Is it wrong to lust after an appliance? I think not…or at least I hope not because I am both in lust and in love with my new range. After years of dreaming and months of waiting, the Bertazzoni was delivered and hooked up this afternoon. The house remodel still seems in its adolescent stage but in order to feel like we were close to moving in, I had them finally bring the blue beast over the mountain pass. The two guys from JH Appliance spent a few hours messing with it and finally got him set up. We played with the burners and as I said, I am in love. Unfortunately, Jeff was a bit jealous and wrapped him up in plastic wrap like Laura Palmer in the opening episode of Twin Peaks. OK it wasn’t jealousy, but fear that saw dust from the saws and sanders that are going non-stop in an effort to get all the trim up and in would cause the stove to get jammed up. Alas, until the trim is finished Bert will have to live like the deceased Laura, in a shroud of plastic…

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So I realize that the kitchen pics did not post, but I don’t have the time to go through and find the backlog of photos….but I will post some, now that the drywall is almost finished in the next few weeks. In the meantime I have had the opportunity to cook TWO count them two whole meals in the last few weeks. It is a bit easier to cook when you get back into a house with pots and pans. No we are still not in our house, but we are back into a rental with kitchen equipment. The first meal cookied was scallops marinated in a bit of grapefruit juice, tamari, sugar and olive oil and then seared, served on top of sauteed bok choy and mashed potatos. It was beautifully plated, but I was so rusty that it missed the boat a bit.  The second meal, tonight, was hit the mark…ravioli revisited.

My brother is visiting and our garden is going off, so i decided to stop giving it all to the chickens and throw some into a meal. After bringing crab legs that were not so fresh back to the grocery store, I decided that I needed to introduce my bro to the beauty of won ton ravioli. If you missed that post you can find it here.  He has a 2 1/2 year old daughter, la mia pazza raggaza (my crazy girlfriend), who would have so much fun making these ravioli with him. So I went to the garden, cut up some arugula and swiss chard and dug up some shallots, hit the local wine shop, Alpine Wines which has a fabulous selection of cheese and got inspired.

My brother and I made three different ravioli. I caramelized the shallots and added them to won ton wrappers with

  • mushroom, prosciutto and parmigiana reggiano
  • chevre and arugula
  • swiss chard and manchego

Chris filled the ravioli, I quickly boiled them and when Jeff got back from working in his shop I sauteed them in a bit of butter…no sauce. They didn’t even need it.

The Swiss Chard and Manchego took the cake. So I say, go out there and get back to playing with your food.  Thanks Mike for being a great inspiration and thanks Chris for getting me off my booty to cook. I don’t realized how much I miss it until I get back to doing it.

Again a long absence…yes I realize that I have lost any loyal followers I had but there are valid reasons. First of all, I have been just a bit lacking in the kitchen department. My kitchen which once looked like this

now looks like this

Well actually, it looks more like this right now…and yes all three of these pictures are taken looking at the same place. The final one though was taken from inside the “bathroom.”

So Jeff and I have been house hopping which does not make for easy cooking. The other reason for my lack of writing has to do with the writing on the last picture…”Put the seat down Jeff” was one of the many lovely entries written inside our remodel from our wedding. (We used the house as our guestbook). Yes The Single Chef is officially married and therefore not really single, but then again I have been writing this blog for a year and a half and have been with Jeff the whole time, so was I really single then?

Fear not though. The Single Chef will return…it just may take another couple of months. We ordered my brand new Bertazzoni 6 burner gas range, which due to the country of Italy shutting down for the month of August, will be arriving at the end of September…and you can bet that as soon as I get my hands on that stove and unpack my kitchen I will be raring to go. In the meantime, try out some new ravioli fillings, heat up the grill and make yourself a decadent steak or treat yourself to a nice night out on the town. It’s summer…take some time off.

Whether we are aware of it or not, each one of us has a go-to meal. You know the one. It usually comes out midweek, after a long day of work, when your brain is just too fried to come up with an original idea for dinner. You either have the ingredients on hand at all times in your pantry, fridge and/or freezer or you are able to quickly zoom into the grocery store and mindlessly head for exactly the right aisle, avoiding all unnecessary grocery shopping.

