Tuesday, June 30, 2009

I LOVE lentilburgers!

Truth be told, I'm not really sure why. I used to hate lentils, and I think I kept that one up a lot longer than I kept up the hatred of onions.

So. Normally I try to only blog about recipes that I have tried on multiple people, on multiple occasions, which said people on said occasions liked well enough that I had confidence that my culinary offering would be at least palatable to the general public. Lentilburgers, however, I just made up (my version of) last week-- but I love them so much that I just had to share. I'll try to blog something better soon, but meanwhile you can just shake your head and chuckle at my craziness, and, if you've lost your job recently and are living on food storage, TRY them. Or even if you haven't and aren't, you could do it so that you can call me up and tell me you loved me so much that you tried this recipe, despite the fact that its main ingredient is lentils.

1/4 cup of dehydrated onions, covered with
1/4 cup of water (let it soak while you measure the other stuff)
1/2 cup of cooked lentils (I forgot to mention their "cooked-ness" to my sister the first time I gave her the recipe, and about the time I said to put the burgers in the skillet, she asked, "Uh, is there a point at which we soften these lentils up with some water? And I said, "Oh, yes. Before you begin.")
1/4 cup of bread crumbs or cracker crumbs
1 squirt (about a tablespoon?) of ketchup
a few drops of Worstchestershire sauce (not sure how much of a difference for taste this makes, but it makes me feel fancy and we have it on hand, so I do it)
1 egg

Put everything in a bowl. Mix it up. It will sort of be like super gloppy pancake mixture, or like Haroset with egg in it, if you've ever made Haroset. (I'll get around to blogging that recipe some time). Heat up your skillet, put a little bit of oil or butter or nonstick spray in it-- whatever you fancy-- and cook up some LENTILBURGERS! Yum!

For whatever weird reason, lentilburger on a toasted sandwich with a thin slice of tomato and some dijon mustard fills the spot in my cravings which used to be reserved for McDonald's Hamburgers. Of course, you may be thinking, the very fact that I even HAD a spot reserved for McDonald's Hamburgers might explain why I would like something as weird as lentilburgers, and I may agree with you. However, I will be that much richer, or at least less poor, because while McDonald's Hamburgers cost 89 cents a pop, lentils, UNcooked, are about $2.00 a pound (I just looked it up online and saw some that were organic for $2.51), and the rest of the ingredients aren't exactly expensive either.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A Few Good Books (For Grownups and Mostly-Grownups)

You have heard of L.M. Montgomery because of Anne of Green Gables, and I admit that the work everyone knows her for is perfectly fine; however, Anne's House of Dreams is the best book she ever wrote. It is, incidentally, the fifth book of the Anne series (which series L. M. Montgomery had not wanted to write even book two of, but had to because of popular demand). My theory is that maybe she had learned her craft well by the time she got to book five? I dunno. But it is truly her best, in my opinion and that of my old cello teacher, and you believe us, don't you?

For very nice romantic comedy fiction, you don't get much better than The Blue Castle, also by the esteemed Ms. Montgomery. I warn you that the romance doesn't start until literally half way through the book, but it is still very rewarding.

The Chosen, by Chaim Potok, had a profound influence on me when I was in high school, and even now I think about its themes a lot. Set in 1940's Brooklyn, it's about a friendship between an orthodox Jewish boy and an ultra-orthodox one. The ultra-orthodox kid is not super easy to be friends with, but the other kid's dad encourages the friendship, so he tries, but he doesn't really get why it's so important at the time. But who does, in high school? Or even later, sometimes. The time period this book covers includes the end of WWII and the holocaust, and a major question which crops up is about what it means to be "chosen" and how much pain can be involved with that. Along with some possibilities for redemption. I can't say that I have read almost all of Dr. Potok's other work, as I have with L.M. Montgomery's, but so far in my opinion The Chosen was his best (which is a little scary to me as an aspiring writer, since it was also his first).

A brief warning about Terry Pratchett: PLEASE beware of picking up stray British swear words that seem oh-so-innocent to you as an American but which really are deeply offensive in a number of principalities (which speak British English). But. Mr. Pratchett is really, really good at writing fiction which is: 1) deeply, profoundly silly; and 2) deeply profound. I may have higher needs for zaniness in my intellectual diet than other people do; I haven't done a comparative study; but I really do think that these books are lovely and worth trying.

Reaper Man-- perhaps my favorite Terry Pratchett of all time. About when Death (the anthropomorphic personification; the guy who is a skeleton and walks around with a scythe) looses his job.

