Red lentil curry with leeks and tofu (slow cooker)

Red lentil curry with leeks and tofu

This recipe is so simple, and so tasty. And to top it all off, it’s quite healthy – full of lean protein and veggies and fiber (lentils are a total superfood). As healthy as this dish is, however, it does not skimp on flavor (and as an unexpected bonus, it’s vegan!).

Red lentil curry with leeks and tofu

This recipe originally comes from a Weight Watchers slow cooker cookbook, which I made a couple of times before making some significant modifications. The original recipe calls for shrimp as the add-in at the end of the slow cooking process, which was pretty good, but not my favorite (I prefer shrimp that’s been grilled or stir-fried – plus, 2 pounds of shrimp can be really expensive if you’re not buying on sale), so I used tofu instead. I also increased the amount of garlic (because 1 clove is never enough).

Red lentil curry with leeks and tofu

Lastly, I replaced the celery in the recipe with leeks. Because you know what? Celery is stupid. It’s flavorless, it smells more like sterile cleaning liquid than food and while some will argue that it provides “texture” to soup and stews and the like, I find it annoying and useless. So, I used leeks instead, because leeks provide robustness without significantly changing the main flavor.

Red lentil curry with leeks and tofu, in the slow cooker
Adapted from Weight Watchers

2 1/2 cups veggie broth
1 cup dried red lentils
1 large red onion, chopped
2-3 leeks, thinly sliced and chopped
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
4 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1 tablespoon peanut, grapeseed or canola oil (any neutral oil)
16 oz. firm/extra firm tofu (firmer the better)

Add the broth, lentils, onion, leeks, ginger, garlic, curry powder, cinnamon, salt, and cayenne pepper (first 10 ingredients) into your slow cooker. Stir together, cover, and cook on high for 2-3 hours (I let mine cook for the full 3 hours). I believe you can also cook the ingredients on low for 4-6 hours – the mixture is done when everything is soft and broken down.

When there’s about 45 minutes or so left on the timer, brown your tofu on the stove as preparation before adding to the slow cooker. Slice the tofu blocks into bite-sized pieces. Heat up some neutral oil (peanut, grapeseed, canola – just not olive, if you can help it) in a skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add the tofu and let it brown, stirring frequently after a couple of minutes so that all the pieces brown somewhat evenly (this took about 15 minutes for me, but cooking times may vary). Add the browned tofu to the slow cooker, stir, replace the lid, and continue cooking.

Serve in bowls and enjoy! The leftovers for this recipe keep quite well – in fact, they get a little spicier after sitting in the fridge, which is a nice bonus. I imagine you could also serve this dish over some grains (couscous or rice), but it works great on its own.

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An excellent way to prepare steel-cut oats – overnight!

Since late last year, I’ve made it a habit to eat breakfast before I leave for work in the morning (as opposed to eating once I get to work, after a 45-minute commute). When I do this, I’m much more alert by the time I arrive to the office, and I feel much better throughout the day. I love steel-cut oats, but they take too long to cook on an average morning, at least for me.

Solution: The Kitchn’s excellent tips for making steel-cut oats the night before.

Here’s what you do:

Ingredients:
A bit of butter or olive oil (around 1 teaspoon)
1 cup steel-cut oats
3 cups water
A few pinches of salt (2-3)

(This amount of oats and water will yield somewhere between 3-6 servings, depending on how much oatmeal you like to eat.)

In a saucepan (the Kitchn says 2-quart size, I’m not sure what size my pan was), briefly heat the butter or olive oil over medium heat, then add the oats and fry until they smell toasty (about 3 minutes).

Pour in the water, add salt and stir. Bring to a “rolling boil,” then turn off the heat, cover the pan, and leave it on the stove. Then go collapse into bed.

In the morning, uncover the oatmeal, heat on medium-low and stir a few times until you reach your desired temperature (or scoop out the amount you want and heat it in the microwave).

Transfer your leftovers to a seal-able container and put in the fridge – you can enjoy for the rest of the week, as steel-cut oats are just as awesome when stored as leftovers and re-heated.

I’ve been enjoying my oats by re-heating on the stove or microwave, then adding some strawberry jam, a handful of blackberries and a sprinkling of walnut pieces. Amazing.