For some folks, the go-to girl is a frozen pizza, box of mac and cheese or just heading out to dinner. While I do not deny the pleasures of DiGiorno, I think it is important that we all develop a repertoire of homemade go-to-girls. Processed, prepackaged and restaurant foods are expensive. As most of us are busy people, if we didn’t have a go-to girl, we would be spending a fortune feeding ourselves each week.

For my mother, one of her go-to-girls was breaded and pan sautéed chicken. She would pound out the boneless chicken breasts, dip them in flour, then egg, then bread crumbs and finally would sauté them in butter with a squeeze of lemon. So simple, yet it is one of my favorite menu memories from childhood.

So how does one create a repertoire of go-to-girls? Luckily you probably already have one. Think about what you cook most often. It will likely not be the most exciting food, but it will be comforting and usually quick. What are the meals that you could sleepwalk through? These are your go-to-girls. Write them down on a list and keep it in your wallet. That way, the next time you are stumped for what to make for dinner, you can just pull out that list for easy ideas.

Your go-to-girls list will change as your tastes change or as the seasons change. Last year I made a simple coconut milk curry at least twice a month. This year I haven’t had a taste for it, but instead started making soups with white beans and greens. One go-to-girl that has been consistent for many years is my pasta with veggies and sausage. It takes me about 30 minutes. I often have the ingredients, but if I don’t, the grocery shopping is quick and easy. Making this dish requires no mental strain whatsoever and when I sit down with it, I feel like I’m eating a big bowl of love.

Pasta with Sausage and Veggies

Italian sausage is one of the staples in my freezer. I love to buy the individual sausages, cut open the casing and add a little to soups, pasta or even put it on a frozen pizza. I like to buy the ones from the grocery store deli counter. They weigh about ¼ #  lb. each. If you can’t find them there, you can buy Johnsonville or any other brand in the meat section. Just make sure when freezing any extras, you leave a little space between them in the freezer bag prior to freezing. That way they won’t be stuck together. These are the amounts that I use when I cook. Feel free to add more or less based on your appetite.

1 Italian Sausage (about ¼ lb.), hot or mild

1 ½ tsp Olive oil

½ small Yellow Onion, chopped

1 clove Garlic, minced

3 large Mushrooms, sliced

1 Roma Tomato, seeded and diced (about ½ c)

½ c uncooked Tube Pasta, such as Penne or Rigatoni

Parmesan Cheese

Salt

  • Place a pot of water on the stove and bring to a boil. Add 1 1/2 Tsp salt for 2 quarts water.*
  • While water comes to a boil, heat sauté pan to medium heat. Add oil, onions and garlic. Sauté until onion begins to become translucent, ~ 5-10 minutes.
  • Cut casing off sausage and add sausage to pan. I like to flatten the sausage out, cook it on one side, flip it and then crumble it as the other side cooks.
  • While sausage cooks, add pasta to boiling water and cook until al dente. Drain and set aside.
  • When sausage is nearly cooked add the mushrooms and cook for another 3 minutes.
  • Add tomatoes and sauté for 3-5 minutes longer.
  • Add pasta to veggies and sausage and toss. Place in a bowl and top with Parmesan Cheese.

*For a good laugh search “salted water for boiling” on epicurious.com and read the reviews.

pleasures of cooking for one

Sometimes working in a public place is a blessing. I get to run into folks who I haven’t seen in a long time. When I need a hook-up on a location to get married, five people with amazing properties walk through the door in one day. The belt buckle my mother gave me that has been broken for years gets fixed by a metal-working customer. I love the people I encounter at Pendl’s.

Sometimes though, working in a public place can be a curse…especially when the editors of the newspaper work next door. In the past week, both Hope and Jeannette waltzed into the bakery to get a java fix and hounded me, “When’s the next Single Chef?” To be honest, I had lost track of weeks. I was in fact due for a new article. The problem, I am doing my annual spring cleanse. Jeannette suggested I write about cleansing. I assured her that no one wanted to hear about my diet of rice, vegetables and fruit. Instead I had the genius idea to write a book review.

