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Lentil Soup, or I Finally Got It Right

Posted in Day-to-Day by unboundpage on January 17, 2013

All the lentil soup recipes I’ve seen look about the same, and seem simple enough, yet the last time I made it, I somehow managed to get it terribly, terribly wrong.  The only way to salvage it was with copious amounts of Worcestershire sauce, and even then, it was a mushy, salty mess.  So tonight I focused on the savory.  (And following the cooking directions, which, shockingly, also helped a good bit.)

I think it goes without saying that this will not be a vegetarian recipe.  It is, however, gluten free!

The standard recipe calls for a pretty tame list of ingredients:

2 strips bacon
1 whole onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped carrots
1 can diced tomatoes
8 cups chicken broth or water
1 lb dry, rinsed lentils

Seasonings vary, but I most commonly saw 1 tsp Italian herbs, black pepper and salt to taste.  As this clearly didn’t do the trick for me last time, I added some more interesting flavors.

My adjusted recipe:

6 strips bacon
1 whole onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped carrots
1 can diced tomatoes with juice
8 cups chicken broth or beef broth or vegetable broth* (y’know… whatever you have on hand – just not water)
1 lb dry, rinsed lentils
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce*
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp ground mustard
1 tsp rosemary
1 tbsp Italian herbs (specifically tarragon, marjoram, oregano, basil, sage – heavy on the basil)
black pepper

  • Fry bacon and set aside, crumbled.
  • Heat 2 tbsp (or… uh… more) of bacon fat in soup pot over medium high heat for two minutes.
  • Add onions and garlic, and stir-fry until onions start to turn transparent.
  • Add carrots and celery, and continue to stir-fry until onions are golden brown.
  • Add tomatoes and juice, broth, lentils, Worcestershire sauce, cumin, mustard, rosemary, and the crumbled bacon.
  • Bring the mixture to boil.
  • Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 30-35 minutes or until lentils are tender.  (This part is important! Lentils are not split peas – don’t aim for mush!)
  • Stir in Italian herbs, add pepper to taste.
  • Enjoy some damned tasty soup.  Refrigerates and freezes well too.

*Hey, where’d the salt go?  You really shouldn’t need any more salt after the broth, bacon, and Worcestershire sauce.  In fact, I highly recommend low sodium broth and Worcestershire sauce because, seriously, that’s a lot of bacon.  If you’re really serious about reducing salt, use less bacon, use only vegetable broth, and substitute Balsamic vinegar for the Worcestershire sauce.

Another one bites the dust

Posted in Day-to-Day by unboundpage on November 13, 2012

It is with a good deal of regret that I mark the passing of another of my mother’s kalanchoes.

image

We had a good run. I managed not to kill it through two insanely hot and dry Central Texas summers (If only the fragile begonia had been so lucky!). Last spring I nursed it through a nasty infestation of mealybugs. Then a couple of weeks ago I went outside to water it, and the roots and base were totally rotted. I replanted the few leaves that had stayed green, but they soon turned grey as well.

It may be an actual blight issue, and not just over-watering, so I’ll be keeping a close eye on the rest. The one that I nearly killed a year ago is still plugging along.

Someday they may actually flower again so I can tell which plants I lost – they were all different colors and bloomed like crazy when they were living on Mom’s back porch. For now I’ll just file this away as another learning experience. My thumb isn’t nearly as brown as it used to be, but I still have a long way to go to green.

I’m Laughing At Clouds

Posted in Day-to-Day, Don't Quit Your Day Job by unboundpage on May 21, 2011

Don’t Quit Your Day Job

So, in regard to the odd comic… hilarious story this week!

After the fantastically annoying down-the-street move a month ago, I finally managed to score a new day job in Austin, so I’m moving again.

My first day was Monday.  The actual move is happening Sunday.  I spent last week meticulously planning out how to survive one week with as little junk as possible.  I cleverly planned ahead and drew and scanned comics for the next two weeks – the hat strip for May 14 and a special birthday comic for my niece for the 28th – and left the scanner in San Antonio.

About two days ago, I realized that I left out a whole week, and generally fail at reading the calendar.

I am pleased to announce that my camera and some surprisingly simple photo editing has produced the perfectly-legible-and-not-too-spotty image you see above.

Now for the content of said comic-

For those of you outside of Texas, we’ve been experiencing a state-wide drought for several months now.  At one point last month, even the coastal counties were under burn bans.  Wildflower season was a total dud.  Until last week, San Antonio had not seen more than an inch of rain in any one go since January 6.

