Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Simple Dinners: Lentil Soup

Continuing in my quest for simple dinners, I saw Ina Garten make this on TV last week and was inspired. It was filling, healthy, and tasty. I think it would be a nice dish to make for a friend who was sick or just had a baby, as it is a one bowl meal! It was easy to make and I loved having it on hand in the fridge for a healthy and quick lunch or dinner throughout the week. For a main course for dinner I might add some bacon or some cold cuts on the side for my husband who believes mains all require a meat protein. Note: The recipe makes a lot so I froze 2/3 of it for later use.

So for those keeping track at home:

#1. Zuni Roast Chicken
#2. Broiled Salmon
#3. Mario's spaghetti carbonara
#4. Pork Tenderloin w/ cherry rosemary port sauce
#5. Lentil vegetable soup

Lentil Vegetable Soup

1 pound French green lentils (I subbed red lentils with great results)
4 cups chopped yellow onions (3 large onions)
4 cups chopped leeks, white part only (2 leeks)
1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
1/4 cup good olive oil, plus additional for drizzling on top
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon dried
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3 cups medium-diced celery (8 stalks)
3 cups medium-diced carrots (4 to 6 carrots)
3 quarts chicken stock
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 tablespoons red wine or red wine vinegar
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In a large bowl, cover the lentils with boiling water and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Drain.

In a large stockpot on medium heat, saute the onions, leeks, and garlic with the olive oil, salt, pepper, thyme, and cumin for 20 minutes, until the vegetables are translucent and very tender. Add the celery and carrots and saute for 10 more minutes. Add the chicken stock, tomato paste, and lentils. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for 1 hour, until the lentils are cooked through. Check the seasonings. Add the red wine and serve hot, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with grated Parmesan.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Simple Dinners: Pork Tenderloin Medallions with Dried Cherries and Rosemary Port Pan Sauce

We've always known we wanted to do family dinners, as we both believe they are important for family bonding. Yet we weren't sure when Elisha would be old enough for us to begin the nightly ritual. When she was going to bed at 7pm it was untenable as the bedtime routine had to start by 6pm. Now that she is going down at 8, we started trying to do them as often as we could.

With me home on leave, I decided we are going to make this as close to a nightly ritual as possible. And we've really been enjoying them. But given the newborn in our life, especially one who likes to be held as much as possible, dinners have to be simple to put together and ideally without a lot of active cooking time. So hence begins my hunt for simple, healthy, and tasty family dinners. Nothing too exotic so a toddler can eat it but still interesting enough for Chris and I to enjoy eating it. I'll post the winners and the losers, as maybe you all will have suggestions for improvements on the not so favorites. And if any of you have favorite easy family staples, post away too! My goal is to develop an arsenal of 15-20 staple family dinner recipes to put into rotation. They have to be relatively simple, decently healthy, and not be overly involved or require too many ngredients that require a special trip to the store. The zuni roast chicken, my basic broiled salmon, and Mario's carbonara are my starters.

Last week I tried this pork tenderloin from Cooks Illustrated and it was absolutely delicious and so simple to do. (I subbed cranberries for the cherries and sherry for the port as they were what I had at home, and it turned out great. Next time I'll try it as is.) It deserves its spot as entry #4 and is definitely going into my rotation.

Here is my list so far for anyone interested in keeping track...

#1. Zuni Roast Chicken
#2. Broiled Salmon
#3. Mario's spaghetti carbonara

Sauteed Pork Tenderloin Medallions with Dried Cherries and Rosemary Port Pan Sauce
Serves 3 (saucing one tenderloin). Published September 1, 1997 by cooksillustrated.

Dried cranberries or chopped dried apricots can substitute for the cherries. To promote even cooking, cut your slices to a uniform thickness. If it helps, lay a ruler in front of the loin and slice at the one-inch marks. If you’ve got one, cover the pan with a splatter screen to prevent splattering.

1 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 pork tenderloin (about 1 pound), silver skin removed, cut into 1-inch slices, each pounded to 3/4 inch with flat side of chef's knife blade
2 tablespoons olive oil

1/3 cup port
1/2 cup dried sweet cherries
2/3 cup chicken stock or low-salt canned broth
2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary

1. Sprinkle salt and pepper over both sides of pork slices. Heat oil until shimmering in heavy-bottomed pan, at least 10 inches across bottom, over medium-high heat, swirling pan to distribute oil. Working in batches of no more than six slices to avoid overcrowding, sear medallions without moving them until brown on one side, about 80 seconds (oil should sizzle, but not smoke). Turn medallions with tongs to avoid scraping off the sear; sear until meat is mostly opaque at sides, firm to the touch, and well browned, about 80 seconds. Transfer pork to plate.

2. Set pan in which pork was cooked over medium-high heat; add port and cherries. Boil, scraping pan bottom with wooden spatula to loosen browned bits, until liquid reduces to about 2 tablespoons, 2 to 3 minutes. Increase heat to high; add stock or broth, rosemary, any accumulated pork juices; boil until liquid reaches consistency of maple syrup, about 2 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

3. Reduce heat to medium; return pork to pan, turning meat to coat. Simmer to heat pork through and blend flavors, about 3 minutes. Adjust seasonings, adding salt and pepper to taste. Transfer pork to serving plate and spoon sauce over meat. Serve immediately.