Creating Memories—Lifelong Connections

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Family time should always be about teaching lessons that will sustain us through life and creating memories and  cherished traditions.  I fondly recall the summertime visits I spent at my grandparents house, inquiring about times past, learning family recipes that I still make today and often making mischief with my cousins.  These experiences are the highlight of my youth so when I assumed the role of “Nonna,”it became my mission to provide this for my grandchildren.  When they were babies they were accompanied by their parents, but as they grew old enough to fly unaccompanied, independent visits have found their place in the scenario.  This year was a combination of the two as my teenage granddaughter arrived alone and then was joined a week later by her mother and younger brother.  The first arrival came by plane while the following travelers braved the two-day train ride from California to Illinois reporting it was an exciting adventure they would repeat if given the chance.

Let me first share the time alone with our granddaughter.  This was the second summer she embarked on a solo sojourn and she arrived with a desired to-do list that included a revisit to the local Amish community, a beauty treatment day, complete with an appointment at the salon, lunch and a pedicure, time at the lake with cousins, shopping and of course doing some cooking.  Since clam chowder is one of her favorites, we made that her first full day.  She does not eat pork or beef so my recipe, which includes bacon, was not an option.  After researching we decided on a recipe by Dave Lieberman that turned out very satisfying.

The week went by quickly and soon it was time for our Amtrak station pick-up. Looking no worse for the wear, Mom and son arrived with stories of the people they met on the train, the beauty of the Rocky Mountains and the activities they shared to pass the time.  Also with a to-do list which included fishing with grandpa, celebrating big sister’s birthday, time with cousins, swimming in the pool and movies.  He was delighted to see we own a ukulele as he had taken lessons at school this year and this interest resulted in a duet with him on strings and grandpa on the trumpet playing “Over the Rainbow”.  Quite adorable to see this 9-year-old playing with his gramps and both of them really digging the scene. My daughter requested an appointment with my hair stylist, Marie at Love+Light salon, as well and decided to coordinate with our neighbor for some horse riding lessons for the kids.  Since July is festival season here we followed the beauty treatment with lunch and a visit to a local festival happening in Madison.

Also on the agenda was baking a cake for her girl’s birthday and a family sit-down for a traditional Italian meal that would not be complete without a family favorite, Homemade Tomato Sauce.   Paired with pasta and other sides, it did not disappoint and was followed by a dessert of, made from scratch, Root Beer Float Cake topped with icing made from vanilla ice cream and bearing 14 candles.  The recipe is featured in this months Cuisine at Home magazine.  Fortunately the timing was such that we got to dine al fresco before getting slammed by the current massive heat wave.

Our neighbor, Cailyn Schave, is an accomplished equestrian and operates a horse training business called Orchard View Training.  She agreed to lessons for the kids and they were thrilled.  We are so fortunate to know her and be able to tap her as a resource.  Thanks, Cailyn for fitting us in.

We tearfully said farewell at the airport as the time passed with great speed and we quickly ran out of time for some of the things we thought we might be able to squeeze in.  I guess we will have a carry over list for next year.  They all went home together hopefully holding these shared memories in the hearts forever.  Hearing comments about how much fun they had and how Wisconsin is so “cool” made me think I had accomplished my goals. We spent the time together spreading the love, one dish and one experience at a time.  I hope all of you are enjoying your summer and finding your way to spread the love and make those lifelong connections with those you hold dear. Sending my love and wishes for peace to you. Jeanne

Snap Peas w/ Garlic Confit & Dill Vinaigrette

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We all know the saying, “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” but what to do when life gives you an abundance of fresh herbs?  Look for as many ways to utilize and preserve these pops of freshness, flavor and color as you can.  Right?  I have a lengthy history of growing and cooking with herbs but always welcome new recipes and ways to take advantage of their presence during our short but fertile growing season.  Professional chefs use herbs in abundance, but for many, their use may seem a bit intimidating.  There are many valuable tips on the subject available online so I won’t duplicate, but I will share a recent recipe I discovered and also another use that has delighted me as of late, herb bouquets.  That’s right, a bouquet that looks beautiful, has a sweet and pleasant aroma, gorgeous textures and is completely edible. It is a great way to give your plants a frequent trim so they remain full throughout the season.  Keep one near your workstation as a reminder that a bit of freshness is exactly what is needed for those seasonal dishes currently on your menu. I like to add a few flowers (edible of course) to mine for a colorful visual, my favorite being nasturtiums.  They are bright and both the leaves and flowers, bearing a bit of a peppery flavor, can be consumed.  They have had a presence in my garden for many years and I consider them an annual “must have.”

