The Gastronomist Manifesto

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Archive for the month “January, 2012”

Poverty Food Challenge! Results!

So I decided that regardless of the fact that I have nothing in my kitchen but a few misc. staples and accumulating dust, I still wanted to do something interesting with the food I have on hand. This is probably the worst I could’ve done with a terrible situation. Edible? For sure. Would I make it again? Never. To recap my challenge had to include and utilize as much as I could of marinara sauce,an onion, a purple potato, brown rice, broccoli stems and peanut butter. In the end I chose to omit the marinara altogether.

Granted, it looks like radioactive relish on raw meat.

Step one: make a cake out of cooked brown rice and potato.

Step two: make a sort of relish out of onion and broccoli.

Step three: make a simple vinaigrette out of peanut butter and kitchen staples.

I used a bit of parchment paper to keep my hands clean as I mashed brown rice and purple potato together with a bit of salt. Kind of hard to tell due to my crummy Sony camera, but it looked a hell of a lot like marbled ground beef (eww.)

Not the color of anything you should ever put into your mouth.

Aside from a basic seasoning of salt and pepper I really didn’t touch this, although the possibilities for seasonings would’ve been endless. All the same, there was in the end no escaping the fact that these patties looked like uncooked beef in the end. It was really unappetizing but the flavor was just fine. Using the parchment paper as protection to mash the rice and potato together was also pretty genius. Not a bad way to form a veggie patty at all.

For the relish I minced half an onion and threw it in a pan on low heat to carmalize along with some fennel seeds for flavor. Next steamed the broccoli stems, minced them into oblivion and added them to the pan with one capful of apple cider vinegar, one teaspoon sugar and salt and pepper.

So good…? It was actually quite edible. As I said, this recipe will not be repeated. However, I think I still managed to prove my initial point. You can experiment and be creative with whatever is lying around. Had I just steamed broccoli, boiled the potato and served brown rice with sauce it probably would’ve tasted better, yes, but where’s the fucking adventure in that? Why go conventional if you can make mutant latkes with broccoli relish?

Well, maybe conventional has its upsides, but I tried, goddammit.


Poverty Food Challenge!

So it’s the end of the month, I have a moth-eaten bank account balance and jack-shit in my fridge. Basically, hard to run a food blog when you can’t afford any fucking food, am I right? But all is not lost. I still have things in my pantry and kitchen and I am nothing if not resourceful. So here is an inventory of what I have to work with…

1 jar of crappy marinara sauce, 1 onion, 1 purple potato, peanut butter, brown rice and frozen broccoli stems (plus an assortment of spices and condiments.)

Now, my challenge to myself is to figure out the best possible configuration for these ingredients and make a dish before the afternoon is over–and hunger compels me to start eating bars of soap–that is respectable for the high standards I have for this blog. This is sort of like Iron Chef: Broke-Ass Challenge–“poor-met cuisine.” Allez la cuisine!

Pickled Eggs

I come from the Midwest, from a very German-Polish part of town. Growing up I had the slow-cooker sauerkraut & sausage, the particular potato salad but nasty of them all–the pickled eggs. Pickled eggs were a staple of my grandfather’s diet, he always had a jar of those disgusting, brined eggs in his fridge with their nasty artificial dye. As a kid, I and my 12 cousins dared each other to eat those things. In later life I’ve come to understand that in some places this is typical bar food. But I will not eat anything for which red dye #40 is a prime ingredient, so I went homemade to try these things…

6 hard-boiled eggs (and if you look back I have the technique for hard-boiled eggs spelled out.)
1 can of beets, juice reserved. I broke protocol and used canned beets for this. Fresh is obviously better but I would’ve paid twice the price for secondary beets.  An optimal recipe would be one raw beet, sliced, boiled and the cooking juice reserved; but, the beets are not the focus of this so use canned at will.
1/2c beet juice, as from above, or made via fresh beets
1/2c cider vinegar, or white vinegar, hardly matters here
1 tsp salt
smathering pickling spice. If you don’t have pickling spice, but have spices, don’t fret. Add bay leaves, cloves, mustard seed, ginger, peppercorns, juniper, allspice, coriander. etc. This is where you get creative. If you don’t understand “smathering” go with about a tablespoon or so.
1 crushed clove of garlic, skin off, just smash that thing on a cutting board with the flat edge of a knife

