Friday, September 12, 2014

Red Lentil Soup

In cool weather (with and without rain) I crave soup- all kinds of soup.
Over here we tend to eat a lot of soup on Fridays.
Soup makes an easy meal.
As the main, it can be a very casual and warming, light yet filling meal.

Lentil soups are similar to split pea soups, but don't let that deter you if you're not a fan of split peas. This is not the traditional version one might imagine, and I, for one, like this much better.

I'm aware that the finished product does not look particularly red (as the title would suggest). However, I promise it's made with red lentils.
Curiously, red lentils (or masoor dal if you go with the Indian name) are more salmon-colored than red and become a golden color when cooked. Well then, that cheery shade is magnified a bit by the addition of turmeric in this particular soup.

Keep in mind that you are certainly able to adjust seasonings to your taste. If you hate something in particular, maybe tone it down, leave it out or substitute something else. The recipe as written turns out to have a nice curry flavor (and you've just mixed up your own curry without using a pre-made blend, folks). Depending on how spicy you like things, you may want extra cayenne. I originally made it with 1/2 t cayenne, which had some really nice warmth, but thought it might be too much for some people.  If you want the greater intensity, add that 1/2 t cayenne. If you prefer just a hint of heat, maybe use just a pinch instead.

Red Lentil Soup
serves 6 or more

1 large onion, diced
2 T (30 ml) olive oil
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1 T (20 g) fresh ginger, finely grated
1 t (2 g) turmeric
1 t (3 g) cumin
1/2 t (1 g) coriander
1/4 t (1 g) cayenne pepper
1/4 t (1 g) cardamom
1/2 t (2 g) black pepper
6 c (1.4 L) chicken broth, vegetable broth, or water
2 c (396 g) red lentils
1- 1 1/2 t (6-9 g) Kosher or sea salt (depending on the salinity of your broth)
1 can (400 ml) coconut milk

Warm the olive oil over medium heat in a large pot, add the onion and saute several minutes until translucent.
Add the garlic, ginger, turmeric, cumin, coriander, cayenne pepper, cardamom, and black pepper.  Saute the mixture about 30 seconds or so so that the onions are coated in spices and the texture becomes pasty.
Pour in the broth and add the dry lentils. Stir the mixture, scraping the bottom of the pan a bit to release the onion and incorporate all the spices
Bring the soup to a simmer and cook about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally (more so towards the end of the cooking time). The soup will become much thicker as the lentils cook and break down. 
At the end of the cooking time, add the coconut milk and stir though. Remove the pan from the heat
Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth. Alternatively, carefully puree the soup in batches in a standard blender.
Adjust seasonings (salt, pepper, cayenne) to taste.
The soup will thicken slightly to a nice creamy consistency as it sits a bit. 
I don't find it gets too incredibly thick after refrigeration, but thin if desired with a little extra broth or water. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Fig and Raspberry Jam

Together figs and raspberries create a perfumey concoction bridging two seasons.
A lovely end of summer/beginning of autumn jam to make and put away for when you might need something a little different and special.

(I just love making jam whenever I get the chance.)

Cooking figs always smell like the woods to me- the woods on a crisp autumn day. There's something about the air and the crunchy leaves that have fallen from the trees that smell like figs.
Combine the fig scent with that of ripe and juicy raspberries and you have an interesting fragrance, an earthy sort of sweetness that permeates the house.

Port added near the end of cooking lends a bit of raisiny depth and helps increase the autumn-ness of this jam. It's bright, but cozy.

As I have said before when speaking of confiture, I do not actually can and process jams as they are for my use/friends/family and they go directly into the refrigerator after the jars are cool enough to handle (NOT into the cabinet to sit at room temperature since they have not been processed).

With both figs and raspberries, and being unstrained, this certainly turns out to be a seeded jam. I don't mind that though, it's real. It is what it is.

Fresh jams are always great on a piece of hearty grainy toast, a crumpet, or a warm scone.
I think this version would be especially nice with cooked with pork or served with turkey- or as part of a cheese board (perhaps along with some chevre, brie, or triple-crème?).
Stir it into yogurt.
Use it as the filling for a crostata...

Some of the technique is taken from the Blue Chair Jam Cookbook.

Fig and Raspberry Jam
makes about 10 pints

2 lb (about 910 g) fresh figs
2 1/2 lb (1 kg plus 130 g) raspberries
5 c (1 kg plus about 110 g) sugar 
1/4 c (60 ml) fresh lemon juice
1/2 c (120 ml) Port

Place a small plate and 4-5 spoons in the freezer to later check the jam consistency.

