Saving up Tokens and Potstickers

Another change I instituted when starting grad school was tokens for chores.  We’ve had a chore chart for a while, and initially paid quarters and nickels and dimes for chores.  My boys’ interest in the money jar lasted just a month or so, and the chore chart subsequently lost its value.  When my boys got into Star Wars {and my husband introduced them to Star Wars video games}–and I started grad school and needed help around the house–I knew the chore chart was about to get dusted off.  For each chore they check off on their chart, they get one 5 minute token.  They add up tokens and turn them in for screen time–video games, shows, games on a phone, etc.

We’re going on four months now, and the novelty hasn’t worn off yet!  My boys get up, {mostly} check off their morning chores without me asking, ask if they can check off the afternoon chores, and always check off the evening and count out their tokens for the day before going to bed.  Ok, well, there are some mornings with lingering dishes on the breakfast table, and some nights with toys on the floor, but it’s a vast improvement from before.  It’s been great to watch them count the tokens at the end of the day and put them in their jar, and then count by 5’s to turn them in for a 20 minute show or game time, share the price of a show by joining tokens together, or tell me they want to save up their tokens for an hour of game time.  And let’s not forget the power of the token in terms of punishment or reward–or how cool you become when you say they can have some free time on you.

Tokens for me?  Freezer meals.  Dinner prep was seriously crunched during the semester, and it helped so much to have freezer meals to pull out and all I’d have to do was heat up the oven.  You have to devote a chunk of prep time–when you have time–but you’ll thank your cool self later when the only prep you have to do for dinner is heat up the oven or a skillet.

A couple hours one afternoon made a few lentil potsticker meals down the line.  Lentils only take about 20 minutes to make, mash them into a paste, add a finely chopped vegetable medley, herbs and asian seasonings, and your wrappers are ready to be wrapped.

Just about 1-2 teaspoons is enough for the small circle wrappers, then you just seal with water and crimp the edge by folding the wrapper over on itself.  And repeat.

You can cook some right away {because who can resist a good potsticker} and flash freeze the rest to pull out on a busy day.


LENTIL POTSTICKERS

  • Servings: makes one full package of small circle wrappers
  • Difficulty: medium, just for the time
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INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup brown lentils, cooked and mashed
  • 1/2 cup each finely chopped carrots, snow peas, red pepper, fresh cilantro, green onion
  • 3 teaspoons Szechwan seasoning
  • 1-2 teaspoons sambal oelek with garlic

DIRECTIONS

  1. Mix all ingredients in a large bowl and set aside.
  2. Prepare an area to fill the wrappers (I like using a cutting board for easy clean up), and a bowl with water to seal the wrappers.
  3. Using a teaspoon, scoop the filling onto one wrapper at a time.  brush water along the wrapper edges and fold in half, sealing closed by pressing with your fingers.  To create the crimped edges, fold the edges over itself and seal by using water as needed.
  4. To cook, place two tablespoons oil and 1/4 cup water in a skillet.  Place the potstickers in the skillet, base-down, cover, and heat to medium-high.  Let cook for 7-8 minutes, then remove the lid and let the liquid evaporate or until the bottoms of the potstickers are golden brown and crispy.  Serve with your favorite dipping sauce (mine is a little soy sauce, sesame oil, lime juice, sambal oelek, and green onions).

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Life Shifts and BBQ Sauce

My life is about to shift.  We used this past summer as our last-ditch effort to get pregnant, undergoing 3 rounds of fertility stuff.  And then {to put it in a very abbreviated and a hovering-above-the-emotions manner} it comes to a point where you have to simply close the door…for your emotional and mental well-being.  And so I spent the first few months of fall updating my CV and composing a personal statement to apply for a Masters program.

I’ve worked since I was 14, and when I had my first baby at 30, decided it was time to stay home full-time.  I have loved every minute of being a full-time mama, but I have to say, it was a little daunting pulling everything together for professional purposes.  I hope I’m not the first one to let you know how hard a stay at home mama works, but let’s be honest–how many daily to-do’s are seriously resume builders?  I got a little creative with filling in the past 6 years, and after hunting down a former professor and former Nurse Practitioner boss lady to write letters of recommendation for me…voilá–I’m starting a Masters of Health Science program in January.

I know life is going to shift a little.  Until I can figure out how to be one of those people that magically transforms their food blog into a paycheck, these posts will be fewer and farther between.  I may not make bread on a weekly basis, and I know dinners may be more of the pull-together-in-the-pan variety.

Here’s a great recipe that comes together fast.  Forget the store bought BBQ Sauces with tons of high fructose corn syrup, sugar, and preservatives.  It’s sweet, tangy, smoky, and has just a little hint of heat at the end.  Feel free to add more heat if you’d like–a jalapeño, poblano, etc.  Lentils cook up quickly without having to pre-soak, so your whole meal can come together with minimal prep time, and quick cook time.  Or you could let your BBQ sauce hang out in the slow cooker all day, and just cook up the lentils in about 20 minutes and you’re done!

bbq-sauce-2  The first meal I made with the BBQ Sauce was lentil sloppy joe’s.  Then I topped my bean burgers with the sauce and caramelized onions.  Oh man.  Talk about a life changer.  It’s just the right amount of messy and deliciously BBQ-y.

bbq-sauce-1


BBQ SAUCE

  • Servings: Yields about 3 cups
  • Difficulty: easy
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Adapted from Gourmet Grilling 2011

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 6 garlic cloves, cut in half
  • 1 1/2 cups ketchup
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable stock
  • 1/3 cup molasses
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sriracha sauce
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup smoked paprika
  • 3 tablespoons ground mustard
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • 5 teaspoons black pepper

DIRECTIONS

  1. Coat a large pot with olive oil and heat to medium.  Add onion and garlic and sauté for 5-7 minutes, until softened.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients, lower heat to low, and simmer, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Turn off heat and let the sauce cool to room temperature.
  3. Purée the sauce in batches in a blender until smooth.

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LENTIL SLOPPY JOE'S WITH APPLE SLAW

  • Servings: 4 sandwiches
  • Difficulty: easy
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INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup brown lentils
  • 2 cups vegetable stock
  • 2-3 cups BBQ sauce
  • 1/4 apple, thinly sliced (your choice, although sharp apples work best–granny smith, fuji, or even an asian pear would work!)
  • 1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped roughly
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 sandwich buns

DIRECTIONS

  1. Bring vegetable stock to a boil in a large pot.  Add the lentils, salt and pepper to taste, and cover.  Reduce heat to low and let simmer until lentils are cooked through and stock is absorbed, about 20 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, prepare the apple slaw.  Add the sliced apple, sliced red onion, cilantro, vinegar, and salt and pepper in a bowl and stir together.  Set aside.
  3. When the lentils are done, add BBQ sauce and stir until it comes together as one big saucy mess.  Add 2-3 cups of sauce, depending on your sauce-ness preference.
  4. Toast the sandwich buns, scoop BBQ lentils and top with apple slaw.

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Noodles with Red Lentil Curry

red lentil curry ingredients

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red lentil curry intro

This is it.  This is the perfect recipe to use up the last zucchini your garden may be giving you, as well as add a little curry heat to warm you up in the cool evenings.  I adapted this recipe  from Forks Over Knives–a super simple and super delicious two-pot meal (one for the curry, and one for the noodles)!

Just saute your veggies, add the lentils and curry, saute a bit more…

red lentil curry 1

Then add your greens and stock and let simmer for about 20 minutes, and voila!

red lentil curry 2

The recipe calls for spinach, but I had swiss chard on hand, so I used that.  In the past I’ve also used the green power mix from Costco.  I know this looks like a lot of greens, but they’ll cook down.  I’ve also used whatever pasta I had on hand–fettuccine, angel hair, or even short pastas.  This particular time I actually used what the recipe called for–brown rice noodles.  Adding lemon zest makes all your food dreams come true–it’s just the right amount of zip to brighten whatever you’re making.

red lentil curry 3 red lentil curry 4Using red lentils also makes me think the lentil sauce is going to be this appealing orange color, but probably due to the greens, the lentils don’t retain their orange color.  Feel free to use green or brown lentils if that’s what you have on your shelf.  Chef Sroufe notes in his recipe that red lentils cook quickly, have more flavor, and end up with a creamier texture, but I am no respecter of lentils, and they all cook within 20 minutes, so I think it’s personal preference (and pantry availability).


NOODLES WITH LENTIL CURRY

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
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Adapted from Forks Over Knives Cookbook

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 large zucchini, diced
  • 1 cup lentils (red, green, or brown)
  • 2 tablespoons curry powder (you can add more if you want a bit more heat)
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
  • 3-4 cups vegetable stock
  • 6 cups packed dark greens (spinach, swiss chard, kale, or a mixture)
  • juice and zest of 1 lemon, and a second lemon sectioned and served with bowls
  • 1 pound rice noodles or 1/2 pound of “normal” pasta (angel hair, fettuccine, or short pasta)

DIRECTIONS

  1. Saute the onion and zucchini over medium to medium-high heat in a large pot.  Add a little salt and pepper to help sweat the onion and zucchini.
  2. Once onion is translucent, add the lentils, curry powder, and sesame seeds and stir until you can smell the curry.  Add 3 cups of vegetable stock and the greens.  Bring to a boil then reduce heat to low and let simmer until the lentils are done (soft but not mushy), about 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally.  You may need to add up to one more cup of stock during this process, to make it a little saucier.  Oh yeah.
  3. While the lentil curry is simmering, prepare the noodles according to package directions.
  4. When the curry is done, stir in the lemon juice.  Serve in bowls topped with lemon zest and lemon sections on the side.

