Sunday, October 21, 2012

Split Green Pea Soup

Two weekends ago, the husband and I were lucky enough to see a Giants playoff game, and tonight the Giants play the Cardinals.  As many of you know, I am a Cubs fan first and a Giants fan second; however, I am torn.  My grandmother Alice was a White Sox fan and, thus, a Cardinals fan by default, for her allegiance to the South Side of Chicago meant that any affection for that ursine team located in Boys Town was unspeakable.  She actively rooted for any team that played against the Cubs, and given that the Cardinals were their biggest rivals, she became their biggest fan.

Alice cooked; she had a huge, fenced-in garden in the backyard with green beans and tomatoes with smooth, glossy skin.  My mother, however, was the first woman I knew who didn't like to cook.  My mother opened boxes, boiled water, poured milk and called it a meal.  Alice, on the other hand, cooked for her Catholic children on no money, no college education, and three husbands who drank too much.

Growing up, I thought Easter Sunday was the thrilling opportunity to wear a hat in church and then drive to Alice's house where she would inexplicably have a basted ham already in the oven even though she left church at the same time we did.  My favorite cousin Tina and I would play dress up in Alice's old dresses--the faded lace and the torn hems--while my mother and her sisters and their husbands sat in the basement kitchen smoking and exchanging news.  My grandmother had two kitchens, the sweet luxury of an additional room devoted to something as mysterious as cooking.  When it came time to line up for the buffet, my mother would instruct me to take a little of everything, including the dreaded lima beans, because that was polite and my grandmother had worked so hard.  Thus plated, I would take my place with my youngest cousins at the kids' table, aware that I would never be old enough in our large family to sit at the grown-ups' table--with our family's robust hearts and lack of debilitating disease, vacancies were rate.

And in the fall, in that basement kitchen, my grandmother and aunt canned beans, tomatoes, peas, carrots, beets—the whole weight of her backyard garden.  As usual, my mother made herself absent on these days to go places I still don’t even know, but I loved to ride Grandma’s stationary bicycle that she set up at the far end of the basement kitchen counter.  In her old church dresses and slingbacks, I had to wrestle to keep from getting myself tangled in the wheel, but I would look up to watch while my aunt and she moved in silence, each of them knowing exactly what the other was doing—boiling water, measuring the headspace between the jar rim and the hot liquid, fitting the two-piece metal lids, listening for that familiar “ping” when the jars were cool, and writing the contents and date on the jar in a Sharpie marker.  They moved through the kitchen, wiping the sweat from the backs of their necks, and I peddled and peddled, keeping time on the steady bike.  Sometime after they finished and were sharing a cigarette at the kitchen table, my mother would arrive, all vigor and celerity. She would take a puff or two, direct me to change back into my clothes, and we would head off to the car empty handed.

Much later, on Sundays my mother would take dinner to my grandmother, who, well into her nineties, left that home with the big backyward and the view of the railroad tracks.  She declined as a widow from her third and final husband in a ground-floor apartment with one small, decaying kitchen and no stairs to speak of.  My mother would arrive with a pre-made split pea and ham soup to warm on the stove and some potato rolls from Hy-Vee to find my grandmother on the couch, a White Sox or a Cardinals game on television and a crossword puzzle tucked by her side.  When my grandmother died a few years ago, I found that I missed her cooking and her garden the most.  But I think my mother misses those Sundays with the sounds of a baseball game in the background even more.


Split Green Pea Soup

from The Best Soups In the World

4 Servings

1 1/2 cups split green peas (3/4 pound)
1/4 cup salted pork, cubed
1 large onion, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 large garlic close, minced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 allspice berries
1 bay leaf
6 cups water or chicken stock
1 tablespoon butter

1. Place the peas in the pot with the salted pork, onion, celery, carrot, garlic, thyme, allspice, and bay leaves.  Cover with the water or stock and bring to a near boil over high heat, skimming any foam that appears on the surface.  Reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered and stirring occasionally, until the peas are tender, about 2 hours.