I discovered the featured recipe while perusing my cooking magazines.  It appealed to me because of its use of fresh dill, mint and green garlic.  If you cannot find green garlic, which is the young plant harvested early before the bulb is formed, regular garlic (be sure to use less as it is spicier and more intense) or garlic scapes can be used.  Scapes are the curly shoots from the plant that form later in the season as it matures.  This is what I used as green garlic is harvested earlier and no longer available here.

Here is how it goes down.

SNAP PEAS with GREEN GARLIC CONFIT & DILL VINAIGRETTE

Serves 6-8

Recipe by Jeremiah Stone & Fabian Von Hauske (featured on the cover of Food & Wine Magazine, July 2016)

2 stalks of green garlic, trimmed and thinly sliced crosswise (I used garlic scapes but I believe regular garlic would also work)

1c extra-virgin olive oil

1/4c fresh lemon juice

1/4c chopped dill

Kosher salt and black pepper

1 1/2 lbs. sugar snap peas, trimmed, some chopped and some left whole

6 white button mushrooms, halved and sliced thin lengthwise

1/4c torn mint or small mint leaves

  1. In a small saucepan, combine the garlic and olive oil and bring to a simmer.  Cook over low heat until the garlic is very tender, about 10 minutes.
  2. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool completely.  Strain the oil into a small bowl.
  3. Transfer the green garlic to a medium bowl.  Add the lemon juice, dill and slowly whisk in the oil until well blended.  Season with salt and pepper.
  4. In a bowl, toss the snap peas with 3/4 cup of the vinaigrette.
  5. Transfer to a platter and scatter the mushrooms on top.  Garnish with the mint and serve with the remaining vinaigrette.

Make ahead:  The vinaigrette can be made and refrigerated for 2 days.

I really enjoyed eating this and found it simple to make.  The spiciness of the garlic infused oil, paired with the grassiness of the dill and bright acidity of the lemon made a very flavorful dressing that I plan to use on future creations.  Then you have the winning combination of the sweet and crunchy snap peas, earthy mushrooms and just a pop of fresh mint.  Delicious and the epitome of seasonal freshness, this gorgeous dish has definitely found a permanent place in my recipe file.

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As we celebrate the Fourth of July, I hope we can all take a moment to reflect on our forefathers and their vision for the United States and its people.  Much has changed over the years, but one thing that must remain is the principle of equal opportunity for all.  This holiday, centered around family, food and fireworks, is the perfect time to give thanks for all we have and to spread the love, one dish at a time.  I will be taking a couple of weeks off from writing the blog to spend time with my daughter and her children.  Our visits usually serve as fodder for good stories and time in the kitchen.  Until next time, be safe.  Sending love from my kitchen to yours.  Jeanne

 

 

 

Jeanne’s Bourbon Balsamic BBQ Sauce

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Today is set aside to honor all the good fathers that are in our lives.  Mine is passed, as is the father of my children, yet we take a few minutes during this day to remember the times when our lives intersected and offered up both the trying times and those cherished moments we hold most dear.  One trait both these men shared was a deep sense of compassion for those less fortunate, those in need.  I have written about how my father always made sure that anyone who came to our door hungry went away with a full stomach.  He held a strong belief that his family would always be fed if he paid it forward.  My children’s father devoted his career advocating for people with disabilities to ensure their voices were heard.  They both left their legacy and we, who were touched by their presence, are richer for it.

