Saturday, January 28, 2017

Juggling and vegan meatballs

There is a cat snuggled up to me under the covers. It is her favorite place to snooze in the morning, warm, cozy, and big mama is close, protecting her. She stretches, and has not a worry in the world. A wintertime ritual.

January is almost over, and it was mild this year. We were unprepared. Last year we were told it is an El Nino year, with that, a milder winter on the East coast was expected. This year it was supposed to be normal again, but winter seems even milder than last year. But, what’s really normal these days.

Nevertheless, the month has come and gone, and we are on the verge of February. There is another serious chance for deep snow, freezing temperature and plentiful skiing but the 10 day forecast gives nothing away of a potential winter encore. The semester has started and we are settling into a new rhythm of classes and homework, and juggling more balls. Life feels like swinging on a swing on the weekends, and then get back to juggling some tasks during the work week. Time advances and suddenly we’ll feel ourselves propelled into summer again. Just like that.

I am in love with this beautiful picture of the vegan lentil meatballs. It’s a picture I took myself years ago, and it inspired me to make this dish again. A true vegan classic.

vegan_meatballs

Vegan lentil ‘meat balls’ with marinara

Preparation of lentils:

  • 1/2 cup beluga/French lentils  (they are small and green/black)
  • 1/4 cup red lentils
  • 1/4 cup chickpeas
  • 1 1/2 quarts water
  • 1 fresh bay leaf
  • 2 garlic cloves

Wash and rinse the lentils and chickpeas, and place in a pot with the water, the bay leaf and garlic. Bring to a boll, and simmer for about 1 1/2 hours  on low (simmer only for 30 min if you soaked the lentils and chickpeas for 12h), or for 25 min in an Instant Pot. There is likely little water left, but if there is then drain it. It should make about 2 1/2 cups of cooked lentils.


Lentil walnut porcini meatballs:

  • 2 cups cooked beluga and red lentils and chickpeas
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/2  medium sweet onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, microplaned
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme (or dried)
  • 1 teaspoons salt
  • 2 TB tomato paste
  • 1 TB red pepper spread I used Trader Joes red pepper eggplant spread) – if you don’t have any, use a pinch of paprika and 1 teaspoon agave nectar
  • 1 oz dried shitake mushrooms, reconstituted in hot water, drained and chopped
  • 1 oz dried porcini mushroom, reconstituted in hot water, drained and chopped
  • 2 TB BBQ sauce
  • 4 TB ground flax seed, 1/4 cup of water (mix to make 2 flax eggs)
  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/4  cup bread crumbs
  • 3 TB finely chopped walnuts
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare a  large baking sheet with some olive oil so that the meatballs won’t stick. Set aside. 
  2. Prepare the flax eggs by combining the ground flax seeds with hot water, and set aside. The mix will gel.
  3. Add the olive oil to a frying pan and sauté the onions, chopped carrots, minced garlic, thyme and reconstituted mushrooms over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, for about 5-7 min.
  4. Add the tomato paste and red pepper paste and continue to cook for about 2 minutes, until all the ingredients are mixed well and the liquid is absorbed.
  5. Transfer the mixture to a food processor, and let cool in the food processor for about 5 min.
  6. Add about 75% of the cooked, and slightly cooled lentils/chickpeas to the vegetables in the food processor, and chop coarsely until all the ingredients are well combined. (It will be quite mushy, that makes the lentil balls even more sticky and hold together).
  7. Add the mixture to a large mixing bowl.
  8. Add the flax egg, regular bread crumbs, panko bread crumbs, chopped walnuts, BBQ sauce and the salt to the pureed mix as well as the non-pureed cooked lentil mix. Mix with a spatula until thoroughly incorporated.
  9. Let sit for about 10 min (for the bread crumbs to soak up the liquid and bind the meatballs).
  10. Use a small ice cream scoop and scoop out ping pong ball sized meatballs. Place the lentil balls in the prepared baking sheet, allowing 1/4 inch of space between the balls and in even rows vertically and horizontally to form a grid.
  11. Bake the meatballs at 400F for 30 minutes, or until the meatballs are firm and cooked through. Allow the meatballs to cool for 5 minutes in the baking dish before serving.

Serve with spaghetti and marinara sauce.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Instant Chicken Broth

It is January. The holidays have come and gone, and now all I need to do now is to wait for summer to arrive again. The days will get longer, the snow will disappear eventually and before I know I will ride my bike again and wear sandals. 

I am not sure if it’s a real trend, but in the last winters, maybe the last 5, there has been a noticeable trend towards warmer winters here in the coastal areas of Maine. It is as if the cold front band is pushed farther north from the jet stream, and we are now in some rain/sleet zone instead of a snow zone.  My friends up North still have plenty of snow this winter, but here it comes and goes: Snow, and rain, and snow again.

It has been rather frustrating because instead of crisp powder and blue skies to whisk through the forests on skis, I now see dripping gutters and soggy streets. But a new feeling starts to set in, a realization that January and February might just be normal life with normal temperatures and normal shoes, and the existential bracing for arctic survival mode is no longer necessary.

I must admit I have not been much in cooking mood lately. However, on Black Friday I snagged an Instant Pot for around $60 on Amazon (the regular price is around $100), and it has been a really good buy. It is a multifunction pot, but I bought it for the electric pressure cooker function. Now, I can make cooked beans or chickpeas from dry, unsoaked beans in about 30min. Or  deeply flavorful broth in 30min. Or cook spaghetti squash really fast

I read somewhere that chicken wings are the best starter for chicken broth, because of them being mostly bones and fat, which is essential for good stock flavor. 

