Hearty Sausage and Lentil Soup

In the aftermath of our epic move (the last few items, sofa included, were schlepped during the only snowstorm before Halloween in recent memory), I wanted nothing more than some easy, delicious, and hearty. I had plenty of lentils and rice, a little bit of duck stock, and with Fairway down the street to pick up a little Italian sausage, we ate healthily and heartily for days.

Hearty Lentil and Sausage Soup

  • 1 lb. sweet Italian sausage
, casing removed
  • Extra-virgin olive oil

  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped

  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1⁄2 tsp. dried thyme

  • 1 tsp. Aleppo pepper
  • 6 cups broth
1 cup long-grain brown rice, rinsed

  • 3⁄4 cup brown lentils, rinsed

  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 package frozen spinach, thawed

Remove sausage from its casings. Heat oil in a 5-quart pot over medium-high heat; add sausage and cook, stirring and breaking it up into small pieces, until browned, about 6 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer sausage to a plate.

Add carrots and onions, along with spices. Cook, stirring, until lightly browned, 10–15 minutes. Add reserved sausage, chicken broth, rice, and lentils and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Bring to a boil, lower the heat to medium-low, and cook, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until rice and lentils are soft, about 45 minutes. Stir in spinach and cook about 1 minute.

Recipe adapted from SAVEUR.com

Celebrations: Thanksgiving in our new home

November flew by in a hurry, with our apartment coming together bit by bit. Last weekend, we finally bought a dresser so that I could put my clothes away (previously, they’d been stacked throughout, since Toni literally took over all of the shelf space in the closet. He’s European, ’nuff said), but the night before Thanksgiving, we were still frantically shoving things away to assume the semblance of neatness for our guests the next day, all the while prepping a series of serious Thanksgiving dishes (I’d gone to Fairway before work so that I could have everything ready when I got home on Wednesday… Thanksgiving is very serious business to me).

The final spread

To be frank, I’d been a bit bummed about my favorite holiday this year. It was to be my third year in New York. Unlike years past, however, I had wanted to go home; tickets were just too expensive by the time I got around to planning. On top of that, none of the usual suspects were around for me to cook or eat with. That didn’t keep me from putting a little something together with a few friends and my Croatian family. It ended up being such a lovely day, full of good food, great company, hours at the dining table, a few more on the couch, and then finally tucking in for an early night… all in our lovely new home.

Katie, Maya, and me, while the boys were upstairs,
watching the pie in the dormitory oven (Dubi and Ana live six floors up)

I’d been cooking since about 4pm on Wednesday, and when we finally sat down to eat on Thursday (around 3pm), there was plenty to go around. A few of the highlights below:

 Whole Cranberry Sauce and Pan Gravy with Amontillado Sherry

And the coup de grâce:
 Pumpkin Pie (which only the Americans ate)
and my aunt’s Cranberry Apple Crumble,
 which is quite possible my favorite thing ever

I tried to cook most of the meal using recipes from SAVEUR.com, with a few adaptations and personal inflections. The cranberry apple crumble, however, has appeared on my Thanksgiving table for as long as I can remember. It’s the easiest thing to prepare and can be served either with the meal or as dessert, as I did here. It’s also great with yogurt the next day.

Cranberry Apple Crumble

  • 3c tart apples, unpeeled and chopped
  • 2c raw cranberries (may be frozen and thawed)
  • 1c sugar
  • 1/2c butter
  • 1c uncooked oats
  • 1c chopped pecans
  • 1/2c light brown sugar

Alternate cranberries and apples in a 13×9 pan.  Sprinkle white sugar over the fruit. Melt butter in a medium bowl, add the rest of ingredients, and mix.  Spread over apples and cranberries.  Bake uncovered for 45-60 min at 350°F. Serve with vanilla ice cream for best results.

Here to a great day and many more. Cheers!

Quick and Easy: Cauliflower Soup

Cold weather means soup. I eagerly await the onset of fall each year so that I can begin throwing things into a pot, testing new ideas that will last me throughout the week. Both soul-satisfying and easy on the wallet, my favorite soups tend to be little more than vegetable purees, flavored with just a touch of spice, oil, or something else special.

After a delicious, pizza-filled lunch, I decided to prepare something light and easy for my aunt and me on my last visit to East Hampton of the season. Although the day had been rather hot, it had cooled off by nightfall, so I had soup on the brain. I’d been inspired by a recipe in the most recent Bon Appétit, so I set to work making us a light and delicious dinner. Topped with a handful of chives and a splash of oil, this cauliflower soup was about as hands-off and easy as anything gets.

Delicious and ready to eat.

