Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lentil Soup

The snow is mostly melted here, but the cold is still stuck to us like white on ice. And I'm still in a soupy mood, so that's just what I've been making as of late. My last soup, potato-broccoli-cheddar, is on that edge of healthy and fatty. This soup, however, is definitely on the healthy side, but not at the cost of good, homey flavors.

Lentil Soup
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine.

1 2/3 cup lentils, rinsed
5 cups water
3.5 cups chicken stock
1 bay leaf
4 cloves garlic, chopped, divided
2 tbsp olive oil
1 lb turkey sausage
1 medium onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 cup chicken, cooked, torn
1/2 lb escarole, chopped
1 tbsp red wine vinegar

Simmer lentils, water, broth, bay leaf, and half of the garlic in a 4 quart pot, uncovered, for 12 minutes.

Heat oil in a wide 6 quart pot over medium-high heat. Cook turkey sausages until cooked through (if raw) or until browned (if pre-cooked). Remove sausages from pan and slice on a bias.

Reduce heat to medium and cook onion, carrots and remaining garlic with some salt and pepper, stirring occasionally until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and cook for 2 more minutes, stirring frequently. Add the sausages back to the pan along with the chicken and lentils in their cooking liquid. Simmer the soup uncovered until lentils are tender, 3-5 more minutes.

Stir in escarole and cook until tender, about 3 minutes. Stir in vinegar to taste and season with salt and pepper. Discard bay leaf and serve.

This soup turned out quite nice. The original recipe called for uncasing the sausages, but I like to see the nice round slices of meat. And the chicken adds some more protein and texture. The soup overall has a bit of a smokey quality. It's hearty but your spoon will not stick straight up in it. The escarole contributes some more vitamins to round out this as quite a marvelous soup. And what better accompaniment for soup than some freshly baked crusty bread.

My local grocer, Harris Teeter, has a decent selection of freshly baked breads. In addition to the loads of loaves, there are also some take-and-bake selections. If the description isn't enough, here's the gist: you buy some partially-baked bread, take it home and finish baking it in your oven. That way you are guaranteed that the bread is crusty and warm. Be warned, the bread will only last a day or so unbaked before the mold starts to get it, though I think it would hold up in the freezer. Nothing beats all the benefits of fresh bread without the hassle of making it.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Nutella Cake

Last week, we celebrated another birthday in my lab. When I was pondering, I came up with the idea to make a Nutella cake. Little did I know this would fit right in with World Nutella Day. It seems my finger is always on the pulse of the culinary community, even when I don't know it.

I drew inspiration for the outside of the cake from Rose Levy Beranbaum's book Rose's Heavenly Cakes, specifically her "chocolate tomato cake." The cake is surrounded by Pirouette cookies of varying heights. Each of these cookies is topped by a small dollop of red frosting to act as little candles. If you want to make this cake for an age-conscious birthday person, please note that I had to use 67 cookies to completely surround the cake.

The inside of the cake, however, was my own creation. I used my basic chocolate cake recipe. This cake normally uses 1.5 cups of coffee to accentuate and darken the chocolate flavor, but I substituted one-third of that with Frangelico, a hazelnut liqueur. As a third surprise layer, I baked my traditional banana bread recipe in a round cake pan. The banana bread stays wonderfully moist and I may use it to make a full cake one day.

So far, this cake is not very Nutella-y. That's where the frosting comes in to bind it all together, both in construction and in flavor. I mixed together 1 cup of Nutella with 3 cups of powdered sugar and 2 tablespoons of milk to produce just enough frosting to cover this 3-layer, 9-inch cake. On top of all this, I placed some toasted, chopped hazelnuts. The result is a behemoth cake that astounded everyone. I have a hard time deciding if it had too many elements or just enough to make it a really good cake. All of the flavors blended together beautifully to produce a cake that will be tough to beat for the next birthday.

Broccoli-Potato-Cheddar Soup

The weather outside is turning quite frightful. Much of the country is being hit by wave after wave of snow. We've had a fair amount here in North Carolina, and now the temperature is holding steady in the mid-thirties. When nature gives you a frigid winter and seals you inside for days at a time, here's a recipe that can help to keep you feeling warm and cozy.

Broccoli-Potato-Cheddar Soup
Makes 6 servings

0.25 cups flour
30oz vegetable broth
2 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
16oz broccoli, frozen
1 small onion, chopped
1.25 cups milk
10oz sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
4 green onion, chopped

Whisk together flour and 1/3 cup of vegetable broth.

Combine remaining broth with potato, broccoli and onion in a large pot. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat to a simmer. Cook until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Gradually stir in broth-flour mixture. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring often.

Stir in milk and 8oz of the cheddar. Cook over medium-low heat until cheese melts, stirring occasionally. Serve the soup in bowls, topped with remaining cheese and green onion.

We were snowed into the house for most of a weekend and this soup definitely lightened the mood. Not only did cooking the soup help get us off the couch, but it had a delicious flavor. The cheesiness is not like in some other broccoli-cheddar soups that have that neon orange glow to them. The cheese is more subtle and adds body to the soup. The main features are the broccoli and potato, making this soup feel more homey without busting your gut. Feel free to add the crackers of your choice for a little extra crunch.