SAUSAGE AND LENTIL SOUP!!

 

soup bowl
There’s something so comforting about a big pot of soup simmering on the stove on a cold day or when maybe you just need a little more comfort in your life. The first time that I  posted this recipe was way back in 2007 when I started my blog. It’s now the year 2020 with my updated pictures and to tell you that I’m still making this wonderful soup.
pot of soup
This lentil soup can easily become a vegetarian version by using a vegetable broth base and eliminating the sausage, and believe me it’s just as good!
It’s hearty and filling and you really don’t need to serve anything else with it, unless you have a weakness for warm, crusty bread with butter like I do.
soup pot
This lentil soup comes together quickly because it’s made with pantry ingredients, dried lentils that cook up quite fast and staples like carrot, onion and celery.
One ingredient that I think really enhances this soup is dried, ground fennel. If you have whole fennel seeds you can grind them down into a powdery consistency with a coffee grinder, put it in a little jar and save it.
Try it, I think you’ll love it, if not you can double up on the other spices, no problem! I always like to taste as I go along anyway I’m always adjusting for salt, pepper and spices.
Lentils tend to blow up a little and they really absorb flavors so don’t be shy, I’ll give you basic guidelines but make it your own.

lentil soup

Easy, hearty with delicious Italian flavors all throughout, this soup is a classic and will never ever go out of style!
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SAUSAGE AND LENTIL SOUP!!
 
This recipe can easily become vegetarian, by eliminating the sausage and using veggie broth
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Ingredients
  • 2½ cups dried, brown lentils, rinsed
  • ½ lb. Italian sausage, bulk, precooked so you no longer see any pink
  • 3 carrots, diced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 celery stalks, diced
  • 2 or 3 cloves crushed garlic
  • 1¼ oz. fire roasted tomatoes, or chopped tomatoes
  • 2 or 3 quarts broth, chicken or veggie
  • 1 teaspoon each of dried thyme, dried oregano and dried fennel
  • pinch of red pepper flakes, optional
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • olive oil
  • grated Parmigiano for garnish
Instructions
  1. In a heavy bottomed pan drizzle with olive oil and add in the carrots, celery, garlic and onion.
  2. Saute til soft then sprinkle in all the spices mixing and coating everything well.
  3. Toss in the rinsed lentils, coating them with veggie mixture.
  4. Pour in the broth, 2 quarts, reserve the 3rd one if needed.
  5. Add the tomatoes and toss in the cooked sausage if using it.
  6. Bring it to a soft boil, then let it simmer until lentils soften.
  7. Taste for seasoning, adding more if needed.
  8. If lentils thicken the soup too much pour in a little more broth to loosen it all.
  9. Feel free to double the recipe, it's that good!
  10. Garnish your bowl with grated Parm and a drizzle of olive oil on top.
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PUMPKIN MINI CAKES FILLED WITH CINNAMON MAPLE MASCAPONE!!

The change of weather put me in a baking mood, so I looked in my pantry and found some canned pumpkin, I knew right then and there that cupcakes were on the horizon! A while back I bought a Tall cupcake pan from Wilton, and I only used it once, WHY?? Because they are sinfully big!! I mean it’s like 2 1/2, cupcakes in one! So I don’t call them cupcakes, they are mini cakes, and they are meant to split with someone otherwise you will feel real guilty!!!

In an effort to try to make them a little more healthy (ha ha!) I altered the recipe a little. Actually, I think they taste even better!!

Keep in mind, you can put these in smaller pans and not use the substitutions I used.


INGREDIENTS

*4 eggs

*2 cups of sugar ( I used Splenda)

*3/4 cup canola oil

* 1 can (15oz) pumpkin

* 2 cups of flour ( I used whole wheat pastry flour)

* 2 t. baking soda

* 1 t.salt

* 1 t. baking powder

* 2 Tbl. pumpkin pie spice

* 1 Tbl. cinnamon

Take the wet ingredient’s and combine in a mixing bowl, and beat till just mixed. Combine dry ingredients into pumpkin mixture and beat till all incorporated. Fill sprayed muffin cups 3/4 full. Bake at 350 18-22 minutes. My tall pans took about 30 min. Cool on rack.

FILLING

This could be a regular cream cheese frosting, with butter and confectioners sugar, but in my effort to make them healthier I just took a container of Mascapone cold out of the frig in a bowl, put some Splenda in it, to sweeten it up, a couple of shots of real maple syrup, and cinnamon, all to taste. However sweet you want it!!

