Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Free Form Recipes for Rainy Days

I watched it rain and rain and rain yesterday.  I had hoped that because we had breaks in the rain, perhaps we wouldn't have flooding.  But by the time I left the office at 5, the streets were starting to flood. 

Sadly, I'm used to driving through flooded streets.  Wisdom tells us not to drive through standing water, and I do pay attention to drivers going through ahead of me to try to tell how deep the water is.  But if I decided not to keep moving forward, I'm not sure what I would do--the standing water is usually worse to the side of the road.  And I don't have anyone with an SUV who could come rescue me.

I was glad to get home and settle in with a bowl of homemade clam chowder.  I plan to make a pot of chili tonight.  And since we're going to have several more days of rainy weather, let me post some recipes here.  These recipes are very flexible, and if you don't have an ingredient, you can substitute or omit.


If you have an onion or two, dice them and cook them in a pot with a few T. of oil until they soften.  If not, onion flakes or onion powder will do.  I also add herbs like basil and oregano at this point.  You could also add chili powder, jalapeno powder, cumin, paprika, and other forms of heat (or save them for later--or both).

If you're using meat, now would be the time to add it.  Ground beef, ground turkey, chunks of chicken or beef or pork--any of these would be good.  Brown the meat right along with the onions.

You'll need a few cans of beans.  Any kind will do; my favorite is red kidney beans or black beans.  Open the cans, drain them, and rinse them.  Add them to the pot along with a few cans of tomatoes.  You can adjust amounts to your taste; I like more tomatoes, but my spouse doesn't.

You could also add pasta or rice, although chili purists would disagree.

Your chili will need heat.  I prefer cumin; my spouse loves chili powder and hot sauce of all kinds.  Bring the chili to a boil, and then reduce the heat to let the chili simmer.  You could eat it right away; you could eat on it for days.  I like to let it simmer for at least an hour, but I don't know if it really tastes better that way.


Seafood Chowder
If you've got a jar or two of clam juice or lobster juice, put them in a pot.  Add a few cups of water.  My spouse also added some beer--white wine would also be good.  I like these spices:  basil, oregano, a bay leaf or two.  Garlic would be great, as would a chopped onion, sautéed separately in butter--with bacon, if you have it.

Dice a potato or two or three or four.  Let them steam/boil in the water.  They don't have to be covered.
Here's my recipe for an easy lentil soup.  I wrote it for a cousin who hadn't done much cooking, which is why it's in this format.  After the soup recipe come two recipes for what to do with the leftovers:  lentil loaf and lentil salad.

Lentil SoupA timing heads up: this soup needs 30-60 minutes to simmer.

The bare minimum of ingredients you’ll need:

12-16 oz. package of dry lentils
28 oz. can of diced tomatoes (I like Del Monte petite cut)
OR 2 15 oz. cans diced tomatoes
Pot of water

Nutrition Booster:

Several carrots (3-6), chopped into bite size pieces (you can use baby carrots, but they’re more expensive). Carrots are SO nutritious and cheap—don’t be afraid to use a lot.

Flavor Boosters:

1 onion, chopped (or dried onions)

several cloves of minced garlic (put the cloves through a garlic press or look for jars of minced garlic in your produce department and use a spoonful or two; or use garlic powder)

several Tablespoons of olive oil

herbs: oregano and basil

several Tablespoons of brown sugar (or molasses)

several Tablespoons of red wine

several Tablespoons of balsamic vinegar or red wine vinegar

Basic Instructions:

Put the onion and oil in a big soup pot. Turn the burner to high or medium high (8 or so on your burner control dial). Stir the onions around in the bottom of the pot until they’re limp and more translucent. Add the garlic and the oregano and basil. Stir another minute or two.

Put all the sliced carrots that you’re going to use in the pot and cover them with water. Turn up the heat of the burner under the pot until the water boils. Let the carrots boil 10-15 minutes. You want tender carrots before you go any further. Spear one, let it cool, and eat it to be sure.

Add the tomatoes and the lentils and all the rest of the flavor boosters that you’re using. Fill the pot the rest of the way with water. Let the pot come to a boil, then turn the heat way down (you want it to simmer just below a boil—you’ll probably want to keep the heat at medium low—at 2-4 on the dial). The lentils probably need a half hour of cooking at this point. If you think about it, give the pot a stir every so often (if not, no big deal).

You can also let this soup simmer away for an hour or longer. Just keep an eye on the liquid level (those lentils will soak it up as they cook!) and add water as necessary.

You could serve this topped with a dollop of sour cream, if you wish. But it’s great plain.

A pot of this soup will easily serve 6-15 people; smaller groups can get several meals out of one pot. And it’s cheap (it will cost you $1.00-$2.00 to make a whole pot), so when you’re tired of it, throw it out.

What to do with leftover Lentil Soup:

Lentil Loaf

If the soup has been in your fridge long enough, it's likely to have absorbed excess liquid, and you won't have to drain it.

Take 2 cups of the drained soup (you can include the carrots and tomatoes) and put in a bowl. Beat 2 eggs and add them to the bowl. Add 1 cup of bread crumbs (Italian bread crumbs add nice flavor) and a drizzle of olive oil (2-4 Tablespoons). You could stop here or you could add: up to 1 cup of nut pieces (walnuts work nicely), up to 1 cup of seeds (sesame works nicely), up to 1 cup of oats or wheat germ or flour.

If you add a lot of dry ingredients, you might also need to add back some moisture. You want the consistency of wet glop (think meatloaf, if you've ever made it or a mortar mix). Start with 1/2 cup and go up by 1/4 cup increments. You could use plain water or: soup liquid, tomato juice, 1 more beaten egg, or stock.

Grease a loaf pan and add the mixture to the pan. Put the pan in a 350 degree oven. Bake covered for 30 minutes, uncovered for 10. Slice and eat.

You might want to serve with some sort of sauce. I used to serve it with Hollandaise, but ketchup might work too. If you're a non-vegetarian, gravy might be a treat.

Lentil Salad
Boil as much liquid out of the soup as you can (or drain it--or let it sit for several days, and it will absorb the liquid). Add chunks of feta cheese to the lentils, along with tomatoes (cherry tomatoes cut in half work well), cucumbers, peppers or whatever veggies you have on hand. Voila! A lentil salad (feel free to serve it on top of greens) or something you can spoon into pita bread.

 Cut some white fish into bite size pieces.  Or use any fish you like, including cans of tuna or salmon.  Shrimp would also be good.  A can of clams would work too.  Add those to the pot.  Bring down the heat so that the liquid simmers.  Add some frozen corn.

Towards the end, add enough milk/cream/half and half to make the soup a chowder.  If it's not thick enough, whisk in some flour.  If it's too thick, add more milk/cream/half and half.  Heat it all to a piping hot temperature, being careful not to curdle the dairy.

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