I’ve been putting off this post for a few weeks because I am desperately trying to remember the salient details of a story about lentil and sausage soup.  It was at least 20 years ago.  I can remember being doubled over laughing in the soup aisle of a grocery store, shrieking and crying over the hilarity of Progresso’s Lentil and Sausage Soup.  If you just stopped to reread that sentence in order to pick up whatever word you missed that would clue you in to what might possibly be so uproariously funny about lentil and sausage soup, do not panic.

That’s the detail I can’t remember.  I’ve been kicking that story stub around my poor little brain for several days to no avail, and I just can’t hold out on the recipe any longer.  It doesn’t help that I’ve had a song stuck in my head for days.  A horrible song.  It is nearly impossible to remember funny stories from your childhood when the one-hit-wonder LEN is screaming WOULD YOU STEAL MY SUNSHINE?!! during every quiet moment, to say nothing of the difficulties it presents at work.  I’m not going to say that those words made it into a motion last week, just that having professional proofreaders on staff is a really beautiful thing.

The upshot of the story is this: we tried the soup, it was amazing, I fell in love with the combination of lentils and sausage, and Progresso can enjoy an everlasting bout of shingles for discontinuing it.


Since the soup is no longer available, we have to make do on our own.  But freed from the confines of the can, lentils and sausage show themselves to be equally charming without the accompaniment of broth, their trusty backup dancer.  We had so much fun with butternut squash earlier this month that I thought I’d feature acorn squash, another one of my favorites.  Petite and perfect, they bake handsomely when paired with a little butter and maple syrup. I find combining them with lentils and sausage to be particularly satisfying.  The lentils and squash are both earthy and smooth, but in slightly different ways; their textures complement each other while their flavors layer gently.  Hot Italian sausage, when paired with the sweetness of the maple syrup, is vibrant but softly restrained.  The result is a happy little barbershop quartet of flavors, portioned perfectly in its own ready-made bowl.


You will notice that you end up with a lot of extra lentils.  It’s sort of intentional.  In order to avoid leaving you high and dry without sufficient lentil coverage for any particularly robust acorn squash you may encounter, I’ve asked you to make more than you need.  Still, since it’s frustrating to end up with an extra third of a serving of something, I’ve given you a basic proportion for about three cups of cooked lentils.  This way, you have plenty to eat as leftovers by themselves, in a salad, in soup, whathaveyou.  If having extra lentils really puts a knot in your knickers, reduce as your heart desires.
(Keep reading Acorn Squash with Lentils and Sausage…)


I learned to arm wrestle really, really well working at the Olive Garden.  It had almost nothing to do with being a hostess there, but the arm wrestling champion of Butte, Montana taught me herself.  Her name was Mary, and she was a great teacher.

The key to winning at arm wrestling, according to Mary, is two-fold.  Getting the knot of forearms, hands, and elbows into a configuration that allows you to pull with your bicep is of paramount importance.  Getting there quickly, to the abject shock of your opponent, is equally critical.  Done correctly, you’ll leave them painfully mumbling in your dust as you swagger away, heady with the pride of your win.  Though the expression is woefully time-worn, it really is all in the wrist.

For two summers and a winter break in college, I was part of the front of the house “A team” at the Olive Garden in Billings.  I had applied for work at several restaurants in town, and the Olive Garden was one of my last stops because it was the furthest strip mall from my house.  It shared a parking lot with Red Lobster, where I failed the 300-question personality test prior to my interview.  By the time I received a Dear Bria letter informing me that my immediate future did not include reciting pithy witticisms about a menu filled with shellfish, it was the OG or nothing.


My arm wrestling lesson came around the same time gnocchi were added to the menu, during my second summer. New additions to the menu meant team meetings at the restaurant on Saturday mornings, where we put the “know your food” OG principal into practice (the other four principals being hot food hot, cold food cold, money to the bank, and clean restrooms).  I don’t remember anything else from the tasting that day, nor do I really remember whether or not the gnocchi were any good.  I can only recall the moment that marked what would prove to be a weeks-long process in fighting about the pronunciation of “gnocchi.”  It was not, as I emphatically argued, acceptable to refer to it as “nookie.”

It’s a good thing none of us are 19 for more than, say, a year.  It’s just so difficult to know Everything and struggle to communicate it to the rest of the world given a paltry allotment of only 24 hours per day.  I believe Mary was neutral on the pronunciation debate, but favored some sort of object lesson that would shut me up for the sake of keeping the peace.   Somewhere between hearing her credentials and that first, brutal loss, I managed to forget about the pedantry of the matter.

Today, I don’t care if you call them gnocchi, nookie, or Wondrous Pillows of Carbtastic Splendor.  Just make them, and soon.

The ricotta quantity is stated in ounces, rather than cups.  If you buy your ricotta, it should make a difference to you as 15 to 16 oz is a standard size.  If you made whole-milk ricotta with me and are staring at a giant wad of cheese, wondering how much to use, get thee to the store and pick up a food scale.  It’s an excellent way to maintain consistency and accuracy in the kitchen.  Fundamental recipes are ratios based on weight, not volume, and you will open many doors for yourself with the ability to scale recipes up or down based on weight.  Get one.

Regarding the bread crumbs: I cheat.  If you happen to have a few slices of white sandwich bread laying around, remove the crusts and blitz them in a food processor.  Toast the resulting crumbs in a 300 degree oven for 10 minutes until they are golden and use them here.  Despite my bread-making proclivities, honey-oat whole wheat bread is the only kind we (almost) always have readily on hand.  It doesn’t make for very good bread crumbs, so I cheat with the kind in the little cardboard can.

(Keep reading Ricotta Gnocchi…)


I think we have talked about the way I pine for lazy weekend mornings to while away with plates of fresh muffins.

