Monday Soup: Lemony Red Lentil with cilantro

I’ve fallen off my meal-planning wagon big time. Seriously, I can’t remember the last time I managed to both make and carry through a plan – not even on weeks where I am only able to cook twice. Anyways, one of my grand meal planning ideas has always been to make a soup or stew once a week. Soups and stews generally make for awesome leftovers and my best meal plans involve judicious use of leftovers more so than cooking every night. I swear I can’t cook more than 3 times a week, and in theory I love food, to think about food and to cook.

So add bad meal planning + bad blogging and I bring you Monday Soup (let’s see if it sticks). This week I’m sharing one of my favorite super easy soups. I found it in a little book called Kitchen Express by Mark Bittman – this book is organized by season and designed for simple, quick meals. It is not a traditional cookbook – no ingredient lists and all the recipes are basically one chatty paragraph (kind of the Elizabeth Zimmerman of cooking recipes). It doesn’t look like much but it is fast and I often have everything but the cilantro in my pantry (and I often have cilantro that needs to be used up in my produce drawer).

Red Lentil soup with cilantro and lemon

Lemony Red Lentil Soup with Cilantro, makes about 4 servings

1 onion, chopped (I’ve done half an onion before, if there is half waiting to be used up)
olive oil
1 c. red lentils, rinsed
4 c. broth (I use a weak vegetable broth)
handful cilantro
more olive oil
salt & pepper
cayenne pepper (optional)
1 lemon

In a 3 or 4 qt soup pan heat the olive oil on medium and add the onion to saute until soft. Add the lentils and broth, simmer until soft – about 20 minutes. Using an immersion blender (or electric blending device of your choice), puree the cilantro with some olive oil (I often just add a spoonful of soup to get the required liquid level) and pour the cilantro puree back into the soup. Stir vigorously to break up the lentils, if you want it smoother you can do a quick blend with the immersion blender (which I do since I’ve already dirtied it). Season to taste with salt and pepper (and cayenne). Add the juice of a lemon just before serving (or squeeze a wedge into each bowl). Done.

I often eat this with garlic naan from the freezer section of Trader Joes (garlic naan is one of my “make soup time fun” weapons with theHusband who isn’t as excited about lentil soups as I am), or another tasty bread (pretzel rolls, beer bread, or a nice crusty slice would all work well). And in my house that is dinner. I might add salad if I’m feeling fancy.

November 17, 2014. Tags: . Cooking. Leave a comment.

Tomato Preserving 2014

I survived Tomato Week! Two Sundays ago I bought a 25 lb box of roma tomatoes from my usual farmer’s market booth. One thing I’ve learned is that I need to spread out the tomatoes to insure that I can target those mostly likely to spoil first, and weed out any spoiled tomatoes (I found one at the bottom of the box, it had taken out one neighbor, but due to my quick check no other tomatoes were spoiled).


I started with salsa – a pantry staple in our house, and we just haven’t been thrilled with so many of the store bought options. A friend mentioned that she tried the Mrs Wages salsa mix and it was easy and tasty. So, when I saw a medium version on sale at the store I grabbed a pouch. I also decided not to make more than one batch of any given recipe – last year I made two of a favorite recipe and was plain tired of it by early summer (however we nailed our salsa consumption – I have one pint leftover from last year and that is only because, around May we started conserving and bought two jars from the store in anticipation of running out).

5 lbs of tomatoes plus the Mrs. Wages pouch of dried vegetables and spices became 5 pints of salsa. It had a crazy long processing time, but I wasn’t confident enough to not listen. (40 minutes – I have a plain chopped tomato recipe that only calls for 35 minutes, and my other recipes call for 15 or 20 minutes). On first taste it was pretty good, but perhaps a touch salty.

5 lbs of tomatoes turned into 10 cups of coarsely chopped tomatoes for our usual Simple ‘House’ Salsa from Ball Complete Guide became 5 pints of salsa (4 pints sealed, 1 pint went to the fridge with a bout a cup left over). This year I used 5 large jalapenos with all their seeds (which the food processor turned into about 1 1/4 cups of chopped jalapeno) instead of the called for green or red bell pepper.

6 lbs of tomatoes turned into 12 cups of coarsely chopped tomatoes for our usual Spicy Tomato Salsa from Ball Complete Guide became 7 pints of salsa (with about 2 tablespoons leftover). This year I used 2 dried chipotles, 1 dried chile negro and 6 dried chile gaujillos. I used lots of gaujillos simply because I only wanted to buy one packet of dried chiles from the store (the dried chipotles and chile negro were leftover from last year). I seeded half the fresh jalapenos.