Place the eggs into a clean jar. I used an old, glass pasta sauce jar that I immersed in boiling water for a few minutes.  As this is not pickling outside of a fridge, you don’t have to fret about bacteria, but boiling a glass jar does let you rest easy and control flavor. Shell the eggs and drop them into the jar. Add about 1/2 a cup of beet juice and 1/2 cup of vinegar. Toss in 1/4 cup of sugar and the spices. If your eggs aren’t covered with liquid entirely, place more of the 50-50 ratio onto it. Place the lid over the jar and shake vigorously. Leave in the fridge for at least 4 hours or up to one day.

Advice, comrade: You’ll see recipes telling you to cook the ingredients together before you pour it onto the eggs. That’s ridiculous. A marinade like this does not need cooking to incorporate the flavors. You’re going to let it stand for over four hours, that’s plenty of time for admixture. However shaking the jar a bit, like once an hour, is not a bad idea

Viva El Peru! South American Take on Meat, Potatoes & Salad.

My first meat-based recipe on the blog. The other day I was doing some shopping at the co-op by me and was chatting with a friend who works there. We somehow got on the topic of South American cuisine, and I mentioned how earlier in the year I wanted to make Huancaina sauce for an egg dish I had  a recipe for (pronounced “wan-ka-eena”) and needed aji amarillo sauce, which I had to call markets all over Portland before finding one Caribbean place miles out that had it. And strangely enough, while I was browsing their condiments section… aji amarillo! A new item!

After a bit of browsing stores and prices, etc. The dish that came to be…

NY Strip Steak With Aji Amarillo & Cream Sauce, Roasted Purple Potatoes and Radicchio en Brulee.

(Not the most appetizing photo. Still learning how to adapt to my sub-par digital camera’s abilities.)

And here it is if you want to try to recreate this yourself. It is not the easiest recipe, but I’ll put in as many tips as I can.

1. The Steak

1 steak, short loin or sirloin. My choice was made because I saw a good deal on nice looking NY strip. Enough for two.
1/2 sweet onion, diced
1 bell pepper, diced
2 tbsps aji amarillo sauce (hard to find, but check with Latin, Caribbean and specialty markets.)
2 cloves of crushed garlic
1 cup of half and half
1 avocado, cut into slices
salt and pepper

Start by cooking your steak. First, oil a pan or grill plate and turn up hot. For best results the oil should just start to smoke a little. Season both sides of the steak and place on the pan. How long you cook each side is going to vary on how well you like yours done. For this dish I strongly suggest no more than medium–about two minutes per side. I also like to throw a pat of butter into the pan as the second side cooks. This not only gives a nice edge to the meat, flavor but also keeps the pan oiled.

Remove the steak and set aside to cool. This is extremely important for steak. Never, ever start cutting it right away, you’ll get the juices that make it tender spilling everywhere like a Chernobyl. No less than five minutes before you even touch it again. Meanwhile take the onions and peppers and add them right to the pan you were just using and lower the heat to medium/medium-low. Cook them for a few minutes to get tender, then add your garlic, aji sauce and half & half; lower the heat more.

(You might notice in the picture that I sliced the onions and peppers in my dish. This was a bad call. Diced would’ve made it better as a side to eat with the steak itself.)

After the steak has cooled 5-10 minutes. Slice against the grain into strips and add these back into the pan. You don’t want to cook the meat further, just give it a good stir and a minute or so, that the meat is coated in and absorbs the sauce. Remove the meat from the pan and arrange on your place. Spoon sauce over that and add the vegetables nearby too. Don’t just dump the whole pan onto the plate, it’ll be messy. Garnish all or a few strips of meat with an avocado slice.

