Monday, December 28, 2009

Comforting Lentils

I indulged in one of my favorite hobbies for lunch: "researching" a mom & pop burger place. I've wanted to visit this place for a long time but somehow never did. Today, however, provided a perfect opportunity so I pulled up to the drive-through, scanned the variety of menu items and placed my rather large order.

How they've been in business since 1953 is a mystery, if you ask me. The service was rude and the fries were cold (gasp!). The hotdog was roasted to a crisp, the burger bun was satured with sauce to the point of falling to pieces and the patty was dry. And most of all.............the cheese on the burger was that ubiquitous orange square that is otherwise known as American cheese. How one dare associate this fraudulent piece of plastic with cheese or with America for that matter is anybody's guess, but I'll say it's darn cheeky!

Needless to say, after today's lunchtime pigout I was not hungry enough to prepare a large dinner. It was late, I had several things I wanted to accomplish before going to bed and the idea of a quick and comforting bowl of something was very appealing.

Enter lentils. I love lentils. They require no soaking so they're quick to cook, they're packed with all kinds of wonderful nutrients and most of all, they are such an honest, down-to-earth kind of food. I find lentils somehow very comforting. And that is just what I needed after today's disappointment!

Comforting Lentils with Chorizo

1 tablespoon of olive oil
1/2 onion, peeled and diced  
1 rib of celery, diced
1 carrot, medium-sized, diced
2 cloves of garlic, whole
1 tomato, diced
3 cups of water
1 cup of lentils, rinsed
1 bay  leaf
1 slice of salted pork* (about 1 inch thick)
3 oz of Mexican pork chorizo

In your favorite Dutch oven or pan, heat the olive oil and sauté the onion, celery, carrot and garlic for a good three to four minutes on medium heat. Add the tomato and stir into the vegetables until heated. Add the water, the lentils, the pork and the bay leaf. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Check water level to see if you need to add some more, you don't want it to be too dry but not too soupy either. Taste a lentil and see if they're cooked: they should be soft inside but still hold their shape. If they're ready to eat, find those two cloves of garlic and smash them, then stir them back into the pan. Remove the pork and the bay leaf. Stir in the chorizo, simmer for five more minutes so that the chorizo has time to dissolve and flavor the lentils. Taste and decide whether you need to adjust with salt: usually the pork and the chorizo provide enough salt and spicyness. Serves two.

*If you don't have salted pork, add a slice of smoked bacon. The smoky-ness will add extra flavor.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Stuffed Pork Loin

The day before Christmas was one of much culinary debate (in my head) about what to eat. Turkey again? Prime rib (the official turkey replacement on this holiday) or perhaps even just a festive pizza? I knew for a fact that I did not house a full-fledged turkey in my freezer and could swear that no prime rib was hiding among the many UFOs (Unidentified Frozen Objects), so something else had to take its place. And something did: a beautiful, almost forgotten and pushed to the back frozen pork loin. A porker, you may well say, at almost two pounds. That should do the trick!

Pork on Christmas day almost seems blasphemous, but heck. See if you can get a nice pork loin with some fat on the top: it'll make the roast more moist when you prepare it. Pork nowadays ranks lower in fat than chicken and is leaner than we've been used to so adjust your cooking times accordingly. Internal temperature for pork is, according to the USDA's safety chart, safe to eat at 160F. Go much higher than that and you risk a dry brick for dinner: at 350F in the oven and somewhere between 2 and 5 pounds, you can calculate up to 25 minutes per pound.

Stuffed Pork Loin

1 pork loin, 2 lbs.
1 package of Boursin*
2 cups of fresh spinach leaves, no stems
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of butter
Kitchen twine**

6 red potatoes, small
1 red onion, medium size
3 garlic cloves, unpeeled
2 bay leaves

Roll cut*** the pork loin, cover with plastic wrap and pound flat to about an inch of thickness. Spread the soft cheese over the inside of the pork, leaving about an inch of margin on all sides. Cover the cheese with the spinach leaves and roll up the pork, tucking in the ends. Tie the loin with kitchen twine. (Don't worry about how it looks since you'll cut the pork into slices before serving it. For now the most important thing is that the meat stays together and the cheese doesn't have a chance to seep out once it's melted.) Sprinkle salt, pepper and thyme on the cutting board and roll the stuffed pork loin in it so that it is evenly seasoned.

Brush the potatoes under streaming water, pat dry and cut in fours. Slice the red onion in six to 8 pieces.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Heat butter and olive oil in a cast iron skillet or Dutch oven and when hot, sear the pork loin on all four sides. Arrange the potato chunks around it, divide the onion on top and add the garlic in between. Place the bay leaves on top of the vegetables and place all this in the oven, middle rack.

Roast for 45 minutes or until the internal temperature reads 160F. Remove the pork from the pan and cover with aluminum foil on a cutting board for about ten minutes. Then cut the string, slice the pork and serve with the potatoes. Merry Christmas!

