Tomato-Lentil Love…or Fireworks of Deliciousness?

So, I used to be that girl who resisted lentils based solely on my dad’s attempts to get me to eat split-pea soup as a child. I now know two things: that split peas and lentils are NOT the same thing, although certainly related in the world of legumes AND that lentils are delicious AND nutritious.

If you have felt resistance to lentils in the past, rational or irrational, this recipe is probably a great one to start with. Because, well, if I were to characterize this soup in terms of flavor, I would call it more of a robust roasted tomato stew over a lentil soup. But the lentils, in this case green, provide an important depth to the flavor and certainly take this soup from ‘pretty good for you’ to ‘way good and very satisfying.’

I guess the original recipe is from the Barefoot Contessa at home cookbook, and where we found it was on Smittenkitchen.com, an absolutely delightful food blog with lots of tasty treats worth trying. Not much has changed, except for a few recommendations of toppings!

For the Stew:

2 teaspoons olive oil

2 cups large-diced yellow onions (or two onions, generally)

2 cups large-diced carrots (3-4 carrots)

1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)

1 28-oz can whole plum tomatoes

1 cup green lentils

2 cups vegetable or chicken broth

Spice mix:

2 teaspoons curry powder

2 teaspoons fresh thyme (or dried, we used dried, heathens that we are)

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/4 freshly ground pepper

Added just after cooking:

1 tablespoon red wine vinigar

To the Stew!

First things first, you’ll want to prep your veggies, un-can your tomatoes into a food processor or large bowl, and rinse and pick through your lentils.

Heat a large saucepan. I almost wrote ‘heat oil’ in a large sauce plan, but I just learned from my mom the other day  that you actually aren’t supposed to heat the oil while heating the pan. I guess it affects the way the pan heats up and brings the oil to its burning point faster, which could affect your flavors.

Oh my god, what is this blog doing to me?? I’m supposed to be ‘rough-chop’ not ‘Suzy-perfect-pants’!!! Ayyyeee!!!

Anyhow, ahem, once the pan is heated up, add the oil, wait until it ‘shimmers,’ then add the onions and carrots and saute over medium-low heat for 8-10 minutes. You want to brown the onions slightly, and soften up those carrots.

While the carrots and onions are browning, mash up those tomatoes, either in a food processor, or in a bowl. You could probably also skip this step by buying a can of mashed or chunked Roma (or plum) tomatoes.

For the spice mix, I find it kind of nice to measure these things into a prep bowl then toss ’em in when it’s time. So, just measure out your curry powder (we just used regular ol’ curry powder), thyme (dried OR fresh), salt and pepper.

Now it’s time to add it all in. Pour in the pureed tomatoes, lentils, chicken or veggie broth and your spice mix.

Bring everything to a boil, then lower the heat back to a simmer. Cook for 40 minutes, or until the lentils are tender. Remove from heat, let sit for 10 minutes (we sort of didn’t do this, but it was STILL really good). Stir in 1 tablespoon of the red wine vinegar and you are ready to go!

..that is pure goodness happening in there…

This soup packs a LOT of flavor and will leave your taste buds begging for more. Not something you might expect from a ‘lentil’ stew, but it is seriously like fireworks of deliciousness going off in your mouth. And it will also leave you feeling satisfied and like you’ve eaten something really wholesome and healthy.

Unless:

If you are inclined towards things of the dairy variety, I highly recommend Parmesan cheese freshly grated over top. Or another great addition is some heavy cream, just if you didn’t feel like you reached your fat quota for the day. Just stir a tablespoon or so in just before you eat.

YUM.

Wowza. It’s a good one. Thanks for reading, and hope you enjoyed!

Posted in Beans, recipes, Side dishes, Soups, vegetables | Leave a comment

She’s My Berry Pie!..

She’s my berry pie,
Cool drink of water, such a sweet surprise.
Tastes so good, make a grown man cry,
Sweet berry pieeeeeeeee!!!

Warning: do not attempt to eat this pie through the screen. It’s really easy to make, and not worth the clean-up or potential damage to your computer.

Come on, who doesn’t like to sing a little Poison (You go, 80s children everywhere!) every now and then? After eating this Berry pie, you’ll want to shout it on a mountain top!

So, Berry pie: another elusive item on my recipe list, along with bread, ice cream (until recently!) and baba ganoush (how do you get it smoky and not bitter??). But I can officially move the Berry Pie onto to the ‘can-do’ list. I guess what prompted the whole thing was making a cherry pie a couple weeks ago for an uncle’s birthday. Special Request! I had never made a cherry pie before and many of the recipes called for sour cherries. However in Spokane at this time there was literally one grocery store that had cherries at all, they were frozen and dark, sweet cherries.

