{the new year} coping with mid-winter food blues

Maybe it’s being trapped inside at home with a new baby, but I’m prematurely feeling that mid-winter desperation about what to make for dinner every night.  This feeling worsens when we’ve skipped a week at the farmers market and have no fresh, local produce.  Local green vegetables are already becoming less prevalent and I can only eat pasta with red sauce so many times until I become completely bored with myself.  This week I decided to start a new approach to meal preparation by using my own cooking as inspiration during these dark days.

The feeling of desperation intensified for me the other night when the refrigerator was looking especially empty.  Despite a dearth of ingredients, I was determined to figure out something tasty and new.  I found a bag of french lentils and another of red quinoa.  I found the jar of sun-dried tomatoes that I had swapped for at a Saratoga Food Swap last summer.  I cursed myself for using the last scallion for dinner the night before, but decided to make due with some leftover cilantro.  Next I turned to the freezer and found a couple vegetables in there.  If I can get in to the right state of mind about it, sometimes the best food challenges come from having fewer options.

In the end I came up with two dishes, recipes below, but I also came to a new (maybe New Years?) resolution to find a way to do a better job keeping my cooking interesting.  I decided to start keeping a list of the dishes I make, some of them my own creations and others from other sources, that I can turn to when spontaneity fails me.  The list is a google document, and at the moment it’s just a list of ideas, but at some point maybe I’ll make myself a little cookbook.  My plan is to use this list as a reference to glance at when I draw a blank on what to cook.  I hope that keeping track of things in this way will help my sleep deprived brain keep my palate better entertained.

So, first items on the list are the two following dishes, which complemented each other nicely:

French Lentils with Spinach

1 cup french (or any dark) lentils

two cloves garlic, chopped

1 cup frozen chopped spinach

1/2 cup chicken stock (optional)

1 tsp cumin

1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

salt and pepper

While the lentils (which cook pretty quickly), finished cooking in boiling water I started the garlic in a pan with a generous amount of heated olive oil and shortly after added the frozen spinach.  Once the lentils were cooked and drained I added them too.  The chicken stock helped the whole thing soften a little and the vinegar kept the flavor sharp.  I recall lentil dishes that I’ve liked have been simple, but warm and flavorful, so I was aiming for a similar result.  I find it’s so easy to make lentils taste good and am looking forward to having them on my list because I so often forget what a wonderful resource they are!

Winter Quinoa Salad

1 cup red quinoa (regular quinoa would work fine too)

1/2 cup sundried tomatoes

1/2 cup frozen corn

1/4 cup chopped cilantro (or any type of leafy green fresh herb)

one avocado (peeled, cored and cut in to half inch chunks)

Tbsp fresh lemon juice

salt and pepper

This dish can be prepared at the same time as the French Lentils, with the quinoa cooking in the rice cooker (2 to 1, water to quinoa) at the same time as the lentils on the stove (2 1/2 to 1, water to lentils).  I started re-hydrating the tomatoes at the same time I started the quinoa and when they were ready chopped them in to about quarter inch strips.  The corn, frozen from August and still with that summer-time taste (wow!), defrosted in a bowl with warm water.  I squeezed the water out of the corn with my hands and tossed it in a bowl along with all the other ingredients.

Although the lentils had vinegar in them, the overall flavor was still pretty mellow, so the bright flavor of the lemon-y quinoa dish was a perfect companion.  I was surprised at how much we all enjoyed this meal, considering that it seemed like I had pulled the ideas for it out of nowhere.  Because of its success I found myself vowing to remember to make the meal again.  I have made similar such vows many times in the past, but now that I’ll be keeping track of what I’m making it might actually happen. Here’s to more organized meal planning in 2012!


9 Comments Add yours

  1. Barbara says:

    These look great – beautifully presented. I cook like this frequently with whatever is at hand. Today I have some leftover bluefish so I think I will add it to your combination of the lentils and spinach, etc for a warm salad ! Keep the creativity flowing!

  2. Alexis says:

    Thanks Mom!

  3. Erin Olson says:

    Mmm, these both look delicious! Now I know what I’m making for dinner tonight! Sadly, my little girl won’t touch avocado ever since she got sick after eating some at 8 months old (even though it’s been almost 2 years since then!). I think I’ll put in black beans and lime juice instead of the lemon and serve it with scrambled eggs. My daughter will be excited, she’s been asking for quinoa and I haven’t made any recently.

    1. Alexis says:

      That sounds like a tasty adaptation Erin! If you haven’t tried the red quinoa, see if you can get some – as you can see in the picture my three year old daughter loves it.

      1. Erin Olson says:

        We have had red quinoa before and we all liked it, though I don’t have any on hand right now. At the moment we have regular quinoa and then we also have a mix of white, red and black quinoa – my mom brought both of these back with her from a trip she took to Bolivia last summer. I love the mixed colors, they add such a great spark to whatever dish they’re in!

  4. both these recipes look scrumptious, and i do love pantry friendly foods. i resolved last year to keep a list of easy, delicious meals on hand but never wrote it up. perhaps this is the year i do it!

    1. Alexis says:

      Oh cool Corrie! I have so little discipline when it comes to things that might actually make my life easier, but I too am going to try to push myself. I made chicken dumpling soup tonight, but I didn’t really like it so I think I won’t put that on the list.

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