Saturdaying

October 31, 2009

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Do you ever find yourself promising a dozen of your dearest friends homemade baklava?  And then, much later, realize that you need to spend a perfectly inconvenient weeknight elbow-deep in butter and sugar and nuts in order to keep this promise?

No?

Well, if you ever do, here’s what you should throw together for a quick dinner just after you’ve tucked the baklava into the oven and just before your blood sugar levels plummet below the safe-for-husband threshold:

  • 2-3 fistfuls of fresh spinach
  • 1 cup cooked quinoa
  • 2 pears
  • 1 fistful of walnuts
  • a toss of blue cheese crumbles
  • a splash of balsamic vinegar

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I originally bought these mini pumpkins just for their good looks.  But one evening late last week, when faced with a cauldron of polenta and a sudden urge to stuff something with it, I found myself eyeing the pumpkin arrangement.   Once I reached in, there was no turning back.

If you, too, are tempted to violate your pumpkin centerpiece, here’s what to do:

  1. Wash, de-stem, and de-seed the pumpkins.
  2. Coat the exposed flesh with olive oil and herbs.
  3. Bake the pumpkins at 375F for  ~30 minutes at 375F.
  4. Fill them with polenta.  (… Or mashed potatoes!  Surely that would be amazing.)

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If you’ve visited our home recently, there’s a good likelihood that I attempted to sprinkle smoked hot paprika into or onto you.  I’m good at restraining myself from putting it in coffee, tea, or desserts; everything else, however, is fair game.

And just how did this obsession come about, you’re wondering?  It all began on a leaden  December morning off the coast of Georgia, when my husband and a couple of men-in-law were tasked with the job of catching our Christmas dinner.  I contributed by making occasional calls to Mr. Onepot’s miserable boat-bound self from the caffeinated warmth of my mother-in-law’s house, only to be greeted with semi-intelligible, wind-whipped grumbles that mostly amounted to, “NO-kgrhsh-grm-fngh–LATER!”

…And the catch, at the end of all that?  Zilch.  So, naturally,  Mr. Onepot and my men-in-law went straight from the boat to a seafood store.  Turns out, though: even the most reputable fish market on a small Georgia island tends to get a bit quiet right before Christmas, and its desperate customers can select from just two grayish piles of undefined seafood-like matter.  Who knew.

Enter smoked hot paprika!  Let me just say that our mystery fish was transformed from colorless, quivering heaps  to perky and confident fillets with some courageous dashes of this magic powder and a couple of sliced lemons.  And thus began my obsession.

Fast forward 1o months, to an October Monday that taunted me with its entirely premature dusk and mediocre television offerings.  It seemed like paprika would help.  And while I was getting it out, I also came across its good friend, the Spice House curry powder:

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Next, a quick cabinet-and-fridge search yielded the following playground for those lovelies:

  • 2 cups of red lentils (so small! so adorable!)
  • 1 medium cauliflower
  • 1 onion
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 thumb-size piece of ginger
  • ~5 cups of water
  • 1 bunch of scallions

If you’re playing along at home, here’s what to do:

  1. Saute the onion+garlic+ginger for ~5 minutes, adding a generous dash of curry powder and paprika approximately 2 minutes into the process.
  2. Add the lentils and 4 cups of water.  Cover and simmer on low, stirring occasionally, for ~20 min.
  3. Toss in another cup of water, along with the chopped cauliflower.
  4. Cook on low until the cauliflower is as soft as you want it to be.
  5. Serve over rice or quinoa, with chopped scallions.

Lovely.

 

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This made me curse a little less at 6:47 AM.

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I made my very first risotto several months ago.  Up to that point I had simply assumed that, given the chronic shortage of patience in our household, we wouldn’t be able to pull off all that standing and pouring and stirring.