The instant pot has a broil function, although it takes a while to heat up, it works rather well (and no need to clean up another pot). I sauteed the wings first, with some onions and olive oil.

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Once they were browned, I added carrots, celery and a bay leaf.

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I filled the instant pot to the max line with cold water, and set it to soup/stew, closed the lid and it is doing the rest of the magic on its own.

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I typically let the pot sit after it is done, and it keeps hot for a while and therefore, slowly simmering. There is a little vent that shows if there is still pressure in the pot or if it has dissipated and the lid can be opened.

Voila, chicken stock!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Last minute holiday gifts


It's been weeks since I've tried to avert my eyes from my email inbox with deals to make the holiday gift shopping fun, get the best gifts at a reasonable price. I already set 'straight to trash' filters to most of the retailers, because the 'unsubscribe' rarely seems to work. The emails each morning are like screaming kids, vying for attention, "look at me, look at me!".  Just a few retailers are left.... Lululemon, of course, and JCrew, UPS, to seen when the stuff actually arrives, and a few who still seem to make it around my email filters.

Yesterday I did some last minute in-store shopping and found this beautiful, just right-sized red tagine from Henry Emile. The price was as good as the best on the net, and that is with Sur la Table, around $99. So, I am sharing. In case, you are still looking for that last gift.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Christmas by the Sea

It was one of those long periods, with dark days, too short, too much work, with little motivation to go anywhere when with a late start almost guaranteed an arrival in the darkness. Instead I raked leaves and mowed the lawn one last time. The kale loves the season, more than it likes summer, it seems.

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But then, the active work period was over, the weather forecast promised a clear sunny sky, and it was the timing for Christmas by the Sea, an annual 3-day event in Camden, a wintery New England cozy Christmas extravaganza where Santa Claus arrives from the sea on a boat.

Stopping first in Belfast, where Chase’s Daily unfortunately was on fall break and my lunch fell through, I continued to empty harbor in Camden. The remaining windjammers are wrapped in white foil, and yet someone managed to attach a Christmas tree on the top mast. I can only imagine, some sailor climbing up there, not only carrying himself but a decorated tree with a long electric line, and then having to attach it. It was calm and quiet and dark, and the stores bright, white with tiny Christmas trinkets. It’s the time of the year to cozy up to each other.  No snow yet, but it cannot be long.

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Friday, November 25, 2016

All the things we do not need

It’s black Friday. My friends can be divided into 2 camps: the Black Friday averse and the Black Friday enthusiasts. I admit I love dipping in the pool of deal snatchers, fighting for parking lots, riding on the high of everything on sale, for a day. Which is not quite true, because often the deals are available the entire week. But if you don’t dip into the mass hypnosis it is just half the fun. It’s like celebrating Christmas  a week late.

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Yesterday, a friend of the said Black Friday doomers shared a link of what to do instead of giving in to the grave addiction of consumerism. Since the stores were still closed, and I had nothing better to do, I started watching one of the BBC movies on youtube, The Century of the Self. I was remotedly interested because  once in a while I look worriedly at my lululemon habit, when I push that buy button again and eagerly await the new shipment of some cherry black sweatpants (my new favorite!).

lululemon black cherry high times oneness tank

Watching that movie gave me pause. According to the BBC movie, there once was a little man, called Edward Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud, who single-handedly (as far as we can  believe the movie, but it is the BBC!) engineered convincing the American man and woman to transition from a working class, practical need-based shopper to the modern day consumer. “Make yourself happy, buy this sexy car, buy one for your wife!” That happened way back in the days of 1920. To keep the economy churning, people had to be convinced to buy on a regular basis and more than they need, even if the stuff they already owned for a task, was still perfectly fine. So, they dipped into the subconscious desires of people and suggested subliminally that they would be fulfilled if they associated with (buy!) this item, smoke this cigarette, drive this car, drink some coca cola. Hey, we all saw “Mad Men”, we know how this works.

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Now, I wonder which subliminal message Lululemon is sending me that I don’t even know, but they talk  to my subconscious directly and then I cannot stop buying more hoodies. I am defenseless!

Gotta go! It’s Black Friday!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

When kale and Brussels sprouts met

Finally, life is slowing down for me for a little while, at least this week. There is not much time left until the holiday break and teas, carols and boozy parties with lebkuchen will sparkle up this period. It is a cheerful time of the year, socially, and with bubbles and lights everywhere, which makes up for the short and dark days, with no snow to brighten up the landscape yet.

harvest_lunch

Around Thanksgiving, the farmers market winds down. There are squashes, and locally grown Brussels sprouts, radishes, beets, potatoes and kale, hardy kale that is still growing in my garden.

FM_2

Last time at the farmers market I found the two where mating, while I was not looking, the kale and the brussels sprouts, and now there are kalettes.

kalettes

A close up look:

kalettes_2

Cute, no? A bit confusing and surprising, but cute. But, what to make with kalettes?

To fight my increasing tendency to grow attached to the couch and fall into hibernation, I went for a long walk today. Fresh air helps to blow the cowebs out of my head. The streets were empty. Half of the houses had 8 cars in the drive way, and the other houses were dark with empty drive ways.  I made a new cat friend on my walk, a tiny black cat with a colorful ribbon as a collar. She first look alarmed when she saw me,  but then she scanned my secret cat friend badge and ran to me, head butting my hands that stroked her fur. The weather is still mild, with a slight bite of cold in the air.  Then, it was time to head home and eat with my beloveds, the turkey was ready.

Happy Thanksgiving!