The Ardent Epicure

An Ode to the Pleasures of Food

Baked Pear and Chi Spiced Lentil Salad

Being that it a new year and time to begin new ventures or perhaps freshen up
some existing, the cooking group I belong to 5 Star Foodie Makeovers is
not to be left behind with new starts. In fact we know have a new name, look
and style. We are now know as "The Creative Cooking Crew", and will
continue to post monthly goodies from our members.

This months theme is "Vegan" and hosted by our very talented group leaders
Joan Nova of Foodalogue and Lazaro of Lazaro Cooks...

So vegan it is...not that that is a huge stretch from vegetarian, but I do
love adding some form of cheese to a good portion of my salad dishes.

I considered taking a classic meat dish and switching it out for vegan ingredients,
but in the end I decided to play on layers of flavor and textures to liven
up a dose of high protein and fiber good for you lentils.

Now this may not be the prettiest dish I ever created, but it sure is at the top
of the tasty list. With the melt in your mouth sweetness of the baked pear, and
just a slight tartness from the addition of meyer lemon juice...My pallet
was already doing a happy dance.

But why stop there, I mean one can not live of of baked pear alone!
And since we are playing with flavors and textures, how about 
we cook up our lentils with a beautiful flowering tea bud and some chi spices?

Not enough? Okay, then let's top it off with a mixture of crushed almonds,
sunflower seeds, herbs and a bit of Vietnamese lemongrass curry...
happy now?

What you will need:

For the tea
1 flowering tea bulb
1/2 cinnamon stick
1 small vanilla been, split
4-6 cardamon pods, bruised
3 cloves, bruised
1 teaspoon whole pepper corns, cracked
1 bay leaf
2 cups or so boiling water

For the lentils
1 cup dry brown lentils
1 3/4 cups tea
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
freshly ground pepper to taste

For the baked pears
2 large pears of your choice
1 meyer lemon, juiced

For the curry nut topping
2 tablespoons crushed almonds
1 tablespoon crushed sunflower seeds
1 teaspoon Vietnamese lemongrass curry powder
1/8th teaspoon dry thyme, crushed
1 1/8 teaspoon dry parsley, crushed
Freshly ground pepper if desired

Let's get cooking:

For the tea
Bring 2 plus cups of water to a boil and place flowering tea bulb
into a tea pot with a lid of bowl that can be covered. Add spices and
steep for about 10 minutes or so, or until fragrant.

For the lentils
Clean dry lentils and rinse under cold running water.Add lentils and tea
to a sauce pan over medium heat to just below a boil. Reduce heat
and simmer 20-25 minutes adding more tea or water if needed.

Once lentils are done place coconut into a sauté pan over
medium heat until hot. Add prepared lentils and seasonings
sauté for a few minutes stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to
low and keep warm.

For the baked pears
Slice pears in half lengthwise removing stem and core area
with a spoon creating a bit of a bowl area.

Slice a small bit off of each half on the backside so that they sit
flatly in a baking dish. Squeeze fresh meyer lemon juice over each.    
Bake in a pre-heated oven at 375 degrees F for 20-25 minutes
or until just fork tender.

For the curry nut topping
Place all ingredients into a mortar and pestle and lightly
crush together, tossing to insure even incorporation.

Scoop lentils into the pears and top with curry nut mixture.
Sever warm

Serves 4

Alisha~Magic of Spice

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 Roasting Up Blue Foots and Other Goodies

Happy 2013 everybody! I am wondering how long it will take to get used to writing 
that. It always seems that it takes me several months with each new year.

And since we are starting off a new year, we tend to want to follow a more
healthy approach to daily life. Not that there is ever a shortage of fresh
fruits and vegetables around here, roasted and otherwise.

But then again, my intense love of cheese, butter and cream is probably
no secret either. So for my first post of the year, we are going 
to stick with my favorite cooking technique for fall and winter...Roasting!

It all starting with a trip to Whole Foods that my son and I took after work.
It was a Friday and our shop does not close until eight. So a late evening
trip it was going to be. They were having a sale on  Dungeness crab and
Truffle Shuffle aka Adam, was in hot pursuit. 

Sadly not a crab in sight, so the poor guy had to settle on a smoked duck.
Now while there was a good deal of brooding going on in the sea food section.
I was of course playing with mushrooms :) And to my delight, the pretty specimens
were in reach, maybe not so much price wise, but hey it was the holidays.

Yes these lovelies are Blue Foot mushrooms, a cultivated variety of the wild
blewit. I have yet to personalty try a blewit as they primarily grow in France.
But I did read somewhere that they can also be found growing in Coastal
Northern California. A considerably shorter trip for me, but still out of reach
none the less. 

The mushrooms have a smooth velvety feel and are meaty, similar in density
to the King Oyster. They hold up beautifully in just about any dish, with a
earthy flavor and delicate texture. They are sent to be milder in flavor that,
their wild counter part, but I found them fully flavorful with a deep
woodsy aroma.

And you know how I can not resist grabbing a variety of fresh goodies, I though
these gorgeous red apples would add a wonderful texture along with a bit of
extra sweetness.

What you will need:
1/4 pound blue foot mushrooms
2 fennel bulbs 
1 pound haricots verts
2-3 large apples
2-3 tablespoons sunflower oil
1/2 teaspoon  freshly ground Tellicherry peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon fennel salt

Let's get cooking:
Starting with the mushrooms, remove any debris with a dry pastry brush.
Slice mushrooms in half or thirds for larger ones.  Place mushrooms in
a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. 
Brush mushrooms with oil and cover mushrooms loosely with foil.

Begin roasting mushrooms in a pre-heated oven at 425 degrees F 
for about 20 minutes, turning them midway though roasting time.

While your mushrooms are roasting, prepare fennel and apples
by slicing each into 1/4 inch slices. Remove the mushrooms
from the oven, push them off to one side making sure not to overlap.

Place fennel, apples and haricots verts onto the baking sheet
with the mushrooms. Brush with remaining oil, adding more if
desired. Toss beans to make sure oil is distributed well.

Sprinkle with fennel salt and pepper. Cover beans loosely with foil.
Place baking sheet back into the oven and continue baking for
an additional 25-30 minutes removing the foil from the beans
and turning vegetable and apples midway through cooking time.

*Note: The Blue Foot mushrooms should be thoroughly cooked
prior to eating.

Serves 4

Alisha~Magic of Spice

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