It’ll Cure What Ails Ya Lentil, Sausage and Kale Soup

I am a firm believer in the power of food to heal. And when someone isn’t feeling well, the kitchen is the best pharmacy I know.

This soup is something I’ve been making for a few months for friends as well as myself whenever I need a little a little super food love in a pot.

The only medicine you'll ever need and tastes way better than penicillin.
The only medicine you’ll ever need and tastes way better than penicillin.

It’ll Cure What Ails Ya Lentil, Sausage and Kale Soup

I package dried brown lentils
1 bay leaf
3 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 med-large onion, chopped
1 lb. Italian sausage, sliced into 1 inch pieces

Olive oil

5 cups water
4 cups beef broth

2-3 cups kale leaves, trimmed and chopped

Parmesan cheese

1.) Put one large pot and one skillet on the stove. In the skillet, heat a couple of teaspoons of olive oil over medium-high heat and cook sausage, onion, celery, garlic and carrots until sausage is browned and vegetables are soft but not mushy, about 7-8 minutes.

2.) Meanwhile, in stock pot, heat another teaspoon of olive oil and gently toast the lentils with a bay leaf for a couple of minutes. Add the water and beef broth and bring to a boil.

3.) When cooked, add the sausage mixture with a slotted spoon to the soup. Bring to a boil, and then turn down to a simmer for 25-30 minutes.

4.) Take a taste. If it needs more liquid, add a cup more water and a bouillon cube. During the last 5 minutes of cooking, stir in the kale. Serve with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese.

5.) Cancel doctor’s appointment.

©2013 Tracey Henry

I don’t think they do have an app for that

It’s September, so you know what that means? The start of Autumn and the end of bathing suit season.

This past summer I’ve been engaging in the latest fitness scheme in my long line of many. I’ve told you about exercise classes and yoga before, so this summer I decided to try something markedly different–running.

I decided to use technological aids since biology, heredity and sheer will failed to make me a runner to this point in my life, so I bought an app for my phone that promised to ease me from the couch to 5 kilometers in 8 weeks.

At first, it was quite easy. The app, in her sing-song voice set to my “Don’t harsh my mellow” playlist, had me alternating between running and walking every 90 seconds or so. I liked her. The first 3 weeks went by without incident and I was starting to feel as though I really may indeed find my inner jogger.

And then we hit week 6–or as I like to call it–the Weeping Week.

By the end of the fifth week, you find yourself huffing and puffing to a gradual eight minute run. It’s somewhat of a major accomplishment from your initial 90 seconds, so you’re kind of proud of yourself as you queue up week 6 on the old iPhone one unsuspecting morning. As you breeze through your 5 minute brisk warm-up walk, you notice a distinct difference in tone from your robotic friend. She seems testy–she’s playing songs that aren’t from your folk song playlist anymore–they’re from lost tracks of Dick Cheney sings Phantom of the Opera. You consider for a moment that maybe it’s just your imagination–after all you’ve gotten along well together for over a month–but then all of a sudden she says, “Close the pod bay door, Dave,” and thumb tacks and oil start leaking from the treadmill like a Roadrunner cartoon and she tells you to run like your life depends on it for 20 minutes straight.

It will totally harsh your mellow.

If you make it out of week 6 alive, week 7 seems more reasonable. Going from 20 to 22 minutes doesn’t seem so out of left field until she then springs this whole distance thing on you. “Now run for 2.5 miles.” Even at this late day in the workout regimen, that takes me 4 days at my snail’s pace. In my month and a half uphill education my frame of reference for 5 kilometers is equidistant to running to Memphis. Or Albuquerque. I actually have no idea how long that it is, only that Van Morrison sings “Into the Mystic” three times before I get there.

I wish we could end our story now, with our fearless heroine running stealthily all the way down to the finish line of week eight and going on to do marginal at best in local charity and fun runs (an oxymoron, btw) in a size 2 running short. (It’s my dream, leave me alone.)

