Monday, November 30, 2009

Xagave and "Delicious Meets Nutritious" Cookbook Review

I have written about my love for agave nectar before and use it frequently in my cooking in order to reduce the amount of processed sugar in my diet. Although a 1001 opinions on the pros and cons of different sweeteners including agave exist, and I am not a nutritionist, I like the fact that that agave is a great way to sweeten foods with a natural sweetener, is relatively low on the glycemic index and is sweet enough that I can use much less agave than sugar (usually at least half and sometimes less) and get a great taste. Recently the kind folks at Xagave were nice enough to send me a free 25 oz bottle of their Xagave Agave Nectar as well as their "Delicious Meets Nutritious" Xagave cookbook to try out.

Xagave is a proprietary blend of agaves, blending the inulin, a prebiotic fiber extracted from blue agave with white. The company says this makes it the best tasting agave on the market, a better health profile and makes its cooking and baking properties superior to other brands. I did compare the Xagave with my current brand in a taste test and although I didn't notice much, if really any difference in the taste, the Xagave was lighter, clearer and poured more easily. Price-wise Xagave is very comparable with other agave syrups in the market.

The spiral bound "Delicious Meets Nutritious" cookbook was fun to read through with the history of agave, its health benefits and cooking qualities including a "sugar exchange table" with suggested replacement amounts of agave for different types of cooking and baking needs. The book includes over 130 recipes for Breakfast, Fruit Jams, Healthy Quick Breads, Appetizers, Small Plates & Side Dishes, Salads & Salad Dressings, Quick & Easy Gourmet Meals, sauces, Healthy Desserts, Kids Stuff, Beverages (Healthy Shakes and Smoothies), and Xagave After Dark, (cocktails). Many of the recipes have variations and most are accompanied by pictures. Since I am still learning to use agave as a sugar replacement in baking, it was interesting to see how they had done it throughout the different recipes. My only complaint about the book is the lack of nutritional information for each recipe which I understand has been added for the new edition of the book that they are selling now. As someone who is health and calorie conscious, having that information in invaluable. To "road test" the book, I ended up choosing a few different recipes to make; Baked Coconut Shrimp, Tangy Ketchup, Orange-Cranberry Sauce and Blueberry-Cranberry Granola Bar Muffins.

The Baked Coconut Shrimp were delicious and made me wonder why I don't bake shrimp more often. The combination of ground red pepper, unsweetened coconut and lime juice with the agave, give it that sweet-tangy-lightly spicy combination and the panko adds a nice crunch. I love the fact they are lighter and healthier than the deep-fried version but still taste like a treat. I will be making this one again.

To accompany the shrimp I tried the Tangy Ketchup which combines tomato paste with cumin, dry mustard, garlic and onion powder among other things. If you have ever read (and been scared by) the label on a bottle of commercial ketchup, it is a great alternative to be able to make your own without sugar or high fructose corn syrup. Although the ketchup was great as it was, I mixed part of mine with some curry powder to make a delicious curry ketchup that partnered beautifully with the shrimp. You can find the ketchup recipe here.

There were four recipes for cranberry sauces in the book, a Classic-Cranberry Sauce, Lemon Cranberry Sauce, Pomegranate Cranberry Sauce and an Orange Cranberry Sauce which is very similar to the one I make, (I include a bit on cinnamon in mine) so I tried it using the Xagave and it worked perfectly--sweet but still tangy. I used the leftover sauce in my Cranberry-Yogurt Cheese (featured here).

Oh my, the Blueberry-Cranberry Granola Muffins! Yum! I loved these decadent, fruit filled and very delicious muffins. You might expect something called a "granola bar muffin" and made with whole wheat flour to be dry, but the yogurt, agave and all the fruit keep this one moist. I loved the texture from the nuts and all of the oats in these. Perfect (with all the bulk, protein and fiber), for breakfast or an afternoon snack. You can get the recipe for these babies at the Xagave website here. I will be making these again and again.

In addition to these recipes, I used some of my remaining Xagave in my tea (hot and iced) and it worked well there too. I have several other recipes marked in the book that I still want to make. If you are looking to explore agave and using more of it in your cooking and diet, the Xagave website (here) is a great place to start. Both the Xagave and the cookbook are quality products and I enjoyed trying them out.

