Smoky Black Bean Soup

Apologies for the radio silence on my end.  Between the rain, rain, and more rain, it’s been quite difficult to stay excited about much besides my bed and a cup of hot tea.  While it is almost June and I should be making bright salads with the radishes, asparagus, and peas that certainly should be right around the corner, I’m still making soup.  Can you believe it?!  It’s almost June and I still want to eat a big bowl of warm soup for dinner.  On the bright side, our summer farm share started last weekend which means that the fresh veggies are on their way.  In the meantime, this soup isn’t a bad diversion.

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Making Stock Easy

Stock is the fond de cuisine – the base of really good food – and it’s so much more than soups.  It’s rich sauces and flavorful broths and the difference between homemade soup and “You made that!?! HOW!?!”.  Good restaurants know this secret and home cooks should know it too because making stock really isn’t that much harder than buying a box of broth that barely tastes like anything more than the cardboard it came in.  Here comes the crockpot again to save the day and you’ll be using the stuff you might otherwise throw away to make something that will absolutely change the food you cook.

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Coconut Lemon Cake Surprise

In my house, we’re dealing with quite a few food sensitivities and allergies these days.  We have most of the bases covered.  Gluten? Check.  Dairy? Check. Soy-averse? Yup. We also avoid meat in the meals we cook for one another each week.  While this may seem impossible, you’d be surprised how well we do and actually come up with quite a few tasty meals that are allergen-free (thank god for the incredible-edible egg!).

Cooking is one thing but baking is a whole other arena.  I have been around enough vegans to know that there are plenty of ways to make yummy dairy-free treats, but gluten-free baking is a different thing all-together and one where I have significant doubts.  Can you actually make a cake worth eating with gluten-free flour substitutes and without dairy?  It turns out you can and it actually tastes pretty great.

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Lamb Ragu and French “Gnocchi”

Here’s a belated easter recipe that’s fitting to the kind of spring we’ve been having over here in Boston.  While today it’s 70 degrees and the sun is shining, most of the past few weeks have been cloudy, cold, and rainy. I guess that’s what spring brings – the never-know-what-tomorrow-will-bring kind of weather that really feels like you’re on the cusp of the seasons changing.  In the midst of our cold spell and over Easter weekend, I had the urge to make this warming, rich lamb ragu which involves slow-cooking lamb in wine, tomatoes, and herbs until it’s very tender.

While it was wonderful, the real stars of the show were these little dumplings which were buttery, pillowy, and the perfect accompaniment to the rich, tangy lamb.  You’re really going to like these and, when you master this technique, you’ve also learned how to make cream puffs and eclairs.  Look at the two-for-one I’m giving you here!

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Home-rendered Lard

Lard, also known as the devil-incarnate to most, is a fat that isn’t so easy to come by these days but, not so long ago, it was widely used and available.  Animal fats were connected to heart disease in the 1950’s and since then have been eschewed by so many that the thought of using lard let alone making your own would be insane to many.  One of the more radical aspects of my culinary philosophy evolved from reading a woman named Sally Fallon’s cookbook entitled Nourishing Traditions.  In this volume, she offers a whole lot of information to prove that animals fats and traditional foods are not the evil we have come to believe they are and that the real reason for our current health issues is the rise in processed flours, sugars, and fats.  While I wouldn’t say I’m a total convert, I do believe that she’s on to something here and that minimally processed foods that humans have been eating for a very long time can’t be all that bad when eaten in moderation.  So I made some lard.  And it was awesome.

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Strawberry Frozen Yogurt

This is kind of a cheater post because I can hardly call this a “recipe” since it’s so easy.  Also, you need a piece of equipment – mainly and ice cream maker – to do it.  Making homemade ice cream is such a treat but this frozen yogurt is a treat you don’t have to fret over, especially as we near toward bathing suit season and people like me have to force themselves to get outside and start running again.  I’ll be the first person to tell you that fat is not a four-letter word (because it has three letters) and that most people’s aversion to all things with calories actually lead them to eat MORE and be less satisfied with the foods they do eat.    Since I’m all about satisfaction and getting the most out of each meal, I love greek-style yogurt.  When you use this thick, rich, tangy yogurt to make yourself a frozen dessert, you’ll scarcely remember that someone removed the fat from the equation.

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Chicken Salad with Apples and Toasted Almonds

Chicken salad doesn’t sound all that appetizing.  It brings to mind words and phrases like “deli counter”, “mayo-laden”, “textureless”, “flavorless”, and “boring”.  But chicken salad, like any salad really, is open to your suggestions.  It can be made with whatever ingredients you have on hand or whatever your imagination thinks sounds good.  Plus, when you start with great ingredients, you end up with a wonderful result – something that makes a lunch you can look forward to rather than the “boring” option you may have resigned yourself to.

I made this recipe mainly because I wanted to eat it. I wanted to eat it because I made a similar recipe for my friend and designer extraordinaire Betsy who has been working on the logo and design for Relish for the past month or so.  In exchange for her services, I have offered to cook for her and, man, with the job she did I feel like I could be indebted to her forever.  Thanks a million Betsy!  I also wanted to eat this chicken salad immediately because of the wonderful balance of flavors and textures that makes something so simple so very satisfying.

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