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falafelHave you ever had falafel? If not, imagine balls of hummus that are fried in oil. This Middle-Eastern food is delicious, vegetarian, and healthy (if you bake it). I like to serve mine with whole wheat pita and a big salad with red onions, cucumbers and shredded carrots. I usually dress the salad with a drizzle of olive oil, some fresh lemon juice, crumbled feta cheese and cracked pepper. The big white blob in the middle of the photo is Greek yogurt. If you are feeling really ambitious, you can make tzatziki sauce. Personally, I think the yogurt by itself works just fine, especially if you have some fresh herbs you can stir in.

Falafel is essentially ground up chickpeas (garbanzo beans) combined with seasonings, aromatics, and binders. Traditionally, falafel is fried, and that’s the way I think it tastes best, but baking works too if you are being health-conscious. It’s quite possible that you already have everything you need for this recipe in your pantry. You’ll find falafel to be super economical and easy to make at the spur of the moment, especially when you used canned beans like I have here.

Easy Falafel–serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 14.5 oz. can chickpeas (garbanzo beans) drained and rinsed
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 1 big handful of fresh parsley
  • 3 cloves garlic (more to taste)
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tsp corriander
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp salt
  • dash of hot sauce
  • juice from 1/2 a medium lemon
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 3/4-1 cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)

Procedure

  1. Mash chickpeas with a potato masher or run them through a ricer. You can also use a stick blender on the lowest setting to roughly chop them. Don’t mash them in a food processor or blender or they will be too mushy. If you must use a food processor, only pulse them 2 or 3 times.
  2. Put remaining ingredients–minus breadcrumbs–into a food processor and whiz everything around until it’s nice and smooth with no big chunks. Stir this mixture into the chickpeas until combined. It should be pretty goopy at this point.
  3. Add bread crumbs 1/4 cup at a time until the mixture comes together and holds it’s shape when formed into a ball. If you add too many breadcrumbs, your falafel will fall apart in the oil, so err on the side of moderation.
  4. Allow mixture to rest for 20 minutes or so. I usually cover the bowel with a damp towel to keep it from drying out. This step isn’t essential, but I think it makes for more cohesive falafel in the end.
  5. Use a standard ice cream scoop–the kind with the little lever/trigger that pushes out the ice cream–to measure out the falafel into eight equal-sized balls. Flatten the balls slightly to form patties.

To Fry

Heat about 1 inch of oil to medium high heat in a heavy frying pan. Carefully add falafel patties to oil and cook until deep golden brown on each side, about 5 minutes per side. Check the patties carefully so as not to burn them. Remove falafel to a wire backing rack placed over paper towels and allow to drain. Serve immediately.

To Bake

Heat oven to 400 degrees F (204 C). Place patties on an oiled baking sheet and cook for 20 minutes. Flip patties and cook another 8-10 minutes. Serve immediately.

To Freeze

Prepare falafel to step four. Freeze the mixture in an airtight container for up to 3 months. To use, allow to thaw completely and prepare as usual. Alternatively, you can cook the falafel as normal, allow it to cool, and freeze it on a cookie sheet for 2 hours before throwing the patties into a freezer bag or other container. To use, thaw the patties and then reheat in a 400 oven until sizzling.

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Jello Masterpiece

A moment of silence for my aunt’s rainbow jello–a dish 24 hours in the making!

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If you’re like me, you spend a lot of time putting together elaborate gourmet menus and delight in shopping for the ingredients and stocking your cupboards, imagining the day your family will sit down to a meal fit for a queen. Then, of course, 5 o’clock rolls around and you realize, “there’s no way I’m going to French a lamb roast on a weeknight!” You probably already grabbed a pizza or Chinese takeout at least once during the week, or maybe you’re just one of those healthy people who doesn’t eat fast food. Whatever the case, you have a family that needs dinner, and they need it soon.

