- Need to know: how to organize your fridge for optimal freshness.
- I’m going to make my new favorite vegetable even better by pairing it with bacon.
- Another article from the pro-saturated fat camp. Obviously, I’m happy to see this argument gain traction.
- Saw some cool herbs at the market? Air dry to preserve them for next season.
- I replaced some old rags with this new dishtowel. I’m obsessed: it’s huge, texture-y, and quick-drying.
- Time to go full nerd: where Game of Thrones and hard science collide.
Given the name of my website, I hope the fact that I love cooking is self-evident. I love that name I came up with, Cooking with Bells On. I love the exuberance and integrity that it implies, as well as the allusions that the distinctly British phrase draws to my heritage. Most of all, I love that the title emphasizes the act of cooking, rather than the food I cook, as the process is for me just as important as the product it bears forth.
What the moniker doesn’t covey is that my love for cooking reaches out past my own kitchen. Sure, the photos I post here are, for the time being, shot in my own apartment, and the ingredients are prepared by my own hands. But what really gets me excited isn’t my own cooking that I document here – it’s the cooking that I might enable you to do on your own. Every time I hear that one of you has learned a new technique through one of my recipes, or simplified your cooking using one of my kitchen hacks, I get a little thrill.
Selfishly, I want to keep having those thrilling moments of shared kitchen success, and so whenever possible I try and ask my friends and family for blog post ideas that would be helpful to them. To make this easier for all the rest of you, I’ve built a suggestion box into the website. Look up to the top of your page – there it is, hanging up over the title banner! Of course, you can continue to bounce ideas off of me on Facebook or Twitter, but now you also have the option of submitting ideas or questions to me directly on this website.
This post came from a conversation with my amazing friend Sarah, who was thinking about making lentil soup for dinner with a friend. Upon her suggestion, I was instantly reminded of the lentil soup I had made a few weeks ago. When I made that last batch, I was inspired by Southwestern flavors – flavors that remind me of home – and so I used smoky bacon, earthy charred poblanos, and toasty ground cumin. Feel free to incorporate your own inspiration into this recipe, which is a wonderful canvas to explore different flavor profiles. Substitute celery for the poblanos and add thyme and tomatoes for a Mediterranean take, or add some chipotles in adobo for a spicier flavor.
Smoky Lentil Soup
This recipe makes a lot of soup, as I believe all soup recipes should. Making a giant pot of soup that you can enjoy over the course of several days makes dinner so much easier for the nights that follow. At home, I like to vary the garnishes night by night. We might have avocado and salsa over the soup one night, yogurt and cilantro the next, and eggs (poached in the soup) the last.
You could make this recipe vegan by skipping the bacon (substitute 2 tsp coconut or olive oil to cook the vegetables in) and using a good quality vegetable stock.
2 poblano peppers
4 strips bacon, cut into 1/4″-1/2″ peices
2 large carrots, peeled, 1/4″ dice
1 large onion, 1/4″ dice
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin (or 1 tbsp whole cumin seeds, toasted and ground)
3 cups lentils, preferably French green lentils (de Puy)
2 bay leaves
1 quart chicken stock + 2 cups water
1 tsp apple cider vinegar (or other vinegar of choice):
olive oil, for garnish
minced cilantro, for garnish
Char the poblanos: Turn the gas flame on your stove up to high heat. Using tongs, place one poblano pepper over the flames and allow to char. Rotate as each side blackens until the entire pepper has charred, about 5 minutes. Remove to a tinfoil-lined baking sheet and wrap the pepper in the foil to steam. Repeat with second pepper. Rinse the charred peppers under water to remove the blackened skin. Dice the peppers to approximately the same size as the carrots and onions (discarding seeds and stem).
Render the bacon: Heat a large dutch oven or pot over high heat. Add the bacon and cook for 2-3 minutes. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon to a paper towel and reserve for garnish.
