Food To Warm Your Bones: Soup, Pizza, Bread, and Brownies

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Soup, pizza, bread, and brownies. With a seemingly never-ending blizzard going on outside, really—what more do you need?

(Please don’t say bourbon or wine or a Dark & Stormy, because I’m on Day 23 of Sober January, and I am determined to make it to Day 31.)

Anyway, back to the food. When I asked my husband if he wanted me to make anything special for blizzard weekend, he replied with an enthusiastic “Bread! Make bread! Please please please!”

The bread he’s referring to is this, a perfectly round boule with a dense, crisp crust and soft, chewy interior. Hot out of the oven, it is exactly what you want when you’re trying to defrost yourself after several hours of shoveling. The dough is actually the easiest thing to put together, and takes about five minutes since there’s no kneading involved. As I was gathering the flour, yeast and salt, I figured I might as well make pizza dough. Bring on the carbs!

The pizza dough requires minimal kneading, and it also takes almost no time to prepare—if you have a food processor.  I highly recommend that you use bread flour if you’re making pizza or bread. You get a much crisper crust and a wonderfully airy, chewy center.

Making pizza from scratch is like creating a blank canvas on which to paint your dinner. You could go traditional and use tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese, or your could try something different. My best pizzas have been inspired by the leftovers in my fridge.

That pizza you see in the picture?  I cooked a batch of beans in my slow cooker last Sunday and had about a cup left in the refrigerator. Beans on a pizza? I’ve heard weirder. Herbed, creamy white beans are a natural fit with garlic, so I lopped the tops off two bulbs, roasted them, then mashed the cloves into a paste. As for cheese, I had three to choose from: chevre, Pecorino and mozzarella. Pecorino has the salty-tangy-pow of flavor that really punches up the beans and garlic. I finished with a generous drizzle of olive oil and a smattering of kosher salt. Voi-la: a classy, photogenic and mostly importantly DELICIOUS dinner. This is a pizza you can have on its own, or if you’re feeling more virtuous you can have a slice with a green salad or bowl of soup…

Soup! Of course—what could be more perfect on a cold, blustery, blizzardy day?  This one was entirely improvised, and I built the recipe around two ingredients: beluga lentils and lascinato kale.  What’s funny is that both these foods sound so much fancier than they actually are. Beluga lentils are petite black lentils that, like the French green lentils, maintain their shape and texture well in soups. Bonus: they don’t require nearly as long to cook. Lascinato kale, (or Dinosaur kale, or black kale) is my favorite of the kales. It has this unique pebbly texture, it keeps in the fridge for weeks, and the leaves are so versatile. I find they’re more tender than regular curly kale, so they work equally well in salads, soups and sautes.

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Here’s the recipe for the soup. Keep in mind I used the seasonings and vegetables I had on hand, but you can use whatever you like. Cumin, coriander and garam masala lean on the earthier side of the spice spectrum. You could add more heat, or flavor the soup with herbs instead.

Recipe: Lentil Kale Soup

Time: 90 minutes, prep to table
Serves: 4

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp oregano
scant 1/2 tsp coriander
1/4 tsp garam masala
1/4 tsp aleppo pepper
1/2 large vidalia onion, finely diced
1 shallot, chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped
2 small parsnips, peeled, cored and chopped
5 ribs celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1 cup beluga (black) lentils
1 cup beef stock
4 cups water
1 bunch Lascinato kale (AKA black kale or dinosaur kale), washed, trimmed of stems and cut into 1” ribbons
4 sprigs fresh thyme
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium high heat for 2 minutes. Add oil, swirl to coat pan. Add all the spices (cumin through the aleppo pepper), and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. The mixture will be dark and fragrant.

Add the next six ingredients (onion through garlic), and stir to coat with the spice mixture. Lower the heat to medium-low, add a dash of salt, and let the vegetables cook undisturbed for about 10 minutes, until they soften.

Add the lentils and stir, raising the heat back to medium high. Add the beef stock and the water. Allow the mixture to come to a boil.

Once it starts boils, reduce to a simmer and let cook for ten minutes, stirring occasionally. Then add the kale, stirring it into the mixture. You may have to reduce the heat, but you want to keep the soup at a steady simmer for about 35-40 minutes, or until the lentils are tender.

Turn off the heat, add salt and pepper to your taste, and sprinkle the the thyme leaves over the soup. Stir and serve immediately, or allow to cool completely before portioning. Refrigerate for up to 5 days or freeze up to 3 months.

I didn’t forget the brownies, by the way. Here’s a recipe for fudgy brownies that has all the flavor and a little less guilt than standard recipes. And here’s a tip: If you want to amp up the chocolate flavor, add a teaspoon of instant espresso to the dry ingredients, and a tablespoon of chocolate liquor to the wet ingredients. Your inner chocaholic will thank you.