But alas, I cannot. You see, I am repeating week seven over and over like a girl on a treadmill (mainly because I am) too frightened to move on to the final leg. I don’t feel ready to graduate yet–like my robot app girl has something sinister in mind for my last motivational week. The Acme Road Obstacle Kit is mere child’s play for what’s in store for me on this last week.

My worst fear is she extends bathing suit season another 8 weeks.

And then I’ll need an app to pay me 5K to get me from hiding behind my couch.

©2013 Tracey Henry

Here’s a recipe of protein and carbs you’ll run to in a pinch over and over.

Beef Stroganoff

It looks like a hot mess, but  it's good.
It looks like a hot mess, but it’s good.

(These amounts are the minimums–be generous with all for best results.)

2-3 T. butter
1 T. oil
1 medium onion, sliced
1-1 1/2 lbs. top round steak, sliced into thin strips
1 clove garlic
1-1 1/2 cups beef broth
1 cup sour cream
1 T. flour
2 T. dijon mustard

1.) In a large nonstick skillet, melt butter and oil over medium high heat–add onion and beef.

2.) Cook until onions are soft and beef is nicely browned. Add garlic, cook for a minute or so, add beef broth, bring to boil then turn down heat to simmer for about 10 minutes.

3.) Meanwhile, mix together sour cream, flour and mustard in a small bowl. Add to the pan and cook gently until fully combined and sauce thickens, about 5 more minutes. Do not allow to boil or sour cream will curdle.

4.) Season generously with salt and pepper and serve over hot egg noodles.

It is easy to be cheesy it turns out

Let’s talk cheese, friends. Ricotta cheese. Homemade ricotta cheese.

If I had discovered how easy homemade ricotta cheese was to make earlier in my life, it might have taken a different path. Ricotta from scratch is so easy and so good, I probably would have become a traveling cannoli salesman or something.

You gotta make ricotta
You gotta make ricotta

I have tried both the Barefoot Contessa’s method and Chef Ann Burell’s recipe, and while both taste similar, Ina’s seems to be a bit easier for me. (Use the vinegar, not the lemon juice as well.)

Check out and make some cheese today, because I’m going to refer back to it often with some original recipes in which only the good stuff will do.

Nothing says holiday weekend like moonshine and a Titanic replica

Ah, Labor Day weekend. It’s either the last hurrah of summer or, as we’ve determined earlier, a mid-semester break.

However you refer to it, I hope it means fun, food, friends and family. For us, it means all of those things in a cabin in Galtinburg, Tennessee.

This is a favorite destination of ours for long holiday weekends. If you’ve never been to this eastern Tennessee tourist mecca, it’s a must see attraction if Branson or the TLC network ever close.

I am by no means a historian, but after many trips to this particular fun spot, I’ve pieced together what I think can only be a logical history and a list of things not to miss during your visit.

Robert Ripley–of Ripley’s Believe it or Not Fame–was probably an original settler of the Smoky Mountains. He discovered wax relics of pop culture celebrities as he navigated the foothills in a Go-Kart and airbrushed t-shirt. He also discovered an enormous saltwater aquarium which can still be seen today. (For $38 per adult admission.)

Adding to the unique period architecture of the region which includes a staggering amount of Elvis, King Kong and Marilyn Monroe sculpture, there is an upside down museum next to the curiously beached, landlocked Titanic wreckage complete with a fiberglass iceberg and show tunes. Lest you think that is the extent of the arts in Pigeon Forge, please don’t miss dueling lumberjacks or Hatfield and McCoy dinner theatre.

The original cuisine for East Tennessee natives is pancakes, fudge and chain restaurant food. I assume. You’ll have no trouble finding any. Make sure to wash down your (again, curiously landlocked) Bubba Gump shrimp with some local moonshine, or as I like to call it, “Disqualification from the liver or esophagus transplant donor list.” See if your palate can distinguish the subtle differences between a corn mash and a corn cob pipe accidentally dropped into the still.

