28 October 2008

NaBloPoMo

For those of you who just can't get enough of the Mind and Belly, NOVEMBER WILL BE YOUR MONTH. I (foolishly?) signed up for the National Blogger Posting Month, so you can expect to have DAILY UPDATES for an entire month. Yup, that's right, something new to chew on every day.

Wish me luck.

21 October 2008

Sunny soup

Today almost turned into a bad eating day. I've been pretty restrained this week (ok, so it's only Tuesday, sue me), but I didn't want to start down the takeout path until, well, at least Thursday, since we are definitely going out Friday (to Flushing! Whee!!). BUT. I've been less than diligent lately about keeping food in the house.*

Also, lately, nothing has been looking good to make. This is SO frustrating. It is hands down one of the most irritating feelings, to know that you have a massive cookbook collection that has almost bankrupted your at some point in your life, and also a large binder that is more or less organized by category full of ripped out recipes to try, only to realize that it's no good. Nothing looks tasty. I'm sure it has something to do with the change of the season. The daylight is shorter, there's a definite chill in the air, and everyone I know has gone into light deprivation sleepiness.



So I moped. And moped. And looked at a few take out menus. Peered into the randomness of my fridge. Moped some more. Kind of napped. And then, just as Jeff and I had resigned ourselves to ordering from somewhere, I remembered that I actually did have the right ingredients, at least for the world's easiest soup. SAVED!

We love this soup. It's sunny and tastes bright, and moreover, I can usually scrounge up everything we need for it. And tonight I even had a leftover yellow pepper that I didn't use the other night, which added a sweet, slightly acidic dimension. We don't love it as much as we used to, but that's ok. It's tasty, and has enough body to make you forget that there really aren't that many ingredients. It's really a perfect pantry soup. I highly suggest it for a dark night ahead.



Red Lentil Soup with Lemon, adapted from the New York Times

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
kosher salt and ground pepper, to taste
pinch of hot pepper to taste (I am in love with Aleppo pepper. It's smoky and subtle, but packs a punch. The Times suggests cayenne or ground chile powder. As you wish.)
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup red lentils
1 large carrot, finely diced
juice of 1/2 lemon, more to taste
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro (optional)

1. In a large pot, heat the olive oil over high heat until hot and shimmering. Add the onion and garlic, and sauté until golden, about 4 minutes.
2. Stir in the tomato paste and spices, sauté 2 minutes longer.
2. Add broth, 2 cups water, lentils and carrot. Bring to a simmer, then partially cover pot and turn heat to medium-low. Simmer until lentils are soft, about 30 minutes. Taste and season to preference.
4. Using a blender, purée half of the soup and add it back to the pot. Soup will be somewhat chunky.
5. Reheat soup if necessary, and then stir in lemon juice and cilantro. Serve and eat.

*NB: I know, I know, I could have gone out to the store, since it's only five blocks away. But you know what? I just didn't want to go. So there.

15 October 2008

Flancocho revisited

It was recently brought to my attention that I never gave you the recipe for Cynthia's Flancocho. I promise, it's not because I haven't wanted to make it, but it's because I've been unexcusably lazy when it comes to making anything that I'm not craving or something that comes from a box. Reading will do that to you sometimes. But as I've been on a baking kick, and as we've been watching the debates with friends who have a TV, I've taken it upon myself to bring dessert. Last week I made Gourmet's Chocolate Dolce de Leche bars. (They were fantastic.) And this week, well, Flancocho it is.

Every time that I've had Cynthia's version, it is delicious and lovely and that much better because I didn't make it myself. (I mean, let's be honest. Who doesn't love eating something that someone else made that is also gooey and wonderful? Or just plain good? I mean, even with all the delights that I manage to find in the kitchen, I still wish sometimes that my mom would cook for me instead of me cooking for me.) But after having made this cake for myself, I would like to say that the original could definitely use some tweaking: a homemade chocolate cake, such as Amanda Hesser's Dump-It Cake, would shoot it into the realm of the divine. The boxed version just wasn't that great. Surprise! It had this odd tinny taste to it, even though the cake itself was nice and moist and lovely textured. The flan, though, no complaints. Though if I were really going to go out on a limb,I might add some spices, or some real vanilla flecks, to spruce it up. But I would probably only do that if I were making my own cake... otherwise it just wouldn't be worth it.

