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Comfort Food

Comfort Food

Mediterranean Inspired Red Lentil Soup

June 19, 2017

We are attracted to food as much by color as by flavor.To my eye, red lentils have always looked so much more appealing than the typical, muddy-colored lentils I usually cook up with a big old ham hock. Their color lies something between creamy orange sickle and apricot.
Plus, they have the added benefit of cooking up pretty quickly.

The pretty soup took only 25 minutes to make … from beginning to end, yet it has a surprising medley of flavors going for it. It’s has  a bit of heat, a touch of tang, and a few surprises. Plus, it is super quick and easy to prepare.

Here’s how I did it.

RED LENTIL SOUP WITH MINT & BASIL

Into a deep sauce pan or soup pot, dribble 2 tablespoons of good olive oil.
To this, add:

  • 2 claws garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup onion, chopped
  • 1 medium tomato, chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, chopped
  • 1 small potato, cubed

Sauté the above mixture about two minutes, then add:

  • 1 cup water (adding more as needed as the lentils cook)
  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 1 tbsp vegetable bouillon, photo below (or 1 chicken stock cube)
  • 2 tbsp real butter or good butter substitute. I use Earth Balance in just about everything.
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tsp curry powder
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric (optional)
  • 1 shake of nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp rice vinegar or white vinegar (or lemon juice). Do not overdo the acid.

Allow this concoction to cook until the lentils are nearly soft, about 10- 15 minutes.
Then add:

  • 10 leaves freshly chopped basil leaves
  • 10 leaves freshly chopped mint leaves

Simmer until the lentils are soft, the carrots and potatoes soft to bite, but not mushy.

TIPS: If you’re a meat-eater and  want to make this into a heartier meal , add 8 ounces of breakfast sausage a few minutes after adding the lentils. Add by breaking the raw sausage up with your fingers or a wooden spatula in order to make small, bite sized bits.  Serve with warm bread or croutons.

Comfort Food

Left-Over Lift: Arroz con Pollo

March 5, 2017

Arroz con Pollo is a staple of many Latin American households and there are as many ways to prepare it as there are moms and grandmothers.  I make it the way I was taught by my neighbor in the Panama Interior, with a few spins of my own.

What’s even better is Arroz con Pollo is versatile; serve it hot or cold, and it’s easy to put your own spin on it using whatever feels right to you, or what makes sense from your fridge on any given day.  Leave out the chicken and bingo! Now you have a Vegetarian/Vegan dish! 

My recipe is perfect for both left-over chicken and left-over rice.  I don’t always make it with left-overs. I’ve been known to gently poach chicken breasts and then hand-shred them. But that’s just not necessary. And if you are using freshly cooked rice, chill it before blending it into the dish.

This past Saturday was “beach out like a whale” day which  in my house. means lots of binge TV and binge food, including super market fried chicken.

On Sunday, I was  left with an ample amount of tender chicken under the cold, crusty, greasy skins.  I also had a decend amount of cold, left-over chinese take-out rice (let’s not discuss that binge!) — perfect since this recipe uses cold rice.

I peeled and tossed the chicken skins, shredded the tender meat, and set it aside.

ARROZ con POLLO

  • Place two cups of cold, cooked, white rice into a large bowl. If you have freshly cooked rice, spread it out in a wide dish and refrigerate 1/2 hour.

    To the rice, add the following, adjusting quantities according to taste.
  • 1  or 1-1/2 cups of shredded chicken breast
  • 2 Tablespoons sliced green (or black) olives
  • 1 Teaspoon of caper berries
  • 1 Very thinly sliced or shredded carrot
  • 1/4 Cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 Teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1/4 Cup green peas (Frozen…then run under warm water.)
  • 1/4 Cup corn (Frozen is fine, just run under warm water.)

As a main course, I was taught to serve this warm and always together with a light, crispy and simple salad with Russian dressing. Personally, I love the warm rice dish together with the crisp cold of the salad.

TIPS: This is such a versatile and deceptively filling way to eat rice and chicken so change it any way that works.

  1. Add chopped celery tops (the light green only) or celery heart.
  2. Make it without the chicken and you have a Vegetarian/Vegan dish.
  3. Toss in a little olive or caper juice, or even a squeeze of lemon or vinegar
  4. Some people add chopped tomato
  5. Remember: Use cold rice. It’s easy to quickly chill freshly made rice.
  6. Serve hot or cold, as a side dish or as a main course.