The recipe I loosely based my recipe on was from epicurious and the crust is the best I’ve every made. I highly recommend it and use it below for the crust in this pie. However, the directions for the cherry filling were a little disappointing and ended up more of a cherry soup than a cherry filling. The pie was still delicious and I have never before thought of cinnamon being coupled with cherries, but it was delightful and added depth to the flavor.

Ok, I shouldn’t be too hard on you, pie, you look pretty yummy, too!

The Red Sea of Cherry! Although the recipe called for both cornstarch and tapioca, I don’t think there was nearly enough of either. But more importantly, it did not recommend that you thaw the berries first. I think whenever making a pie with frozen fruit it is very important to drain out the extra water being retained in the fruits, otherwise there will be too much liquid to deal with!

SO, enough about the pie that didn’t work, let’s get on to the best berry pie recipe, the only one that you’ll ever need! This pie has a flaky and buttery crust (I never promised not use fat! Only few ingredients and this one totally complies with that!) and a tart and sweet center. The filling is firm, yet still very moist. You won’t have any slices degrading into a sea of fruit filling. These slices stand up with the integrity of their own flavor…and a little corn starch!

Note on the pie filling: We used a combo, three packs of frozen and a couple containers of fresh raspberries and blueberries, but I’m sure whatever you choose will be yummy! I think even adding one container of fresh berries adds some freshness to the frozen ones if you don’t or can’t get all fresh.

For the Filling:

5 cups of frozen or fresh fruit, thaw if frozen

3 tablespoons cornstarch

2/3 cup sugar

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon lemon zest

For the Crust:

2 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 and 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

1/4 cup cold vegetable shortening

1/2 teaspoon salt

5-7 tablespoon ice water

1 tablespoon sugar

For the Glaze:

heavy cream

sugar

On to the pie!!

Before everything else and only if you are using frozen berries: take them out now and place them in a colander or sieve over another bowl. You might even want to give them a rinse or two under some tepid water, just to help the defrosting along.

Let’s start off with your crust, since you’ll need to refrigerate it for at least an hour before rolling out. Get out a glass and throw in some ice and water, so it’s nicely chilled before you add it to your crust.

Mix the flour, butter, shortening, sugar and salt in a bowl with a pastry blender, a fork, or in a food processor until it looks like course sand.

Although the epicurious recipe also says you can use your fingers, I think this should be avoided. I don’t know much, but since you bothered to keep the butter and shortening cold, I think using your fingers might warm it up too quickly, thereby affecting the way the flours and fats get coated in each other. I believe those little pockets of fat are what you WANT, so you don’t want it to blend too finely. You want it to look roughly like this:

Next, sprinkle the flour/fat mixture with 5 tablespoons of ice water evenly over the dough. And hark, here is a rare instance of my being anal-retentive about cooking, but if you are using the food processor, I even out the dough mixture inside using a spatula. For some reason it bothers me when it all goes into the center depression in there…from the centrifugal force of spinning. Centrifugal literally means to ‘flee the center’ in Latin, so don’t let those little flour covered bits of fat evade your water!

Ok, moving on. If you do a couple pulses and the dough is still looking more like sand than dough, you can sprinkle in a couple more. Sometimes I use 5, sometimes 7, you just have to pay attention to the consistency. This is just one of those mysteries of the Universe that depends on the alignment of the planets or solar flares or something.

But if you press some of the bits together, you want them to stick together, not fall back apart, and certainly you don’t want them to make a squishy SOUND. That’s rude.

“I said stand UP when you are squished, dough!”

Now place your dough onto a work surface, I just use a cutting board, no additional flour. And in the recipe they go into a whole process of dividing into 8 pieces, etc., etc. I just break it up into a few handful sized pieces and smear them onto the surface. I guess this does something for the fat dispersal. I haven’t tried it without this step, but I just don’t think it’s that important to get too sidetracked into it. You just want to squish things around a bit, scrape ’em up with a pastry scraper or large metal spatula and form them into two disks. These you will cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for at least an hour. I think this again harkens back to the fact that you don’t want to butter and shortening to melt before they are in the oven – that’s what gives you your flakes of crust!

You are going to be so beautiful when you bake up…

So, now that the dough is chillin’ we are (hopefully and depending on the frozen/thawed state of your berries) ready to move on to the berry mixture. Which could not be easier or less complicated.

The filling for this pie is loosely based on this one from www.joyofbaking.com.

In a small bowl, combine the sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice and lemon zest. Move the defrosted or fresh berries to a large bowl and sprinkle with the mixture. Gently toss together, although if the berries are frozen and thawed, there is a certain gloopiness that can’t be avoided! Fear not, it will TASTE delicious in the pie, even if it doesn’t look pretty now.

they still look preeeeetty pretty….

Set aside the mixture, because now it’s time to roll out the dough! This would also be a good time to preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. I place a cookie sheet either directly on the shelf I’m using (middle position) or just beneath to catch any errant juices that escape..it saves loads of clean-up!