Remove the stems and cut the figs into eights (or into 12 pieces if larger), place in a large saucepan and cover with about 1/4 inch of water. Cover the pan with a lid and heat the figs over medium high heat until the mixture comes to a boil. 

Meanwhile, place the raspberries and sugar in a large bowl to macerate and set aside.

Once the fig mixture boils, stir and reduce the heat to low. Re-cover and let simmer 5 minutes, then mash the figs with a potato masher to reduce everything to a juicy pulp. Cover again and let the mixture cook 20-30 minutes, until the figs develop a soft and mushy consistency and the mixture is relatively uniform (mashing and stirring every 5 minutes or so).

Pour the raspberry and sugar mixture into the pan of fig puree and stir to combine. Add the lemon juice. 

Pour the fruit and sugar mixture into a preserving pan or wide, nonreactive pan.  Bring to a boil over high heat and then reduce the heat to a simmer, stirring every now and then to keep the jam for scorching on the bottom of the pan. After about 10 minutes of simmering, add the Port and stir though. Continue simmering and stirring 15 minutes more, then check the consistency of the jam by taking a spoonful in one of the frozen spoons. Place the spoon and plate back in the freezer about 3 minutes to re-chill, while continuing to cook the jam on the stove. 

Remove the spoon and plate from the freezer and tip the jam from the spoon. If it falls thickly and slowly from the spoon, it's a good jam consistency. If it's still quite liquid, cook longer and check in the same manner every 5 minutes or so. 

When the jam has reached the desired consistency, remove the pan from the heat, fill sterilized jars with hot jam, and screw (or clamp) the lids on. 
*At this point process as desired if you would like you jam to be shelf stable.
Let the jars sit at room temperature until you're able to handle them easily then place the jars in the refrigerator.
Jam should last at least a month and up to several if kept refrigerated. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Pantry Cookies

Edison had the lightbulb, Tesla the alternating current.
Today, as far as societal contributions go, I have cookies.
No, it's not necessarily in the same realm as the other two- I can freely admit it.
Then again, those two things are dangerously inedible.

But as far as inventions go, this is one I've been working on and tweaking. The thing about wanting to get it right is that sometimes you have to try and try again. With cookies, it's both a good and a bad thing (though bad is relative and the degree is debatable...).

It's definitely good to be able to share something like this when you're making multiple batches. That way, you can get input from multiple people while sharing the wealth, so to say.
And, of course, there IS a point when you just can't deal with more cookies.

I figured these are things generally found in an American pantry (thus the name).
Well, they're found in MY pantry, and I'm betting 9 times out of 10 I could make them without having to make a grocery run.

I've been using natural peanut butter as of late- just ground peanuts and nothing else. Not completely creamy, but not totally crunchy either, it's somewhere in the middle. I don't know how the recipe would behave with another type of peanut butter- namely the more commercial creamy peanut butters one might normally choose for cookies.

The cookie dough is slightly crumbly, but malleable. As such, they should be rolled into balls, or packed tightly before baking. They may take a tad more work when portioning them out, but the good news is that the resulting texture is crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside.

There is potential for multiple adaptations. Add some nuts, try dried cranberries, take out the raisins, add a little more chocolate.

Pantry Cookies
Makes about 40, generous tablespoon-sized cookies

1 1/2 c (375 g) natural peanut (... sunflower or almond) butter

3/4 c (160 g) packed brown sugar
1/2 c (120 g) granulated sugar
1 t (5 g) salt
1 1/2 t (7 ml) vanilla extract
1/2 t (4 g) baking soda
2 large eggs
3/4 c (90 g) rolled oats (GF if that's what you're looking for)
1/2 c (45 g) shredded coconut
2/3 c (100 g) chocolate chips (or chopped chocolate)
2/3 c (80 g) raisins

Preheat the oven to 350 F/ 175 C.

In stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the peanut butter, sugars, salt, vanilla and baking soda until well combined. 
Add the eggs one at a time and mix well between additions then scrape down the sides of the bowl. 
Add the oats and coconut and mix well.
Pour in the chocolate chips and raisins, and mix just until evenly dispersed. 

Using a small cookie/ice cream scoop or a spoon, scoop generous tablespoon-sized (walnut) portions of cookie dough onto a parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Make sure the cookie dough is well-packed to insure that the cookies stay in one piece. Alternatively, roll walnut-sized balls of dough and place on the cookie sheet. Flatten the mounds of dough slightly with your fingers. 

Bake the cookies 10-12 minutes (they will continue to cook and set as they cool).

Let the cookies cool on the pan about 10 minutes before removing to a rack to cool completely.
Store in an airtight container.

