Split Pea Soup
Friday, December 23, 2005, 10:13 PM - soups, sandwichesWe made split pea soup yesterday. Yum. Split pea soup is the reason for the existance of ham. We made stock from the ham bone on christmas* evening and used it as a base for the soup.
We cooked the ham in a large dutch oven that we use as both a stock pot and a roasting pan. After carving the ham, we simply stuck the bone back in the pot. There were lots of good drippings caked onto the bottom of the pot. By making the stock immediately after, we guarantee that we get their yummy goodness. Equally important, we guarantee that those caked on drippings that would be a pain in the ass to clean off on their own will spend several hours ooking away. Add a couple of coarsley chopped onions, 3-4 carrots (also coarsley chopped) and several sticks of celery (you guessed it---coarsley chop that too). I also threw in some exceptionally gristley pieces of ham that I wouldn't want to encounter in a sandwich.
Pour enough water into your pot to cover everything up. Let it ook for several hours on low heat. I always heat it up until it boils then turn it down until it just barely stops and leave it at that temperature. Look in on it periodically, but you don't need to obsess. If it gets foam on top, skim it off and throw it into a can that is destined for the trash. When it's ooked for several hours, strain out the veggies and ham bone and throw them into the trash. Then skim the fat off the top and put it in the can you're skimming things into. You don't want ham fat down your garbage disposal. Now you can refrigerate or freeze the stock for later use.
Split Pea Soup
Pour 6 cups of ham stock into a pot. Add 1 bag (~2 cups) of split peas. Let it ook until the split peas are hydrated to the point where it looks like a thick green sludge instead of split peas in water. If you get impatient, I've been told that you can hit it with an immersion blender, but I'm a big believer in ooking. After it's done ooking, add some diced ham and let it go a few more minutes to warm the ham up. Serve and eat.
Leftover Split Pea & Carrot Soup with Ham Sandwiches
Today we had leftover split pea and carrot soup. We took 1 leftover bit of carrot soup and some leftover split pea soup and stirred them together and microwaved them. It worked. The carrot soup was definitely more potent, but the flavors didn't conflict or anything. There wasn't quite enough for a meal, so we served it with ham and cheese sandwiches. We made one ham/cheddar sandwich and one ham/jack sandwich, put a bit of oregano on both of them, and split both of them.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005, 08:43 PM - holidayWe celebrated christmas* yesterday (pronounced christmas star). We were going to celebrate christmas' (pronounced christmas prime), but we thought christmas* sounded more festive. Why christmas* instead of plain ordinary christmas? Well, christmas was just at a damned inconvenient time. We thought about celebrating solstice instead, but we had to do laundry that day. What's my point? We made a festive christmas* dinner. Christmas is one of the few days in the year when I really feel the need for a big hunk of meat. Actually, the meat isn't so important, but the soup you make from the bone is, so you have to make the meat at some point, and usually this happens on Thanksgiving and Christmas. When they release a tofurkey with a real turkey carcass underneath, that will be the day. We want split pea soup, so we had a ham dinner for christmas*. We made Ham, carnival squash, cauliflour, and apple chutney.
Buy a ham. Don't just buy any ham, buy a ham with a bone in it. If it doesn't have a bone, you can't make split pea soup by boiling the bone with some veggies and split peas. WTF would be the point of that? Don't let Tha Man deprive you of the bone. Ours turned out to be a partially cooked city pork butt.
What does this mean? I didn't see city on our label, but I've discovered that there are 2 kinds of ham: dry/country and wet/city. There was a web site I came across that explained that dry/country ham was a pain in the ass. They didn't quite put it that way, but gosh, there were all these steps to make it properly moist and there were bags and oil and all sorts of paraphenalia. Lots of steps, too. I don't know if you can even buy dry ham in a grocery store anyway. In any case, our ham was a wet ham. It had a little bit of small print on the label explaining that a sizable percentage of its weight was water, just in case you were planning on suing them over paying for the moisture in the ham instead of just the meat. I think that's how you can tell you're getting the right thing.
