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!
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