Moroccan Chickpea Soup

December 13, 2008

This is probably my all-time favorite soup recipe, which is saying a lot since I make soup  a l l  t h e  t i m e  in the winter.  Nutritious, inexpensive, delicious — it just doesn’t get any better.  The recipe is from Gourmet, with a couple of my own tweaks.

Ingredients

  • 2 cans of chickpeas, drained
  • 8 cups water
  • 1 (35-oz) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 small celery rib (including leaves), finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons chopped garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 2/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 4 cups vegetable broth (preferably organic) or chicken broth
  • 1 cup lentils
  • 2 oz dried capellini, broken into 1-inch pieces, or fine egg noodles (3/4 cup)
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • red pepper flakes to taste

Cook garlic, onion and celery in butter in a 4-quart heavy pot over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened.  Add turmeric, pepper, cumin, red pepper flakes and cinnamon and cook, stirring, 3 minutes.  Stir in tomatoes, 1/3 cup cilantro, chickpeas, vegetable broth and lentils.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until lentils are tender, about 35 minutes.  Stir in pasta and cook, stirring, until tender, about 3 minutes. Stir in parsley, remaining 1/3 cup cilantro, and salt to taste.

Turkey Meatloaf

December 10, 2008

I don’t normally think of myself as a meatloaf kind of a girl, but for some reason, I got a massive meatloaf craving a couple of weeks ago.  I found a recipe from Gourmet magazine with 378 rave online reviews.  Since it was a recipe for a healthier loaf made with turkey instead of grandma’s traditional beef loaf, I knew I had to try it.  It did not disappoint!  

This is a great comfort food dish.  Although I’ve made some of my typical simplifying edits to the original recipe, the recipe still involves a number of steps.  Don’t worry, it’s really quite simple.  It’s the perfect sort of thing to let bake while you’re doing some grading on the sofa.  Remember the 475th law of food (if meatloaf, then potatoes) and serve it with baked potatoes and a green salad or broccoli.  Then, reheat it with a slice of provolone in a sandwich the next day.  Bonus points if you listen to Bat Out of Hell II while you’re cooking.

Ingredients:

  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 medium carrot, cut into 1/8-inch dice
  • 3/4 lb cremini mushrooms, trimmed and very finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon ketchup
  • 1 cup bread crumbs
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 whole large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 large egg white, lightly beaten
  • 1 1/4 lb ground turkey

Preheat oven to 400°F.  Cook onion and garlic in oil in a nonstick skillet over moderate heat, stirring, until onion is softened, about 2 minutes.  Add carrot and cook, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes.  Add mushrooms, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid mushrooms give off is evaporated and they are very tender, 10 to 15 minutes.  Stir in Worcestershire sauce, parsley, and 3 tablespoons ketchup, then transfer vegetables to a large bowl and cool.

Stir together bread crumbs and milk in a small bowl and let stand 5 minutes.  Stir in egg and egg white, then add to vegetables.  Add turkey and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper to vegetable mixture and mix well with your hands. (Mixture will be very moist.)

Form into a 9- by 5-inch oval loaf in a lightly oiled baking pan or form inside a loaf pan and brush meatloaf evenly with remaining 2 tablespoons ketchup.  Bake in middle of oven until thermometer inserted into meatloaf registers 170°F, 50 to 55 minutes.  Let meatloaf stand 5 minutes before serving.  Serve with additional ketchup.

Pay It Forward

December 10, 2008

There’s something to be said for being a graduate student on a fixed income during an economic crisis.  Every store seems to be having a massive sale on at the moment, which makes our stipends stretch farther and, err, lets us buy new clothes.  I recommend spending some of your savings from the sales to help out those in need.

The New York Times recently published an interesting article about American food banks, which are making a number of innovations at the moment aiming at making their food offerings more efficient and more effective.  Near the end of the article are some disquieting quotes from food bank employees:

“I keep hearing that demand is up and up and up,” said Ross Fraser, a spokesman for Feeding America, which provides more than two billion pounds of food annually to food banks around the country. “I heard one person saying they’re feeding schoolteachers. The needle is moving higher up the socioeconomic class, and people making more money are needing emergency food assistance.”

Bill Bolling, founder and executive director of the Atlanta Community Food Bank, said he had “never seen anything” like the current economic situation.

“I’ve had people call me personally who have been donors for years, and said ‘Bill, I need help,’ ” Mr. Bolling said. “That’s disquieting to get those calls.”

In this time of increased hunger, some food banks are sadly being forced to close their doors due to decreased donations.  You can find food banks in your area from the website Feeding America.  I was amazed that I was able to buy three whole enormous bags of non-perishable groceries for only $20.  I encourage you to pick up at least one or two cans the next time you’re at the grocery store to donate to a local food drive.  As graduate students, we’re lucky to be relatively insulated from the economic crisis, so it’s a good time to pay it forward.