Ours was partially cooked instead of completely cooked. It didn't look like we could get a bone and have it completely cooked. Ours wasn't a high falutin' spiral cut either. In any case, if it's completely cooked, you only have to cook it to be 140 degrees F. If it's partially cooked, you need to cook it so its internal temperature reaches 160 degrees F if you don't want to risk severe stomach badness, pain, parasites, or death. There will be a label on your ham explaining what the ham company thinks is an appropriate internal temperature for your ham. You should trust them more than you trust me. I could have made a typo. Ours said it would take 20 minutes a pound. Our elite math skills suggested that this would be about 2 and a half hours. It took more like 3-3 and a half hours. Make sure you have snacks.
We stuck our ham cut side down in a giahugeous pot on a little plate that was turned upside down. The plate was ovensafe stoneware. If you have some sort of roasting rack, that's probably what normal people would use, but a person can only have so much kitchen gear. We put about a cup of water into the bottom of the pan. We put it in a 325 degree oven for a really long time. We used a meat thermometer to tell when the ham got hot enough. While it was cooking, we stuck other stuff we needed to cook into the oven so everything would ideally get done at the same time.
Carnival Squash is some variety of winter squash. The label on the squash said it was festive, so we thought it would be appropriate for christmas*. None of the other winter squashes said they were festive on their labels. Why use a unfestive acorn squash or a drab butternut squash when carnival squashes are festive? There are nuances of difference that I'm sure the squash conneseur can tell you about. But this doesn't affect cooking; you can treat all winter squashes roughly the same way.
Cut the squash in half. Scoop out the seeds and clean them. Stick them on a cookie sheet. Smoosh them around in some olive oil, salt, and pepper. Stick them in the oven (On the rack that doesn't have a ham on it, obviously) for 5 minutes. Pull them out and snack on them while you wait for the ham to take an hour longer than it was supposed to. I should note that not all winter squashes have the same seeds. We tried this with a butternut and its seeds were too tough and fibrous. But with every other variety I've tried, they've been really good.
Place the squash cut side down on something that can go in the oven. We used a dinner plate of the same pattern as the little plate underneath the ham. Stick the plate of squash in the oven. Come back in about an hour. Stick it with a fork. If it squashes, it's done. If it feels like a brick, stick it back in and check back in 10-15 minutes. Since squash always takes longer than its supposed to and ham always takes longer than its supposed to, they make a great pairing at any meal.
Remove the squash from its skin and stick it in a bowl. Your partner might find the skin so festive, and the ham so dilatory, that he will think the skin is a tasty treat. Yum. (I didn't try it, but he said it was good.) Add a tbs of butter, a bunch of cinnamon, nutmeg, corriander, and allspice to the squash. Squash it.
Remove the green cabbagey bits. Cut the stem off so nothing sticks down off of the head. Rinse the cauliflour. Put the cauliflour in an oven-save dish with a lid. Add some whiskey, water, salt, and pepper. Stick it in the oven for 20 minutes or so. If it doesn't fit on the shelf next to the squash, you've mismanaged the size of your cooking apparatus. When you think it's done, open the lid and stick it with a fork. If it's the softness prefer for cauliflour, it's done. If it's not, stick it back in for another 5 minutes. It is good if it's soft enough that people can cut off serving-sized clumps at the table with the serving spoon.
This is something you want to make the day before, or at least the morning before, the rest of the meal.
Dice up a bunch of granny smith apples. I used 5 apples. They have to be granny smith or it will be too sweet. It was already on the sweet side using granny smith. If you used red delicious or something, it would be yucko-sweet instead of slightly sweet with a nice zing to it. Chop 2 cups of walnuts.
Put 1 cup of white vinegar in a pot. Add 2 cups of brown sugar. You could use white sugar, but that would require having some around. Our resultant chutney was pretty brown, so if you're obsessed with aesthetics and prefer a lighter color, you might use white sugar here. Add a couple of tablespoons each of fennel, corriander, mustard seed, and cinnamon. You could add a teaspoon or so of nutmeg as well. Boil these and stir until the sugar disolves.
