Brown Plate Specials

My week so far has been hectic, both at home and at the office, and our last couple of dinners have reflected that. The weekend’s snowfall has led to bus snafus and train delays, making my long days even longer, and by the time I have gotten home at night, I’ve found myself in a mad rush to both get dinner on the table at a decent hour, and to finish cranking out edible holiday treats.

'shrooms

As most of our fresh food is earmarked for holiday meals, I’ve relied heavily on pantry staples for these last two dinners, and since we’ve been dialing back on meat in anticipation of the rich dishes we’ll be indulging in over the extended holiday weekend, I turned to mushrooms to lend a hearty bite.

Dinner:  December 21, 2009

On Monday, my latest incarnation of lentil soup got extra heft with a topping of roasted criminis, and brightness from a crumble of tangy fresh goat cheese.

Dinner:  December 22, 2009

The goat cheese came into play again last night, to both brighten and add a bit of creaminess to bowls of spaghetti tossed with one of my favorite old standbys, a rich mushroom ragu.

While these two meals made for a couple of very brown plates, they made for two very satisfying dinners, and this time of year, that’s good enough for me.

Lentils + Chard + Egg

lentils and chard

So you know that old worn out sweater that you just can’t seem to part with though it’s pilled and a little frayed at the edges, because it’s soft and warm and always makes you feel cozy? That’s what this dish is to me.

Dinner:  September 28, 2009

Lentils and shallot, glazed with olive oil, then cooked gently in a mix of water and dry red wine. A pile of chard cooked in my usual way, stems shaved thin and sauteed with garlic, chile flakes, the soft leaves wilted in and the whole thing hit with a shot of Sherry vinegar at the end. And the egg, fried in olive oil until the edges crisp, laid gently on top of the pile of chard and lentils, a sprinkle of Piment d’Espelette salt scattered over before serving. It’s a little brown, not the sort of thing you’d necessarily feed to company, but it’s the sort of simple, tasty supper I’ve come to really love.

Spark

Dinner:  December 2, 2008

I still feel like I’m trying to get back in the swing of things after the long holiday weekend. Those four blissful days off in a row could not have come at a better time, and for once, aside from our T-Day eats, meal planning was the last thing on my mind. Oh, we ate plenty of good things, but I just haven’t had it in me to fuss over photos or write anything up.

Maybe it’s the fact that the holiday season is in full swing, or that I’m holding my breath about the state the economy is in and am anxious for change to begin, or that I leave for work in the dark and return home in the dark and want nothing more when I get home than to spend quality time with Mike and the cats. At any rate, I’m in some sort of holding pattern, and I’m not terribly inclined to move out of it. I’m craving comfort and familiarity, ease and little fuss.

Though most of our worknight meals have been on the lackluster side of late, with pasta sauces from the freezer and simple stews and braises in heavy rotation, I was grateful for the little spark of inspiration last night that resulted in this dish. This was another situation where I had nothing planned, and tried to think of what I could do with the contents of fridge and pantry. There was the better part of a package of naan bread hanging out on the counter that I wanted to use up, so I thought of a curry of some sort.

We had beautiful golden cauliflower from Wishing Stone Farm in the fridge and a partial bag of red lentils in the cupboard, so I roasted the former and cooked down the latter with ghee and onion and garlic and curry powder, a half cup or so of roasted pumpkin left over from Mike’s Thanksgiving pie making, a dab of tomato paste and a few chopped canned tomatoes, then I added water to the mix and let the whole thing simmer away. I added about half of the roasted cauliflower to the soup after the lentils had broken down and reserved the rest to scatter on top of our bowls. The final touch was a handful of peas from the freezer, and a dollop of creme fraiche (we didn’t have yogurt on hand). I toasted up the naan in a bit more melted ghee in the cast iron skillet, and that was our meal, a warming, harmonious blend of textures and flavors, so welcome on a cold night.

Out of season

Dinner:  June 5, 2008

Where did our June weather go? After a stretch of mostly sunny, beautiful and warm days, we woke to grey, gloomy and COLD. How am I supposed to play with light, bright springtime flavors when all I want to do is curl up under blankets with a mug of tea to get the chill out of my bones? I really must protest.

