Category Archives: Uncategorized

French Lentil Soup: Splendidly Simple and Most Satisfactory

Finally, the perfect lentil soup recipe! As not actually usual for me, I made it as written so I will copy and paste it here with the title linked to the recipe on that I used.

…Well, okay, I made ONE change. The recipe calls for 4 cups of vegetable broth. I had a cup of chicken broth that needed a home so I used that along with three cups of veggie broth. I did use freshly homemade veggie broth, but I don’t think the type of broth is going to make or break this recipe.

Okay, ONE other change: I used a quick squeeze of balsamic cream (Pastene brand that I picked up on a whim a few years ago) instead of a splash of balsamic vinegar. But, I am confident that the recipe is splendid as written.

Note to self: Get that balsamic cream out of the cabinet more often!

I highly recommend accompanying this soup with some good quality crusty bread to go with it!  My husband and enjoyed it with a loaf of Asiago bread that I picked up from Mamadou’s Artisan Bakery that morning. A simple green salad would go nicely, as well.

French Lentil Soup

3 tablespoons extra–virgin olive oil
2 cups chopped onions
1 cup chopped celery stalks plus chopped celery leaves for garnish
1 cup chopped carrots
2 garlic cloves, chopped
4 cups (or more) vegetable broth
1 1/4 cups lentils, rinsed, drained
1 14 1/2–ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
Balsamic vinegar (optional)


Heat oil in heavy large saucepan over medium–high heat. Add onions, celery, carrots, and garlic; sauté until vegetables begin to brown, about 15 minutes.

Add 4 cups broth, lentils, and tomatoes with juice and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium–low, cover, and simmer until lentils are tender, about 35 minutes.

Transfer 2 cups soup (mostly solids) to blender and puree until smooth. Return puree to soup in pan; thin soup with more broth by 1/4 cupfuls, if too thick.

Season with salt, pepper, and a splash of vinegar, if desired. Ladle soup into bowls. Garnish with celery leaves.


Corn, Tomato, and Basil Chowder with Haddock

There is absolutely nothing like being able to use multiple freshly picked or caught ingredients in a single dish. Nothing.  And not much better than such, either.

For those of you reading who don’t know me personally, I am experiencing my first year of being the Manager of the Wakefield Farmers Market in Wakefield MA, which is currently in its third season.  And, I am loving it!  (A shout out thank you to Kelli Stromski and Maura Racamato who co-managed the first two seasons and are responsible for its ongoing success!)

Anyway, all the vendors to which I refer are at our market, in case you are wondering who I am talking about!

I had corn from Kelly’s Farm, garlic and onion from Farmer Dave, tomatoes from Charlton Orchards and Farmer Dave, green onion and squash blossoms from Flats Mentor Farm, haddock from Globe Fish, basil from my garden, my own homemade chicken broth, and even the lime juice was from the market in that I used the lime leftover from Holly’s ( cooking demo the day before!

close up of some ingredients

Close up shot of the green onion and garlic.

What got me going on chowder is that, while we enjoyed the flavor immensely of our experience doing haddock on the grill wrapped in foil, we were not thrilled with the texture since, we decided after the meal, we do prefer at least a bit of crunch with our fish. J  No reflection on the quality of the fish itself, by the way! You can’t beat Globe Fish for freshness, that’s for sure.

Anyway – what to do with the leftover fish?  Aha, chowder came to mind, although I knew it could not be a true fish chowder since the fish was already cooked.  I had saved the liquid that was in the foil, but knew it could not carry the fish flavor enough to be the highlight. That is why I say “with haddock” in the recipe title.  If I cooked the fish from raw in the chowder rather than adding it at the end, it would have been Fish Chowder with Corn, Tomato, and Basil. But, it wasn’t. <grin>

Since I was looking for a way to use a number of ingredients, I did my usual trick of typing in the list of ingredients I had available into Google and, voila!  The perfect solution!

All but the basil, fish, and squash blossoms!

