Thursday, January 24, 2008

Lentil Soup

Late January is usually the time when I abandon my new year’s dieting resolution. During the first week of the year, I cook wholesome foods like tofu and exotic, crunchy grains. For the beginning of 2008, I even went so far as to drink a juice cocktail of carrots, parsley, garlic, and wheat grass – a sobering experience indeed. As time progresses, my cocktails begin to include alcohol, and I begin to crave heavy, winter fare.

This year, however, I have an added incentive to keep my resolution: the terror of looking like a whale in my wedding dress. I know all brides are supposed to be beautiful, but the camera adds ten pounds and wedding pictures last forever. So, when I normally would have been braising short ribs or pan-frying chicken, I instead started off January’s fourth week by preparing a lentil soup. This hearty dish satisfied my winter appetite without causing a crisis in my midsection.

Unfortunately, my virtue wasn’t absolute. I couldn’t help but sneak a little salt pork into the soup. But, I limited myself to a tiny slab, using it as a subtle flavoring. I added all the vegetables of my ill-advised juice cocktail, excluding the wheat grass, of course. Needless to say, they were far tastier in this incarnation, which was delicious and provided enough leftovers for healthful lunches for the rest of the week.

1 medium piece of salt pork, scored (see picture above)
2 tbs. olive oil
1 large leek, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 carrot, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 bag, green lentils
1 cup of dry white wine
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs of thyme
1 28-oz can of whole tomatoes, drained and chopped
6 cups of chicken stock
2 tbs. red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Blanch the salt pork in boiling water for one minute. Place the olive oil in a large pot and warm over medium heat until it begins to shimmer. Add the leek, carrot, onion and garlic and sauté until soft. Add the lentils and sauté until they begin to darken. Deglaze the pan with the white wine, and then add the bay leaves, thyme, tomatoes, stock and salt pork. Bring to a boil and then simmer until the lentils are soft but still retain their shape, about 45 minutes. Puree one cup of the soup in a blender, and then return to pot. Add the vinegar, salt, pepper.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Cheap Meat

My first trip to McKinnon’s Meat Market lasted about five seconds. I took one whiff of the store’s nauseous bouquet of rotting meat and chemical sanitizer, turned around, and walked right out the door. In the two and a half years I’ve lived in Davis Square, I never returned, even though the shop is a mere four minutes from my house and I am desperate for a decent butcher. That is, until yesterday, when I finally braved the stench and took a chance on McKinnon’s.

Truth be told, shopping at McKinnon’s wasn’t much of a gamble, since their prices are so low that many of the store’s Internet reviews posit that it must be owned by the Mafia. How else could they afford to sell New York strip steaks at $4.49 per pound, chicken pieces for $0.69 per pound, and the hanger steak that I purchased for $1.00 per pound? How else could a little store with no parking carry a wide selection of exotic meats, including oxtails, tripe, and chicken feet?

The kicker is that the meat is actually delicious. We grilled the hanger steak quite rare, and its robust flavor made Alex remark that this was his new favorite cut of beef. It wasn’t just the cooking; the meat truly was first rate. I paired it with a jalapeno jam from Jeffrey Fournier of 51 Lincoln. The sweet, spicy jam was a perfect match for the rich meat. The entire meal of steak, eggplant, jalapeno jam cost a mere $6.00, and included a bonus sandwich for lunch today.

Jalapeno Jam

½ lb jalapeno peppers, seeded and sliced into half moons (if the peppers are more mild, keep the seeds)
¼ lb garlic, sliced
Pineapple juice to cover
½ cup sugar

Combine ingredients and cook until liquid is dissolved.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Unemployed, but Not Starving

A wise man once said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.* Now that I have graduated culinary school, these words seem truer than ever. I have finally chosen to pursue a job I will love, and am therefore doomed to unemployment.

This is probably a bit pessimistic, since I only just started my job search. On the bright side, I now have time to cook the elaborate dinners Alex envisioned when I started cooking school. And, I have time to write the about these creations. Starting tomorrow.

* This quotation is often wrongly attributed to Confucius. Like most fortune cookie translations, the master’s actual words have little to do with the English saying, which was probably derived from 知之者,不如好之者;好之者,不如乐之者, or Knowledge is not equal to devotion; Devotion is not equal to joy (translation from