Red lentil soup

Lentils likely originated in India and Pakistan, and have been part of the human diet since the aceramic (pottery non-producing) Neolithic times, being one of the first crops domesticated in the Near East. Archaeological evidence shows they were eaten 13,000 to 9,500 years ago. 
Lentil colors range from yellow to red-orange to green, brown and black. 
With about 30% of their calories from protein, lentils, like other legumes, have the third-highest level of protein, by weight, of any plant-based food, after soybeans and hemp
Lentils also contain dietary fiberfolatevitamin B1, and minerals. Red (or pink) lentils contain a lower concentration of fiber than green lentils (11% rather than 31%). Health magazine has selected lentils as one of the five healthiest foods. 

Lentil soup is recognized as a highly nutritious, particularly good source of proteindietary fiberiron and potassium. It is also very convenient as it is dry so you can store it for long periods of time in your pantry, and inexpensive too. My favorite is red lentil soup, and here is how I make it:

Ingredients for 2 portions:
1/2 cup of washed and drained red lentils (it is preferably to soak them in water over night, but a good wash before would also do)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 onion chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Salt and pepper 
2 1/2 cups hot boiled water 
1 teaspoon dried mint
croutons (cut half inch cubes or slices of bread, season with salt and pepper, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and place in a backing tray in the oven or broiler for 5-7 minutes)
2 tablespoons butter

Put a kettle of water to boil. 
Place the olive oil into a medium Dutch oven (or any pot with a thick bottom) and set over medium heat. Once hot, add the onion and salt and sweat until the onions are translucent, approximately 5 minutes, stirring from time to time. Add the tomato paste and stir for another minute. Add the lentils and let them cook for 2-3 minutes, keeping an eye on them , not to stick or burn, stirring from time to time. Meanwhile season with fresh ground peppercorns.

 Add the boiling hot water, stir, cover and bring to a boil, then turning the heat on low, let simmer for 20 minutes. You can make the soup using meat broth instead of water, but it will be very flavorful only with water as well. This is a great vegetarian dish.
Using a blender puree to your preferred consistency.

 I personally like to keep the lentils whole, as they have a nice texture. Season with the dried mint. 

In a butter warmer heat the butter. 
Serve the soup hot, with a drizzle of hot melted butter on top, and garnish with croutons. 


Creme caramel

Crème caramel is a custard dessert with a layer of soft caramel on top, or bottom, as opposed to crème brûlée, which is custard with a hard caramel top. And is one of my favorite deserts!
It may seem difficult to make, but is just the opposite... so simple and easy, you will make this over and over again. 


For the creme ( all must be at room temperature )
8 large eggs
2/3 cups sugar
1/2 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 quart milk ( 1 liter )
few drops Rum essence 

For the caramel
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 tablespoons water

This recipe will make 4 larger individual portions, or 6-8 smaller ones. You can divide or multiply the recipe to suit your needs. 


Preheat the oven at 350 degrees F ( 180 C )

Make the caramel:
In a sauce pan put the sugar and water over medium low heat, and cook until it gets glossy and turns a golden/amber color. 

The deeper the color of the caramel, it will taste more bitter, so you must be very careful at this point. It is very easy to over heat it, and it will be too bitter to eat. You must take it off the heat just a tad before it gets to the color desired, as it will continue to darken even after. Also please be careful, as this is very hot, so handle with much care, using protective mittens and a deeper pan.

This is the color I usually go for, but I like the caramel to be just a little bitter, so if you don't like that, take it off the heat sooner, while it is lighter. Place it when ready in an ice bath for few seconds to stop the cooking.

You want to move fast now, as the caramel hardens quite fast, so have the dish in which you will bake the creme caramel close at hand. Carefully pour the caramel in the dish, and cover the sides too. You can use any dish to bake this desert in: a regular deep pan, several ramekins for individual servings, a cake mold, a deep Pyrex dish, anything that can go in the oven will work.

You must let it cool and harden. If you want to speed up the process put them in the freezer for few minutes. You will know they are ready and cool when the caramel will start cracking. Love that sound!

While the caramel cools, it is time to prepare the custard.
In the bowl of your mixer fitted with the paddle attachment  beat the 8 eggs on medium low just until combined, add the sugar and vanilla extract and beat on medium-low ( I use 3 on my KitchenAid ) for about 3-4 minutes. Slowly add the milk and beat until well combined and the sugar dissolves, another 5-7 minutes. The reason it needs to be beaten on lower speed is that you don't want to incorporate air in it. If it gets airy and foamy just let it mix for longer on the lowest speed, in order to take out all the bubbles. 

