Thursday, December 23, 2010

Lentil and Sausage Soup

This isn't about perfect health, its about moderation and living healthier, or at least I tell myself so as I slice up a kielbasa into the stock to put the "sausage" in the title of the soup. Seriously, if you don't watch what you do in that Holiday period starting with Thanksgiving and ending with your New Years feast you'll have a hard time maintaining your weight. I don't advocated giving up the feasting on the Holidays, quite contrary I advocate celebrating them and then eat healthier and lower cal/fat/carbs on the days between each of the Holidays.

This soup makes it possible to celebrate the Holidays and not feel guilty for your feasting. Its full of good whole legumes and vegies with just enough sausage to add some protein to the soup.

I have learned the hard way that lentils need to soak prior to cooking if you don''t want a bowl of gravel in broth as the end result. Hardy little buggers that they are if you skip the soaking in boiling water part you will end up with exactly that. Not appetizing at all.

I took the Barefoot Contessa's TV lessons to heart regarding cleaning leeks. They add flavor and if not cleaned properly you will have sand in your soup. Cleaning is easy. Slice lengthwise then dice them. Put them all in a bowl of water and agitate gently. The leeks will float and the sand will fall to the bottom. Carefully scoop out the leeks and put into a colander to drain off the excess water before sauteing. Look at the water remaining in the bowl, it will be full of sandy bits.

Lentil and Sausage Soup
  • 12 oz lentils
  • 4 cups boiling water
  • 1/4 c olive oil
  • 1 leek
  • 1 onion
  • 1 c diced celery
  • 1 c diced carrot
  • 1 T thyme
  • 1/2 t fresh ground black pepper
  • 2 bay leaf
  • 2 qrts chicken broth
  • 1 lb smoke sausage such as kielbasa
  • salt

Pour the lentils into the boiling water. Remove from heat and cover for 30 minutes.

Slice leek lengthwise. Cut each piece into 1/2 inch slices. Clean and drain well. Give onion a coarse dice. Heat olive oil over medium high heat and add leeks,onion, celery and carrot. Saute about 15-20 minutes until onion is translucent.

Add spices and broth. Drain lentils and add to soup. Simmer 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Slice sausage into 1/4-1/2" thick slices. Add to soup and simmer additional 15 minutes. Test seasoning and add salt as needed. (I found that saltiness of broth and sausage vary greatly and its best to test salt after the sausage has cooked into the soup rather than try to add it at the beginning of the cooking process).

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Spritz cookies

This is one of those standby recipes that is part of our Christmas traditions. Spritz have been enjoyed since I was a kid and this is the same recipe has used for more years than I'll ever admit too. Figured as long as I was experimenting with an orange version I might as well share the original that I have used all the years I've been continuing the tradition.

My one word of caution is not to skrimp on buying a cheap "imitation flavor"or "almond flavor" as you get a bitter aftertaste. Splurge on the real almond extract and reward yourself with a depth and purity of flavor as a reward for your efforts.

Spritz Cookies
2 c flour
1/2 t salt
1/2 t baking powder
1 cup butter
1/2 c sugar
1 egg
1/2 t almond extract
1/2 t vanilla extract
1-5 drops food color (optional)
decorating sprinkles or sugars
Cream butter and sugar. Add egg and extracts beating until well blended. Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl and slowly add to the creamed mixture.

Load your cookie press per the manufacturers directions.

Bake 350F 8-10 minutes until set but not browning.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Orange Spritz Cookies

I knew I had a hit with the Orange Spritz cookie when my wife confessed that she really liked them better than the regular version. I tested it out last night on some additional family members who all opined as well that they thought I had gotten the right balance of orange in. Not bad for a first try, certainly not often I get it the first time. Of course it helps that the bottle suggested you use 1/2 t per cup of dry ingredients.

Part of the testing last night included 3 versions. Absolutely plain, chocolate sprinkles (as we know how well chocolate plays with citrus) and the last with simple sugar sprinkles. There really was no difference on the palate between the three, I had thought possibly the plain version would need something, but I was wrong as those were the first to disappear off the plate. I may yet take the plain version and dip them in chocolate, semi or bitter sweet just to dress them up a bit for the holidays, not that they don't stand alone quite well as it is.

I thought briefly about coloring them orange since they were orange flavored, but opted not too as those with chocolate sprinkles would look more like they were ready for Halloween not Christmas. Something to consider still? DK for sure.

Orange Spritz
  • 1 c butter
  • 1/2 c sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 c flour
  • 1/2 t vanilla
  • 1 t orange oil (I use Boyajian)
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1 t baking powder

Combine dry ingredients and set aside. Cream butter, sugar, vanilla and orange oil. Add egg and beat until smooth. Sift in the dry ingredients and stir in until just mixed.

Load your cookie press per the manufacturers directions. Bake at 350F, 9-10 minutes until just set but not browning.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Orange Fudge

Plain and simple I love fudge, but given the calories involved I make it once a year and give most of it away as gifts.

Earlier this year I discovered at Surfas an interesting product, orange oil. Not an extract or "flavoring" but oil obtained by squeezing oranges. Its called Boyajian Orange Oil and can be found HERE. The stuff has a warning label "use sparingly" and that I did, as one taste obtained from the tip of my finger was extremely orangey.

Rather than re-invent the wheel I opted to start with my favorite fudge recipe, "Stupid Easy Fudge" and added flavor from there. I've known for some time that citrus and chocolate play together well in ones mouth (ever have a chocolate dipped orange slice?) so the idea to make an Orange Fudge wasn't completely out of the blue, but had as basis in real world flavors. I used zest as well as the oil so I would have texture, visual clues and of course a true orange taste.

It worked really, really well in my not so humble opinion.

Orange Fudge
  • 6 oz semi-sweet chocolate
  • 6 oz bittersweet chocolate (I used a Valrhona 66% cacao)
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • zest of one orange divided
  • 1/4 t orange oil

Chop the bittersweet and semi-sweet chocolate and add to mixing bowl. Add 1/2 of the orange zest and the orange oil. Add sweetened condensed milk. Heat in microwave 1 minute and stir, if not enough to melt all of the chocolate zap again in 30 second increments.

When smooth transfer to a plastic wrap (cling film?) lined dish. Smooth over and sprinkle remaining zest over the top of the fudge. Carefully pull the plastic wrap over the top of the fudge and lightly press to seal the orange zest into the fudge. Chill overnight before cutting.