Cooking on my day off: rye multigrain soft pretzels and lemon-strawberry yogurt cake

Rye multigrain soft pretzels

I had the day off from work yesterday, for Cesar Chavez day. In between cleaning out an old box of CDs (Amoeba gave me $90 for them! Unbelievable!) and other miscellaneous household stuff, I cooked a lot. I made rye soft pretzels with multigrain flour, as well as lemon-strawberry yogurt cake, and also chopped up and threw a bunch of stuff into my slow cooker to make shrimp and lentil curry. We enjoyed all three last evening while watching more episodes from season 3 of Veronica Mars.

Where was I? Oh yeah. Pretzels. The main theme here.

Rye multigrain soft pretzels

This recipe comes from Good to the Grain (again). I couldn’t resist, since I had a bag of rye flour just hangin’ out in the freezer, begging to be used.

I had already mixed the yeast and warm water and rye flour, however, when I realized I had barely 1 and 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour, and the recipe calls for 2 and 1/2 cups plus more for kneading the dough. Thinking quickly, I grabbed my multigrain flour mix from the fridge and filled in the flour gaps accordingly. The pretzels came out great, regardless, although I’m curious as to whether they would taste significantly different with more all-purpose flour. I also had to use the remains of my whole wheat flour for kneading the dough, which proved to be a little tricky.

Rye multigrain soft pretzels

Rye multigrain soft pretzels
Adapted from Good to the Grain

1 tablespoon butter, melted (for the bowl when the dough is rising)
1 package active dry yeast
1 tablespoon honey
1 cup rye flour
1 cup multigrain flour mix
1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 cup baking soda
Coarse sea salt (for sprinkling)

Pour the yeast into a large bowl, then add 1 1/2 cups of warm water (around 100 degrees, warm to the touch), then add the honey and stir together. Slowly add the flours and salt and stir again. The dough will be very sticky – add a little more all-purpose flour if the dough is too sticky to remove from the bowl (I didn’t do this and my dough was almost too unworkable to start kneading – I had to get creative with pouring more flour onto my work surface when my fingers were covered with dough).

Slowly pour the dough onto a floured work surface. Knead the dough for about 12 minutes, adding more flour  as needed, until the dough is tacky and soft. Lightly brush a large bowl with the melted butter. Add the dough to the bowl, cover and let rise until doubled. The original recipe says 1 and 1/5 hours – I let mine rise for at least 3 hours, while I ran errands and such.

When the dough has finished rising, preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Spray two baking sheets with cooking spray (preferable the butter kind), or rub with real butter if you feel so inclined.

Slowly dump the risen dough onto a lightly floured work surface, and cut into 12 equal pieces (as equal as you can get, but some discrepancy in size is fine). Take each piece of dough and gently roll into roughly 17-inch-long rolls, with thin tapered ends. Form the dough pieces into pretzel shapes and place on the baking sheets, then let them rise for 15 to 20 minutes.

While the pretzel pieces are rising, bring 10 cups of water to boil in a large pot. Once the water is boiling (should be around the time that the dough pieces have finished rising), slowly add the 1/2 cup of baking soda. Don’t do it too fast – my pot of water almost overflowed entirely when I just dumped in the soda all at once. Whoopsie.

Gently add the pretzel pieces, 3 or so at a time (don’t crowd them), into the pot of boiling water. Let them boil for 30 seconds on each side, then gently move them back to the baking sheets (lightly pat dry). Sprinkle the boiled pretzels with the coarse sea salt.

Bake the pretzels (with the baking racks positioned at the bottom and top thirds of the oven) for 15 to 18 minutes, switching the sheets halfway through. The pretzels will be dark in color, like in the photos. Transfer them to a plate or wire rack to cool, and enjoy sooner rather than later. I had another pretzel the day after making them, and could definitely taste the difference in freshness (not bad, just not nearly as good).

Rye multigrain soft pretzels

From there, I made cake, just for the heck of it. Since I had Meyer lemons and plain yogurt, and because in-season strawberries taste like amazing red nuggets of heaven right now, I decided to take smitten kitchen’s lemon yogurt anything cake, add strawberries and double the recipe in order to bake into bundt form.

The result was pretty good. Not great, however. It was a little oiler than I like my cakes, and I should have used more chopped strawberries (I added 2 cups, and probably should have added 3). The recipe was still worth trying out, however, and was very easy to execute.

Lemon-strawberry yogurt cake

Lemon-strawberry yogurt cake

Strawberry jam crumb cake, lightened up

Strawberry jam crumb cake
It’s not exactly pretty – but it’s quite tasty.