2 lbs of tomatoes turned into the Blender Salsa from Marissa McCellan’s new Preserving by the Pint. I got just over the stated 4 half-pint yield. I considered processing it in our usual pint jars but was worried about processing time so I stuck to the half-pints. My first thoughts are that it is very tomato-y and lime-y. I might try adding some fresh, chopped cilantro when we open a jar since we are big cilantro fans.

Just shy of 5 lbs of tomatoes went in the oven, slow roasting. They turned into 9.35 oz of tomatoes and are stored in a ziplock in the freezer.

So 18 lbs of tomatoes turned into 18+ pints of salsa. 5 lbs of tomatoes went to the freezer and we have 4 tomatoes left (3/4 lb).

Other notes: With the exception of the Blender Salsa I hand chop all the tomatoes. It goes surprisingly fast, or at least faster than I think it should (about 20 minutes for 5-6 lbs). This year I also hand chopped my onion, but I use the food processor to chop my jalapenos (just a few pulses does it) because the less I have to handle them the better (maybe one day I will have disposable gloves that fit and then I can compare hand chopped versus food processor).

I’m really excited that this year I managed to get through the whole box of tomatoes in less than a week. Now I have to decide, do I want to buy another 25 lb box? It would be nice to make a second batch of oven roasted tomatoes, and there was a tomato jam recipe I wanted to make… I could maybe see adding another batch of salsa, plus I could make some chopped tomatoes, maybe some rotel-style tomatoes for chili this winter and maybe finally try my hand at whole, peeled tomatoes…

September 17, 2014. Tags: , . preserving. 2 comments.

Preserving: Lemony Strawberry Jam 1.0

There is a booth at the Farmer’s market that makes the best stuff, she was a big inspiration that got me past the awful, heat and humidity filled childhood memories of canning with my mom (I mean, I’m thankful I have a mom that makes stuff, that taught me to make stuff, I just had no fun canning back then, in a midwest kitchen with no A/C). The downside, (never mind the price which I’m happy to pay as a treat) she only sells at one market, the huge crazy, shuffle your feet because you are surrounded by people on all four sides market downtown. Instead we tend to frequent the surrounding neighborhood markets that are smaller and slightly less crowded.

Back to the jam. Until now I’ve avoided trying to recreate her strawberry-lemon jam (or is it marmalade, I think it is more jam than marmalade, obviously I need to buy another jar to taste-test). But we bought half a flat of strawberries last week, ate the first pint as a road trip snack and the second as strawberry shortcake. 4 pints left for jam and a bag of organic lemons in the fridge.

lemony strawberry jam

I’m really into making my jam with Pomona’s Pectin. The basic recipes included are lower in sugar than most jams, but then I browse my other books for flavor-boosting variations. This is how I make our blueberry-lime jam. And so it is where I started for the strawberry-lemon jam of my dreams. 4 cups mashed strawberries (my 4 pints weighed in ~36 oz and gave me just shy of 2 cups – I tossed a small handful of frozen berries in to reach that mark), 2 cups sugar (max amount is still so much lower than my Ball book), juice of one lemon, zest of 2 lemons, the calcium water and pectin. Yield was 5 half-pints (and one spoonful for slurping). While I did lick the spoon, the spatula, the jar funnel and the pan once it cooled I don’t think it is the jam of my dreams.

An aside: anyone know how to get strawberry jam to not have those aesthetically marring air bubbles?

June 12, 2014. Tags: , , . preserving. 1 comment.

Tomato Preserving 2013

There is still time. Every year I take notes, but never feel like I get them done in time to publish this. Because when I started canning, recipes that list things like “12 cups of chopped tomato” aren’t very helpful while I’m at the market trying to buy the correct amount. Also, I tend to lose paper notes. But I hope someone finds this helpful.

Last week (8/25) I bought a 20 lb box of organic roma tomatoes. And throughout the week I worked on processing them with a friend of mine. They sat until Tuesday, at which point I took them out of the box and put them in a single layer* on three sheet pans (two half-sheets and one jelly-roll). On Wednesday I blanched and chopped 12 pounds in preparation for 2 batches of salsa (I divided these as I went). On Thursday I chopped everything else for those two batches, then cooked and processed one batch. On Friday I cooked and processed the second batch. And now its Sunday night and I started oven-dried tomatoes (4 1/8 lbs fit on my jelly roll pans that fit in my small oven). Sometimes starting a canning project can be daunting so I break it into chunks (a tip from Food in Jars blog). I had friends staying with me so we tried to fit canning amongst about-the-town and entertain-the-kiddos time. Another friend of mine powered through her box in one night.