With all dads and families in mind, I chose today to feature my newest creation to enhance the backyard BBQ which has grown, not just as a favorite summer activity, but a huge year-round industry.  Grills have not only increased in popularity but also in capability.  What was once an item pulled out of the garage once or twice a summer for burgers and dogs, the grills on the market today can smoke an entire pig, rotisserie whole turkeys and chickens, roast a leg of lamb or pork shoulder and much more.  As a child I never remember grilled vegetables as the common occurence they are today.  Nothing is spared the heat as we experiment with everything from grilled salads, pizza and fruits.  That said, the flavor enhancers, such a BBQ sauces and condiments have stepped into the spotlight as well.  With this in mind, I was inspired to play with the sauce recipe I developed a few years back and elevate it to new heights.

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Here is how it went down in my back yard kitchen this weekend.

JEANNE’S BOURBON BALSAMIC BBQ SAUCE         Makes about 2c

1 shallot, diced fine (or small onion)

¼ c neutral oil, such as, grape seed oil

1 large clove garlic, minced

1/3 c aged balsamic vinegar

2 T Worcestershire sauce

1 1/2 t molasses, unsulphered

½ t dry mustard

1/2 t Sriracha sauce or more to increase spiciness (or other hot sauce of choice)

½ c chili sauce

2 oz bourbon

1 t sea salt

¼ c water

  1. Sauté onions in the oil until soft.  Add garlic and cook until softened but not brown.
  2. Add the vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, molasses, mustard, Sriracha, chili sauce, 1 1/2 oz. of the bourbon, salt and water.
  3. Stir well and simmer lightly for 25 to 30 minutes.  Add the remaining 1/2 oz. bourbon, stir and taste.  Adjust salt and Sriracha, if needed.

Use on chicken, beef, pork, tofu or vegetables.

**Can be made up to a week in advance.  Keep refrigerated.

This combination of ingredients, in my opinion, has it all.  The balsamic is both sweet and tangy, a touch of heat is offered by the Sriracha, Worcestershire contributes to the saltiness and depth while the addition of the bourbon, during the cooking and then right at the end, gives the gift of smoke and wood from its time aging in charred oak barrels. The beauty of this sauce is it can be used on almost anything and can be adjusted to suit the individual.  For instance, if you want it sweeter, add more molasses.  If more heat is your thing, add more hot sauce.  Get the picture?

Before going, I have a confession to make.  Outdoor grilling, and all that it entails, was my father’s least favorite thing.  He did not enjoy picnics, stating often how he ate with ants during his stint in the US Army during WWII and saw no reason to do it any longer.  He did, however, enjoy good food.  So in spite of his aversion to this popular American activity, I think he would have enjoyed the complexity of this sauce as he ate inside at the dining table, sans the insects.

I would be remiss if I did not mention another wonderful father who has deeply touched my life, my dear husband, Michael.  He dedicated his career to teaching children and enhancing their lives by nurturing their love and understanding of music.  He continues this work with both children and adults now and cheerfully serves as my culinary guinea pig.  I have been blessed to have crossed paths with many devoted fathers and for that I am grateful.  May the love you have given be returned many fold.

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My sauce graced chicken legs and thighs last night and tonight it will serve as a dressing for the beef (requested by the “dad” of the house).  I aim to please. Whether you are honoring your dad or other fathers today, keep spreading the love, one dish at a time.  I send my gratitude to all the dads that have touched my life.  Love to you from my outdoor kitchen to yours.  Jeanne

 

Southeast Asian Inspired Pork Stir-Fry with Greens

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In open markets across Southeast Asia, you will find all sorts of leafy greens, a testament to the role that deep green vegetables play in local  cuisines.  This trend has also taken off in the United States.  In part this is due to the growing  awareness of their health benefits but I believe it is also influenced by the increased presence of Hmong farmers at our local summer markets.  The Hmong in the U.S. came mainly from Laos as refugees after the Viet Nam War.  Their peaceful agrarian lives in the hills interrupted, the 2010 census counts roughly as many as 260,000 living within our borders.  Much has been written about their struggles but the beauty of their culture has added one more layer of richness to the U.S. melting pot.  Many have continued their farming practices bringing a wide variety of vegetables to American tables.  I thank them for their contributions.