* Boursin is a soft creamy cheese with garlic and herbs. You may find something similar at your grocery store or if you want to make it yourself, blend four ounces of whipped butter with one package of cream cheese (softened), two minced cloves of garlic, a pinch of salt and pepper, large pinch of your three favorite herbs: thyme, oregano, marjoram, chives, parsley, dill....they can be either dried or fresh, whatever is available to you. Taste and adjust, then blend until smooth and refrigerate overnight, so that the flavors can blend. The leftovers are great on toasted bread or crackers, or whipped into eggs for a wonderful omelet.

** If you don't have kitchen twine, plain old cotton crochet thread or cotton string will work just fine. Avoid waxed twine, or sisal/hemp twine because they will leave fibers in your food. Dental floss is not recommended either! If you have nothing at all that can substitute the twine, hold the pork loin together with toothpicks but the pork loin will loose some of its juices. Compensate by placing a tablespoon of butter on top of the roast when it goes in the oven.

*** Roll cutting allows you to cut the pork loin so that you can "roll" it out into a flat sheet of meat, cover it with stuffing and then "roll" it back up into a stuffed pork loin. It takes a bit of practice, but check here to see how it can be done:

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

White Bean Chili

Beans are awfully good for you so I try to prepare them at least once or twice a week. Tonight, when I got home, it was too late to spend too much time in the kitchen. On those days my faithful food storage always comes to my rescue! In the next couple of days I'll talk some more about that, but for now I have a quick white bean chili recipe that was ready to eat in less than 30 minutes.

I ate the lemon garlic chicken's drumsticks, wings and part of the breast yesterday. This evening I cut the rest of the meat off the bones, diced it and set it aside for the chili, while the bones went into a pot with cold water with a peeled onion that was cut in half and two carrots and two ribs of celery, both cut in large chunks. A bayleaf, seven or eight black pepper corns and all this went on the backburner to simmer while we ate dinner and watched a movie. This will be my stock for tomorrow's chicken soup.

Beans and canned tomatoes tend to be fairly high in sodium so I refrained from adding any additional salt to the dish. Make sure you taste the chili before reaching for the salt shaker!

White Bean Chili

2 cups of cooked chicken, diced
1 can of chili ready tomatoes*
2 cans of white beans, rinsed
1 teaspoon of chili powder
1 teaspoon of ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon of dried oregano
2 cups of water

Optional: cilantro, shredded cheese, sour cream, can of green roasted chiles

*if your store does not sell chili-ready tomatoes, substitute for a can of diced tomatoes and 1/3 teaspoon of chili powder.

This is so easy that it's not even funny. If you blink you'll miss it. Empty one can of chili-ready tomatoes and two cans of rinsed white beans into a pan, stir, add the chili powder, cumin and oregano, stir again and taste. Hot enough? Then leave it at that. If not, you may want to add a small can of green roasted chiles or some fresh jalapeño, whatever tickles your fancy. Add one or two cups of water, depending on how thick or soupy you like your chili, stir in the chicken and warm up for about ten minutes over medium heat. Taste again and adjust. Serve hot with some cheese, sour cream and fresh cilantro if you wish, it's pretty good without it too :-)

Actually, it was so good that it was all gone before I could take a picture. Go figure.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Lemon Garlic Chicken

I'm starting a new job today. During the last four months I've been getting up before the crack of dawn so I could be at work at 7am, and now my work day doesn't start until 3:30pm. Needless to say, it'll be a change of pace and an adjustment to my daily planning. Warm dinner will now be lunch, dinner will have to be something quick and easy.

Last night, I pulled a frozen whole chicken from the freezer. It'll serve for lunch today, leave leftovers for tomorrow and a nice carcass for some chicken soup this weekend.

Lemony Garlic Chicken

1 lemon
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1/4 cup of olive oil
1 teaspoon of salt and pepper each
1 teaspoon of basil leaves, dried
1 bayleaf
1 whole chicken, giblets removed

Zest the lemon before slicing in half and extracting the juice. Set the two lemon halves aside. Mix the juice with the garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper and herbs. Stir in the zest. Pat the chicken dry with some paper towels and place the two squeezed lemon halves inside the cavity, together with the bayleaf. Put the chicken in a large ziploc bag, pour in the marinade and close the bag. Refrigerate overnight.

The next day, preheat the oven to 375F while your remove the chicken from the refrigerator. Truss the chicken and place it in a Dutch oven or on a baking sheet. Bake for 1 hour or until the inside temperature of the chicken measures 165F or higher. If the chicken browns too much before it is ready, tent it with aluminum foil.

When ready, remove the chicken from the oven, rest for 10 minutes and cut and serve as usual.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

And now for something completely different.....

It would be nice to say that and I wish some things were different. But the only thing that has changed is the name, the location and the time. I am three years further since the last post, and my freezer is still full.'s a different freezer, with different food and I learned to not stock up on any food that I wouldn't eat but's full.

Here we go again!