Thursday, October 22, 2009

Chick peas a la Noonie

I have always had great affection for the chick pea, since I was a little girl. We would go to the Seville diner in East Brunswick, NJ where they had installed a new salad bar, which was a big deal in the 80's.  Anyway, the salad bar was enormous, filled with every possible fresh fruit, vegetable, and homemade combination possible.  I would walk up, circle three times, and then promptly fill my entire bowl with chick peas.  And then go back for seconds.  It made my mom crazy, but I just loved them so much.  

Imagine my surprise as an adult when I learned you could BUY them in the store and have them in your own home, whenever you wanted.  They became my favorite treat, a pick me up for rougher days when I was feeling down and chocolate just wouldn't do.  They are creamy, nutty, soft, and incredibly addictive.

When I was pregnant with my first daughter, I developed a mild case of gestational diabetes. I had to test my blood 4 times a day, check in with the endocrinologist, eat more frequently, and make significant dietary changes.  While some were less than pleasant (Splenda) there were some nice surprises, particularly that beans apparently can act as a natural sugar regulator.  I gave it a try and would eat 1 cup of chick peas mid day (love those NYC salad bars), an hour after my morning snack and before my main lunch.  Lo and behold, steady and low sugar levels. 

Since then, chick peas are no longer a treat for me, they are a staple.  I eat them often, almost every day, and prepare them for my family at least once a week.  Below is my favorite chick pea recipe - it is a riff on the Indian dish Chana Masala.  I love double up and to serve it over chana dal, dried baby chick peas that you can find in most Indian grocery stores.  Give it a try, and enjoy. 

1 large yellow onion 
5 plum tomatoes 
2 cans  chick peas/garbanzo beans 
2 tbsp canola oil (or as you like) 
2 tsp Garam Masala 
1 tbsp + 1 tsp tsp California garlic powder or 8 cloves fresh garlic 
2 tsp dried ginger or 1 tsp fresh, grated ginger (ginger is optional) 
1 can tomato sauce (15 oz)
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 cup water or milk 

1) Chop onion. Chop and seed tomatoes. Rinse and drain chickpeas. 
2) Heat oil on Medium in a large saute pan. Add onions and garam masala. Saute for 5 - 7 minutes, until onions are soft. Add tomatoes, garlic, ginger and saute another 3 - 5 minutes. 
3) Add chickpeas, tomato sauce, sugar, and 1/2 cup of water or milk. Simmer for 20 minutes. 

Serve hot with any of the following:
  • Baby chick peas (Chana dal)
  • Trader Joe's Harvest Grains Blend
  • Basmati rice
  • Trader Joe's brown rice medley
  • Plain whole milk yogurt
  • Freshly chopped cilantro, mint, or parsley

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

French Onion Soup

The wind was blowing, leaves were falling, and all I could think was "Man, I have got to get me some french onion soup."  This time of year always makes me crave comfort, and for me french onion soup is comfort incarnate. I love the sweetness of the onions, the smooth melted cheese, and the delicious broth that warms me from head to toe instantly, even on the chilliest afternoons.  

It has always been a staple recipe in our house, but this year is different.  Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur have just ended, and a new year is upon the Jewish community.  I was not raised kosher.  I never intended to live that way.  But as I have gotten older and wiser, I find myself wanting to adopt a more kosher lifestyle, and have been taking small steps to bring myself in line.  This year, one of my New Year resolutions is to take bigger steps.  I will buy kosher meat whenever I can find it.  Neither pork nor seafood can enter my oven. I will not cook milk with meat.  And I will do all of this consistently and with conscious diligence.  

But that onion soup beckoned....

My mouth watered at the thought of it as I walked home past the leaves just turning, the last rays of sun peeking through the late afternoon sky.  To my mind, french onion soup evens looks like autumn; the yellow of the onions, deep reddish brown of the broth.  Mmmm, so yummy, so cold outside, so...wake up dummy!!!  No milk with meat.  There had to be a way to reconcile my resolution with my appetite.  I thought about soy cheese, but am generally opposed to faking real ingredients.  I don't make Passover cookies with matzo meal cake flour; I'd rather have meringues.  What was an earnest girl to do? 

Coincidentally, I recently ordered a used copy of an out of print cookbook by one of my favorite authors, Rozanne Gold.  Every once in a while she still pops up in Bon Appetit, but seems largely (and sadly) out of the mainstream these days.  I have several of her other books, but wanted to treat myself for the new year and purchased Recipes 1-2-3. Her premise is simple; no more than 3 ingredients in any given recipe (exceptions: water, salt, pepper).  Not that her recipes are easy; rather they are adventures in the spare, yielding luscious results with what seems like very little.  

As I glanced through my book on that first cold day, I found the answer; Red Wine French Onion Soup. This ingenious technique replaces beef broth with a wine based, white pepper infused, buttery broth that is rich, delicious and completely dairy.  