Salsa pic

The short notes

  • 6 lbs tomatoes becomes 12 cups of tomatoes becomes 7 pints of Spicy Tomato Salsa from Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.  I seeded 2 jalapenos, used 4 with seeds, I used 1/2 cup of the dried-chile water to puree. Initial taste tests suggest an extra spicy version this year.
  • 5 lbs tomatoes becomes 10 cups of tomatoes becomes 5 pints of House Tomato Salsa from Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. I used 5 jalapenos with seeds instead of the green bell pepper and hot sauce. Initial taste tests suggest an extra spicy version this year.
  • 4 lbs tomatoes on their way to oven-dried goodness. This gets stored in the freezer – I highly recommend having these to perk up fall, winter, spring and early summer meals.
  • approximately 3 lbs haven’t met their fate yet.
  • We probably ate a pound with meals.

* This box came home on the under ripe side. Last year a lost several tomatoes because they went bad in the box and contaminated other tomatoes (“one rotten apple spoils the bunch” has merit) so this year I spread everything out. Keeping them on sheet pans made it easy to move as we dealt with other cooking tasks (like blackberry jam and dinner).

And now this week I came home from the market with 10 lbs of tomatillos. Salsa verde is in my near future. And next week I plan to split a 20 lb box of romas with a friend.

September 1, 2013. Tags: , , . preserving. 5 comments.

Pink drinks for summer

A bit over a week ago I found this recipe for strawberry-rhubarb infused vodka and I knew I had to make it. I haven’t had luck with infusions in the past but I did like that this recipe made a small batch. Also rhubarb….I’m a sucker for rhubarb.

I meant to try the drink included with the infusion recipe, or the spiked lemonade. But this afternoon I realized I forgot to pick up the necessary ingredients. So a “simple” vodka & soda was made (really a better test anyway).


1 1/2 – 2 oz infused vodka
6 oz soda or seltzer water
mint garnish optional

June 14, 2013. Tags: , , . Cooking, Life. 2 comments.

One Pan Blondies (and yarn)

A couple weeks ago I had a hankering for some blondies. I have a few different recipes (Vanilla Garlic, Smitten Kitchen that I go to regularly, well as regularly as I make blondies) but I had also bookmarked this recipe, and that day it caught my eye because you only need one pan. A 10″ cast iron skillet (how awesome are 10″ cast iron skillets?). I did end up using a second pan to toast my pecans, but if I had decided on nuts ahead of time I could have done that before I melted the butter.  Oh, and the other joy of blondies, it is a cookie you can make from frozen butter (I generally have a couple pounds of butter in the freezer) and it is so very adaptable to mix-ins. Since I didn’t quite follow theKitchn recipe I’m going to write out my version.

IMG_7288 editted

Blondies riffed from theKitchn Skillet Blondies
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon espresso powder
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup toasted, lightly chopped pecans (or your favorite nut)
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1/4 cup candied* or crystallized ginger, chopped (aim for chocolate chip size)

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Toast your nuts in the cast iron skillet in the oven. This takes around 5 minutes depending on the nut, shake a few times, sniff often. Remove the nuts from the pan and set the pan on the stove-top. Add your stick of butter and let it melt. Once it is melted add the brown sugar and stir (until dissolved says the recipe, mine never dissolved so I just made sure it was well mixed). While that happens grab everything else and chop or measure as needed. Pour and scrap the butter-sugar mixture into a bowl, let it cool a little bit before add the egg and vanilla extract. Add your dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, espresso powder) and stir together. Mix in your mix-ins. The chocolate chips will probably melt a little bit. Pour back into the cast iron skillet, you will probably need to press it down a little bit to make sure the batter is an even thickness. Bake around 20-25 minutes. Let it cool before slicing.

* I’m partial to a Trader Joe’s product called “Uncrystallized Candied Ginger” and it’s generally sold along side their dried fruits (when they stock it at all, which sadly they don’t).

I already have plans for tweaking the next batch, but one thing that is definitely staying is the candied ginger, every bite I got with a bit of ginger was so awesome (admittedly, I am a ginger-aholic – but it didn’t scream ginger to me, just a nice warmth and zing) I sliced it into 12 or 16 wedges and only had a few leftover (the picture above is the morning after baking).

