I can be Jell-O

Identifying my life through food that I cook

Lemony lentil salad with feta, sweet potatoes, and greens

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I promise it tastes better than this photo looks

This is the best lentil salad I’ve ever had because it covers the whole flavor range: the sweet potatoes and bell pepper provide sweetness, the feta cheese provides a tangy saltiness, the lentils are earthy and provide a textured bite, the arugula is slightly spicy, and the acidic brightness in the lemon juice-based dressing  contrasts really well against all of it. Bonuses: this is really as healthy, budget-friendly, tastes great warm or cold, and stands up really well as leftovers.

Warm lemony lentil salad with feta, sweet potatoes, and arugula 

Ingredients

1 and 1/4 cup brown lentils

a good 3 handfuls of fresh arugala (or any other green mix you’d like; just avoid spinach as it has the same earthy taste as the lentils. You need the slight kick that arugula or tat soi has.)

1 red bell pepper, cored and diced

Feta cheese

2 sweet potatoes

3 lemons

mustard

olive oil

salt and pepper

Instructions

Peel your sweet potatoes, and cut into cubes. On a foil lined tray, toss the cubed potatoes with a olive oil, sea salt and fresh black pepper until all the cubes are well coated. Roast in a 400 degree oven until tender and brown in spots – around 30 minutes, but keep an eye on them around 20, and stir occasionally.

While your potatoes are roasting, cook your brown lentils. Put them in a pot, and season with salt. Throw in a bay leaf if you have one. Cover with enough water so that the water comes up about 1/2 to 1 inch above the lentils. Turn the stove on high until the water starts to boil, then lower the temperature to a simmer. Let cook, stirring occasionally for about 30 minutes, but keep an eye on them. It’s important the lentils don’t become mushy – they should be tender but not overly soft. Drain of any remaining water.

Put your greens in your serving bowl. Top with the warm lentils and warm roast sweet potatoes. Add as much crumbled feta as you’d like – I used around 1/4 of a block. Add in your bell pepper.

Make your dressing. Juice 3 lemons into a bowl. Whisk in 1 TB of smooth mustard. Season with salt, pepper, and garlic powder (or minced fresh garlic). Whisk in a healthy drizzle of olive oil.

Pour all the dressing over the salad. Eat warm, room temperature, or cold the next day. Serves 4.

Fettuccine with Red Pepper and Basil Sauce

I’ve long been on the lookout for a great red bell pepper pasta sauce  – I love the sweetness that bell peppers have, and I wanted to venture out from the normal tomato base. Most recipes were made delicious by the use of cream, but being January and all a pasta + cream dish didn’t really sound like the best idea.

The below version though is, though, pretty fantastic and also cream-free. The flavor comes from a lot of garlic, a hit of red pepper flakes, and the important use of fresh basil and good quality parmesan cheese at the end. The sweetness of the bell peppers and basil contrasts really well with the chili heat. If you do desire some creaminess to the sauce (and I don’t blame you) stir in some 2% (or whole milk) at the end – I did this once when I added a little too many chili flakes by accident, and the end result was rewarding.

red pepper sauce

 

*Note – the above picture of the finished suace has an instagram filter on it, and looks to have a deeper red/orange color to it than it did in real life. Don’t be alarmed if your sauce has a lighter color.

Fettuccine with Red Pepper and Basil Sauce

Adapted from Gourmet – serves 4 (also good for leftovers)

  • 4-5 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 large shallots, finely chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon of dried hot red pepper flakes (if adding milk or cream at the end, increase to 1/2 teaspoon to maintain some kick)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried italian seasoning (or a mix of dried basil, oregano, whatever you like in your pasta sauce)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 red bell peppers, sliced thin (about 4 cups)
  • 2/3 cup chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil leaves
  • fresh lemon juice to taste
  • 1 pound fettuccine
  • freshly grated Parmesan as an accompaniment

In your pot/pan of choice, heat the olive oil until shimmering and then add your shallots. Once translucent add the garlic, the red pepper flakes, italian seasoning, and salt and pepper to taste in the oil over moderately low heat (make sure garlic doesn’t brown.) Add the bell peppers and the broth, and simmer the mixture, covered, for 10 minutes, or until the peppers are very soft. In a blender purée the mixture until it is smooth, return it to the skillet, and swirl in the butter. (Alternately, use an immersion blender.) Stir in the basil, the lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste and keep the sauce warm.