A recent foray into vegan, gluten-free cooking (long story) left me with a sizeable quantity of almond milk and gluten-free all-purpose flour (“GF AP”). I didn’t have specific designs on them at first, but figured the inventive mood would strike at some point. One morning, it did.


And here is where I confess something slightly embarrassing. I make biscuits with Bisquick. I know, I know. It’s rather antithetical to all of my feelings about baking. I’m wrapping myself in a little shower curtain of shame in order to explain this, but it’s relevant to the how and why I decided to try using almond milk in muffins, so stick with me. After months of enjoying the splendor of traditional baking powder biscuits made with butter, John and I decided to get back on Weight Watchers (a wagon from which we have long since fallen). After recommitting to the double-W, we couldn’t justify the eleventy vermillion points in a serving of those biscuits (vermillion is a number with so many zeroes it turns red). One day, I discovered that Bisquick’s Heart Healthy baking mix made decent, though not equivalent, biscuits. What can I say, they are incredibly fast and relatively low in calories and fat.

Have I lost all baking credibility with you? I hope not. Remember the marshmallows? The bread? The olive oil cake? Surely you can cut me a smidgen of slack for this one thing. Oh, and if John tries to tell you about a bag of frozen potstickers that allegedly appears in our freezer on occasion, HE IS LYING.


So. As I was saying, I had gobs of almond milk and GF AP and no plans for either. On a whim, I decided to see what would happen if I used almond milk in place of regular milk in my Bisquick biscuits. My reaction, upon opening the oven, summoned from my core an authentic, Utahn OH MY HECK that would have made Norm Bangerter proud. They were HUGE and had the most amazing texture – pillowy soft with the tiniest crumb.

Since the basic muffin recipe is quick and quite malleable when it comes to ingredient manipulation, I decided to take the almond milk for another spin and see what it could do. When combined with GF AP, the result is scrumptious and workable for the gluten-free and dairy-free crowds (so long as your dairy-free parameters concern Things That Come From a Cow; the recipe includes eggs).

Food allergy/intolerance struggles are near and dear to my little peanut-allergic heart. I’m pleased to offer this recipe for my gluten-free and dairy-free friends who yearn for baked things that don’t suffer in texture or taste.  All too often, recipe adaptations for food allergies/intolerances are woeful approximations of the real thing.  In tasting these muffins (and sharing them with my lovely, gluten-free neighbor), I was really heartened to see that they taste and feel like…muffins.  They aren’t a weak knock-off, they’re just good.  Give them a shot, whether or not you happen to have a hard time with gluten or milk proteins.  You’ll have something wonderful to share with those who do.


The blueberries get a subtle but beautiful boost from the maple syrup (again, thank you Flavor Bible). If you want your berries to be further and fewer between, skip folding them into the batter and sink them, individually, with your fingers once you’ve portioned the batter into the wells.

Note that this recipe also works with spelt flour, if you happen to have some around. If you go with spelt flour, I recommend a food scale so you can measure out 8 oz – it’s a little more dense than GF AP, and you’ll want slightly less than the 1 ¾ cups called for here. Spelt, for the uninitiated, is not gluten-free; if you swap it in place of the GF AP flour, you can’t feed these to your Celiac friends. If gluten isn’t an issue, I highly recommend playing around with spelt flour – it’s high in protein and has a lovely nutty, sweet flavor.

(Keep reading Gluten-Free Blueberry Muffins…)


My neighborhood smells like perfume. Though my schedule over the past few weeks has been somewhat chaotic (it may not surprise you to know that the bankruptcy world is a little…what’s the word…busy these days), I cannot resist pausing on the landing on the way out the door each morning to inhale the crisp, damp air. Laden with moisture from the previous night and the impending threat of the week’s summer storms, it burgeons with the heady presence of jasmine, roses, and lemon verbena. Dewy brush and grass begin to warm in the morning sun and the scent reminds me of an old campground, even though we are in the middle of a gargantuan city. The Hollywood hills are strange this way – a wild island in the midst of a sea of concrete. Despite the messy realities of my upcoming day, in those moments the scented air makes the world seem perfect.

Eventually, those realities catch up with me. My job, like so many others, can be unpredictable from week to week. It’s not uncommon for me to interrupt a nice leave-by-6:30 streak with two weeks of complete crazy, only to return to relative calm once again. During those busy times, it’s critical for me to keep things on hand that can easily be thrown together into real food. This week, a few simple ingredients – polenta, Italian sausage, and tomato sauce – have made for a few fast and delicious dinners that I’d love to share with you.

This is one of my lightning-fast recipes. It’s so incredibly simple, I almost hate to call it cooking - it feels more like ingredient assembly to me (though, really, you can say that about all cooking if you take a big enough step back). Consider this one of those baby steps between picking up takeout and cooking something complex. I set a timer last night to see just how long this takes. It seems fast, but my sense of time is roughly as accurate as a terrier’s, so some objective verification was necessary. From opening the fridge to plating the finished food, I clocked this in at around 9 minutes, and that included the sliced polenta modeling session on my cutting board. Four ingredients, two pans, less than 10 minutes. Wowza.


If you aren’t familiar with polenta, my lovelies, you should be. I cheat and buy the precooked kind. You can easily make your own, though it can be a little time-consuming. Precooked polenta typically comes in either a roll or a loaf (both called a chub). I like the roll because it slices into disks very easily. You can usually find it near the salami/pepperoni in the grocery store. Made of corn, polenta is a hearty, delicious alternative to pasta (and delightfully wheat-free for our gluten-avoiding friends). Though delicious in savory dishes, as I suggest here, it also makes a wonderful addition to the breakfast table. Sauté and top with maple syrup for rib-sticking, corn-based goodness.


(Keep reading Polenta with Tomatoes and Italian Sausage…)