Mmm… nicely done. I don’t even cook steak very often.

2. The Potatoes

Turn up your oven to 400 degrees. Place potatoes over a baking try lined with foil and send them in once the oven’s heated. By the way, you want to start this long before any of the other dishes on this list as it takes the longest.

Cooking times will vary depending on the size of your potato. Check on them occasionally and turning them every ten minutes. You’ll know they’re getting close to done when the skins start to wrinkle. You can poke them with a fork to test. Remove them from the heat and let them sit. Potatoes, like steaks, are not best served straight from their heat source.

Advice, comrade: I wasn’t intending to buy purple potatoes. I just saw these cigar-shaped potatoes at my co-op and bought them just because they were good roasting size. I was very happily surprised to find they were purple inside! Peru is more or less the original home of the potato and home to hundreds and hundreds of varieties. It was a real nice compliment to the reds and purples of the steak and radicchio.

3. The Salad

En brulee is a French way of cooking, which translates to “burnt.” It’s usually reserved for onions, but can be done with anything. In this case, radicchio, which is a slightly bitter green with tight, packed leaves, is great. For one, the brulee softens the bitterness of the radicchio and makes it sweet and flavorful. Second, the tight pack of the leaves means it can stand up for the heat you’re going to hit it with.

For starters, prepare a vinaigrette. I didn’t write down anything on how I made the vinaigrette I used, but I recommend just working with what you already have. A vinaigrette is easy though. I would just recommend looking at recipes elsewhere (is that sad I’m outsourcing my own recipe…?) You can even use a bottled dressing; I wont mind, although those tend to be excessively salty, I think.

My advice is when you’re making this, steal some of the juices from the steak pan and add that to another. Not only will this make your sauce for the steaks lower in fat, but it also will impart the flavor to the radicchio. Just enough to cover the pan and use non-extra virgin or vegetable oil to ensure a good coat. Turn that up to  a medium-high heat. Cut your radicchio down the middle along the stem. Season the inside if you like, then place them on the hot pan. Cook until the radicchio is burnt. And I do mean burnt, blackened, charred… that’s a brulee.

Now, if you don’t want the black part of the brulee, and I don’t, a simple butter knife can gently scrape of the most blackened bits. A reason to not under-cook a brulee before it blackens is you’ll wind up with a radicchio that is half raw and half tender, and that’s weird. Plus, the char is flavor. To finish, just toss in your dressing and add to the plate.

The Revolutionary Che(ese).

Went to Whole Foods today with a cheese craving, so I hit up the counter there and luckily my favorite guy was working.

I picked something on special, the Roth Kase Gran Queso, which was advertised as a Manchego-style cheese from Wisconsin. It was definitely a great mimic of a great cheese. A lot sweeter though, and I thought it crumbled in large, awkward pieces where good Manchegos tend to “shatter” more than crumble. Perfect saltiness. As for undertones and such, I don’t have a professional palette, but I was getting chalk and peaches, which are not notes I think I’ve gotten before. It wasn’t great but it was good cheese; testifies to the strength of America’s growing artisan cheese.

My cheese guy also recommended a soft goat cheese from Portugal called Palhais. I can’t say I remember ever having a Portuguese cheese before so it sounded fun. If cream cheese could only always taste this good! Much smoother and silkier in texture than most goat cheese. Saltier… almost too salty to eat, nice pinch of sour and absolutely creamy. I’d hit this again.

10 Myths That Ruin the Experience of Food

10. “Run your eggs under cold water after you boil them hard.”

This isn’t so much myth as silly practice. To make hard-boiled eggs you have approximately 8-11 minutes while you wait for them to cook. That’s ample time to take a large bowl, fill it with ice and water, and let it sit until the eggs are done. And to cook an egg well, while we’re on the subject, never drop an egg into boiling water. First put eggs into the room temperature water you’re cooking with, then apply heat. When a boil happens, stop boiling, turn the heat to low or off and start timing. When the timer buzzes, take the eggs from the cooking water, throw them in the ice bath. Peel, serve, done.

