Mrs. Sell's Blog of Household Management

Recipe: split pea and ham soup

yellow split pea soupSee what I made?

No, it’s not queso dip; it’s split pea and ham soup — with yellow split peas! Isn’t that cool? I didn’t even know they existed until I saw them in the Mexican aisle at Wal-Mart.

I used them to make my regular split pea and ham soup, and it turned out great. Apparently the yellow peas can be a little milder than the green, although I don’t know that I really noticed a difference.

I base my recipe off of the Cook’s Illustrated version (paywall), although it is either simpler, or more complicated, depending on which way you look at it. Here’s just the text; maybe someday I’ll do one with pictures.

What you need:

  • about 2 Tablespoons bacon drippings
  • onion, chopped — about 1 onion should do you, although you can adjust for personal preference.
  • a couple three garlic cloves, minced (if desired)
  • 7 cups of ham stock (can substitute poultry stock) — homemade is best; I make a lot at a time, and keep it in the freezer
  • 1 bag of split peas, green or yellow, picked over — I rarely rinse or do anything else to them.
  • ham, chopped or diced or shredded — I just eyeball it; this is really personal preference. I used a whole ham steak this time, and it seemed like a lot to me, although if you like your split pea and ham to be more ham and less split pea, then knock yourself out.

What you do:

  1. Heat the bacon drippings in a large soup pot/Dutch oven over medium-low to medium heat; whatever temperature it takes on your stove to cook down some onions.
  2. Add onions and cook down, stirring occasionally, until desired flavor/consistency. I like my onions cooked way, WAY down, so mine are practically caramelized.
  3. When the onions are almost done, throw the garlic in and stir it around until it’s fragrant, but not browned.
  4. Here, it’s a little different depending on whether you’re using ham or poultry stock. If you’re using ham stock, then add the stock and peas, bring to a boil, then cover and simmer until peas are at desired consistency (we like ours completely dissolved). Stir occasionally to keep the peas from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
  5. If you’re using poultry stock, and the stock, peas, and ham, bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for about 45 minutes. Then remove the ham and keep covered while the soup continues to cook, covered, until the peas are at desired consistency.
  6. Once the peas are done, either put the ham back in, or add it for the first time.

I like the Cook’s Illustrated version, but it was a little too complicated for me, so I usually simplify it — but by simplify, I mean I do some steps, way, way in advance.

In their recipe, they use 7 cups of water, then add in carrots, and celery, and bay leaves, and everything to actually make ham stock while the soup is cooking. I rarely have those things sitting around when I wanted split pea and ham soup, so I just make ham stock whenever I’ve cooked a bone-in ham (which I HIGHLY recommend — you’ll have frozen ham leftover for months, and it tastes SO much better than other ham).

So if you’re using poultry stock, you put the ham in originally to get some ham flavor in there, but if you’re using ham stock, you can wait until the end, since it’s already flavored.

The Cook’s Illustrated recipe also calls for two slices of bacon to be simmered in the soup, then removed later, and for the onion to be cooked down in butter in the initial step. I hate wasting bacon, so I get the bacon flavor in there by just using bacon drippings to brown the onion in the first place, and I don’t have to thaw out two strips of bacon just to toss them out later.

Also, because I’m using bacon drippings and pre-made stock, I don’t really season or salt this; there’s plenty of salt and flavor in it already.

Obviously, if you don’t have stock, and you don’t have a jar of bacon drippings in your fridge, then you can just follow their recipe, and it’ll be fine!

Split pea and ham is one of my favorite soups, especially for breakfasts on winter mornings. Don’t knock it til you’ve tried it! And the yellow peas make it much, much less gross-looking than green peas.

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Pretty things: tumbled opal

In keeping with the long and glorious academic tradition of putting off writing a paper, I present for your edification:

“Tumbled Opal: What to Do With It”

For my birthday last month, I decided to splurge on something I’d been drooling over for a long time: an opal specimen.

opal specimen in chest

This isn’t jewelry; it’s basically a display piece because it has some crazing… Which I am totally okay with because it puts a phenomenal stone within my reach.

In addition to the fabulous stone, I scored a little parcel of tumbled opal pieces:

tumbled opal mirror outside1

Aren’t they amazing?

tumbled opal mirror outside2

Seriously, these are almost better than the bigger stones. (Click on the pictures to see the awesomeness even bigger! And then imagine I have a real camera…)

These are available as 100-gram parcels at 4th Dimension Gems on Etsy, and I created a variety of action shots to give a glimpse into the possibilities of owning your own little pile of gorgeousness. (For reference, the amount shown in my pictures is about 70 grams.*)

In addition to being scattered across a mirror, as shown above, I like pouring them into a tiny glass jar:

tumbled opal heart jar

Or piling them onto a clear glass candle holder:

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You can combine the two and put the candle holder on the mirror – best of both worlds!

tumbled opal glass dish on mirror

About the only thing you have to consider is that opals need plenty of direct light for the fire (or as my daughter calls it, the “rainbows”) to show up. I tried them in a clear glass votive holder, and I think it was a little too wide, and too much of the light was blocked:

tumbled opal votive jar

You can see the ones on top, but the ones underneath look dull. Plus, the texture on this particular candle holder distorts the visibility; I recommend something with plain, clear glass.

