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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.

 

Monday Musings on Tuesday: 09.07.2010 Edition September 7, 2010

Posted by Toy Lady in Musings, random stuff.
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And here we are, actually past Labor Day already!  It seems like just yesterday, we were celebrating Memorial Day, doesn’t it?

Surly Boy unfortunately didn’t make it home for the long weekend – his car landed in the shop, and it wasn’t done in time for him to drive home for the long weekend, so . . . all that cooking I did last week?

For naught.

Maybe not for naught, exactly, but, well, I had hoped to send my little boy home with a freezer full of good, healthy mom-food, and instead, I’ve managed to ridiculously over-fill my own freezer.

Fortunately, he’s going to be traveling through Rochester next month for a concert in Ohio – I think Cleveland.  Cleveland rocks, you know, even if it is snot rock.

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So yes, we’ve had a busy weekend – and lest he feel left out, the dog felt the need to sit in his Papa’s lap for a little while.

Yes, he is getting a little big for that, but, like the old joke goes – where does a 105-pound dog sit?  Anywhere he wants to . . . heh.

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PhotobucketSo, speaking of the dog.

We were invited (actually, HE was invited) to participate in a study with regard to canine osteoarthritis – and his hip dysplasia makes him eminently qualified for this study.

So we took our baby in for the initial screening – which included x-rays.

If you look very closely, you’ll see  that ball-and-socket joint of his hips include very little “socket” – and, at less than 3 years old, his “ball”  is already starting to deform.

No wonder he walks funny, huh?

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And part of the initial screening for the veterinary study was, erm, samples.

While the vet’s office was responsible for x-rays and blood tests, we had to provide, um, other, more, uh, icky samples.

Since we had samples from, well, both ends (so to speak), the better part of discretion seemed to me to be a brown bag.

A very special brown bag.

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Speaking of Bags of Crap.

Peeps scored on Woot the other day and got their “bag of crap.”  Boy, did he score. . .

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One of the items I made and froze on my vacation was some lovely, lovely ratatouille.  I love ratatouille, and I especially love it in the winter, when it’s less in season.

This may just have been my best batch yet – lovely roasted eggplant and zucchini, garden fresh tomatoes and herbs, plenty of peppers, onions and garlic – yeah, this’ll be good in a month or so, too.

I do love eggplant.  Too bad Surly Boy missed out.

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Oh, and hey.

We have a freakishly huge spider living on our deck.  I don’t know what her deal is – whether she’s just guarding the compost bucket, or maybe she’s waiting for her chance to invade the house – I don’t know.

But she’s gi-normous – probably the size of a quarter, when she’s all curled up.

That’s just . . . creepy.

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And once again, it’s time for the weekly menu plan.  Yes, we’re a day late, but we still have to eat every day!

And now, it seems, fall has truly come – where last week, the temperatures were in the 90s, this week, we’ll be struggling to see 80.

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September is just weird like that, isn’t it?

Monday – It’s Labor Day, and we’re grilling, yes, but not the typical hot dogs and burgers – I picked up some boneless short ribs, and we’re enjoying some Korean BBQ – along with some basmati rice and tossed salad.

Tuesday – Do you remember last fall when Peeps smoked a few pork chops and stuck them in the freezer?  I didn’t either until I found them in the freezer – those, along with some fresh green beans and corn will make make a delightful dinner!  And yes, corn counts as a starch!

Wednesday – We’ve got puppy swim class, so it’s a simple matter of reheating some pea soup – we didn’t get  to make it last week, but it’s done and in the fridge now.  We just need to make some biscuits to go with it.  OK.

Thursday – The weather is forecast to be more conducive to grilling, so grill we shall – we’re still trying to find the perfect burger rolls, and everyone knows the only way to do that is to grill burgers . . . along with some salad and fries, of course.

Friday –  Again, it’s pizza night.  I’ll be enjoying some garden fresh tomatoes and fresh herbs, along with as much cheese as is necessary to hold the two together.  I do love pizza night. . .

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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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: 08.02.2010 Edition August 2, 2010

Posted by Toy Lady in Musings.
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Have I ever mentioned that I am a Dairy State kind of gal?  No?  Well, I’ll just say that I LOVE me my cheese – and leave it at that!

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And for the past 5 weeks, Peeps has noticed coupons in the paper for $2 off a block of cheese, so of COURSE we had to cut them out, didn’t we?  I mean, two bucks is two bucks!