Over at theKitchenSinkRecipes, Kristin posts a recipe for strawberry jam crumb cake and talks all about a visit to the Bay Area, where she relaxed and whipped up a buttery, indulgent breakfast treat. I wanted to try out her concoction for a number of reasons: 1) I had all the ingredients on hand, including tasty strawberry jam, 2) I’ve been wanting to try out the springform pan I got for Christmas, and 3) baking is fun and I’m sort of addicted and will take any excuse to try a new recipe.

However – I’ve lost about 25 pounds in the past year and am still plugging away down the weight loss path, and my waistline can’t quite afford to freely enjoy my rich baking habits. Therefore, while I still bake and cook a lot, I watch what I actually eat very carefully, give away the extras and lighten up the recipes whenever possible.

With this strawberry jam cake, since it’s a very simple recipe, I saw the opportunity to swap out about half the butter with some unsweetened applesauce. I also cut the amount of crumb topping in half. It may not be as perfectly buttery and wonderful as the original rendition, but this lightened up version is still pretty darn good – moist, very sweet (almost too sweet – I might cut down the amount of sugar next time), and satisfying.

Strawberry Jam Crumb Cake
Adapted from TheKitchenSinkRecipes

Cake:
1 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup strawberry jam

Crumb topping:
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of salt
Rounded 1/2 cup flour

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. To make the cake, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In a separate (larger) bowl, whisk the butter, applesauce, milk, eggs and vanilla. Add the flour mixture to the wet mixture and whisk together until combined.

Spray a springform pan with cooking spray and pour in the batter. Dab spoonfuls of the strawberry jam on top of the batter, and gently swirl with a knife.

To make the crumb topping, whisk together the butter, applesauce, sugars, cinnamon and salt. Add the flour, gently stir to just bring the ingredients together, then use your fingers to fully blend. Sprinkle the mixture in clumps across the top of the cake.

Bake the cake for 25 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for at least 5 minutes. As mentioned before, this is a moist cake, and it might not be super sturdy (especially in the middle), so be a little careful when slicing and serving.

Baking with steel-cut oats, two ways

Strawberry steel-cut oatmeal muffins

Steel-cut oats are a revelation. They’re like super-duper power oatmeal. And apparently, they’re even more nutritious than rolled oats. They take a little longer to cook, but on the bright side, they make fantastic leftovers (as do regular rolled oats, in fact, when baked), so you can make a big batch and easily enjoy until it runs out.

Yesterday morning, I consulted my copy of Not Your Mother’s Casserole, and then mixed some steel-cut oats with milk and salt in a baking dish, let sit in the fridge all day while I was at work, then popped in the oven for about 35 minutes after I got home. I then let it sit on the counter for a few minutes to finish thickening up (it comes out a bit soupy at first), then served with some chopped-up veggie bacon and a poached egg. Healthy breakfast for dinner! And I now have basic cooked oats to enjoy for a few more days.

I was on a roll, so I decided to make a Bay Area Bites recipe that I’ve had bookmarked for awhile: Low-fat Steel-Cut Oat Muffins with Cherry Jam Inside. The results are not big, fluffy traditional muffins – they’re more like sweet mini oatmeal cakes. Perfect as a healthy snack between meals, with coffee or tea. I only had strawberry jam, however, so here’s what I ended up with:

Strawberry Steel-Cut Oatmeal Muffins
adapted from Bay Area Bites

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup oat flour
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup sugar (or brown sugar)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 tbsp cold butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 cup steel-cut oats, cooked
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk (or 1/2 cup milk mixed with 1 1/2 teaspoons white vinegar or lemon juice – let mixture stand for 10 minutes for using)
  • 1/2 cup strawberry jam (any fruit jam will work – I just happened to have Trader Joe’s reduced-sugar strawberry jam on hand)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together the first five ingredients in a medium bowl (flour through salt). Using a food processor or just your fingers, cut in the butter until the mixture becomes pebbly butter flour.

Pour the mixture from the food processor back into the first bowl, and gently mix in the cooked oats with a wooden spoon until incorporated.

Beat your egg in with your buttermilk/milk in a separate bowl, then add to the flour/oat mixture and stir it all together.

Spray a 12-cup muffin tin (or any muffin tin – just know that this recipe should yield 12 muffins) with cooking spray. Spoon batter evenly into each cup.

Make a teaspoon-sized hole in the top of each cup of muffin batter, and spoon 1 teaspoon of jam into each hole. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until you can insert a toothpick and it comes out clean.

Note: my muffins didn’t turn as brown as I expected, so they didn’t look done to me at first – I may have overcooked them by about 5 minutes. Be sure to check the muffins right at the 20 minute mark, or even before that, depending on the state of your oven (mine tends to take longer to bake things).

