Saturday, April 10, 2010

Easter Sunday...the aftermath

After the main Easter meal, inevitably you are left with...leftovers. Unless of course, you are the type that goes out to eat for Easter Sunday - then you are probably left with a doggie bag, and if you are reading this, you are outta luck because this blog entry is about what to do with the leftovers.

The ham was massive.  10.5 pounds for just five people, three of which don't eat all that much.  However, we've made quite a dent in the leftovers - sandwiches, pasta (ham and leek with bowties), snacks.  There is a good amount of meat left, and time is running out.  I was supposed to drop some off to my son's batting coach, but communication with a 15 year old is not always timely, and he told me about three days after he had batting lessons when I was musing aloud about that huge hunk of ham still taking up space in my fridge.  Teenagers.

Luckily, the weather turned colder.  We had a streak of 90 degree plus weather for about a week, and no one even wants to come NEAR a bowl of nice hot soup when it's 91 degrees outside.  A thunderstorm brought much cooler temperatures more on par for the MD area, so soup was back on the menu.

I love split pea soup.  However, my husband refuses to eat peas, or even split pea soup, because of the name.  You get it? pea = pee.  Doesn't matter it's not spelled the same, doesn't matter that peas are green, and you would never pee green ANYTHING, and if you did it would most likely be a cause for consternation, but all his life he has assiduously avoided anything with the "pea" word.  I usually just tell him they aren't really "peas"  (which is sort of a half truth - they *are* peas, but not like the kind you get from your garden - split peas came originally from India),  they are "legumes".  Legumes are your beans, lentils, and yes...peas LOL.  They are loaded with fiber and nutrients and are a good substitute if you want something filling, but meatless.

I digress yet again.  Lucky I'm not like this in the kitchen, or dinner would never get on the table.  I don't understand how I can be so organized in some areas, and so easily sidetracked in others.  As a cook and a nurse, I have *no* problem keeping on task, but with housework I am usually hopelessly distracted.  I start out vacuuming the dining room rug for example, then I noticed that the credenza needs dusting, so I go into the kitchen to get a dust rag.  When I am in the kitchen, I notice there is a ring on the counter from where Ben made a chocolate shake, and was a bit off on his calcuations of ice cream/milk/glass.  So, I get a sponge and wipe it up.  When I finish, I start back into the dining room, only to notice while glancing in the family room that Ben's hoodie is on the floor, so I go in and pick it up.  While I am in there, I notice the pillow to the green chair is also on the floor, so I pick that up too.  Then upon straightening up, I notice a dust bunny in the hallway.  To the garage to get the dustpan/broom.  I sweep up the dust bunny, then notice the pile of dirty clothes accumulating on the bathroom floor since Meg isn't around to yell at Ben - "BEN!!!!! GET YOUR CLOTHES OFF THE FREAKIN' FLOOR SO I CAN TAKE A SHOWER!!!!!!" So I go pick them up because I don't want to get behind in the laundry.  I think you're beginning to get the picture.  However, in the kitchen I am a whirlwind of efficiency.  I clean up as I go, I wipe counters when I'm done.  Pots are cleaned before I even sit down to the meal.  Dammit, I am good.  Hubby swears one of the main reasons he married me was because I could coordinate all aspects of meal preparation and have the dinner all done at the same time.  This was after we went to dinner at a friend's house, and had french fries, then about 10 minutes later hamburgers, followed by the buns five minutes later and the corn 20 minutes after that.

Back to lentils!  If you haven't tried them, please do.  They are yummy, especially when adequately seasoned, and are very easy to make.  Lentil Soup is one of those things you can make and leave simmering on the stove for literally hours, and it's a perfect way to use up all that Easter Ham.  I know everyone has their favorite recipe, but playing around with my old recipe, I came up with a new, improved variation that has a little kick, thanks to red pepper flakes, and all my favorite onions!  Do NOT be intimidated by the list of ingredients - you basically just throw them all into the same pot and forget about it for an hour or so.  How much easier can it be than that?

Lentil Soup with Ham (printable recipe HERE) serves 6-8

8 cups of water
2 generous teaspoons of Better than Bouillon, (vegetable or chicken flavor) or a powdered instant broth - if you had a boneless ham, simply substitute chicken or vegetable broth for the water, and omit the Better than Bouillon. (Please, please invest in some Better than Bouillon.  It has a wonderful, home made flavor, and lacks the metallic taste that the powdered yukky "fake" instant broths loaded with MSG have)

1/2 pound of green lentils (I use organic french lentils from natural market)
1 large onion chopped

1 shallot, chopped - (If you don't know what shallots are - they are like an onion, but about the same size as a head of garlic - their flavor is sort of a cross between a sweet onion and garlic - and you don't need much to give your dish a lovely flavor - besides, imagine going through the produce aisle muttering to yourself "lets see..shallots, shallots..." and have people look at you and think "wow, they must know how to cook cos' they are looking for shallots!"
2 leeks, rinsed and split lengthwise, and chopped white and light green portions
3 large cloves of garlic, smashed and chopped
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or ground red pepper flakes)(This was enough to give the soup a little "kick" if you want a punt, increase the amount of red pepper flakes)
2 good sized carrots, chopped
3 stalks of celery, chopped
1 tbs fresh thyme leaves, (or 1 teaspoon of dried)
1 teaspoon cumin
1 bay leaf

1-2 tbs tomato paste (Consider buying a tube of tomato paste - it lasts forever, and you don't waste a whole can if you only need a tablespoon or two- You can usually find it with the Italian specialties, or in the aisle where they have the tomato sauce and pasta)
1 tbs red wine or red wine vinegar (don't substitute white vinegar - white wine or cider is OK and if you don't have any wine OR vinegar, just omit it)
About 1/4 cup of EVOO
Leftover Easter Ham (about 2-3 cups more or less to your preference)
Leftover Easter Ham bone
Parmesean or romano cheese for topping

1. Cover the lentils with boiling water, and let them sit while you prepare the veggies.

2. Put the EVOO in a large pot (The one you're going to cook the soup in) heat it, then add the leeks, shallot, onions, celery, carrots, garlic, thyme, salt, pepper, cumin, and cook on a medium to low heat until the veggies are tender. If they start to brown, turn the heat down a bit. The carrots can still be a bit hard, but the oniony veggies should be tender and translucent.

3. Drain the lentils.

4. Add 2 quarts of water to the pot with the veggies, along with the Better than Bouillon, one bay leaf, the tomato paste, the ham bone,and the lentils. Cover and simmer for at least an hour or until the lentils are tender. Adjust the seasonings. You should get into the habit of tasting and seasoning your food before you serve it.  The cooking process can alter the flavors.  If you're not sure, underseason at the beginning.  You can always add more seasoning, but if you had too heavy of a hand at the onset, it may be difficult if not impossible to adjust.  You can leave it cooking on the stove for longer if you want, as many hours as you need. Remove the ham bone and puree the soup with a hand blender to desired thickness. (You need to do this BEFORE adding in the ham chunks - or else you'll get quasi pureed meat along with the lentils, and honestly, that's kind of yukky.  Trust me, I speak from experience) Add the ham chunks, and wine (or wine vinegar), cook for about 20 minutes more, and serve.. Top with grated romano or parmesean cheese.
Serve with a nice crusty bread and a glass of wine.  Add a salad if you wish, and be prepared to go back for seconds.  If the compliments come, always say "It was nothing" because obviously it tastes like something  you slaved over at a hot stove for HOURS on, and you may be able to get some clean up help, or even a "you've been working hard and cooking all week - let's go out for a change".  Unfortunately, this no longer works in my family, since they are used to good cooking.  Dang.

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