Sweat the vegetables: Turn the heat down to medium-high and add the diced carrots, onion, and poblano. Season liberally with salt and pepper, and add the cumin. Sweat* the vegetables until they begin to soften (3-5 minutes), then add the lentils, bay leaves, chicken stock, and water. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and cook for about 20 minutes, until the lentils are cooked through but not mushy.
Blend the lentils: Using a stick blender, blend the lentils for about 30 seconds. Most of the lentils will be left intact, but the ones that have been blended will thicken the soup and give it body. Alternatively, process 1/3 of the cooked lentils in a conventional blender or food processor until smooth, then return to the pot.
Finish the soup: Add the vinegar at the end of the cooking process, then taste and reseason if necessary (I added more salt at the end). Serve the soup and garnish with olive oil, cilantro, and the reserved bacon.
*To sweat vegetables is essentially to sauté them without allowing them to take on any color. It is important that the vegetables be well salted, so that they shed enough water to avoid caramelization. If you find that your vegetables are beginning to color more than you would like, put a lid on the pot and let them steam a bit.
Last week I shared with you the easiest way to poach an egg, and I was so excited to see how that little hack inspired a few of you to try out that technique in your own kitchens. Today I’m back with another simple little kitchen hack, one I know will also streamline your work in the kitchen by making sure that you never run out of citrus.
In my own kitchen I use citrus on a daily basis. Because I rarely cook with recipes, I rely on my intuition and personal tastes to inform me of when a dish needs tweaking. If a dish is bland, it sometimes needs a bit of salt or pepper to bring it to life. If a dish is a bit too fatty, or bitter, or still bland despite extra seasoning, I usually turn to acid to make things right. Vinegar works to bring acid in a pinch, but there is really nothing that adds fresh zing! like a squeeze of lemon or lime. Unlike salt or vinegar, lemons and limes unfortunately go bad, and even the most well stocked kitchens can run dry of essential citrus, meaning that every once in a while you might turn around to find yourself helpless at bringing your fish/salad/vegetables/whatever to life.
Much like running out of salt, running out of citrus is a situation I like to avoid, so I’ve developed this kitchen hack to make sure that never happens. Here’s how it works: freeze your citrus. I know, that didn’t really blow your mind or anything – I’m just telling you to use your freezer, which you already knew you could do – but it really shocks me that no one else does this. Why does no one else do this!?
When I first started freezing citrus, I did so only to use up the bounty of fruit I knew would wither on my counter. (I mistakenly ordered three bags too many of on-sale lemons and limes from Fresh Direct.) After a few weeks, though, I realized that I always had on hand the lemons and limes that I needed, and I wasn’t stomping around my kitchen angry that I had forgotten to replenish my supply at the store.
Quite by accident, I also discovered that frozen citrus produces way more juice than room temperature citrus. Seriously. If you’re making guacamole and using thawed frozen limes, expect to need 1-2 limes fewer than you might otherwise use. My theory on the magic juice-producing potential goes like this: the water in limes freezes into ice crystals, those ice crystals puncture holes the membranes of juice-containing pods in the lime, then those holes allow more delicious juice to flow out of the lime when it is thawed. Is this hard science? Maybe not, but it makes sense to me.
So now that I’ve convinced you that running out of citrus is the worst, and that freezing your citrus is the best, let me give you a run down on exactly how to execute this hack.
- Slice your lemons and limes into halves or quarters. Bonus points for zesting the fruits first. (Zest holds up great in the freezer, too!)
- Scatter the sliced fruit onto a parchment lined baking sheet and set in the freezer to freeze-dry for at least 2 hours.
- Regain your freezer space by moving the frozen citrus into large freezer bags.
- Anytime you want to use the citrus, simply thaw in the microwave!
Want to use up that citrus you just froze? Try those lemons in my Super Salsa Verde, or give the limes a squeeze over my Thai Green Curry with Crispy Roasted Chicken, Shiitake Mushrooms, and Bok Choy.