Sunday, September 10, 2017

The backroads of life

Summer was short this year, just July and August, but those months were perfect: hot sunny endless summer days. September decided to be much like fall already and I have to check the calendar to reassure myself “It is still summer for 10 days.” But what can you do with the weather? I bet this is also what most people in Florida say this weekend.

With fall comes one of my favorite times of the year: apple picking. I got there on the first day when self picking opened and a batch of Paulareds is waiting for apple cake, apple cider and and just apple eating. I debated if I should continue on to Belfast or New Balance, since New Balance had a 40% off sale. Left turn or right turn? not that I need anymore shoes.. I decided to the take the backroads of Maine, following my trusty, yet slightly outdated car navigation system to guide me to Skowhegan.

I find it fun to travel the backroads of Maine, far off the beaten path from tourist through roads, which are wider and with better pavement. The backroads are crooked, curvy and winding and remind me of streets in Europe. Beautiful farmhouses are hidden there along the backroads, wide grounds around the houses, manicured with tractor lawn mowers, definitely not push lawn mowers, people not wanting to be found and not caring to be public. I followed along the private roads, and ending up on a main road again, right into Skowhegan. I got some fantastically fitting running shoes, and called it good. I was hungry at this point, and for the first time, just stopped there, in Skowhegan, stepping in this peculiar bar that hangs right over the big towering dam like structure that seems to dominate Skowhegan. There must have been must industry once that needed so much power, but these days the only interesting thing seemed to be the New Balance Factory and outlet that brought me back.

I sat there, hanging precariously about 60 ft above the waters, with a crowd of other bar goers on a Saturday evening, and it was not half bad. The backroads can take you to interesting places, not just in Maine, in life, too.


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Simple Red Lentil Soup with Kale

The wind was howling around the house. The snow was racing sideways in front of my window. First in one direction, and then, almost immediately, back in the other. A late season hurricane that affected much of the East coast the past days, made me take refuge at home. "Late season" because at this point I am ready for spring and not for more snow, but this preference is purely personal.

So, it was time for a warm, smooth, spicy and filling soup. I whipped up another batch of this red lentil soup that needs little preparation and cooks fast. A few Indian spices add a unique character, and the late-stage added kale rounds it out.

I had to search for my notes again for this soup recipe so I am putting it in the place where I most likely find it again, my own blog. Note, that I write this down with as much detail as I can for myself; feel free to use other ingredients (e.g. regular olive oil or grapeseed oil, etc.)


Red Lentil Soup with Kale

(makes 3 larger servings)
  • 1 cup dry red lentils
  • 4-5 cups of water (or broth)
  • 1 teaspoon blood orange olive oil (or plain olive oil, or grapeseed oil)
  • 1 small onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 inch-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into tiny dices
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
  • 0.5 teaspoon turmeric
  • 0.5 teaspoon ground fenugreek
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1-2 tiny hot dry (pequin) chilies (depending on taste) (or tiny bit of cayenne)
  • 1-2 teaspoon vegetable bouillon powder (if using water)
  • 2 handfuls of kale, torn up
Preparation:
  1. In a non-stick pot,  heat the olive oil, add the onion and raw ginger. Once the onion is sauteed and see-through, add the garlic and saute the mix for another minute.
  2. Add the lentils, water, and the spices. Close the lid, bring to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer with closed lid for 30min.
  3. Use an immersion blender, and puree the hot soup (or let cool down, and use a blender, but no hot soup in the blender)
  4. Put the soup back on the stove, add the bouillon and the kale.
  5. Heat soup again, and let the kale wilt down to preferred consistency (still crunchy or buttery soft).
  6. Serve.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

When Maine started looking like Bavaria

 Over the recent years, Maine has developed a buzzing micro beer industry. It all came to my attention with the Allagash brewing company, which is large compared to many of the others. There was always the Bear Brew Pub, and then came Orono Brewing Company, which really got my attention. Now, we are a tiny town of 1200 (that is, during the down time and minus the 11,000 students), and have 5 microbreweries.

I've seen hops growing up 3 story buildings in the middle of Bangor, and now it seems the Maine landscape starts more like the landscape you drive by in Bavaria on the autobahn towards Munich: wide fields of hops in their characteristic harvesting arrangement: growing up, what seems to be, large clothes lines.

Great article in The Maine Magazine


Stumbling to Spring

We are slowly inching towards spring. The big snow from the one historic blizzard that made up for all the snow that had not fallen this winter before slowly disappears under the spring rain. The arctic winds still occasionally hold a grip on the landscape and us, but the stores are in full-fledged summer mode: patio furniture, bikinis and flower pots for sale. The spring is dragged out here in Maine, with warm temperatures, the first tulips, and some green in the trees not before May. Until then I am jealous of everyone living South posting pictures from runs in the sunshine, or wearing regular shoes.

The other day I made a Dark Rye bread mix from King Arthur Flour. I poured the mix into the bowl of a stand mixer with the kneading hook attached, mixed the dry ingredients with the yeast, and added the water and a dash of olive oil, and let the machine do the work. It came together in no time, and I padded down the loaf in a little bread basket to rise. It would only rise when I placed it next to the woodstove oven, where it was cozy warm, not Maine winter kitchen cold. I flipped it on a sheet, and baked for 45min. Rye bread perfection. (The mixes are not expensive and 20% off this week. That made $3.96 for a loaf of rye bread).

