Replay: Ode to the Redskins Victory Chili

victory chiliI posted this recipe a couple of seasons ago but it’s a perfect standby for a gorgeous football Sunday.  Better yet, make it today to the sound of touchdowns and field goals while screaming “sack him!” and let the flavors meld overnight.  Re-heat tomorrow night to enjoy to the ‘Skins and Eagles game and cheer on the home team.  Try some homemade tortilla chips to dip, while you’re at it.

 Homemade Tortilla Chips
  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 package corn tortillas
  • sea salt
How to Make It!
Brush each tortilla lightly with oil on each side, then stack them all on top of each other.  Cut into halves, then quarters, then eights.  Place on a lightly greased cookie sheet and sprinkle with sea salt.  Bake at 350 degrees until crisp and lightly golden brown, about 10-15 minutes.  Serves a handful of hungry football fans.  Less if they’re drinking. 
Original Post:  I made this chili on Sunday in preparation for the nail-biting exhibition that was the Redskins‘ victory over Dallas. They really won?! Yes. Yes, they did. And the homemade chili that was inhaled while we watched the game was spectacular. I used the sausage that my friend Emily brought back for us from her (probably almost famous) butcher. So.Very.Delicious.  


‘Victory’ Chili

  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, small dice
  • 1 red pepper, small dice
  • 1 pound smoked beef sausage, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 28 ounces crushed tomatoes (I used an additional tomato from the Harvest festival)
  • 14 ounce can of red kidney beans (not a fan, but okay camouflaged by other stuff)
  • 1 Tablespoon molasses
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 Tablespoon + chili powder (to taste)
  • 1/4 teaspoon celery seed (omg this stuff is so good in tuna!)
  • 1 bay leaf

How to Make It!

In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat and cook the onion, pepper and sausage until the onion is transparent. Stir in the tomatoes, beans, molasses, broth and bay leaf and bring to a bubble. Turn the heat down to low and let simmer for 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally. Add all of the dry seasonings and stir to combine, then let simmer for at least another 30 minutes prior to serving. I forgot to take the bay leaf out prior to folks eating it, (I do this often) so I hope no one got it. eeks. Garnish with shredded cheese, crackers, sour cream, whatever strikes you. Go ‘skins!!   Serves 4-6

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Spanakopita – The Perfect Friday Finger Food

SpanikopitaSpanakopita.  Say it.  Span-eee-kooo-peee-tah.  This delightful little Greek finger food packs a mean punch when it comes to flavor.  The word spanakopita literally means spinach pie.  You can buy them frozen and just pop them into the oven but they are oh so much better when made from scratch.  So you can make them and freeze them yourself!  I don’t usually see them with artichokes mixed into the spinach and feta filling but we all know that’s a delicious combination, so I threw them in.

artichokes The phyllo dough used to wrap them in, can be slightly difficult to work with if you’re not careful.  It has to be just the right temperature between frozen and too warm, or the dough will become fragile and break up or dry out.  If your dough breaks, simply grab two ends, moisten very lightly with water and press them together.  Voila!

butter it upOnce you master the triangle or paper football shape we used to make as kids, you can play around with ingredients and stuff the phyllo with bits of cooked potato, onion, bacon and cheese or maybe a little lean ground turkey with raisins, pine nuts and curry powder.  The sky is the limit when it comes to the variety of things you can make with phyllo, but let’s try this classic Greek pocket full of goodness first.


2 boxes frozen, chopped spinach – thawed.  (Or a bushel full of fresh spinach, cooked down, drained and stems removed) I vote for the boxed stuff.

  • 2 garlic cloves, mincedmise en place
  • 1/2 sweet onion, small dice
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 cups crumbled feta cheese
  • ½ cup artichoke hearts, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 box phyllo dough, thawed but still cold
  • ½ stick butter, melted
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon of water

How to Make It!

