Thursday, January 19, 2012

On Adult-onset Absurdities and Eating Along Practical Healthy Guidelines

In About Alice, Calvin Trillin says, according to his wife, Alice, “the measure of how you held up in the face of a life-threatening illness was not how much you changed but how much you stayed the same, in control of your identity.”

I like this, even though identity is organic and complex. I like it because it's a challenge to not define yourself by illness or misfortune. That you should likewise not be defined by your strength or fortune goes without saying.

This seems to be Paula Deen's defense: that for the past three years since she was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes she was not allowing it to change her.

This I do not like. "You are what you eat," does not go that deep. Refusing to change your diet in the face of life threatening illness is not identity-affirming. It's weakness.

I've said it before:  life is simultaneously too short to not eat cookies and too short to eat them just because you like chewing and swallowing cookies. If you're not sure how to find that balance in your own life, here's a direct order: think about what Paula would cook or eat and then NEVER EAT THAT. Ever. There is a time to celebrate, and a time to indulge, but neither of those times call for Fried Butter Balls. Even my puppy knows that.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Legumes for a Winter's Lunch

I have two favorite winter lunches, beloved for their warmth, simplicity and speed of preparation. They are Black Beans and Curried Lentils. Both are simultaneously light and hearty, have a soupy consistency and cook up in 20 minutes or less. And the leftovers are even better - just boil gently for a few minutes in a small saucepan with an extra splash of water.

To make black beans all you really need is a can of beans, a clove of garlic and some onion. If you've got some cilantro or a jalapeno rolling around your vegetable drawer you can add them but don't abandon the recipe if you've got no green. I don't care for dairy on my legumes and I rarely have cotija on hand, but a smidgen of that is quite delightful. Here's that recipe:

Black Beans
Print recipe only here

Serves 1-2 for lunch

1-2 t canola oil
1 clove garlic, pressed
1/4 to 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
One can black beans

1 T cilantro, finely chopped
1 T cotija, crumbled or grated or sour cream

Heat the canola oil over medium heat in a small-medium saucepan. Add the onion and garlic and gently saute - about 2-3 minutes.  Add the beans and stir to combine. Cook for about 5-7 minutes.  Add cilantro, and salt and pepper to taste.

Transfer to a bowl and top with cotjia or a small dollop of light sour cream if you must.

Now, the curried lentils. I'm sure this hinges on a good curry powder. I use the sweet (mild) curry powder from the Spice House.  And I add a dash of chili flakes which don't add heat, just a bit of excitement. I use chili flakes like salt and pepper - just for the slightest kick - adding them to a saute pan along with garlic or onions.  As for the legume part, I've been buying the beautiful red lentils from the bulk bins at Whole Foods. This is a great description of the differences between lentil colors/varieties, pulled from the Mayo Clinic's nutrition pages:

Brown lentils. The least expensive, they soften when cooked and can become mushy. Use for soups.
Green lentils. Also called French lentils, these have a nuttier flavor and stay firm when cooked. Green lentils are the best choice for salads.
Red lentils. The fastest cooking, these lose their shape and turn golden when cooked. They taste milder and sweeter than green lentils. Use them for purees and Indian dals.
Anyhoo, the red are a great choice for lunch since they're ready in 15-20 minutes. Here's that recipe:

Masoor Dal, or Curried Lentils
Print recipe only here

Serves 1-2 for lunch

3 ounces red lentils (about 1/3 cup)
1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced
1/2 t salt
1-2 t canola oil
pinch of chili flakes
2 t sweet curry powder
1 1/2 cups water

In a small or medium saucepan, heat the oil. When hot, add the chili flakes. When the pepper darkens, add the curry powder and the onion. Saute for 1-2 minutes. Add water, lentils and salt to the pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, and cover. Cook for 10-15 minutes. Taste for seasoning, adding more curry or salt as necessary.

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Best of 2011

We are squarely into the new year. Most of the holiday decorations are hibernating again, save the advent garland that graces our mantle. I barely filled it this year but cannot bear to take it down. January is dreary enough, especially so once the poinsettias dry up and the cards are taken down and the supply of holiday cookies is long gone. January is a slow burn of calories and gently fragrant candles. And jazz, as playlists of Christmas carols have given way to Miles, Chet, Art and Cannonball.

There are a few things I'm looking forward to in 2012:

Getting back to some French basics. Thankless work, really, since white beans, duck, frisee and Armangnac-soaked prunes are met with disdain by certain rubes who frequent the Pinch kitchen. Not among them? Bring over some Bordeaux and pull up a chair!

More canning. I've blown thru the six big jars of tomatoes Catherine and I put up this fall. We plan to get a really big box of super ripe Romas and double or triple our efforts this summer. In the meanwhile, I've switched allegiance from Muir Glen Whole Peeled Tomatoes to Muir Glen Whole Peeled Plum Tomatoes. The latter are richer in color and flavor and are a little more dense.

Making fresh pasta. I haven't done it in awhile. I'm planning to make some fabulous fettucini soon. Maybe a carbonara sauce or something mushroomy. Of course the children will beg for the curiosity they call Water Sauce, which is not so much water as it is the World's Best Marinara. Grab some of those MG Plum tomatoes and a food mill and make this sauce, ASAP. It's impossible not to love it. No food mill? Mash the tomatoes with a muddler or pulse them them in a Cuisinart. Just don't put them in a blender. Blenders pulverize delicate tomatoes.

A few culinary highlights of 2011:

Keeping slices of pancetta on hand in the freezer. I bought about 10 slices around Thanksgiving, which was about 6 slices more than I needed. I froze them, separating them with a piece of parchment paper, and have been peeling them off, one at a time, for a little burst of flavor for veggies and soups. I've got my freezer set to a very low temp, but the pancetta is very managable right out of the freezer.

 A new recipe for gingerbread men and houses. At long last, a recipe for a house you'd consider eating! Do beware: this recipe will make enough dough for one small house. Double it if you want to make lots of men or a bigger house.

Making marshmallows with the kids. I couldn't find my old recipe so we followed David's instead. Click here to follow it yourself. I recommend using an 8 or 9-inch square baking pan to form them, as the marshmallows made on the sheet pan are more flat than I like them. I'm also going to go ahead and track down some French sheet gelatin. That powdered stuff smells like the stink on a monkey.

Pinched Chicken Vesuvio and CiabattaEvery once in awhile a new recipe comes into the fold and is an instant hit. These two will be in my repertoire forever.

Here's to healthy cooking and eating in the New Year.

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