Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Soup with Red Lentils, Roasted Peppers, and Spinach

This soup has golden cooked lentils, bright flecks of puréed roasted peppers, and green baby spinach. It also provides a healthy dose of garlic.

You might be wondering why the title says "red lentils" but the description says "golden cooked lentils." Red lentils lose their pinkish color during the cooking process. However, they cook more quickly than the green and yellow varieties, and have a smooth consistency that works well in soups.


1 generous cup red lentils, picked over and rinsed
5 cups water
2 and 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 yellow, orange, or red peppers (or 1-pint mini-peppers), washed, seeded, and cut in strips
dash red pepper flakes (optional)
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cipollini onion or shallot, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups baby spinach, washed

Place the lentils and water in a medium sauce pan, cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and cook the lentils 20 minutes, or until tender and falling apart.

While the lentils are cooking, toss the pepper strips in 1 tablespoon olive oil, then place on a baking sheet and roast at 400F for 15 minutes, or until tender and just starting to brown. Let the peppers cool.

Place the cooled peppers in a food processor and process until smooth. Set aside.

When the lentils are almost ready, heat the remaining 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil and the red pepper flakes in a large skillet over medium heat.

Add the garlic, then the onion, and sautée until the garlic turns golden-brown.

Stir in 1 teaspoon salt.

Carefully pour the cooked lentils and puréed peppers into the skillet, stir until thoroughly combined, and cook about 5 minutes.

Add the baby spinach to the skillet, and continue cooking until the spinach has wilted, stirring occasionally.


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Orange Swirls

While I love to cook, there are times when it's nice to sit back and enjoy something prepared by someone else. My mom is a really good cook -- I was lucky to grow up eating homemade bread, pasta, and cookies. I do my own cooking now, but I ask my mom to make something for my birthday each year. This year, I asked for orange swirls.

The swirls have a yeasty, orange-flecked dough, and a simple honey-nutmeg-almond filling. (There's also a honey-lemon glaze, which we skipped.) We wound up with 14 good-sized swirls, rather than the 10 suggested by the recipe. The swirls take two to three hours from start to finish, so if you want to eat them for breakfast, you might consider making them the day before.

The recipe comes from the Holly B cookbook -- I ran across it at Dana Treat.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Almond-Cranberry Cornbread

There were two things about this cornbread recipe that interested me. First, it adds almond flour to the standard blend of cornmeal and all-purpose flour. Second, it's dotted with dried cranberries and sliced almonds -- two of my favorite things.

The resulting cornbread is supposed to yield 12 servings, but I have to admit that I ate one fourth of the pan in a single sitting. Whoops.

If you don't have almond flour, you can finely grind blanched almonds in a food processor. The recipe contemplates that the bread will be baked in a cast-iron skillet; I don't have one, so I used a 9x9 baking dish.

Recipe here.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Blueberry Ginger Jam

Each summer, when blueberries are in season, I wash and freeze a large baggie-full for use later in the year. Then, when I need a change from the usual winter produce, I head to the freezer for some berries. Last month, I used some of my stash to make blueberry chia muffins. This weekend, I went back to the freezer, and used some more berries to make blueberry ginger jam.

I'd never made jam before, but the recipe was simple: combine blueberries, grated ginger, port, sugar, and lemon zest in a saucepan; bring to a boil; and then simmer over medium-low heat for 30 minutes. That's it.

The original recipe called for four cups of blueberries. That would have finished off my stash, and so I made 1/4 batch. I omitted the port (although I think it would have been good) because I didn't have any on hand. Also, I used pineapple juice in place of the sugar. Towards the end of the cooking process, I deglazed the saucepan with a couple of tablespoons of hot water, so as not to miss out on any blueberry-ginger goodness.

Recipe here.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Black Ale Chocolate Pudding

Beer in chocolate pudding seems weird. And whisking beer into half-and-half seems weirder still. At several points in the cooking process, I was convinced this was going to be a complete disaster, not to mention a waste of perfectly good chocolate and ale. Luckily, I was wrong. Black ale chocolate pudding is actually pretty darn good.

With the first spoonful, I can taste both chocolate and ale. After that, the flavors blend.

Loosely adapted from this recipe and this recipe.

