29 December 2016

Slow Cooker Ham & Split Pea Soup

As a child, winter always meant big bowls of meaty, flavorful ham and split pea soup made with the bone of our Christmas ham. My mother would let the soup simmer all day on the stove and the heavenly aroma would slowly spread throughout the house, driving me mad with desire. Yes, I was a strange kid.

Even now, my mother is my primary source of ham and pea soup. I do, occasionally, make a meatless pea and mint soup using frozen peas or a meatless dried yellow pea soup, but I never make anything even close to her hammy soup as I simply don't cook ham. The Husband won't eat ham and I do not need an entire ham of my own.

But then I was talking to a coworker about soups we grew up on and I mentioned how I never made my mom's soup because I needed a ham bone for it and she said "Mark's making a ham! I bet he'd give you the bone!" and, the next thing I knew, Mark's come into work with a big ham bone just for me.

So I made soup! And while it isn't quite my mother's, it's still pretty darn good. Rich, thick, and savory. I eat a bowlful with a satsuma and that's all I need for breakfast or lunch.


I used a "traditional" split pea soup mix I'd found at the Polish grocery which used a combination of both green and yellow split peas as well as red lentils. It came with a seasoning packet, but I chose to use my own seasonings to try to control the amount of sodium in the soup as I reckoned the ham bone would add lots of salt.

I also used my slow cooker, rather than simmering it on the stove all day, because I needed to leave the house and didn't want to worry about some stove-related catastrophe happening back at home while I was loitering at The Paperstore.


Slow Cooker Ham & Split Pea Soup

Yield: 6

Ingredients

  • 1 package (13 oz) dried split peas
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 cup chopped carrots
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ tsp crushed dried rosemary
  • ½ tsp dried thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 meaty ham bone
  • 32 oz carton low-sodium chicken broth
  • Salt & pepper, as desired

Instructions

  1. Combine peas, onion, carrots, celery, garlic, rosemary, thyme, and bay in slow cooker insert. Nestle in ham bone and pour broth over everything.
  2. Cover and cook on Low 8-10 hours or until peas are tender.
  3. Remove ham bone from slow cooker. Pull meat from bone, discarding bone and other inedible/undesirable bits. Stir ham into soup.
  4. Add water to soup, if too thick. Season with salt and pepper, as desired, and serve.

The finished soup did seem rather loose when done, but set up nicely once cooled. If you prefer a looser soup, you may want to add a cup or two of additional broth at the end. I didn't feel it needed any additional salt, but did add lashings of freshly cracked black pepper.

28 December 2016

Wordless Wednesday: Presents

"The Christmas presents once opened are Not So Much Fun as they were while we were in the process of examining, lifting, shaking, thinking about, and opening them. Three hundred sixty-five days later, we try again and find that the same thing has happened. Each time the goal is reached, it becomes Not So Much Fun, and we're off to reach the next one,
then the next one, then the next." -- Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of Pooh

26 December 2016

Wayward, Volume 1: String Theory


Irish-Japanese teenager Rori Lane has left Ireland to start over with her mother in Japan and, from the moment she arrives, she begins to experience a whole lot of weirdness. Turns out Rori possesses some kind of secret cosmic powers that the Japanese supernatural world is very interested in! Quelle surprise!

Rori quickly runs into trouble, but is saved by the intervention of a mysterious cat-girl. The she runs into more trouble with a spirit-eating boy ... but then they become besties. And, wouldn't you know it, Rori keeps getting into trouble (she is a girl-shaped Trouble Magnet) and, coincidentally, running into other powered kids ... and even becomes their leader! All while having unsurprising adjustment issues at her new school. Oh, and mom is ever the absent parent. And Rori likes to cut herself to cope.

I don't really know what to say about Wayward, Volume 1: String Theory. It's certainly very attractive to look at -- Cummings' illustrations are vibrant and rich with detail -- but the story itself is just kind-of mediocre. It's the first volume, though, so there's hope it will improve over the next three (or more) volumes. And the end was surprising.

Despite my mixed feelings, I have added the second volume tp my library hold list and am actually looking forward to reading it. I know, I know ... I am so wiffle-waffle.