Leave whichever round you aren’t rolling out in the fridge so it stays cold. Get out your pie dish and rolling pin. My pie rounds NEVER look pretty, but I am always sure not to let them stay too thick, since you want it to cook all the way through AND the excess just gets wrapped up in the very edge of the crust, which means more brown crusty bits to ‘taste test.’

Some tricks you can use if you’ve had crusts rip in the past is you line both sides with parchment paper or saran wrap, then you can move it easily and not dirty the roller! So, roll it as roundly as you can, then either fold into fourths, or in half and gently lift into the pie dish. Push the corners down and stretch the dough gently over the edges so it hangs a bit. Place it back in the fridge until the second is rolled out. I just did a plain ol’ fully covered dough, because A) I like dough and B) I don’t like making lattice-work dough tops. Why would a sacrifice all that delicious crust just so I can see the inside of the pie???

So, once the dough is all rolled out, pour in the filling.

Gently lay your second dough round on top, stretching slightly over the edges. Squeeze the dough that overlaps at the edges together, and generally fold any excess dough under and press together to achieve an even-ish edge. Some people would tell you to cut it off perfectly about an inch over the edge and roll under. Not me. I tell you that I wouldn’t give away those extra bits of brown crusty dough for the world.

The only thing you should be sure of is that the dough still hangs over the edge a bit. This helps the dough grip to the edge of the pie dish so it won’t shrink on you!

This is also the time to get fancy with your fluting if you are feelin’ it. I just used a fork this last pie, but you can use whatever. Think of something fun to use that will make an interesting pattern. The time before I used a hard plastic straw.

Using a sharp knife, cut some vent holes in the top, slits, stars, hearts, whatever you want.

Ok, we are getting down the final moments of this glorious pie bake. Next you’ll want to get the heavy cream and maybe a tablespoon or so of sugar. Brush on the heavy cream, then sprinkle a light dusting of sugar.

Bake at 425 degree F for 1/2 an hour. The edges of the crust should brown nicely during this part, but keep an eye on them just in case they are browning more quickly. For the second half of the baking process you will be using either one of those pre-made crust protectors or just some foil strips that I usually pre-shape for greater ease in putting it on, the pie IS hot!

So, after the first half an hour, turn the oven down to 375 degrees F and let bake an additional 30 minutes, with the foil crust protectors – I recommend removing the pie from the oven to put these on, but that’s just because I don’t like getting burned.

Oh, man. I am getting excited about your pie…can you spare a piece?? I’m not allowed to make it for another couple weeks, since we clearly have no self control around it.

So here we are, your pie is done, you’ve pulled it out of the oven and placed it on a cooling rack to let it cool for several hours. That’s right, SEVERAL hours. I know it hurts. I know you want it NOW. But letting it finish setting up will be rewarded, my friend, and sweetly.

…just look at that golden, delicious crust…

So, I assure you that you’re waiting and efforts will be paid in full. Whether you couple your slice with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream or nothing at all, this pie totally delivers.

So go forth and enjoy pie! And maybe with our positive and forward thinking thoughts SPRING will finally arrive and give us the perfect weather in which to enjoy a delightful berry pie!!

Thanks for reading and happy pie making!

Posted in Desserts, Pie, recipes | Leave a comment

A Tale of Two: The Red Wine and Pear Sorbet….

Many years later, as (s)he faced the firing squad, (elisabeth) Colonial Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when (her) his father took him to discover ice (cream)…

….and it was good…


So, if you’ve read One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, you may have noticed some slight changes to the above quotation. However, it was the first thing that popped into my mind when thinking about making my own sorbet and ice cream. The feeling of that total mystery of ice, or in this case, ice cream, even when it is sitting right in front of you. It has always seemed like a far off, distant sort of dream, balancing the flavors, getting the texture just right. Of course, first things first, you need a strong arm and plenty of time or an ice cream maker, the latter of which I did not possess until last week (Thanks, mom!).

And after a weekend of ice cream making, well, I  can assuredly say that only the tip of the ice (cream) berg has been revealed.

I saw this recipe for Red Wine and Pear sorbet in the New York Times online, and even before I had or knew I would have an ice cream maker, I posted on facebook that this would be my first recipe on that far off, eventual day. And through a lucky twist of fate, here I am, one week later and in possession of one red and beautiful ice cream maker (and five kinds of ice cream in my freezer)!

Let me also point out that this sorbet is packed with phytonutrients, and SO, it’s sort of like taking your vitamins….

So, let’s get TO it. Here’s what you’ll need:

2 and 1/2 lbs of ripe pears (4-6 large pears, we used Barletts)

1/2 cup sugar

1 and 1/2 cups water

1 and 1/2 cups red wine (I used a red blend)

1 2-to 3-inch cinnamon stick

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

pinch of freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

First, you’ll want to prep the pears. I just used a peeler, slicing the top and bottom parts of the pears as close to the edge as possible.

