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Soupy Lentils

This was supposed to be lentil soup, but the bast laid plans of mice and Militant Carnivores…

That’s OK, though:  I think I like lentils this way even better.

First, cook your lentils.  Actually, first buy your lentils:  French green lentils (lentilles du Puy) are what you want here, and for all other lentil applications.  They hold their shape well and seem less dingy and sludgy when cooked then traditional brown lentils.  Next, sort through the lentils to make sure there are no stones or clods of dirt hiding in there.  So now you have:

  • 2 c dried lentilles du Puy
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • 1 bay leaf

Dump everything in a  pot and cover with water by an inch.  Place over high heat and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, covered, until tender, about 25 minutes.  Drain the lentils, reserving cooking liquid, and discard garlic and bay leaf.  You could eat the lentils at this point (with a little salt), but just wait.  You’ll want to eat these soupy lentils all winter long.

  • 2 medium carrots, peeled, trimmed, roughly chopped
  • 2 medium celery stalks, trimmed, roughly chopped
  • 1 large onion, peeled, roughly chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and smashed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 large can (28 oz.) of tomatoes (Whole tomatoes, please.  I always buy whole tomatoes.  Diced tomatoes are treated with calcium chloride or some such chemical that keeps them from ever fully breaking down in a sauce, and tomato puree tastes precooked.  Stick with the whole tomatoes.  I don’t care if you use chi chi San Marzano tomatoes flown all the way from Italy or if you use Costco brand tomatoes.  Whole tomatoes are the way to go.)
  • cooked lentils from recipe above (this probably yields about 6 c of cooked lentils)
  • 1 c of reserved lentil cooking liquid (see above)
  • 1 big handful of parsley, thoroughly washed

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to use mirepoix more often.  Mirepoix is a traditional French combination of carrots, celery and onion that is sauteed as the foundation for a soup, sauce, stew or other recipe.  (I know, I know:  I have weird New Year’s resolutions.)   In the past, I rarely used carrots and celery in my cooking, but now I understand that they function the way that bitters and sugar function in a cocktail:  The carrots, like the sugar, add sweetness while the celery (and the bitters) provides bitterness, thus ramping up the amplitude of a dish (or a cocktail) and creating a fuller flavor profile.  So, mirepoix it is:

Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large Dutch oven on the stovetop over medium heat.  Add the carrots, celery, onions, garlic, bay leaf and a generous pinch of salt.  Saute, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are soft and caramelized, about 20 minutes.

Add the *liquid* from the can of tomatoes to the pot.  Stir into the vegetables with a wooden spoon, scraping the bottom of the pot to deglaze.  Stick a pair of kitchen shears into the tomato can and cut up the tomatoes (this is much faster and neater than trying to chop them on a board).  Add the chopped tomatoes to the pot and stir to combine.  Cook until the tomatoes break down and become integrated with the other vegetables, about 10 minutes.

Add the cooked lentils and a few generous pinches of salt; stir to combine.  Add the lentil cooking liquid and about 3 c water (or stock, if you have it) to cover.  Turn heat to high and bring to a boil.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  When the liquid boils, reduce to a simmer and cook until the mixture comes together, about 10-15 minutes.  (You’ll know it when you see it.)

There you have it:  soupy lentils.  Ladle into bowls.  Roughly chop the parsley and scatter over top.  Drizzle with the best extra virgin olive oil that you have and sprinkle some flaky sea salt on top.  Serve with bread (or even better, bruschetta) on the side.

East Coast Holiday Trip

Oh, my.

The past two weeks have been a whirlwind tour of the East Coast, a “This-is-your-life, Militant-Carnivore” kind of experience.   It was delightful (if a little exhausting) visiting friends and family in eight different states to celebrate Saturnalia, Christmas, Winter Solstice, lunar eclipses and all of the other observances of the passing of the seasons and the rebirth of the light in the time of darkness.

Delightful, exhausting and filling.  Very filling.

I’m still stuffed.

My New Year’s Resolution is to actually post one recipe—a real, honest-to-God recipe, since this is a cooking blog, after all—per week for the coming year.  But for now, a brief montage, a highlights’ reel of the best eating, drinking and cooking from the Militant Carnivore’s 2010 Holiday Season.