Spicy Tomato Soup

December 5, 2008

Here’s a Gourmet magazine recipe that I just tried for the first time and enjoyed.  It’s a great twist on a classic winter food: tomato soup.  I’ve made a few simplifying changes to the recipe because, well, I’m lazy!  I recommend serving this with garlic bread or grilled cheese sandwiches.

Ingredients:

  • 2 (28- to 32-oz) cans whole tomatoes in juice
  • 1 large onion, coarsely chopped (2 1/4 cups)
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh jalapeño chile including seeds
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 1/4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth (18 fl oz)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar, or to taste
  • 2 teaspoons salt, or to taste

Drain 1 can tomatoes.  Cook onion, garlic, chile, and ginger in oil in a 4- to 5-quart heavy nonreactive pot over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until onion is softened, about 8 minutes.  Add cumin and cook, stirring, 1 minute.   Stir in tomatoes, broth, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 2 teaspoons salt and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, 20 minutes.  Working in 3 or 4 batches, blend soup in blender until smooth (use caution when blending hot liquids).  Stir in additional sugar and salt to taste.  Reheat in cleaned saucepan if necessary.

Nerd Humor

December 5, 2008

You can’t fully understand how hemoglobin molecules interact until you’ve seen them depicted through a classical pas de deux.

So writes Randi Zuckerberg in her post, ‘Dance Your Way to a Ph.D.’  She highlights some of the hilarious videos that Ph.D. students and professors made as part of a contest to recreate their dissertations via interpretive dance.  

You must watch them.

December’s Netflix Watch Instantly Picks

December 1, 2008

I love Netflix.  And I especially love that Netflix Watch Instantly is now available in beta for Macs.  You can get a 1 DVD at a time unlimited monthly membership (that also comes with unlimited movies to watch instantly) for only $8.99.  What could be better for a grad student?!  The only tricky thing about the films to watch instantly is that most of them are old and/or you’ve never heard of them.  It can be time consuming to sift through all of the films to find one that is worth watching.  So I have decided to feature some older or more obscure film favorites on this blog in posts with three recommendations for Netflix watch instantly films.

1. Ordinary People (1980): This Oscar-winning field was directed by Robert Redford and stars Mary Tyler Moore, a young Timothy Hutton and Donald Sutherland.  It is about a suburban family coping with the tragic death of a son.  Although it was acclaimed at the time, few of my contemporaries have seen or even heard of this film.  That should change — this is a great movie.

2. Greenfingers (2000): This small film stars Clive Owen before he was well-known and Helen Mirren.  The film has elements of comedy and drama and follows the story of a hardened prisoner who takes up gardening.  Although it is a relatively disposable film, it is warm and light.  Anglophiles and romantics will enjoy this movie.

3. Victor/Victoria (1982): This is the one where Mary Poppins plays a woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman.  I know.  But this musical comedy, which is set in 1930’s “gay Pareee”, is extremely entertaining and features a great ensemble cast.  When I finally watched this film recently, I was struck by the fact that I actually laughed out loud several times and by the film’s message of acceptance.

Special Fried Rice

November 30, 2008

My favorite food blog, Smitten Kitchen, pretty much summarizes my feelings when it comes to Rachael Ray:

I have no doubt I’m opening a can of worms here, but I really don’t see the point of the classic foodie hobby, Rachael Ray Bashing. Sure, her voice is unnecessarily loud, and it makes you wonder why her supposedly caring producers wouldn’t tell her to cut back on all the yelling; of course, the (trademarked) EVOO is hideously annoying; and yeah, that FHM photo shoot was, at best, a pathetic cry for attention, but in the kitchen? The 30-minute meals? How did these become the enemy?

Yes, her knife skills are lacking, but guess what? So are mine. Yes, she relies a bit on pre-processed ingredients, but I’ve got no beef with canned tomatoes, beans and frozen peas when you are short on time. Yes, she lacks finesse but hello! I’m a big as a dork as anyone, and yet you are still here. To be honest, I often parallel her cooking to Oprah’s Book Club. (At the rate she’s earning, she’ll be as loaded as Oprah in a couple years, which is what I suspect is actually what irks people.) For the most part, the books aren’t to my taste but I won’t begrudge a woman who got thousands of Americans back into reading. In the realm of food, I can think of more worthy nightmares to dump on (ahem).

I’ve actually never seen her cooking show.  The only time I’ve seen her on television is when I saw the last fifteen minutes of her travel show when she visited Boston.  Her dishes aren’t always (or even usually) to my liking, but about once or twice a year, I make one of her recipes on a weeknight and I really enjoy it.  Last week was one of those times.  

Rachael Ray has a recipe for Vegetarian Fried Rice that I think is really tasty and easy — and it’s one of those quick recipes that mostly uses ingredients that I already have on hand.  I like to be generous in the amount of vegetables that I throw in to make it more nutritious.  I also like to be generous in the amount of fresh ginger that I throw in because ginger is just so good.  When I made it for dinner most recently, I served it with Chung’s Vegetarian Egg Rolls (frozen), which were surprisingly decent.  It’s a great recipe for lunch leftovers and it actually does take less than 30 minutes.  So, without further ado, here is the recipe.

