Sunday, January 6, 2008

A Tale of Two Lentils

Here's another example of how I make two side-by-side recipes that are nearly identical -- except one has meat and one does not. It may sound complicated, but really, it's no extra work. I mean, how hard is it to chop a whole onion instead of half?

In the bit I've written about our family of five, I mentioned that Gregory's favorite meal is Lentil Soup with Lemon (it's one of my favorites too). But Mike isn't keen on it, and Niko and Lena don't even like the sound of Lentil Soup. So I developed this Sausage-Lentil Soup (which I told Niko and Lena was just Sausage Soup), which is almost identical to Gregory's favorite. The difference: it substitutes the flavor sausage for the flavors of oregano and lemon juice.

So here I'll give you recipes to make the soups two ways: side-by-side and individually.

Two Soups at Once
2 Tbl. Extra virgin olive oil
1 pkg. (five links) sausage (bratwurst, sweet Italian, etc.), cut into chunks
1 Tbl. minced garlic
1 large sweet onion, diced
4 to 6 carrots, diced
4 ribs celery, diced
2 1-lb. bags lentils (brown, green or red)
2 quarts vegetable stock
1 quart chicken and/or beef stock
1 bottle beer
2 15-oz. cans tomato sauce
1 Tbl. oregano
scant ½ cup olive oil
¼ cup lemon juice

Pot A: Sausage-Lentil Soup
In a large soup pot (we’ll call it Pot A), heat olive oil over medium heat and add sausage, garlic and half each of the onion, carrot and celery. Cook, stirring regularly, until sausage is cooked through and vegetables are very soft.

Pot B: Lemony Lentil Soup (vegetarian)
Meanwhile, rinse lentils in a colander. In a second large soup pot, place half of the lentils and 2 quarts of vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for one hour.

Pot A:
Once veggies are soft, add 1 quart chicken and/or beef stock (I like to use 2 cups of each), beer and tomato sauce. Bring to a boil and reduce heat, simmering until lentils are soft (how long that takes depend on the age of the lentils and how soft you like them. I find it usually takes about 3 hours). If soup is too thick, thin with a little water or stock.

Pot B:
After an hour, add remaining onion, carrot and celery, 1 can tomato sauce, oregano and olive oil. Bring back to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until lentils are soft (similarly, how long that takes depends on the age of the lentil and how soft you like them. Since they’ve already simmered for an hour, I find it usually takes about 2 more hours). Once soft, add lemon juice and stir.

Pot A and B:
Season to taste (although I usually find no additional seasonings are needed).

Two soups on their own:

Sausage-Lentil Soup
2 Tbl. extra virgin olive oil
1 lb. sausage (bratwurst, sweet Italian, etc.), cut into chunks
1 Tbl. minced garlic
½ large sweet onion, diced
2 to 3 carrots, peeled and diced
2 celery ribs, diced
1 15-oz. can tomato sauce
1 quart chicken and/or beef stock (I like to use 2 cups of each)
1 12-oz. beer
Heat olive oil in a large soup pot and add sausage , garlic, onion, carrot and celery and sauté until sausage is cooked through and veggies are soft. Add tomato sauce, stock and beer. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until lentils are soft.

Lemony-Lentil Soup
1 lb. dry lentils
2 quarts vegetable (or chicken) stock
½ large sweet onion, diced
2 to 3 carrots, peeled and diced
2 celery ribs, diced
1 15-oz.-can tomato sauce
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbl. oregano
¼ cup lemon juice
Rinse lentil and place in a large soup pot. Add stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer about an hour. Add everything except lemon juice, bring a boil, reduce heat and simmer until lentils are done. Add lemon juice and stir to combine.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Confession -- and a New Years' Resolution

I step on the scale every day.

I know the experts say you shouldn't. But I just can't help myself. Good news or bad, I need to know.

And I have a second confession.

Recently the news has been bad. Very bad.

Ten pounds bad.

Usually I wallow quietly in my own self pity and try to resist the bag of chips in the cabinet, all the while telling myself I'll be good tomorrow. Well, so far that hasn't worked. So this time I'm trying a different approach. I'm telling everyone here that I plan to lose those 10 pounds.

Why 10, you ask? Well, I'm not willing to give you my goal weight (or my current weight) But I will tell you that 10 pounds will get me to a weight that ends in zero. And it will give me a Body Mass Index of 20.4 -- 18.5 to 24.9 is considered normal weight -- down from my current BMI of 21.6.

This isn't the first year my New Year's resolution has been to lose weight. Four years ago my friend and I sat in my living room and resolved to lose weight. That year we each lost about 25 pounds between January and April. That's when I had to go off The Diet (as we've come to call it) because I got pregnant with Gregory.

How did we do it? The diet isn't so much a diet as a healthy approach to life. I'll monitor my calories and keep my daily intake between 1200 and 1500 Sunday through Friday (Saturday is cheat day, but I still don't go crazy). I'll drink 64+ oz. of water. I'll post here some tips and recipes when I find things that work for me.

I'll also recommit myself to exercise. I'll workout harder when I go to the gym. And I'll look for other ways to sneak in some exercise -- taking bike rides, dancing with the kids, etc.