For example, a champagne flute:

tumbled opal champagne flute2

Or a martini glass:

tumbled opal martini glass1tumbled opal martini glass2

I love this display, but if you have cats or kids it’s probably not the most practical: champagne flute spilled onto a mirror:

tumbled opal flute spilled on mirror

Or, you can have the shop owner make you a chest for your treasure:

tumbled opal in chesttumbled opal chest opentumbled opal chest closed

My only caveat is this: if you have small children, they will have their fingers in these ALL THE TIME. So either put them behind glass, or up on a shelf, or get over it and start teaching your kids early to appreciate beautiful things. (I’m personally wavering between options 2 and 3.)

Other than that, I really don’t see how you can go wrong!

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Tumbled opal parcels, an assortment of both cut and rough gemstones, as well as custom settings, are all available at 4th Dimension Gems on Etsy. This is the perfect time of year to consider investing in a beautiful stone for yourself or someone you love!

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* This is what 70 grams of tumbled opal looks like; I have medium-ish hands, I guess?

tumbled opal in hand

Fall roundup 2015: Maxwell House pumpkin spice latte instant coffee mix

maxwell house instant latte mix pumpkin spice

This stuff is tasty. When I was a teenager I used to love the decaf, no-sugar version of this stuff (why I was drinking decaf, I have no idea), and this is a nice throwback. I also love being able to boil some water in our electric kettle and just dump in about a tablespoon of this stuff for an instant caffeine shot. This one is pretty high in caffeine, but it goes down easy, so I have to be careful.

If you hate instant coffee, definitely don’t get this. But if you’re in a hurry for caffeine, there are much worse things. (Like Starbucks.)

Fall roundup 2015: Pumpkin Pie Spice scone mix

archer farms pumpkin pie spice scone mix

These came out really well. Nice and light, with a very mild flavor; most of the sweetness and spices were in the glaze mix. I didn’t wait for them to cool completely before adding the glaze, so it all melted:

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But they were good nonetheless. I don’t usually make scones from mixes (I rarely make scones period), but these were fun as a treat, especially with pumpkin spice chai tea latte mix.

Fall roundup 2015: Pumpkin Spice baking morsels

toll house pumpkin spice morsels

I got these last year, and just finally got around to trying them. They’re okay; they’re kinda like the original pumpkin spice M&M’s in that they’re basically a bunch of oil with flavoring. I made the Pumpkin Spice Molasses Cookies recipe on the back of the bag, and it was pretty good, although I think you could substitute white baking morsels, or even nuts or something, and they would be even better.

Fall roundup 2015: Pillsbury Ready-to-Bake Pumpkin Cookies

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I have to start this by saying that I am not generally a fan of pre-made chilled cookie dough, or cookies, or whatever “cookie” products they have in the refrigerator section. To be honest, I usually don’t make cookies from boxed mixes, either. Cakes and brownies yes, cookies no. Why do that when cookies are so much better made from scratch?

But these were not too bad. I was definitely skeptical initially:

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“Food product” was not what leapt immediately to mind when I opened them.

And the preparation process, um, wasn’t a process.

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They turned out okay, though.

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I baked them for the longest recommended amount, because I’m not used to making this kind of cookie, so they came out pretty crunchy. I don’t know if that’s just the way they are, or if I just baked them too long.

But the flavor was actually pretty good. Well-balanced pumpkin spice flavor, not too chemically. Spicy in a good way.

So if you want to bake cookies, but you don’t want to bake cookies, you could buy these and put them in your oven and then there would be cookies…

Fall roundup 2015: Pumpkin Spice Waffles

pumpkin spice waffles

I got these last year, and they were really good! Of course, it had been years since I’d had frozen waffles of any kind, but I was still very happy with these. Nice light pumpkin spice flavor in a tasty waffle! (At least, as tasty as frozen waffles get.) Like the Pop-Tarts, I don’t normally buy these products, but I will make an exception for the pumpkin spice version.

Boston in the fall

Destination: Boston, October 24, 2015

Kenji starts off his book with the declaration, “I am a nerd, and I’m proud of it.” So I’m going to start this post off the same way:

I am a book nerd.

I can take or leave sports, most dramatic productions, musicians, politicians, and various other celebrities. But tell me that one of my favorite writers is going to be within a two-hour radius, and I will start hyperventilating.

