February 28, 2013

Baked Potato Bar

I'm always on the lookout for new meatless meal ideas. This one is easy - baked potatoes topped with a simple chili, but you can add ground beef if you'd like. Also - you can use chili (have some leftovers?) over the baked potatoes with the suggested toppings. I make myself sweet potatoes, but my husband prefers russet potatoes. Delicious and easy!

Baked Potato Bar

4 russet potatoes or sweet potatoes
1/2 onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 lb ground beef (optional)
2 c. cooked, drained beans - kidney or black
1 c. diced tomatoes
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
salt and pepper (season to taste - if using canned beans, much less salt is needed)

toppings - use whichever ones you like
grated cheese - cheddar or monterey jack
thinly sliced green onions
shredded romaine lettuce
sour cream
diced avocado
fresh salsa

Wash potatoes and poke holes with a fork. Put directly on oven rack with a cookie sheet below and bake in 350 degree oven until easily pierced with a fork, about 1 hour.

Saute chopped onion and minced garlic in a splash of olive oil until softened, about 5 minutes. (If using ground beef, add to pan and cook until browned.) Then add beans, chopped tomatoes, and spices. Cook until heated through.

Cut baked potatoes in half, add a pat of butter and salt and pepper. Mash the potato slightly. Top with the bean mixture and toppings.

February 27, 2013

Apple Cider Cranberry Cake

I am so lucky to live down the street from a farm with a robust farm stand with many varieties of vegetables, strawberries, melons, and some products they get from other local farms: apples, maple syrup, the best honey I've ever tasted, berries. They have their own cider mill to make fresh apple cider in the fall. It was delicious, but I couldn't drink it all, so I froze some, knowing I could use it in baking later.

Just look at this gorgeous building that houses the farm stand. And here's some of their vegetables for sale. (click on the photos to enlarge)

I'm in clean out the freezer mode because it has been much too full with items frozen during fall harvest and other times. So apple cider and cranberries made the cut in this surprisingly delicious cake. I didn't think it would be that good, but it really was.

I've also been thinking about ways to reduce my milk intake, since the quality of milk available to me is not that great. Though I did just find local organic, non-homogenized whole milk, it's pretty expensive and only available at stores pretty far away. I don't drink milk or eat cereal, but I do use it in baking and other recipes. I want to experiment with alternatives for milk in baking, and this recipe, which already called for apple cider, does not contain any milk.

Apple Cider Cranberry Cake
adapted from The Hungry Mouse

3/4 cup sugar
4 Tbsp. butter, softened
1 egg
3/4 cup fresh apple cider
2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
pinch of salt
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1 cup fresh apples, peeled and cut into small chunks (about 1 large apple)
1 cup whole cranberries, fresh or frozen (no need to thaw)
1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cut the butter into pieces. Toss it into the bowl of a mixer (or a large mixing bowl if beating by hand) with the sugar. Beat until well combined, then toss in the egg and beat to incorporate. Add the cider. Beat until uniform, though it will look a little grainy.

Add the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and ginger. Beat until just uniform. (Too much beating will make your batter develop gluten, which will make it tough.)

Add the chopped apple, cranberries, and walnuts. I keep my cranberries in the freezer. Beat quickly until just incorporated.

Lightly grease a 9-inch cake pan and line with a round of parchment paper. Spoon the batter into the pan. Spread it around to even it out.

Put pan in preheated 375-degree oven. Bake for 30-35 minutes.

When it’s done, the cake will pull away from the edges of the pan slightly and will be golden brown on top. When you press on the top lightly with a finger, the cake should spring back. And, when you insert a toothpick in the middle, it should come out clean.

Cool the cake in the pan for about 10 minutes, then turn it out and cool completely on a rack before slicing.

February 25, 2013


Lentils are one of those superfoods you may overlook, as I did for years. My interest in them increased after having a fabulous red lentil soup in a restaurant in Istanbul (here is a recipe that I found that fulfills my cravings for that soup). I am more drawn to lentils now because they are excellent to have in food storage, which I've been building up. Like beans, their dried state allows them to be kept in the pantry for a long time.

