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Soup Like an Egyptian

The February issue of Food & Wine featured a recipe for an Egyptian Red Lentil soup that I decided to try due to having most ingredients listed on hand. It’s also healthy, so it seemed an appropriate choice for a post just after the new year when many people are trying to eat better.

I actually followed the recipe pretty closely at the beginning, but strayed towards the end. I didn’t have the right chile powder or fresh tomatoes, so I subbed in medium chile powder and canned tomatoes.  I also felt the soup lacked a little depth at the end, which is where the lemon zest and tomato paste came in.  Here’s my adapted version. The soup keeps well, so it’s a great one to make on a Sunday and plan to keep eating it during the week.  I served it with whole wheat pita slices and homemade hummus.  Regretfully, I didn’t pay much attention to the proportions on this batch of hummus and of course it turned out to be fantastic.  I wish I could share that one with you as well.

Egyptian Red Lentil Soup (Adapted from Food & Wine Feb. 2012) 8 servings

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped
  • 1/2 of medium red onion, chopped
  • 2 medium-sized carrots, chopped
  • 3 celery stalks, chopped
  • 3 medium-sized garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon of chile powder (medium spice)
  • 14.5 oz. can fire-roasted chopped tomatoes (do not drain)
  • 2 cups red lentils
  • 8 cups water
  • Finely grated zest from one lemon
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • Greek Yogurt (for garnish)
  • Cilantro (for garnish)

Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat.  Add in the onions, carrots, celery, and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes.  Add in the dried spices and cook for about three more minutes.  Add the tomatoes, lentils, and 8 cups of water and let simmer for 25-30 minutes.  The lentils should be very soft.  Stir in the lemon zest and tomato paste and then season with salt and pepper.  Puree the soup.  Serve with yogurt and cilantro. (I served the first serving as pictured, but then decided to run the yogurt through the blender with cilantro and lemon juice for an easy garnish for the rest of the week.)

This slightly spicy and zesty soup is a great winter warmer that’s hearty without being heavy.

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A Salad Fit for the Cookie Monster

While browsing a recent issue of House Beautiful magazine, I came across a recipe for a Tuscan kale salad topped with pears and amaretti cookies.  Cookies? On a salad? I laughed a little and thought it sounded like something the new Cookie Monster might concoct.  I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but apparently in recent years they’ve given him a bit of a “healthy makeover” (as you can read more about in this article).

Intrigued by the salad, I set out to make it. After picking up the cookies at World Market, I headed to the grocery store. Unfortunately, only the more ordinary curly kale was available, but I decided to proceed anyway.  I adjusted the proportions slightly, but here’s my adapted version for two people as a generous side salad portion.

Kale Salad with Pears, Pecorino, & Amaretti

  • 4 oz. Kale
  • 1/2 of an anjou pear, shaved or very thinly sliced
  • 4 amaretti cookies, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon good olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • Grated Pecorino Romano, Salt, & Pepper

Rinse and dry kale.  Remove stems and tear into pieces.  Then, place into salad bowl.  Top with pears and cookie crumbs.  Add oil and vinegar and toss very well so all leaves are coated.  Grate cheese onto salad (I used my microplane grater and covered the bowl with a thin layer) and season with salt and pepper.

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We thought it was really good and easy!  Plus, it’s something different, which is always a plus.  I will look forward to trying this again when I can find the recommended Tuscan kale.

I’m not a chef, but I might play one on Christmas Eve

While working on dinner for our Christmas celebration, a guest I had just met stood in the kitchen.  She observed my efforts for a few minutes and then asked, “Are you a professional chef?”  Of course, I laughed and dismissed the comment, but I was flattered and thought “wow, I must really look like I know what I’m doing.”  And speaking of knowing what you’re doing, I thought this funny anecdote would be the perfect segue for discussing my thoughts on planning in the kitchen.

While casual meals can be thrown together, if it’s a special occasion meal I’m making, I am definitely going to sit down in advance and come up with a plan.  My strategy is usually this.  Three to four days before the meal I will evaluate the menu and determine what items can be made days in advance.  From there, I will make a note of anything to be done the night before.  For the day of, I start by making a note at the very bottom of the page with the time the meal is to be served.  Then, I make a list of all prep work left to do that can be done in advance of starting the true meal preparation.  I then go back to my goal serving time and work backwards.

Here is example of our plan based on our Christmas Eve Dinner.  I was not alone in the kitchen, so the schedule takes that into account.  Obviously, when you’re going it alone, you’ll want to be more generous with giving yourself time to complete different tasks.

