Easy Split Peasy

Mmmm, sludge.

Mmmm, sludge.

I know it’s technically spring, but around these parts, it’s still split-pea weather.

We had an all too brief dalliance with sunshine and lollipops a week or two ago, but now, nothing but gray and rain and that deep chill that rises up from the ground through your boots and permeates your entire being from the inside out.

Which is just my way of saying it’s cold and wet and I would like a big bowl of soup, please.

Lately that means split pea soup. Lots of it. This version is super hearty and comforting, guaranteed to punch the chill right in the face.

(Of course, in the last couple of days that I’ve been working on this post, the forecast has turned to sun for the next week. Usually spring is a gloomy, sodden affair around here, so I thought I was safe posting a recipe for soup. Stupid Oregon. Although I suppose I should be happy for the unexpected sun.)

I first started making this dish something like four years ago, based on a recipe from a special edition on soups and stews by Cook’s Illustrated, back when I used to buy magazines printed on actual paper.

I followed that recipe pretty faithfully until I misplaced it somewhere, and had to wing it based on my own pretty faulty memory, which is to say I basically made it up on the spot because I could not for the life of me remember the split pea to liquid ratio. It came out surprisingly delicious.

What this little experience taught me was to go ahead and take the plunge. When I was just a wee lass, I spent many many days at the pool before I ever worked up the courage to jump off the diving board. I knew how to swim. I could hold my breath like a little fish. But that diving board was scary. Until one day my friend did it, and basically shamed me into trying. So I climbed up there, all nerves and butterflies, and took the plunge. My instincts kicked in and before I could even register what was happening, I popped back up to the surface. My body knew what to do even if my brain didn’t.

I know, deep thoughts, right?

Up until I lost that recipe for split pea soup, I tended to stick pretty closely to recipes as written, which I culled from only the most trusted of sources. Then I would scroll through the comments looking for reviews and helpful hints. If the recipe employed new techniques, I would research them ad infinitum before trying them.

But I had been cooking fairly frequently for several years by then, and reading up on all sorts of cookery, and I suppose subconsciously absorbing the fundamentals in my own way. It helped that the special edition on soups included a primer on how to make soup.

I guess I knew more than I realized, and truly, soup is pretty hard to mess up.

So armed with my working knowledge of split pea soup, and soup in general, I whipped up a batch, tasting and tweaking along the way. I sort of bumbled my way through, but my body knew what to do. I have since found that Cook’s Illustrated recipe again, but I never use it anymore. Instead I make my bumble version, fine-tuning it a bit every time. This is the latest version.

Easy Split Peasy

Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

Recipe notes: This is a very easy recipe to make, with very basic ingredients. But it does, however, take a while for the split peas to magically transform from tasteless little BBs into crazy goodness, at least a full hour. If you try to cut it short, the results are somewhat meh. Believe me I’ve tried. Some stuff just takes a while to cook, that’s all there is to it. So if you’re planning to make this for dinner, it’s wise to get an early start. For those who work, it’s probably best to make this on the weekend, when you have a bit more leeway in the schedule. Waiting for a pot of this after a long day at work is just asking for a hangry meltdown. There are all sorts of ways to make split pea, but the one true method, is to cook the soup at a relatively high heat until the split peas pretty much fall apart – no blending required. This also turns the soup into a delicious, thick sludge that turns almost solid in the fridge. Of course, not everyone is as fond of sludge as we are, but it’s easy enough to adjust the consistency with a bit of extra water and seasoning. In fact, that is the one big variable of this recipe – you can get very different consistencies depending on how high the heat is, and whether or not the pot is covered. So even if you follow the instructions to a T (although the instructions are none too precise), the consistency can still vary quite a bit. It’s hard to predict sometimes, but easy to fix. If your soup is too thick after an hour, simply add some water and salt to taste. If it’s too soupy, just turn up the heat, keep the lid off and let some of that liquid evaporate. I should mention that this version calls for a fair amount of veggies, more than most recipes, because, well, I like veggies. Also, this version has no ham or bacon because I rarely have them on hand. I use bouillon instead to add a bit of flavor, or when I have it, bacon fat, which I keep in the freezer.

Ingredients

Oil, bacon fat, butter, coconut oil, whatever floats your boat

2 small onions (about 1 3/4 cup to 2 cups chopped)

4-6 medium carrots (about 1 3/4 cup to 2 cups chopped)

5-7 stalks celery (about 1 3/4 cup to 2 cups chopped)

1 tsp salt

1 large russet potato

2 cups split peas, pick through and rinsed (I think a 16 ounce bag is technically equivalent to 2 1/4 cup of split peas. Go ahead and throw in the extra ¼ cup if you don’t want a weird amount of peas left over. I buy them from the bulk bin, so it’s easy enough to just measure out 2 cups.)

