Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Lentils: A Favorite Underrated Dish

When I was a little girl, I remember sorting beans for my dad, making sure there were no rocks in them before he cooked them in a pot all day.  Now that role has been passed on to my younger brother for different reasons... Dad's older age making his once perfect vision very farsighted now.  So, Dylan now gets to dig for rocks, while I have learned to love cooking lentils due to their simplicity.  Here are my top reasons that lentils are one of the most underrated foods that should rank much higher in the kitchen:

1) They are much quicker to cook than other legumes.
2) Lentils are able to be seasoned easily, in a variety of ways.
3) They are available year round and are cheap (about $1.00 for a bag)
4) Lentils are so heart healthy.
5) Lentils are one of the best cold weather foods I have found.

Last winter, my Maw-Maw introduced me to lentils and I have since spent time experimenting with recipes for spicing up the lentils and bringing out the flavor.  Alas, here is my recipe for Spicy Lentil Soup.  The longer you cook it, the more like a stew it becomes.

Spicy Lentil Soup while cooking.  It thickens the longer you leave it on low heat.

Finished product... the perfect dinner for a cold evening.

Spicy Lentil Soup:

2 pieces of bacon, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped finely
1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
1 bunch of celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 can peeled and diced tomatoes, with the juice
1 container beef broth
1 bag lentils
Salt and Pepper
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. Slap Ya Mama cajun seasoning

Start with two pieces of bacon cut up, three cloves of garlic, and one onion chopped up fine, and diced jalapeno. Let it cook for awhile. Then add one bunch of celery chopped up, 2 carrots, one can of peeled and diced tomatoes (with the juice), a container of beef broth, and the lentils. Season with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and Slap Ya Mama seasoning. Let it cook on low for about an hour. Fabulous!

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Namesake: When Life Gives You Apples, Make Apple Pie

After many, many requests to start sharing my recipes with people, I figure that the easiest way to do so is through a blog.  This will also give me some sort of a place to save recipes that I would like to use again... and even those that could use some tweaking when I make them again.  If I had to define my cooking style, it would be a girl cooking on a budget, but at the same time focusing on using as many fresh foods as I can.  My shopping cart is always 75% full of produce.  I do occasionally do some baking, mainly for special occasions, but my main focus is on creating a well rounded meal each day of the week, rarely resorting to food from a restaurant.

My first dish to be featured is actually where the namesake of my blog comes from.  Like I mentioned before, baking is not my strength, but my Maw-Maw is, in my opinion, is the most amazing baker I know.  Her pies are to die for, not necessarily because of the filling, but the flaky perfection of the crust.  When I set out to make my very first pie from scratch, I knew that I had to attempt to master the art of the crust.  The key... everything being chilled, including the pie plate.

Below, is a picture of the completed dough ball ready to be put in the refrigerator before rolling it out.  For perfect flaky crust, sift 1 1/3 cups flour and 1 tsp. salt together.  Cut in 1/2 cup cold shortening.  Add iced water, one tablespoon at a time until the dough forms a ball.  Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Next peel, core, and chop the apples.  I used 9 gala apples that I paid $3 for... as mentioned, great deals like this one.

For the filling, I was dealing with picky eaters who do not enjoy crisp apples, so I prepared the apples in a pan along with the filling.  If you prefer crisp apples, wait to put them in the crust, pouring the filling on top.  In a pan, start with 1/2 cup unsalted butter, 3 tbsp. flour, 1/4 cup water, 1/2 cup white sugar, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1 tsp. cinnamon, and 1 tsp. nutmeg.

Now back to the amazing crust.  I made the mistake of not doubling up on my crust recipe, as I should have done in order to have enough for a full top crust.  However, I improvised by weaving the top crust instead.  Roll the dough ball out and place onto the cold pie plate.

Pour the warm pie filling into the crust.

Weave the crust over the top, or your second batch of dough if you'd rather have a covered pie.  Sprinkle with a little sugar and cinnamon.

Have your oven preheated at 450 degrees F.  Bake the pie on the middle rack for 15 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350, baking for another 30 to 45 minutes.

My first apple pie got great reviews.  However, making it inspired me to use a similar recipe, yet instead of apples, use pears.  Now, I've got the itch to make more crust.