Friday, February 27, 2015

40 Meatless Meals: Coconut Braised Chickpeas

Slow Cooker Coconut Braised Chickpeas (Serves 6-8)

1 lb dried chickpeas, soaked overnight and drained
2 T oil
1 t ginger
1 T garam masala
1 T sambhaar powder
1 t turmeric
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic
2 cups root vegetables, cubed
1 can coconut milk.
10 oz frozen spinach
Salt to taste

Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat.  Add the spices and toast for a few minutes, until fragrant.  Add onion and garlic and sautée til tender.  (Usually I do this the night before and refrigerate it, so I can just dump everything and go in the morning).

Add drained chickpeas and onion mixture to crockpot.  Add just enough water to cover chickpeas (3-5 cups, depending on how long they soaked).  Add root vegetables.  Cook on high for 4 hours or low for 8.

At the end of cooking: depending on the amount of liquid, you may want to drain some or purée some liquid and chickpeas.  Add coconut milk and spinach and let heat through before serving.

Serve with flatbread or rice.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Tomato Soup from Scratch

For the longest time, tomato soup seemed a bit mysterious to me. I can't really put my finger on why, but I suppose I wasn't sure how one could start by simmering tomatoes and end up with something that wasn't begging for pasta. Really, though, it's as simple as getting past the tomatoishness of it, and just putting soup first in your mind. Start with a mirepoix, deglaze and simmer everything with stock. It's really just a matter of swapping tomatoes for your meat.

I certainly haven't ceased keeping a can around to crack open for lunch, but being able to use really wonderful tomatoes, which are becoming more readily available in the supermarkets, turns this into a feast in its own right.
  • 1 medium sweet pepper (optional)
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 medium carrot
  • 2 large stalks of celery, with plenty of leaves included
  • 1 small onion
  • 1-2 cloves garlic
  • 2 lbs tomatoes, peeled (see below), or 1 large (28oz) can tomatoes
  • 3 c. vegetable or chicken stock
  • salt, pepper, and paprika to taste

Roast the bell pepper, if using, directly over an open flame. Leave it until it is popping, crackling, and blackened, then turn to another side, and continue until it is blistered and black all over. Place it in a small mixing bowl, cover with a plate, and let steam for 10 minutes or so.
 Meanwhile, coarsely chop the onion, carrot, and celery, and saute until softened. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant. When the pepper is ready, rub off most of the peel with your fingers or a kitchen rag, slice up half of it and add that, too. (Save the other half for tacos, salad topping, pasta, or just about anything. You could just add it to the soup, too; just change the name to "Tomato and Roasted Pepper Soup.")

Add the tomatoes (here, frozen from my garden), along with the stock. (If your tomatoes require peeling, add just a bit of the stock at first, cover and steam for a few minutes. Pull out the tomatoes and cool until you are able to handle them, and the peels should slip of fairly easily.)

You might just find yourself using this stuff, too.
I won't tell.
About that stock, did you know that it's permissible to use chicken stock on meatless days? Or that you can make stock for free? Whatever you do, make sure you scrape up all those lovely blackish-brown bits at the bottom of your pan after you've added it. They're pure flavor.

Cover your pot, bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer for about 20 minutes, until your vegetables are quite soft. Now, if you prefer a chunkier soup, and your tomatoes are fairly well mashed, you can just season to taste and serve right here. If you want a traditional dip for your perfect grilled cheese, however, you'll want to blend this thoroughly.

If you have an immersion blender, your job is quite easy. Just put it in the pot and turn it on until it's as smooth as you like. If you're using a regular blender, though, you should:
  • let the soup cool down for at least 10 minutes, 
  • fill the blender no more than  2/3 full
  • put the lid on, then throw a kitchen towel over it,
  • and hold the lid on tightly while you blend.
All of the above should prevent a highly messy and potentially scalding soup-splosion in your kitchen.

Once blended, you may return the soup to the pot to warm it back up again, and you should check your seasonings at this time. Tomatoes vary widely in flavor, as do tastes in tomato soup, so you may find yourself adding any of the following to a batch:
  • for an overall lacklustre soup:
    • ½ can or more tomato paste
    • red or white wine
    • a healthy dash balsamic vinegar
    • a half-tablespoon of lemon juice
  • for overly acidic tomatoes:
    • white or brown sugar
    • molasses
    • a bit more salt
  • if the soup is too cloying, or lacks "meatiness":
    • worchestershire sauce
    • soy sauce
    • hot sauce
    • mustard
    • celery salt
  • basil, powdered garlic, or a bit of smoked paprika can be nice additions as well. However tempting it may be, I would not recommend adding too much oregano, lest your diners find themselves wondering if you have repurposed last week's marinara sauce..