#10:  Borscht at Veselka (New York, NY)

When my Polish father-in-law (jokingly?) suggested going to a Polish restaurant in New York, my Lovely Vegetarian Wife said, “Well, a friend of mine went to a Ukranian restaurant in the East Village and loved it.”  I’ll let others fight over the distinctions between Polish and Ukranian cuisines.  All I know is that the borscht at Veselka’s Cafe (the carnivorous version for me, the vegetarian one for my LVW) is all I want to eat when it’s cold outside from now on.  Why haven’t I been making soup with beets all of my life?

#9:  Pan-Fried Risotto Cakes (in-laws’ house, New York)

When your Lovely Vegetarian Wife makes killer mushroom risotto for dinner one night, here’s what to do for brunch the next day:  Form patties of the leftover risotto, dredge them in flour, pan-fry them in olive oil and butter, and serve piping hot.

#8:  West Indian Curry and Roti (friends’ house, Maryland)

I highly recommend that everybody become good friends with someone of West Indian heritage.  A lifetime of rib-sticking chicken curry and roti (thinly rolled flatbread with chickpea puree inside) awaits you.  To the Emperor’s Parents (and to the Emperor’s Grandmother, the genius behind this stultifyingly delicious meal), many, many thanks.

#7:  Victory Hop Devil, on cask at Zeno’s (State College, PA)

None of my friends in the Pacific Northwest understand, but what can I say?  I’m from Pennsylvania.  When I want a bracingly bitter IPA, I want my Hop Devil (but on cask, please).

#6:  Et Tu, Brute? salad (parents’ house, Pennsylvania)

I invented this variation on the classic Caesar to suit the oo- and icthyphobic needs of my Lovely Vegetarian Wife.  The salad uses escarole instead of romaine for a little more oompf, and the dressing depends on little more than mashed garlic for body and character (no eggs, anchovies or Worcestershire sauce here).  The salad is, in fact, little more than garlic tempered slightly by lemon and escarole.

And the name?  That’s ’cause this salad kicks the s*** out of a Caesar.

#5:  Steak Tartare, White Dog Cafe (Wayne, PA)

The holidays are definitely a Militantly Carnivorous time of year.  If I had any restraint at all, I would limit my meat consumption to the significant roast centerpieces of a holiday banquet (and its attendant leftovers, of course).  However, sometimes you just need some steak tartare.  Every meal should start off with a Negroni and a plate of freshly chopped tenderloin served with duck egg, caperberries, Dijon mustard and cornichons.  Even breakfast.

#4:  Grilled Pork Tenderloin (in-laws’ house, NY)

I was really pleased with how this turned out:  I butterflied the tenderloin, mashed up some garlic and rosemary (my winter vacation was essentially spent pounding garlic and rosemary together), added some orange zest and olive oil, and smeared it over the tenderloin.  I let this marinate in the fridge all day, then grilled it at night.  I was pleasantly surprised at how well the orange flavor carried through into the pork.

#3:  Baked Stuffed Acorn Squash (parents’ house, PA)

Back to the vegetarian highlights:  This recipe is inspired by one from Gourmet magazine (may it rest in peace) for a pumpkin stuffed with cheese, bread and chicken stock.  Fondue in a pumpkin, basically.  I’m glad I added some broccoli to the vegetable stock before stirring it in with the Fontina and bread cubes:  It makes the dish more like an actual vegetable entree and less like a culinary dare (“Dude, get some cheese up in that pumpkin!!!).  It also serves as a pretty decent side dish for those eating roast animal as the main course.

#2:  Shrimp Salad with Apples and Celery (in-laws’ house, NY)

I would have walked back to the East Coast for this.  When I first spent the holidays at my in-laws, all I heard was everybody raving about my mother-in-law’s shrimp salad.  Every year, a clamor would go up, insisting that shrimp salad be part of the Christmas Eve repast.  Now, my voice shouts as loudly as anyone’s:  It’s just not Christmas Eve without this salad.  It is perfect.  Just perfect.

#1:  Roast Beef with Garlic and Rosemary (sister’s house, West Virginia)

This is what I look forward to all year.  This is what my family has been eating for Christmas dinner for as long as I can remember.  This is what I plan to eat for Christmas dinner for the rest of my life.  Standing rib roast.  Garlic.  Rosemary.  Salt.  Pepper.  Merry Christmas to the Militant Carnivores.