And just when you think you can’t stand to see another miniature golf course or a pan for your own gold and gem mine trough, you find the real treasure. Tubing down a crystal clear river with your good friends.  Watching a bear (from a safe distance of course) walk through your backyard for a marshmallow leftover from a roast the night before. Playing “Guess What Left That Scat,” on your cabin balcony. Wine and a sunset on freshly swept said balcony. Stars, lots of them. A place to celebrate something. Or nothing at all.

So I hope this weekend finds you in a spot you can rewrite history. Even if it’s standing alongside of the General Lee at Cooter’s Museum and Fun Park.

Even bears love Party Pasta Salad
Even bears love Party Pasta Salad

This pasta salad recipe speaks to both my midwestern and fake Italian roots. Perfect for a party.

Party Pasta Salad

Vinaigrette:

3 Tablespoons capers (use the rest of the jar for the salad)
3 garlic cloves
1 T. tomato paste
1/4 c. kalamata olives, pitted and sliced (use the rest of the jar for the salad)
1 T. Worcestershire sauce
Pepper to taste
1/3 c. red wine vinegar
3/4 c. olive oil

Salad:

2 boxes rotelle or spiral pasta cooked al dente
1 12 oz. jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained and rough chopped
1 6 oz. jar kalamata olives, sliced and drained
1 12 oz. jar roasted red peppers, sliced and drained
1 8 oz block mozzarella cheese, cubed
1 8 oz. block of cheddar, cubed
8 oz. salami, cubed
1 small red onion
1 cucumber, peeled and chopped

1.) Pulse first 5 ingredients of vinaigrette in food processor. Add pepper and vinegar, pulse again to blend. With processor running, drizzle in olive oil. (It will seem very salty and vinegary at this stage, but it will mellow out.

2.) Cook pasta al dente, drain and place in large bowl. Add dressing to warm pasta, and add the rest of the ingredients and anything else that sounds good. Lots of different flavors and textures makes this salad different but good.

3.) Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours but better if overnight.

©2013 Tracey Henry

Fresh fig, walnuts and goat cheese pizza

It may seem as though I’m dogging on the South a little bit lately, and I want to set the record straight that this is not the case. There are some things that the South is considerably superior over the geographic North. Namely, grocery stores.

Seriously, North, you don’t know what you’re missing.

And although there are many fine supermarkets to choose from here, Publix is, and has been, my personal favorite for almost 20 years. This is not a sponsored post, (but call me Publix, we’ll talk) but frequently this store, and others, offer excellent, fresh, ingredients and very reasonable prices.

This week, fresh figs, (Brown Turkey, Black Mission, Kadota) are on sale as they are about twice a year. I always want to figure out a way to use them because I just can’t pass them up easily when they are that plentiful and cheap.

So I came up with this recipe using another fine grocery store secret–fresh pizza dough from the bakery section–for a lovely appetizer or light dinner. So easy but it will look and taste as though you’ve hired a personal chef.

Fresh fig, walnuts, and goat cheese pizza
Fresh Fig, Walnut and Goat Cheese Pizza

Pizza dough from the bakery (if you use a tube that’s been sitting in the refrigerator case we’re going to fight.)
Olive Oil
Kosher salt
2-4 fresh figs, sliced thinly
1/4 cup walnuts

2 oz. goat cheese
Honey, enough to drizzle

1.) Preheat the oven to 400°. Divide pizza dough in half, and roll out to desired shape and thickness. (It will rise in the oven.)

2.) Place dough on a pizza stone or baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and lightly salt. Top with sliced figs and walnuts.

3.) Bake for about 15-20 minutes–check frequently so it doesn’t burn. Remove from oven, and sprinkle goat cheese on the warm pizza. Drizzle with honey and enjoy no matter where you live.