I used a recipe from the New York Time site for Corn, Tomato and Basil Chowder as my basis. I did make some changes, albeit most of them minor, and I am 100% certain that the recipe as written is scrumptious. But, here is what I did:

Corn, Tomato, and Basil Chowder with Haddock

  • 4 medium ears corn, shucked  (produced 4 cups of kernels)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil  (well, I actually used the chicken fat that had settled at the top of my chicken stock and a bit of olive oil, but just olive oil or unsalted butter would be fine.)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • Three green onions, white and light green parts, chopped. (The original recipe calls for shallot but I didn’t have any.)
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped (well, one of Farmer Dave’s, but those suckers are huge!)
  • 3/4 cups chicken broth and 3/4 cup water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt ( use less of regular salt – maybe one tsp)
  • 1 pound red potato (any waxy sort work best – red or Yukon) chopped to 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 pint measure or so of chopped, very ripe tomatoes. (original recipe calls for a pint of cherry tomatoes halved)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • 2 cups chowder-sized chunks of leftover cooked haddock and 1/8 cup or so liquid leftover from cooking.  (liquid not necessary!)
  • Garnish: a few fresh basil leaves and a squash blossom (optional)

That's a very packed 1/4 cup of basil!

1. Slice corn kernels off cob and place in a bowl. Run back of a knife along each cob to remove additional corn pulp. Add pulp to bowl; reserve cobs.

2. In a medium soup pot or Dutch oven, fat, butter, or oil over medium heat. Stir in onion, green onion or shallot and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes.

3. Add broth, reserved cobs, water, and 1 teaspoon salt to pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Immediately reduce heat to medium and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Add potatoes and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes longer. Remove cobs and discard.

simmering corn cobs

corn cobs add so much flavor to any stock or soup!

4. Stir in corn kernels and pulp, tomatoes, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and pepper. Simmer for 20 minutes more. Stir in the basil and lime juice. Turn off heat and let soup cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.

And, to top it off, I added a few drops of hot sauce, just for fun, but it is not at all necessary.

finished soup except for garnish

all done and ready to serve and garnish!

While the recipe from which I was working didn’t state anything about freezing, I came across a number of similar recipes that noted that this sort of chowder freezes well. I know how I am going to enjoy a fresh corn taste this winter, whether I make it with or without the fish!  Now, if only I could find a way to preserve the delicate flavor and subtle crunch of squash blossoms. I wonder if they can be frozen as one does with basil leaves?  I might just try that next.  🙂

garnished chowder

garnished with basil leaves and a squash blossom. Heavenly.

Spam Haiku: In memory of a good friend

I just learned that my friend Mark Yannone, whom I met years ago on an epilepsy message board, died last summer. We had last emailed in May 2009 and then, as  sometimes happened over the years, lost touch for a while.  I was just looking him up again when I discovered that he had died.  I never did meet him in person, but we had an ongoing online friendship that spanned everything from political  sparring (he was Libertarian to an extreme) to nonjudgmental emotional support.  In between was the haiku phase.  In particular,  the Spam Haiku phase.  That would be of the porcine variety.  🙂  I would like to publicly thank Mark for introducing me to this seemingly never-ending source of entertainment.  Enjoy and be glad we didn’t get into trading Spam recipes.  <grin>



–Wendy Dennis and Mark Yannone, &

I’ll miss you, Mark.

Guacamole – Sometimes simple is better

I adore avocados. I love the texture, the taste, and the color.  I am happy eating plain slices of avocado, but given my love of garlic, tomatoes, and onions, guacamole is a big favorite of mine.

I have tried many different recipes over the years, some complicated, some less so.  I ended up finding what is for me the perfect balance of flavors and textures by using as few ingredients as possible.

Here is how I do it.  First, the ingredients:

  • 2 avocados, peeled and chopped
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 1/2 medium tomato, chopped
  • 1/4 medium onion, diced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • fresh ground black pepper, to taste.

First, the lovely avocado, with lemon juice added once all is in the bowl

Next, 1/2 a tomato, chopped

Next, 1/2 a tomato, chopped

Then, some diced onion - a quarter or more

Then, about 1/4 of a medium onion, large diced

2-3 cloves of garlic, minced will do the trick

two or three cloves of garlic, minced, does the trick

Mix and mash, leaving some lumps and add the ground black pepper

Mix and mash, leaving some lumps, and finish with fresh ground black pepper

So simple, so easy. The flavor is  clean, fresh, and zesty,and I find the “fork-mashed with some lumps left” texture to be more satisfying than guacamole that is pureed.

