Lentil Soup: A Medicine That Goes Down Easy

Being sick always forces me to recognize the extreme nature of my food addiction. I can’t taste at all, the only thing I can derive from a meal is texture, and I still pound slices of pizza like my life depends on it. Force of habit I guess. The whole time I desperately breathe through my nose, hoping to oxygenate my palate and experience the taste of food that I so deeply miss. Its a pathetic and mucus filled occasion.

At some point, you can’t change who you are, you just have to work around the problematic person you’ve become. I knew that having a cold, and subsequently no sense of taste, would do nothing to prevent me from eating. So I decided to make my meals as healthy as possible. Because whats the difference between bacon wrapped shrimp and kale salad when your taste buds are out of commission? Might as well stave off heart disease for another few weeks.

So I made lentil soup. I used the exact recipe that was used to a delicious end in class on Monday. I sautéed carrots, celery, and onion in olive oil to make your classic mirepoix. Then I added a can of chopped tomatoes, and cooked them down with about half a cup of water. Then I added maybe four cups of lentils, and simmered the soup for about ten minutes. I salted throughout, and peppered at the end, but in retrospect, it didn’t really matter. I had no ability to season to taste.

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My soup, pre-lentils.

I ate five bowls of it, just so I could feel the comfort of chewing and swallowing. I could sort of taste it from time to time, and I’m pretty sure it was delicious, but one never knows. The important thing is that I got all my essential nutrients, plenty of protein, and didn’t let illness get in the way of my impending obesity.

You might be curious about the gastrointestinal impact of eating five bowls of lentil soup in one night. I’ll just say this. There are consequences. Very real consequences, and I think it would be best for everyone if I leave it at that.

New Findings in the Condiment Lab

This week I made two fun dips that almost no one besides me enjoyed.

Eggplant Pesto

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At some point this week I impulsively baked some eggplant. Unsure of what to do with it, I tossed it in the blender. And at the moment that I threw a nightshade into my VitaMix, inspiration struck like a thunderbolt. Pesto! I was a genius. I added almonds, basil, garlic, and olive oil, and blended it like a champ. A splash of lemon to liven it up, and I was face to face with a tasty alternative pesto.

I fed it to several people. Two people seemed to genuinely enjoy it. The rest of them grimaced before saying “wow, what a unique flavor!” It may not be popular, and the resemblance to bat guano is intimidating, but this is a creation I will stand by.

Bold Sesame Hummus

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This dip was more humble in it’s aspirations. I set out to make a white bean and garbanzo hummus — one can of white beans, two cans of garbanzos, olive oil, garlic, lemon, salt, tahini. However, I found myself deeply enamored of the nutty tahini flavor. Lost in a sesame lust, I added two tablespoons of sesame oil to my creation.

Overpoweringly filled with sesame? Perhaps. But I still plowed through this hummus, assisted by a box of triscuits.

Lasagna: The Jenga of Food

Despite it’s lengthy time commitment, lasagna is one of the simplest meals to make.  It is based only upon the stacking of Italian ingredients —  not exactly a complex culinary exercise.

As a result, the flavor of lasagna stands upon the shoulders of it’s filling. It only goes as far  as your selection of cheese, veggies and meat. When I set my sights on making a lasagna, I knew I would have to take the time to make each ingredient pop on the palate; I would need to get the little things right. Such is the case when we aspire to greatness.

Of course, our meals are never as delicious as we imagine them in the supermarket isle.  Like all foods once dreamed and later cooked, my lasagna made the inevitable journey,  from perfect food archetype to flawed edible reality.

When I sampled my final entree, I found that my dairy distribution was mediocre at best. I had commitment issues with the spinach. My Italian sausage was incredibly dry, a desert landscape to rival a Georgia O’keeffe painting.

But as my good friend Frank once told me, “don’t change your hair for me, not if you care for me, stay little valentine. Stay.” No my lasagna wasn’t perfect. It’s figure was certainly less than greek. But damn if it wasn’t reasonably tasty.

I now realize that most of my blog is lengthy eulogies for lost food potential. Let’s move onto the pictures.

Continue reading “Lasagna: The Jenga of Food”

[EXCLUSIVE] How I Curried My Family’s Favor With One Simple Dinner

Yep, we’re talking about curry. Specifically, a curry I made Saturday night, when I desired a healthy home-cooked meal.

It was a very basic curry, which was quick and easy to make, and a little bit underwhelming flavor wise. In hindsight, I should have hunted down some Kaffir lime leaves to get a more classic curry flavor. I also should have made it in a normal pan, not a wok. Alas.

