Lentil Soup: A Medicine That Goes Down Easy

Being sick always forces me to recognize the extreme nature of my food addiction. I can’t taste at all, the only thing I can derive from a meal is texture, and I still pound slices of pizza like my life depends on it. Force of habit I guess. The whole time I desperately breathe through my nose, hoping to oxygenate my palate and experience the taste of food that I so deeply miss. Its a pathetic and mucus filled occasion.

At some point, you can’t change who you are, you just have to work around the problematic person you’ve become. I knew that having a cold, and subsequently no sense of taste, would do nothing to prevent me from eating. So I decided to make my meals as healthy as possible. Because whats the difference between bacon wrapped shrimp and kale salad when your taste buds are out of commission? Might as well stave off heart disease for another few weeks.

So I made lentil soup. I used the exact recipe that was used to a delicious end in class on Monday. I sautéed carrots, celery, and onion in olive oil to make your classic mirepoix. Then I added a can of chopped tomatoes, and cooked them down with about half a cup of water. Then I added maybe four cups of lentils, and simmered the soup for about ten minutes. I salted throughout, and peppered at the end, but in retrospect, it didn’t really matter. I had no ability to season to taste.

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My soup, pre-lentils.

I ate five bowls of it, just so I could feel the comfort of chewing and swallowing. I could sort of taste it from time to time, and I’m pretty sure it was delicious, but one never knows. The important thing is that I got all my essential nutrients, plenty of protein, and didn’t let illness get in the way of my impending obesity.

You might be curious about the gastrointestinal impact of eating five bowls of lentil soup in one night. I’ll just say this. There are consequences. Very real consequences, and I think it would be best for everyone if I leave it at that.

New Findings in the Condiment Lab

This week I made two fun dips that almost no one besides me enjoyed.

Eggplant Pesto

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At some point this week I impulsively baked some eggplant. Unsure of what to do with it, I tossed it in the blender. And at the moment that I threw a nightshade into my VitaMix, inspiration struck like a thunderbolt. Pesto! I was a genius. I added almonds, basil, garlic, and olive oil, and blended it like a champ. A splash of lemon to liven it up, and I was face to face with a tasty alternative pesto.

I fed it to several people. Two people seemed to genuinely enjoy it. The rest of them grimaced before saying “wow, what a unique flavor!” It may not be popular, and the resemblance to bat guano is intimidating, but this is a creation I will stand by.

Bold Sesame Hummus

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This dip was more humble in it’s aspirations. I set out to make a white bean and garbanzo hummus — one can of white beans, two cans of garbanzos, olive oil, garlic, lemon, salt, tahini. However, I found myself deeply enamored of the nutty tahini flavor. Lost in a sesame lust, I added two tablespoons of sesame oil to my creation.

Overpoweringly filled with sesame? Perhaps. But I still plowed through this hummus, assisted by a box of triscuits.

Lasagna: The Jenga of Food

Despite it’s lengthy time commitment, lasagna is one of the simplest meals to make.  It is based only upon the stacking of Italian ingredients —  not exactly a complex culinary exercise.

As a result, the flavor of lasagna stands upon the shoulders of it’s filling. It only goes as far  as your selection of cheese, veggies and meat. When I set my sights on making a lasagna, I knew I would have to take the time to make each ingredient pop on the palate; I would need to get the little things right. Such is the case when we aspire to greatness.

Of course, our meals are never as delicious as we imagine them in the supermarket isle.  Like all foods once dreamed and later cooked, my lasagna made the inevitable journey,  from perfect food archetype to flawed edible reality.

When I sampled my final entree, I found that my dairy distribution was mediocre at best. I had commitment issues with the spinach. My Italian sausage was incredibly dry, a desert landscape to rival a Georgia O’keeffe painting.

But as my good friend Frank once told me, “don’t change your hair for me, not if you care for me, stay little valentine. Stay.” No my lasagna wasn’t perfect. It’s figure was certainly less than greek. But damn if it wasn’t reasonably tasty.

I now realize that most of my blog is lengthy eulogies for lost food potential. Let’s move onto the pictures.

