Sourdough Stuffing with Ham and Pears

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I have saved this recipe for years, from back when I’d photocopy recipes from library cookbooks. So unfortunately I can’t offer up the recipe creator or cookbook source.

For me, this was a perfect recipe to learn early on in my cooking “career” that stuffings or dressings can be quite varied. They don’t have to be big blobs of wet bread, or dry dressings made from purchased stale cubes of bread.

The sourdough bread base is one difference with this stuffing, but the highlights are the bacon, ham and pears. The pears add subtle flavor but mostly moistness to the stuffing.

This could be served as a lovely side to a pork tenderloin, but certainly at Thanksgiving time. If you want it more festive, you can add dried cranberries and walnuts.

Sourdough  Stuffing  with  Ham  and  Pears

1 – 1 pound loaf sourdough bread, trimmed, cut into 1” pieces, approximately 12 ounces after trimming
2 ounces butter
3 ounces double smoked bacon, cut into 1/4” pieces
3 shallots, finely chopped
1/2 large celery bunch, with leaves, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons dried thyme
3/4 pound smoked ham, cut into 1/2” pieces
2 large pears, cored, cut into 1/2” pieces
1/4 cup minced parsley
2 1/4 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons white wine
Salt
Pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 and gently toast the bread cubes on a large baking sheet, turning them over as necessary. It should take about 20-25 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350. Set aside to cool.

Melt the butter, then cook the double-smoked bacon for a minute. Add the shallot, celery, garlic, and thyme and sauté for about 15 minutes, or until everything is fairly soft.

At this point, you could add some Cognac or Armagnac or Calvados and flambé the mixture, but I didn’t this time.

Add the ham and cook with the bacon and vegetables for a few minutes, then add the pears and parsley.

Combine this mixture with the bread cubes in a large bowl, and pour the broth and wine over the stuffing.

Toss gently, occasionally, for about 30 minutes for the bread to absorb the liquid; taste for seasoning.

Bake the stuffing in a greased 9 x 13” baking dish, covered with foil, for one hour. I only baked half of the stuffing, and used a 9″ square baking dish.

The other half I stuffed in a chicken and roasted.

If you wish for more browning, remove the foil for the last 5-10 minutes.

The whole amount of stuffing is a perfect volume for a 15 pound turkey.

I sliced the roast chicken and served with the stuffing and some tomato jam.

Salmagundi

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A while back I received a newsletter from Sous Vide Supreme, where I’d purchased my sous vide, and this was the name of the newsletter – Sous Vide Salmagundi! So I had to google salmagundi.

According to Serious Eats, “Salmagundi is more of a concept than a recipe. Essentially, it is a large composed salad that incorporates meat, seafood, cooked vegetables, raw vegetables, fruits, and nuts and is arranged in an elaborate way. Think of it as the British answer to Salad Niçoise.”

Well, it isn’t exactly like a Niçoise salad, if it contains meat, fruits, and nuts, but I was intrigued, and googled more.

From Wikipedia, “It seems to appear in English for the first time in the 17th century as a dish of cooked meats, seafood, vegetables, fruit, leaves, nuts and flowers and dressed with oil, vinegar and spices.”

Isn’t that fascinating?!!

Furthermore from Wikipedia, “In English culture the term does not refer to a single recipe, but describes the grand presentation of a large plated salad comprising many disparate ingredients. These can be arranged in layers or geometrical designs on a plate or mixed. The ingredients are then drizzled with a dressing. The dish aims to produce wide range of flavours and colours and textures on a single plate.”

Well, I immediately thought, party food! What a fabulous way to serve a meal, on a giant platter, like a whole buffet on a platter. Guests can create their own plates and, it would work for both vegetarians as well as nons.

Here are a couple of photos I found online, the left being from Serious Eats, the right one from The Boston Globe.

I told my husband about salmagundi, and he also said – party food! Surprisingly there is no cheese mentioned, but I added cheese!

Options for Salmagundi:

Roasted chicken legs
Boiled shrimp
Hot-smoked salmon
Corn on the cob halves, roasted
Salami
Potatoes
Hard-boiled eggs
Green beans
Steamed beets
Cornichons
Fruits
Nuts
Tomatoes or roasted tomatoes on a vine
Radishes
Edible flowers

This was a lot of fun to put together, as you can imagine!

