Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christmas Cooking!

Holidays are always a little frustrating for me. They are the biggest feast days of the year, but I am almost always traveling and unable to contribute to the meal. This Christmas, though, I was determined to make an entree so my vegetarian husband would have more to eat besides mashed potatoes. I found a recipe for Spring Pot Pie from Cook's Illustrated. I used the basic recipe, but changed the vegetables slightly to make it more winter appropriate.

Vegetable Pot Pie

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 medium leeks , white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise, sliced 1/4 inch thick, and rinsed well
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1.5 pounds yukon gold potatoes , scrubbed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 medium garlic cloves , minced or pressed through a garlic press
1.5 cup frozen peas
7 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
2 ounces Parmesan cheese (about 1 cup)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice , plus 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
4 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon leaves
Ground black pepper

Make biscuit topping (see instructions below). Refrigerate until ready to use.

Prepare Vegetables
  1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. In a dutch oven over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter.
  3. Add the leeks, carrot, and ¾ teaspoon salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until the leeks have softened but are still bright green, about 7 minutes.
  4. Add the potatoes, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes begin to soften around the edges, about 10 minutes.
  5. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  6. Transfer to a 9 by 13-inch baking dish (or a shallow casserole dish of similar size) or six 12-ounce ovenproof dishes. Sprinkle the peas evenly over the top and set aside.
Prepare the sauce

  1. Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.
  2. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for about 1 minute.
  3. Gradually whisk in 4 cups of vegetable broth, bring to a simmer, and cook until the sauce thickens, about 1 minute.
  4. Remove from the heat and whisk in the Parmesan. Stir in the lemon juice, zest, and tarragon and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Assemble the Pot Pie

  1. Pour the sauce over the filling and stir with a wooden spoon to distribute evenly.
  2. Arrange the biscuits on top and bake until the biscuits are golden brown and the filling is bubbly, about 30 minutes for a large pie and about 25 minutes for smaller pies.
  3. Allow to cool for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Biscuit Topping

2 cups minus 2 tbsp (9 ounces) all-purpose flour , plus more for dusting the work surface
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
3/4 cup cold buttermilk , plus 1 to 2 tablespoons if needed

  1. If using a food processor, pulse the flours, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and salt. Add the butter pieces, pulse until the mixture contains only a few pea-sized butter lumps. If not using a food processor, you may use a whisk to break up the butter.
  2. In a medium bowl, add the buttermilk and stir until the dough gathers into moist clumps.
  3. On a floured work surface, form into a ball and roll the dough out to 1/2 inch thick.
  4. Using a 2 1/2- to 3-inch biscuit cutter, stamp out 8 to 12 rounds of dough.
  5. Space the biscuits evenly over the filling in the baking dish. If making individual pies, cut the dough slightly smaller than the circumference of each dish.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Garlicky Green Lentils

This is one of my favorite dishes. And, even better, it is a type of dish I like to call a weeknight mainstay. This means it has few enough ingredients and takes less than 40 minutes of preparation to make on a regular weeknight, including those weeknights where I'm feeling less than ambitious. Thank you Raghavan Iyer! His book, 660 Curries is one of my most-used and adored cookbooks.

It is a little spicy, but surprisingly not bad given the Serrano chile content (I am pretty weak when it comes to spices). One word of caution, don't overcook the lentils! If you cook them too long, they become really starchy and kind of stiff.