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large frying pan and sauté the garlic and onion until the onion is translucent.  Thaw the frozen spinach and once done, squeeze out all excess moisture or the end result will be soggy little pockets of goo.  If using fresh spinach, remove all excess moisture after cooking.  yummAdd the spinach, nutmeg, artichokes, salt and pepper to the garlic and onion and heat through, stirring to combine.  Remove from the heat, pour the mixture into a bowl and place in the fridge or freezer to allow it to cool (but don’t freeze it).  Add the feta and two eggs and stir to combine.  Unfold the phyllo dough and gently cut into 4” strips.  Lightly brush each strip with butter, one at a time as you use them.  This helps the dough become crisp and flaky.

Place about a tablespoon of spinach mixture at the end of a strip and fold the dough around the filling, creating a neat triangle.  place on pastryThe end of the dough should be on the bottom.

foldingPlace a damp towel or paper towel over the dough you are not using at the moment, to keep it moist and prevent it from cracking.

Make an egg wash by mixing the remaining egg with 1 teaspoon of water, and brush the top of each pocket lightly.  This will create a nice golden brown shine to the pastry.  ready to cook!

Take care to use a quality brush, as I’ve seen some that leave little bristles all over the food.  Place the finished packets in a buttered baking dish and bake at 375 degrees for about 15-20 minutes or until crispy and golden brown.  Makes about 3 dozen pastries.

Posted in food, greek cuisine, holiday, recipes, spinach | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Shrimp Scampi (or Oh Baby, It’s Umami!)

Umami in a tubeMost of us know that when we eat, we can pin-point the flavors as being salty, sweet, sour or bitter.  Not many people know that foods such as shell-fish, tomatoes, meat, cheese and even the humble potato have a flavor composition that meets yet a fifth taste called umami.

This taste cannot be described as any of the other four tastes and is largely described as savory.  Take the incredible, edible egg for instance.  Is it salty?  Sweet?  Sour or Bitter?  No.  The flavor your buds are experiencing when eating an egg, is savory umami.

Umami is popular in the Japanese culture and according to the Umami Information Center, it was founded by Japanese scientist Dr. Kikunae Ikeda of Tokyo Imperial University.  In 1908 Dr. Kikunae discovered that glutamate (glutamic acid) was the main culprit of this savory taste in certain foods.   Inosinate and guanylate are also amino acids that give some foods that same umami taste.  While some cultures are heavy handed with the food additive monosodium glutamate (MSG), there are plenty of foods that have a naturally high glutamate content.  This recipe includes shrimp and tomatoes, both which provide the savory umami taste for your buds to enjoy.

Shrimp Scampi

  • 2 Tablespoon olive oilshrimp scampi
  • 2 Tablespoon butter, unsweetened
  • 6 Garlic cloves, minced
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • ¼ cup Vermouth or white cooking wine
  • 2 lbs. jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon parsley, fine chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • ½ thin spaghetti
  • Optional:  Parmesan cheese, grated

How to Make It! 

Fill a large pot about halfway with water, add a few pinches of salt and half of the olive oil and heat on medium-high.  Once the water begins to boil, add the pasta and stir to ensure it doesn’t stick to the bottom.  Stir occasionally while cooking.  Meanwhile, heat half of the olive oil and all of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat.  Once the butter melts, add the garlic and red pepper flakes and let cook for about 3-5 minutes.  Add the tomatoes and cook for another 3-5 minutes.  Pour the wine into the garlic and tomatoes, stir to combine and let it bubble and reduce by one quarter in volume.

By this time, the pasta should be close to finished.  Add the shrimp to the frying pan and stir on occasion.  Squeeze the juice from the lemon over the shrimp and stir to combine.  Remove from the heat when each shrimp turns pink throughout, but don’t wait until the tails curl or you’ll have overcooked it.  This should only take a couple of minutes.  Toss with parsley and add salt and pepper, if desired.  Drain the water from the pasta and plate the pasta, with shrimp and tomatoes on top, and garnish with parmesan.  Serves 4-6 or 2 hungry Italians.