Why do it this way? A. Eggs are not only easier to make if you don’t try to drop them into dangerously boiling water–risk burning yourself or breaking the shell–but it makes them better too. Eggs that go from cool to boiling that fast get a more grainy texture. A slow application of heat changes how the proteins line up and makes for better texture. B. So does over-cooking, meaning 8-11 minutes of time, no more! By the way, salmonella is mostly on the shell of an egg, so cooking the inside to death isn’t going to make eggs safer in any real way. C. Finally, chill your eggs fast. Not only does this let you decide exactly when cooking stops, prevents that nasty blue halo around the yolk but it also makes them easier to peel as cold causes the insides to shrink away from the shell. And for you salmonella junkies who are terrified of eggs–it’s safer, as it moves the egg from the anti-bacterial heat to the anti-bacterial cold quicker. The best way to avoid getting sick from eggs is to buy cage-free or farm-raised eggs, as the less chickens are packed into small cages the less they share their germs.

9. “The way to eat sushi is to place wasabi and a slice of ginger on top, then dip it in soy sauce and eat (or some similar combo.)”

This is facepalm stuff. No, this is not how you ever eat any sushi ever. Nor do you mix the wasabi into the soy (I do this sometimes, but it’s because I like a bit of kick in the soy, not because it’s the norm.) Stop this practice all together as a matter of habit.

Step one: use your hands (which is not bad manners in sushi bars!) or chopsticks to pick up the sushi. Step two: eat it. So why then do restaurants and pre-packaged places give you those three things?! The ginger is only meant to be a palette cleanse, meaning it takes the taste of the last thing you ate away so you can appreciate better the next thing you will eat. The soy and wasabi are meant mainly for sashimi and nigiri–the raw fish and raw fish on rice. It’s good for rolls too, but you still do not dunk it in, unless you’re a soy sauce junky or want to cover the taste of bad sushi, because the sushi chef who you are paying to cook for you is making the flavor. The soy sauce is like salt and pepper on the table, it’s not provided because you’re expected to do your own seasoning.

8. “Stuffing a turkey on Thanksgiving gives the stuffing and turkey more flavor.”

Stuffing a turkey accomplishes three things:
1. You lose the ability to judge cooking time because instead of the weight of your bird you now have to include all the stuff you packed into it too.
2. Rather than baste itself in juices, the bird is leeching it’s moisture into the bread. Essentially, you stuffed meat with a sponge.
3. As for the stuffing itself, you now surrendered all control of its cooking time, consistency as well.

Stuffing alters the way heat circulates and moves in an oven. What happens is you’ll end up having to cook the bird too long to get the temperature of both the outer-skin area meat to temp as you do the inner part nuzzling with bread and seasoning. As I said, the stuffing is a sponge to pull moisture out of the bird as it cooks. And when you have stuffing cooked inside a bird it will have both soggy and state parts, because the added moisture is not distributed evenly.

Cook stuffing separately. You can stuff a turkey, but just do not use dry bread, a food notorious for sucking moisture out of things.

Why did some of our ancestors do it then? Think of it this way, you want to feed a lot of people and make it all taste reasonably well. In order to stretch the value of a slaughtered turkey, you also used some old bread lying around, placed it in the cavity of the bird to make it moist/edible again, and now you have both a whole bird AND a side dish of flavored dry bread so more people can eat.

One quick one too on turkey myths: “turkey makes you sleepy because it has tryptophan.” It does, and tryptophan might make you sleepy, but that’s not the reason. Tryptophan is far more abundant in eggs, shellfish and spinach than turkey. The reason you’re sleepy is you just ate a shitload of food.

7. “Microwaves kill nutrients in food; in fact it’s healthier to eat a raw diet.”

No offense to the raw dieters of the world, but you’re doing it half-wrong.