When I first started writing articles for the Valley Citizen newspaper, it was because I wanted to write a cookbook on how to cook for one. The books I had seen out there seemed outdated. None of them were “sexy.” And let me tell you, I love a good looking cookbook. Color photos… interesting sidebars…a good cookbook to me is like good literature. Then, one day as I checked my yahoo email account, an advertisement on the side of the screen caused me to curse. “Coming September 22, 2009, The Pleasures of Cooking for One, by Judith Jones.” (Knopf, $27.95) I had been beaten to the punch by one of the most powerful editors in the cookbook industry.

For those of you who saw the movie, Julie and Julia or were lucky enough to read Julia Child’s memoir My Life in France, the name Judith Jones will ring a bell. She was the woman who forced her editor at Knopf publishing house to pay attention to Mastering the Art of French Cooking, volume 1. In turn, we can say that she was the one who first brought Julia Child to American households. If you want to go even further, she helped bring gourmet food into average American kitchens.

When Judith Jones’ husband passed away, she thought that cooking was something that might be lost to her. She discovered that she was wrong and learned that cooking each day was a way of honoring herself. Jones and I share many of the same beliefs about solo cooking. You can be as creative as you like, and only have yourself to please. Splurging every now and again on a nice piece of meat of fish is possible because it sure is cheaper than going out to dinner. There is a pleasure in creating a fabulous dish and getting to enjoy it.

The Pleasures of Cooking for One is a gorgeous cookbook with 33 color and black and white photos and chapters on soup; eggs and cheese; vegetables and sauces; rice, pasta, grains and legumes; and breads, sweets and preserves. Jones’ recipes are simple to understand and many of them have small ingredient lists. She believes that a cook must be flexible in the kitchen and her recipes reflect this. With variations for seasonal cooking or personal preference, Jones demonstrates her philosophy that one must only please themselves in the kitchen.

One way in which Jones and I differ is her belief in the use of second and third helpings (i.e. leftovers). While I find that I have a tendency to go with my tastes each day, and thus end up at the grocery store daily, Jones enjoys planning out her week’s meals in advance. She will buy a pork tenderloin which becomes pork scaloppini first, then gets added to a stir fry and later into a hash. I, on the other hand, would go to the butcher and buy a boneless pork tenderloin chop so that I have enough for only one meal. These philosophies for planning and shopping are a personal preference. Neither is better than the other. Ok, Jones probably doesn’t have the nightly debate in her head of what in the world am I going to cook tonight, but what can I say? I have never been one for weekly planners. (God help me when I have a couple of kids).

Aside from our philosophical differences in shopping, Jones and I diverge in one more area…our audience. While I tend to lean towards recipes with a broad range of appeal and the possibility that a person is just learning to cook, Jones aims her recipes at folks who already enjoy preparing gourmet meals. The recipes also tend towards those with a certain palette. This book would have been perfect for my father and mother. They taught themselves to cook through Julia Child’s recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking and The Way To Cook. My mom made Beef Bourguignon at least once a winter and my father relished whipping up Béarnaise Sauce to drizzle over steamed asparagus. Jones includes the aforementioned recipes as well as those for kidney pie, calf’s liver and cassoulet, but I must point out she also includes recipes for skirt steak, grits and popovers.

For those of you out there who have been cooking for years and either have been forced to cook for one because of death, divorce or an empty nest, this book may be perfect for you. For the rest of us, hope is not lost. There are several fabulous simple recipes as well as a great section on stocking a pantry and essential equipment. And hey, if my parents learned to cook through Mastering the Art of French Cooking who’s to say you can’t learn to cook gourmet meals through The Pleasures of Cooking for One? So go ahead and flip through a copy of this book. If nothing else it will give you ideas of the many possibilities that are out there when cooking for one.

OK I am on a bit of a roll posting stuff. I guess when you get in the mood, you get in the mood. I was just checking out my friend Carrie’s blog Rhubarb Sky. She had a delicious fish salad recipe that used sprouted mung beans. I told her I would send her along my “veggie burger” recipe which is really more like a veggie cake (and by that I mean like a crab cake). I have one friend who even made this as a loaf.  I decided that I would just post it here because I have been passing this recipe along to lots of people in the last month.

