Food & Drinks

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Chunky Split Pea Soup



You know that stock that I just made? The pork stock? I made it from a smoked pork shoulder. So that stock had this amazing smokey flavor. Kind of like bacon. My husband has been begging for split pea soup. This could be a marriage made in heaven. Soup heaven.

Let's go back to about 3 years ago. A co-worker of mine came in one day with a huge container of his homemade split pea soup. Yuck! I hate peas! That was what I thought. It's true, I sort of do hate peas. I can't stand their texture. The smell from canned peas is off putting to me. I grew up with Mom plopping canned peas into the pot to bring them to a boil. I think she used salt and pepper too. She had good intentions. Trying to get us to eat our vegetables was probably quite the task. So she figured if we wouldn't eat them anyway, she could just give us the cheap .50 cent can of peas. Right? So these things were in my mind as my co-worker ladled out a cup full for me. He put it in the microwave. I was terrified. I had never once tried split pea soup (obviously!!) and I didn't want to say to him how much I despise peas. He was so excited and seemed proud to share his masterpiece with everyone.



Once the soup was warmed up and the microwave opened the smell that followed was pretty delightful. I took the bowl and he handed me a spoon. Does he really want me to eat this right in front of him!? He did. He did indeed. And so I did. I tasted. And it was actually really good. I ate the full cup of soup. I loved every last drop. I went home to tell my now husband/then boyfriend of this new discovery! He too was impressed and that's when my love of split pea soup began. I still don't love peas in general. Too bland and mushy - if you know of a great pea recipe, do tell. Until then, I stick with my initial inclination to not like peas. Unless of course they are in the form of split pea soup.

If you don't have time to make this warm, cozy and tasty soup from mostly scratch then I do highly suggest a few canned versions for on the go or a quick lunch. As you may or may not know I am a fan of Progresso soups. I know - I realize they are high in sodium. Pretty much anything canned is. But these are nice and the ingredients are pretty good in Progresso compared to other soups. So I am putting Progresso on this list. My first pick is Progresso Traditional Split Pea with Ham. My 2nd pick is lighter but also very tasty: Progresso Vegetable Classics Green Split Pea. My 3rd pick is Pacific Natural Foods Organic Split Pea with Bacon and Swiss Cheese. In that order I suggest those for canned split pea soups. Now, on to the real stuff...



For the soup I used left over lean bacon (I know - it doesn't appear lean, but then it's bacon). I think I had about 5 or 6 bacon slices. 2 large garlic cloves, 1 russet potato, 1 16 oz package of Arrowhead Mills Organic Green Split Peas, 1 tablespoon of ground cumin, that mason jar of my homemade pork stock, about 1 - 2 cups of the cooked veggies from the pork stock and salt to taste.

Put your pot on the stove top and turn the heat up. Place your bacon in the pot and let it cook just til done. While the bacon cooks peel your potato and chop it up.



I pulled the bacon out at this point - you can see the bacon is not crisp at all but cooked through and there's still the good bacon grease at the bottom of the pot. I laid the bacon out to let it cool.



Put the garlic in while the pot is still hot. DO NOT LET THE GARLIC BURN!! Just cook the garlic until you can start to smell that yummy garlic smell and then pour in a little of the pork stock to de glaze and to stop the garlic from burning and getting bitter.

Now add all your veggies and the chopped potato. I used about 2 cups of the veggie/pork mix that I made with my stock. Already cooked and nice and easy. Stir all of that up together with the bacon grease and then add the bag of split peas.



Now add the stock until all of the ingredients in your pot are totally covered with the liquid.



Cover the pot and let this bad boy cook for an hour to an hour and a half, or until you feel the texture of the peas are to your liking. Occasionally you may want to add a little extra water and stir. During the process the peas will soak up that water and it will need more water to prevent burning.



Ahh, the Le Creuset. Maybe my favorite cooking utensil in the world. This sucker really does a number on soups, stews, meat, casserole, you name it! My husband bought it for me before we were even married. What a great guy, huh?