Posted in fish, Foodie News & Updates, italian, shrimp, tomatoes, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

DC Restaurant Week – Willow Review

WillowI recently had the good fortune of dining at Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year nominee Willow in the Ballston area of Arlington.  Willow uses locally sourced American ingredients with French and Italian techniques to create an array of incredibly tasty modern continental cuisine.

My friend showed up early by just a few minutes and rather than being offered an ice water or a seat at reception (it was pushing 92 degrees), she was promptly greeted with “we’re not open yet”.  After waiting in the heat for the rest of our party, we were led into the AC for a table hidden away in a quiet, separate alcove.  The decor was a relaxing cream and maroon theme with white table linens and contrasting dark wood.

It just so happens to be Restaurant Week in DC and we were thrilled to hear that Willow isDC Restaurant Week participating.  One thing I learned is that the prix fixe lunch price is set at the current year so we each enjoyed a full three-course meal for just $20.13 per person.  Great concept!  This has probably been happening for years but yes Team, I am sometimes slow to catch on.

I started with Tomato, Basil & Almond Gazpacho since I know a good gazpacho is hard to find and most can be compared to plain old salsa.  GazpachoBesides, with almond slivers and avocado mousse, how could I turn it down?  I was initially sad to see they might’ve missed the avocado mousse, but upon diving in with my spoon I found a big dollop of it smack in the middle of this chilled soup.  I almost cheered out loud but had to remain all professional, since this was a working lunch.  It hit the spot on such a hot day!  The ratio of crunchy vegetables to juice was perfect and I was *this close* to asking for the recipe.  While the wait staff was eager to please and speedy in their service, two of the guests dove into appetizers they didn’t order, since the wait staff confused their dishes.

After the Gazpacho, I just had to try the winner of the 2013 Ballston BRGR Battle – Willow’s Double Smoke burger.  The smoked, locally sourced beef patties were dressed with pickled onions, smoked cheddar, garlic-duck confit butter and dijonnaise all on a house-made roll.  Wow!  Smokey BurgerThe smokey taste along with pickled onions and dijonnaise is the perfect combination.  I have to say, I didn’t see or taste anything that would hint of garlic-duck confit butter.  Perhaps it was on the plate disguised as grease underneath the bottom bun.  I guess that’s possible.  Two others ordered the burger as well and throughout lunch the topic kept veering to “where’s the duck butter?” or “maybe it melted”.  No matter, since the burger is easily one of the richest and finest I have ever tasted.  My suggestion would be to leave the butter cool so the guest can see it evident on top of the onions rather than hope it’s really in there.

Rather than take the Cookies to Go for dessert, I followed suit with the rest of the team and ordered the Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake, topped with salted caramel ice cream.  The cake was shaped like a little dome and was reminiscent of spice cake with a little zing!

Gooey sticky goodness!I want to say I could taste a hint of apple or pear, but can’t put my finger on it.  The ice cream had the slightest hint of caramel and was my first try ever of tasting salted caramel ice cream.  It was perfect.  I would definitely visit Willow again, next time for their dinner menu.  Or maybe drop in at the Nosh corner of the restaurant to try little plates ranging from flat breads dubbed The Drunken Duck or the Brooklyn, to Crispy Portabello “Fries”.  Good news for health conscious or sensitive diners, many of their dishes are labeled (V) for vegetarian or (GF) for gluten-free and they also host Wheatless Wednesdays in the fall.  If you’re like me and have no real dietary limits, you can enjoy any one of the tasty treats created by Co-Owner and talented pastry chef Kate Jansen.  Why buy a piece when the restaurant offers full cakes and holiday pies?  Next on my list?  The Bourbon Chocolate Pudding Cake.

Willow saw its beginning in 2005 when Kate was walked down the aisle by her mentor and renowned Washington, D.C. chef Bob Kinkead, to join her hand in marriage to Willow Director of Operations Brian Wolken.  How I wish I were there to feast on what must have been an incredible reception meal.  From the upscale and comforting ambiance to the locally sourced menu, do yourself a favor and take a trip to Willow.  Every one of your senses will thank you.