Then, on an otherwise unremarkable June day, some vegetables and Arborio rice happened to meet in our kitchen almost by accident.   Thirty minutes later, we had a risotto–and the whole process had only taken up tiny, polite  segments of my evening!  Oh, if I had only known.

Fast forward past many a risotto between then and now, to this gray Sunday afternoon and a mostly wilted Swiss chard bouquet that cast woeful glances in my direction every time I opened the fridge.  Sure, I was up to the challenge…

  • 1 bunch of Swiss chard
  • 1 yellow pepper
  • 4-5 whitecap mushrooms
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic
  • 2 cups of Arborio rice
  • approximately 5 cups of liquid (3 water, 2 chicken or vegetable broth)
  • ~1/3 cup of parmesan
  • 1 fistful of pine nuts
  • hearty pinches of a couple of dried herbs (say, tarragon and chives)
  • dashes of white pepper, black pepper, saffron, salt

If you’re playing along at home, here’s what to do:

  1. Give half a mushroom to your large cat to distract him.  (What?  No large cat threatening to eat you unless appeased with fresh produce in your house?  Where have we gone wrong.)
  2. Saute the onion, garlic, mushrooms, and yellow pepper with a touch of salt and black pepper.
  3. After ~2-3 minutes, add the chopped Swiss chard and a just a tiny splash of water.  Cover and leave it alone, on low, for 1-2 minutes.
  4. Add the rice, seasonings, and ~1 cup of liquid.  Stir.  Go away.
  5. After 2-3 minutes, come back to see if your risotto is thirsty.  It will be.  Give it ~1/2 cup of liquid; stir; go away.
  6. Repeat.
  7. Repeat.
  8. When the liquid is gone and all sorts of soft and happy colors are grinning at you from the bottom of the pot, stir in some parmesan.
  9. You will want some toasted pine nuts on top, for a little crunch.

Roasted eggplant + couscous

October 25, 2009

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Last week at the farmers market, we bought an eggplant the size of a small infant for $1.  It called for great things.  It also called for a husband in town, since–despite my wolf-like appetite–I knew I would not be able to tackle it solo.  So, we waited for Mr. Onepot’s return from a business trip to roast it and stuff it and revel in its purple goodness.

If you’re playing along at home, you will need something along these lines:

  • 1 eggplant
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 small (or 1/2 large) pepper
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 can of diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup of couscous
  • 2 cups of water or broth
  • 1 fistful of spinach leaves (fresh? fine.  frozen? also fine.)
  • 1 fistful of pine nuts

Then:

  1. Preheat the oven to 450F.
  2. Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise.  Remove the seedy entrails .  Rub it with some olive oil and salt+pepper, just to tame it a touch.
  3. Place the eggplant in a shallow baking dish and bake for 20 minutes.
  4. Rest.  Google.  Have some wine.
  5. When the timer goes off, pour 1/3 of the tomatoes into one eggplant half and 1/3 into the other.  Spread the remaining 1/3 across the bottom of the baking dish.  Return to the oven for another 20 minutes.
  6. Too bad if you had been googling  something interesting, because now is the time to saute the garlic, onion, and pepper for a minute or so.
  7. Add the couscous and stir for ~15 seconds.  (I have no idea if this “toasts” it in any way that makes a difference in flavor, but I sure like doing it.)
  8. Add the water/broth to the couscous and simmer for 2-3 minutes.  At the end, toss in the spinach.  Turn the heat off and let the couscous rest, covered, until…
  9. …the timer goes off for the eggplant.  Remove it from the oven and fill each half with some of the couscous mixture.  Spread the remainder out as evenly as possible around the eggplant in the baking dish.  It should be resting in all sorts of delicious, half-burned tomato juice puddles.
  10. Bake for another 15 minutes.  Sprinkle pine nuts on top.  (I also added some chevre at the very last minute, because chevre makes everything better.)  Broil for 2-3 minutes.

Now you just need to hunt down some more wine and good company to go with the lovely dark and rich and grainy notes of this dish.