Microwaving does not kill anything any differently from other conventional cooking methods. As “scientific” as a microwave seems, the method it cooks with is basically the same as any other cooking method: apply waves of thermal radiation. I think two reasons people associate microwaves as dangerous is: an inner primitivism that’s scared by what they can’t see and words like “microwaves,” and more simply because people typically cook bad food in them (a can of Campbell’s soup is what is gross, not the heating method.) And as I’ve said, microwaves do put Radiation into your food. So does a stove. That’s called “cooking.”

Tips on microwaving: it’s a notoriously uneven heat. So if you’re cooking with it either stop and stir/rotate a lot, or give food time to rest after it’s done (the hot parts will actually cook the cold parts.) And above all, don’t feel cheap, ever, for using a microwave. If you struggle with microwave prejudice, start thinking of it as a “microwave oven” instead, because that is essentially what it is, a kind of oven.

With “raw is healthier” it’s a good guideline but beyond that just a silly myth. Cooking doesn’t “kill nutrients,” as if nutrients were some singular class of things that all march single file. There is most definitely a good reason to not over-cook vegetables and fruit, and in methods of cooking; but, to then say all cooking is bad is just a sweeping, irrational generalization. Nutrients are not a thing, but dozens and dozens of chemicals with widely-varying properties. A lot of foods become actually more nutritious for you if you cook them, because cooking can break down useless chains of molecules into substances that our bodies actually do need.

6. “A real hot pan will get that bacon extra crisp so long as you drain the fat.”

Two myths here about the food equivalent of crack cocaine. For starters, a very hot pan or skillet will lead to uneven cooking, even if you turn. It’ll cause that wrinkling feature to happen, which then leads to bacon that has crisp and soggy parts to it because it was on the pan unevenly. Cook slow. Bacon will crisp if you give it time but it hates to be rushed. And don’t drain the fat off. If your worried about fat content, you shouldn’t be eating bacon to start with, and furthermore that liquid isn’t making the bacon soggy. It’s hot fat; the substance that makes things like tempura or french fries crispy. Relax.

5. “Drain AND rinse your pasta or your noodles will be sticky. A little oil in the cooking water helps too.”

So much wrong with this, aside from draining. First of all, rinsing cooked pasta pushes all the starches resting off of it, the starches which cause sauce to stick to a noodle. And there are two things that typically cause pasta to clump/stick together: initial cooking and what happens after straining. The worst is with the most common spaghetti. Now you don’t have to stir pasta as it cooks, nor should you. Pasta is like an angry loner; doesn’t want you messing with it and it doesn’t want to be around a lot of it’s peers. When you add pasta, give it a few stirs at first to make sure noodles don’t stick to each other, but after a minute or so the water will itself form the barrier to pasta stick-age and you can let it go.

Another reason noodles are sticky is because they were cooked and left to sit out for too long. Noodles are starch, and starches tend to congeal as they cool. It turns into glue, and as wheat paste was historically used as glue, I’m not being terribly hyperbolic. Noodles should either be cooked and finished the same time as the sauce and served, or better should go right into the sauce. The image of sauce being ladled onto a bed of pasta is iconic, but if you want to eat pasta like Italians do rather than advertising agencies do, just mix it all up.

Finally, on the pasta myth, don’t put oil in your cooking water. The only thing that does legitimately is cut down the frothing, but if frothing is a problem for you to begin with then you’re either using wayyyyyy too little water or your heat is way too intense. Oil, however, can be a great way to prevent stick-age! Only don’t put it in the water (which you’re going to drain 99% of anyway) but just a splash added to well-drained pasta, plus a gentle mixing, will do miracles (and unlike what I said about rinsing, a little oil also binds noodle to sauce even if oil itself is “slippery.”)

4. “Dough-based foods cooked in water (dumplings, gnocchi, pierogi, matzo balls, etc.) are done when they float.”

This is a funny one to me because it has such a magical sort of quality to it, plus it involves very “comfort food” items for me.