The peels make great snacks for pups if you have them, or yourself!

I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but I totally have this thing about creating stonehenge out of random, stonehengy shaped things….

Pearhenge…what does it MEAN???

So, now that we have THAT out of the way, we can continue to the next step….which is basically to measure out the other stuff, but not the LEMON juice or the pepper, we’re saving that for later… (red wine, water, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon stick) and put it all into a medium pot on the stove.

wine bath, anyone?

Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, uncovered until the pears are soft and translucent. The recipe from NYT says it will take about 30 minutes, but I guess our pears were a little on the harder side, because it took about 45 minutes. But not to worry, I think the greater importance is getting the pears soft and wine infused over a particular amount of time. I also sort of tended to the pears, turning them over and putting the ones on top underneath after a bit. Believe me, you’ll WANT to be near the pears, because they give off a delightful scent that is reminiscent of mulled wine and holidays.

When the pears are ready, they will have a beautiful deep reddish purple tint. Remove them carefully, especially if they are soft!, and place into a bowl to cool a bit.

Toss your pinch of pepper into the syrup remaining in the pot and remove the cinnamon stick. You want this syrup to be thin, but still syrupy. If you tip your pot sideways, then back down, you want a thin layer of the liquid to remain on the side. The syrup may already be about that consistency, in which case you don’t have to cook it further. I would say I continued to reduce for a few more minutes after removing the pears.

Then you’ll want to blend the pears. I used the food processor, because we all know my burny history with hot things in blenders. Blend at your own risk, and if the pears aren’t pretty darn cool by the time you are putting them in the blender, SMALL BATCHES! Aye!

Blend, blend, blend, until the pears get nice and smooth, then slowly add your syrup. Next, add the lemon juice, and blend some mo.’

Transfer the mixture into a bowl, or in my case a REALLY large measuring cup. This makes it really easy to pour into your ice cream maker. Place whatever you plan to store this in into the freezer so it gets nice and cold.

When you are ready to make the magic happen, and not a minute before, get out your frozen ice cream making component and get ready to pour! You do want to have given your mixture plenty of time to cool, because the cooler it is, the more efficient your ice cream maker can be!

At first, it will have the consistency of a thick soup. But slowly, over the next 25-30 minutes of work by your little ice cream maker,

it will look more like THIS:

And now it’s time to transfer to your chilled container, where you can make it look pretty, like the ice cream containers inside the glass at ice cream shops:

Just use the back of a spoon, and pretend you are icing a cake..

And now you’ve done it! This is a great little ice cream maker, that isn’t too expensive. And furthermore, you will NEVER be held back by the limited number of ‘regular’ flavors of ice cream and sorbet at the store! You can make any flavor your little heart desires..which reminds me, check back soon for the recipes for basil, pistachio, classic vanilla bean aaannnndd lavender!!

For now, hope you enjoy! Now it’s back to the ice cream making cave!!!

Posted in Desserts, Ice Creams and Sorbets, recipes | 1 Comment

You Need to know about this No-Knead Bread!

…this is why…

Ok, so I posted a picture on my facebook page a few weeks ago, and figured it was time to get it up on the blog. The original recipe can be found here. It is one of the most fun bread-making experiences I have ever had. I have had a roller-coaster type ride with bread recipes in the past. Frequently, I experience brick-loaves…you know, the ones that are more effective as self-defense weapons than something to actually eat? I tried and tried over and again, only to have to deduce that my hands held some mysterious yeast-killing microbial combo that destroyed my loaves barely before they started to become. This is literally what I thought for months. Then I tried THIS recipe. And now I feel like a bread-baking superstar!! Because even if you futz around and don’t get everything perfect – you still end up with a gorgeous and delicious loaf that you want to carry around with you to show off. But that’s only if you and anyone nearby doesn’t consume it immediately…

What you’ll need:

1/4 ounce of instant, or bread, yeast

1 and 1/4 teaspoons salt

3 cups bread flour (we like using King Arthur)

1 and 5/8 cups of water (I like it to be room temp. to warmish, vague enough for you?) 🙂

Oil for the bowl during rising

You also have the choice of dusting the outside of the loaf with flour, cornmeal, or wheat bran. So whichever you have, or feel like getting! We’ve just used the flour.

I call this Mt. Flour….

The other great thing about this recipe is just how little work it requires! No-knead! No mixer! No bread machine! Just a bowl, a pot, a couple cotton towels and about 18 hours of rising. That’s the part where you let those little yeasties get to work!

So, first you want to combine the flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl. Add your water and stir with a wooden spoon until mixed together. You want the dough shaggy but not too wet. I’ll give you an example of too wet:

if your dough looks like this, you maaaaaay want to add a sprinkling of flour!

