Stewed Garbanzos and The Art of Meal Planning

With the summer abundance finished it’s time to shift gears and plan meals for cold, busy weeks. Summer is easier, with lots of fresh produce, garden offerings and the punishing heat that suggests lighter meals, lots of rosé and mint water, preferably in the backyard under tree shade. Fall and winter are a different game, I’m extra hungry as the weather cools and the days shorten, and fuller meals are in demand.

easygarbanzostew

Meal planning is key to my budget, and my sanity. It helps me prepare quick meals as my life runs faster than I can, and it keeps me from wasting food. In a country where 40-50% of the food produced goes to waste it’s difficult to take food waste serious, until it has a personal impact. After all, part of what I teach is meal planning and mindfulness around food, which makes me more aware of my own shortcomings.

mealplanningprep

Every Saturday, I fill bowls with beans, lentils and grains, of any color and shape, cover them with water and soak them overnight. On Sunday, I cook them all, as I mosey around sipping my morning coffee and reading The New York Times. At home, we are not vegetarians, but we use pulses, grains, and many vegetables to stretch animal proteins. Luckily, I’m a trained Colombian who grew up on beans and rice, so diversifying using lentils, beans and vegetables is familiar, if not comforting.

Once cooked, pulses and grains are an easy and reliable base for many meals through the week, with or without meat. Sometimes I’ll make bigger batches and freeze finished meals for the following week, if I know I’ll be extra busy. This weekend we worked on a batch of lentil-oat bars for Mr. Thomas, as he’s always bouncing around town and in need of nutritious snacks. We also worked on black bean and farro tacos for a lazy Sunday lunch; garbanzos to stew with tomatoes and fennel, to make hummus, and for falafel patties; and white beans for Cassoulet and Minestrone soupwhich I froze in two-portion containers, and are perfect for a snowy night, like tonight, when traffic is horrid and stressful, and I can relax knowing that a hearty dinner is ready to heat up.

stewedgarbanzoswithpesto

This weekly ritual acts as a way to inventory what is in our fridge, pantry and freezer, and to find recipes for produce, or other perishables. I’m mortified anytime a lonely turnip or carrot, forgotten underneath a pile of mushrooms or lettuce, gets soft and moldy and I have to dispose of the dead evidence. How much did I pay for that turnip?

Continue reading Stewed Garbanzos and The Art of Meal Planning

Lentil-Oat Bars and Holiday Lentil Gifts

***Disclaimer: This is NOT a sponsored post!

For as long as I can remember, lentils have been a part of my life. My mother’s favorite meal is lentil soup, and if I had to choose a food to live on forever it would be lentils and rice, preferably basmati rice. 

Last month, I went to a conference in Austin, TX, where I learned about an organization promoting lentils, Canadian Lentils. I normally don’t write about specific products {except for books or interesting websites}, but this got my attention. They displayed lentils in burlap bags next to mason jars, in front of two tall shelves full of spices. From turmeric, ginger, garam masala, cumin, dried herbs, and different kinds of peppers, they encouraged visitors to take a jar fill it with lentils and add spices, either following one of their recipes or each person’s own mix. They elevated this humble pulse and made it the star of the conference, their booth was packed at all times with people interested on the endless possibilities provided by the spices. 

lentilsoupinajar

Lentils are miracle food. Let’s deconstruct this statement:

  • Lentils contain high amounts of protein. 1 cup of cooked lentils has 18 grams of protein
  • Lentils are high in heart-healthy fiber that also helps level blood sugar
  • Lentils provide high levels of iron 
  • Lentils, like other pulses or legumes, fix nitrogen into the soil where they are planted, creating a better growing environment for other plants, and reducing the carbon footprint of our food by using less chemical fertilizers per kilo-calorie
  • Lentils are delicious and versatile, and we can find recipes from all over the globe that feature them. They adapt to any spices and flavors we may dream of using. Italian lentil soup with tomatoes, thyme or oregano, for example, or Indian Dahl – orange split lentil – soup with curry, my mothers lentil soup with cumin, paprika and turmeric, or endless salad combinations, like Bulgur and black lentil salad with carrot green pesto.

