Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Lentil Sausage Soup... it's what's for dinner

In my collection of cookbooks, a few are my absolutely favorite. Barefoot in Paris by Ina Garten is one my all time favorites. I think it's because I share Ina's love of peasant food. For me, it's the essence of home cooking. It's so creative and basic and comforting.

Perhaps it's just a January thing or maybe it's because it's so cold outside, but my desire to make a pot of soup was so strong that I went straight to my Barefoot Contessa cookbooks to find just, the right recipe. For me, the Lentil Sausage Soup in Barefoot in Paris is exactly the soup for a cold, January night. It's the kind of soup my French Grandfather would cook for us when we were kids.  Did I mention that it was Monday when I made this? What could be better to end a cold, January Monday, but with a bowl of hot soup and a baguette.

I was out of cumin and only had canned broth, so I had to make a few accommodations, but it was the perfect way to end the first day back from Christmas vacation.

Lentil Sausage Soup

1 pound French green lentils (recommended: du Puy)
1/4 cup olive oil, plus extra for serving
4 cups diced yellow onions (3 large)
4 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts only (2 leeks)
1 tablespoon minced garlic (2 large cloves)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3 cups medium diced celery (8 stalks)
3 cups medium diced carrots (4 to 6 carrots)
3 quarts Homemade Chicken Stock, or canned broth
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 pound kielbasa, cut in 1/2 lengthwise and sliced 1/3-inch thick
2 tablespoons dry red wine or red wine vinegar
Freshly grated Parmesan, for serving

In a large bowl, cover the lentils with boiling water and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Drain.

In a large stockpot over medium heat, heat the olive oil and saute the onions, leeks, garlic, salt, pepper, thyme, and cumin for 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are translucent and tender. Add the celery and carrots and saute for another 10 minutes. Add the chicken stock, tomato paste, and drained lentils, cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for 1 hour, or until the lentils are cooked through and tender. Check the seasonings. Add the kielbasa and red wine and simmer until the kielbasa is hot. Serve drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with grated Parmesan.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Contemplating Apple Crisp

Breakfast this morning was leftover Apple Crisp. It's such a simple dessert and one that reminds me of my Pennsylvania Dutch Grandmother every time I eat it. As I sat and devoured the last of the Apple Crisp (there wasn't that much left), I started to think about how she made her crisp such caramelized deliciousness. The apples we're dead on with their cinnamon goodness, but I just couldn't get that crunch right.

I called my Dad to see if he knew her secret and found the answer that was eluding me -- corn flakes. So, next time you are in the mood for some apple crisp or have some apples you need to use up, give this recipe a try.

Apple Crisp

3 pounds tart apples
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup rolled oats
4 tablespoons cold butter (1/2 stick)
1/2 cup corn flakes

  1. Preheat oven to 375° F.
  2. Peel, core and chop the apples into slightly larger than bite-sized chunks (they will shrink when cooking); toss in a bowl with lemon juice and set aside.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine the brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg; add to the apples and toss to combine.
  4. In another bowl combine flour, sugar and oats. Cut butter into small pieces, and cut butter into flour until mixture is crumbly. Stir in the corn flakes. It's OK if they break up a bit, but no need to crush them.
  5. Butter a 9-inch square baking dish. Spread apple mixture in bottom of baking dish then sprinkle with flour mixture.
  6. Bake at 375° for 30 to 45 minutes, or until apples are tender and topping is lightly browned.
  7. Serve warm or at room temperature. I like it with with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, but it tastes great by itself as well.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Notes on a Holiday Meal

I got a little creative today while cooking the holiday meal. My inspiration for this sudden burst of creativity was my husband. He's a great lover of hot sauce and finds the New Year's meal a bit on the bland side. It's not that it doesn't have much seasoning, it's just that it the flavors are more subtle. With this in mind, I set out to kick up the holiday meal.

Here's what resulted:

Roast Pork and Sauerkraut
Since I chose a pretty lean cut, I knew there wouldn't be much in the form of pan drippings for gravy. Instead, I chose to prepare my sauerkraut in the oven. First, I roasted the pork until it reached 140 degrees Fahrenheit and then added a mixture of sauerkraut and chopped granny smith apples. I mounded the mixture over the pork as well as surrounding the entire loin. You can add caraway seeds to this mixture, but I didn't have any and am not a huge fan of caraway. The whole thing cooks together until the internal temperature of the pork reaches 160 degrees Fahrenheit. I let the entire roasting pan rest for about 10 minutes and then served the sliced roast on a bed of the sauerkraut and apples.

Mashed Potatoes
Typically, I like to add garlic, horseradish or wasabi to kick up mashed potatoes, but none of those options seemed to match the main course very well. I was making apple crisp at the time and thinking about what to add into the mashed potatoes when nutmeg came to me. A dash of nutmeg and there was an earthy dimension to this wonderful side dish.

Some minor tweaks and our traditional meal took on a whole new dimension. It was a great meal! One that did not require hot sauce. It's a New Year's miracle ;-)

Starting Off the New Year Right

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, right. In light of my post on New Year's food traditions, I decided to get a jump on those "luck" foods and make Dutch Apple Pancakes with a side of bacon -- it's never too early to hope for health and good luck.

Years ago, I discovered this recipe in a Williams-Sonoma catalog and have been making it ever since with a few tweaks . I typically use Red Delicious or Granny Smith apples and skip the confectioners sugar (confectioners sugar + a 4 year old = a big mess for me).

Dutch Apple Pancake
4 Tbs. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 Golden Delicious apple, cored and cut into 1/2-inch slices
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 Tbs. granulated sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

  1. Preheat an oven to 400ºF. Butter a 10-inch ovenproof braiser or fry pan.
  2. In another fry pan over medium heat, melt 2 Tbs. of the butter. Add the apple, cinnamon and granulated sugar and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the apple begins to soften and brown, 5 to 6 minutes. Set aside.
  3. In a bowl, using a whisk, beat the eggs. Add the milk and whisk until blended. Sift the flour and salt into the egg mixture and whisk until just blended. In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the remaining 2 Tbs. butter. Add the butter to the egg mixture and whisk until smooth.
  4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and arrange the apple slices evenly on top. Bake until the pancake is browned and puffed up, 25 to 30 minutes. Dust with confectioners' sugar and serve immediately.
Happy New Year from Ally's Kitchen to Yours!

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Food Traditions

Growing up, my Grandmother was in charge of New Year's Day dinner. It was a tradition that could be counted on each year like clockwork. My Grandmother was a first generation American raised by German parents and surrounded by German relatives. Through this holiday meal, she shared with us, the traditions that her parents taught her "from the old country".

Dinner was always a pork roast (luck), sauerkraut (gelt), mashed potatoes with gravy, spinach (wealth) and apple sauce (health). Once all the food was on the table, my Grandmother would remind us that each of the items on the table held a special significance for the coming year. The pork was for luck. The sauerkraut represented gelt or money. The spinach was for wealth. Grandma doubled up there to make sure we were covered. Apples were to ensure good health. I cannot remember what the mashed potatoes and gravy were there for except that she always served mashed potatoes and gravy with her meals. No matter how many times she told us, we were always asking the same question each year -- "what does spinach represent?", "what is the sauerkraut for?", etc.

For the turn of the century, my husband and I were in Germany. In the back of my mind, I was expecting to find that my traditional New Year's meal was an American amalgamation of German tradition kind of like corned beef and cabbage to the Irish -- not really something they ate in the home land. I was surprised to find how close my Grandmother came to the traditions on saw on menus and all around me. It was comforting to know that despite some interpretations, our family meal was true to the culture from which it came.

My Grandmother is no longer with us. Sadly, lung cancer took her in 2002. But, she is always with me. Especially on New Years. As I shopped for my holiday groceries, I couldn't help but think about all the New Year's Days when she was standing in the kitchen making her gravy and talking about the New Year's Days gone by with her family. Tomorrow, I will again, honor her memory with my meal. Although, I do make some tweaks -- apple sauce is replaced by apple pie, red cabbage has been added to the menu this year, and I cook fresh spinach instead of the frozen chopped spinach loaded with butter that was a staple of her meal.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas from Ally's Kitchen to Yours!

Whether you celebrate this wonderful holiday or not, I hope that you are having a day filled with love and laughs. It's a holiday, so eat, drink and be merry!

This Christmas was not all about the kitchen. I did ask for a few non-kitchen items since a girl cannot live without some of those things that she won't always buy for herself.

One kitchen related item that am super excited about Santa bringing me is my new blender. I have been wanting this one for a while. I use my blender for lots of things like making soups, gravies and purees, so I need a heavy duty blender with a glass carafe. My current blender is still in good shape, but the plastic carafe has a huge crack. Need to replace that and put the one on the bar for those fun mixed drinks that you can't get enough of come summer time. So far, the blender looks great on my counter, but I haven't put it to work. I'll let you know what I think after I kick the tires, so to speak.

And, of course, I was blessed with some new editions to my cookbook obsession collection.

I plan on working through both of these great books in the coming month or two, so check back for updates on the recipes that I make and what I think about them.

I was particularly excited about The Pioneer Woman Cooks because it was autographed. I've been watching Ree's book tour schedule to see if she was coming to my area, but no such luck. So, when I put on my Christmas wish list that she was having a book signing near my parent's house, I didn't think much of it. But, to my surprise, my parents went and met her. They said she was super nice and told great stories. Here's Ree signing my book. Too bad, I didn't know that my Mom was going or I would have sent her with a few questions. Oh well, I guess that would have ruined the surprise after all.

Christmas dinner chez moi is a small affair. Just me and my guys - exactly how I like it! We're having Beef Wellington (Gordon Ramsay's recipe), oven roasted fingerling potatoes (my recipe) and Roasted Tomatoes (Barefoot Contessa's recipe). For dessert, it's Apple Crisp (my Grandmother's Pennsylvania Dutch recipe) served warm with fresh whipped cream.

I'm off to start cooking. Merry Christmas from Ally's Kitchen to Yours!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Irish Oatmeal

Irish Oatmeal, porridge, pin head oats, steel cut oats -- so many names for such a wonderful way to start your day. For most of us in the US, McCann's is the brand we see in our local grocery store. The first time I bought a can of oats and cooked it up according to the directions, my oatmeal turned out chewy and the oats had a bit of a bite to them. I did everything that the directions suggested and couldn't understand what I did wrong.

In the Fall of 1999, I went to Ireland for the first time. We stayed in B&Bs and enjoyed Irish oatmeal at each location. One morning, I decided to ask the host her secret to the porridge. It was so creamy and wonderful that it had to contain heavy cream, half and half or at a minimum whole milk. I was surprised to learn that there was no dairy in there at all. She said that she always uses Odlums Oats. And she cooks them the night before. In the morning, she reconstitutes and cooks down a second time. It was such a simple answer. We hustled over to the local Tesco and bought a few bags of Odlums Oats to bring back home with us. I've since run out of Odlums and am back to the McCann's, but with the new technique in hand, my oatmeal turns out great every time. And since I do the majority of the cooking the night before, its easy to send my family off with a wonderful porridge breakfast on a weekday.

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