But the great thing is, that even this dough turned out beautiful and yummy! Like I said, you just can’t go wrong with this recipe!

Next, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit for about 12, but better if its 18, hours in a warm kitchen. I frequently turn on the oven to about 200-250 degrees for a while, placing the bowl on top of the stove. If you don’t have raised burners I would probably put a pan in between the bowl and the surface, just so it doesn’t get TOO warm at the bottom of the bowl. And obviously you should NOT leave it on for 12-18 hours! If you have a cold kitchen, just give it a few boosts, just to be nice. 🙂

When your dough’s surface has little bubbles all across it, it is considered ready, but you may get these before you finish letting it rise. But go ahead and let it sit a little longer, you won’t regret it! The only thing you don’t want to happen is a crust on top of the shaggy dough. I haven’t had this happen, but it doesn’t hurt to give the dough a glance now and then, just so it knows you love it. If it’s dry, I would quickly give it a spritz of water and a stir. Make sure your plastic wrap is sealed, then back to sitting!

When you are ready, bubbled surface, 12-18 hours later, lightly flour a smooth surface. Put the dough on it and fold it over on itself a couple times, loosely.

Drape with plastic wrap and let rest for 15 minutes. In the meantime, grab a cotton tea towel or towel, but not terry cloth. The dough is sort of light and sticky, and I think this would prove problematic to use a heavily textured cloth, as it would most likely stick to it. Generously flour, wheat bran or cornmeal, the towel. You will be placing the dough, once made into a round, onto this towel.

Shape the dough into a ball, using as little extra flour as possible.

And place, seam side down, onto your prepared towel. Dust a little more flour, wheat bran or cornmeal, on top of the loaf. Drape another cotton towel on top and let sit for another 2 hours. The dough is ready when it has more than doubled in size and does not spring back quickly when poked.

About 1 and 1/2 hours into the last rest, heat your oven to 450 degrees. Place a 6 to 8 quart covered pot either cast iron, enamel, pyrex, ceramic, or stainless steel, we use a stainless steel pot, into the pre-heating oven. You will want to have a lid for it. When your dough has reached the desired size, CAREFULLY pull out your pot, AND REMEMBER THAT ITS HOT!! I have made the mistake of absentmindedly going to pick up this pot with its handle..and I will tell you, it doesn’t feel very good! So don’t do it!! But remove the lid, and pick up your loaf, with one hand underneath. You are just going to turn that baby over and drop it like it’s hot, into that pot. Don’t worry about what it looks like, just give the pot a shake – WITH A HOT PAD!! Replace the lid and move it into the oven and bake for 30 minutes.

Remove lid and continue to back for an additional 15 to 30 minutes.

This is where you are getting your nicely browned crust, so it’s sort of a matter of personal taste how long you leave it in! Just give it a check every five minutes or so. You can gauge what’s goin’ on. But it will look something like this when done:

Isn’t that crust a beaut?

Take the loaf out of the oven, turn it onto a rack to cool. Then happy eats! Super easy, super cheap, and not too much hands on. OH, and it ALWAYS turns out good, which is something I really look for in a recipe..well, they ALL are what I look for. So I’d say this is a five star recipe!

You can say: “I did it all by myself!”

Posted in Bread, grains, recipes | Leave a comment

Hummus that will make you happy, everytime.

Dried garbanzo, or chickpeas..

Buying hummus at the store used to be good enough for me…until I had the hummus at Azar’s – the local Middle Eastern restaurant – and a darn good one at that. But then sometimes you are driving by and thinking “Gee, wouldn’t it be great to swing by and have a nice plate of hummus and hot pita?” only to find that they are closed on a Saturday morning!!! Not that I necessarily expected them to be open on a Saturday morning, but when you want hummus, you WANT hummus. Luckily, my hubby found an amazing recipe on smittenkitchen.com and did a little tinkering so that now, anytime, anyhow, we have delicious hummus on hand.

One of the things that makes the biggest difference, and this was confirmed by the woman behind all the good food at Azar’s, is soaking and cooking your own beans. Luckily, while they are soaking, the beans don’t need a lot of attention. Just give them something good to read.

What you will need for the only recipe for hummus you will ever have to use for ever more:

4 cups dried garbanzo, or chickpeas

7-8 garlic cloves

1 cup fresh lemon juice (keep a few lemons around in case you want to add more juice to taste)

1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 15-ounce can of tahini (we prefer Joyva, but there are perfectly good other brands out there!)

Your first step is just to place about three cups of dried beans into a large bowl and fill with water, almost to the top. You want the beans to have lots of moisture to suck up!

Then set them aside, preferably in a cool place, and let them soak overnight.Or you could start them early in the morning and cook them that evening. Whatever works for your schedule. Soaking them for 12-24 hours (we usually soak for around 12 hours) reduces your cooking time by about a half an hour.

