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leek & lemon pasta

March 4th, 2012 | 1 Comment »

This time of year is a hard one.

I seem to start slipping off the tightrope each February. Bored, restless, tired and too stunted by the dull landscape, I stand on the figurative ledge and think ‘Ugh.’ as I look around. The vertigo makes me twitchy, and thankfully, a trusted friend is there to pull me back and say ‘You know, you go through this every year at this time.’. I’m grateful for someone standing outside of me, who can rationalize this wandering mind, drawing it back to the reality that it’s just late winter and I could use some green and some color in my life.

Surrounding myself with a few hours of plant life, of colorful flowers, weeping ferns and a warmth that left me sweaty certainly helped a great deal, and it seems to become more important in the last gasp of winter to put sunny, warm foods in to the body, like an infusion of heat and sunshine that lights us up from the inside. Like this lemony pasta.

Eating anything with lemon in it is like ingesting sunshine, it’s so bright and engaging. This couldn’t be simpler to make, with a few leeks, a juicy lemon and a shower of fresh herbs, and parmesan cheese. I’ve done so much with lemons in my baking, like this Lemon Pound Cake, these intense Lemongrass Bars, and a delicious Lemon Ricotta Cookie, but adding sparkling citrus flavor to savory dishes has been few and far between, with maybe the exception of these exceptional Garlicky Lemon White Beans. That’s to an end though, after discovering this bright and lively pasta dish.

From the February issue of Eating Well magazine, resplendent with juicy lemon slices on it’s cover, this is a quick and easy recipe to put together. In the time it takes you to make a pot of pasta, you can have the leeks sauteed, ready and waiting. A few turns in the pan, with a splash of that ever-important pasta water and dinner is served.

Leek and Lemon Pasta

1# whole-wheat linguine or thin spaghetti
2 large lemons, plus lemon wedges for garnish
2 medium leeks (white and pale green parts only), thinly sliced and rinsed well
2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley, divided
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1/4 cup snipped fresh chives, divided (I used thyme and it was delicious)

Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling water until just tender or according to package directions. Reserve 1-1/2 cups of the cooking liquid and drain the pasta in a colander.

Meanwhile, finely grate the zest from one lemon and squeeze juice from both lemons; set the juice aside. Pat leek slices dry. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the leek, the lemon zest, 1/4 cup parsley, garlic, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until the leek is lightly browned and softened, about 6 minutes.

Add the pasta, 1 cup of the reserved cooking liquid, 1/4 cup of the lemon juice and the remaining 1/4 cup parsley to the pan. Cook, stirring constantly, until the liquid is mostly absorbed, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add the remaining 1/2 cup liquid, or more lemon juice, if desired. Remove from the heat. Toss the pasta with 1/4 cup Parmesan and 2 tablespoons chives. Transfer to a serving bowl or bowls; sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan and 2 tablespoons chives and serve with lemon wedges, if desired.

Recipe in full, from Eating Well magazine, February 2012.

RECIPE NOTES: A simple reminder to yourself to catch the pasta water when draining it is to place a pyrex measuring cup in the bottom of your strainer when you put it in the sink. Pour some of the pasta water in it, set it aside, then drain the pasta completely. Another method, which I prefer, is to remove the cooked pasta from the water with tongs and add it directly to the skillet. It takes a bit of timing to get it right, but instead of draining all that beneficial starch away, it clings to the pasta and helps to create the pan sauce needed.

This dish would be wonderful with a broiled mild fish, such as Cod or Tilapia, some seared Scallops or Shrimp would also taste good. If you like chicken, a good lemon-herb rub and a run under the broiler would make a perfect accompaniment to this pasta.

dhal makhani

January 14th, 2012 | 5 Comments »

The cuisine of India is one of my favorites, almost hands down. I love the vibrant flavors and colors, the spice and aroma and the endless variations. I love the lentils, the vegetables, the breads and condiments. All of it.

I’m not alone in my love for this aromatic and delicious foods, and recently a group of my closest friends and I decided to get together one evening for Curry Night. We’d spent a talkative morning over coffee chatting endlessly about food  and hit upon the topic of Indian food, each sighing in joy, rolling our eyes and declaring it’s lofty place in our lives. Paired with an intense desire to get our husbands in the same room together, we planned, plotted and perfected our recipes, and on an unseasonably warm January night, we carried fragrant dishes to Amanda and Brian‘s beautiful brownstone apartment in St Paul and gathered, loudly, to enjoy this amazing food, and some well deserved face time. The holidays, with their obligations and frenetic pace had kept us apart far too long and we needed a night together of food, wine, chatter and fun. The entire evening was a wonderful and delicious, with much needed laughter and camaraderie.

Dhal Makhani is one of my most favorite lentil dishes to order when I go out for Indian food, but I’d never attempted it at home, mostly due to the absence of an easy place to buy the requisite black beluga lentils required. But when a shipment from Marx Foods landed on my doorstep, with 8 2-lb containers holding a rainbow of colored lentils, all I needed was a good recipe. And an excuse.

Thankfully, I found both.

Lentils, as a food, don’t win many beauty contests. What they are beyond their rather homely end result is a quick-cooking, nutritional little powerhouse. This dish was deliciously fragrant and hearty; black lentils hold their shape beautifully after cooking, and with the right amount of garlic, ginger and onion, along with the heady blend of spices that make up many Indian dishes, this recipe was glamorous with flavor and it smelled simply amazing. A thin drizzle of cream gives it a wonderful rich taste, and it evolves over time and a day in your fridge to gain in taste what it lacks in eye appeal.

This recipe can easily be made vegan by eliminating the heavy cream, substituting an alternate of choice. It has no meat in it at all.


Dhal Makhani

1 cup black lentils, washed and picked over
2 large onions, minced
2 green chilies, sliced (remove seeds and inner membrane for less heat, if desired. I used jalapenos)
2 large tomatoes, peeled and chopped into cubes
2″ piece of ginger, chopped
1 T. garlic, minced
2 t. ground coriander
1 t. ground cumin
1/2 t. red chili powder
1/4 c. heavy cream
2 T. cooking oil of choice (i use grapeseed)
2 T. ghee
1 t. cumin seeds

In a small bowl, mix ground coriander, ground cumin and chili powder together. Set aside.

Place rinsed lentils in a medium pot and cover with 3 cups of cold water. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmering, and cook until lentils are tender, about 25-40 minutes. You can leave just a bit of bite to them, as they will cook more in the finished product.

Meanwhile, in a large, deep skillet, heat oil and add onions. Stir to coat and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are beginning to brown. Add green chiles, ginger, garlic and the ground spice mix and stir to coat completely. Continue to cook and stir until the vegetables are tender and deeply browned, about 20-25 minutes. Keep heat regulated to avoid burning them, and stir often.

When the lentils are tender, transfer them to the skillet, reserving some of the cooking water. Stir the lentils to mix with the vegetables, and add the cooking water, 1/3 cup at a time until a smooth gravy forms. Bring to a simmer, and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste and season with salt. Cook for a few more minutes and taste for salt. Turn off heat and wait for the simmering to stop. Drizzle the heavy cream over the top and stir to incorporate.

For an authentic finish, heat ghee (or clarified butter) in a small skillet until very hot. Add the cumin seeds and quickly cover the pan. Shake the pan while the seeds pop, and when they stop, scrape the butter and seeds on to the Dhal Makhani and stir together. This mixture is very hot and will sputter so be careful.

The Engine 2 Challenge review

May 31st, 2011 | 9 Comments »

The E2 challenge is over, at least in theory. To celebrate, I had a thick hearty beef sandwich, ice cream, frozen yogurt and half a dozen slices of wonderful bread spread with sweet butter. Then I had a serious tummy ache.

We had 28 days of consuming a plant-based eating plan, which went far, far smoother than I ever anticipated. In fact, it went so smoothly and I saw such amazing results that I am committed to continuing this regularly. This type of eating, this nutrient dense, delicious way of life is just what this lady needs. I expected that tummy ache from going back to some of my past ways of eating and it was a way of reminding myself what this challenge has really shown me.

So, did I learn anything from this challenge? Besides what I already has taken away from it?

I sure did.

~~ Even being as good in the kitchen as I am, changing my focus from a meat oriented meal to a non-meat option proved to be a bit challenging, mostly because I simply default to meat as the main item and then filled in around that. Changing it to a plant based option requires a complete 180° switch. And it’s a learning process for all of us. I found a terrific cookbook at Half Price Books that is helping me with plenty of ideas but I need a few more books and resources to stimulate my thinking. Thankfully, this won’t be hard at all. I’ve revamped my eating habits before and know that new habits sometimes take a bit of time to stick. The best part is that it’s been such fun to experiment and stretch the focus of what we eat.