©2013 Tracey Henry

Summer’s Not Over Baked Beans

4 Bean Baked Beans
4 Bean Baked Beans

We’ve discussed how they are trying to pretend summer is over for us all by starting school so a-b-c-d-e-effing early, but as long as Labor Day is still weeks ahead, we all know the truth.

Here’s a great baked bean dish to eat every day until September.

Slow-cooker BBQ Beans

(You can also bake these in a 350 degree oven for an hour, but throwing them into a Crock-pot the morning of a cookout is so much easier.)

10 oz of bacon (or more)
1 onion, large diced
1 (15 oz) can of black beans, drained
1 (15 oz) can of garbanzo beans or chick peas, drained
1 (15 oz ) can of red, white or Great Northern beans, drained
1 (15 oz) can of pork and beans with sauce
3/4 c. ketchup
1/4 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. apple cider vinegar

1.) Saute bacon over medium heat until bacon starts to crisp. Add onion, and cook until tender. Place in slow-cooker along with the drained beans, and pork and beans in sauce.

2.) In a small bowl, mix together ketchup, brown sugar and vinegar. Pour over top of bean mixture and stir well.

3.) Cook on low for 4-6 hours.

4.) Get ready to repeat this recipe over multiple times because people will ask.

©2013 Tracey Henry

The first and last time I’ll ever be asked this question

I’ve been asked for my hand in marriage. (Yes.) I’ve been asked if I want fries with that. (No.) I’ve been asked if I wanted to know if it was a boy or a girl. (No, yes, no, no.)  I’ve been asked what I want to be when I grow up. (Still waiting to grow up.) I’ve been asked for my I.D. (Ok, not in a very long time.) I’ve been asked for my advice, opinion, and counsel. (Stay in school, the one on the left and don’t read Internet comments.) Paper or plastic? (Canvas, please.) I’ve even been questioned as to who wrote the book of love, what’s love got to do with it and what’s eating Gilbert Grape. (I’ve got satellite radio and a Netflix account.)

But in 29 years of combined school grades and teachers, I’ve never been asked to be the Room Mom.

Until today.

The teacher who proposed such an obvious travesty of scholastic volunteerism is new, so I quickly said yes before she Google search me.  (Rookie mistake.) Since I’m new to the Room Mom game, I had some questions of my own. Like, is there a union per diem minimum? (No, in fact you’ll be expected to pay out-of-pocket for countless expenses.) Will my yearbook profile include high res photos or standard? (We don’t exactly feature parents in the yearbook.) When driving to field trips, do I collect gas money from the kids before or after I drop them off? (Wait, what?) Are there any allergies I should notify the caterer of for the class parties? (We don’t use a caterer, maybe we should talk…) My first arts and crafts project is wallpapering my bathroom so I’m going to need 4,288 glue sticks added to their required supply list. (On second thought, we may not need a Room Mom this year.) Your Tuesday Reading Circle is on my preferred spa day, so can I move  in a massage table on those carpet squares? (@#$%^&*) Why is your face so red? Who are you calling? Are handcuffs really necessary?

And now I’ve also been asked if I understand my rights as they’ve been explained to me. (Best. School. Year. Ever.)

©2013 Tracey Henry

 

One of the recipes I get asked about the most–Guacamole.

 

World's Best Guacamole
Guacamole

3 ripe avocados
1 red onion, diced
1-2 tomatoes, diced
Salt and Pepper

Nothing else or you’ll ruin it

I mean it

Mash the avocados with the back of a fork in a medium bowl. Mix the 3–exactly 3–ingredients together. Resist the temptation to make it more complicated than it is–you will thank me later. Season with salt and pepper and enjoy by the handful or use tortilla chips.

Note: The only variation I will allow is the addition of fresh cilantro if you love fresh cilantro, or a squeeze of a fresh lime. Ripe avocados are a must. Buy the nice blackish-skinned ones, but if they aren’t quite ripe yet place in a brown paper bag for a day or so and they’ll ripen quickly and guac-ly.