Whole wheat white chocolate chip toffee cookies

Whole wheat white chocolate toffee cookies

And thus continues my obsession with Good to the Grain. I’ve made Kim Boyce’s whole wheat chocolate chip cookies before (the first recipe listed in the book) and they’re now the only chocolate chip cookies I ever want to eat. Those interested in trying them out at home (please, please do) can find a close version of the recipe via A Sweet Spoonful.

This past weekend, between Noise Pop gigs and working on work stuff, I decided to bake – only I didn’t have any high-quality bittersweet chocolate lying around, as dictated by Kim. I did, however, have some white chocolate chunks and toffee bits left over from previous baking efforts, and decided to roll with it.

The result was really, really awesome. I’ll still call the original version of the recipe my favorite (because OMG), but these are pretty fantastic. The white chocolate is plenty sweet (nicely offsetting the kosher salt), and the toffee melted down into each cookie, making them moist and chewy.

Whole wheat white chocolate chip toffee cookies
Adapted from Good to the Grain

3 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 sticks cold unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract [note: I was out of vanilla extract, so I just mixed some additional brown sugar with some water and threw that in there instead]
1 cup white chocolate chips/chunks
1/3 cup toffee bits

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and kosher salt into a large bowl (I used my mesh strainer).

Cut the cold butter into small pieces (1/2 an inch or so) and add to the bowl of a mixer along with the sugars (I used my stand mixer with a paddle attachment). Beat the butter and sugars on low speed until just blended (2 minutes or so). Add the eggs and the vanilla one at a time, mixing until combined. Stop the mixer and briefly scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.

With the mixer running on low, gradually add the flour mixture until just about combined (should take less than a minute). Scrape down the bowl again, then add the white chocolate chips and toffee bits. Start the mixer again for a few seconds, until the chocolate and toffee are mixed in. Use your hands if need be to make sure all the flour and chocolate/toffee are incorporated with the dough.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and scoop the dough onto the sheet – the scoops should each be the size of about three tablespoons, spaced three inches or so apart.

Bake the cookies for 16 to 20 minutes. You can bake two sheets of cookies at once – just position the racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and rotate the cookie sheets halfway through the cooking time. When I made these, I ended with up two and a half baking sheets’ worth of cookies (15 total).

Multigrain buttermilk waffles

Multigrain buttermilk waffles

Two weeks ago, I went on an excursion to Rainbow Grocery, and came back home with five different whole grain flours that I’d procured from the extensive bulk bin section. Oat flour, graham flour, barley flour, teff flour, and rye flour, to be specific. If you’d told me 10 years ago that I’d one day become slightly obsessed with collecting different types of flour and storing them in my freezer . . . well, I’m not sure I’d even know where to start with a proper response.

This is, of course, all Kim Boyce‘s fault. Everything I’ve made from Good to the Grain thus far has been so fabulous (rhubarb tarts, corn and cheddar muffins, oatmeal pancakes) that all I can think about is trying out every single recipe and sharing with others. Lately, I’ve been dying to try one of Kim’s multigrain recipes – hence, purchasing oddball flours at my friendly (well, sometimes) neighborhood grocery co-op.

The “multigrain” section of Kim’s book evolves around a multigrain flour mixture – just whisk together the following at home, and you’re in business:

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup oat flour
1 cup barley flour
1/2 cup millet flour
1/2 cup rye flour

Heidi over at 101 Cookbooks has also experimented with her own multigrain flour mixture for a Multigrain Waffles recipe, with an emphasis on barley flour.

There are a bunch of drool-worthy recipes in the Multigrain section – beaten biscuits, popovers, baguettes, oatmeal cookies – but I decided to start with her waffles. Kim’s recipe is called “Five-Grain Cream Waffles,” using the multigrain mix, whole grain pastry flour, and heavy cream; I only had whole wheat pastry flour and buttermilk on hand, however, so I used those instead. Next time, I might use the 101 Cookbooks method of adding more barley flour in place of the whole wheat pastry flour.

Multigrain Buttermilk Waffles (makes 10-12 waffles)
adapted from Good to the Grain

1 cup multigrain flour mix (see above)
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or whole grain pastry flour)
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 eggs
2 cups buttermilk

Turn on your waffle maker. Sift together the flours, sugar, baking powder, and baking soda into a bowl. I don’t own a real sifter (don’t really want to spend the money on one, or take up more space in my kitchen), so I just use an old mesh strainer to do the basic sifting work.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs and buttermilk until fully blended. Pour the egg/buttermilk mixture into the dry mixture, and with a “gentle hand” (as Kim says), slowly fold together the two mixtures until combined.