There are different kinds of lentils, but I've found substitutions work fairly well, if needed. See this website for a good summary with photos of the different types of lentils and all their varying names. The brown or green lentils are much firmer, while the red lentils usually come split, which means they fall apart when cooked, which makes them excellent for thickening soups. Below are the types I've used before:

Brown (also called Green) - khaki colored
Puy Lentils - blue-green speckled
Red - salmon colored

And just for fun, here is one of my favorite shots I took in Istanbul (click on the photo to enlarge it). I love the gray, drab, ancient buildings with the vibrant, stuffed store fronts below. As far as I can tell, these are not shops strictly for tourists. I snapped this shot on a side road as we were (foolishly) trying to follow a map to make our way from the Grand Bazaar to the Spice Bazaar. Hey, it was our first day, and we didn't realize how crazy, I mean CRAZY, those Istanbul streets are - so winding and unmarked, and really almost impossible to follow on a map. The only things that got us to our destination were huge landmarks, like the sea. Istanbul was fabulous, and I highly recommend visiting. It doesn't seem a common destination for Americans.


1 c. lentils (brown, green, puy) *see note below for red lentils
2 c. water

Pick through lentils, removing any debris or shriveled lentils. Rinse in a fine-mesh colander under running water.

Add lentils and water to a saucepan. Bring the water to a rapid simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to maintain a very gentle simmer. You should only see a few small bubble and some slight movement in the lentils. Cook, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes. Add water as needed to make sure the lentils are just barely covered.

Test lentils to be sure they are done - tender and no longer crunchy. When finished, you may need to drain off excess water.

* To cook red lentils, follow the same procedure, but cook them for 10-15 minutes only.

February 12, 2013

Pink Dal with Chard

It's all about lentils this time of year, with more to come...

According to wikipedia, "Dal (also spelled dahl or daal) is a preparation of pulses (dried lentils, peas or beans) which have been stripped of their outer hulls and split. It also refers to the thick stew prepared from these pulses, an important part of Indian, Nepali, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, West Indian and Bangladeshi cuisine."

I have found pink (also called red) lentils in bags in the grocery store, but they seem to be more prevalent in the bulk sections of grocery stores. I actually bought a huge bag of red lentils at a halal (like the word "kosher" for Muslims) grocery store I found. I also bought some pomegranate molasses and really cheap pomegranates there. Ethnic grocery stores are usually gems - check them out if you have any nearby.

My 9-month old baby loves this dish! Well, she likes just about everything I feed her, but she really likes food with a lot of spice. That's my girl!

Pink Dal with Chard
adapted from Kitchen Riffs

1¼ cup pink lentils (or another lentil of your choosing; see Notes)
1 cup minced onion (about 1 large onion)
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger (a piece about 1 inch by 1½ inches, peeled)
3 - 5 medium cloves garlic, peeled and minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 bunch Swiss chard or kale or spinach, washed and trimmed (a pound or a bit more)
2 teaspoons dried ground cumin
1 - 2 teaspoons dried ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon garam masala

Pick over lentils to remove any foreign objects, like pebbles or dirt, then wash and drain. Set aside.

Heat 3- or 4-quart Dutch oven (or another pot with a heavy bottom that will be large enough to hold the lentils and about 4 cups of water) on medium heat. When hot, add oil. After the oil heats, add onion, ginger, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper, and sauté until translucent for 5-8 minutes.

Meanwhile, wash Swiss chard, remove any stems that are woody, and chop into pieces about an inch square (Remove stems of kale, if using. Spinach stems can be included, if using).
When the onion is translucent, add the cumin, coriander, and red pepper flakes. Stir into the onion mixture and fry for 30 seconds. Then add the Swiss chard, stir, and cover Dutch oven with lid. Lower heat to medium-low, and cook for 5 minutes.

Add the pink lentils and 3 to 4 cups water (depending on how soupy you want the final product to be). Salt to taste, about a 1/2 teaspoon. Bring to a simmer, cover and simmer. Allow to simmer for about 30 minutes, but take a look at the pot after about 15 to see if you need to add more water.
When the dal is done (the lentils will be soft but still hold their shape), taste and adjust seasoning. Stir in the garam masala, remove from heat, and serve with brown rice.

February 9, 2013

Lentil Soup with Sausage and Kale

This soup was spot on - simple ingredients balanced just right. I did not make the garlic infused oil as included below, but I know it would be heavenly. Make some crusty bread to accompany this soup, and you've got the perfect winter meal.