~~ The near complete cessation of menopausal hot flashes and tummy troubles solidly affirmed in me that this is a much, much better option for my body. I do like meat, and with it being grilling season, the temptation of eating meat will always be there so I don’t plan to deprive myself completely. I simply won’t be cooking much, if any at home, and won’t make it the focus of any meal in other situations.

~~It’s made me even more aware of what I am putting in my body and what it does for me. I had no clue that the daily digestive issues had anything to do with what I was eating. I just thought it was the way it was going to be as I got older. It was really eye-opening for me to think I had simply settled for feeling less than 100% all the time and got me thinking how many other people just sit back on vague and unexplainable symptoms without one thought to finding out if they can be cured. This challenge has gotten me to really examine the foods I eat, even more than I did. The choices I make for what I consume sometimes are completely automatic, self-ingrained habits that can begin before I even know what’s happening. Every time my hand goes to my mouth, I force myself to stop and think about what I’m doing and I’ve caught myself in situations where I am eating without one thought to what it is. That mindless consumption had thrown me off many times, forcing me to be a lot more conscious of it and of learning to avoid the pitfalls and traps.

~~ I am in complete control. I knew this before going in to this challenge but it’s really made me aware in the last month that everything I need for my health and my well-being is within my ability to manage. And no one is helpless; we ALL have the ability to better ourselves through our eating habits. We all can make wiser choices. I’m committed to a healthier lifestyle, plain and simple. I feel better. I don’t need anything more than that. No one is forcing me to pick up and eat any type of food except me.

~~The most important thing I’ve taken away from this challenge is that there is nothing…. and I repeat, nothing lacking in a plant-based eating plan. Absolutely nothing at all. There’s this odd mentality that you can’t be satisfied from your food if you don’t eat meat, or that those who consume only plant-based foods are sadly noshing on tofu and plain brown rice, remorsefully dreaming of a sizzling steak and nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve had some amazing, delicious and truly satisfying meals this past month, with a dizzying array of color, texture, flavor and most of all, ease. Since you’re eating nutrient dense, low calorie foods, you can consume larger amounts when you eat, yet you’re taking in far less calories and I’ve never gotten to that point of being so full that I’m really uncomfortable. I calculated out a large chopped salad I ate for lunch recently, with red and green cabbage, apple, carrot, cucumber, radishes, red pepper, garbanzo beans, a little brown rice and some almonds and although it was a huge amount, the overall calories of it came in just around 500. And talk about flavor!!

So overall I’m sold, 100% sold on this, and I was so ready to take my eating to another level. I’m very grateful to Whole Foods for asking me to participate in this as it was just what I needed to kick me over the edge.

What do you think of this challenge? Would you ever consider stepping up to a healthier way of eating? Have you ever been troubled by vague physical symptoms that you can’t explain?

Like those photos above? Here’s where you’ll find them on the blog:
Top to bottom:
Farro Pilaf with Gold Beets
Roasted Apricots with Cardamom Brown Sugar Glaze
Grilled Guacamole

love your lycopene

December 8th, 2010 | 7 Comments »

The primary reason for the type of cooking I do is my health. Our health. This has been at the front of my mind since Griffin began eating solid foods as a baby. Before he was even born I knew I wanted to be able to feed him in a healthy manner, with fresh scratch-made foods and a lot of variety. It felt at times like a monumental task, being entrusted to feeding. teaching and educating this blank palate he had, and giving him the tools to grow strong and vital from the inside out.

I made the majority of his baby foods from scratch, from the foods I was eating. Granted, this was only 15 years ago, but I came across an incredible amount of ignorance over it, people who told me he would suffer from malnutrition because of the foods I fed him. I was appalled at the ignorance. Here I was, cooking carrots, beans and squash, pureeing them smooth and using them for his meals and I was accused of not feeding him properly. What about that was wrong?

Now flash forward to the presence; this type of cooking for your baby is the gold standard. Scratch foods are the goal, and one’s health through the foods they eat is the #1 topic on most anyone’s mind. Obesity and diet related diseases are out of control. If ever there was a time to take control of one’s health by what we put in our mouths, now would be it. And so what moves through my kitchen has to pass a certain level of scrutiny; is it a whole food? without trans fats? no MSG? low in sodium? what are the health properties? and probably most importantly, how can I do all of this and maintain our food budget?

One aspect of cooking that I try to utilize as much as possible is to fill each meal with multiple items that all contribute to healthier eating. I use a lot of legumes when I can, fresh vegetables wherever possible and load up a pot of soup with everything imaginable.

