Red Lentil Soup

Red lentil soup is a hearty and healthy meal. And by adding turkey to it you can use up some Thanksgiving leftovers. Red lentils are a legume, and have had the sells stripped from them. This lets them cook faster, but means a bit less fiber in the meal. You can use green or black lentils in this recipe, but the cooking time will be much longer.

  • 1 1/2 cup red lentils
  • 4 cups chicken stock (low sdodium)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 large or 2 medium carrots
  • 1/2 large onion, diced
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 TBS garlic powder
  • 2 tsp salt (or to taste)
  • 2 – 3 cups coarsely diced smoked turkey (or smoked sauasge – see tesxt)
  • 2 red Serrano chiles (optiional)

Notes

Both meat and chiles are optional. And if you want vegetarian, use vegetable stock instead of chicken stock.  For the meat, I prefer smoked meats such as smoked sauasage or smoked turkey. In the photo above I’ve used some turkey that I smoked myself, and is leftover from Thanksgiving day.  I actually prefer in this soup to use Texas style smoked sausage (I live in central Texas, so this is easy to find). If you can’t find that, you can use any smoked meat you can find. Kielbassa or Polish sausage is commonly available in grocery stores, and should work well.

The chiles you can see in the photo are late season Serranos from my garden. You can use any fresh red or green chile, or none at all. If you can’t find fresh chiles and want some heat, try adding some crushed red pepper. What I added in this batch did not add significant heat, but did have a light kick.

Procedure

Dice carrots, onion, and celery, and saute in a dutch oven or soup pot using a bit of olive oil. Saute over medium low heat until onions are translucent (soft but not limp), 2 – 4 minutes. Add thyme. garlic powder, and salt, and cook for a minute longer. Then add lentils and cook another minute, stirring constantly. Add stock and water, as well as chiles, if using.  Bring to a simmer. Simmer, covered, for 12 – 15 minutes, until lentils are tender and have mostly burst. Add meat after about 7 or 8 minutes so it can heat through (remember, it’s already cooked). The lentils will change from orange to yellow, and the soup should be somewhat thick.

This makes a hearty lunch or dinner, and is nice on a cold Autumn or winter day.

 

Sausage Making

Sausage is  a food that I think is very misunderstood. It is not pig snouts and hooves ground up. It is simply ground meat and seasoning. It can be bulk (lose, just formed into patties), or stuffed. The casing for most sausage is indeed one of those yucky ingredients (hog or sheep intestines), but you can make and eat any sausage in its bulk form, And the casings you can buy are clean and not hard to work with.

Equipment

There is a minimal amount of equipment needed. First you really need a meat grinder. A small light duty one can be found for well under $150. You can use a food processor for very small batches, but the texture won’t be quite right. So get the meat grinder. If you want stuffed sausage you also need a sausage stuffer. These can be small and simple, or large and expensive. I have one that holds 10 pounds of meat, but you can find smaller ones that aren’t that expensive. In any event, the recipe I will be going through in this entry is a bulk breakfast sausage, so all you need is the grinder. Well, you’ll also need a large bowl or tub, depending on how much you make at a time.

One other piece of gear to consider is a vacuum sealer.  Not strictly required, but if you make quantities that will last for more than a month, you want this to keep your sausage from getting freezer burned. Any brand will work, the most common is probably Food Saver. I like to divide  things up into one pound (500g) packages. I roll them out flat for easy storage.

Recipe

So let’s take a look at the recipe:

  • Pork shoulder with about 20% fat
  • Spices

Complicated, yes? You can find hundreds (or maybe thousands) of breakfast sausage recipes on-line. I have used this one for many years. It is in a spreadsheet so I can just plug the amount of meat in, and it will calculate how much of each spice to use. Since I can’t attach that here, I’ll show the amounts for 1 pound and 15 pounds of meat. By the way, I get the pork shoulder at Costco. It comes in 15 – 18 pound packages, which is all I can handle in my freezer. Costco meat is very high quality so I never hesitate to recommend it. But you can also use smaller shoulders (also called Boston Butt) from any grocery store or butcher. These are typically 3 – 5 pounds. Make sure they have about 20% fat, that is critical for getting a good texture when cooked.