THEN, this week, the supermarket ran that cheese on sale for (wait for it!)  TWO DOLLARS!

That’s right – we gathered up our five, count ’em, five, cheese coupons, and we scored 2½ pounds of FREE CHEESE!  And it’s not even government cheese, either!

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A quick update on Larry, Mo & Curly – the three caterpillars in the garden.

The seem to have, um, wandered off.

We did consider relocating them inside the house, but, well, we honestly thought they’d be happier – and safer – amid the fennel fronds.

Guess we were wrong.  (Though we’re still keeping an eye out to see if we can see any cocoons chrysalides.)

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The other evening, we went upstairs to find that our bedroom fan had just . . . quit working.

I am not happy about that – it’s August, for crying out loud!  What kind of choices am I going to have for a decent fan when all the stores are displaying back-to-school stuff?

So we stopped at Walmart, and we found a tower fan (we don’t have a lot of extra space!) similar to, though slightly smaller than, the one we’ve liked for quite a while.  But there was no price on it.

Given that Every Single Fan in the place was less than $25, we figured we were OK.  Until we got to the register, and it scanned at $47.50.

This had better be the last fan I have to buy for a good long while, that’s all I’m saying.

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Oh, and speaking of not happy.

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When we went to the supermarket last week, we ran into a bit of a problem.

First, we found that one of the things we’d bought on sale didn’t scan at the sale price.  And the PERSON working at Customer Service gave me the option of, um, going back to the car, retrieving the item and returning it for a refund, or, well, not.

Grr.

THEN.  Then I got home, and the package of SIX pitas we’d bought?  (That we bought, mind you, because it was the ONLY brand of pitas in the store that was clearly marked as containing “6” and not “5”) (which, really, what is UP with that?  FIVE?)   Anyway, the package of SIX pitas actually contained FIVE.

So I fired up the INTERNET, and I sent an email to the supermarket, and another to the pita people, and lo and behold – the supermarket manager called me THAT VERY DAY and offered me a $5 gift card and an apology.

And the pita company mailed me several coupons – one good for $4, and two more for $1 off any of their products.

OK, I’m less unhappy than I was.

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So remember how we decided that it was time to get the poor, pitiful puppy back into swim class?

PhotobucketYup, as soon as he saw me come home from work and grab his towel, he knew.

Oh boy did he know.

He literally DRAGGED me outside, to wait right there by the car until someone came and unlocked it for him.

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And then!  Once we actually ARRIVED at K-9 Care?

It was all Peeps could do to keep him from running up to the facility and busting the door down!

He sure was happy to be back in the pool!

And he’s going to be even happier to go back next week!

But we’re already seeing the improvement, which is definitely a good thing.

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Speaking of happy.

Peeps mentioned to me a while ago that his boss’s weakness is Whoopie Pies.

So, when I went to the public market this weekend, I made it a point to stop by the Mennonite baked-goods stand and check out the homemade Whoopie Pies.

Now I’m going to assume Boss is a purist, that is, that his preference in Pies runs toward “original” but there’s something to be said for the pumpkin flavor, too.

So I got a package of “mixed” pies – something for everyone at work that day!

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Kitty likes to keep an eye on things in the kitchen.

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She just doesn’t like anyone noticing her keeping an eye on things, that’s all.

Silly kitty.

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Now I remember why I’ve avoided the heirloom tomatoes for so many years – they are UGLY!

All warped and twisted and stuff – I’m used to the nice, tidy, round shaped tomato slices that I grew up with – my beloved Jetstars.

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Fortunately, they still sliced up just fine for pizza night.  And I was even able to fit those odd-shaped slices together , with a little trimming, for some pretty decent pizza-crust-coverage.  And what didn’t fit, well, those pieces tasted just fine!

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And once again, it’s time for the weekly menu plan.  Can someone please tell me where the summer has gone?  Here it is, the first of August, and we haven’t grilled, smoked, or barbecued half of what we’d have liked to!  While we have a few beautifully nice days in store for this week, we also have a couple of the hot-humid type days, too, which we’ll need to take into account and use to our freezer-clearing advantage!

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Monday – It’s Peeps’s day off, and the forecast calls for hot-ish and rainy.  Peeps is going to put together a “green sauce” version of Stacked Chicken Enchiladas –  using some roasted chicken from the freezer, some corn tortillas, and an enchilada sauce that we kind of sort of made up using tomatillos (from the freezer) that we smoked . . . we shall see, won’t we?  Alongside some rice, it should be quite nice.

