Sweet Potato Pasta

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A while back I mentioned that I have a lot of respect for dried pasta, and always try to pick up a few different shapes and flavors when I’m shopping at a gourmet food store. That’s how I ended up with olive pasta recently for dinner, and also mentioned I’d purchased sweet potato pasta.

Here’s a photo of the box. The brand is Viviana, and it contains 8 ounces of fettucine. Cooking time 11 – 14 minutes.
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I didn’t want to smother the pasta in a red sauce, because I wanted to enhance the sweet potato flavor. So I decided on a simple ricotta cream sauce, with the addition of Italian sausage, plus peas to make it an all-in-one meal. Easy, and easily made within 20 minutes. Here’s what I did:

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Sweet Potato Pasta with Italian Sausage in a Ricotta Cream Sauce

8 ounces sweet potato fettucine
1 cup ricotta whole-milk ricotta
1/3-1/2 cup heavy cream
12 or 16 ounces Italian sausage
4 cloves garlic, minced
Frozen peas, optional
Grated Parmesan

Cook the pasta according to package directions. I cooked the pasta more al dente, because I wanted it to absorb the lovely cream sauce. Drain the pasta.
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Meanwhile, whisk together the ricotta and cream in a large bowl, large enough to hold the finished pasta dish. Add more cream if you want the sauce less “stiff.”
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Add the hot pasta to the cream and toss gently but enough to coat the strands of pasta with the ricotta cream sauce.


Heat a skillet over medium heat and add the sausage. Slowly begin cooking the sausage. If you start slowly, no other oil is required. Once the sausage renders some fat, you can turn up the heat to get the sausage browning.
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At least once while you’re cooking the sausage, give the pasta a gentle stir. Add a little more cream if necessary.

Then add the garlic, give the sausage a stir, and remove the skillet from the stove.
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Add it to the pasta, as well as peas, if you’re using them.



Serve with grated Parmesan.

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The sweet potato pasta really shined served in this way. I’m going to buy some more because it’s so pretty and tasty.

Double Olive Pasta

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There’s nothing quite like fresh pasta in its many forms. The texture is light and fluffy, and yet still durable to hold up to sauces and fillings.

But I must give credit also to the fabulous world of dried pastas. Whenever I’m shopping at a new store, I grab pastas with unique shapes and also flavors. Just for fun. Who wants to only cook spaghetti and elbow macaroni?

So a while back I was on the Open Sky website, and came across a company that sold gourmet food items called Valois Gourmet. (I hope the link works for everyone.)

There were two that I couldn’t resist buying – olive pasta and sweet potato pasta (not pictured).
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The pasta brand is Morelli, and is an Italian product. The pasta actually contains minced green olives, plus dehydrated spinach – perhaps for a little color.

Check out these pumpkin pie roasted almonds from Valois Gourmet, too! What a great nibble to have around during the holidays.

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In any case, to me, there’s nothing quite like a flavored dried pasta that speaks for itself, which is the case of this variety. Because of the olive flavor, so little else is needed. A little shallot or garlic, a little tomato, some capers, and maybe some extra olives for olive enhancement. And there’s always Parmesan. Simple.

So here’s what I did with this olive fettuccine.

Double Olive Pasta

Olive oil, about 2 tablespoons
3 shallots
1 – 15 ounce can diced tomatoes, well drained*
1 – 8.8 package pasta with olives
Sliced olives, I used a Mediterranean mixture
Capers, optional
Parsley, optional
Toasted pine nuts, optional
Grated Parmesan, optional

Place the olive oil in a skillet and heat over medium heat. Add the shallots and saute them for a few minutes.
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Then add the drained tomatoes.
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Cook the mixture until there almost no liquid remaining in the skillet; set aside.
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Cook the pasta according to directions on the package, which in this case was four minutes.

Have any of you used this handy silicone gadget that keeps boiling water from overflowing? It’s a miracle worker. I think about 4 out of 5 times that I cook pasta the boiling water overflows. And we all know that it’s not that easy to clean up. This product is made by Kuhn Rikon, and it’s called a spill stopper. It comes in two sizes. Just FYI.
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You have two options when you cook dried pasta. Firstly, if you cook it al dente, plan on adding some kind of liquid to the pasta dish once it’s tossed with the tomato mixture. This can be broth, some pasta water, or even cream. The pasta will continue to “cook” and absorb liquid.