Cauliflower Soup

  • 1 head of cauliflower, with leaves and central stem removed (keep head intact)
  • 4 tbsp of butter (2 for the cauliflower, 2 for the pot)
  • 1 small yellow onion
  • 2 cups water
  • A dash of light cream
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 450˚F. Rub 2 Tbsp of butter into the top of the cauliflower, place in the baking dish with about a half a cup of water. Bake in oven, lightly covering with tin foil once it begins to brown, for about an hour. Remove from heat and let cool, then coarsely chop.

In a soup pot, melt remaining 2 Tbsp of butter and add minced onion; sauté until translucent. Then add the cauliflower and about 4 cups of water, until almost covered. Bring water to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for about ten minutes, or until cauliflower is soft.

Purée the soup in batches in a blender (or entirely with an immersion blender), add a dash of light cream and salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with freshly chopped chives and a dash of olive oil; serve hot.

Dinner Party: Southern Soirée

So, I am moving at the end of October, which means it’s time to start eating through the goods that I’ve been keeping in my pantry and fridge. This includes the boiled peanuts that my father made and sent up at the beginning of the summer and that have been sitting in my freezer ever since until the right moment presented itself. And when it didn’t, I made up a reason to enjoy them, putting together a little Southern-inspired get-together last weekend for some friends.

I discussed the menu with my mother, and together we made sure to include all the basic classics of a cocktail party, as well as to throw in a few surprises. Cucumber sammies, the peanuts, oven-fried green tomatoes, and pimento cheese were the standards (I made the latter with jalapeños, in honor of the entire Tupperware container Ben once ate at Bonnaroo), while bacon-wrapped saltines were a total curve ball for my repertoire… apparently, they were a favorite of my grandmother’s when my mom was growing up? I hardly believe it, since she’s the tiniest woman I know, but then again, they were delicious. And the coup de grâce? A few different flavors of homemade ice cream.

Ready for guests to arrive.

 Cucumber sammies, pimento cheese,
thyme-dusted pecans, and boiled peanuts.

These nuts are always a party hit. 
So is the cheese spread until people ask what’s in it…

Here’s a curveball — bacon-wrapped saltines. 
Who knew they were a delicacy… and that teeny little Nena loves them?

Cocktail of the evening: Brown Derby, with Evan Williams single barrel bourbon,
Sourwood honey made by Terrie O’Neal, grapefruit juice, and a dash of agua.

Ended the evening with pre-batched, homemade ice creams:
Peach and Peanut Butter Honey (inspired by Camp DeSoto).

An almost recipe for pimento cheese:

  • Start with a block of sharp cheddar and grate it. The finer the grater, the less mayo you will need to bind it.
  • Get a small jar of pimentos and remove them from the oil or water they are preserved in – start with half the jar, then go from there, as you don’t want overkill on the peppers. You may want to rinse, depending. Chop into small chunks, and throw into the cheese
  • Get a jar of jalapenos and chop a few into really fine chunks – this will totally depend on how spicy you like it, so taste as you go BUT don’t forget the secret ingredient: jalapeno juice, which you’ll add after the next step
  • Add two spoonfuls of mayo to start with, then a little more at a time until it is no longer crumbly. I don’t like too much, just enough to make it a spread 
  • Add two teaspoons of jalapeno juice to start, mix in, then more to taste.
  • Add lots of ground pepper and ta da! (no salt needed)

Tasting Notes: Côtes du Rhône Wine

I spent the first week of September in Chicago for a series of dinners SAVEUR put on for Rhône Valley Wines, one at Balsan in the Elysian Hotel, the other at Blackbird, a long-standing hot spot for Chicago diners.

Our set-up in the private dining room at Blackbird. 
Courtesy of Huge Galdones.

Needless to say, it was a lot of delicious food (some highlights: fermented black bean agnolotti with roasted cauliflower and dehydrated peas, roasted leg of lamb with Vidalia onion jam and maitake mushrooms, rustic tarte flambée with Uplands cheese and bacon, and OMG those corn beignets…) with a lot more fabulous wine. You can see my tasting notes from my favorite bottle, a 2007 Vacqueyras, here and some fab photos from our amazing photographer Huge Galdones here and here and soon on SAVEUR.com.

  Hard at work… right before I got to dig into the goodies.

Corn beignets… so good with the Saint-Cosme Côtes du Rhône.

All photos courtesy of Huge Galdones.

Get Well Dinner: Whole Wheat Waffles

The beach and I have never been fond of one another. My mom recounts that, as a child, I used to carefully spread my towel around me in order to keep the sand off; I hated the feeling of it. In high school, when all my friends wanted to tan on the beach, I panicked, fearing the inevitable, painful burn that would soon result from the hours they wanted to spend in the sun. I learned to love the umbrella in order to keep my sanity, and lo, I actually began to enjoy myself! Since growing up and older, I still diligently wear a hat and put on SPF 85 every day (ok, now 50) but have learned to appreciate the occasional walk on the beach and even rarer dip in the ocean.