Tuesday – Even hotter and muggier than Monday – so we want something that’s minimally labor intensive and that comes from the freezer.  (I know, I don’t ask for much, do I?)  We had a couple of containers of Cincinnati chili in the freezer –  and that simply requires heating up and cooking some spaghetti.  And the next time Peeps makes it for the freezer, he WILL share how he does it!

Wednesday – I have been itching to try Michael Ruhlman’s Chicken Sausage with Basil & Tomato – now that my tomatoes are in, we are ALL OVER IT!  I’m going to roast some potato wedges on the grill and steam some broccoli to go with it.

Thursday – Since we’re in a grinding and grilling mood, and we’d picked up some “porterhouse tails” for a really good price a while ago, we’re going to get some of that out of the freezer, too, and enjoy some nice burgers.  We haven’t had enough burgers this summer!  Some fries and roasted beets will round this meal out nicely.

Friday – And it’s pizza night – now that my tomatoes are for-real in season, I can look forward to lightly cheesed, heavily tomato-ed, freshly herbed pies every week for a while!

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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Lentils and Sausage – not so weird after all July 20, 2010

Posted by Toy Lady in Cooking, Eating Down the Fridge, Food, 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!  This is it – we’ll be firing up the Random Number Generator at 5PM Eastern time, and we’ll announce the winner tomorrow, so be sure to get your entry in!

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A while ago, Marx Foods sent us, along with several other bloggers, a couple of bean samples.  The also provided a sample to another blogger of golden lentils.  Wow, those lentils sure are busy, huh?  First there were just regular old  lentils, then green lentils, red lentils, and now golden lentils?  Who knew?

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While this golden lentil dish looked (and sounded!) wonderful, we really aren’t interested in a rainbow of lentils.  (That, and along with cleaning out the freezers, we’re also trying to clean out the cupboards, too.)

Let’s see if we can . . . improvise, huh?

The first thing we did was  just brown a couple of Peeps’s Italian sausage links – we did them on the grill, but not completely cooked through – just enough to get them nicely browned – and to be able to slice them about 1/4 inch thick.  Then into the Dutch oven to finish cooking and render some of the fat from the pork.

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Meanwhile, we rinsed a cup of RED (not yellow) lentils and just set them aside for a few minutes.

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Then we went to work on the mire poix, only not exactly.  Sure, I finely diced an onion, some garlic (of course!) and a carrot.  But standing in for the celery was some of the fennel that I thinned from the garden – I treated them just like I would celery.  If, of course, I’d been using celery, which I wasn’t.

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Once the sausage finished doing its thing (it was cooked through and had left a bit of fat in the pan), we removed that from the pan and added the faux mire poix and a pinch of kosher salt.  (And as an aside, should one sentence ever have two different words that end in “x”?)

Anyway.  We let that cook about 10 minutes or so, until the veggies were nicely softened.

PhotobucketFrom here, it’s pretty simple (as if it hadn’t already been mighty simple already!) – season as desired (I used some dried oregano and a good pinch of my Tuscan herb blend from last fall, and that was really all we needed.)

Add a pint or so of chicken stock – or even water, but remember, water doesn’t add much except, well, water.

Reduce the heat and let it all simmer until the lentils and the veggies are done.

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Now if you want your lentils creamy -and, really, who wouldn’t? – I’m afraid you’re going to have to add some, you know, a little cream.

I cheated and used half and half.  We try to avoid keeping heavy cream in the house.

We avoid half and half too, but, well, Peeps’s mom uses it in her coffee, so we had to make sure we had it on hand while she was here, right?

Just a smidge, though – maybe 2-3 tablespoons.

Plenty of cream left for coffee!

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Stir that in, and get the cream heated through, then gather up the cooked sausage (remember the sausage?), and stir that into the mix.

You’re probably going to have to get the sausage hot again, too, by this point, so actually, you could add that right along with the cream, I guess.

Right on top of things, I am!

Once everything is hot, it’s just a matter of ladling it into bowls, chiffonading some basil for a tasty garnish, and serving with some fresh bread.

PhotobucketAnd this was not half bad at all!  The flavors went together well – healthy lentils, creamy lentils (and cream!), and the subtle flavor of fennel in our riff on the classic mire poix, along with the quiet herbiness of, um, the herbs.

And there was even enough left over for another meal, this time over rice, which was just as good!