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Not Another Soup! November 16, 2010

Posted by Toy Lady in Cooking, random stuff, soupe du semaine.
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One would think that the only thing we eat around here is soup, wouldn’t one?  While that’s not really strictly true, we do, once the weather starts cooling down, gravitate more toward belly-warming soups.

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On top of that, I’m we’re trying to enjoy a more healthy diet most of the time, and I’m challenging myself to take advantage of the incredible deals that I can find locally – mainly at the public market.

Like a couple of weeks ago when I scored some wonderful spinach – 3 1-pound bunches for $2.  I ask you – how could I pass it by?

PhotobucketOf course, this wasn’t baby spinach – it’s a bit late in the season for that.  Still, it was quite tender.

Basically, what I do when I get home from the market is this.

First, I clean whatever vegetables I have that need cleaning.

Then, unless I already have something in mind, I go to the internet and ask it what would be good with whatever vegetable I have on hand.  Sometimes I’ll go to Epicurious, sometimes Cooks Illustrated, and sometimes, just The Internet in general – and this time, Cooks Illustrated coughed up a recipe for Hearty Lentil Soup with Spinach.

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We all know know I love my lentils – and add them to some fresh spinach, home-cured bacon, and homemade chicken stock?

Score!

Plus, we took this opportunity finish up some dribs and drabs of leftover lentils – so it was a multi-lentil soup!

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So this soup was not only “hearty” – it was easy-peasy!

We started with 3 slices of bacon, chopped into 1/4-inch pieces, and we crisp that up a bit – maybe 3-4 minutes.

Then add a large onion (finely chopped) and a couple of carrots (also finely chopped).

Think of it as a good opportunity to work on your knife skills – or am I the only one who needs work on those?

Once the vegetables have softened (a couple of minutes), stir in 3 cloves of garlic that have been either pressed through a garlic press, or finely minced.

More knife skills. . .

Then we’ll add a pint (or a 14-ish ounce can) of drained diced tomatoes, a bay leaf, and a sprig of fresh thyme (removed from the stem).  (The original recipe says to mince the thyme, but seriously? Do you know how tiny thyme leaves are?  I think that’s taking knife skills a bit far, if you ask me.)

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Now, we didn’t have quite enough of the French green lentils – the recipe called for a cup, and I had about half a cup.

And we seemed to have been out of the plain brown lentils (turns out they were behind something else in the cupboard – go figure!).  But we did have some super-quick cooking red lentils.

So yeah.  Once the veggies are softened and the thyme has been added, then I stirred just the green lentils in – they’re going to take a while to cook, so I gave them about a 15 minute head start, covered, in just the tomatoes, along with some salt and pepper.   Then I added half a cup of white wine (kind of a deglazing thing), bringing to a simmer, added a quart of chicken stock, and 2 cups of water.

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Once all that came up to a boil, I poured in the rest of the red lentils – which will take no more than a couple of minutes to cook.  And even then, they’re going to dissolve anyway, making the soup kind of thick and homey.

That’s cool.

I just reduced the heat and simmered, at that point, until the green lentils were soft but not mush – which, it’s been my experience, would take a whole lot longer than I’m willing to spend anyway.

All told, about half an hour or so.

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Meanwhile, I chopped up a bunch of spinach and placed it in the bottom of my storage container.  (If you’re not making this soup in advance, and I recommend you make pretty much all soups in advance, then just hold the spinach until you’re ready for it.)

Once your lentils are at the desired state of doneness,  make sure to remove your bay leaf.   Most recipes hinge upon adding and removing bay leaves. . .

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If desired, take about half of your soup and blend it – that will help thicken it.  We opted not to, as the red lentils had, by this time, all but disappeared into the broth.

Now, remember how we shoved the spinach into the storage container?  Now we just dumped the hot soup on top of the spinach, effectively cooking the spinach and starting to cool the soup down before refrigeration.

Neat, huh?

