Mum’s Everyday Red Lentils

(Recipe source: Food Network, Aarti Sequeira, 2010)

Maybe it’s the changing weather, but we’ve been craving soups and stews and nice bowls of something hot and hearty. Then I discovered we had several bags of Bob’s Red Mill Red Lentils in the cupboard. I googled for recipes and the following one looked particularly good. I made it on Monday and Michelle asked for it AGAIN this week! Most of the following are from the original recipe, however, I increased the seasonings and added a little more heat. I also wanted a heartier version of dal (more like stew rather than soup), so I added half a bag of Trader Joe’s kale. This one is a keeper!

Lentils (Dal):

1 cup masoor dal red lentils, picked through for stones
2 cups water
1 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 (1-inch) piece ginger, peeled and minced
2 medium tomatoes, diced
1 bunch of kale, chopped (bigger stems removed)
1 jalapeno chile, minced
1 teaspoon chile flakes

Tempering oil (bagaar):

1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Garnish:

Handful chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Lemon wedges

Directions

Put the lentils in a strainer and rinse them under running water. Add them to a bowl, cover with water and let soak for 30 minutes. Drain and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine 2 cups of water, the onions, garlic, ginger, tomatoes, chile, and the lentils. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Skim any scum from the surface. DO NOT ADD SALT YET; it will toughen the lentils, thereby lengthening their cooking time. Lower the heat, cover the pot with a lid and gently simmer until the lentils are tender, almost translucent, and almost falling apart, about 30 to 40 minutes.

Whisk the lentils, releasing its natural starch, and mash some them so the mixture becomes thick. Add salt, to taste.

Tempering oil (bagaar): In a small bowl, combine the cumin and mustard seeds. In another bowl, combine the spice powders. Have all the ingredients ready because this will move very fast!

In a small skillet, over a medium-high flame, warm 1 tablespoon vegetable oil. Once the oil is shimmering, add seeds and immediately cover so you don’t get covered in spluttering oil and seeds! Add the spices. They should sizzle and bubble a little – that’s the blooming and it’s exactly what you want. (I have never bloomed anything before, so this was a learning experience.) Don’t let them burn. The mixture should bloom for about 30 seconds, no more.

Pour the oil mixture into the lentils, standing back so you don’t get hurt when the mixture splutters again. Stir to combine. Transfer the lentils to a serving dish and garnish with cilantro and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Modified from the original recipe, which you can find here, along with nutritional information. This recipe is super easy to make – total prep time is about 35 minutes, total cook time is about 40 minutes. Serves 4.

JB’s Zucchini Fritters

Zucchini Fritters

Zucchini Fritters (Photo credit: AlyssssylA)

Yield: About 10 2 1/2 inch fritters

1 pound (about 2 medium) zucchini
1 teaspoon coarse or Kosher salt, plus extra to taste
2 scallions, split lengthwise and sliced thin
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Olive or another oil of your choice, for frying
JB addition: I’d add 1/4 cup parmesan

To serve (optional):

1 cup sour cream or plain, full-fat yogurt
1 to 2 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon lemon zest
Pinches of salt
1 small minced or crushed clove of garlic

Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Have a baking sheet ready.

Trim ends off zucchini and grate them either on the large holes of a box grater or, if you have one, using the shredding blade of a food processor. The latter is my favorite as I’m convinced it creates the coarsest and most rope-like strands and frankly, I like my fritters to look like mops.

In a large bowl, toss zucchini with 1 teaspoon coarse salt and set aside for 10 minutes. Wring out the zucchini in one of the following ways: pressing it against the holes of a colander with a wooden spoon to extract the water, squeezing out small handfuls at a time, or wrapping it up in a clean dishtowel or piece of cheese cloth and wringing away. You’ll be shocked (I was!) by the amount of liquid you’ll lose, but this is a good thing as it will save the fritters from sogginess.

Return deflated mass of zucchini shreds to bowl. Taste and if you think it could benefit from more salt (most rinses down the drain), add a little bit more; we found 1/4 teaspoon more just right. Stir in scallions, egg and some freshly ground black pepper. In a tiny dish, stir together flour and baking powder, then stir the mixture into the zucchini batter.