So now, here’s the spice amounts:

                                                    1 lb                  15 pounds

  • Salt (Kosher)                   0.5 TBS           7.5 TBS
  • Rubbed Sage                   0.6 tsp             9.0 tsp (3 TBS)
  • Summer Savory              0.4 tsp             6.0  tsp
  • Nutmeg                              0.2 tsp             2.5 tsp
  • Marjoram                          0.7 tsp             5.0 tsp
  • Ground Black Pepper     0.3 tsp             5.0 tsp
  • red Thai Chile powder   0.5 tsp             7.5 tsp  (see note)

Notes: The Thai chile is optional. I grow this in my garden and grind it myself,. They can sometimes be found in shops like Whole Foods. Or you can just use cayenne instead. Or leave it out entirely. Use according to your tolerance for heat, but 1/2 tsp per pound just gives it a very light kick.  Most of the amounts for 1 lb are rounded. It is better to scale from the 15 pound version.

I should note that the bigger the batch the less critical exact amounts of each spice becomes. For instance an error of 1/4 tsp will make a big difference for one pound but won’t be noticeable in 15 lbs.

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An 18 pound pork shoulder

Procedure

Before starting, make sure your grinder parts and the work area are clean. Clean is very, very important. And the meat must stay cold. If it is taking you a while to get everything done, you should periodically put the meat back in the refrigerator for a while to cool back down. Otherwise you run a danger of letting bacterial growth get out of hand. It can make you sick later on, so please use safe handling methods.

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The first step after cleaning everything is to gather all the spices, measure them out, and place them aside in a bowl. This will let you work quickly when it is time to add them.

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Cut into strips, sitting at one end of the tub

Next, cut the pork shoulder into strips that will fit through the throat of your meat grinder.  For mine I end up cutting into roughly 1 x 3 inch strips (more or less).  Use a clean plastic tub to hold the pile of meat.

Next, start feeding the pork through the grinder. You can use the same tub if it is big enough. Pile the meat at one end and collect the ground meat at the other. Be careful not to bury any whole pieces of meat with the ground meat.

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Spices added, ready to mix

Once it’s all ground, it is time to add the spices. This is where it starts to get messy. Spread the spices out over the meat pile and then start mixing. Use your hands, both of them.  With 15 pounds of meat this can take a while. Make sure it is mixed very thoroughly – otherwise you’ll have some unseasoned pieces and some that are quite strong.

Once this is done, you’ll have a big ball of bulk sausage. You can package it up however you like, but my suggestion is to divide it into  one pound balls and vacuum seal them. Once you place the ball in a bag and seal it, you should flatten it out so the meat is spread into the corners. It will take much less space in the freezer this way.  It’s a good idea to label and date the packets as well.

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Packaged into 1 pound packets and vacuum sealed

Now Cook and Eat

When you’re ready to eat a package, just thaw and form into patties, then fry. I end up with small disks, about 24 – 28 per pound, but you can make them whatever size you want. Just remember that if they’re too thick you’ll burn the outside before the middle is done, and it is still a good idea to make sure they’re cooked all they way through. Also keep in mind that if you use the Costco pork shoulder, they will be fairly lean.  I do not get enough fat even from a full pound to even pour off.  The image at the top shows a one pound package freshly cooked up.

Variations

You don’t have to stop with breakfast sausage. This method works great for bulk Italian sauasge or other variants of breakfast sausage. (and I actually sometimes mix some Italian sausage and sauteed onions into my scrambled eggs for breakfast). You can find a large variety of recipes on-line to suit almost any taste. Some are better than others, but you’ll soon develop a feel for what will work for you.  You can also use this method for making a ground chicken mix that would be suitable for frying up as chickenburgers. Use some green chile, garlic, and cumin as a start for experimentation. Have fun, eat well.

 

 

 

Trout with Blue Cheese Sauce

This may sound odd, but a good cheese sauce can be mild-flavored, and goes great with pan fried rainbow trout.  You can use any fish that is suitable for pan frying – flounder, dover sole and other thin filets of mild fish should work well. I’ve had Black Drum this way, but you’ll probably have to catch that yourself.

You do need to be careful with cheese selection. A moderately mild blue cheese such as gorgonzola will work. You can also mix in other cheeses as well. Do not use strong flavors like parmesan, it will impart a very sharp taste that does not pair well with fish (at least in my opinion).