Add the apples and walnuts. Let them boil for a few minutes then squoosh them well with a potato masher. Serve chilled or at room temperature. This goes really well with ham. It also goes really well with gingerbread.
Sunday, December 18, 2005, 10:07 AM - soups
some onions. whatever you have lying around. probably one large onion's worth of onion. I used what was left in a bag of cut frozen onions (not much--about a quarter cup), what was left in a bag of frozen pearl onions (about half a cup; still not enough), and threw in some dried onion flakes for good measure. If you have an actual whole onion lying around, dice it.
6 carrots, chopped coarsely.
sundry spices, to taste. I used about 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp fennel, 1/2 tsp nutmeg, 1 tsp corriander, 1 tsp powdered ginger, 1.5 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp ground black pepper, 1 dried thai chili.
~2 cups of water
1 glug spiced rum
1 glug sesame oil
The rest of a can of evaporated milk. What does this mean? I'm not sure. Maybe half a cup? Maybe 2 generous glugs? Maybe even 3 generous glugs? Who knows. You'll have to add milk to taste.
Three leftover pancake-mix crepes (or any other variety of leftover flatbread. I really think pancake mix crepes are superior for this application; I just don't think proper crepes would be as good here, but some other fluffy flatbread might be.)
Two dollops of goat cheese
fake meatballs or hardboiled egg
Add the onion, oil, and spices to a pot. Cook them on medium heat for a while. This gets the spiciness and onionness into the oil. Since oil is what's best at holding flavor, that's where you want it. Add the carrots and just enough water to cover everything. Allow to ook for a long time. We started hard-boiling some eggs at this point, and decided it had ooked long enough when the eggs were done, more or less. Microwave a serving of fake meatballs.
After ookage, remove the soup from the element and blend with an immersion blender. Or mash it with a potato masher if you don't have an immersion blender. Add milk. Stir up and cook a bit more. Cut the crepes into strips and split them into two bowls. Put the fake meatballs into one bowl. Cut two hardboiled eggs into the other bowl. Fill the two bowls with soup. Put a dollop of goat cheese into each bowl. Serve. The person who is completely sensible gets the bowl with the fake meatballs. (In fact, if we were both completely sensible, the meatballs would have gone straight into the soup right after blending and cooked there instead of in the microwave.) The person who thinks that hardboiled eggs in soup are heavenly gets the bowl with the eggs in it.
Other Carrot Soups:
October 6, 2005
Blintz Onion Soup
Thursday, December 15, 2005, 08:18 PM - soups, flatbread
Blintz Onion Soup
Blintz onion soup is what you make when you have goat cheese and lots of green onions lying around. Initially, it was going to be onion soup and blintz. But the onion soup was quite strong, so we cut up the blintz and put them in the soup. The cheese melted into the soup and the blintzes acted like noodle/dumping things. It was quite yummy.
Crepe from pancake mix
Now, if you actually have ingredients, you should just go get yourself a real crepe recipe. Or you can just use a pancake recipe and leave out most of the levening and add extra water.
Mix pancakes as directed, only add half again as much liquid. For me, this meant 2 cups pancake mix, 1 1/3 cup water, and another 2/3 cup water. Let it sit until the bubbles dissipate a bit. Pancake mix has more levening than crepes ought to have, so waiting a bit will make them crepe-like instead of pancake like. Of course, if you were actually making pancakes you'd want to cook them right away to make them fluffy. But we're making crepes, not pancakes.
Heat a pan to medium heat. How can you tell if it's medium heat? Your crepes won't be screwed up. You can splash the pan with water and it should bubble and fizzle instead of just drying up quickly. Unless you're lucky, you should just expect your first crepe to be screwed up. Today my first crepe wasn't screwed up, but that's pretty abnormal.
