Italian Sausage & Lentil Soup

After a full day working on the podcast recently, I looked up and saw it was 5:00, and I hadn’t done the first thing to get dinner on. All day I had in the back of my mind I would grill salmon, so I knew I should get a couple of filets out of the freezer to thaw. But I never even got that far. And in the meantime, the weather turned breezy and rainy, so grilling was not an attractive option.

My husband and I were hosting a gathering of about dozen people the following night and my plan was to bake homemade pizzas for that group. I had a pound of Italian sausage in the refrigerator, a portion of which I would use for pizza. So why not kill two birds with one stone and cook the entire pound, reserve some for pizza night, and use the rest in…something….for dinner this night. But what would that something be?

Since the weather outside had turned from grill-friendly to chilly-damp, I thought soup would be just the thing. The first soup of the fall! With Italian sausage as the base, I began thinking of what else I needed to make soup. Onions, celery, and carrots, of course. I had plenty of onions on hand, and just enough of the other two. There was half a carton of beef broth in the fridge that I needed to either use or freeze, so I grabbed that. Canned diced tomatoes–check. And something to bulk up the soup and make it more substantial and filling. I remembered the half pound of dry lentils in the cupboard and thought that would do the trick and not take too long to cook.

You can hear the rest on the Indiana Home Cooks Podcast BONUS track, and see the recipe, and step-by-step pictures, below.

The idea is, this is soup, and soup can be a template for whatever meat, vegetables, beans/pasta/noodles, broth, and seasonings you like. If you don’t have Italian sausage on hand, but there’s a pound of ground beef in your freezer, use that, and bump up the seasonings. The great thing about Italian sausage it is highly seasoned and makes for a nice shortcut in soup. Ground beef or chicken as a base will require more imagination on seasonings, but go with what you like. Experiment and taste as you go. You can always add more herbs and seasonings but you can’t take them out!

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Italian Sausage & Lentil Soup 

Makes 6 servings

 

  • 1/2 pound Italian sausage (sweet or hot)*
  • 2 cups diced vegetables (equal parts onion, celery, and carrots)
  • 1 14-oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 pound dry lentils OR 2 cans of beans—kidney, cannellini, red, or black (If using canned beans, rinse and drain before adding to soup)
  • Broth (beef, chicken, or vegetable)
  • 1 tsp dried sage
  • Kosher salt & pepper to taste
  • Chopped fresh parsley for garnish

If sausage is in links, slice through the casings and remove sausage to crumble and brown (medium to med-low heat) in a large soup pot. Once browned, remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Leave fat rendered from sausage in the pot and return to med-low heat. Add the onions, celery, and carrots, stir and let them begin cooking. After about a minute, put the lid on the pot and allow vegetables to sweat about 5 minutes. Stir occasionally, scraping up any bits of meat from the bottom of the pan. The sweating process will help loosen the stuck-on bits. You can also add a bit of the broth at this point if you need more liquid to do the job. 

After vegetables have cooked about 5 minutes, add the tomatoes, lentils or canned beans, and the cooked sausage. Pour in enough broth to cover all ingredients by an inch or so. If you need to add water to bring up the level of liquid, that’s fine. Add the sage, stir gently, cover and cook on med-low until soup comes up to a simmer. Then reduce heat to low, TASTE, and add salt and pepper as desired. Allow to simmer about an hour. The lentils should cook through and even begin to break down a bit. Garnish with parsley and serve with crusty bread or corn bread. 

*NOTE: Most Italian sausage comes in links. If you want larger chunks of sausage in the soup, cook the links, intact, and then slice them before returning to pot. And if you prefer a meatier soup, then by all means, use up to 1 pound of sausage. 

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A potato masher helps crumble the sausage.
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Lots of flavor stuck in the pot after browning the meat.
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Equal portions of celery, carrots, onions.
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After sweating the veggies, the stuck on bits have loosened.
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A little broth and light scraping gets all that meat flavor into the soup.
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Everything else in the pot. Cover with broth and cook!