The Real Day Of Plan Document

MENU
Assorted Cheeses and Charcuterie
Prosciutto and Basil Wrapped Shrimp with Red Pepper Aioli
Baby Lettuces with Pears, Pecans, & Blue Cheese with Champagne Vinaigrette
Herb Rubbed Beef Tenderloin
Roast Brussels Sprouts with Walnuts and Brown Butter
Parmesan and Truffle Mashed Potatoes
Ice Cream Filled Yule Log

Planning Outline
Items to make 2 Days In Advance
Yule Log – Champagne Vinaigrette – Red Pepper Aioli
Day Before
Season Meat – Transfer Frozen Shrimp to Thaw in Refrigerator
Day of Task List
– Slice brussels sprouts and prepare in pan for roasting
– Roast Bacon
– Toast Pecans and Walnuts
– Wrap Shrimp and place on roasting pan
– Make Horseradish Sauce
– Grate cheese for Potatoes
– Discuss/Gather serving dishes for all items

Timeline
– 3:00 Prepare cheese and meat plates
– 3:30 Take meat out of refrigerator to bring to room temperature
– 3:45 Peel potatoes and place on stove in water
– 4:00 Pre-heat main oven to 500 degrees
– 4:15 Start boiling potatoes & pre-heat second oven to 400 degrees
– 4:30 Put meat in oven; remove when temperature reaches 125 and let rest until ready to carve
– 4:40 Reduce main oven temperature to 375 degrees
– 4:45 Run potatoes through food mill/prepare mash
– 5:00 Roast Shrimp in second oven; reduce oven temp and use for keeping potatoes warm
– 5:30 Roast Sprouts- make browned butter while roasting
– 5:45 Prepare Salad & Carve Meat
Serve dinner around 6 o’clock!

I do advise reviewing the plan after the meal and making notes (at least mentally) of anything you may do differently in the future.  For example…running 5 pounds of potatoes through a food mill took longer than I thought, but overall the dinner was a success.

If this sounds like too much work, trust me, it’s worth it.  You’ll create a wonderful meal for your guests and will be able to have more fun while doing it.  You don’t have to look at the schedule as being super rigid, but more as something to keep you from forgetting what to do next.

I suppose I should wrap this up, but I have a few menu planning comments to add. While these may seem obvious, it is easy to feel overly ambitious after browsing recipes.

  • Know your limitations and those of your kitchen itself
    If you only have one oven, don’t overextend its use.
    And if you have two ovens, take advantage of it and use one for holding/warming items before serving.
    Don’t pick multiple menu items that need to be cooked just before serving or that require other tedious preparation at the last minute.  The more things you can make ahead, the more fun you’ll actually get to have during the party.
  • If practical, test out new recipes in advance and if you can’t test them, pick only recipes you feel confident making.
  • If your guests insist on bringing something…let them!  BUT suggest what it is they should bring, so you’re not in for a surprise.  I like to do shopping in advance, so fresh bread is always one item that is great to have picked up on the way over.

Hope that was helpful.  I’ve got to go, I need to work on my NYE plan. 🙂
Cheers!

White Chocolate Chip Chewy Gingerbread Cookies

Everyone loves a good chocolate chip cookie, but these sweet and spicy treats are a ginger lover’s dream.  Easy to make and even easier to eat, these have quickly become a new fall favorite at our house.
*EDIT: After posting this I entered a local cookie recipe contest and I won!!

Award-Winning White Chocolate Chip Chewy Gingerbread Cookies

  • 1 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon cardamom
  • dash of salt
  • 1 stick of very soft salted butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup mild molasses
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips
  • scant 1/4 cup chopped candied ginger

 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Combine 7 dry ingredients in small bowl.  In medium bowl or mixer bowl, add butter, brown sugar, molasses, and vanilla.  Beat until thoroughly combined.  Beat in egg.  Add in dry ingredients and beat until incorporated.  Beat in white chips and candied ginger.

While these can be baked right away, I do like to pop the dough into the refrigerator for about an hour before baking to keep the dough from spreading.

Drop heaping tablespoons of dough onto cookie sheet and bake for 9-11 minutes.  The edges will start to darken  Let them cool for a minute or two on the pan before removing.

This dough freezes very well too, so you can keep some around for cookies on demand.  Enjoy!