In a kettle of boiling salted water cook the fettuccine until it is al dente, drain it well, and transfer it to a serving bowl. Add the sauce, toss the pasta well, and serve it with a healthy dose of  Parmesan.

 

Chicken Tagine with Apricots and Almonds

New year, new way of doing things. In an effort to share more recipes my family with the time and schedule that I have, this blog is going to be a lot less wordy. You’ll find here instead just  a photo + recipe with a few notes when necessary, with the idea that the only recipes I post are ones that I found to be tremendously good. I hope you find some useful ideas and inspiration on here!

First up, my recent go-to dish for company. I amped up this already excellent recipe with a few more spices in the mix. You can serve this with any grain; here it’s pictured (in the front left) with basmati rice (I flavored the rice with some butter and lemon zest), a simple salad and some roasted potatoes.

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Chicken Tagine with Apricots and Almonds

adapted from Gourmet

  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 3 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1.5 to 2 pounds chicken boneless chicken thighs
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 medium red onion, halved, then sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • about 1-2 inches of fresh ginger root, peeled and diced
  • 5 fresh cilantro sprigs
  • 5 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons mild honey
  • 1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 cup dried Turkish apricots, separated into halves
  • handful of slivered almonds to garnish

Stir together ground cinnamon, paprika, turmeric, pepper, red pepper flakes and 1 teaspoon salt, and 2 tablespoons oil in a large bowl. Add chicken pieces in batches and turn to coat well with the spices.

Heat butter and 1 tablespoon oil in base of tagine (or in skillet), uncovered, over moderate heat until hot but not smoking, then brown half of chicken, skin sides down, turning over once, 8 to 12 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Brown remaining chicken in same manner, adding any spice mixture left in bowl.

Add onion, ginger and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt to tagine and cook, uncovered, stirring frequently, until soft, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, 3 minutes. Tie cilantro and parsley into a bundle with kitchen string and add to tagine along with 1/2 cup water, chicken, and any juices accumulated on plate. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, 30 minutes. (Note: you can add cilantro/parsley at the end if you don’t have twine). Near the end of this cooking period, add in dried apricots – you want them to plump up a bit in the liquid. Also add at this time the cinammon stick and a tablespoon of honey. Discard herbs and cinammon stick, and sprinkle with slivered almonds (and fresh parsley and cilantro if you didn’t add it before.) Serves four with no leftovers.

3 Oscar Menus

MENU THEME 1: BEST PICTURE, HORS D’OEUVRE STYLE

A low-stress menu filled with crowd favorites:

Classic Martini:  perfect for a 1950s theme, but (fittingly) timeless as well.  (Tree of Life)

Deviled Eggs: a Southern classic. (The Help)

Caramel Corn Clusters: better than crackerjack. (Moneyball)

Homemade soft pretzels: an NYC street-food classic – serve with spicy mustard. (Everything Is Illuminated)

Croque Monsier:  aka grilled cheese, French style. (Hugo and Midnight in Paris)

Mai Tai Sorbet:  serve in bowls with little umbrellas. (Descendants)

Black & White Cookies: a to-the-point nod to this year’s most-likely-to-win nominee. (The Artist)

*****

MENU THEME 2: OLD-SCHOOL GLAMOR

A rich and indulgent meal for the serious Oscar host. Swag bags optional.

1. Start with a Classic Champagne Cocktail

2. Hand out individual cellophane bags filled with Chocolate Popcorn with Sea Salt

3. Serve dinner: an indulgent salad paired with a lightly dressed, flaky fish:
Warm Spinach Salad with Cherry Pancetta Vinaigrette  and
Miso-Glazed Fish

4. End the night in style with a rich, boozy, black and white cake topped with gold star glitter. Could there be a more Oscar-worthy dessert? New Yorkers, you can find edible gold star glitter at the Cake Supply Store on 56 W. 22nd Street in Manhattan.

*****

MENU THEME 3: LOVE FOR THE SNUBS

For the movies that could’ve make the cut for the Best Pic category. (You can argue over the ‘should’ve’ in the comments.)

Lemon Rose Bellini – feminine, celebratory and Helen Harris worthy. (Bridesmaids)

Spiced Mixed Nuts with Sugared Bacon – a high octane mix. (Drive)

Ron Weasley’s Everything but the Kitchen Sink Savory Pie (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 2)

Shirazi Salad – a refreshing Persian salad (A Separation)

Coffee Granita: Anyone who has read the books can attest to how much coffee the Swedish characters drink. End the night on a sweet, caffeinated buzz. (Bonus: this is dead simple to make). (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)

Quick Recipes: Easy Mint and Feta Rice

Serves 6 well – halve or double as needed.