According to Jill Nussinow, MS, RD, culinary educator in Northern California and author of The Veggie Queen, greens are the number one food you can eat regularly to improve your health.  This statement is strongly supported among the medical community as well.  WebMD asked the Veggie Queen to rank the country’s most widely-eaten greens from most to least nutritious.  Here are her top ten:

  1.  Kale
  2. Collards
  3. Turnip Greens
  4. Swiss chard
  5. Spinach
  6. Mustard greens
  7. Broccoli
  8. Red, Green leaf and Romaine lettuce
  9. Cabbage
  10. Iceberg Lettuce

The recipe I feature today, pairs my love of Southeast Asian flavors with my continued interest in eating healthy and incorporating as many greens as I can into my diet.  I used pork as my protein but this could easily be made with poultry, seafood, beef or tofu.

Here is how it went down:

Southeast Asian Inspired Pork Stir-Fry with Greens

Serves 4

Recipe by Jeanne Raffetto Tentis

1 bunch broccolini, trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces

5 oz. baby kale (or bigger varieties, stemmed and cut into bite-size pieces)

2 t oil, neutral cooking oil such as, grapeseed

1lb. ground pork

4 cloves garlic, chopped

11/2 T chopped fresh ginger

1 Thai chile, sliced thin

4 T fresh lime juice

1 t palm sugar or light brown sugar

2 tablespoons fish sauce (soy sauce could be used but I recommend using fish sauce)

4 scallions, sliced thin (separate whites and greens)

2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted

3 c cooked rice (I used brown basmati) or rice noodles

  1. Blanch broccolini in boiling salted water for one minute.  Transfer to an

ice bath to cool.  Drain and set aside with baby kale.

2.  Heat the cooking oil in a large skillet.  Break the pork up into the oil and

cook for a minute or two.  Add the garlic, ginger and chile and cook until

meat is cooked through.

3.  Add the lime juice, sugar, and fish sauce.  Stir over medium heat and

cook with meat for about 2 minutes or until slightly reduced.

4.  Add the kale and stir until greens begin to soften.  Add the broccolini and

stir until heated through.

5.  Stir in the white parts of the scallion.  Serve over rice, garnished with

scallion greens and sesame seeds.

All of the vibrant fresh flavors marry, creating a complete meal perfect for summer and its plethora of green vegetables.  If you prefer other green combinations they can easily be substituted and adjusted to your palate.  I decided on broccolini mainly because we love it and enjoy the crunchiness it provides, balancing the softness of the greens, but regular broccoli or other vegetables could be used.  The chili, fresh lime juice, fish sauce and sugar provide the flavor profile of hot, sour, salty, sweet that the cuisines of SE Asia are known for.  It is the delicate contribution and balance of these flavors that take this simple stir fry to new heights.

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This season doesn’t have to be just about what’s grilling.  This one pot meal may soon become a summer, fall, winter, or spring family favorite.  Just keep it seasonal and it will easily become a regular at your dining table.  Stir-fry Saturday?   Whatever you are serving up today, keep spreading the love, one dish at a time.  Summer love to all of you from my kitchen to yours.  Keep it simple, keep it real.  Until next time, Jeanne.

 

 

 

Spinach Stuffed Portobello with Almonds

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The arrival of spring always gets me fired up waiting for the early vegetables. Around here that translates to ramps, morels, asparagus, arugula and one of my all time favorites, spinach.  This is not an exhaustive list by any stretch but just a few of the early gifts of the season that we look forward to every year.  There are always the standard preparations but the challenge for me is to find tasty new ways to enjoy these jewels while highlighting their natural flavor.  Normally I like to keep it simple with a minimal amount of additions, allowing them to be the star.  Today, however, I am sharing a recipe I recently developed for an appetizer pairing the meaty portobello mushroom with spinach.  Since both the mushroom and the spinach have an earthy flavor, I needed something to balance it out.  I chose cheese for its creaminess and tang and almonds for a bit of crunch.  The result was both beautiful and a treat to the tastebuds.

