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Archive for February, 2011

I’ve had these for lunch three days this week, and the 1970’s Midwestern girl inside me can hardly believe it.

I was raised on Hy-Vee hamburger seasoned with a sodium-laden packet of pre-mixed spices, spooned into crunchy taco shells from a box, and topped with cheddar and iceberg lettuce. And I loved it.

Truth be told, it was a favorite guilty pleasure meal of mine long after I moved to the Pacific Northwest and widened my culinary curiosity. My husband, on the other hand, happily left this meal behind when we relocated, so I only had it as an occasional treat when he was out of town for work and I had to fend for myself.

(I feel the need to mention here that I love the Midwest and wouldn’t have wanted to grow up anywhere else; also, I fully realize that its grocery stores have exploded with the same options found out here — from more whole foods to gourmet items — over the convening years since my departure.)

But I, like so many others, am trying to eat less meat and very few processed foods. So it was time to try a healthier variation on my childhood favorite.

I made this one night when Michael was gone, unsure what to expect.

Lentil tacos

Ingredients:
1 finely chopped yellow onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 cup dried lentils, rinsed
1 Tbsp. chili powder
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. dried oregano
2 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth

Toppings:
fresh salsa
sour cream
shredded cheddar cheese

Saute the onion and garlic in olive oil until softened. Add lentils, chili powder, cumin and oregano, then cook and stir for a minute or two.

Add broth and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Check lentils for doneness at 35 minutes; mine took about 45 minutes.

Uncover and cook for a few minutes until any remaining moisture dissipates.

Use the taco filling any way you like. It would be great in a burrito or old-fashioned taco shells. We always have tostadas on hand, so I made open-faced tacos.

I swirled a bit of sour cream onto two tostada shells, heaped about a 1/4 cup of the lentil mixture atop that, and then topped with a bit of shredded cheddar and a dollop of salsa. I also had some sliced red onion on hand, which I tossed over the top for a flavorful, colorful garnish.

The kitchen smelled fantastic, the tacos looked gorgeous, but still I was wary. One bite and I was a convert. Goodbye childhood favorite; I’m not going to miss the greasy orange goo that accompanied your nostalgia-inducing, salty goodness.

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Lately, I’ve been fortunate in a couple of ways.

First of all, I made a fantastic new friend, Mrs. Fresh Scratch. Not only is she a kind, genuine, incredibly sweet person, but we keep discovering a seemingly unending list of things we have in common.

Secondly, my new friend invited me to join her on a trip to Seattle this past Saturday, to sit in on a small cooking class in the (also very small) kitchen of Amy Pennington: gardener, chef, and author of Urban Pantry: Tips and Recipes for a Thrifty, Sustainable and Seasonal Kitchen.

We had so much fun.

Amy’s first cookbook (she told us a second is in the works) is gorgeous and informative and inspirational. I originally heard of it last summer after Gwenyth Paltrow touted it in her GOOP newsletter.

The citrus preserving class we signed up for was for just six people, and took place in Amy’s unassuming Queen Anne apartment, which boasts a stunning water view and an enviable outdoor balcony for her container garden.

I have zero experiencing canning or preserving, but didn’t feel overwhelmed at all by Amy’s casual yet informative instructions. Besides the actual details on how to preserve lemons, concoct delicious Meyer lemon jam, and turn a bubbling cauldron of julienned orange peels into bourbon orange marmalade, I was reminded again — I always seem to forget — that you don’t need a big, high-end kitchen chock-full of gadgets to be a fantastic cook. You need a smidge of counter space, a functioning stove top, a few quality tools, and some knowledge. That’s it.

Amy exudes confidence (culinary and otherwise), but in a totally down to earth, easy to take in way. She’s a pro, no doubt about it, but also an effective, funny, talented teacher.

Learn more about her impressive resume, which includes working with Tom Douglas and founding Urban Garden Share, by listening to this recent KUOW interview.

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