In a large heavy skillet — cast iron is dreamy here — heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Drop small bunches of the zucchini mixture onto the skillet only a few at a time so they don’t become crowded and lightly nudge them flatter with the back of your spatula. Cook the fritters over moderately high heat until the edges underneath are golden, about 3 to 4 minutes. If you find this happening too quickly, reduce the heat to medium. Flip the fritters and fry them on the other side until browned underneath again, about 2 to 3 minutes more. Drain briefly on paper towels then transfer to baking sheet and then into the warm oven until needed. Repeat process, keeping the pan well-oiled, with remaining batter. I like to make sure that the fritters have at least 10 minutes in the oven to finish setting and getting extra crisp.

For the topping, if using, stir together the sour cream, lemon juice, zest, salt and garlic and adjust the flavors to your taste. Dollop on each fritter before serving. These fritters are also delicious with a poached or fried egg on top, trust me.

Do ahead: These fritters keep well, either chilled in the fridge for the better part of a week and or frozen in a well-sealed package for months. When you’re ready to use them, simply spread them out on a tray in a 325 degree oven until they’re hot and crisp again.

http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2011/08/zucchini-fritters/

 

Kale Pesto

I was going to name this Amy Lee’s Kale Pesto, but since she didn’t share the recipe with me, I can only acknowledge her for the inspiration. If you have a buttload of curly kale from the garden, like I did, this is a wonderful addition to your menu. I had to do this in a couple of batches because there was so much kale. You can reproportion this to suit your taste.

I modeled this recipe after a similar experiment with broccoli. Traditional pesto is usually too hot (from all the basil) and too garlicky for me. So I swapped half the amount of basil for a whole head of steamed broccoli. The result was an amazingly creamy and light (and more nutritious) version of pesto.

I think you will like the kale version too. Because kale is more of a bitter green than broccoli, I would recommend adding the juice of a lemon to brighten it up a bit — but it’s not necessary. You could use this in a pasta dish, or as a marinade/rub for fish and chicken. It’s really delicious.

The following yields 4 cups of kale pesto. There was so much of it, I had to package them up and freeze them for later use.

Ingredients:

1 armful of kale, approximately 8 bunches if store bought.
1 really big bunch of basil
8 thumb-size cloves of garlic
1 cup of pine nuts (or walnuts)
1 cup grated parmesan (I used pecorino romano)
1/2 C. olive oil (this is about half the recommended)
1 lemon (juice)

Since I used pecorino romano, I did not add any salt, because it’s a saltier hard cheese. If you use parmessan, you might want to add a pinch.

Remove the stem (rib?) from kale and steam-cook them until soft. Remove stem from basil. Throw everything together in a food processor. Pulse and process for a couple of minutes until well blended. (Unless you have a really big food processor, I would recommend doing this in a couple of batches.)

Homemade Dog Food

What started this whole thing was my discovery of making chicken stock in a pressure cooker. I was really impressed with the quality of the stock — the deepness of color, the richest of taste — and the only ingredients used were chicken (some meat but mostly bones) and water. I still use this method for making stock for us (humans) or to start a big pot of chicken vegetable soup. It makes for a good hearty dinner when you’re pressed for time during the week. Especially during the winter time.

Could you do this with a regular cooking pot? Well, maybe for stock, yes. But here’s where it gets really interesting. It doesn’t matter whether you are cooking chicken or pork or beef — if it’s meat it will retain its shape and texture. In other words, even if you cook the meat for an hour, it still looks tastes feels smells like meat. It doesn’t disintegrate into an undistinguishable mush. However, the bones (while still retaining its shape), become so soft that they will crumble if crushed between your fingers. (Keep this in mind, when you read further down.)

