November 3, 2003

Small-time Cooks: Lentil pasta and rosemary potatoes

Rain. Everything was gray as I sat in a cold Cadillac, drinking stale coffee and eating an even staler donut. I had to make myself scarce when this goon I was trying to avoid showed up. He plays my spine like a piano, and I'm not a big fan of his music.

After I got away from the pianist, I made my way to Maria's for some cooking. I was thinking of giving up the detective gig for a full time chef's job, but I still needed to pay the bills. Besides, I figured I could work for Maria if she ever started that restaurant. We were going to make homemade tomato sauce with lentils, rosemary potatoes, and cherries jubilee. Maria served the pasta sauce over linguine, but it goes well with rice or bread, too. For dessert, I needed to indulge my sweet tooth, and cherries jubilee was the way to go. The dessert, which belongs in the "flaming desserts" category, required a special stop at the liquor store to pick up some cherry brandy and a stop at the grocery store to purchase some cornstarch. If cooking were arts and crafts, cornstarch would be the glue.

These dishes serve four.

Lentil Pasta Sauce

1/2 an onion, chopped

1 cup mushrooms, sliced

1/2 a small zucchini, cut into thin strips

2 cloves garlic

1/2 cup dry lentils

1 1/2 cups water

1 can tomato sauce (8 oz.)

1/2 can tomato paste (3 oz.)

2-3 Roma tomatoes, chopped

2 Tablespoons fresh basil

1/4 cup water

Pick through and rinse lentils. Drizzle a little olive oil in a large saucepan on medium-high heat. Add garlic and onions. Cook and stir until onions are tender. Add mushrooms and zucchini. Cook and stir until mushrooms are tender. Add lentils and 1 1/2 cups of water to sauce pan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low, and cover pan with lid slightly askew. Cook, stirring occasionally, until lentils are tender—about 45 minutes. Add tomato sauce, tomato paste, basil, tomatoes, and the quarter cup of water. Bring to a boil again over high heat while stirring well. Let simmer over low heat for about 20 minutes with pan lid slightly askew. Stir occasionally, and add more water if necessary. Serve with linguine, rice, or bread.

Rosemary New Potatoes

10-12 small red new potatoes

Butter or olive oil

1 Tablespoon fresh rosemary

Salt and pepper to taste

Wash and scrub potatoes well with a potato scrubber or old toothbrush. Cut the potatoes into bite-sized pieces (small potatoes should only need to be quartered). Fill a large saucepan with enough water to more than cover the potatoes. Bring to a boil over high heat, and add the potatoes. Cook the potatoes until they are just tender in the middle, and then drain off the water. Add butter or olive oil (1/2 a Tablespoon of butter or 1 Tablespoon of olive oil should be plenty), rosemary, and salt and pepper.

Cherries Jubilee

2 cans dark sweet pitted cherries (about 29 oz.)

1/4 cup white sugar

3 Tablespoons cornstarch

1/2 cup cherry brandy (or regular brandy)

A few matches

Pour the cherries in a pot, with their juice, and stir in the sugar. Bring to a low boil over medium-high heat, stirring often to avoid burning. In a small glass or bowl, combine 1 or 2 Tablespoons of water with the cornstarch, and stir together. Once the cherries begin to boil, mix the cornstarch and water together once again to remove any lumps. Then, stir the cherries continuously and pour all of the cornstarch-water mixture in a slow stream into the cherries. Keep at a low boil, and stir until the mixture thickens and darkens significantly, about 3 minutes. You will be able to tell by texture and color when it is done. Remove the pot from the heat. Quickly, gather everyone around, and slowly pour the brandy over the cherries. Touch a lit match to the surface of the liquid. You should see a nice blue flame. If it goes out, you can light the cherries again, if there is enough alcohol left. Serve warm over vanilla ice cream.

For vegans: just use oil instead of butter with the potatoes. Serve the cherries jubilee over a vegan ice cream substitute, or eat plain.

For those who don't consume alcohol: If done correctly, all the alcohol will be burned off with the flame. To ensure this, first pour the cherries into a wider bowl, so that a larger surface is exposed. Then pour the brandy slowly, and light it quickly. If you're still wary, don't use the alcohol at all; it will still taste great.