Red Lentil-Rice Cakes with Pico de Gallo

Red Lentil- Rice Cakes with Pico de Gallo
adapted from this recipe in Cooking Light magazine
Red Lentil-Rice Cakes:
5 cups water, divided
1 cup dried small red lentils
1/2 cup uncooked basmati rice
(or 1 and 1/2 cups cooked
2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1/2 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
1/2 tsp cumin seeds, crushed
2 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 cup (3 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup dry breadcrumbs
1 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 large egg whites, lightly beaten
Bring 4 cups water and lentils to a boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce heat, and simmer for 20 minutes or until tender. Drain and rinse with cold water; drain. Place lentils in a large bowl.
Combine remaining 1 cup water and rice in pan; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 18 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Cool 10 minutes. Add rice to lentils.
Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add bell pepper, onion, cumin seeds and garlic pan; saute 2 minutes or until tender. Cool 10 minutes. Add to rice mixture. Add cheddar cheese and remaining ingredients, stirring until well combined. Let stand for 10 minutes.
Wipe skillet clean with paper towels. Heat 2 teaspoons olive oil in skillet over medium heat. Spoon half of rice mixture by 1/3 cupfuls into pan, spreading to form 6 (3-inch) circles; cook 5 minutes or until lightly browned. Carefully turn cakes over; cook 5 minutes on other side. Remove cakes from pan. Repeat procedure with remaining 1 Tbsp olive oil and remaining rice mixture. Serve with pico de gallo.
Pico de Gallo:
2 cups coarsely chopped plum (Roma) tomato
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1 garlic clove, minced or pressed
1 small squeeze fresh lime juice
3 pickled jalapeno slices, finely chopped
Gently fold all pico de gallo ingredients together. Add a small amount of salt, to taste. This stuff is GREAT as a chunky salsa to top quesadillas or dip chips into. You can also stir it into mashed avocados to make a mild, fresh guacamole. I could eat this stuff with a spoon if you let me.
Note: There is NO SUCH THING as too much cilantro. Cilantro is awesome.
The lentil cakes were really yummy and could easily be adapted to any flavor combination that suits your fancy. The original recipe has a more “Italian” flavor, with basil, mozzarella and fennel seeds instead of cilantro, cheddar and cumin seeds. You could probably easily go Mediterranean or Indian with these, too. These took a little time and prep, but were not difficult at all. The “5 minutes at medium heat” time was PERFECT: you really don’t even need to peek or watch them much as they’re cooking; just set a timer for 5 minutes and walk away (or work on the rest of your dinner or set the table, or whatever).
I served these with roasted chicken and a green salad with balsamic vinaigrette and Baby Bam croutons.

Lots and lots of cupcakes…

4 batches of this recipe for my dad’s birthday party last night. I replaced the white chocolate with more bittersweet chocolate to dial up the chocolate flavor. When made into cupcakes, these take about 22 minutes to bake and one batch makes 21 – 24 cupcakes. Using cake flour in this recipe really does make a big difference; don’t be tempted to skip that step and use all-purpose.
Also: If you’re making these into cupcakes, one batch of frosting is enough to frost two batches of cupcakes, so if you’re only making one batch of the cake batter, then I’d make a half-batch of the frosting. Not sure what the cake-to-frosting ratio turns out to be when you make this as a proper cake, because I’ve only ever made this as cupcakes.

Black Bean Soup (with Great Harvest Spinach-Feta Bread)

Yum! This recipe is simple, healthy and delicious. You’ve got to soak the beans overnight and the soup has to simmer for a long time, but the actual hands-on prep time (some chopping and sauteing) for the soup is pretty minimal. All four of us loved this. Is delicious as served in the recipe (sour cream, cilantro and bacon) or is also wonderful served over rice. Very kid-friendly.

Passion Fruit – Ginger Cocktail

First, I made a ginger simple syrup:
Take equal parts water and sugar, add some peeled, coarsely chopped fresh ginger and boil them together until slightly thickened and syrupy. Let cool to room temperature and then pour into a container and refrigerate overnight. The next day, strain out the ginger. This will keep in the refrigerate for about a week, or maybe 10 days, but if you keep it in a plastic squeeze bottle in the freezer, as I do, you can pull it out when you need it and it will keep indefinitely. It won’t totally freeze (because of the high sugar content), so it can be used almost directly out of the freezer (let is warm up for just a minute or two.)
Second, I put 2 ounces of vodka into a small cocktail shaker.
Third, I just happened to have a pitcher of Welch’s frozen concentrated passion fruit juice mixed up in the fridge (leftover from making this salad dressing), so I added about an ounce of it to the shaker.
Fourth, I added a little squeeze of fresh lime juice (about half a lime’s worth.)
Fifth, I added a little squirt (about a tablespoon?) of the ginger simple syrup.
Add ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Mmmm…tropical and refreshing. Yummy.

