Thursday, November 27, 2014

Lentil Loaf

A friend of ours had us over for dinner one night and served us an amazing lentil loaf - it was cooked in a pie pan, and had a nice solid consistency. He claimed it was a British wartime recipe, a meatloaf substitute in a time of scarcity.

I kept bugging him for the recipe, but he never ended up giving it to me, and so I decided to just make my own version. It's pretty quick and easy and makes lots of leftovers.

2 cups red lentils
Water or chicken broth
Oil for cooking
1 medium onion, sliced thinly
8-10 mushrooms, cut into chunks
2 jumbo eggs

1 Tbsp dried marjoram
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme leaves
1 Tbsp salt (or to taste)

Tasty white cheese to garnish (feta or queso fresco)
(Weird but tasty: salsa)

Pre-heat oven to 375. Boil lentils in unsalted water or chicken broth while you prep the veggies - I use about 3 cups liquid, 1 cup chicken broth and 2 cups water, but sometimes have to top it off. You're trying for a thick consistency, like a daal, not like lentil soup.

Carmelize onions in a pan, preferably an oven-safe skillet using about 2 Tbsp oil. Once the onions are getting close to done, add the mushrooms, sprinkle with some salt and cook until both are nicely cooked.

Add the spices and eggs to the cooked lentils and whomp thoroughly. Since I use a cast iron pan to cook the onion and mushroom, I just pour the lentil mixture directly into the cast iron pan and place in the oven. Alternately, you could pour the veggies into the lentils and from there into a grease pie pan.

Bake about 15 minutes, or until the loaf is firm. Serve with cheese. It feels a bit 'dry', but Melanie solved that with a bit of salsa that we had around and it was remarkably delicious. Alternatively, you could make a gravy as you might with a meatloaf.

In the pan

On the plate

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Fluffy Mashed Potatoes

Some recipes are so elemental that I do not think of including them on this blog. However, our family keeps growing and we must spread the basic cooking knowledge that we Magidows take for granted to the newer members of our flock. Hence, a step-by-step recipe for fluffy mashed potatoes, which Dan has been called upon to supply for his family's Thanksgiving in my absence. There are many ways to make mashed potatoes, but this is my way.

This makes a LOT of mashed potatoes.

1 5-lb. bag of russet potatoes
1 stick of salted butter, cut into 1 Tbsp. pieces
~1/4 to 1/3 c. half & half
Lawry's seasoned salt
Ground white pepper (note to Dan: in the brass pepper grinder)
Ground nutmeg (optional)

  • Peel the potatoes. Keep the peeled potatoes in a bowl of water while you are working so that they don't turn brown.
  • Quarter the potatoes--they should be big chunks that can still fit into the potato ricer. 
  • Place into a large pot and fill with cold water until the potatoes are just submerged. Starting them in cold water allows them to cook thoroughly without falling apart at the edges or becoming watery before the centers are cooked.
  •  Do not add more water than needed, or you will unnecessarily increase cooking time.
  • Place the lid on the pot, but leave it ajar so that steam can escape.
  • Bring to a boil, and as soon as it boils, remove the lid and lower the heat so that it stays at a low boil (otherwise the pot will boil over).
  • It is hard to predict how long they will need to cook, but at 20 min, check them and see if they are tender. It will probably take 30 min or so for a large pot.
  • How to tell if they are done: 1) the edges of the potato chunks will start to become indistinct 2) when you pierce the potato with a knife, it encounters no resistance and the chunk will crack apart.
  • Note: if they completely fall apart, then you have overcooked them and the mashed potatoes will be watery and less delicious.
  • Drain the potatoes.
  • While they are still hot, squeeze them through the ricer with the insert with the smallest holes.
  • Rice them into the biggest bowl, because you will need the space to mix them later.
  • While you are working, add in the butter, cut into chunks, so that the butter is melted by the hot potatoes as you go.
  •  Do not question  the amount of butter--for a Thanksgiving dinner this will give you the most decadent result.
  • Gently mix the potatoes so that the butter is mixed in, but do not overmix or they will become gummy.
  • If the potatoes are too dry, add in small amounts of  half and half. You may only need a couple of tablespoons--don't overdo it! This amount is hard to predict because potatoes vary in their moisture content, and the cooking method has an effect, and also the butter will add a lot of liquid.
  • Taste and decide if they need more salt (this will depend on how salty the butter is). If it needs more salt, add Lawry's seasoned salt. Also add a generous amount of ground white pepper.
  • The key is to mix as little as possible so you can keep the fluffy texture. Don't pack it down solid when you place it in your transit/storage vessel.
If you need to reheat, microwave for 2-3 minutes.

For gravy, I find that unless you can pull off a true pan gravy from the turkey drippings, you are better off with packet gravy. The liquid stuff in jars or cans doesn't seem to be as good as good ol' packet gravy.

Solyanka Russian Soup

This hearty soup can miraculously turn bits and bobs from your winter larder into a satisfying, savory meal. This is one of the few examples of cooking with pickles--don't turn your nose up! Their zingy flavor blends pleasingly into the soup and adds some delightful crunch. The soup is made with a variety of meats, especially cured ones such as ham, smoked turkey, bacon, mild salami...whatever you have on hand. You can also add uncured pork, beef, or chicken.

Garnished with capers and jalapenos. Also suggested are: olives, lemon slices, pickled mushrooms, smetana/sour cream.
Use 3 lb of a variety of smoked and fresh meats, such as:
  • Cubed pork shoulder
  • Bone-in stew beef cut, such as round or chuck
  • Slab bacon
  • Smoked turkey
  • Ham hock
  • Smoked sausage (Krakovska from Kramarczuks is good for this)
2 medium onions
3 large carrots
1 c. dill pickles, chopped
1 c. frozen green beans (optional)
4 roma tomatoes, or 1 can crushed tomatoes
1/2 c. pickled mushrooms, or fresh mushrooms cooked down to make 3/4 c.
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 Tbsp. paprika
1/4 c. fresh parsley, minced
+ parsley stems (for stock)
1 Tbsp. fresh or dried dill
3-5 Tbsp. pickle juice (from the jar)
2 bay leaves
5 allspice berries
3 whole cloves
Salt and pepper to taste
Oil for saute

Garnish ideas:
  • Capers
  • Olives (any kind you like)
  • Lemon slices
  • Hot pepper slices
  • Green onions
  • Smetana or crème fraîche or sour cream
Begin by making a ham broth.  Place the ham hock, bacon, and stew meat in a large pot of water, and add one onion cut into wedges, one carrot roughly chopped, and the parsley stems. Add the bay leaves, allspice, and cloves, and bring to a boil. Simmer for 1 hour or until everything is tender. Drain through a sieve. Cut the meat into bite-size pieces, including the ham from the ham hock.

Meanwhile, dice the remaining carrots and onions. Dice any pre-cooked meats such as the smoked turkey or smoked sausage. Saute the onions and carrots in a heavy soup pot in some oil until they begin to get tender. Add the chopped pickles and mushrooms, and cook 1-2 minutes,  Add the tomato paste and paprika and continue to cook while stirring so it coats the veggies. Add the tomatoes or tomato puree and simmer for 5 minutes.

 Add 4-5 quarts of ham broth, as well as the cooked, chopped meat to your cooked veggies. Add the green beans, dill, and parsley, and simmer 5-6 minutes until the green beans are tender. You can also add the olives and capers at this point, but if you have picky eaters, leave them as a garnish. Add the pickle juice and adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper. Serve with garnish and fresh, hearty bread.