Black bean pasta

I’ve had a long work week, which  ended  in frustration  this evening in–I’m hungry, but the planned meals just don’t DO it. After staring in the fridge for a while, and going back to take a few of those silly online quizzes, I still hadn’t the foggiest idea what I wanted to eat. More peering into cabinets (sardines–nope, tuna–NOT).

While skulking through the pantry, I realized that what I’d most likely cook were I not trying to be really serious about weight loss would be pasta.  Obviously, that won’t do–at least not pasta, as we most commonly think of it.

On my grocery rounds day before yesterday, I noticed that there was a new section of pasta displayed with lots of signage designed to attract attention–it was gluten-free pasta. I’m not gluten intolerant so I usually don’t pay attention to that (and I get really irritated when I see fruits and vegetables touted as gluten free–but I won’t go there now). As I stood perusing the boxes, I had a faint memory of a friend telling me that her grandchildren liked black bean pasta, so I read the ingredients list–and it was only black beans. I found that rather amazing, since so many gluten free products have potato starch or other things that are off limits to me right now. I succumbed–I bought a package of black bean pasta.

I stashed the black bean pasta (pasta?) in the pantry and went straight to  the Merriam-Webster unabridged dictionary to look up pasta. I discovered that it was defined as “an alimentary paste in processed form”. While spaghetti was given in an example nothing was specified as to what the paste was made of.  Ok–it’s black bean pasta.

I spend a little time thinking about why I eat pasta. It’s because I like pasta. I like the different shapes, too. I like the flavor of pasta made from wheat, but there is a texture factor there as well. Maybe there is more than that–maybe there is something about twirling spaghetti or angel hair pasta around a fork to get it into my mouth–part of the process of eating that’s satisfying–more than just the flavor.

What I’d usually make is spaghetti aglio e olio–sorry, that just sounds better that plain olive oil and garlic–so I decided to give the black bean pasta a trial that way. I got out my favorite pasta-cooking gadget. For this to keep with the meal plan in some remote fashion, I needed to add some vegetables. Spinach!  I sautéd the and spinach in the olive oil and dumped it over my black bean pasta. (I know I had a bigger serving of carbohydrate than I should have, even though it was black bean pasta, but at least I had veggies with it.)

The result? A pleasant surprise! It was remarkably satisfying (maybe just because I was hungry); the texture was good though not quite like pasta made from wheat flour. It’s not overwhelmingly “beany” either. It was so satisfying that I had to think that there is more to my liking pasta than just the flavor. Would I rather have had “real” pasta? Yes, but this was good. Black bean pasta is not going to replace the traditional stuff made of durham wheat flour. It certainly beat trying to fake it with spaghetti squash (though I like that too, but it’s definitely NOT pasta–it’s a vegetable so don’t tell me to use it instead of spaghetti).

The final call? I’ll cook  pasta made from black beans again until I can have the traditional kind that we usually think about. I don’t know why I had this resistance to this as pasta since I like soba and rice noodles. It’s a good stand in for this meal plan. After eating that I find that there is also pasta made of chickpeas (garbanzo beans).  I’m sure I’ll find some other uses for it as well, and I’ll explore other “alimentary pastes” to add to the soba and cellophane noodles as well. But I’ll still want that plate of “real” spaghetti aglio e olio!

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Smoky, spicy red lentil soup (Always Hungry?)

Lemony Red Lentil Soup with Cilantro

This is one of those “recipes” that really isn’t. Kitchen Express doesn’t give you a list of ingredients–it gives you a paragraph description of what to do–a happening. I don’t always have red lentils, so I’ve made this with De Puy lentils; it simply takes a little longer to cook. This is the “light, bright” lentil soup that I make in warm or hot weather.

The soup below started as the Red Lentil Soup (pages 283-284) in Always Hungry?  However, true to form for me, it evolved–still keeping the spirit of the meal plan. So here’s my version of a seemed to be rather a bland lentil soup when previewed on the page. It evolved on a dreary, rainy, chilly day in May that felt more like regression to March. It’s only mildly spicy and garlicky–you could increase the chipotle powder or add a dash of cayenne.

