Superspark

a year in food and life

Kalyn’s spicy red lentil and chickpea stew October 30, 2009

Filed under: food,grains,soups — superspark @ 9:26 am

kalyns red lentil and chickpea stew

Yikes! Is it already almost November?! It feels like I posted just yesterday and yet it’s been nearly a month. Time flies when you’re maniacally writing grants. But I can’t complain because for the most part, I’ve been able to leave work at work and enjoy my hours at home. Mostly that means chasing Maddie around the house, but on occasion she manages to entertain herself for long enough that I can whip up a quick dinner. Unfortunately, these days I seem to be plagued with (1) a tendency to pick seriously ho-hum recipes including a slew from my go-to, the New York Times; and (2) a tendency to forget to take a picture in the rare instance that I actually make something tasty enough to merit writing about. Bah humbug!

So I hope Kalyn can forgive me for this first, borrowing a photo from another blog. So lame, I know, but it seemed better to borrow than to let this recipe slip by due to my negligent photography. It’s the perfect autumn meal- warm, healthy, and hearty.  Even better, it’s pretty quick and easy to put together save from extracting the cardamom from the pods- may I strongly recommend buying it ground for this purpose? That’s right, cardamom. I usually think of it in desserts- like these two (yum!) But it can work in savory dishes as well, as it does here, combining with the cayenne, garam masala, and cumin to create a stew with an unusually deep flavor profile (have I been watching too much Top Chef?).    And though I’ve had my issues with lentils, there work terrifically here, melting down and thickening the broth into a hearty stew.  We served it over brown rice, allowing us to sanctimoniously snarf down a huge batch of homemade chocolate ice cream for dessert.  Consider that my personal serving tip for this and all other meals- always garnish with a bowl of chocolate ice cream for dessert.  After all, cardamom works great with desserts.

Spicy Red Lentil and Chickpea Stew (from reader Paula B. via Kalyn’s Kitchen)
(serves 6, we doubled it and froze some)

Ingredients:
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 T olive oil (or perhaps a little more, depending on your pan)
1-2 tsp. finely grated fresh ginger (original recipe said 1 tsp, but I used 2 tsp.)
1 T finely minced garlic
1 tsp. ground turmeric
3/4 cup celery, finely diced
1 tsp. Garam Masala
1 1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
1/2 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
1 tsp. ground cumin
6 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 cups red lentils
1 can (15 oz) chickpeas, rinsed until no more foam appears
1 can (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes (I used petite dice, do not drain tomatoes)
cooked brown rice for serving (optional)
sour cream or plain yogurt for serving (optional)

1. Heat olive oil in a heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid. Add onions, ginger, garlic, and turmeric and gently saute, stirring often, for about 7 minutes, or until onions are quite soft but not browned.

2. Add diced celery, garam masala, ground cardamom, cayenne pepper, and ground cumin and saute 3-4 minutes more, until celery barely starts to soften.

3. Add the stock, red lentils, canned tomatoes, and rinsed chickpeas and bring mixture to a gentle boil. When it starts to bubble, reduce heat to the barest simmer and cover pan with lid. Let mixture simmer, stirring a few times, until lentils are dissolved enough that mixture has thickened into a chunky stew. (Kalyn suggested 60 minutes which I roughly approximated, but a little longer or shorter shouldn’t hurt.)

4. Serve over brown rice (so virtuous!) with or without a dollop or sour cream or plain yogurt on top.

 

Pear parmesan cashew salad October 6, 2009

Filed under: salads,Uncategorized,veggies — superspark @ 8:50 am

One of the perks of pursuing a PhD is that the summers are just a step away from the carefree summers of youth.  Yes, technically we were all still pursuing our research, but the summers always had a very different vibe.   In an anthropology department, all of the professors scatter to their field sites (or sometimes, their summer homes), while the grad students tag along on legendarily debaucherous archaeological digs or other such “work”.  Those of us who were left behind (mostly the more lab-work oriented in the bunch) would come in to find deserted halls and lots of time and freedom to pursue our other interests, such as sunbathing alongside the Charles River with a Diet Coke big gulp in hand (ah, those were the days!)  There was even one grad student in our department (no, not me) who decided to take a summer job at the Gap to supplement her meager income rather than working on her research.