 

For the love of crostini

Who doesn’t love a good spread of crostini?  From the classic bruschetta to the more unexpected, I thought I would share some of my latest creations in the kitchen.

Starting with a canvas of toasted bread brushed with olive oil, these simple party bites can be created from a variety of ingredients you may have on hand anyway.  If you have a baguette on and need to entertain in a pinch, you can surely throw together a some crostino!

Basic Bruschetta
Rub bread with garlic clove.
Top with chopped tomatoes,
sea salt, a drizzle of olive oil,
and of course basil!

 


Steak with Blue Cheese Butter
Warm steak (great for leftovers)
topped with a little blue cheese
butter combo.

 

Truffled Brussels Sprouts
Thinly sliced brussels sprouts
quickly sauteed with crushed garlic,
dash of salt, and a generous grind of pepper.
Drizzle with truffle oil and top with shaved parmesan.

 


Roasted Grapes & Feta
Toss grapes with olive oil, salt, pepper,
and fresh thyme.  Roast for 40 minutes
at 400 degrees.  Press feta onto bread and
top with hot sliced grapes. Garnish with toasted walnuts.

 

I hope these ideas inspire you!
For my subscribers…I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted and I’ve decided to do more postings like this with ideas rather than specific recipes.  What can I say?  I’m more of an idea person in the kitchen than one who likes to strictly follow a recipe, so that format will work out better for  me.

Duck, Duck, Tacos.

Looking to change up your taco meat selection?  Try duck!  Everyone else is doing it. Ok, well maybe not everyone, but it seems like duck tacos and nachos have become more common on restaurant menus and it was about time I tried this at home.  While this is really a simple recipe, it does require 2 hours of braising in the oven.  The weight of my meat was 1.1 pounds and generously served 2 people for dinner.

My Beer Braised Duck (for tacos, nachos, burritos, and more!)

  • 2 duck leg quarters (*skin removed)
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/2 large white onion, sliced
  • 1/3 cup chopped carrot
  • 1 chopped chipotle pepper from a can of chipotle peppers in adobo (do not rinse)
  • 2 chopped garlic cloves
  • 1/3 cup packed cilantro (do not need to chop or remove from stem)
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 bottle of Mexican lager
  • juice from one lime

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees.  Heat a medium-sized, oven-safe saucepan with tight-fitting lid over medium-high heat.  Add olive oil to pan.  Generously season duck with salt and pepper.  Sear meat for about 2 minutes on each side.  Remove from pan and set aside.

Reduce heat to medium and cook onions until slightly browned.  Add in carrot, chipotle pepper, garlic, cilantro, and salt.  Let cook for about 2 minutes while stirring.  Add duck back into pan and pour beer over duck.  The duck does not need to be completely submerged, but it should be about 3/4 covered or you may want to use a smaller pan.

Transfer pan to oven and cook for one hour.  Flip legs and return to oven for another hour. Remove from oven and transfer duck to a cutting board.  Using a fork, shred meat.

Strain the braising liquid, pressing on the solids to release flavors.  Return strained liquid to saucepan and add the juice of one lime. Add meat back to pan and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes.  The meat will absorb flavor from the liquid.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve with your favorite Mexican specialty!

*Note on the duck skin.  You may want to render fat from the skin for future use.  The technique I use is to chop the skin into pieces and put in a small pan with about 2 inches of water.  I cook this over medium-low heat while doing the braise, adding more water as it evaporates & pressing down on the skin on occasion.  Once it is clear all fat has been rendered and the water has evaporated, I strain the fat and keep this in the freezer.  Duck fat is great for roasted potatoes!

Green Beans…on the grill!

Anyone else overloaded with green beans this year?  We get some variety of beans in our CSA each week and kudos to them for growing a variety of different species.  The problem, my husband is not a big fan.  He will eat them, but finds them boring…so a simple steam or blanch will not cut it on our dinner plates.

I got out my special pan for the grill and threw on some beans lightly seasoned and coated in olive oil over medium high heat for about 3 minutes on each side.  They were a bit charred, which I prefer, but you could of course cook them just until tender.

Beyond the grilling, I still needed to work on enhancing the flavor.  In addition to salt and pepper before grilling, I grated on some lemon zest and parmesan cheese.  From there, a light drizzle of aged balsamic was the perfect sweet contrast to the zest of the lemon and the grilled flavor of the beans.

Green beans were never something I considered for the grill, but I will definitely be adding them to my list of favorite grilled veggies.

Cheers!