Tuesday, September 30, 2014

We're Still Here!

So sorry for the silence on my end over the past few weeks. I have been really sick and food has really not been my friend. Actually, most activities have been pretty rough as well. We've been surviving on quick and easy to prepare meals - usually in the form of Rice-a-Roni and frozen pizza. The kids have been happy - it's going to be tough coaxing them to eat vegetables and quinoa again after this! Paul has been great with keeping the household running while I lay on the couch waiting for death. Hopefully I'll start feeling better soon and everything will go back to normal.

In the meantime, I've been trying to suck it up and enjoy these beautiful fall days with the kids. The temperatures have been so pleasant, that we've been spending a lot of time outdoors. After all, we better relish our time outside now before we are forced to hibernate during the long winter months! I'm going to miss the fresh air!

The kids and I love to go on nature walks together. There is a lovely nature preserve a short distance from our home. They have a great, interactive interpretive center where the kids can see different types of animals, examine various animal skulls, skins, and pelts, and learn how plants grow and develop. Matthew especially loves going because they have a huge turtle pond right outside the interpretive center where the turtles (and frogs) are extremely active. He could sit there for hours and watch them. But, his restless mommy does not allow him to do that and makes him take a walk along the boardwalks weaving through the surrounding woods.

At the swamp. That might look like grass, but it is a thick layer of moss covering the swamp water. Kind of nasty.

Spotting a turtle.

Patiently waiting for another to pop to the surface.

Emma sometimes runs along with us - she's pretty active for being two feet tall. However, sometimes she gets a little too close to the edge of the bridges that I begin to have visions of her falling into the ponds and streams. So, I decided to strap her into the stroller for this particular jaunt. She wasn't too happy with me for that.

Attempting to escape the stroller.

 I've been trying to treasure these special outings with my children. I can't believe how quickly the time has already passed with them and I know that these moments will continue to be fleeting. Every time Matthew jumps into my arms and gives me a big kiss when I pick him up from school, I think of how heartbreaking it will be for me when he grows too old to show his mother affection in public. I'm going to savor it while I can.

Although, I really am looking forward to the day Emma stops running her greasy, post-meal fingers through her freshly washed hair. She's such a little lady.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Brewer's Blondies

Last night, Matthew knocked Emma over and began to drag her across the deck with a hula-hoop. We sent him to his room.

When he came down approximately 30 minutes later, he saw that we were pulling some enchiladas out of the oven for dinner. "I can't want like enchiladas. They are yucky!" he proclaimed.

Paul told him that he had to at least try them before he made that judgement call. Matthew began to throw a fit.

Paul then picked up the jar holding all of our kitchen utensils, set them on the floor in front of Matthew, and told him that it was now up to him to select the spoon/whisk/spatula/ladle to be used for his spanking. Matthew groaned and selected a white plastic spoon. He received a quick swat on the rump and was an angel for the remainder of the night.

Sometimes Paul's parenting techniques really crack me up. He is really effective! I had to capture a couple pictures of the whole scenario. Yes, Matthew is actually laughing because he thought the whole thing was kind of funny...that is, until the whole spanking part.

Perhaps it is the stressful nature of parenting that compels Paul to pick up a beer every night immediately after the children are finally quiet for the night. He claims that even before discovering his love of beer and other malted alcoholic beverages, he always loved malted milk products - including Whoppers, his favorite candy. Thank goodness somebody likes those things because I personally hate them! While glancing through one of my favorite baking books, Paul saw a blondie recipe that called for both chopped up Whoppers and a generous amount of malted milk powder. He was sold! He wanted me to make those blondies the next time I baked. So, last weekend, Emma and I picked out the ingredients from the store (on a rare errand out just us women!) and these were happily baking in the oven within no time!

Waiting for them to cool was difficult, they looked and smelled heavenly. But they were more than worth the wait! I think this might be my new favorite blondie recipe. The malt really shines through combined with the salty batter, the crunchy nuts, and the gooey melted chocolate. These would be perfect served warmed with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream over top. I loved that they were not too sweet and not any single ingredient overpowered the others. Everything worked together harmoniously to create a pretty fantastic treat! All four of us loved these cookies and I can't wait to make them again!

It was only after taking and then uploading these pictures that I noticed my camera lens was covered with tiny little fingerprints. The camera is no longer safe in its usual perch atop the microwave (a great spot for it, I know) since my 17-month-old has discovered that the dining chairs may be easily pushed to access any high spaces. Bear with the pictures, fingerprints and all!

