Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Haven't forgotten you... or Tom.

Hi, folks. Well some of you may be wondering where the heck I've been. My head has been all over the place lately and so I've decided to dip into other sources for foodie inspiration. My current musings are found on my other blog and you are welcome to dip in and out of there and here to see what I'm up to.

I haven't abandoned this project at all. In fact, I find that I make up recipes using the ingredients I already have at home. It is getting colder and darker out there so the more I spend time in front of the warm stove, and not strategically zigzagging around my neighborhood for ingredients, the better. Tom's philosophy of use-what-you-have has been my inspiration for it all.


Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Season for Soup

Today was one of those days that you wanted to stay inside -- it was windy, and rainy, for a bit. A day that cried out for soup!

125. Potato, Watercress and Nutmeg Soup - *Soup*

This soup is one of the 'jazzed-up' potato soups in CL. It is, indeed, just the basic potato soup recipe, with the inclusion of nutmeg, and then watercress at serving.

Like the other soups in this chapter, Tom doesn't use a ready-made stock as the base. Instead, the 'stock' resulted from the sweating of the initial ingredients. These were chopped onions, garlic and salt in a little bit of olive oil.

Then, the chopped potatoes were added with some grated nutmeg, and a little bit of water is added.
This was left to simmer for 20 minutes until the potatoes were close to falling apart. At this stage, a bit more water can be added to get the desired consistency. I didn't end up adding that much more water since I added more than enough in the beginning.

Tom says to make the soup cute and 'two-tone', it would be a good idea to chop up the watercress extra finely and kind of swirl it into the soup. I was mechanical enough to get it chopped extra small -- that's what a mezzaluna is for -- but not enough to really get the swirly action going. Here's my honest attempt at 'cute':

Well, nevertheless, it was delicious. A hearty and feel-good soup to warm the soul on a crappy day outside. The sun soon came out after we ate the soup, and that truly reflected my mood. :) Thanks, Tom!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

It looked pretty...

I usually have high hopes for dinner. I think that my meal is going to be so fantastic that Rafa will do one of those silly dances seen in musicals and cry from every rooftop how remarkable his wife is. I'd be Wife of the Year. Erm, that doesn't happen. Which is not to say that Rafa doesn't appreciate my cooking at all - it's just that there are certain things that he doesn't like, actually many things. I have been dying to cook out Cupboard Love but haven't found the inspiration at all because I'm running out of the recipes that are begging to be made. Also, our dinner schedules have been complicated as Rafa usually works very late, which would mean, if we ate together, I'd have to wait until then to eat, or we would eat in shifts, but then that would only be worth it if the food was cold to start with or able to be reheated OR if it is something we both like. As you could see, complicated stuff. Dinner shouldn't be that complicated. And this coupled with the feelings I get every once in a while that my life is meaningless and I'm wasting it away and I can't get out of the vicious circle of overeating and feeling like crap about how fat I look ....
haha, sorry for that. But really, blogging is a lot cheaper than therapy! LOL.

So....... back to dinner. We had some leftover sausages from Nigella's One-Pan Sage-and-Onion Chicken and Sausage (FEAST), and I thought it would be cool to jazz them up a bit with a relish from Tom's Junk Food chapter.

124. DIY: Make your own sweetcorn relish - *Junk Food*

Tom writes that this relish makes a burger, more so than the dill sauce I had made earlier in this project. Well I didn't have any burgers, but taking some inspiration from the hot dog vendors around these parts, a relish sounded like a good topping for some sausages. I don't eat sausages, so this meal was for Rafa. (You'll see what I ate further down below.)

I really didn't know what to expect from this relish. Usually, relish is a pretty generic term for a kind of pungent topping. But, I wasn't sure if it would be spicy, vinegary, sour, salty, etc. See, even though this is a DIY recipe, implying that it is something one could purchase somewhere, I had never heard of nor seen sweetcorn relish. But then again, I'm not really a toppings kind of person. So, I was cooking blindly, and I also had no idea how Rafa would react to it.

On to the process: You first blanch some frozen (or fresh) corn in a lot of boiling salted water. That didn't take very long, and after draining the corn, I put it back in the pan. To this, you add sliced onions, some chilli (I used just a dash of chilli flakes), white wine vinegar, salt and sugar.

