Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Lascivious Lentils

To begin with, I must share a little story, and then on to the post.  A friend of mine noted on last week’s recipe that he was going to cook it as he was trying to impress a vegetarian.  Now, I have acted as wing-man before and I am happy to oblige with any kind of recipe suggestions for just such a purpose.  I know that if I was a vegetarian, even if I didn’t really like kale or tofu I would be very impressed by any man cooking me a vegetarian meal.  There are certain meals, I think that can immediately upon seeing the effort that goes into them that can ‘impress’ someone.  I considered asking him to tell me after the date and dinner if he succeeded in ‘impressing’ her.  And if the answer is yes, I may start rating all of my post on a scale of how likely they are to ‘impress’ someone. (We all know what I mean by ‘impress’ right?) And, Matt, if that worked the recipe below might work as well, I rate it a 7 or 8 on the impressing scale.
Lentils are apparently a super food.  Or at least I think they were at some point.  To be honest I am a bit tired of hearing about super foods.  I just like to eat food, ok? So I will eat what I like and if that happens to be extra good for me, then so be it.  But I find that when we brand something as really great for you or cancer defying or age slaying that people tend to focus too much on consuming only those products. 
Don’t get me wrong, I love the Alice and Wonderland idea of taking a tiny bite of something that says eat me and then shrinking down in size.  However, we all know it doesn’t happen that way.  And since only celebrities seem to be able to drink kale juice three times a day for a year, I choose to just stick with my original plan of eating good food that is also good for me.  Plus if I stuck to only super foods, I would probably subsist on the bad forms of them; like kale chips, sweet potato fries and blueberry muffins. 

However, if you have not tried lentils before; please do, they are lovely.  You may have even already unwittingly eaten lentils in an Indian dish.  There are so many different kinds of lentils that when recipes call for specific ones (orange, split, French and so on) it can be overwhelming, especially since my grocery store only carries one kind.  And those are just labeled “Lentils”.
These regular lentils are a bit softer and will cook faster than French lentils, and thus they can lose their shape a bit as well.  But they are cheap and readily available and I think they work very well here.  Another great thing about this recipe is that it is quick and relatively easy to make.  I like to top the whole thing with some Italian sausage (local or chicken sausage to keep it on the healthy side) but the lentils with vegetables on their own are quite tasty. 

Lentils with fennel
As adapted from Gourmet 2007
1 c lentils
4 c water
1 Tb olive oil
2 large carrots, diced
1 large fennel bulb with fronds, bulb diced and fronds chopped
1 medium onion 
¼ tsp fennel seeds
¼ c fresh chopped parsley
1/8 c red wine vinegar

In a medium saucepan over high heat, combine lentils, water and a large pinch of salt.  Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered for about 15-20 minutes, or until lentils are tender.  Some may split but most should still retain their shape. Reserve about ¼ c of the cooking water and drain lentils.

While the lentils are cooking, heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium high heat.  Sauté the carrots, fennel, onion and fennel seeds stirring occasionally.  Cover and continue cooking about 10 minutes or until the vegetables are soft.  Add in cooked lentils, fennel fronds, parsley and red wine, if the mixture looks a bit dry add in the reserved cooking water.  Season with salt and pepper.

If using sausage, prick the sausages with the tip of a knife and cook in a separate pan while the vegetables are cooking.  Once fully cooked, move the sausages to a cutting board and slice. 

Serve the lentils topped with sausages.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Terrifying Tofu

My uncle seems to think that tofu is an evil substance. He tells me that if you bless the food prior to eating and tofu is on the table it will vanish. He refuses to believe that it can be good under certain circumstances, and I am sure he is not alone on that. Although I am tempted to sneak tofu into some sort of holiday dish and not tell anyone. But don’t worry Uncle Bob, I wouldn’t do that to you.

Recently a lot of people it seems are trying to eat more vegan meals in an effort to get healthy. Well, this meal does that. In fact the only way I could convince Joe to have this meal the other night was by making a leftover package of crescent rolls from the super bowl to accompany the tofu and veggies. I’ve made this dish before and I am in love with it. When you eat a ton of it, you have that good full feeling, like when eating sushi. I love that feeling. And this dish is super easy, fairly cheap and very quick to make. You just have to get over any lingering fears of tofu first.
The trick to tofu, is to (1) buy the good stuff and (2) let it drain of most of its moisture. If you can find locally made tofu, or some other artisan brand, definitely buy that, it will have a better texture and even taste. Next, the day before you make this dish, take the tofu out of its package and set it into another container, it will help with the drying out process. To drain the tofu; slice it, then lay it out on paper towels (or kitchen towels), top with paper towels and let sit for about 10 minutes. I usually change out the paper towels once. This will ensure that once you start cooking the tofu it won’t splatter like crazy, and also that it can absorb whatever flavors you are cooking with.
So if you haven’t tried tofu, or have and it was terrible; give this recipe a shot. You might be surprised. But if you bless the food, and the tofu disappears, at least I warned you.