Continue reading Lasagna: The Jenga of Food

[EXCLUSIVE] How I Curried My Family’s Favor With One Simple Dinner

Yep, we’re talking about curry. Specifically, a curry I made Saturday night, when I desired a healthy home-cooked meal.

It was a very basic curry, which was quick and easy to make, and a little bit underwhelming flavor wise. In hindsight, I should have hunted down some Kaffir lime leaves to get a more classic curry flavor. I also should have made it in a normal pan, not a wok. Alas.

It started as a simple sauté of onions, garlic, and ginger in (supposedly) heart healthy coconut oil. 

  

To which I added some carrots and peppers…

    

… and it wouldn’t be a party without asparagus. 

Then I added in my curry flavor and let it sauté with the veggies to get some good flavor going (or at least I hoped as much). 

And finally, I added three cans of coconut milk, some lime juice, and let it all simmer down like an angry 5th grader in time out. 

 

My creation is pictured here with its co-stars: “jasmine rice” and “bowl”.
 
Though mild, my meal was decidedly inoffensive. I enjoyed it. My family was also pleased. 

But, in my heart of hearts, I have a deep desire to craft a richer curry… A restless beast within me yearns to create a curry so smooth and effusively flavorful that people will eye me suspiciously, asking “is this takeout?”
But what are we, if not our dreams of Asian cuisine? 

The Eggcellence of Pasta Carbonara 

In a fitting extension of our lesson on eggs in class, I was taught how to make the unique and tasty pasta carbonara by my culinary sensei Pam Saindon.

Carbonara is strange in that you put raw eggs in your cooked spaghetti. However, all of you salmonella panicked people out there can take a deep breath of relief — the hot pasta cooks the egg until it achieves a smooth, almost custard like state. It reminded me a little bit of the beginning stages of a hollandaise. 

Health desclaimers aside, let’s take a look at carbonara creation: 

  
  
Like any upstanding meal, our rendition of pasta carbonara started with eggs and bacon. Or rather eggs and pancetta. The pancetta was in cut into very small cubes to allow it to be crispy, and fit well within the pasta. 

The eggs got whisked together in a separate bowl until they were completely combined (I wish I knew a better adjective for a well scrambled egg). 

Then three hefty cups of shredded Parmesan and a lot of ground pepper were added to form this eggy concoction. 

  

All the while,  in a nearby pot, we had been boiling spaghetti to al dente perfection. Once it was cooked, we drained the pasta, but were careful to save some of the water. The pasta went right into the pancetta to marinade in delicious meat and grease. 

  

As you can see above, we’ve got the bacon pasta, the cheesy eggs, and the hot water all line up and ready to go. While the pasta was still piping hot, we added it to the egg and tossed it vigorously and throughly so that the egg both cooked into a creamy delicious custard, and evenly coated the pasta. A little bit of the retained pasta water was used to loosen up the pasta as needed. 

Thus was our take on a popular Italian delicacy. It was quite tasty. If you are more squeamish with eggs, it would probably be possible to make a more cheese based pasta, using a few eggs only as an emulsifier. 

Whatever your level of egg appreciation, get out there and get crackin!

The. Bite.

Everyone knows the bite.

Some say it happens about halfway through the burrito. Others maintain that it’s three fourths of the way down. And still others say it’s a third from the bottom.

It’s hard to say where exactly the bite resides. Every burrito is different, and everyone attacks their burrito in a different way. But make no mistake: it’s in there. There’s always a bite.

What is the bite? Simply put, it’s the one magical mouthful in every burrito that is unequivocally the best. A moment of culinary crescendo, where every flavor and texture comes together. The bite that makes you moan in exclamation despite your mouth being full. It’s the bite that keeps you, and me, and everyone else in the subtle, subconscious worship of taco trucks everywhere.

For years I wondered about the bite. For much of my life I doubted its existence. Burrito ingredients are evenly mixed throughout the tortilla enclosure, I reasoned. How could any one mandibular selection be superior to the next? It all seemed so strange.

Until one day, perhaps a year ago. I was alone in Chipotle, wolfing down a beef burrito. It was a good burrito, not earth shattering, but consummately enjoyable. And then, as I moved into the second half of the burrito, everything changed.

Because I took the bite. It was the perfect mix of meat and beans, just the right amount of avocado, a dash of salsa, a dash of sour cream, and all of it tied together by perfectly melty cheese. Alone though I was, hunched over and chewing in a deserted chipotle, I growled like a grizzly bear in the midst of a salmon run.

As I walked triumphantly from the establishment, I couldn’t help but marvel at the bite. I felt like the kid at the end of Polar Express, looking down at his train ticket with “believe” spelled out in hole punches. There really was one magical bite in every burrito.

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Experiencing the bite is like switching to boxer briefs — once you’ve combined the strengths of boxers and tighty whities, you can’t go back. You are fated to notice the best bite in every burrito from San Francisco to Atlanta. From Baja Fresh to a Chula Vista Taco Truck.

The bite is almost always accompanied by the shutdown of your facial musculature, and a huge increase in obnoxious verbalizations (most common among these are “holy shit”, “oh my god”, “sweet Jesús take me now”, “mmmmffffmmfph”, and on occasion “I need a private moment”).

Once I became aware of the bite, I moved into phase two of my burrito-coming-of-age (some people might call this buberty, but frankly I’m uncomfortable with that phrasing). In phase two, you start asking questions. Where is the bite? Can I predict the bite? What is in the bite? Why is there a bite? What is the meaning of bite? Are you there burrito? It’s me Margaret. (Well at least you start asking the first three.)

But here’s the frustrating thing — much like literature and art, the best bite a burrito is an enigmatic and deeply personal experience. No one can answer these questions for you, you have to search within.

All that said, here is my personal bite theory:

  1. The bite occurs roughly 66.6% of the way through your burrito, with up to a 15% variance in bite arrival time.
  2. The deliciousness of the bite is derived from the combination of beans, avocado, cheese, and the juices from the meat. If one of these four is missing, the best bite will not be possible.
  3. Ingredients that often enhance the bite are — salsa, sour cream, and especially flavorful meat.
  4. Rice is incapable of having any impact on the bite. It can neither heighten nor diminish the resulting flavor.
  5. The angle, enthusiasm, and size of the bite all affect the ultimate sensation in unquantifiable ways. As a general rule, you don’t want your bite to be a nibble, but you also shouldn’t resemble a python unhinging it’s jaw.

What does this mean for all of us burrito eaters out there? It’s really hard to say. The science of the bite is in it’s absolute infancy at this time, and we’ll need years of research to really come to terms with the momentous mexican food implications.

In the near future, though, the bite might present a new method of burrito evaluation. Similar to golf, in which you can play a game with a “best ball” partner, we could start grading burritos on a “best bite” basis, in which we compares burritos exclusively based on their most tasty mouthful.

Ah, but I have speculated enough for one blog post. It’s 2:52 AM and supposedly I have a life beyond burritos that requires some sort of attention.

Before I leave, I must implore you — seek out the bite, for in finding the bite, we find ourselves. In that one precious and singular moment, when there is nothing in your world, nothing at all, except for flavorful black beans, avocado and gooey pepper jack, you understand transcendence.

In that moment, we are something more than together; we are snugly wrapped, in the light and love of the burrito of life.

 

Simple, Heathy Dessert (and it’s not even Yoplait!)

And there I was, not even looking for a simple healthy dessert, and I stumbled right into one. Or rather, my girlfriend found it, and convinced me to make it.

The dessert was baked bananas and it’s exactly as simple as it sounds. Here are the steps:

  1. cut a banana in half lengthwise
  2. place banana on baking sheet
  3. brush with lemon juice
  4. drizzle with honey
  5. sprinkle with cinnamon
  6. Bake for 10-15 minutes at 350 degrees
  7. Enjoy your masterpiece.

 

Fruity confection or lost Picasso?

All told this meal took about 20 minutes from findings banana in the fridge to eating it. It contains almost nothing besides nutritious banana, yet is a huge improvement over a plain banana. We ate our bananas with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and found it to be scrumptious.

To those of you who are lazy but want something sweet, you’re welcome.