Back in college, I used to stake out at Pure Bliss on a regular basis to nibble on a Fudgy Brownie or Lemon Bliss Cupcake, sip tea, and study for my classes. In addition to wonderful desserts, I loved soaking in the delicately sweet scent that hits your nostrils when you walk through the door and the cozy, relaxed atmosphere. Through friends that worked there, I was fortunate to meet owners Andi and Nick Vann.
Since then, I have become a regular. If you’ve never visited, Pure Bliss is one of downtown Bellingham’s premier dessert restaurants.
On a recent visit to do a little work, I was eating a Cocoa Nutty Wedge (with no refined sugar — and absolutely divine) and trying to figure out who to interview for this column. It struck me that I’d come to the perfect place. What does someone who is constantly surrounded by enticing cakes and shortbread cookies cook when she is at home? Or did she even cook at all? I had to know, so I posed the question. Andi agreed to share one of her favorite home recipes, and we set up an interview for the following week.
I met with Andi at the restaurant. Before discussing her recipe, the spunky and passionate mastermind explained how Pure Bliss came to fruition. While talking, she occasionally glanced around the restaurant, clearly proud of the heavenly sweets and thriving business she has perfected over the years.
When she was young, Andi would carefully watch her mom working in the kitchen and was fascinated. As her mom recognized her interest, she made sure the space was safe for Andi to cook, and encouraged her to experiment. Andi gradually transitioned from playing around with food, to prepping ingredients for her mom, and finally to cooking her own creations.
Her mom mostly focused on savory flavors, but as Andi’s creative edge took hold, she decided that sweets were her passion, and funneled her energy into baking.
As an undergraduate at Western Washington University, Andi perfected her baking technique to the delight of her friends and roommates. In addition to improving her skills, she found baking to be a great stress reliever.
A few years after graduation, she met her now partner Nick in a chance encounter at a Fred Myer. He was vital in Andi’s realization one day that her passion for baking was something she could make into a career, and she began to pursue opening her own bakery. With Nick’s encouragement and a lot of teamwork, Pure Bliss has emerged to become the ever-growing, popular downtown bakery that it is today.
Lucky for us, she is not only a master baker, but also an excellent cook. When cooking at home, Andi follows a basic recipe but also flavors to taste, adding a little more of this and that depending on the flavor she is going for at the moment.
I asked her for a recipe she might make for a cold, rainy day, and she immediately thought of her hearty Tuscan Lentil Soup. Though it is a perfect and healthy dish to warm up the bones on a chilly spring day, this soup is a year-round Vann family favorite.
The recipe was also perfect choice because I love lentil soup — but have been hesitant to make it after a few less-than-satisfying attempts in college. In comparison to others, my soup was always bland.
I have written a number of these Chef’s Recipe articles for Dine Drink Bellingham, but I don’t always make the recipe. Due to my college failures, I couldn’t wait to try this one out. A few days later, I was energetically shopping for Italian sausage rich with fennel, sweet Walla Walla onions, and fragrant garlic.
Returning home, I quickly dug into prepping and cooking. As the soup simmered on the stove, my senses could immediately tell that this was going to be better than my college attempts. Getting hungry, I tried to be patient and let my soup simmer to perfection.
Andi Vann’s Tuscan Lentil Soup
- 1 lb Italian sausage
- 1 large sweet onion, diced
- 3 large celery stalks, diced
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 Tbsp each dried parsley leaves, oregano leaves, dried rosemary leaves, dried basil leaves, dried sage leaves and garlic powder
- Pinch of salt and two pinches of pepper
- 2 quarts Chicken or Vegetable stock
- 16 oz dried lentils (brown or green)
- 3 bay leaves
- 3 large carrots, chopped
- 2 medium zucchini, chopped
- 2 large tomatoes, chopped (or 1 can diced tomatoes)
- 3 cups kales
- ½ cup heavy whipping cream
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Dice the onion, celery and garlic – set aside
- On medium heat, using a large soup pot, add the sausage, onion and celery. Stirring constantly cook until sausage is crumbly and cooked through evenly.
- Add garlic, dried herbs, salt and pepper and stir 2 more minutes.
- Turn up head to high and add stock, lentils and bay leaves. Stir well to break up any lentil clumps, then cover with lid and bring to boil. Once boiling, reduce temperature to simmer and begin chopping carrots, zucchini and tomatoes.
- After 15 minutes of simmering, add chopped veggies. Continue to simmer for 10 more minutes.
- Once lentils are tender (approximately 25-30 minutes total on simmer), turn off heat and add kale and cream. Stir well. Add additional salt and pepper to taste.
- Discard bay leaves, ladle and serve with large rustic chunks of Italian bread.
Andi had recommended serving it with a simple kale salad with some shredded parmesan, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. For drink, she suggested a full-bodied red wine, like a Malbec. For those who prefer beer, a dark ale like Kulshan’s Red Cap Irish Style Red would be her pick.
I ended up eating the soup with a light salad of mixed field greens and some Kalamata olive bread. The soup was everything I had imagined! As I ladled it into the bowl, steam wafted under my nose and the rich fragrance whet my appetite. It had to restrain myself until the soup had cooled.
The broth had a creamy texture, and the dark lentils, celery, onions, carrots and spices blended into a rich, almost stew-like consistency. I broke of a chunk of my bread to soak up the sauce and sighed as the sausage and lentils passed across my tongue. The fennel, garlic, sage, and other Italian themed seasonings added just the right touch of savory flavor.
I had to know what else Andi likes to make on a regular basis. She told me she tends to focus on rich seasonal flavors and grows some of her own vegetables. Other favorites in the Vann household include Thai curry, tacos, burritos, crockpot stews, and anything flavored with Indian spices.
Anyone who has tried a slice of Chocolate Salted Caramel Cake or a Peanut Butter Wedge (or literally anything else offered at Pure Bliss) knows that Andi is a master of sweets. If you haven’t yet, this is a vital stop for an everyday treat or a special occasion.
And while Andi certainly has mastered baked goods, she clearly knows how prepare a delicious savory dishes as well. The Tuscan Lentil Soup is a recipe I will make again and again. If you make it, let us know what you think in the comments below!
1424 Cornwall Avenue, Bellingham, WA 98225
Monday · 11am-6pm
Tuesday – Thursday · 11am-10pm
Friday & Saturday · 11am-10:30pm
Sunday · Closed