You’ll want to rinse the beans completely before putting them in a pot for cooking. Add enough water to cover the beans with an inch or two of water. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt (we like to air on the less-salty side, you can always add more when you are getting ready to serve it!) and simmer for an hour or two. You can check on the beans by removing one and cutting it in half – you won’t want to see any white chalkiness, that is an indication that they aren’t cooked through!

NOTE: When the beans are done cooking, DON’T FORGET TO SAVE SOME OF THE LIQUID! I forget about half the time, and I assure you, it’s always annoying!! The extra garbanzo liquid really adds some richness and garbanzo-y flavor, which is one thing I really love about this recipe.

Pretty Beans!

The beans will now be shiny and hydrated, and once they are cooled, it’s time to prep your other ingredients.

One of the other key methods to this hummus recipe is the garlic mash. We have a mortar and pestle, which works great for this, but you could probably use the end of a large knife (carefully and at your own discretion..no injuries on  my watch!) or the handle end of a ice cream scoop.

Mash it up!

Put your garlic cloves into a bowl, or the mortar and sprinkle over 1 teaspoon of salt. This helps to break down the garlic and makes for a nice blending in once you add it to the other ingredients.

Such a cute little mash..

Once you have it nicely blended, set next to your cuisinart. Next, move on to your lemons. Depending on their size, you will need anywhere from six to ten lemons – the fresher the better. You will need about a cup. You might want some extra to adjust the flavor, but we generally use 1 cup.

Give the lemon a roll with some pressure to maximize juice-age.

The Great Lemon Massacre of 2011…

We have a great lemon juicer, yellow and with a hinge. However, if you don’t, you can always squeeze them over your fingers to catch the seeds, or pour through a strainer, which we usually do anyhow, when you are done.

Now you are just about ready. I would recommend giving your tahini a few swirls with a spatula so you aren’t stuck trying to free it from the container when you are mixing everything together.

Tahini! We love you!

Now that you’ve got your beans, tahini, lemon juice and garlic paste, it’s time to begin! I have tried to think of alternatives to the cuisinart, but it really helps if you have one. I haven’t ever tried it in a different appliance, but you might be able to make something happen with a blender..although you might have to mix it in batches…

First you want to combine the garlic paste and lemon juice. Make sure they are mixed completely and that you don’t have any globs of the garlic paste trying to escape the container. Scrape in the whole container of tahini, blend until smooth and combined. Here you can either add 1/2 cup of water or 1/2 cup of the preserved bean liquid, we use the bean liquid for a more potent flavor.

Next, add about four cups of the cooked beans and blend, adding more bean liquid and lemon juice to adjust the consistency and flavor to your liking. And blend, blend, blend. Let that baby blend. Seriously. Blend longer than you think you have to.

Smooooooooth…

To serve, spread hummus onto a plate, sprinkle with paprika and drizzle olive oil and chopped parsley on top. We are still working on a good pita recipe, but you can usually find something to suffice at the grocery store. And hey, if pita isn’t your thing, carrots are great, bell peppers are great, tomatoes are great, pretty much anything is great dipped in this hummus. Which is why it is a staple in our fridge!!

Attack of the parsley!

You can certainly go a little more easy on the parsley than I did here, but hey it’s good for you! Since you will likely have left-over beans, they go great on salads, as a snack all by themselves or toasted or fried up in any number of dishes. Garbanzo beans are a great way to add some nutrition and flavor to your meals!

Happy Hummus Eating!

Hummus!

Posted in Beans, Main Dishes, recipes, Side dishes, vegetables | 3 Comments

Beans, beans the magical fruit…

Beans of every color!

Let me start with a quick revision of the popular bean-song: (feel free to sing along!)

“Beans, beans the magical fruit, if you soak them properly, then you won’t toot! But your body will thank you for how you feel, so eat your beans at every meal!!”

Ok, so you don’t have to REALLY eat your beans for every meal. But we are. At least for this month. It is our attempt at frugality aimed at saving some money to send to the relief effort in Japan. For us, the food budget is a place we can cut down in order to put some aside. Not to mention the nutritional benefits from eating beans, when properly soaked!

This first recipe is beyond easy and literally has four or five ingredients, depending on how you choose to approach it.

For the soup:

Bob’s Red Mill 13-bean soup (that’s right 13 kinds of beans and lentils! YES!) hopefully you can find this in the bulk section, but they also come in individual packets.

Bacon or a ham-hock (which they don’t sell at our local grocery, hence the bacon)

One or two of the following greens: collards, kale or cabbage

olive oil, salt and pepper

Ok, ok, with the last three, I think that brings the total # of ingredients to five! But hey, math was never my strong suit.

Next, you will want to throw 2 cups of the bean/lentil mix into a medium or large mixing bowl and fill with a generous amount of water.