Garlicky Green Lentils


1 cup skinned split green lentils (moong dal) picked over for stones
1/4 tsp turmeric
2 tbs ghee or canola oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp asafetida (I bought this from my local Indian grocery store, but you can also have it mailed to you from amazon.com and other online grocery stores)
6 large garlic cloves, finely chopped (I pressed the garlic in my garlic press)
2-3 freen green Thai, cayenne, or serrano chiles, stems removed, thinly sliced crosswise (do not remove the seeds)
1 1/2 tsp rock salt, pounded (I used one teaspoon of coarse kosher salt)

1. Rinse the lentils until the water runs clear.
2. Add the lentils to a medium-sized saucepan. Add three cups of water. Turn burner to medium heat.
3. Bring to a boil, uncovered. Skim off any foam that forms on the surface.
4. Stir in the turmeric.
5. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the pan, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are tender, 18-20 mins.
6. In a small skillet over medium-high heat, heat the ghee.
7. Add the cumin seeds and cook until they turn reddish-brown (5-10 seconds).
8. Add the asafetida, garlic, and chiles.
9. Stir-fry until the garlic turns light brown, 1-2 minutes.
10. Set the skillet aside until the lentils are done.
11. Add the garlic mixture to the lentils. Cover the pan and simmer about 5 minutes.
12. Stir in the salt and serve.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

This Blog's Mission

I have been doing a lot of thinking about food lately. Because it's been almost a year since I last updated this blog, I decided to spend some time thinking about the reason for it.

For those of you who haven't known me for very long, it is a little bit of a shock to learn that 3 years ago, I lost 45 pounds. Well, actually, I lost 65 pounds, but I gained 20 back after a huge setback in the form of septic shock as a result of pneumonia, but I will not go into that.


Note: I think my hair is also much much better now.

The last three years, I have stayed about the same weight (interestingly, my high school weight), fluctuating about 5 pounds here and there. Rather than lose the 20 or so more pounds I should probably lose, I learned the exact amount of food I could eat and stay the same weight and I pushed those boundaries as much as possible.

Why? Well, I love food.

I love fresh bread with real butter. I love pizza with lots of cheese. I love pastas with cream sauce. I love decadent desserts.

The point of this blog is to document my recipes and how I manage food. What I haven't gone into much is how, while many of the dishes on this blog are not optimal for your health (hello, Pecan Rum French Toast), I am fastidious about portion control and making sure of three things:
  1. I enjoy and savor every bite of the food I eat.
  2. I eat enough to ensure I never go hungry.
  3. I eat just the right size portions to never go hungry but also to not overindulge.
I don't believe in fake food for weight loss. I believe in eating satisfying food that tastes really really good that is made out of real ingredients. This blog is my way of sharing recipes for others who are also interested in food that you don't (usually) have to feel too bad about eating.

I'm also interested in saving money and meal planning and making fast meals for week nights after a long day at work. Not all of these recipes are the most frugal, but I've found that just planning meals and making sure I use up ingredients ensures that every week I have reduced our food costs by more than $100 a week and that I have an empty refrigerator with very little to throw out. Most of these meals make delicious leftovers that I freeze and use for lunches.

If you have any tips or recipes you'd like to share, please let me know. I love talking about these topics.

Easy Vegetarian Bean Chili

I love chili, especially in the winter. It is one of those dishes you can throw together and it almost always turns out delicious. Tonight, I adapted a new chili recipe that I found in Cook's Illustrated. The chili turned out to have a bright, fresh flavor. G said it was almost like salsa chili. He loved it, of course (for him, almost any tomato-based food is going to be a favorite). I thought it was a little sweet, so you may want to consider reducing the sugar. Here is the adapted recipe.

Easy Vegetarian Bean Chili

2 (28-ounce) cans diced tomatoes
3 (15-ounce) cans beans, rinsed
2 - 3 teaspoons chipotle sauce
4 teaspoons sugar
Salt and ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, minced
3 tablespoons chili powder, or to taste (G thought it was a little too spicy.)
2 teaspoons ground cumin
6 garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press
2 cups frozen corn
4 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro

  1. Pulse tomatoes and their juice in food processor about 5 times or until desired texture.
  2. Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion, saute until almost softened, about 4 minutes.
  3. Add chili powder, cumin, and ¼ teaspoon salt or 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt and saute about a minute more.
  4. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  5. Add tomatoes, beans, chipotle sauce, sugar, and 1 teaspoon salt to the onion mixture. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium. Simmer about 15 minutes.
  6. Stir in corn and cilantro and return to brief simmer. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve.