Serves 4 with big bowls, or 6 with small bowls. Add some meat (lamb would be good) and it’s a meal in a bowl.

Smoky, Spicy Red Lentil Soup

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (for cooking)
  • Chopped onion–about 1 to 1-1/2 cups
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 2 ribs celery, diced
  • one 14-ounce can of diced tomatoes [fire-roasted are really good in this.]
  • 32 ounces chicken stock
  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 2 or 3 large cloves of garlic minced or pressed (or more according to taste)
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons of herbs de Provence
  • 1 to 1-1/2 tablespoons of pimentón (smoked Spanish paprika)
  • 1 teaspoon chipotle chile powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (hot)
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  • one 8-ounce package of frozen chopped kale
  • extra virgin olive oil for drizzling as a tasty garnish

Preparation

  • Heat the cooking olive oil in a good-sized pan and sauté the onions until beginning to brown.
  • Add the carrots and celery and sauté until starting to brown.
  • Add the pimentón, chipotle chilli powder, red pepper flakes, and garlic; sauté until fragrant.
  • Add the chicken stock, tomatoes, and 2 cups water.
  • Add the herbes de Provence
  • Bring to a simmer and cook until the lentils are almost tender. [I moved it to the oven to finish cooking so I could work without worrying about checking it.]
  • Stir in the chopped kale and continue cooking until the lentils are tender.
  • Serve it up and drizzle with a bit of aromatic extra-virgin olive oil.

clear glass bowl with lentil soup

Always Hungry? What’s in the pantry?

I don’t do meal planning well…I don’t like to do meal planning.  I’d much rather be spontaneous about my cooking and eating. Okay, I’m a picky eater–my appetite varies with the weather, the season, and even mood. While I’m managing to be moderately successful with the Always Hungry? meal plans, I really appreciate the “how to” section for each phase. It gives me much more freedom to cook what I want to eat. Even so, I’m looking forward to getting past the first two weeks of Phase 2 when I can do even more improvisation. Besides weight loss, one benefit of reading the book and starting this has been a close look in the pantry. In my pantry inventory, I found very few items that were on the discard list so doing without a lot of the prepared or processed things was not really a big issue.

I’m fortunate that from where I live it’s easy for me to stop at the grocery store on my way to and from other errands, so I tend to shop for perishable several times a week–check out the market and see what looks good: meal planning on my feet.  There is a farmers’ market close to me that is open on Wednesday evenings and one on Saturday mornings.

Many times I cook without a recipe and improvise something from what is in the house; improvisation is much easier if you have a well-stocked kitchen and pantry.My only purchase that was specific for the Always Hungry meal plan was the whey protein. That may remain in my pantry after Phase 2 is over–shakes for breakfast work well for me since I really don’t want major food first thing in the morning.  The Stahlbush Island Farms frozen berries have been a huge help with these when fresh berries aren’t of best quality.

There are a number of  things that I almost always have around.  You can find lots of lists in cookbooks for things you “should” always have on hand, but all of those lists need to be modified to suit your tastes.  If you hate anchovies, then there is not much point in having those in the pantry.  I may not want to eat them on a sandwich, but they can add a very subtle, rich background flavor to vegetables like broccoli–used in very small quantities they won’t scream “fishy” at you, and they can stand in for nam pla in providing umami.

Though I do shop for perishables frequently, I want to be able to prepare a meal even if it’s so hot that I just cannot face going outside, so I  keep a reasonably well-stocked freezer, refrigerator, and pantry. Even just from the canned (not many things) and dried goods, I could produce a meal at the drop of a hat.  Canned tomatoes in several forms–diced, whole, fire-roasted (add a little smoky flavor to a dish) and quick sauces–are such a pantry staple that they need not get more than a passing mention.  Sun-dried tomatoes, a tube of tomato paste, capers, and roasted red peppers are some other things that get frequent use.

Some of these supplies also stand in for the emergency kit in case of hurricane or ice storm that results in a power outage.  Peanut butter is a staple, but that doesn’t mean that I want to have to pull that out of the cupboard for supper–that’s snack food or for breakfast on toast, or with slices of apple or stuffed into celery ribs.