After some stirring and adding water at around 45 minutes to an hour I use a potato masher to mash up the peas, potatoes and carrots into a nice chunky but smooth texture. I like the pea soup to be pretty hearty so I keep the soup rather chunky. If you prefer yours more soupy add more water. This soup recipe is very forgiving. You put in it what you like and you can most definitely create your own version of this warming soup.



Look at that! Doesn't this just look like heaven? Well, maybe not really. It is split pea soup after all. It's not the most beautiful soup but it might be the tastiest! This is my favorite texture. You can always add more water, like I said. You could even use a blender and make this nice and smooth which also makes it look nicer if you're into that.

One big bowl of this chunky split pea soup was all I needed to fill and warm my belly!




Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Pork is In the Air



It doesn't feel like it's been almost a year since I've posted! I knew it had been some time but not this long. I've been kind of missing blogging and taking pictures of the food I'm making. It's fun for me to cook anyway and while it's more of a semi hobby than anything I've started this strange recourse in my head. A conversation with myself, or more, me describing the food that I'm preparing and telling stories (almost like I'm blogging) all in my head. I figured it was time to start doing a little blogging once again.

A lot of things have happened since I've posted and so that's to my defense as well. For instance, my husband and I are now proud owners of a loft in the city of Chicago. We live in the West Loop area. It's still not all complete - as in furnishings and hanging of paintings on the wall. We just got curtains last week. Beautiful raw linen curtains.

It's fall and the cooler days lead me to heartier foods, richer flavors and of course soup. What is the best way to start a decent soup? A good stock. Is making stock time consuming? It can be. Is it worth it? Absolutely, yes.


When we moved into our new place my husband bought an electric smoker from http://www.smokin-it.com/. He purchased the smallest one. It fits perfectly on our tiny balcony. It also produces some of the yummiest smoked foods ever. We've smoked everything from whole chicken to fish to mozzarella cheese to walnuts! This thing is great. Seriously. He's also smoked quite a few pork shoulders since we've had it as well. I save the bones and the extras, wrap those morsels up and freeze 'em. Yesterday I had the idea to make a pork stock.

To make any stock the idea is simple. The ingredients are pretty much fool proof and once you have everything prepped for the soup pot it's easy sailing.

For my pork stock I used the bones and 'extras' from the pork leftover that my husband smoked. I used about 3-4 celery stalks, a 1/2 pound of baby carrots (next time I'd use less carrots), 3 huge garlic cloves, 1 white onion, a tablespoonish of whole coriander seed and salt.


Put your soup pot on the stove, put a tablespoon of oil in - I used extra virgin olive oil from Trader Joe's. Let that get sizzly hot. Do a quick rough chop of your onion and celery and toss those in. Let those do some cooking for about 5 or 10 minutes. Smash up your garlic and chop that up. Toss in your garlic and coriander seed and let that cook for a few minutes until you can start to smell the garlic and coriander take over.


The smell will start to really make you hungry (if you haven't eaten already). Now it's time to add your carrots. I used the small baby carrots from the bag because that's what I had on hand. Now let these get hot and cook the carrots for a few minutes.


As you can see I decided not to chop the carrots any smaller. I figure it isn't necessary. Most of the time for a stock, you just remove the vegetables and bones anyway and since the carrots were already small they fit into my pot perfectly! A sneaky time saver but being that I already had these on hand I claim it's more practical than sneaky or lazy.

I like to saute the veggies for a bit before putting the water in. This brings out some of their flavors and releases the juices into the bottom of the pot. It also adds another dimension of flavor to the stock. Sometimes the edges that touch the side of the pot get singed a bit more, the veggies caramelize a little bringing out a touch of sweet and this all just happens naturally.

At this point adding in the pork parts is advisable, as well as a little salt. You won't really want too much salt for your stock - just enough to pull out all the flavors that you have in your pot. You want this to be a base where you'll add other flavors to, so go easy on the salt.


After I added the pork bits and salt and sauteed for just a minute, mixing well with my wooden spoon and incorporating all the flavors together, I then added my water. I have a small blue pitcher that I used. I don't advise taking the pot off of the stove to add water - use a pitcher or another bowl to pour the water over your ingredients. Make sure the water completely covers all of the ingredients in your pot - you want all the veggies and pork bits swimming. Now cover and bring to a rolling boil.

