Friday, September 24, 2010

Fit for Fall: Shiitake Lentil Stew

Small, delicate, green lentils in an earthy mushroom soup
 Over the past week, I've been trying to eat healthy and get in extra sessions of Bikram yoga. I'm hoping the calorie deficit I create, and the water pounds I shed, will make up for all the beer-drinking, and sausage-eating I'll be doing next week. Yes, it's that time of year - Oktoberfest! After spending this weekend in London, we're off to Munich to join the party.

The only down-sides to being away for 9 days are that the houseplants might starve to death, and any unused produce will turn into rotten waste. We're not sure what to do about the houseplants, but the produce I can control. But how to use them all up in one meal? It would have to be a stew.

I've never cooked lentils before. I bought the only kind Fresh Direct had, the French Green Lentils, about 4 months ago. Every time I pick up the box I am reminded that they take over an hour to prepare. Why must it be so much work? I finally decided that a stew would be the easiest way after finding a helpful recipe from Ina Garten.

My version was a bit different, because I needed to use up mushrooms, fresh tomatoes, and spinach. I also can't believe all the recipes I found call for an entire pound of lentils. Who are these people feeding? A family of 12? A small bowl of this soup goes a long way, especially if eaten with bread.

Lentils: a great source of protein, iron, folate, Vitamin B and fiber.

Shiitake Lentil Stew
Approx. 6 servings
1 hour +
1 C dry French Green Lentils (about 3 Cups once they’re cooked)
1 T Unsalted Butter
1 T Extra Virgin Olive Oil
½ C Onion, roughly chopped
½ C Leeks, white and light green parts chopped
2 cloves Garlic, chopped
¼ tsp ground Cumin
1 T fresh Thyme (1/4tsp dried)
1 C carrot, sliced
2 C Shiitake mushroom caps, sliced (8-10 caps)
2 C Tomatoes, chopped
4 C (32oz) Organic Vegetable Stock
2 Bay leaves
Salt & Pepper to taste
1 T Red Wine Vinegar (optional)
2 Handfuls fresh baby Spinach
Grated Parmesan cheese for serving (optional)

1.    Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil. Pour the cup of lentils onto a plate and sift through, removing any stones. Rinse in a fine wire strainer. Add the lentils to the boiling water, and reduce heat to simmer 30 minutes.
2.    In a soup/stock pot, melt butter and add olive oil. Add the onions, garlic, leeks, cumin and thyme – cooking and stirring for about 8 minutes over medium-low heat (you don’t want anything turning brown or getting crisp – just softened).
3.    Add chopped carrots, cooking 5 minutes.
4.    Mix in the mushrooms and tomatoes, cooking another 5 minutes.
5.    Pour in the 4 cups (entire 32oz box) of good quality organic vegetable stock, and add the bay leaves. Bring back to a gentle boil.
6.    Drain the cooked lentils and add them to the soup pot. Taste and season with salt and pepper – start with 2 tsp salt and several grinds of pepper and work from there.
7.    Simmer another 20-30 minutes, and add more cumin if needed. Try to find and remove the bay leaves, using tongs helps. Add the vinegar.
8.    About 5 minutes before serving, add the spinach to the pot and stir until wilted.
9.    Top with grated Parmesan cheese, and crushed red pepper if you like things spicier. Serve with a nice crusty baguette for dipping.

**Make this Vegan by omitting the butter and cheese.

Lunch at Le Verdure in Eataly

Sweet Corn Bruschetta at Le Verdure in Eataly
 There's a new food frenzy happening in midtown Manhattan. We've all seen the lines at Shake Shack. We've learned the color-coded check-out system of WholeFoods, and the partner-required navigation of Trader Joe's Wines on a Saturday. Be it food, wine, or just a great deal, New Yorker's love having the best of anything, and we're willing to queue endlessly for it.

Now we have Eataly, a newly opened Italian market and eatery born from a partnership between Mario Batali, Lidia and Joe Batianich, and the concept's founder Oscar Farinetti. After hearing first about the mega-market from a colleague, and then finding the massive spread in Food & Wine this month, I decided to do more research. The concept is basically to share the Italian food "experience" in a market and eatery environment. They are focused on the concepts of fresh, high quality ingredients that are sourced locally and imported, as sustainably as possible.

