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I have never actually craved the traditional “comfort foods” and yet I have recently found and enjoyed some delicious and cozy meals to warm these brisk autumn evenings.   I have always loved to flip through cooking magazines, scan health food books and saunter through recipe websites, collecting treasures along the way.  While living with my husband, I experimented regularly with collected recipes and as we ate, we would decide whether it was a keeper or a throw away.  It was a mostly tasty system for getting through the always growing stack.  I haven’t been as diligent about trying new things now that I am working through dinnertime most nights.  In the name of making life easy for the sitters and comfortable for the kids, I tend to leave meals that I already know will be eaten enthusiastically rather than questioned suspiciously and refused wholeheartedly.  Recently, however, I pulled out a recipe that has been in my “untried” box for years, made it and left it to be reheated.  The sitter, the kids, the landlord and I voted unanimously that this is indeed a keeper for us.

I would consider this more of a stew than soup, but that may simply be a semantic difference.  I like my “soups” to be hardy and thick, without a lot of extra broth, and so this fits our tastes well.  Its primary texture is creamy and a bit mushy, but that is partly what makes it feel so comforting. It’s a bit like the beloved home-made mac & cheese with a few more health benefits.  This is not a soup that screams with flavor, and may actually smell more flavorful than it tastes.  It is a calming, satisfying and yummy meal that is perfect on just the right day.  The leftovers were great the next day as my 5 year old took a thermos full to kindergarten and I enjoyed a bowl at work with a small spinach, goat cheese and walnut salad.

Always keeping our family palates in mind, I may make a few changes the next time I make it.  I know that we would like a bit more garlic, for instance.  I will also either skip the cheese or continue to replace the Swiss (my sons deem it too strong and smelly) with a Monterey Jack or some other similarly mild flavored substitute.

Enjoy.  I have been re-inspired to try a new recipe at least twice/month, even if I am only cooking for a small crowd with small appetites.  Perhaps you will be inspired to do the same.

Lentil Barley Soup

¼ cup margarine (I use ghee and not nearly as much)
¾ cup onion, chopped
¾ cup celery, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
½ tsp dried rosemary, crushed
½ tsp dried oregano, crushed
¼ tsp pepper
1 28 oz. can tomatoes, coarsely chopped
¾ cup dried lentils, rinsed and drained
¾ cup pearl barley
6 cups water
1 cup thinly sliced carrots
4 oz. shredded Swiss cheese

Melt margarine in a 4 quart Dutch oven or soup kettle. Cook onion, celery and garlic until tender.   Add water, undrained tomatoes, lentil, barley and rosemary oregano and pepper and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 45 minutes.  Add carrots and simmer for 15 minutes more until carrots are just tender.  Ladle into soup bowls and top with cheese.
Makes 5 servings.

Well, I’m back from my European jaunt.  I had an absolutely wonderful time (it was one of the few times in life where things were actually *better* than I expected) – but I am also very happy to be home (not so happy to be back at work, but that is another story).    I’m just about finished catching up with sleep and laundry and I’m looking forward to spending some time cooking and preparing meals for the week (the fact that I’m looking forward to cooking shocks me as much as if I had suddenly spouted a pair of wings).  I missed having total control over my eating choices in Europe and I didn’t always make the best decisions when it came to food (and, erm, beer).  But I’m not going to waste time doing a post-mortem on the whole things – it was an amazing trip and now that I’m back I can refocus.  I usually feel invigorated at this time of year and it seems like a much better time to make changes than on January 1st (I think it harkens back to the “back to school” spirit on the season).  I’ve got my meal plan for the week all set (hurrah for soup season!) and I’m very much looking forward to getting back into my gym routine.  I would really like a new short-term fitness goal on which to focus -  I was hoping to find a Thanksgiving Day “Turkey Trot” near my house that I could aim for, but I can’t.  I think I respond well to these kinds of short-term goals because they keep me focused.  I’ll keep racking my brains because I’d really like to publically state the goal here – you guys will keep me honest.  In the meantime, I thought I’d share this picture of me and one of my new super-thin European friends:

(Just kidding – it is from this amazing church in the Czech Republic that is entirely decorated with human bones.)

I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving holiday! I thoroughly enjoyed being home with my family, indulging in several savory dishes (butternut squash risotto, mashed potatoes, stuffing…) and sweet desserts (pumpkin pie, chocolate-walnut-caramel tart, homemade whipped cream…), relaxing by the fireplace, and generally being reminded of all that I have in my life to be thankful for. I got back to Boston on Sunday and ended up cooking a big batch of minestrone soup as part of the chores that I needed to do to get back on track and ready for the week. I was drawn to the idea of a colorful vegetable soup, feeling like I needed to detox from the long weekend’s aforementioned overindulgences with lots of fresh vegetables (and probably extra time at the gym). If you’re feeling the same way, try this simple soup recipe and enjoy all week, or freeze some and save for your next “recovery” period after the winter holidays. Read the rest of this entry »

Did anyone take advantage of the BURN open house last weekend? I managed to get a spot in the Build and Burn session with Beth B., which was awesome. I really liked the strength training mixed in with speed and resistance intervals on the treadmill. As aforementioned, I rarely mix up my workouts, and often rely on some standard settings on the treadmill. I felt really challenged in the BURN workout, and motivated to try and replicate some of the intervals when I’m working out on my own. I highly recommend BURN to anyone who is trying to shake up their usual routine and get quicker results in a short amount of time.

I also squeezed in some cooking this past weekend, and made a great spicy soup recipe that I want to pass on. The following recipe for Jamaican Sweet Potato Kale soup came from my friend Steph, who I take yoga classes with frequently. She is a self-proclaimed soup-nut, and has tons of cheap and easy soup recipes to recommend, so there will be more to come.

This particular recipe is great because of the few ingredients, very little prep time, and super healthy super-food inclusions of kale and sweet potatoes. As I mentioned in my Kale-chips recipe, kale is rich with vitamins, anti-oxidants, and fiber. Sweet potatoes offer carotenoids in their bright orange color, and are a good source of vitamin C and potassium. And coconut milk contains anti-bacterial properties. This recipe is a little fiery, so adjust the habaneros according to your preference. Read the rest of this entry »

Red Lentil soupI’ve made this Red Lentil and Brown Rice soup, which I adapted from a recipe on www.101Cookbooks.com, about three times in the past two weeks! It’s simple, healthy, and tastes great, which is my triumvirate for perfect recipes. Plus, the ingredients are inexpensive, which is always a bonus. Lentils are a great source of protein, iron, and fiber. They come in a variety of shapes and colors, and red are my favorite. I like the smooth texture they produce because they break down quickly while cooking – no soaking required. And they make a beautiful orange-red stew. This recipe makes about 4-6 servings. Take it to the office in a plastic container for a perfect fall afternoon lunch during the week.

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