Saturday, August 30, 2014


Socca is a simple chickpea flour crêpe from the south of France. 
While there are types of chickpea flour pancakes in several different countries, such as Italy and India (and, of course, with different names), we're going with France here. 

With a few simple ingredients, something wonderful can be created.
I like to make socca as part of a light meal, and it's the only reason I keep chickpea flour around. 

This version here isn't the thinnest you'd ever find, but instead it's got a toothsome bite and the edges have a nice crunch.

The version I prefer isn't strictly plain- it has some character from the addition of spices.

Socca is classically served with a drizzle of olive oil and grindings of fresh black pepper.
Try with sauteed onions and mushrooms, fresh herbs, or Parmesan shavings.

Recently I had a version with a fantastic fresh pesto, sliced sugar snap peas, and Parmesan shards.

But I also like to eat it with fish and lemon.

makes 1, 10 inch crêpe
serves 4-6 as an appetizer

1 c (140 g) chickpea (garbanzo) flour (or a garbanzo-fava bean flour blend... which I actually prefer)
1 c (240 ml) water
2 T (30 ml) olive oil
scant 1/2 t (about 1 g) ground cumin
good pinch cayenne pepper
1 t (5 g) kosher or grey salt
several grinds fresh black pepper

To cook:
Olive oil for the pan

Whisk all ingredients in a medium bowl until smooth (the batter will be loose). Set aside and let sit 30 minutes. 

Heat the broiler element of the oven on high. Drizzle a heavy 10 inch oven safe skillet (such as cast iron) with a bit of  olive oil and smear it around the inside until coated. Place the skillet in the oven a few inches from the element about 5 minutes to heat.
Remove the pan from the oven and pour in the previously rested batter. Tilt the pan as necessary to evenly coat it with the batter (move quickly so the pan stays as hot as possible). Place the pan back in the oven and cook 5-10 minutes, or until dry/cooked through and the top shows some spots of char.

At this point I like to flip it out of the pan and onto a cutting board (maybe with a little help from a fish spatula) and flip it charred side down back into the pan. It goes back into the oven a few minutes until the second side cooks a bit more and gets a little char. 

When finished, flip back out of the pan and back onto the cutting board. Cut into wedges and serve warm as desired. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Vietnamese Coffee Granita

A simple dessert, only two ingredients, thought up while my sister and I were sitting at a local Vietnamese restaurant, Mai Lee, waiting for our takeout order. We usually pick up a curry dish, either chicken or vegetarian, and happy to report that the 5-spice pork was recently a winner for us, too. Love the green papaya salad. And though we haven't had one in a while, the mango with coconut sticky rice for dessert is fantastic- highly recommended.

While waiting, it is imperative for any of us to order a Vietnamese coffee. The coffee is not difficult in itself to make, but it's a treat we've reserved for sitting at the bar and waiting.

We're supposed to have a hot weekend, so I thought I'd give the idea a try.
This granita is creamier than the normally strictly icy but melt-in-your-mouth versions of most coffee granitas, but really, how bad can any sweet and icy coffee be on a hot day?

Serve dessert as is, or maybe turn it into something a bit more Italian with a little whipped cream and a chocolate-covered espresso bean or two.
But no matter what, a demitasse spoon will always make it last longer.

Vietnamese Coffee Granita
serves 6-8

5 c (1 L plus 200 ml) strong black coffee (In this instance I prep a strong French press brew.)
1 can (14 oz/379g) sweetened condensed milk

Mix the hot coffee and condensed milk in a large bowl and let cool. Pour the mixture into a large, flat freezer-safe pan (like a 9x13 inch), and place in the freezer until frozen solid (overnight may be best), giving a quick whisk or two during the process to make sure everything stays mixed as well as possible. 

Scrape the frozen coffee with the tines of a fork until it is completely broken down into icy flakes. 
Spoon into glasses  or dishes and serve as desired. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Summer Fruit Salad

This isn't a fruit salad as in what people normally think of: a berry and melon melange tossed together in a big bowl.

It's more like the idea of a traditional green-leaf salad, but with the addition of great ripe fruit- and it's a salad idea I love.

You'll want to use whatever is the ripest and the best stone fruit you can find. If the peaches are sub-par, get the nectarines instead, but have at least 2 stone fruits so there's a little color and flavor variety in the salad. The jewel-like tones in the finished salad definitely make it visually appealing.

Toasted hazelnuts are a fantastic addition to practically any salad.
Preheat the oven to 350 F/175 C. Place raw hazelnuts on a pan and bake about 10 minutes, shaking the pan and checking the progress about halfway through. Let the hazelnuts cool completely before rubbing the skins off in a tea towel, then roughly chop so they're ready to go.