I would have had people over but the flies are so bad when I did it. In fact, my husband stood guard for me, waving away flies while I photographed.

I didn’t cut up all of the cheese, or provide any dips, but you get the idea. So much more can be done with this salgagundi concept!

Jambon Persillé

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For this recipe, I referred to Glorious French Food, written by James Peterson, published in 2002. All of the following information is from his recipe. He is very serious about French food, as you can tell from the book’s title!

“While no two versions are exactly the same, jambon persillé is cooked ham that’s been layered in a terrine with chopped parsley and the gelatinous poaching liquid used for cooking the ham. Depending on whose recipe you follow, the terrine may consist of pieces of ham suspended in gelée or contain very little gelée at all, just enough to hold the terrine together.

An exact recipe for jambon persillé is hard to give because ham is one of the few things that aren’t made the same way in different parts of the country. How you make jambon persillé depends on the ham or ham shoulder you start out with and how ambitious you’re feeling. The traditional method consists of soaking a fully cured raw ham for several days to rid it of excess salt and then braising it for several hours in a wine-and-carrot-flavored court bouillon (vegetable stock) to soften it. The ham would probably be a jambon de Moruan in Burgundy, where jambon persillé originates, but prosciutto di Parma, or a less expensive domestic prosciutto, or Smithfield ham would make a good substitute. Split calves’ or pigs’ feet are simmered in the court bouillon with the ham to provide gelatin, which holds the finished jambon persillé together. The ham is cut into cubes or shredded and combined with freshly chopped parsley and the braising liquid in a terrine and allowed to set.

My own approach is somewhat different and takes a few days of forethought. I salt a fresh, raw ham and convert it into demi-sel, a trick that enhances its flavor, and then make stock with pigs’ or calves’ feet, reduce it, and add use it along with vegetables, herbs, and white wine to poach the ham instead of simmering the feet along with the ham in the way most recipes suggest. There are two reasons for making a separate jelly stock. First, this allows you to cook the stock for 10 hours instead of only 6 or so, to extract the maximum of natural gelatin. Second, jambon persillé needs a very gelatinous stock to hold it together, and making the stock in advance allows you to reduce it before you poach the ham.

While my own preference is for homemade demi-sel, you can make a jambon persillé out of just about any form of ham. If you have some decent cooked ham, you don’t need to cook it more. Just slice it, cut it into cubes, and layer it in the terrine with melted fonds gelée, clear stock with some extra gelatin added to hold it together. If you have a fully cured ham, soak a piece of it for 3 days in cold water, changing the water a couple of times a day, and then cook the piece as I describe in the recipe.”

Jambon Persillé
Ham in Aspic

6 quarts when melted fonds gelée
4 pounds [1.8 kg] boneless raw uncured fresh ham or shoulder (5 pounds [2.3 kg] if the bone is in), partially salted or left raw and uncured
4 medium-size carrots, peeled, cut into 1-inch [2.5 cm] sections
2 large red onions, peeled, cut in half through the root end
3 cups [750 ml] dry white wine
1 medium-size bouquet garni
1 large bunch flat-leaf parsley, large stems cut off and used in the bouquet garni

Bring the gelée to a gentle simmer on the stove and simmer about 2 hours to reduce it to 10 cups [2.5 l]. Skim.

To make the gelée, I simmered 5 cut up pigs feet in water and wine, with onions, leeks, parsley, thyme, chives, and bay leaves, plus a dried mixture of soup mix. I cooked, and skimmed, for about 6 hours.

Put the ham in a pot just large enough to hold it. Pour enough of the fonds gelée over the ham to cover it. Add the carrots, onions, wine, and bouquet garni, and bring to a simmer over high heat. Turn down to between low and medium heat to maintain a gentle simmer for 5 to 6 hours, until a knife slides easily in and out of the meat. Add water or more broth from time to time to make up for evaporation.

Transfer the ham to a cutting board and strain the poaching liquid into a clean container. Chop the parsley very fine.

Ladle ½ cup [125 ml] of poaching liquid into the bottom of a 1½-liter (6-cup) terrine and sprinkle over it about 1 tablespoon of the chopped parsley. Pull the ham into shreds and put a layer on top of the parsley and poaching liquid. Pour just enough poaching liquid over the meat to barely cover it, sprinkle more parsley, and add another layer of meat.