Check back to see how I'm doing -- I'll try to post updates regularly. And I can use all the support I can get!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy Russian New Year

Since it's been three years now, I guess you could say that our holiday Russian brunch has become an annual tradition. Each year, on the weekend between Christmas and New Years, we invite our friends to help us celebrate our family's Russian connection by sharing the food of the twins' birthplace. Some of the foods -- like Mike's smoked salmon and my stuffed billini -- appear every year. Others come and go depending on my mood. Nearly all come from the cookbook I wrote and am selling to raise money for the orphanage where Niko and Lena lived for nearly two years (available here). And this year a Russian friend from St. Petersburg contributed an apple cake she says is just like the cake everyone makes in Russia.

This year's menu included (recipes to follow):
Smoked salmon
Sausages and sauerkraut
Rita's Bilini stuffed with sweet cheese
Carrot salad
Cocktail sausages baked in bread (OK, this one is an American classic. But we figured the kids would like it, and they do serve a lot of hot dogs in Russia)
Mushroom turnovers (I cheat with these and serve the frozen ones I get from Trader Joe's, which are quite good).
Liver pate, summer sausage with cocktail rye
Nancy's noodles
Tatiana's apple cake

Smoked Salmon
Handful of Rosemary stems
Lay rosemary stems on the rack of a bullet smoker. Top with salmon. Close lid and smoke until desired doneness. How long that takes varies based on the temperature outside, the heat of the fire in your smoker and how often you open the lid. This time it took about two hours.
Mike says the real key though is to under cook the salmon slightly, because it will continue to cook when you take it off the grill and if you need to cook it more after that all it takes is 30 seconds in the microwave.
Serving note: This can be served hot off the grill, at room temperature or chilled. And if you have any leftovers, it makes a fabulous salmon salad when mixed with a little mayonnaise.

Sausages and Sauerkraut
3 lbs. sausage (bratwurst, kielbasa, etc. I like to mix it up)
3 small bags sauerkraut (undrained)
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and diced
1 onion, diced
caraway seeds
1 beer
Cut sausages into chunks. Empty one bag of sauerkraut into the bottom of a Crock Pot (slow cooker). Top with one-third of the apples and onions and half of the sausage. Sprinkle with caraway seeds and empty second bag of sauerkraut into pot. Top with one-third of the apples and onions, the remaining sausage and sprinkle with caraway seeds. Top with last bag of sauerkraut and remaining apples and onion. Sprinkle with caraway seeds. Pour beer into pot and set on high for 30 minutes. Turn heat down to low and cook until sausage is done and soft, about six hours.

Rita's Bilini stuffed with sweet cheese
4 eggs
1 tsp. salt
2-3 Tbl. sugar
1 1/2 cups unbleached flour (plus)
4 cups room temperature milk
vegetable oil (for cooking)
1 16-oz. package cottage cheese (I use the 2% milkfat)
Powdered sugar to taste
Butter (for cooking)
Mix together eggs, salt, sugar, flour and 2/3 cup of milk until free of lumps and thick as sour cream. Add milk and thin mixture until it resembles the texture of heavy cream. Heat and oil a crepe pan or small frying pan and wipe out any visible oil. Using a gravy ladle, pour a very small amount of batter in the pan and swirl so there is a thin skin of batter covering the entire bottom of the pan. Once golden (watch them, it happens quickly), turn over and cook on other side. Remove to cool on a wire rack. Once cool bilini may be stacked between pieces of wax paper or paper towels and refrigerated.
Just before serving, mix together cottage cheese and powdered sugar to taste (I like to whirl the cottage cheese in the blender to make it smooth). Put about 2 tsp. cheese in a line in the center of a cooked bilini. Fold in the two sides, fold up the bottom and roll. Melt butter in a saute pan. Put filled bilini, seam-side down in the pan and saute until golden on the bottom.
You can make the pancakes as much as a day ahead of time, but don't finish until just before serving.

Carrot salad
1 bag shredded carrots
2 Granny Smith apples, grated
Lemon or lime juice
1 tsp. sugar (optional)
6 to 10 dry apricots
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
1/2 cup sour cream
Toss together shredded carrots and apples. Drizzle with lemon or lime juice. Add apricots and pecans. Mix together sour cream with a little milk to thin and pour over salad. Refrigerate at least one hour or overnight.

Hot dogs wrapped in bread
1 package cocktail sausages
1 tube Pilsbury bread sticks
Preheat oven to 350. Cut breadsticks into three to four pieces and wrap each around hot dogs, being careful to seal completely. Spray cookie sheet with cooking spray and put dogs seam-side-down on the sheet and bake until bread is golden, about 15 to 18 minutes.

Nancy's noodles
1 pkg. fine egg noodles
6 Tb. butter
1 16-oz. container cottage cheese (I use 2% milkfat)
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 16-oz. container sour cream (I use light)
3 Tbl. grated onion
Salt and pepper to taste
Grated nutmeg or paprika (for garnish)
Preheat oven to 350. Prepare noodles according to package directions. In a large mixing bowl, toss together noodles and butter and mix until butter is melted. Add everything except garnish and pour into a baking dish sprayed with cooking spray. Top with grated nutmeg or paprika (but not both). Bake until bubbly, about an hour.

