Archive for December, 2014

New Year Tradition – Lentil Soup

Sunday, December 28th, 2014

Legend has it that lentils will bring good health and prosperity in the New Year. How convenient that we just happened to have a bone-in ham for Christmas! I’ve got my batch of lentil soup on the stove right now and it will be ready later today.

I sort of followed the recipe on the bag of lentils, but mostly improvised. I didn’t quite have enough stock, so I used some dry white wine for part of the liquid. I don’t like canned tomatoes, so I used fresh heirloom cherry tomatoes. All of the measurements below are approximate. Normally I would add an onion or shallots, but I didn’t have any on hand (shocking!), so they’re omitted from this recipe.

Lentil Soup - a family tradition for good luck, health, and prosperity for the New Year!

Lentil Soup

2 pounds lentils
1 tablespoon oil (I like avocado or olive oil)
1 cup sliced carrots
1 cup shredded carrots
1 cup sliced celery
1 cup diced lean ham (optional)
1 ham bone*
1-2 cups halved cherry tomatoes
2-3 cups dry white wine
8-10 cups chicken stock (low sodium)

Prepare the lentils – spread the dry lentils out over a kitchen towel and check to make sure there are no pebbles or sand in them. Next, place the lentils in a colander and rinse with cool water. Set aside.

In a large, heavy-bottomed stock pot, heat the oil over medium heat.┬áIf you’re using onion or shallots, saute them a bit first, then add the carrots and celery. Saute the carrots and celery to soften a bit. If you’re adding the additional diced ham, add it now and saute a bit with the vegetables. Add the wine and increase the heat to bring to a gentle boil.

Add the ham bone, sliced tomatoes, and lentils; give a good stir. Pour in 8 cups of stock, stir well. Cook on medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook on low heat until the lentils are tender. You’ll want to stir the soup every 30 minutes or so and if necessary, add the additional stock. After about 2 hours, the soup will be ready to eat, but I usually cook it longer (3-4 hours) because I like the lentils more well done.

* For the ham bone … if you’ve recently cooked a bone-in ham, you’ll want to save the bone for making soup like this. If you don’t have a leftover ham bone, then you can use 3-4 ham hocks. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that ham hocks will add more fat to this recipe. They’ve got great flavor, but they are loaded with fat. If you don’t have a ham bone and don’t want to use ham hocks, Trader Joe’s makes a Smoked Chicken Apple Chardonnay Sausage that would also be good in this soup. Just dice it, saute it in place of the ham, and there you go.

You could also make this vegetarian by omitting the ham and using vegetable stock. Oooh, you could use Shiitake mushrooms to give a bit of meaty texture. Adding a bit of brown rice or barley would round out the protein in a vegetarian version, also.

Oh, the possibilities!

This soup tastes even better the next day, and it freezes well, so make a big pot today – just in time for the New Year. Enjoy!

Serving suggestion ... serve with homemade biscuits.

Here’s an idea … take your favorite biscuit recipe, add a handful of shredded Parmesan, Asiago, and/or Romano cheeses, and some chopped fresh herbs. Simple, easy additions are often the best!

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 25th, 2014

Merry Christmas! Here's wishing you a happy, healthy holiday with lots of great cycling and food!

Merry Christmas Eve!

Wednesday, December 24th, 2014

Just a quick post to wish you all a very Merry Christmas Eve and to share just a few appetizer ideas for the holiday.

Veggies with Homemade Blue Cheese Dip (low fat!)

Smoked Salmon Wraps (low fat!)

Assorted Treats (not low fat!)

Homemade Chocolate Chip Cookies (not low fat, but loaded with dark chocolate & espresso & therefore lots of antioxidants!)

Roasted Shiitake Mushrooms

Friday, December 19th, 2014

If you’re looking for an easy and healthy side dish, look no more.

Roasted Shiitake Mushrooms

Rinse and pat dry some shiitake mushrooms. If necessary, trim a little off the stems. Toss with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast in a preheated oven for about 30-45 minutes, depending on the oven temperature. Remove from oven and transfer to a covered serving dish to keep warm. These will produce a rich, flavorful juice that’s wonderful on rice, mashed potatoes, fish, chicken, or meat.

I usually roast these between 325 to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, at whatever temperature I’m running the oven for other dishes.

These are also fantastic roasted with asparagus.

Super Easy Holiday Treat

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

I don’t think these could be easier to make. Melt some dark chocolate, stir until smooth, dip your favorite pretzels, set on a parchment paper lined tray, bedazzle with your favorite holiday sprinkles, allow them to cool until the chocolate is set. This is a great “recipe” to try with kids!