Now pour the mixture in the caramel covered dishes. You can fill them as it will not inflate while baking.

Place them in the oven in a pan filled with water, just like you do with a cheesecake, and bake for one hour if you use one big dish, or 40 minutes if you used ramekins. The smaller the dish the shorter the baking time. When a golden crust forms on top, it is done. Careful not to over bake, as the caramel on bottom will start boiling, making the custard on top spongy, and we don't want that to happen. You want the custard to be smooth and creamy. 

Take them out of the oven and sprinkle the top with few rum essence drops, then let them cool on a wire rack. Chill in the fridge for several hours, to set. They are best served cold. 
But I cannot count the times I didn't have patience and just ate it warm... it is still delicious!

These are cooling right now, and I can't wait to have some!

You can also use really small ramekins, and make a bunch of them for a party, as they will look very cute.

You can carefully loosen the edges and turn them on a plate, having the caramel on top, especially if you used a cake mold, and have a very pretty presentation, or just serve them in the dishes they baked in, it will taste and look as great either way.

Enjoy and thanks for reading!

Simple vanilla pound cake

After not feeling well for a couple of weeks, and staying out of the kitchen, I wanted to take it easy and bake a very simple pound cake. 

Pound cakes are wonderful for their simplicity and versatility. If you are a novice baker this would be the recipe to begin with. You cannot fail, that's how simple this is to make. And you don't need to be super precise either. The cake is not using any baking powder or any other rising agents, so is not supposed to be airy and fluffy, it will be dense and heavy almost. The butter will make it crumble beautifully and just melt in your mouth. 

I love how this cake turned out looking like our traditional Tatar yurts :) 

There are so many variations to them, you can really experiment, with the recipe itself as well as with the way you serve them. 

Bake a simple vanilla pound cake and serve a slice with a dollop of whipped cream, sour cream, or even greek yogurt, with fresh fruit, or a little jam, maple syrup, or honey. Melt some chocolate and pour over, or even make some ganache. Or frost it whole. The possibilities are endless. I just sprinkled confectioners sugar on the one I made last night. I wanted something simple.

You can also add a lot of different ingredients in the batter. My mom makes a great one, putting in one cup each of: pieces of walnuts, turkish delight cut in very small cubes, and raisins. You mix this 3 ingredients with 1 tablespoon of flour to coat them, then just mix them with the batter, and bake as usual. The choice of fruits and  nuts can vary to suit your taste. Could also add chocolate chips. The result is a rich dense cake, perfect to serve with tea, hot glass of milk, hot chocolate or coffee. 

This cake is great also because you can keep it for longer than a normal cake, even if it dries out it will still be yummy and delicious, almost like a biscotto. 

Another thing you can do with a pound cake recipe is to flavor it with orange or lemon juice, just by adding 1/2 cups in the batter, with the liquid ingredients, before adding the dry ones. You will just have to increase a little the flour quantity, I think 1/3 cups more would be enough.

This is the base recipe for the simple vanilla pound cake

Ingredients: all must be at room temperature
2 sticks of butter
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
pinch of salt
2 cups flour

Preheat oven at 350 degrees F ( 180 C ) and butter a 8 inch pan, or a loaf pan.
In the bowl of the electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment beat on medium ( 4 on my KitchenAid stand mixer ) the butter and sugar for 8-10 minutes, until light and fluffy. This step is very important, please don't cut down the beating time. 
Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each just until incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl.
Add the vanilla extract and salt. Mix.
Reduce speed on low, and add slowly the flour , mixing just until incorporated. You don't want to over beat it now.
Just pour the batter in the pan and bake for 50-55 minutes, depending on your oven. Test it with a toothpick after 45 minutes and see if it comes out clean.
Let it cool in the pan on a wire rack, then place on a serving platter and let cool completely. 
You can decorate it, or frost it as you like. 

This cake is like a white canvas for the artist in you, have fun with it and enjoy! 

Sorry for the bad photos, the lighting is not very good in my kitchen and took them late last night :)

I use imo instant messenger to chat with friends on all of my IM accounts! Check out imo!