Tofu with Kale and Sweet Potatoes

1lb. extra firm tofu, removed from liquid, sliced into ¼” pieces
2 Tb. Whole grain mustard
1 Tb. Dijon mustard
2 Tb. Olive oil, divided
2 Tb. Fresh ginger, minced
1 medium yellow onion, sliced
2 small sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced into ¼” rounds
1 large bag of kale (stems removed if still attached to leaves)
1 lime
1 Tb. Water if necessary

First, drain tofu on paper towels for at least 10 to 15 minutes. Next, in a small bowl, combine mustards and then spread on one side of the tofu slices. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Place the tofu slices, mustard side down and sauté for about 3-4 minutes, or until the mustard has formed a golden brown crust. While the tofu is cooking, spread the other side of each slice with more of the mustard. Flip the tofu slices gently and continue cooking 3-4 minutes. Move the slices out of the pan, and set aside.

Heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in the same skillet. Add the onion and ginger and sauté for about 2 minutes or until fragrant. Next add sweet potato slices and as much kale as will fit in the pan. Squeeze half of the lime juice over, and toss everything to coat. Cover the pan and allow to steam about 2 minutes. Continue adding kale until all of it is in the pan. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, or until the sweet potatoes are softened. Squeeze the remaining half of the lime over everything.

To serve, place the kale and sweet potato mixture onto plates and top with tofu.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Have Knots

I don’t know if you have ever heard of garlic knots, but they are wonderful.  They blow “cheesy breadsticks” out of the water.  Or rather they make cement shoes for cheesy breadsticks and sink them in the bottom of a remote lake in New Jersey.  Yes, garlic knots have the mafia toughness of any decent snack or side dish in the tri-state area. 
Please let me explain my love for garlic knots. 

I am a firm believer in the after-school snack.  I used to eat a bowl of cereal every day upon returning from school when I was young.  Then when friends began driving, we were able to expand our dining options beyond the family kitchen – and I discovered the garlic knot.  My friends and I would visit various pizza places and this was always my menu item of choice.  Others got slices of pizza or even a shake or something, but I preferred a small order of garlic knots.
They are exactly what you are imagining right now.  Garlic + Something tied in a knot = boom garlic knot.  It’s like an Italian pretzel but a little more bad-ass. And they are amazingly easy to make at home.  Plus anytime you add something to a dinner that has been tossed in garlic butter, I think the entire meal gets elevated to a whole other level: French fries tossed with garlic and butter – pommes frites.  Need I say more?
It helps to serve garlic knots warm and covered in an unhealthy amount of butter and garlic.  And a side bowl of marinara sauce doesn’t hurt either.  You can make these with any kind of pizza dough you prefer, although I like fresh dough.  So the next time you make homemade pizza, pinch off a bit of dough and make a few garlic knots.  You won’t be disappointed.

Garlic Knots
This dough recipe is for one large pizza, so it will make about 12 - 16 garlic knots.  You can always make some pizza and save a little of the dough for the knots, or have a feast of garlic knots one night.

1 package yeast
1 c warm water
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
3 Tb. Olive Oil, divided
2 ½ c flour
1 egg, beaten
4 cloves garlic, chopped
½ c butter
Fresh chopped parsley, optional
Salt to taste

To make the dough, dissolve yeast in warm water in the bowl of a large stand mixer.  After about 5 minutes, when the mixture is a bit frothy, stir in sugar, salt and 1 tablespoon of olive oil.  Mix in the flour until well incorporated.  Move dough onto a lightly floured surface and work into a ball.  Clean out the bowl and then oil with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Place the dough back in the bowl, and toss to coat in oil.  Cover loosely with a kitchen towel and allow to rise for about 45 minutes, or until doubled in size.

When the dough has risen, preheat the oven to 425°.  Punch down the dough and divide into 4 pieces.  Take each piece and divide into 3 or 4 pieces.  Each piece should be the size of 1 ½ golf balls (I was going to say paddle ball from the game you play at the beach, but most people won’t get that reference).  Roll into a log and then tie into a knot, similar to making a pretzel, but pull the ends so that there is no gap.

Place onto a greased cookie sheet, and repeat with the remaining dough.  Brush each knot with beaten egg.  Bake for 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned.  Meanwhile melt butter in a sauce pan over medium -low heat, add in the garlic and a generous pinch of salt.  Once the garlic knots are done baking, place them in a large bowl, and drizzle the garlic butter mixture over them, tossing to coat.  Sprinkle with salt and parsley, and serve immediately.