Here's the original recipe.  I have modified it slightly, but kept to its spirit.  Enjoy, and please send me any tips you have as I move forward with my kosher efforts.  

Red Wine Onion Soup

2 lbs sweet onions
3 medium leeks
4 tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 tsp sugar
1 cup red wine (she recommends cabernet sauvignon, or other like full bodied wine)
6 cups of water
2 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp white pepper
6 oz Gruyere cheese, shredded
French bread, sliced into 1/2 inch rounds

  1. Peel and halve the onions.  Slice thinly, about 1/8 of an inch (this works best if you use a mandoline or the slicing disk attachment on your food processor).  
  2. Rinse leeks.  Select the white part and chop finely.  Discard greens. 
  3. Melt butter on medium heat using a large cast iron or stainless steel pot with a lid.  Add onions.  After 15 minutes, add the sugar and the leeks. Continue stirring for another 20 - 25 minutes.  Scrape brown pieces with a wooden spoon.  The onions are ready when they are a deep yellow/brown color.  
  4. Add wine and cook until most of the liquid is evaporated, about 10 minutes.  Continue stirring throughout. 
  5. Add water, salt, and pepper.  Bring to boil, cover, lower heat, and simmer for 20 minutes. 
  6. Remove 2 cups of soup and blend.  Return liquid to pot. OR, use your immersion blender directly in the pot - pulse 10 times.  Cook for 10 more minutes.  
  7. Turn on the broiler.  Place ceramic crocks on a foil lined, rimmed baking sheet.  Fill each ceramic crock with soup.  Add 2 - 3 croutons and 1 oz of cheese to each bowl. Broil on a top rack for 2 - 5 minutes, until the cheese is golden brown.  Serve.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Mommy needs a drink

I have always been a teetotaller,  from my college nights through my big 4 consulting days.  That is until I had children.  

It started with my daughter's all nighters followed by the all day efforts to seem conscious at work.  I started to swipe small doses of my husband's coffee just to see what it was like, and honestly it was pretty friggin fantastic. I had more energy than the electric company, and that kind of high end coherence is addictive.  So much so that I ratcheted my intake up to 3 or 4 cups a day and began requesting Starbucks gift cards for all occasions.  

And then of course came the accompanying shakes, as well as the stress from trying to manage-while-conscious a husband, 2 children, a cat, mortgage payments, a career, and being a decent person most days.  My insomnia returned full force, and after several nights I was desperate.  Nothing worked, not even Benadryl.  Enter alcohol, which had a wonderful way of taking of the day's edge as well AND rendering me unconscious.  I'd have a drink, nurse the baby, and then we would both take a nap.   I could manage to my days and nights, my tired past and (hopefully) restful future. 

And so my caffeine and cocktails got me through two children, nursing, and being a working mom.  All was well until I lost my job last December.  Three weeks later, my son was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.  Shortly afterwards I went on Zoloft.  You see, coffee and booze helped when I needed to manage my sleep because a baby was always crying and waking me up. It did not help when I woke up because I was crying; nope, that is what Zoloft is for, and thank goodness for it.  Taking the meds does not prohibit me from indulging in either, but it is not recommended, and honestly I was uncomfortable having too many competing influences in my bloodstream.  

Fast forward to today, and more than 10 months have past.  I am still unemployed; helping my son has become a full time job, one I am proud to do.  He is making much progress and getting lots of help from people I know and work with closely.  In addition to his incredible physical advances, my son is so much happier and more independent than he was last year.  He is one of those super charismatic kids that everyone can't help but notice, with a cheerful energy that just lights a room. It wasn't always like this; there was a time when he could not be put down for more than 5 minutes at a time without screaming bloody murder.  Today, if I put him down for 5 minutes he scoots straight for the stairs and determinedly climbs higher and higher chanting "Up, up!!".

In fact, it seems like my entire family is moving on up.  On the first day of school, I was there holding my daughter's hand. We eat a home cooked meal most nights, and the kids are eating every night by 5:30.  All the details of our previously running on empty lives seem more manageable.  We don't run out of diapers or wipes.  Packing lunches is less of a hassle.  There is a lot less dry cleaning.  

I don't know when I will go back to work; the market stinks and honestly I am much needed here at home.  My life has changed in ways I never anticipated, and my routines have changed with it. That said, I am rarely drinking coffee or alcohol but miss it every morning and evening, especially on the rougher days.  Every "Mommy I hate you" makes me gaze longingly at the wine, and each nap strike is just one step away from the Dunkin Donuts. I still have bouts of insomnia and irritability, and my life is far from perfect.

Despite this, I feel better than I have in a long, long time.  I am no longer jonesing between stimulants and depressants; I do not have to choose between conference calls and parent teacher conferences.  I set my own priorities, and while there is a financial price that comes with this, the overall rewards are exceptionally gratifying. For the first time, I am living my life in the present and I am celebrating the moments of my life.