January 25, 2011
The Dinner Game
I have a very practical little game that I like to play -- perhaps you've played it before? I'll call it the dinner game. I play it when I am at work sometimes or busy with something else and wondering what I will make for dinner. It does not involve a cookbook (though it could, I suppose), nor does it involve a trip to the store. Instead, I mentally take stock of what I have in my kitchen and puzzle out how to put it all together into a meal. Often I'll start with one simple idea and then realize other possibilities or ingredients I can incorporate to make something even better.
I am starting to imagine this as an actual game that the food obsessed could play while relaxing after cooking and eating. It has been played on cooking competition shows like Top Chef when the contestants are limited to making something with ingredients only from a vending machine, or only ingredients that carnivorous dinosaurs would eat. But in my kitchen the ingredients aren't usually too obscure, so I guess I shouldn't feel quite so self satisfied. Still, it's fun to go from lentils, potatoes, carrots, goat cheese, tomatoes to here's dinner.
I came up with this gardener's pie with just such a process. If you're wondering, gardener's pie is the all veggie version of shepherd's pie: a hearty stew blanketed in flavorful mashed potatoes. Perfect for the cold winter weather that seems to be all around. I didn't invent the dish, my mom makes a different version of gardener's pie, but it was fun to realize that all the ingredients I had would come together into this warm and well filled pot.
It isn't the most photogenic dish, but I've included a glimpse of the final product. It is mostly a one pot meal, except that the potatoes get cooked separately and then mashed. I also added some roasted garlic, but you can make it more simply, if you want. My recipe is a good guideline for the gardener's pie and you can vary it, using whatever vegetables you have in your refrigerator or pantry.
As I mentioned above, you can substitute any of your favorite vegetables or whatever you have available for the ones that I used. You could add some sweet potatoes to the potato topping and substitute already cooked beans for the lentils. Although I think this recipe is great as it is, this dish is great for using what you already have in your kitchen.
1 cup yellow onion, diced
1 large carrot, diced
4 cups canned diced tomatoes
1 cup french green lentils
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsely
I cup broccoli, chopped
I cup cauliflower, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
For the potatoes:
1 1/2 pounds potatoes, cut into smaller pieces for boiling
4 cloves garlic
1/4 cup milk
salt and pepper to taste
3-4 tablespoons chevre (or as much or as little as you want to add to the potatoes)
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
In a 3 1/2 quart dutch oven, heat about a tablespoon of olive oil. Add the diced onion and cook for a few minutes over medium heat. Add the carrot and parsley and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is just beginning to brown. Add the tomatoes, lentils and salt. Let it all simmer for 30 minutes or until the lentils are tender, adding more water if necessary to cook the lentils. When the lentils are cooked, stir in the broccoli and cauliflower. Add salt and pepper if needed.
While the lentils are cooking, preheat the oven to 350'. On a baking sheet or small baking dish, place the garlic cloves in their skins. Bake until the garlic is soft (about 20 minutes). Meanwhile, place the potatoes in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook until the potatoes can be easily pierced with a fork. Drain the potatoes. Squeeze the soft garlic out of its skin and mash it into the potatoes. Add the milk, a little at at time (using more if necessary) and mix and mash the milk and potatoes together until the potatoes are soft and creamy. They do not have to be entirely smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste
Once the lentils are cooked and all the vegetables have been mixed in, add the chevre to the potatoes, a small spoonful at a time. Do not incorporate it entirely, it is nice to find little pockets of the cheese in the potatoes. Spread the potatoes evenly on top of the veggie and lentil mix and sprinkle the rosemary on top. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving to avoid burning your mouth.