It started as a simple sauté of onions, garlic, and ginger in (supposedly) heart healthy coconut oil. 

  

To which I added some carrots and peppers…

    

… and it wouldn’t be a party without asparagus. 

Then I added in my curry flavor and let it sauté with the veggies to get some good flavor going (or at least I hoped as much). 

And finally, I added three cans of coconut milk, some lime juice, and let it all simmer down like an angry 5th grader in time out. 

 

My creation is pictured here with its co-stars: “jasmine rice” and “bowl”.
 
Though mild, my meal was decidedly inoffensive. I enjoyed it. My family was also pleased. 

But, in my heart of hearts, I have a deep desire to craft a richer curry… A restless beast within me yearns to create a curry so smooth and effusively flavorful that people will eye me suspiciously, asking “is this takeout?”
But what are we, if not our dreams of Asian cuisine? 

The Eggcellence of Pasta Carbonara 

In a fitting extension of our lesson on eggs in class, I was taught how to make the unique and tasty pasta carbonara by my culinary sensei Pam Saindon.

Carbonara is strange in that you put raw eggs in your cooked spaghetti. However, all of you salmonella panicked people out there can take a deep breath of relief — the hot pasta cooks the egg until it achieves a smooth, almost custard like state. It reminded me a little bit of the beginning stages of a hollandaise. 

Health desclaimers aside, let’s take a look at carbonara creation: 

  
  
Like any upstanding meal, our rendition of pasta carbonara started with eggs and bacon. Or rather eggs and pancetta. The pancetta was in cut into very small cubes to allow it to be crispy, and fit well within the pasta. 

The eggs got whisked together in a separate bowl until they were completely combined (I wish I knew a better adjective for a well scrambled egg). 

Then three hefty cups of shredded Parmesan and a lot of ground pepper were added to form this eggy concoction. 

  

All the while,  in a nearby pot, we had been boiling spaghetti to al dente perfection. Once it was cooked, we drained the pasta, but were careful to save some of the water. The pasta went right into the pancetta to marinade in delicious meat and grease. 

  

As you can see above, we’ve got the bacon pasta, the cheesy eggs, and the hot water all line up and ready to go. While the pasta was still piping hot, we added it to the egg and tossed it vigorously and throughly so that the egg both cooked into a creamy delicious custard, and evenly coated the pasta. A little bit of the retained pasta water was used to loosen up the pasta as needed. 

Thus was our take on a popular Italian delicacy. It was quite tasty. If you are more squeamish with eggs, it would probably be possible to make a more cheese based pasta, using a few eggs only as an emulsifier. 

Whatever your level of egg appreciation, get out there and get crackin!

Simple, Heathy Dessert (and it’s not even Yoplait!)

And there I was, not even looking for a simple healthy dessert, and I stumbled right into one. Or rather, my girlfriend found it, and convinced me to make it.

The dessert was baked bananas and it’s exactly as simple as it sounds. Here are the steps:

  1. cut a banana in half lengthwise
  2. place banana on baking sheet
  3. brush with lemon juice
  4. drizzle with honey
  5. sprinkle with cinnamon
  6. Bake for 10-15 minutes at 350 degrees
  7. Enjoy your masterpiece.

 

Fruity confection or lost Picasso?

All told this meal took about 20 minutes from findings banana in the fridge to eating it. It contains almost nothing besides nutritious banana, yet is a huge improvement over a plain banana. We ate our bananas with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and found it to be scrumptious.

To those of you who are lazy but want something sweet, you’re welcome.

Quinoa, Perfectly Cooked

A fun story for today: I made quinoa at 1 am.

Let me elaborate. I got home late Thursday, and feeling restless, was suddenly compelled to cook 2 cups of quinoa.

For any of you new to Quinoa, here’s the greatest lesson I can ever teach you — don’t follow the recipe on the box/bag. It calls for a 1 to 2 ratio of quinoa to water, and that is too much water. You will make Quin-mush.

I discovered Gwyneth Paltrow’s recipe, which I now use exclusively, and it changed both my quinoa life, and my life as a whole. I’ve never looked back.

So I cooked my quinoa at 1 am, and when I opened the lid after the requisite 18 minutes of simmering, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had crafted quinoa of the perfect consistency. Fluffy, light, just mushy enough without actually being mushy. I almost shed a tear.

Was this perfection was owed to rare and spectacular barometric conditions? My affectionate anthropomorphizing of an otherwise inanimate grain? Really good measurements? We may never know. All I know is that I made some righteous quinoa early Friday morning.

Of course, perfect quinoa needs some toppings to truly blossom.