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To finish, we reheated the soup, either in a pot or a slow cooker on low (our preferred method whenever possible) and stirred in a splash (a couple of tablespoons) of balsamic vinegar.

To serve, we ladled into soup bowls and topped with freshly grated romano cheese – and, of course, served with fresh bread.

Mmm. . . warm soup belly.

 

Self-Preservation: Roasted Red Peppers September 2, 2010

Posted by Toy Lady in Cooking, Cooking Series, Food, Freezer Meals, Garden.
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Ah, summer, when everything’s in season, and you can’t eat it all at once!

If you’ve been a reader here for any amount of time (a week or more, anyway), you’ll know that around here, we’re all about puttin’ up stuff – whether it’s a big old pan of lasagna, trying our hand at pectin-free apricot preserves, making our own mayonnaise, or even curing our own bacon – in most cases, it’s tastier, healthier, cheaper, and often, not all that difficult, to make it yourself – whatever “it” may be.

PhotobucketEarlier this week, we dried a whole oven full of tomatoes – we haven’t had to buy those lame store-bought sun-dried tomatoes in years!

So how about roasted red peppers?

Have you priced those lately?  I sure haven’t.

And guess why not – go ahead, guess.

PhotobucketOK, you got it – I buy them in season and roast them myself.  Piece of cake.

It’s really pretty simple – you start when they’re in season and you can get a bunch of big beautiful peppers cheap – I just picked up 4 for a buck at the market – I figure, at that price, I’d be crazy not to, huh?  (Last year, I got some at 6 for $1, as I recall, but, well, there are no guarantees, you know?)

So you start with your peppers, and go ahead and wash them if you want.  I’m going to be honest here – unless they’re visibly dirty, I usually just give them a quick wipe.  We’re going to be peeling the skin off of them anyway.

Now I’ve seen directions for roasted peppers that tell you to take a single pepper, hold it in a pair of tongs, roast it over the burner on your gas stove.

Seriously?

I mean, I guess that’s OK if you have one pepper – and the patience of a saint.

PhotobucketMe – not so much.  First, if I’m going to go to the trouble of roasting one pepper, I may as well roast several.

You know, in for a penny, in for a pound.  In other words, if it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing.

So anyway, we’ve got 4 (or 6) red peppers, and we’re not about to hold them, one by one, over the kitchen stove.

If only there was something that had an open flame we could use for roasting these peppers.

PhotobucketSomething, maybe, with a grate for setting things on over that open flame.

Huh.

So I’m sure you’ve figured it out already – I fired up the gas grill and just stuck all the peppers on the grate.  Let them cook over a high flame until they’re somewhat scorched – the charring ultimately makes them easier to peel.

(That, and it’s easier to tell that you’ve already grilled that side.)

Once you deem the peppers sufficiently blackened, just pull them off the grill and transfer to a steel bowl (remembering, of course, to shut the gas off), then cover with plastic wrap.

PhotobucketI’ve heard of people putting the peppers in a paper bag at this point, but I’ve never done that so couldn’t say how it works.

But I’m pretty sure, as the peppers cool, you wouldn’t get the neat-o shrink-wrap effect in a paper bag.

Simple things amuse me.  What can I say?

So.  After about an hour of cooling while you’re doing something else, your peppers will be ready to seed and peel them – and truly, nothing could be simpler!

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Start by cutting the top of the pepper off – you want to get rid of the stem.  The skin on the very top won’t have gotten as charred as the rest of the pepper, so it will be difficult, at best, to peel off, anyway.

Cut your pepper from the top to the bottom – it should easily open up – kind of like a flat pepper book.  (Or something.)

PhotobucketRemove the seeds and membranes from the inside, then flip the pepper over and peel the charred skin from the outside.

Assuming your peppers are well-charred, you shouldn’t need anything but your own fingers to, basically, just rub the skin off.

If there’s a stubborn bit that wants to stick, it can just be scraped off with a paring knife.

