Yeasty Aromas with Warmth from the Oven = Heaven

Love baking when there’s a chill in the air. Living on my blustery hillside, I must admit I’m a creature affected by the weather. With the preponderance of frigid sleeting storms, my heart and soul yearns to bake in those moments that I’m not working.

 I do need to keep an eye on the power, as my oven ceases its task the moment electricity falters. Our rural telephone poles that traverse the mountain are highly susceptible to the ravages of munching animals, drenching or freezing rain and gusting wind.

Browsing cookbooks and favorite magazines by a blazing fire yielded a wonderful lengthy list of things I’d love to bake and blog about with the highlight for those that could be yanked from the oven and dropped into a hot Dutch oven on gas burners should the need arise.

Neighbors in an oh so scenic rural environment is a tad different concept than in the city. My neighbor Terry traverses the winding single lane dirt road past my house up the hillside another 2 1/2 miles to her own. She goes to and fro to work or errands every day and, as only a handful of homes this high on the hill, we’ve chatted and become good friends. With cabin fever lurking, she and I decided to have a girls’ night of gossip, wine and snacks as a welcome break in our stormy week. This provided the extra incentive to get out that flour, cross my fingers on the electricity and get to baking.

With wine and cheese on the menu, I wanted to try out a new bread. I chose Martha Stewart’s Cornmeal Rolls, a most fortuitous selection as this is now one of my favorite bread recipes. For sandwiches or slicing small rounds for cheese, bake the recipe exactly as presented. For serving plain with butter or toasted with jams, I’d add a bit more sugar or even maple syrup or honey to the recipe. You get the predominant flavors of yeast and cornmeal in this perfectly textured bread. I like to put a pan on the lower shelf of my oven with boiling water to create a nice warm space for my dough to rise. If you do this, use a plastic mixing or storage bowl; ceramic or glass will transfer the heat to the bottom of your bowl creating a spot a tad too warm for simple rising. Although Martha gets 20 rolls from this recipe, I shaped them large for guest size sandwich rolls and a couple as, what they call in New England, hoagie shaped to slice like baguette rounds with the cheese. Homemade crackers are visible in these photos and I’ll blog about them shortly. I’d planned on a nice brie round, but it hadn’t been wrapped well and isn’t supposed to be a blue cheese – I’ll leave it at that. Pepper Jack certainly wasn’t as fancy, but it did make a yummy munchable, especially as we teamed it with small squares of cod baked in parchment to also adorn the bread rounds.

Martha Stewart’s Cornmeal Rolls

1 1/4 cups milk
4 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal, plus more for sprinkling
1 package active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water, 100 degrees to 110 degrees
2 tablespoons dark-brown sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 1/2 to 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
Olive oil, for bowl and plastic wrap or a damp clean dish towel

Place milk and salt in a large saucepan over medium heat, and bring to a simmer. Gradually whisk in cornmeal. Cook the mixture, stirring, until cornmeal is thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat, and set aside to cool. (I did this in the microwave – high for one minute, stir, then high for another, stir and let cool). In the detached bowl of an electric mixer, whisk together yeast, water, and brown sugar. Set aside until mixture is foamy, about 10 minutes. Attach the bowl to a mixer fitted with the dough-hook attachment. With the mixer on low speed, add cooled cornmeal mixture and 2 beaten eggs. Slowly add enough flour to form a soft dough. Knead on medium-low speed until dough springs back when pressed with a finger, about 5 minutes. (You can mix and knead by hand – knead at least 10 minutes – until smooth and elastic). Brush a large mixing bowl with olive oil. Place dough in bowl; cover bowl with oiled plastic wrap. Set aside until doubled in size, about 3 hours.

