Saturday, April 28, 2012

Lentil shepherd's pie

Eight or nine years ago when Amanda and I tried out the South Beach Diet for a brief time, we encountered the suggestion to make mashed cauliflower instead of mashed potatoes. It's literally the only thing I remember about the diet, as it's the only element we've kept in our repertoire.

I was all set to share my recipe when we ate a lentil shepherd's pie at a restaurant that used cauliflower for the mashed potatoes. So I made and am sharing that instead, because it makes the dish much more interesting. (As you might be able to tell, I have trouble letting plain side dishes stay plain side dishes.)

Ingredients for lentil layer:
1 cup dried lentils
2 cups water
1/2 tbsp vegetable bouillon (I use "Better Than Bouillon" brand vegetable base)
1/2 tbsp corn starch
3/4 cups diced mushrooms
1/4 cup diced carrots
1/8 diced onion
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1/2 tsp garlic powder

1) Rinse the lentils under running water, then add lentils, water, and bouillon to a large pot. (You could use just vegetable broth here, but I find the flavor of the bouillon to be much more powerful and it seasons the lentils all the way through.)

2) Bring to boil, turn the heat to medium-low and cover. Let lentils simmer for 35-40 minutes, until they are cooked all the way through but still have a crunch to them. (Older lentils can take longer to cook, so keep going if they're not yet done.)

(During this 35 minutes, you can prepare the cauliflower layer as detailed below, unless you have already prepared it in advance.)

Also during this 35 minutes, finely dice the carrots, mushrooms, and onion and chop the cilantro. (Note: this picture is from making a double recipe, so don't be alarmed that yours will look like less.)

3) When the lentils are ready, mix 1/2 tbsp corn starch with 1/2 tbsp cold water in a small bowl. Drain the remaining warm liquid from the lentils (do not rinse), and then mix in the corn starch. This will give it a little bit of sauce.

4) Then add the diced vegetables, cilantro, and garlic powder to the lentils, stir again, and let sit for 5 minutes (off the heat) to slightly cook the vegetables. (You could serve this as a side dish just like this if you're inclined.) Jump below for the instructions to combine the two into a shepherd's pie.

Ingredients for the cauliflower layer:
1 large head cauliflower
1 cup water
1 tsp vegetable bouillon
1 tbsp grated parm cheese
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 cup grated cheddar cheese

1) Cut the florets off the cauliflower head and place in a large pot with the water and bouillon base.

2) Bring to the water boil, cover the pot, and cook on medium heat for 12-14 minutes until very tender and it flakes with a fork. (Note: yes, this is way overdone, and you would never cook it this long if you were to serve it on its own.)

3) Discard any unabsorbed liquid, then use an immersion blender to pulverize it to lumpy mashed-potato consistency.

4) Add your five dry seasonings (not the cheddar cheese – that's for melting on top) and stir well. You can set this component aside for now (or even make it a day in advance and reheat it) while you finish preparing lentils.

(If you were to serve this as a side dish alone, mix in 1 tbsp butter and 1 tbsp cream cheese while it's warm for a more creamy and substantial texture. I find its not needed when pairing it with the lentils.)

Instructions for shepherd's pie:
1) Spoon the lentil mixture into a 7-inch or 8-inch round glass oven-proof pan, then spoon the cauliflower on top and smooth flat.

2) Add the 1 cup cheddar cheese and broil in the oven for 5-8 minutes until cheese is bubbly and just starting to brown.

3) Attempt to spoon both layers simultaneously onto plates so it stays layered (adding the lentils that you'll miss to one side). Serves 3-4.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Homemade soft pretzels

Corin makes me cut off all the crusts from the normal bread I make, but he'll eat pretzels as is, so this is my bread option for not having to eat/toss heaps of crust scraps. I thought I might have trouble fashioning the dough, but it stretched out quite easily, and figuring out the knot is simple once you've done it twice.

Ingredients (for six pretzels):
  • 1 cup, 1 tbsp room-temperature water
 (neither hot nor cold to the touch)
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 tbsp granulated yeast
  • 1/2 tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 cup unbleached white flour, pushed slightly against side of bag when measuring (5.4 oz)
  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour, pushed slightly against side of bag when measuring (5.4 oz)
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • large-grain salt (kosher salt or rock salt)

1) Add the ingredients to a large bowl in order given, and stir until just combined. Cover bowl loosely and let rise 50 minutes.

2) Heat the oven to 450˚, having placed a pizza stone on the bottom rack and a large pan half-full of water on the upper rack.

3) Deflate the dough by stirring slightly, then cut the dough in half. Place half the loaf onto a floured surface, and, eyeballing your best guess, divide it into thirds.

4) Flour your hands and the top of each lump, adding more flour as necessary to keep your hands from sticking. Stretch out each lump into a long, skinny rope; I use a combination of squeezing the dough in one of my fists and pulling the dough slowly outward with the fingers of my other hand, working my way from center to end. I try to get the rope to about the thickness of my thumb. If it pulls too thin you can usually bunch up the thin area and it will re-stick to itself.

5) Twist the rope into a pretzel shape, as seen in the pictures below. Pinch together the places where the dough needs to connect to keep its shape.

6) Place each pretzel as completed on a sheet of parchment paper, in a circular pattern to fit the size of the pizza stone.

7) Mix together the warm water and baking soda and, using a pastry brush, moisten the top of each pretzel. Sprinkle as much coarse salt on top as you desire. (Trim off the edges of the parchment paper as they will brown in the oven at this temperature.)

8) Use a pizza peel to place the parchment and pretzels onto the pizza stone. Bake in the preheated oven, which should be steamy by now, for 12-14 minutes, until golden brown.