Dark Chocolate Dipped Pretzels


The most challenging part of this recipe is melting the chocolate. Follow the directions on the package. If you want super super easy, just use chocolate chips. Place them in a microwavable bowl and heat on low power for 2 or 3 minutes, then check them. Stir, and if necessary, return them to the microwave until they’re melted and smooth. Depending on how many chips you’re melting, this could take another minute or more. You can do 30 to 60-seconds each additional time, just be sure to keep a careful eye on this because the chocolate can go from perfect to scorched very quickly.


Holiday Baking …

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

Yeah, it’s not happening so much this year. Too busy. That’s OK. Not enough cycling and too much holiday baking is not really a good combination.

Tonight I had a rare night of bad baking luck. Well, not really baking, but I completely messed up a batch of truffles. I have had really good luck with this truffle recipe from Ina Garten, but tonight … not so much. I think perhaps I did not chop the chocolate finely enough so it did not melt entirely. I had this brilliant idea to warm it gently by setting the glass bowl over almost boiling water. I think I got it just a bit too hot. The fat from the cream separated out a bit and they’re just not smooth and pretty. When I chilled them, it was obviously separated.

I’m quite displeased with myself about this because I used Strauss Family Creamer organic cream and was making them for gifts. Oh, bah! They did not turn out well at all, but I think I can use this mixture as a base for a dark chocolate frosting for a cake, maybe? Hmm … perhaps a foodie adventure is in store for this coming weekend? After a long bike ride, of course!

The Sacramento area weather is looking good for cycling this weekend. I have to work on Saturday (Commencement!) but the weather forecast for Sunday looks promising.

Rain, finally!

Monday, December 8th, 2014

We have finally been getting some rain here in Northern California and I am loving it! It does interfere a bit with cycling, but the air is cleaner, fresher, and far more breathable. I am fortunate enough to have access to a fancy Compu-Trainer, elliptical, and treadmill so I am getting at least some exercise.

The rain has held off this weekend, so I was able to get a short ride in yesterday and a longer ride in this morning. Cool temperatures and very little breeze made for a pleasant ride on the American River Bike Trail.

The rainy weather is calling for some serious comfort food.

Cream of Tomato Soup

Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Probably not the healthiest dinner, but sometimes comfort wins out and that’s OK. It’s not entirely unhealthy, though. I always add my little touches that help ease the guilt a bit … organic, lower-sodium cream of tomato soup … whole grain bread … just a touch of butter in the pan, mixed with a touch of olive oil to give a nice, flavorful crisp the the bread … a combination of cheese that included at least half reduced fat cheese.The trick is to use just enough full fat cheese to give a touch of the ooey-gooey melty cheese thing that people love about a grilled cheese sandwich.

So, that was Friday night’s dinner … after what felt like an unusually long week.

Saturday … the sale I’ve waited all year for! The Meyer Factory Outlet Sale!! I haven’t been to this in years and I had planned to go last year, but I missed it. It’s running until December 15th – if you need any kitchen stuff, now is the time to stock up. Check out their website and you can download a coupon for an extra 30% off. Go ahead – splurge on your inner foodie.

After some shopping and errands, I grabbed a quick late afternoon ride yesterday. The weather cleared up and it was gorgeous!

Tower Bridge

River heading towards Downtown Sacramento

Last night’s dinner was a bit healthier – a spicy beef stir fry with asparagus, green beans, and mushrooms, served over brown rice.

Spicy Beef with Asparagus, Green Beans, & Mushrooms with a little extra chili garlic sauce

This was super easy to make. Simply marinate some thinly sliced beef in a bit of soy sauce, white white (or dry sherry), fresh minced garlic, Tiger Sauce, a little honey, and a little sesame oil. I didn’t measure … just go by taste. Whisk together these ingredients and then taste before adding the raw meat. Next time I make this, I will add some chili garlic sauce or Sriracha sauce. I wanted it spicier!

Clean and trim your vegetables. Be sure to cut them into consistently sized pieces so that they’ll cook evenly. Heat up your wok with a little avocado (or peanut) oil. Quickly stir fry the mushrooms, then set aside. Next cook the asparagus, then green beans, setting aside. Remove the meat from the sauce and set the sauce aside. Cook the beef a few pieces at a time so that they’ll cook quickly. Remove from the heat and set aside, repeat until you’ve cooked all the meat. Pour the reserved sauce into the pan and heat quickly, bringing to a boil. Reduce heat, add the meat and vegetables and toss to combine. Cover for just a few moments to heat through. You want the vegetables to be crisp-tender, so be careful to not overcook.

Serve over brown rice and if desired, add a splash more hot sauce.

Be sure you make a BIG batch, because it makes for terrific and easy leftovers. Enjoy!

Now it’s time to turn the Christmas lights on and enjoy a Christmas movie to get in the spirit. This week I’ve got to get started on my holiday baking.

Suggestions? Requests?