Beans like a bath, don’t you?

The soaking step is definitely an important one – not only does it reduce cooking time significantly, but it helps to remove the complex sugars (aka oligosaccharides) from the beans outer coating. These pesky sugars are what put the ‘toot’ in the magical bean song, if you know what I mean. Also, reducing the cooking time helps the beans retain their greatest percentage of nutritional benefit!

Put the beans off to the side, where they won’t get in the way and let them soak overnight.

When it is time to cook ’em up, throw 5 or 6 slices of bacon into your soup pot and render those babies. I’ve tried this without rendering, and it’s just not as good. If you are using the hock, just toss ‘er in right before you add the beans.

Take a moment to give the beans a good rinse. Unless you like eating dirt and god knows what else was on those shells….After your bacon is looking a little browned around the edges and some of its fat is now in the pan – toss in the beans and give them a mix around in those delicious bacon juices.

Add 2 and a half quarts – or six cups – of water and bring everything to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and let cook for a couple hours. See, I TOLD you it was easy! You can check the beans, if you aren’t sure about their doneness, by taking one of the biggest ones out and slicing it in half – you want no whitish chalkiness…

I LOVE putting some kind of sauteed greens on top of this soup. You will be surprised how flavorful all those beans, and ahem, bacon, tastes alone, but a nice topping of greens seems to balance it out just right.

This last time I used a combo of green cabbage and lacianato Kale – the dark, flatter leaves – first I remove the spines, then I chop them into thin strips (thinn-ISH, remember who you are talking to here) but roughly bite sized, since this makes it easier to eat. And I am all about that. I generally prefer collared greens, but they were out at the grocery store (what kind of place is this??). SO I improvised.

Heat up a medium sized pan – preferably stainless steel – with a layer of olive oil on the bottom. Medium heat should do it, you want to hear a nice sizzle when you drop them in.

Toss the chopped greens into the pan once the oil is hot, sprinkle salt over the top and start mixing them around.

I usually only give them a minute or two, just softened but not over cooked. I like my greens with a little crunch left in them.

At this point, you can probably get your bowls ready, toss the bacon strips into the garbage (I know, I know, this is the ONLY painful part about this process…) and get ready for eatin’ time.

I’m feelin’ the magic already…

Toss a nice pile of those greens on top and you are ready for a cost effective and nutritionally bursting meal. This will leave you feeling truly satisfied, with yourself and your body will say ‘Thanks!’ And not ‘Toot!’

Place in tupperware containers. You might need a couple because this makes enough soup to last a couple days. And now you have made many meals for very little money and effort! Bon appetit!

Posted in Beans, Main Dishes, recipes, Soups | Leave a comment

Just finished a Finnish coffee braid…

This recipe is from a fellow (though far superior) food blog that I adore: http://desertcandy.blogspot.com/ She explores and explains her love of Middle Eastern cooking, one of my personal favs. I love how much thought and care she puts into the background of each recipe – you can certainly learn a lot from visiting her site.

My rounds don’t look as pretty as hers, but my nickname around the kitchen is “rough chop” so it’s ok with me! Besides, you really can’t go wrong with the flavor, so get creative with your shapes and add your own personal touch!

This recipe is easy, easy, easy. And when you are done, looking at your browned braids, you feel like a professional baker..even if only for as long as the bread lasts! Which usually isn’t long. I also like that the recipe is made for two loaves, so you can make one for yourself and give one away! One for me, one for you! I’ve added a quick and easy honey butter recipe that pairs deliciously with the orangy – cardamon-y flavors in the bread.

So, on to the recipe:

What you will need:

For the bread:

2 and 1/4 teaspoons (or 1 packet) of active dry yeast

3 tablespoons warm water

1 cup milk  (I used whole)

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 eggs, beaten

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cardamon

Grated peel of 1 orange

appx. five cups of all-purpose flour

For the glaze:

1 egg yolk

1 tablespoon milk (again, I used whole)

For the honey-butter:

You guess it!

4 tablespoons butter (you’ll want to take this out of the fridge when you start, so it’s nice and soft for mixing)

1-2 tablespoons honey

First, you want to get those yeast activated. Since I’ve had some frustrating experiences with yeast and temperature fluctuations, I pre-warm the metal bowl in my mixer, just to be extra-encouraging to those little yeast. I do this by turning the metal mixing bowl upside down in the sink and running some warm water over it. While this is happening, I measure out the yeast and since I need some warm water anyhow – it’ll be ready!

Give them a warm little bath, and they WILL reward you!

Next, you want to melt the butter into the whole milk. For easier melting, slice the butter into tablespoons. Pour the cup of whole milk into a pot on the stove and warm, with butter pieces, until the butter is melted – but be careful not to let the milk boil.

