Egyptian Red Lentil Soup

I just had my wisdom teeth out, so on top of not being so smart anymore, I have to eat soft food. Luckily, I know a few recipes for delicious soft food. The original recipe involves a fried onion topping, which looks wonderful yet chew-intensive. Luckily, lentils and a stick blender yield a gently textured, full flavored product that I’ll happily eat even with teeth.

3 T olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 t ground cumin
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1 sprig fresh thyme (or 1/2 t dried thyme)
1/2 t cayenne pepper or ancho chile
1/2 t sweet smoked paprika
3 large, ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and roughly chopped
2 T tomato paste
8 c beef stock (vegetable stock makes this vegan!)
salt and pepper to taste (how much salt depends on your stock – taste often)
2 c red lentils
1 lemon, juiced

Pick over your lentils for any unwanted debris. Heat oil to medium high in a soup pot or deep dutch oven. Add onions, carrots, celery and garlic and sauté until soft. Add spices and stir well into vegetables, cooking for a couple of minutes until very fragrant. Add tomatoes and cook for a couple of minutes, until they begin to break down. Add tomato paste and stir well. Add stock and reduce heat to medium low – soup should not boil. Season with salt and pepper and add the lentils. Simmer 30-40 minutes (reducing heat to low, if necessary), until lentils and vegetables are very soft.

Remove soup from heat and process with immersion blender (or purée in batches in a heat-safe blender) until desired texture is achieved. Remember, it will thicken as it cools. If soup is still too thin, bring it back to a simmer for a few minutes. Check seasoning and stir in lemon juice. Serve with additional wedges of lemon and yogurt.

Creamy Lemon Asparagus Pasta

SPARGELZEIT!!1!

It’s that time of year again. While the locals are losing it over the white stuff, I’m partial to green asparagus (more flavor). This will definitely make another appearance before the fleeting season ends. Here’s the original, my version is below.

500 g/1 lb pasta (whole wheat pasta would be great here)
500 g/1 lb asparagus, trimmed and cut into bite-size pieces (you could easily double this)
2 teaspoons whole-grain mustard
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk or cream
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 small shallots, minced
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided

Cook pasta in well salted water. For last 3-4 minutes of cooking time, add asparagus pieces. Drain and reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water.

Whisk together mustard, flour, milk or cream, salt and pepper in a bowl and set aside. Heat oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add garlic and shallot and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant and lightly browned. Whisk in mustard mixture and bring to a simmer, cooking until thickened. Stir in lemon zest and juice and half of the cheese. If sauce gets too thick, loosen it by stirring in a little pasta water or more milk.

Combine pasta, asparagus and sauce, tossing until well coated. Serve and sprinkle with remaining cheese.

Creamy Roasted Red Pepper Pasta

I’m sick of cooking. Yeah, I didn’t think it would ever happen, either, but the recently wrapped-up holiday season kinda tested my limits. Mostly because I’m tired of doing dishes, but at least part of it is a lack of inspiration. As much as I wanted to go out last night, I didn’t feel like spending the money, so I looked inward…to my pantry. It had to be something made from staples that wasn’t boring. The technique came from one recipe and the flavor profile from another and it yielded delicious results: subtly sweet and smoky, with a salty punch from cheese and some half & half to ease the acidic edges. And it came together in the amount of time it took to boil the pasta.

Maybe my mojo’s not entirely gone.

1 T olive oil
1 T butter
2 shallots, diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 T tomato paste
1/4 c white wine
1/2 t basil
1/2 t oregano
large pinch red pepper flakes (optional)
1 jar (3-4 peppers) roasted red peppers, drained, lightly rinsed and roughly chopped
2/3 c half & half
1/4 c Parmesan cheese, grated
salt to taste*

In a small saucepan, heat oil and butter to medium-low. Sauté shallots and garlic until just tender, then stir in tomato paste and cook for a couple of minutes. Add wine, basil, oregano and red pepper flakes, stir to combine and allow wine to reduce to 1/3 (the boozy smell the should be gone). Reduce heat to low, add the red peppers and half & half and stir until everything is combined. Allow to heat to a bare simmer, then blend with a stick blender until very smooth. Stir in the cheese and bring sauce to a simmer for 3-5 minutes, stirring constantly, but do not allow it to get to a full boil. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired. Toss with pasta and serve with more cheese for sprinkling.

