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Posts tagged ‘barefoot contessa’

the lentil soup project

I really like lentil soup. I’ve liked it since I had my first bowl of it in Istanbul, which is a d-baggy thing to say, like when people come back from Italy and say they won’t eat pizza anymore because it wouldn’t be as good as the pie they had in Naples. Go back to Naples then! Who’s stopping you? But anyway, it’s true: they have spices in Turkey that people don’t use much here, like Aleppo pepper, and I’ve searched for years for a recipe to recreate the magic of my first lentil soup experience, and never gotten even close.

But that’s all in my past. I’m a mom now, and don’t have time to waste on perfecting my own culinary experiences. I just want to cook things that my kids will eat. After pick-up last week, Finn and I stopped in at a coffee shop across the street from his school, for a snack. He ordered a pumpernickel bagel and I ordered a cup of lentil soup. “What’s that?,” Finn asked, as I tucked into my bowl. “Lentil soup. Want a bite?,” I asked, hopefully. After three bites, Finn hooked his hand around the bowl and pulled it in front of his face. After a few more bites, he told me that the soup was “incredibly delicious,” a phrase he has used only once before, in relation to Twizzlers. I looked down at the bowl full of protein-rich lentils and vegetables, and tried hard not to wig out. Then I politely approached the owner of the coffee shop for her recipe.


I either didn’t telegraph my desperation loudly enough, or the woman had never known the misery of having kids who were picky eaters. Either way, the owner didn’t give two shits about my malnourished kids and she wasn’t about to share her recipe. She told me, dismissively, that it was “just lentil soup with vegetables.” But I can be insistent when the situation calls for it, and I decided that my kids, and this soup, called for it. So I kept pushing her for details, and finally got one: roasted tomatoes. I bought another bowl for Finn’s lunch the next day and said “thanks” while adding the “for nothing” silently in my head.

A couple days later on a day off, I got to work. I researched lentil soups online, and broke out my cookbooks. The good news was that there were lots of recipes for lentil soup. The bad news was that none of them included roasted tomatoes. I rejected the recipes with cumin and other extraneous spices, and focused on the ones that included bacon. I settled on the recipe from “The Best Recipe: Soups and Stews,” and modified it to include some roasted tomatoes.

I gave the soup a taste. It wasn’t Istanbul, but it was pretty great. Rich, buttery, warming. Still, I was nervous when dinner time rolled around. Getting a kid to eat something once is one thing–getting a kid to eat something twice is a freaking miracle. I couldn’t be certain that Finn would eat my lentil soup, even though he’d loved the one he’d had before. I placed a bowl in front of both my kids. Tate ate his up along with four pieces of baguette with butter. Finn finished one big bowl and asked for another. Cuz and I gave each other silent high-fives across the table, while maintaining outward calm.

I’m not making any promises. But my kids ate it. And even if yours don’t, you’ll have a pot full of delicious soup that you can have all to yourself.


Lentil Soup with Roasted Tomatoes

Adapted from The Best Recipe: Soups and Stews, serves 12 (you can halve the recipe)

4T vegetable or olive oil

8 oz. bacon, diced

8 cups chicken broth

1 cup white wine

2 large onions, diced or chopped fine (my kids are likelier not to pick vegetables out of their food if the pieces are tiny, but maybe yours don’t care)

4 large carrots, chopped fine

2 T minced garlic

2 cups dried green or brown (not red) lentils, rinsed and picked over for stones

2 cups roasted tomatoes, chopped into rough chunks (recipe follows), or 2 cups canned, diced tomatoes with juice (fire roasted work great)

2 t chopped fresh thyme

2 bay leaves

1-2 T red wine vinegar, or to taste


1. Heat oil in a large stockpot or cast iron casserole over medium-high heat. Cook bacon until fat has rendered and pieces are browned and crisp.

2. Throw in the carrots, onions, garlic, thyme, bay leaves and a few grinds of black pepper. Saute for 3-5 minutes, until softened.

3. Throw in the lentils and tomatoes, and “sweat” the lentils by sauteing for 5-7 minutes.

4. Stir in the wine, stir until dissolved.

5. Pour in the broth along with two cups of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes, or until lentils are softened.