If you want some complexity, try adding some cumin or cayenne pepper.  And, for a bit more richness, add some olive oil.  But, I really enjoy the simple version.  And, I NEVER add salt.  I did once and found it brought out a bitter flavor, which surprised me, since salt can bring out sweetness.

In any case, if you are new to making guacamole, or have been using a more complicated recipe for years, give this one a try.  I bet you’ll like it.

Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon

I meant to post about this with current notes when Lori and I made this dish on December 30, 2009.  But, I didn’t. Here is a VERY brief rendition:

I used regular bacon and now can’t remember what kind of wine.  BUT, it was really good!  I took notes and will hopefully post them at some point. But, the bottom line is that it is totally worth it to make this dish.  And, better yet, do it with a friend!

My dear friend Lori and I had a blast.  Then, our husbands joined us for a lovely meal that of course included a duplicate of the the bottle of wine that went into the stew.  🙂

For the original recipe and related and necessary information, see the Knopf (publisher of all books Julia) web page dedicated to this recipe:

Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon (Or, Beef bo bo bo, as the non-French speaking Lori and I call it.)

After seeing the very brief video called “jumpingonion” (click HERE to access)  let me know if you think we should do a cooking show together.  <grin>

Classic Creamed Spinach – comfort without the cream!

Finally I post again.  I have quite a backlog of posts but I had to get this up right away – it is a great way to enjoy spinach, even if you don’t like it very much.  And, for those of us who do like spinach, this recipe compliments, rather than masks the flavor.

I was looking for a creamed spinach recipe to go along with my favorite Garlic Roasted Chicken Leg Quarters. I had some sweet potatoes I needed to use up and wanted some greens for contrast, but also wanted a more “comfort food” texture than  steamed veggies.

As I perused the Internet, I found many recipes that looked very tasty, with heavy cream and nutmeg often featured.  But, I didn’t want use cream so as to save a few calories.  And, I’ll go for shallots over onions almost any time.

Finally, I found the following recipe for creamed spinach, courtesy of sgrishka via Bigoven.

Classic Creamed Spinach

2 pounds fresh spinach, washed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 shallots, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole milk, warmed
2 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, freshly grated (optional)
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
Coarse salt, to taste

Remove tough stems of spinach. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the spinach and cook for 2 minutes. Transfer to a colander and drain. Using the back of a large spoon, press spinach to release as much water as possible, then chop coarsely.

Using a medium sauté pan over medium heat, heat the butter. Sauté shallots until softened, about 4 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Using a wooden spoon, add the flour and cook, stirring, 3 minutes. Slowly add warm milk and simmer, whisking, 3 to 4 minutes to thicken. Whisk in cheese (if using) and nutmeg, season with salt and pepper. Add spinach and cook, stirring, until heated through, about 2 minutes.

NOTE:  I used a 10 oz bag of fresh spinach and halved the ingredients.  Next time, I’ll use two bags – Steve and I won’t have any trouble eating twice as much, next time.  🙂
I especially liked the addition of a pinch of cayenne.  It gave a nice little bite to it, and also inspired me to add cayenne to my sweet potato.  Now, there is an easy and nutritious side dish!  Here is how I prepare sweet potatoes, or as they are often called in the USA, yams.
After rinsing them off, I foke a few holes in them and cook them on high in the microwave for about 5 minutes per potato.  [NOTE: I prefer to roast them at 400 in the oven for about an hour – maybe 45 minutes, but when in a hurry, nuking sure is handy.]  Let cool a bit, then peel and mash, in a bowl or saucepan, adding some olive oil and a bit of water to make less dense and also add  maple syrup, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and a touch of cumin and cayenne, to taste and your liking.  I usually add enough water to give the mashed sweet potatoes a texture closer to mashed butternut squash.   I also usually mash potatoes or squash in the top pan of my double boiler so I can then keep them warm while I finish preparing the rest of the meal.
Anyway – this combination of the garlic chicken, creamed spinach, and mashed sweet potatoes was excellent. Definitely a keeper at our house.  And, for vegetarians, I can see something made with tempeh or lentils going well with the vegetable dishes.  Something for everyone.  🙂

Easy Eggplant Parmesan

Easy Eggplant Parmesan

(NO PHOTOS – Sorry!  I am really starting to want to get the cooking show going.  Hard to document when wanting to just cook.)

