Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Making Up for Lost Time

Well, after a brief period of being too busy to make anything but the quickest and most familiar dishes, I had a quiet weekend during which to make some slightly more involved meals.  I'll have to give an abbreviated version of each recipe because there are several - and, once again, not enough time.

After taking a late-afternoon nap that caused me to miss Friday night yin-and-flow yoga, I figured that an easy way to end the day feeling like I'd done something would be to make a slightly amped-up chicken noodle soup.  I love chicken noodle soup in the fall, cold or no cold, but I always like to give it a little extra something, like the City CafĂ© did when I worked there.  I always use small pasta and some kind of greenery - scallions this time, because I had them and because I didn't want to have to go outside and snip parsley in the dark once the sun had set.  Plus Steve had bought another rotisserie chicken from the Pig, and I had bought a few carrots earlier in the week and harvested a couple of red bell peppers.  The soup pictured here used all of the above ingredients (dark meat only from the chicken) plus orzo pasta and chicken broth, simmered for half an hour, and about half a tablespoon of lemon juice (on mine, not Steve's) added just before serving.  This actually bears a closer resemblance to the Greek chicken and lemon soup that I had once at Zorba's in Irmo.

Saturday I had stuff to do around the house and Steve had a friend with a computer that needed fixing, so while he was out I got started on the chicken-broccoli-cheddar bake and sweet potato rice with scallions pictured here.  This cheddar bake took care of the remaining Piggly Wiggly chicken (all the white meat) plus about 3/4 pound of Wal-Mart cheese that neither of us really liked enough to snack on.  I had planned on using frozen broccoli (we've got at least 3 bags in the freezer), but since Steve picked up a couple of fresh heads of broccoli on Friday, I just chopped that, steamed it in the microwave and added it to the mix once it was ready.  The chicken was just pulled off the carcass and coarsely chopped, and the cheese sauce used about half the cubed cheese, plus 2 tablespoons of Smart Balance, 2 tablespoons of flour, 12 ounces of milk and a little bit of pepper and nutmeg.  Once that had all blended, I mixed in the remaining cubed cheese (not cooking it all on the stove makes for a cheesier end result) plus the chicken and broccoli, poured it into a non-stick bread loaf pan (my go-to vessel for mini-casseroles) and into the oven it went, 375 degrees for about an hour.

The brown rice with sweet potatoes was more straightforward: while the rice was cooking (and the bake was in the oven), I peeled, diced and pan-fried one large sweet potato in Smart Balance with about 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon and a dash of nutmeg.  I added about 1/4 of water here and there because it kept wanting to stick to the bottom of the pan as it caramelized.  At the very end, I added the scallions, then stirred all of it into the rice once it was done.

Sunday I made lentil moussaka because Steve had picked up a couple of eggplants and I really wanted to make an eggplant moussaka after coming up with endless uses for zucchini all summer.  And I do like zucchini, but you know when you've had too much of a good thing.  The lentil moussaka was pretty much the same as the one I made in June, except that I put it in the oven for about 50 minutes at 400 degrees so that the eggplant would cook through.  Borderline burnt on top (I should probably train myself to use breadcrumbs for visual appeal)...

...but delish the whole way through.  Still have leftovers.  I think I'll have some now!

While the foods I prepared over the weekend made a decent-sized dent in my produce supply, it kept replacing itself at roughly the same rate.  I still have a sweet potato, an eggplant, a few carrots, a bag of fresh spinach and one or two other things.  What to make this week?...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Lemon rice with cucumber and tomato salad

Still had a bunch of stuff in the fridge after making the lentil soup the other night, so Indian seemed like the easiest way to use it up.  I nearly went with Greek again but figured I should make something different for variety.  Both of these recipes are in Healthy South Indian Cooking by Vaivaran and Marquardt, but I had to make some adjustments to their recipes based on what I had (e.g. no cilantro).  It went about like this:

Lemon rice:
2 cups water
1/2 cup dry yellow split peas
1 cup water
2/3 cup jasmine rice
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp turmeric
2 tbsp canola oil
4-6 curry leaves
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp urad dal
1 tsp chutney powder

Bring two cups of water to a boil.  Add yellow split peas, stir, cover and simmer on medium heat until tender, about 20-25 minutes.  Drain and set aside.

Next, bring 1 cup of water to a boil in a separate pot and add rice.  Cover with a tight-fitting lid and cook on medium-low heat for 12-15 minutes or until all water has been absorbed.  Fluff with fork and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine lemon juice, salt and turmeric and set aside.

A few minutes before the yellow split peas finish cooking, heat oil in another small pot over medium heat.  As soon as it is heated, add curry leaves, mustard seeds and urad dal.  Cover loosely and cook until mustard seeds begin to pop and urad dal turns brown. 

Add the drained yellow split peas to the aromatics, stir well and cook for another 2-3 minutes.  Add the lemon juice mixture and chutney powder and stir well.  Add the rice, stir and remove from heat.