I can’t believe that tomorrow marks the first anniversary of The Militant Carnivore Cooks for his Vegetarian Wife.  Thank you to everyone who has loyally read this blog, provided comments, suggestions and constructive criticism, and then told their friends and relatives to check it out as well.  I’m looking forward to another great year of cooking and eating and of sharing my adventures with you.

Happy New Year!

When you’ve had all the turkey-cranberry sandwiches and reheated mashed potatoes that you can stand, it’s time to make croquettes with the Thanksgiving leftovers.

Croquettes are essentially breaded and deep-fried anythings.  Usually, these anythings include bechamel sauce as a binder.  The key, then, to post-Thanksgiving croquettes is to make a big ol’ batch of rather thick bechamel and to mix it with any and all of the leftover Thanksgiving vegetables and/or turkey.  The recipe for the Rather Thick Bechamel:

  • 1/2 c olive oil and/or butter
  • 1/2 c flour
  • 3 c milk
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • nutmeg for grating

In a large heavy saucepan, heat the oil (and melt the butter, if using) over medium heat.  Whisk in the flour to make a roux.  Cook over medium heat, whisking frequently, to cook some of the rawness out of the flour, about 2-3 minutes.  Whisk in about 1/2 c of the milk until smooth, then whisk in the rest of the milk.  Reduce the heat to low and add the bay leaf.  Peel and smash the garlic cloves and toss them in as well.  Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes; the bechamel should feel like thick cream.  Grate in a little nutmeg and some black pepper; add salt to taste.  Remove and discard the bay leaf and allow the bechamel to cool.  It should set up like that paste you remember eating in kindergarten.

This year, by food-processing the bechamel with an equal amount of filling, I made turkey croquettes; sweet potato and almond croquettes; and mushroom, arugula and Fontina croquettes.  (Don’t overprocess the croquette batter:  You want the filling to have some texture, hence the almonds mixed with the sweet potatoes.)  I also made potato croquettes with leftover mashed potatoes, but I didn’t add any bechamel to this:  I just stirred in an egg and a handful of flour to give the potatoes some more structure.

At this point, if you’ve gone through all of these steps, you’ve done plenty of the work for the day.  You could put the croquette batters in the fridge (or freezer) and wait until later before assembling the croquettes.  However, if you’re ready to press on…

Create a frying station like you see in the picture above.  Get out three medium mixing bowls and a large baking sheet; line the baking sheet with parchment paper.  In the first mixing bowl, add several handfuls of flour; stir in some Seasoning Salt.  In the second bowl, crack two eggs and stir them together.  In the third bowl, add a bunch of bread crumbs.  Take a spoonful of croquette batter (vegetarian croquettes first, please).  Drop the batter into the flour; toss it around to coat, and try to work it into roughly a dumpling shape.  Put the croquette in the egg and toss to coat.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer the croquette to the bread crumbs; toss to coat completely.  Place the croquette on the baking sheet.  Repeat with the remaining croquettes.

Again, at this point, you could call it a day and freeze the croquettes until tomorrow, or until next Thanksgiving.  If you’ve gone too far now to turn back, pour an inch of oil into a cast-iron skillet and place it over medium heat.  When the oil is shimmery, CAREFULLY place five or six croquettes in the oil, starting at the back of the skillet.  When they’re golden brown on the bottom, after 2-3 minutes, carefully flip the croquettes and cook on the second side, about 1-2 minutes.

Transfer to a wire rack set over a baking sheet; you can keep the croquettes warm in a 200 degree oven while you cook the rest.  Serve hot on a bed of greens with leftover cranberry sauce (preferably homemade cranberry-orange relish).

Pan-Seared Turkey Liver

This one’s just for the Militant Carnivores.

It’s two days until Thanksgiving.  You’ve put the turkey in a stockpot full of maple brine.  You’ve taken the giblets and added them to the contents of your chicken stock bag and are roasting them in a Dutch oven, along with garlic, onions, carrots and celery, until they’re nice and browned so that you can make a big batch of turkey stock.

And you’re left with the turkey liver.  You know it can’t go into the stock pot, as it will make the stock bitter.  And there’s certainly not enough of it to make into a separate dish to put on the Thanksgiving table.  What to do?