I'm curious--have you used agave in any of your cooking and baking and what did you think of it?

This is post #30 for November--so I have officially completed NaBloPoMo!! Yippee!!! It was doable since I had been posting 5-6 days a week already and it was more intimidating to think about what to post each day than to actually do it. I'll be sporting the "I Did It!" badge on my sidebar soon! Thanks to all of you who left comments to keep me going--they were much appreciated.

Happy Monday!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Turkey, Wild Rice & Cannellini Bean Soup for Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays

Well you didn't expect me not to do a leftover turkey soup right? I actually love leftovers much more than the actual Thanksgiving meal and no sooner was dinner over than I was cutting most of the meat off the turkey and tossing the carcass into the slow cooker (on low and slow) with some veggies and a couple of tablespoons of vinegar for a nice bone stock. The next morning I strained the lovely golden stock (about 4 quarts worth) into some large containers and put them in the fridge for 24 hours so the fat was easily skimmed right off and I ended up with a thick jelled stock ready to be made into soup.

My "after Turkey Day" soup varies each year--it might be Turkey Veg, or Cream of Turkey & Wild Rice, or Turkey Noodle. This year I felt the lure of a simple soup with veggies and a wild and brown rice mix I bought, and I wanted to up the fiber a bit with some beans so this Turkey, Wild Rice & Cannellini Bean Soup was born. Thick, hearty, nutritious and full of great flavor, it is perfect for the windy, rainy, cooler days we are having this weekend. They are saying possible thunder storms today, and although it doesn't look like it will happen, I wouldn't mind-an occasional stormy Sunday with a stack of magazines, a good movie and a hot bowl of turkey soup is good for the soul!

Turkey, Wild Rice & Cannellini Bean Soup
by Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Makes about 4 quarts of soup)

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, (preferably sweet), diced
2 carrots
2-3 stalks celery
3 cloves garlic
1 tsp dried sage
1 tsp dried marjoram
2 tsp dried parsley
2 bay leaves
the leaves from 3 sprigs of thyme
1 1/2 cups wild or brown rice (I used a mix of both)
3 1/2 quarts turkey or chicken stock
2 (15 oz) cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
2 cups turkey meat, cubed and/or shredded
1 cup frozen peas
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a large Dutch oven or heavy soup pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, carrots, celery and garlic and saute about 5 minutes. Add sage, marjoram, parsley and bay leaves and saute another few minutes. Add rice and stir to coat with oil and spices and pour in stock. Bring stock to a boil, turn down heat to medium-low and simmer partially covered for 30 minutes. Add cannellini beans and cook another 15 minutes, then add turkey meat and peas and simmer another 5-10 minutes until rice is completely cooked and everything warmed through. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Notes/Results: Exactly what I was craving, a thick and hearty soup with excellent "herby" flavor. I have trouble making a small amount of soup and this makes a lot--some will go in the freezer and some will end up mixed with some potatoes and leftover gravy into a turkey pot pie. The beans and brown/wild rice blend give the soup lots of fiber making a bowl of it it pretty much a meal on its own but wanting a little cranberry action, I made some cranberry yogurt cheese to spread on toasted baguette slices. The pink color doesn't really go with the soup but the flavor is perfect, it uses up any extra cranberry sauce (or is worth making some fresh for), and is perfect on a bagel or wrap.

Cranberry Yogurt Cheese
by Deb, Kahakai Kitchen

1 cup plain, non-fat Greek yogurt
1/2 cup cranberry sauce puree (see note below)

Place yogurt in a yogurt drainer or use a fine mess strainer lined with cheesecloth or paper towel placed over a bowl. Place in the fridge overnight so liquid will drain out and yogurt will become the texture of soft cream cheese. Mix cranberry puree with cream cheese--I use a hand mixer, until well-mixed and fluffy. Serve on sandwiches, bagels, or toasted baguette.

Note: Use any leftover cranberry sauce (fresh is better than canned) or make your own. (I use a cup of cranberries, the juice and zest of 1 large orange, and 1/4 cup agave syrup, cooked over medium-low heat about 15 minutes until cranberries pop). If cranberry sauce is too thick or two chunky, puree for a few seconds until smooth.