If desired, melt together 1-2 tablespoons of butter in the microwave. Brush the waffle iron (I used a paper towel to dip, dab and spread) with the butter (or use nonstick cooking spray). Our waffle maker produces two waffles at a time, so I poured about 1/4 cup of batter into each waffle square. Close the waffle maker and let cook for a few minutes, until steam stops coming out the sides and the waffles are golden brown.

We enjoyed ours with maple syrup and nectarine jam, but I imagine that any topping would be great (fruit, peanut butter, etc.).

Whole Wheat English Muffins

Whole Wheat English Muffins

I love English muffins. I eat them quite often. Usually toasted, with a poached egg on top. Or maybe some strawberry jam. They freeze and defrost easily. I have my favorite kind at Trader Joe’s. These are all good things.

I subscribe to FoodPress, a WordPress subsidiary that features various recipes and photos as posted on WordPress (since there happen to be a lot of food-related blogs hosted on WP). A recipe for Homemade English Muffins made with (mostly) whole wheat flour popped up in my Reader one day, and I just had to try it.

The end result was really, really good. Great, in fact. I ended up with 19 muffins (as opposed to 10-12, as noted in the above recipe) – I’m guessing my English muffin rounds were a bit smaller than Channeling Contessa’s, or my dough rose more/differently, or whatever. Either way, I can’t argue with extra English muffins.

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The final puzzle party . . . and the food that helped solve it

Unfinished puzzle

Jeffrey bought a puzzle last year. Actually, it’s not a puzzle. It is a giant beautiful beast of confusion and headache parading around in the form of a puzzle. It is Baffler #1000, also known as “The Test,” created by an artist known as Chris Yates.

We started throwing Puzzle Parties at my house after Jeffrey first bought the puzzle, since we knew it would be much more fun to have lots of people attacking the puzzle versus just one or two. (More like one – I wasn’t particularly helpful in the beginning after looking at the giant pile of 1200+ puzzle pieces with no easily discernible pattern staring back at me).

We held a total of five puzzle parties. The above photo is from Puzzle Party #4, where we almost (almost!) finished it. We threw the final Puzzle Party this past Saturday, where we finally finished “The Test” (and celebrated with champagne!) and enjoyed some tasty food along the way.

And so I present: the menu for Puzzle Party #5, THE FINAL!

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Roommate dinner night, January 2011 + Mom’s sangria

I live with three fabulous roommates on the edge of the Mission, near Potrero Hill. We decided that we don’t see enough of each other (we all have boyfriends and hobbies and other things that keep us out of the house), so it was time to schedule an all-hands-on-deck roomie dinner night. This month: Mexican themed.

Lisa made a bread-pudding-like dessert (I can’t remember the name, sadly), with mango and guava paste on top:

Roommate dinner night - Lisa's dessert

Kristen made empanadas, all from scratch, with a mushroom/seitan filling:

Roommate dinner night - Kristen's empanadas

Katherine made a veggie paella with quinoa instead of rice . . . of which I forgot to take a photo (sorry Katherine!).

And I made sangria, using my mother’s tried and true recipe.

Roommate dinner night - Mom's sangria

It was a great night, and everything was delicious. And bonus: everything was vegan! Next month: PIES. Yep.

Mom’s Sangria
(Serves 4-6 people)

2 bottles red wine (I used pinot noir after finding some on sale at Whole Foods)
1 cup fruit juice (orange, apple, grape, grapefruit, whatever you’d like – I used fresh grapefruit juice)
2/3 cup triple sec
2 oranges, cut into 8 pieces
1 lemon, cut into 8 pieces
1 lime, cut into 8 pieces
1-2 extra limes for garnish (optional)
Sugar (optional)

Pour all the liquids together into a big pitcher or pot. Add the sliced fruit. If you’re going to add sugar, add some now and stir it all together (I added a little less than 1/5 of a cup).

[Disclaimer: my mother never adds sugar to her sangria – I added some because I knew at least one of my roommates prefers a sweeter sangria. It’s great, either way.]

Refrigerate for as long as possible – around 8 hours is apparently ideal, although I only refrigerated last night’s batch for about 2-3 hours before serving.

If you’re using sugar, take a test sip (or two) to measure sweetness before serving. If it’s not sweet enough for your liking, add a little more sugar and stir around and test again.

If using, slice up the remaining limes and add to glasses.

Serve and enjoy!