Dry pasta is a great base for improvising, so it’s good to have several different shapes around to harmonize with what is going in it or on it.  Once the package is opened,  if the unused portion is transferred to a Ball or Kerr Mason jars so that it’s tightly sealed it will keep until the next time I need this particular pasta. It will be good to add that back into my meal (in moderation, of course).

Dried lentils are another pantry staple–they don’t need soaking before cooking; it’s so easy to make a side dish or a soup using them.  There are many kinds of lentils (as there are beans) that can easily add variety to your cooking and allow improvisation.  The basic “brown” lentil can be found in most supermarkets in the section with the dried beans and rice.  My favorite is  the French Le Puy lentil which are small and hold their shape well when cooked. If you use them often, it’s worth looking for other lentils such as small black, or Spanish brown lentils.  You might have to find a “gourmet” store, but these are worth having on hand as a pantry staple. Lentils combine well with rice or other grains, and can be cooked with rice, or alone, in the rice cooker.

Although it does take a bit of pre-planning cooking your own dried beans instead of using canned ones it is worth the effort, but canned beans are still a pantry necessity. Cooking your own has the advantage of controlling the amount of salt and seasonings.  (That is not to say that I don’t have canned beans of various kinds in the pantry–I do–and I would not want to be without them.)   Some heirloom beans and/or specialty beans have such different flavors that they are worth searching out.  You can soak and cook more than you need for a single serving and freeze them with some of the cooking liquid so that you have them for quick use when you haven’t planned ahead. (One of the reasons I’ve been able to stick with the Always Hungry meals as will as I have is that legumes are part of the program.)

barley and rice

Barley (left) & arborio rice (right)

Grains are another staple in my pantry: rice, barley, quinoa, and some of the commercially available mixes that provide variety in a convenient way.  Being able to add some of these in Phase 2 is so welcome!  Since I love polenta, but corn is off limits, I’m going to try the millet “polenta”, though I don’t expect it to replace the real thing.

Basmati rice (brown or white) is a favorite for long-grain rice.  Since risotto is a great way to improvise a meal,  arborio or another short-grain rice that is suitable for making risotto is on hand too. It’s good to use in soups as well.  Barley is also a grain that to have on hand at all times–it makes a hearty soup, it can be cooked like risotto, and it makes wonderful side dish instead of rice. Depending on the season,  bulgur and couscous, both the fine and the Israeli, are also likely found lurking on my pantry shelves. Especially in the summer, with tomatoes abundant, tabbouleh is quick, healthy, and easy as a salad or a side dish. There are so many good grains that we use all too infrequently, just waiting to be added to out diet.

Though not “dry” cans of broth/stock are good to have on the pantry shelves, right along with the canned beans.  As a further backup, something like Better Than Bouillon in whatever flavor you use most often–chicken is a good compromise.

American Tuna image of canOther helpers for improvisation, include good quality canned tuna (personal preference is for oil packed) which can make a salad heartier, or be used with pasta or beans for a main course salad. Sardines make a good meal with  crackers or bread and fruit. These are good staples in the emergency food kit (which should also contain a can opener–the manual variety) as well. Salmon is part of the pantry, too, for salad or for salmon cakes.

Some other ideas for “pantry” cooking recipes inspired me to add some canned goods to my emergency stash–but that doesn’t include using cream soups and the like for “dump” cooking–that doesn’t particularly appeal to me, but having some carefully selected cans on the shelf can be useful.

There are some freezer things that I have found particularly useful while using the Always Hungry? meal plan adapted for single-serving cooking: chopped kale and spinach, chopped onions lend themselves particularly well to getting green veggies into my breakfast. Instead of the formality of making a fritatta with veggies, I find making scrambled eggs with the veggies much easier and quicker. A handful of chopped onions, a handful of frozen chopped greens quickly sautéed before adding the eggs does the job in a way that fits my morning functionality. If there are some cherry tomatoes lurking in the kitchen, those go in as well. Between supplying that quick handful, the opened bags live inside a zipper-lock freezer bag, right back in the freezer for quick access. I find that i use them so frequently that I don’t even do the vacuum seal–just pressing as much air as possible from the freezer bag will do fine since I buy the smaller bags and use them quickly. Now that I can add starchy vegetables in small quantities I’ve found that the Stahlbush Island Farms frozen butternut squash, sweet potatoes, and beets are good to have for use a handful at a time.

