Five Things I Cooked This Week
We are in Jordan this week visiting with my in-laws and soaking up some sunshine. I firmly believe that whatever sunshine we lack in London is bottled up and stored here in Amman. They have more than they need here, while we're taking vitamin D supplements just to help us get out of bed in the morning. Alas, I fervently wish that I was able to save some sunshine for a rainy day, but instead I'll take photos and fantasize about my wonderful times here when we're stuck in the gloom. Anyway, because my mother-in-law is a very keen cook, I don't get much opportunity to wield my knives when we visit, so most of the items I'm including in this week's instalment of Five Things... were prepared back at home before I jetted south. However there is one dish I just whipped up for my Circassian family that I'm including because it's delicious and easy.A couple weeks back I shared a status update on my Facebook page because the smell coming from this pot of soup was just too delicious - split pea soup with creme fraiche. This is another recipe out of Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc cookbook with several adjustments from me. Again, I think he adds work that simply isn't necessary for the home cook. That said, he does bring out my meticulous side and I took more care with this soup than I normally would. He calls for a smoked ham hock to flavor the broth and then shred into the soup. This being London and not the deep South, laying my hands on one of these was akin to trying to find a hen's tooth. The Ginger Pig butchers saved the day once more! They had a couple of racks of smoked pork ribs hanging in their window and so I was able to begin.Split Pea Soup with Creme Fraiche serves 83 tablespoons canola oil2 cups carrots, sliced2 cups chopped leeks2 cups chopped yellow onionpinch sea salt1 rack of smoked pork ribs3 quarts of chicken stock1 pound split peas, rinsed and checked for stones1 to 2 tablespoons red wine vinegarblack pepper2 cups peas (i used frozen and let them come to room temp, if using fresh blanch first)1/2 cup creme fraicheIn a large pot heat the oil and add your chopped vegetables with a large pinch of salt. After a couple of minutes reduce the heat to low and cover with a parchment lid, cooking very slowly for 35-40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Now add the ribs and the stock and bring to a simmer for 45 minutes more. Strain the stock into a bowl and discard the vegetables. Now return the stock and the ribs to the pot along with the split peas, simmer for one hour. Once the peas are breaking apart, remove from the heat, take out the ribs, and blend with either an immersion blender or in batches in a blender. Place the soup back in the large pot (if you used the blender) and season with the vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. You may need to add a little water to the soup if it's become too thick. Now add the peas and remove all of the meat from the ribs. Add this to the soup just before serving and garnish with a dollop of creme fraiche.The Brits absolutely love a bit of smoked fish. Recently, I was wandering through Waitrose and a packet of pale pink smoked trout filets caught my eye. Why not, I thought. So I decided these delicate little filets would make a delicious hearty lunch salad and I went through my cupboard to see what all I had that would make this a complete meal (I was trying to clear out the fridge before I left town). I had some already cooked lentils and yellow split peas, half a red onion, some rocket (arugula to you and me), parsley, chives, creme fraiche. I sauteed the sliced red onion in a tiny bit of olive oil, added a clove of chopped garlic, a spoonful of dijon mustard and a dash of sherry vinegar. Now I added a couple of tablespoons each of my cooked lentils and yellow split peas to the pan. While this was cooking I mixed together a hearty spoonful of creme fraiche with some prepared horseradish (enough to make my eyes water). The grains all heated through, I placed them on a bed of rocket, then garnished with a healthy amount of chopped parsley and chives. Now I simply broke up one of the trout fillets on top and finished the whole thing with a good amount of the horseradish cream. What did I get? A delicious lunch that I would be proud to serve to a client.These days I'm frantically in search of something, anything salty and crunchy that I can add to my diet. You see, I'm trying so hard to retain whatever remnants of a girlish figure I have before it's too late. I came across some beet and rosemary raw crackers at Whole Foods and liked the idea, although I'm not going to go so far as to eat raw food that should be cooked if I don't have to. Instead I thought I'd play around with the flavors of beet and rosemary and make crackers of my own. I love the earthiness of beets (I've even made a delicious beet, orange and marscarpone ice cream) so I was hopeful these would satisfy my crunch quota. And while these are not quite the same as my parmesan poppy seed crackers, they will do the trick (oh, and I got to finally use my ravioli press that I bought in Rome to make these into perfect ruffled rounds, but you can use just about anything to cut these into the shape you'd like).Beet and Rosemary Crackersmakes about 32 (depending on the size)2 tablespoons olive oil1 cup diced, peeled beet1/2 cup water1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour3 tablespoons chopped rosemary1 teaspoon sea salt1/2 teaspoon pepperMaldon sea salt and olive oil to finishPreheat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat the oil in a skilled and add the diced beets with a splash of water. Allow them to cook, adding more water as necessary, until they are easily pierced by a knife. In a food processor combine the rosemary, salt, pepper, and flour and pulse until the rosemary is quite fine and distributed throughout the mixture. Now add the beets and their cooking liquid and pulse to combine. If you need more water to make the dough come together add it bit by bit - slowly! Now turn the dough out onto your flour-dusted counter and once you've got it into a roughly rectangular shape place a piece of parchment on top. Now roll it out until it's very thin, about 1/8th of an inch. Use whatever cutter you'd like to make your individual crackers and place them on a parchment lined baking sheet. Brush the crackers with olive oil and sprinkle with some Maldon sea salt. Bake for about 15 minutes until they're browning around the edges and cool on a wire rack. They will crisp up more as they cool.Fish is a regular part of my repertoire at home and I make a conscious effort to get in at least three servings a week. Here in Amman fish is somewhat scarce and from what my mother-in-law tells me, it's never been part of the diet here even though the sea is not all that far away. Determined not to be thwarted in my intake of omega 3's, we made a trip to Cosmo (seriously the most amazing grocery store chain here - full of all of the junk and some of the healthy stuff from both the US and UK). They have a decent fish counter with beautiful red snapper, salmon, something called a louis fish, giant prawns, octopus. Because my husband's family are not big fish eaters, he thought they'd enjoy some salmon and I was happy to oblige. It's a super simple technique: preheat your oven to 400 and place your baking sheet in the oven to get nice and hot (doing this ensures that the skin of your salmon will peel right off of the flesh once it's cooked). Season the salmon with lots of salt and pepper - nothing more. Once your oven is preheated place the salmon on the heated baking sheet and cook for about 20 minutes (this is for a 2 pound slab of fish). I check doneness by inserting the tip of a paring knife into the middle of the filet and then touching the knife tip to my lower lip. If the blade is hot on my lip the fish is cooked enough. I served this alongside Ina Garten's French style lentils and I think we had a winner.Finally, I'm paying homage to my old friend polenta which I served alongside the delicious pork tenderloin that I made last week. To me the best part of this recipe is that I can eat it in its runny, creamy state the first night and then put the leftovers in a container, smooth out the top and I have a lovely brick of polenta to reheat the next day. When I'm catering I love cutting the firm polenta into little triangles and serving wild mushrooms on top as a canape or grating a little parmesan over the top and then popping them into the oven. It's so versatile that I urge you to give it a try. Simply heat up 1 1/2 cups of stock and 1/4 cup heavy cream in a saucepan. Once this boils slowly add 2 1/2 ounces of polenta while whisking constantly. Allow this to cook and bubble and spit for about 15 minutes (and watch out! some of my worst scars are from molten polenta burns on my hands). Finish off the dish with a couple of tablespoons of butter, a handful of grated parmesan and salt and pepper.