You let this boil on a high heat for about five minutes, and then you lower the heat and let it simmer for 20 minutes.

While this was going on, I got started on the thickening agent. It was basically just mustard powder, corn starch and water all mixed together.

After the relish had its simmering time, the mixture was added to thicken up the sauce. This boiled on a medium heat for another five minutes so that relish would get glossy and thick.

And that was it. It was then just a matter of putting it on the desired meat of choice.

I really thought it looked pretty. It was shimmering and sticky at the same time. I tasted a little bit of it, and it was sweet and had heat. Definitely a punch. As you could see, I put a lot on Rafa's sausages. And though he said it tasted nice, it overpowered the actual meat. Rafa said that he had a hard time actually tasting the meat. Hmmn, should have exercised the 'less is more' style of plating up. Well I could not really argue with that; I saw what he meant after tasting the relish again. So it was not a hit at the Ilana-Rafa household.

I don't think this recipe is a total waste, because it really is tasty, I am just not sure what it should accompany. I'm thinking maybe a simple chicken breast that has been sauteéd in olive oil and nothing else. That might actually be pretty good.

Well I promised to show you what I ate. I was quite proud of myself because had about four things cooking at once and was quite pleased that I was able to be in control. Here is Bill Granger's Spaghetti with Garlic and Spinach. I think it may be from his new book, but I got the recipe from the UK Delicious, November 2006.

It's a very basic and delicious recipe. All you do is boil up some spaghetti, or linguini, in my case, and in a separate pan fry some garlic slivers in olive oil and then add white wine. The pasta goes into the oily sauce with some baby spinach (yes, we can eat it again!), and then is topped with parmesan at serving. It was lovely and really flavorful even though not many flavors were added to the pasta. It was a bit on the oily side; but that's not a bad thing necessarily. With the heating in my apartment, it tends to get pretty dry, and this was great at moisturizing my lips. LOL.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Life in the fast lane!

Ilana and Rafa are proud to announce a brand new addition to their family -- a Cool Blue Honda Accord!!! The bouncing new baby did not come into this world without complications; steep insurance rates, various trips to the non-borough, Staten Island.

And I've realized I've become the worst back seat driver!!! Why are drivers in New York completely maniacs??! I mean, do they want to really kill themselves and everyone else around them?? I'm not too sure if getting a car is good for my mental health. Now instead of being crazy, neurotic, paranoid Ilana, I am now crazy, neurotic, paranoid Ilana with a car. I hardly slept last night and this morning, even though I was horridly late to work already, I still found time to go out of my way to check on my new baby as it slept among the falling rain of early morning. She looked OK, but there was a fat van parked eerily close to her, just nearly touching her pristine license plate. Rafa and I are both anal-retentives -- oh, what fun are we! -- so I fear we're going to turn into those people that won't let others eat in our car, come in with wet boots, etc. Well only time will tell.

With this new car, I hope, will come new freedom, so if we feel like driving off to the 'country' for a weekend, we can. I hope we get to do that.. I don't want it to be one of those things where we say we will do it, but never do. Like in When Harry Met Sally, when Sally tells Harry how her and Joe always said they would fly off to Rome on a moment's notice or make love on the kitchen floor, but they never did.

Hey, now we'll be able to fly off to Ikea on a moment's notice. So watch out for the next installment of the Magical Culinary Tour: Ikea... hahaha.... no, I'm not kidding! :)

Monday, October 16, 2006

A woman can't live by one blog alone...

I've done it again -- made risotto! Check it out here!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Gold in a Bowl

Continuing on with my color-themed thread titles, I am indeed cooking by color as my lunch today was lovingly golden.

The luminscence of my dish comes from the gorgeous spices of India.

123. Spicy Potatoes and Cauliflower (Aloo Gobi) - *Indian*

I had some cauliflower leftover from the soup, so thought it was smart to use it up for this recipe. As with many Indian dishes, the spices were left to develop and then the rest of the ingredients were added.

So, I heated up some light olive oil and butter in a non-stick pan. Then, I added cumin (Tom says to add cumin seeds, but I didn't have any), garlic and ginger. I let these fry for a minute or so, and then I added garam masala, turmeric, salt and chilli flakes. For the heat, Tom recommends green chillies actually but I am a woose when it comes to spicy foods. Then some chopped waxy potatoes go in along with some chopped cauliflower. Finally, water is added along with tomato purée. This is left to simmer covered until the potatoes are tender, and the aloo gobi is finito!