Anyway, when I started reading up on nutrition for dogs, I realized just how many sources there are out there. Some were very useful, some were conflicting. Most of the disagreement seems to stem from whether or not you should feed your dog a raw or a cooked diet. All sources seem to agree that “homemade”, whether raw or cooked, would be much better than store-bought pre-processed food, no matter how good or popular the name brand. I opted for the cooked version because most raw sites keep referring to a “natural wild ” diet. My dogs are not wild. Well, in their minds, they may think they’re wild. But in my mind, they have been domesticated for thousands of years. If they were left in their “wild” state in an urban environment, most dogs would likely scavenge around garbage cans.

So, here are my somewhat-scientifically-backed-up opinions on canine cuisine:

Except for certain no-no items such as chocolate, grapes, raisins, onions, most dog food requirements are identical to human food.They need FRESH food, just like humans do. They need VARIETY, just like humans do. They need BALANCE, just like humans do.

That said, the main differences between dogs and humans are that dogs need more of the protein and less of the vegetables and much much less of the carbohydrates. And, they need much much more calcium than we do.

In terms of proportion, meat and other animal products should constitute at least HALF the diet. I used this ratio: 1/2 meat, 1/3 veggies, 1/6 whole grain and/or rice. Here meat = chicken, pork, fish, beef, lamb, turkey. Although I must confess that I only cook the first four since I don’t like lamb or turkey much. (Remember, when you go shopping for yourself, just pick up extra for your dogs.)

For vegetables, dogs can and should eat most everything. Dark leafy greens are on the top of the list. But here are some others that your pups will like:  broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, bok choy, cabbage, turnips, rutabaga, celery, cucumber, bell peppers, zucchini, summer squashes, carrots, peas, beans. Spinach and swiss chard can be fed in limited amounts. Sweet potatoes are excellent as well.

Some other foods that you might want to incorporate into their diets are organ meat (liver, kidney, heart, green tripe), as well as some dairy products such as eggs and yogurt and cottage cheese. I freeze-dry chicken livers for the girls and add a little bit everyday. Some sources say that liver should constitute 5% or so of their daily diet.

In terms of balance, think of food as a two-week range rather than every meal. As long as you feed a wide variety of different foods, there is no need to make every meal “complete and balanced”. Feed your dog how you would feed yourself. Every now and then, indulge them a little. It’s ok to give them a burger and fries once in a blue moon.

Probably the most common mistake in home-cooking is that people often underestimate just how much calcium dogs need. Let’s put it this way: they need a lot. It is actually more complicated than I can explain, because you have to balance the calcium with the appropriate amount of phosphorus. Phosphorus is typically provided by the meat. Which means, the more meat, the more phosphorous, the more calcium required. And then it’s not just the calcium, but the also the type of calcium (“elemental” calcium is what you are after.) And, if you buy regular and not organic, there’s a whole host of other stuff you have to account for. (Who knew that they add arsenic to chicken to help them grow. This is why I buy only organic stuff now.)

Anyway, all this research was giving me a headache. I remember growing up and feeding our dogs whatever food we had left over (and yes, sometime with garlic in it!) and they always did fine. But now that I am THE human adult responsible for these furry four-legged things, I wanted to make sure that I am the best Mama L. in the world! So, I decided to make the dogs their own food by using the pressure cooker. It takes care of all of the above requirements. Even with buying only organic food, I am still saving a lot of money than buying store-bought. And, my girls tell me all the time that I am better than any Iron Chef they have ever met.

Your pressure cooker and the required cooking time per type of food will probably vary from mine, depending on brand, size, etc. I think I have an older version of this one: Fagor Splendid 10-Quart Pressure Cooker/Canner. Naturally, you would follow your manufacturer’s recommendations. Below is what I would do for a chicken meal. (You can do this for any meat, just keep the proportion in mind.) This is quite a bit of food, btw. When I make a batch this big, the dogs get about 2 weeks’ worth (one dinner per dog per  day). I usually put them in several containers and freeze what the girls can’t eat in a few days.

Steps:

1. Put whole or quartered (easier later) chicken in pressure cooker. Put enough water in cooker to just cover the chicken. Lock the lid, set it to the highest pressure (mine comes in three pressure setting), and cook over medium high heat for 15 minutes. For clarification, the 15-minute timer starts after the pop-up indicator pops up telling you that the internal pressure is where you want it to be.)