So as I started my post-graduate career, it came as something of a rude shock to find that not all of academia shuts down as soon as classes end in May.  Those of us on the more clinical side may not even notice that it’s summer aside from it being a little warmer as we walk to our cars.  I haven’t had sunbathed with a Big Gulp in quite a while and its been years since I got into a bathing suit.  (Which says as much about my preferred pastimes as my work schedule, I suppose.)  This year it was particularly bad; what with our move from Los Angeles to upstate NY, summer came and went with the blink of an eye, punctuated only by lots of rain and cries of, “Is it already time to mow the lawn AGAIN?”

We were in no mood to eat salad this past summer, not even my favorite salads of the fruit-nut-cheese variety.   Now fall is another story.  Fall is when the Northeast is at its best, with leaf peeping, apple picking, and lots and lots of pie.  As you pull out your slow-cooker and turn to soups and comfort food, may I remind you that salads can be decidedly autumnal, too? I’m thinking of this particular combination with crisp pears, salty parmesan, and crunchy cashews from Jamie Oliver, via Serious Eats. I won’t lie- it’s not going to make you forget about the luscious berries and stone fruits that you enjoyed just a few weeks ago, but it might just remind you that fall has its little joys, too.

Pear, Parmesan, and Cashew Salad (serves 4)
Adapted from The Naked Chef Takes Off by Jamie Oliver.

Ingredients:
2 Bosc pears, sliced thinly
5 ounces greens, a mixture of arugula and mesclun
Juice of one lemon
1/4 cup olive oil, or to coat
Shaved Parmesan or Piave cheese
Handful unsalted cashews, crushed roughly

1. In a large salad bowl, add the greens. Pour a gentle stream of olive oil 3-4 times around the bowl, just enough to coat the sides well. Do the same with the lemon juice. Add a good pinch of salt for each person.

2. Add the pear slices, then toss the greens gently until evenly coated with the oil and the acid. Taste and adjust the oil/acid/salt ratio. Top with the cashews and shaved cheese. Finish with fresh black pepper.

 

Pumpkin cupcakes September 30, 2009

Filed under: baked goods,Dessert,food — superspark @ 1:30 pm

birthday bib and cupcake

Admittedly, I’ve been a very bad blogger these days, but when you are faced with diversions like spending time with a one year old as she ponders her first cupcake, sitting in front of a computer seems decidedly less appealing.  How can I justify writing about last night’s dinner when my little munchkin wants to read “Baby Faces” or “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you See?” yet another time? Luckily there’s work and when I have a rare moment of down time I can try to catch up on all things Superspark.

So it’s taken me two months to write this post on pumpkin cupcakes.  Let’s put a positive spin on it and say that there’s no better time to make something pumpkin-tastic than October.  Had I posted it back in August, you might have thought it utterly untimely.  But August was Maddie’s first birthday and given that her nickname around the house is Pumpkin, there seemed no other choice but a pumpkin cupcake when it came time to introduce her to her first sweets.

So how were the cupcakes, which came from this recipe on the beloved blog, Smitten Kitchen? For firsthand evidence, I’ll refer the baby-lovers our there to this video of Maddie’s reaction. For the baby-haters who can’t stomach sitting through two minutes of utter cuteness, let’s just say, she hasn’t developed her Mama’s sweet tooth…yet. As for the rest of us, we thought the cupcakes were quite lovely and we were more than happy to eat Maddie’s share.

We particularly recommend the cream cheese frosting, which was super easy, super tasty (we omitted the maple because I’m kind of a maple hater) and definitely one to keep for future baking. The pumpkin cupcakes themselves were good, if not the most exciting cupcake I’d ever had. But as a whole- lovely in August, even better now that autumn is here.

Pumpkin Cupcakes With Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from David Leite

Makes 17 to 18 cupcakes

Ingredients:

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for greasing pans
1 cup firmly packed dark-brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk mixed with 1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups canned solid-pack pumpkin

Frosting
Two (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup pure maple syrup (optional)

Make the cupcakes:
1. Preheat the oven to 350° (175°C). Line a cupcake pan with 18 liners.

2. In a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugars on medium speed until fluffy, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, salt, and pepper into a medium bowl.

3. Add the eggs 1 at a time to the mixer, scraping down the sides after each addition. Alternate adding the flour and milk mixtures, beginning and ending with the flour. Beat in the pumpkin until smooth. Scoop the batter among the cupcake liners — you’re looking to get them 3/4 full. Rap the filled pans once on the counter to release any air bubbles. Bake the cakes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 20 to 25 minutes. Cool the cupcakes on racks completely.