10 cups water

4 teaspoons chicken or veggie bouillon (I tend to use bouillon instead of broth because, I don’t know, I just got into the habit of it, OK? Plus it keeps a long time. I use Better Than Bouillon because it ranked well in a Cook’s Illustrated taste test. If I could get it together, I would make my own broth, but yeah, let’s be honest, that ain’t happening any time soon. If you would rather use broth, use 6 cups water and 4 cups broth and nix the bouillon.)

2 tablespoons vinegar

Directions

Get an early start, say 4 if you want to eat dinner by 6. Does anyone eat dinner at 6? I can’t seem to get dinner on the table before 7:30, and I’m a stay at home mama.

Chop the carrots, celery and onions. Put in a dutch oven along with your fat of choice and 1 tsp of salt. Sauté until the vegetables soften and get a bit of color, which takes a while, at least it does on my ancient electric stovetop. Meanwhile, chop the potatoes and boil the water.

Once the veggies are ready, dump in the 10 cups of hot water, bouillon, split peas and potatoes. Bring to boil, then turn down a bit and let that baby simmer pretty hard for at least an hour (more like an hour and 20 minutes on our funky old electric stove). Do not cover. Give it a good stir every so often to make sure the soup doesn’t stick or burn to the bottom.

If it’s too thick, add some water and adjust the seasoning. If it’s too thin, let it bubble away a while longer.

Add vinegar when it’s done. When is it done? When it’s thick and creamy and tastes divine.

Ladle into serving bowls and give that bad boy a good squirt of sriracha, if you are into that sort of thing.

Chocolate Guinness Tofu Pudding

chocolate guinness

Back before baby, when I was a busy busy working gal, I was not the sort to get all crafty when holidays rolled around (except for Valentine’s). Far from it. Most of the time, I worked right through them, especially for the lesser, B list holidays (ahem, Presidents’ Day).

But even for the big holidays, my efforts were decidedly lackluster. Let’s just say there were many a hastily scrawled coupon for Christmas gifts over the years.

But now that I am a mom, I am trying to make an effort to celebrate the holidays in all their cheesy glory, for our little dude.

He gets so excited for holidays, especially if any sort of cake is involved.

When he noticed all the leprechaun decorations at the grocery store, I resolved to come up with some sort of Irish feast to celebrate.

But, never having actually celebrated said holiday, let alone cook for it, I was at a loss as to what make.

So I poked around the internets for inspiration, but the luck of the Irish was not with me. I found a whole of lot recipes for Irish soda bread, which seemed nice enough, if rather dull.

Of course there were all sorts of recipes for corned beef, which I learned is not even a traditional Irish dish.

But more than anything were recipes featuring Guinness or whiskey, because apparently the Irish are fond of drink.

I did love the sound of Nigella’s chocolate Guinness cake, which she describes as “magnificent in its damp blackness.” Damp blackness, you say? I was intrigued.

However, to my chagrin, I am not a big fan of Guinness stout, even though I am a wee bit Irish. I might partake of a pint once in a blue moon, but I didn’t really want a whole six pack of the stuff sitting around. Plus I didn’t want to make a whole cake that our little dude couldn’t eat.

Nothing else sounded all that appealing, and I briefly considered scuttling the whole thing.

But then, whilst wandering around the grocery store, I spotted a sixer of Guinness black LAGER, and I thought “Leaping leprechauns! Now there is a fine drink, to be sure.”

Neither I nor the hubbie are much for stout, but lager? Well, that is a different story, laddie!

The stout version is a little too much for my taste, too rich, too filling, if pleasingly creamy. But the lager is fantastic – crisp, slightly bitter, frothy. It might be my new favorite drinky-drink.

With that discovery, the wheels started turning, and all of the sudden chocolate Guinness tofu pudding popped in my head.

I make this easy chocolate tofu pudding all the time, but for special occasions, I bust out this slightly fancier version from The Minimalist.

For St. Paddy’s Day, I thought, why not nix the Mexican flavor and sub Guinness black lager for the liquid?

So I did just that and a fine time was had by all. Except for little dude, he had a fine time but with a Guinness-free version.