Night Watch-- about good police work versus bad, and about-- oh, sheesh. I don't know how to describe it. Also about how to be true to what is true when it is for sure going to cost you your job and might just cost you your life. Also, just to drive the point home, it is profoundly silly, at least in spots.

The Tiffany Aching Series: Wee Free Men; A Hat Full of Sky; and Wintersmith. These combine a coming-of-age story with a very clear explication of what Relief Society is all about (if we were witches, living on Discworld). Also, as with the other Terry Pratchett books that I like so much, about death in one way or another.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Stir Fried Broccoli: A More Than Completely Edible Vegetable

Note: I got this technique from one of my favorite cookbooks of all time, called The Complete Illustrated Step-by-Step Cookbook, by Judith Ferguson. My copy came from a thrift store, years ago; I bought it because it has full-color, full-page pictures EVERY OTHER PAGE (which I was impressed with because I had long since given in to the Alice-in-wonderland philosophy: '...what is the use of a book,' thought Alice 'without pictures or conversation?'), but I soon began to appreciate it for its other qualities. These include extremely clear directions, not too expensive ingredients (er, at least, not for the recipes I choose to cook), and of course consistently yummy end results. The sort of book, in short, that I would like to write some day.

The recipe is part of a larger recipe for Broccoli-Beef stir fry, but several years ago I realized that it could be fixed, with satisfyingly delicious results, on its own. It is not a knock-you-socks-off, people-beg-you-for-the-recipe, fix-for-Thanksgiving-for-sure kind of food, which in my personal rating system would count as "quite good;" it is, however, the sort of recipe that makes people say, "Gosh, I didn't know that I liked stir-fried broccoli this much," and that counts as "More than Completely Edible." In fact, I myself do not normally fix broccoli in any other way, and when I am fixing dinner and think to myself: crud! I forgot to plan a vegetable! this recipe often comes to my rescue. Try it. You'll like it. Really.

One head of broccoli
Some vegetable oil (a tablespoon or so)

Wash the broccoli and cut it in to "even sized pieces." They should be the size of pieces that you would normally see in stir-fry.

Heat the oil in the skillet. For various reasons, I normally use a nine-or-ten-inch cast iron skillet, so I put the skillet on to heat (medium high heat) approximately ten minutes before I put the broccoli in to it. I think it's ten minutes. I'll check this week and get back to you, because even though I am sure our stoves will be different, it is good to know this sort of thing. Five minutes definitely works when you have a gas stove, but I'm working with an electric these days, which heats more slowly. The reason why I am going on and on about this, besides the fact that I have difficulty ceasing speech in general, is that the hotness of the skillet when the broccoli hits it so happens to be the only thing which is fiddly about this recipe, and if you get it wrong, you may incorrectly believe that there was something wrong with the recipe itself. (Just below, I'll tell you how I use the oil in the skillet to tell how hot it is.)

So. Put a tablespoon or two of oil in to the skillet. I always use olive oil, but corn oil or canola oil or whatever it is you like to use are also perfectly acceptable. Now, for judging hotness: if, when you pour it in, it sort of spreads out slowly, then the skillet isn't hot enough; if this is the case, then do something else for a minute or so, then come back and tilt the skillet to see how things are coming along. If it spreads out quickly/ runs quickly, it is probably just right. A very little smoke is OK (but throw in the broccoli IMMEDIATELY), but a lot of smoke means that the skillet is too hot, and you should let it cool down a bit and clean it out so that you don't get the carcinogenic (=cancer causing) effect of burnt oil in your diet. This on top of the fact that it doesn't taste great. N.B.: different oils spread in different ways, but I'm not familiar with all of the variations (nor did you really want to read about them this very moment, did you?), so I'll just have to say get to know your skillet, your stove, and your preferred oil well enough to gauge this accurately. The basic principles remain the same.

Once the skillet is hot enough but not too hot, throw in your broccoli and start stirring. Especially if the broccoli hasn't drained all the way from when you washed it, the oil has the potential to spatter, so be careful. I either use a wooden spoon or a spatula to push the broccoli around. You can leave the skillet for long enough to go set a timer for two minutes, but you probably shouldn't be gone much longer; you should keep stirring pretty much constantly until it is done. Once it is bright green, which may take as long as two and a half minutes, it is ready. Sometimes you will get a little bit of browning on the edges, which is PERFECT. Serve hot, if you can.