4 cheese slices4 cheese slices4 cheese slices4 cheese slices (out of 5)                                                                                                                             Willow                                                                                                                                                  4301 Fairfax Drive Arlington, VA 22203 (703) 465-8800                                                             $$$

Posted in cocktails, Food Happenings, holiday, Restaurant Reviews, reviews | Leave a comment

Ode to Food: An Open Letter

You know who you are.  My memories about you are sometimes fantastical, sometimes sad, always clear.  As many as there are, you continue to amaze me daily on my path through life.  I once over indulged in the sweeter version of you as a child, and got so sick I laid down on the bottom of an empty shelf at People’s Drug Store.  Customers looked at me like I was crazy but you knew better. On the wrong side of food.

You are the culprit of a life-long struggle for many, trying to detach themselves from the bond and break free from your hold.  You nurture, strengthen, build and grow but you can also kill.  Survivors know this all too well and while they resent you for it, their lifeblood would cease without you.  If you were human, what would you look like?  Would you have a Roman nose, muscles of steel, smooth skin and strong eyes?  Would you resent yourself for self-induced illness and the dredge of carrying around extra baggage you cannot afford to hold?  I imagine you might look strangely beautiful and ethereal.  People would talk about you and wish they could be in your presence and their appetite for you would never wane.

Food.  That sexy beast!

Oh but you would satisfy them, wouldn’t you?  They would indulge and might even smoke a cigarette afterward like a night of knock-down, drag-out passionate sex.  But some would be quick to anger and blame you for their woes, while others would cherish the potential within you.  Mother Nature at her finest, all wholesome and so very sexy.  You have carried me all the while, at my rock bottom and my finest triumphs and yet I know you will be there again when I need you.  Because I will need you, have always wanted you and I am content with the knowledge that you will never, ever fail me.

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Palak Paneer (Puh-lease!)

Oh yeah, The Cheese is back!  curdsWhat better recipe to return with than one with creamy lil blocks of the hearty, versatile cheese known as paneer?  For those who have yet to discover this tasty treat, paneer doesn’t melt, isn’t aged and can be easily made by curdling milk with lemon juice, vinegar or other acid.

Commonly used in Indian and South Asian cooking, it has a very light taste, creamy texture, crisps nicely on the outside when fried and is easily addictive.

Palak Paneer

Paneer is often seen accompanied by dal or lentils, a mix of cooked greens or saag paneer, or with spinach and Indian spices also known as palak paneer.

Indulging my recent love for all food Indian, I couldn’t resist trying to make the cheese from scratch.  Surprisingly, it didn’t take long and my lack of patience had me cut the cheese into the spinach before it set long enough to make cubes.  The result was perfect.  Creamy, rich spinach with bites of fresh paneer, which was just mellow enough to tame the spiciness.  I served it with butter chicken and wow!  Who knew it was that easy to make cheese?!  We cleaned our plates and now I’m sad because we ate it all.  And now it’s gone.

Homemade Paneer

  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • cheese cloth
  • salt to taste

How to Make It!

In a medium sauce pan, heat the milk over medium-high heat until just before boiling.  fresh paneerAdd about 1-2 teaspoons of lemon juice at a time and stir constantly to prevent the milk from scalding on the bottom of the pan.  Add salt to taste and allow the curds or solids to separate from the liquid.  This may take some time, but your patience will pay off.  Once separated, place the solids in a cheese cloth and tie tight, allowing the juice to drain out.  Refrigerate if desired, before use.  To shape the paneer, place it under something heavy or form into the bottom of a flat casserole dish before refrigerating.