Finally, take a small knife and cut a small circle deep on the top… stuff the cream filling inside and all over the top, and put the little cut out back on top, and sprinkle with cinnamon!

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FALL…CHICAGO STYLE!!!!

It hasn’t felt much like fall here because the weather has been so warm, with many days still in the 80’s. Until today!! Finally, fall has arrived! The temperatures are cooler, the trees are full of color, and the leaves are falling everywhere! So today is not a cooking post, because the whole day was spent outside enjoying this beautiful day!! Thank goodness for leftovers!! because that is whats for dinner tonight!!!
Here are a few pictures of Fall Chicago Style!
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STUFFED PEPPERS WITH SAUSAGE AND FONTINA

My Hubby called from work the other day and with much excitement he said,”Guess what I got today?”so I’m thinking WOW!, maybe he got a raise or something! Instead he said, ” A gigantic bag of Melrose peppers!! I could see how happy he was so I said, “Great!!” It just so happens, my Hubby did a favor for some nice Italian man who grows tons of them in his backyard, and to say Thanks, he brought him a huge bag.

I previously wrote a post on Melrose Peppers a while back just because my Hubby loves them so much, and as I said before, he would just eat that for dinner with some good Italian bread. I normally just saute them in a pan with olive oil, a little garlic and salt and pepper, then add a little red sauce at the end. So, because there were so many, I did a bunch like that, and the ones that were really big, I decided to stuff them. I happen to have a big hunk of Fontina cheese in the frig, and some Italian sausage in bulk. So all I did was cook up the sausage, cube up the cheese, and stuffed the peppers, I also had some leftover marinara, that I layered in also.

There were pans of peppers everywhere!!! So I made a quick call to my Son,( who’s taking after his Dad in the Melrose Pepper department) to stop by on his way home from work for a care package to take home. And without hesitation he said, “I’ll be there”!! So ,as you can see , although they are a very simple dish they are one of my family’s favorite!!

For those of you who never heard of Melrose Peppers, they look like a Cubanelle, banana shaped, very sweet and tender. I wonder if any of you heard of them, or is it just a Chicago thing? I hope my pictures do them justice!!

Buon Appetito!!
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SPAGHETTI WITH PANCETTA AND MUSHROOMS

I like to make a pasta dish at least one night during the week, normally I do it with vegetables, whatever I might have on hand at the time. Yesterday I looked and saw this beautiful package of Cremini mushrooms, which also are called Baby Portabellas. I also had a small container of diced Pancetta. “Nice combo” I thought!! So I pulled out my trusty saute pan and started to cook up the Pancetta till nice and slightly crispy, after which I drained. Then back in the pan with a drizzle of olive oil & some onions, & garlic When the pasta was done I drained it and tossed it in the pan with everything. It was finished off with a generous amount of Romano cheese and a sprinkling of fresh parsley!! It’s a quick meal that doesn’t take much time, but definitely tastes like you did!!!

Buon Appetito!!

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LIMONCELLO RICOTTA TART

Tucked away in my freezer is this wonderful bottle of Limoncello that we bought on our trip to Italy. Every time I look at it I get reminded of the great time we had there. I try to savor every drop of it and only use it for special things. Yes, I could buy a bottle of Limoncello at my neighborhood liquor store at any time, but it just won’t be as “special”. And so, I pulled it out to make my Ricotta Tart, and just that little hint of Limoncello puts it over the top!!!

INGREDIENTS

2lb’s good ricotta, drained

1/2 cup of sugar

Zest of a whole lemon

3 lrg eggs

1 1/2 teaspoons of cinnamon

1/2 cup of shaved semi-sweet chocolate

1 1/2 Tbl cake flour

2 Tbl’s or “More” of Limoncello liqueur ( according to your taste)

Preheat oven to 375. Lightly grease a 9 or 10 in. tart pan, and fill it with your favorite pastry dough.
Mix together in a large bowl the sugar into the ricotta, add your zest, cinnamon, and then fold in your shaved chocolate. **** IMPORTANT POINT HERE!!! At this point, before the eggs are added, I would take a spoon and taste your ricotta filling to see if all the flavors are strong enough to your liking. If not, you can add a little more zest, cinnamon, or Limoncello.
Next, add your eggs one at a time, along with the cake flour.

Now take your leftover dough and cut into strips to make a basket weave top, brush top of the dough strips with milk, this will make it golden brown.
Bake for about 55min’s or until toothpick comes out clean and golden on top
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Buon Appetito!!!