I topped the aloo gobi with chopped parsley and waited for it to cool down a bit so I can dig in.

This is really lovely and with a nice spicy kick. Did wonders to my sinus infection! LOL! Tom says this could be eaten cold for a retro potato salad in the summer. I'm inclined to agree with him. This dish is fierce and would be welcome at any type of occasion.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

BETA is bettah'!

Hey fellow Bloggers! I switched over to Blogger Beta recently and just love how easy it is to customize the page and other little things. You will notice the Chapters and more... sidebar that I created. It has links to all the posts organized by CL's chapters, so if you're in the mood for soup tonight, for instance, you could link up to all the posts of the soups I have made in Cupboard Love. Anyway, lots of lovely features, and I'm recommending it not because Google needs any more money, they have enough already!, but only because it makes life easier for technophobes such as myself!! Enjoy!

Really yummy bread!

I find that my search for the perfect bread can be equated to my search for the perfect pizza slice. I think it is because when bakeries get it right, they get it really right, and the same goes for pizzerias. The search also includes the home. When it comes to baking bread or making pizza, I want to better anything I could get outside. Ay, there's the rub. I live in a great city where it is easy to get a great slice of pizza or loaf of bread; and I bow down before these manufacturers of heavenly delights because I know, as hard as I try, I can't recreate the best. But I try...

Last night I was home. Feeling sick, I really was in the mood to bake a loaf of bread. I have never attempted the basic white bread loaf before, so I thought that'd be a good recipe to try. I used Tessa Kiros' White Milk Bread recipe from Apples for Jam. The bread was different from your typical loaf as it contained melted butter, honey, eggs, and milk. I love eggy bread -- my favorite at-home creation is challah, and I'll blow my own Shofar by saying it is darn tasty!

Well Tessa's bread did not disappoint!

The crust was crunchy, the insides were soft and warm. Perfect with some butter!! The only bad thing about baking bread is that it doesn't seem to keep for very long. I cut up two generous slices this morning and spread some lovely Finnish strawberry jam in between. I had this for my breakfast at work with some vanilla soy milk. YUM! I think I need to add this bread to the items I'll make as holiday gifts.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Nigella reads my blog....

.... or not. But I found it funny how in the 2nd episode of Nigella Feasts, Nigella walks into Murray's cheese shop. For those that don't know, it is a mecca for cheese enthusiasts around the world as literally every type of cheese is there. I have to admit I have never been there -- cheese I like, but it doesn't do it for me. If it wasn't for my pizza addiction, I think I could happily live a cheese-less life. Plus, Murray's isn't exactly known for its mozzarella, which you could find everywhere!! Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, so Nigella walks into Murray's and instantly focuses on a huge chunk of gorgonzola.

You will remember my aversion to gorgonzola and how I said at the end of my blog that day that you wouldn't catch me dead at Murray's shop -- that I'd happier go to Magnolia Bakery, its Bleecker Street neighbor.

Here's Nigella holding that brown Norwegian cheese I can't ever hope to spell or pronounce properly.
So I guess if I ever have the fortunate chance to bump into Nigella on the street here in NYC, it won't be outside of Murray's. LOL.

Speaking of which, talking of celeb sightings, yesterday I saw Dennis Leary. Why is it always that I see celebs I really don't care about in the slightest --- Isaac Mizrahi, Mila Kunis, Andrew McCartney!!! --- but I never see Chris Martin or Clive Owen or Ewan McGregor or Colin Firth or... mmmmm. Where are they hiding??

Sunday, October 08, 2006


Sunday was all mine since Rafa was working at the hospital. I was getting better at having three meals throughout the day, and I wanted to include a nice and healthy soup for lunch.

122. Leek and Potato Soup (Cauliflower and Saffron variation) - *Soup*

The variation of the soup is very similar to the original apart from some key role changes. For instance, the part of the leeks was played by cauliflower, onions, dried mint and saffron.

All of these ingredients braised in a bit of milk until soft. It turned a gorgeous creamy yellow color right away.

Then, the potatoes were added with some water and left to boil until very soft. I checked for seasoning, and the soup was done.