The Sea of Butter and Milk…

You’ll want to keep an eye on this and remove it from the heat as soon as the butter melts. Otherwise you will be waiting a long while for it to cool back down to a temperature that won’t end the lives of your yeast prematurely!

I had to spend a little time whisking and cooling my milk in the fridge before it was an appropriate temperature.

While it’s cooling, measure out your sugar, salt and cardamon. You can probably get cardamon pre-grounded, but we buy the pods and they require smashing. Angry at anyone? Another great opportunity to take it out!

Whisk a couple eggs in a small bowl or measuring cup.

For the zesting, we have a microplane – they aren’t too expensive, maybe ten bucks at target, but they are a great tool in the kitchen. They are good for all sorts of spices, like whole nutmeg, and orange zest, also it makes a nice grate for cheese. I’m sure there are tons of other uses, but those are the ones off the top of my head.

Watch your fingers!

Next step is to add the milk mix, the sugar-spice mix, and the zest to the yeast – being sure to test the milk thoroughly for temperature.

Mix together with a wooden spoon, and attach your dough hook, if you are using an electric mixer. Next, you’ll want to add the flour, one cup at a time, until it no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl. I used all five cups of flour, but just watch the dough’s consistency as you go along.

Not ready yet!

dough ball!

Once the dough stops sticking to the sides of the bowl – it’s time for kneading! Either by hand or with the machine, knead until the dough is smooth and cohesive.

Now it’s time for a break! Place the dough into a greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap until it is doubled. Again, in our frigid kitchen, I give my doughs a little extra support by turning on the oven to 200-250 degrees (F) and placing the bowl above a burner.

So, while you’re waiting for the dough to rise, which may take up to two hours, it’s a great time to throw together the honey-butter. If you forgot to take the butter out, just do it now and wait until the second rest to mix it together – not one needs the uphill battle of hard butter!

I just throw half a stick or a whole stick of butter into a small tupperware container, and pour the honey on top. Let your taste buds guide you here, some like it sweeter, like me! and some more buttery – like me! Ok, you caught me, I like it both ways..and I’m always looking for an excuse to spread thicker layers of butter on whatever it is that I’m eating..so it’s your call!

Squish ’em together – very technical cooking terms here. I use the back of a metal spoon.

..not particularly photogenic…but delicoius nonetheless!

Then cover that little container up and allow the flavors to mind meld!

Ok, back to the bread…a couple hours later..Punch your dough down and divide into two equal parts. In some cases I refer to “serious” measuring, but this isn’t one of these times! yay! So, just do you best to eye it. Unless you are a perfectionist..in which case, to the scale! I only use the scale when either (a) my husband is in the kitchen with me, or (b) I’ve tried the recipe a few times without measuring only to fail miserably. So I am happy to report that the rules are not so stringent here!

Take each portion and divide it into three equal (ish) parts:

Looks about right, RIGHT?

Form each ball into a ropes that are of about equal length, aiming for 18-24 inches long..although mine have sort of consistently been a bit shorter than that!

Roll out! Roll out!

Next you want to connect the ends – like when you made friendship bracelets! If you were a dork like me…I’ll say it, I had a box of organized threads by color! Pretty awesome when you are 29, I mean, 12…

Get ready to braid!

As you braid the pieces together, pull the dough slightly for a tighter braid and be sure to adjust the pieces so they stay about the same thickness along the way.

Mine isn’t all that perfectly even, but I said TRY, right? 🙂

Next, you want to shape it into a round, pinching the ends together to form a full circle.

The ends might not be perfect, but kind of like how tanning evens out the skins imperfections, the browning on this loaf will distract from any irregularities in the shape!

Place onto a greased baking sheet, or in my case, a greased piece of parchment paper. I like the parchment because it keeps the baking sheet clean when you brush on the egg mixture and makes them really easy to slide off the sheet when done.

Cover with a dishtowel and let rest/rise for another 1 and 1/2 to 2 hours, or until almost doubled.

When they are getting close, preheat the oven, or in my case, turn the oven UP, to 350 degrees (F). Mix together the egg yolk and milk for your glaze. When the oven is ready, brush on your mixture.

Brush….brush, brush it on..

Bake the loaves for 30-35 minutes, or until golden brown on the outside. Pull out of oven and let cool on wire racks. After completely cooled, place into a large plastic bag for keeping. It’s sort of a squishy bread, but if it gets too squishy in the bag, just open it up for a couple hours.

Next, you’ll need to “test” your bread, with a healthy serving of honey-butter. Hey, if it’s only HALF butter, why hold back? I like to call it a butter ‘spread’ so I feel better about just how MUCH I put on there.

Mmmm yummy honey-butter, with hints of orange and cardamon..

Bon appetit! And be sure to check out the desert candy blog, there are tons of yummy and new things to try out there and lots to learn!

Posted in Bread, Breakfast, grains, recipes | Leave a comment