I made eggplant parm a few other times and only in the past year or so, if memory serves.  Which, of course, it may not.  But I do!  …..  I think I  had always come across fussy looking recipes for any kind of parmesan.  Also, I was biased against frying because of added fat.

I have used a Rachel Ray recipe that calls for coating and then baking the eggplant rounds.  It is tasty, but nothing to write home about.  My theory?  It just ain’t parmesan if you don’t fry whatever it is you are parming!  I’ll add that I think there needs to be some kind coating on the eggplant before frying and my current preference is  a dip in milk and then flour so the taste and texture of the eggplant does not get masked.  But, I will try it with breadcrumbs sometime, too.  Hard to not like anything with breadcrumbs.

ANYWAY – here is the recipe I started with, from

Eggplant Parmesan I

  • 1 eggplant, cut into 3/4 inch slices
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons salt
  • 8 tablespoons olive oil
  • 8 ounces ricotta cheese
  • 6 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 4 cups pasta sauce
  1. Sprinkle both sides of the eggplant slices with salt. Place slices in a colander, and place a dish underneath the colander to capture liquid that will sweat out of the eggplant. Allow to sit for 30 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). In a medium bowl, mix the ricotta, mozzarella cheese and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Mix in egg and basil.
  3. Rinse the eggplant in cold water until all salt is removed. In a large skillet, heat 4 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Place one layer of eggplant in the pan, brown each side. Repeat with remaining eggplant slices, using additional oil if necessary.
  4. In a 9×13 inch baking dish, evenly spread 1 1/2 cups of spaghetti sauce. Arrange a single layer of eggplant slices on top of the sauce. Top the eggplant with 1/2 of the cheese mixture. Repeat layering process until all the eggplant and cheese mixture is used. Pour remaining sauce on top of layers, and sprinkle with remaining Parmesan cheese.
  5. Bake 30 to 45 minutes in the preheated oven, until sauce is bubbly.


The only things I did differently was to slice the eggplant about 1/3 an inch thick and dip the slices in milk and then flour before frying.  Oh, I tried the “salting and sweating” thing but no liquid came out.  My eggplant came from  Farmer Dave’s in Dracut (got it at the Wakefield Farmer’s Market) a week before I made the parm, so it was not “just picked.”  I have read conflicting theories about sweating eggplant.  I think I may not bother with it in the future.

OH – upon copying and pasting the above recipe into this post, I  realized that I did not beat the egg before adding it to the cheese mix. Actually, I just threw everything in all together although it says to add the egg and basil after mixing the cheeses. It came out fine, though.  I am thinking, however, that I will next time try an egg bath for the eggplant and beat the egg used for that.  hmmm.   I might want to just duplicate what I did here to make sure it is a winner. We will all have to wait and see what I actually decide to do next time.  🙂

The other variation is that I made my own pasta sauce, using a Cooks Illustrated recipe using canned crushed tomatoes and varying it by adding mushrooms and 4 fresh tomatoes from, in this case, the plants in our bedroom and dining area.

Yes, we still have homegrown tomatoes, as well as bell and chili peppers.  And, my sage, rosemary, and thyme plants are happy, the two former ready to winter over in the bedroom for a second time.  Now I need parsley to start that off.  And basil for a second verse.  🙂  Steve and I are working on greenhouse action off the south side of the house to grow some “vitals” year round that need more room than a portable pot.

Bottom line on this recipe – super!  I was pleased with the texture – thanks to the milk and flour coating.  Thank you for that tip, Yvonne!  Now, there is another great cook!  Once I get my cooking show going, she’ll be a repeat guest, for sure.

Be sure to use a REALLY tasty pasta or marinara sauce.   I’ll put my version of the quick homemade from canned tomatoes sauce in another post.

NOW I have to find time to post the stuffed eggplant, corned beef, and great way to do a whole chicken recipes that I have documented but have not yet been able to post.  Always something cooking!