Let’s take a minute to talk about this very versatile leafy green vegetable.  It is thought that the early Spanish explorers were the ones responsible for bringing it to the United States.  “Popeye” was never without its power-packed goodness to supply him with extraordinary strength and endurance which may have contributed to its early popularity.  Regardless of its history, it is available year round in its raw form as well as frozen and canned.  Experienced cooks know about its shrinkage but if you are a novice in the kitchen, allow this to serve as a warning, a huge amount of raw product will lose considerable volume when cooked.  In part, this is because of the ample amount of water it contains.  There seems to be conflicting information regarding quantity of frozen vs fresh, but suffice it to say, if you are substituting fresh for frozen in a recipe, it will take about one pound of fresh to yield 1- 1 1/2 c after cooking.  That being said, it is often more economical and easier to use frozen when it is incorporated into a dish that is cooked.  I assume I don’t have to expound on the fact that fresh is imperative when it is served raw.  I might just add, it is this writers opinion that canned is never a good option.

For the featured recipe I chose to use frozen for the above reasons of cost and quantity but if you have it in your garden or it is readily available, fresh is a good choice as well.  Here is how it went down in my kitchen.

SPINACH STUFFED PORTOBELLO with ALMONDS

Recipe by Jeanne Raffetto Tentis           Serves 6 

6 portobello mushrooms, stem and gills removed

2T extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, diced

4 large cloves fresh garlic, minced

1t bouquet garni spice, dried (other herbs could be substituted)

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 (10 oz.) packages frozen spinach, thawed

1/4 c whole milk or cream

3T sliced almonds, toasted

6 oz. Gruyere cheese, grated (about 1 1/2 c)

3T Pecorino Romano, grated

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Brush mushroom caps with a small amount of olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Place top side down on a baking sheet.
  3. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, saute the onion until soft.  Add the garlic and cook another minute being careful not to burn.
  4. Squeeze any excess water out of the thawed spinach and add to the onion mixture.
  5. Season with the bouquet garni, salt and pepper.  Stir well and saute for another few minutes.  Add the milk or cream and stir well.
  6. Take off the heat and add half of the almonds, half the Gruyere and the Pecorino Romano; mix well.  Taste for salt and pepper and adjust if needed.
  7. Distribute the filling evenly among the mushrooms and top with the remaining Gruyere and toasted almonds.
  8. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the mushrooms are tender and cheese is melted and beginning to brown.

Can be served, cut into bite-sized pieces, as an appetizer or served whole as a main course with a fresh salad and/or pasta lightly dressed with butter or pesto.

I served this as an appetizer but the portobello is hefty enough to satisfy even big eaters as an entree when paired with complimentary sides.  If you are vegetarian or just an advocate for “meatless Mondays” this recipe is a must have.

Creamy, earthy, crunchy, spiked with a bit of garlic and herbs, I can’t think of a better nod to the season or better way to spread the love, one dish at a time.  I hope you and your family and friends will find this as satisfying as I did whether it is a meal or a snack.  Until next time, may you find hope in the season and embrace its bounty.  Sending love to your kitchen from mine.  Jeanne

 

In the Kitchen with Henry

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Last Sunday afternoon, I was cooking with grandson, Henry, while his brother was getting a trumpet lesson from grandpa.  He arrived with his knife case in hand and was eager to have some instruction on making a quick Soba Noodle Bowl recipe that includes many of his favorite Asian flavors.  We began by making the broth using commercial chicken and beef stock, adding flavor bombs like a whole head of garlic, onions, fresh ginger, dried shiitake mushrooms, chili pepper and kombu, a type of dried seaweed that is added at the end and allowed to steep for 30 minutes (think Umami).  After it simmered and the broth was strained of all the solids we added additional flavor bombs of soy sauce, toasted sesame oil and rice vinegar and fresh lime. “The taste is amazing,” remarked Henry.   Enough said I guess.