I’ve shown the fish served with some green beans and a baked sweet potato. You can also serve it with a side of pasta (linguini or fetuccini work well) tossed with the same cheese sauce. But the sweet potato provides a little taste variety.

This recipe is for two. It scales easily.

To make:

  • 2 filets of rainbow trout or other mild fish
  • flour for dredging
  • 2 – 4 TBS oil

For Sauce:

  • 1 cup whole milk (+ more to adjust thickness if needed)
  • 1 TBS butter
  • 1 TBS flour
  • 5 ounces blue cheese and other cheeses of your choice
  • 1 tsp garlic powder (or to taste)
  • pinch of salt

It is probably best to make the sauce first and set on on a small burner to keep warm while cooking the fish. Melt the butter in a small sauce pan over low-medium heat, then add the tablespoon of flour, Whisk until smooth, then slowly add the milk while whisking. This should keep things smooth. Note that the roux will start to darken quite rapidly, so don’t delay too long before starting to add the milk. When the milk is warm, start adding the crumbled blue cheese and/or shredded cheese.  This should be done fairly slowly, you want to pay attention to how thick the sauce is getting.  Aim for a consistency of thick cream, it will thicken more as it cools (and you may have to add a bit of milk back in if you overshoot a bit.  After getting the cheese incorporated, add the garlic and salt, and heat until it thickens to the consistency of thick cream.

For the fish, heat the oil in a large skillet. Use only enough to thoroughly coat the pan. Dredge the fish in flour. You should end up with a fairly light coating – this is not a batter, just an aid to browning the fish. When the oil is hot (a drop of water sizzles) place the fish carefully, skin side down in the skillet. Cook until lightly browned and flip. Cook again until lightly browned. Time will vary by the thickness of the fish. For rainbow trout it should be around 1 1/2 to 2 minutes per side.  Remove and drain on paper towels.

To serve, place fish on plate and drizzle the sauce over the top. Optionally you can sprinkle paprika over the top to add some color.

Enjoy.

Lamb and Fennel Meatballs (and optional soup)

This recipe originally comes from the SavorySpice shop (savoryspice.com), and the meatballs were intended to be used in a soup. The soup is quite good, but I have used the meatballs as just meatballs as well, as shown in the above image. In this case they are served over fettuccine tossed with olive oil and oregano (and seasoned with black pepper. The seasoning is based on the company’s lemon garlic blend, but you can substitute any similar spice blend. I listed the ingredients after the recipe, but I have no idea what the proportions of each spice are. In the U.S. you can order this online. Elsewhere you’ll probably have to wing it. But keep in mind that the fennel and leeks used in the meatballs are really the dominant flavors so you can probably get away with any number of variations. So let’s get started with the meatballs:

  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • 1 large leek, white and light green parts diced and rinsed (about 2 cups, meatballs use 1 cup)
  • 1 fennel bulb, diced (about 2 cups, meatballs will use 1 cup). Reserve fronds for garnish if desired
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup dried bread crumbs (store bought are fine)
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoon Hidden Cove Lemon Garlic Blend (from savoryspice.com, see note below)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat oven to 400 F and line a baking sheet (this will fill a half sheet pan – if your’s is smaller you may need two) with parchment paper. Place 1 cup each of the fennel and leek in a food processor and pulse until very finely chopped. Transfer to a large bowl and add lamb, egg, bread crumbs, lemon garlic seasoning, and salt. Mix by hand until everything is thoroughly combined. Make sure mixture is very cold for the next step.

Form mixture into 1 Tablespoon sized balls and place on prepared baking sheet(s). You should end up with roughly 40 meatballs. I had 47 last time I made this – if they’re close to the right size they’ll still cook fine.  Bake for 25 minutes, turning the meatballs over halfway through to help them cook more evenly.

  • Serve over pasta, or use in the soup recipe that follows. A tomato based sauce is not recommended – use a good olive oil and optionally add some seasoning such as oregano or marjoram (but don’t overpower things with it).

Notes on Seasoning: The company lists these spices as beibng in this blend: lemon zest, garlic, ginger, onion, allspice, parsely, white pepper, sugar, fenugreek, turmeric, mace, black pepper, thyme, coriander, cumin, cayenne, arrowroot, cinammon, anise, cloves, and cardamom.  This is a very Caribbean set of spices. I can say that the cayenne and black/white pepper is not strong, the blend is very mild.  If you are able to get this blend I highly recommend it. Otherwise make do from the list.