Ingredients

  • 2 3/4 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups white rice
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable, sesame or wok oil, 3 turns of the pan
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 inches fresh ginger, minced or grated
  • 1/2 cup shredded carrots, available in pouches in produce section, a couple of handfuls
  • 1 small red bell pepper, diced
  • 4 scallions, thinly sliced on an angle
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 1/3 cup Tamari, dark aged soy sauce

Bring water to a boil.  Add rice, reduce heat, cover and cook over medium low heat until tender, 15 to 18 minutes. Spread rice out on a cookie sheet to quick cool it.  (I normally skip that last step…)

Heat a wok, wok shaped skillet or large nonstick skillet over high heat.  Add oil to the pan. Add egg to hot oil and break into small bits as it scrambles.  When eggs are scrambled, add garlic and ginger to the pan. Add carrots, pepper, scallions to the pan and quick stir-fry veggies 2 minutes. Add rice to the pan and combine with veggies.  Fry rice with veggies 2 or 3 minutes.  Add peas and soy sauce to the rice and stir fry 1 minute more, then serve.

Maybe There Are Free Lunches After All

November 29, 2008

Graduate students have to pay especially careful attention to their personal finances.  We’re on a relatively fixed and entirely low income.  Plus, we have to concentrate so much on our work that taking on side jobs is a major professional risk.  401(k)?  Roth IRA?  Not yet, buddy.

One strategy to survive and even to save in graduate school is to cut costs.  Another strategy is to find little freebies and money-maximizers.  I try to do both, but the second strategy is by far more fun.  Along these lines, I recently enjoyed this post over at I Will Teach You To Be Rich about how to use your credit cards’ free rewards.  Genius!

Dear readers, today I want to share with you one of my fave ways to get a “free lunch” — or really, in my case, a free dress or shoes.  It’s MyPoints.  MyPoints is a website that gives you a small number of points for reading daily e-mail advertisements and a larger number of points from making online purchases from their huge number of affiliated retailers after clicking through the link on their website.  Different retailers give different amounts of points per dollar for purchases; one reason MyPoints is so good for grad students is that BarnesandNoble.com offers an especially large number of points.  You can redeem your points for free gift vouchers.  That’s right, free.  I tend to get around $200 in free gift cards each year.  

My strategy when it comes to using MyPoints is to save up at least $150 worth of points, which I then spend to make a major new purchase — for free!  I get something that is a “practical splurge” (i.e. something that is practical but at a splurge price point) that makes me feel like I’m not actually a grad student for a fleeting moment.  My latest purchase was an awesome Soia and Kyo coat.  Since the e-mail advertisements might get annoying, I send them all to my junk mailbox and then go through them around once a week when I am in need of a procrastination device.

So, sign up for MyPoints and you, too, can get a free lunch!  If you would like to be referred by me (which I think would give you extra points), please just leave a comment.

Honey and Soy Glazed Salmon

November 24, 2008

This recipe is such a quick and easy dinner for a weeknight when you arrive home from the lab or an exhausting day at the library.  I’ve been making it for several years and it still hasn’t failed me, even though I’m not even that much of a salmon lover.  The recipe is from Gourmet, as always with a few small tweaks from me.  

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (lemon works, too)
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • two 6-ounce pieces salmon fillet

In a small bowl whisk together honey, soy sauce, lime juice, mustard, and water. In a small non-stick skillet heat oil over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking and cook salmon 2 to 3 minutes on each side, or until golden and just cooked through. Transfer salmon to 2 plates. Add honey glaze to skillet and simmer, stirring, 1 minute. Pour glaze over salmon.

I like to serve this delicious fish with steamed vegetables (broccoli is my favorite) and brown rice or a baked potato.

Charity Holiday Cards

November 24, 2008

It’s not even Thanksgiving yet, but everyone is already starting to think about Christmas!  Normally, I hate the rush towards Christmas that seems to start as early as September, but this year I’m joining in.  Sometimes you just really need to start getting excited about the holidays!  

As a grad student, it can be challenging to buy meaningful presents for friends and family without breaking the bank.  I will do a post in the future with my favorite present picks.  But a great, cheap and thoughtful gesture is to send everyone special in your life a warm holiday message in the mail.  Often a kind hand written message delivered by the mail man or mail woman is more appreciated than whatever little trinket you might give instead.  And we don’t send enough mail to our friends and family these days!

If you’re crafty, you’ll make a handmade card that will wow your loved ones.  If you’re me, you’ll buy charity holiday cards for a good cause.  My pick this year?  A classic in the field of charity Christmas cards: UNICEF.  They have some great retro designs this season.  Be sure to start making or purchase your holiday cards now so that you’ll have them ready to go in time for the holidays!