Add to this that the vast majority of the Central Texas water supply is drawn from aquifers that are filled by rain water and, well, you have a worrisome situation, and a whole bunch of people who really, really want it to rain.

Then last week we all woke up one morning to dire warnings of tornadoes and hail and… rain.

And there was much rejoicing.

packingpackingpackingpacking

Posted in Day-to-Day, Don't Quit Your Day Job by unboundpage on March 26, 2011

Don’t Quit Your Day Job

 

So we’re moving.  Down the street.  Long, unpleasant story there, and I will spare you all the ugly details.  Suffice it to say I did not have sufficient time to draw a proper comic this week, and next week I may not have sufficient internet capabilities.

So, uhh… yeah.  Moving.  See you in two weeks, maybe?

Fetchez la vache!

Posted in Day-to-Day by unboundpage on February 2, 2011

 

It wasn’t bad enough that today was freakishly cold by Texas standards (yeah, apologies to Chicago, but there is a very good reason I never considered living that far north), but then we had to suffer through rolling blackouts all day.

I blame Canada.

Go and boil your bottoms, sons of a silly person!

Birthday Cupcakes!

Posted in Day-to-Day, Projects by unboundpage on January 31, 2011

Fellow bakers, I have a delicious bit of advise for you.  If you don’t already, find a special person in your life with similar tastes in sweets and a birthday very close to yours.  Then you have the perfect excuse to make the kind of birthday cake you like best, without feeling like a loser for baking your own birthday cake!

No really.

Stop looking at me like that.  It’s perfectly sound logic.

So Boy’s birthday is four days before mine, and he is just as big a chocolate fiend as I am.  Being the loving (and otherwise gift-less) girlfriend that I am, I naturally had to bake not one but two types of chocolate cupcakes for – ahem – his birthday.

I started with the known hit.  Last year I baked a devil’s food recipe I found somewhere on www.foodnetwork.com.  Naturally, I have long since lost track of which one – I just wrote down the critical things and “Food Network” in my recipe notebook and then cried a little when I searched the site for devil’s food again and came up with a few dozen results.

I topped said devil’s food cake with the chocolate frosting recipe off the back of the Hershey’s cocoa powder container.  I did something wrong with the frosting such that it came out super-fudgy, very tasty, and not at all easy to spread.  I wound up stuffing part of the cake with the fudge then thinning the rest until I had nearly double the intended quantity.  This year I knew to start with half the ingredients and then be sparing with the sugar and generous with the milk.

Just to add a little more variety – and to finally satiate my curiosity – I took advantage of the opportunity to test drive another recipe I’d been wanting to try for well over a year.

I’d heard some of the buzz around Jessica Seinfeld’s Deceptively Delicious when it first came out a few years ago.  For those not already familiar, this is a cookbook aimed directly at moms who can’t get their little ones to eat healthy things.  All the recipes are for pretty standard comfort and snack foods, but with secret ingredients like sweet potato, cauliflower, or spinach.

Being a relatively health-conscious non-mother, I was intrigued by the concept, but not quite enough to run out and buy the book.  Then a friend with the world’s pickiest two-year-old showed up with a copy and started raving about the chocolate cupcakes made with avocado puree.  Madness, I thought, but as I continued my search for the perfect chocolate cake recipe, I vowed I would try it one day.

As it happened, the stars aligned and that day was… three days ago.  Roommie’s mother happened to have the cookbook and loaned it to me a few months back, and I decided the birthday baking bash would be the ideal time to try these mysterious cupcakes.

Let me first say that trying to puree straight avocado in a blender is ridiculously difficult, bordering on just plain stupid.  Let me follow that by saying that pureeing avocado with the 1 cup of milk called for in the recipe anyway is kinda fun.  (heheheh whoosh!)  There is something more than a little creepy about dumping bright green sludge into what otherwise looks like perfectly good chocolate cake batter, but sure enough, it blended in without a trace and produced cake batter so tasty it almost didn’t make it into the cupcake tins.  The recipe notes that the avocado taste is still detectable while the cupcakes are warm (and it is – barely), but then it disappears into the chocolate-y goodness of some of the densest and most delicious cupcakes I have ever encountered.

Suffice it to say that Boy has a new favorite cake.

Sadly, I was unable to procure cauliflower in appropriate quantities for the accompanying cream cheese frosting recipe, but my old standard unhealthy recipe served just fine…

…at least up to the point where Boy suggested that the obvious improvement was simply to cover that chocolate cake with more chocolate.

This is what trial and error is all about – next year we will have the perfect chocolate-covered-chocolate-avocado birthday cakes!