I don't give exact "how to" in salad assemblage here- mostly because tastes are so different. The vinaigrette recipe makes about 3/4 cup, which, to me, is enough to serve up to 12 small salads (with about a tablespoon of vinaigrette on each).
5 oz (about 140 g) of greens can serve 5-6 people. Although if you're looking to make a meal of it, you'll want more greens and fruit per person.

A bit of crumbled chevre might be a nice addition to each salad.

Summer Fruit Salad
Adapted from a recipe in Sunday Suppers at Lucques, by Suzanne Goin

3 T (45 ml) Sherry vinegar
2 T (20 g) minced shallot
1/2 t (2 g) sea or kosher salt (plus more to taste)
1 T (15 ml) honey
7 T (105 ml) olive oil
freshly ground black pepper

mixed greens

Choose at least 2 of these stone fruits: 
2-3 nectarines
2-3 plums
2 peaches
3-4 apricots

fresh ripe figs

chopped toasted hazelnuts 

In a medium bowl, combine the vinegar, shallot, and salt. Let sit about 10 minutes. Whisk in the honey and then the olive oil. Add black pepper and salt to taste. 

Place greens on each plate and spoon the vinaigrette over each salad. Slice the stone fruit into 12 pieces (less for apricots, more for large peaches), and divide among the salads. Perhaps use 3 slices of each fruit for each salad. Remove the stems from the figs and halve. Place 3 halves or so on each salad. Scatter several blackberries on the salads and sprinkle chopped hazelnuts over everything. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Avocado Lime Ice Cream

I know most, if not all, of us are used to avocados on sandwiches and in salads, maybe eaten halved with a spoon, seasoned with salt and pepper.  One of my favorite incarnations was an afternoon snack in Mexico: fresh corn tortillas from the tortillaria down the road, smeared with perfect avocado, then sprinkled with lime juice and salt.

Now, before anyone balks at the idea of "sweet" with "avocado" let me ask, have you ever tried it?
We have a friend who spent a lot of time in Brazil who said that they never eat avocado as we do. Brazilians are more likely to eat it as ice cream, drink it in a milkshake, or sprinkle a half with sugar before eating.
Remember now, avocado is a fruit.
I tried the sugar-sprinkled version at one point, and I will say I think I prefer to eat half an avocado with salt. I'm not saying it was bad, but I wonder if it has to do with the things I'm used to...

Well, I wanted to try again.

I can't say this is how anyone else makes their avocado ice cream, but I thought I would mix it with a bit of tropical flavor and give it a try.
Yes, you could probably use cream (or maybe half and half) instead of the coconut milk, but this version happens to be dairy-free.
The combination of the rich coconut milk and the smooth avocados yields a creamy, gelato-like feel. Even when melted, it's more of a thick, custard-like consistency.

I love avocados, but the only thing I'm not a huge fan of is the old avocado color. I mean, old as in overripe, and old as in decor and appliances from the 1970s and very early '80s. The closest we came at our house was a set of Tupperware- in shades of tangerine, harvest gold, and avocado. I think it may have been the only avocado-colored thing in our home, though I am recalling some dishtowels with printed designs where the colors were definitely hilighted...
However, down the street at a neighbor's house (that was pretty much a second home to some of us) there was an avocado-colored refrigerator they owned forever. Now, a refrigerator is a pretty big swath of color- a decision that should not be taken lightly.
What I would like to know is how this color combination become so popular?
Why did it completely take over?
Ah, the power of marketing.

Avocado Lime Ice Cream
serves 6 or more

1 can (400 ml) coconut milk
1 c  (200 g) sugar
3 ripe avocados
zest of 2 limes
1/3 c (80 ml) freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 t (1 g) salt

Ideas for serving:
toasted coconut
raspberry sauce
fresh strawberries

Place the coconut milk and sugar in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium, heating to a simmer and stirring occasionally until the sugar is completely dissolved. Set aside to cool completely.
In the bowl of a food processor, process the coconut milk mixture, avocados, lime zest, lime juice, and salt until completely smooth.
If desired, chill the ice cream mixture completely before transferring to an ice cream maker and freezing per manufacturer's instructions. 
OR, if you do not have an ice cream maker, place in a dish and freeze as indicated in the strawberry basil sorbet recipe.
Once frozen in the ice cream maker, remove the finished avocado lime ice cream to a dish and freeze several hours so that it freezes further and is stiff enough to scoop. 
Serve as desired.