Sunday, January 27, 2008

My Pasta

Sometimes you just don't feel like cooking. Those times are rare for me but when they strike, they strike hard. I look at my fridge with dread. Sometimes my lovey love makes me a stir fry while I sit on a stool, drinking beer and watching. Other times I just munch until I'm full. Or I grudgingly cook something up and eat it just because I'm hungry, not because I feel like it. In times like this, it's good to have a few stand bys that are easy, come together quickly and without much thought, and are made of items that you always have. Well, I always have olive oil, pasta, and kalamata olives. So when I can't be bothered to be creative, or when I just want something familiar and comforting, I whip out this quick pasta dish.

It is based on a recipe from Moosewood's Simple Suppers. Really loosely based. I skip most of the steps and ingredients, or change the ingredients around for an always delicious pasta dish. So this isn't really a recipe, but more of a suggestion.

In it's most bare bones form, the dish is pasta tossed with olive oil and about a handful of roughly chopped olives. I usually use just kalamata olives, but a combination of olives is also tasty. If you are feeling fancier, or have any of these other ingredients around, you can add some toasted pine nuts, sun dried tomatoes, and parmesan cheese. In the summer I throw in some roughly chopped fresh tomatoes, and maybe some parsley if I'm feeling really fancy.

This pasta is delicious no matter what combination of these ingredients you put in, or in what quantities. The only time I screwed it up was when I made it for Tim. It was the first time I made him dinner and I was soooooo nervous that I overcooked and over oiled the pasta, and let my re-hydrated sun dried tomatoes get cold before putting them in. The dish was mushy, coldish, and oily.

But I'm sure that won't happen to you. Just don't be nervous and it will turn out well.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Leafy and Lemony Lentil Soup

I love lentil soup. It's perfect in so many ways. It is a hearty and satisfying winter meal, something to get the Portland chill out of your bones. It is also protein rich, filling, and light, even though it has a thick, stew like consistency. I usually use the Hearty Lentil Soup recipe from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone but last week I came across two different lentil soup recipes to try.

As some of you know, I am blissfully unemployed this week, leaving me lots of time to think about lentil soup, among other things. So after some careful consideration and a glance at my produce drawer, I decided to combine these two recipes. The base recipe is from an article in the NY Times food section, and the second is from 101Cookbooks, one of my favorite food blogs. I was drawn to the NY Times recipe because it uses red lentils and calls for lemon. The 101Cookbooks recipe didn't look all the impressive, honestly, except for the addition of dark, leafy green to the soup at the end. Hmmm...

So here is my hybrid soup recipe, with a few notes that I deem important. The resulting soup is lighter, oranger, and thinner than most lentil soup recipes. It also has a bit of zing at the end, due to the lemon and a pinch of cayenne. It's a nice change, but I do plan to post the old standby recipe at some point as well.

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter*
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt, more to taste*
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Pinch of ground cayenne
1 quart stock, chicken or vegetable
1 cup red lentils
1 large carrot, diced
juice of 1 lemon
1 bunch kale or chard

In a large pot, heat butter and olive oil over medium high heat. Add onion and garlic and saute a few minutes until golden. Stir in tomato paste, cumin, salt, black pepper, and cayenne, and saute a few minutes longer. Add stock, 2 cups water, lentils, and carrot. Bring to a simmer, cover partially, and simmer until lentils are tender, 20-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, rinse and roughly chop greens. You want bite size pieces rather than long ribbons that will hang off of your spoon and burn you as you try to eat your finished soup (trust me). Saute over medium heat in 1 tablespoon olive oil until greens start to wilt. Then cover and steam greens until tender. Remove from heat and squeeze juice from 1/2 lemon over greens. Set aside.

When lentils are cooked, puree part of the soup (in a blender or with an immersion blender) and return to pot. Add greens and juice from the other half of a lemon and heat through.

*I love the flavor combination of butter and olive oil. The butter boosts flavor, and the olive oil keeps it from being too heavy. I use this combo for most everything now.