Wayward, Volume 1: String Theory written by Jim Zub w/ illus by Steven Cummings et al. (Image Comics, 2015)

22 December 2016

Garlic & Rosemary Leg o' Lamb

Roasting a boneless leg of lamb in the middle of the work week doesn't sound like the smartest idea -- it takes almost two hours to prep and cook the blessed thing -- but I had a wee 2½ lb roast in the fridge that didn't get cooked over the weekend, Wednesday was its "eat by" date, and slow cooking wasn't an option as 10+ hours in the slow cooker sounded like a terrible thing to do to lamb.

Anyway, the trick is to eat a really filling (but not heavy) lunch. And have a glass of wine (or two) while you wait for the lamb to cook. Red wine is heart-healthy, after all ...

I use my pie plates for everything. Everything.

To cook the 2½ lb roast, I stabbed the fatty "top" of the roast all over with a knife and shoved slivers of garlic into the cuts. Then I rubbed the roast with a little olive oil, slipped a few sprigs of rosemary under the netting, and sprinkled the whole things with freshly ground salt and pepper. Popped the roast, uncovered into a 400°F oven for 12 minutes, then turned the heat down to 325°F and let the roast cook for about 75 min longer. When the roast reached 145°F, I removed it from the oven, covered it loosely with foil, and let it rest for 5 minutes ... et voilà, noms.

And what did it taste like? Like lamb, obviously. But there were also definite notes of garlic and rosemary so I think I'll use this method again. Usually, I coat lamb roasts with a paste of rosemary, olive oil, garlic, lemon, salt, and pepper, and the roast looks beautiful when it comes out of the oven, but all the coating comes off as I remove the netting, leaving little non-lamb flavor behind. Stab and stuff, people. That's where it's at.

21 December 2016

Wordless Wednesday: Winter Fire

It's officially winter now! Time for cosy evenings by the fire.

19 December 2016

My Life As Shitty Slapstick

Wake up in the wee small hours of the morning, desperate to pee. Stumble out of bed to realize I also really need to empty my ostomy pouch, but whatever, I'm headed to the right place, anyway. Arrive at the toilet still only half awake. Decide it is more important to empty my pouch than my bladder. Empty pouch. Start to tidy the end with a bit of tissue. Sudden, godawful, gurgling sound from my stoma and watery, almost entirely colorless, poo shoots down my pouch, out the opening and, missing the toilet entirely, splashes all over the floor.


Horrified, I stare at the floor for what seems like hours, before hesitantly reaching for the hand towel hanging above the sink. I don't want to sacrifice the hand towel, but I don't know what else to do. So I lean forward.

And slip. Slip in my own watery poo. And fall. Whacking my chest against the corner of the sink as I go down. Down, down, onto my knees in the watery poo. Still desperate to pee.

Best. Night. Ever. At least I didn't brain myself, eh?

(And the bruises. Dear god, the black-purple-green-blue peacock bruises. At least no-one can see them when I'm clothed, because I don't know how to explain them in a way that doesn't involve poo!)

15 December 2016

Improv Challenge: Cinnamon & Honey

I know, for many cooks, this time of year is all about baking and December's Improv Cooking Challenge ingredients (cinnamon and honey) certainly lend themselves to baking, but I wanted something ... healthy and savory. So I made a salad! Hooray! I know salad in cold, dark December doesn't sound fabulous, but I promise you that this one is totally yum.

There are many versions of carrot and raisin salad in the world, but I strove to be An Original and made up my own. Cinnamon and honey, obviously, go into my salad, but so does cumin because I've been experimenting with "Moroccan" flavors and cinnamon + cumin seemed like a natural combination. Also, black currants instead of raisins, because black currants are brilliant. No mayonnaise, because carrots + mayonnaise = NOPE.

I have used the handful, an entirely unscientific unit of measurement, in my recipe. If you want to be more precise, use a ⅓ or ½ cup. Mostly, it's all about what flavors YOU like and how many currants or almonds YOU want to eat. Me, I love dried currants and almonds + carrots = ❤️ so I was generous with my handfuls. If you hate currants (but WHY?), feel free to use raisins.



Carrot & Currant Salad

Yield: 4

Ingredients

  • 1 lb carrots, peeled and grated
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed or chopped fine
  • ¾ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Handful of dried currants
  • Handful of sliced almonds
  • Handful of dried parsley
  • Salt and black pepper, as desired

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients. Cover and let sit in the refrigerator overnight to allow the flavors to marry. Season with salt and pepper, if desired. Best served at room temperature.

