Thursday, April 30, 2009

TFF & FIC - Grilled Cheese Forever!

This past month has been bewildering for me. It's gone by so fast, and I feel like I've accomplished so little! But I've enjoyed a lot of it, so I should satisfy myself with that. I do have one teensy regret though; that I couldn't celebrate Grilled Cheese Month the way it deserves to be celebrated! My original plan to was make one new grilled cheese sandwich every week (which would've been easy enough, because the Lord knows about my undying love for grilled cheese!). But somehow, something always seemed to derail me. What can I say? I'm easily distracted. For instance, right now I'm watching Ellen and blogging at the same time. Bad idea. I should know by now that I'm a uni-tasker. I envy people who can multi-task. Bet their lives are much more productive than mine. No wonder employers always like to see that word on resumes!

Anyway, back to grilled cheese (see?! I'm not kidding about being easily distracted). I couldn't just let this month go by without at least one serious dedication. So that's where my buddy Tyler stepped up to the plate. He gave me a recipe that I will cherish forever, as will future generations of grilled cheese lovers! I did cheat a little though, because I was short on time, and ended up using store-bought basil pesto instead of making it from scratch like Tyler did. Just keeping it real between you and me, dear readers. When I make it again though, maybe for a crowd, I'll make my own pesto. To accompany these scrumptious sandwiches, I threw together a quick salad of avocado, kidney beans, roasted corn, red onions and fresh lime juice (inspired by something very similar that my skinnier-than-me-dammit-yet-awesome sister-in-law makes). Remember, DH and I are giving salads a fair shot from now on!

The thing with Tyler is that he has excellent timing (hmmmmmmmmm, perhaps in more ways than one, eh?!). What I mean by that is, he couldn't have picked a better day for me to make this recipe. It was deliciously warm and bright outside, and the air was fragrant with the first buds of spring. Outside my window I could see families strolling about, kids laughing and playing - basically everyone looked happy! Which is what the perfect spring day should look like. To give you some perspective, take a look at this view from my window just a couple of months ago ...

And now see the magic that Mother Nature has crafted, yet again!
Tyler's Mozzarella Grilled Cheese Sandwiches (find original recipe on Food Network's site)
Serves: 2

Click Here For Printable Recipe

8 slices rye bread
4 quarter-inch slices of fresh mozzarella
3 plum tomatoes, cut into thick slices
1 cup fresh basil pesto, recipe follows (or use the store-bought stuff)
Freshly ground black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil

Basil pesto:
1/2 cup pine nuts
2 cups fresh basil leaves
1 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves
1/2 cup Parmesan or Romano
2 garlic cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil


1. Toast pine nuts in a skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Combine pesto ingredients in a food processor and pulse until well combined but still rough-textured.

2. If you have a panini press, turn it on to warm up; otherwise, set a skillet over medium heat.

3. Assemble sandwich by smearing insides of bread slices with pesto. Arrange a layer of sliced tomato and season with a few turns of fresh pepper. Layer the mozzarella slices over the top and then place another piece of bread on top to make the sandwich.
4. Drizzle olive oil over skillet's surface and place sandwiches on the hot skillet or panini press. If using a skillet, place another heavy skillet over the top to form a "press". Turn after 2 to 3 minutes and replace weight. The sandwich is ready when golden brown and mozzarella has melted around the edges.
Verdict: Oh for pity's sake, just look at the darn thing, would ya? What do you think I'm going to say about it?! It was cheesy, melty, flavorful, rich, crispy, PURRRRRRRRFECT. I want to have it every day for the rest of my life. Maybe not a war, but I'm sure mini-battles can be fought over this concoction. It's devious in its simplicity. It's one of those foods that you will have cravings for in the middle of the night.

I'm submitting this for the next Tyler Florence Fridays round-up, tout de suite! Ladies, this is a hot one!

And I believe this colorful dish will also qualify for this month's Food In Color event, originated by Sunshinemom from Tongue Ticklers, and hosted by Neha from Easy N Tasty Recipes. This time, the theme is "Red + Green", and there's definitely lots of that in this recipe!

Monday, April 27, 2009

A Lesson In Lentils

DH and I just returned from our nightly walk around the neighborhood, and as it usually happens, we have the most interesting conversations of the day during this time together. We started this routine of walking and talking quite a few months ago (in the dead of winter, because DH luuuuurves walking in the bitter cold, that awful man). What started off as a daily leisurely stroll to help with our deteriorating metabolism (another wonder of aging) has since then turned into a routine brisk 20-30 min walk, no matter what the weather. I suppose you could call it "exercise", but please don't, because if DH were to read this he'd stop doing it right away. He's severely allergic, you see. To exercise, that is. I believe it's called lazybumititus.