In anticipation of maintaining the weight loss the I have achieved so far (and hope to achieve in Phase 2) there have been two additions to the pantry–the whey protein, and chickpea flour. In addition to the recipes with the meal plan for waffles/pancakes that use chickpea flour, I’m experimenting with making my own crackers from that, rather than the usual wheat-based ones that I like to have around to go with the pickled herring or cheese. Here’s to maintaining weight loss, eating in a healthier way, and enjoying good food.

A son goût!

 

Always Hungry? Starting Phase 2

Phase 1 was successful–I tarried there a bit longer after my slip, but I can now say that my loss in Phase 1 has got me into double digits–more than I expected from reading the book. I need to lose more, but I’m happy with this for a start. I’ve found that this way of eating is very compatible with my cooking style.  I know that I’m going to have to be careful in Phase 2 as I start adding grains into my meals.

During Phase 1 I’ve given a lot of thought to what I really miss most. While I’m now quite fond of lettuce leaves to provide crunch with tuna salad and cucumber slices  with smoked salmon and some labneh with dill–some things just call for crackers. Lettuce leaves just don’t work well with pickled herring or sardines. Crackers have always been a pantry staple to go with my quick tuna or egg salad. They are one of the things I miss most. Don’t get me wrong, I miss fresh, home baked bread, and pasta, too. I was surprised how high on my miss-it list they were. I need to find a substitute for the saltines, or wheat thins that I reach for.

I found an article from The Huffington Post on chickpea flour (besan or gram flour) with lots of pictures and recipes: crackers, cookies, fritters, and crepes to mention only a few. Since legumes are permitted even in Phase 1 (lots of garbanzo beans there, if you remember) I have to try making chickpea crackers–and maybe pasta. How delightful to be able to have my crackers (in moderation, of course)! Kind of like having my cake and eating it too. A little experimentation as I work through Phase 2.

I had a dinner this evening that wasn’t in any phase of the Always Hungry? plan. I enjoyed every bite. I hope that I am well enough into the style of eating that I can just pick up tomorrow and continue without problems. I am looking forward to more grains in the meals.

 

 

 

Always Hungry? Another improvisation

Pork is one of my favorite meats, and it is not on the list of approved protein sources, although I assume it is in the category of “game and other meats” so I’m improvising a Phase 1 meal with a pork chop this evening. After reading a recipe from The Kitchn for 20160322_163300“Sweet and Spicy Braised Cabbage” my mouth was set for pork. The sweet part is going to prevent me from having that to go with my pork chop this evening (save this one for Phase 2 or 3).

I thought about taking  the lazy way out for vegetables and carbohydrate–use some of the mixed greens and borlotti beans that I had with my tuna steak, with  an addition of a little extra seasoning for the second time around, but that just did not tingle my taste buds today. So, sautéed kale this evening. I have a large bag of kale that I’m first going to sauté  simply with olive oil and then add seasonings to what I’m going to have with the pork chop–leaving the “extra” for later use to season differently  for later use. (I do quite often to avoid wasting food because I’m a picky eater who doesn’t want the same thing over and over.)

Supper this evening was part of this pork chop cooked on my cast iron griddle as described for pork neck steak–smoking hot griddle, first two minutes on each side, then turned at minute intervals until it reached an internal temperature of 130 degrees to allow for continued cooking while resting. Kale sautéed with black-eyed peas, and a side of sautéed apple (not good enough to eat out of hand, but fine when cooked). The sautéed apple replaced dessert with this meal. The contrasts of the slight bitterness of the kale, the earthiness of the black-eyed peas, and the sweetness of the apple with the pork did make my taste buds sit up and take notice.

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Always Hungry? An improvised meal

One of the problems I have with rigorous meal plans is that I refuse to shop for my food according to a menu! Even though I’m shopping in the supermarket, I want the freedom to buy what looks good–not what I need for a menu. When I find lovely ahi tuna for a measly &7.99 per pound, you be I’m having that for a meal. That was what I found on Friday, so I had an ad lib meal constructed from the simplified meal plan (page 152).