It's a bit quiet here in the Souper Sundays kitchen this week with the holiday and all but we do have a few friends who stopped by to share their recipes.

Heather from girlichef is here with her (everything but the) Kitchen Sink Soup, one of those serendipitous delicious creations that come about when you pull together the bounty from a good pantry and fridge clean out. This soup has tons of ingredients, ground beef, chopped, ham, vegetables, beans, tomatoes, pasta and then is topped with cheese, sour cream, parsley, cilantro and chives. A perfect filling, stick-to-your-ribs kind of soup.

Chaya from Sweet and Savory Says It All and Chaya's Comfy Cook Blog is here with two soups, one from each blog this week. Her first soup is a slow cooker Sweet Potato and Carrot Soup. Chaya says, "For a cold winter night, this is just the soup. It is warm and creamy and soothing. It's smoothness creates a feeling of comfort.There is a tinge or sweetness from the sweet potato and carrots that rounds off the flavor beautifully. There is a bit of spice in the taste from the black pepper. This is a delicious soup, has a subtle sweet taste, yet hearty. We planned on a small plate for each of us but we finished the pot. This is one of those recipes that should be made and made again."

Chaya also has a Vegetable Soup to share, based on a Beef Vegetable Soup recipe from Paula Deen. About this soup she says, "We are really cutting back on meat so I chose to make a vegetable soup without the meat. With lots of vegetables, the soup is chock full and the lack of meat is not causing a lack of flavor. My husband insisted, he tasted beef but this is a beef-less soup. I thought it could use more spice. Regardless, we both think this is a good soup, one easily adjusted to your specific taste."

Finally we have some hearty and gorgeous California Club Sandwiches from Natashya at Living in the Kitchen with Puppies. She says, "This week I baked up Peter Reinhart's Pain a l'Ancienne for the Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge. They won't win any beauty contests, the slabs of wet dough are just thrown onto the parchment and stretched into a baguette-like shape. They are a little like ciabatta, but even tastier. What they do make, the ones that survive the many taste testings, two got eaten wonderful sammies! Mmm, that is a little bit of heaven, right there!"

So what we lack in quantity this week, we make up for in quality! Thanks to Heather, Chaya and Natashya for joining in. If you have a soup, salad, sandwich or combination that you want to share, click on the logo on the side bar for all of the details.

Just one more day of blogging 30 posts in 30 days for NaBloPoMo! Which also means one for day until it is December--yikes!

Have a great week!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Tanzanian Banana and Coconut Milk: A Stress-Relieving "Simple Saturday Sipper"

Despite measures taken to remain calm and relaxed, such as not doing any shopping during Black Friday and hiding from all the crowds by hanging out and studying at home, I still woke up feeling tense and slightly worried and the feeling didn't go away all day. Whether it was the fact Christmas is fast approaching, or a few incomplete school assignments, or just stuff around the house that I wasn't getting done, I was stressed. 

I decided to pull out my "Drink to Your Health Book", all about "Delicious Juices, Teas, Soups, and Smoothies That Help You Look and Feel Great" to see if I could find something other than alcohol to take the edge off. The book notes that "Foods such as bananas, dates, figs, almonds, cashew nuts, coconut, avocado, mango and papaya all have a calming and strengthening effect on the nerves. Spices, including cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, coriander, and cloves, are great relievers of stress." There were several different recipes for drinks to relieve stress and anxiety, but the one that sounded the best was the Tanzanian Banana and Coconut Milk.

"Drink to Your Health" says, "Many recipes in Tanzania, including soups, stews, and desserts, are based on bananas and plantain and often combined with coconut. The mixture of the two sweet tastes in this recipe is wonderful. Both bananas and coconut are highly nutritious, rich in B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, iron and potassium. They are strengthening, even rejuvenating and with the grounding and calming effect are ideal foods for relieving stress."

Tanzanian Banana and Coconut Milk
"Drink to Your Health", Anne McIntyre
(Makes 1-2 Servings)

3 ripe bananas
1 cup coconut milk
a little ground cinnamon

Place the bananas and coconut milk in a blender and blend until smooth. Sprinkle cinnamon on the top when serving. (I mixed mine in)

Notes/Results: Really good--creamy and comforting. The simple pairing of the banana and coconut with a touch of cinnamon is perfect. I used half water / half coconut milk to make it lighter, and it was still thick and delicious. Did it relieve all stress? Maybe not, but it was very relaxing to sip on (especially in one of my favorite "fishy glasses"), and with a Blueberry-Cranberry Granola Bar Muffin (more on that next week), it made a great lunch. I would make this one again.

What is your favorite stress reliever?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Presto Pasta Nights #141 Round-Up

I hope everyone had a wonderful and blessed Thanksgiving yesterday. Did anyone give thanks for pasta?! ;-) How can we not? It is easy, versatile and the perfect comfort food. Of course with Presto Pasta Nights, founded by Ruth at Once Upon a Feast, we can give thanks for pasta every week and also get a bunch of new pasta recipes and ideas. This week I was lucky enough to be able to host PPN #141 and I'll be honest, I thought I was going to be a bit lonely with it being Thanksgiving week and all. I even went so far as to beg a few blogger friends to make pasta dishes and join me. Of course I needn't have worried--the power of pasta means that even during a holiday week, there is still time for a quick and easy pasta meal, and what I thought would be a short round-up turned into 19 delicious pasta creations!

We better get started--hopefully you have a tissue or napkin handy as there will be lots of drooling involved!

Ching from Little Corner of Mine turned a noodle find at her Asian grocery store into these savory Stir Fried Vietnamese Noodles. Ching says you can substitute any meat or seafood for the chicken she used along with veggies, eggs, sauces and spices in this hearty stir-fry. Maybe a fun way to use up some of that leftover turkey?!

"Sometimes our most surprising recipes originate from the question: what I can do with this (something) leftover in my fridge? Boiled or roasted fish leftovers can be easily re-thought in a new recipe," says the lovely Graziana from Erbe in Cucina. She turned her leftover tuna steak into this hearty Tuna Pasta with Coriander. I'm loving the beans and chili pepper in this dish!

Jeanne from Cook Sister and I share a love of comfort food that you can whip up quickly from items you have in your pantry. She has done that beautifully with this enticing Salmon Tagliatelle of canned salmon, tomatoes, wine, herbs and cream. Jeanne says "It's made with the kind of ingredients that I always have on hand, and it's both seriously delicious and perfectly comforting." Sounds pretty perfect to me!

Reeni of Cinnamon Spice & Everything Nice loves her spice and put a lot of it in her Fire Breathing Dragon Pasta. She says, "A generous dose of chipotles and red pepper went into my homemade tomato sauce for a delicious depth of rich, bold, and sassy flavor. To give it a bit of balance and add a silky creaminess I mixed in milk and sour cream. The result was exactly what I was looking for. The measure of success? The lip tingling and wisps of fire in my breath that temporarily turned me into a dragon." Us wimpy folk may need a glass of milk to cool down our mouths after this one. (But it would be so worth it!) ;-)

Having spent some time in Singapore, I understand why Daphne of More Than Words gets cravings for the incredible hawker food there so I am definitely going to try her luscious looking Chicken Hor Fun. With wide flat noodles, chicken and mushrooms, it looks like the perfect quick and easy way to bring a little touch of Singapore home!

My pal Joanne from Eats Well With Others has done it again, finding a recipe that combines her two great loves and favorite cravings squash and pasta--this Butternut Baked Ziti. Joanne says, "I mean, how can you go wrong with ricotta combined with mozzarella and a beautiful herbed bechamel (the first bechamel I have ever really successfully made with almond milk, might I add!)? That is then mixed into mashed butternut squash? And infused with caramelized onions? All of which is poured over pasta, covered with more mozzarella, and then baked until it is an ooey gooey dream?" Sounds like it is pretty right to me!

A pantry clean-out led to a hearty and delicious (everything but the) Kitchen Sink Soup for the always creative Heather of girlichef. Full of ground beef, chopped, ham, vegetables, beans, tomatoes and pasta of course and then topped with cheese, sour cream, parsley, cilantro and chives, the kitchen sink really is about the only thing not in this soup--Yum!