This recipe is tweaked from a summer Ayurvedic cooking class that I took a few years ago with Cate Stillman and Tanya Alexander. It is fabulous served with baked sweet potato fries and the cilantro mint chutney. Jeff prefers his on a roll. I do not. This is the single chef sized potion with enough for a couple of leftover cakes for the next day.

1/2 cup cooked quinois *
1/4 c  sprouted mung beans**
1/2 small carrot shredded
1 clove garlic minced
1/2 celery stalk finely diced
1 tbs flour (use rice flour if you are gluten free)
3 Tbs nut butter (I prefer almond, but have used peanut and cashew)
1-2 Tbs minced herbs (basil, oregano, mint, cilantro…you choose)
4-6 tsp ghee (clarified butter….you can also use canola oil) divided

Saute carrot, celery, garlic and mung beans in ghee 2 tsp ghee or oil until soft. Add all ingredients to a bowl, mix and form into patties. Cook in 2-3 tsp ghee or oil.

top with cilantro/mint chutney
1/4 c shredded unsweetened coconut, leaves from 1/4 bunch of cilantro, equal amount of mint, 1/4″ piece of ginger 1 tsp tbs warm water and a little maple syrup or agave. blend in blender or food processor.

*Quinois

Rinse 1/4 c quinois a few times in a colander. Add to small pan with 1/2 c water. Bring to boil, turn down to simmer, cover and cook for 20 minutes.

** Sprouted Mung Beans

Mung beans are found in Chinese medicine and Ayurveda (ancient healing art of India) to have tremendous cleansing properties. Those of you who have ever seasonally cleansed have probably eaten a lot of these.  They have a very mild flavor and are great added to salads and soups. You can find them at most natural food markets. Some, like Whole Grocer in Jackson have them in the salad bar already sprouted. They are small and green. My ghetto way of sprouting (as I seem to have an issue with buying sprouting jars) is to let them soak over night (for this recipe you will need only a couple of tablespoons worth). Then drain them and let them sit in a bowl on the counter. Rinse and strain morning and night and soon you will have little spermy looking sprouts. Usually takes 3-5 days depending.

Jeff loves to quote the line from My Big Fat Greek Wedding where Mia Vardalos tries to explain to her family that her boyfriend is a vegetarian and her aunt says “That is ok. We make lamb.” Don’t know why he likes to quote this, but he does. In fact, until Friday night I had never cooked lamb. No particular reason. Guess it just never came into my radar.

Last week at work, one of my customers told me that lamp chops were on sale $7 off a pound. We were having friends over for dinner so I thought, why not? Well I can say that it was incredibly simple and delicious. I thought the chops were going to be the cute little rib chops that you get at restaurants, instead they were 2″ thick center cut lamb loin chops. The grocery store was selling them in packs of two. I suppose a single chef could ask the butcher to repackage just one, but it is also a small cut of meat (won’t take up much freezer space)…so you could buy the two pack and freeze the other. *

I looked into some recipes and this is one that is tweeked from epicurious.com. Cooking times for the lamb will vary. For rare to med-rare cook it about 2-3 minutes per inch a side under the broiler. I cooked mine 7 minutes first side, 5 on the second and they were perfectly med-rare. You could also make this recipe with a pork chop, steak or chicken breast. Cook accordingly. This was perfect served with mashed potatoes and sauteed greens.

Sauce

1/8 c balsamic vinegar

1/8 c red wine

1/2 tsp fresh rosemary, minced or 1/4 tsp dried

3 peppercorns

Lamb

1 lamb chop (whatever kind you can find)

1 small clove garlic, minced

1/2 tsp fresh rosemary, minced or 1/4 tsp dried

salt and pepper to taste

Oil for broiler pan

  • Preheat the broiler.
  • Place vinegar, wine, rosemary and peppercorns in the smallest pan that you have and simmer until reduced by half (you will have about 2 Tbls of sauce). This will take about 8-12 minutes.
  • While sauce reduces, lightly oil the broiler pan and place the lamb chop on it. Sprinkle salt, pepper, 1/2 the garlic and 1/2 the rosemary on one side of the chop. Place under broiler and cook according to size of chop. When you are ready to flip, pull the chop out of the oven, flip it and sprinkle salt, pepper, and remaining garlic and rosemary on other side. Finish broiling.
  • Let lamb rest for 10 minutes. Plate lamb and pour sauce through a strainer over the lamb.