Brewer's Blondies
from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking

2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons malted milk powder
14 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 3/4 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup malted milk balls (like Whoppers or Maltesers), coarsely chopped in a food processor
3/4 cup (9 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup toasted walnuts, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-by-13-inch glass baking pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, salt and malted milk powder together.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and brown sugar on medium speed until completely combined. Scrape down the bowl, add the eggs and vanilla, and beat until combined.

Add the flour mixture in two batches until just combined. Add the malted milk balls, chocolate chips and walnuts and beat until just combined, about 10 seconds. The mixture will be thick. Turn the mixture out into the prepared pan and use an offset spatula to spread it evenly.

Bake in the center of the oven for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the blondie comes out clean.

Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for 20 minutes. These blondies taste delicious warm and cooled to room temperature. Wait until the blondies have completely cooled before cutting if you desire to make neat little squares.

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Best and Easiest Homemade Flour Tortillas

Last week, we took Emma to  her first baseball game. We received tickets through Paul's work and figured it would be a fun family night out. We were especially excited to take Matthew but discovered that he was more interested in the food than the baseball game. Emma actually sat pretty quietly and calmly on my lap for the first two innings before she started to get restless. She climbed down during the third inning and insisted on standing and bobbing about for the next few at-bats. That was about the time a young Dad and his 6-year-old daughter climbed into the seats next to us each holding a gigantic plate full of nachos. Emma could not take her eyes off the nachos and pointed at them urgently.

"No Emma, those are not ours!" I whispered to her. She did not complain about it again, so I went back to watching the game. A little while later, she climbed back into my lap. I thought she just wanted to cuddle, but really the little chunk was trying to inch a little closer to those nachos.

A minute later, I heard the little girl yell: "HEY!"

I looked down to see Emma holding a gigantic cheese-smothered chip that she had grabbed from the little girl's plate. She looked guilty and quickly stuffed as much of the chip in her mouth before I could react.

"Emma! NO!" I tried to grab the rest of the chip away, but she held on tight. The little girl scooted away from Emma, scowling at her the whole time. At least her dad seemed to have a sense of humor about the whole thing. He couldn't stop laughing. They actually ended up taking off early from the game, leaving their half-full trays of nachos behind on the concrete below their seat. That was when we decided to take off - Emma kept fighting to get to those leftover nachos. I swear with the ways my kids act in public, people are going to think I never feed them!!

Watching our cat stalk a rabbit.

Switching gears for a moment...let's talk about tortillas!

Does this scenario sound familiar? You see that "enchiladas" are on the menu for dinner and the kids are napping so you figure it is the perfect time to start making those bad boys. You open the pantry and realize that you forgot to buy the tortillas! Kind of a necessary ingredient, right? Do you wake the kids up and drag them to the store? Do you phone your husband and ask him to stop by the store on the way home (and risk have him walking in with about 300 extra items you don't need - like the habanero flavored Cheetos he was drooling over last weekend)? Or do you fulfill your role as domestic goddess and take matters into your own hands and simply make your own tortillas? Believe it or not, you can have a beautiful, fresh batch of homemade tortillas in about the time it takes to run to the grocery store and back!

If you've never done it before, this is a great recipe to start with! It's easier than my previous recipe and rolls out like a dream. I was amazed at how simple it was to get these nice and thin! Since most of us humble folk probably do not have access to a tortilla press (we can't all be Rick Bayless), the most difficult part about making tortillas is rolling them into a perfect circle. It is a little difficult to get the hang of, but if you keep your surface well-floured and keep working at it, you'll develop the technique pretty quickly! Admittedly, my first two tortillas were closer to being a square than a circle. However, by the third one I had the shaping down! Both kids were sleeping while I was working on this and from start to finish, the whole process took me less than 45 minutes. I might have to start making a big, big batch of these to store in the freezer to make future meals easier!

The BEST Homemade Tortillas
barely adapted from The Cafe Sucre Farina

3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup warm water

Whisk together the flour, salt and baking powder in the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the dough hook, mix dry ingredients until well combined. Add oil and water with mixer running at a medium speed. Mix for 1 minute, stopping several times to scrape the sides of the bowl. After about 1 minute, or whenever the mixture comes together and begins to form a ball, decrease mixing speed to low. Continue to mix for 1 minute or until dough is smooth.