2. Meanwhile, chop up your veggies into small bite-size chunks. (My girls are about 1/2-inch chunks.) Set aside.

3. When the 15 minutes are up, quick cool your pressure cooker (again, follow your manufacturer’s instructions.) Take the chicken meat off the bones. Return only the bones to the pressure cooker (broth still in it), lock the lid, set to the highest pressure, and cook for an hour.

4. Quick cool, or let cool. Take all the bones out, but leave the liquid. Add your veggies, lock lid, set to medium pressure, and cook for 5 minutes.

5. When the bones are cool enough for you to handle, chop (or grind) until it turns into a fine meal. With chicken bones, this usually means both ends of the drumstick and a substantial amount of “middle”. I toss away bone pieces that don’t mush easily. If you cook the bones for an hour, though, almost all of it is mushable.

6. Combine everything together and stir well. At this point, I also add chopped blueberries or cranberries, a few dashes of Bragg’s Liquid Amino Acids, a small scoop of flaxseed meal, and sometimes a small handful of kelp for essential minerals. If you had enough liquid for a broth, it will resemble a soup or a stew. I generally don’t cook the grains in the pressure cooker, as I haven’t quite figured out how NOT to turn it into mush. Instead, the ladies are served the meat/veggies stew over a bed of white rice.

Again, “meat” here means meat + bones. If you were cooking salmon, for example, you would include the entire chunk of fish, fins bones and all…

Here is a picture of Gingersnap! helping me clean the pressure cooker. On Ambergris Caye in Belize, the island dogs are called “pot lickers”.

Dear Auntie Peggy,

Mama L. brought home your treat and said it was the BEST panettone she has ever had in her entire life. From what very little we could see, it looked great and it smelled delicious! But Mama L. said I couldn’t have any because I’m a Dog and you had told her she can’t share your treat with dogs. I don’t think it’s fair at all. I thought you were my No. 1 Fan! Is it because I haven’t written anything in a very long time that you forgot about me? What if I promise to catch up on that tonight? Then can I have some panettone?

Sad,

Gingersnap!

Marinated artichokes


In a recent Costco trip with Mom, I bought one these gigantic jars of marinated artichokes.

As much as I love them in pasta or on pizza, there’s only so much you can eat.

65 ounces is a whole lot of chokes. And the jar won’t fit in the fridge with all the other stuff vying for room and attention.

I started looking for recipes on the internet. I’ll probably make hot artichoke dip to bring over for Thanksgiving…but I will still have at least a half a jar left over. If you have any other creative ideas, please send them to me!

(And, yes, this is what I think about when I’m at work.)

Dear Diary,

I had to go to the spa all by myself because Big Sis still has stitches in her stomach and she can’t be bathed until they come out. (And she is getting a little stinky too, but I would never tell her that, coz she is so sensitive, that girl.) I was really nervous about being there by myself because I have never been without Madeleine before. I tried to velcro to Mama M., but it didn’t work and they whisked me away anyway. I was so relieved when Mama M. came to get me that I jumped all over her and she kept yelling “Off Off Off”. But I didn’t care coz I was so happy to go home!

The Mamas like to snurfle with me after a day at the spa coz I smell so good! I threw myself on the bed and gave them my belly so they can blow raspberries like they usually do. But this time, Mama M. laughs so hard and said I look like a centerfold girl! Is that a good thing? Well, she’s laughing so it can’t be bad, right?

I have teenage acne! I didn’t even know I had it until Mama M. squealed when she saw them under my chin, and Mama L. promptly pinned me down and applied a salve with calendula in it! It smelled pretty good and I wanted to taste it, but guess what? My tongue doesn’t go that way! I never knew that. I can do pretty much anything with my tongue except to clean the bottom of my chin.

Today is Howloween and I hope to Dog that the Mamas won’t dress us up in silly costumes again. I can’t rely on Big Sis for this one because she actually LIKES to wear things. They might just dress us up though; there’s some photo contest going on for the cutest/spookiest pets. Here is last year’s winner, but I think she’s much cuter than she is spooky.