Keep layering the terrine in this way, finishing it with a layer of broth and parsley. Refrigerate overnight.

I didn’t shred the ham; I preferred the look of the terrine with large pieces.

When you’re ready to serve, just cut slices right out of the terrine. Or, for a more dramatic effect, you can unmold the whole thing: put a platter upside down over the terrine, invert both together, and lift off the terrine.

If you like, serve with bread, mustard, and cornichons.

Instead of just slices, I roughly chopped the ham in aspic to make more of a salad – something I like to do when I make pigs’ feet.

I also made a caper and parsley vinaigrette for the salad.

Straight red wine vinegar is also good, plus a few capers.

Any size terrine can be used for jambon persillé. In fact, if you want the slices to fit on bread, a long, narrow terrine is best.

Stuffed Zucchini

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Many years ago I wrote the main food article of the food section for our local newspaper. My favorite articles to write were when I interviewed people who traveled the world to cook and eat.

One such woman I wrote about attended a cooking class with Lorenza dé Medici at her home, Badia a Coltibuono, an 11th Century monastery, estate, and winery, in Tuscany. (There is no longer a cooking school, just their wines and olive oils are sold from the website.)

If I remember correctly, she spent a quite a few days in the spacious kitchen learning Tuscan specialties, using ingredients purchased at the local market. What an experience.

In the evenings all of the attendees and the Signora enjoyed the prepared food and locally grown wine. And because of that experience, I was exposed to Lorenza dé Medici and her many cookbooks.

I’ve posted on one recipe by Lorenza dé Medici from her Antipasti cookbook – Crostini al Tonno – but this Stuffed Zucchini recipe is from The Villa Table, published in 1993.

This recipe was posted years ago, but I needed to re-do the photos!

Courgettes Stuffed with Ham
Zucchine Ripiene al Prosciutto

6 medium zucchini (I recommend only 3 medium)
3 eggs
5 tablespoons fine dry breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
6 ounces cooked ham, chopped
Salt
Pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil

Bring a saucepan of salted water to the boil. Add the zucchini and cook for 5 minutes. Drain and pat dry.

Cut off and discard both ends of the zucchini. Using an apple corer, scoop out the pulp from the centers, leaving both ends intact, to make the hollow of the boat.

I also let the zucchini boats rest on paper towels to collect moisture.

In a bowl beat the eggs. Add the breadcrumbs, Parmesan, butter, and chopped ham. Mix well.

Transfer the mixture to a small frying pan. Stirring constantly, cook over low heat until the mixture thickens slightly. Remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper.

Stuff the zucchini with the mixture. Pour the oil and 2 tablespoons of water into an ovenproof dish and arrange the zucchini in it.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes. Let cool slightly.

I sprinkled the stuffed zucchini with chopped Italian parsley and a little flaked salt.

Enjoy as a side, or as a meal!

And personally, I loved the white pepper instead of black!

A Basic Omelet

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There was a summer many years ago when I taught cooking classes to four little girls – two sets of sisters who were homeschooled. Their mothers thought that cooking classes would satisfy many interests and teach quite a few skills to the girls. And indeed, I’ve always thought that cooking classes are fabulous for not only learning about food, but also grasping important applications like math and chemistry.

During those classes we had a session on eggs – how to appreciate them for the wonderful little package of food they are, and how to treat them with respect in the kitchen. And one thing we made together were omelets. (Also a pavlova, which was a huge hit!)

Now, it may not seem that creative to put an omelet on my blog, but on the contrary, I think that an omelet requires learning some skills. Plus, there are a lot of terrible omelets out there, so perhaps I’m doing a community service with this post. I hope so.

To me, there are a few criteria for making the perfect omelet:
1. good eggs
2. good cheese, for a cheese omelet
3. the right skillet
4. a lid
5. patience

Of course it goes without saying that the ingredients that you choose for your omelet have to be good. It’s especially nice to have access to farm-fresh eggs – the kind that are almost impossible to break open because the shells are so hard.

Cheese is subjective – there’s no “right” cheese. I like Fontina, Gruyere, or even a good Monterey Jack. Who am I kidding?! Any cheese that melts well will work.