homemadeholidaygifts

Continue reading Lentil-Oat Bars and Holiday Lentil Gifts

the perfect apple-almond cake photo

There’s something about fall that screams baking! During the summer months I run away from the oven with terrorizing memories of the sticky and sweaty kitchen years I endured as a baker, but as soon as the backyard fills with leaves my little inner baker wakes up.

apple-almondcake

The falling leaves and crisps nights make it irresistible for a warm and sweet baked good right out of the oven, together with a cup of coffee and a good book. The heat of the oven helps me warm up the house in the absence of a fire-place, which would make this story seem more fairytale than it really is; and if I had a say, my fairytale would include year-round mild weather and an ocean view.

Fall’s slow death into winter also slows life, or at least it feels that way. I rediscover books with folded pages and pencil notes from before the rush of summer. A bit dusty, but not at all forgotten, they guarded their message and waited for me and our daily afternoon coffee, or evening glass of wine. 

One of those books I’m a few pages from finishing is Best Food Writing 2015, a yearly compilation of food-related essays, which has been done for more than a decade now, by Holly Hughes. I got hooked on these books a few years back when my interest shifted from cookbooks {yes, i still buy some of those} to food writing as narrative, a way to tell food stories. 

As I planned for this post, an essay from this book came to mind, “The Imperfect Family Kitchen,” by Debbie Koenig.

The essay begins with: “Food writers are lying to you,” yikes! and I agree, for the most part. She talks about the behind the scenes of recipes development {or recreation} and food photography, and the reality we don’t show on blog posts like this…Nope, I don’t have any pictures of dirty dishes for you, sorry.
We ‘lie’ because ugly pictures don’t sell, and pretty pictures DO, they attract people to follow and click on a link. 

When I first started this blog, my pictures were ugly, as not pretty or appealing, my goal was to share a recipe and a story, and didn’t understand that the photos made a difference. There were many reason for my bad photos {not to say they are absolutely great now, but better} besides my lack of skill.  My kitchen is dark, with orange-yellow maple cabinets and dark green-blue counter tops. My pictures reflected that, even worse when I’d turn the lights on to photograph dinner the yellow hue would translate onto the photo. 

honeycrispapples

Hours of reading about food photography and a full week of deconstructing and reconstructing my office made my photos crisper and cleaner. The office became a white box, I took the carpet off and installed plywood planks on the floor, and painted walls, floor and ceiling a crisp white, to bounce the window light and not alter the color of the food. 

My pictures don’t reflect the dated refrigerator, the broken-down microwave, or the prop I use to keep the oven door close because the hinges don’t work. They show an “edited” idea of how cooking really happens here. Don’t get me wrong, I love my kitchen and many great meals successfully come out of it, including this apple cake, but how many people really want to see a load of bad pictures full of reality? 

germanapplealmondcake

Continue reading the perfect apple-almond cake photo

The Last Greens for Salsa Verde

Summer is holding on. Or maybe, we are holding on to summer, not letting it go, unwilling to face the inevitable winter ahead.

The growing season extends with cooler-weather produce like beets, carrots, radishes, and herbs like parley, oregano and thyme, which enjoy the comfortable low 80s and 70s we’ve had the past few weeks. In an effort to preserve every bit of the season, we picked the last of the parsley plants {all 15 of them}, and a few big beets and carrots, and used the greens to make our version of Salsa Verde.

Nearing the end of October with early September weather makes me hope that Mother Earth forgot to schedule winter this year, and that we may just skip the bitter frosty temperatures. Another less optimistic possibility points to drought. Everything is crispy around here, {except the leftover nachos from the other night.} Leaves, grasses, bushes, shrubs, are a blow away from an instant fire hasard. We look at the sky, hands up in worship, for a drop of rain, I’ll even take snow if it’s the only option, something, anything to relive the anemic moisture levels hovering around.

fallharvest

I take advantage of the extended warm season and stock on homemade preserved foods from our garden and the bounty from local farmers. This salsa verde is one of my favorite additions to the bunch, as it adds the brightness of summer to any dish and to any future snowy day.

