Saturday, January 30, 2016

Cooking with Dried Peas

While the east coast battles a rough and stormy winter, Denman Island is already showing signs of spring. Even though we are experiencing some daytime highs in the double digits, when the rain is blowing sideways, a hot bowl of homemade soup is winter comfort food. 

A favorite around here is hearty, traditional, 'Golden Split Pea Soup', recipe below. This soup is versatile; made with green or yellow split peas and with or without meat. To achieve the smoky flavor without using smoked meat, use 'liquid smoke'. It is available in supermarkets usually near the BBQ sauce. For the meat version try any of the following; smoked turkey drumsticks, smoked pork ribs, smoked pork hock or the bone and some meat from a whole, baked ham.  

First a few tips and tricks for cooking with dried peas
  • rinse well to remove any dust residue, then drain
  • when boiled, good quality peas naturally collapse into a puree, indicating the soup is ready... cooking times in recipes are only approximate guidelines
  • salt added to the water, either on its own or in meats, may prevent the peas from forming a puree... an immersion blender can be used to help the process  
  • advantages to soaking is, an additional rinse and shortened cooking time
  • soak split peas in cold water for 6 hours to save about 30 minutes cooking time
  • never add baking soda when soaking split peas, it will destroy some of the vitamins and produce a watery final puree
  • soft water helps peas cook to a puree quicker ... minerals in hard water prevent peas from collapsing into a puree when cooked
  • bring to a boil, then simmer gently over low heat with a tight fitting lid to minimize evaporation... if the heat is too high it will stick and scorch to the bottom of the pot
  • other vegetables are added to enhance the pea flavor not mask it... for one pound of split peas use; 1 onion or the white of one medium leek, half a cup carrot and one stalk of celery
  • traditionally salt pork and ham bone are used... but beef, lamb or veal bones and cuts also work well in split pea soup
  • every chef has their own taste on spices and seasoning and again, the pea flavor should not be overpowered... for split pea soup suitable herbs and spices include; nutmeg, mace, marjoram, thyme, rosemary, bay leaf, cloves and black pepper
  • finished pea soup can be frozen for use later 

GOLDEN SPLIT PEA SOUP WITH HAM HOCKS       Yield: 8-10 servings
You can substitute dried green peas instead of yellow peas. This recipe can be doubled and freezes well.

1 lb. dried yellow split peas
A bowl for lunch today ...and some for the freezer
1 large smoked pork hock
3/4 tsp. whole black peppercorns
12 whole cloves
2 bay leaves, broken  
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 large onion, finely diced
1 large carrot, finely diced
1-2 stalks celery, finely diced 
3-4 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1/2 to 1 tsp. sea salt
3/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
6 cups water or stock 
*2 cups pork hock stock, or water
2 bay leaves, broken 
1 tsp. dried thyme, rubbed in your palm
1-2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. liquid smoke, optional 
Crusty, multi-grain bread, optional for serving

Rinse the peas several times then place in a large bowl. Add water to cover peas by 2 inches, soak for 8 hours or overnight. Drain peas and set aside.

Score the pork hock (make shallow cuts in the skin) and place in a pot. Cover with water, add whole peppercorns, whole cloves and 2 bay leaves. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover tightly and simmer for 1 hour, or until the meat easily comes off the bone. Strain the *pork hock stock into a 2 cup measure, discard peppercorns, cloves and bay leaves. To the stock, add water if needed to make 2 cups, set aside. Remove meat from bone; remove and discard skin and fat. Dice meat, keep the clean bone, set aside for the soup pot.  

In a large stock pot, melt the butter over medium high heat. Add onions and cook a few minutes. Add carrots and celery, cook just until soft then add garlic. Cook and stir another minute. Add drained peas, salt, pepper, water, *stock, cleaned pork hock bone, diced meat, bay leaves, thyme, Worcestershire and liquid smoke, if using. 

Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover stock pot with a tight fitting lid, stir occasionally. Cook for 1-2 hours or until the peas are tender and have collapsed into a puree. Add more water if needed, if the soup becomes to thick or dry.