The right skillet is important because you want your omelet to end up a decent thickness. Place your whisked eggs in too large of a skillet, and you will get a thin omelet. Unless you like that kind, I don’t recommend too large of a skillet.

The skillet I use for my one-person, 2-egg omelet, is actually a crêpe pan. It’s got a flat bottom and flat sides. The outside diameter is 8″; the inside diameter, or bottom, measures 6″ in diameter.

crepe

A perfect-fitting lid is also important for making a good omelet.

And then the most important aspect of making an omelet – patience. As Rome wasn’t built in a day, an omelet can’t be prepared in one minute. I know everyone likes fast food, but if you rush your omelet, it will taste and feel like something purchased at a fast food restaurant. Which would make me wonder why you’re even bothering to cook an omelet at home in the first place…

For today’s omelet, or omelette, I chose butter, 2 eggs, grated Fontina, and some diced, leftover ham. And here’s what I did.

A  Basic  Ham  and  Cheese   Omelet

2 eggs
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Diced ham, optional of course
Cheese of choice – grated, or sliced fairly thinly

Whisk the 2 eggs in a small bowl with a fork, before you begin heating the skillet. Also, please don’t think that brown eggs are better than white. My mother had chickens that laid many different colored eggs, depending on their breed.

Place the butter in the skillet over medium heat. It should begin melting immediately, but not burn. If you think the skillet is too hot, remove it from the heat source for a minute. Cooking is a lot about common sense.

You need to work fairly quickly at first, but don’t worry, it’s not a race. Just have all of the ingredients available, as well as the skillet lid. And don’t forget to adjust the heat on the stove. That’s why there are knobs. Or, if you panic, completely remove the skillet from the heat source and collect yourself.

Pour the whisked eggs into the skillet. The butter has browned a bit. You can see that the skillet is “grabbing” the eggs and the cooking process has begun.

Immediately place the ham and cheese over the top of the eggs and turn down the heat to the lowest setting. Trust me.

Then place the lid on the skillet. Let the omelet cook slowly, with the lid on, over the lowest heat, for about 4 minutes.

At this point, the top of the omelet will look like this:

Most of the cheese is melted, but there is still a bit of egg that need to cook through. Remove the skillet completely from the heat source, but leave the lid on.

After about 1 minute, the omelet should be ready. I prefer an omelette baveuse, or soft. Cook a little more if you can’t handle runny eggs!

You can use a thin spatula to remove the omelet from the skillet and fold over gently, or slide it out for an open-face presentation. Alternatively, use the skillet to slide the omelet on the plate, then fold it over into a semi-circle using the edge of the skillet.

The egg part of the omelet is cooked and somewhat puffy, almost like a soufflé, but not to the point of rubberyness. I don’t mind a bit of browning on the eggs.

Notice the cheese is fully melted inside because the lid on the skillet allowed the cheese to warm and melt, just like with a quesadilla.

What’s important is that in spite of the fact that this omelet took a little time, the results are superb.

I swore off omelets at restaurants a couple of decades ago. No more rubber omelets, ever!

Monte Cristo Crêpes

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A Monte Cristo sandwich is a ham and cheese sandwich with a layer of strawberry jam, that is then egg-dipped and pan-fried in butter. The sweet and savory flavors, along with the melty cheese and crispy bread are heavenly.

I’ve only had a Monte Cristo once, but I remember it well. My stepfather had come to Santa Barbara, California, where I was attending college, and he took me to lunch at a well known Mexican restaurant downtown called El Paseo, which was housed in a popular fiesta venue known for its retractable ceiling. I found this photo on Pinterest!

How I came to choose the Monte Cristo sandwich that day is beyond me, but I loved the flavor combinations.

The traditional Monte Cristo sandwich recipe is generally the following:
Firm sandwich bread slices
Sliced Swiss cheese
Jambon de Bayonne or other good thinly-sliced ham
Strawberry jam (not preserves) or red currant jelly
Mayo mixed with some whole-grain mustard
Eggs whisked for dipping
Butter for pan frying

The Monte Cristo is always sliced in half before serving, so the beautiful layers show, and sprinkled with powdered sugar. This photo is from Bon Appetit, although it doesn’t show the layers.

Thanks to general pandemic googling, I came across Monte Cristo Crêpes from Serious Eats, by Morgan Eisenberg, WOW! I was so excited to make these. From the recipe’s creator, whose blog is Host the Toast: “It’s a masterpiece of the sweet-and-savory genre, and it turns out it’s just as good in crepe form.”

Monte Cristo Crêpes
adapted by Morgan Eisenberg

1/2 cup strawberry jam (not preserves)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
6 basic crêpes, unsweetened
6 slices Havarti cheese
Grated Gruyere, about 6 ounces
12 thin slices deli ham*
1/3 milk
2 large eggs
1 egg yolk
Pinch of salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
Confectioners’ sugar, to dust
Assorted berries, for garnish (optional)

In a small bowl, thoroughly whisk together jelly and mustard. Spread a thin, even layer of the jelly mixture over each of 6 crêpes. Warm first if necessary.

Top each crêpe with 1 slice of each cheese and then layer the ham on top of the cheese.

Sprinkle some grated Gruyere around the outside of each crêpe to help everything to hold together – about 1 ounce each. I used my microwave on a very low setting to just get the cheese warm and slightly melted in order to hold the crêpes together before continuing with the recipe.

Roll the crepe up tightly and and set seam-side down. Press gently. Repeat for remaining crepes.

In a large bowl, whisk together milk, eggs, egg yolk and salt. Have a non-stick skillet over medium heat, starting with about 2 tablespoons of butter melting. Using your fingers, briefly dip a crêpe into the egg mixture. Allow excess to drip off and transfer to the skillet, seam-side down.

Fry crepes until golden all over, turning once. Everything is already cooked, so you’re just looking for some nice browning.

Transfer to a plate. Repeat with the remaining crepes, frying one or two at a time and adding butter as needed.

Serve any remaining jam-Dijon mixture.

Dust crepes with powdered sugar, if desired.

Serve warm with berries. See the beautiful layers?

I might have made these extra cheesy, because the cheese “juice” as my husband calls it, just poured out of these!

But so did the cheese, which was lovely.

I have a lot of experience with crêpes, but with all of the ooziness, I didn’t think they looked very pretty free-form. I might make these again more in casserole form, even though I detest that word! I also think larger diameter crepes would have been easier to manage.

*Since I used Serrano ham, which is similar to prosciutto, I only used 6 slices total.

Spiced Gammon Cooked in Cider

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Ever since my daughter had a cider-cooked gammon on Christmas in England with her now-husband, I’ve been chomping at the bit to make it. It sounds so British, but also so autumnal. First I had to figure out the American equivalent of gammon.

Thank goodness I have British blogger friends, who worked tirelessly with my predicament, and it wasn’t easy. Linda Duffin, of the blog Mrs. Portly’s Kitchen, finally figured out, with some help, that it is an uncooked Virginia ham. Below are Linda by her infamous Aga, and her gorgeous kitchen where she teaches cookery classes.

I chose an uncooked country Virginia Felts brand ham.

Then I found this, from the blog The Nosey Chef:

The etymology of ham is truly confusing, and it is not helped by trans-Atlantic variations in use. Put simply, a hind leg of a pig is a leg of pork. If that leg is brined, then it becomes gammon. If you cook a gammon, you end up with ham. But if the gammon is served hot from the oven and cut thickly as a main protein in a meal, then it is still called gammon. Let it go cold and slice it thinly, then we are back in ham territory. In the US, the uncooked meat is called a ham, and the word ‘gammon’ never arises. So, in the UK, you can ‘make’ a ham, but in the US, you can only really buy one.

The recipe I used is from Sainsbury’s Magazine online. Sainsbury’s is a large supermarket chain in the UK.

The recipe uses dry cider, which I also had to research, and discovered is what I know of as hard cider, which fortunately is now widely available in the US. My favorite is Strongbow.

You know the joke… “I love cooking with wine. And sometimes I even put some in the food! Well, that’s also me with Strongbow! Cheers!

Spiced Gammon Cooked in Cider

For the gammon:
1 – 2 kg boneless gammon joint (about 4.5 pounds)
1 onion, peeled, quartered
2 whole star anise
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
3 bay leaves
1 liter dry cider (about 34 ounces)

For the glaze:
Handful of cloves
100 g of dark brown sugar (3.5 ounces)
50 g honey (3 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

Scrub the gammon to remove the moldy parts.

Place the gammon in a large pan along with the other ingredients, and top with cold water to cover the gammon by an inch.