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Comfort Food

10-Minute Mushroom Soup

October 25, 2016

With all the healthy food I post here on With Love and Butter, you might be shocked,okay,  even disgusted, to discover that I have some truly appalling choices when it comes to what I consider “comfort food.”  But hey, it’s personal, isn’t it?  Doesn’t everyone have a closet comfort food they’d rather not admit to the world? Some sinful, completely non-gourmet slop you eat when you have the house to yourself, curtains drawn, shutters closed, snuggled up in front of the TV?

So here is my confession, the greasy, salty, truth. My go-to favorites usually come from 1. a can and 2. they’re loaded with sodium, usually 800 or 900 mgs.,  enough send the needle on my scale soaring at least 4 extra pounds the next morning, and zoom my blood pressure into the stroke zone.

Give me tamales (I’m not even a little discerning; they can come from the Dollar store!), or mushy, sugary kid-friendly Ravioli, also a frequent dollar find. I’m good for the whole can. Also,  I’m not above devouring  a couple of eggs poached atop a greasy plate of canned corned beef hash, extra crispy on the bottom, occasionally topped with a slice of melting, cheese (um, more salt!).  But my all-time favorite, sinful, salty satisfier is Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup, usually made with Half & Half, and dotted with gooey, melty bits of cheese. There’s just something about that combination that takes me to an emotional comfort zone rarely found anywhere else but the occasional bowl of warm Mac ‘n Cheese.

Sure, I can cut down on the salt by choosing the so-called healthier version, but check the label. There’s still a load of sodium in there plus, I usually end up adding more.

Finally, speed is a factor. When you are in need of an emotional food high, comfort food is something you need now.  No waiting. So I came up with an admittedly still slightly sinfu– l but much healthier — home version and it took only 10 minutes. That’s no lie.

10 MINUTE MUSHROOM SOUP MAGIC

  1. Melt 3 tablespoons of your favorite healthy butter substitute in a saucepan. To this, add:
  2. 1/2 Sweet, white onion, very finely chopped. Let this cook a few minutes, until the onions are clear but not burned. Now add:
  3. 1 Teaspoon of finely chopped, fresh Tarragon.
    TIP: Substitute fresh Thyme if you have it. Now add:
  4. 1 cup finely chopped, white mushrooms.
    TIP: I like to leave my mushrooms uncovered, in the refrigerator,  for a few days. They develop a deeper flavor as they dry out a little.  Stir these until the mushrooms are supple, about 2 minutes. Now add:
  5. Salt & Pepper to taste.
    I used very little salt and I like the pink, Himalayan, Kosher, or Sea Salt.  Now add:
  6. 1 Cup of Half & Half (or any non-dairy creamer that you like, but nothing sweet!)
    (TIP: If you want to save calories, use milk. We are going to thicken this in a moment.)
  7. Once your mixture is bubbling away, grab a tablespoon of Gluten-Free Flour (or regular, white flour if you use that but I find the Gluten-Free flours tend to incorporate easily, without needing to make a roux. Also, I use my fingers to sprinkle it gently over my mixture, like a fine snow. Then quickly whisk it in to avoid clumping.  If your soup seems to loose and you want it thicker, just sprinkle in more, a half teaspoon at a time.

Voila! You’re all done! Now you have a rich and creamy, home-made mushroom soup with very little salt, the benefits of fresh mushrooms, onions and herbs, fit for company!

DON’T FORGET: You may substitute Fresh Thyme for Tarragon, and if you don’t have fresh herbs, just use dried.

Comfort Food

Absolutely Delicious Spinach

August 9, 2016

Spinach is a funny vegetable. Kids and adults can claim to love it or loathe it, but for me, almost anyone will love it if it’s prepared in a tasty way.

When my son’s girlfriend, Sabrina, a self-proclaimed disliker of the green stuff, ordered and then devoured yummy, warm and cheesy spinach appetizer at a local restaurant, I put my mind to creating a spinach dish that would be just as tasty, but healthier.

Not every mom is as lucky as I am when it comes to kids and vegetables, especially spinach.
William eats just about anything, but when he was little, I didn’t know if this would hold when it came to something like spinach. So I would prepare what we simply called “green noodles” as my way of adding this healthy vegetable to his diet.

The recipe below blends my “green noodles” idea with the comfort of the creamy, warm and cheesy restaurant dip.  So it’s not just for kids.
It’s super as a side dish but also filling enough to eat on its own.
The bonus is that it serves up the warm comfort feeling of something like Mac & Cheese, but definitely healthier!

Here is how I prepare spinach for even the most finicky guest or visiting child.

Oh! And if you like gooey, creamy, hot spinach dips, you and your guests will devour this comforting and tasty side dish.