I ate it while watching Nigella Lawson's second episode of Nigella Feasts. It was really good to chill out, watch quality entertainment on the Food Network for once, and have some nutritious soup.

The color of the soup was beautiful - yes, quite like marigold - and it evoked a lovely Middle Eastern flair, with the hint of saffron and mint. I have to admit, though, I do prefer the original version, but that is indeed a matter of taste. I liked the smoother texture that cauliflower can't really give.

I am really making headway in the Soup chapter! I think I only have two or three left to go... Who would have thought I liked soup so much! I really have to give it, though, to this chapter. So many recipes and not one that tastes anything like the other. Good job, Tom!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Picky Eaters Club: Month 6

Well, it's been six months, so that marks the official end to this project.. see ya!

Haha, just kidding. Ok, Month 6, definitely better than Month 5, but still not up to scratch. This time, I made 7 recipes!! And here they are, in particular order. ;)

115. Penne with Gorgonzola and Walnuts - *Pasta*
116. Leek and Potato Soup - *Soup*
117. Halloumi, Rocket and Tomato 'Club' - *Toast*
118. Aubergine Tikka - *Indian*
119. Tomato, Bacon and Onion Sauce (Amatriciana) - *Pasta*
120. Chickpea, Bacon and Mushroom soup - *Soup*
121. Chickpea, Bacon and Mushroom soup (soup pasta variation) - *Soup*

This month I learned that I hate gorzonzola, but halloumi ain't too bad! As gorgeously as I disguise vegetarian food, Rafa will always prefer meat recipes -- and in that vein, chorizo makes a good subsitute for bacon! That's a tip for any of you that toss all night contemplating if it would.

Although I am about 80 recipes until the end of the book, the end of each chapter is drawing closer. In fact, I am only three or four recipes away from finishing the Pasta and Soup chapters! I think my goal for the next few months is to focus on the ethnic dishes of the Junk Food, Indian and Thai chapters. I feel I have neglected those recently.

Thanks to everyone still reading this blog. :)

Monday, September 25, 2006

I need a Toblerone I.V.!

I woke up shattered this morning. My eyelids felt they were scotch-taped to my face, my head was hazy, I was not in good shape. I shoulda known better. I partied and binged all weekend, and now I was paying for it. In a 24 hr period, I had consumed an entire 20 oz. bottle of Pepsi, about 9 cupcakes, almost an entire bar of Jacques Torres' dreamy milk chocolate.... Whenever I do this to myself, which isn't that often, I usually feel awful afterwards. The amount of sugar and caffeine is too much to handle, and then I get up the next day looking for my next fix. On the train this morning, all I could think about was diving into a huge swimming pool of melted milk chocolate. I wanted it baaaaaaad!

But I needed to resist, because it is a slippery slope from here. Tonight, I needed something sinful after dinner. I had tons of temptation all around me.

1 bar of toblerone
the rest of the Jacques Torres' milk chocolate bar
the rest of the cupcakes (about three or four)
about five bars of Green and Blacks chocolate, in different sinful flavors

I decided to be strong and made a dessert in a class all by itself...

Caribbean Breeze

I layered all the non-naughty things I loved; greek yogurt, juicy nectarine slices, Honey Bunches of Oats cereal, dried cranberries and honey. It was marvelous, and no, there's nothing Caribbean about it, especially not the Honey Bunches of Oats, but it kind of gave me that feeling like I was on some island, coming back from the beach all sunkissed, wearing terry-cloth clothing and feeling all 'toyt' (Austin Powers reference); why is it on vacation that we feel so much skinnier than we really are. Must be something in the water. Anyway, this little creation was just spectacular. And I'm not missing my chocolate..... much.

**Shameless Self-Plug - Hey, check out what I had for dinner here.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

So I saw about some meat...

I figured we needed some variation and meat in our diet, and it gave me an opportunity to be inventive in the kitchen.

Pollo Casero con Pisto y Arroz

I first seared a couple of chicken breasts in some garlic olive oil. I put them to the side and added onions to the hot pan. Once the onions browned a bit, I added tinned plum tomatoes, a chopped small zucchini and salt. Once the sauce reduced a bit, I added the chicken pieces on top, and sauteéd them with the lid on.

