Spring Cleaning, Lentil Salad, and the Cookbook Challenge


This past weekend, RJ and I began our Spring Cleaning.  Even though our home is only 2 bedrooms, 1 bath, a kitchen and a big living area, our spring cleaning could not be completed even over the three-day Patriot’s day weekend.  We prefer the marathon method to a sprint 🙂

We began in the basement, piling up old boxes leftover from the mold infestation of 2008 as well as remnants from our first apartment which have never seen the light of day here in our condo.  The pile, unfortunately, is still sitting there, blocking the route to the washing machine, as RJ’s allergies took a violent turn at about 3 pm Saturday.  Sunday we turned to the kitchen, scrubbing down stainless steel appliance fronts (man, those things look dirty in a sunny kitchen!), mopping the floor, and reorganizing the freezer.


Finally, on Monday we decided to tackle the backyard – the last frontier.  While our upstairs neighbor installed a large patio and laid out landscaping in her half of the yard, RJ and I haven’t touched ours but to cart in our new grill.  Armed with a rototiller, however, RJ made easy work of the weeds and wild grass in our backyard (not to mention the peonies…) and we were left with a 22’x16′ plot of dirt, on which we sprinkled grass seed and starter fertilizer.  With the recent rains, we are in good shape for the start of a real lawn!


All this is to say that I think we’ve finally hit springtime in New England – we have 80 degrees in the weekend forecast, a couple of brilliantly cleaned surfaces in our house, and a budding green lawn.  It is that promising feeling of renewal and rejuvenation that April seems to bring every year.


In that spirit, I have decided to try and rethink my cookbook-tackling strategy.  While I have absolutely LOVED the way this blog has encouraged me to experiment with new recipes and open up some of my more dusty cookbooks, I feel that I’m not spreading the wealth enough.  Bon Appetit and Fine Cooking and Ina Garten have all gotten more than their fair share of features here, and I have so many books that I still haven’t picked up (see Exhibit A here)!  Not to mention the fact that I just bought two more that I really shouldn’t have…


So the new plan is to go one book at a time.  Interspersed with my usual random entries, I will post regular installments to the Cookbook Challenge.  I challenge myself to make, inside of a week, 3 recipes from a single book in my collection (different every time).  By this method I will ensure that, going forward, I can say that every cookbook I own has proven itself under fire.  The first victim?  Patricia Wells’ The Paris Cookbook.  This is a good start since although I love this book, I virtually never go to it when I am looking to cook something.  Why?  Because there are no pictures!  Well, no pictures of the food anyway.  Unfortunately, that is quite a turn-off for me, though I do owe this cookbook more than I owe any other cookbook I own.  Each recipe is from a different Paris restaurant, brasserie, bistro or boulangerie.  Three years ago (I can’t believe it has been so long!), when RJ and I were planning our trip to Paris, I used this book to locate new restaurants for us to try.  Of course we also visited some of my old favorites, but the real gem of the trip and the reason that RJ loves Paris and cannot wait to return (a priceless gift from Ms. Wells) was Au Moulin à Vent.  We went there because the cookbook said the frites were to die for, and she did not steer us wrong – we were thoroughly smitten!

Cookbooks and Le Creuset

Though I would love to pass along that recipe to you, I do not dare attempt to recreate those in my own kitchen for two reasons: 1) they could be excellent and thus not compel RJ to take me back to Paris every couple years OR 2) they could be a severe disappointment and possibly make me doubt that they were, in fact, the best fries I’ve ever tasted.  So… instead I bring you another treat from The Paris Cookbook, lentil salad.

Back in September, my friend Caroline asked me to supply her with the recipe of that “incredible lentil thing” I had made for my first spring picnic several years ago.  I couldn’t remember where I had found it, and thus passed along an Ina Garten recipe which was as likely as any other to be the one I used.  However, it was a grave disappointment to Caroline, and I soon realized that it couldn’t be the same one.  The true “incredible lentil thing” is below – I entreat you to make it for your first spring picnic this year, and to thank Patricia Wells for another winner.Lentils

Ambassade d’Auvergne‘s Lentil Salad with Walnut Oil, Recipe #1 from Patricia Wells’ The Paris Cookbook

(Yields 8 servings )

Warm lentil salad - Mise2 Tbs. goose fat or extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, peeled and minced
2 oz. smoked ham, cut into tiny dice (I used Canadian bacon)
3 cups (1 lb.) French Lentils, preferably lentilles du Puy
1 qt. homemade chicken stock (or the best storebought you have)
1 Tbs. dijon mustard
2 Tbs. best-quality red wine vinegar or sherry vinegar
2/3 c. best-quality walnut oil or extra-virgin olive oil (I used almond oil, since I had it, but I would think hazelnut oil or even perhaps pumpkinseed oil would be delicious)
1 shallot, peeled and finely minced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 oz. lean slab bacon, rind removed, cubed (1 cup)
3 Tbs. minced fresh chives

In a large, heavy saucepan, melt the goose fat over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and ham and sweat – cook, covered, over low heat – without coloring until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.  Transfer the mixture to a small bowl.  Set aside.

Place the lentils in a large fine-mesh sieve and rinse under cold running water.  Transfer them to the same heavy saucepan.  Cover with cold water, and bring to a boil over high heat.  When the water boils, remove the saucepan from the heat.  Transfer teh lentils to a fine mesh sieve and drain over the sink.  Rinse the lentils under cold running water.  Return the lentils to the saucpan, add the chicken stock, and bring just to a boil over high heat.  Reduce the heat to a simmer.  With a slotted spoon, skim off any impurities that rise to the surface.

Once the liquid is clear of impurities, simmer gently, uncovered, over low heat until the lentils are cooked yet still firm in the center, about 30 minutes (the cooking time will vary according to the freshness of the lentils: the fresher they are, the more quickly they will cook).

Lentil Salad vinaigrette

Meanwhile, prepare the vinaigrette: in a large salad bowl, combine the mustard and vinegar and whisk to blend.  Add the walnut oil and shallots, and whisk again.  Season with sea salt and black pepper to taste.  Set aside.

Place the bacon in a large nonstick skillet and fry over moderate heat until golden brown, 5 to 6 minutes.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon cubes to a plate covered with a double thickness of paper towels.Lentils & Bacon!

Pour the lentils into a fine-mesh sieve, draining and discarding any remaining liquid.  Transfer them to the salad bowl and toss with vinaigrette until evenly and thoroughly coated. [the cookbook never tells you what to do with the reserved ham and onion you sweated in the first step.  I added mine here — it just felt like the right thing to do…].  Let the lentils sit until they have absorbed the vinaigrette, about 10 minutes.  Sprinkle with the cubed bacon and chives.  Taste for seasoning and serve warm.

I wasn’t going to say anything but… after all the beautiful pictures above were taken, tragedy ensued.  A stray dribble of oil on the side of my salad bowl caused it to slip out of my hands.  Good news?  It fell in the sink.  Bad news? My bowl was expensive and made of glass, so it shattered to bits.  I think it says a lot about how good this salad really is that both my mom and I risked internal injuries to continue eating it out of the wreckage:

Lentil salad from a glass shard


  1. Making your recipe. We’ll let you know how it turns out. Smells so good. Searing scallops with it.

  2. Pete Loans says:

    Great blog! the pictures are very nice!

  3. That was informational blog post.

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