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CHICKEN VESUVIO

HOMEMADE BREADSTICKS

I’m all for a nice Sunday meal that I could put all in one pan, this dish not only tastes fantastic, it smells the whole house up!! Besides, once it goes in the oven it frees up your time to do whatever else you want ( write another post, take pictures, read other blogs) LOL! This is so easy all you have to do is sear up your chicken & potato’s, add lots of crushed garlic and herbs, deglaze the pan with some white wine and a little chicken broth, put it all in a hot oven, and when it’s almost done, throw in some artichoke hearts and peas. I got a little adventurous, with some pizza dough I had left over, I cut off some in strips, twisted them, and baked as breadsticks. Honestly they turned out better than I thought, a nice addition with the chicken.

Buon Appetito!

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POLENTA CAKE WITH FIGS

After wondering around in Whole Foods the other day, a beautiful container of fresh figs caught my eye, I had to buy them. I really didn’t know what I was going to do with them at the time. And then I remembered that the Daring Bakers did a challenge with figs not to long ago. So, getting inspiration from the many recipes I read, I decided I’d give it a try. Polenta cake was something I always wanted to make, and what better way than to par it with figs!!! All in all, it turned out well, my hubby loved it! But then, he’s a sweet freak!! But on the second day it started to dry out. It’s worth trying again, but it needed more moisture!

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CHICKEN MARSALA

 

What a Classic!!!… But yet it is so simple and easy to prepare! I often make this mid week when I want to whip something up fast, and yet it’s ELEGANT enough for a great dinner party! The Star of the whole dish is of course, the Marsala wine, what a wonderful aroma and flavor it gives to the sauce, it just elevates mere chicken to a new level!! I pretty much just brown the chicken, I don’t even dust it with flour. After that, I remove the chicken, saute the mushrooms & onions and some smashed garlic, deglaze with a little chicken broth, and of course the key ingredient!! the Marsala wine (don’t be skimpy!) and to smooth out the sauce, I put a few dollop’s of mascapone. Put the chicken back in ,with a lid on the pan and simmer till done sprinkle with fresh parsley.
For an updated version of my favorite sauces please check out my new ebook launched in 2013, here’s the link.
As a side dish, I made some easy fingerling potato’s tossed in lemon infused olive oil, fresh parsley, salt and pepper.
So, if you don’t have a bottle of Marsala laying around go and get one! With just a little effort you can turn out a great meal!!
Buon Appetito!!

 

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GRILLED PIZZA!

Prosciutto, arugula, sun-dried tomatoes and shaved parm is one of my favorite pizza’ to make on the grill. Have you tried grilling pizza, the crust turns out great!

Rolling out the dough, crossing my fingers hoping my picky eater granddaughter will will take a bite of the pizza she makes!
Brush the top with olive oil, flip it over and keep it on the grill till it starts to bubble up, check for nice grill marks.

When you can see grill marks and the dough is crispy, flip it over again, now on the cooked side brush with olive oil then lay on all your ingredients, close lid and cook till cheese melts.


The freshest of ingredients taste the very best! Cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and fresh basil. BTW, my granddaughter ended up eating the pizza she made, cheese only, hey, but it’s a start!

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MEATBALL SLIDERS!!!!

I have to admit, after seeing the September issue of Bon Appetite, with the cover being Meatball Sliders, I knew this was something I had to make! Sliders have a different meaning today, we use to think of them as tiny greasy burgers, well a lot has changed!! Now these tiny Gourmet mini sandwiches are popping up all over the place . Some of the Best Restaurants, Bar’s and Parties are serving up these little Jewels!!

I take pride in my meatballs! ( don’t we all?) only using the Best ingredients, and with some Good Home Made Sauce, I knew I could pull this off!! The hardest thing was trying to find good mini buns. Well after much searching I found them!!

As with Bon Appetite,I toasted the bun as well,which I think is key! Then place a couple of baby Arugula leaves on the bottom, 1 Meatball for each slider, a little dollop of sauce! and finally, a sprinkling of Parmigiano Reggiano completes it!!! Can you imagine a tray of these at your next party?? They will be gone in a heartbeat!!
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MORE VEGGIES!!!!

It’s such a nice day today in Chicago, the weather is in the 70’s.

So I went outside and turned on my grill and cooked up the rest of my veggie’s I had laying around!! When the weather turns COLD, you won’t catch me out there! Instead ,I’ll be roasting them in the oven!!!!!
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I’M IN A "VEGGIE" SORT OF MOOD!!!