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And once the peppers are skinned and cleaned, I like to lay them flat on a lined sheet pan, set it in the freezer until they’re frozen solid, then slice them and pack them into a gallon freezer bag.

And there you go – a few minutes of active time (maybe 10 at the grill and another 10 to clean and peel the peppers) and a buck – and now I’ve got all the “fire-roasted” red peppers I could possibly need for those winter pasta dishes!

Self-Preservation: Tomatoes August 31, 2010

Posted by Toy Lady in Cooking Series, Food, Garden.
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While I’ve been bemoaning the eventual demise of our gorgeous summer, I’ve also been planning ahead.  Oh yes I have, because, really, that’s one of my best things.

Remember the grasshopper and the ant? And how the grasshopper spent the whole summer at the beach, drinking margaritas and partying all night, but the ant worked in the garden and got a new roof and, in general, prepared for winter?

Well, once winter comes, what do you suppose that old grasshopper is going to do for sun-dried tomatoes?

I’ll tell you what she’s going to do.  She’s probably going to go to her local supermarket or even Amazon and spend ridiculous amounts of money for a couple of ounces of the silly things.

Yeah, and what do you think the wise old ant is going to do?

She’ll go to her freezer and haul out her baggie of homegrown, that’s what.  (Tomatoes.  Homegrown tomatoes, that is.  Just so there’s no misunderstanding, you know.)

PhotobucketMe, I’m more an ant than a grasshopper – that partying all night?  I’m far too old and tired for that anymore.  Give me a nice home in the suburbs, a garden, and some zip-loc bags, and I’ll party all I need to, thank you.

So I’m going to tell you what you need to know about “sun” dried tomatoes.

First off, you don’t actually need the actual sun (well, except in the sense that you need the sun to grow the tomatoes, but you know that’s not what I mean, right?)

And you don’t need any fancy equipment like a food dehydrator.

Nope, what you need is your oven, a sheet pan, and a wire rack.  That’s it.

And, of course, an understanding of tomatoes.

PhotobucketSee, here’s the thing. Tomatoes are mostly water.  Water is not really conducive to dried food – the idea behind drying is to remove the water and retain the, well, the other stuff.

So the first thing we do is split the tomatoes in half and remove most of the liquid. (And the seeds – who wants dried seeds in their whatever-they’re-making?)

Lay the tomatoes – cut side down – on a wire rack set over a sheet pan.

I like to line the sheet pan with a silicone mat (or parchment, or even foil) because, well, no matter how hard you try, you’re never going to get all the liquid out of the tomatoes, and it WILL drip onto the pan.  Silicone is easier to clean than stainless.

Always thinking, I am.

Speaking of thinking.

Let me share a lesson I learned last summer.

PhotobucketAll those seeds and that liquid that you’re scraping out of the tomatoes?  You do NOT want to compost it.  I mean, sure, it seems like it’s exactly what the composter was made for, doesn’t it?

But trust me.  If you throw those tomato seeds into the compost bucket, next summer you’re going to have random tomato plants popping up all over your garden, and every time you pull one up, you’re going to ask yourself “what if.”

You don’t want to go there, do you?  I thought not.

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So take your tomatoes and lay them out flat on a wire rack (and if you’re clever, which I know you are, you will have sprayed the rack with non-stick spray first because, really, why not?), and pierce them each several times with a fork.

Yes, those are all my tomatoes.  Actually, they’re not all OF my tomatoes – they were actually about half of my tomatoes at that moment.  But they all came from the garden.

PhotobucketSo we just pop them in a low (super low) oven – I go with 225° because honestly?  If I went any lower, we’d be here all week.

I’ve evidently got some juicy tomatoes.  They need a little extra, um, incentive to dry, I guess.

Did I mention that all this tomato cleaning usually goes on directly after I get home from walking the dog?

Yeah, I try to get them in the oven by 6 – then I go upstairs and get ready for work.