Italian Sausage with Fennel, Peppers, and Onions

Here is another “wicked good” one!  I served this with the recently posted Mashed Potato Casserole and it was just an amazing combination of flavors, both within each recipe and among the two. Talk about comfort food with a complex flair!

And, just a reminder – I don’t have tons of time to post, never mind proofread, so please forgive typos and grammar errors – but feel free to point them out to me, also.  Thanks!

I made the recipe exactly as presented.  Here it is, followed by more discussion by me.  🙂

Italian Sausage with Fennel, Peppers, and Onions Gourmet | April 2008
by Melissa Roberts
The fennel bulb we’ve added to this Little Italy combo is a natural complement to the fennel seeds in the sausage.
Yield: Makes 4 servings
Active Time: 15 min
Total Time: 40 min

4 Italian frying peppers (Cubanelle) cut into 2-inch pieces
1 large fennel bulb, bulb quartered, then cut into 2-inch-wide pieces and 1/4 cup fronds coarsely chopped (discard stalks)
1 large onion, quartered and cut into 2-inch pieces
1 1/2 pound hot or sweet Italian sausage links, halved crosswise
1/4 cup olive oil

Preheat broiler.
Toss together all ingredients except fennel fronds with 1/2 teaspoon salt in a large shallow baking pan. Broil 4 inches from heat until sausage is browned and vegetables begin to soften, about 10 minutes. Turn over and stir, then broil until sausage is just cooked through and vegetables are softened, 8 to 10 minutes more. Serve sprinkled with fennel fronds.


I believe I mentioned in my previous post that I made this because I had fennel in my fridge that I had bought the week before.  I now remember why I had fennel in my fridge.  While I don’t remember what recipe I was going to try, I know it called for a bulb of fennel.  I went to Farm Land, which is my favorite grocery store,  and found….a bulb of what was called “anise.”  Hmmm, I said to myself, is it the same thing?  I bought it, but then got sidetracked and didn’t research fennel and anise until this week.  Turns out that the plant that is officially known as anise is used only for its seeds, whereas the names fennel and anise are used interchangeably when referring to the fresh bulb of what is actually fennel.  SO, if it looks like this, it is what you want, providing you are looking for fresh fennel!

Fresh fennel, aka "anise" or "sweet anise"

Fresh fennel, aka "anise" or "sweet anise"

This recipe asked for the bulb and fronds, only.  Save the stems and munch on them like a stick of celery  for a tasty snack.  I am munching on a stalk as I write this.  Very refreshing.

chopped fennel bulb and fronds

chopped fennel bulb and fronds

This recipe calls for another ingredient with which I was not really familiar, although it turns out I have been seeing them for years at, you guessed it, Farm Land!  Cubanelle peppers are long and thin like chili peppers, but are mild in flavor, considered to be a sweet pepper.  To me, the flavor is lighter yet also more intense than bell peppers.  Does that make sense?  Hmmm.  I’ll have to buy some more and think about it.  Anyway, I forgot to take a picture of them whole, but here there are chopped and ready to go into the dish:

Cubenelle peppers

Cubenelle peppers

Along with cutting up the onion (I used 1 and 1/2 of regular size rather than one large), I used 2 sweet and 4 hot Italian sausages from Farm Land.  The total of 6 came, conveniently, to the 1.5 pounds called for in the recipe.

While I would prefer to use meats from animals that have NOT gone though the typical “manufacturing process used by the bulk of our food industries, I do feel better about using sausages and ground meats from Farmland because they make/grind their own so you are not eating a mixture of meat from god knows how many cows or pigs in each bit, and don’t add lots of unnecessary ingredients.   Plus, they make really delicious sausages!

Ready for the broiler

Ready for the broiler

Once all the ingredients are chopped – just toss with the olive oil and salt and pop in the pre-heated broiler, turning one part way through, as directed.

the finished product

Then, eat.  It is really, really good!  And, it is even better when matched with those Mashed Potatoes with collards.  Just a great blend of flavors.  Both recipes and the combo are keepers at my house!

To my vegetarian readers – try this with a vegetarian sausage or maybe even with flavored tofu or tempeh and let me know how it comes out.  🙂