Behold!  The very tasty chocolate fruits of my labor!  The normal-looking cupcakes are the devil’s food recipe.  The lumpy ones are the avocado recipe.  Yeah, they look funny.  Yes, you can see the occasional green fleck of a not-quite pureed chunk of avocado.  Yes, they weigh at least three times as much as the other cupcakes, but that just means they’re extra dense and tasty!

We interrupt your “Is it Friday yet?” doldrums to bring you…

Posted in Day-to-Day by unboundpage on January 27, 2011

…our very, very stupid special puppy.

Dear Roommie was not in any mood for Jacob’s foolishness last night, but I could not possibly let an opportunity pass to get photographic evidence of his latest brilliance.

Allow me to set the scene for you.  I half-listen from the kitchen to the tiny metallic tinkling of his tags that tells me that he is poking around somewhere other than under my feet.  Then the sound is joined by a decidedly panicked thump-skitter-skitter-thump, and Roommie says something to him that I can’t quite make out, except for a sharp, “No.

I wander ’round the corner to investigate:




You know that scene in The Fifth Element where Leeloo has just dropped into Korben’s cab, and she’s trying to ask for help, but it comes out as, “HAAAAAALP?”

Yeah, that’s pretty much how I translate the sad little whimper that goes with that last picture.

The good news (for him, anyway) is that he does eventually make it out of the tub when properly motivated.  He was out of the bathroom and back in the kitchen by dinner time.

Lasagna makes everything better!

Posted in Day-to-Day by unboundpage on January 26, 2011

It’s not too often I have a less-than-successful project to post about, but I feel like tonight’s venture is worth mention.  The final results may not have been optimal, but like any good scientific experiment, I learned more from my failure than I would have from a success.  In the spirit of scientific discovery, I’ll give this a (moderately) proper scientific method treatment.

QUESTION:  Can I make a lasagna that is both healthy and delicious?

HYPOTHESIS:  A lasagna made with healthier-than-average materials will taste as good as or better than a standard lasagna.

EXPERIMENT:
Materials:

  • oven-ready lasagna noodles

Sauce ingredients:

  • 56 oz petite diced tomatoes
  • 12 oz tomato paste
  • 1 zucchini, finely grated (yes, grated, as in get out your cheese grater and use the side with the smallest holes – the mushier the better)
  • generous dash (each) of dried onion, paprika, roasted garlic and red pepper blend, marjoram, oregano, basil, whatever the hell other Italian herbs strike your fancy, pepper (red, white and black if you got ’em!)
  • splash (each) of Marsala cooking wine and Worcestershire sauce
  • as much garlic as you can stand

Stuffing ingredients:

  • 1-2 oz fresh baby spinach, diced
  • 15 oz part skim ricotta cheese
  • ~5 oz grated mozzarella cheese
  • ~2 oz grated parmesan cheese
  • ~1 oz grated ricotta
  • 1 lb ground turkey
  • splash of beef broth (to make the turkey taste like beef… riiiiight)
  • another splash (each) of Marsala cookign wine and Worcestershire sauce
  • dash of caraway seed
  • more peppers (again, red, white, and black)
  • garlic
  • more garlic

Topping:

  • ~1 oz grated mozzarella cheese
  • ~1 oz grated parmesan cheese

Hardware:

  • 1 giant sauce pot
  • 1 giant skillet
  • 1 medium-sized mixing bowl
  • 1 oven-safe baking dish (whatever you have that’s roughly rectangular and at least 2 inches deep)
  • lots of heat-resistant spatulas/turners/things with which you can shove meat and/or stir sauce
  • 1 basting brush

Procedure:

  1. In giant sauce pot, mix all sauce ingredients except dry herbs and simmer over low heat for no less than 1 hour.  Add dry herbs at the last possible minute.
  2. In skillet, brown ground turkey then simmer in garlic, peppers, caraway seed, beef broth, Worcestershire, and Marsala until all the liquid has boiled off.
  3. In mixing bowl, combine Ricotta with the other cheeses and garlic.
  4. Preheat oven to 375 degrees (F).
  5. Using basting brush, spread just enough sauce in the baking dish to cover the bottom.  Lay out noodles so they cover the bottom but don’t overlap.
  6. Again using basting brush, spread just enough sauce to cover the noodles.
  7. Dot a layer of cheese mixture to cover the saucy noodles.
  8. Sprinkle spinach over cheese.
  9. Sprinkle meat over spinach.
  10. Brush sauce over meat.
  11. Lay out noodles perpendicular to the previous layer of noodles, again covering everything, but not overlapping.
  12. Repeat the sauce-cheese-spinach-meat-noodle layering business until the dish is full.
  13. Spread more sauce over the top layer of noodles.
  14. Sprinkle topping mozzarella and parmesan cheeses to cover everything.
  15. Put baking dish in some other oven-safe container (cookie sheet with edges, another baking dish) to catch the inevitable overflow (you just filled a baking dish to maximum capacity, dum-dum!).
  16. Bake until the topping cheeses are thoroughly browned but not burned.
  17. Let cool for 10-20 minutes.
  18. Cut into reasonably-sized cubes.
  19. Eat.

DATA:

Noodles:  Bottom and middle layers of noodles were adequately done.  Top layer was chewy but edible.

Tomato-zucchini sauce:  Sauce was delicious.

Cheese:  Cheese was good but overpowered by turkey.

Spinach:  Spinach neither enhanced nor diminished flavor or texture of the lasagna.

Meat:  Turkey did not taste like beef.  Turkey was also not greasy like beef.

CONCLUSIONS:

The oven-ready noodles that were adequately buried in sauce cooked through before the cheese burned.  In future testing, top layer of noodles should be more thoroughly covered.

Tomato sauce tasted great, especially with the shredded zucchini, which acts as an extra seasoning in addition to being the kind of healthy green vegetable my mother toiled all those many years to convince me to eat.  In other words, I still pwn tomato sauces.  Thanks and Gig ‘Em.

The spinach served its purpose perfectly.  I did not have to suffer the slimy texture of cooked spinach, and the flavor was not strong enough to overpower anything else.  Because it was fresh to start with, it stayed relatively crisp through the baking process and should even have retained most of its nutritional value.

The cheese-to-meat ratio was not optimal.  Especially given the distinctive turkey flavor, I probably needed double the cheese and maybe even half the meat to achieve the overwhelming cheesiness that I have come to expect from ricotta-based pasta dishes.

Though the turkey-for-beef substitution did not result in a perfect taste match, I considered the trade off worthwhile to avoid the thick layer of grease that inevitably appears when cooking with beef.  Any meat-and-pasta dish is significantly more enjoyable when the fat is not visibly pooling on top.

Overall, the lack of cheesy flavor put a damper on the eating experience (and also probably put a damper on the fat content, but really… priorities!).  However, I am satisfied, feeling full but not fat, and knowing that I managed to sneak not one but two green vegetables into the dish.

On the twelfth day of Christmas…

Posted in Day-to-Day, Projects by unboundpage on January 5, 2011

I have saved the crown jewel(s) of my Christmas crafting blitz for last!

For the last several years I have made ornaments for the extended family.  I’m not entirely sure how it got started, but I think it started with kiddie crafts (jingle bell wreaths and the like), then morphed into very serious jewelry projects, then the (now infamous) Year of the Scarves.  Then I put my head back on straight and went back to relatively simple ornaments that could be mass-produced and shipped to the various corners of the country where my family now resides.

My original plan for this year involved lots and lots of tiny cross-stitched patterns, but when I backed myself into a month-long window in which I had to finish all of them, I decided to shelve that particular idea until next year, and go for something simpler.

My new project ultimately led me to this:

What is this mess of colors?

Why, units for origami trisoctahedrons, of course!

Despite the terrifying number of pieces made through very repetitive folding, I had a lot of fun making these.  I had to work out my color-matching muscles again, and I long ago discovered that, despite the ridiculous ease of folding paper just the way the instructions say, origami is a very good means of impressing people.

So that’s all my Christmas crafting for you, friends.  I have lots of new projects to work on in the new year, but I’m done with my daily posts for a little while.

Once more for good measure –

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

On the eleventh day of Christmas…

Posted in Day-to-Day, Projects by unboundpage on January 4, 2011

A couple of years ago I made a messenger bag from No. 18 nylon thread.  I’ve carried it to work every day since, and it hasn’t shown a bit of wear or stretch.  When the apocalypse comes, it will just be the cockroaches and my bag left wandering the earth.

Sadly, working with the stuff probably took a year off my hands.  The hardiness of the thread also means it won’t stretch the way most yarn does, so it took a lot of force to work every stitch.  By the time I finished the bag, I was having trouble typing.

I swore I’d never work with the stuff again.

Recently, for reasons I can’t quite explain, I decided to give it one more shot.  I bought up three spools and made myself a satchel.

I shall call it… the Crazy Bag.

I needed a good carry-around bag that is slightly less massive than the messenger bag.  Since I was already ad-libbing, I took the opportunity to finally work out the zig-zag pattern that had eluded me for the last two years.

The best part is, I can still move all my fingers!

Merry Christmas to me!