I made some lovely saffron rice to go with it. It was delicious. I hadn't let on to Rafa that it was actually pisto that I made, because I wanted to see if he could recognize my efforts as the same dish he grew up with in Seville. He knew what I was all about, and he didn't give up that he was hot on my case until after he finished eating. He said the pisto tasted just like his mom's, and that is the best compliment a mama's boy could ever give! :) He got meat and a helping of some of mama's cooking.

The Vegetarian Soup in Disguise

I could happily live a vegetarian life. Don't get me wrong, there are times when only a big hunk of meat will do. Usually it is during barbecue season when all I could envision is my brother-in-law's beautifully spiced filet mignon, so rare it's still quivering. But, for the most part, I find myself eating vegetarian dishes; there just seems to be more variety there.

Rafa wouldn't happily live a vegetarian life - in fact, he'd view it as a malnourished one. Of course I'm not surprised, he growing up in the country of meat. For Christmas, they would have a huge side of a pig in their chicken, ready for carving for impromptu jamón tapas. It looked strange to me when first seeing it there, hanging out next to the pantry and fridge. It didn't really kick in that it was an animal until I saw its hoof. Hmmmn.

So you could see we come from very different foodie ideals. I thought a sort of compromise was needed, but of course, since I'm the cook, it always tends to lean in my favor. Muahahahaha.

120. Chickpea, Bacon and Mushroom soup - *Soup*
121. Chickpea, Bacon and Mushroom soup (soup pasta variation) - *Soup*

Number 121 was for Rafa for dinner when he got home from work, and 120 is for me for my lunch today. It is basically the same recipe with some pasta added to one of the bowls once the soup was done.

So the soup -- so easy and a pleasure to make, because I just love the idea of making a stock and healthy soup from scratch.

First, I sweated some some onions, carrots and garlic in a little bit of olive oil and salt. This was the 'base' of the stock. Smelled fabulous at this point.

The meaty part of the original recipe involved first cooking some bacon and then adding the veggies to that oil, but the compromise was no bacon, because I was eating this soup too! :) I didn't let on that there was supposed to be bacon in the soup, but instead decided to bulk it up for Rafa so he hopefully wouldn't notice there was no meat.

While the vegetables were sweating, I soaked some porcini mushrooms in warm water. After a bit, I drained and sliced them and reserved the dark liquid. (My friend, Jean, in Scotland, was kind enough to send me a huge bag of porcinis, so my porcini liquid cup runneth over. Can't wait to make some more risotto too -- Thanks, Jean!)

Once the vegetables got soft, I added tomato pureé, a can of chickpeas with its juice, the sliced mushrooms, two bay leaves,
and enough of the porcini liquid to top the vegetables. This simmered for about a half an hour. And that was the first soup done!

For the second soup, Tom said I could boil up some ditalini or macaroni. I had both so decided to include the two. It was about 50g in total for a serving of soup.

And that was Rafa's hearty dinner for when he came back home from a long day at work. He liked it and would swill around the mushrooms because he thought they were beef slices. I let him on to the secret that there was not actually any meat there -- he said what harm would there be in a couple of cubes of meat. I think that's his way of telling me he needs some meat. I'll see what I can do....

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Il Bastardo

Last night I probably offended all of the Italians in the world by doing a complete bastardized version of a popular pasta dish. But, in true Cupboard Love fashion, I needed to use what I had, provided it wasn't too out of the box!

119. Tomato, Bacon and Onion Sauce (Amatriciana) - *Pasta*

In my Internet research post-dinner last night, I found that amatriciana sauce comes from the town of Amatrice in Italy; most of the time, it involves pancetta or bacon, tomatoes, and a punchy hit of a hot pepper. It is garnished with pecorino romano, and served on top bucatini, a thick strand of spaghetti that has the center hollowed out. Well turns out I wasn't the only one who bastardized this dish, as Tom uses this sauce for penne, ha!, and with parmesan and no pepper.

But, at any rate, I had to use what I had available. I don't like bacon, so I wanted to make this for Rafa, since he comes home late from work, and I figured it would be something nice to come home to. Our bacon in the fridge was not looking its best; I had to throw it away. I was looking around for something else that was kinda smoked and definitely in the pork-y realm. I found the chorizo. I knew Rafa wouldn't object to having a tomato sauce with loads of chorizo, but I wasn't sure how it would taste. I decided to give it a try.