Yesterday, I made challah for the first time. It turned out to be this gorgeous, soft, sweet bread.

I can't recommend Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day enough. Every single recipe I've tried has turned out extraordinary. I use his his Neopolitan pizza crust almost every other week.

This challah turned into French Toast this morning. The recipe I used was Pecan Rum French Toast from Cook's Illustrated. It was so good that Garison took one bite and said, "oh my wow." I can't really imagine a better-tasting breakfast. I read a book on French cooking yesterday and they said that the French do not eat French toast for breakfast, that it's dessert. I think that makes a lot of sense. This was almost like a coffee cake in flavor.

Pecan Rum French Toast

Adapted from Cook's Illustrated.

  • 1/2 cups pecans
  • 4 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 8 large slices cinnamon-raisin bread (Any bread will work, really. I used challah. Bread should be dried out, either cooked at 300 degrees for about 16 minutes or left out overnight.)
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk, warmed (I used 2% milk)
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus 2 tablespoons for cooking
  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons dark rum
  • Maple syrup

1. Process 1/2 cup pecans, 1 tablespoon light brown sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon in food processor until coarsely ground.

2. Whisk milk, yolks, sugar, cinnamon, 2 tablespoons melted butter, salt, vanilla, and rum in large bowl until well blended. Transfer to a 13- by 9-inch baking pan.

3. Soak bread in milk mixture until saturated but not falling apart, about 20 seconds per side. Use a firm, slotted spatula to pick up the bread slices and allow excess milk to drip. Place soaked bread on another baking sheet or plate. Sprinkle each slice of soaked bread with 1 tablespoon nut mixture.

4. Heat ½ tablespoon butter in 12-inch skillet over medium-low heat. When foaming subsides, transfer 2 slices soaked bread to skillet, nut mixture side down. Cook until golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Flip and continue to cook until second side is golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes longer.

Meal Plan for the Week of 19-Dec-2010

Sunday: Breakfast: Pecan Rum French Toast, Dinner: Easy Vegetarian Bean Chili (Cook's Illustrated)
Monday: Garlicky Green Lentils (660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer)
Tuesday: Pasta with Creamy Tomato Sauce (Cook's Illustrated)
Wednesday: One-Pot Potatoes (660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer)
Thursday: Out of Town
Friday: Out of Town
Saturday: Out of Town

Pot Luck: Easy Vegetarian Bean Chili (Cook's Illustrated)
Christmas Dinner: Vegetable Pot Pie

Recipe Organization

Since my last post, I've learned a lot about recipe organization and meal planning, so I am going to start sharing some of my tips. If you have any tips, please chime in!

My first tip is going to sound a bit like an ad, I guess. This year, I downloaded a tool called Evernote and it made everything so much easier. To preface this, I have a mac and an iPhone, so other tools may work better depending on the type of computer/phone you have. For example, for recipe organization, OneNote from Microsoft will work just as well.

Evernote is really just a tool that allows you to organize notes. One of the key features it gives you is that it puts a button on your browser that allows you to easily export webpages to a notebook. I use this for clipping recipes off of the internet. I now have a giant notebook full of recipes I've found online that is searchable and taggable. If I want a recipe to use up some of that cilantro that is starting to wilt in my refrigerator, I can type in cilantro and get a full list of recipes.

Evernote stores everything in "the cloud" so if I want to view a note from another tool, I just need to sync and it uploads all of my most current notes. This is very handy for grocery lists. I create my grocery list in Evernote and open my phone and sync it and there is my list. With an app called Egretlist, it turns my grocery list into a note that allows me to just tap each item as I shop to mark it as complete.

It's exciting how technology makes things like meal planning, shopping, and recipe organization so much easier.