Transfer the dough to a well-floured work surface. Divide the dough into 16 portions. Form each piece into a ball and flatten with the palm of your hand a bit. Don't be afraid to use a little flour if the dough is too sticky to work with! Cover flattened balls of dough with a clean kitchen towel and allow to rest for 15 minutes before proceeding.

After rest period, heat a large pan over medium-high heat. Roll each dough piece into a rough circle, about 6-7 inches in diameter, keep work surface and rolling pin lightly floured. Again, do not be afraid to flour and re-flour the work surface as you roll each piece of dough.

When pan is very hot, place one dough circle into pan and allow to cook about 1 minute or until bottom surface has a few pale brown spots (I used this time to continue rolling out more dough into neat little circles - but don't forget to keep an eye on the tortilla in the pan or else it will scorch!!). The uncooked surface will begin to show a few little bubbles. If tortilla is browning too fast, reduced heat a bit. If it’s taking longer than a minute to see a few pale golden brown spots on underside of tortillas, increase heat a bit. Flip to other side and cook for about 30 seconds. You want the tortilla to be soft but have a few small pale golden brown spots on surface. Remove from and stack tortillas together. Keep them covered with a dish towel. Repeat until all the tortillas are cooked.

Use immediately or transfer to a ziploc storage bag and refrigerate or freeze! To rewarm, wrap in a few damp paper towels and microwave on high for 20-30 seconds.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The BEST Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ever since Matthew started preschool, he has been begging me to make chocolate chip cookies with him. Initially, I told him that we did not have any butter in the house and had to wait until next week (when our budget started over) to buy some. He waited patiently for our shopping trip this weekend and then asked politely while we were at the grocery store: "Mommy! Don't forget the butter for our chocolate chip cookies!" So, we bought the butter, gathered the rest of our groceries and returned home.

Unfortunately, I was having a really bad day. I had just attended the funeral of a priest friend earlier in the day, Emma was being super clingy and whiny, and Matthew was just bugging me. I was in no mood to bake with him and planned on holding off on the project until another day. All I wanted was for them to take a nap (so I could take one too!). When we got home and fed them, it became perfectly obvious that my dear, obnoxious children were not going to nap. So, Paul gently suggested that maybe I should bake with Matthew to "make me feel better." I mustered up as much patience as I could and tried to humor him.

It did not go well.

First, Emma took a bite out of the stick of butter. And then went back for more. Matthew tried to pry it out of her hands and it led to a full-out fistfight between the two of them. Paul had to take a picture of Emma with the butter, claiming: "Photographic evidence that she is my daughter!"

Then, it became perfectly obvious that the kids were more interested in eating the extra chocolate chips than making the cookies.

Finally, while the cookies were baking, Matthew and Emma got into another fight over the vacuum cleaner of all things and Matthew was forbidden from eating any of the newly baked cookies.

This fun baking project turned out to be a complete disaster. However, the cookies themselves are fantastic and as I sit here typing out this post, my kids are sitting together (semi-quietly) by the window, enjoying their cookies and milk happily. It's a rare moment where they are not screaming at each other and I am going to enjoy it. Maybe the baking wasn't such an abysmal failure after all.

These cookies have been a family favorite for about four years now. I went on a search for the best chocolate chip cookie recipe a few years back and these won our hearts. I am a huge fan of thick, chewy cookies. If you are too, this recipe is from you. No surprise it comes from the editors of Cook's Illustrated  and my favorite cookbook. Luckily, in addition to being my favorite cookie recipe it is also the easiest because you do not have to wait for the sticks of butter to reach room temperature before whipping up the dough. The butter is melted instead - one of the apparent secrets to chewy cookies. Make these, serve with tall glasses of milk, and try your best not to eat half a batch at once! (Like my kids are doing right this second)

The Best Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
From the New Best Recipe

Note: I use my kitchen scale to weigh all my ingredients. It's way easier and accurate than measuring. I highly recommend purchasing one if you are a serious baker. They are not that expensive and will make you feel wonderfully scientific in the kitchen! In fact, the scale I use is the same one I used in my college organic chemistry lab.

2 cups + 2 Tablespoons (10 5/8 oz) unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled until just warm
1 cup packed (7 oz) light or dark brown sugar
1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz) granulated sugar
1 large egg, plus 1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 bag semisweet chocolate chips

Heat oven to 325 degrees.  Line 2-3 cookie sheets with parchment paper or silpat baking mats.

Whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together in a bowl. Set aside.

Either by hand or with an electric mixer, mix both sugars and the butter.  Beat in the egg, the yolk, and vanilla until combined.  Add the dry ingredients and beat on low until just combined.  Stir in the chips.

If you want to make LARGE, delicious, bakery-style cookies, roll a scant 1/4 cup of dough into a ball.  Pull the ball apart, rotate the jagged sides to the top side of the cookie, and press the two pieces back together.  Put on the sheet jagged side up.  This makes them look really pretty and professional when they are done baking.  Be sure to space them 2-3 inches apart. If you don't want monstrous looking cookies, using a tablespoon scoop to gather a heaping tablespoon of dough and follow the directions as stated above. However, be sure to check the smaller cookies earlier as the baking time will be reduced.

Bake until the cookies are light golden brown, the edges are starting to harden, and the centers are still soft and puffy, about 15 – 18 minutes for LARGE cookies. More like 10-11 minutes for smaller cookies.  Halfway through the baking time, rotate the sheets front to back and top to bottom.  Cool the cookies on the baking sheets.  Remove them from the sheets with a wide metal spatula.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Carrot Cake Pancakes

For the past two years, Matthew's favorite book has been Curious George Makes Pancakes. Every single time we go to the library, that cursed book is on the shelf. And every single time, Matthew begs me to bring it home with us. I hate this book. Hate it! Not because it is a particularly bad book in any way, but because we have read it so many times! Matthew has the entire story memorized - he can read it to himself if he wants! I am also completely baffled by what exactly he finds so fascinating about this particular book. It couldn't possibly be the thrilling plot:

George and the Man with the Yellow Hat attend a pancake festival. George sees the man flipping pancakes and thinks it will be fun to make pancakes. George begins making pancakes and - wait for it - puts blueberries in his pancakes. And the people go nuts because nobody has ever heard of blueberry pancakes before. George becomes a hero. The End.

However, I do owe the book a small debt of gratitude for making Matthew like pancakes again. Our little picky eater used to adore pancakes when he was about Emma's age, then suddenly he started hating everything that wasn't cereal or dry toast. This, of course, included pancakes. Whenever Paul or I would make pancakes after Mass on Sunday, Matthew would just sit there and shred his (and maybe slurp up some of the syrup). So frustrating. However, once Matthew discovered Curious George Makes Pancakes and realized that George likes pancakes, he has been all about them. It's nice to be able to make a breakfast for my kids without one of them (guess which one) groaning when I set the plate in front of them. 

I have to admit, when I decided to make Carrot Cake Pancakes for the family, I was a little nervous about how Matthew would react to them. Would he refuse to eat them once he noticed the specks of orange throughout? Would he pick out the raisins? Would the spices be displeasing to his delicately sensitive taste buds? Would Emma be enjoying his plate of pancakes in addition to her own for breakfast? 

Surprisingly, Matthew thought these were the bomb-diggity. He actually ate three large pancakes. He definitely noticed the orange flecks in the pancakes, but when I told him they were carrots, he actually thought that was pretty awesome. "I like carrots, Mommy!" he declared, stuffing his face with another big bite. He likes carrots in his pancakes, but the last time I tried putting chocolate chips in there he wouldn't touch them. I'll never figure this kid out.

These pancakes are a great alternative to plain buttermilk pancakes. Fluffy, spiced pancakes with shredded carrot, raisins, and toasted coconut - just like your favorite carrot cake. You can leave out the raisins and coconut if you don't care for them. However, the carrots are not really optional - for obvious reasons. You could even forgo syrup and make a cream cheese icing (use equal parts butter and cream cheese and beat well with powdered sugar to taste) to top each pancake with if you are really feeling like an indulgent morning treat! They're made with whole wheat flour, so they're basically a superfood. 

Carrot Cake Pancakes

1 1/4 cups white whole wheat flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 cup buttermilk (maybe a touch extra if the batter seems a bit dry)
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup finely shredded carrots
1/2 cup raisins (optional)
1/2 cup toasted coconut (optional)
1/4 cup toasted pecans, finely chopped (optional)

Whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ground ginger in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, eggs, oil, and vanilla. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients just until almost no flour pockets remain. Be gentle and do not overmix! Gently fold in the the carrots, raisins, coconut, and pecans. 