I have heard Eataly is a madhouse at lunchtime, so the weekend is better. Twitter posts told me that 10am on a Saturday is the best. Yelp reviewers found it nearly impossible to navigate the crowds, totally impossible to get a table after 11:30 am - and some of the counters close at 2:30pm!! As I rushed to get ready to leave on Saturday, I felt thoroughly stressed out about the decision to try lunching at Eataly. I thought the Italian food experience was supposed to be laid back?

Seating Point - long line of people waiting for tables.
We arrived at the 5th Avenue entrance to find either a doorman or a bouncer - not really sure. We entered a hall packed with people clamoring for coffee, pastries and gelato. We tried to find our favorite chocolate in the shop but were too overwhelmed by the crowds. We had decided ahead of time to try Le Verdure, one of many table service cafés, that serves only vegetarian foods. We found the seating point and jumped in line just before most people realized the procedure. The hall was a sea of tourists and couples trying to figure out the lay of the land, many trying to lay claim to empty tables without seeing the hostess. Rule #1 in New York - if you see a line, get in it. Immediately. Then find out what you're waiting for. We were thrilled to be informed there was a 20 minute wait, and we could walk and shop meanwhile.
Tables and counter seating at Le Verdure
Walking through Eataly is more like trying to get from point A to point B in a crowded amusement park or festival. You have to hold hands, or tug on shirts, walk sideways, and hop over roving children, all while trying to look around at the goods. There were so many tempting products: fresh produce, unique pasta shapes, hand-made mozzarellas, endless varieties of olive oils, vinegars and such. Unfortunately, I am not sure I'd ever want to battle these crowds just for a couple of hard to find items - but I know where to go if I find myself with a recipe with obscure Italian ingredients.

Le Verdure menu
Our lunch at Le Verdure was fantastic. Maybe it had something to do with the delicious bottle of 2007 Dolcetto we got totally tipsy on at 2 in the afternoon. But I doubt it. The service was well trained and on point with suggestions. We chose two specials: sweet corn bruschetta with roasted garlic, chives and tarragon and the heirloom tomato and radish salad. Both were unbelievable fresh, crisp and simple. You could taste the outstanding quality of the oils and vinegars. We also tried the caponata, a cold eggplant salad with capers, olives, tomatoes, pine nuts and raisins served with arugula and toast. We loved the balance of salty, tangy and sweet, so it's definitely a dish I'd hope to recreate.

Heirloom Tomato and Radish salad
 Overall, it's worth a trip to Eataly, just be prepared to be patient with the crowds.

More information:
Eataly New York
NY Post
Food & Wine

**Mario's Eataly recipes

Monday, September 13, 2010

Eating Local in Springfield, Vermont

Produce from the orchard
This weekend we took a very quick trip up to my hometown to visit my parents. Friday we headed to the store to find dinner groceries, and then the town farm stand for some green beans and peaches. I cooked both real and fake chicken Piccata (along with the green beans) for my husband and parents on Friday night, and then went on the hunt for local products on Saturday.

We visited the tiny local farmer's market - a new development - and i was surprised to find a classmate and his mother (my high school psych teacher) selling their farm products. I picked up some Shaker Dilly Beans from their tent, which I was told was how the old Shakers preserved their green bean crop. Green beans + garlic + mustard seeds + spices + dill? I'm sold  - for $5. My high school buddy tells me they sell for $10 at the famous Vt. Country Store.

We also picked up a jar of raspberry red currant preserves, and some corn. After the market we headed to the orchard, which was bustling. Instead of picking our own apples this year, we just bought a bag in their store. We're really not home much to cook with them this month, since I'm off to Montreal for work for this week, and then next week my husband and I leave for London and Munich for vacation. Last year we carried back a huge bag of apples, squash and cheese - but this year only one small sugar pumpkin, which I hope to curry next week. We also managed to get some fresh donuts.
"S" is for sugared donuts at the orchard
mmm... sugared cider donuts
The parking lot at the orchard was full, but clearly those buying up the $7 gallons of cider don't know where to get the real deal. By law, the orchard can't sell unpasteurized cider. But locals like my parents know the difference between the sterilized, watery tasting juice and the real deal. A short drive down a few dirt roads and a turn up someone's driveway lead us to a wooden shed selling fresh home-made cider on the "honor system".

House where the real cider comes from
  As if word of mouth was not enough, there was a stack of paper cups inviting DIY tastings of the ciders. I haven't tasted cider that good since I was a kid. It was actually sweet and somewhat thick. It's too bad that we have all these rules to sterilize everything in society, just because a few people didn't realize they'd get the runs from drinking too many apples.