PREPARATION

Finely mince, and I do mean mince,  two cups of lovely, tender baby spinach (or one cup per person) until the leaves are teeny tiny. Do not cook. Just set the pile aside on the chopping board.

  1. Boil the right amount of tiny pasta until done. I measure out about 1/2 a cup, dry, per person.
    For the pasta here, I used Orzo, but you can also use little stars, or other really small pastas. I do not recommend larger noodles and wouldn’t suggest any thing bigger than an elbow macaroni.
  2. Drain pasta and return to the hot pan it was boiled in.
  3. Immediately add 3 tablespoons of good butter so it will melt into the pasta.
  4. Toss in all the uncooked, minced spinach.
  5. Add 1/4 fresh, grated parmesan cheese.
  6. Add 1/4 sour cream or creme fraische.
  7. Salt & pepper to taste.
  8. Stir until the butter, parmesan and sour cream are well combined.
  9. Top with fresh, grated parmesan.

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TIP: If you eat gluten-free, simply substitute wheat pasta for a Quinoa or Rice pasta.

Comfort Food

Low-Carb Potato Alternative…

April 7, 2016

Cauliflower is very popular these days as a healthy replacement for not only carb-loaded potatoes, but as a meat replacement in dishes such as Tacos!

If you’re eating Paleo, Vegetarian. Grain-Free, or just wanting a new way to get your veggies, this super simple preparation is for you!

No bacon needed!

CAULIFLOWER SMASH!

  1. Split or quarter  1/2 of a large head of Caulifower, leaves included, except for those really thick, tough leaves that don’t steam up well.
  2. Have 1/4 cup loosely chopped onion handy but don’t add yet.
  3. Cover your Cauliflower with salted water (2 tsp salt) and simmer until easily stabbed with a fork. About 3 minutes before it is really soft, toss in the onion!
  4. When fork-soft, drain and place in a large bowl.
  5. While still hot, chop or break the cauliflower it into smaller pieces with a scissors or a knife. This should be easy.
  6. Toss in 2 tbsp butter
  7. Toss in a 1/3 tsp of Oregano. (Any fresh herb could do, such as Tarragon, Sage, Thyme, but stick with one flavor.)
  8. Puree all the Cauliflower & Onion with a hand blender, or whatever blender/food processor you use. Leave a few lumps for a nice consistency.
  9. Once pureed,sprinkle in about 1/4 cup of Italian blend cheese or a very mild cheddar, or any mild cheese. Now stir in the cheese until combined and melty.

Spoon your puree out and garnish with fresh herbs.

TIPS:  To treat this more like traditional mashed potatoes, add a little Half & Half to the mix as you puree. You can also top with gravy or, on each serving, top with a dollop of  Sour Cream, Chives, and extra Cheddar. Cauliflower is influenced by the flavors that surround it.

Comfort Food

Everything’s Better with Bacon

March 29, 2016

Let’s face it. Most things really are better with bacon.

The key to getting a lot of flavor into this soup is the bacon, and also using either a good, home  made stock, a high-quality store bought stock, or a combination of the two. No hard, dried little flavor cubes!

Here is how I make my truly mouth-watering, Lentil Soup.

FIRST

Boil 1 cup of dried, quick cooking lentils in about twic 2-1/2 times as much liquid.
Add 2 small cloves garlic, minced.
(If you need or want more liquid, go ahead. I just add more if I think I need it.)

For liquid/broth, I use a combination of good quality beef stock and my own, delicious, super healthy bone broth, if I have some.
My lentils take about 20-25 minutes to really soften up so you ca  get these bubbling away on the stove top while you prepare the remaining ingredients.

WHILE YOUR LENTILS COOK…

Peel and dice a medium potato (I used red but removed the peel). You can set these to boil about 15 minutes OR you can toss them in to boil with the lentils for the last 15 minutes of lentil cooking.  Peeled and diced potatoes will not require that much time to soften and you don’t want them too mushy.

NEXT…

In a frying pan, sauté 6 strips of bacon, cut up (I use scissors leaving all the fat right in the pan as the bacon sizzles away.

  • Slice 2 small or 1 medium carrot
  • Dice 1 stick celery
  • Chop 1/4 cup of onion

By now, your bacon is nearly done so toss the carrot, celery and onion into the bacon pan and cook for about 5 minutes.

FINISHING UP

When the lentils are soft and the potatoes are cooked (i.e., easily stabbed with a fork), add the bacon and vegetable mixture and every drop of bacon fat.  Salt and pepper to taste.