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Oh yeah.  I leave the oven on when I go to work.  And Peeps gets home several hours later (around noon-ish) and he finds a note asking him to check the tomatoes.

Tomatoes which are significantly shrunken, but not yet “dry.”

You can see, at noon they were still pretty puffy, weren’t they?

That’s not quite what we’re going for, so he just left them in the oven.

PhotobucketBy the time I got home from work (3:30-ish), the tomatoes have been in the oven for close to 10 hours, and they’re fairly dry, though not crispy – just what we want!

I shut the oven off and just let the residual heat finish the job – in other words, we had puppy swim at 4 and didn’t have time to take care of them, and we didn’t want to leave them in a hot oven for yet another couple of hours.

(But I’m going with residual heat.)

Once the tomatoes are dried to your satisfaction, pull them from the oven, let them finish cooling, then just bag ‘em up, pop them in the freezer, and wait for winter – when you can go to the supermarket and scoff at the little tiny bags of sun-dried tomatoes, secure in the knowledge that what you’ve got in your freezer is far superior to anything you’re going to find in a pouch in the produce department.

August Third Thursday August 19, 2010

Posted by Peeps in Cooking, Cooking Challenge, random stuff, Third Thursday.
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Wow, it’s the end of August already. The last Third Thursday of the Summer. And I haven’t even started most of what I’d planned on getting done out on the smoker yet.

But one of the joys of Summer is homemade ice cream.  Generally, Toys and I take turns deciding what flavor to make for each batch of ice cream we do.  And even though the most recent choice was mine, she was the one who found what I was looking for.  Double Cookie Dough Ice Cream.  It just sounds decadent.   And since it was my turn to make ice cream, Toys was kind enough to ask me to write about it.

Apparently, Annie’s Eats is pretty much a regular stop for my wife during her blog browsing in search of good stuff.  And I’m glad.

Since there’s already a link to the recipe, I won’t bore you with the step by step stuff.  Suffice it to say that I made the cookie dough according to the directions. Almost.
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As I was using large chocolate chips, I only used half a cup. It would have been overwhelming with more.  That got stashed in the fridge to cool and solidify.
The ice cream itself was simple enough. Separate eggs.
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Whisk with sugar.
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Make custard.
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Strain and cool. All standard stuff.  The browning of the butter was a fantastic idea.  It added so much depth of flavor.
The cooled custard went into the ice cream maker.
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As an aside, if you own a stand mixer, you need to run right out and get the ice cream freezer attachment for it. Seriously. You may not use it often, but lots more often than you think. It’s great.
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Then the cookie dough gets cut up while the ice cream is churning to be added once it’s done.
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I decided to let the machine do the work for me rather than stir it all up in a container.  I’m lazy.  Toys asked that we leave out the chocolate chips from the ice cream itself.    She prefers it that way.  Okay, I can live with it.

The verdict?  It was mighty damn good.  The ice cream itself tasted very much like cookie dough.  I would probably brown the butter for the actual cookie dough next time, since it needs to be melted anyway.  Another couple minutes wouldn’t kill me.  And what’s one more pan to wash?

I would do this again in a shot.  It wasn’t hard, and aside from the heavy cream, we keep everything for it in the house.  That alone makes this a keeper.  Thanks, Annie.

If you’d like to play along with our Third Thursday challenge, leave a comment with a link to (or description of) your Third Thursday project – tell us what you’re up to!  For loose guidelines, or if you want to check out some past Thursdays, they’re right here! 

Monday Musings: 07.19.2010 Edition July 19, 2010

Posted by Toy Lady in Food, Food & Wine, Garden, Musings, random stuff.
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First thing – if you haven’t entered our giveaway, be sure to skip on over there and leave a comment for a chance to win the drawing for a $40.00 gift certificate from CSN Stores!  We’ll be firing up the Random Number Generator Tuesday at 5PM Eastern time, and we’ll announce the winner next Wednesday, so be sure to get your entry in!