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Juggling and vegan meatballs

There is a cat snuggled up to me under the covers. It is her favorite place to snooze in the morning, warm, cozy, and big mama is close, protecting her. She stretches, and has not a worry in the world. A wintertime ritual.
January is almost over, and it was mild this year. We were unprepared. Last year we were told it is an El Nino year, with that, a milder winter on the East coast was expected. This year it was supposed to be normal again, but winter seems even milder than last year. But, what’s really normal these days.
Nevertheless, the month has come and gone, and we are on the verge of February. There is another serious chance for deep snow, freezing temperature and plentiful skiing but the 10 day forecast gives nothing away of a potential winter encore. The semester has started and we are settling into a new rhythm of classes and homework, and juggling more balls. Life feels like swinging on a swing on the weekends, and then get back to juggling some tasks during the work week. Time advances and suddenly we’ll feel ourselves propelled into summer again. Just like that.
I am in love with this beautiful picture of the vegan lentil meatballs. It’s a picture I took myself years ago, and it inspired me to make this dish again. A true vegan classic.

































Vegan lentil ‘meat balls’ with marinara
Preparation of lentils:
  • 1/2 cup beluga/French lentils  (they are small and green/black)
  • 1/4 cup red lentils
  • 1/4 cup chickpeas
  • 1 1/2 quarts water
  • 1 fresh bay leaf
  • 2 garlic cloves
Wash and rinse the lentils and chickpeas, and place in a pot with the water, the bay leaf and garlic. Bring to a boll, and simmer for about 1 1/2 hours  on low (simmer only for 30 min if you soaked the lentils and chickpeas for 12h), or for 25 min in an Instant Pot. There is likely little water left, but if there is then drain it. It should make about 2 1/2 cups of cooked lentils.

Lentil walnut porcini meatballs:
  • 2 cups cooked beluga and red lentils and chickpeas
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/2  medium sweet onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, microplaned
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme (or dried)
  • 1 teaspoons salt
  • 2 TB tomato paste
  • 1 TB red pepper spread I used Trader Joes red pepper eggplant spread) – if you don’t have any, use a pinch of paprika and 1 teaspoon agave nectar
  • 1 oz dried shitake mushrooms, reconstituted in hot water, drained and chopped
  • 1 oz dried porcini mushroom, reconstituted in hot water, drained and chopped
  • 2 TB BBQ sauce
  • 4 TB ground flax seed, 1/4 cup of water (mix to make 2 flax eggs)
  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/4  cup bread crumbs
  • 3 TB finely chopped walnuts
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare a  large baking sheet with some olive oil so that the meatballs won’t stick. Set aside. 
  2. Prepare the flax eggs by combining the ground flax seeds with hot water, and set aside. The mix will gel.
  3. Add the olive oil to a frying pan and sauté the onions, chopped carrots, minced garlic, thyme and reconstituted mushrooms over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, for about 5-7 min.
  4. Add the tomato paste and red pepper paste and continue to cook for about 2 minutes, until all the ingredients are mixed well and the liquid is absorbed.
  5. Transfer the mixture to a food processor, and let cool in the food processor for about 5 min.
  6. Add about 75% of the cooked, and slightly cooled lentils/chickpeas to the vegetables in the food processor, and chop coarsely until all the ingredients are well combined. (It will be quite mushy, that makes the lentil balls even more sticky and hold together).
  7. Add the mixture to a large mixing bowl.
  8. Add the flax egg, regular bread crumbs, panko bread crumbs, chopped walnuts, BBQ sauce and the salt to the pureed mix as well as the non-pureed cooked lentil mix. Mix with a spatula until thoroughly incorporated.
  9. Let sit for about 10 min (for the bread crumbs to soak up the liquid and bind the meatballs).
  10. Use a small ice cream scoop and scoop out ping pong ball sized meatballs. Place the lentil balls in the prepared baking sheet, allowing 1/4 inch of space between the balls and in even rows vertically and horizontally to form a grid.
  11. Bake the meatballs at 400F for 30 minutes, or until the meatballs are firm and cooked through. Allow the meatballs to cool for 5 minutes in the baking dish before serving.
Serve with spaghetti and marinara sauce.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Instant Chicken Broth

It is January. The holidays have come and gone, and now all I need to do now is to wait for summer to arrive again. The days will get longer, the snow will disappear eventually and before I know I will ride my bike again and wear sandals. 

I am not sure if it’s a real trend, but in the last winters, maybe the last 5, there has been a noticeable trend towards warmer winters here in the coastal areas of Maine. It is as if the cold front band is pushed farther north from the jet stream, and we are now in some rain/sleet zone instead of a snow zone.  My friends up North still have plenty of snow this winter, but here it comes and goes: Snow, and rain, and snow again.

It has been rather frustrating because instead of crisp powder and blue skies to whisk through the forests on skis, I now see dripping gutters and soggy streets. But a new feeling starts to set in, a realization that January and February might just be normal life with normal temperatures and normal shoes, and the existential bracing for arctic survival mode is no longer necessary.

I must admit I have not been much in cooking mood lately. However, on Black Friday I snagged an Instant Pot for around $60 on Amazon (the regular price is around $100), and it has been a really good buy. It is a multifunction pot, but I bought it for the electric pressure cooker function. Now, I can make cooked beans or chickpeas from dry, unsoaked beans in about 30min. Or  deeply flavorful broth in 30min. Or cook spaghetti squash really fast

I read somewhere that chicken wings are the best starter for chicken broth, because of them being mostly bones and fat, which is essential for good stock flavor. The instant pot has a broil function, although it takes a while to heat up, it works rather well (and no need to clean up another pot). I sauteed the wings first, with some onions and olive oil.


Once they were browned, I added carrots, celery and a bay leaf.


I filled the instant pot to the max line with cold water, and set it to soup/stew, closed the lid and it is doing the rest of the magic on its own.
instant_pot_chicken_broth_3
I typically let the pot sit after it is done, and it keeps hot for a while and therefore, slowly simmering. There is a little vent that shows if there is still pressure in the pot or if it has dissipated and the lid can be opened.
Voila, chicken stock!