So first I chopped up about 100 grams of chorizo. I added them to a hot pan with a little bit of olive oil, as the chorizo was quite oily already. Once the chorizo got crispy, I added a chopped onion and some sage leaves. I let this fry for a bit.

Then, I added a nice splash of red wine. I used pseudo-plonk, though, I have to admit. It was an old bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, hehehe. The sauce reduced a little bit, and then I added some squeezed out plum tomatoes (San Marzano, but of course) to the pan with a pinch of salt.

The penne was ready, and after draining it, I tossed it in some butter off the heat. I added the tomato sauce and some chopped parmesan. I kept the whole thing warm while Rafa was experiencing his idea of hell on Earth; the evening commute! He came home to a lovely warm bowl of pasta.

He really enjoyed the pasta. He loves chorizo, of course, but also appreciated the lovely smell of wine emanating from the bowl. Bless him. He can't detect plonk either!

While he was eating I came upon an epiphany. I could just cook the things he likes for those nights when he works late. My dinner is out of the way; and I have time to make his and I don't even have to eat it! Yippee! So I become a good and nurturing wife, and a successful blogger!

Monday, September 18, 2006

An article and three recipes...

For the cupboard-hoarders; you know who you are!

September 17, 2006
Food - New York Times
The Way We Eat: The Cookout

I know I had a very good reason for purchasing two pounds of lupini beans in the winter of 2005. But what was it?

I pulled out old cooking magazines, interrogated my husband and made a few desperate phone calls to Italy, where friends had no suggestions but did ask that I respect time-zone differences the next time I had a food inquiry.

But the beans had to go — as did the two cans of pumpkin, bags of lentils, a tin of wasabi powder, chicken stock, walnuts, pecans, garam masala, coconut milk and lots and lots of rice. I was moving from New York to California, and the entirety of my pantry could not come with me. So in between lunches with old friends, school picnics and crying jags precipitated by my inability to find the dry-cleaning receipt, I would boil, broil, baste and sauté these ingredients away.

Perhaps you are like Mrs. Virkus, the mother of my childhood friend Jill, who diligently recorded every family dinner, down to the last ground-beef “porcupine ball.” I’ll bet Mrs. Virkus always knew when she was out of paprika. Or perhaps your larder is more like mine, full of the detritus of good intentions, stemming from a combination of time-management issues, absent-mindedness and an inflated sense of your culinary skill and your family’s willingness to indulge you.

All cooks have things in the pantry they cannot live without. My list: dried pasta, sea salt, cocoa powder, curry and plenty of baking powder. Then there are those things we seem to get left with: cans of pumpkin (holiday baking), mustard seeds (for pickling) and five bags of lentils and rice, an inch in each bag.

In a subcategory of leftovers are those ingredients you buy for one recipe — like that wasabi — use a teaspoon of and then curse each time they clonk you on the head as you reach for a can of tomato paste. You don’t toss them, because you like to think of yourself as the sort of person who really ought to be cooking regularly with wasabi paste.

Then there are the vacation ingredients, meant to recapture a beloved meal made elsewhere, which, of course, is rarely successful. Old Bay seasoning, so enjoyed on those crabs I pummeled during a summer vacation in Delaware, has no rightful place in a New York pantry in December. Finally, there is the ingredient abuse of which I am most ashamed: comestible posing. You know the drill: you flip through a new cookbook or the latest issue of this magazine and say to yourself, “Hey, yes, I will make bobotie tonight.” You go to three different stores, ferret out each exotic ingredient, come home, pull out a few pans and order pizza. No judgment!

So, left with these categories of goods, I flipped through cookbooks, scanned recipe sites and bothered one friend relentlessly for ideas on how to cook down my pantry without having to buy more ingredients. A new favorite emerged, Goan coconut-milk pilaf, from the lovely cookbook “1,000 Indian Recipes,” by Neelam Batra, which had two important elements: speed and lots of ingredients. My supply of basmati rice, married with several spices and an onion, suddenly formed a fragrant side dish. The garam masala and that coconut milk gave it some zip. I had no cardamom pods, and had no intention of buying them, but the dried stuff was fine.