Deviled Eggs Benedict

One of the very best happy accidents of this new venture has been how much more crowded my kitchen has become. As soon as I mentioned the new blog to my friends, they have jumped right in offering recipes, taste-testing, opinions, and wine-glass filling. The test kitchen has become my favorite place with some of my favorite people along side offering their generous and delicious additions.

Such was the case when my friend Mikki came through town this summer.

Me and my friend Mikki
Me and my friend Mikki

After a bottle of wine or seven, we came up with the most decadent deviled eggs you’ll ever meet. These are so good and so rich, you’ll move up a tax bracket after just one bite.

Deviled Eggs Benedict.
Deviled Eggs Benedict.

Deviled Eggs Benedict

18 eggs, hard boiled and peeled (Use organic eggs, worth the splurge when the eggs are the star of the show.)

1 stick of unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 lemon, juiced
1 Tablespoon champagne vinegar
Salt

4 slices prosciutto
2 english muffins
chives for garnish

1.) Cut whole eggs in half lengthwise and place on a large platter. Put yolks into food processor. Pulse until smooth.

2.) Add vinegar and lemon juice; pulse again until smooth. With processor running, add the meted butter through the feed tube and blend until smooth and creamy. Use spatula to scrape sides, add salt to taste, blend again. This should resemble and taste like hollandaise sauce.

3.) Place yolk mixture into a plastic bag with the tip cut off for piping. Pipe into eggs. If mixture is slightly runny or soft, it is ok, it will set up nicely in the refrigerator.

4.) Chill eggs for at least an hour. Meanwhile, set oven to 400°. Place prosciutto on a cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes to crisp up. (You could also do this on the stove top if you prefer.)

5.) Toast English muffins and lightly butter if desired. (It really doesn’t need it.) Cut muffin into small, crouton-sized chunks.

6.) Assemble eggs by placing a piece of the crisp prosciutto, muffin crouton and a sliver of chive on each one.

7.) Makes 36, defibrillator paddles optional.

©2013 Tracey Henry

Signs of Premature Education

As I sit here on the eve of the first day of school, which has crept earlier and earlier each August until it seems as though the 4th of July is closer than Labor Day, it occurs to me that the local School Boards may be suffering from an embarrassing affliction. I know it’s not quite PC or appropriate to discuss outside of AM radio talk show commercials and creepy email spam, but I think there’s a rampant case of premature education going on around here.

It only takes a simple Google clip art image search of the words, “Back to School” with its apple-laden, fall-leaf-wreathed chalkboards and discounted plaid wool skirts with turtlenecks turned up to earlobes covered by fur-lined ski caps to confirm that the web–which is World Wide I remind you–universally accepts the fact that the First Day of School is an autumnal event.

And though I am not Julius Caesar, I maintain that August, and certainly July, land squarely in the Northern Hemisphere’s summer, and therefore, by its very position in the space-time continuum, charted latitudes and longitudes, maritime tides, and proximity to the solstices and several Independence Days, both foreign and domestic; are historically, meteorologically, ill-timed months to resume scholastic endeavors.

In other words, you may be pulling the trigger a little too early, Board of Education.

August 7th was our start date this year. This is actually a week later than most of the schools around us, so I guess I should feel lucky. The earth has had seven more days in which to retain summer temperatures approaching triple digits.

Clearly there is some confusion on the Board with regard to an appropriate First Day of School. As the helpful citizen that I am, I would like to provide this brief tutorial to school planners to consider when they prepare next year’s calendar so they are not, once again, subject to this embarrassing and inconvenient problem.

If you start school before your state’s tax-free holiday on school supplies even begins, you may be guilty of premature education.

If playground balls fuse to the blacktop in the blistering heat, it may be a sign of premature education.

If the first holiday off you have after the first day of school is a Christmas in July mattress sale, it just may be evidence of premature education.

If parents are confused on whether the first day is a start date or an end date to the school year, well, it just may be a textbook case of premature education.