6. If you like a creamier soup, you can blitz 3-4 cups of the soup in a blender and then pour it back into the pot. Or you can leave as is. Stir in the vinegar at end. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

7. Enjoy with a crusty baguette and a salad! Leftovers are great for lunch.

*Roasted tomatoes: preheat oven to 400 degrees. Halve five roma tomatoes and put them, cut sides up, on a cookie sheet. Melt some butter and brush the tops with butter. Sprinkle with kosher salt and a little pepper, if you like. Roast them on the top rack until they turn brown and bubbly–took 25 minutes in my oven.


super crunch

I grew up taught that teachers are to be revered, and heavily gifted at appropriate times during the year.  My kids, however, go to a Montessori school where students are highly encouraged to make, not buy, any holiday gifts for the teachers.  I appreciate the idea that making their own gift teaches my kids both self-sufficiency and the satisfaction that comes from making something with your own hands, your own eyes, and your own heart.

That said, it goes against the very fiber of my being to believe that anyone would actually desire goods made by the nasty hands of a five or two year old.  My kids came out of my body and it’s still hard for me to eat something that has come from one of their hands.  Finn has had the same stamp on the back of his left hand (faintly visible in photo below) for approximately 9 days, which indicates both the relative infrequency and lack of vigor of his hand-washing.  As for Tate, if you ask him where his nose is, he will demonstrate, by pushing the index and middle fingers of his right hand up both nostrils.  I don’t know where he learned that, but it has proven powerfully difficult to un-learn him.

What to gift, that you can make with the kids in your life, and that others might actually enjoy receiving as a gift?  Granola.  Everyone loves granola.  Even if you don’t love granola, chances are you’ll still eat a bowl or two if it’s put in front of you.  People regularly eat bad granola, and hardly seem to notice.  But I’ve been making my own for a few months now, and the difference between homemade and store-bought–even the fancy organic type–is truly eye-opening.  You can tweak granola to suit your own preferences; for example, my friend Monica has a killer recipe for raw granola.  The best part is, granola is truly easy and fun to make with children.  There’s a lot of scooping and mixing, and if you throw in too much of an ingredient or too little, no one’s going to notice.

The recipe below is based on Ina Garten’s recipe from the first Barefoot Contessa cookbook.  After at least a dozen batches, I think I’ve come up with a pretty addictive mix.  Certainly good enough to gift, or so I’ve been promised by friends who have asked for seconds.  I’ve adjusted the proportions and added candied ginger, because my husband loves a gingery granola.  I hope you’ll use this as a starting point to come up with your own favorite mix.  And I’d love to hear about your favorite granola ingredients.

Granola with Candied Ginger

Adapted from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook


4 cups rolled oats

2 cups sweetened, shredded coconut

2 cups slivered almonds

1 cup dried cranberries (or dried blueberries, or dried sour cherries, chopped)

2 cups dried apricots, chopped or slivered

1 cup candied ginger, chopped

1 cup roasted pumpkin seeds

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/3-1/2 cup honey

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Set rack in middle of oven.

2. Toss the oats, coconut, almonds, and pumpkin seeds together in a large bowl.

3. Whisk together the oil and honey in separate bowl.  Pour mixture over the oat mixture and stir with wooden spoon to coat evenly.

4. Spread onto 13 x 18 inch baking pan with shallow lip (like a jelly roll pan or cookie sheet with sides).

5. Bake for approximately 30 minutes, checking at the following intervals, to stir occasionally and check browning: 10 minutes, 10 minutes, 6 minutes, 4 minutes.

6. Remove the granola from the oven when golden brown, and allow to cool, stirring occasionally.

7. Add the remaining ingredients, combine so ingredients are distributed evenly.

8. Store the cooled granola in an airtight container.

*Notes: this is generally a low-maintenance recipe.  The only high-maintenance part is the baking, because granola browns very quickly, especially towards the end.  Ina Garten’s original recipe called for 45 minutes of baking, but in my oven, 28 minutes is about perfect.  The original recipe also calls for more oil, but I think it’s unnecessary, and will make the granola brown even faster.  If you are not a fan of ginger, this recipe is still scrumptious without.  For gifting, I put granola in canning jars and finish with ribbon and a fun gift tag, like these from Jigsaw Graphics