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Footage from the scene of the crime

The following things went into my quinoa: 1 can of corn, 1 can of pinto beans, 1 can of black olives, the juice from three limes, olive oil, chili powder, salt. Nothing more. Nothing less.

What resulted was a simple, delicious, and fantastically healthy meal, which I placed in my fridge. It would be my protein filled snack for many days. I still have a bowl or two left.

 

 

 

 

Pro Tip: Smush a Cucumber

I once again had the pleasure of dining at the home of my culinary sensei Pam Saindon, where I ate a stunning array of lasagna, Italian sausage, garlic bread, and salad with creamy Italian dressing.

But the best part of the salad was the vegetables — cucumbers and apples — which were dense, and uniquely flavorful. How did our chef achieve this? She smashed slices of cucumber and apple in a large press. Seasoned with only salt and subjected to a lot of pressure, they became much more flavorful. The texture which I could describe as “densely wilted” was also a delight.

I will have to do more investigation into just the pressing device that was used, but anyone looking for a new spin on vegetables should look into this ingenious process.

The Dip Dr. Presents: Crab and Artichoke

I went looking for a delicious and outside of the box dip for my Super Bowl Sunday, and I found something special.  A gut busting, dairy packed, pile of goodness called Crab Artichoke dip. This is the stuff toasted baguettes were made for.

I won’t waste much time opining about the flavors. Instead, I’ll give you the recipe.

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It began with the cheese.

It all starts with the cheese. In a good sized baking dish I piled up one cup of shredded mozzarella cheese, one cup of shredded fontina cheese, and 3/4 a cup of shredded parmesan cheese.

And then it was time to get gooey. Onto the pile went half a cup of mayo, a cup of sour cream, and half a cup of cream cheese.

With my dairy bomb at the ready, I added two cloves of minced garlic, and 42 ounces of artichoke hearts, chopped small.

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I call it: Pile of Food at 45 Degree Angle.

This health food was almost ready for the oven, but we needed one final ingredient.

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Yes that beautiful sight you are witnessing is one cup of dungeness crab. It went into the dip and after a thorough mixing, I layered the top with more mozzarella and parmesan.

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Lookin good

And the rest was simple. I preheated the oven to 325, made an appointment with my cardiologist, and baked the dip for 40 minutes.

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Served with some choice crackers, it was just as delightful as you might imagine.

Butter: Not Just For Peanuts

At a christmas party last year I was rampaging my way through a cheese plate when I stumbled upon a strange orange spread. It wasn’t a cheese from the looks of it, but it wasn’t any kind of jam either. Just what was this mysterious orange mush?

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There was only one way to find I out. I grabbed my trusty crostini and began an investigation.

It turns out that this miraculous substance was Carrot Butter. A magical substance that was rich but not too heavy, sweet but savory in the way only a caramelized vegetable can be. I ate almost all of it. I was too pleased with the carrot butter to be concerned with social disgrace.

So now, over a year later, with the Super Bowl looming, and inventive dip thereby a necessity, I decided to make my own. I reached out to the original creator, my culinary sensei Pam Saindon, for the recipe.

It turns out the secret to crafting rich carrot butter is nishime, a Japanese method of cooking vegetables. The object of nishime is to cook the vegetables through without them losing their form, and in the process you want lots of water to condense into the vegetables. I set out to master the japanese technique, and make some damn good carrots.

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I began by chopping my carrots to a reasonable size (in retrospect I should have chopped them smaller). I then piled them up in a sauce pan with enough water to almost cover them (in hindsight this was too much water). I started simmering them, hoping to cook all the water off, or into, the carrots.

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Meanwhile, I sautéed a red onion until it was clear, but not too soft. Once the carrots started to soften a bit, I threw these onions into the pan.

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My problem at this point was that I had too much water. As I understand Nishime, your water should be constantly simmering off, and you should keep adding just a little bit until the carrots are soft. By contrast, I was making onion and carrot soup, and my carrots were getting more than a little mushy.

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I dutifully waited until all the water had boiled off. The carrots were somewhat richer, and a lot softer, but not like they should have been. This is one of those recipes I will have to make a few times to get right.

Undaunted by my underwhelming carrots and onions, I took them to the food processor, where I pureed them with olive oil, salt and dill.

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The result, thought not quite the rich butter I was looking for, was quite delicious. Carrots have such great flavor and so much natural sweetness that even a little onion, olive oil and salt can make them a force to be reckoned with.

So thats the story of how I turned a bushel of carrots into a dip worthy of my Super Bowl table. It will be a nice light offset to my  Cam Newton sized portion of sour cream and potato chips.