Make the frosting:
In a stand mixer beat all the ingredients on medium until fluffy. To assemble the cake, frost the top of one cake, place the other cake on top. Frost the sides and top, swirling decoratively. Refrigerate the cake for 30 minutes to set up frosting.

 

Butternut squash soup with miso and ginger September 22, 2009

Filed under: food,soups,veggies — superspark @ 5:02 am

butternut squash and miso soup

Having finished bemoaning the local delicacies of our new town in upstate New York,  I am now proud to share some of its finer culinary features.  Our first “Yowza!” came when we visited our local supermarket, Wegman’s.  I had been to another Wegman’s once before and while it was nice, it was nothing to write home about.  But our local Wegman’s (appropriately dubbed the “yuppie Wegman’s” by one of my co-workers) is another beast entirely.  There’s a tea bar, about 10 different “stations” ready to make you whatever you’d like to eat, a whole Le Creuset wall, and a giant natural foods section.   But the real star for my is the produce department- I had never once found galangal in our Los Angeles supermarkets, but it’s here.  Same for all sorts of other exotic fruits and veggies and I, for one, am excited to try my hand at cooking them in the years to come.

The other tremendous culinary find in our town is the Public Market, a huge pseudo-farmer’s market unlike any I’d visited in California.  The California ones tend to be frequented by young, liberal affluent types (not unlike…ahem, myself), but this particular one in upstate New York draws everyone.   Rich and poor, young and old, every race- everyone swarms to the Public Market on Saturday morning, making it decidedly chaotic and just a little unpleasant.  Were we to go at 5:30 AM when it opens, it might be a little more peaceful, but for now, we’ve been braving the crowds. And why is it so crowded? Bargains, people.  I haven’t seen such low prices since trekking around Eastern Europe a few years ago.  Piles of eggplant, summer squash, peaches, and tomatoes being sold a rock bottom prices.  It’s pretty amazing and inevitably leads to a complete glut in our crisper.

This past weekend at the market, I spotted the first winter squash of the season and so it seemed only appropriate to pull out this recipe from last year that I never got around to blogging.  It’s a modern spin on the traditional butternut squash soup, something to make it a little more interesting.  My version is a slight tweak on this recipe from Apartment Therapy- The Kitchen for sweet potato soup with miso and ginger. So embrace the falling leaves and the cooling air and warm up with a cup of soup inspired by fall’s most beloved veggie, the butternut squash.

Butternut Squash Soup with Miso and Ginger (serves 4-6)

Ingredients:
Olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 2-inch chunk fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced – about 1/4 cup
1 butternut squash – peeled and cubed
3 tablespoons light miso (we used dark)
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth, or water
1 cup whole milk
Salt and pepper

1. Steam the butternut squash chunks (by putting them in a metal colander or strainer sitting over a pot of boiling water) for about 20 minutes or until soft. (You may be able to skip this step by cutting the chunks very small.)

2. Cook the onion and garlic in the olive oil until soft and translucent. Raise the heat a little and add the ginger. Fry until the ginger is fragrant. Add the squash and miso and continue frying a bit, then add the broth or water. Bring to a simmer then cover, turn the heat to low and let it cook for about 25 minutes. Take off the heat and puree in a blender or with an immersion blender.

3. Return to the heat and warm, whisking in the milk and salt and pepper to taste. If it’s too thick, whisk in a little extra milk until you get the consistency you want.

 