*The peppers I used had a little salt in them, as part of the preservation process. Combined with the cheese, that was salty enough for us. Plus, be careful not to blot out the peppers’ sweetness – I think that’s where the interest comes from.

Cranberry Brown Butter Shortbread Bars

The cranberries are in! There isn’t a whole lot of cranberry love here in Germany, so when they showed up at the green-grocers, I came home and started strategizing. The brown butter creates an extra step, but the different flavor is very worth it. I made Cliff brown the butter (because hot popping grease freaks me out) and he did a fantastic job. I found this recipe here, and have changed very little (used a little less sugar with the berries), but I broke down the instructions into a more readable format. Don’t let the lengthy instructions put you off – it’s a lot easier to execute than to explain.

1 c + 5 T (263 g) butter
1 c (210 g) sugar, divided into 3/4 and 1/4 c
3/4 t salt
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1/4 t almond extract (didn’t have any, so we used amaretto)
3 c + 3 T (404 g) flour
1 lb (500 g) cranberries, picked over and rinsed
3/4 c (158 g) sugar
1/3 c orange juice

  1. Prepare brown butter. In a saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat. Once it’s completely melted, turn heat up to medium and stir constantly until milk solids separate out (it will foam, just keep stirring). Butter will smell very nutty and turn golden brown. Pour into a heatproof bowl, set aside and allow to cool, stirring occasionally.

  2. Line a 9×13 pan with foil or parchment. In a large mixing bowl, combine cooled butter, 3/4 c sugar and salt, stirring until well mixed. Add yolks and almond extract, stirring until smooth. Next, add the flour. The original recipe says to use a spoon or rubber spatula, but I incorporated it with a pastry blender. Worked for me. The dough will be quite stiff and dense, just go with it. Transfer about 2 c of the dough to the lined 9×13 and press it until it knits together. It will still be kind of bumpy, but that’s cool. Put the pan of dough into the fridge for about 40 minutes. Add the remaining 1/4 c of sugar to the rest of the dough and work it in with the pastry blender until it’s crumbly.

  3. Prepare cranberry jam. In a deep saucepan over high heat, bring cranberries, sugar and orange juice to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and stir constantly until cranberries have popped and jam achieves chunky, thick consistency. Set aside and allow to cool a little.

  4. Heat oven to 325° F/163° C. Remove dough from fridge and prick all over with fork. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove from oven and turn heat up to 350° F/175° F. Spread cranberry jam evenly over hot shortbread, then sprinkle remaining dough crumbles over the top. Return shortbread to oven and bake for at least 25 minutes or until streusel is golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool on trivet for at least 1 hour.

Pumpkin Purée

Time for the yearly pumpkin explosion! We finally depleted our stock of the orange stuff that had been lingering in the freezer for the past two years. While processing the new batch, I realized that I’d linked to a thing that I kind of no longer use. See, I’ve processed enough pumpkins now that I have my own way of doing it. Give it a shot! If it works for you, great; if not, fire up the Google. There are a plethora of other methods that might be better for the kind of cook you are.

You’ll need a rimmed baking sheet (jelly roll pan), at least one small, firm pie pumpkin or hokkaido pumpkin (try to get one that is smaller than your knife), a food processor with a feed tube and 1 cup of cold water and maybe a pair of rubber gloves (pumpkin leaves a grody film on your hands, sometimes even after washing). Preheat your oven to 350° F/175° C.