After making the lemon juice mixture and sticking that in the fridge, I still had a few minutes of down time from the rice, during which I made the accompaniment.

Cucumber and tomato salad:
Half of one large tomato, diced
Half of one large cucumber, peeled, seeded and finely chopped
1 cup plain low-fat yogurt
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp pepper
1 green onion, chopped

Combine all ingredients except the green onion in a mixing bowl.  When ready to serve, garnish with chopped green onion.

I served Steve with the items side-by-side and stacked mine.  As far as I can tell, it turned out well both ways.  And Steve was pretty hungry by the time it hit the table, so I didn't have to package a ton of leftovers.  This was pretty much how I ate all summer in 2006, when I started training for my first half- and full marathon.  Would that I could be so skinny again!  Well, hopefully I'll be upping my weekly mileage pretty soon to get ready for a spring half, which should help.  And I plan to keep eating healthy at least until Thanksgiving arrives.

Speaking of which, I'm pretty hungry now...Hungry enough to eat a deep-fried Snickers bar, which I've never done before...maybe this year I'll make it to the State Fair?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Lentil soup

Can't believe it's been almost two weeks since my last blog post.  Not because I haven't been cooking, but because most of it has been replays of old standbys like Zucchini moussaka and fried rice made with frozen stir-fry veggies.  Life's getting hectic again, but I finally made time to restore health and sanity with a simple homemade vegetable soup.  (As for the continuation of the exotic veggies...the Chinese okra sat in the fridge too long and I couldn't use it, and I made the bitter melon with about the same spice mix as the bottlegourd.  Whoa, dude - bitter melon's bitter.  Wish I'd done a Chinese stir-fry instead; soy sauce probably would have taken the edge off better than the Indian spices did.)

So, after stopping into Publix on Monday and picking up a few things, I decided to dispense with some of the lentils that have sat in the cupboard unopened for months.  This lentil soup is one of the first things I learned to make during my junior year in Geneva, when I lived in the university apartments and had a monthly allowance for groceries.  It's also the first thing I ever made using broth, and one of my vegetarian classmates declared on a trip to the store that if you need broth, THIS (holding a box of Knorr vegetable bouillon cubes) is what you buy.  Eventually I found chicken, fish and ham broth, but I still like the veggie broth from time to time. 

2 tbsp olive oil
3 carrots, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
6 cups vegetable broth
1 cup dry white wine
10 oz. dry green lentils
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 tsp Cavender's Greek seasoning
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in an 8-quart pot.  Add the carrots and saute covered until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add the chopped onion and garlic and saute covered until softened, another 3 minutes.  Add the mushrooms, stir and saute covered until softened, another 3 to 5 minutes.  Add the broth and wine and bring to a boil.  Add lentils and rosemary and reduce heat to one notch below medium.  Cook until lentils are tender, about 30 minutes.  During the last few minutes of cooking, add the Greek seasoning and parsley. 

I'll go ahead and admit that I had been going more for a rustic French result, but now I'm thinking that would have worked out better just with chicken broth, rosemary, salt and pepper.  The Greek seasoning was basically a "save" because the soup seemed to be missing something before I added it.  At least now I understand why this recipe has been hit-or-miss in the past.  Plus I've got leftovers for the next two days' lunch and a bunch more carrots left to use in some of the many fall recipes I've been bookmarking!  Check back soon to see what's next...

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Steve's pistachio asparagus pesto

Wednesday's surprise dinner.  All I could think about from 3:00 on was how hungry I was, and after hoping all the way home that I'd have the patience to make something and not just plop down on the sofa with some cashews and beer, I walked in the door and discovered that Steve had just finished making this!  What a treat!

(Loosely based on this recipe.)
1 lb asparagus
3/4 cup pistachio nuts
1 tbsp garlic
3/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
4 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp lemon juice
10 oz whole wheat rotini pasta

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add asparagus and cook for 4 minutes submerged. Remove from the water and shock in a bowl of ice water. Drain and then place on a cutting board.
Slice off the asparagus tips at about 3/4 inch and set aside. Toss the bottom 1/5 of the stalks.  Finely chop the rest.
2. Add the garlic to a food processor along with 4 tablespoons of the pistachios, olive oil, lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Blend until the pistachios are crushed and the asparagus is coarsely chopped.
3. Add the pasta to a pot of boiling water. Cook for 10-12 Min.. Drain and cool.
4. Add the pesto and stir well. 
5. Chop up the remaining pistachios add with the remaining chopped asparagus
6. Add the grated Parmesan and mix lightly.
Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot or cold.