Sprinkle two 13-by-18-inch baking sheets with cornmeal (I didn’t do this as I didn’t wasn’t a gritty texture on the rolls). Turn dough out onto a floured work surface. Divide dough into 3-ounce portions. Roll each portion of dough into a ball. Place balls of dough 1 1/2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Cover with oiled plastic wrap or the damp clean dish towel. Set in a warm place to rise until dough does not spring back when pressed with a finger, about 30 minutes. (The puddles you see are from brushing them with the egg wash). Heat oven to 375 degrees. Brush the top of each roll with the remaining beaten egg (I added a tablespoon of water to my beaten egg – habit) and, if you like, sprinkle with cornmeal. (Optional: using a sharp knife, cut two parallel slits in the top of each roll). Bake rolls until they are golden, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for at least 5 minutes before serving.

 The rolls freeze and reheat beautifully. Take the frozen roll and very lightly mist with water from a spray bottle, put on the rack of a toaster oven at 350° for nine or 10 minutes. They emerge warm and as wonderful as fresh out of the oven. Here’s my pepper jack lunch cheese sandwich that is so much more than if it were simply on plain old bread. The agate plates are from our local, Angel’s Camp, Stories in Stone.

 I have been babbling bit about the weather, but has gone from 80s to freezing with deep snow and back again a few times. Our local vintners have also been posting their pictures of the last few weeks (Irish Vineyards FB post, Love this – as someone said the road closed sign is a tad redundant, Jeff of Twisted Oak).

 This post is participating in the parties linked below.

Focaccia – Your choice or try garlic and rosemary

Well, now I know for sure that with the electric controls on my gas oven, the oven does in fact shut down when there’s a power outage. Haven’t been able to post much over the last week as we’ve had incessant rain, sleet, hail or snow daily since last weekend. And, when you rely on a satellite to get your bits and bytes to your destination, stormy weather can play havoc – so please forgive my absence. With the weather exceedingly damp and gloomy, I love to have something baking in the oven to generate a warmer, cozy feel. However, had to be sure it would be an item I could drag from the oven and throw into a pot to finish cooking, should the need arise. The knobs on the gas top range work whether or not recipes my electricity is able to crawl along the wires. Focaccia met my requirements.

Recipes

True to form, without a favorite recipe to grab right off, I lingered with a cup of chai, my tenuous Internet connection and my cookbooks. Found a Mario Battali recipe on Food Network that was intriguing requiring five eggs – his Easter recipe. Being a fan of egg breads, decided to try this someday, but not today. With the particular ease of focaccia recipes, I was surprised at how many of Food Network’s choices started with frozen pizza dough. Others, like one of Mario’s, Emeril’s or the kitchen’s, ask for fresh pizza dough and give you the recipe. They’re useful to scan as once you poke your dough into the pan, you can use any number of toppings and oils to drizzle across the top. Cookbook recipes by Jacques Pepin, Martha Stewart and Craig Kominiak called to me. Like many of you, I sought out Julia Child’s cookbooks after the movie Julie and Julia. Mastering the Art of French cooking didn’t look like something I would use very often, but I’ve come to love both Baking with Julia and Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home.  Yes, I’m digressing again. But have been meaning to take a moment to point out these exquisitely presented cookbooks to you (haven’t watched the PBS series, that you can still buy or rent; Julia looks so frail I think it would be difficult to watch). So, focaccia – the recipes are combinations of yeast, water, olive oil, flours and salt. Some use a dash of sugar or more in proofing the yeast. The main differences between recipes are the amount of yeast to flour, the amount of oil or salt, the types of flours and the flavorings.
Much as I love yeasted breads, I am so not a fan of the taste of recipes requiring higher percentages of yeast to flour. The yeast flavor then overpowers everything else. With the advent of bread machines and “idiot proof baking” the percentage of yeast to flour has increased. Sometimes I search out vintage recipes or vintage cookbooks specifically to find recipes with a smaller percentage. This was the deciding factor in my choosing a focaccia recipe to adapt from a Martha Stewart cookbook (one of those Barness/Borders sale table finds –  her Annual Recipes 2003). It takes one envelope of yeast to 6 to 7 cups of flour. It also takes 4 tablespoons of oil that I expect it would help the bread stay fresh longer. I swapped out some of the all-purpose flour for whole-wheat, added 2 tablespoons of water to compensate, and chose flavorings of garlic and rosemary. Unfortunately, the base recipe is not on her web for me to easily link you to.