At times like this, I like to fall back on an old standard: soup. Every cook should know how to make a simple soup. Soup is cheap and easy. Plus, it feeds a lot of people. There’s plenty of reasons to have a good soup recipe on hand. With conveniences like ready-made broth, precut vegetables, and leftovers in your fridge there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to throw together a batch of soup in an hour or less.

This particular soup was one I have been planning to make for some time. I bought all the supplies and had them in my pantry for a couple weeks before I actually used them. That’s one of the great things about soup. You can have the things you need on hand and make it at short notice. There’s really no reason to blend the soup unless your kids are picky eaters like mine. I like to blend soups because it prevents my little farts from singling out an ingredient that they don’t want to eat. Plus it’s a great way to sneak in some extra vegetables without them noticing. You’ll notice I did that here with spinach. On a side note, if you want to make this soup vegetarian, omit the bacon and just cook the vegetables in a little bit of olive oil or other vegetable oil.

As for the biscuits, I know they aren’t healthy, but they’re so good. And since you’re eating what’s basically a bunch of vegetables for your main course, it’s okay to indulge a little. I call these double bottom biscuits because I flip them over halfway through cooking. I find that biscuits often burn on the bottom before cooking all the way through. This is my solution, and it makes them extra crunchy on the outside and fluffy and delicious on the inside. Try these with homemade jam or lemon curd and you’ll be in heaven.

Blended Lentil Soup

Ingredients
Three slices thick cut bacon
One medium onion chopped fine
One large carrot chopped fine
Two ribs celery chopped fine
Three cloves garlic minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
One 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
8 cups chicken or vegetable broth
One 10 ounce package chopped frozen spinach
Half a pound lentils rinsed and picked over
Two bay leaves
1/2 tablespoon hot curry powder
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Salt and pepper to taste

Procedure
1. Cook bacon in the bottom of a heavy stockpot until nearly crisp. Add onion carrot and celery and cook until vegetables are softened and brown. Add garlic and tomato paste and cook until fragrant about one minute.

2. Add stock scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Bring to a simmer and add spinach and lentils. Simmer 30 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally to break up spinach as it thaws, until lentils and vegetables are very soft.

3. Remove bay leaves from soup. Use a stick blender to purée soup until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Double Bottom Biscuits

Ingredients
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sugar
One half teaspoon salt
One stick of butter cut into small pieces and chilled
2/3+2 teaspoons cold buttermilk

Procedure
1. Preheat oven to 450° . Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and salt in a food processor and pulse until well combined.

2.Scatter cold pieces of butter over the top of the flour mixture and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs, about 12 pulses.

3. Transfer mixture into a large bowl and add buttermilk. Stir with a rubber spatula until dough is wet and sticky and forms a loose ball. Add additional buttermilk 1 teaspoon at a time as needed to form a cohesive dough–Do not add extra buttermilk unless needed, and do not over mix.

4. Turn dough out onto a floured countertop and shape into a rough ball. Cut the ball into 12 equal pieces and place them on and ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for six minutes. Carefully turn over biscuits so that both sides get browned and bake for six more minutes. Cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Makeup Ramen

I was reading the shampoo bottles in my shower the other day. I’m still waiting for someone to make an e-reader for the shower, but until then, shampoo is what I got. Have you ever read a shampoo bottle? They are the most passive aggressive, undermining little jerks! My shampoo bottle said, “For limp, lifeless hair.” My other shampoo bottle said (yes, I have two, don’t judge me), “Flat, dull hair will come to life with brilliant shine and volume . . .” Sadly, I am the the one who bought this stuff, so I must see my hair as flat, lifeless, limp and dull. Ladies, we are letting our shampoo ruin our self esteem! I want a shampoo bottle that says, “Your hair is super awesome, and this shampoo is just going to help keep it that way!”

This all started because of my husband. He asked me to buy him some shampoo, so I did what I always do and went to the manly shampoo section and started sniffing. I buy all my husband’s toiletries by smell. After all, I’m the one smelling him, so I might as well get something I like, right? If he doesn’t want to smell like an alpine glacier bear fight, he can buy his own deodorant. Anywho, I bought him some shampoo in a black bottle and thought nothing of it until he pulled it out of the bag and said, “Oh good, it’s for thinning hair.”