 

The Chicken Caper

  
Presenting Wednesday night’s dinner: steamed broccoli, roasted spaghetti squash with butter & Parmesan, and lemon caper chicken. I’m exhausted, so this post will be short, but I had to post because I made this dinner totally on the fly and every component was perfect, note for note. Also- 8 SmartPoints!

Spaghetti squash: cut in half, spray on some EVOO, roast cut side down for 26 minutes at 415 degrees for “al dente”

Chicken: split a breast into two cutlets. Dust with flour, salt and pepper. Brown both sides in a non-stick pan over medium heat, then remove chicken. Add 2 tsp EVOO to pan, then 2 cloves thinly sliced garlic, one small thinly sliced shallot, 2 tbsp capers and their brine, and the juice of 3/4 lemon. Cooking 3 minutes, stirring so garlic doesn’t burn, then toss chicken in the sauce and cook for another minute. 

Broccoli: steamed in microwave for 3 minutes, topped with the juice of that last 1/4 lemon and sea salt.

BOOM.

Put an Egg on It


Tuesday night dinner: Brussel sprouts, butternut squash & parsnips roasted with olive oil and thyme, on a bed of farro with mushrooms, topped with an egg (that’s sunny side up, not fried).

Roasted veggies and cooked grains are side dishes by themselves. But put an egg on your plate and you have dinner. Or even brunch. Either way, this is a colorful, satisfying and super-nutritious meal.

For my WW friends, this plate is 9 Smart Points, ready in 35 minutes.

Breakdown:

3 SP = 1.5 cups roasted vegetables with olive oil

4 SP = .5 cup Farro with mushrooms

2 SP = one egg, cooked in a non-stick pan with just a spray of olive oil

 

One Week Down

Today marks one week staying on track with my cooking & eating, and also one week without a drop of alcohol. This is really not nearly as bad as I envisioned it. I feel fine. Better than fine- I actually feel really good.

Which means I’m all the more motivated to keep this going for another week.

Friday is usually my “give up” day. The work week is over, I’m tired, and I’m not really thinking about a healthy dinner. I’m thinking pizza, wine, passing out on the couch by 9, because I’m in my thirties and I do that. Sue me.

But today I stopped at Whole Foods on my way home and was pleasantly surprised to find out wild Alaskan salmon was on sale. One 6 ounce filet in the basket (my husband won’t eat it), and I felt awake and inspired. The only way I know how to cook salmon is grilling it, but it’s winter and I don’t want to wear a down cost while I make dinner.

So I turned to my beloved NYT cooking app and found this jewel from Sam Sifton. Take a look. I think I cooked it two minutes too long, but the fish was super tasty, a perfectly blend of savory and sweet, and I paired it with a spinach-honey crisp salad, topped with goat cheese.

  

  

Happy Friday, friends.

JB

A Burst of Red & Gold in Winter

Beets

Beets, along with lentils and escarole, are foods I avoided in my childhood and grew to love in my twenties, when I was broke and teaching myself how to cook.  I was living in Brooklyn at the time, it was winter, and I had my fill of butternut squash. Beets are cheap and widely available, so I decided to give them a try.

I remember being in the produce department at Fairway, stunned by how inexpensive the beets were. Fifty-nine cents a pound! Always one to get the best bang for the few bucks I had, I bought the largest beet I could find. It was about the size of a grapefruit, enough to supply me with a week’s worth of beet salads.

I went home and consulted the oracle: Mark Bittman. In How to Cook Everything, Bittman advises that the most foolproof way to cook beets is to roast them, and so I followed his directions: trim the beets of any hairy-looking roots, wrap in foil, and roast for an hour at 400 degrees, or until the tip of a knife can easily cut through the beet’s flesh.

An hour went by, and I went to the oven to check my shining wrapped beet. It was hard as a stone. I gave it another fifteen minutes, then another thirty, and then finally, after two hours and twenty minutes of cooking time had elapsed, the tip of my knife was finally able to slice through the beet.

The long cooking time was a result of the size of the beet. Bittman didn’t mention anything about that in his recipe, and although I got the biggest beet of the bunch at Fairway, it was not significantly larger than its neighbors. Roasting a single vegetable for over two hours seemed like a waste of energy, but I decided to refrain from judgement until I tasted the beet.

“Earthy” is not an adjective that I equate with “delicious”; earthy-flavored foods remind me of the dirt they came from. Beets do have an earthy taste, much the way chard does. But roasting brings out their sweetness and cuts that earthy undertone, which is particularly strong in larger beets. I recommend going for the smaller ones.

Here are some helpful tips that I’ve learned from my blunders in the kitchen:

—Don’t roast red and golden beets together. You want to keep these guys separated as they’re cooking and after you cook them.
—Have a couple pairs of disposable gloves standing by. They will protect your hands from looking like you’ve just murdered a large animal.
—On that note, wear an apron.
—Allow the beets to cool before you peel them. Handling a steaming hot beet is like handling a hot potato—it won’t stay in your hands for long!