The reason this things float is not because they are done, but because dough has a particular surface area that is great for collecting bubbles (aka, that stuff in a pot of boiling water!) The bubbles adhere to the food and act like waterwings to lift it up. It has nothing to do with the food itself. So why do people keep saying this? Easy, because the time it takes gnocchi to cook is about the same time it takes for the bubbles to accumulate. And I guess this is only half-myth because the bigger the thing you’re putting into the pot is, the longer it takes to cook and the longer for bubbles to push it to buoyancy. However, it should be taken as a rule-of-thumb and no more–like saying a meat is cooked when juices run clear.

3. “_____ item should be kept refrigerated or it’ll go bad.”

There are many variations of this one with many variations on its veracity.

Take one example: eggs. Eggs go in the fridge or else they’ll spoil, it’s said. But why are there eggs in the first place? If eggs really did spoil if not refrigerated then chickens would be screwed. Ever see a hen stick her eggs in a fridge before? No. Eggs you eat aren’t hatchable eggs, and that matters some, but not as much as people think. The reason eggs are refrigerated is because bacteria grow on them, mostly on the shell, but even this is only very rarely a danger. So if you somehow forgot and left eggs on the counter for hours, don’t panic and toss them. They are fine. This rule changes though if they aren’t in the shell, if you crack an egg and leave it raw on the counter for hours, it’s bad.

Many vegetables: notably onions, potatoes and tomatoes. Some vegetables have to be refrigerated to keep and some actually lose flavor if you do (cold kills a tomato.) So how do you know besides memorize everything? A good rule is to distinguish “real” vegetables from fruits or the root of vegetables IF they have a sort of skin. Broccoli is a “real” vegetable, it is the plant itself and should be cold. Tomatoes are technically fruit, and they do best out of the fridge in a cool place. Potatoes and onions are roots and have skins, so they stay out of the fridge. A carrot is a root, but has no skin, so must be kept cold.

Butter and cheese. With cheese it’s always going to vary on what type of cheese you’re talking about. Most cheese you’re probably apt to use, and all shredded cheeses you buy in bags, should be cold and kept at the top of your fridge (it’s warmer there.) Some cheeses you never need to chill. Most cheese also takes a long time to spoil if left out so long as it’s not cooked. Butter can also be left out and wont go bad. This is true so long as you’re not the USDA. The USDA has its reasons, but this is the thing, butter/cheese that become dangerous when left out were already contaminated or picked it up from your kitchen. It’s like catching a cold from not keeping warm in winter; it should be obvious that cold air doesn’t cause the flu, but being under-dressed does make you more susceptible to germs. So it’s not “totally” safe to keep butter out, but it’s also not “totally dangerous.”

2. “Bread gets stale if all the moisture falls out.”

The reason bread goes stale is because the sugars in the bread change their chemical structure. Bread is like a living food, on a microscopic level it’s always moving and changing (unless it’s industrial, processed bread, which is like the zombie of breads.) When those sugars move they condense and form chains of starches that are tough and rigid. Moisture has very little to do with this, except that it is a factor in how quickly the chemical changes happen. If you buy bakery bread, just keep it out of the fridge and in a dry place. At the bake shop I worked at we used to sell some breads in plastic bags; that’s not to keep moisture from escaping, it was to keep it from getting in.

Reviving stale bread is easy; almost everyone knows how these days: you reheat it in the oven. And note how this process does NOTHING to add water and in fact does something you never do when trying to moisten food–throw it in an oven. What it does is break up the congealed starch chains and makes them small, loose and easy to pierce with your teeth again.

1. “You have to sear your meat to lock in those juices!”

No! This has been disproved time and again, searing does not affect the juiciness of the final product in anyway shape or form. Now before you get all “But! …” I’m gonna have to stop you like Kanye West. The reason you or your chef put  a sear on a piece of meat, which then lead to a more tender piece, has the simplest explanation: the cook just knew how to cook meat well.