*For those of you who haven’t figured it out, I am usually the anti-freezing Single Chef. Although it is convenient to buy the big packs of things and freeze the ones you don’t use, and yes it is easy enough to cook a full 4-6 serving recipe and freeze the leftovers for later…let’s be honest. How many of you go into the depths of your freezer only to find leftover meat or soup from over a year ago? The more you freeze the worst the problem gets because then you can’t see what is in there. Alas, I think it is always best to buy smaller portions even though it may cost a bit more. You save money in the long run with less wasted food.  Save the freezer for small portions of tomato paste, chicken stock, coconut milk, ice cream and that life saver frozen pizza.

As many of you have noticed, The Single Chef has been slacking on her food writing this winter. My excuse last month was that I was out of town. My reason now is that by the end of the day, I have lost much of my creative motivation. I suppose cooking can be considered a labor of love with an ebb and a flow. There are times when I have been extremely passionate about food, voraciously reading cookbooks and magazines, seeking out several new recipes to try out in a week. There are also times, like now, when it takes every bit of energy I have left at the end of the day to crank out a box of macaroni and cheese. To get myself through this cooking rut I am telling myself that I should do what I can, when I can and have faith that the passion will return.

What I have found is that the “when I can” is in the morning when I still have motivation to get things done. Thus, the majority of the homemade meals we have been consuming this winter have been breakfasts.

This winter we have been eating a lot of eggs and potatoes. We jumped on the backyard chicken bandwagon this past year and have been blessed with somewhere between four and seven eggs a day. We also planted our first garden which provided us with an abundance of tubers. Cooking with two main ingredients as often as I do has caused me to be creative in my culinary endeavors. I make scrambles (I’m not an omelette fan), poached eggs, fried eggs…I make home fries and hash browns…but I must say that it was a stroke of genius that caused me to combine my eggs and potatoes for this month’s recipe. I work at a small bakery where we serve mini-quiches cooked in muffin tins. These little morsels are a huge hit and the perfect single chef meal. Problem is how many of us really want to crank out a pie crust first thing in the morning. And so I present you with Hash Brown Crusted Quiche.

Hash Brown Crusted Quiche

Quiche is a great way to use up random leftovers that are sitting around in your fridge. Sauté the veggies and/or meat while you cook the hash browns. By using hash browns we eliminate the use of wheat and YAHOO, all you gluten-free folks can go back to enjoying quiche! High starch potatoes like Russet make the best hash browns, but I use whatever we have in our root cellar. My friend Deneen even used a sweet potato. You can use any assortment of bake ware to crank out your quiche. I utilize a mini-muffin tin (recipe = 2 mini quiches), but you could just as easily use large muffin tins, Pyrex “custard” cups, silicone baking cups or mini tart pans. If you have a non-stick option, all the better. These quiche are fabulous served for breakfast with a side of fruit or for dinner with a side salad. Once cooked and cooled they freeze well, if you want to make extra for later.

Crust:

1 small potato , shredded (about ½ c packed)

¼ c thinly sliced onion, optional

2 tsp olive oil, plus extra for oiling the bake ware

Filling:

1 egg

2 tsp heavy whipping cream (or milk)

Salt and Pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons chosen from the following:

chopped cooked veggies such as broccoli, spinach, asparagus, bell pepper, onion

chopped fresh herbs

crumbled cooked bacon or sausage

diced ham

shredded or grated cheese such as Cheddar, Swiss, Monterey Jack, Gruyere

soft cheese such as mascarpone or goat cheese*

  • Preheat oven to 375º
  • Heat a nonstick pan over medium heat, add oil, potato and onion. Stir occasionally. Cook about 10 minutes or until potatoes are tender and beginning to brown.
  • Brush inside of muffin tins or other bake ware with olive oil. When potatoes are done, press hash browns into the bottom and side edges of the bake ware.
  • Beat together egg and whipping cream, stir in vegetables, meat and cheese.
  • Season with salt and pepper
  • Pour egg mixture into hash brown crusts and bake for 20 minutes.