Stop feeling guilty, that’s what.  This one’s for you—just for you.  Toss it in a hot cast-iron skillet, sear it for about 45 seconds per side, drizzle it with a little vinegar, add a grind of pepper and a pinch of flaky salt, and eat it with some toast or crackers.  Pour yourself a glass of chilled red wine.  You’ve been working hard.  You’ve earned a little chef’s treat.  Enjoy.

Smoked Cheddar Waffles

Who knew that making waffles was incredibly easy?

For some reason, I thought waffle-making was an almost impossibly difficult task, involving seasoning and re-seasoning a finicky waffle iron that was as likely to burn your waffle to a crisp as produce something edible.  Maybe that’s never been the case, or maybe waffle iron technology has improved exponentially since the last time I checked, but I have to say that my new Chef’s Choice WafflePro Express makes waffle-making a snap.  The waffles come out perfectly—and quickly.  In fact, I can get waffles on the table in ten minutes from the time I think, “Man, I could go for some waffles this morning.”

In the month that I’ve had this thing, I’ve made waffles four or five times, never using the same recipe twice.  I made these savory waffles (adapted from Moosewood Restaurant New Classics)  at my Lovely Vegetarian Wife’s request; I served them for dinner to company along with mushroom gravy and collard greens.  Who said that waffles were just for breakfast and maple syrup?

makes about a dozen waffles

  • 2 c flour
  • 1/2 t baking soda
  • 1/2 T baking powder
  • 1 T sugar
  • a large pinch of salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2c buttermilk
  • 3 T butter, melted
  • 1 t Dijon mustard
  • 3 or 4 green onions, trimmed
  • 1 c smoked cheddar, coarsely grated

Preheat your waffle iron, following manufacturer’s directions.  If you want to serve all of the waffles at the same time, preheat the oven to 200 degrees.  (All waffles are better hot out of the iron, though.  See if you can persuade your guests into being served one at a time.)

Mix the dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl.  In a separate and smaller mixing bowl, stir together the eggs, buttermilk, butter and mustard.  Stir the egg mixture into the dry ingredients, mixing just until combined (there should still be some lumps of flour in the batter).

Chop the green onions and stir them into the batter along with the cheese.  When the iron is ready, add a scoop of batter (my waffle iron takes 1/3 cup of batter).  Follow the directions for the waffle iron.  Serve immediately with any condiments, sweet or savory, that you choose.

(Full disclosure:  The picture below is of a plain buttermilk waffle, not a smoked cheddar waffle.  We were too busy eagerly devouring them to get a good picture!)

A year ago, my Lovely Vegetarian Wife and I joined the late 20th century by acquiring a microwave.  We had just moved across the country and were setting up our apartment, and our friends said that they had an old one which they didn’t use anymore.  We accepted it, somewhat reluctantly:  We had gone for most of our adult lives without having a microwave in the kitchen, and we had come to regard it as an unnecessary crutch for frantic yuppies who couldn’t be bothered to take the time to cook properly.

We have come to see that the microwave is very useful and has its place in the kitchen.  Obviously, it’s great for heating up leftovers and cups of coffee.  It is really the best way to make good nachos (a toaster oven gets the chips brown before the cheese melts).  It defrosts things effectively.  It allows you to melt butter in a glass bowl instead of using up another pot and room on the stove.  It cooks sweet potatoes perfectly.  However, there is one important concession that we will not make to the microwave:  We will not make popcorn in the microwave.  We make popcorn on the stove.

Aside from the fact that microwave popcorn contains God knows what, popcorn on the stove is easy and fun.  I won’t say popping corn on the stove is as easy as boiling water, but if you can saute an onion, you can make popcorn.  Simply put a heavy pot over medium heat.  Add a thin layer of oil and a test kernel; cover the pot.  When you hear the “Ping!” of the popcorn popping, the oil is hot enough.  Add the rest of the kernels.  Cover the pot and shake it over the burner.  The popcorn should take off almost right away.  When the popping starts to subside (or when the popcorn starts to push the lid off the pot, which is really seriously cool), dump the popcorn into the largest bowl you have.  (And watch out for stray exploding kernels.  I must say, this is half the fun of stovetop popcorn for me:  I love food that fights back.)