My crankiness about the weather aside, soup is often the first thing I think of making on damp, rainy days, and I suppose I could have gone with an elegant, light puree of peas or asparagus, but I wanted something a little heartier. Not winter-strength hearty, but a soup with a little more heft.

I rummaged through the fridge and pantry and came up with a pound of chicken and red pepper sausage, roasted red pepper strips with garlic and herbs in olive oil, some of my homemade chicken stock, canned tomatoes and a box of Puy lentils. I removed the sausage from its casings and crumbled it into my soup pot with a little bit of olive oil to brown while I chopped up an onion and a couple of cloves of garlic. Those went into the pot next, along with the roasted peppers and a generous dollop of harissa paste for some heat. Once everything was nicely toasty, I added the tomatoes (half of a large can, plus juices), stock, and a cup of the lentils, lidded up the pan and let it cook away until the lentils were tender. I adjusted the seasoning and tossed in a couple of handfuls of another kitchen staple – some frozen chopped spinach.

While the soup cooked I sliced a couple of thick pieces of the sourdough loaf Mike baked yesterday and re-warmed them in the oven. (I’ll let him go into more depth about the bread if he wants to – but trust me when I say it’s pretty awesome to come home from work and walk directly into a kitchen filled with the smell of bread baking, and sharing the first slice still warm from the oven is pretty freaking amazing. I think we’ve eaten half of the loaf already. It’s delicious and I am, as ever, a lucky girl.)

This soup was a winner with its light and savory broth, the lentils and spinach providing a little earthiness, and the sausage lending a satisfying meatiness. The heat of the harissa was definitely present, but it was more of an overall warmth in each spoonful rather than a knock-you-over-the-head pepperiness. This was not the most seasonal dinner, but I can see us coming back to this in September and October, when autumn’s chill is in the air and we’ve got an abundance of late-season, home-roasted peppers.

something simple

Dinner:  May 6, 2008

Yesterday was so beautiful all I could think about was sitting outside, enjoying the fresh air and sunshine and marveling at how seemingly everything around us is in bloom. We had thawed a large Cornish game hen that made the trip from Brooklyn with us, and we had planned to roast it, but the weather all but demanded that we grill instead.

Mike rubbed the bird with a mixture of salt, pepper, lemon zest and olive oil and grilled it over hardwood. My contribution to the meal was a combination of barley, beluga lentils, asparagus and pea tendrils, dressed with a little good olive oil and a copious amount of fresh lemon juice – tasty, but it got a tiny bit overcooked, and I think I would have preferred the texture if I had cooked the components separately. The hen, however, was juicy and succulent, with crisp skin and a lovely light smokiness that whispered “summer’s coming.”

Side ways

Dinner:  February 27, 2008

I’ve served salmon with lentils probably dozens of times since Mike and I have been sharing meals, and while it’s a great combination, last night I decided to change it up a bit. Since we were away last weekend and weren’t able to do our usual food safari, I had to stock up on a few provisions earlier in the week. I went a little crazy at Greenwich Produce, bringing home fingerling potatoes, Meyer lemons, little stem cherry tomatoes (I know, I know, but they were so pretty and jewel-like I couldn’t resist), red and golden beets, and a gorgeous bunch of rainbow chard. Since chard and lentils play so well together in soup, I thought I’d combine them to go alongside our salmon fillets.

I started by separating the chard stems from the leaves, trimming the bottoms and slicing the stems thinly. I sautéed them in a bit of olive oil along with a couple of smashed garlic cloves and a pinch of kosher salt until they were tender, and then added a cup of Puy lentils. I poured two cups of water into the pot, added a generous amount of fresh thyme, covered it and let it simmer over low heat. While the lentils were cooking, I rolled up the chard leaves like little cigars, sliced them into about 1 inch ribbons and gave them a good rinse, letting them drain but leaving a little water clinging to their leaves. When the lentils were tender and had absorbed almost all of the liquid in the pot, I added the chard leaves, gently stirring them through until they were just wilted. I dribbled in a little sherry vinegar, gave it another stir, and spooned the mixture onto our plates, topping them with our salmon and a quick little pan sauce of sharp Dijon mustard, white wine, and lemon juice with a knob of cold butter whisked in at the end.