Before you settle on the recipe, decide how you’d like to use it. Do you want to make those marvelous sandwiches with fresh, thinly sliced vegetables drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar? Do you want to slice it into rectangles and use it with your favorite dipping recipe? Is it a party appetizer where people will be standing up and mingling? Once you decide, you can choose your flavorings: thinly sliced onion, sun-dried tomatoes, grated cheeses, herbs – tarragon, thyme, chives, truffle oils, specialty salts even lemons or dried cherries (the last two at MSL). This makes a large focaccia with a light crust. If folks will be mingling over a summer picnic or if all party I encourage you to use a focaccia that will have a crust and hold it shape. Adding twice as much all-purpose flour to whole-wheat results in a pleasing texture and taste. You can choose to add any of your addition in your last meeting of the bread were to leave them on top of your shaped loaf only.

 Focaccia – whole wheat with garlic and rosemary

1 pinch sugar
2 1/2 cups warm water plus 2 tablespoons
1 envelope active dry yeast (1/4 oz)
4 tablespoons olive oil plus more for bowl, baking sheet, and drizzling
2 cups whole wheat flour
4 to 5 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon coarse salt plus more for sprinkling
Flavorings – I chose fresh rosemary (1 tablespoon chopped for light taste, 2 for a bit more) plus 8 large garlic cloves

In a large bowl, stir sugar into 1/2 cup of the water, and sprinkle in yeast. Stir well; let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes.

Add remaining 2 cups and 2 tablespoons water and the olive oil, and mix well. Add whole wheat flour mixing well. Then add salt than remaining flour one cup at a time. Knead dough until smooth and elastic, 4 to 5 minutes in an electric mixer fitted with a dough-hook attachment, or 8 to 10 minutes by hand.

Form dough into a ball, and place in a lightly oiled bowl and turn to coat ensuring you’ve covered with oil (I confess I use a lot of olive oil here). Cover with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel, and let rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours. If your house is cool and you’d like to speed this process, place boiling water in an oven dish on the lower rack of your oven and allow your bread to rise in a bowl on the rack above it. With this method, or in a very warm environment, check your dough after one hour. Thinly slice your garlic cloves, chop your rosemary and stir with 2 tablespoons olive oil (or prepare the flavorings of your choice).

Spread the dough evenly onto an oiled 11 x 17 baking sheet. Cover with a damp towel, and let rise for 30 minutes. If your dough is shrinking back, cover with the damp towel and let rest 10 minutes, then pull to fill the sheet before proceeding. (I chose to cut a piece of parchment the size of my pizza stone and use the back of a large pan (or a pizza peel) when moving it to the warmed stone in the oven). I really like the look of the large round bread.

Dimple surface of dough with your fingertips, leaving deep indentations. Cover with towel again, and let rise until doubled, about 30 minutes.

Heat oven to 425 degrees, move one rack to the bottom position and put a baking dish with boiling water on it. The steam created will give this a pronounced, but light crust. Many recipes omit this step. Some spray or paint the focaccia with water instead. Counter to intuition; omit the steam/water for the lightest crust.

Drizzle oil/garlic/herb mixture on top of dough, allowing dimples to fill. Gently spread oil over surface without deflating dough. Uses fingertip to further press the garlic pieces into the dough, then sprinkle with salt if desired.

After 20 minutes quickly remove your pan of water. Bake another 5 to 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Do not over bake, this is a thin bread and you could easily dry it out. Remove from oven, and slide onto a wire rack. Serve as soon as possible. Very tightly wrap with plastic any bread you will not be eating the same day as baked.