Using these in an Orzo Souplemon_garlic_lamb_soup_scaled_5Div1545

To make a very nice soup with the meatballs, use the other half of the leek and fennel, and the following:

  • 1 Tablespoon Hidden Cove spice blend (see discussion in note above)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 medium carrots, sliced into thin rounds (about 1 cup)
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
  • 8 cups chicken broth (try to use a reduced sodium one)
  • 3/4 cup uncooked orzo pasta
  • 3 ounces spinach leaves (about 2 cups)
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced

This needs a good sized dutch oven or soup pot. Heat oil over medium heat, and add the fennel and leek, along with carrots, pepper, and salt. Cook until softened, stirring frequently, 8 to 10 minutes. Add broth and seasoning mix, and bring to a boil.. Add meatballs and orzo and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat. add spinach just before serving – the idea is to wilt it, not turn it to mush. Garnish with fennel fronds and lemon slices.

 

 

 

Tuscan Potato and Sausage Soup

This is a hearty soup that I make periodically through the year. Some would probably prefer it in the fall and winter, but it makes a great lunch or soup course any time.  This recipe makes a huge batch, but can safely be cut in half if desired. And as with most soups, exact measurements are not critical.

  • 1 lb not Italian sausage (but use sweet if you must)
  • 3 medium russet potatoes
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 – 5 slices thick cut bacon
  • 3 garlic cloves (or more, to taste), finely minced
  • 2 cups coarsely chopped kale
  • 4 cups (32 fl ounces) chicken broth
  • 2 1/2 cups water (see notes)
  • 1 1/4 cup heavy cream

Directions

Wash potatoes and slice thinly, about 1/8 to 1/4 inch  (it’s easiest to use a mandoline for this). If your sausage is links rather than bulk, remove the casings and break up.  Cook bacon until crisp and set aside. If using the soup pot, drain bacon grease completely and wipe clean. Brown sausage in 6  quart or larger dutch oven or stock pot. Drain all the grease.  Add onions and saute for a few minutes, until they start to turn translucent.  Add garlic and cook for a minute or two more. Add chicken stock and potatoes, and enough water to cover the potatoes. This should be about 2 1/2 cups, but may vary somewhat.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer (covered) until potatoes are done (about 10 minutes, a little longer if sliced thicker). They should be quite tender.  Add bacon, and salt and pepper to taste. At this point you can also add extra crushed red pepper flakes if desired (I add around 1 TBS). Simmer for another 10 minutes. Turn heat to low and add kale and cream. Stir thoroughly, then heat through (another minute or two) and serve.

 

 

 

 

 

Cochinita Pibil, Sort of

This dish has its origins in the Yicatan, where a whole pig is slathered in an achiote marinade, covered with banana leaves, and slow cooked in a big pit overnight. The pit is lined with stones and a large fire is started and allowed to burn down. Then the pig is placed in the pit, and everything is buried in dirt. The next day it is dug up and the pig is eaten, quite often as taco filling.

This is not something most people can do, so this is an adaptation for a smoker. The idea comes from Rick Bayless, who slow cooks it in a komado grill (like the big green egg). I don’t have one so made some adjustments to use my offset barrel smoker.

Note that the two essential ingredients are the two hardest to find: achiote paste and banana leaves. Both are absolutely essential to the dish, though. If you can’t find banana leaves you can try just smoking it uncovered, but at some point you should wrap it in aluminum foil so it doesn’t get too smokey.

The image shown here depicts how this meat is usually served – it is an awesome taco filling. Traditionally it is topped with red onion pickled in sour orange juice. Since this is pretty much impossible to get here, I substitute lime juice.

Ingredients

  • 50 grams achiote paste (1/2 of a typical package)
  • 3/4 cup lime juice (divided)
  • 1 large red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 3 – 4 lb boneless pork shoulder
  • 1 package banana leaves
  • salt

Start by making the marinade. In a large bowl mix 1/2 cup of the lime juice with the achiote paste, along with 2 tsp salt.  You will probably have to work it with your fingers to get it all dissolved.  Place the pork shoulder in the bowl and make sure the marinade completely covers it.