It didn't take long for this to start boiling. Once it begins to boil turn the heat down to low-medium and let it go for about an hour or two. I stirred the stock occasionally which I don't think is necessary. I just wanted to see the transformation of the stock and make sure that the pork bits were falling from the bone (they were).


Once I turned off the heat I let this stuff sit for about an hour to let it cool. I then put the lid back on and stuck it in my fridge - veggies, pork bits and all.



The next day once the stock is cooled completely you might see floating bits of fat. I take a mesh strainer and  get these pieces out as you can see. I just throw them away but you could use this pork fat for cooking later on.

I then remove the cooked veggies and put them in a container to use again. Toss the bones, keep the good meat.


Then after straining you should have a good stock left in your pot and cooked carrots, onions, celery and pork to reuse if you choose.


Pour your clean stock into a seal able container or jar(s) and refrigerate! This time around I got nearly two mason style jars full.



Now to make up something warm and yummy from my homemade pork stock!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Absinthe & a Martini



If you've never had Absinthe before my suggestion is to try it. Most people do not like Absinthe at first. It is reminiscent of licorish and heavy on fennel. The licorish flavor is actually anise. There really isn't a lot of anise and fennel in American cooking and so really for us it's sort of a different and new thing.  Absinthe has to contain 3 ingredients to be truly Absinthe. Wormwood, fennel and anise. Anything that is put into it afterwards is up to the creator. Many Absinthes' have variations of wormwood fennel and anise, along with coriander, melissa, and sometimes hyssop and many other herbs and botanicals. You have to find one that suits you.

There are many brands now available in the United States all with different and unique distilling processes. My husband prefers to get his shipped in from Europe - the brands that aren't yet sold state side. The first time you have an Absinthe, you should definitely have it in the traditional preparation, which DOES NOT include fire. Absinthe is never supposed to be set on fire. In another post I'll go over the traditional Absinthe cocktail preparation. It's truly a wonderful apertif.

A few nights ago I made my husband a martini. To me a martini is a base spirit of either gin or vodka, has a splash of dry vermouth, a splash of olive juice, tons of olives, shaken with ice and strained into a martini glass. He had the idea of using gin and giving it a splash of Absinthe as well. So I did. Just a touch of Absinthe (you really don't need much Absinthe if you are using it to bring out a new flavor profile in a cocktail, such as the Sazerac).

Once I was done I tasted and to my delight, it was delicious. This was the new martini. So it has all of the details of a great dirty martini but with a twist. The olives add a tart and earthy flavor while the Absinthe brings in some herbal touches. What a delight!



Dirty Absinthe Martini

Ingredients

3 oz of gin or vodka
splash of dry vermouth
splash of olive juice
splash of Absinthe (most kinds will do, if you do not have Absinthe, Pernod or pastis will also work)

Directions

Fill cocktail shaker half way with ice. Pour in all ingredients and shake for about 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with olives. Enjoy!



Fall Time Office Lunch


Fall is definitely in the air. It's 45 degrees here, windy and chilly. We had some unusually warm weather for a few weeks (which I'm not complaining about) and now the chill in the air is really starting to get me thinking of some yummy fall foods to create.

Sweet Potato Quiche Cups
*Picture courtesty of lafujimama.com*

Today for lunch I brought in a sweet potato quiche cup that I made. I got the recipe here. I switched up the ingredients to reflect what I had on had. Which meant I omitted the ricotta, added a touch of milk and fat free Greek yogurt (my favorite is Fage Greek Yogurt 0%), and substituted in tarragon for the original basil. Otherwise, pretty close. It turned out so yummy!

