Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Pea Soup Is Comfort Food

I had the baby last week, right on schedule, which amazed me because I've never heard of someone delivering on their due date before. After two nights in the hospital, I was happy to come home and even happier that my Mom was able to come for a few days to help me get settled into parenthood.

While she was here, she made a batch of pea soup for us. A perfect winter soup, this batch really hit the spot and only got better after being in the fridge for a day or two.

Mom's Pea Soup
1 pound of split green peas
A hunk of ham, preferably on the bone*
1 onion, coarsely chopped
2 large or 4 small potatoes, diced
4 carrots cut into rounds
Salt** and pepper

Put the peas and ham in a large stockpot and cover with six to eight quarts of water. Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce to a rolling simmer and stir occasionally to keep the peas from settling on the bottom.

Next add onions, carrots, and potatoes. Continue to cook and stir occasionally until the peas disintegrate and the soup thickens to a velvety consistency. If you used ham in the bone, remove the bone from the soup, pick off any meat, and return the meat to the soup.

The peas will thicken overnight, so the soup is best served the next day.

* The ham can be replaced with kielbasa or double smoked bacon.
** If the ham is salty, you may not need to add additional salt.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Filling the Freezer

Some women nest. Apparently I cook.

In preparation for the baby I've been making some dishes to throw in the freezer that can easily be reheated in the coming weeks when I may not have a handle on being able to whip something up for dinner.

Among what I've prepared for the freezer so far are tomato sauce with chicken sausage, lentil soup, and -- last night's addition -- turkey chili.

Along side the chili, I made a batch of skillet corn bread. Although I generally like the skillet corn bread recipe that I've posted before, I am still tweaking it. This version is sweeter and more crumbly then my previous version.

Here's what I did yesterday:

1 cup cornmeal
1 cup flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup honey
1 large eggs
1/2 cup melted butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. At the same time, place skillet in oven to preheat.

Whisk cornmeal, flour, baking powder, and salt together in one bowl. Whisk buttermilk, honey, and egg together in another bowl.

Remove hot skillet from the oven. Melt butter in the skillet, allowing it to coat the bottom and sides of the pan. Pour the extra butter into the wet ingredients. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet ones and quickly mix to incorporate.

Pour batter into the hot skillet and return to the oven. Bake for 22 minutes or until the top is golden and a toothpick comes out clean.

Allow to cool slightly, then cut and enjoy.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Restocking My Asian Pantry

There are certain Asian-inspired dishes that I make over and over again. A few of my favorites include peanut noodles, sesame tuna, wasabi vinaigrette, and chicken curry. I know that I am not super authentic in my preparation methods, but I do like to have a few special items on-hand so that I can whip up one of these dishes without assembling a big shopping list.

I had a stash in the pantry in Germany. However, when we came back to the German states, the German movers would not pack any food or liquids. That meant that today I took a trip over to the Asian food market on Duraleigh just off 70.

Here I stocked up on assorted sundries such as soy sauce, mirian (a sweet rice wine), rice wine vinegar, wasabi, sesame seeds, and sushi rice. One thing that was missing from the shop was a good assortment of Thai curry pastes. The shopping trip created a hankering for some chicken curry, so I decided to head over to Whole Foods, thinking that they would have some.

As expected, they did have a choice of red or green curry paste. I was shocked, however, when I compared the prices of the Asian ingredients that I had just purchased a few miles away with what was on the shelves here. Everything was so much more expensive.

I still need to find a good source for curry paste, but I'm glad to know what not to get at Whole Foods.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Lentil Soup

I am trying to spend the last weeks of my pregnancy stocking up on simple meals that will be easy to prepare when the baby has arrived. Last night I decided to whip up a pot of lentil soup. Half we ate for dinner last night, and the other half when into the freezer.

The surprise ingredient? Ham hocks. A cut of pork from around the ankle of a pig, I thought it was very Southern to find them in my local grocery store. Ham hocks are not often used as a main dish, and instead are more commonly used to season vegetable dishes. The addition gave the soup a nice salty, rich undertone without being over powering.

1 large onion
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic
2 stalks celery
3 carrots
1 bag brown lentils
1 large Russet potato
Salt and pepper
1 bay leaf

Finely dice onion. Preheat a large pot. Add oil and sauté onion until translucent. Mince garlic and add to the pot. Finely chop celery and slice carrots into rounds. Add to pot and cook for a few minutes. Add lentils and cover with water. Bring the water to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer.

Cook lentils for 10, skimming off any foam that appears on the surface. Peel the potato and cut into a large dice. Add potatoes to the pot and simmer until cooked through, about 15 minutes.

When the lentils are tender and the potatoes are cooked through the soup can be served. If usually let my lentil soup simmer for another 20 minutes or so, allowing the lentils to break down further and the soup to thicken a bit more.