  1. Cut up your pumpkin. Start by slicing off the stem end so that you have a nice, flat plane. Set the pumpkin on the cut side so that it is stable, then slice down, halving it longitudinally. Next, halve the halves longitudinally again, then halve the quarters latitudinally. You should have 8 triangular wedges. Gently scrape out the seeds, strings and spongy tissue with a large spoon and set aside. You can clean, season and roast the seeds if that’s your jam.

  2. Arrange the pumpkin wedges skin side down on the baking sheet and bake for 45-90 minutes. Depending on how thick the flesh is, you might need the whole time. The cut edges might brown or blacken a little – this is totally fine. After 45 minutes, check doneness by inserting a thin knife into the flesh – if it slides in easily, it’s done. If you get any resistance, let them go longer and test in 10-15 minute increments. When they’re done, remove from oven and allow to cool completely, at least 1-2 hours.

  3. Fit your food processor with the blade attachment. With a large spoon, scrape the pumpkin flesh into the bowl of the processor and discard the skin. You may need to do this in batches – a good guideline regardless of size is to fill your bowl to a little over half (maximum) with flesh. Attach the lid and turn the processor on to medium-low. If there’s enough moisture in the pumpkin, it should slowly purée into a uniform texture, moving around the bowl with no help. If it’s too dry and seizes up, add water a tablespoon at a time to loosen the pumpkin and (only while turned off!) reposition the chunks with your spatula to get it move into the blade. Once with a particularly dry pumpkin, I had to add a full cup of water to get it to smooth out. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to make sure it’s uniform, then portion into airtight containers. Purée will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days (it molds quickly) and in the freezer indefinitely (the smart thing to say is 6 months, but we ate two-year old pumpkin last month and it was perfect).

Creamy Goat Cheese Tomato Pasta

I am a total sucker for a creamy tomato sauce. Unfortunately, they tend to be a little disappointing. This is the exception.

The goat cheese flavor is pretty pronounced, so if you’re not a fan, this one isn’t for you. The original is here, but I made lots of changes (chief among them: cutting out the bacon – sundrieds really fill that meaty, umami slot for me). That said, the technique is the same and I might employ it in the future. As a plus, this comes together very quickly.

2 shallots, minced
2-3 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
100 g (roughly) oil-packed sundried tomatoes, drained and sliced thin, oil reserved
2 T white wine
1 14.5 oz/400 g can stewed tomatoes
1 small pinch salt
1 small pinch sugar
1/4 t dried oregano
1 large pinch dried red pepper flakes
1 lb/500 g short pasta (1/4 c pasta water reserved before draining)
3-4 oz/100-125 g spreadable goat cheese (Ziegenfrischkäse)
lots of torn basil leaves

Heat a deep skillet over medium low heat and warm 1-2 T reserved sundried tomato oil. When oil shimmers, add shallots, garlic and sundried tomatoes and stir frequently until shallots and garlic are tender (3 minutes). Add wine and cook until 3/4 reduced (and the boozy smell is gone). Add canned tomatoes, salt, sugar, oregano and red pepper flakes and reduce heat to low. Stir to combine, crushing tomatoes with spoon. Allow sauce to simmer, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, then remove from heat and set aside.

Cook and drain pasta, returning it quickly to the pot off the heat. Add goat cheese to pasta and stir well to coat. When goat cheese is well distributed, pour in tomato sauce, again stirring very well. If sauce seems too thick, add a little pasta water to loosen it to your desired texture. Add torn basil and stir until just distributed. Serve immediately.

Chipotle Corn Soup

The Germans aren’t huge fans of corn – I think it’s a more a novelty or garnish that makes something ‘American’ to them (see pizza). So corn season can be a fraught, unreliable affair filled with dashed expectations.

But the corn is ok this year, so I get to try things like this! The original is here, but I tweaked and tinkered, so this is my version.