So this photo shows you my new tupperware - canning jars! I don't know why I haven't thought of this before. You can use the standard canning lids, but I love these plastic lids you can purchase to fit canning jars. You can even write on the lids with a dry erase pen to label the contents, if needed.

Lentil Soup with Sausage and Kale
from Smitten Kitchen

1/2 cup olive oil, divided
2 large links of sweet Italian sausage, casings removed or 1/2 c. bulk Italian sausage
1 medium onion, diced
2 celery stalks, sliced or diced
2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced into half-moons or diced
4 cloves garlic, sliced (reserve half for later in recipe)
Kosher salt
A pinch of crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
1 cup brown lentils, sorted and rinsed
2 bay leaves
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
6 cups water
Freshly ground black pepper
3 to 4 cups shredded or thinly ribboned Swiss chard leaves or kale
Grated Pecorino Romano cheese to finish

Heat 1/4 cup olive oil (enough to coat bottom of pot) in a large pot on medium heat. When hot, add the sausage, breaking it up with a wooden spoon until it starts to brown, about five minutes. Add the onion, celery, carrots, first two garlic cloves, a pinch of salt, and if you like your soup spicy, a pinch of red pepper flakes. Cook with the sausage until the vegetables soften a bit, another 5 minutes. Add the lentils, bay leaves, tomatoes, water (6 cups is, conveniently, 2 empty 28-ounce cans, so you can get any tomato pulp you missed), more salt and black pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer and allow to cook until the lentils are tender, about 40 minutes. Add more water if the soup gets too thick.

When the lentils are cooked, add the chard and cook until the leaves are tender, just a few minutes more. Discard the bay leaves.

To finish, divide soup among bowls, then add the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil and 2 garlic cloves to a small skillet and heat over medium until the garlic softens and hisses. Drizzle this over soup bowls, and top with fresh Romano, passing more at the table. Leftovers will keep for several days in the fridge.

February 5, 2013

Apple Skillet Pancake

There are many variations on this type of dish, but I've not made too many. So not sure how this recipe stacks up against others, but it was delicious.

Apple Skillet Pancake
from Sweet Potato Chronicles

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large gala apple, peeled, cored and sliced into 1/4-inch pieces
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup spelt flour or all-purpose flour
4 eggs
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
confectioner’s sugar or maple syrup (optional)

Preheat oven to 450 and position a rack in the middle of the oven.

Place 1 tablespoon butter in skillet over medium heat and melt. Add the apple wedges to skillet and cook, flipping once, until they begin to soften, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove apple wedges from skillet and place on a plate.

Meanwhile, melt the other tablespoon of butter. Place butter, milk, flour, eggs sugar, vanilla and salt in blender and mix until you create a smooth batter. Pour the mix into the skillet on the oven. Allow the batter to set for about a minute and then arrange the apple slices in a circular pattern on top of the batter.

Transfer skillet from stove top to the oven and bake for about 15 or until pancake is puffed and golden brown. Remove skillet from oven.

Dust with confectioner’s sugar and serve alone or with maple syrup. Be careful of the hot skillet at the table.

February 4, 2013

Italian Sausage

I've had a hard time finding good-tasting Italian sausage where I live now. And then there's the questionable ingredients...So I set off to make my own with ground pork. This is a super easy recipe and tastes great. After making it, freeze it in chunks that are the size you will need. For example, I often put sausage on pizza, so a one-fourth-pound piece is about right for that. Toasting the fennel seeds (or any spice) really makes a difference in flavor, so don't skip that step. Also, I have a simple coffee/spice grinder that I use for spices. I don't know if a mortar and pestle will work or not, but my guess is yes.

Italian Sausage
adapted from Alton Brown

3/4 teaspoon fennel seed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoon chopped parsley leaves or 1/2 tsp. dried parsley
1 pound ground pork

Toast fennel seed in medium sized, heavy saute pan over medium heat, constantly moving seeds around in pan until they start to turn light brown, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool. Once cool, grind seeds and combine with salt, pepper, and chopped parsley in medium mixing bowl. Add pork and blend thoroughly. Refrigerate for 1 hour. Use immediately or put in freezer for longer storage.