There are many variations of salsa verde or green sauce, and its history dates back centuries. Alan Davidson says in the Oxford Companion to Food, that in England “The earliest recipes or descriptions of the sauce called for a complex mixture of green herbs,” including parsley, thyme and sorrel. He also cites a German version, which mixes the blended green herbs with sour cream, yogurt or hard-boiled eggs.

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Grilled Peach and Corn Salsa, and My New Found Obsession with Preserving

I mentioned in the past that preserving wasn’t in my DNA, well neither was English and here we are.

This season I have preserved more than the 15 years i have lived in the U.S. combined. From jams, to fruit butters, sauces, salsas, chutneys, to dried herbs and soaps. Someone told me a few years back, “You don’t have the preserving bug, yet,” to which I replied “Not sure I’ll ever get it.” I know, what a joke.

lavenderhoneypeaches

The more I dig into the pros and cons of eating seasonally, the more I learn to appreciate the bounty of fresh, Colorado grown products in the summer and fall, and align myself with the process of preparing for winter, when our diet consists mostly of root vegetables, grains, pulses, hearty greens and a few sustainably raised meats.
Preserving the summer and fall harvest allows me to go back in time by taking little capsules of flavor from my freezer or canning cellar to inject life to any meal. Let’s face it, after 3 months of parsnips and rutabagas I wish to break loose and buy an out-of-season zucchini {most likely from Mexico}, instead I add pesto to any dish from soups to pastas to beans or lentils; or chutney to meats or roasted vegetables.

peachcornsalsa

The bug hasn’t consumed me fully, I still can’t find myself canning soups and anything that requires a pressure-canning technique; even thought I’m comfortable using a pressure cooker, I’m not sure I trust a load of cans inside of it. It troubles me. Every time I consider the idea, the memories of a big pressure cooker exploding at my mother’s restaurant when I was in my early teens come rushing, and I walk away. For now, I’ll stick to water baths.

how to dry rosemary

Continue reading Grilled Peach and Corn Salsa, and My New Found Obsession with Preserving

Race to Fall

It has been a race, 500 Km style. We have been everywhere in the past few months, it seems. Massachusetts, California (twice), Wyoming, Austin, and camping in the mountains. Canning and preserving the summer harvest have consumed the weekends at home. And work, including a couple invitations I had to speak in conferences, have accelerated the passing of summer.

In the midst of all the traveling and summer craziness,  we decided to start a backyard landscaping project, done exclusively by us. Including digging out all sprinkler system pipes and changing their routes, removing the old, dried sod, tilling the ground, digging a 9’x11′ area and building a patio, planning and planting a brand new xeriscaped garden, shoveling 4 tons of sand and 8 tons of rock, and planting new sod.

basil plants

The project is partially done, after 5 weekends, plus numerous bruises and blisters. But the patio still looks like a junk yard, with shovels and other tools scattered around, piles of dirt next to trenches holding the new pipes, half dead plants after the first freeze of the season, and ghost-like tomato plants covered to force the fruit to ripen before the season is over.

picklingcucumber zucchiniplantwithfrostbite

Why such a drastic project you might ask?

Water. Continue reading Race to Fall

Black Lentil and Bulgur Salad with Carrot Greens Pesto

Even with its unbearable heat waves, summer is a luxurious time of year. I wish I could grab it by its tail, harness it and slow it down. I love the flowers in every yard, walkway and park. The plants bearing fruits and vegetables, and the farmers bringing their best to the market.

With July gone, we are down to August and September, and then is winter. Unless we get a long enough fall to drown our sorrows before the snow stars to pile. I shouldn’t be thinking about winter and should just enjoy the present, the hot weather, and the abundance from the land.