If you have to pack zinc oxide and salt tablets in your child’s lunchbox, chances are pretty good you’re prematurely educating.

If your child’s “school bus” has a freezer on board, plays “Pop goes the Weasel” and serves Push-ups from a side window, premature education could be to blame.

If your official school uniform includes flip flops and a panama hat, methinks it clearly is premature education.

If math class is taught in SPF values, you know…

If students have completed all of the material in their textbooks before they’ve chosen a Halloween costume, premature education should be considered.

If your child was born under the zodiacal sign of cancer and has to bring in birthday cupcakes for his classmates, talk to your doctor about premature education.

If your child has ever brought a watermelon for a teacher on the first day instead of an apple because that’s the only fruit in season, education prematurely could be the culprit.

If there has ever been a wave runner in your school carline, there’s no shame in admitting your premature education.

If your child is taught how to convert Fahrenheit to Celsius and Celsius to Kelvin to record the average temperature during science class; well, just sayin’.

If your child has ever had to write a paper on Bastille Day due on Bastille Day; ahem.

And finally, if as part of their emergency planning your school regularly conducts Sharknado drills; I rest my case.

You’re welcome. Now everyone is satisfied.

©2013 Tracey Henry

Premature education
Premature education

School Night Panko-Crusted Chicken Cutlets

These are simple to make on a weeknight, but can easily be dressed up or down for your family’s tastes.

Chicken cutlets (you can buy the cutlets, or cut boneless skinless breast or fillets in half and pound to a thin cutlet)

Flour
2 eggs (or more)
1 cup Panko (or more)

Olive oil
salt and pepper

1.) Set up a breading station of the flour seasoned with salt and pepper, the eggs beaten with a little water, and a plate of the panko.

2.) Heat a non-stick pan with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. You may have to re-oil in between batches, so don’t put the bottle away. Preheat the oven to 350°.

3.) Bread each cutlet by first dredging through the seasoned flour, then the egg wash, and finally evenly coating with the panko. Do 3 or 4 cutlets and place them in the pan. Do not overcrowd–do in batches if necessary.

4.) Cook the cutlets about 2-3 minutes per side, just to give a nice brown color. Try to only flip once to preserve the panko crust. When golden brown, remove from pan and place in a single layer on a rimmed cookie sheet in the oven to finish cooking, and while you cook the next batch.

5.) Continue with all the cutlets and bake in the oven another 10 minutes or so until they reach 165° internally and no longer pink. By finishing in the oven, you still get a properly cooked chicken but the crust is still crispy and golden rather than charred.

6.) Serve either as is, or top with a handful of arugula tossed with Dijon-lemon vinaigrette–it gives a nice freshness and bite to the simple cutlet.

Panko-Crusted Cutlets

Banana Chocolate Chip Bread

There are numerous examples of my craziness and the impending severity of it, but number 876 is my inability to throw away over-ripe bananas without promising no one except myself, that I will not let that beautiful fruit go to waste and will immediately bake a lovely bread or muffin.

The really crazy thing is that I don’t even like bananas.

But here’s a bread that I will even eat, packed with all sorts of wholesome goodness.

Banana-Chocolate-Chip Bread

3-4 over ripe bananas
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2/3 cup chocolate chips

1.) Preheat oven to 350°. Spray a loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray.

2.) Mash bananas with a fork until smooth-ish. (Leaving some lumps is ok.)

3.) In a separate bowl, mix together flour, salt and baking soda. Set aside.

4.) Into the mashed bananas, whisk in sugars, milk, egg, and vanilla.

5.) Gently fold in flour mixture just to combine, add chocolate chips and pour into the loaf pan.

6.) Bake for 55-65 minutes until a knife blade comes out clean. (Crazy people use knives, not toothpicks.)

Banana Chocolate Chip Bread
Banana Chocolate Chip Bread

©2013 Tracey Henry