Tatiana's apple cake
3 to 4 eggs (separated)
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour (plus a little if using 4 eggs)
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled and chopped
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla
Powdered sugar (for dusting)
Preheat oven to 375 F. Beat egg whites and sugar until white and thick. Add yolks, flour, apples, vanilla and cinnamon and fold to combine. Bake until cooked through and a toothpick comes out clean. Cool and dust with powdered sugar.
Tatiana said traditionally the recipe is made with three eggs, but that adding the fourth egg makes the cake rise more. If you use four eggs, you will need a little extra flour to make the batter. She also said the powdered sugar should look like snow on top of the cake.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Let them eat -- Soup!!

I love soup! To me it's the perfect meal -- veggie, protein, starch, all in one bowl. In fact, I've been known to go to someone's home for dinner and rescue the turkey carcass or ham bone to bring home as the beginning of stock.

This soup was inspired by a soup we had at a friend's soup party just before Christmas. But since I can't actually follow a recipe, I made quite a few changes as I cooked.

Mushroom and Rosemary Soup
2 Tbl. unsalted butter
2 Tbl. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 large sweet onion, finely diced
1 to 2 tsp. minced garlic
3 Tbl. flour
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 1/2 cups milk
1 can vegetable stock
3/4 cup white wine
1 1/2 Tbl. minced fresh rosemary
3 cups (plus) chopped mushrooms
1 can white beans, drained and rinsed
salt and pepper to taste
Melt together butter and olive oil over low-medium heat and add onion and garlic.
Saute until very soft. Add flour, stir to combine, and cook until golden and smells nutty, about five minutes. Add soup, milk, stock and wine and stir to combine. add rosemary, mushrooms and beans, stir to combine and simmer. Cook to desired doneness (1 to 3 hours). Add salt and pepper to taste.

I served this with the popovers from the Dec. 12 post, which you can find here.

More Christmas cookies (Part IV)

My parents came today -- with two gallon-size bags full of Christmas cookies to add to my pile. I'm making these next year!!

Carmel Chocolate Break-Aparts
Saltine crackers
1 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 (8 oz.) bag chocolate chips (milk, dark or white)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Cover cookie sheet with foil (use one with sides). Tightly pack about 50 Saltine crackers to cover the sheet. Melt butter and add brown sugar. Cook until makes a thick, smooth syrup. Pour syrup over crackers and spread with a spatula. Bake until golden, about 20 minutes (watch carefully as they burn easily). Top with chips and allow to melt (about two minutes). Spread with spatula. Chill and break apart.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

More Christmas Cookies (Part III)

So this year's cookies included the three I listed yesterday, the Russian tea cakes I posted a little while ago (although instead of tossing the cookies in powdered sugar twice, I first tossed them in cinnamon sugar before baking and in powdered sugar after baking), and:

1 cup butter
1 1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cream of tarter
1/4 tsp. salt
Cinnamon sugar
Preheat oven to 400 F. Cream together butter and sugar. Add egg and vanilla. Add remaining ingredients, mixing until combined. Roll small pieces of dough into 1" balls and roll in cinnamon sugar. Bake 10 to 12 minutes

Oatmeal butterscotch
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
3 cups oats
1/2 pkg butterscotch chips (optional)
large handful raisins (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Cream butter and sugars. Add eggs and vanilla. Add dry ingredients and combine. Drop by rounded teaspoons on cookie sheet lined with parchment. Bake 10 to 12 minutes until golden.

Monday, December 24, 2007

More Christmas cookies (Part II)

I have been meaning to post here my Christmas cookie recipes. But I've been so busy with the holidays that I haven't had time until now. I'm sorry that these are probably too late to help you this year. So I guess I'm just 365 days early for 2008. I'll start with the "cheating" cookies -- ones that are basically quasi home-made, but start out with a mix.
Once cooled, all these cookies freeze well.

White Chocolate-Pistachio
2 bags Better Crocker sugar cookie mix, mixed according to package directions
1/2 bag white chocolate chips
2 to 3 handfulls pistachio nuts, shells removed and roughly chopped
Combine sugar cookie dough, chips and nuts until well mixed. Roll into balls and bake according to package directions on sugar cookie mix.

Chocolate Surprise Cookies
2 bags Betty Crocker brownie mix, mixed according to package directions
5 to 8 mini or fun size candy bars, roughly chopped (I used leftovers that I had in the freezer from Halloween)
Preheat oven to 375. Add chopped candy bars to brownie mix. Drop by teaspoons onto cookie sheet lined with parchment. Bake until cooked through, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove to wire rack to cool.

Peanut Butter Thumb Prints
2 bags Betty Crocker peanut butter cookie mix, mixed according to package directions
Jam, Nutella, fluff, etc.
Roll cookie dough into balls and place on cookie sheet lined with parchment. Depress thumb into each ball. Fill each depression with jam (or nutella, or fluff, or whatever). Bake according to package directions.