Friday, November 22, 2013

"Sara's Secrets for Weeknight Meals by Sara Moulton" - Sausage, Lentil. and Spinach Stew

Date I made this recipe:  November 16, 2013

Sara's Secrets for Weeknight Meals by Sara Moulton (of the Food Network)
Published by:  Broadway Books
ISBN:  0-7679-1689-X
Recipe:  Sausage, Lentils and Spinach Stew - p. 173

Earlier last week, I got around to watching a DVR recording of the Food Network's 20th anniversary show and I must say, it's hard to believe it's been 20 years.  Still, when you watch some of the clips of the earlier shows, you can see the difference between the new, fledgling network ("Food Network?  What?") with really abysmal kitchen sets and little-known stars, like today's featured cookbook author, Sara Moulton,  to the huge it is today. 

Prior to joining the Food Network Family, Sara built up a lot of street cred in the culinary world (cooking with Julia Child, anybody?), but she, along with other soon-to-be TV powerhouses, Emeril Lagasse and Mario Batali, were virtual unknowns when the Food Network started. Sara's easy, comfortable show, Cooking Live (later followed by Sara's Secret) though, was an instant hit as she explained her way through endless cooking demonstrations, making every recipe seem imminently achievable.  Sara was featured on the Food Network's birthday show and said that she was told early on to keep smiling all the time, no matter what happened on the show, and that smile caught on.  But I also remember her telling folks that as her popularity grew, so did the minor critiques, such as "You touched your nose with your finger after making that pie."  Eh, the devil is in the details, right? (I will go on record as saying that aside from seeing some chefs "double-dip,"- ew- I am not that watchful.)

I didn't tune in to the very early years of the Food Network as it really flew under my radar at the time, but just a year or so after it started, I started watching Sara's show.  Watching Sara was like watching my mom in the kitchen - always warm and reassuring - whereas Emeril Lagasse was "dad" - lots of energy (lots), lots of volume, lots of just everything but with an end (cooking) result that tasted great.  And then there was Mario who we won't go into who took Emeril's catch phrase "Kick it up a notch" to a whole new level with Italian cooking. 

My money though, was always on Sara.  And when I met her to have her sign this cookbook, she was just as nice and welcoming in person as she is on TV.  I like that. I may have a big personality (I'm told) in public but in my kitchen, I enjoy my quiet time with my ingredients making my meal.

In the Twin Cities area, Sara has a twin in Lucia Watson, owner of the eponymous restaurant, Lucia's, in the Uptown area of Minneapolis and author of my favorite cookbook (out of 1800+) Savoring the Seasons of the Northern Heartland.  I've mentioned this before but I'll say it again - I love Lucia.  She is my hero.  She is to the Midwest what Sara Moulton is to the east coast:  determined, engaging and brilliantly talented - a  person who just quietly rises to the forefront before anyone knows what hit them. 

The Twin Cities just celebrated its third annual Charlie Awards - restaurant awards honoring those individuals who stand out in the industry, ranging from Outstanding Food Truck Item to Outstanding Bartender to Outstanding Restaurant Design.  It's a very fun event and I was tickled pink, maybe even joyous, to see Lucia honored with a (culinary) Charlie Lifetime Achievement Award.  It could not have gone to a more deserving person.  I am also pretty pumped on her behalf that she, a female chef and restaurateur, won in the third year of these award shows.  That's got to mean something, right? Right - girl power!    (By the way, Sara Moulton was a 2012 James Beard Award Nominee in the Best Media Personality Category.) 

The dish I selected from Sara's cookbook, Sausages, Lentils and Spinach Stew, is one I could also easily see Lucia making and serving in her restaurant so I think it's rather cosmic that I selected this dish and made it the night before the Charlie Awards ceremony.  I told some friends that I suppose I could have substituted chicken sausage for Italian sausage except it offended the Sicilian in me, but a friend emailed back and said that those sausages are often overloaded with salt.  Good call then.  I'm not a fan of large amounts of salt and I have a problem with sausages that aren't pork - it just doesn't seem natural. (And it isn't but we don't have time to go there.)

At any rate, aside from the sausage, this is a pretty healthy dish, loaded with all good things including warm fuzzies.  These days, you can catch Sara Moulton on her PBS show, Sara's Weeknight Meals (check local listings for program information) and you can always make a run for the Uptown area of Minneapolis to catch Lucia Watson in action - Lucia's, 1432 W. 31st St. and for heaven's sake, don't forget to stop at her store, Lucia's To Go (next to her restaurant) for incredible edibles to take home.

Enjoy everyone!

Sausage, Lentil and Spinach Stew - Makes 4 servings
1 pound Italian sweet or hot sausages, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
1 medium carrot, chopped (1/2 cup)
2 garlic cloves, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
1 sprig rinsed and dried fresh oregano and 1/2 teaspoon dried
1 Turkish bay leaf
Two 14- or 14 1/2 ounce cans chicken broth or 3 1/2 cups Chicken Stock (Sara's recipe for chicken stock is on page 32)
8 ounces dried lentils (about 1 cup), sorted and rinsed
One 5-ounce package rinsed baby spinach
Kosher salt and freshly milled black pepper

Combine the sausages and 1/4 inch water in large saucepan.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce the heat to low, cover the pan, and simmer for 5 minutes.  Remove the lid and cook until all the water has evaporated and the sausage has browned lightly.  (Ann's Note:  I wish she would have indicated how long it was going to take until all the water evaporated because it seemed like it took forever.  I finally helped the process along by pouring out most of the water and the letting what remained cook down.)

Increase the heat to medium; add the onion, carrot, garlic, oregano, and bay leaf to the sausage and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have softened, about 5 minutes.  Add the broth and the lentils and bring the mixture to a boil over high heat.  Reduce the heat to low; cook, partially covered, until the lentils are just tender, 30 to 35 minutes.  Add the spinach and cook over medium heat until it is wilted.  Discard the bay leaf and oregano sprig and add salt and pepper to taste.  Add water and reheat if stew is too thick (or add more broth if you want to turn this into a soup).


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