My recipe search resulted in oh so many flavoring combinations I’m just dying to try with others that I’ve thought of. I’ll happily stick with this light whole-wheat recipe as my focaccia base. It truly was everything I love in a bread. The garlic and rosemary flavoring is so adaptable to sandwiches and dips. My next version will have about a cup of lightly sautéed, finely chopped onion kneaded into the dough with thin slices of onion and grated Parmesan cheese decorating the top. I think this will make a great sandwich to switch off with the garlic.

This post is participating in the parties noted below.

Traditional Irish Soda Bread

I remember from a trip to Ireland that my friend’s mother lamented she could never make Irish soda bread in the US that could rival the Irish soda bread you could make in Ireland. She informed us that this was due to a difference of flour. One of the tasks we had to do was go shopping and bring bags of flour back from Ireland. So you see, I have some background with being particular over Irish Soda Bread.

You all know that I love my little town of Murphy’s. But there is one thing that makes my skin crawl and my eyes flash with fury. In March, our local market carries a manufactured yeasted hot cross bun without icing that is labeled and sold as Irish soda bread. This sweet yeasted bread bears not a speck of resemblance to Irish soda bread. I understand that it lets the manufacturer extend their hot cross bun production, but I’m not amused. True Irish soda bread is based on flour, baking soda, a dash of salt and preferably buttermilk. To this you may choose to add a tablespoon of sugar, currents, raisins or dried fruits.  You could modernize it with spices and fruits and play with your flours. But, once you take out soda as the leavening or add yeast – it simply is not a soda bread. There is a distinctive taste to the soda within the bread that does not appeal to all and the lack of any fats mean that it will dry to a brick and be a lovely doorstop the day after you’ve baked it (in Ireland, my sister likened eating soda bread to be as pleasurable as eating sawdust). I have a taste for and like the real thing. Do have to remember not to serve it to the locals here as I’m sure, given their expectation,  I’d be greeted with a loud GAACK from folks expecting a sweet yeast bread.

Now that I’ve set reasonable expectations, let’s proceed to the bread. An Irish soda bread is made like a biscuit. If you knead or work it too much it will toughen – light touch is required. I base my recipe on one by Marion Cunningham that’s in Baking with Julia (I understand this was companion to a series, though I never saw the tv show, great book with one top recipe from each of many renowned bakers).

Traditional Irish Soda Bread recipe:

4 cups of unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 cups buttermilk
 

Maggie’s version Irish Soda Bread:

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 cup raisins
2 cups buttermilk
Oven 375

Grease in 8 inch pie plate or baking sheet. Stir the dry ingredients together with a fork. I’ve mentioned in other posts that I like to press my baking soda through a tea strainer to ensure it has no lumps. Add the buttermilk and completely blend. Add the raisins. Turn onto a lightly floured board and work for a scant 1 minute. Do not overwork this dough. Add into a six-inch disk an X across the top. Place into your pan or on your cookie sheet. Bake for approximately 50 min. until light golden brown. Transfer to a rack and cool. This bread is delicious with some rich creamy butter and a cup of tea.

Mushroom Heaven

If you’re like me, come the Christmas holiday season you’re charging around like a mad woman trying to find perfect gifts for those ‘people who have everything’ on your Christmas list. A few years ago, I was in such a state when I saw something called a mushroom kit offered by one of my Internet gardening sites. Sent it off to a friend who loves to cook and positively loves mushrooms. Later feedback was delightfully positive relating the joys of having the shiitake mushrooms constantly available and the fantastic dishes created from them. I decided I simply had to get one this year for myself and a few other friends.

