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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Hamzilla: Winter's 15-Bean Soup with Ham

A few days before Christmas Eve, my mom asked if we could transfer the annual family gathering from her house to my house. Our house is closer to all of the cousins and since most of us had to work that morning, getting to and from my house would be much quicker for everyone. To entice me further, she said she'd provide most of the food, as she was planning a simple dinner of freshly baked ham made into sandwiches with several salads as sides.

No problem, Mom.

And then she dropped IT off. A 25-pound ham. No, that's not a typo. 25 POUNDS of ham... and not pre-cooked, either. I didn't even know you could buy a ham that size! As we shifted it around the fridge, we took to calling it Hamzilla.

On Christmas Eve, everyone enjoyed the sandwiches and raved about the rolls, which we bought from The Breadfarm. At the end of the evening, they departed in the same whirl they arrived in, leaving wrapping paper and bows strewn everywhere and approximately 20 pounds of Hamzilla still sitting on my kitchen counter. I do so love ham, but seriously? That's a whole lotta pork butt.

You remember how I felt guilty when I posted two soups in a row using kielbasa? Yeah. You should probably mentally prepare yourself for Ham-a-palooza. Starring Hamzilla.

Winter's 15-Bean Soup with Ham

1 20-oz bag of 15-bean mix (throw out that weird "ham flavoring packet" that comes with it... we'll be getting our ham flavor from actual ham, thankyouverymuch)
2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, medium diced, about 2 cups
2 carrots, medium diced
1 stalk celery, medium diced
2 cloves garlic, pressed through a garlic press
2 cups leftover ham, cubed
1/2 t. dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1 ham bone, cleaned as well as you can get it (that's where you got the cubed ham from up above, right?)
2 cups spicy V-8 juice
6 cups chicken broth
1 bunch rainbow chard, stems removed, leaves chopped
2 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice
Tabasco Sauce to taste

Sort through beans, place into a soup pot and cover with water. Soak overnight.

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. This soup starts on the stovetop, but then you'll transfer it to fnish cooking in a low oven. I picked up this tip on 15-bean soup from Cook's Illustrated. There are so many different shapes and sizes in a 15-bean mix and they all cook at different times. By cooking them in a the gentle heat of the oven, all of the beans remain intact. It's possible a crock pot set to low might give the same results... but my crock pot is nowhere near big enough for this soup. And I have to report, the oven method works like a charm!

Drain beans and rinse well. Set aside for the moment. Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add onion and sautee until tender, about 8 minutes. Add cubed ham and sautee until it starts to brown, around 3 or 4 minutes. Add carrots and celery and sautee an additional 3 minutes, or until they start to soften. Add beans, garlic, thyme, and bay leaf and sautee an additional minute or so, or until everything is fragrant.

Place the ham bone into the mixture and add the V-8 juice and the chicken broth. Stir well and cover the pot. Bring to a boil, then place in the oven - cook 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Remove from oven and test a bean. They should be slightly tender, but not all the way done. Stir in the chopped chard leaves, re-cover pot and return to oven. Cook another 30 minutes or so, or until the beans are tender.

Remove ham bone and bay leaves from soup. If there was any meat on ham bone, shred it back into the soup. Stir in the lemon juice and several shakes of tabasco, adjust seasonings, and serve.

What's in the Freezer? Sopa de Carnitas with Chipotle and Lime

My deliberate leftovers strategy continues! First, I made pork carnitas for dinner last week. My family absolutely adores carnitas. They've requested them 3 times in under 5 weeks, which is a for-sure sign that a recipe is a keeper. Literally translated, carnitas means "little meats" and are simply a shredded meat filling for tacos. The pork is cooked low and slow in a spicy flavorful mixture until it is falling apart and tender, and then it's shredded. As a bonus, I use the slow cooker, so they're ridiculously easy to make. Although if you do this when you serve dinner, I won't judge you.

There was a slight hitch in my quest for deliberate leftovers, however. The first two times I made carnitas, I didn't end up with any leftovers because Mr. Soup spent the next two days nibbling on a taco here and and a taco there. Sort of like I do with leftover ham... only it's cute when I do it.

Obviously, Mr. Soup eating all the carnitas does not bode well for a soupy forecast. So this time, after dinner was over, I created a small diversion by telling him Die Hard was on (really, it doesn't even matter which one...), and then I threw the leftovers straight into the freezer. Take that!

It doesn't get much better than this, frankly. I have a whole Saturday stretching out before me with no outside-of-the-house plans. The leaves are turning orange and yellow. Best yet, it's absolutely pouring down rain, for the first time in almost 90 days. It's a soup-making kind of day, and I know where there is a secret stash of leftover carnitas.

Spicy Sopa de Carnitas with Chipotle and Lime
Serves 6

2 T. canola or vegetable oil
1 large onion, diced (about 2 cups)
1 clove of garlic, pressed through a garlic press
2 T. minced jalepeno (remove the ribs and seeds if you want less heat)
2 chipotle peppers, minced into a paste plus 1 T. of the adobo sauce they were canned in
1 t. ground cumin
1 t. dried oregano (Mexican, if you have it)
3 cups (or so) leftover shredded pork carnitas (my favorite recipe follows, but any will work)
6 cups chicken broth
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 cups frozen corn
1/4 c. minced cilantro
1-2 T. fresh lime juice

Heat oil in large soup pot over medium heat until hot, but not smoking. Add onions and sautee until they are softened and transluscent, around 10 minutes. Add jalepenos and sautee an additional 2 minutes. Add garlic, cumin, and oregano and sautee, stirring, until everything is coated. Add the minced chipotle and the adobo and stir again, until coated well.

Add the carnitas, broth, tomatoes, and beans. Stir well and bring to a gentle simmer. Reduce heat, and simmer, stirring occassionally, until the flavors have come together, about an hour.

Stir in frozen corn, cilantro, and fresh lime juice. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve with a dollop of sour cream.

Slow-Cooker Carnitas
adpted from

4 lbs. pork shoulder*, cut into 5-inch pieces
Juice of one orange
Juice of one lime
1 cup salsa
1 t. cumin
1 t. garlic salt
1 t. paprika
1 t. crushed red pepper flakes
1 T. brown sugar
*I actually use a Farmland pork product cut specifically for carnitas. I can only get it at my local WalMart. If you find and use this as well, all you need to do is put it straight in the slow cooker. Very, very convenient.
Mix all ingredients together except the pork. Place pork in crockpot, add spice and salsa mixture over the top, and toss until the meat is coated. Cover and cook on low for 7-8 hours, or until the meat is falling-apart tender.
Preheat the broiler.   

Shred the pork. I used to shred meat with two forks, which seriously limited my willingness to make recipes that required this step. Then I discovered an amazing tip - you can use your KitchenAid to shred meat!!!! Seriously. It works great, and is the best shortcut I have ever found. Place meat in the bowl of your KitchenAid in smallish batches. Using the paddle attachment, shred meat on the lowest speed. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet. Once it is all shredded, pour remaining sauce from the slow cooker over the pork and mix it gently together.
Place baking sheet in oven and broil meat, tossing once or twice, until the carnitas are brown and caramelized around the edges. (about 5 minutes, give or take)

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Change of Flavor: Spicy Asian Turkey and Soba Noodle Soup

This time of year flavor profiles get awfully predictable around here. Family gatherings abound, and everyone turns to their tried & true holiday recipes. Nothing wrong with that, really... who doesn't look forward to that one particlar dish mom only serves during Thanksgiving or Christmas? But no matter how awesome the turkey was, you can only eat so many turkey sandwiches before you want to hurt someone. Frankly, my kids are already there.

Last year I turned leftover turkey into a Turkey Soup with Lime and Chile, but this year I wanted something different, something with the strong flavors of sesame oil and ginger. I also knew I wanted to use soba, because despite some people thinking they look like worms (you KNOW who you are!) they are nutty and delicious and absolutely a favorite of mine. Plus, this was the first time I ever cooked with baby bok choy, and I was thrilled to discover I like it almost as much as kale. And baby bok choy is WAY fun to say!

This soup breaks one of my normal routines. Normally, I'm a one-pot kind of soup gal. But here, I cook the soba separately and ladle the soup over the top. I think it's worth the extra step to keep the noodles from absorbing too much liquid and getting mushy. You can freeze this soup with no problem, just freeze it without the noodles.

Spicy Asian Turkey and Soba Noodle Soup

1 T. canola or vegetable oil
8 oz. sliced cremini mushrooms
pinch of salt
2 T. dark sesame oil
1/2 c. chopped green onion (mine were small, I used 8 - reserve a few green tops for garnish)
2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
3 cloves garlic, pressed through a garlic press
2 T. soy sauce
1 T. sriracha (or less if you are not a spicy food lover)
4 c. chicken broth
2 c. water
3 c. chopped cooked turkey
2 heads baby bok choy, ends trimmed, washed, and sliced crosswise into 1/2 inch slices
8 oz. soba noodles

Heat canola oil in a heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium heat until hot, but not smoking. Add sliced mushrooms (I cheat and buy mine already sliced, 'cause I'm lazy like that) and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Toss all together. First the mushrooms will soak up the oil like sponges, then they'll release a ton of liquid. Keep cooking and stirring frequently until the liquid evaporates and mushrooms start to brown on the edges. You want them nice and dense and chewy with crispy edges, NOT slimy.

Remove mushrooms to a separate bowl, and reserve. In the same pot, add the sesame oil, the green onion, ginger, garlic, soy sauce and sriracha. Stir and sautee for around 30 seconds, until everything is fragrant. Add the chicken broth and water and bring to a simmer. Simmer broth for 20 minutes to meld all the flavors.

Meanwhile, bring a separate pot of water to a boil and cook the soba noodles until tender according to package directions. Drain and rinse briefly with cold water.

Add the turkey, bok choy, and the reserved mushrooms to the broth and simmer for 5 minutes.

Using tongs, place noodles into bottom of bowl. Ladle soup over the top of the noodles and garnish with reserved green onion tops. Serve!