Warm Butternut Squash and Chickpea Salad (with BBQ chicken thighs and sauteed spinach)

I recently discovered “Smitten Kitchen“, a cute little food blog that I HIGHLY recommend that you check out right away. When I read Deb’s rave entry about this salad, I knew that I had to try it right away. She’s definitely right; we loved it and it’s absolutely a keeper. It’s delicious right after it’s made, piping hot, but it’s, unbelievably, even better the next day, when the flavors have had a chance to meld. I cooked the squash a little more, so that it was a bit softer and took on an almost potato-salad texture. The leftovers are delicious re-heated, but are also wonderful when eaten cold (like a potato salad). Hubby and I both LOVED it.
NOTE: use good-quality, freshly made tahini; you’ll definitely taste the difference (sorry, Trish!). Lots of gourmet food stores or health stores actually make/grind it right on the premises. Look for it in the refrigerated section.

Cauliflower Soup with Pecans and Rye Croutons (with London Broil & Salad)


This recipe
sounded really great, but honestly, it was a lot of work for a soup that was just kind of, well….meh. I really LOVE cauliflower, especially when it’s roasted and takes on some caramelization, but in this recipe, it’s basically just boiled and doesn’t get any delicious toasty flavor.
This was OK, but it wasn’t great. There are other soups I’ve had that are more flavorful and other cauliflower methods that are tastier, so this probably won’t be a repeat.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi (again)

Browned Butter is what The Gods eat on Mount Olympus, I’m telling you.
Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Browned Butter and Sage
I don’t know who invented browned butter, but if I ever meet them, I’m going to kiss them on the mouth. Really. There is nothing in the world that smells as good or adds as much flavor to a dish as browned butter. Except, for maybe bacon. Mmmm…bacon. Seriously, though – trust me..anything that can be favorably compared to bacon? Well, it’s pretty freakin’ awesome.
So, I’ve made these gnocchi before, but they do rate another photo. Yes, they’re a bit of a pain to make, but you can do it in steps. When you’re in the kitchen one day, you can cook the sweet potatoes. Peel and mash them, then you can refrigerate or freeze (as I did) them until you’re ready to make the gnocchi. If you REALLY want to break it down, you could even make the dough one day and the gnocchi another. The recipe makes a TON, so you can even make the gnocchi ahead and freeze them, then toss them directly into boiling water from the freezer when you’re ready to eat them. I think the sauce would even freeze – just microwave it a bit to re-melt it and it would be good to go.
So…they are a bit of work, but it can be done ahead and/or in stages. Ya’ll know that I don’t repeat many recipes, so if I’m not only cooking them twice, but BLOGGING them twice, they are something special. These are VERY rich. So rich, that they could stand alone as a dinner or, if you serve a very small portion, as an appetizer. No meat is necessary with these – they are LOADED with cheese and can totally stand alone.
These are worth the effort – no question, but hurry up, because they’re definitely a heavy, rich cold-weather dish.

Golden Winter Soup

Golden Winter Soup from Cooking Light magazine
This was really good. It was really mild and creamy; this would be a great recipe to start kids off with that haven’t tasted butternut squash before; it tastes very similar to a creamy potato soup; the butternut squash flavor is very subtle. Boy, Hubby and I liked this soup a lot, but all of us did add some additional spice at the table. Girl wasn’t wild about it, but she’s still not feeling well and her appetite is off. I did add some thyme-infused fleur de sel that my parents brought back from France for me because it was a little bland. I also added some green chiles, as was recommended by some of the online recipe reviewers. This was nice as a small appetizer-ish portion or go-with (we served it with salad and the gruyere toasts in the recipe), but I wouldn’t have wanted to have a whole huge bowl of this. It would be good with some sort of grilled, savory sandwich, too..

Smoky-Spicy Tamale Pies

Smoky-Spicy Tamale Pies, from Cooking Light’s “For Two” column
Hubby and I liked these a lot. They were a bit too spicy for Girl, but she’s not feeling well and wasn’t too excited about dinner, in general, anyway. Boy got hungry before these were finished baking. These were tasty and simple, but more time-consuming than this tamale pie recipe (although not a lot more). It’s a nice variation, but the two are pretty different. The first one is more like a soupy chili with soft polenta topping and this one is more like a spicy turkey-tomato stew with a cornbread topping. I added a little bit of oregano and assorted seasonings to the cornbread, which turned out to be a good move; it would have been TOTALLY bland without it. Overall, this was pretty good, just very different than the other one. I doubled the recipe to make 4 and ended up using some small fruit bowls that are a part of my (ovenproof) everyday dishes. The recipe calls for 1.5 cup ramekins, but I’ve NEVER seen ramekins that big. If you have something like onion soup crocks or ovenproof soup bowls, etc., that would work nicely.