First, let me share the creamy garlic pasta recipe I created to use some of my initial crop. Hosting the Decidedly Healthy or Horridly Decadent recipe blog hop I’m constantly tempted with a wealth of tasty recipes. I was inspired by Miriam of Meatless Meals for Meat Eaters and her simple creamy pasta sauce with mushrooms as my crop began to fill in. Then I saw Alex at a Moderate Life’s Alfredo Saucewhere she added cream cheese (Miriam also does cream cheese – a great addition), chicken (or veggie) broth and yogurt (or sour cream) to her sauce. I’m sure the broth brings layers of flavors. I fully intend to try both delicious recipes as published. However this weekend I played with my own sauce recipe to add a bit more garlic and some chipotle chili powder to the mushroom pasta creation. If you’re not a fan of a bit of tingling in your mouth from chile, I suggest you start the sauce with half the amount of the chipotle chili powder as noted. I used low fat milk and, as the sauce is based on roux, it remained exceedingly creamy.

Creamy Mushroom Garlic Sauce with Chili

2 tablespoons olive oil
eight cloves garlic (half a head)
2 cups sliced sheet type shiitake mushrooms
4 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
1 tablespoon flour
2 cups milk
3 to 4 tablespoons cream cheese
Dash salt
Dash pepper
pasta cooked four servings
fresh grated Parmesan cheese

Sauté the garlic in oil just to warm then add the mushrooms. Sauté until the mushrooms are cooked. Remove garlic and mushrooms to a bowl. Place the butter in the same pan and allow to melt; then stir in the chipotle chili powder and let warm for few moments to bloom the flavor, finally stir in the flour. We’re making a standard roux sauce (although you do not need to brown the butter/flour mixture) -stir the butter flour mixture to warm throughout. Stir in the milk 1/4 cup at a time (this is easiest to do with a whisk in order to have a lump free sauce). Continue stirring as it warms. Completely blend in the cream cheese then add the salt and pepper. Continue stirring until it begins to thicken; then add the mushrooms and garlic. Change utensils using either a silicone spatula or a large spoon – you want stir a little bit more to incorporate and let the flavors blend, but you don’t want to break up your mushrooms. Serve over pasta, sprinkling the parmesan cheese over the top of each serving.

    

With the mushroom kits, I realized they’re supplied at Fungi.com. Turns out I quite paid a bit more getting them from my gardening site. Fungi.com offers quite a variety and I’m’ determined to decide whether or not to get myself pearl oyster, espresso oyster or blue oyster as my next kit today (leaning towards espresso). Living in a tourist town as I do, I find a pack the size of a single layer fresh berries container of shiitake at my local store costs about $4.50. Given that, these kits are quite cost competitive in addition to the added bonus of having fresh mushrooms at hand. They come complete with a simple picture instruction leaflet to walk you through the process.

    

The box arrives complete with mushroom kit, instruction leaflet and plastic bags. With shiitake, first you refrigerate your kit for a few days. Then you take it out and soak it overnight in the bag provided. I flubbed a bit on the step as my head was with my flower bulbs and I refrigerated it for weeks. I may have gotten less of a crop because of this (always read the instructions…). After draining your mushroom patch, you move it to a perforated bag that acts as a humidity tent and mist regularly until mushrooms appear. I pick up glass plates at the $.99 store to set my kits on. They instruct to mist it three times a day although I find that, unless you’re in a very dry home or environment, morning and evening suffice to keep the moist appearance on the bag as they instruct.    

I let some of mine grow quite large. I understand that Portabella are Crimini that are allowed to grow quite large. You can choose how large and meaty you want your mushrooms to be. Once the flush of mushrooms has stopped producing, you let your kit totally dry out for a few weeks and then begin again. They say you get multiple flushes from a kit. Finally, once spent you can break your kit up over a suitable medium outside and you may encourage a naturally growing area. The best place to start is at fungi.com where you can choose to get kits for growing your mushrooms in coffee grounds, plugs to drill into logs or even an environmental plus of chainsaw lubricant that contains mushroom spores so that the mushrooms can break down the stumps. My friends in the Bay Area are able to grow their kits outside. The website notes temperature requirements for each kit so that you can choose whether to find a corner in your home or outside.  I’m off to order my next one and I encourage you to consider grabbing one yourself.