And so it was that on Saturday morning, I blithely threw my schedule to the wind, and headed for Boston.

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(For the record, I had never been to Boston before, despite its proximity, mainly because I HATE driving in big cities and will go to some lengths to avoid it.)

I took the I-95 up, and it took about two hours. I had been that direction before, as far as T.F. Green airport just south of Providence, but from there north it was all new to me. I was soon reminded of driving in San Diego, so I bravely risked death to take a picture:

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I followed the Google maps directions, and it turned out surprisingly well; including taking an exit in a tunnel, which I had never done before. I was able to easily find the Old South Church, where Kenji’s event was being held, and just as easily find a convenient parking place.

This was probably the nicest parking garage I've ever been in.

The Boston Book Festival was held in and around Copley Square, and this wonderful parking garage was just a few blocks away. It was convenient and not scary and the stairwell was the cleanest I’ve ever seen in a public space. They didn’t have rates posted, but I hate parking in big cities and didn’t care what they charged me, so long as it was convenient.

The Boston Public Library is right across the street from Copley Square and the Old South Church.

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And the whole area is replete with beautiful historic buildings:

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(Which, admittedly, are probably shown to better advantage when there’s not a small tent city in the middle of them.)

The Roxy’s Grilled Cheese food truck was there; Kenji is having an event at their brick/mortar location tonight.

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And then it was time to see Kenji!

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The panel was called “The Science of Food,” and included a moderator, a nice lady who had written a book about the military influence on processed food, and Kenji. The nice lady made a very nice speech, which went on and on while the whole audience wished that she would finish and sit down so that we could listen to Kenji. Also, we were afraid that she was going to make some egregious food science error and Kenji was going to have to contradict her, which would have been embarrassing. But she finally wrapped it up, and it was Kenji’s turn!

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He talked for a few minutes, about the book and steaks and science and showed us where on the cow a steak comes from (a la Julia Child):

IMG_2221And there was something about a trim saw? Perhaps we should be scared…

And afterwards, I got to meet him and have him sign my book!

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I only wish that I could have made it to one of his events that lasted longer. I was so mad last year when we moved from San Diego to Connecticut at the same time he was moving from New York to San Francisco! But at least I got this chance! And hopefully when the second volume of The Food Lab is released, he’ll come through again.

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The rest of my trip to Boston:

While I was there, I took advantage of a couple of things that I don’t have in Boondocks, Connecticut:

The Vibram Store

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I’ve been wanting to visit this place ever since it opened, when I lived in SoCal and thought that I would never, ever in a million years get to. It’s the only Vibram store in the US, and they occasionally have things that are hard to find (like the limited-edition Classics for the Olympics). I didn’t buy anything (because I’ve maxed out my toed-shoe budget for the year), but it was wonderful to make a contact with the company that has allowed me to walk pain-free for the last several years.

Also,

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I got spoiled in SoCal; there were Cheesecake Factories in several of the malls, so going there for the occasional slice of cheesecake was no problem. Now, it’s a major ordeal, so I picked up several slices to make up for the deprivation. (I finally tried the Pumpkin Pecan Cheesecake! It is exactly how you think it would be.)

And then I went home!

All in all, it was a great trip; there were no major snafus, and I got to walk around a big city (which I like doing almost as much as I hate driving in them). The weather was chilly and overcast, so it was great walking weather, but not so cold that it was miserable and you had to huddle inside various shops to thaw out.

I would definitely go to Boston again, and probably park in the same place. I didn’t do any of the historical things, which are definitely on my list before we get transferred, but this was a great trip to scope out the streets and parking. And next time I’ll do some research and try to find some good restaurants before I go! (RIP, Serious Eats Talk…)

Fall roundup 2015: Pumpkin Spice bagels

thomas pumpkin spice bagels

These are good. Like the Swirl Bread, they have chunks of pumpkin in them, and there’s a good amount of pumpkin spice flavor. I like these, but don’t always get them because I have a hard time eating through that many gigantic bagels in pumpkin season.

The one thing that I will always get when I can, is, of course, Einstein Bros. Pumpkin Bagel, only available in the fall. It is pure, delicious, bagel goodness, combining Einstein’s perfect bagel crumb and crust with a light pumpkin spice flavor. Oh, now I’m craving one of those… Excuse me, I have to go see if there’s an Einstein Bros. within driving distance.

Fall roundup 2015: Ben and Jerry’s Pumpkin Cheesecake ice cream

ben and jerry's pumpkin cheesecake

This is a winner! Tangy, spicy pumpkin cheesecake ice cream with a buttery graham cracker crumb swirl… This is a pumpkin item that I get every fall, and look forward to it the whole rest of the year! If you’ve had the Strawberry Cheesecake, it’s basically the same thing with pumpkin instead of strawberry. So… good…

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