Monday, January 30, 2012

Cold Weather Comfort Food: My Mom's Lentil Soup

I know, I know... it was in the 60s again today. In January. It doesn't seem right to be writing about cozying up in the kitchen with a ginormous pot of soup, but it really is January so you know we won't make it until spring without some cold days ahead. I loved this soup growing up. My mom always served it with freshly chopped raw onions and one of those fake lemon plastic squeeze bottles of lemon juice. I'm using real lemons since I'm obsessed with lemons ever since I found whole bags of Meyer lemons at Walmart... and if you doubt me, go take a peek at my Pinterest boards. Seriously though, without the crunch of the chopped fresh onions and tang of the lemon juice, this soup might actually be boring. Wait... how can anything with bacon in it be boring? No way.

Here's what you'll need to make this:

2 bags of lentils (you need 1 1/2 bags for the soup)
1 pound bag of carrots
5 stalks of celery
2 onions (one for the soup and one to dice up to sprinkle on top when you eat it)
lemon juice (preferably freshly squeezed, but if you must use that plastic fake lemon just don't tell me!)
5 potatoes
1 pound of bacon
ham bone or ham hocks (I had leftover ham from Christmas that I had frozen, so I used that)
3-4 bay leaves
salt & pepper
2-3 quarts of water


First, dice up and cook the bacon. You will want a large pot for this, something that holds at least 6 quarts, but don't cook your bacon in it. I have learned that when you cook bacon in a pot with high sides, the steam that forms will keep the bacon from browning so you end up with ugly little pieces of fat that you will not want to eat.

Cook your bacon in a skillet, then set it aside while you prep your veggies, and pour some of the bacon drippings into your soup pot. Bacon drippings sounds a lot less nasty than bacon grease, right?

Mmm... BACON!!

Dice up the carrots, celery, 1 onion and potatoes. Start cooking the onions in the bacon drippings. I didn't use all of the bacon drippings and made up the difference with olive oil so there was at least some healthy oil in there but still some extra flavor from the bacon.

Throw in the carrots.


...and the taters

When it says to use 5 potatoes, it means normal sized ones, but I had some of those tiny Yukon potatoes, so this is about how many I used:

Throw it all into the pot and toss everything together. Nice steam coming off the pot! Cook everything long enough so the veggies start to get a bit translucent, but not fully cooked because this will continue to simmer for several hours when it becomes soup. If you taste it they should still be a little bit crunchy.

Now mix in your cooked bacon and diced ham.

Add the bay leaves. I used my big fat Turkish bay leaves from Penzey's.

Next, add the water. I used the full 3 quarts. Okay, I know that you know how to add water to a pot... but it's so much fun taking pictures while I cook that I couldn't help myself.

Now toss in the lentils. Lentils are very healthy, so that should cancel out the bacon, right?

Mix everything in and simmer for at least 3 hours.

...getting there

Finally... it's soup! Squirt in a little lemon juice, top with the diced fresh onion and savor. This makes a ton, but you can freeze some of the leftovers for another day when you don't feel like cooking. Thanks mom!!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Party Time - Jody's Famous Corn Dip

Holiday parties are over, but we're still in the midst of bowl games, NFL playoff games, and staring down the Super Bowl - and there are still those of us who wait until January to have our holiday parties because all the craziness has settled down and things are more relaxed. That means there are still times when you'll need a quick, easy and tasty snack to take along and share, and I think when you taste this it will become one of your go-to party recipes!

I first had this late one night at my friend Jody's house. She has hosted a craft boutique in her home every year for the last 30 years, and I was fortunate enough to be asked to sell my candles there several years ago. One night after opening day, a few of us shared snacks and wine in a cute retro booth in Jody's basement. Her corn dip was jaw dropping amazingly wonderful. It was creamy with a nice texture and flavor from the cheese, a little bite from the green onions, and a light, delicate crunch from the corn. We all begged her for the recipe while we weren't moaning in food bliss. I have shared it many times, and even have a good friend who has been known to serve it for dinner along with a bowl of fresh fruit. You can serve it with anything you like, but I like it best with plain Ritz crackers.

Here's what you'll need:

2 cans Green Giant White Shoepeg corn - drained

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

1 cup mayonnaise

1 cup sour cream

5-6 green onions, chop the green part only

Salt & Pepper to taste

There isn't a lot of liquid in the shoepeg corn, so it's not a big deal to drain it. Don't try and substitute any other type of corn - it won't be nearly as good. The shoepeg corn has smaller kernels and is more tender.

While the corn is draining, mix all the other ingredients together. I love to measure my mayo and sour cream in this nifty Pampered Chef thingy - you fill it with the amount you want and push it into the bowl, and it gets every little bit out so it's easier to clean up. I also like it because one of my OCD issues is that I think I have to scrape and scrape until every last miniscule bit of whatever is in that measuring cup is out. I drive myself insane with it, so this gadget is great for my sanity.

I won't even lecture you about using only real mayo and not Miracle Whip because I've done it so many times already. Don't do it.. oh, sorry. It's hard for me, I can't help it that I live in the Miracle Whip Belt.

The pre-grated cheese is okay to use, but it's really better if you have time to grate it yourself. There's something about the pre-grated stuff that I don't like, and if I do use it I end up chopping it up into smaller bits or I buy the finely shredded cheese.

The onions I put in last, I love them and tend to put in more than just 5-6 because it's the only thing that gives it color.

Once everything is mixed together, you can cover it and put in the fridge for a few hours to blend the flavors, but you won't be able to resist sneaking a few bites along the way! I think you should taste it anyway to make sure you've got enough onion, salt and pepper. Enjoy!