Archive for January, 2011

A Soup that Cooks While You Work

January 9, 2011

There is something about coming home to the smell of dinner cooking and knowing that you did not make it, that someone else has. The next best thing, as many of us know, is the crockpot because although you put everything into the pot, that was hours ago and it no longer feels like you made it. Every time you walk back into the house throughout the day, you are reminded that dinner is cooking, no need to wonder what to make at 5 p.m., you’ve got it covered.

My favorite time to employ the crockpot is Monday – I’ve often just come from a busy, but unstructured weekend and there is much to catch up on around the house, as well as at work. A favorite crockpot recipe at our home is split pea soup. Through the years it has been added to and adjusted based on what’s in the cupboard and how our tastes are running. Last week, we happened on an addition that has made this recipe a keeper. I added too much water and the soup just would not thicken. Thinking back to a wonderful split pea and barley soup at California Pizza Kitchen that I had years ago, I rinsed some barley and added it to the soup and the result was an absolute hit. We don’t add ham to our soup – we eat vegetarian most of the time these days – and the barley just seems to make you not miss the ham!

Here’s the recipe:

  • Rinse 1 – 16 oz. package of split peas.
  • Finely dice 1 yellow onion, 2 carrots, 2 celery stalks.
  • Mince 2 cloves of garlic.
  • Saute the onion, carrot, and celery in about 1 Tablespoon of olive oil.
  • Set aside about 3/4 cup of barley – do not rinse till you are ready to add to the crockpot.

Add the above (except the barley) to your crockpot along with 7 cups of chicken or vegetable stock on high. About 1-1/2 hours later, stir the mixture and turn the crockpot to low. Let it cook for about  3 hours more, stirring occasionally if you are around. Now, when I used these combinations, the peas were becoming fairly tender at this point but it was rather watery. That’s when the barley stepped in to the rescue. Rinse the barley that you measured out earlier and put it into the crockpot. Once again,turn the heat up on high and let the mixture cook for another 1 to 1-1/2 hours. When finished, the soup should be fairly thick – you can dilute a bit with leftover broth or water if you like it more thin – and the peas and barley should be tender, almost mushy. About 10 to 15 minutes before serving, stir in 1 teaspoon dried thyme and a pinch of salt and pepper to taste. We like this soup with cornbread (try Trader Joe’s cornbread mix) or toasted pita.

Happy eating!

P.S. I am no food stylist, a talent you really appreciate when trying to photograph split pea soup. Despite its looks above, it is good!

Basking in the Last Hours of the Holiday Season and Looking Forward

January 2, 2011

The holiday season is about to draw to a close and the school bus will be arriving in front of my house in less than a day. No, I’m not counting the hours one bit – it has been a relaxing holiday spent with family and good friends. We also took some time to just do the things we always say we will over the holidays – thanks in large part to ideas in the advent calendar (December 2nd post) and to the fact that we were not hosting any Christmas parties at our house this year. With no house to frantically clean, we actually made it to the Zoo Lights at Lincoln Park Zoo followed by dinner at the Chicago Diner, Science and Industry Museum (fairly quiet on Christmas Eve), and a couple of movies (including Tangled which is great).

My family was not as excited about their gift of yarn (December 16th post) as I was; my son described his attitude about it as “resigned” but willing to do it since everyone else is knitting a scarf for someone else. The guys, in fact, have begun their scarves; us girls will begin this week. I am still optimistic that everyone will be laughing about this gift in the days ahead!

My daughter made a poster out of the goals and quotes everyone in the family wrote out for the advent calendar and placed it front and center on the refrigerator door – no excuses for not remembering what we want to do in 2011. Some of the family goals, ideas listed:

  • Go horseback riding
  • Go snowshoeing
  • Go to DisneyLand
  • Listen to more music
  • Celebrate each others’ accomplishments
  • Give thanks everyday
  • “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Today, we are busy cleaning and de-cluttering; I am happy to report, we are filling up boxes of items to be donated and passed on to friends. So while the mood is right, I better continue on. Happy making in the new year!