Pour batter into the center of the pan and shift the pan around so the batter spreads to thinly cover the bottom of the pan. I sort of pour it slowly into a widening spiral as I turn the pan to get it to cover evenly. Cook it until the surface dries up and the edges shrink back a lot and start to peel up from the edge of the pan. Then flip it and cook it a bit more. It should be brown on the first side and white with brown spots on the second side.
Set out the cheese before you start making the crepes; it's best at room temperature. Smoosh together a whole bunch of coarsley ground black pepper, some dried onion flakes, some basil, and some goat cheese. Spoon it in a line on a crepe. Roll the crepe like a burrito. Stuff as many crepes as you'd like to eat, then put them all back in the frying pan for a few minutes. It will soften the cheese a bit and brown the crepes a little.
Get some stock out of your fridge. You should have some leftover from thanksgiving. Or just make some broth. Since our stock was condensed, we added some water and vermouth. After it heats up, add a ton of sliced green onion. Let it wilt a bit, then you're done.
Blintz Onion Soup
Spoon the onion soup into bowls. Cut the blintzes into 1.5 cm wide slices and drop the slices into the soup. Eat.
Friday, December 9, 2005, 01:48 PM - dessert
It's the time of year when everyone realizes that hanging out in a hot kitchen, although sometimes unpleasant in the summer, is a great winter activity. I've been itching to make fudge for a while now---ever since someone told me that he actually liked fudge, even though he's been against all my previous fudge-making proposals.
When I was growing up, we usually only made fudge in the summer... after we'd been to the fair and seen the fudge makers and been told that fudge at the fair was overpriced and if we behaved we could make some. We always made it with marshmallow creme. Which is easier than the conventional method, but I wanted to try the old-school way. Marshmallows contain gelatin. And, unfortunately, we don't know anything about gelatin. It might have dead cows in it, or it might have dead pigs in it, or it might have something less objectionable in it, but still dead. By now, given all the corn subsidies, I bet they've come up with a completely unobjectionable corn-based product... I mean, exactly how many products are there left that don't have a corn alternative? There's corn-based fuel, corn-based packing peanuts... I bet someone has a corn computer. But labels never tell you what the gelatin is made from. Maybe it's 100% safe, but they won't tell you. I couldn't serve it to vegetarian friends. I wouldn't want to serve it to Jewish or Muslim friends, because it might have pork in it. And I wouldn't be comfortable eating it myself, since it might have beef in it. I wouldn't mind small quantities of poultry or pork, but I still wouldn't be able to share it. So sad. Making labor intensive deserts is all about sharing. They're fun to make, and fun to eat, but you don't want to eat the whole thing. So I decided to figure out how to make vegetarian fudge.
I used Alton Brown's chocolate fudge recipe since I knew he'd be thorough but didn't really know anything about the makers of the other recipes. I substituted brown sugar for white sugar, because we didn't have enough white sugar.
How not to be angry
After much poking around the web and reading reviews of recipes, I've concluded that fudge makes people angry. If a recipe works, people are fine. But if it doesn't---and apparently it doesn't a lot---people get pissed. They complain loudly about lost ingredients... they're probably more upset about lost time, though, and the fact that they were all ready for a bite of fudge... In any case, there are a lot of extremely angry people out there, and they're either mad because their fudge didn't set, or because their fudge came out like a solid rock. I didn't want that to happen to me, so I researched it heavily, just what makes fudge come out like a solid rock as opposed to creamy, chocolatey goodness?
I've concluded (and of course I have no evidence) that the problem is that people didn't do enough research. So I did a lot of research in hopes of avoiding the major mistakes. I concluded that you should never just follow the recipe. You should follow the intent of the recipe.
What in the world is the soft ball stage?
Every fudge recipe out there says to boil the concoction until it reaches the soft ball stage. They tell you that means ~235 degrees Farenheight. This is really hard for people. Soft ball stage tells you something about the sugar concentration. This is different from temperature. Now, I've made condensed stock before, so I'm pretty confident that you can get rid of a lot of water without being at a rolling boil. It stands to reason that if you top out at 230 degrees F for a long time but never make it up to 235, you're still above boiling and will be losing plenty of liquid. This is just a guess, but I bet this is what happened to all the people who ended up with brick-like fudge despite using their thermometer properly and following the recipe slavishly. There are a surprising number of these people out there, and they're very, very angry.