“It doesn’t say that!” I said.

“Yes it does.” He pointed to the offending text.

“I don’t think your hair is thinning!” (I lied)

“Sure,” he said. He was wounded, deeply and truly. He tried to hide it by playing Secret of Mana with our kid, but inside he was crying. I just know it. I felt bad, so I made him ramen.

If you’ve never had real ramen, I’m so very sorry. That instant crud they sell in grocery stores isn’t even close. Real ramen is the Japanese equivalent of chicken noodle soup–warm, comforting, filling and cheap.

I’ve toyed with several broths for my ramen. For truly genuine stuff, you need dashi, or dried fish flakes, but that is hard to find around here. My recipe is easy, and you should be able to find everything you need in the Asian section of your local grocery store. After you make ramen once, you’ll have everything you need to make many more spur-of-the-moment batches. Ramen is a great quick dinner, and you can customize it with whatever toppings you have on hand. You can find dry ramen noodles in the Asian section. I’m not talking about the instant kind you get for 10 cents a pop. Real ramen should look something like spaghetti and won’t have any saturated fat the way those fried noodle packets do. You can also find fresh ramen or yakisoba noodles in the produce section near the tofu.

Miso Ramen, serves 2

Ingredients

1 pack (8 oz.) dry or fresh ramen/yakisoboa noodles, or more to your preference

4 cups vegetable broth

2 tablespoons mirin or sherry (sweet cooking wine)

2 tablespoons soy sauce

super firm tofu, cubed

4 oz. shitake or crimini mushrooms, thinly sliced

6 frozen potstickers

2 generous tablespoons white or yellow miso (in the produce section with the tofu)

Toppings

Sliced green onions

Shelled edemame

Hard Boiled Egg

Toasted Seaweed (also called nori or sea vegetables)

Toasted Sesame Seeds

Prodceedure

1. Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cool water. Divide noodles into serving bowls.

2. Bring broth, mirin, soy sauce, tofu, and mushroom to a boil. Add potstickers and continue to boil for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in miso until dissolved.

3. Ladle broth over noodles, arranging potstickers and tofu on top. Add remaining toppings to bowls and serve immediately.

If you want to eat in the traditional style, use chopsticks to get all the noodles and toppings and then drink the broth (now slightly cooled) from the bowl.

Just a quick post to let those of you in Northern Utah know that I am participating in a HUGE multi-family yard sale tomorrow. The sale is at 1625 So. Melanie Lane in Syracuse from 8 AM to 1 PM. Come on by for some screamin’ deals and cute stuff. You can get more info from the link below.

Find garage sales
in Syracuse, UT.

I’m starting a new series on living green. I’m certainly not an expert on the subject, but my nature-loving heart can’t take the guilt of pillaging Mother Earth any more than I have to. That being said, I should also note that I’m in no way ready to stop using my air conditioning or switch to cloth diapers. What I am trying to do is make small changes that will amount to reducing the Halvorsen family carbon footprint without creating work levels akin to those on a turn-of-the-century farmstead.

My first experiment has been reducing our use of paper towels. I originally tried cutting out paper towels all together, but that was a little too much for us. After a few month of scientific analysis in the trenches, I’ve managed to cut our paper towel use by about 90%. Here are things that I have found useful in my efforts to reduce paper towel use.

