Ina’s Lentil Soup

In Guangzhou we are extremely fortunate to have Armed Forces Network in our apartment. And while I’m typically not a huge TV watcher, when we first moved in and were without both internet and our DVD collection, AFN was my entertainment of choice. I quickly discovered that their broadcast repertoire includes my favorite TV chef, Ina Garten, aka The Barefoot Contessa. I enjoy watching Ina because not only is she a fantastic cook, but she has this way about her that’s just so calming. I suppose if I had a Hamptons-sized kitchen, complete with walk-in pantry, I might be pretty calm too when I cook. But alas, until I get a few more years of experience under my belt and maybe, just maybe, a Hamptons-sized kitchen, I’ll continue to suppress the inner culinary banshee that emerges when I’m putting together an especially difficult dish. Difficult in the “other people besides me will be eating it” sense of the term.

One episode that I happened to catch was when Ina made lentil soup and other goodies for some of her movie-producer friends (of course she did!). I suddenly had an overwhelming urge for lentil soup. A dish that, before now, I had eaten only once before. Such is the power of Ina.

This recipe is so easy and includes ingredients that are very easy to find. Well, easy to find in America. I did have to patiently wait until my Amazon shipment arrived before I had the main ingredient for my lentil soup. But my patience paid off because this is definitely a recipe keeper.

Recipe from FoodNetwork.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound lentils
  • 4 cups chopped yellow onions (3 large onions)
  • 4 cups chopped leeks, white part only (2 leeks)
  • 1 Tbs minced garlic (3 cloves)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 Tbs kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp dried thyme or 1 Tbs minced fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 3 cups medium-diced celery (8 stalks)
  • 3 cups medium-diced carrots (4 to 6 carrots)
  • 3 quarts reduced sodium chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 2 Tbs red wine vinegar
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

In a large bowl, cover the lentils with boiling water and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Drain.

In a large stockpot on medium heat, saute the onions, leeks, and garlic with the olive oil, salt, pepper, thyme, and cumin for appx. 15 minutes, until the onions & leeks are translucent and very tender. Add the celery and carrots and saute for 8-10 more minutes. Add the chicken stock, tomato paste, and lentils. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for 1 hour, until the lentils are cooked through. Check the seasonings and adjust accordingly. Add the red wine vinegar and serve hot, sprinkled with grated Parmesan.

Notes from Paige: Although Ina uses French lentils, I used the regular kind and it turned out great. I also subbed in reduced-sodium stock and nixed the cheese.

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Butternut Squash Lasagna

I had some extra time today, so I decided to make Butternut Squash Lasagna. Although originally a Cooking Light recipe, I discovered it through Eat Like Me, a Self.com blog that I read regularly. She likes to make a lot of healthy items, so I love to see what she’s whipping up each day! She did not disappoint with this one, as this is a wonderful recipe. It’s so tasty and filling, you wouldn’t even guess that it’s vegetarian. I will warn you however that like most lasagnas, this dish takes a long time to make. I recommend two sets of hands if possible (next time I’ll try to plan for Ben and I to make this one together!).

-Paige

Ease of Preparation: Medium (time consuming)

INGREDIENTS

Smoky Marinara Sauce

Makes 6 cups

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh or 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed fire-roasted tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, undrained

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic, basil, parsley, and oregano; sauté 1 minute, stirring frequently. Stir in vinegar and remaining ingredients. Reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes.

Notes from Paige: I could only find diced fire-roasted tomatoes at the store, so I used these in lieu of crushed fire-roasted tomatoes. The sauce ended up having a chunky texture which we really liked. Just drain some of the juice out of the diced tomatoes before adding to the pot.

INGREDIENTS

Lasagna

Makes 12 servings (i.e. LOTS of leftovers at our house this week!)

  • Cooking spray
  • 3 cups chopped onion
  • 10 cup fresh spinach
  • 3/4 cup (3 ounces) shredded sharp provolone cheese
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 (15-ounce) carton part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 1 (15-ounce) carton fat-free ricotta cheese
  • 3 cups diced peeled butternut squash
  • 6 cups Smoky Marinara sauce
  • 12 oven-ready lasagna noodles (Of course if you forget to buy oven-ready noodles like I did, the regular kind work just fine. Just add the extra step of boiling noodles as directed).
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) grated fresh Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375°.