2 T butter
6 green onions, sliced thin (about 1 bunch)
2 cloves garlic
1 1/2 t chipotle pepper in adobo, roughly chopped
1 1/2 t salt
ground black pepper to taste (go easy – chipotle is potent)
1/2 t ground cumin
6 ears corn, shucked and kernels cut off
2 small potatoes, peeled and diced (optional)
3 c chicken broth
1 c whole milk

In a Dutch oven, melt butter over medium heat until foaming and add green onions, garlic and chipotle. Sauté until onions are tender and fragrant. Add salt, pepper, cumin, corn and potatoes (if using) and stir well to coat with butter. Add chicken broth and milk and bring to a low boil, turn down heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove soup from heat and blend with a stick blender. The original recipe instructs you to then strain soup through a food mill or fine mesh sieve, removing solids and pressing all liquid out of them. We skipped the sieving, which leaves lots of…um, ballast. Consider the quirks of your digestion going forward.

Lost in Picardie

We’re on vacation, hooray! It’s been a stressful, busy couple of months in the Regensblog household, so we needed a little getaway. We wanted somewhere that we could get to with our car and that wouldn’t require more than one week’s of travel time. We settled on northern France, the regions of Somme and Picardie, right on the Belgian border.

Sounds idyllic, right? Well, so far so good. The trip was uneventful, the accommodations are even lovelier than the pictures made them seem and the surroundings are quite charming. Here’s the problem:

We’re not sure what to do here.

I couldn’t find crap for suggestions in my usual resources, Frommer’s and Lonely Planet. We’re close enough to go to Normandy and look at the D-Day sites for a day trip, and we’ll definitely pop in to Amiens and maybe even Reims for some architecture gawking, but if there is good stuff closer to where we are, I’d like to know about it. So here I am, asking the blogosphere: do you have experience in Picardie? Any can’t-miss activities? We are open to suggestion!

Tuna Noodle Casserole

I love tuna casserole. Unabashedly. My mom’s is stellar, but because she uses cream soups (that I can’t get here) and a special, frozen big thick noodle (which I’ve never seen ANYWHERE outside of Kansas City), I can’t really reproduce it. Every so often, I would trawl the internet for tuna casserole recipes with all ingredients that I could get here. Because it’s a holiday weekend and we’ve got the time, we embarked on a tuna adventure, only to be met with abject SUCCESS! It was stupid good. The original recipe is here, but I made some adjustments.

1 T olive oil
1 T unsalted butter
2 small cloves garlic, minced
3 celery stalks, small dice
1 medium onion, small dice
1 small hot green chili, minced
2 t Old Bay Seasoning (I’ve never had this, so I made my own with this)
3 T flour
1 t salt
1/2 t ground black pepper
3 c/750 ml milk
3 T sour cream
1 T wholegrain mustard
1 lb/500 g egg noodles (I used schwäbische Landnudeln because they looked pretty rough – they did not disappoint)
2 cans high-quality imported tuna packed in oil, drained and flaked
1 c/225 g coarsely grated cheddar cheese
2-3 T finely grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
1 t dried parsley
4 T french-fried onions (Röstzwiebeln)

  1. Heat oven to 350°F/175°C.

  2. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, warm oil and butter. When butter foams, add garlic, celery, diced onion and chili. Cook, stirring frequently, until tender. Next add seasoning, flour, salt and pepper. Stir until vegetables are coated and raw smell of flour is gone, then start pouring in milk, stirring all the while, making sure there are no lumps. After it simmers and thickens, remove it from the heat, stir in sour cream and mustard, and adjust seasonings if necessary.

  3. Cook the noodles in well-salted water to just over half of the package-directed cooking time. You want them pretty firm in the middle, as they will continue to cook in the oven. Drain and mix with the sauce, tuna and cheese until everything is well distributed. Pour into casserole and spread evenly. In a small bowl, toss together parsley and fried onions. Sprinkle mixture over top of casserole. Bake for 25-30 minutes.