As I looked through my Frig today, I took stock of all the Veggie’s I had in there, and I decided I better do something fast before they all go to waste!! So I whipped up some Pasta with some of my favorites, and that was dinner! What’s better than eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms, red peppers, red onions,peas, sun dried tomatoes, plum tomatoes, sauteed in some olive oil and garlic, topped off with some good pesto and lots of grated cheese! Yum!!!!

Buon Appetito!

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    ITALIAN POTATO SALAD

    INGREDIENTS

    * Red Potatoes (cooked)

    *Steamed Fresh Green Beans

    *Vine Ripened tomatoes

    *Red Onion

    *Calamata Olives

    * Good Extra Virgin Olive Oil & Wine Vinegar

    *Oregano

    *Salt&Pepper
    Toss together and taste, till it’s nice and seasoned

    BUON APPETITO!!!
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    MY NEW BEST FRIEND!…(in the kitchen)

    I just have to spread the word about a great little gadget I bought for myself.It’s a garlic shaver from Williams Sonoma, you might walk right by it because it looks like a cheese grater, but, be sure to check it out! It will shave your garlic fast and paper thin, and it’s worth every bit of the 15 dollars I paid for it!! I use it all the time and love it!! You will too!!!
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    HOME MADE PESTO

    After successfully growing tons of Basil this year, and before the first frost comes, I new I needed to get busy and make some pesto. Last year I made it for the 1st time and after a day, it turned a dark green, not to appetizing! So this year I did a little research and found that if I just blanch the basil in boiling water for 15 seconds, then immediately take it out, and put it in an ice bath it stays a vibrant green!! Then all you have to do is squeeze it out, throw it in a food processor, with 1 lg clove of garlic for every 2 cups of basil, 1/4 cup of walnuts (or pine nuts) salt and pepper, and then stream a little EVOO in there and the result is not only delicious, but 4 days later it is sill as green as ever!! It was so easy and so much more flavorful then store bought!! You must try it sometime!!
    For an updated version of my favorite pestos and other sauces please check out my new ebook that was launched in 2013, here’s the link.
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    CANNOLI CAKE

    I decided I was going to to try and make a Cannoli Cake for the 1st time today. Because you see, I have a husband and a Brother-in -Law that are OBSESSED with it!! They are connoisseur’s (so they think!) Whenever they try Cannoli Cake from a new bakery, or a wedding, or whatever, they make comments like “It tastes Blah,” or “not enough rum” “or their famous word is “garbage!”. So believe me, I knew what I was up for. True Cannoli Cake has sponge cake layers, which that alone was alot of work. You had to separate the eggs and fold the whites into the creamed yolks. Bake that, let it cool, then slice into layers. Actually that turned out perfect. But I could see why you need to soak the layers because sponge cake is actually dry, there is no oil, or butter in it. I made a syrup of sugar, rum, orange slices and boiled that down on the stove. Let that cool. Then I had to mix the Ricotta, confectioners sugar, mini chocolate chips and a pinch of cinnamon for the filling. To frost it I made a vanilla buttercream and folded in some whipped heavy cream. When that was all done I proceeded to assemble everything. 1st I brushed on my Rum syrup, I didn’t put enough on, I should have polked holes in it and then brushed it on, it would have penetrated much better, and the FUSSY guys would have liked it better!!

    Then a layer of filling , a layer of cake, more syrup, another layer of filling, then frosting all over. For decoration I put crushed cannoli shells on the side. All in all, it turned out pretty good, but it definitely needed more moisture on the cake layers. Would I make it again??!!! Heck No!!! It’s a lot of work with a lot of steps. My kitchen was totalled!!! And besides, there’s a great Bakery about 10 miles from me who makes it just the way they like it… SOAKED with Rum!!!

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    THE RAVINIA EXPERIENCE!! A CONCERT AND PICNIC UNDER THE STARS!