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Cover and refrigerate. You should let it marinate at least several hours, up to overnight.

When you are ready to cook, first start the fire in the smoker, then prepare the banana leaves. Trim the hard edges and square them up. Line a large roasting pan with overlapping leaves, going both ways in the pan. The should be long enough to wrap completely around the pork. You should try to heat the leaves a bit first – either over the flame of a gas burner, or even in a microwave. This will make them more flexible and easier to work with. Place the pork in the center of the pan, and drizzle all the marinade over the meat. Now wrap the leaves around the pork. You can use butcher’s twine to secure them if needed.

The picture below is of my first attempt at this. The leaves were not cooperative. But the results were still good.

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Pour twp cups of water in the pan (not shown here) and place in smoker. Try to keep the temperature at around 300 F. It should take around 5 to 5 1/2 hours if you maintain the temperature all through the time. Us a thermometer to check the internal temperature of the meat. It is done at around 190 F. This may seem very high, but the wrapping will keep the meat moist, and the high temperature allows all the collagen to break down, and the result is a roast that will just fall apart.

While the meat is smoking you can prepare the onions. Slice a red onion very thinly (preferably using a mandoline to keep the slices even). Place in a non reactive bowl (plastic or stainless is fine), and mix with the remaining 1/4 cup lime juice and about 1/2 tsp of salt. Mix well, cover and let sit.

Once the meat is done, let it rest a bit, and cool off to the point you can handle it. Then shred it (should be easy!) into a serving bowl. There should be some liquid in the pan you can drizzle over the shredded meat. Heat up a stack of corn tortillas in the oven or microwave, coarsely chop some cilantro, and let everyone build their own tacos.

And now you have a delicious meal inspired from the Yucatan.

 

Cajun Green Beans

This recipe was inspired by some beans I had at a cajun restaurant. I’ve made several variations, including some that aren’t Cajun at all. The dish is very easy to make.

cajun_green_beans_scaledThis recipe was inspired by some beans I had at a Cajun restaurant. I’ve made several variations, including some that aren’t Cajun at all. The dish is very easy to make. For non-US readers, you’ll have to convert things to metric. In this case exact quantities are not critical.

  • 1 pound fresh green beans (see notes)
  • 1/2 large 0nion (or 3/4 of a small one), coarsely diced
  • 2 slices thick cut bacon, broken into large pieces (optional)
  • 1 TBS Cajun Seasoning such as “Slap Ya Momma” (see notes)
  • 1TBS Salt-free Cajun seasoning (or blackening seasoning) (see notes)
  • 1 tsp garlic powder (or to taste)

If using bacon, fry strips ahead of time and set aside. Trim green beans as needed, and wash thoroughly. In a large pot bring to a boil enough water to cover the beans. Boil beans for 10 – 15 minutes, depending on size and desired doneness. I prefer mine firm but not crispy, feel free to cook them to your preferred state.

While beans are cooking, chop the onion. When beans are done, drain and set aside. In a fairly deep 12 inch skillet heat a small amount of olive oil (or canola if you prefer). Saute onions until a little translucent and semi-soft. Add the beans (and bacon, if used) and mix thoroughly, coating the beans with oils (you may need to add a bit more at this point). Add seasoning and keep mixing until beans are thoroughly coated.  Once the beans are well coated with the seasoning put them in a serving bowl, and serve.

Notes:  Try to use young and slender beans. My store packages them as “French Beans”, and they’re just slender green beans.  Or if you like them thicker that’s fine too. It’s your food. If you can’t get fresh beans due to season, you can try frozen ones. We can get beans all year here, so I haven’t tried this. If you do use frozen, adjust cooking time to whatever the package says. For cajun seasoning, most brands have way too much salt to be useable. I have some left from trying it out, and settled on a mix of half “Slap Ya Momma” and half salt-free cajun seasoning from Savory Spices (also available online). You can use all salt-free if you like, just add salt to taste with the seasoning.  Total seasoning needs to be a bit more than 2 Tablespoons.

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trimmed and washed green beans

Variations: Instead of Cajun you can make a seasoning blend of whatever you like. My favorite alternative is Italian (1 TBS oregano, 2 tsp marjoram, 2 tsp summer savory, pinch of thyme, and salt and garlic powder to taste).  Feel free to improvise.