The wonderful George of A Nod Is As Good As a Wink To a Blind Horse is making his first appearance at Presto Pasta Nights with a gorgeous Bacon, Tomato & Spinach Spaghetti. George says, "There is something about bacon, tomato and spinach that makes me think of a quick and easy meal. Add a little pasta to that and you have a delicious dinner. We all are looking for that quick comfort meal, especially at this time of year." I think this simple and crave-worthy pasta is perfect any time!

Little Inbox from Eating Pleasure is here with some heat, her Penang Hokkien Mee (Spicy Prawn Noodle). She says, "Penang Hokkien Mee is one of the unique and popular Penang street food which can be found in practically every hawker centers and street corners. The spicy soup base is rich in wonderful prawn aroma.....simply irresistible." Spicy noodles with prawns, pork ribs, hard boiled eggs--it would be hard to resist this one!

Skillet Chicken with Broccoli, Pasta and Parmesan Cheese is a easy weeknight meal for the ever-busy Donna from My Tasty Treasures. Donna says this recipe is a "Delicious meal... comforting, tasty and pretty to look at one dish meal, perfect for the busy holiday season." You have to love the fact that this bright, creamy pasta dish all cooks quickly and easily in one pan!

My best bud Natashya of Living in the Kitchen with Puppies may have made my idea of pasta heaven with the lamb meatballs, feta, olives and capers in her Lamb Kefta on Greek-Style Pasta. She says, "This is a Mediterranean/Middle Eastern spin on spaghetti and meatballs. Pasta is so versatile and really quite willing and able to play along with whatever theme you can dream up. I have made fresh pasta here, dried is perfectly fine but it is a treat to have the fresh once in a while." I am officially in love with this one!

Sometimes you just gotta have lasagna and Jennifer of Seasonal Ontario Food has an especially crave-inducing Spinach Lasagne with with Friulano and Ricotta Cheeses. Jennifer says, "This is a dish that can be made ultra-decadent by using homemade spinach lasagne noodles, and cream instead of the milk. I didn't do that this time; there was too much else going on that was also plenty rich. One of these days I will though, and then I will post the recipe for spinach pasta. In the meantime, you can get ready-made spinach lasagne, and it's fine." It is green and gorgeous!

Chaya from Chaya's Comfy Cook Blog is using lasagna noodles for a different purpose in this Baked Manicotti recipe. She says, "Each time I visit Amanda’s blog, Amanda’s Cookin’. I find a few recipes to make. This afternoon, I was fortunate enough to find tonight’s dinner, Baked Manicotti. I have never seen gluten-free manicotti but this recipes uses lasagne noodles, rolled up and voila, we have manicotti." Very creative and fun!

"Sometimes less is more, especially when it comes to food. This dish would definitely fall under this category!" says Sarah from Taste My Plate about her Tuna and Vegetable Fusilli. A combination of "commonly in the cupboard ingredients" like tuna with leek, pepper, tomatoes and a kick of chili oil, as Sarah says, "Look at the colours!! Who wouldn't want to dig in??" My fork is at the ready!

Another first-timer to PPN is Rosabela of Cooking with Rosie and she is going it up big with a sunny-hued Homemade Butternut Squash Gnocchi. She says, "For more flavour, I added grana padana, garlic powder, and dried sage to the squash mixture. After I boiled them, I tossed them with a little EVOO, a generous helping of grana padana, and seasoned with salt, pepper and sage to taste. This made creamy, decadent sauce for the gnocchi." Her gnocci are perfectly formed and Rosabela has a wonderful step by step tutorial of how to make them on her post.

Kim from Stirring the Pot tried a Nigella Lawson recipe for a tangy sauce for broccoli and combined it with noodles in this Broccoli and Pasta with Mustard-Caper Sauce. Kim says, "A wonderful, super quick, fresh, zesty and zippy pasta dish! I loved the zesty flavor from the mustard, lemon juice and capers. I topped off the pasta with some freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and it was a lunch to remember! This is a must make for all mustard lovers out there, it was delicious and a real "keeper" of a recipe." Of course she had me at capers!

Our fabulous Presto Pasta Nights founder Ruth of Once Upon a Feast is bringing out a past favorite Donna Hay's Winter Greens, Pancetta and Mushroom Pasta for this busy holiday week. Ruth says "I thought I'd take a walk down memory lane and see what pasta dishes I wrote about when I started blogging back in 2005. It's still my favorite- easy-to-put-together, comfort food. And, believe it or not, that's still my favorite pasta bowl." Mmm...I think this dish could easily become a favorite of mine too!

Kevin of Closet Cooking is here with a Pumpkin and Mushroom Pasta with Gorgonzola. He says, "The squash, caramelized onion, sage and gorgonzola flavour combo has been on my mine a lot ever since I tried it in the roasted butternut squash and caramelized onion pizza with gorgonzola and crispy fried sage. I was trying to think of new ways to enjoy this particular flavour combination when I realized that I had not had pasta in far too long. The flavour combo was amazing and it worked really well as a pasta sauce!" A perfect seasonal pasta dish!

Finally here at Kahakai Kitchen, I love me some soup and some pasta so my dish this week was this Curry Noodle Soup from the Eat Clean Cookbook. A traditional Indonesian soup recipe with chicken, cashews, curry and rice noodles, it was filling and delicious with lots of great curry flavor. I left it on the "noodley" side and ate it on top of some wilted spinach the next day and loved it even more!

Wow! That was quite a round-up with so many different and wonderful pasta dishes. Thanks to everyone who participated in Presto Pasta Nights this week, I really had fun seeing all of your wonderful recipes and getting to know some new friends. Next week our amazing Ruth will be back hosting again so get your pasta creations to her at If you need the guidelines for participating in PPN, you can find them here.

Happy Aloha Friday!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving & Ways to Help Feed the World

I want to wish everyone Happy Thanksgiving! Whether or not you are officially celebrating the holiday, I hope your day is a healthy and happy one and that you have a chance to reflect on whatever you are thankful for. I know I have much to be grateful for--a loving and supportive family, wonderful friends--near, far, and virtual, ;-) and the ability to take the time to focus on growing myself, my education and my life over the past year. Finally, I am thankful today for something I often take for granted, the fact that I have more than enough good food to eat. Unfortunately that is not something everyone in the world has the advantage of--in fact, over a billion people will not get enough to eat this year which is more than the populations of the United States, Canada and the European Union. That total includes the 66 million children who go to school hungry everyday. It can be depressing to think about, but empowering too as there are some small, easy things we can all do to help. For me since money isn't coming in quite as much or regularly as when I was working full time, I look for little ways to help that I can spread out over the month.

A Few Ways I Have Found to Help:
  • Do a pantry sweep, putting together a bag of canned goods from your pantry to donate to your local food bank. (The top five things they need: canned meats or tuna, canned meals, canned soups, canned vegetables and canned fruits).
  • Keep a grocery bag in your car and buy a few cans of on-sale food or non-perishable items each time you go to the store. When the bag is full, take it to your local food bank.
  • Donate small amounts, like that spare change that collects in bags and pockets to charities that help provide food and shelter those in need. A few of the stores here have a tag at the register to donate a set amount to the local food bank--an easy way to give. Each time I go to the store I grab a $2.81 tag which feeds a child breakfast for a week, but is a small impact on my grocery bill.
  • Volunteer a few hours of your time to help out at the food bank or with local programs that feed the hungry.
  • If you know someone who needs help, cook a meal for them or buy them a bag of groceries.
These are things that I have found that don't cost a lot individually but added up, they go a long way and can have a big impact on helping feed those in need.

Another thing you can do to help feed and nourish children around the world--buy a copy (or copies) of "The BloggerAid Cook Book". This terrific cookbook, pulls together the delicious recipes of food bloggers from all over the world (it's about 224 pages with 140 recipes from 60 countries) and 100% of the proceeds target children and education through the World Food Programme: School Meals.