Roasted beets with warm pomegranate ginger vinaigrette September 3, 2009

Filed under: food,veggies — superspark @ 4:59 am
beet salad
I had to laugh when I read the ongoing series of posts about getting picky eaters to eat vegetables on Cheap Healthy Good earlier this summer.   Although I now love food enough to not only cook it, but spend my precious free time writing about it, I was an extremely picky kid and would still categorize myself on the picky end of the spectrum.Let’s just say the summer I first went to sleep-away camp at around age 10 was a momentous one, culinarily.  At this no-frills camp, meals were served family style and if you didn’t like what was offered, you didn’t eat.  There were literally no alternatives.  A picky kid can hold out for a meal or two, but envisioning a whole month of hunger will make even the pickiest eater fold.  Among my discoveries that summer?  That spaghetti was still edible even when sullied with sauce rather than served plain with just a pat of butter.  My parents thrilled to find out that I was now willing to eat an egg on occasion, although only scrambled.
Luckily I seem to have gotten over my most egregious aversions .  Well, not all of them-I still eat mostly vegetarian not so much out of ethical reasons but out of a distaste for meat.  But I am now happy to eat nearly any fruit, vegetable, or grain.  Almost any.  Beets have still proven to be my bugaboo, much to Dylan’s dismay.  An avowed beet lover, he made me some sort of beet and goat cheese appetizer as part of my birthday dinner the year we started dating and while it was palatable, it certainly wasn’t the thing that won my heart.  In the nearly five years since then, I’ve choked down beets maybe once or twice and only when out of politeness, I really felt I had no choice.
So something very strange must have been in the air earlier this summer when I picked up a bunch of beets at the farmer’s market, thinking that they might make good baby food for Maddie.  Turns out that supposedly only small beets are good for babies  (and let’s not even get into the staining issues!), so the beets were left for our consumption.  The old, super-picky me would have clearly tossed them or just let them rot in the crisper, but the new open-minded me noticed this recipe on Healthy and Gourmet and thought it actually sounded kind of interesting and appealing.
I’m happy to report that I’ve had a beet breakthrough. The recipe was delicious and choosing some fun, candy-striped beets to use made it all the more enjoyable.   While I haven’t touched a beet again in the 2 months or so since I made this dish, I would happily eat it again.  So I’ll call that progress…
Roasted beets with warm pomegranate ginger vinaigrette (serves 4)
2 cups peeled and cubed beets (about 5 whole beets)
4 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup pomegranate juice
4 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 inch fresh ginger, grated
1 tbsp honey
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Toss beets with two tablespoons and spread evenly along the bottom of a well greased baking dish. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until fork tender.
2. Meanwhile, whisk together pomegranate juice, vinegar, honey and grated ginger in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook for about three minutes until juice begins to bubble and thicken slightly. Remove from heat and slowly whisk in the remaining two tablespoons of olive oil. Pour over roasted beets and serve.
 

Cumin chicken with black beans August 5, 2009

Filed under: chicken,food — superspark @ 10:57 am

grilled cumin chicken

A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times featured a story on how Manhattan was named the slimmest county in New York. The news probably didn’t come as a surprise to many.  In my high school days in New York City, I was constantly running around town exploring and even now, when I’m in the city visiting my in-laws, I think nothing of walking several miles just to run an errand. There’s just so much to see that the blocks fly by. I won’t even start to get into the other half of it- pressure to be chic and slim, the fashion industry and the media…suffice to say that there are many reasons why Manhttanites take that crown.

No word on how my new home, Monroe County, NY fared in this statewide comparison, but let me present my own findings.

Exhibit A: Buffalo has its famous wings and Chicago is known for pizza. What is Rochester known for in the culinary world? Something called a garbage plate and a friend of ours who is a Rochester native stated singing the praises of this particular delicacy the moment he heard we were considering moving here. An ungodly combination of hamburger, macaroni salad, hash browns, and french fries, all mixed up beneath a meaty sauce, it is, as someone delicately put it, “not the sort of thing you want to eat before a long road trip.” But it well-loved enough to have earned its very own Wikipedia page.

Exhibit B: Rochester loves a street fair, as it turns out. Me, not so much, but Dylan is a fan and so we ventured down to the Corn Hill festival a couple of weeks ago. Among the food vendors was one offering the particularly intriguing “fried Oreo”. I know, you’re simultaneously repulsed and compelled. I’m not one to buy such things, but it just so happens that one fell into my hands (they’re sold in 6-packs, far to many for one person to eat alone) and it was pretty tasty.  I won’t be devastated if another fried Oreo never crosses my lips, but I wouldn’t turn one down if it showed up at my desk right now.

In my last post, written not too long after we rolled into town in our 26-foot Penske truck with all of our earthly belongings, we were still in shock from the reality of mortgages, school taxes, day care, utilities, and car payments and we had taken to budget eating at the extreme.  I was actually feeling quite svelte from this fear-of-being-destitute diet, but of course that’s when our paychecks for our new jobs started rolling in and things more or less went back to normal.  From this experience we will take with us a newfound love of dried beans- so cheap and so easy!- and a temporary aversion to that neon yellow boxed mac and cheese (no more!).