Bring to a boil, skimming off and discarding any impurities as they rise to the surface. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for 1 hour 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to cool in the liquid for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C (425 degrees F). Remove the gammon from the stock and transfer to a board. Remove the skin; score the fat into diamonds and stud the fat with the cloves.

Mix together the sugar, honey, mustard and spices. Transfer the gammon to a foil-lined tin and brush the fat with half of the glaze. Since I think I trimmed off a little too much fat, I added a few dabs of butter.

Roast in the over for 20 minutes, spooning the remaining glaze over the top halfway through.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool for 20 minutes if serving warm. Slice thinly into the fattest part of the leg, slicing cross-wise.

Cool completely to eat cold. Duh.

I served the gammon with roasted potatoes and my Festive Cumberland sauce.

It was a lovely combination.

So, was it worth it? I enjoyed the process, but I didn’t really taste apple flavor, although the glaze is especially good.

Maybe next time I’ll try another recipe.

Split Pea Soup

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Split pea soup. Easy. Cheap. Satisfying. Healthy. Well, depending how much sour cream you dollop on top…

My husband reminded me that he could eat split pea soup every day. The foods I could eat every day are in a very different category, but this soup is what he loves, so I make it for him, although obviously not often enough… and why not? For 99 cents and a little time, a hearty soup is hardly an effort. Plus some ham hocks.

Even though the weather is getting warmer, split pea soup with ham is still a springtime soup in my mind, but certainly satisfying during cold months as well. Here is a recipe I used to make my husband happy.(Trust me, he’s never unhappy with the many meals I continue to prepare for him. But I do like cooking for an appreciative soul.)

Split Pea Soup with Ham

16 ounces dried split peas
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 ham hocks
8 ounces diced ham
Sour cream, optional

Soak the split peas in warm water for about 4 hours, then drain before starting the recipe.

Add the olive oil and butter to a Dutch oven and heat over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté for about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and give it a stir, then immediately add the soaked split peas and chicken stock. The broth or stock should cover the peas by at least 1/2 inch.

Add the seasoning, and bring the stock to a boil. Place the 2 ham hocks in with the peas, cover the pot, then simmer the peas for about 45 minutes; you can’t overcook the split peas.

Let the soup cool, either overnight in the refrigerator or at room temperature. Remove the hocks and try to remove all of the ham bits from the bones. Set aside to use as garnish. If you choose, use an immersion blender to blend the soup smoother. It’s just prettier that way, but optional.

Add the diced ham to the soup, and heat. Then taste for seasoning.

Serve the hot soup with sour cream and the chopped smoked ham.

This soup could also be made with chopped carrots and/or potatoes.

When my daughters left home, they knew how to cook a pot of legumes, lentils, beans, and split peas. I think I taught them that cooking doesn’t have to cost a fortune, as well as the fact that home cooking isn’t difficult.

Cuban Black Bean Soup

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Many years ago my husband and I went to a work party, and the main dish served was said to be authentic Cuban black bean soup. Neither of the hosts were from Cuba, but they did share their recipe for the soup because it was outstanding.

At that time in my life I’d just begun cooking, and hadn’t before been introduced to black beans. Fast forward a few decades, and black beans are my favorite bean, if I was forced to pick one. I love them all, really, but maybe it’s the beautiful purple-black color that makes them so unique. They’re sometimes called turtle beans.

Black beans are prominent in Southwestern-inspired dishes, Latin American dishes, as well as Western African dishes. On the blog alone I’ve prepared black beans with Polish sausage, a black bean salad, puréed them to create “refried” black beans, and used those in a black bean and feta dip. They’re just so versatile.

But today I’m going back to where I was first introduced to them, in the form of Cuban black bean soup.

Cuban Black Bean Soup
printable recipe below

1 pound black beans, such as black turtle beans
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 pound lean salt pork, cut into small cubes
2 cups finely chopped onions
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 1/2 cups finely chopped green bell pepper
8 cups beef broth
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 1/2 pounds smoked pork hocks
Salt and pepper
Cayenne chile pepper flakes, to taste
1/4 cup sherry

Put the beans in a large bowl and add cold water to cover to about 2″ above the top layer of beans. Soak overnight.