I participate in the linky parties noted at the bottom of this post.

Warm ‘n Hearty Spanish-style Black Bean Soup

This weekend they’re forecasting yet another record-breaking cold storm with snow, perhaps breaking a 30 year record with snow in the Bay Area. Stocked up on the water, the batteries, the dry wood – dry being the operative word – and food. When I’m looking at a storm that could take out my power for days, I like to plan dishes that can be cooked or reheated in one simple pot. If you have to go to the garage to get your jugs of icy water to wash dishes because there’s no electricity for your well , you get very selective about how many dishes to employ throughout the day. During the last power outage I was so happy I’d made my wonderful pot of lentil soup as an easy go to, spicy meal.  For this possible outage due to storm, I decided to indulge in a nice large pot of my garlic laden Spanish-style black bean soup.

The chipotle chili powder in this recipe really brings a nice flavor and depth – with just a tad of heat – to this dish. It’s worth searching out. I looked over a few recipes in developing this one; it’s only very loosely based on one of the back of a Sunny Select bag of beans.

Spanish-style black bean soup

16oz bag Black Beans
7 cups water
5 large stalks of celery chopped
5 large carrots sliced
8+ large cloves of garlic chopped (I use about half a head)
1 medium onion chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 teaspoons dry mustard
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
1/2 lemon

Sort and rinse your black beans using either a quick soak or overnight soak method. For quick soak cover with water boil, for 2 min. and let stand in a tightly covered pot for more than an hour. Discard the soaking water. For overnight soak, sort and rinse the beans, cover with water in a large pot, let stand overnight, drain soaking water. Put the oil into your soup pot; add the onion and garlic and sauté until the onion is translucent. Add the chopped celery and sliced carrots, sautéing a few minutes longer. Add the dry mustard, chili powder, and chipotle chili, stir while on the heat to bloom the flavors for a minute or so. Add the water and prepared black beans. Simmer for one hour; test that the beans are very tender. If not cook until the beans are tender. Remove from heat and squeeze in the juice from the lemon. Purée (stick blender, food processor or blender) leaving it a little bit chunky. I like my soups very thick, you may want to thin with warm water at this point. Salt to taste. Serve with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt. This soup reheats well.

The picture linky parties I participate in are linked at the bottom of this post.

Absolutely Perfect Pear Cobbler with Cranberry Streusel

Although I have a respectable collection of cookbooks, I tend to go to two favorite spots on the web when browsing recipes. One is Epicurious.com where I’ll focus on the recipes from Bon Appetit and Gourmet; the other is Food network.com where I’ll sort to certain chefs (Ina Garten, Tyler Lawrence, Bobby Flay if I’m in the mood for spicy or Alton Brown for something seen on his show). On one such browsing adventure for cranberries, I found this recipe that has become a favorite.  I use it to lure my friends up for a weekend, “if you come up I promise I’ll make the pear cranberry cobbler”. It goes unsaid that it will be served with rich vanilla ice cream. However with the threat of power outage yet again hanging over my head, I made this with the intention of having it as a breakfast treat with some plain yogurt.

Love cooked pears they’re so very light sweet and mild and the cranberries add the perfect punch in this flavor palate. This particular recipe from Tyler Florence is absolutely fantastic as published and has a solid five-star review over@foodnetwork.com . I can’t seem to help from making minor adjustments to recipes, in this case I like to add one cup of walnuts to the streusel topping. I also prefer to make my topping by keeping the butter ice cold and using my small food processor to quickly pulse the streusel together. In this particular batch I was thinking breakfast and not “company dessert” so didn’t bother to peel the pears. Because there was less surface area of pear to absorb the vanilla, I cut that in half. I like it both ways – peeling does give it an edge of just a bit better presentation. The most difficult thing about this recipe is not giving in to the temptation to hide it from everyone else (no one will look at that table on the icy cold porch instead of the fridge :-) ) and simply devouring it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Tyler’s Pear Cobbler with Cranberry Streusel