Palak (Spinach) Paneer

  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon ginger, minced
  • 1 Tablespoon garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon coriander, fresh groundmise en place
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 pound fresh spinach leaves, stems removed
  • 1 cup low-fat greek yogurt
  • pinch of sugar

How to Make It!

spicesHeat the olive oil in a sauce pot over medium heat.  Add the ginger, garlic, and all spices except for the salt.  Cook for about 3-5 minutes.  Add some of the spinach leaves, allowing them to cook down before adding more.  Once the spinach cooks down, add the lemon juice and a pinch of sugar, stirring to combine.  spinachA few minutes before serving, slowly stir the yogurt into the spinach and allow to heat through.  Add the paneer and salt to taste.  Serves 4

Posted in cheese, food, herbs & spices, how-to, indian cuisine, spinach, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Yes, This Blog is Still Alive. (part II)

What?!Where do I even start?  I have not cooked a solid meal at home in um, well, probably since Christmas.  I made lasagne.  Because I make it every year.  Because my grandma did and if I don’t, who will?  I never understood everyone’s obsession with the annual stuff, either.  By the time I’m done with the assembly of it all, I can hear the burger joint down the street calling for me.

Why don’t I cook anymore?  I’ve pondered this question over and over lately and my canned answer is “I don’t feel like it”.   Or, I imagine getting out the mise en place, cutting, cooking, cleaning, blah blah blah.  Easier to get take-out or nuke something and dine on disposable dinner ware.  Easier?  Absolutely.  Gratifying?  Not even close.  I am a single lady now and as I venture into this new chapter considering meals I’d like to experiment with, I tell myself it’s too much hassle for just me.  Just.  Me.  Side note:  Never say ‘just’ when referring to yourself.

While some might be happy eating take-out and frozen dinners every night, this tiny little chef perched on my shoulder will not stop whispering in my ear.  “Try making this” or “psshh, you could easily make that”, he urges.  I try to tell him to shut the hell up and get lost but he talks louder.  As well he should because he’s right.  This culinary itch will not go away unattended.

My latest obsession is Indian food and everything in me wants to perfect Saag Paneer so I can stop buying the mushy, preserved version in pouches from the local grocer’s.  If it tastes good from a sealed pouch that has likely been shipped from across the seas, how delicious would it taste made from scratch in my own kitchen?  Likely, it would be divine.  If I  am patient enough to not eat it straight out of the pan as it cooks.

Thank you for reading my “Return of the Long Lost Cheese” post, sans recipe.  Stay tuned for a crazy-good Indian recipe.  And many more.


Posted in Foodie News & Updates, Uncategorized | Tagged | 2 Comments

Baked Eggplant

baked eggplantMy initial idea for this recipe was to cut eggplant into length-wise slices and bake them, then coat them with a thick layer of ricotta cheese mixed with garlic, basil, sun-dried tomatoes and mozzarella, then roll them up tight, to bake.  Drizzle with cheese, let it melt until brown and bubbly and viola!  Crazy-good melty eggplant roll-ups.  I’m sure there is some fancy italian name for this dish, I just haven’t discovered it yet. 

When chatting about the recipe with Mr. Cheese, he suggested just layering the eggplant, thinking the texture of cooked eggplant wouldn’t hold up to the rolling process.  This might be due to his misconception that eggplant is supposed to be cooked until a mushy mess, rather than al dente.  When I envision my poor rollecooking eggplantd eggplant masterpieces mushing to piles of melted nothing in the oven once they heat up, I play it safe and cook them in layers rather than roll them.  No matter, because the finished product was out of this world!  The sun-dried tomato added the perfect bit of zip to the ricotta and eggplant, and just like any good pasta dish, it was even better on day 2!

Baked Eggplant

  • 2 large eggplants, washed and peeledpeston mise en place
  • 2 Tbsp. Olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 16 oz. ricotta cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tbsp. minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • pinch black pepper
  • 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, julienned (cut like match sticks)
  • 16 oz. mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1/2 pound ground beef
  • 1 cup pesto
  • 1 can stewed tomatoes, seeded and chopped

How to Make It!