Secondly, If you cook the pasta until soft all the way through, plan on tossing the pasta with the tomato mixture and serving immediately.

Once the pasta is cooked to your liking, drain well.
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Add the pasta to the skillet and toss everything together.
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Serve immediately if the pasta is fully cooked. If it isn’t, take about 15-30 minutes to add liquid of choice, and let the pasta soften in the liquid, adding as much liquid as necessary. Then serve.


Sprinkle the pasta with cheese, olives, capers, and parsley, if using any or all of these toppings.

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Normally I would add some cayenne pepper flakes to a similar pasta dish, but in this case, I want to enjoy the olive flavor from the pasta.


* If your canned tomatoes are good quality, make sure to save the tomato juice. If the canned tomatoes are in essentially water, don’t bother.

note: In the summer I would use fresh, peeled tomatoes for this pasta, and probably include fresh basil. But during the other months, canned tomatoes are a wonderful substitute – as long as you buy a high quality canned tomato.

verdict: I was truly impressed with this product! There is definitely an olive flavor. The pasta made for a lovely lunch, but for dinner I’d definitely serve it with some good sausages or pork tenderloin.

Lemongrass Garden Soup

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Because of where I live, I have never been able to buy fresh lemongrass. I could probably live without it, but being a fan of Thai cuisine, in which it plays a significant role, I was determined this year to grow lemongrass. Problem solved.

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The plant itself, here in September, is almost as tall as I am – at about 5′ tall. If the long leaves stood straight on end the plant would probably reach 8 feet tall. It’s a pretty grass, but doesn’t have a strong smell, say, like lemon balm.

When it came around to harvesting some lemongrass bulbs, which is the only part of the plant that’s used for culinary purposes, as far as I know, I had to watch some you-tube videos. I really had no idea what to do with the gigantic grass. I actually have three of these monstrous plants in my garden.

Well, it’s terribly simple. You simple pull one of the individual bulbs out of the dirt. One whole plant of mine must be made up of approximately 30 small bulbs.

I imagine the harvesting is much simpler if your dirt is soft; mine is not. In the process of attempting to pull a few bulbs out, I actually fell over onto the lemongrass leaves. They’re very sharp. I’d even used a small shovel to help me. But I managed to get four out of the ground without killing myself.

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Then you rinse off the lemongrass, trim the roots, and cut the bulbs into approximately 6″ lengths. Trim off the outside leaves until there are no loose leaves left. And there’s your bulb.

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So, I finally have lemongrass. The reason this soup is called lemongrass garden soup, is that everything in this soup is from the garden, except for the onion and garlic. I wanted to use my garden vegetables, and also see what lemongrass really does flavor-wise. So here’s what I did:
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Lemongrass Garden Soup

1 onion, coarsely chopped
4 small bulbs lemongrass, sliced in half
4 cloves garlic
5 red nardello chile peppers, coarsely chopped
4 ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
Sprig of basil
1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
Chicken broth

Begin by placing the lemongrass, garlic and chile peppers in a stock pot.
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Add the chopped tomatoes and sprig of basil.

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Add the butternut squash on top and sprinkle on some salt. I use a chicken broth powder along with water to make my broth; you can see the powder in the photo. Alternatively, pour chicken broth (or vegetable broth) just until it reaches the top of the squash.
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Bring everything to a boil, and simmer gently with the lid on, for approximately 30 minutes.
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Then remove the lid and reduce the broth until there’s just enough for blending the vegetables.
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Let the mixture cool, then blend in the blender.

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Reheat the soup before serving.


You can serve with a little butter or a dollop of sour cream.
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I topped the soup with a simple chiffonade of purple basil.

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note: You can make a creamier soup by using cream evaporated milk, sour cream, or goat’s milk in place of some of the broth.

verdict: I purposely didn’t add any spices because I really wanted to taste the lemongrass. I did add a few chile peppers, but they’re mild. In the end, I could hardly taste the lemongrass. Either it’s milder than I realized, or my lemongrass plants aren’t the quality that I expected.