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This brings me to the soba noodles.  Neither of the boys had ever had them before but really enjoyed their somewhat nutty taste.  If you are also unfamiliar with them, soba (SOH-buh) is a Japanese noodle made from buckwheat and wheat flour, which gives it a light brown color and a distinct flavor.  They are readily available in Asian markets and in the ethnic sections of many grocery stores.  If desired, you could substitute other noodles such as udon, rice noodles or even thin spaghetti for this recipe.  The same goes for the toppings.  I wasn’t really sure what the boys preferences were so I let Henry know what was available and he chose the ones he liked, which just happened to be all of them.  We just spread them out and allowed everyone to build their own bowl.  Henry agreed with me that this would make a fun interactive party dish.

When it was all prepared and ready to go, we called in the musicians and went at it.  A big success, it went down like this.

SOBA NOODLE BOWL with BEEF       Serves 6-8

Recipe by Jeanne Raffetto Tentis

BROTH

8c beef stock

4c chicken stock

1 head garlic, cut in half

1 bunch scallions, trimmed and whites separated from greens

1 large yellow onion, quartered

3-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled

4 dried shiitake mushrooms

1 Thai or other chili, optional

1 piece Kombu, wiped lightly with damp cloth

2T soy sauce

1T toasted sesame oil

1T rice vinegar

Juice of 1 fresh lime

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. Put both stocks in a large soup pot and add all ingredients except the scallion greens and Kombu.  Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer.  Cook, covered for 1 hour.
  2. Remove from heat and add the Kombu.  Cover, and steep for 30 minutes.  Strain the stock through a strainer lined with cheese cloth.  Discard the solids.
  3. Return the stock to the stove and heat through.  Add the soy sauce, sesame oil, vinegar and lime juice.  Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.

NOODLE BOWL

12 oz. soba noodles, cooked according to package directions, drain and rinsed in cold water

4 eggs cooked soft (boil water, gently place eggs into the pan and cook for 7 minutes.  Remove immediately to an ice bath)

A selection of seasonal toppings such as, asparagus, snow peas, radish, spinach, brocollini, scallion greens, pea or bean sprouts

1 1/2 lbs. of steak, such as flank or skirt cooked and sliced thin

  1. For the vegetables such as asparagus, snow peas and brocollini, I like to blanch them separately for one minute in boiling salted water.  Remove quickly into an ice bath to set color and stop cooking.  Dry on a clean towel.
  2. Thinly slice the scallion greens and radish, if using (I like to do the radish on a mandolin slicer so they are paper thin).
  3. Prepare all the toppings including meat and arrange a selection so everyone can build their own.
  4. Peel and cut eggs in half lengthwise.
  5. To build, place raw spinach in the bottom of the bowl, if using.  Place desired amount of noodles on top of the spinach.  Ladle hot broth over the top and add the desired toppings and 1/2 soft cooked egg/ bowl.
  6. Garnish with the scallion greens and/ or sprouts.

Jeanne’s notes:

This is a shortened version of the stock but a good rich broth is essential for this dish. Make sure you have seasoned it well.  The broth is the star with the other ingredients being the supporting cast.  

You can use any seasonal vegetables you wish so be creative.  Blanching the vegetables makes them a vibrant color and just slightly more palatable than raw.  The soft cooked egg is traditional but of you like it with a harder yolk, cook it a few minutes longer.  If you would rather have chicken than beef, swap out the beef stock and steak for chicken.

Kitchen time with Henry is always a treat as he is an open eager learner who is very observant and gifted with an artist’s eye and passion.  Lucky me.  Love was abundant as a bit of cooking wisdom was passed to another generation along with music knowledge from Grandpa.  These are cherished moments I want to share, knowing they will pass much quicker than we can imagine.