 

Home Cooks Improv

My husband and I recently attended a concert performed by the Brubeck Brothers Jazz Quartet. It was swingin’ and be-bopin’ for sure. And it happened to be during the week I was putting together the newest podcast episode with my friend and guest Stephanie Hainje. Listening back to the interview, conducted over wine, caprese salad, and a fresh loaf of my sourdough bread, I realized that our discussion had the free-wheeling feel of a improvisational jazz jam session.

Well…that might be overstating it a tad….But we had a blast sharing our summer cooking experiences, tips, and ideas. It was our farewell to summer, and hello to fall. Enjoy the show (just hit the play button above) and here’s one of the recipes Stephanie is cooking this fall–Roasted Red Pepper Soup. It comes from houseofyumm.com.

You can see more of what Stephanie is cooking on her Instagram page @destinysdishes.

And speaking of fall soups, and improvisation, I performed a kitchen improv tonight for dinner. Italian Sausage and Lentil Soup. I’ll have the details soon, and a BONUS TRACK of the podcast to talk you through the recipe. Stay tuned!

Brewing Again at Thieme & Wagner

Congratulations to David Thieme and Thieme & Wagner Bar, now brewing full-time their own family beer recipes! It’s a resurrection, of sorts, of the pre-Prohibition Thieme & Wagner Brewing Co. Great article in the Lafayette Journal & Courier on Sunday.

David Thieme was the guest on my second Indiana Home Cooks podcast episode last year. If you never heard it, or want to listen again, click the play button above. That episode, and all the others, are available for listening on demand at iTunes/Apple Podcasts or Stitcher (links at the top of the page), or wherever you get your podcasts. Please subscribe, and if you like what you hear, leave a review. It’s wonderful to hear from listeners. If you have a topic you would like to hear about, leave me comment right here on the blog, or in the podcast review section where you listen. Of course you can always comment on Facebook and Instagram, where you will find me @indianahomecooks. Thanks!

Here is a small sample of the memorabilia you’ll find on the walls of Thieme & Wagner Bar, 652 Main St., Lafayette, IN…

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Trip to the Sunflower State

Part of our busy summer included a road trip with my daughter Christine to Manhattan, Kansas, a place near and dear to our hearts. Our family started out in Manhattan, where my husband Jim and I met and where we raised our family until 2009, when we moved back to my home state of Indiana.

Manhattan (pop. 53,000) is in northeast Kansas, about 2 hours west of Kansas City. During our years there we made many trips across Kansas, Missouri, and Illinois on I-70. I had not been back to the Sunflower State since we moved nine years ago. Christine had flown back the summer she turned 16, but this was our first road trip back to “The Little Apple.”

The city has grown substantially since we left, but we were delighted to find Manhattan retains its friendly, welcoming, down-to-earth vibe, plus some fun places for food, drink, and shopping. It’s also the home of Kansas State University, and our family maintains a special fondness for the K-State Wildcats. Manhattan is worth a stop for anyone traveling across the Sunflower State.

One friend I caught up with in Manhattan is Sharon Davis. She is my guest on the latest Indiana Home Cooks podcast. (Listen here, or click the “play” button above.) Sharon is program director for the Home Baking Association, an organization that promotes and helps build skills in home baking for all ages. She and I go back to the days when our kids were students in the Manhattan Catholic Schools, and before that when I was still a radio professional, covering Kansas agriculture and Sharon was doing educational programming with HBA and the wheat and soybean groups in the state.

I’m so happy I could get together with Sharon. I should say, I’m happy her schedule permitted it! She is one busy lady, so I’m fortunate that during my couple of days in Manhattan she was able to work me into her schedule. We’ll hear more from Sharon in the next episode of Indiana Home Cooks. She will share some recipe ideas and thoughts on favorite things to bake. Watch for that soon. In the meantime, enjoy this episode with Sharon and me.

Resources mentioned by Sharon:  The Family Dinner Project, SNAP-Ed, the HBA Blog.