    If your from the Chicago area and haven’t been to Ravinia, you NEED to go!! It’s located in a Northern Chicago suburb called Highland Park, and it’s one of the oldest outdoor music festivals in North America. The ambience is incredible! It’s a parklike setting on 36 acres with beautiful old trees. It happens every summer between June and September, with popular Artists performing a range of music from Classical and Pop, to Jazz. Theres an open air pavillion with reserved seating, but the main attraction is the LAWN. This year once again my Family and I attended the Tony Bennett concert. It’s just not summer unless we go to Ravinia at least once! My Son says ” It’s like a rite of passage into Fall ” and it certainly is!! Now, before I go on about the picknicking aspect of it all , I have to speak about Tony Bennett, what a class act! In his 80’s and sounds as good as ever! never misses a beat. This was his 23rd season at Ravinia, and the crowd loves him! it was a record night there. When he sang CHICAGO the crowd went wild! With beautiful weather and his voice being broadcast to the lawn audience, well, you can’t get better than that!! Now, about the picnicking, this is not for the faint of heart! This is DIE HARD picknicking that would put Martha Stewart to Shame!! The first time you go there you will be in AWE. Ill never forget the first time I went, I saw a complete Turkey feast on a silver platter no less, with linens and candles, flowers , It put our meager picnic to shame!! Since then,we have upgraded quite a bit, with our special “Ravinia Tables” and a 9×15 Decorative mat to stake our claim on the lawn! Once the gates open it’s a mad dash for the perfect spot! We have our favorite, and manage to get it everytime. ( Thanks to the runners!) Once the mats down we start to set up, as does, the whole crowd. I would say,this years menu was the best so far, we all really pulled it off!! Here was our menu:

    APPETIZERS
    Crab dip
    Spinach and Artichoke dip
    Blue and Brie cheeses
    3 kinds of Hummus
    Assorted crackers and Pita chips
    Olives

    MAIN COURSE
    Pesto Pasta Salad
    Mozzerella and garden fresh Tomato Salad
    Grilled Chicken Kabobs
    Grilled Shrimp Kabobs w/Mango Salsa
    Italian lunch meat Stromboli
    Grilled Vegetable Stromboli

    DOLCI
    Lemon Poundcake
    Triple Chocolate Brownies
    Chocolate Chip Cookies
    Fruit Kabobs

    Plenty of Red and White Wine , and of course Coffee, for later!

    I just want to say “Thanks” to Everyone who made it such a Great Evening!( you all know who you are) and look forward to next years RAVINIA EXPERIENCE!!!

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    MELROSE PEPPERS

    melrose peppersmelrose peppers
    I felt I had to write a blog about Melrose Peppers. They are my Hubby’s absolute favorite! He waits eagerly every summer when they appear at our local Italian store.
    You won’t find them any where else, in fact many people don’t know what they are. I’ve had women and men come up to me as I was picking them out, asking “what do you do with these?” “how do you make them?” Well the answer is very simple. You have to rinse and dry them off, then you cut the tops off and scoop out the seeds, (don’t worry if you don’t get all the seeds out because they taste sort of good!)

    Leave them whole, then sauté them in a hot pan with olive oil, salt and pepper and a little granulated garlic until they’re nice and  golden brown, then lower the heat and throw in a small 8oz can of tomato sauce.( Italian brand preferred), or some cherry tomatoes like I did above.

    Cook them till they are nice and soft, NOT mushy. Every time I make melrose peppers  the smell brings my Hubby back to his childhood when his Mom use to make them. They’re not a fancy food, their plain and simple comfort food.

    His famous words are (“I can make a meal out of these!”) And he does, with some good Italian bread and a plate of Melrose Peppers he’s a Happy Man!!

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    SUNDAY SUPPER

    Last Sunday was a rainy day in Chicago, actually it rained all weekend so I decided to make homemade sauce with meatballs and sausage. The day before, my Hubby and I, went to our local Italian store to replenish my cans of San Marzano Tomatoes, and to get some fresh sausage. Although they are pretty pricey San Marzano Tomatoes are the BEST! There absolutely is no bitter taste to these tomatoes, none at all! My favorite brand is called Gia Russo, they make a great sauce!! They are worth every penny! You must try them, if you haven’t already. Throw a little fresh Basil in there’ and WOW! You can’t get any better than that!!!! Oh yeah, The aroma is out of this world!!! You can find my favorite sauces in my ebook, Italian Sauces My way, here’s the link.

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    Ah… Sweet Basil !!

    Is there any thing better than the smell of fresh Basil ?? With an abundance of it growing in my back yard I feel guilty not using it every day. So I try to incorporate it into many of my weekly meals. Caprese salad is a staple,and fresh tomato sauce is just not the same without it. Fresh Basil was the star in a rice salad I made the other day, without it , the whole thing would have been Blah. I even make a bouquet of it and place it in a vase on my counter in my kitchen so I can smell it and savour whats left of summer. My next project is to make pesto, I believe I have perfected it, keeping it green is the key! I can’t wait to hand some out to family! It will be a sad day, when again, I have to start paying for my basil through fall and winter here in Chicago.You may ask “why don’t you dry it or freeze it?” the answer is I have.
    It’s just not the same!
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