Thursday, January 1, 2009

Braised Lentils with Sausage (p. 258) and Hoppin' John (p. 356)

First things first--don't forget about my contest--it's almost over :) Win a copy of TJOC!

Happy New Year's everyone! I hope this is an excellent 2009!

I was home in Iowa with my mother for the holiday (we spent New Year's Eve traveling from Florida to Iowa--I think I went to bed at around 9:30) and I decided to make two dishes that TJOC specifically points out as New Year's dishes.

The first dish was Braised Lentils with Sausage (p. 258). The intro to the recipe says that it is a New Year's dish that is popular in Northern Italy.

I immediately ran into a problem. Although I could probably get cotechino or andouille sausage in Colorado at Whole Foods or something, I was having NO luck in Iowa. And I'm not going to use expensive sausage in a lentil (yes, I'm saying lentil with a sneer) dish. So I decided to use (locally made) Italian sausage.

(We aren't going to mention that this looks rather icky)

I'm not sure what the point of boiling the sausage was. As mom kept pointing out, all the fat leeches out when you boil the sausage and it doesn't really brown.

The lentils are boiled in a large saucepan until partially cooked. Apparently that means rather mushy...but not too mushy.

I don't typically like lentils so I had no idea what "partially cooked" meant. I undercooked them (according to mom) so that got corrected later in the recipe. The lentils were drained and put to the side (I think, optimistically, that everything should be done at once, but it wasn't even close).

The next step is to sautee some onion, carrot, and celery (along with a bay leaf) in olive oil. Unfortunately, this is what mom's celery looked like...

(Going to refrain from the obvious joke)

Fortunately, it didn't matter when it was all cooked...

Garlic, oregano, a can of tomatoes, and a cup of chicken stock was added to the veggie mixture and it was cooked until "very thick".

The lentils, sausage, and veggies are then added together (or piled on top of each other like TJOC recommends). It seemed like a very low amount of sauce for such a large amount of food...

So how was it? Great! And surprising...again, I don't usually like lentils...although it makes a TON of food. If I made this again, I wouldn't boil the sausage, I would cut it up and pan-fry it. I think browning the sausage and maintaining the fat in the sausage would make the dish even better. I did feel extremely healthy while eating it, though.

The second dish was Hoppin' John (p. 356), something that actually showed up on a best American foods list or meme I saw not too long ago (by the by, while searching for that list, I found other hilarious American food blog lists). Apparently, black-eyed peas are considered lucky to eat on NY's Day(I think this is a Southern thing).

First things first, I had to quick soak the black eyed peas.

I never pick the dried beans over. One day I'm sure I will bite into a rock but until that day comes, I'm pretty happy with just dumping them into the pot.

At this point, every burner was being used...

The peas are then drained, rinsed, and added back to the pot. Garlic, onions, a couple bay leaves, several cups of water, thyme, red pepper, and ham are added to the pot. This mixture is simmered for almost an hour (this recipe isn't difficult but it is really time consuming--so be prepared).

The mixture was drained. Enough chicken stock was added to the cooking liquid to make two and a half cups.

The pea mixture WAS looking tasty...I like ham and there was quite a bit of it...

At this point, we got to the most delicious combination of foods I've ever smelled. Wow...

What was this mind-blowing mix?

Diced bacon in BUTTER!

Start with this:

And end up with this:

Diced bacon? In butter? Mmmmmm.....

This smelled SOOOO good....who needs peas? I almost just ate the bacon (but I managed to refrain). I think if you wore a perfume of bacon/butter to the bar, you would be the most popular person there.

When most of the fat is rendered out of the bacon, rice is added. My mother was highly confused by this step and the fact that the rice never actually gets cooked on the stove (I'm often confused by TJOC so it didn't faze me).

The peas and the cooking liquid are then added to the rice/bacon/butter mixture.

I ran into a problem at this point. The way the recipe reads, it seems obvious that TJOC expects that you've made this in an over-proof pot. My mom doesn't have an oven proof pot (nor does the recipe mention one). So it was going to have to be transferred into something over-safe. Unfortunately, the recipe says to only stir the mixture once and pouring it from one dish to another has to be considered stirring...

But there was nothing be done about it.

The pilaf is covered, baked, and fluffed.

So how was it? Really good--but it makes an ENORMOUS amount of pilaf. So be ready to eat Hoppin' John for an EXTREMELY long time. It was good though--and it heated up really nicely. Plus my mom really likes freezing food for the future so she was particularly happy.

Let's hope the combo adds up to luck--I could really use it this year (I'm still sick, I should be graduating with my PhD this year, and I'm getting married in 2009--and those are just the MOST major items).

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