What about that yarn? Well I brought these to what is normally my knit night, though that evening my LYS was hosting a yarn tasting of Shibui yarn. We got to check out sample garments and play with mini skeins of 7 different Shibui yarns. One of the sweaters caused me to exclaim, “I want to swim in a bathtub full of this!” it was so luscious and soft and drapey. I didn’t get very far on my own swatches and so I’m still quite a bit undecided about exactly what combination I want to work with the most (or what project) but I think that Silk Cloud will probably be in that mix.

IMG_7304 editted

This photo below gives a slightly better representation of the three mixes I swatched so far.


I started with Staccato, then Staccato + Silk Cloud and then Silk Cloud + Cima.

March 19, 2013. Tags: , . baking, Knitting. 2 comments.

Blueberry Jam

Back in 2010 I made two batches of blueberry lime jam, we gave most of one batch away and ate all of the other. We were quite sad when we got down to the last jar. For some reason in 2011 I didn’t make it, but I did make blackberry jam (which didn’t go over as well for whatever reason). So this year I wanted to make sure to make another batch. And I’m trying to get better at recording my notes during canning.

3 pints of blueberries yielded about 2 1/2 cups of mashed berries. I add the zest of one lime and use lime juice for my added acid. With pomona’s pectin I use the full amount of sugar, 2 cups.

Since I had 1/2 cup of mashed blueberries I decided to experiment a little bit. I also had  almost a pint of strawberries and almost a pint of raspberries from this weekend I went ahead and mashed up the remaining strawberries and about half the raspberries – this gave me 1 1/2 cups of mashed berries. I added a teaspoon of vanilla bean paste, the remainder of vanilla bean pods from a batch of vanilla sugar (plus the remaining tablespoon of sugar) and 3/4 cup of sugar. Oh and I used raspberry vinegar for my added acid. I’m geekily calling it Tri Vanilla Berry Jam.

September 21, 2012. Tags: , . preserving. Leave a comment.

Granola craving satisfied

I’ve been thinking about making granola again. The other morning I decided to just do it, that I’d probably have the granola done by the time I was ready to eat anyway. It worked. I finally got to cross, “make granola” off my mental to do list. Until I run out and crave it again anyway. Apparently I get the urge to make granola in the fall. And the last two morning have felt like fall – it is such a beautiful time of year here, but I find fall so sad, I mourn the loss of excessive daylight, and the ability to wear open toe shoes comfortably.

Recently I read about making granola stay in bigger chunks (I think it was while reading Cook’s Illustrated) so that has been stuck in my mind. But none of the recipes I had bookmarked seemed quite right so I sort of winged it. I started by following this recipe, and then eyeballed this recipe (note: also mentions the trick to bigger chunks of granola). I used brown rice syrup instead of honey because I have some I want to use up and am out of honey. I spiced it with cinnamon, ginger and vanilla. I did a mix of pecans, pepitas, and pistachios (oh hello alliterative nuts). I used coconut flakes, diced dried apricots and dried cranberries. Basically the only two ways I followed the first recipe is that I started with 2 cups of oats and used a teaspoon of cinnamon. I managed to have the right amount for one  tiny (10 x 15) cookie sheet. My tiny cookie sheets are as big as my oven will fit. A couple weeks ago I made scones, the recipe has a high yield that fills 2 regular (half-sheet) size pans; it took 3 or 4 rounds of baking to finish off the dough; And that favorite recipe has been shoved to the back of the recipe box. I did make the wonderful discovery, that since I now have a microwave, I could measure, mix and heat up the liquids all in the same pyrex measuring cup.


Back to the granola. Wow. It turned out some chunky granola. The edges ended up a little bit burnt, but the kind of burnt the teeters on the edge of dark caramel flavor. I nibbled on a few edges as though they were granola bar bits. I actually think I should have broken up the granola earlier, or maybe stirred it during the first half of baking. But I’m sure it will break apart a little more when I transfer it to the jar. I hope so because I like my dried fruit to be evenly distributed in my granola.

(It did break apart a little more, but next time I think I need to stir more before it cools completely.)

September 17, 2012. Tags: . baking, Cooking. 1 comment.