Cook on a griddle set on medium heat until dry on the underside. Flip once and allow the second side to cook until lightly browned. Serve with maple syrup or cream cheese glaze!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The One Where Matthew Makes (and loses) a Friend

The other evening, our entire family went swimming for a few glorious hours at the pool. It was one of the last days before the pool will permanently close for the season and we wanted to soak up as much time there as possible. After we had splashed and dunked and swallowed an ample enough of chlorinated water, Paul told Matthew that we would take him over to the McDonald's for a special treat afterwards. Both kids were so excited - mainly because the McDonald's by the pool has a pretty nice, clean, and large outdoor play structure. We drove over there, ordered a couple cheeseburgers and fries for the kiddos, and then sat outside while they climbed and tumbled all over the child-sized hamster toy. It was a pretty nice way to spend our Friday.

Then, another family entered the play area - two grandparents with their grandson. They had purchased two large cups of coffee in addition to their burgers and after they had unleashed their grandson on the play structure sat there and began talking about how worn out they were from a day of play. That explained the coffee. Anyway, their little angel began running and jumping all over the play structure until he suddenly ran right into Matthew. We heard some chattering and laughing and suddenly the two of them emerged from the slide, holding hands (to Paul's horror), and proclaiming to everyone who could hear: "We are friends!" My little mother heart was so happy to see Matthew playing nicely with another little child - normally he tends to be a bit of a loner, still preferring parallel play.

The two boys disappeared back into the play structure. Paul and I focused our attention on making sure Emma was happy and making her way successfully down the slide. Suddenly, we began to hear some loud wailing: "STOP IT! STOP IT! THAT'S NOT MY NAME!! AHHHHH!"

The screaming continued and suddenly the little boy, Matthew's newly proclaimed "friend" emerged with a huge scowl on his face. He went up to his grandparents and pointed at Matthew perched way up top of the play structure and whined: "That mean kid won't stop calling me names! He keeps calling me pookie!! I am NOT a POOKIE!"

Matthew waved from his spot way up high and called back down to the kid: "HEY! Come back here, pookie!"

"AHHHHHH! There he goes again! My name is not POOKIE! It's BRAYDEN!" The kid yelled.

Now, I can explain the "pookie" bit. Earlier that afternoon, I had taken Emma and Matthew to the library where I read them about 50 books. One of the books was a Sandra Boyton classic called Let's Dance, Little Pookie about a baby pig with the nickname "pookie" who learns to dance with his mother. It is a great book to read and was one of Matthew's favorites of the day. That was where he picked up the name "pookie" from - he thought it was a cute and funny little name. I agree with him - it was actually my nickname when I was a baby. But, obviously this Brayden kid did not share our sentiments.

Paul yells up to Matthew: "HEY! Don't call him pookie! He doesn't like it. It's not funny unless both of you are laughing. His name is Brayden. Call him Brayden!"

Matthew giggled: "Come up and play with me, Brayden. Come back!"

Brayden wiped up his snotty nose and proceeded to race back to the top of the tower to join Matthew. All seemed well for the moment.

About 10 minutes later, Matthew suddenly started crying and came out of the slide slowly, holding a hand over his eye. Brayden followed out ahead of him looking defiant and marched right up to Paul:"He called me pookie again, so I punched him."

Paul didn't say anything. He just scooped Matthew up and told him "We're leaving" and then carried him out to the car without so much as another look at Brayden the self-appointed vigilante of the McDonald's Playland. It's a good thing Paul can keep his cool in these situations. I was about ready to give that little twerp a piece of my maternal mind.

Matthew continued to bawl in the car as we drove home. This of course caused Emma to bawl as well and what had been a happy little family outing quickly turned into a pathetic catharsis.

Which brings me to my ultimate worry. How can Matthew make and lose a "friend" so quickly? How will I deal with him getting hurt by other children in the future? I know that to a certain extent it is part of life - who has not experienced a tumultuous relationship with a classmate or two while growing up. However, I cannot stand to see my child in pain and I worry that I will not be able to handle it without turning ultra-defensive. I also worry that Matthew will not socialize very well at school. He tends to play better with girls or babies. Ultimately, he prefers to be undisturbed in his own little world of trains, dinosaurs, and ninja turtles. I just worry, worry, worry about him. I am not ready to give up control of him - to unleash him on the world. I have had him at home with me, 24 hours a day, ever since the day he was born. And now, tomorrow, he begins preschool and will never, ever again be all mine. It's the end of a very special time in both our lives. I worry that I won't be there to protect him and guide him every hour of the day but also know that I need to allow him to spread his wings, for only then will he truly be able to fly!