That’s all there is to that “sear it!” logic. A good cook can get a good sear, which is ONLY to create that browned, crisp taste and texture that any meat eater with good taste knows is sooooo good. Searing also creates the vibe of cooking quickly and then cooking very little after–very important! It’s the overall combo of the intensity of the heat and the time its applied that affects the juiciness of meat the most. So searing then also lends to another general rule of good steaks, tuna, etc. not over-cooking is also better for taste and texture. Well-done steaks are nasty steaks. And that is really ALL that should be said for this searing phenomenon.

Lentil Stew with Tarragon-Pesto Yogurt: Winter Comfort Food Made T.G.M Sexy

After the last few times this month I’ve decided to make something special I would up spending more than my proletarian budget should allow. So to use up some perishables and mostly dip into my reserves of cheap, healthy staples I dreamed up this little number. Serves… a lot… let them who work, eat from the pot.

This particular lentil stew is thick but still has moats of sauce around the islands of brightly spiced vegetables and legumes. Paprika, cumin and sherry make it bright and exotic (I was thinking Spanish gypsies) but the addition of pesto made with tarragon and basil incorporated into yogurt to serve on top is a nice cool, refreshing contrast. So yeah, this is especially a good thing if you’ve got a special someone you want to impress, but also want to give the comfort of a basic stew.

You will need:

The Soup:

1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 carrots, diced (medium-sized too)
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 cup of diced potatoes (about one good-sized Yukon Gold or a very small Russet, no Redskins though.)
2 cups of french lentils. You can use green lentils if you must, but reduce the cooking time. Red or dhal is unacceptable.
1 small chili pepper, chopped (optional)
3 cups of stock or water, (plus extra nearby)
1/2 cup of sherry
1 tsp cumin
2 tsp paprika
1 bay leaf

The Herbed Yogurt:

1/2 cup of yogurt
about 5 sprigs of tarragon
about 3 sprigs/stalks of basil
1/2 clove of garlic, minced
coarse sea salt
olive oil

Start by dicing the vegetables into little bits, don’t get chunky here as you don’t want big hunks of vegetable oppressing the lentil masses. The garlic and chili (if using as well.) Heat olive oil in the bottom of your soup pot on a medium heat and add the onions, carrots, garlic, bay and chili. Stir and cooking for about 5 minutes or when the onions start are translucent.

Next add in the cumin and paprika, your potatoes and the can of tomatoes. Let it go for a few minutes and meanwhile measure your lentils and your liquids. When everything is in, bring the heat up to a boil and then turn it down to a low/simmer. From here keep stirring every five minutes or so to make sure nothing is sticking to the pot and keep the liquid level just above the lentils at all times. Add water/stock then stir if dry; the lentil that tries to rise above the stew will be watered down! It should take no less than 45 minutes for french lentils to be al dente. I like mine with a little bite to them, but you can keep tasting til it’s right for you. Also now you can add seasoning: salt and pepper.

During the time while your stew was cooking you have time for the topping. Start by making a very basic pesto. *Party Leader says, some purists will say this isn’t pesto because “pesto has to have only basil, garlic, pine nuts and cheese!” They’re wrong and foolish. Genoa’s sauce has a basic structure but was always adapted in tradition to how it was being used. There are many ways you can do this. A food processor, of course. I don’t have one; I use the old methods of revolutionary force. Start with your garlic (if using) and herbs. This is my way:

Take your 1/2 clove onto a cutting board, put a good sprinkle of coarse/sea salt over that, then grab your herbs in hand and press them into a tight package and place that onto the garlic. Take a good chef’s knife and begin working into the mix. Chop it like a mince, don’t be exact, just keep pulling big pieces that fly away back into the fray and go at it. Eventually the law of diminishing returns kicks in and it’s not going to get any smaller. Place it into a ceramic bowl now with evenly rounded sides. I recommend putting just a tiny, bit of yogurt in, just to hold it in place, then get a large spoon and begin mashing it, at the same time adding olive oil in tiny drizzle portions. Mash-drizzle-mash-drizzle-season-taste and repeat any steps necessary to make you happy.