It was with great joy that I started cooking again in the last few weeks, slowly but surely, with particular attention to healthy recipes. So I wish that I had more exciting things to report about this cumin chicken with black beans from Yum Sugar (originally from Real Simple). It was, you know, okay (said with a distinct shoulder shrug). Decidedly underseasoned, it was improved by some liberal salt and peppering after the fact. But even so,the chicken seemed overcooked (possibly my fault, though I thought I followed the directions) and it was just kind of forgettable.  In a face-off with a single, solitary fried Oreo, a whole plate of cumin chicken with black beans wouldn’t stand a chance.

Cumin chicken with black beans (serves 4)

Ingredients:
2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
3 cups canned black beans, rinsed and drained (or use dried ones!)
1 1/2 cups frozen corn kernels, thawed
1 1/4 cups cherry tomato halves
2 scallions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar

1. Place chicken between 2 sheets of plastic wrap; pound with a mallet to 1/2-inch thickness. Combine cumin with cayenne pepper and rub over chicken.

2. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Sauté chicken for 4 minutes per side. Remove to a cutting board.

3. Return the skillet with pan drippings to medium heat. Add the onion and jalapeño and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add the beans, corn, tomatoes, and 3 tablespoons water and cook, stirring, 1 or 2 minutes, until ingredients are just heated through.

4. Remove from heat and toss with the scallions, cilantro, and vinegar. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Slice chicken and arrange on top of beans.

 

Baked quinoa with spinach and cheese July 8, 2009

Filed under: food,grains — superspark @ 10:20 am

baked-quinoa-with-spinach-and-cheese

I’m back! It has been two months, to the day, since Superspark went on hiatus during our big cross-country move from LA to upstate NY.   Two months so busy that I had to renounce my 5-day a week exercise addiction.  Two months so busy that I went through long spells with barely a moment to check my e-mail.  Needless to say, cooking (let alone writing about cooking) has not been at the forefront of my mind.

Culinarily speaking, it’s been a pretty dire couple of months.  Going from having no debt and a very low cost of living (thanks to the whole RA gig), to having a mortgage plus payments on two new cars is enough to make one think twice about splurging at the grocery store.  I hope this admission won’t cause any readers to permanently flee Superspark, but we not only partook of boxed mac and cheese several times in the last two months, but it was the generic brand.  Not even Kraft. Sad, I know.

Now that Dylan and I have started work and are again receiving paychecks, the situation is not quite as dire, nevertheless, we’re trying to pinch our pennies a bit more than we might have in the past.  And truth be told, we generally prefer to eat relatively cheap whole grains, fresh fruits and veggies anyway, with cheese being our main luxury food item.

The flagship store of the great upstate NY supermarket chain, Wegman’s, happens to be in our new hometown and so we were pretty excited to raid their bulk grains section, stocking up on favorites like quinoa and lentils.  So we were more than a little disappointed to find that most of the bulk goods were candies and that any grain that was a little out of the ordinary could only be found in boxes at higher prices in the chichi organic section.

So it makes me a little sad to look back on this recipe for baked quinoa with spinach and cheese, something I made before the move but never managed to post.  Yummy, gooey, and satisfying, the recipe, found here on on the New York Times website, is a slightly healthier, glorified comfort food.  You know, for those days when you want something with a little more nutrition and class than say, generic boxed mac and cheese.

Baked quinoa with spinach and cheese (serves 4-6)

Ingredients:
1 6-ounce bag baby spinach
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 plump garlic cloves
4 cups cooked quinoa, (1 cup uncooked)
2 large eggs
3 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated (3/4 cup)
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
1 ounce Parmesan, grated (1/4 cup)

1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Oil a 2-quart gratin or baking dish.

2. Heat a medium frying pan or a wide saucepan over medium-high heat. Wash the spinach and without spinning dry, add to the pan and wilt in the liquid left on the leaves after washing. You may have to do this in 2 batches. As soon as the spinach wilts, remove from the heat and rinse with cold water. Squeeze dry and chop. Set aside.

3. Wipe the pan dry and heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in it over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and stir with the onion until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the spinach and season with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat.

4. Beat the eggs in a large bowl and add 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir in the quinoa, the onion and spinach mixture, the Gruyère, and the sage. Add freshly ground pepper and stir the mixture together. Scrape into the gratin dish. Sprinkle the Parmesan over the top and drizzle on the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Place in the oven and bake until nicely browned on top, about 25 minutes. Remove from the heat, allow to sit for about 5 minutes, and serve.

 

 
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