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Creamy Polenta with Pesto and Potato Hash

polenta with pesto and potato hash

I grew up in Virginia, in the suburbs of Washington DC.  Did you know I never knew Virginia was still considered part of “the south” until we moved to Pennsylvania before my junior year of high school??!!  I mean, I’d had all the Civil War history lessons, and I knew it was “the south” then, and “the south” during the Civil Rights Movement, but that was the past, right?!  When we moved, everyone at school asked me if I were from Virginia, why didn’t I speak with a Southern accent?

I have also since come to learn that calling my mom’s friends “Miss Trina” and “Mr. Stuart” and “Miss Irene” and “Mr. Joe” is a very Southern thing, and culinarily speaking, Southerners love their biscuits, pies, sweet and salty combos, and creamy things (ie. cream of wheat, creamy grits, creamy puddings and custards and creme brûlée and such)…so it’s good to know I often cook to my roots.  I remember my stepdad loved eating grits for breakfast, but I had no idea grits and polenta were pretty much on the same family tree.  Grits is cornmeal cooked with water or milk, and it turns out grits is “poor man’s polenta”.

Polenta is just a coarser ground cornmeal, and used to be peasant food in Italy, but it’s been gaining ground as a super yummy upscale restauranty item.  I still have yet to try and make polenta fries like I ordered at Riverhorse in Park City with that amazing roasted beet salad.  You can have creamy polenta and top it with all sorts of things, or you can pour it into a pan and cut it in strips or circles or squares and then grill it or fry it and it’ll be crispy crunchy on the outside and oh so creamy on the inside.

I was originally going to try Del Sroufe’s Polenta Pizza with Pesto, Caramelized Onions, and Potatoes, but decided to turn it into creamy polenta and top it with pesto (is it bad that I still have homemade pesto in my freezer from my garden two years ago?), caramelized onions, green lentils, potatoes, fresh tomatoes, and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese.  If I’d had fresh basil, I would have put some on top.  Fresh garden, I need you!–Definitely next year’s numero uno project!


CREAMY POLENTA WITH PESTO AND POTATO HASH

  • Servings: 2-4
  • Difficulty: easy
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Adapted from Del Sroufe’s Forks Over Knives Cookbook

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup coarse ground polenta
  • 1/2 cup green lentils
  • 1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 3-4 medium sized red potatoes, diced
  • 4 tablespoons of your favorite pesto
  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • sprinkling of parmesan cheese (optional)

DIRECTIONS

  1. First prepare the polenta and lentils.  If you start with the lentils, you can let them simmer while you get the rest of the components ready.  Heat 1/2 cup lentils and 1 cup vegetable stock in a medium pot.  One it reaches a boil, turn heat down to low and cover the pot; allow to simmer for 20-25 minutes until lentils are tender and liquid is absorbed.  Keep watching the lentils to make sure the liquid isn’t absorbed too quickly.  You may need to add 1/2 cup or so of more of liquid, if needed.
  2. For the polenta bring 3 cups of water a 1 teaspoon of salt to a boil in a medium pot.  Have 2 more cups of water ready.  Once the 3 cups water is boiling, add 1 cup polenta to the pot, stirring constantly, and immediately turn the heat down to low.  Over the next 20-30 minutes, gradually add the 2 cups remaining water to the polenta and stir frequently.  The polenta will be ready when it pulls away from the sides of the pot.  [It’s true–cornmeal cooks pretty quickly and looks like it’s ready after just 5-10 minutes of stirring, but it’s important to cook it for the complete 30 minutes–it totally changes the texture to smooth and creamy.  I also like to add a dab of butter and a few tablespoons of parmesan cheese and stir it all up.]
  3. To make the caramelized onions, heat 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil to a pan over medium heat.  Add the onion, salt and pepper to taste, and 1 tablespoon sugar. Let saute, stirring occasionally over 20 minutes or so, until the onion is cooked down and golden brown.
  4. Saute the diced potatoes in another pan, with a few tablespoons of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.  Stir every so often until they are golden brown.
  5. To serve, put a good scoop of polenta in your bowl, then a few tablespoons of your favorite pesto, the caramelized onions, the lentils, potatoes, and tomatoes.  Sprinkle with parmesan cheese.

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