Chocolate Guinness Tofu Pudding

Adapted from The Minimalist
Recipe notes: The cool thing about silken tofu is that it turns incredibly smooth and creamy when you give it a good whirl in the blender or food processor. Plus it has a relatively mild flavor, which makes it a wonderful base for puddings with a strong flavor, such as chocolate. Not that I have anything against eggs or milk, but they can be a bit finicky when making pudding or custard. Well, if you are me. I have been known to accidentally scramble eggs when making custard. The tofu is pretty much foolproof. The recipe is adapted from Mark Bittman, but I changed it a bit to work with the package size of the tofu I normally buy, which is Mori-nu. It comes in 12 ounce blocks, whereas The Minimalist recipe calls for 16 ounces. It seemed weird to use 1 full 12 ounce block, and a mere 4 ounces of another block, leaving a random 8 ounces for some other use. So I adjusted the recipe to use a single 12 ounce block. (It turns out Nasoya makes silken tofu in 16 ounce blocks, but I have never come across this product in grocery stores). Also, The Minimalist version calls for 8 ounces of bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, which is basically two full bars of chocolate. That is a little over the top for my budget (and girlish figure) so I dialed back the chocolate a bit too, to just one full bar. This pudding is nice and chocolate-ly, with a subtle, malty finish. And since I went the Guinness route, I thought hey, why not break out the whiskey too? It’s a party over here, and you’re invited. So I found this recipe for whiskey whipped cream, from Pioneer Woman. And to complete the caricature, a bit o’ green, in the form of homemade sanding sugar, from The Sweet Adventures of Sugar Belle. To make an alcohol-free version (and gluten-free to boot), replace the Guinness in the pudding with water, and omit the whiskey in the whipping cream. To make this vegan, skip the whiskey whipped cream entirely, oh and use vegan sugar and chocolate, natch.

½ cup sugar

½ cup Guinness stout or lager

4 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate

12 ounces silken tofu

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon salt

1. In a small pot, combine sugar with Guinness; bring to a boil and cook until sugar is dissolved, stirring occasionally. Take off heat and add chocolate. Cover and let stand 5 or 10 minutes.

2. If you have an immersion blender, add tofu, vanilla and salt to the pot and blend until smooth. If you don’t have an immersion blender, put chocolate mixture in a blender or food processor, add tofu, vanilla and salt and blend until smooth. Divide among 2 to 4 ramekins and chill for at least 30 minutes.

Whiskey Whipped Cream

Adapted from Pioneer Girl

1 cup whipping cream

4 teaspoons whiskey

4 teaspoons sugar

In a cold bowl, beat whipping cream until it starts to thicken, about 5 minutes. Add sugar and whisky, and beat until soft peaks form.

Green sanding sugar

Adapted from The Sweet Adventures of Sugar Belle

Green gel food coloring

Sugar

Put however much sugar you want in a ziplock bag, add a drop of food coloring, close the bag and work the coloring into the sugar. Add more food coloring for more intense color, as desired. Pretty cut and dried, but do check out Sugar Belle’s post on this, the details and photos are the bee’s knees!

Crazy Addictive Granola

I only made granola a handful of times before I stumbled across this recipe in the NYT.

It was for the granola that Eleven Madison Park (three Michelin stars!) gives to guests at the close of a meal.

Sadly I’ll probably never have the chance to eat there, but I was curious to sample a hooty-snooty take on bird food. How would one of the top chefs in the country interpret a simple breakfast food?

The recipe looked easy enough, and the ingredient list not too intimidating, so after a quick trip to Trader Joe’s, I whipped up a batch lickety split.

Good lord. I could not stop eating the stuff. I kept on finding myself in front of the pantry absent-mindedly stuffing fistfuls of it in my face.

It became my go-to granola recipe on the spot. My apologies to all the neglected, unloved granola recipes out there – my heart belongs to this one. It is sweet and salty and lightly crisp with a little hit of olive oil to round it out.

It was only after I made this several times that I found out it was actually based on one by Nekisia Davis of Early Bird Foods in Brooklyn. Apparently it is so beloved that it has been adapted by quite a few big names.

I stuck with Eleven Madison version because I like the quantity it makes – just enough to fill up my large tupper. Anymore and I would need to invest in some big girl jeans.

I did end up tweaking the Eleven Madison version though – as written, it calls for 1 tablespoon of kosher salt, which I find a bit too salty to eat out of hand. So I scaled it down to 1 teaspoon (I use table salt), which is in line with several other versions out there.

I also tried cutting the sweetness, for a more everyday version. Melissa Clark did the same, for an even leaner version.

