September 27, 2012

Black Lentil Beet Salad with Yogurt Vinaigrette

black lentil beet salad

I picked up some beluga black lentils at Williams Sonoma last week. An impulse purchase. They looked and sounded exotic and I'm a sucker for a legume, which I love in composed salads. Slightly peppery and meaty, lentils make a great side or main course. These black beauties were almost twice as much as regular lentils and, in all honesty, I didn't detect a huge flavor difference from their green and brown cousins. Splurge if you fancy this high contrast, dramatic look. Otherwise, I'd stick with the mousier green version (brown doesn't hold it's shape as well for salads), and save your splurge for some great goat cheese to sprinkle on top.

The only tricky part of this dish is making sure the vegetables and lentils are cooked properly (until tender). Nothing worse than half-raw potatoes and beets. So be sure to check for doneness. Also, if you can serve everything except the arugula slightly warm, much better. You can make the beets and lentils the day before and store them in the refrigerator, but bring them to room temperature before dressing and serving. If you make the potatoes ahead of time, dress them before refrigerating.

Black Lentil Beet Salad with Yogurt Vinaigrette

Makes enough for 4 generous salads

1 shallot
1 cup black lentils
6 beets (I had red and golden)
6 new potatoes
Goat cheese (optional)

adapted from Martha Rose Shulman's Yogurt Vinaigrette New York Times, Aug. 7, 2012

1 garlic clove mashed
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1/4 cup olive oil
5 tablespoons plain yogurt (greek-style will make it thicker)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1. Combine garlic, lemon juice, vinegar and mustard. Add olive oil slowly, whisking to emulsify. Add yogurt, salt, and pepper and stir to combine. Add more lemon juice or a little milk to thin if needed. Cover and refrigerate.

2. Preheat oven to 350º.

3. Scrub and trim the beets. You can peel them now, or after roasting. It's a little easier after and some think they are tastier if you leave the skins on during cooking. Place them in tinfoil, drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper and a sprinkle of water. Close up foil and place on a baking sheet. Bake for 45 minutes up to an hour and a half, depending on the size of your beets. They are done when a sharp knife slides in easily. Cool just enough to handle and peel, if you didn't do so beforehand.

4. Scrub the potatoes, prick with a fork and place them on a second baking sheet. Roast in oven with beets for 25 minutes or until tender.

5. Slice peeled beets and potatoes (unpeeled) into quarters or eighths.

6. Put lentils in a strainer and take out anything that looks like a rock. Rinse. Mince shallot and saute in saucepan with a little olive oil until soft. Add lentils and 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer for 30-40 minutes or until tender (not mush). Drain any excess water and toss with a few tablespoons of vinaigrette while still warm.

7. Roughly chop arugula and put on a plate. Mound a scoop of warm lentils in the center and surround with quartered beets and potatoes. Drizzle with vinaigrette (and bring some to the table - I like a lot, my family likes less). Top with crumbled goat cheese. With some good bread...a meal in itself. 

September 25, 2012

Caramel Almond Popcorn

Caramel almond popcorn recipe

My little girl gets her braces on tomorrow, so I thought I'd whip up a batch of homemade caramel corn to celebrate her last night with unshackled teeth. I'm pretty sure caramel corn is near the top of the "do not eat" list she's sure to get from her orthodontist.  I love the stuff but, as with many sweets, the caramel corn I find in the grocery store is too sweet and never has enough nuts for me. Plus, I'm not crazy about corn syrup, high-fructose or otherwise, so why not make it myself? This is a definite tooth-buster with brittle sweet and salty caramel, crunchy popcorn and creamy almond slivers. It does not last long around here.

Caramel Almond Popcorn

4 cups plain popped popcorn
1 cup blanched slivered almonds
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) salted butter
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup honey
1 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Butter a rimmed baking sheet or line with waxed paper. Spread popped corn over sheet and set aside. Toast almonds in a dry pan on stove top over medium heat until golden (or on a baking sheet in oven at 350º for 10 minutes). Cool and sprinkle over popcorn. Heat butter, water, honey and sugar in heavy pan until boiling, stirring frequently. Boil approximately 5 minutes, untouched. Remove from heat and add extract, salt and baking soda, and stir vigorously. It will puff up into a froth. Pour over popcorn and almonds on baking sheet and toss quickly and thoroughly to spread caramel (this can be messy...a few pieces flew to the floor where they were crunched up by my grateful dog). Let cool (ha, ha), then break into chunks. Store in airtight container.

Toasted almonds
Caramel before boil
Caramel at boil (Note: Right after this was taken, my camera fell into the pot. Seriously. And lived to take another shot...go Canon!)
Puffing with pride after baking soda addition
Cooling down

September 23, 2012

Scratch Ranch

scratch ranch

Sometimes I get a craving for ranch salad dressing to goop on what I call "junk food salad"—lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, scallions, green olives, sunflower seeds, grated cheese and croutons—all the stuff I'd put on my plate at the salad bar when I was a kid. But now I find the taste, or really the aftertaste, of bottled ranch a little unpleasant. So I make my own using full-fat everything. It's so tasty (you'll never go back to the bottle) and not at all good for you. So it fits the theme.

Scratch Ranch Dressing

Makes 1 1/2 cups

1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 clove garlic, finely minced or smashed
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
3 scallions, sliced thinly, white and green part
2-3 teaspoons fresh herbs, minced (I used basil, oregano and parsley, but anything you like will do)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Put everything in a jar and shake or process in a blender. Chill for at least an hour before serving.

September 18, 2012

Vegetable Tian

Who doesn't try and eat more vegetables? I like them all (except maybe eggplant) prepared almost anyway, but my family is a little more particular. When they're tired of green salads, I fire up the oven or the grill.

Today I made a baked Vegetable Tian - a french vegetable casserole. Humble vegetables like potatoes and onions, but why not make them look pretty?

The basic recipe is Ina Garten's, but instead of layering vegetables on top of sauteed onions and garlic, I stacked the onions in with everything else and scatter minced garlic on top. I also added sliced cauliflower because it's so good all browned up. I used provolone cheese instead of Gruyere because I wanted a little gooeyness. Goat cheese would also be fantastic and I plan to try that next time.

If you have a mandoline, this would be a good time to use it (but please, for the love of god, be careful). If you don't have one, grab a serrated knife along with your regular one. I love the way a serrated knife grips food and is especially helpful when you're cutting thinner slices of onions and tomatoes. You don't need to peel anything, so this comes together fast.

September 16, 2012

Pumpkin Walnut Cinnamon Rolls

Pumpkin Walnut Cinnamon Rolls

I love cinnamon rolls but sometimes they're a little dry for me. And, to be honest, I was a bit intimidated by the kneading, rising and rolling out that comes along with them. But guess what? It's pretty easy and not too time consuming. I started these at 7:30 this morning and was eating them by 10 with plenty of time in between to do other stuff (drink coffee, read the newspaper, go for a run).

I came across a recipe at dishingupdelights, and have been playing with it for awhile. The flavor of pumpkin is subtle, but it keeps the rolls nice and moist. Abundant cream cheese frosting helps too. I add walnuts for crunch and a counter-balance to the sweetness.  These are so good.

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls

Makes 9

1 packet quick-rise yeast
1/2 cup warm water
3/4 cup pumpkin
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 cup white sugar
3 cups all purpose flour (plus extra for dusting)

1/2 cup softened butter 
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup chopped walnuts
3 teaspoons cinnamon

8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon cream or milk
Beat until smooth

1. Pour warm water over yeast in a large mixing bowl, stir, and let sit for 10 minutes.

2. Add pumpkin, egg and vanilla and stir to combine. Add remaining dry ingredients and stir just until combined (it will look shaggy).  Turn out onto floured surface and knead for 5 minutes (it will be nice and smooth). Put back into bowl, cover with a clean towel and let sit for 15 minutes. 

3. Meanwhile combine all filling ingredients and mix until smooth (or as smooth as something with chopped walnuts and sugar can be).

4. Roll dough out into a rectangle to about 1/4 inch thick. Spread the filling over, leaving a half-inch around the edges. Roll into a long cylinder and cut into about 9 pieces. Place in a 8 x 8 buttered pan, cover with clean towel and let rise for an hour.

5. Preheat oven to 400º and bake for 20 minutes. Frost anytime you like. If you do it before they cool, it will melt into the crevices. If you wait, it will sit on top like a crown of sweet, creamy glory.

Before rising - a little anemic

After rising for an hour - fat and happy

After baking - crisp on the outside but tender and soft inside.

Semi-cooled (who can wait?) and frosted. 

September 11, 2012

Roasted Tomato Soup and Ruth's Chocolate Cake

Food inspiration is important when you cook for your family most days of the week and I don't always find it. But today I got lucky and found ideas in literary places: Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak and Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl, a writer who makes it look so easy (I highly recommend this book and Garlic and Sapphires about her time as the New York Times restaurant critic. She writes cleanly and is a great storyteller).

So here's what got me started - re-reading Sendak with my daughter I was struck, as I always am, by the warmth of the final page where Max returns to find dinner waiting for him (setting aside the question of whether this represents good parenting). It appears to be a bowl of soup and a piece of cake. Who wouldn't want to come home and find that waiting? Here's the page from Sendak:

And Reichl's memoir (pictured below among my cookbooks because it includes several great recipes). She writes about a chocolate cake she'd make in high school for all her friends. A cake that "boys especially liked." But don't get her wrong. She's a natural feminist who just happens to enjoy cooking, and I love her for it. 

September 7, 2012

Greek Salad Forever

When I was in college in the late 80's, I was lucky enough to study abroad my junior year and spend a few months in Athens, Greece. We lived in a hotel (I think we rented the whole fifth floor for our group) with a rooftop pool and very friendly, if somewhat shady, management (they would "sublet" our rooms when we would head off for a 3-day trip to an archaeological site or a weekend at an island, and we would return to find our personal belongings, right down to the picture of the boyfriend back home and Carmex on the bedside table, arranged as they thought we'd left them, but always slightly wrong).

The hotel provided daily breakfast (good black tea and coffee, baguette, butter, jam and cheese), but we were on our own for lunch and dinner. The street vendors and little storefronts selling delicious souvlaki, spanikopita and pressed cheese sandwiches became our lunch mainstay.

For dinner, we'd venture into the local restaurants (the dollar was strong and food was inexpensive). One of our favorite places was at the Plaka at the foot of the Acropolis. We could walk into the kitchen, peer into the pots on the stove, then sit down and order what we thought looked best. But my mainstay was the salad and grilled fish or chicken because they were a revelation in their simplicity.

I feel in love with the taste of olive oil, salt and pepper, and lemon. And greek salad. Lots and lots of greek salad. Made with super fresh vegetables and creamy feta, it is the first thing I think to make when I've got great tomatoes or cucumbers.

Just like in Greece

Basic Greek Salad

White or red Onion 
Kalamata olives*
Cabbage (green or red)

Dressing (in Greece it's mostly just olive oil, and lots of it)

Extra Virgin Olive oil
Lemon juice or red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper


(in two months I never came across a lettuce salad in Greece, but I do love lettuce)
 (delicious with feta and a boost of protein when this is the main meal)
Fresh Oregano - julienned
(not too much though - strong flavor)
Capers, drained
(salty, tangy goodness)
(Let a crushed clove steep in olive oil, then use to dress salad)

Peel and slice cucumbers medium-thick. Cut tomatoes into bite-sized pieces. Cut onions and cabbage very, very, thinly using a serrated knife (or mandolin - danger girl). Slice olives off pits. Cut a plank of feta (the size of a credit card). Assemble starting with cabbage and finishing with cheese. Drizzle with olive oil (or douse, as the Greeks do) and a little vinegar or lemon juice. Salt and pepper to taste. That's it. So good.

* There are different kinds of feta (cow, sheep and goat's milk). I love french feta (mild and creamy). If you have a greek market in your area, go there and taste. It will be cheaper and much better quality than what's shrink wrapped at the grocery store. Same goes for olives. And olive oil. Here in Mpls we have Bill's Imported Foods. Run by a local greek family. The best feta and olives.

September 4, 2012

Peachy Cobbler

There's this place outside of Wheeler, Wisconsin that sells INCREDIBLE caramel rolls. I stopped there a couple days ago on our way home from my daughter's horse show to pick up a few. The tattooed and surprisingly lean guy working behind the counter looked at me with mirth and said, "It's 1:30 - they were gone by 10. But I've got some great peaches from Michigan." Peaches? Peaches. Peaches! I got them for a song - a big box for $6 and toted them home. Usually the kids would plow through good fresh fruit so fast I wouldn't have enough for baking. But in this case, there were plenty and now on the precipice of over ripeness. So I get to bake with them. If it's fruit, I always go for a crisp or cobbler. It's cobbler today and here's how it went:
  • Slice approx. 8 peaches. I leave them unpeeled but you can skin 'em if you don't care for the slightly chewy texture. 
  • Toss with half a lemons' worth of juice, 1/4 cup white sugar and 1 teaspoon of cornstarch
  • Put in bake ware of your choice - I used 9 1/2 x 9 1/2 Corningware (Grandmas) but I think something slightly smaller would work too. 
  • Bake for 10 minutes at 400 degrees (especially if your peaches are on the hard this starting to sound like food porn?)

Now for cobbler dough:

1 cup flour
3/4 cup cold butter cut into pieces
1 teaspoon of salt,
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup boiling water
  • Mix together with your fingers until it looks and feels like sand.
  • Then add a 1/2 cup of boiling water (or milk, or cream - naughty girl) and gently mix until a slightly wet dough forms. 
  • Scoop into even clumps, plop atop the peaches and bake at 425 for about 25 minutes.
"sandy" dough

before baking
  • Serve with warm with vanilla ice cream or cold tomorrow morning for breakfast! Next time, I might double the cobbler dough so we get a lot more of the delicious biscuits. But the peaches are really the star, and so good warm with ice cream.

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