Sunday, February 22, 2015

First Sunday of Lent

And he was in the wilderness forty days, 
tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; 
and the angels ministered to him. (Mk 1, 13)

Ludovico Carracci, Christ Served by Angels in the Wilderness, 1608-1610

Friday, February 20, 2015

40 Meatless Meals: Italian Beans with Polenta

This simple slow cooker meal is ideal to come home to on cold Friday evenings after Stations. The beans can be prepared ahead of time and reheated. If you have never made polenta in your slow cooker, you'll be amazed to find how creamy it is without arduous stovetop stirring.

Italian Beans with Polenta (serves 6)


2 T olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T Italian seasoning
1 lb dried beans of choice, cooked (or 3 cans of beans)
10 oz box of frozen spinach
salt and red pepper flakes to taste

Sautee onion and garlic in olive oil. Add remaining ingredients and cook until spinach is heated thru.

1 T olive oil
2 cups cornmeal
7 cups water or vegetable broth
pinch of salt
Parmesan cheese for serving

Grease slow cooker with oil. Add cornmeal and water and cook on high for 2 hours. Stir before serving.

Serve warm beans over polenta, garnished with cheese.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

40 Meatless Meals: Tomato Poached Eggs

2/20 8:32 AM Edited to correct recipe link

I can take no credit for this recipe, but only attest to its simplicity. Basic groceries come together in an elegant entree that is greater than the sum of its parts. Plan on one to two eggs per person, and pair with a loaf of bread for a meal in under ten minutes, or with pasta to satisfy heartier appetites.

Lenten Sacrifices Booklet

(I seem to have forgotten this last year, as the last file I have says "2013". Nevertheless, here is it's triumphant return.)

Now that I have small children, I need to have a little flexibility in my lenten sacrifices. Some days, a certain resolution just is not happening and trying to make it so will only result in the less-meritorious sort of suffering. Still, it's good to have some accountability, so that flexibility doesn't fade over into laziness or forgetfulness. Putting a little check in the box is all it takes, really, and I'm sharing with you my pocket-sized (smaller, really) booklet to help keep track of Lenten sacrifices. Write commitments in the first column, and then check them off each day you complete them. I've greyed out Sundays and solemnities, since it's not necessary to fast those days (though there's certainly no reason not to pray!).

To put together the book after you've printed it out (diagrams here):
  • Fold in half and crease, with the text facing out, along the registration marks, both the long and wide way. Since every printer is different, you may have to trim a bit of the marginsto even up these edges. 
  • Open it out, and then fold each side in to meet in the center (again following the registration marks). 
  • Slit the paper along the tops of the center two sets of pages, then pull open this slit at the folds. Fold book so that the covers are in front and back.
Have a blessed and fruitful Lent!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Lent is coming...

"Yet even now," says the LORD, 
"return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning" 
(Joel 2, 12)

Ash Wednesday is next week, and it's a good time to start thinking about this season of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. My family is planning to observe Lent 2015 by:

-Wake up every morning with a happy heart.
-Pray the Morning Offering together (in the get out the door to school rush, this has been going by the wayside).
-Pray the Divine Mercy chaplet every afternoon.
-Attend Friday evening Stations/Mass.

-Give up family Friday "pizza and a movie night."
-Give up personal media consumption when the kids are awake.
 -No sweets except for birthdays/feast days.

-Donate to our parish school.
-Respond to community requests to bring meals to families in need.

On the practical side, it's not a bad idea to stock up on groceries for easy meatless meals, like canned tuna, frozen fish, canned or dried beans, and pasta or rice.  Check out some ideas from 40 Meatless Meals of past years, and we'll be offering some new recipes in the days to come.

 Image source: "Fałat Julian, Popielec" by Julian Fałat - Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, February 9, 2015

10 reasons why I always buy a 5 pound bag of carrots

A neighbor of mine and I ran into each other at the grocery store, and I asked her why she had a five pound bag of carrots in her cart, since she has a household of two. She replied to me that they came in handy. Over the course of the winter, I've imitated her habit, and have been surprised how often that bag of carrots has saved me from a last minute trip to the grocery store and helped my family get more servings of vegetables.

1. Carrots for breakfast? Yes, please. My family loves morning glory muffins, but maybe yours would prefer the carrots in a smoothie or juiced. Or if you have a little more time, try carrot cake pancakes.

2. Combine with celery and onions (two other hardy produce drawer friends) for mirepoix, the basis of good soup. Carrot slices add freshness to a bean or lentil soup.

3.  Whip up a quick crudite platter for unexpected guests.

4. Put your roast on a bed of carrots for an easy side (and more flavor in your gravy).

6. Grate them for a side salad. There's always the classic grated carrot with mayo and raisins, but you can toss carrot "ribbons" made by a vegetable peeler with olive oil, salt, and pepper for a more artistic salad. Thinly sliced carrots also pair well with cabbage in a slaw.

7. Pickled carrots, for when you want a change from the usual cucumber.

8. Braised carrots, for days when the entree is on the lighter side.

9. Boil and puree them for baby food.

10. Carrot cake. Need I say more?