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Sharon Davis doing what she loves.
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Me, doing what I love. Lunch and a beer at the Tall Grass Brewing Tap House, overlooking downtown Manhattan, KS.

Summer Vegetable Sauté

Here is a quick and easy way to dress up summer vegetables into a delicious side dish–my Summer Vegetable Sauté. The idea is to preserve the fresh-ripened flavor of the vegetables, while enhancing them with a light sauté and a hint of seasoning. It can be served warm immediately, or chilled for later and served as a salad.

Hear me cook this dish on Earth Eats, WFIU’s weekly show focused on local food and sustainable agriculture. It’s also a podcast you can find on iTunes, Stitcher, and elsewhere.

In the recipe below, I use grape or cherry tomatoes, which are a great option any time of year. In tomato season, use your favorite, whether it’s cherry, beefsteak, plum, or heirloom. Just roughly dice to about 1-inch size and toss them in. If using good local fresh tomatoes, I would pop them in the pan and then remove immediately from heat. They really don’t need to cook and “blister the skins” as the recipe advises. If they are good tomatoes, just toss them in and you are done!

The whole thing can be the basis for a salad including your favorite greens as well. After cooking, allow the veggies to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate if not serving right away. When it’s time to serve, add your favorite greens and toss together. There should be enough liquid in the veggie mixture to “dress” the greens. If not, add a very light drizzle of olive oil and vinegar.

The idea is to play around with ingredients, seasonings, and applications. Give it a try and you’ll be on your way to more creative cooking!

Summer Vegetable Sauté

Note: This dish cooks quickly, so have all ingredients prepped and ready. Don’t overcook the vegetables. They should be tender-crisp when finished. Excellent accompaniment to grilled meats and fish. 

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 C diced red onion (1-inch dice)
  • 1 C diced sweet mini peppers (1-inch dice, red, yellow, orange)
  • 1 C grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 T extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 T balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp honey
  • Kosher salt
  • Fresh ground pepper
  • 1-2 T fresh basil, chopped

Heat a non-stick sauté pan or skillet on medium-low heat. Drizzle with olive oil and toss in onions and peppers. Increase heat to medium. Stir gently, but don’t over-stir, so as to allow veggies to brown slightly. Sprinkle with a pinch (1/4 tsp) kosher salt and a grind or two of pepper. After 3 minutes, add the tomatoes. Stir gently and allow tomatoes to begin to blister their skins. After 2-3 minutes, drizzle veggies with vinegar and add honey. Lightly toss to combine, then remove from heat. Allow to cool slightly.

Transfer mixture to a serving bowl, add chopped basil and taste for salt/pepper, adjust if needed. Give it another drizzle of olive oil and serve immediately. 

Option 1: Allow vegetable mixture to cool to room temperature, then add fresh mozzarella (1-inch diced pieces or balls). Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve. 

Option 2: Change out the seasonings for a different flavor profile. For instance, red wine vinegar, oregano, and feta cheese for a Greek taste. Or substitute other seasonings as you like.

Option 3: Substitute or add other summer vegetables, such as zucchini, peas, or sweet corn removed from cob.

Celebrating Family and Fútbol!

A new episode of the Indiana Home Cooks podcast is coming in September. In the meantime, please enjoy these favorites that focus on family, in good times, and in difficult times. Subscribe on iTunes/Apple Podcasts or Stitcher. Or listen right here. Just click the play buttons:

We are staying close to home this summer and enjoying lots of family time. And I hope it reminds our young adult children that home is where the heart is and where you can always get something nourishing and comforting for the stomach and the soul. Part of this summer’s family time is spent celebrating, with food, naturally! Birthdays, graduations, weddings, the World Cup…

In the spirit of the FIFA World Cup Championships, and those 10:00 a.m. matches in the later rounds, breakfast with the World Cup seemed a natural pairing. In the quarterfinal round, it was crepes with ricotta cheese and berry compote filling, as France battled Uruguay. I admit, my dish was not authentically French, but it was authentically “me,” as I used ingredients I had on hand to create something delicious to help us cheer Les Bleus on to victory.

