oven, sprinkle with goat cheese, and return to oven.  Bake for another 3-5 minutes, or until desired crispness.

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roasted garlic guacamole

I may or may not have mentioned that when I like something, I tend to overdo it.  Sometimes, my obsession is a food; other times, it’s a special type of pen.  And all the time, it’s laundry detergent and homemade cleaning supplies.  For several consecutive weeks in college, I couldn’t get enough heavily buttered sourdough bread.  A few months ago, I managed to acquire 19 fancy notebooks (writing in only the first one now, yet still collecting).  And these days, I’m crazy about roasted garlic.

 

It’s buttery smooth, and I like to think of it as the evening gown dressed-up version of its raw sibling.  You just can’t go wrong.  Because it takes the longest, get the roasting step going first.  While it bakes and cools, start the rest.  And somewhere in the middle of the process, whip up a margarita.  Might as well, you already have the salt and the limes out.

 

Perfectly ripe avocados (a must-have for great guacamole) meet lime juice.  The acid helps avocados retain their vibrant green color.  Science in action.  Add fresh garlic, and mash a bit, but don’t be too rough.  Chunks are good.  Add roasted garlic, cilantro and salt.  Inhale deeply.  Steal a few buttery roasted cloves.

 

Stir, and then find the best vehicle for guacamole delivery.

Materials
3 large ripe avocados
juice of two limes
1 clove fresh garlic, minced
2 whole heads roasted garlic
1 Tbsp chopped cilantro
a healthy dose of Kosher salt

 

Protocol

1. Scoop avocados out into a bowl, add lime juice, fresh garlic and mash.
2. Add cooled roasted garlic, cilantro and salt.
3. Stir, and enjoy!

This is a mild guacamole version, so if you prefer a little heat, add your favorite diced chilies to taste.  If any guacamole remains, place a piece of plastic wrap directly on it (less air = less oxidation = less browning), and store in the refrigerator.

roasted {marinated} garlic

Aside from the hole-in-the-wall taquerias, a restaurant I fondly remember going to in Los Angeles is a magical place where, as they proudly state, “the garlic is seasoned with the food.”  The Stinking Rose, yes.  After spending time inside the restaurant, your entire being evaporates garlic.  For days.  Their bagna calda appetizer is a miniature skillet full of roasted garlic so tender, it spreads like butter.  I needed a fix, and I needed it right away.  A 900-mile separation may exist between Portland and La Cienega Boulevard, but my oven is just a few feet away.

Roasting garlic is so easy, I can’t believe I’ve been buying it all these years.  A clerk at New Seasons told me how to make it, but not before he implied disapproval that I even considered buying it pre-made.  Portland attitude, at the “friendliest store in town.”

Enjoy it straight out of the pod, or atop crackers and goat cheese.  Throw it on pizza, into a soup or use it as butter on a thick slice of crusty artisan bread.  It’s ALL good!

 

Materials
whole garlic heads
extra virgin olive oil
butter (optional)
salt & pepper

 

Protocol
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Cut the tops off the garlic heads and peel the outermost layers of the skin off, leaving the individual clove skins intact.
3. Pour a bit of oil over the tops of each clove, making sure each clove is oiled, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  If using butter, place about 1/4 teaspoon on top of each head of garlic.
4. Loosely wrap with aluminum foil, and place in oven for 35-45 minutes.
5. Allow to cool, and carefully remove cloves from their pods.  Some will come out easily; others may need help from a fork.
6. To marinate garlic for later use, place peeled, roasted cloves into a glass jar, cover with extra virgin olive oil, and store at refrigeration.  A teaspoon of dried rosemary per 2-3 heads of garlic is a nice, but not necessary, addition.

kitchen lab 101: freezing egg yolks

I recently learned that egg yolks can be frozen for later use.  It’s true, but they must be treated, and there’s science behind the reasoning.  Egg yolks contain water, which crystallizes when freezing.  This causes the proteins to cluster and congeal, creating tiny gelatinous clusters that don’t redissolve.  Adding a substance to lower the freezing point of the water (think anti-freeze) prevents crystal and, therefore, gelatinous protein blob formation.

To preserve yolks for a savory dish, lightly whisk 1/8 teaspoon of salt with ~4 yolks; for a sweet dish, lightly whisk 1.5 teaspoons of sugar or simple/corn syrup into ~4 yolks, and store in an airtight container.  Label container with the date, number of yolks and whether they contain salt or sugar.  To use, thaw yolks in the refrigerator overnight, and move to room temperature about 45 minutes prior to cooking.  Egg sizes vary, but 1 tablespoon is approximately equal to one yolk.

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.

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!