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PhotobucketRemember how, back about a month ago, I was too old for that picking strawberries foolishness?

Yeah, well, the same goes for blueberries.

I only picked 10 pounds. . . the problem is that I actually enjoy it.

While I’m doing it.

The next day . . . not so much.

*sigh*  I’m not 22 anymore, I guess.

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But on the bright side – one of our local liquor stores is still running their 3 for $8 sale on wine – which is absolutely perfect to keep us in sangria for the rest of the summer!

We still haven’t decided whether we prefer white or red sangria, though – so I bought 6 of one and half a dozen of the other.

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You know what’s coming into season?

Cantaloupe.

I love melon – and Saturday, I went to the market, and I smelled that tell-tale smell – the scent of ripe cantaloupe.

I wasn’t prepared to make cantaloupe gelato (or whatever it is), but that won’t stop me from enjoying the ripe, juicy melon on its own!

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PhotobucketDid I mention I picked blueberries this weekend?

And that I filled three sheet trays, ran out of room in the freezer, and still have a quart left?

Yeah.  But you know, a bunch of blueberries, a bit of vanilla yogurt, and a drizzle of honey – NOT a bad breakfast, let me tell you!

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PhotobucketOh, and besides the beautiful GIANT melon?

The corn guy was at the market this weekend, too.

This is a farmer who, on Saturday mornings, fills the bed of his pickup truck with fresh corn, hauls it to the market, and sells it for 15 for $3.

And he’s very friendly too – he even  threw in “one for the baby!”

I explained to him who “the baby” is – and he laughed!

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Oh, oh!

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I have a tomato starting to ripen!  It’s almost . . . orange-ish!  Stay tuned for updates!

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And, um, speaking of ripening.

I went out to the garden the other day to pick some green beans for dinner.

Between the hot days and the soaking rains – it’s evidently been PERFECT weather for beans – I picked 4 pounds of green beans!

Now, mind you, I have a single row of beans, and it’s only 6 feet long.

It’s crazy, isn’t it?  And it’s just a good thing we like fresh beans, huh?

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And once again, it’s time for the weekly menu plan.  Wow, I still can’t believe how the summer has flown by!  Not only that, but we’ve done a pretty poor job of clearing out the freezer, so we’ve declared a moratorium on buying any more anything to go in the freezer – with the exception of in-season fruit and veggies, and that in moderation.  (The emphasis is mostly for my sake.)  So we’re looking forward to figuring out what do with what we’ve got.

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Monday – We stocked up on various single-serving fishes when they were on sale for $1 per serving.   Salmon with Lentils and Mustard-Herb Butter will use up a couple of salmon fillets, along with some of the French green lentils we picked up a while ago.  Round it out with a nice tossed salad, and we’ll be all set.

Tuesday – I picked up a boneless leg of lamb a while ago, and we divided it into a few lamb steaks and several packets for grinding – this week, we’ll thaw some of the steaks out and try lamb with peach-ginger chutney – lamb works with fruit, right?  Also, I picked up some broccoli at the market, and some steamed rice will just round it all out.

Wednesday -  Peeps suggested meatball sandwiches for this week, which sounded like a FINE idea!  In addition, we found a recipe in this month’s Food & Wine for oven fries with herbs & Pecorino – which just seems like it’ll be perfect together, don’t you think?

Thursday – We’re going to try some simply marinated chicken only, instead of the Greek influence, we’ve got some lime and a TON of out-of-control tarragon.  Since the green beans are close to out-of-control, we’ll be enjoying some more of those, along with some baby potatoes, possibly all tossed with any mustard-herb butter left from Monday.

Friday – And it’s pizza night!  You know, it’s really nice to have one night a week we don’t actually have to think about . . .

Be sure to click on over to The Organizing Junkie’s Monday Menu Plan post for loads and loads of other ideas.

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