Double Corn Grits

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There’s nothing quite like fresh corn, especially just picked. Where I live in the Midwestern U.S., corn is a major crop, so it’s readily available and extremely inexpensive. So in the summer, I like to use it in as many ways possible. Some of you may live in areas where corn must be imported, so your choice of corn might be limited to canned varieties, which unfortunately do not compare.

I’m not going to say that canned corn is completely off limits in my kitchen. I have used it, but it’s just not the same, which isn’t surprising, because what is better canned commercially rather than fresh?

Today I’m making grits, which is essentially cornmeal or polenta, and adding cooked corn to it. I mean, why not? Fresh corn has a very different flavor from grits/polenta/cornmeal, so it will just add another layer of corn flavor. So if you love corn…

Double Corn Polenta

3 corn on the cobs, husked
3 cups water
1 cup polenta or grits
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter
Cream or milk

Cook the corn on the cobs until done, about 7 minutes in boiling water. Drain and set aside to cool.
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Meanwhile, pour the water into a medium saucepan or polenta pot. Heat to boiling, then whisk in the grits, salt, and butter.

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Whisking occasionally, cook the grits until it has absorbed all of the liquid. This should take about 15 – 20 minutes on medium heat.
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Turn the heat to low, and cook the polenta for about another ten minutes or so, adding cream as necessary as the polenta thickens. You will probably use about 1/2 cup of cream at least. The amount will depend on how coarsely ground your polenta is, which is why I’m not using an exact measurement. You will know when the polenta is completely cooked.

Cut the corn off of the cobs, then break the pieces up to get the individual corn kernels.

Then add them to the polenta.

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Stir well and taste for seasoning. For this polenta I kept it simple, but you could add cayenne pepper, hot paprika, ground chipotle pepper or ground ancho chile pepper, or just about any herb, fresh or dried.

I topped the double corn polenta with slices of filet, and sprinkled everything with fresh tomato, goat cheese, and a chiffonade of fresh basil.

note: If you’ve never made grits or polenta, give it a try. Grits are inexpensive, and one cup of the dried ground corn makes a lot of servings.

Also, I did publish this post last summer, but I’ve been spending a lot of extra time with my pregnant daughter when her husband is out of town. Priorities people!!! Hope you’re having a lovely summer!

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Mustardy Veal

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Veal is not a meat purchased by everyone, and I hope nobody thinks I haven’t a conscience. It’s just that if I actually focused on the whole idea of killing animals for human consumption, I wouldn’t eat meat at all. I of course believe in the most humane procedures in killing animals, but then, I could also argue that killing animals isn’t humane at all. So I really try not to think about it.

This veal was actually at my market today when I was shopping, and it’s something that rarely shows up, much like lamb, so I grabbed it. If this helps, I haven’t actually had veal in years. But I remembered a simple recipe that I used to make ages ago on the grill. It takes minutes to prepare, which made it perfect for when I worked full time.

There are two ingredients in this veal recipe besides the veal – butter and Dijon mustard. That’s it. You simply make a mustard butter, and then let it melt on top of the grilled veal. Easy and fast for summer grilling inside or out!

Veal Scallopini with Mustard Butter

2 teaspoons butter
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Veal scallops, I had 7
Olive oil
Salt
A few grindings of black pepper

First, make the mustard butter. I used twice as much butter as mustard, but this is up to you.

Place the butter and mustard in a small bowl.
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Beat the two until smooth. Then chill in the refrigerator, although this is optional. Another option is to make a roll of butter, much like you do with a compound butter, wrapped in plastic. Then it can simply be sliced after being refrigerated. I just made such a small amount that this wasn’t necessary.

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When you are ready to cook the veal, have it close to room temperature. Then dry it off on paper towels.
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Pour a little olive oil on a dinner plate, place the veal on top, then drizzle a little more oil. Season with salt and pepper.
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The veal will take 2 minutes to cook, so also have your mustard butter soft enough to scoop up. Also have your vegetables hot and ready to eat.