4 pears (Tyler specifies Bartlett but I use D’Anjou quite often)
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Streusel Topping:
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 Cup Walnuts
2 cups cranberries
1/2 cup whipping cream, beaten to soft peaks
Unsalted butter, at room temperature, granulated and sugar, for the baking dish
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Peel the pears and cut them in 1/2 through the stem end. Use a melon baller to scoop out the cores. Put the pear halves in a large bowl. Sprinkle over the vanilla; toss. Then sprinkle over the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, and and toss to coat the pears with the flavorings. Line the pears up in a buttered, sugared baking dish rounded sides up.

In the same bowl, mash together the butter, brown sugar, flour, walnuts and salt with your hands for the topping (or use your processor). Toss in the cranberries. Crumble the topping mixture over the pears in the baking dish and bake until the topping is crunchy and browned and the pears are very tender, 35 to 40 minutes. Serve with whipped cream, ice cream or yogurt.

The picture linky parties I participate in are linked at the bottom of this post.

Winter Perfect Creamy Curried Lentil Soup

Well folks, I’ve been babbling about our snow storm and extended power outages this weekend. And yes, in addition to heat, no power means no well and that means no water. Also, the dang oven, although a GE gas stove, has electrical controls only. I can use knobs to get gas for the warmer rack and burners, but can’t warm the kitchen and bake with the oven. Serious design flaw but can’t justify replacing it yet. What does this rant have to do with curried lentil soup? Well, thank the gods that I just happened to make up a big batch the day before my power abandoned me for 24 hours, came up a bit and then out another 8 (that’s one weekend I won’t get back). It was wonderful to have a homemade nourishing meal at my fingertips where the only requirement was one saucepan. As I was washing pans and dishes with icy cold water from milk jugs I keep in the garage (ever the girl scout, I am prepared), this was truly a treat. When I’d made my first batch I was a bit concerned that I’d overdone it with the spicy hot curry – but with the house frigid except for an area around the fireplace – I was so glad that spice was there. I almost titled this my life saving lentils as it was absolutely the perfect warm and rich dish to have on hand.

I adapted my recipe from one by Bon Appetit. They use twice as much garbanzo beans as lentils, and well, I like lentils so I reversed that. It appears I also like carrots and garlic a bit more than they do. And, with lentil soup, I’m definitely a fan of creamy and have my handy dandy stick blender at the ready.  If you’re not a hot and spicy fan – use regular curry powder. If you use only 6 cups of water, you’ll have a VERY thick lentil puree that could be a spicy dip on pita. Add a bit more for a nice stewy concoction on brown rice, or a tad more for a rich creamy soup. Your call. Didn’t put a garnish in the ingredient list as it you make it hot – I prefer a dollop of yogurt, but you can also garnish with a thin lemon slice, green onions or even very finely chopped parsley. Your choice.

Creamy Curried Lentil Soup adapted from Bon Appetit.

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 medium carrots, finely chopped
5 large garlic cloves, chopped, divided
3 tablespoons curry powder – your choice hot or regular, adjust this to your taste (I use 4T)
2 cups lentils
7 cups (or more) water, divided
1 ~2 cup can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained, rinsed
2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add onion and garlic; Cook until onion is translucent. Add carrots and curry powder (you can add but not subtract so don’t add excess right off); stir a few minutes until fragrant. Add lentils and water. Increase heat and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium; simmer until lentils are tender, about 30 minutes. Add chickpeas and butter and warm until butter melts.

Season to taste with salt, pepper, and additional curry powder, if desired. Puree (in blender, food processor or in the pan with a stick blender).  If you like, return to pan and add water by 1/4 cupfuls to thin to desired consistency.

Serve as soup or over rice.

This post is also participating in the following linky parties:

Decidedly Healthy or Horridly Decadent, Hearth and Soul, My Meatless Mondays,