Remove the pork hock bone and bay leaves, discard. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve immediately with crusty bread

To Freeze: ladle into desired serving size cartons, label with the name and date, refrigerate and cool quickly with the lids off. Once cooled, put on lids and freeze immediately  
Till next week... Bon Appétit!

Recipe and Photos by Sally Rae

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Comment about 'LOOK!' Oven Bags

After Christmas I received an interesting comment about the 'LOOK!' oven bags from a self professed 'fan' of my Blog. Elfi wrote...

"I read your blog on cooking the turkey, bought a goose, bought the LOOK bag and cooked it. It was the best goose I had ever prepared!"

I love goose and never thought of trying it in a 'LOOK!' bag!  
I asked her a few questions, including permission to post her information and she willingly allowed me to share her experience...
"I didn't do a thing to the goose while cooking remembering your comments that the turkey didn't need basting while it cooked in the LOOK bag.  When I opened the bag (after cooking)  I carefully poured the excess fat into a container for use during the year.  I keep it in the freezer.  There are German recipes, such as red cabbage, that use goose fat.
Thank you dear friend, Elfi"
Thank you so much for sharing Elfi! I appreciate comments and topic requests, so don't hesitate to let me know.
It may be helpful to review my previous Blog Post on how to use the 'LOOK! Oven Bags' from December 15, 2015.  

Till next week... Bon Appétit! 
       ...and keep those comments and requests coming in!

Photo by Sally Rae

Monday, January 18, 2016

Cookie 'Dough-to-Go'

My household is spoiled with impromptu, 'fresh baked' cookies. This idea was inspired through my cookie shop years ago. It all began with the request from a customer who wanted to purchase their favorite cookie as raw dough to bake fresh at home. Through that request, 'Dough-to-Go' was born!
Portion with a scoop onto a parchment lined bakesheet

I still use our favorite recipes from the cookie shop, in smaller batches, then portion and freeze individual cookie dough balls. Most cookie dough freezes well, try it with your favorite recipe. 

Here are a few tips to make the process more efficient. Line a bake sheet with parchment paper, the parchment can be reused later for baking your cookies. I use a #30 scoop to portion the dough balls. For a smaller cookie use a #50 scoop for an even larger cookie use a #20 scoop. 

Place the bake sheet of dough balls in the freezer. With a permanent marker, write the following information on a large, zip-type freezer bag; the flavor of cookie dough, the date, baking temperature and baking time. Once the dough balls are frozen solid, quickly transfer to the marked freezer bag. If the balls are stuck or frozen together, separate them. Store in the freezer until ready to bake. Fresh baked cookies are now as fast as preheating the oven and a trip to the freezer!  

To bake fresh cookies from frozen dough balls; remove the amount of cookies you want to bake from the freezer. Place the frozen dough balls on a parchment lined bake sheet, space properly for baking and allow to defrost at room temp. Meanwhile, preheat oven to required temperature. When defrosted, slightly press down the cookies with the heel of your hand or a fork... or prepare as required for your recipe, then bake. Fast, easy and the house will smell great!
Fresh baked Gingersnap Cookies
CHEF'S TIPS: Our constant favorites for the freezer are 'Chocolate Chunk' and 'Fudge Mint Chip' cookies. The secret behind my chocolate chip cookies loaded with chocolate, is to use different sized chocolate chips and almost double the amount of chocolate called for in the recipe. I incorporate 3 different sizes of chocolate pieces; small pure chocolate chips, large pure chocolate chips and hand-chopped Belgian Callebaut chocolate slab. This results in the dough to chocolate pieces at about a 50/50 ratio. Warning, this dough becomes very difficult to mix and scoop, but well worth the effort! 

You can transform most fudge or chocolate based cookie dough into chocolate mint by substituting pure mint flavor instead of vanilla and using half or more of the chocolate called for in the recipe of mint flavored chocolate chips.  

A few more cookie tips I learned from professional baker Anna Olsen; if you want a 'chewy' cookie, use baking soda. For a 'crunchy' cookie, use baking powder... and for a 'soft center' add 2 Tbsp. cornstarch to your recipe.  

Till next week, Happy Baking and Bon Appétit! 

Photos and 'Dough-to Go' method by Sally Rae