Cider, in here!
Yes, for real, this way!

Heirloom cider, just made, going fast!
Honor system station. Taste, pay, enjoy.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Chick'n Patty Bacon Melt

Quorn is my second favorite soy-free meatless-meat brand. Gardein is great for all kinds of texture, but sometimes their "chicken" tends to taste just a little plastic if you don't cook it in a sauce. Quorn brand has really decent imitations of processed chicken products. You can really feel like you're eating a chicken nugget or patty, but without the cholesterol and guilt.

It's been years since I've had a chicken patty sandwich. I have shunned the beloved juicy fried chicken on a bun - just for the fattiness of it. But thanks to the great products out there now, I was able to enjoy the concept of a chicken sandwich again - with bacon! Fake bacon isn't all that great on it's own, but the smokey flavor and crunch can make a lot of dishes way more fun.  

The fake meat sandwich is a staple in our house. It's fast and easy, especially after a long workout or Bikram class. I always keep kaiser rolls in the freezer, along with the fake bacon. That way we can pull together a sandwich any time.

Faux Chicken Patty Bacon Melt
Quorn Chick'n Patty
2 strips Morningstar Farms veggie bacon
1 slice cheese
Dill pickle slices
Tomato slices
Whole Wheat Kaiser Roll
Ketchup & Mayo OR Mustard & Hot Sauce

1. Microwave the bacon until crisp - about 1 minute for 2 slices, longer for more.

2. Cook the chick'n patty according to box. I like to microwave it for 1 minute and then put it in the toaster oven to get crispy for a few minutes.

3. Toast the roll if desired.

4. Remove chicken patty from toaster, place on bun, and immediately top with cheese. Add all the other toppings, and your favorite condiments. 

If you have time, try a healthy side dish like Cauliflower Gratin , Edamame Salad, or Cayenne Spiced Corn. Or revisit summer with Dill Potato Salad.

Friday, September 10, 2010


 This is my limeade. It's contemplating the complexities of New York. Or getting ready to jump...

After one too many mojito-like cocktails, why do I still want lime? For some reason, after a night of drinking, water just doesn't cut it for me. So boring and flavorless. I always need something juicy. 

My latest miracle hang-over cure has been coconut water (yes, it really makes you feel so much better), but that also puts regular water in the corner as far as flavor. The fridge is bare, but all those extra overripe limes could make some good old-fashioned limeade. 

1 part Lime Juice (about 3 small limes)
4 parts water
Sugar or simple syrup to taste

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Cauliflower Asiago Gratin

Two things have been haunting my refrigerator this week: cauliflower and eggplant. Naturally, they'd work together in some sort of Thai or Indian curry. But, we're just not in the mood, and I haven't felt like chopping and assembling. 

Finally, I forced myself to cook the cauliflower. The sandwich plate real-estate that would normally be home to oven fried potatoes was instead filled with heaps of healthy cauliflower. There was only one way this could go down: cheese. Grate cheese over anything, and bake it until it's brown, and you're good to go. I ended up eating almost an entire head of cauliflower that night. It was so tender, flavored delicately from nutmeg and sea salt. Black pepper and cayenne gave it some spice beneath the mild cheese.

There's no real recipe for a gratin, it's more of a method. My friends and I learned to perfectly gratin cauliflower about a year ago at a cooking party at Rustico in midtown. The owner showed us that it was ok to go light on the oil, and that adding fresh nutmeg enhances the flavor. So I referred back to her recipe for instruction, which was super easy.

I'm happy to say the fridge is looking bare. We've successfully eaten our leftovers and used most of the produce. We're off to Vermont for the weekend, so I don't have to worry about wasting food - exept the poor little eggplant. Sadly, it's starting to wrinkle, just waiting to end it's useless life. 

Cauliflower Asiago Gratin
4 servings, 1 hour (10 minutes hands-on)
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
1 tsp sea salt or Kosher salt
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne 
1/4 tsp fresh grated nutmeg
1/2 C shredded Asiago cheese

1. Heat oven to 425F. 

2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the cauliflower and a little salt. Boil 5 minutes.