2.  Remove the allspice berries and bay leaves.  Transfer the soup in batches to a blender and blend until a smooth puree.

3.  Return the soup to a clean pot, season with salt and pepper, and reheat over medium heat.  Stir in butter.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Breakfast Bomber Sub

Are you hungry?  Because this breakfast bomber will fill you right up.

As part of The Super Awesome Cover-to-Cover Challenge (from Bitten Word, a lovely little website where two fabulous writers take it upon themselves to cook from a plethora of cooking magazines each week), I am cooking a rather colossal hero sandwich from The Food Network Magazine.  Our fearless leaders have called upon their readers (that's me! (among many others)) to help them cook every recipe from one of the October food magazines.

Part of a presentation from Jeff Mauro, the self-proclaimed Sandwich King, on game-day subs, this bomber combines cream cheese with scrambled eggs and chicken apple sausages.  This makes a fabulous breakfast/brunch on game day, and these days, when you're living in the Bay Area, you need a lot of game day fuel.  (There is a lot of heartbreaking going on, what with the A's and all; however, one needs energy to root on the Giants.)

I have a soft spot for the hoagie, the sub, the grinder, what you will.  In the big city near my little hometown in Central Illinois, there's a great little sandwich shop, Hungry Hobos (name of which may have been recently changed to Boxcar Express).  But back in the day, when one was not in the mood for the best taco pizza ever at Happy Joe's, one simply headed next door for a sub.  Now, people get quite up in arms and quite regional about their nomenclature for the long, skinny sandwich.  Is it a grinder only if it's heated?  A hoagie when it has a little of everything on it?  A sub when it has only one kind of meat?  A hero if it's served cold? A Po' Boy if you're from the South?  I'll leave it up to you to duke it out during the 7th-inning stretch.  In the mean time, some thoughts on this massive sandwich...

Despite being incredibly rich, this bomber was tasty.  It's eggs, sausage, and toast, people.  You cannot go wrong with that.  The eggs are a bit heavy with both half-and-half and Swiss cheese (a whole cup!) and the amount of cream cheese a little overwhelming.  However, the simple basics are ones we can get behind.  Play with the proportions of the cream cheese, try milk instead of half-and-half, and dash on the hot sauce.  This might be the hoagie for tonight's (somewhat heavy) dinner.  Especially if you have, as I do, a nephew who refuses to eat anything besides breakfast food.  A sure fire way to ensure that breakfast is what's for dinner.

One Year Ago: Roast Pork with Onion-and-Apple Marmalade

Two Years Ago: Good Earth Bread

Breakfast Bomber Sub
from The Food Network Magazine

8 Servings

1/2 8-ounce tub whipped cream cheese
1 tablespoon minced fresh chives
Kosher salt
4 links fully cooked chicken-apple sausage
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
8 large eggs
1/3 cup half-and-half
Freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cup shredded Swiss cheese (about 3 ounces)
1 24-inch baguette
Hot sauce, for serving (optional)

1.  Make the cream cheese spread: Mix the cream cheese, chives and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a bowl. 

2.  Preheat the broiler. 

3.  Partially split each sausage lengthwise, cutting about three-quarters of the way through, then open the sausages so they lie flat. Heat the olive oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Sear the sausages until golden, about 3 minutes per side. Set the sausages aside and wipe out the skillet.

4.  Whisk the eggs, half-and-half and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper in a bowl. Melt the butter in the skillet over medium-high heat. Add the egg mixture and stir with a rubber spatula until just set on the bottom, about 1 minute. Reduce the heat to medium low, add the Swiss cheese and stir until the eggs are cooked.

5.  Sandwich build: Split the baguette in half lengthwise and toast lightly under the broiler. Schmear the cream cheese spread on the baguette top. Lay the sausages on the baguette bottom. Top with the scrambled eggs and the baguette top. Cut into individual sandwiches and serve with hot sauce.