  • Keep paper towel alternatives handy: I started by trying to make rags out of old clothes (reuse and all that), but they really didn’t work out. None of my rags were absorbent enough, and many of them had synthetic fibers that actually repelled liquids. A much better alternative is to buy bulk washcloths and bar mops. I bought about 20 and keep them in a drawer in my kitchen. I go through at least one a day (usually 2 or 3), so I keep a bucket under the sink for the dirty ones. Every couple of days I take my bucket down to the laundry room and throw my rags in the wash. I’ve even gone so far as to develop a color code: Pastel clothes are for wiping my toddler’s hands and face, white is for kitchen counter tops, and brights are for bathrooms.
  • Look for specialty products: I bought special cloths designed for dusting and cleaning glass respectively. They work like a dream and have cut down on not only paper towel use, but cleaning fluids as well. I don’t use furniture polish anymore, and the glass-cleaning cloths still work when wet, so I don’t need to use as much window cleaner. These specialty products weren’t expensive–I got mine at the dollar store.
  • Make it easy on yourself: The best way to ensure that you are successful in your quest for paper towel liberation is to make it as easy on yourself as possible. If you don’t have rags handy, you’re going to reach for that roll of earth-trashing convenience. I found that, especially in the first month or two, it was best to put the paper towels out of sight and keep stashes of rags throughout the house. I have a huge stockpile in the kitchen, some in each bathroom, and a few in the kids’ rooms. Once I got in the habit of reaching for rags first, I put the paper towels back on the counter.

Ultimately, there are really only 3 reasons I reach for a paper towel these days.

  1. To clean up animal poop and/or vomit.
  2. To blow my nose (you think I would get tissues, but no. Apparently that is beyond me.)
  3. To wipe up spills when I’ve been lazy and haven’t restocked my rag drawer.

The first item isn’t gonna change. I love the planet, but I just can’t stomach wiping up animal waste with a rag. Maybe I’ll have some kind of zen epiphany and come to peace with that little bit of the circle of life. Until then, I’ll work on using a hanky and folding my laundry.

If you’re like me, Easter brings almost as many leftovers as Thanksgiving. With two big family dinners to attend as well as our own celebrations, we had food coming out our ears (sliced ham, anyone?). The other day I found myself staring at a fridge brimming with eggs (14 to be exact) and other odds and ends. Since I happened to have some Gruyere cheese, it was clear that a quiche was in order.

Now let me make one thing clear. I’m not really a baker. I mean, I’ll throw together some cupcakes or cookies now and then, but bread and pastry is pretty much beyond me. All that measuring and weighing and delicately combining things just right . . . It’s enough to put me off cooking all together. I’m infamous for just throwing any old thing into a recipe without measuring or even paying attention. It drives my husband bonkers because he’ll really love something and then I can’t recreate it. I think of recipes as guidelines more than anything else. So please forgive me for using store-bought pie crust. I know it’s a mortal sin in the eyes of some, but I’m just too darn lazy to do it the right way.

I should also note that while this recipe is my own, I use America’s Test Kitchen’s method for making quiche which calls for blind baking the crust before putting in the filling.

Easter Quiche with Asparagus, Leeks, and Ham

Serves 6

Ingredients

1 ready-made, refrigerated pie crust

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter

1 leek, white and light green parts cut into 1/2 inch slices and rinsed thouroughlly

1/2 lb. asparagus, tough ends trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch chunks

5 large eggs

2 cups whole milk (don’t use low-fat milk)

1/4 tsp. salt

1 tsp. fresh ground pepper

1/2 tsp. dried thyme

4 oz. (about 1 cup) Gruyere cheese, shredded

3-4 slices baked ham, cubed

Proceedure

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place crust in a pie plate and bake for 10 minutes. Remove pie plate from oven and set aside.
  2. Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat. Cook leeks and asparagus until just tender, 4 to six minutes.
  3. In another bowl, whisk together milk, eggs, salt, pepper, and thyme.
  4. Sprinkle cheese over bottom of warm pie crust. Top with ham and vegetable mixture, distributing all evenly over bottom of crust. Pour egg mixture over all until it comes just below the edge of the pie crust. Cover edges of crust with foil strips to prevent over cooking them.
  5. Return quiche to oven and cook until center is set but still a little jiggly, like custard, 40-50 minutes. A knife inserted near the center of the quiche should come out clean. Remove quiche to cooling rack and serve slightly warm or at room temperature.