1 cup skim milk, divided
1 cup half-and-half
1 cup black ale, or stout
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/2 cup chocolate chips
4 tablespoons cornstarch
dash salt
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a sauce pan, combine the half-and-half, ale, sugar, and 1/2 cup skim milk over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture begins to simmer. (Note: the foam from the ale makes it hard to tell when the mixture is simmering -- I waited until the foam was reduced and the simmer broke through the remaining layer of bubbles on top -- this took about 5 minutes.)

Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to slowly whisk for five minutes.

Remove from heat. Whisk in the cocoa powder, then add the chocolate chips and let the mixture sit five minutes. Stir until the chocolate chips are fairly well blended with the ale mixture.

In a mixing bowl, whisk the remaining 1/2 cup milk with the cornstarch, salt, and egg. Ladle a little of the chocolate/ale mixture in the bowl, and whisk until combined. Then, pour the entire cornstarch mixture back into the sauce pan and whisk until smooth.

Return the saucepan to medium heat. Whisk slowly until the mixture returns to a simmer (this took about 10 minutes for me). Simmer 2-3 minutes, whisking constantly. Remove from heat, and stir in the vanilla.

Serve warm (this is good!) or chilled (also good).

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Walnut Bread

I was so pleased with the olive bread that I made a couple of weeks ago that I decided to try the same recipe again -- but this time, with 1 and 1/2 cups of walnuts (and 2 teaspoons salt) in place of the kalamata olives called for in the original recipe.

Although I used the same flour, the inside of the walnut bread was a different color than the interior of the olive bread -- I think the substitution of walnuts for olives must somehow be responsible for this.

Delicious with a smear of butter and a drizzle of honey.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Yellow Split Pea Stew With Kale and Smoked Paprika

It's been an unusually cold week in Colorado. So, it seemed like a good time to try a recipe for Yellow Split Pea Soup with Smoked Paprika posted at Elana's Pantry. I liked the idea of a steaming bowl of soup with split peas and kale. I was also intrigued by the recipe's use of smoked paprika; my mom's family is Hungarian, so I'm familiar with paprika, but I'd never heard of the smoked variety. Turns out it's a Spanish cousin of the paprika that I grew up with. And deeelicious.
While I used many of the same ingredients as Elana, I changed things up a bit. Rather than using vegetable broth, I cooked the peas and kale together, to create their own broth. Also, I added the smoked paprika at a different stage of the cooking process, and didn't puree the split peas.

1 cup yellow split peas, picked over and rinsed
1 bunch kale, washed
5 cups water
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 onion, washed and chopped
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 clove garlic, minced
8 ounces mushrooms, washed and chopped
1 teaspoon salt

Tear the green portion of the kale leaves from the center veins. Discard the veins and chop the greens.

Place the split peas and kale in a large pot with the water and bay leaves. Bring to a boil and cook, covered, for about an hour, until the peas are tender and starting to fall apart. Remove the bay leaves and set the split pea mixture aside.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion, garlic, and smoked paprika and cook over low medium low heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in the mushrooms and sautée until tender.

Stir in the salt, then add the split pea mixture.

Increase the heat to medium, and cook until the stew is warmed through.

Adjust seasonings to taste and serve.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Olive Bread

I love olives. And bread. So, when I ran across a recipe for olive bread, it went right to the top of my "to bake" list.

The recipe takes more than 12 hours from start to finish, but the hands on time is minimal. The night before baking the bread, I combined bread flour, yeast, olives, and water. After covering the mixture and letting the yeast work its magic overnight, I worked the dough into two loaves, and placed them on a lightly oiled baking sheet to rise for a couple more hours.

Then it was time to bake the bread. While the recipe said to put the dough in a preheated pot to bake, I didn't want to bake any of my pots in the oven. So, instead, I preheated the oven to 400F, placed the loaves (still on the oiled baking sheet) inside, then reduced the heat to 375F and baked them until their crusts were golden and an inserted thermometer read 210F (a method I borrowed from Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything Vegetarian).

The recipe yielded two good-sized loaves of olive bread. I used the first to make some toasted sandwiches with provolone and chopped peppers. (A similar sandwich, made with regular bread, can be found here.) Since I was about to leave town for Thanksgiving, I put the second loaf in the freezer -- I'm pleased to report that it emerged from the icebox with the same "fresh baked" texture it had when it went in, and that I'll be enjoying more olive bread sandwiches this week.