For England v. Sweden, it was scones with our morning coffee, which should tell you who I was backing in that match. And once again, whether my scones are authentically English doesn’t really matter. The difference between a “scone” and what we Americans call a “biscuit” is not vast. In my reading, scones differ from biscuits primarily in the richness of the dough. Scones include eggs and cream in the mix, and biscuits do not. The texture differs as well, with scones being crumbly and biscuits, ideally, flaky.

Scones can feature additions to the dough, such as berries, herbs, chocolate chips, nuts, raisins, etc. For my basic scone, it’s raisins. The recipe, with pictures, is below. I include some explanation of technique, because it is important and might take a bit of practice. For a dough like this “less is more.” The less mixing and handling of the dough, the better. You do not knead this dough. Simply gather it together into a loose ball, and then gently shape it into a rectangle. Many scone recipes instruct you to flatten the ball into a circle, and then cut out pinwheel-wedges. I personally prefer the chunky triangles shown here.

My Best Ever Scones (makes 1 dozen)

  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter, chilled
  • 1/2 cup dark raisins
  • 1 egg
  • About 3/4 cup half & half
  • Turbinado (“raw”) sugar

Pre-heat oven to 425º.

Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl. Use a wire whisk to thoroughly mix the dry ingredients. (You want the baking powder, salt, and sugar evenly distributed.) Cut in the butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Toss in the raisins and lightly stir. Make a well in the center of the dry mixture and set aside.

In a glass measuring cup, break the egg and beat it with a fork. Add about 3/4 cup of half & half, so your total liquid amount (egg plus cream) equals 1 cup. Mix thoroughly with a fork. 

Pour about 3/4 of the liquid into the well of the dry ingredients. Using a fork, with as few strokes as possible, gently stir until just moistened. The dough will be rough and rather stiff. If it is too dry add a tiny bit more liquid.  Do not over-mix. 

Turn dough out onto a floured surface. Sprinkle dough with a bit of extra flour if it is too sticky to handle. Gently shape dough into a ball, and then gently begin to flatten and elongate into a narrow rectangle, about 2.5 inches by 15.5 inches. It should be about 1.5 inches thick. You do not need a rolling pin, only your hands.

Cut scones in triangle shapes. (A bench scrapper works well, or a straight-bladed knife, cutting straight down. Do not saw! Coat the blade or scrapper with flour if it sticks to dough.) Place scones on a parchment covered baking sheet. Brush tops with remaining liquid. (If you have no remaining liquid, just use more half & half.) Sprinkle with turbinado sugar, and bake in pre-heated 425º oven for 10-12 minutes, until tops and edges have just browned. Cool on a rack and store leftovers in a sealed plastic bag. 

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Mix until just moistened. A few flecks of flour are ok.
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Turn dough onto floured surface, and sprinkle lightly on top with extra flour.
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Shape gently into a ball.
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Gently into a rectangle.
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Cutting scones. (I got a baker’s dozen.)
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Brush with egg/cream and sprinkle with sugar.
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A beautiful bake!

Homemade Salad Dressing–You can do it!

There is one item you will almost never find in my refrigerator–bottled salad dressing. Okay, some bottled dressings are fine, but most of what I’ve tasted are over the top. Too salty, too much seasoning, too heavy, too thick, too sweet…just too much. But I refuse to dwell on the negative. I will rather focus on the positive and the multitude of ways we can think beyond the bottle.

(NOTE: The Indiana Home Cooks Podcast is taking a short hiatus. I’ll be back with a new episode in September. In the meantime, catch up on your listening! There are over 20 episodes available. Listen on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. In the spirit of stretching your cooking boundaries, here are a few suggestions. Thanks for listening!)

