We were having dinner the other day with a friend and her new sweetie, and talking about food. Kelley had cooked the meal (butternut squash soup, pot roast–with potatoes tossed in butter and oregano, steamed cabbage tossed in butter and black pepper–followed by rhubarb and apple crumble with delicious local cream). K was explaining that she generally did the baking and for-guests cooking and that I was the one who just made shit up sometimes. She said I was the “MacGyver of food.” I was really taken with that description and so thought I’d share a recent MacGyver meal.
We had one potato, one onion, two carrots, a bag of mushrooms, a variety of herbs, half a bulb of garlic, some frozen vegetable juice, left-over cream from the crumble yumminess, left-over wine, half a bag of lentils and a variety of nuts. I made nut-and-lentil loaf with mashed potatoes and carrots and red wine cream sauce. The next day for lunch I had a nut loaf sandwich with Branston pickle. (Butter bread, warm up slice of nut loaf in microwave. Smear Branston pickle on one side of bread. Slap together. Eat. Trust me, it works.)
Here’s the narrative version–how I approached everything. (I’ve included more orderly instructions at the end for those who like their recipes to look like recipes.)
Put the lentils in a bowl to soak and get out the veggie juice (saved from things like steaming cabbage) to defrost. Combine the hazel nuts (say half a pound), almonds (quarter of a pound) and walnuts (half a pound). Grind them up to meal in a food processor. Drain the lentils, put them in a pan with the vegetable juice and some extra water and boil until very, very cooked (doesn’t take long–forty minutes maybe–but don’t, do notnotnot, add salt at this stage; they’ll turn all leathery). Then chop up the mushrooms very fine (I’m guessing there were about 6 ounces of mushrooms, maybe two cups when minced–but, eh, I’m just guessing) and mince the onion and a tiny bit (one or two cloves–it’s a delicate taste we’re after, not something to drive the vampires away). Set aside one or two mushrooms for the sauce. Saute the onion, garlic, and mushrooms in olive oil until it turns translucent. Then glug in some wine (half a cup?) and cook the whole thing down. As it reduces, add herbs to taste (sage is good–but anything kind of hot-weather dusty, e.g. oregano, would also work). In a large bowl, combine lentils, nuts, herby wine glop and smush about. Turn into a non-stick loaf pan (or oil up a non-nonstick pan) and pat into a loaf shape (I use a wooden spatula to kind of push down the sides), cover in foil, and bake in the oven at 350 for, oh, hmmn, dunno, fifty minutes?
I assume you know how to make mashed potato and have a favourite way to prepare carrots. (I like carrots almost anyway you can think of; they’re a practically perfect vegetable–but this would also work with a green veg like cabbage or Brussel sprouts–love those things but they’ve gotta be fresh.)
For the sauce, melt butter in the frying pan you used for the glop earlier, slice thinly the mushroom you set aside, saute, pour in more wine, cook down. Before serving stir in some cream. You don’t really need the sauce–the loaf is moist enough if you don’t overcook it–but it looks pretty and sorta pulls it all together.
If you just happen to have a perfectly ripe nectarine to share for dessert it’s even better. Also, note that if you futz with the sauce (use oil instead of butter, flour instead of cream) and the mashed potatoes (mash without butter), then the whole meal is vegan.
For those of you who like their recipes to look like recipes, here you go (but remember, every single number here is a guess):
8 oz walnuts
8 oz hazelnuts
4 oz almonds
8 oz dried brown lentils
6 oz mushrooms
1 large onion
1/2 cup red wine
2 small cloves garlic
pinch of sage
Grind together nuts to coarse meal. Cook lentils. Mince and saute vegetables in oil. Add wine to saute pan, along with sage, reduce by half. Combine everything in large bowl. Turn into non-stick loaf pan, pat to shape, cover, bake at 350 degrees for 45-60 mins. Serve with mashed potato, vegetable of your choice, and creamy red wine sauce.
Delicious, nutritious and cheap.