Serve hot with crust whole wheat bread.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Simple Grilled Shrimp

One thing that I don't love about my house in Raleigh is that it has an electric stovetop. As a consolation, Kevin and I bought a Mac Daddy propane grill last time we lived here. We placed the grill on the back deck, which is close to the kitchen and easy to use no matter the time of year.

Kevin's parents were nice enough to store the grill in their garage while we were in Germany, and returned it to us over the weekend. To celebrate moving back into our house I grilled up some delicious shrimp. Kevin's parents brought the shrimp from South Carolina too. They have a friend who gets them directly from the source in Charleston.

To keep the shrimp tasting delicious, they remove the heads and then freeze them in a salt-water solution. I had never heard of freezing in salt water before, but must admit that these shrimp were really great. Flavorful, with a nice texture, I hardly did anything to make our really easy and delicious dinner. Served with slow roasted tomatoes, which I also make on the grill, and a warm brown rice salad with arugula, red peppers, carrots, and a balsamic vinaigrette. Overall it was a yummy, yet health way to restart our live in this house.

Simple Grilled Shrimp
24 medium to large shrimp
6 wooden skewers
3 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper

Remove the shrimp shells and the blackish/blue vein. Place four shrimp on each wooden skewer. Place shrimp skewers in a Tupperware. Finely mince garlic. Toss shrimp with garlic and olive and marinate for 30 to 45 minutes.

Preheat the grill to high. Season shrimp skewers with salt and pepper. Place skewers over high heat and grill with the cover closed for three minutes. Turn shrimp over and grill, with the top open until the shrimp are pink and opaque. Remove from grill and serve immediately.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Mini Goat Cheese Tarts With Camalized Shallots

My sister threw me a baby shower the day after Christmas. For most people, working full time and getting ready for Christmas is enough. Throwing a shower for thirty-plus people was a real feat of organization. She managed to pull everything together by planning ahead and being super organized.
The shower was a late afternoon cocktail party. She served three kinds of cocktails: a blue martini garnished with a jelly orange peel, belinis, and a non-alcoholic ginger and blood-orange cooler garnished with a slice of candied ginger.

The food consisted of a bunch of bite-sized appetizers. My favorite was the mini goat cheese tarts, which she made using mini-muffin pans.
Mini Goat Cheese Tarts
8 shallots
2 tablespoons olive oil
12 ounces goat cheese
2 eggs
1 cup cream
Salt and pepper
Pastry dough

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cut shallots in half and slice with the grain. Preheat a medium-sized frying pan over a medium heat. Add olive oil and shallots. Reduce heat to low and allow shallots to caramelize, about 30 minutes. When finished, set aside until the tarts come out of the oven.

Mix goat cheese, eggs, and cream together. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside until tart shells are prepared.

Roll out pastry dough to one-quarter inch thick. Cut dough into one and a half inch circles. Place circles into mini-muffin tins. Par-bake dough for 5 minutes. Remove from oven and add two tablespoons of filling. Return to the oven and bake for an additional five to seven minutes, until filling sets and the crust is golden brown.

Top each mini tart with caramelized shallots.

Serve warm or room temperature.

Makes 24 mini tarts.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Rebuilding My Pantry

Though I have been cooking a bit since returning to the states -- our temporary apartment has a kitchen equipped with the base essentials -- I have had to spend a considerable amount of time and energy re-stocking my pantry. When I moved to Germany, I was allowed to bring some food items. That meant, spices, vinegars, and sauces were able to come with us. Upon return to the U.S. the movers were way less lenient. (I guess it was a German thing.) No food, no liquids.

I simply couldn't bear giving up all of the food and liquid in the house, and hid a few select items in my dressers and desks, but couldn't hide everything. What was worth violating customs regulations? The giant can of duck confit from Paris; a bottle of Champaign given to us to celebrate the baby's arrival; and the large bag of saffron from Spain all made the cut.

But all of basics were handed off to friends in Germany. Here's a list of what I've determined are the basic pantry items:

  • Grains: All purpose flour, oats, polenta, pasta, brown basmati rice, cous cous, and corn meal
  • Spices: Salt, black pepper, oregano, red pepper flakes, turmeric, vanilla, cinnamon
  • Oils: Extra virgin olive oil, canola oil
  • Vinegars: Balsamic, apple cider, red wine
  • Condiments: Mustard, mayo
  • Canned fish: Tuna, salmon
  • Veggies: Canned crush tomatoes, artichoke hearts, black beans, white beans, chick peas
  • Misc.: Peanut butter
  • Sweeteners: Brown sugar, honey
I still need a bunch of stuff, but so far this has been enough to get me back on the road to home-cooked meals.