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Before saying goodby, I want take a moment to honor my mother, Annabelle Raffetto, and my grandmother, Jenny Raffetto, who were most influential in my life and development and who first taught me the importance of spreading the love, one dish at a time.  Thank you both for all the priceless gifts.  Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there.  I hope you are feeling the love today and everyday.  Until next time, Jeanne

Marinated Lentils with Crunchy Spring Vegetables

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There is a lot of talk these days about “green living” but spring has had the green thing going on for a long time.  This week I taught a class themed, “Spring Soups and Salads” featuring many of the vegetables we associate with this season.  Among them were asparagus, sugar snap peas, spring peas, scallions, arugula, radish and fresh herbs, mint and parsley.  The end of class evaluations and smiling faces verified I made good choices for the featured recipes.  Among the ones I chose is the salad I selected for today’s post, highlighting  the lovely and often underrated lentil.  Lentils are popular in parts of Europe and a staple throughout much of the Middle East and India.  This lens shaped PULSE has long been used as an inexpensive meat substitute and serves as a good source of calcium,vitamins A and B, iron and phosphorus.  In addition to the common brown variety, there are also red lentils, French green and black beluga, all becoming more widely used and more readily available.  These are the varieties I am familiar with, but there may be more.  I welcome learning about them, but I have yet to make their acquaintance.

For this preparation, it is recommended that you use either the French green (that is what is pictured here) or the black beluga.  Both of these varieties are smaller in size and hold their shape and maintain some ‘tooth’ when cooked, not breaking down easily like the red and brown, which would be more suitable for soups or stews.  There are endless possibilities for using these tiny delights. They can be served hot or cold as a side or entree depending what you choose to pair with them.  They are extremely versatile so I urge you to think of them as a blank canvas.  They are perfect for all seasons and will partner well with many spices and seasonal offerings.

Since the first of May makes its grand entrance this weekend,  I have prepared this salad with crunchy radish, celery, and scallion and gave it a garnish of fresh herbs.

Here is how it went down in my kitchen.

MARINATED LENTILS with CRUNCHY VEGETABLES

Serves 4

Recipe from Bon Appetit,  April 2016

1 large onion, quartered through the root

2 bay leaves

1 1/2 c black beluga or French green lentils, rinsed, picked

Kosher salt

1/4 c olive oil

1t coriander seeds

1/2 t cumin seeds

3T sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar (love the sherry)

Freshly ground black pepper

6 radishes, trimmed, very thinly sliced (I shaved them on a mandolin)

4 scallions. thinly sliced

1c fresh parsley and/or mint

1c thinly sliced celery hearts and leaves

  1. Cook onion, bay leaves and lentils in a large saucepan of simmering salted water until lentils are tender but still firm, about 15-20 minutes.  Drain; discard onion and bay leaves and transfer to a medium bowl.
  2. Heat oil in a small skillet over medium heat.  Cook coriander seeds and cumin seeds, swirling the skillet until fragrant, about 1 minutes.  Add the spice mixture and vinegar to the lentils, season with salt and pepper and toss to coat.
  3. Just before serving, top the lentils with radishes, scallions, herbs and celery;  season with salt and pepper.

NOTE:  Lentils (without the vegetables and herbs) can be marinated 3 days ahead.  Cover and chill.  Other seasonal vegetables can be added as you wish.

Lately I have really discovered many uses for sherry vinegar, which is what I used for this.  It might be my new BFF.  Just a small splash can really elevate many dishes.  The marinade infused with the toasted coriander and cumin seeds, is enhanced by the sherry vinegar giving it the perfect amount of warmth along with tang and vigor. The end garnish of fresh parsley and mint give it such a bright finish.  It is well balanced and satisfying and if spring has not yet sprung for you, this is the ticket to take you there.  As with all salad dressings, I always recommend using the best quality extra-virgin olive oil you have.  It makes a difference.

I am happy to report our first garden asparagus made an appearance this week and the local farmers markets have begun their rebirth.  This is such an exciting time of year!  The new calves, lambs and goats are all romping sweetly with their moms in the fields and the pastures resemble the Irish hillsides.  I look forward to tasting vegetables and fruits the way nature meant for them to taste as the seasons evolve.  Whatever you are up to, I hope you are enjoying life and spreading the love, one dish at a time.  Until next time, may good food grace your table and sunshine light your heart.  Sending love from my kitchen to yours.  Jeanne

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