My new weekly ritual includes a trip to the Union Station Farmers Market, which is proving educational. We’ve had markets in Denver on previous years, but none that accumulated the quantity and quality of locally grown produce that this, new to the city, market is bringing.

For years, I envied the Boulder and Longmont markets, and traveled at last once a month during the summer to indulge on buying produce grown just a few miles away; now they travel every Saturday to bring their produce to us in Denver.

union station farmers market denver

Many meals and cooking ideas spring every week based on what’s available, a concept I didn’t follow particularly close before I challenged myself to cook the majority of our meals using only seasonal produce. By seasonal, I mean whatever is in season around me, or at least in the United States especially during the winter months, not including Hawaii, I haven’t bought a pineapple in years, and not including snow and sticks from our Colorado winter harvest.

Some meals are simple variations using, for example, different types of cucumbers {which just this year, after 15 years in the U.S. and 13 of those in the kitchen I found they are nicknamed “cukes”} like lemon cucumbers in a cucumber-tomato salad dressed with carrot greens pesto.

lemon cucumbers

Other meals, like this Bulgur and Lentil Salad, are born out of the necessity for an easy to take lunch that’s nutritious and simple to make, all while providing a punch of flavor to keep me from stopping at the burrito place nearby for a second snack. Continue reading Black Lentil and Bulgur Salad with Carrot Greens Pesto

Pig Talk

The 289 lb pig carcass laid on the chef’s counter, cut in half from torso to tail, bagged, and headless. The head, I heard, sat in the walking refrigerator outside the restaurant, where the delivery person from the farm left it a few minutes before I arrived.

Part of the curriculum of the class I taught during spring semester included meats and fish, and the art of butchering, a knowledge not associated with those of us who spend our time with flour and sugar, and building cakes and tarts, and I had a few weeks to learn a lifetime of skills.

Pig trotters

For weeks, I had recurring nightmares of butchering the animals into inadequate and unrecognizable pieces, or having the slippery fish coming back to life to chew my fingers off as I tried to skin it in a classroom full of students.

At that point my choices were:

  • Call in sick the day before each protein class and risk loosing my job,
  • Take sleeping pills so at least the nightmares would go away, even if my skills didn’t improve,
  • Spend hundreds of dollars buying entire hogs and countless fish, plus the refrigeration system to store them
  • Or, Find experts who could instruct me in the art of butchering

Continue reading Pig Talk

Lemony Carrot Greens “Pesto”

carrot greens and curry pesto

The garden glows. Spring harvest past its prime with the last few peas the bunnies stole and the bolted radishes and arugula left behind, giving way to beans, tomatoes, squashes, peppers, and the heat of summer.

potted eggplant

The Union Station Farmers Market bustles. With growers from Boulder, Longmont, Hygiene, Larkspur and more towns I can’t even recall, and patrons eager to taste the local harvest. Carrots and beets from Cure Organic Farms, mushrooms from the Mile High Fungi, cherries from Ela Family Farms, are just a few of the goods I found.

garden lavender

This season I’m striving to try every vegetable I see and every new, to me, idea I’ve read, like using carrot greens, for example. I’m guilty of composting the tops of many vegetables, unaware of their delicious possibilities in the kitchen. It makes me wonder, what do Colombians do with all of those tops? Feed them to animals? I have never seen a beet or radish green in the markets there and it never occurred to me they could be used in cooking.

using carrot greens

Continue reading Lemony Carrot Greens “Pesto”

Decoding the Artichoke

I worked with a master chef who once told me, “Artichokes are romance food. You serve a roasted artichoke with a small bowl of olive oil to a table of two and watch the lovers pick the leaves and scrape the meat on the bottom with their teeth, while looking at each other with a smile.”

My first encounter with an artichoke was less “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and more “The Godfather”.

artichokes

Continue reading Decoding the Artichoke