And I tried swapping out the olive oil for coconut oil, which is good, but a little more subdued.

Even still, it’s habit forming. Once I make a batch, it is usually gone in a couple of days, and there are telltale crumbs on the front of my shirt.

The next time I make some, I may try measuring out enough dry ingredients for 3 or 4 batches, bake one batch and store the rest for when the mood strikes. That way I could cut my prep time in half. But then again, maybe that is just tempting fate….

Eleven Madison Park Granola

Adapted from the NYT

Recipe notes: I checked out the Eleven Madison Park cookbook from the library and found that the kitchen uses kosher salt unless otherwise specified. Also, the recipe calls for Grade B maple syrup (soon to be called Very Dark), which is supposed to be richer and deeper-flavored than Grade A. But if all I have is Grade A I sure don’t let that stop me from making this here granola.

2 3⁄4 cups rolled oats

1 cup shelled pistachios

1 cup unsweetened coconut chips

1/3 cup pumpkin seeds

1 tablespoon salt (if you like salty, I do closer to 1 teaspoon)

1⁄2 cup light brown sugar (1/3 for lighter version)

1/3 cup maple syrup (1/4 for lighter version)

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (1/4 for lighter version)

3⁄4 cup dried sour cherries.

1. Preheat oven to 300. In a large bowl, mix together the oats, pistachios, coconut, pumpkin seeds and salt.

2. In a small saucepan set over low heat, warm the sugar, syrup and olive oil until the sugar has just dissolved, then remove from heat. Fold liquids into the mixture of oats, making sure to coat the dry ingredients well.

3. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat, and spread granola over it. Bake until dry and lightly golden, 35 to 40 minutes, stirring granola a few times along the way.

4. Remove granola from oven, and mix into it the dried sour cherries. Allow to cool to room temperature before transferring to a storage container. Makes about 6 cups.

Blackberry Crumble

Whenever I think of my grandma, I think of blackberry crumble. I’m sure there were also blueberry crumbles and raspberry crumbles and all manner of pies and cobblers, but what I remember most was her blackberry crumble. It was sweet and jammy and impossible to stop eating. It tasted like summer. I would tiptoe downstairs and sneak spoonfuls straight out of the fridge.

It’s a long story, but we moved into her old house just over a year ago. By then the blackberry brambles were threatening to take over. We are trying our best to keep them at bay, and that means a lot of blackberry crumble.

Sadly, grandma never wrote her recipe down – I guess she made it so often she didn’t have to think about it, like breathing. She just knew what to do.

I, on the other hand, never made a crumble in my life until we moved out here, which was right around the time I turned 37. So I turned to the internets for help.

I ended up using a recipe from 101 Cookbooks as a template. The technique for the crumble was alluringly simple – melt the butter then mix it with the dry ingredients. Most of the other recipes I came across called for cutting chilled butter into the dry ingredients, which seems excessively tedious when your two-year-old is wailing and wrapped around your ankles. I also liked the use of almond flour in place of all purpose flour, which makes this version gluten-free, if you use gf oats. I did made a few tweaks here and there. I cut the sugar nearly in half (I’m a mama bear, that is how I roll). I also upped the oats, just because I like oats.

It tastes nothing like grandma’s, but I still eat it cold out of the fridge.

(So is it a crumble? Or a crisp? I always called it a crumble, but I guess technically it’s a crisp, since we are right here in the good ol’ US of A. My bad!)

A few notes: I’ve swapped out the blackberries for all sorts of fruit, to good effect. Although if you go with something very tart, such as rhubarb or cranberries, you might want to increase the sugar. We eat this with yogurt for breakfast, ermmm, the oats make it healthy, right?

Topping:

1/2 c almond flour

1/2 c nuts

3/4 c rolled oats

1/4 c sugar

1/2 tsp table salt

1/4 c + 2 tbsp coconut oil, melted

Fruit:

1 tbsp cornstarch

1 tsp lemon juice

1/4 c sugar

5 c blackberries

Preheat the oven to 375F, with rack in the middle.

Put coconut oil in a bowl and microwave until melted. Add the flour, nuts, oats, sugar and salt. Mix until thoroughly combined, then place in freezer to chill for about 10 minutes.

Put fruit in a 8×8 baking dish. Sprinkle cornstarch, sugar and lemon juice over the top. Toss fruit until evenly coated. Pull the topping from the freezer, and crumble over the fruit.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the topping is golden and the fruit juices are bubbling. Let cool before serving, heh, if you can wait.