And after reading this, Paul laughed at me and said: "He's going to preschool, honey."

Preschool or not, you'll still probably find me drowning my sorrows in a carton of frozen yogurt and hugging the baby that has not left me yet.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Lentils and Rice with Caramelized Onions and Yogurt Sauce

This dish will probably only continue to perpetuate the numerous jokes I get from my side of the family regarding all the vegetarian dishes I serve my poor, suffering, carnivorous husband but I don't care. It was delicious, healthy, and - in the words of my deprived husband - "quite tasty!"

Little Miss Emma, who is becoming quite adept with the spoon and fork, ate two servings. She inhaled her first serving before picking her bowl up and begging me all Oliver Twist-style for "more...more...mooooooore?" Too cute. She may like her cheese puffs and french fries, but this baby also likes her some lentils.

She's trying to feed me here. So appetizing.

I initially made this dish because I have been challenging myself for the last few weeks to see if I could feed our family for just 30 dollars each week. My credit card has been stolen twice already this year and I have begun purchasing our grocery items using cash only just to lessen the chances of that happening again - especially since I pretty much only shop at the grocery store. In addition, I'm trying to see if I can cut down on our monthly grocery bill while simultaneously continuing to feed our family healthy and nutritious meals. It's been a bit challenging but also fun - and successful so far! We've been eating a lot of peanut butter for lunch.

Anyway, whatever your feelings are regarding lentils this really is a fantastic dish and one I plan on making again! The original recipe called for deep frying some onions to make them crispy in order to add a bit more texture to the final dish, but I'm pretty adverse to deep-fried anything. Especially if we're eating lentils. I feel adding a deep fried component would cancel out the health benefits of the meal. Plus, I might have attempted to make the crispy onions and ended up completely burning them, sending billows of smoke so dark and intense that they filled my home and leaked out through my windows into my yard forcing my neighbor to come over and ask if everything was hunky-dory. That might have something to do with why I ended up using caramelized onions instead. And it was delicious and much healthier so that's just going to be my permanent alteration to this recipe.

Rice and Lentils with Caramelized Onions and Yogurt Sauce
adapted from Cook's Illustrated Magazine September/October 2014

For the Yogurt Sauce:
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt

For the Rice and Lentils:
8 1/2 ounces (1 1/4 cups) green or brown lentils, picked over and rinsed
Salt and pepper
1 1/4 cups basmati rice
2 onions - preferably a sweet onion like vidalia, sliced into 1/4 inch thick half-rings and caramelized
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro (optional)

To make the yogurt sauce, whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl. Refrigerate until ready to serve. The flavor is really awesome if you make this a few hours before serving.

Be sure to caramelize your onion before proceeding with the rest of the recipe. Just add the onion slices, a little oil, a teaspoon or two of sugar, and a little salt to a skillet over medium heat and slowly cook the onions until they are richly browned. Drain on paper towels and save. The onions will be added to the dish in at the end.

Bring lentils, 4 cups water, and 1 teaspoon salt to boil in medium saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to low and cook until lentils are tender, 15-17 minutes. Drain and set aside. While lentils cook, place rice in medium bowl and cover by 2 inches with hot tap water and let stand for 15 minutes.

Using your hands, gently swish rice grains to release excess starch. Carefully pour off water, leaving rice in bowl. Add cold tap water to rice and pour off water. Repeat adding and pouring off cold tap water 4 to 5 times, until water runs almost clear. Drain rice in fine-mesh strainer.

Heat olive oil, garlic, coriander, cumin, cinnamon, allspice, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and cayenne in Dutch oven over medium heat for about 2 minutes or until fragrant. Add rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until edges of rice begin to turn translucent (about 3 minutes). Add 2 1/4 cups water, sugar, and 1 teaspoon salt and bring to boil. Stir in lentils, reduce heat to low, cover, and cook until all liquid is absorbed (about 12 minutes).

Off heat, remove lid, fold a large dish towel in half, and place over pot. Cover once more and let stand for 10 minutes. Fluff rice and lentils with fork and stir in cilantro and the caramelized onions. Transfer to serving platter, top with remaining crispy onions, and serve, passing yogurt sauce separately.