Flancocho, thanks to Cynthia Garcia

Flan
4 eggs, beaten in large bowl
1 can evaporated milk
1 can condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract



Caramel
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoon water

Cake
1 box chocolate cake mix, follow instructions on box



Preheat oven to 350 degrees*.
1. Caramelize the sugar in the pan. If you need instructions, see this post about caramelizing sugar, but use only the ingredients listed here. Keep a careful eye on the caramel; once it starts to turn, make it as dark (bitter) as you wish, but don't let it burn or it will be exceptionally gross and difficult to clean. Pour into a Bundt pan.
2. Pour in about 3/4 of the cake batter over the caramel.
3. Pour in your flan mix.**
4. Create a bain-marie for your pan. (A bain-marie is a pan full of water into which you put your cake pan. This is also necessary if you ever plan to make crème brûlée. You never know.) Put your bunt pan in it, and bake for one hour.



(Sorry about this slumpy photo. I didn't have time to turn out the cake before we left, and this is what we brought home. It tasted much better than it looks. Promise.)

*NB: if you have a non-stick pan, as I do, it is necessary to reduce the heat by 50 degrees. This holds true for all non-stick pans; because they are dark, they absorb more heat and will sadly burn your food.

**Yes, this is the right order for your cake/flan. It looks incredibly counterintuitive, pouring this lovely, eggy mixture into a batch of cake dough. But you know what? It WORKS. What comes out you can clearly see in the picture: a ring of flan resting atop chocolate cake. Somehow, the flan seeps through the batter, coagulates, and bakes gently in the bain-marie, and covers itself with caramel. AMAZING.

14 October 2008

Noodles noodles noodles

Do you know what? It is 5:22 PM on a lovely afternoon in New York City and all I can think about is eating ramen. Man, do I love ramen. Ramen ramen ramen. And while it's true that I do not like all ramen (Top Ramen certainly comes to mind), there are certainly some that spin into the realm of the divine.

I think it mostly boils down to the fact that I love noodles. Mom likes to tell me that when I was little all I wanted to eat, oh, ever, was plain noodles with butter. I still eat now one of the same concoctions that I used to make back in the day. (I'll spare you the details, but let's suffice it to say that it involves a can of tuna, some butter and salt, and some pasta.) If I have leftover chicken stock lying around, I'll boil some mini pasta stars in it and make myself a tasty snack. Or lunch.

Moreover, unfortunately for me, I have an exceptional weak spot for all Asian noodles: ramen, udon, pad thai...really, any noodle dish. And dumplings. But... it's not always possible for a girl to get them. Or make them. I suppose I could make my own noodle dishes, but after trying more than a few times I can say with much certainty that it's a lot easier, less time-consuming, and more cost efficient to pick up the phone and call for delivery. Also, I don't have a wok. I don't like woks. (Really, I don't like woks because they are built to go inside a ring of fire that disperses heat. I do not have a a fiery heat dispersing wok ring in my stove. Even if I did, my rogue fire alarm would go off, killing any and all enthusiasm I had for making something from said wok. But I digress.)

But let's talk ramen. The thing about good ramen, real ramen, is that it is delicious. Long, tender noodles with enough of a bite for good chewing reposing serenly in a porky broth, all scattered with bamboo shoots, scallions, thin slices of pork, and some greens. And if you're extra lucky, there's a poached egg along with it. Heaven. Less great ramen, though, has a special quality all of its own, namely that one is generally free from being forced to follow the directions on the package. Everyone, it seems, has his own method. When I was in college, my tried-and-true method involved boiling the noodles for 4 minutes (thus allowing them to get overly glutenous) and adding the flavoring packet during the last minute. Drain the noodles, eat. Brice used to make his with double the packets of flavoring. Hannah would forgo the flavoring altogether and mix hers with thawed frozen peas and some eggs (not sure about the preparation of those, though I seem to remember something about scrambling? Hannah?).

For more interesting news on the ramen front, check out this article. I haven't managed to find any yet, and would probably be kind of creeped out if I did, but do let me know if you see or hear anything.