Personally, I love this salad. It's bright and sweet and ... carroty. Very aromatic with lots of tongue-pleasing textures. The blackcurrants plump up a bit as they sit overnight and become a like little chewy flavor bombs. While I ate it with salmon, it would also be good with roast or grilled chicken or pork. Or rolled up in rice paper with a bit of cilantro and pickled onion? Hmmm.

For anyone new to my blog, Improv Cooking Challenge is a monthly blog hop where two ingredients are assigned, participants must make a new-to-their-blog recipe using both ingredients, and publish a blog post about it on the third Thursday of the month. If you think that sounds like fun, click on the Improv Cooking Challenge logo below.

improv cooking challenge logo (aqua rolling pin, spatula, fork, whisk suspended from rack)



14 December 2016

Wordless Wednesday: "Fragile Omens"

"Fragile Omens" by Simon Boses. My belated birthday present from our New Mexico vacation. Saw it on display at the Stranger Factory & fell in love.

12 December 2016

Meet Me At The Cupcake Cafe


When Issy Randall's London employer makes her redundant -- no matter she's be sleeping with her boss and you'd think he'd might have given her fair warning (the jerk)-- she is justifiably despondent and at a loss as to what to do next. While she takes "retraining" classes, she finds herself dreaming of owning a bakery. Issy grew up in her granddad's bakery and, as her roommate and ex-coworkers will attest, certainly knows her way around a kitchen. In pursuing her dream of owning a bakery, Issy meets many interesting secondary characters -- everyone from future employees, to possible love interests, to quirky new neighbors. Of course, her ex-boss (now her ex-boyfriend, too) can't stay out of the picture for long ...

Issy's relationship with her nursing home-bound grandfather and her fond memories of his shop are warm and endearing, and add extra charm to a novel already bursting with it. I also enjoyed Issy's friendship with her roommate Helena, which feels very authentic. And, really, you cans feel that kind of "authenticity" throughout the book -- the secondary characters (aside from, maybe, The Dreadful Ex) are all full-fleshed and functioning "real" people. That's quite a feat and one of the reasons I really enjoy Colgan's books.

Meet Me At The Cupcake Cafe by Jenny Colgan (Sphere, 2011)

08 December 2016

Cooking with Spiced Pantry: Sweden

October's Spiced Pantry box was all about the flavors of Sweden! Rather like with Morocco, I could smell the contents before I even opened the box and it got me craving gingerbread something terrible. Is gingerbread even Swedish? Pepparkakor is definitely gingerbreadish.

I have to admit that the little I know about Swedish cuisine comes from the Pleasant Company's Kirsten Larson American Girl Doll books (and Kirsten definitely ate some kind of ginger biscuit) and marathoning Crimes of Passion, based on works by the Swedish crime novelist Maria Lang (not much about food, there).


So what is this Spiced Pantry, anyway? Spiced Pantry is a monthly food subscription box featuring a different cuisine each month. Every box includes four ingredients (custom spice blends, grains, legumes, etc), an information card introducing that month's cuisine and ingredients, and the recipes to make with them. Recipes usually serve 4-6 people so, if you are small household like mine, either expect leftovers or be prepared to halve the recipes.

Subscribers can chose between the standard or vegetarian plan. While I selected the standard plan, most of the meat-based recipes I've received include easy modifications to make them vegetarian, anyway. As with many subscription plans, it renews automatically every month until cancelled.

Ingredients in October's Spiced Pantry box:
  1. Ground cardamom
  2. Caraway Seeds
  3. Juniper Berries
  4. Stockholm Spice Blend

Recipes in October's Spiced Pantry box:
  1. Braised Creamy Cabbage With Caraway
  2. Cardamom Buns
  3. Salmon with Mustard & Juniper
  4. Swedish Meatballs
  5. Swedish Potatoes Au Gratin


"Swedish Meatballs" were AWESOME. One of the best, if not the best, recipe I've made from a Spiced Pantry box. The Husband really enjoyed them, too, and there was a bit of a squabble over the leftovers. My mother and aunts always made Swedish meatballs at Christmas and I thought theirs were good, but this recipe put them to shame. The tender meatballs are packed with delicious flavor and smothered in the most heavenly creamy sauce that manages to taste rich without being heavy.