Inventorying my homemade pantry

This is my third year of ‘putting up’ food for the winter. My second serious year, last year I took a bunch of notes and saved them as private blog posts (and I just edited them to be public). That has worked fairly well, since I don’t loose those notes. And now, as tomato season starts for us (surely someone else sees the irony of advertising Early Girl tomatoes the first weekend in September?)… I need to take stock of what I have left from last year.
Taking stock (IMG_6626)

  • 3 pints of salsa (orig. 7+6+7=20? pints)
  • slightly less than a bag of slow-oven roasted tomatoes
  • 3 pints of garlic dill pickles (orig. 7 pints)
  • 2 pints of dilly beans (orig. 3 pints)
  • 1 pint of lemon[y] cucumber pickles (orig. 3 pints)
  • 3 half-pints of vanilla pear jam (orig. 6 half-pints
  • 3 half-pints of blackberry jam (can’t find my notes)

Thoughts: we are almost spot on for salsa. I think we gave a couple jars away, and I know we didn’t try to “conserve” our salsa use so I’m going to aim for making three batches this year. Oddly enough the first year we made slow oven roasted tomatoes we flew them and so decided to make double the quantity, and yet we have almost half of them left over… We definitely paced ourselves in dill pickle consumption, but I don’t know why we  haven’t eaten the dilly beans. I’m skipping any pickle recipe that calls for sugar though (lemon[y] cucumber pickles were a sweet), we just don’t eat them up quickly. And the jam – the blackberry was a solid but uninteresting jam that never inspired us to make chock-full-o-jam things, and the vanilla pear I think I forgot to give a couple jars away – but I’m looking forward to adding it to yogurt with some homemade granola. I need to find my balance between pb&j jam and fun/intriguing jam.

Additionally earlier this year I put up:

  • 4 half-pints of rhubarb jelly
  • 4 half-pints of rhubarb syrup
  • 3 half-pints of rosemary rhubarb jam
  • 1 half-pint of strawberry rhubarb jam (a gift, plus about 5 oz straight to fridge)
  • 3 pints of asparagus pickles

And more to come, I have jam in the water-bath canner as I type. I need to get serious about getting our salsa and garlic-dill pickle supply canned.

September 4, 2012. Tags: , . Cooking, preserving, Thoughts. Leave a comment.

Pickles 2011

I made pickles on my own in 2009.  And again in 2010, each year I try to take notes because I always find myself stumped… which recipe did I make?  How much produce did I buy?  On Saturday I grab 5 lbs of pickling cucumbers (all small enough to fit in a pint jar whole), ~2 lbs of green beans (and hey look, tomatillos, I’ll take 3 lbs for my favorite green enchilada sauce) from the farmer’s market and planned to pickle the weekend away.


First up: Garlic Dill Pickles, recipe courtesy of Food in Jars.  We made these last year, but I find myself stumped?  Black pepper, I don’t remember that, did we prefer fresh dill or dill seed?  I don’t think we noticed a difference, or if we did it wasn’t enough to be memorable.  Oh, hey we did use dried whole chiles instead of crushed red pepper – 1 per jar. But what exactly is 2 quarts of cucumbers? I decided to do a little tracking.  Using a spare dry pint box from berries I filled it 4 times and dumped the cucumbers in a big bowl set up on my scale. 39.5 oz.  I get 8 jars ready, only to realize that my water bath canner holds 7 jars.  Oh well.  And then I only manage to fill 6 of those jars (each holds 6 cucumbers when I mix slightly smaller with slightly larger cucumbers, one jar has 5 thicker cucumbers).  So I grab 7 more cucumbers, quickly scrub and prep them (I cut both ends off because I worry I’ll mistake a blossom end for a stem end). This year we are aiming for a few spicier jars and add 2 chiles to 3 of the jars.  I do have some extra brine… oh well.

Garlic Dill Pickles: 41 cucumbers (not quite 3 lbs) in 7 pint jars.

Second batch: Cucumber Pickles with Lemon from The Complete Book of Small Batch Preserving.  Calls for 2 lbs of pickles (and I have 30 oz remaining).  Wish I had started sooner since the cucs need to be salted and sit for 3 hours.  I didn’t believe that the cucumber slices would fit in three jars so I prepped four jars and upped the brine (vinegar, lemon juice, sugar and spices by 1 1/3) only to have it all fit perfectly in 3 jars.

Third Batch: Dilly Beans from Food in Jars, with a slight modification to the brine (following the Ball Complete Guide… brine ratio so I used 2 1/2 T of salt instead of 4 T that Marissa called for).  2 lbs of green beans probably could have filled 4 jars, but I prepped three jars.  Ooops, processed them for 10 minutes instead of 5.

September 4, 2011. Tags: , , . preserving. Leave a comment.

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