When I began looking into all of the ingredients that can make up an active retirement, cooking up good food was very close to the top of the list. Full disclosure up front…I’m a guy who loves to cook. I’m not one of those creative types who can look at five items in the fridge and invent a new gourmet entrée, but I can read a recipe and instantly determine if it would be something to savor. This always astounds Helen, my wife. Here’s how that works…
We’re riding down the highway on a long road trip. As is her practice when she is not giving me directions, Helen is using the down time in the car to catch up on her two favorite magazines, Southern Living, and Better Homes and Gardens. At some point in the drive she’ll ask, “Does this sound good?”
I say, “Does what sound good?” She reads a recipe. I say “Not really.”
“Why not? It sounds great to me” comes the retort.
“Well, I’ve never been a big fan of pickled tomatoes or coriander” is a typical response in this situation.
Five minutes later, I get “How ’bout this one?” as she immediately begins reading another recipe.
“Sounds pretty good, read it again”. After the repeat, I’ll confirm that it is probably worth a try and she’ll say “I can’t believe you think this one is better than the pickled tomato one”. And so it goes until we prepare the good one and it becomes one of the new favorites in the family cookbook.
To be sure, we’ve probably missed out on a lot of great recipes because they just didn’t hit me right, and I’m equally certain that a few really good ones disappeared into the “Black Hole” while on a road trip and never made it back out. Nevertheless, this ritual has produced some memorable meals including one we recently discovered for Split Pea Soup with Vegetables and Ham. It’s simple, but it’s soup season and I thought the recipe was good enough to share along with two cooking utensils that I recently discovered and now cannot live without.
The complete step by step soup recipe will be posted at the end of this post, and the pictures for the steps will appear in the Picture Gallery that follows . What I intend to do here is highlight a few of the steps we took in the preparation process.
I mentioned in a previous post about our now departed freezer, we love to make soups, stews, and sauces in large quantities and then store them in meal size containers for later use. For this recipe, we made it three times larger than the recipe called for, and could have made it even larger (read below). Tripling a soup recipe can, and usually does, require a lot of chopping. So…let’s bring out the vegetables…carrots, celery, and onions, and introduce my new best friend, The Chop Wizard.
I picked up this gem on the recommendation of a friend after mentioning that my recipes for Gourmet Meat Loaf and Southern Seafood Gumbo entail a great deal of chopping. She told me that I needed to go to Bed, Bath, and Beyond and buy a Chop Wizard and simplify the process. This thing is so great and so simple to use, I wish I had invented it. It comes with two blades in a crisscross pattern, one for chopping and another for dicing, that are inserted into an elongated container. To chop, the user places the vegetables on a blade and then pulls down on the hinged lid. The vegetable is forced through the crossed blades, cut to size, and captured in the container. The container is marked on the side so that the user is able to read the quantity of food chopped by holding the container vertically. For this recipe, we used the larger, or chop, blade. The photograph below illustrates how the Chop Wizard is used.
The recipe called for the cooking to be done in a Dutch Oven, but we chose to use a large soup kettle since we are increasing the quantity. Into the soup kettle went the onions and celery where they simmered in melted butter and cooked until tender. At that point it was time to add the rest of the ingredients listed in the recipe, including the ham.
For the ham, I wanted something really good and flavorful, so I went to the Honey Baked Ham store and purchased a ham bone. The clerk asked if I wanted a large or medium bone. I went large. To my surprise, this thing was huge! It was loaded with meat and, before I placed it into the soup kettle, I was able to remove many slices and save for later use…like ham sandwiches. I’m certain that if we want to make our recipe five times larger, we would have had more than enough ham to do so.
We let the vegetables, the spices, and the ham simmer in chicken broth for about an hour until the split peas were good and tender. I used a large set of barbeque tongs to remove the ham and set it aside to cool. As the meat cooled and temperature for the soup mixture is reduced to low, I reached for my next new best friend…the Stick Blender.
This handy little item is something I picked up after a friend sent me a recipe for Brazilian Seafood Stew that called for the ingredients to be blended with a stick blender. I didn’t have one. Back to Bed, Bath, and Beyond to remedy the problem. This appliance is so much fun to use, I find that I’m always searching for new ways to put it to work. I truly believe that if more people make this discovery, this thing will make teeth obsolete! It’s that good! I have yet to make the Brazilian Stew, but I love it for making fruit smoothies in the morning using yogurt and packaged frozen fruit. I have used it for canned soup to smooth out the ingredients a little. I used it here to blend all of the peas and the vegetables to a smoother consistency.
The ham gets chopped by hand and added to the blended mixture. With everything back together, we add the milk called for in the recipe and everything is reheated for serving.
Bring out the soup bowls, ladle them full, add a big spoonful of chopped ham to the center of the bowl, and you’ve got a real treat. For bread, I prepared a batch of hoe cakes (fried cornbread) because they can be made quickly and is a family favorite alongside a great meal in a warm and cozy setting.