On to the lentils. My expectations were low when I took on a soup with pounded walnuts and cream, because the recipe called for only 10 ingredients, including water (though I chose to use chicken stock, and you should, too). I used the brown lentils I purchased in bulk months ago at an Indian grocery store but I am positive I would have thrown in a cup each of all the lentils in my pantry. The soup was simple and flavorful on its own, but when mixed with the mashed paste of my leftover walnuts and some crème fraîche (a process that takes less than five minutes), it was divine.

Lentils? Cooked. Wasabi powder? Coming with me. Pumpkin? To be fair, the failure of a panna cotta adapted from the book “Italian Two Easy” (my idea was to add the pumpkin) was largely my fault, as I did not properly calculate the gelatin-to-pumpkin-and-milk ratios. But the authors didn’t help any by suggesting that I remove the gelatin from the milk after soaking it, which is a little like suggesting you strain the sugar from your morning coffee after adding it. One panna cotta slid obediently from its ramekin, doing a little dessert shimmy on the plate. The other formed a gloppy puddle. But when rejiggered and prepared as it is here, it’s a fabulous alternative to the standard pumpkin pie. Sometimes leftover ingredients and ambition alone do not do the trick.

And that big bag of lupini beans? Pie weights. This Thanksgiving in Los Angeles.

Goan Coconut-Milk Pilaf
2 tablespoons grated fresh coconut or shredded unsweetened dried coconut

1 to 2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 1-inch stick cinnamon
5 whole cloves
6 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed (or 1 heaping teaspoon ground cardamom)
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 ½ cups basmati rice, sorted and washed
1 cup coconut milk
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1 teaspoon Goan vindaloo powder or garam masala
2 tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped.

1. Dry-roast the coconut in a small skillet over medium heat until fragrant, but just barely darker in color, 1 to 2 minutes. Cool and set aside.
2. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the cinnamon, cloves and cardamom pods and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the onion (and ground cardamom, if using) and cook until golden, about 5 minutes. Mix in rice, coconut milk, 1 ¾ cups water and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover the pan and cook until all the water has been absorbed and the rice is tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let rest for about 5 minutes. Transfer to a serving dish, mix in the coconut, vindaloo powder (or garam masala) and cilantro. Serves 6.

Adapted from “1,000 Indian Recipes,” by Neelam Batra.

Lentil Soup With Pounded Walnuts and Cream

2 cups lentils
2 to 4 tablespoons butter
1 onion, finely diced
1 bay leaf
6 cups vegetable or chicken stock (or water)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 large garlic cloves
2/3 cup lightly toasted walnuts
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons crème fraîche
2 tablespoons minced parsley, optional.

1. Soak the lentils in water for 2 hours, then drain.
2. Melt the butter in a large pot over low heat. Add the onion and bay leaf. Sauté over medium-high heat until onion is translucent, 5 minutes. Add lentils, stock and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Simmer, covered, until lentils are soft, about 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Using a mortar and pestle, pound the garlic with a large pinch of salt. Add the walnuts and work until finely ground. Add 2 tablespoons crème fraîche, mixing it in a teaspoon at a time, to form a paste.
4. Add the remaining ½ cup crème fraîche to the finished soup. To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and top each with a large spoonful of walnut cream, a bit of ground pepper and, if desired, a sprinkle of parsley. Serves 4 to 6.

Adapted from “Vegetable Soups,” by Deborah Madison.

Pumpkin Panna Cotta
1 ½ tablespoons unflavored powdered gelatin (about 2 2 ½ -ounce packets)

2 ½ cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup sugar
Pinch salt
1 15-ounce can pumpkin purée
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg.

1. In a bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over 1 cup milk and let sit for 10 minutes.
2. In a medium saucepan, heat the remaining milk, cream, sugar and salt to just before boiling. Whisk the gelatin mixture, pumpkin, cinnamon and nutmeg into the warmed cream. Remove from heat and let sit for 10 minutes, then strain through a sieve lined with cheesecloth. Do not press on the solids. Pour into 5 ¾ -cup ramekins and chill for at least 3 hours.
3. To serve, dip the base of a ramekin in hot water until the panna cotta is loose. Lay a plate on top and invert it. You may need to shake the ramekin to release the panna cotta. Serves 5.