Friday, December 21, 2012

Ham and Split Pea Soup

Hands up if you like shopping in foreign grocery stores when you go away on holiday?  Or even just a different store in your hometown on occasion?  I knew I liked you!  The best part of exploring is finding items that you love, but are not typical to your locale.  For me, poking about in food stores is like an adventure hunt and when I find treasure, I can generally buy because, unless we are talking truffles or caviar, most grocery items are quite affordable.  Take, for example, my stock cube collection.

You see here just a few of my purchases from Brazil, Malaysia, Spain, and the United Kingdom among other places.  I love to use stock cubes instead of salt because they add flavor as well as saltiness to dishes.  (And, yes, most contain MSG, but no one in my family is in the small percentage of the population that has an intolerance to this flavor enhancer.)  In this soup, I used a ham cube because I didn’t have a ham bone to boil to make my own broth, but I wanted to share this in case you have a bone-in Christmas ham.  Ham and split pea soup is delicious and a great use of leftover ham.  This will make two or three hearty bowls but is easily doubled to feed more. Just double the other ingredients and boil your ham bone for longer, with more water.

1 medium onion
1 medium carrot
Olive oil
1 1/2 cups or 300g dried green split peas
1 ham stock cube or 1 teaspoon salt and 1 ham bone
8 – 9 oz or 225-255g leftover ham
Black pepper

If you don’t happen to have a ham stock cube, put your ham bone in a pot of water with the teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil.  Simmer covered for about one hour or until all the meat is falling off the bone.  Turn off the heat and remove the bone from the pot and allow to cool enough for you to take all the ham off the bone and discard (Read: feed to your helper dog.) the grizzly bits.  Set aside.

Peel and chop your onion and carrot.  Cut your ham (either from the simmered bone or from leftover boneless ham or both!) into pieces.

In another pot (or for those of you with a ham stock cube, the only pot) sauté the onion and carrot in a little olive oil until the onion is translucent.

Add in your dried split peas and the ham cube along with about six cups or 1 1/2 liters of water (or stock from your recently boiled ham bone, if using and skip the cube.)  Give the pot a good couple of grinds of black pepper from your pepper mill.

Bring to a low boil and skim the scum off of the top of the pot with a shallow spoon.

Cook over a low to medium heat until the split peas are cooked through and are turning soft.  This could take as few as 30 minutes or as much as an hour, depending on the freshness of your dried split peas.

At this point, if you would like a very smooth soup, you can puree it in a blender or with a hand blender straight in the pot but do be careful not to scald yourself.   I prefer a chunkier soup so I just use a whisk straight in the pot to break up the split peas somewhat, while leaving some relatively intact.

Add in the ham pieces and simmer for another 20-30 minutes.  Stir occasionally and watch for scorching because once the split peas have broken down, they tend to catch on the bottom of the pot.  Add some more water if your soup is getting thicker than you like.

Check for seasoning and add a little more salt if necessary.  Give the whole pot another good sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Ginger 2012 is on! Help Needed!

Update:  Many thanks to everyone who voted.  Victoria came in a respectable second fewer then eight percentage points behind the winner.  The next round of voting has commenced and there are some beauties. Go have a look. 

This is my daughter, Victoria's beautiful creation.  I have entered it in the wonderfully funny and talented Movita Beaucoup's Ginger 2012 contest where professionals are pitted against five-year-olds against whole family teams, all competing for the honor of Best Gingerbread Structure - or something like that.  If you don't know Movita, you need to head on over there double-quick and meet her.  And while you are there, we'd appreciate a vote for Victoria's Designer Mansion.  Because Movita will announce the winners on Victoria's birthday and that would be the best gift yet! (The prize is four new cookbooks!)

Please share the link with every friend you own because, as Movita says:

"I encourage competitors to use ANY means possible to win. Email yer family. Blog it, tweet it, facebook it. And tell your supporters to do the same. If you find a shortcut in the voting system? Have at it. All’s fair in love and ginger! Remember, it’s not necessarily the best entry that wins, people. No, it’s the competitor who best uses the interweb to promote the living cr*p outta their ginger masterpiece."

Thank you for helping me use the interweb to win!

Many thanks,


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Strawberry Almond Muffins with Strawberry Glaze #MuffinMonday

This Muffin Monday post comes to you a day late quite deliberately.  Sometimes, when the inexplicable happens, it is all we can do to bow our heads in silent prayer.  And treasure the loved ones around us.  Our daughters arrived on Sunday night safely, although a little later than expected after an unscheduled detour to Abu Dhabi, because the airplane was low on fuel.  As I write this on Monday morning, they are still sleeping in their beds and, so, all is right with my world.  And, for that, I am forever grateful.

This week’s original strawberry muffin recipe came from Jane’s Sweets and Baking Journal.  I changed it up by adding in ground almonds, yogurt, a natural strawberry glaze and way more strawberries.  Oh, and some sliced almonds on top.  Because despite the sadness in this world, this is still the Holiday Series.  And while muffins can’t make everything better – would that they could – these strawberry babies do help.  Baked goods are comfort food, don’t you agree?

2 cups or 250g flour
1/2 cup or 55g almond meal or finely ground almonds
1 cup or 225g sugar, divided into 3/4 cup or 170g for the muffin batter and 1/4 cup or 55g for macerating strawberries
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup or 120ml whole milk
1/2 cup or 125g plain yogurt
1/2 cup or 115g unsalted butter, melted then cooled
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
10 oz or 300g ripe strawberries

For the topping: 1/2 cup or about 40g very thinly sliced almonds

For the glaze:
1/2 teaspoon corn starch
1/2 cup strawberry juice drained from the sweetened strawberries

Preheat oven to 350°F or 180°C degrees.

Put paper liners in the cups of your muffin pan, or grease your pan with non-stick cooking spray or butter.

Hull your strawberries.  The easiest way to do this, with the least amount of strawberry wasted, is to slide your knife under the stem.  Use your thumb to hold the stem against the knife and put the whole thing out.

Cut up your berries and put them in a small bowl.  Sprinkle with the 1/4 cup or 55g sugar and allow them to sit while you get on with the batter.

In a large mixing bowl, thoroughly combine the flour, almond meal, sugar, baking powder, and salt.

Whisk together your melted butter, milk, yogurt, vanilla extract and eggs in a smaller bowl.

Pour the wet egg mixture into the dry ingredients, blending just until combined.

Over a small bowl or measuring cup, pour your strawberries into a sieve and allow all of the juice to collect.

Add about three-quarters of the strawberries to the batter and gently fold them in.  This is not a scientific measurement.  Let's not make things harder than they have to be!

Divide the batter between the prepared muffin cups.

Sprinkle the tops of the muffins with the sliced almonds.

Divide the leftover strawberries between the muffin cups.  Press down lightly to make sure the strawberries and the almonds are stuck in the batter.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until they are lightly browned or a toothpick stuck in the middle comes out clean.  Mine actually took closer to 30 minutes but I suspect my oven is having issues.

Allow to cool for a few minutes and then remove the muffins from the tin and allow to cool completely on a rack.

When the muffins are almost complete cooled, whisk the cornstarch into 1/2 cup of your strawberry syrup until it is completely dissolved.

Pour the mixture into a small saucepan and heat until it comes to a boil.  Stir steadily as it heats.

Cook, gently boiling until the syrup turns clear (as opposed to cloudy) and thickens.

Set aside until cool.

Drizzle the glaze over the muffins and serve.