*The original recipe called for only 1/4 teaspoon salt, which wasn't nearly enough for my soup. However, I was using homemade turkey stock (remember the turkey carcass?) that was not very salty. If you are using store bought stock, which tends to be saltier, I would use just 1/4 teaspoon salt to start and then go from there.

Oh! And, don't forget that lentil soup tastes better as it ages. The longer you leave it in the pot, the more intense the flavors will be. It's most delicious point is the day after, for lunch.

Monday, January 7, 2008


You're probably thinking eeewww, gross (unless you're my dad, and then you're beaming with pride) but I assure you, you're mistaken. You only think you don't like anchovies. But secretly, anchovies are delicious. And you will like them after you try this salad dressing.

I avoided anchovies for most of my life. My dad used to bring them on our backpacking trips when I was a kid and then finish off a whole tin by the fire at night. Then he would throw the tin in the fire so that all the oil could cook off and we'd bring the tin home with us to throw away. Gross, I thought.

But I do love a good Caesar salad and only lately realized that there are anchovies in Caesar dressing. That made me reconsider. Then, my old roommate and dear friend S Baum, who is all sorts of picky about taste and texture and type of food, came home after eating this anchovy dressing at a friend's house and said it was delicious. Hmmm.

So I tried this dressing myself and oh man is it good. I was fearful pouring the whole tin of anchovies into my food processor, but the blend of oils and other seasonings mellows out the taste of the little fish without muting it altogether.

This is also an incredibly nutritious combination of ingredients. Both flax seed oil and anchovies are rich on Omega 3 fatty acids, something that western diets tend to lack. Among other things, Omega 3s help reduce inflammation in the body. So, if you're like me and have a bum shoulder or some other sort of joint problem that tends to get inflamed and irritated, Omega 3s are a great addition to your diet.

The dressing is a filling and substantial addition to a salad. It's high in protein, so it stays with you for a while. I've only used it on simple, two to three ingredient salads, but I think it would also be good on more complex salads. Just keep everything savory and don't add anything else too rich (i.e. fruit and rich cheeses).

This recipe is adapted from Nourishing Traditions, my delicious/informative/scary cookbook.

1 tin anchovies packed in olive oil
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon expeller pressed flax seed oil
1 clove garlic, peeled and mashed
1 teaspoon Dijon-type mustard
1/4 cup raw wine vinegar*
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Place all ingredients in food processor* and blend until smooth.

*I don't know exactly what raw wine vinegar is or where to get it, so I just use red wine vinegar. I use a bit less than the recipe calls for, probably 3/4 of 1/4 cup. And sometimes I up the lemon juice to compensate because I love lemon.

*If you don't have a food processor you should get one. But in the mean time I think the blender would work fine. Just add a little hot water if the dressing is too thick.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Yuck and Gross

One of my holiday presents this year was a crock pot. I had asked people at work for a hand me down crock pot (because I love hand me down kitchen things) and someone got me a brand spanking new one for our Secret Santa exchange. Thank you Santa (Deana). It has been sitting in its box in my kitchen for a few weeks now while I've been getting warmed up to the idea of crock pot cookery. I'm totally fascinated and excited, but I don't really get it yet.

So I decided to start with beans. Beans are cheap and easy and impossible to ruin, right? Wrong. These beans are nasty. Seriously. They went down the garbage disposal the second they cooled. Gross.

I don't know what I did wrong. I soaked dried canellini beans over night, then changed their water and added a quartered onion, some smashed garlic cloves, and fresh thyme. Then I turned it on low and went to work (yes, I did all those things before leaving the house at 7:15 am--it's because I'm amazing).

When I walked in the door the house smelled kind of good but mostly bad. The beans looked ugly. And they tasted ugly, bland and gross all at the same time. The onions and herbs and garlic looked gross, too.

Oh well. Maybe I was supposed to boil water in the crock pot before using it? Maybe my beans were too old? Maybe I shouldn't have soaked them first? I don't know.

It may take me a few more weeks to work up to using the crock pot again.