Now obviously, that little amount can’t be easily made in a food processor with tall blades. You’ll probably have to bulk up the recipe, maybe with parsley too because a little tarragon and basil isn’t too expensive, but a lot is during winter. The good news is this stuff would certainly make turkey or egg salad sandwiches actually taste appealing. If you want a relatively inexpensive gadget that solves both problems: a hand blender.

In any case, once this is made, spoon in your yogurt and mix. Now it’s real easy: put stew into bowls, spoon over the yogurt mixture. Eat it by mixing the two slowly until you get the right blend of yin and yang for yourself.

First Post. Tonight: Peanut Butter and Jelly Tacos!

It has been suggested to me over the years once in a while by friends that I should start a food blog. But I kind of have the impression that having a food blog is like how people all wanted to have SUVs in the 1990s;  the number of people who think they need one is much smaller a ratio than those who actually should have them. Another analogy might be people’s pictures of their pets, a thing more people want to share than there are people who actually want to see it. But I’m having, because until now I’ve just been sharing recipes and cooking experiments on Facebook, which is just too frustrating with the way things display plus the annoyance of Facebook’s less-than-mediocre interface.


That’s right, you heard me. I had been thinking about the use of jellies and marmalade in savory cooking and this idea just popped to mind, why not use jalapeno jelly, a south-east Asian-esque peanut butter concoction and make tacos?

To make this you will need these ingredients and some good sense of portion because I didn’t do any measuring.

corn tortillas
1 jar of jalapeno jelly
peanut butter
3cups of cooked rice (brown or white)
red cabbage
onion (go with your preference for what you like raw – I picked yellow)
green apple
1 tsp fresh minced ginger
1 tsp of green curry paste (adjust to heat preference or sriracha could do fine)
1 tbsp of lime juice
cilantro, if you don’t have the “it tastes like soap” gene (which is an actual gene, FYI.)

First, get the rice cooking. If you have a bit of turmeric  add just a dash for color.

Next, get your peanut butter and a small bowl. Add the peanut butter to the bowl. I’m guessing I’d just just shy of a half a cup followed by the lime juice. Mince your ginger* and to the bowl along with the curry paste. Mix together, adding more lime or water if it’s too thick to mix, however, this is a spread and not a sauce so don’t let it get runny. This can just sit while the rice cooks to let the flavors mingle.

*Advice comrade: To mince ginger the easy way. One you have the skin off and a piece approximately the size of a soda bottle cap either place it on the cutting board and smash it with the flat-side of the chef’s knife and smash it, or if you’re not comfortable smacking a sharp knife, putting the ginger between cling film or wax paper and crushing it with something like a can of tomatoes works just as well. This will not only make it easier to mince, but smashing breaks the cell walls of the ginger root releasing a lot more flavor. Also works on garlic and even fresh herbs.

Once your rice is or is close to done, start prepping your vegetables. Best thing is to shred and julienne. Cabbage, apples and onions should be done with a knife. I think the large setting on a four-sided cheese grater do better for carrots, daikon and firmer vegetables. What I wrote down is what I used, but any vegetables you like can go in. Just keep it raw if you can, you’ll want the crunch.

Organize a station for setting up the tacos. Heat the tortillas in a microwave real quick to keep them pliant (5 sec for each tortilla. ) Spread your peanut base across the middle of the taco. Next lay down the jalapeno jelly. Rice and vegetables plus cilantro and you’re good.

Advice, comrade: I personally found my tacos were sweeter than I’d expected at first, but that didn’t bother me at all. Marinated onions would’ve been good. If you wanted to add meat to this I think you could really go just about anywhere. Grilled meats would all be perfect; this would also make a killer summer party meal. If you want to make it tasty and sound totally horrible, trade tortillas for nacho chips, use chopped cooked white fish, make the peanut sauce runny and just go with Peanut Butter, Jelly and Fish Nachos.

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