TIPS:  For a heartier meal, add chunks of  sauteed ham or bratwurst. You can also add some of the tender celery leaves, chopped, for additional flavor.

The better your broth, the more flavorful your soup will be. I recommend reading up on the health benefits of your grandma’s good, old fashioned bone broth. Real bone stock imakes a pivotal difference not only on how flavorful your soup will be, but how healthy!

Comfort Food

Creamy Soup: Veggies in Disguise

February 14, 2016

I find Caulifower takes on any flavors you add, so it pays to be bold, not shy, when it comes to this gorgeous, healthy vegetable flower.

I just made this up, so add or change any items you wish.
And have fun with it!  I have added some suggestions for substitutions below. (See photo below.)

CAULIFLOWER SOUP — FIRST INGREDIENTS

  1. Break up a medium to large head of Cauliflower.
  2. Place all the pieces in 1 inch of water, in a large sauce or soup pan.  You do Not need to cover the vegetables! Just an inch for steaming or your soup will be too watery.
  3. Toss – right on top — 3 whole spring onion stems, cut in half, the green part and all.
  4. Add 2 tablespooons of chopped, sweet red peppers.
  5. Shake in about 1/8 tsp Hot Red Pepper Flakes. (This is optional, but if you like heat and don’t have flakes,  try cayenne.)
  6. Add 1 tooth of garlic (or used 1/2 tsp dried flakes or chopped, jarred.)

Shake in some of your favorite salt to taste.Not too much as you or your guests can add this later.

STEP TWO – BLENDING & ADDING

  1. Cover all the above and steam first on high, then medium, until all the ingredients are easily broken up with a fork… About 10 minutes.
  2. Remove from heat.
  3. Blend throughly with a hand mixer right in the pot. This will remove some of the heat. If you don’t have a hand blender, use A regular blender…but do this in small batches to avoid explosion as the heat expands in a closed environment.
  4. Once blended but still quite warm, add 1/2 cup of Half & Half.
  5. Now, add also about 3/4 cup of shredded Cheddar (or any preferred cheese) and stir or blend lightly. You can cream the cheese at this point, or leave visible bits.
  6. For color and taste, NOW add 1 tsp. ground Turmeric. If you have fresh, wonderful. (See below for suggested substitutions).
  • Blend all the above together.
  • Reheat before serving and garnish with more spring onion or parsley, and a little black pepper

SUGGESTIONS  & SUBSTITUTES

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  1. If you are Vegan, use Coconut milk and a cheese substitute.
  2. Don’t have or care for turmeric (which contains serious anti-inflamation properties), try curry powder, or a little fresh or powdered ginger instead.
  3. Try roasted peppers or jarred pimento instead of the fresh, sweet red pepper.
  4. Try steaming your vegetables in chicken stock.
  5. Use another vegetable, such as broccoli.
  6. Don’t tell the kids about the cauliflower! Just say it’s a creamy, cheddar soup!

 

Comfort Food

Paleo Veg Surprise

January 23, 2016

Everything is better with bacon. And teensy cabbages are no exception. Oh, you think you don’t care for brusel sprouts…but ah, you haven’t tried this dish. I dare you to serve this up to even the most reluctant eater, and I encourage you to cheat; Don’t even tell them what it is. You’ll see.

To Prepare

  • With your favorite scissors, dice up 4 slices of bacon and stir fry until crispy.
  • Set aside and drain, leaving about 3 tablespoons of the bacon greese in the ot pan.
  • Cut about 8 fresh brussel sprouts in half. Then quarter them.
  • Toss these into the pan along with the hot bacon grease and stir fry until the edges feel crispy and begin to brown.
  • Toss brussel sprouts and bacon bits together, adding salt & pepper to taste.(If you can find Truffle Salt, try some!)

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Comfort Food

No More “Gringo Rice!”

November 1, 2015

I’ll never forget when a an honored dinner guest, an educated hydroponics engineer type whom I was trying to impress — and who is given to social blurting — blurted out his obvious disappointment upon seeing the savory rice dish I was about to serve, exclaiming (a la “Oy Vey”) “Oh… Gringo rice.”

That was it. I had spent seven months in the Philippines and two years in Mexico and I still cooked rice like a Greenwich girl… all sticky and gooey and clumpy.

I had been taught that it was key to use exactly  twice the water to rice and also to never, ever, lift the lid of the pot while it steamed.  I followed this to a T every time, and for years, and still I got goopy “Gringo rice” every time.