I had mine hot last night and again for lunch today, and it was delish!  Steve had his as a pasta salad today and added chopped tomato and a dash of cayenne pepper.  Think I'll do the same tomorrow!
Steve hardly ever cooks unless I'm out of town - not because he can't or doesn't want to, but because I usually beat him to the kitchen in the early evening.  And maybe because, I don't know, I'm a little territorial in the kitchen?  He's always asking if he can help with anything, and I always tell him no unless my hands are full and something needs to be stirred.  But he picked a great night for a nice surprise and a nice dinner.  As far as I'm concerned, I got a two-for!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Get Him to The Greek

Sunday's dinner.  We had two heads of broccoli and one eggplant ready to be rotated out of my veggie stock, so I figured I'd also use up the last of our frozen whiting filets on a Greek-style dinner (always an easy choice).  All of the recipes are in The Food of Greece by Vilma Liacouras Chantiles.

Whipped eggplant:
1 largish eggplant (about 1 pound)
1 tbsp Earth Balance
1/4 cup warmed milk (optional)
pinch of nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste

Cut eggplant in half lengthwise and bake in oven at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.  Scoop pulp from skins into a bowl, mash with a fork (or puree in a blender; remove any pieces that don't want to mash) and stir in remaining ingredients.

Fish baked in paper:
4 whiting filets, thawed
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 tbsp lemon juice
6 bay leaves
1 tbsp capers
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients and marinate in the fridge while the eggplant's baking.  Raise heat to 375 degrees.  Place two filets on parchment paper and wrap so that outer folds are down (or tie with kitchen string).  Repeat with remaining two filets.  Place both packages on a shallow baking pan and bake for 15 minutes.  Discard bay leaves when serving.

Lemon-pepper broccoli:
2 heads broccoli, stems removed
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
Place broccoli flowerets in a microwave-safe bowl, cover with a paper towel and microwave on high for two minutes.  Stir in remaining ingredients and serve.

This was another of those that sounds like a lot but was easy to get done in the time it took to bake and then mash the eggplant, about 50 minutes total.  And since Steve had picked up the Get Him to The Greek DVD at Walmart on Friday, we had to watch it Sunday night.  It was better than I expected, but I would not recommend it to the Bambi or Eat Pray Love crowds.

Coming soon...more adventures in new veggies!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Dudhi chick pea masala

Adventures in new veggies part one: The dudhi. 

I'm taking an online nutrition class right now, and one of our assignments (for bonus points at the end of the semester) was to find a vegetable we'd never eaten before and share the experience, and/or recipe as appropriate, with the class.  Well, I didn't think I'd have much luck at a regular grocery store - sometimes they have jicama, sometimes not - so after work on Friday I stopped by Royal India Bazaar (formerly J.M. Emporium, next to the Big Lots on Two Notch Rd. in Columbia) to check out their modest produce section.  It turns out that they have several items there that I'd never heard of, and the three that I ended up buying are called dudhi (pictured above), Chinese okra and bitter melon.  In the near future, I'll post on new veggie adventures 2 and 3 as well.

But back to the dudhi: unfortunate name, good squash.  According to my quick Google search, "dudhi" translates to "bottlegourd" in English.  It's about the size and shape of an eggplant, and the texture of the raw vegetable is about the same.  Unlike with eggplant, you do want to peel the skin before cooking.  Some people recommend removing the seeds, others say they're fine.  I went with a recipe that called for removing the seeds but didn't do a very thorough job.  A few seeds made it into the final product, and they didn't hurt anything.  I borrowed heavily from this recipe but made several changes: I added about two teaspoons of urad dal with the aromatics at the beginning, skipped the potato and onion (didn't have any), only used two cups of water and added a can of chick peas (drained) at the very end.  And since I don't have chappatis in my freezer, I served it over rice."Salt to taste" ended up being about 2 teaspoons.

The end result (pictured here) is what we had for lunch today.  The wedge-shaped things on the plate are the stewed bottlegourd.

This definitely would have needed 3-4 cups of water had I used the potatoes, even if they were cooked ahead of time.  Without any extra starch to thicken it up, this maybe would have been all right with only one cup of water, simmered with the lid on for about 10 minutes and then cooked uncovered on a higher heat setting until it was thick enough to eat with a fork.  With two cups of water, I had to cook it for about 30 minutes on medium heat and then on medium-high heat to thicken it up.

Since I did use the sambhar powder, it came out spicier than it would have with the garam masala.  This, I suspect, is the reason that Steve suggested having some sour cream or plain yogurt on hand as a topping the next time.  Anyone who has difficulty digesting spicy foods might consider adding a dollop of plain yogurt on top or even stirring in half a cup of yogurt right before serving.  (Sour cream's too pedestrian for a dish like this.)

So this was my experience with my first new veggie since...okra, I guess, but that was about 15 years ago.  If you live near an Indian grocery store and want to try something different, the dudhi/bottlegourd runs about 99 cents a pound.  Some things, like shallots, are also cheaper than at a supermarket.  Plus the people are very nice, love new customers and will answer any and all questions you have about whatever catches your eye!

Happy Sunday, and enjoy this beautiful weather while it lasts!