*These are mine - not as pretty as lafujimama, but I don't have a great camara*

And as far as soup goes, I appreciate simplicity. Progresso makes a wide range of healthy soups that I really love. Today was the Vegetable Classics Hearty Tomato. Just a sprinkle of some pepper and I'm good to go. I love that I can throw a can of soup into my purse and have half a can for lunch (1/2 a can is one serving) and something on the side if I'm still hungry and the rest of the soup can be tomorrow's lunch. The soups are tasty, I save money and it's even been part of my weight loss regime. Well, keeping my portions to one serving has been the key really. Progresso has just been an easy way to accomplish it without breaking the bank.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Quick and Easy One Person Dinners

My husband goes to school two nights out of each week (until mid December). So Monday and Tuesday nights are pretty much set aside for leftovers, simple dishes and anything I can grab out of the fridge to eat.

Sea Queen® Alaskan Salmon Burger
These. Sea Queen Wild Caught Salmon Burgers. I bought them at ALDI. I happen to enjoy ALDI food. I find that you can get basics here for a reasonable price. Now a days it's also easier and easier to buy food with less or no preservatives, no hydrogenated oils and with more healthful nutritional content all around. I pretty much always look at package ingredients.

Whenever I'm shopping at ALDI I have to be a bit more careful of package ingredients that I do at the Trader Joe's which is just one level up (yes, I have an ALDI and Trader Joe's in one building. It's magical). These Salmon Burgers aren't bad at all. The calorie and fat stats are good and low, the ingredients are few and reasonable and they are super easy to cook up. I can put one of these in the oven to bake, put it under the broiler or on the stove top and just a few minutes later I have a really tasty, high protein, low calorie dish.

I also love these...


The entire package of these noodles is 40 calories. 40 calories! They are made of tofu and have a good amount of protein in them and you can buy them in different styles. They are called Tofu Shiratake Noodles. I mean, you can do almost anything with these. Basic marinara and a sprinkle of Parmesan, stir fry with veggies and soy sauce, chicken fettuccine, the possibilities are endless. 


You do have to follow the package directions carefully before eating them. They have a little bit of a smell - which is normal with this type of tofu. After rinsing them and then boiling them and cooking them with the sauce of your choice they have nearly no smell. Although, it is there, it's very slight but it doesn't actually bother me at all.  I buy these at the little corner grocer down the street from where I live. 


I also enjoy extra firm tofu blocks. I like to slice the tofu and marinate it in soy sauce and eat it cold just like that! Of course they are yummy cooked too, but sometimes isn't it nice just to pluck something out of the fridge and eat it? Instead of getting out the pots and pans and making a spectacle just eat it as is. It is good cold. I promise. 

This also looked really good and easy to prepare:

Of course there is always take out, delivery and frozen pizza to fall back on, if none of these are up your alley! My suggestion for frozen pizza is Home Run Inn Pizza. This is the best frozen pizza I've ever tried. I love the thin crispy crust and I think all of their varieties are delicious!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Crouton Crusted Tilapia & Sweet Potato


Today is Sweetest Day. I didn't consider using this day as some sort of ruse to get my husband to buy me something nice or to take me out to eat. He did, after all, take me out to eat last night. We went to this little Dutch restaurant called Vincent. Dutch food is sort of interesting in that it's not widely popular and there isn't really anything in particular that you might point to and say, "Oh, yes, that's Dutch food." Even if Vincent is really just some variation of New American and German with a dash of Dutch (zaansemosterdsoep, bitterballen, moules) I still love it. It's unique and wonderful. The restaurant itself is very European. It's small, dark rich woods, and very romantic.

So today I had an idea to do my version of the meal I ate last night (which actually turns out to be nothing like what I ate last night). I had Beer Battered Haddock on Snert. You probably already know what beer battered haddock is, but you may not know what snert is. Snert is pea soup, essentially. I wanted to photograph the plate that was brought out to me last night, but I thought it might be rude since I was in such a nice and romantic setting with my husband. The snert came out more like the consistency of mashed potatoes. So smashed peas that tasted of ham and garlic. Perfect.


I don't have peas on hand but I do have lots and lots of sweet potatoes. This meal is for two. For the side (as well as the sweet potatoes) I decided that green beans would be good. I needed a little greens to go with the rest of the meal.