At this point, you can toss the popcorn with WHATEVER YOU WANT.  Seriously.  Have a hankering for kettle corn?  Toss some sugar on with the butter and salt.  Going vegan?  Use olive oil (extra virgin, of course) and a few grinds of black pepper.  Like cheese?  Grate some Parmigiano-Reggiano on top.  Pimenton, curry powder, quatre epices, Chinese five-spice powder… if you like the flavor, it will probably taste good on popcorn.

I like buttery—really buttery—popcorn; I have fond memories of large buckets of movie theater popcorn, slathered with whatever the hell that orange stuff actually is.  These days, though, I can’t quite justify the calories.  So, I compromise (and unlike most compromises, this one leaves everybody happy):  I swap out half of the butter for olive oil.  I don’t see the point of omitting garlic from anything, and a little fresh rosemary just takes this to a whole new level.

I guess it’s time for some actual quantities here:

  • 1/3 c popping corn
  • 2 T butter
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 sprig of rosemary
  • 2 T olive oil, plus more for cooking the popcorn

makes enough popcorn for grazing at a small party, or for snacking on while watching Netflix Instant at 2 am

While preparing the popcorn per the directions above, place the butter in a microwave-proof bowl.  (Or, if you want to swear off the microwave entirely, put the butter in a small pot over medium-low heat.)  Smash and peel the garlic clove; add it to the butter.  Strip the leaves (needles?) off the rosemary sprig and roughly chop them, if you want; add the rosemary to the butter as well.  Microwave the butter on high for 1 minute until it’s melted; stir in the olive oil.

When the popcorn is finished, drizzle the butter-olive oil mixture over top.  I toss the garlic clove in as well—it’s delicious.  Sprinkle generously with salt (and a few grinds of black pepper, if you’re so inclined); toss thoroughly to combine.  Bring the whole bowl (and, ideally, a steaming mug of hot chocolate) over to the couch and put on a good, mindless movie.  Enjoy.

If I accomplish nothing else through this blog than encouraging a few people to try persimmons, then I will have done my small part to make the world a better place.

Persimmons have a lot going for them:  They’re photogenically attractive fruits; they offer a bright note of summery, almost citrusy sweetness in a mellow, autumnal package; they’re portable, durable and easy to eat (no messy rind to peel off, no seeds to spit out).  Since I’m obsessed with savory salads based around fruit, the discovery of persimmons and pomegranates at a recently opened nearby produce market inspired me to create this salad for a crisp October day.

I think one thing that may discourage people from buying persimmons, though, is the existence of two distinct and very different types of persimmons:  Fuyu, which can be eaten when they’re as hard as an apple (as the sticker attached to my persimmons told me), and Hichaya, which are painfully astringent at any point of ripeness shy of custardy-soft.  (This article from NPR nicely expounds on the virtues of these two fruits.)

Use Fuyus for this salad.  If you have a mandoline, you can make quick work of both the persimmons and the fennel.  The pomegranates add enough tartness to the salad that vinegar or lemon juice is unnecessary:  Just drizzle with the best extra virgin olive oil that you have and sprinkle with flaky sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

  • 4 Fuyu persimmons
  • 2 bulbs of fennel
  • 1 pomegranate
  • olive oil

Wash the persimmons; trim off and discard their ends.  Using a mandoline (or your kung fu knife skills), slice the persimmons to a 1/8-inch thickness and add to a large mixing bowl.

Wash the fennel.  Using scissors, snip off some of the fennel fronds (say, 1/4 c worth); set aside.  Cut off the stalks and reserve for the vegetable stock bag.   Trim off and discard the root end of the fennel.  Slice the fennel bulb crosswise into 1/8-inch thick slices.  Add to the persimmon slices.

Using a chef’s knife, cut the pomegranate in half.  Working over a separate mixing bowl, remove the red seeds from the yellow pith; add the seeds to the bowl and discard the pith (and any gray or rotten-looking seeds).  Add the pomegranate seeds to the persimmon and fennel.

Roughly chop the reserved fennel fronds.  Add to the persimmon, fennel and pomegranate.  Drizzle generously with olive oil and add a healthy amount of salt and pepper.  Toss to combine.  Serve.