1. Using your rice cooker, make 2 cups of long-grained white rice, using your favorite chicken or vegetable stock as your cooking liquid.

2. Meanwhile, thinly slice two large onions. Caramelize onions on low heat using both butter and olive oil. Adding a pinch of sugar helps the process.

3. Stir together the following in your serving bowl: your cooked rice, the caramelized onions, an ample handful of finely chopped fresh mint leaves, and a generous amount of crumbled feta cheese. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.

4. Serve warm. Great as a side dish, or top with a fried egg for a lazy leftover dinner.

To watch, to use, to make (new years edition)

1. Need some motivation to do some prep-work in your kitchen on the weekends? Watch this lovely video from Prune and Chez Panisse chef, Tamar E. Adler. I especially like the idea of storing the food in mason jars – a useful tip if your fridge, like mine, runs on the small side. Also how beautiful is her kitchen?

http://www.tamareadler.com

2. It’s hard to escape the crushing amount of cleanse/diet/detox plans that are advertised this time of year. But if you are cookied-out and could use some fresh ideas, this one from Bon Appetit is the best one I’ve seen in terms of web layout and content.

http://www.bonappetit.com

3. I made this take-out style Black Pepper Tofu (from this cookbook) recently and it’s nothing short of addicting. Highly recommend but only if you really (really) like food with a kick. A few adjustments: 1) there’s no real need to use two different types of soy sauce – 6 tsp of whatever you have on hand will work fine. b) I love spicy food to a fault but found the recommended 5 tablespoons of pepper to be a little insane.  I used 4 tablespoons of coarse black pepper, which was more than enough. I would recommend 3 if you want a somewhat normal amount of heat.  c) The recipe calls for 11 tbs of butter. This must be a typo. I used 1. d) Definitely serve with brown rice and some steamed, barely flavored greens to temper the intense flavor of the tofu. Bok choy is a good choice.

photo by yours truly, excuse the blurriness!

Happy New Years!

Eggnog Cheesecake

 

Hope all your holidays ahead are filled with indulgent food and as much good company as you can possibly handle. I’ll be making more than a few desserts this Christmas, but will be putting this beauty front and center, not least of which because this is one time of year to really justify making and eating something called Eggnog Cheesecake.

Eggnog can be a divisive item – I seem to meet an equal number of detractors as I do its fans – but you can rest assure the former that this recipe is up their alley too. This is really just a regular (delicious) cheesecake, infused with Cognac or rum. Dress it up with some whipped cream and ground nutmeg on top, and you’ll have one of the most festive desserts on the table. Happy holidays!

Eggnog Cheesecake

From Williams-Sonoma Baking

For the crust:
1 cup pecan halves, toasted
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

For the filling:
2 lb cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons Cognac or dark rum
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 large eggs, at room temperature
whipped cream and nutmeg for garnish

For the whipped cream (optional)
1 cup heavy cream, chilled
4 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon nonfat dry milk (milk powder)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a chilled metal bowl, combine the cream, sugar, dry milk and vanilla and beat with chilled beaters until the cream stands in soft peaks. To pipe the cream through a pastry bag, beat it until it has stiff peaks.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

To make the crust, in a food processor fitted with the metal blade, combine the toasted pecans, the graham cracker crumbs, and brown sugar and process to form fine crumbs. Add the melted butter and process until the crumbs begin to stick together. With your hand draped with plastic wrap to form a glove, press the crumbs firmly onto the bottom and 2 inches up the sides of a springform pan 9″ in diameter and 2 1/2 inches deep. Wrap aluminum foil around the outside of the pan. Bake the crust until set, about 10 minutes. Let cool. Leave the oven set at 350 degrees.

To make the filling, in a bowl, combine the cream cheese and granulated sugar. Using an electric mixer set on medium speed, beat until well blended. Beat in the Cognac, vanilla and nutmeg. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition just until combined. Pour and scrape the filling into the cooled crust and smooth the top.

Bake until the edges are set but the center still quivers slightly when the pan is shaken, about 1 hour. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool. Cover with aluminum foil and refrigerate overnight or for up to 3 days.

To serve, run a knife around the pan sides to loosen the cake. Remove the foil from the pan and release the pan sides. Place the cheesecake on a plate. Decorate with whipped cream rosettes and a dusting of nutmeg.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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