Click here for The BloggerAid Cook Book

The BloggerAid Changing the Face of Famine group that put this awesome book together did a lot of hard work compiling recipes, testing, editing and pulling it all together to offer the book for sale before the holidays which really shows how food and caring for others can unite the world. The book is full of delectable recipes such as Tomato-Cheese Ravioli with Eggplant Sauce, Spicy Serundeng Tuna and Peanuts, Serrano Ham Paella with Oyster Mushrooms, Raspberry Mascarpone Bites and Triple Layer Orange-Passion Fruit Tart, (As well as the recipe for a certain delicious, healthy Curried Quinoa Salad with Cranberries and Toasted Almonds that I am pretty partial to and that wins raves and recipe requests wherever I take it!) ;-)

The cookbook is on sale through Create Space, an offshoot of follow the link below the picture of the cover to get there. (you won't be able to find it on itself as the royalties are lower at Create Space which means more money to feed the children). My books are on order and should be arriving soon--I can't wait!

So wherever this Thanksgiving Day finds you, I hope you enjoy it and enjoy the blessings of the season. Mahalo nui loa (thank you very much) for the friendship, fellowship and fun you all give me--I am truly grateful!


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Nigella's Lentils Braised in Red Wine--"Side Dish Superstar!"

Lentils, lentils, lentils! I love lentils and I have been eyeing Nigella's Lentils Braised in Red Wine from "Feast" for ages. This week our I Heart Cooking Clubs theme is "Side Dish Superstars" and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to finally give this dish a try. As a side dish this recipe doesn't conjure up Thanksgiving thoughts and it really isn't that photogenic--believe me I tried. (I thought playing around with the picture backgrounds might help a bit!) But what this recipe does have is flavor--lots of veggies, garlic, red wine and bacon, and a great hearty texture that makes it the perfect accompaniment to sausages, chicken, or in my case with some simple roasted salmon.

Nigella says: "I've used Beluga lentils here, partly because I love the name, but mostly because I am very keen on these tiny, black spheres which when slicked with oil, look like caviar. But do use the paler grey-green Italian Castelluccio lentils if you can get them, or indeed the slate-blue Puy lentils from France."

Lentils Braised in Red Wine
"Feast", Nigella Lawson
(Serves 8)

1 carrot
2 cloves garlic
1 stick of celery
1 large onion
4 oz bacon
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 1/3 cups Beluga lentils
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 1/4 cups red wine
3 cups water
olive oil
fresh parsley, optional

Peel the carrot and garlic cloves and chop finely with the celery, onion and bacon, or process everything until finely chopped.

Heat the oil in a large pan, and add the chopped or processed vegetables and bacon. Cook them over a gentle heat until soft, which will take up to about 10 minutes.

Tip the lentils into the pan and stir them around to get slicked with the oil and then add the bay leaves and Dijon mustard. Pour in the red wine and the water, or enough water so that the lentils are just covered in liquid. Bring to a boil and cover and simmer for about 30 minutes or until just tender. One of the good things about the Beluga lentils is they tend not to turn mushy, so there's less problem about overcooking.

When the lentils are cooked, check the seasoning and add salt if necessary and dress with a little olive oil as you serve them. If you are cooking the lentils in advance, simply take them off the heat, and put the pan in a cool place somewhere (say on a chilly stainless-steel surface or near a window out of the sun). Warm through the next day by adding a little water and olive oil and keeping them, covered, on a low heat until warm. Then, by all means, take the lid off and stir through with a wooden spatula to help them get hot throughout.

Transfer to a serving dish, tasting for seasoning and dressing with a little olive oil as you do so. If you want some freshly chopped parsley on top, scatter as desired. I rather like, however, their uninterrupted muddy blackness.

Notes/Results: I used the beluga lentils that I had in my pantry for this recipe. I like the firmer texture they have--it makes them fun to eat. I am basically pretty lazy and loved the ease of throwing chunks of veggies into the food processor with the pieces of bacon and garlic and then just whirring it all up instead of doing a lot of fine chopping. With the bacon and the wine, the lentils smell so good while they are cooking it is hard to wait until they are done to try them. They were well-seasoned and worked perfectly with the roasted wild salmon and some kale salad. This is a great recipe--I would make it again for sure and play around with different types of lentils.

You can see what "Side Dish Superstars" the other IHCC participants chose to make and see what they thought of them by following their links on the IHCC website here.