Heat a large Dutch oven coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat. Add onion; sauté 4 minutes or until tender. Add spinach; sauté 1 1/2 minutes or until spinach wilts. Combine provolone, parsley, salt, pepper, eggs, and ricotta cheeses in a large bowl.

Place squash in a microwave-safe bowl. Cover and cook on high 5 minutes or until tender.

Coat the bottom and sides of 2 (8-inch-square) baking dishes with cooking spray. Spread 1/2 cup Smoky Marinara in the bottom of one prepared dish. Arrange 2 noodles over sauce; spread 1 cup cheese mixture over noodles. Arrange 1 1/2 cups squash over cheese mixture; spread 3/4 cup sauce over squash.

Arrange 2 noodles over sauce; spread 1 cup cheese mixture over the noodles. Arrange 1 1/2 cups onion mixture over cheese mixture; spread 3/4 cup sauce over spinach mixture.

Arrange 2 noodles over sauce; spread 1 cup Smoky Marinara evenly over noodles. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup Parmesan. Repeat procedure with remaining ingredients in remaining pan. Cover each pan with foil.

Bake at 375° for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 30 minutes.

If you would like to freeze: To freeze unbaked lasagna: Prepare through Step 6. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing to remove as much air as possible. Wrap with heavy-duty foil. Store in freezer for up to 2 months.

To prepare frozen unbaked lasagna: Thaw completely in refrigerator (about 24 hours). Preheat oven to 375º. Remove foil; reserve foil. Remove plastic wrap; discard wrap. Cover lasagna with reserved foil; bake at 375º for 1 hour. Uncover and bake an additional 30 minutes or until bubbly.


Notes from Paige: This recipe made me realize that our next kitchen purchase will be a chopper! Dicing butternut squash is hard to say the least. If you do not have a chopper, food processer, etc., make sure you have a very sharp knife. Also, we do not have 8×8 inch dishes, so I used a 9×13 and 6×9 dish and divvied up the ingredients accordingly. If you need to use different sized dishes, I recommend boiling a few more noodles than called for in the recipe. Next time, I will probably use 14-15 noodles.

Goat Cheese & Roasted Corn Quesadillas

This healthy, vegetarian option of the classic quesadilla comes from a Propel Water advertisement in October’s addition of Cooking Light magazine. I found it funny that Propel is mentioned in the ingredients list but in the end is only used to wash down the meal!  I love this recipe because it’s easy, tasty and can easily be modified to suit your liking.  I’m usually a tomato salsa fan, but I find the verde salsa to be a perfect complement to the goat cheese and corn.

-Paige

Ease of Preparation: Easy

Don't let the green scare you...it's tasty!
Ready to Eat!

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup fresh corn kernels (appx 1 large ear) (we use frozen and they taste delicious)
  • 2/3 cup (5 ounces) goat cheese, softened
  • 8 (6-inch) corn tortillas (we use 4 medium-sized (appx 8 inch) whole wheat tortillas)
  • 1/4 cup chopped green onions (about 1 green onion)
  • 10 tablespoons salsa verde, divided
  • Cooking spray
  • Propel Water (hey, just giving credit where credit is due)

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add corn and saute appx. 2 minutes or until browned (saute a little longer for frozen corn). Place corn in a small bowl. Add goat cheese to corn and stir until well blended. Divide corn mixture evenly among 4 tortillas (or 2 if you are using larger tortillas); spread to within1/4 inch of sides. Sprinkle each tortilla with 1 tablespoon green onions. Drizzle each with 1 1/2 teaspoons salsa; top with remaining tortillas.

Wipe out pan; reheat pan over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Place quesadilla in pan and cook 1 1/2 minutes on each side or until golden. Wipe pan clean; recoat with cooking spray and repeat with remaining quesadillas. Cut quesadilla into 4 wedges and serve with remaining 8 tablespoons salsa.

Notes from Paige: I have also made these using diced white onions in place of the green onions, since we typically have white onions on hand. Just saute appx 1/2 diced onion with the corn and mix in with the cheese.