*If using soft cheeses, like goat cheese, your quiche may need to cook a little longer. Check it at 20 minutes and if the quiche is still soft pop it back in for 5 more minutes.

Sample Quiches:

  • Cheddar cheese and cooked diced ham
  • Quiche Lorraine: Bacon, Swiss and sautéed onion
  • Sautéed mushroom, bell pepper, onion and cheddar
  • Basil and goat cheese

I have been working on my latest article for The Valley Citizen and thought I would write a bit about breakfast. Breakfast being the most important meal of the day and all and it is quite easy for a single chef.

Working on the article brought back memories of making breakfast for myself when I lived in the Driggs’ Idaho train depot. The building is supposedly haunted, though I never had any experiences other than a possible ghost cat. I loved that building. I liked to call it my city loft because it had lost of sunlight, high ceilings and definite character. It was in that apartment that I taught myself not only how to cook for one, but how to cook in general.

Most of my early meals consisted of some pre-made ingredients and not very many herbs or spices as I had no idea what I was supposed to do with them. I often used recipes and stuck to them like glue for fear or screwing up royally.  One of the few recipes that I did create and ate quite often on Saturday mornings while drinking coffee and listening to “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” was my Ghetto Huevos. I have had tremendous Juevos Rancheros at a few restaurants in my life, but never had much of a desire to make them for myself. First of all, ranchero sauce required cooking with spices and chilis…which I have already explained, I did not know how to use.  I really liked the restaurants who made their rancheros con frijoles, but opening up an entire can of beans to cook up a single portion breakfast seemed like a waste…and so, I created “Ghetto Huevos.” It is not really Huevos Rancheros…in fact I think it fits more into a backpacking trip than a Mexican restaurant. I suppose I could have named it Basterdized Huevos Rancheros, but at the time “ghetto” was part of my regular slang. If something was a cheap version of the real thing, it got this moniker. Not sure the Jewish community would be thrilled with that, but most slang doesn’t have anything to do with the original meaning of the word. OK I digress…and so I bring you Ghetto Juevos. You get to choose how you like your eggs cooked. Sometimes I cooked them over medium, sometimes I scrambled them.

1-2 corn tortillas

1 tsp oil, divided or cooking spray

1/2-1  c dehydrated refried black beans (found in bulk section at natural food markets)

water:  1/3 c water for 1/2 c beans, 3/4 c water for 1 c beans

1-2 eggs

1/2 c shredded cheddar cheese

garnish: salsa, avocado slices, sour cream

  • Preheat broiler
  • Bring  water to a boil. Add refried beans, cover and simmer on low heat for 5 minutes, stir often.
  • Heat a pan on medium heat, add 1/2 tsp oil or cooking spray and fry the corn tortilla on both sides until crisp. Remove tortilla from pan, add remaining 1/2 tsp oil and cook eggs (scramble or fry)
  • Place tortilla/s on a baking sheet, spread refried beans on tortillas, place eggs on top and finish with shredded cheese.
  • Cook under broiler until cheese is melted.
  • Garnish with salsa, avocado and/or sour cream

Many folks  have been asking me if I was still writing my blog. No, you haven’t missed it. I have been out of town. Out of town and not cooking. While I am not going to get into the details, I will share this sad, but true fact with you. Over the course of about seven weeks I cooked a grand total of zero meals! Yes, I just said that over a month and a half I did not cook. How is that possible, you say? Well, I was visiting a lot of family and friends who felt the need to cook for us, take us out to eat and bring take out over to the house.