Slice the eggplant in 1/4 inch thick slices and sprinkle lightly with salt.  Set on a paper towel and set aside.  In a medium frying pan, cook the ground beef until done, strain from the grease and set aside.  In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Pat the eggplant with a paper towel and when the pan is heated through, cook the eggplant until al dente, turning occasionally to brown. baked eggplantWhen done, wipe the bottom of a large casserole dish with olive oil and lay down a layer of eggplant. 

In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta, garlic, tomatoes, egg, nutmeg, salt and pepper and stir well to combine. 

Sprinkle 1/3 of the beef over the eggplant, then top with a bit of pesto, then 1/3 of the ricotta mix being sure to spread the ricotta over the edges.  Sprinkle with mozzarella then cover with another layer of eggplant. Continue until all ingredients are used, the sprinkle with the other cup of mozzarella.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbly.  Let sit at least 5 minutes prior to cutting.  Drizzle a large spoon of tomatoes on the plate and top with a piece of eggplant.  Serves 6 to 8 people or 4 Italians.

Posted in eggplant, food, herbs & spices, italian, pesto, recipes | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Salt-Baked Potatoes (and melty-roasted garlic) or Yes, This Blog is Still Alive

salt-baked potatoesYes, team, this blog is still alive.  I know, I know “where have you been?!”  Well, I’ve lost a job, gained a job, lost a sibling (;*(, gained a puppy, gained a son-in law, geeze, it’s been crazy busy.  Mr. Cheese and I celebrated our 13th wedding anniversary in January with a quiet night at home.  Well, quiet if you discount the music we swayed to while we cooked and enjoyed drinks by candle light.  On the menu was steak au poivre, asparagus (peee eeeuww!), BLT salad, and baked potatoes.  But not just any baked potatoes. 

Mr. Cheese read a recipe in the September & October 2011 edition of Cooks Illustrated magazine, about salt-baked potatoes that he wanted to try.  The idea is that the salt retains moisture during cook time so the skins don’t dry out, while the inside of the potato remains moist but still fluffy.  We passed on the article’s suggestion to throw in rosemary, but all hail the garlic bulb, so we threw in two for good measure.  Who doesn’t love garlic?  Except, you know, vampires and anti-italians.   

The potatoes were tuber-licious (I know, I’m lame) but newsflash:  beware of bubbling garlic.  Me:  “Mr. Cheese, look!  The garlic is all bubbly and stuff!  That’s awesome!”  Mr. Cheese:  “Wow!  That’s going to taste fabulous!”  Wrong.  Epicurean fail.  When your garlic bubbles out of the papery sleeve, it means that once it cools down, you will be presented with a rock-hard mess of garlic that you won’t be able to spread, yet alone get out of the encasing to eat.  eck!  About 50% of our garlic survived and was a gooey, melty, buttery mess that was every bit of heaven when eaten on buttery bread.  Thankfully, Mr. Cheese let me eat that 50% while he watched.  Happy Anniversary to me. 

Salt-Baked Potatoes & Gooey-Roasted Garlic                                                                  adapted from Matthew Card in Sept./Oct. 2011 Cook’s Illustrated

  • 1 1/4  cups salt + a pinch
  • 2 russet potatoes
  • 2 heads garlic, top sliced off, outer most layer removed
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2 Tablespoons butter

How to Make It!one potato two potato

Preheat oven to 450 degrees and make sure the rack is in the middle level of the oven.  Spread the salt in a baking dish large enough to accommodate the potatoes and garlic.  Place the potatoes in the salt, leaving room between each potato.  Add the garlic, open side up, and nestle the potatoes and garlic into the salt.  Cover with foil and bake for 1 1/4 hours.  

Remove pan and increase temperature to 500 degrees.  Remove foil, remove garlic and set the garlic aside to cool.  Brush the exposed part of each potato with olive oil and return the baking dish to the oven, uncovered, and bake until tender or about 15 to 20 more minutes.  Load your potato with whatever you want and drool over the gooey-melty garlic.  Serves 2, or 4 bird-like anorexics.   