Heat up a grill over high heat. You can use a grill outside as well, but I wouldn’t waste the time it takes to prepare charcoal. These just take so little time it’s also not worth using the charcoal.

Place some of the scallops on the hot grill, being careful not to crowd them.
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Cook for barely a minute, then flip them, and cook for another minute.
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Serve the veal scallops topped with a scoop of the mustard butter, and let it melt away.


As an afterthought, I also sprinkled some chives over the veal. Basil would be good as well.

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This simple veal dish is as delicious as I remember it. Just make sure to not overcook the veal.

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Meatballs in Creamy Caper Sauce

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It’s commonplace to pair meatballs and a red sauce, but this recipe is a lovely alternative. The only prerequisite is that you must love capers!

This recipe comes from one that most likely I copied from a cookbook borrowed from the local library. It’s from the days I had higher priorities than spending lots of money on cookbooks, so I simply borrowed the books, read them, and marked the recipes I wanted to keep. Then my husband would use the copier at work; he was always very nice about this. But, of course, he always got fed well so it was a win-win for him!

I’d then cut out the recipes and glue them on cards. But unfortunately, I cannot share with you the source of this recipe because I never thought to add those details to the recipe cards. It’s really sad that I didn’t, and I apologize to you as well.
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I’ve made this recipe the way it is on the card, and it’s divine. I’m pretty sure I made it for other people, because my husband won’t eat capers.

The recipe involves meatballs, that you make any way you want, but they must be made on the small side, and then they’re boiled/steam cooked in a seasoned broth. From the broth you make the sauce, which involves sour cream and capers.
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On this post, I’m not really focusing on the meatballs, because everyone has her/his own favorite recipes for meatballs, but more on the way they’re cooked, as well as the sauce. The dish is not terribly photogenic, but really tasty.


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Meatballs in a Creamy Caper Sauce

Meatballs:
1/2 ground pork, 1/2 ground turkey, white meat only, 12 ounces each
1/2 small onion, diced
2 eggs, beaten
Some amount of breadcrumbs, I used dried, about 1/4 cup
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
Coarsely ground black pepper
Parsley, which I forgot to put in the meatballs*

In an extra large bowl, place the meats, the onion, eggs, and breadcrumbs. Then add the seasonings.

Use your hands and mix everything together well, without over mixing. You don’t want the meatballs to turn out dense.

Using a scoop, if you feel you need one, form the meat mixture into small balls, about 1″ in diameter.

Meanwhile, pour 1 cup of chicken or beef broth into a large, flat skillet. I used chicken broth powder to season the water.

The original recipe called for lemon juice, a strip of lemon peel, a bay leaf, and some pickling spices to be added to the broth. I decided to make my broth a little more on the herbaceous side. I also omitted the lemon altogether.

I picked some fresh oregano, parsley, and rosemary and placed them in the broth, along with a few bay leaves. Then I simmered the broth for about 15 minutes. You could always do this step first, before you make the meatballs.

When the broth is ready, remove the herbs. Adjust the amount of liquid, if necessary; there should be about 1/4″ minimum on the bottom of the skillet. Make sure the broth is simmering, then add a batch of meatballs.

Cover the skillet and let the meatballs cook through. This will hardly take 5 minutes or so; you could always check one to see if it’s just done in the middle. You don’t want to overcook them.


Remove the cooked meatballs with a slotted spoon, place them on a clean platter, and continue with the remaining batches. You’re left with some meat and onion bits in the seasoned broth, but that didn’t bother me. If it bothers you, pour the liquid through a sieve, and then back into the skillet. You should still have about 3/4 cup – 1 cup of liquid. This will dictate the amount of sauce you end up with, so adjust accordingly.

At this point, with the broth simmering, add a teaspoon of cornstarch and whisk well, then add 2 heaping tablespoons of sour cream or creme fraiche. Whisk well, then stir in about 1/4 cup of capers.

Add the amount of meatballs you want smothered with this sauce, and leave the rest for another purpose. Cook the meatballs gently, turning them around in the sauce. Give them a minute, and then serve.

I served these meatballs to myself with some steamed asparagus, and it was a very nice combination. The original recipes suggests egg noodles, which would work if you have a lot of sauce.

If desired, top the meatballs with a few more capers and some chopped parsley before serving.

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* I feel that parsley is really underappreciated and under used, especially in the U.S. I think we still think of it as only a garnish on a plate. But in meatballs, for example, it not only adds a fresh flavor and a pretty color, but it adds moisture as well. But omit it if you don’t love it.

note: In the original recipe, you are also supposed to add chopped capers to the meatballs, which is a very good addition. Since my husband was going to be eating a majority of these meatballs, I omitted them.
Also, think about the different ways that you can season the broth, using peppercorns, allspice, star anise, orange peel, garlic, and much more. It’s a brilliant way to add flavors to the basic broth base of the sauce.
Also, I didn’t add any salt to either the meatballs or the sauce; I feel that the capers lend enough saltiness, but this is your choice.

Lentils

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If you’ve been reading my blog for any time now, you’re probably aware that I’m in love with legumes of all kinds. White beans, black beans, beans of all sizes, shapes, and colors. And, of course, all kinds of lentils. East Indian cuisine refers to all of these as dal, or dhal, but I am used to the word legume.

The wonderful thing about legumes is that they are terribly inexpensive. I made sure both of my daughters knew how to cook beans when they set off on their own. If you’re on a budget, it’s really good to know how to create a lovely pot of any kind of beans. Cooked beans can be dinner, lunch, or breakfast. They can be a soup, salad, entrée, dip, side dish, and much more.

Lentils are also healthy because they have protein, as well as a lot of fiber. So between that and the fact that they’re cheap, it’s a definite win-win! I actually learned everything I know about beans when times were tough. I refer to those as our “lean” years. I managed a food co-op, which also helped with the grocery bill at the time, and spent a couple of years eating beans. But I still love them!

Today I’m focusing on lentils, because they’re even easier than beans to prepare. Mostly because beans are their larger counterpart, so more cooking time is involved.

My favorite are the lentils called Le Puy, from France, that I can order online for approximately $8. – 10. per pound. But there are both Spanish and Italian lentils that look and taste the same to the Le Puy varietal. Plus I just learned but haven’t sampled a French variety called du Perry. And I’m sure lentils grow elsewhere in the world as well.
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The Le Puy are my favorite because they hold their shape, and they have a real meaty taste. But there is another, more popular and available lentil, at least to Americans. They are only called lentils. No other name. I used to turn my nose at this variety and think of them as inferior, because within minutes these lentils turn to mush. But they do taste good, they’re still healthy, and sometimes you want lentil soup. In that case, these are the ones to buy. They’re also less expensive than imported lentils, at approximately $1.20 per pound bag.

Le Puy lentils on the left, regular lentils on the right

Le Puy lentils on the left, regular lentils on the right

The Indian orange and yellow varieties also mush up easily, which makes them wonderful for soups as well, plus dips. If you want them to hold some semblance of shape, you just have to be vigilant when cooking.

Today I’m going to show how easy it is to prepare lentils. I’m doing a side by side cook of the regular “grocery store” lentils, and Le Puy lentils. By the photos, you’ll be able to see how differently these two varieties cook up, and I’ll give some suggestions on using them.

And speaking of photos, I need to apologize in advance. On this day, I’d taken a walk outside because it was warm and sunny, and when I came inside to cook the lentils, I completely forgot to change the white balance. What a difference that adjustment can make!

Lentils

12 ounces lentils, dry
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Approximately 18 ounces of chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Weigh the lentils and place them in a large bowl.
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Fill the bowl with hot water to about 2″ above the top of the lentils. Set the bowl aside for one hour.

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Le Puy lentils

Le Puy lentils

When you’re ready to continue with the recipe, heat up the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat.

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Add the onion and garlic to the saucepan and sauté them for 5 minutes.

Once one hour has passed, the lentils will have hydrated and almost reached the top of the water. Drain the lentils in a colander.

these are the regular lentils

these are the regular lentils

Once the onion and garlic are ready, pour in the drained lentils. Then immediately add the chicken stock.
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Add the chicken stock till it hits right at the top of the lentils.
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Then bring the lentils and broth to a boil, cover the saucepan and reduce the heat.

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For the regular lentils, cook them 10 minutes. They will look like this when they’re done. When you give them a stir, you can see that they mush up, or disintegrate. Notice also that there’s no liquid at the bottom of the pot.
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On the other hand, after 15 minutes, the Le Puy lentils have soaked up most of the liquid, and they hold their shape, even after vigorous stirring.

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Remove the lentils from stove and let them cool. The regular lentils will continue to absorb liquid, but the Le Puy will not.

Because of the fact that the regular lentils disintegrate, I like to use them for soups. They can easily become a dip as well, but the dip won’t be pretty. Use your pink or yellow lentils for those dips.

Today I “souped” up the lentils by adding more chicken broth and giving them a good stir. I could have alternatively puréed the lentils in a blender for a smoother soup. Then I and added some grilled Kielbasa, or Polish sausage, and topped off the soup with a dollop of sour cream.
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The lentils, of course, can be seasoned in any way you desire, and other ingredients like leeks, red bell peppers, celery, and carrots can be added to the aromatics. Thyme is really nice with lentils, as is some white pepper. Today I kept things plain, because lentils really have good flavor on their own.

For the Le Puy lentils, I also kept them plain, but paired them for lunch with curry-seasoned chicken breast.
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In fact, curry powder ingredients go really well in lentils, as do any seasonings. You can even make them Southwestern as well, adding jalapenos, ancho chile powder, some chipotle peppers, and cilantro. Lentils are very versatile.
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As you can see, the Le Puy lentils really hold their shape even though they’re fully cooked. That’s why they’re so perfect as a side dish like this, or on their own as an entrée.

Asparagus Pesto Pasta

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So yesterday I shared that I’d dreamed up an asparagus version of pesto, and the recipe I came up with is quite remarkable, if I say so myself. There were so many choices with the pesto ingredients, but I decided on almonds for the nuts, and to keep the pesto herb-free. I thought about a little fresh mint at first, but I decided to just let the fresh asparagus shine.

And shine it did. It’s not a super strong pesto, especially compared to a basil variety, but it full of flavor from the almonds and garlic as well. I’m very happy with the recipe. I could just spread it on warm bread and eat it like that.

But it’s probably not surprising that I chose to toss this pesto with pasta. But I did something a little different. I’d just made some fresh ricotta the day before (yes, it will be in a future post), and I decided to mix the pesto with the fresh ricotta. It turned out perfectly. The pasta would have been delicious simply tossed with the ricotta-less pesto, with lots of grated Parmesan, but I just wanted to treat this pesto differently.

So here’s what I did:

Asparagus Pesto-Ricotta Pasta

1 – 12 ounce package of your choice of pasta

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Approximately 10 ounces of asparagus pesto
An equal amount of fresh ricotta or farmers’ cheese
Grated Parmesan

Cook your pasta according to package directions. Have you ever used one of these gadgets? It’s a rubbery thing that you place on top of your pot and it keeps the water from overflowing. Since I invariably boil over water when I cook pasta, I’ve gotten pretty good at always using this thing.

Here’s a link for a similar one to mine. Mine was a gift, so I don’t know the source specifically.

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Drain the pasta and set aside.

In a large bowl, add the asparagus pesto and the ricotta cheese.
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Mix them together with a spoon. I didn’t try to blend them together too much; I like the texture of the ricotta.
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Add the warm pasta and toss to coat the pasta completely.
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I served the pasta sprinkled with grated Parmesan, alongside a pan-fried salmon steak.
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The combination was really good.
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I think I could have also chopped the mint leaves and sprinkled them on top as well, but I didn’t.
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verdict: I will make asparagus pesto again, and again. The only difference is that the pesto by itself could taste a little more like asparagus. So I might add a little more asparagus next time, but keep the other ingredients the same. Mixed with the ricotta, the pesto is just a creamy, flavorful mixture with a hint of asparagus. It’s quite delicious, and would be a wonderful side dish to any protein, or simply served as is, with a tomato salad.
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Shrimp and Grits

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I first had shrimp and grits when I tagged along on a business trip my husband took to Charleston, South Carolina. I ordered shrimp and grits one night, because it was the thing to have in Charleston. I’d previously not been a huge cornmeal fan.

Well, thank you Charleston. I’m a huge fan now. The secret is butter, cream and cheese. Which, of course, can make anything better.

So I’m making some good grits today that will be served with shrimp and some Andouille sausage for a Creole flair. Hope you like this dish!

Creamy Grits with Shrimp and Sausage

1 1/4 cups water
1 1/4 cup milk
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups grits, I use a medium grind of cornmeal
1 1/4 – 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
8 ounces Monterey jack cheese, grated
2 tablespoons oil
12 ounces Andouille sausage, sliced
1 pound shrimp, cleaned, shelled, dried
salt, pepper

Add the water, milk, and butter to a dutch oven over medium heat until the butter melts.

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Then add the grits and cook them, whisking constantly, and adding a little cream at a time. This is almost like making risotto, although eventually you can quit whisking.

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Continue adding some cream until the cornmeal quits absorbing it. This could take about 30 minutes. When you’re sure it’s done, and quits thickening, add the white pepper and thyme.

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Then stir in the grated cheese. Set the grits aside.

Put a large skillet over high heat and add the oil. Add the sausage slices and brown them on both sides. When they’re all browned, scoop them up with a slotted spoon and place them in a large bowl. But keep the skillet on the stove with the oil.

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Salt and pepper all of the shrimp.

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Heat the skillet again over medium-high heat. Then add the shrimp, in batches, and cook them until they are opaque. This only takes a minute. Place the cooked shrimp in the bowl with the sausage, and continue with the remaining shrimp.

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When it is time to serve, have your grits, shrimp, and sausage all warm. Place some of the grits in a pasta bowl. Then top with the shrimp and sausage.

I also sprinkled what I thought was paprika over the top, but it turns out it was Old Bay seasoning, which worked out well, thank goodness! I would have added some cayenne, as well, but I assumed the Andouille sausage would be spicier.

This meal was delightful with a glass of riesling.

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note: You don’t have to use all of the cream and butter, but I just like creamy grits. I’m not going to eat them made only with water and a drizzle of milk. Ridiculous. So I dress them up into buttery, cheesy, creamy goodness!

Achiote Cornbread

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When I first tried cornbread after moving to Texas a million years ago, it was way too sweet for me. Unnecessarily sweet. And it was always served with honey butter!

But when I began making cornbread from scratch, ignoring the sugar, I liked it much better. Besides, corn is already sweet!

The thing I’ve learned about making cornbread is that you can do so many different things to it to make it your own, and really compliment whatever entrée you’re serving it with.

Cornbread can be Southwestern with the addition of chipotle chile peppers, or it can be Mediterranean with the addition of olives and feta. You can herb it up in the summer, or add any kind of flavor during the winter months like sun-dried tomato pesto. And, of course, you can always add cheese!!!

Today I wanted my cornbread fairly simple, but I wanted a little flavor enhancement and beautiful color from achiote oil. So here’s my recipe for skillet cornbread with achiote oil.

Achiote Cornbread

Dry Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups cornmeal
1/2 cup white flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Wet Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups buttermilk, at room temperature
2 eggs, at room temperature
2 tablespoons achiote oil, plus a little more
6 tablespoons melted butter

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Have a 10″ cast-iron skillet on your stove.

Get your dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Set aside.

Place the buttermilk, eggs, and achiote oil in a medium bowl. Whisk until smooth. Have your melted butter handy.

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When your oven has preheated, turn on the heat under your skillet and let it pre-heat.

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Combine the wet ingredients, including the melted butter, with the dry ingredients, whisking just until smooth.

Using a little achiote oil, grease the skillet. Then pour the batter into the hot skillet, and immediately place it in the oven.

Bake for 18-20 minutes. It should be nice and golden and the middle should be somewhat firm to the touch.

Remove the skillet from the oven and let the cornbread cool a little for about ten minutes. Loosen the sides, then remove the cornbread onto a cutting board. It also works to flip the cornbread upside down on a cutting board.

Slice into wedges and serve warm! I recently served the achiote cornbread with Cuban black bean soup.

I prefer using corn flour or finely ground corn meal if you can find it.