What, specifically did I eat, you ask? Now, I love pizza, but no one was meant to subsist on pizza several times a week. In our house we probably eat pizza once every two weeks or so. Often it is of the frozen variety with fresh ingredients (especially caramelized onions) added to make it fabulous. In Chicago, pizza comes with extra cheese and lots of sausage, which leads me to my next point. There is the unspoken rule that at least two meals a day in Chicago need to consist of meat. Don’t get me wrong. Jeff and I love animal protein, (remember the meat loaf tasting)? But I like to spread out my ingestion of beef and sausage to a few nights a week.  During our absence we ate sauce and balls (meatballs that is), sausage and peppers, steaks, braised short ribs and “Big Beef” (Two massive prime ribs for Flynn Fest Christmas). As for the restaurant and take out fare, we were no less decadent. There were scallops, lobster mac, sushi…more steaks, meat burritos, pork chops, fois gras and duck confit. I shouldn’t forget to mention the vats of wine and pots of coffee that we consumed.

Why am I sharing this with you? To rub it in? No, I am telling you about this because I was living the life of a professional food writer and I hated it. More importantly my body hated it and told me so. I do not need to share what happens to a healthy body when it subsists on the diet I have just explained. It isn’t pretty. So when I returned home I made a pact that I would put only simple, healthy, homemade ingredients into my body. For a week, I started my day with a bit of freshly made juice, I baked a loaf of bread every two days, I conjured up soups and stews nightly…and I foresaked my beloved morning latte and glass of wine with dinner. How did this make me feel? After one week of this “diet” my gall bladder decided not to go on strike, I dropped three pounds, the bags under my eyes that were big enough to take me around the world and back disappeared and I experienced some mental clarity that had escaped me for over a month.

Did I continue to “just say no” to rich, decadent foods? Heck no. After a week I asked Jeff to bring home a frozen pizza. The next night though, I went back to the pact of simple, real foods. While I am fairly certain that no one else in this valley has been to the extreme that I went to with food, the holidays are definitely a time for overindulgence. Make a pact with yourself this year. Try and cook simple food, made of real ingredients more nights than not. Your body, heart and mind will thank you.

Simple French Lentil Stew

This recipe is based off of one I got from my aunt in Seattle. French lentils are smaller than traditional brown or red lentils and don’t get quite as mushy. That being said, you can substitute any lentil, but may need to adjust cooking times. In the winter this stew is perfect served over brown rice with a hunk of homemade bread. In the summer, don’t add the carrots, tomatoes or greens, cool it in the fridge and serve tossed with baby spinach and a light vinaigrette. This makes enough for two servings, unless you are a Jeff-like eater (big appetite) in which it is enough for one big meal.

2 tsp olive oil

½ c diced yellow onion

1 medium clove garlic, minced

½ c diced carrot

2 canned tomatoes or ½ c diced tomato*

¾ c chicken or veggie broth**

¾ c water

1/3 c French lentils

1 small bay leaf

¼ tsp fresh thyme or 1/8 tsp dried

1-2 handfuls baby spinach, kale or Swiss chard

* Stew Version* Dash of red wine vinegar, sherry vinegar or 1 tsp lemon juice

*Salad Version* 1 Tbs olive oil, 1 tsp red wine or sherry vinegar, ¼ tsp Dijon mustard

  • Heat a small sauce pan over medium heat. Add olive oil, onion, and garlic. Sauté 5-8 minutes or until onion softens.
  • Add remaining ingredients, except greens. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook partially covered for 45 minutes or until lentils are cooked but still firm.
  • Stew Version: If using kale or chard, remove tough stems, roughly chop and add to stew 30 minutes into cooking. If using spinach, add 40 minutes into cooking. Serve over brown rice and toss with a dash of vinegar or the lemon juice.
  • Salad Version: Remove from heat and cool in refrigerator for a couple of hours. Mix olive oil, vinegar and mustard in a small jar. Toss lentils, spinach and vinaigrette in a bowl and serve.

* You can store unused diced or whole canned tomatoes in a jar in the fridge for a couple of days. If you don’t think you will use them, store them in the freezer in a small plastic storage container.

** Buy good quality broths. They do make a difference. You can freeze the leftover broth in ice cube trays and store in labeled Ziploc bags. 1 ice cube = appx 2 Tbs liquid. 2 Tbs = ¼ c. Repunzel makes a good veggie broth cube. The no salt is version is best. ½ cube = 1 c broth.

2 serving lentils

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