This Hearty Minestrone is a perfect example of the type of soup we love in this house; rich and delicious, chock full of good things.

Canned tomato products make a regular appearance in my winter repertoire, my bubbling pots of chili, soups of all kinds, warming roasts and numerous pasta dishes. The presence of heart-healthy lycopene is very high in tomatoes, and has found to be much more readily absorbed from canned products than in fresh ones, and you know, finding a good tomato in Minnesota during the winter months is a laughable matter. Being able to pull out a can of tomato product to add the all-important element of health to our diet makes dinnertime a bit easier. On the plus side, using Hunts tomato products insures top quality standards, as the tomatoes are Flash steamed, preserving the full flavor of tomatoes for home use year round.

ConAgra Foods recently presented effective evidence for the benefits of lycopene in the American diet, stating that the health advantages of tomato products, in addition to the lycopene, include significant levels of Vitamin C, fiber and potassium, more than twice the potassium of notable sources such as bananas, potatoes or orange juice. In conjunction with research done at the University of California-Davis, participants in a six-week study who experience high blood pressure found a marked decrease in numbers when they consumed twice daily amounts of canned tomatoes. (Source: Tomatoes: The Everyday Superfood for Heart Health)

But back to that Minestrone, shall we?

Hearty Minestrone
Adapted from Tyler Florence, Real Kitchen cookbook

2 quarts chicken stock
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 # small rigatoni, or other hearty shape of pasta
Extra-virgin olive oil
8 fresh sage leaves
1 sprig fresh rosemary
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
3/4 pound loose Italian pork sausage (sweet, or hot- both work well)
3 medium carrots, roughly chopped
2 celery ribs, roughly chopped
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes (I like to use the Hunts brand with basil added.)
1 bay leaf
1-2 15-oz cans cannelloni or Great Northern beans, drained and rinsed
1 10-oz package frozen green beans, preferable the steam-in-the-packet kind
1/2 bunch fresh parsley leaves, finely minced

-Combine the stock, crushed garlic, rosemary, sage and thyme in a big saucepan and simmer for about 15 minutes to give the stock a nice, garlicky herbed taste. Keep warm.
-Bring a pot of salted water to boil for the rigatoni.
-Pour 1/4 cup olive oil in a large stockpot. Add the sausage and cook, breaking up the sausage with the side of a big spoon until well browned.
-Add the carrot, onion and celery to the saucepan and cook for about 5 minutes, until the vegetables are softened but not browned.
-Stir in the crushed tomatoes, bay leaf, cannelloni beans, green beans and chicken stock. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally. The soup will develop more flavor the longer it simmers. Cook over a very low flame for up to two hours, or for as little as 30 minutes, depending on how much time you have. Remove the herb stems before serving.
-Cook the rigatoni according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking.
-To serve soup, place a small amount of cooked pasta in the bottom of a soup bowl and ladle the hot soup over the top. Sprinkle with the parsley, and shredded parmesan cheese, if desired.

I like to keep the pasta separate from the actual soup when I make Minestrone due to the pasta’s amazing ability to absorb a phenomenal amount of liquid. It is, however, entirely up to you and I certainly can’t deny the added flavor of cooking the pasta in the incredibly flavorful broth that this recipe makes. For an extra delicious added flavor, top slices of good crusty bread with shredded parmesan cheese and broil until browned and toasty, then float them on the soup.

I was compensated financially for this post in cooperation with The Motherhood.com We Heart Tomatoes campaign, ConAgra Foods and Hunts Tomatoes. Sources included information supplied by ConAgra Foods. All other information in this post was my own opinion.

Better black beans

July 30th, 2008 | 9 Comments »

For this recipe, I used an onion, two poblano peppers and a small zucchini, searing the onion and some garlic until it was nicely browned, adding in the pepper for a good 5 minutes or so, then stirring in two cans of black beans. One can I rinsed very well, the other I just allowed to drain a little; the slight amount of extra sodium doesn’t really bother me, and I needed some of that starch for thickener. (most of the time, I rinse them to death…just fyi). I let them simmer for about 10 minutes and made some random mashing motions with the spoon just to break some of them up, then with a little chili powder, ground cumin, lime juice and zest and a spoonful or two of good salsa, the beans were worthy of plenty of chip action.

Oh yeah…..and for plopping on top of my Huevos, showered with lime zest.