The temperatures in candy recipes should be used as guidelines. They're the temperatures that usually happen to correlate with appropriate sugar concentrations if you are losing water at a certain rate. Altitude is going to affect this, humidity is going to affect this, and having "medium" on your element not be the same as "medium" on the element of the person who gave you the recipe will affect this. In short, thermometers are probably good things, but the thermometer isn't actually measuring the thing you want to know about; it's measuring something that's usually correlated with the thing you want to know about.
I actually didn't use a thermometer. My candy thermometer is 3000 miles from here, and it was supposed to snow for 12 hours today (it didn't) so I thought I'd leave the driving to the Albanians and keep my southern Californian self off the road. I used the cold water test, which actually tests the sugar concentration. I have absolutely no idea if I ever got anywhere near the target temperature. Everyone says the soft ball stage is when the chocolate syrup forms a ball when dribbled into cold water, but that isn't adequate information when you're trying it for the first time without a thermometer as backup. I found this kick-ass web page that had really thorough explanations of the various sugar stages as well as video to complement the verbal description. Check out the science of candymaking web page if you plan on trying this at home. I ended up testing it about 5 times in a ramekin with ice water in it until I got the right temperature. I rinsed out the ramakin each time to make sure I wasn't mixing the old drops with the new drops and messing up my results. I left 2-5 minutes between each test. I think my stove runs cold compared to most stoves (which is odd, given that the oven runs about 200 degrees hotter than it ought to).
I took the pot off of the heat the minute it was clear I had a soft ball. I reasoned that I'd rather have something too soft than something too hard. There's an urban myth that someone had to throw away the pot because the chocolate solidified and there was no getting it out. Probably false, but I'd prefer storing it in the fridge (or freezer) and still having it melt in my mouth to having something rock-like, which a lot of people complained about in fudge recipe reviews. Bottom line: if you have too low a sugar concentration, it will be runny; if you have too high a sugar concentration, it will be hard.
What about sugar crystals?
No one actually complained about sugar crystals, but from what I've read, they can really screw up any sort of candy making process. I used one of those new fangled spoonula things that is supposed to be safe at candy-making temperatures instead of a wooden spoon. I wanted to be able to scrape the bits of the mixture that got up on the side of the pot back into it so that there wouldn't be undisolved sugar on the side of the pan.
What do they mean by matte?
I don't know. In one review of some recipe or other, someone said that when she stirred it until it was matte, it solidified in the bowl and she couldn't get it into the pans, but she tried it again and stopped stirring before that point and it worked perfectly. The stirring process at the end of the fudge making is supposed to encourage the development of lots of little sugar crystals. They're what make the fudge thicken up properly. I stirred mine until it had lost the really wet-looking sheen, but it still had plenty of sheen. I wouldn't call it matte, it was simply matter than it was when it started out. I payed more attention to the texture. It got really viscious towards the end. I had to stir for a long time, but without a thermometer I'm not sure I had cooled it to some ideal temperature before I started stirring. When I declared it done, it had reached the point where it was mildly tiring to pull the spoon around the bowl, and when I flipped a spoonful of fudge from the edge into the middle, it took a while for the fudge to ook back down to cover the bottom of the pot. I think I stirred it the right amount, because the stuff that was left in the pot after I'd poured the fudge off into the pan had pretty much set to an appropriate fudge consistency by the time I got myself settled in a comfy chair to lick out the pot.
Well, we tried the fudge. I used roasted walnuts in it, which I think are a little too potent. Some people say they taste like bacon. I think they taste good and nutty, but a little overpowering. The fudge itself set up pretty well. It was a little on the soft side when I tried it, but I hadn't put it in the refrigerator or anything. It was sufficiently hard that it maintained its structure for several hours at room temperature after pieces were cut out of it. All in all, I'm pretty happy with it.