The beach on a calm, tranquil day.

That was until recently, when I managed somehow to get injured amongst the waves in East Hampton. I was laid up for days with doctor-diagnosed whiplash and am only now able to sit up all day and function properly, sort of. The first night I was home, the most painful, my friend Marisa came over with her waffle-maker in tow. As I laid on my heating pad, she maneuvered her way through my kitchen, washing dishes, chopping up berries, and making the most delicious whole wheat waffles I’ve ever tasted. She would not share the recipe publicly, but I’ve been able to find a near approximation here (with the exception of the use of flax seeds).

Delicious, healing waffles.

Marisa, thank you for being so lovely to me!

Dinner Party: Corn Soufflé for Two

My aunt Barbara is a cool lady. In reality, she’s my dad’s aunt, but she says she’s never aged a day beyond 27, and I believe her. Since I moved to New York, Barbara has been my closest relative, and I’ve had the pleasure of getting to spend weekends away from the city in her East Hampton home, where she’s lived the past 45 years. At the end of last summer, however, she sold that house and bought another, smaller place. Renovations were a disaster, leaving her stranded amongst friends throughout the construction and me without my peaceful summer getaway. Finally, she was able to move in, and I joined her for the first time in her new, almost-finished home. She’s no foodie, but she indulges me, and we always have a blast seeking out new places to “lunch” (her favorite past-time) and cooking up a storm in her kitchen with local ingredients. Since corn’s in season, we bought several ears and made a lovely little dinner for two to celebrate being together.

Corn Soufflé

  • 1/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced 
Fresh corn kernels, cut from 2 ears
  • Salt and pepper to taste
2 1/2  tbsp. Wondra flour
3/4 cup warm milk

  • 3 eggs, separated, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 450°. Butter two small soufflé dishes (6 1/2” diameter, 2 1/2” deep) and sprinkle with cheese.

Melt 2 tbsp. butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute, then add corn and cook, stirring occasionally, until corn begins to soften, 2–4 minutes. Remove from heat, season with salt and pepper, and set aside to cool.

Melt 2 tbsp. butter in a heavy-bottomed small saucepan over medium heat. Add Wondra and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, for about 2 minutes (do not brown) until a paste is formed. Turn off the heat. Simultaneously, warm the milk over low heat. Whisk half of the milk into the flour mixture. Return to heat and stir in remaining milk. Cook, stirring, until very thick, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, transfer to a large bowl, and whisk in egg yolks one at a time.

Beat egg whites in a separate bowl until stiff peaks form. Add a third of egg whites to egg yolk mixture and gently fold together. Add the corn, then gently fold in the rest of the egg whites. Do not overmix. Spoon the mixture into soufflé dish, and bake until soufflé is browned, 18–22 minutes. Serve immediately.

Adapted from SAVEUR.

Summertime: Sour Cherry Frozen Yogurt

Ever since I started working in and around food publishing in New York, I have read about the short sour cherry season and how important it is to keep one’s eyes peeled for them at farmers’ market, their presence more like a mirage in the summer heat than a reality. And so, every year, I dutifully look and buy, bringing them home with absolutely no idea what to do with them.

Photo courtesy of Fruit Acres Farm.

In the past, I’ve experimented with various cakes and compotes, but given this summer’s heat, I decided to try a recipe for sour cherry frozen yogurt. It required minimal time over a stove to heat the cherries once pitted, then chill and churn for a quick and deliciously tangy summer treat. Given that I inherited a bottle of agave syrup at work, something else that I had no idea how to use, I thought this would be an ideal opportunity to try it out. Proportions of agave are slightly less than that of sugar, so when you see the measurements for sugar, multiply by 2/3 for the correct amount of agave. I also added a little Greek yogurt, whose tang I thought would nicely complement that of the cherries, as well as temper the agave, which does have its own distinct flavor profile. It’s easy to tweak the final flavor to your liking before you churn, so make sure you taste along the way!

Sour Cherry Frozen Yogurt

  • 1 pint of sour cherries
  • 1/2 cup of agave syrup
  • 1 cup of whole milk plain yogurt
  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt

Stem and pit the cherries. Place in a saucepan with the agave and bring to a simmer over medium heat (agave has a lower boiling point than sugar, so keep your eye on it) until the cherries are tender and cooked through. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.

Purée the cooled cherries and their liquid until almost smooth (I like to leave a few chunks). In a medium bowl, mix with the yogurt until fully combined, then chill in the refrigerator for at least two hours. Freeze in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s directions.

Recipe adapted from David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop.