Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Two partially satisfying attempts

You know it's been "that kind of a week" when your significant other makes a smile face dinner to cheer you up on a Tuesday night

Do you ever just have one of those weeks?

Sometimes it feels like I've had one of those months... or years... or lifetimes... Okay, now I'm getting dramatic. It's not that bad. In fact, it's pretty typical, and Greg and I don't even have kids to deal with, as so many other people do. In fact, compared to the types of obligations most people have, I ought to be ashamed of my current state of self pity: I do have it pretty good. Yet how is that no matter how much you try to portion out your time efficiently, how much you rationalize your choices in life, how much you actively decide to work at the right level and have balance to your days, life nonetheless persists in getting overwhelming? Sometimes for extended periods of time? There are so many everyday tasks to everyday life, those continuous commitments inherent to keeping ones' ducks in a row. Those are satisfying when there's time to do them properly. But they're always placed on top of (oor second to) those unavoidable commitments, the ones we can't escape: work, and obligations to other people.

I won't even delve into this breakfast's issues... though it did look like it would taste good

This week has been particularly bad . Like most generally friendly people, I have a hard time saying "no" when someone asks for help, and there's also my own pride to deal with in asking others for help to compensate. I've been saying "sure" a lot lately without enough "can you?"s to make up for it - so much so that I think if anybody else asks me to do another thing for them I just might spontaneously combust. Early mornings, late nights, home to scratch together something to eat, and more work. Going home to continue works just means half-- efforts on all of it and a lack of time to show the attention to detail that normally gives me so much pleasure. It's exhausting, and it feels like it won't end soon enough.

Another case of "took the picture before I tasted the dish". Woops. Imagine putting a spoonful of baking soda in your mouth - that's the last time I'll try to make my baked omlet fluffy without a recipe reference

As a result of all this stress, I haven't had much time to do normal things like putting away clothes, packing the dishwasher or making dinner. Greg has rather graciously taken over most household duties, leaving me to attempt two recipes this week that both came out somewhat like the week itself... not quite right, if I were to have any say in the matter.

The first recipe was a black lentil / nut and grain stew type of a dish. I have no idea what the ethnicity on this would be, I just know that I was craving it and I loved it after making it. I cooked black lentils in water with a little garlic and and old bay spice. In a separate pot, I added a Trader Joe's premixed grain blend (primarily Israeli couscous -one of my favorites. It's just so much fun to eat!!) with walnuts, pumpkin seeds, cauliflower, onion and spinach... The pumpkin seeds were a mistake... The rest of it was awesome. I'm going to give the recipe here with the comment that there are two things I need to change next time: (1) all walnut, no pumpkin seeds, and (2) make my own grain mix. I promise you I'll be repeating this recipe soon, with the tweaks that I know would make it worthy of a regular dinner item. It was hearty, filling, and so unbelievably healthy that I surprised myself with how much I liked the flavor. The walnuts really added depth to this grain intensive dish.

The second recipe was a stuffed shells recipe. It tasted spectacularly yummy, though I say it failed because I had something completely different in mind when I started making it.

What was I aiming for? Thin tomato broth infused with red peppers and sundried tomatoes baked briefly over shells stuffed with part skim ricotta and spinach.

What did I end up making? A spicy, flavor-intense, heavy canned tomato based sauce I baked for an hour over shells stuffed with whole milk ricotta, an egg and heavy cream. Heavy cream? Heavy cream? I know. I'm such a purist when it comes to stuffings too - normally I won't even add egg to my lasagna or manicotti. The whole dish went so randomly wrong that I made too little sauce and ended up pouring 2 cups of canned crushed tomatoes over the last bit to cover - without any seasoning or prep.

Oh bother.

Oh well. It was insanely delicious, regardless of the snaffoo (it is full of heavy cream, after all), and I can't wait to have it for lunch tomorrow. I would highly recommend the shell dish, and conditionally recommend (pending improvements) the lentil stew dish.

So here are two meals that both succeeded in partially satisfying a craving and a necessity. Here's to a week.

Hearty Black and White Lentil Grain Stew
Serves 4-6

2 tbsp olive oil
1 cup dried black lentils
3 cloves garlic
1 tbsp old spice

2 tbsp olive oil
1 cup mixed grains (I used a mix from Trader Joe's that had a lot of different things in it, including millet, couscous of several varieties, small pasta shapes, a few other unidentifiable things - you could easily substitute Israeli Couscous)
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 head cauliflower, chopped into florets
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
1 bunch fresh spinach, washed very well and chopped
1/4 cup pomegranate juice
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper

  1. Add olive oil, black lentils and seasoning to a small pot with 3 cups water. Bring to a low simmer and cook until lentils are tender have absorbed most of the water, about 45 minutes
  2. Meanwhile, prepare ingredients for the rest of the recipe.
  3. Add grain, oil and walnuts to a heavy bottomed pot. Toast mixture over medium/low heat until walnuts begin to release oils and become fragrant (about 5-10 minutes)
  4. Add 4 cups water, cauliflower, red pepper and onion. Simmer over low heat until vegetables are cooked through and liquid has been completely absorbed. Stir in spinach with pomegranate juice and seasoning, cooking for an additional 3-4 minutes.
  5. Serve lentils side by side with grains*
*I sprinkled feta on top and enjoyed it, although I had it without feta the next day and it was just as good!

Double Stuffed Shells
Serves 6-8

4-6 sundried tomatoes packed in oil, chopped
1 tbsp reserved oil from sundried tomatoes
1 tbsp olive oil
1 shallot, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
28 oz whole stewed tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 cups crushed tomatoes
1 tsp red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste

Stuffed shells:
1/2 lb dried pasta shells (or more, depending on the size of the shell - I had big ones that held a lot of stuffing)
2 cups shredded mozzarella
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan
16 oz whole milk ricotta
1 egg
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Dash nutmeg
  1. Preheat oven to 350 and start large pot of water boiling for shells
  2. To make the sauce, combine shallot, red pepper, sundried tomatoes and garlic with oils in a dutch oven over medium heat. Briefly saute until onions are softened, about 5 minutes
  3. Add remaining tomato ingredients and spices, using a wooden spoon to break up whole tomatoes into sizable bites. Cover and keep on low heat.
  4. Add dry shells to water when it reaches a boil
  5. Mix together 1.5 cups mozzarella with all of the Parmesan, ricotta, egg and heavy cream. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add a dash of nutmeg.
  6. Drain shells and stuff with ricotta mixture.
  7. Nestle shells into dutch oven with sauce, spooning any extra sauce over top to cover the shells. Add remaining half cup of cheese to top and bake at 350 for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the sauce is bubbling through the top.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, we have all had those weeks... or months! And the food usually suffers from the stress level. But it all calms down after a while, and your boyfriend makes you smile-shaped dishes lol that should help ;)

Anonymous said...

I just want to give you a hug Rachael! I know exactly how you feel with the work overload and not being able to say no.

I'm glad that your boyfriend is willing to cook and help out during the stressful times. :)

Rachael said...

Marce and Jenifer - thanks!! Things like that really do brighten up the day, and it always puts things in perspective to realize that it is only *one* week or *one* month, that things will get better eventually

I do feel lucky about the whole smile faced dishes.... (thanks G :) )

Anonymous said...

Ruby likes smiley face food too!

Susan from Food Blogga said...

Rachael, I like to think that your difficulty to say "no" reflects that you're a caring person. But do something special for yourself too.

You made me smile with that adorable smiley face!

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