The salmon was great but I really loved the chard and lentil combo. It was quick and wholesome and would actually make a great meal on its own, topped with a little feta or goat cheese (or one of my favorite poached eggs). I liked it so well, in fact, that I’ve packed the leftovers for my lunch today. As Terry B can attest, sometimes the side dish really is the star of the show.

Following the Stars

Dinner:  October 17, 2007

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ve probably noticed that I rarely follow a recipe to the letter. That was definitely the case last night. See, about a week ago, Mike forwarded me a recipe called “Rockstar Lentil Soup.” He had obtained the recipe during the course of an email exchange with our friend Kelly Sue, and she raved about it. I’m a big fan of lentils in any form, and this soup sounded like just the thing for a cool autumn night, so I wrote it into our meal plan for this week.

As I reviewed the original recipe, I had a few changes in mind from the start – I usually like to start soups with a base of diced vegetables sautéed in whatever fat I’m using and begin adding the seasonings to build the flavors, so I would cook the onions and garlic first rather than adding them in later. I was standing over the pot stirring my spices into the onion-garlic mixture when my phone rang, and I have to be honest, while I chatted with my folks I kind of put the rest of the soup together on auto-pilot. In the end it tasted great, but the measurements I’m going to give below might be a bit imprecise. I have no idea how my version compares to the Rockstar version, but I’ll print both recipes here – try them both and decide for yourself!

Rockstar Lentil Soup
(Kelly Sue informs me that this soup gets its name because she got the recipe from her friend Maggie Estep, who got it from Blixa Bargeld)

1 1/2 cups lentils
8 cups vegetable stock
1 large potato
2 bunches (about 1 1/2 pounds) Swiss chard
1 medium-sized onion, finely chopped
4 T olive oil
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro (or 1/2 cup chopped parsley plus 3/4 tsp ground coriander)
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp ground cumin
3 T lemon juice

Rinse lentils; sort through and discard any foreign material. Drain well.

Combine lentils and stock in an 8-quart pan; cover and bring to simmering.

Peel potato and cut into 1/2-inch cubes; add to lentils. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

Slice chard leaves and stems crosswise in 1/2-inch wide strips. Add to soup, cover and continue simmering until lentils are tender (About 20 more minutes).

In a small frying pan, cook onion in oil, stirring occasionally until onion is soft and golden. Add to onion 1/3 cup of the fresh coriander (or the parsley-cumin mix) along with garlic and cook for 1 to 2 minutes.

Add onion mixture to soup during the last five minutes of cooking. Stir in salt to taste, pepper, cumin and lemon juice. Garnish soup with lemon slices and remaining chopped coriander or parsley-cumin mix.

Lentil and Swiss Chard Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 red onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
Kosher salt
2 tablespoons ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon chipotle powder
1/4 cup white vermouth
1 1/2 cups green lentils
6-8 cups stock (we didn’t have vegetable stock so I used the rest of our homemade chicken stock)
2 cups diced Yukon Gold potato
Sherry vinegar
1 bay leaf
1 bunch Swiss Chard, chopped into about 1 inch pieces
Juice of one lemon
Greek yogurt or crème fraiche for garnish

Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat. Add the onion, season with salt and cook until softened. Add the garlic, coriander, cumin and chipotle powder and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring well. Add the vermouth and stir, scraping up any bits stuck to the bottom of the pot. Add the lentils, stock, bay leaf and potato, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, stir in a couple of splashes of Sherry vinegar, cover again and cook until the lentils and potatoes are tender, about 35 minutes. Remove the bay leaf, add the chard and cook just until wilted. Off the heat, stir in the lemon juice and ladle into bowls, topping with a dollop of yogurt or crème fraiche.