Saturday, January 5, 2008

The Teacher Learns to Cook

It's hard to focus when you have no focus, and hence, my problem with blogging becomes apparent. It's hard to think of something to write about when you could write about anything. I need more focus. It occurred to me the other day that I spend about 90% of my internet time reading about food. Mostly I read food blogs looking for new ideas and recipes to try, but I also read a lot about nutrition, food production, and organic/local food issues. On a typical day now, I check all my favorite food blogs immediately after checking my email in the morning, whereas before, it was always music or sports that sucked up my post-email time. Practically every day I spend some time cooking or baking. My focus is usually food. So why not write about that?

So my blog is reborn, "The Teacher Learns to Cook" is all about me and my relationship with food. I'm learning more with each meal...

If you've ever looked, there are thousands of food blogs already in existence. Like anything, some are great, some are not so great and then there's everything in between. These are my 3 favorites. To me, they represent all that is great about food blogging. They are all worth a visit.

Serious Eats
"Fresh, hot, delicious food content served up daily."

"When you own over 100 cookbooks, it is time to stop buying, and start cooking. This site chronicles a cookbook collection, one recipe at a time."

Smitten Kitchen
“If the site were a restaurant, I would want to eat there.”

I was always a major meat eater. When I was in high school and college, meat was practically a way of life for me. There was a time when people referred to me as "The Burger King." Why such love of meat? Well, because it's delicious of course. It isn't as if I wasn't a vegetable eater as well, but dinner when I was growing up (expertly put together by my mother every night) almost always revolved around a protein, usually beef, pork, chicken or fish, with their attendant fresh veggies and starchy sides. To this day I would be hard pressed to pick another meal over my mom's oven-fried chicken with cornbread and mashed potatoes.

Eventually I came to the realization that meat, as delicious as it is, just isn't good for you (or for the environment) when eaten in the quantities that I was consuming it. The problem for me was that I was so used to eating meat most nights, that dinners consisting entirely of veggies and grains never completely satisfied me (except for pasta of course, but that is a whole other issue altogether). I always felt like there was something missing. I would imagine this is a problem most meat lovers face when they decide to try an be a little more healthy. That's what I love the most about the lentil soup that I make on almost a weekly basis in the fall and winter. It's hearty, not even really a soup, more like a really thick stew of lentils. It fills you up, and if it doesn't, you can have another bowl and not feel guilty. It's healthy and cheap to make as well, which is nice since grocery prices keep going up. Although I still love a good burger, I'm starting to warm up to the idea of meatless dinner.

This recipe is adapted from the one that appears in The New Moosewood Cookbook.

This is a great make ahead of time recipe. Put it in the fridge, and eat it for dinner or lunch during the week. The recipe makes about 5 dinner size portions (roughly 2 cups each).

Cooking success begins with good mise en place, or "everything in place," before beginning the cooking. For this recipe:

Chop 1 onion, peel and dice 2 carrots, dice 2 celery stalks, mince or press 6 to 8 cloves of garlic, measure out 3 cups of dried lentils (pick through them to make sure there are no small stones or anything else), measure out 7 cups of water, in a small bowl combine 1 heaping teaspoon dried basil, 1/2 heaping tsp each of dried oregano and dried thyme, 2 tsp kosher salt, and about 1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper (about 20 twists on my pepper mill). In a heavy dutch oven or saucepan, warm 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat.

Add the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, and herbs/spices. Cook until the veggies soften a bit, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the lentils. If you happen to have a rind from a bit of Parmigiano Reggiano, you can throw that in here (I usually do). This is a great trick that I learned from Giada that can really give some soups a boost.

Add the water and stir to combine everything, then raise the heat and bring the soup to a boil. If you have an electric range like me, its a good idea to have another burner going on medium-low at this point so you can move the pot after it comes to a boil, since your going to need to drop the soup to a simmer to finish cooking. This is a good idea whenever you're cooking on an electric range and you know you're going to need to quickly reduce the heat.

Cover, lower the heat (or move to another burner if you're using an electric stove), and simmer for 50 minutes stirring every 10 minutes or so and you're done!

Like most soups, this one is better the next day (or the day after that...). Just refrigerate and bring it back up to temperature over low heat. This soup is good as is, but you could serve it with a few splashes of balsamic vinegar as well. If you don't love lentils at the forefront, you could also add some crushed or chopped tomato when you add the lentils to give a different flavor. If you gotta have meat, sausage is great in this dish. I'd either cook it separately, then cut it up and add it, or cut it out of the casing, saute it in the olive oil before you add the veggies and proceed with the recipe. Enjoy!

1 comment:

ob said...

I love the idea. Noelle and I are always looking to find new recipes so now I'll have them delivered to me!!!