My high-quality protein was the tuna–pan seared to medium rare. The carbohydrate and vegetable were spicy mixed greens (a mix of radicchio, shredded broccoli stems, kale, and a few other robust greens) steam-sautéed with borlotti beans, seasoned with just a dab of bacon fat and red pepper flakes. Since tuna is not as oily/fatty as sardines, salmon, or mackerel, I followed the “pour on the fat” instruction by adding with a dollop of the lemon dill sauce.  YUM! Dessert? Raspberries and heavy cream (though these were not on the menu for today  either but I used the quantities suggested in the meal plan elsewhere.

(The dill sauce thins and spreads quickly when it hits something hot–next time it will go on the side!) The tuna steak that I had was close to a half pound, so there will be some for a lettuce wrap or salad tomorrow.

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Always Hungry? Mediterranean Chicken

And the weight loss is back on track, and meals still really tasty. From the Always Hungry? today I picked the Mediterranean Chicken recipe to try. The recipe struck me as  lacking oomph that I needed today, but a meal plan is a meal plan. This was, at least, a one-pot meal, and easy.

Refrigerator tidying was in progress at the same time as I started preparing the chicken. Some of the things that I found lurking in the back of the fridge ended up in the  Mediterranean chicken–though I played with it a bit, the final dish contained all the ingredients called for in the recipe–well, except one. That recipe called for putting green beans in near the end of the cooking time. I didn’t do that. Just didn’t trip my trigger, and since I made the whole four servings I’ll need to reheat and that wouldn’t work well with the green beans. (The haricots verts that I had in the fridge turned into a side that has always been a favorite: room temperature with sweet marjoram infused olive oil, and a sprinkle of Maldon salt–keeping with the spirit of the meal plan.)

The basic recipe is simple: chicken thighs cut into bite-sized pieces, sautéed with onion, then simmered with canned tomatoes with garlic, olives–salt and pepper, of course. The recipe called for kalamata olives–not what I had so I used a mix of green (that had been marinated in garlic and red pepper flakes), and oil-cured black olives to make up the 3/4 cup called for in the recipe. I was surprised that there were no herbs called for here–but I remedied that!

Ingredients

NOTE: The pickled garlic cloves were from tidying the fridge and I thought the bit of tartness would be nice since the tomatoes were very sweet smelling. The garlic cloves and the green olives both had hot red pepper flakes, so I didn’t need to add. If I were doing this without these, I’d likely add about 5 or 6 cloves of garlic sliced thin, a dash of red pepper flakes, and a splash of vinegar–likely white wine.

  • 1 pound of skinless, boneless  chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 3/4 cup of pitted oil-cured black olives and green olives, halved
  • 1-1/2 cups of chopped onions (I cheated and used frozen ones)
  • a 28-ounce can of whole San Marzano tomatoes, hand-crushed into the pan,  the thick juice added as well
  • 1/2 cup of pickled garlic cloves, sliced
  • one 14-ounce can of garbanzo beans
  • 1/2 teaspoon of dried Turkish oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (olives were salty)
  • 1/3 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 3  tablespoons olive oil
  • feta cheese for garnish

Preparation

  • In a large skillet or brasier  heat the olive oil
  • Sauté the onion until translucent, add the sliced garlic a continue to sauté until fragrant
  • Add the chicken, salt, and olives a sauté until the chicken is opaque
  • Add the tomatoes, black pepper, and garbanzo beans
  • Simmer uncovered for about 35 minutes until the sauce thickens nicely
  • Garnish with feta cheese and serve with vegetable or salad

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In my tidying of kitchen and fridge, there were a small handful of cherry and grape tomatoes on the counter, so I pitched those in as well. I think that my modifications were in keeping with the spirit of the meal plan–even though the green beans migrated to a side dish. Those were a nice contrast to the dish–and now I can put part of it into the freezer for later use. This nice spicy, garlicky combination of chicken, tomatoes, and garbanzos would have been lovely accompanied by a glass of red wine, but–that will come later; meanwhile, I’m eating healthy, tasty food and losing weight.

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