3. Drain immediately and run under cold water, or plunge into a bowl ice-water, to stop the cooking process.

4. Drizzle a little oil into a shallow baking dish and add the cauliflower. Drizzle lightly with oil, and season with salt, pepper, and cayenne. Using a microplane, grate the fresh nutmeg over the whole dish (just a light dusting should be about a 1/4 tsp). Using your hands, toss the cauliflower to evenly coat with oil and spices.

5. Top with shredded cheese. I like to grate it right over the dish using a microplane - it saves a little time.

6. Roast at 425F for 45 minutes until tender and browned on top.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Pizza, Pizza, Pizza

Emeril's crust with home-made tomato sauce, onions, pineapple, jalepenos, and light on the mozzarella and parmesan.

"Don't put any of that yellow stuff in it this time, OK?"

My husband's request not to use any cornmeal in the pizza crust I was about to make.

"Just make it regular this time."

Meaning, don't try to make it healthy by adding whole wheat flour. 

So this time, I decided to just make a simple crust from good old white flour. I found this excellent recipe from Emeril. It rose better than any other recipe I've tried, it was faster, didn't use a ton of flour, and once baked had a nice consistency of crustiness with a little chewiness. 

I didn't want to get out any heavy artillery I'd have to later clean, so I opted to use elbow grease to get the dough formed - which worked out fine. It also made a giant overly stretchy dough - so I made us each our own pizza. One with peppers so hot, even my husband broke a sweat, and one with pepperoni for myself.

Emeril's crust with home-made tomato sauce, giant pepperoni, onions, pineapple, mozzarella, cheddar, parmigiano and basil.

The entire week has been full of pasta and pizza. It really was the best and worst, near and far. After making and eating my own pizza for two days, we ended up out with my husband's sisters. Our only common food ground is Italian food - but even then only pizza really. 

We ended up at Il Brigante at the seaport. The pastas were standard, the margherita pizza was just ok. I ordered the Buffalina pizza thinking fresh buffalo mozzarella sounded great - but the pizza had no sauce and was drowning in the slightly bitter cheese. Immediate indigestion.

Somehow we found ourselves out with the girls again on Sunday at dinner time. We had decided to take a scenic drive out the North Fork. We were starving right around Riverhead, and, thanks to Yelp for iPhone, found a nice little pizza place. It turned out to be the most amazing margherita pizza any of us have ever had. Crusty and crunchy on the bottom, firmly supporting a thick juicy layer of the most flavorful, sweet, tomato sauce. This place was worth the drive out, just for the pizza - better than anything you can get in NYC and that's saying a lot!

Tomato Sauce for Pizza
(enough for 2 large pizzas)
1 28oz can peeled Italian Tomatoes (Whole) in sauce 

6oz can of tomato pasteOlive Oil
1 clove garlic, sliced
½ tsp sugar
1 T Basil, chopped

1. In a stockpot, drizzle a little olive oil over medium-low heat. Add garlic and cook slowly for 3-4 minutes.

2. Add entire can of tomatoes and sauce and tomato paste. Simmer over low heat about 45 minutes. 

3. Blend in a blender, or with an immersion blender until consistency is smooth.

4. Season with sugar, salt and pepper. Continue to simmer another 15 minutes and stir in the basil at the last minute.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Goat Cheese & Nectarine Tostada

Nectarines have been particularly delicious this season. Left to ripen in a paper bag, suddenly they are all bursting with juiciness, all at the same time. 

When you're sick of the juices running down your chin, you may begin to ponder other uses for a pile of ripe nectarines. Since I am so obsessed with anything resembling the layerings of a pizza, I decided to spread them over a tortilla, and make sort of a sweet tostada.

The result was a crispy pizza-like treat, with juicy fruit balanced by the tangy, creamy chevre goat cheese. This concoction would make quite an interesting party treat, paired with a tart Verdejo wine. Just don't forget to watch it in the toaster, and burn it like I did!

Goat Cheese & Nectarine Tostada
8" Flour Tortillas
Nectarines, 1/8" thick slices (or peaches, but you may like to peel them because of the fuzzy skin)
Chevre Goat Cheese, crumbled with a fork
Basil leaves
*Honey - optional 

1. Lightly toast the tortillas, just to harden them up.

2. Lay Nectarine slices on tortilla in one layer, sprinkle with goat cheese. Add a few basil leaves. 
3. In a toaster oven or oven, bake at 450 for just a few minutes. Or broil for about a minute. Watch carefully - they burn fast!

4. Cut into wedges with a pizza cutter, and if desired, drizzle with a bit of honey.
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