The "Swedish Potatoes Au Gratin" were also very pleasing and, while so creamy and cheesy, not heavy. A nice take on the French Gratin dauphinois with a touch of Scandinavian spice. Definitely something you want seconds of. The gratin was a little runny when it first came out of the oven, but I gave it fifteen minutes on the kitchen side and it set up nice.

My potatoes were getting a bit gnarly, so I peeled them, but I might leave them unpeeled next time for a little more texture and color. Also, maybe, add thinly sliced leeks and garlic, because more alliums is almost always better!

Looking forward to November's box, featuring the flavors of Vietnam. I know nothing about Vietnamese food that isn't phở or bánh mì, so this should be exciting!

Read about my other Spiced Pantry experiences.

07 December 2016

Wordless Wednesday: A Cat Naps

A cat naps ... right between the pillows, because clearly that's the comfiest spot.

05 December 2016

Lady Mechanika, Volume 1: The Mystery of the Mechanical Corpse


Alt-Victorian steampunk with an intimidating  and uncompromising female "cyborg" protagonist. What more could I want? Aside from fewer boob cutouts? Fewer trying-too-hard-to-sound-Victorian long-winded exposition dumps that had me skimming ahead? It's unfortunate, because the illustrations are gorgeous -- the detail and coloring of each panel is just WOW -- and the premise is quite compelling.

Lady Mechanika doesn't remember who created her or where she came from, just that she woke up in a basement surrounded by dead bodies. She now spends her time searching out other mechanical entities who might be able to provide information about her past while also rescuing mechanicals being hunted by various anti-tech (destroy) and pro-tech (dismember and study) human organizations and, generally, trying to be a Good Person.

The story can get quite complicated -- hence the exposition dumps, I guess -- as there are many secondary characters and they all have their own stories/plots that need to be told. It's definitely compelling stuff, but felt it would have been better told spread out over more pages as some of story felt a bit rushed. The story and illustrations flirt with a darker, grimmer steampunk alt-Victorian England than I am used to seeing and that was quite refreshing. This isn't a sparkling, clean, optimistic steampunk England, but as dirty, grim, and terrible as the real one could be. I think, if you enjoy TV series like Penny Dreadful or read steampunk horror, you may enjoy Lady Mechanika.

Lady Mechanika, Volume 1 Joe Benitez & Peter Steigerwald ( Benitez Productions, 2015)

01 December 2016

Creamy No-Dairy Broccoli Soup

As always, I made too much food for Thanksgiving dinner. It was clear, by late Thanksgiving morning, that that was the way things were going, so I dropped the steamed broccoli with thyme and lemon butter and garlicky sautéed spinach from the menu. Which still left us with maple mashed sweet, sour cream and chive mashed white, buttery corn, thyme and onion peas, and garlicky creamed spinach. As well as, of course, the turkey, gravy, and stuffing!


All that for five people. What can I say? I'm a feeder.

Anyway, BROCCOLI. What to do with the broccoli? Roast it? Chop it into a salad? Turn it into soup? Mmm ... soup ...


While this soup has a very smooth and creamy texture, it contains absolutely no dairy or dairy analogue. The home-made turkey broth lends the soup lots of flavor and richness with very little added fat (I made good use of my OXO Good Grips fat separator) -- for all it's deliciousness, this is really quite a healthy soup. Definitely be making it again as winter sets in.


Creamy No-Dairy Broccoli Soup

Yield: 8

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium sweet onion, chopped
  • 2 large carrots, chopped
  • 4 large cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
  • 20 oz fresh broccoli florets
  • 4 cups home-made turkey broth
  • Salt and black pepper, as desired

Instructions

  1. Heat oil in a French/Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and carrots. Cook, stirring occasionally, until carrots are softened and onion is translucent. Add garlic and thyme. Cook, stirring, until very fragrant.
  2. Add broccoli florets and broth. Bring pot to a simmer. Reduce heat and cook until very broccoli is very tender, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.
  3. When cool, puree the soup with a stick blender until desired level of smoothness is reached. Season with salt and pepper, as desired.

This is a very thick soup, so feel free to add more broth if you prefer a thinner one! Also, if you use vegetable broth, this dish is perfectly appropriate for vegans and vegetarians.