Heat the oil in a stock pot. Add the salt pork and cook, stirring often, until rendered of fat. Add the onions, garlic, and green pepper. Cook until wilted.

Drain the beans and add them to the pork and vegetable mixture. Add the beef broth.

Add the bay leaf and oregano, pork hocks, salt and pepper to taste, and the cayenne pepper flakes.

Bring to a boil and simmer about two hours or until beans are quite soft.

Remove the pork hocks. If desired, remove the meat from the hocks and chop finely to use as a garnish. (I returned the meat to the soup.)

Pour and scrape half of the beans into the container of a food processor. Blend until a purée forms, then scrape back into the stock pot. Puréed black beans are more of a grey color, but mixed with the whole cooked beans the soup is pretty.

Add the sherry. Heat thoroughly and serve.

I served the soup with achiote cornbread.

Serve, if desired, with optional garnishes such as chopped purple onion or green onions, lime slices, chopped ham, and sour cream.

The soup is also traditionally served over white rice, but I prefer mine without.

I hope you try this recipe. It’s a really good, hearty soup, but mostly I like it with all of my toppings of choice!

And cornbread.

 

Pipérade

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My mother could cook just about anything. I never realized she was so talented until I was older, of course. And it wasn’t always about what she learned from cookbooks, there were also the recipes she just knew instinctively. It’s sort of like why French women are all talented cooks. Why is that?!!

For example, I remember once as a kid asking my mother if she’d make me peach dumplings. She made them, no recipe, and they were incredible. I’d have to look up a recipe for peach dumplings, and I’ve been cooking for 40+ years.

Thirty-five years ago my husband and I took my mother out to a French restaurant when she was visiting us in Houston, Texas. It didn’t go so well, mostly because of the flying cockroach. She ordered Oeufs à la Neige for dessert and disliked it. “I’ll make it for you and you’ll see what it’s supposed to taste like.”

The next day at our house, she made Oeufs à la Neige without a recipe, and it was better than the restaurant’s. When I made it for this blog, I used a recipe.

The other day I was thinking about breakfasts growing up. Let me just say that there was no cold cereal at my house. Maybe when I was 11 I discovered my friends ate Cocoa Krispies and Cocoa Puffs at their houses, and I was a bit jealous. But I also knew that my breakfasts were wonderful. Even a humble bowl of oatmeal was served with butter and cream.

My mother was a whiz at eggs. She had chickens, so we had beautiful eggs – blue, green, beige, and white eggs. Even duck eggs.

Occasionally my mother would make an omelet-like pipérade. I grew up never knowing it was a real recipe, but it is, originating from the Basque corner of France (thanks, Google.) Mom was from the Northeastern corner of France, so she must have discovered this recipe in a cookbook along the way.

What makes this egg dish somewhat different from your basic omelet choices are the vegetables and ham, and no cheese. Here I will try to duplicate her recipe.

Pipérade

6 eggs, at room temperature
Pinch of salt
2 ounces butter
1 green bell pepper, finely chopped
3 shallots, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
3-4 ripe Roma-style tomatoes, chopped, seeded, or equivalent
1/2 teaspoon piment d’Espelette
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 ounces Prosciutto, chiffonaded
Chopped parsley
Chopped basil

Beat the eggs and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.

Heat the butter in a medium pan over medium heat. Add the green pepper and sauté for about 5 minutes. It should be soft and not browned.

Stir in the shallots and garlic, and sauté for 2 minutes, preventing any browning.

Add the tomatoes, adjust the heat if necessary, and cook off any liquid in the pan.

Add the piment and stir into the tomato mixture. Set the pan aside.

In a separate skillet, I used my cast-iron skillet, heat the olive oil over high heat, and when hot, gently “sear” the ham. Remove from the skillet onto paper towels.

Reheat the same skillet over medium-low heat; you shouldn’t have to add more oil. Add the eggs, and gently move the eggs around and away from the sides with a spatula as if you’re making scrambled eggs.

Remove from the heat when the eggs are still soft, and spread the tomato mixture over the top. Then add the ham, parsley, and basil.

It was really tempting to not also serve crème fraiche with the pipérade.

But I added more piment and black pepper.

In reality there’s nothing exceptional about these eggs, but the dish is fabulous for breakfast, lunch, or brunch.

Just look at these soft eggs and all of the lovely vegetables and herbs.