A good salad dressing will delight your taste buds, not overpower them. It shouldn’t be too vinegary or oily, and with seasonings that complement rather than mask the ingredients of the salad. So my approach is to keep it simple. On any given night when I’m assembling a salad of ordinary garden vegetables and greens, I’ll whisk up a simple oil and vinegar dressing, a “vinaigrette,” before serving. A pinch of salt and pepper and a small dollop of dijon mustard are whisked together with the vinegar. Then the oil is drizzled slowly in while continuing to whisk until everything is blended. It takes about two minutes.

That is the basis for any vinaigrette. It is complete in and of itself, or it can be augmented with herbs and seasonings of your choice.  The vinegar can be white, red, rice, balsamic, or any other flavor you have in the cupboard. Instead of vinegar, use the juice of a lemon, lime, or orange, or the last of that bottle of wine you did not finish the night before. Any of these acids will do. The oil can be olive, canola, vegetable, sunflower, grape seed, or flavor-infused. And seasonings can include fresh or dried herbs, soy sauce, garlic, chili sauce, you name it. I also add a bit of sweetener–honey or sugar–to balance the acid a bit.

The type of salad you are making often determines the type of dressing needed. For a Greek-style salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, olives, feta cheese, and lettuce (or no lettuce), the basic vinaigrette gets a boost from oregano–either fresh or dried. A simple salad of tomatoes, onion, and fresh mozzarella needs a simple treatment of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, and fresh basil. To make it even easier, just drizzle and sprinkle each ingredient over the vegetables, and gently toss together. Voilà! You just made fresh dressing. (Another option is Asian-style dressing. See recipe below.)

Most basic cookbooks include vinaigrettes to make from scratch, and a quick read of them will give you the ratio of vinegar to oil. In several cookbooks I’ve checked, the “standard” is one part vinegar to three parts oil (1:3).  But that is not set in stone. Some recipes are 1:2, others, 1:1. Depending on what’s in your salad, the flavor profile you are going for, and your own tastes, the proportion can be adjusted accordingly. Experiment and taste as you go. That’s the way to find what YOU like and what works best for you.

(Online sources for vinaigrette basics: thekitchn, allrecipes, Food Network’s Ina Garten.)

A great idea is to mix up a large batch of the basic vinaigrette, say two cups worth, and keep it in the refrigerator in a jar with a screw-top lid. To make a dressing for tonight’s meal, shake up the vinaigrette, pour off what you need, add herbs or seasonings as desired and mix. You can also pour off a portion to use as a marinade, adding whatever herbs and seasonings you want.

This is what I love about making my own salad dressings. There are so many options with ingredients and flavor combinations, using what we have on hand right now in the cupboard or fridge! It doesn’t take much time at all, and it is a basic skill that helps the home cook learn about flavors and how they work together to make a dish something special.

Still, there are times when nothing but ranch dressing will do. Hot wings, anyone? And as a parent it’s hard to dispute the value of Hidden Valley–the gateway to your kids eating their veggies.

Susan’s Asian-Style Salad Dressing

  • 1/4 C rice vinegar
  • A pinch of kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1/2 tsp minced fresh ginger
  • 1/2 tsp soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp sesame oil
  • 1/4 C canola oil

In a small mixing bowl or a 2-cup glass measuring cup, whisk together all ingredients except the canola oil. When thoroughly combined, slowly pour in the canola oil while whisking. 

Alternatively, place all ingredients in a glass jar, tightly screw on the lid and shake to thoroughly combine. Refrigerate until ready to use. Will keep up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator. Shake or whisk again just before adding to salad. Makes enough dressing for 3-4 servings, or a dinner-sized salad for two.

This dressing goes well with a salad that combines romaine lettuce, savoy cabbage (very thinly sliced), sliced scallions, peeled and sliced oranges or mandarin orange segments, toasted sliced almonds, sesame seeds, in any combination. Toss the lettuce and cabbage with the dressing, then top with the other ingredients.

You can add sliced grilled chicken to the party and make this salad a complete meal. Enjoy!

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My Asian-Styled Salad with (leftover) grilled chicken
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Some of my favorite sources for “the basics”