Today I wanted to write a little bit about lentils. People have been eating them for a long time, and there is a very good reason. They are very nutritious. However, most Americans don’t eat them. I am not really sure why that is though. It seems that this is one of the secrets that vegetarians have been keeping to themselves! Lentils are high in protein and fiber, and also have a great flavor. The two biggest reasons I don’t understand why Americans don’t eat lentils are that they are fast cooking, and also that they are CHEAP!
Last night I decided that I was going to make some dinner, and rather than our usual rice or potatoes, I’d make some lentils. I also wanted to add some fennel to give a nice counterpoint to the earthy flavor of the lentils. We were going to have chicken, and asparagus as well.
Start the lentils first, and pre-heat the oven to 350F. Lentils don’t need soaking, unlike other legumes. You really should sort through them for rocks, and other foreign materials. Then rinse them. Any that float, just pitch them. They are too dry to really cook well. Pour off the water, and cover them by about an inch or so with water. Do not salt them. That will make them less tender. Bring them up to a boil, and then turn the heat down to a simmer. They will need to cook for 30-40 minutes, depending on how tender you like them. Then season them with salt and pepper.
While the lentils are cooking, I julienned half a bulb of fennel, and then placed it in a pot with about a cup of orange juice and a 1/4 cup of bourbon. Bring this up to a boil, and allow the liquid to reduce to a syrup.
The chicken I seasoned with salt and pepper and herbes de provence, and baked for about 15 minutes.
Once everything was just about done I cut the ends off some asparagus, and put them in a skillet with some melted butter and salt and pepper, and lightly sauted them, until they were just tender.
The fennel I used as a garnish on the chicken, and the reduced liquid I poured over the lentils, although there wasn’t a lot of it left. I turned out very nicely, and the sweetness of the fennel balanced the earthy lentils very nicely. It was certainly nice to have something a little different too.
A friend of mine recently graduated from nursing school, and is having a party tonight. Awesome job! Its a pot luck type of thing, so I decided that I would be bringing a little desert. That bottle of bourbon has been calling to me to do something with it. I decided that I would take advantage of that bottle of bourbon, and some oranges, and take a shot at making some chocolate covered candied orange. I am NOT a chocolatier, but it is interesting stuff to play with from time to time!
Basically, what I had in mind was to candy some orange segments, and add a little bit of bourbon for flavor. It adds a little bit of vanilla-y flavor to things, so with the oranges and a bit of dark chocolate, how can you go wrong?
First thing I had to do was get the orange segments. If you were just going to eat the orange out of hand, that is a pretty easy task to negotiate, but I wanted to make candy. That white membrane between the segments would not taste good. So, I cut off the top and bottom of the oranges, and then slice off the peel, and the bitter white pith.
Then using a paring knife you will cut very carefully along the membrane between the segments, and very carefully cut out the segments. This is a little trickier that it sounds like it ought to be, but just take your time, and be careful.
Next I made a simple syrup. This was one cup of water, and one cup of sugar. Bring it up to a boil, and when the sugar is dissolved add the orange segments, and simmer for about 5 minutes. After 5 minutes take it off the heat and add the bourbon. Then put the mixture back on the heat, and simmer for another 5. Then remove the pieces and separate them, and cool them down. The segments fell apart somewhat, so I tried to make pieces as much as possible.
Now for the tricky part… Chocolate is the hard part of this little project. If you get a piece of really good quality chocolate you will notice that it is shiny, and has a nice snap when you bit it or break it. This is because it is tempered. This is what we are trying to keep. The problem here is that chocolate melts below our body temperature, and will be out of temper before if it gets close. We’re shooting for around 88 degrees. If we can keep it below that we should be able to keep it tempered, and that will give our finished chocolate a nice look and feel.
I took a couple of bars of Ghirardelli 72% cacao chocolate, and broke them up into small pieces. In a microwave safe bowl, I slowly melted the chocolate. I would stir it every 15 seconds or so, for a total of less than a minute and a half. Once it was melted I used a couple of forks to put the orange pieces in the chocolate and fish them back out. I put them on foil, and once I was done, back into the fridge. My apartment is too close to the melting point of chocolate to leave it out.
I tried one a few minutes ago! Holy Crap! I may not be Jacques Torres, but that tastes fantastic! The thing that I try to keep in mind is that I generally have a pretty good idea what will taste good, and sometimes I have to push myself into areas that I may not have really explored technique-wise, but practice makes perfect(or at least better)! Try something new,