Without further ado, here’s my recipe for…

Roasted Beets

 

Overall time: 2.5 hours
Active time: 15 minutes)

 

Ingredients:
—3 small to medium red beets
—3 small to medium golden beets

 

(You want beets that are smaller than a tennis ball here. The bigger the beet, the earthier the taste, the longer the cook time. No, no, and no.)

 

Tools:
—A paring knife
—Aluminum foil

 

(Heavy duty foil is nice but not necessary. Avoid the cheap thin stuff, unless you have enough to wrap them multiple times. You don’t want an explosion of beet juice in your oven, do you?)

 

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Place a rack in the lower third of the oven.

 

Rinse and dry your beets. Use your paring knife to trim the hairy roots, and carefully shave away any blemishes. You don’t want to cut into the beet that much, otherwise the juices will run out in the oven and your beets will be dry.

 

Wrap the golden beets in foil, making sure they are completely enclosed. Then do the same with the red beets.  Put the beets in the oven and set the timer for 55 minutes. Then go find something to do.

 

When the timer goes off, carefully remove the foil packages from the oven, and open one of them (you can wait a few minutes to do this. No sense burning your fingers!). Take your paring knife and put its tip to one of the beets. If it cuts into the flesh easily, you’re done. If you have to apply some pressure to cut into the beet, wrap the package back up and return it to the oven. Give it another 10 minutes of baking time and check it again.

 

When you are done, set the beets aside to cool in their packages for about an hour. Then, put on your disposable gloves and set about the business of peeling. The peels should slide right off. Place the red beets in one container and the golden ones in another, and leave them out and uncovered until they are completely cool. Then refrigerate. I don’t recommend slicing the beets until you’re ready to use them. This way they stay moist and sweet. By the way, one cup of beets cooked this way is 0 (that’s ZERO) Weight Watchers Smart Points.

 

Now, what do you do with them?

 

Put them in a salad. Not only will they add gorgeous color, they’ll also make the salad more filling.  My favorite combination: beets, baby spinach, goat cheese, some crushed walnuts gently coated in a balsamic/honey mustard vinaigrette. It’s the same salad I posted on Monday.

 

Or, if you wanted to make a super healthy, delicious and eye-catching appetizer, you could put your beets to work in this recipe.

 

Happy Cooking!
J.

The best Monday dinners are the ones that take 15 minutes to make

I like to spend Sundays in the kitchen cooking for hours. These are my moments of zen, and on a practical level, I do the bulk of my cooking for the week ahead. After a long, cold Monday like today, I like a meal that takes no time but doesn’t feel like leftovers. Here’s a great example…

On the right: soy-mustard marinated pork tenderloin

On the left: salad of mixed baby greens, golden and red beets, walnuts and goat cheese. Dressing is an EVOO/balsamic/Dijon mustard/honey concoction that is just perfect on beets.

And, that entire plate comes to 8 Weight Watchers SmartPoints. Squee!

  

A New Year, and New Goals

Like many people, I stepped on the scale at the end of 2015 and thought, “Ah, well that explains why my pants don’t fit.”

December can be a month of excesses. The holidays themselves are stressful, and everywhere you look there is chocolate or a tray of cookies, or several bottles of wine or a giant roast or an open bar or more cookies, all crying out, “Yes, you can have it all! Have everything! So what? It’s the end of the year. You can start over again in January.”

Then comes the uptick in gym memberships, crowded Weight Watchers meetings, the sales on “healthy” food at the grocery store, and a battery of good intentions that may or may not evolve into Actual Accomplishments. I don’t make resolutions; I set goals. I started doing this at the start of 2010, sticking about 30 post-its to my refrigerator, each baring a goal for the year. “Go out dancing”, “Get a new job”, “Michelle Obama arms” were among the notes. I managed to knock out 26 of the 30, and I had a really good year.

This year I have far fewer goals. Things are good, I’m happy, and there are really just a few things I want to do.  First on my list: be healthier. That’s vague, so I’ve broken it down to three key goals: (1) get back on the wagon with healthy cooking and eating, (2) go stone sober for the month of January, and (3) start and maintain a workout routine in the gym area I’ve made for myself at home.

The second thing on my list of goals is Write More, and yes—I know that’s vague too. BUT, I’ve set a goal of three hours of writing per week, which isn’t that much, but it’s something I can manage between work and well, life crap. I spent about four hundred bucks to take a class in memoir writing, thinking it would give me discipline and focus. And it kinda did, until I realized it wasn’t the kind of writing I wanted to do. Then I hated it, and then I dropped the class. At first I felt guilty, but why? I’m not in college. I don’t need to waste hours and hours of time on something I’m neither interested nor want to do. I do want to write recipes and meditations about food and the joy of using my first All Clad pan. I have the icky feeling, probably something in the shame family, about returning to a blog that I’ve stayed away from for so long because I either didn’t make the time or was terrified of writing something bad. Well, here I am.

Cheers to turning good intentions into Actual Accomplishments.

Cheers to doing.

J.