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Slow Cooker Lentil Soup with Sausage and Tomatoes inspired by The Jesus Cow

Slow Cooker Lentil Soup with Sausage and Tomatoes
On Christmas Eve itself, the bachelor Harley Jackson stepped into his barn and beheld there illuminated in the straw a smallish newborn bull calf upon whose flank was borne the very image of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

"Well," said Harley, "that's trouble."

You've heard of people seeing the image of Jesus in a tortilla or a screen door, right? And you've heard the hub-bub that ensued, right? Well, so had Harley Jackson. So, when he saw the the image on the hide of his calf, the only things that ran through his mind were how he could hide him or get rid of him. This confirmed bachelor slash sort-of farmer didn't need to deal with throngs of religious pilgrims trampling his land in the small town of Swivel, Wisconsin.

Fast forward a couple weeks and a new love interest threatening that confirmed bachelor status. Harley wakes up to a commotion, the calf wandering around alone outside of the barn, and a swift realization that his life is never going to be quite the same again.

Filled with small town hijinks, a cast of lively characters, and a story that I couldn't wait to see unfold, I thought The Jesus Cow was a fun and thoroughly entertaining read. I won't tell you how it ends, but I will say it's sort of bittersweet.

As far as the food is concerned, even though it wouldn't be considered a foodie novel, there is plenty of inspiration to be found. Since Harley is a beef farmer who likes to relax with a beer, I think a beef and beer stew or pot pie would have been a fitting tribute. There's also actual mentions of things like tea, Zebra Cakes, ramen noodles, cheese-and-tuna macaroni casserole, chocolate milk, angel foam candy, eggs and bacon or sausage, coffee, creme-filled maple frosted long johns (!!!), blueberry doughnuts, mac and cheese, and tacos. I particularly loved a passage where Harley talked about retaining "a farm kid's atavistic affection for fresh-skimmed cream over cornflakes".

But what I ultimately chose as my inspiration from The Jesus Cow was a lentil soup that Mindy made and brought over to eat with Harley on their second date. Harley was worried that it might be light and verge "toward the hippie vegan side of things". But his mind was assuaged when she arrived at his house.

When Mindy climbed out of her truck, she handed him a Crock-Pot, and when he popped the lid he found the lentils keeping company with hearty chunks of pork sausage and diced red tomatoes, and the aroma had him instantly hungry. Mindy was also carrying a fresh-baked linen-wrapped loaf of thick-crusted bread. It was still warm at the center when Harley sliced it, and Mindy didn't skim when she slathered on the butter.

Slow Cooker Lentil Soup with Sausage and Tomatoes
This lentil soup recipe with hearty chunks of Sweet Italian Sausage and fire-roasted tomatoes is a soul-warming meal made in your slow cooker.
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Slow Cooker Lentil Soup with Sausage and Tomatoes
by Heather Schmitt-Gonzalez
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 8-10 hours
Keywords: slow-cooker entree soup/stew dairy-free nut-free

Ingredients (serves 8)
  • ~1 pound sweet Italian sausage
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 large carrots, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red chile flakes
  • 9 cups chicken or vegetable stock, broth, or water
  • 2 (14.5 ounce) cans fire-roasted diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 2 cups dry lentils, rinsed and picked
  • 1 teaspoon smoked sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
to serve:
  • Balsamic vinegar
Break apart the sausage in large chunks and add to a large pan over medium heat. Cook until browned, stirring from time to time, ~12 minutes.

Add veggies to the pan and saute until they start to soften, ~ minutes. Add the dried herbs and crushed red chiles; stir and cook for 1 minute longer. Turn off heat.

Scoop into the base of a slow cooker, leaving excess fat behind.

Add remaining ingredients to the slow cooker. Cover and cook on HIGH for 8-10 hours. Soup should be look thick and heart. If you like even more body, you can use a large spoon or potato masher to mash up some of the lentils.

Serve hot, with a little sprinkling Balsamic vinegar (I like 2-3 teaspoons per serving, but this is really to taste), and a loaf of crusty bread for mopping up the juices.

For an extra nutrient boost, try adding a couple huge handfuls of kale ribbons or baby spinach to the slow cooker when you're adding all of the ingredients.

The Jesus Cow by Michael Perry

The Jesus Cow

author: Michael Perry
publisher: Harper (May 15, 2015)
source: TLC Book Tours
hard cover: 304 pages
"foodie" read: Not really, but there's a fair amount of eating and inspiration in the pages.

random excerpt: But as the child spotted the calf she let out the softest oh and dropped to her knees, wrapped her arms around its neck and rather than startling, the calf, seeming to sense the child's fragility, simply allowed itself to be held. (p 172 in uncorrected proof)

synopsis (via tlc book tours page): Life is suddenly full of drama for low-key Harley Jackson: A woman in a big red pickup has stolen his bachelor’s heart; a Hummer- driving developer hooked on self-improvement audiobooks is threatening to pave the last vestiges of his family farm; and inside his barn lies a calf bearing the image of Jesus Christ. Harley’s best friend, Billy, a giant of a man who shares his trailer house with a herd of cats and tries to pass off country music lyrics as philosophy, urges him to sidestep the woman, fight the developer, and get rich off the calf. But Harley takes the opposite tack, hoping to avoid what his devout, dearly departed mother would have called “a scene.”

Then the secret gets out—right through the barn door—and Harley’s “miracle” goes viral. Within hours, pilgrims, grifters, and the media have descended on his quiet patch of Swivel, Wisconsin, looking for a glimpse (and a percentage) of the calf. Does Harley hide the famous, possibly holy, calf and risk a riot, or give the people what they want—and in the process raise enough money to keep his land and, just maybe, win the woman in the big red pickup?

Harley goes all in, cutting a deal with a major Hollywood agent that transforms his little farm into an international spiritual theme park—think Lourdes, only with cheese curds and souvenir snow globes. Soon, Harley has lots of money . . . and more trouble than he ever dreamed.

about the author: Michael Perry is a humorist, radio host, songwriter, and the New York Times bestselling author of several nonfiction books, including Visiting Tom and Population: 485. He lives in rural Wisconsin with his family.

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recipe inspired by the book: Slow Cooker Lentil Soup with Sausage and Tomatoes


*passages written in centered, bold grey letters are pulled directly from the uncorrected proof.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.