Back in the 1970s,  my dad, who had is own ad agency, rejected the marketing of a brand called “Success Rice,” claiming that the concept was a ploy: that people all over the world found making fluffy rice easy breezy and would only  laugh at the little, holey, pre-measured, steam bags made for us WASPY white-bread types who bought into the idea that rice making was a mystery, that rice-making required a special touch.

The morning after my dinner party rice disaster, I marched over to my Panamanian neighbor Leticia’s house, refusing to leave until she showed me exactly how Latinas make their rice all light and fluffy. Since that day, never ever has as my rice been met with disapproval.

It is not a science so you don’t need measuring cups, and it is easy. I was recently back in the United States and a friend, another girl brought up on bread and pasta, cooked up a pot of white rice. It came out as I expected see photo below).   I took the very same rice, the same kind of pot she’d used, but instead I simply made two simple changes and whipped up my Latino style arroz blanco (white rice.)

The photos speak: you can see that the first batch, made by my friend, is sticky, clumped and gooey, while the same rice product, made by me, came out fluffy.

FLUFFY LATINO RICE — There are only two simple tricks!

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Gooey “Gringo Rice”

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Fluffy Rice, Latino Style

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Measure out a cup of uncooked, white rice and place in a bowl.
  2. Rinse this rice until the water runs clear. (Some save the first rinse-water for soups. See tip below).
  3. Drain/strain out the water in a colander.
  4. In your favorite pot for rice cooking, heat two tablespoons of oil or butter.
  5. Dump your rinsed and drained rice into the hot oil and start sauteeing.  
  6. Stir until the rice seems dry but does not brown, about a minute.
  7. Now pour water or chicken stock over your rice until the rice is covered and the water level measures about as high as your first knuckle above the rice…about 1/2 an inch.  I use my index/pointer finger knuckle and I do this by eye. It is not an exact science and this does not matter. 
  8. Bring the liquid to a low boil. Then cover and reduce heat to a simmer and let cook for about 15 minutes.
  9. Lift the lid and check by picking out a fork full and tasting.   Is it dry? Add 1/4 cup of water, cover and cook on low another 8 minutes or so.  When you feel your rice is done, just turn off the stove and let the rice sit in the pot.

TIPS:

  •  If your rice develops a hard, crusty and golden layer at the bottom, no worries! This is called the “dorado” and many people think it is a treat to get some of the crust.
  • A Filipina friend of mine sets aside her first, cloudiest rinse-water from her rice wash  — the starchiest batch –adding this to broth to an give her soups that, milky-cloudy, Asian look.
  • I have developed a liking for eating rice with breakfast eggs, especially fried or sunny-side up. When using your rice for making Fried Rice dish, or Arroz con Pollo, wait until your rice is cold, cooled or one day old to use for this type of dish.  Freshly cooked, hot rice will not give you the desired result.
  • For extra flavor, when you add your liquid, toss in a whole, peeled clove or two of garlic if you like. You can pick them out when your rice is cooked.
Comfort Food

Sweet Tooth, Vegan Style!

August 18, 2015

I’m addicted to sugar. And I mean just that — addicted.

I can pass up a glass of wine or a a tall, cold martini, but if I were in the throes of a serious sugar craving, I’d probably step over my first born child to get to the candy corn.

So anytime I can find a healthy way to satisfy my craving for sweet, I share it.
The trick is to be prepared.
Always, always have Stevia on hand. (You can grow it, but it is not as easy to process as some say. And you can purchase it in handy droplets.)
And something citrus, like lemon, lime, calamandron, mandarin or orange.
Finally, keep handy a good flavor essence, such as vanilla or lemon or coconut extract on hand.

DREAMY PLANTAIN & AVACADO TREAT

Into a large bowl, toss:

  • One large, sweet Plantain, or two medium Bananas, finely chopped
  • Add finely cubed, ripe Avacado, about 1/3 of the amount of your Plantains
  • Add a teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • Add drops or packets of Stevia, to taste
  • Squeeze in 1/4 of a lemon, checking to see that it isn’t making your dish too tart
  • Mix all the above ingredients up, tossing well to fully coat with sweet, sour and vanilla
  • Spoon into a dish and douse with Coconut Milk
  • Garnish (not shown) with some fresh mint

FUN ALTERNATIVES:

Exchange Lemon for Lime, or Mandarin or any citrus of your choice.
Exchange Vanilla Extract for Lemon Extract for a really lemony taste… plus add some pretty zest!

For kids, blend everything together and spoon into individual dishes.
Chill, and then sprinkle with Coconut Flakes.
Voila! Banana/Avacado Pudding!