The first step is to chop the sweet potato up into smaller pieces about the same size and boil the potatoes. I used 3 large sweet potatoes and this made way too much for only 2 people but I figured I could just make something with the leftovers for breakfast in the morning. Perhaps some sweet potato cakes? I let the potatoes boil for about 20 minutes until I started to prepare the fish.

Crouton Crusted Tilapia

Ingredients

2 tilapia fillets
1/2 cup smashed croutons or breadcrumbs
1 egg
salt
pepper
sprinkle of dried tarragon
sprinkle of sweet paprika

Rinse and pat dry the tilapia. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, paprika and dried tarragon. Not much of the seasoning is needed because the croutons have a lot of flavor already. I used croutons that were pre made. I purchased them from World Market as a last minute decision to make a quick Caesar Salad. I had these leftover and needed to use them before they went bad. If you are using fresh homemade croutons yours will probably not be as salty as these prepackaged ones are. Adjust the seasoning to your taste.

Take the egg and place in a shallow bowl or tupperware dish. Mix thoroughly and dip the tilapia fillets into it. Have the breadcrumbs or smashed croutons near in another shallow bowl or tupperware dish. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs all over the fillets and place into a hot and well oiled pan. You can use whatever oil you choose. I sprayed canola oil onto the pan and lightly seared the tilapia until gold brown and a fork placed in the middle went in easily and the flesh was white - about 3 minutes on each side.

At this time I started my green beans which was just canola oil in another pan. I seasoned the beans with salt, pepper, garlic and dried tarragon. Low heat.



Check the potatoes by placing a knife or fork into one of the potatoes in the pot. If it easily slides into the potato and it falls apart you know the potato is done.

Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Ingredients

4 cups chopped sweet potatoes (scale down if you need)
1/2 stick of butter
2 TBLSP half & half (I used fat free)
1 TSP dried tarragon
Dash of nutmeg
Salt
Pepper

After boiling potatoes drain and then place back into pot. Add ingredients and mash with potato masher until all ingredients are well incorporated.

Green beans should only take about 5 minutes. When you begin making the green beans it should be right after you start cooking the tilapia. Once the green beans are seasoned and in the pan you can mash your potatoes, flip the tilapia. Plate the food and finally the green beans should be just ready. You don't want to cook the green beans too long because they will lost their vibrant green color.


We also enjoyed some dark chocolate from a well known chocolatier and some lovely Cabernet Sauvignon.

Hope your sweetest day was as sweet as ours!



Thursday, October 13, 2011

Beer for One, Beer for Fall

Tonight my husband and I finished off the adobo carnitas from last night. Yum.



We also had a cocktail.

But I'm here to tell you about a beer I tried recently. I came upon it one day in the corner grocer down the street. Hoptober Golden Ale by New Belgium. I went back and forth between this beer and another I had my eye on. I stood for quite some time. I contemplated the cost vs value and thought about what kind of beer I like most. I thought about what kind of beer my husband usually gravitates toward. I looked at the cute packaging and thought how much effort was put into the New Belgium packaging. Some artist must have thought this up and painted it or drew it, or something. It was nice. Then I realized that there was someone else also looking at the beer. I was likely in their way. So I just grabbed the Hoptober beer and found that it was the last. *this is one reason my husband usually picks the beer out for us, because I tend to over think my options and take waaaay too long deciding on what to pick*


Upon returning home and cracking one of these bad boys open I realized that I really really really liked this beer. It's not that I don't usually really like the beer I'm drinking. It's just that I typically opt for a cocktail over a beer. Beer usually gives me a full and round belly. That's how I feel anyway, after drinking one or two. I mean, seriously. I feel like I've eaten a steak after drinking one or two beers. Then once I've finished my second beer I'm done. I can't really enjoy my dinner, I don't want another beer and I certainly don't need a cocktail stuffed into my belly.

This beer was still filling. No doubt. However, I couldn't get past how yummy the flavor was. At the top was this slight floral aroma with bounces of hoppiness. The taste was clean, refreshing, super hoppy, floral and a touch bitter (I like bitter - it's good for digestion). After the first one I cracked open another to my husbands wonderment. It is that good. I was willing to possibly sacrifice food and cocktail for one more Hoptober.