Posted in garlic, Home, how-to, potatoes, recipes | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Zing Up Your Lentil & Sausage Soup with Pesto!

Lentil & Sausage Soup w/PestoIf the word ‘zing’ had a definition specific to the food industry, I believe it would be “holy nuts Batman, that tastes incredible!”  The difference between being a good cook and being an incredible cook, at least in this Cheese’s humble opinion, is knowing how to put that extra something, that ‘zing’ in a dish.  Knowing what that extra something is, can be the ultimate difference between your dish being good and being un-friggin’-believable.  I have mentioned before, that to zest up a soup or sauce, you can usually add a capful of vinegar to really liven up the flavors.  I recently tried pesto in one of my soups and just like that my whole universe has expanded.  Mr. Cheese and I almost licked the pot clean, it was just that delicious!  It took a split second to make some pesto, but the end result from adding it was mind-bending.  The added crispness from the basil with the slight hint of salt and parmesan brought out flavors in the soup we otherwise might have missed.  My mind has been playing with different combinations and the possibilities seem endless.  Perhaps a sun-dried tomato pesto swirled into homemade potato soup, for instance.  Next post, maybe?   

Lentil & Sausage Soup with Pesto                                                                                        Adapted from 400 Best Ever Budget Recipes

  • 2 Tablespoons olive oilmise en place
  • 1 red onion, small dice
  • 1 & 1/2 pounds pork sausage (we used Polish due to the Great Sausage Overpurchase)
  • 1/8 cup cooking sherry
  • 6 cups chicken broth (low sodium)
  • 1 & 1/2 cups lentils
  • 2 & 1/2 cups diced tomatoes
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup pesto (recipe below)
  • 6 large basil leaves, chiffonade cut (rolled tight, then cut like ribbons) for garnish
  • 4 teaspoons parmesan cheese, fresh grated for garnish

How to Make It!

In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat and saute onion until soft.  In the meantime, chop all but 1/2 pound of the sausage into pieces and add to the pot.  Continue cooking until the sausage is no longer pink, about 8-10 minutes.  Add the sherry and cook for about 3-5 more minutes, then add the stock, tomatoes and lentils.  Bring to a boil, stirring on occasion, then turn heat to a simmer and cover, allowing to cook for about 20 minutes or until the lentils are tender to the bite. 

chiffonade of basil

chiffonade of basil

While the soup is simmering, cut the remaining sausage into bite-sized pieces and cook over medium-high heat until browned.  Drain and set aside.  Once the lentils are tender, remove the soup from the heat and allow to cool for about 15 minutes.  Then puree soup in a blender until smooth.  Return the soup to the pan, cover and keep on low heat.  Make the pesto.  To serve, pour the soup into bowls, top with bits of cooked sausage, swirl a tablespoon of pesto into each bowl and finish with a sprinkle of basil ribbons and fresh-grated parmesan.  Serves 4


  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves, stems removed
  • 2 Tablespoons pine nuts
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil (give or take, depends on consistency desired)
  • 1 Tablespoon parmesan cheese, fresh grated
  • 1 Tablespoon garlic, fresh minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon course sea salt

How to Make It!

In a food processor (we used our nifty new Rocket blender Papa Cheese got me for my birthday), pulse the basil leaves a few times to get them chopped a bit.  Add the pine nuts and chop some more.  Add the garlic, olive oil, cheese and salt.  Keep pulsing until the desired consistency is achieved.  Too thick?  Add a bit of olive oil at a time.  Too runny?  You didn’t use enough basil/ used too much oil.  Adjust as needed.  DISCLAIMER:  I am the kind of cook who throws stuff together in the kitchen at lightening speed and doesn’t pay attention and viola!  Out comes a pretty amazing meal.  Since that’s the case, the Cheese can’t promise these measurements are exact since I didn’t write them down while I threw the pesto together.  Try it.  All you can do is have fun, make some nasty stuff and try again.  Yield: 1/2 cup 



Posted in food, herbs & spices, Home, pesto, recipes, soups | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments