I’m determined to not miss this boat, and actually get my first post in on the first of the year. I can’t start slacking off before I even begin. So I have three hours and 2 minutes, or in Willem time, the second half of Ratatouille.
About a year and a half ago – I “threw my hat over the fence” (a phrase my Grandad liked to use – the idea being that if you throw your hat over the fence, you are then forced to climb over the fence to pick it up) by saying I was going to launch a new website called Julie Does Dinner, that would be a sort of reality cookbook for those looking for meal ideas, recipes, product info and the like. I was going to launch it two Labour Day weekends ago, then on my birthday, then last Labour Day weekend. It has turned into one of those “I’ll start next week” plans, one I became particularly good at putting off because I knew once I started, I’d have to keep it up. Plus, I spent hours trying to customize a WordPress blog with limited success. Back to the present – I decided a few days ago, while trying to sort out what projects and ideas to pursue and which to jettison in the coming year, that I would just Do It. And January 1st, of course, would be the ideal launch date. So I actually bought Blogging for Dummies, and today sat down at the computer to configure the website, make my first entry and get going on the design (I figure it can be a work in progress for the first week, as I post) and discover that my domain – http://www.juliedoesdinner.com/ – expired in late November, when I was out of town, and is now owned by WhoIs.com.
So it’s starting here, until I find a better address to point it to. Here’s the concept: people keep asking me for a “dinners” or “real meals” cookbook, which, frankly, is a pretty vast topic, and besides – who cooks from a cookbook every day of the week? I thought a real documentation of what I actually cook from day to day might be much more useful, and realistic for other home cooks. After all, most nights it’s a matter of pulling something from the fridge before it wilts/expires/gets smelly, or doctoring up leftovers, or trying to find something easy and prepackaged that isn’t crap.
Day 1: On New Year’s Day, I almost always have a food hangover from a month of Christmas parties and turkey dinners, topped off by a New Year’s Eve potluck. In addition, it’s my brother in law and nephew’s birthdays, so we typically go for a birthday dinner at my sister’s house. No dinner to make today – but we will need lunch. I decided on soup, from Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries, a book I discovered early in the year that follows a similar format. So as a tribute to his similar thought process and fantastic book, I thought I’d make the same Pumpkin & Red Lentil Soup he made on New Year’s Day, the first day of his book as well. I started with high hopes, anticipating a new use for the canned pumpkin puree I always stock up on between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when it’s on sale, which is usually destined to be turned into pumpkin muffins or a loaf. (Nigel instructs us to peel, scoop the fiber out of, chop and boil a fresh pumpkin, but really, who has time for that? Besides, they are hard to find past October, unless I want to chip the frozen one off my sister’s front step, and canned pumpkin contains 10 times the beta-carotene of fresh, because it is condensed, much like tomato paste vs. fresh tomatoes.)
I started sauteeing my onion, garlic and ginger, then got distracted by W’s sudden interest in peeling garlic, which I needed to document at the exact time my camera ran out of batteries. So they browned a little more than I meant them to. Next came the discouraging discovery that I in fact used my stash of canned pumpkin, so instead I peeled and chopped a smallish yam (I had a hard time choosing between that and squash, but we’ve had enough squash over the holidays), threw it into the pot with a spoonful of Patak’s curry paste, and left it at that. Sorry, Nigel.
Then, realizing that a) we were hungrier than we thought, and 2) this sort of soup always tastes better the next day, I decided to thaw out the pot of lentil soup we had stashed outside in the barbeque due to lack of fridge space, and we ate that instead. Which come to think of it is the perfect first post – if someone made me choose my one go-to meal, the one I always fall back on and have ingredients for or a batch of in the freezer, this would be it. It’s my favorite use for a single Italian or chorizo sausage from Spolumbos. Other than that, all you need are some lentils (canned or dry), celery, garlic and water. I used some turkey stock from the massive pot I cooked up on Boxing Day, and that was even better.
Sausage & Lentil Soup
This is ridiculously easy to make, keeps for a week in the fridge, and you don’t even need stock. Think about it: stock is just water in which meat, veg and seasonings are simmered. So sausage, celery, garlic and lentils really do transform water into a perfect soup. Chicken or veg stock will intensify the flavor, and leftover bits of ham works well instead of the sausage. This is what I make when I know things are going to get busy and I want to be sure there’s something healthy in the fridge to grab for lunch or dinner that counts as a meal all in itself.
Canola or olive oil, for cooking with
1 mild or hot Italian sausage, or Chorizo
4 celery ribs, chopped, including the leaves
1 19 oz. (540 mL) can lentils, drained
1 L water, chicken or vegetable stock
Salt & pepper
In a large, heavy saucepan, heat a drizzle of oil over medium heat. Add the sausage, squeezing it out of its casing into the pan. Cook, breaking up the chunks, until it’s browned. (You don’t have to worry about cooking it through.) Add the celery and cook for a few minutes, until the edges start to brown. Add the lentils, water or stock, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer for half an hour or so, adding extra liquid if it looks like it needs it. If you’d like it thicker, remove the lid and simmer until it’s the consistency you like.
Serve with fresh bread. Feeds about 6.