9) While those are baking, make the other three pretzels with the other half of the dough, and switch them out when the first batch is done. Let cool for a few minutes and they'll be ready to eat. (If you have any leftovers the next day, reheat in the toaster oven to get the outside crispy again.)

10) Optional: If you like those flavored mall pretzels, you can brush the tops with melted butter and sprinkle on a Kernel Season's popcorn seasoning (sour cream and onion, ranch, white cheddar, nacho cheese, parmesan and garlic, jalapeno, chili lime, etc.).

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Mad Libs with a four-year-old

Actor #1: Why did we have to come to this poopy old castle? This place send shivers up and down my poop.

Actor #2: Relax. Here comes the bellboy for our poop.

Actor #1: Poop my pants! Look, he's all bent over and has a big poop on his toilet!

Actor #2: I'm putting my poop down! I'm not staying in this poopy place. I'd rather poop in the car!

Actor #1: Look at the bellboy! He has my poop in one hand, your poop in the other, and his third hand ... His third hand? Ahhhhh!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Mashed-bean pasta salad

Sometimes a new texture is enough to enliven an old standard. We recently ate at Tutta Bella pizzeria and ate a salad with mashed cannellini beans. This turns out to be a superb way to eat beans: You don't have to spear them or scoop them like roly-poly regular beans — yet they've still got the full flaky bean texture (unlike a hummus or bean dip where it's blended).

I decided to try it in a warm pasta salad one day as I was using up leftovers, and I've made it twice now with different green vegetables. It's super easy and quite filling.

Ingredients (makes two full-plate salads):
2 cups boxed penne pasta
poppyseed & carmelized onion dressing
1 can red kidney beans
3 cups peapods (or zucchini, asparagus, broccoli, etc.)
2 cups sliced mushrooms
salami shavings (optional)

1) In a pot, bring at least 1 quart water to boil on high heat. Add dry pasta, lower heat to medium, and set timer for 9 minutes.

2) Open your beans and pour off most of the salty liquid. Without rinsing the beans, pour the rest of the can's contents into a bowl. There should be some of the liquid left. Gently mash the beans with a fork to break the skins. (If you'd rather use fresh beans, you probably want some salt added.)

3) In a large saucepan, heat a tablespoon of butter until popping. Add the mushrooms and your green vegetable. Sprinkle in a little salt if you like. Cook until they just begin to get soft.

4) Drain your pasta well, and toss in the pot with some poppyseed & carmelized onion dressing. Stir in the shaved salami (if you're using it) so it gets slightly warm. Take your vegetables off the heat, scoot them to one side of the pan, and spread out the beans on the other side to warm them up just a bit.

5) Plate the pasta first, top with mashed beans in the center, then add the vegetables surrounding it. Enjoy!

Alternate, green salad option (recreated from Tutta Bella):
Baby greens
Champagne vinaigrette
Mashed cannellini beans (white kidney beans)
Roasted red pepper strips
Carrot strips
Sweet onion strips
Mashed kalamata olives
Crumbled feta cheese

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Apricot whip

Another Lansingh favorite is a recipe introduced to us in Maine by my great-aunt's caretaker. Called "prune whip," it's a moist, fruity meringue topped with whipped cream. This is the one that was busted out for every birthday, every good report card, and, to this day, every visit home.

Unfortunately, prunes don't exactly stir up warm, sweet feelings in most people, and the name has never enticed anyone to ask: Hey, can I try that? That led me to experiment with different dried fruits, wondering if I could match the intensity and texture with a more common desserty fruit. After many different iterations, I've perfected an apricot whip — a lighter, springtime version of the dessert that is just as flavorful. (Prune whip has a richer, deeper flavor.) Both are going to be making appearances in our house for a long, long while.

Ingredients (serves 2, can easily be doubled or quadrupled):
5 dried apricots (about 1 oz)
3/4 cup water
(this reduces to 1/4 cup pulp)

3 egg whites
pinch salt
1/8 cup sugar

3/4 cup whipping cream
1 tbsp powdered sugar
2 drops vanilla

1) Cook apricots with water in microwave on high for 10 minutes. (Pictures are from a double recipe.)

2) Puree apricots in food processor with the hot water until completely smooth, with no lumps.

3) Heat oven to 350°, with a 9x13 pan filled with water to 1/3 capacity resting on the center rack.

4) Simmer apricots in a small saucepan at just above low heat for 15-20 minutes, until mixture is reduced to where it holds its shape when stirred. (You'll need to cook longer for doubled recipe.) It should be just about 1/4 of a cup of thick pulp when finished.

5) With an electric mixer, beat egg whites and salt until frothy. Gradually add the sugar until mixture is thick, slightly shiny, and holds peaks.

6) Add apricot mixture in small globs, and beat on lowest speed until just mixed in.

7) Spoon into a 9x9 glass dish, and set into the pan of hot water in oven, baking for 35-40 minutes until darkish brown on top. (Bake longer, about 45-50 minutes, for a quadruple batch.)

8) With about five minutes remaining on the meringue, beat the cream, vanilla, and powdered sugar in a large bowl to make whipped cream.

9) Serve the apricot whip immediately, warm, topped with a generous dollop of whipped cream.

Prune whip (or: Plum meringue, if you wish)

6 prunes (about 2 oz)
1/4 tsp lemon juice

Microwave the prunes with about 1/2 cup water for 5 minutes. Discard the water, place prunes in food processor with the lemon juice, and pulse until prunes are turned completely to pulp. You should end up with about 1/4 cup prune pulp.

Then follow the apricot whip instructions to complete.

Incidentally, prune whip is much simpler to make, if you want to attempt it first, as it doesn't involve any reducing. (Apricots are much tougher and won't blend smooth without using water to help, which necessitates a reduction.)

These pictures are from the smaller recipe, so you can see the difference in size. You can get more of the "crust" by not smoothing it down, if you wish.