Back to our walk. Tonight we were thinking of ways to tackle our expanding mid-sections. DH was wondering if there was a way to do it without diet and exercise (see? told you so). I, being the voice of reason, said "no, of course not". Then we began plotting several ways of eating healthier and motivating ourselves to do regular stomach crunches. Our negotiations went something like this:

Me: From tomorrow, I'm only going to make salads!
DH: Have you gone mad, woman? Why don't you just cut out my stomach?!
Me: Ok ok, how about we eat salad for lunch everyday?
DH: Only if I can have fries with it!
Me: Erm, that kind of defeats the purpose. How about we incorporate more vegetarian options into our meals, with a sprinkling of fresh salads now and then?
DH: Fine.
Me: Really?! Neat! Ok, now pick a time of day that we will stick to, every single day, in which to do a proper workout.

... Which led to a much more interesting discussion (I think) about what workout outfits we're going to buy in order to jumpstart our new and improved lifestyle! That's half the battle right there, folks, because to look good is to feel good, I say.
Part of Plan A is to eat healthier at home, so one vegetarian option that both DH and I really enjoy is my mom's Punjh Daal (which literally translates to "five daals"). There are so many reasons to love lentils / daals. Here, let me count the ways for you. Lentils are packed with nutrients, fiber, complex carbohydrates, and folic acid. Lentils are also an important source of iron and protein, especially for women. They are a low calorie, low fat and cholesterol free food, as well as being inexpensive. You hear that?! Healthy and inexpensive. Now that's what I want to hear in this time of recession! So today, ladies and gents, I'm not going to cook with one type of daal, or two, or even three types of daal. No, today, I'm going to cook with FIVE daals!

Punjh Daal
Serves 4-6

2 tbsp masoor daal
2 tbsp chana daal
2 tbsp urad (white) daal
2 tbsp moong daal
2 tbsp tuvar (oily) daal
2 tbsp vegetable / canola oil
1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 fat garlic clove, minced
1/2 tsp ginger paste
2 medium tomatoes, finely chopped
1 tsp salt
3/4 tsp red chilli powder (or less if you want it less spicy)
1/4 tsp turmeric (haldi)
1 hot green chile, finely chopped
Handful of cilantro, chopped

1. Mix all the lentils together and rinse them a couple of times with tap water. Then cover them with water and let them soak for half an hour.

2. Drain the lentils of the water they've been sitting in. Then put them in a saucepan, and add fresh water. The level of water should be such that it reaches 1 inch above the level of lentils in the pan. Turn the heat on to medium, and let the lentils cook till tender - about half an hour. (Keep an eye on it, because it has a tendency to boil over)

3. In the meantime, heat up the oil (medium-high heat) in a separate small pan. Toss in the cumin seeds. When they begin to darken, and you smell their nutty aroma, turn the heat down to low, and add the ginger and garlic (be careful! It will sputter a lot - better to wait till the oil cools down a bit). Stir it all around for a few seconds.

4. Add the chopped tomatoes, followed by the salt, chilli powder, turmeric and green chile. Stir around, then cover with a lid and let the tomatoes soften. Oil will also separate. It will take about 7-10 mins on medium-low heat. Set aside.

5. When the lentils have softened, add the tomato mixture to it, followed by the chopped cilantro. Stir around, and let it cook for a further 3-5 mins. Taste for salt. Then you're done! Savor with parathas, chapatis, or any type of roti or flour tortilla.
Verdict: This makes a healthy main dish with roti or rice, or a great side dish with meat or chicken. It's packed with flavor, so it tricks your stomach into feeling completely satisfied. It's kinda craveworthy, folks. For me, this is the tastiest and easiest daal recipe. I always keep a regular stash of these five types of lentils in my pantry, which I get from my local Indian/Pakistani grocery. But don't sweat it if you can't find all of them - because you can just as easily make this recipe with two or three types of lentils. There's no daal police out there, for crying out loud! Erm, is there?!

Keep talking Mommy ... I am watching you.

When I'm in a rush, I sometimes spread some of this daal on a flour tortilla, roll it up, toast it lightly on a skillet, and gobble it up. Makes me feel busy and important, and yet very zen.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, if Plan A of eating healthier doesn't work out too well, I do have a Plan B. One word, ladies .... Spanx!