Graham Crackers and Pepe’s Key Lime Pie

I’m going to take a minute to talk about my boss here at the hotel. Her name is Brandi and she’s awesome. I could list the reasons but it makes me sound like a suck-up and that’s not what we’re going for here. Suffice it to say that she loves her employees and does nice things for us in addition to being fun to work for. Every year she hosts a party at her house in May for the graduates (but everyone is invited). Last year I wanted to make something Brandi would like since she was inviting us all over and with the help of my fellow sleuth Meagan I made this pie. Brandi talks about going to the Key West all the time and she loves this restaurant Pepe’s. Meagan found their website and the recipe for Brandi’s favorite key lime pie. What kind of crazy restaurant lists their recipes on their website? Answer: The best kind.

Key limes were $2 at the grocery store so I grabbed a bag and made some graham crackers. This pie, like most key lime pies, calls for a graham cracker crust and rather than buy one premade or use store-bought graham crackers, I made a batch of Nancy Silverton’s grahams. I’d made them before when I saw them on smitten kitchen, but now that I had her book I got inspired to make them again. They are sooo delicious. They’re not exactly like a cracker or the dry, sawdusty grahams I passed up during my childhood. If I had known about these when I was a kid, I wouldn’t have made my s’mores with just chocolate and marshmallows. It was really messy.

Graham Crackers adapted from Nancy Silverton:

2 1/2 C all-purpose flour
1 C brown sugar (She says use dark, I only had light. The world didn’t end.)
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 C butter, cubed and frozen
5 Tbsp milk (She says use whole milk, I used 2% and nothing exploded.)
2 Tbsp vanilla
5 Tbsp honey (clover works best)

(cinnamon sugar topping optional)

Preheat oven to 350. Combine flour, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. You have three options for the next step: either use a pastry cutter to cut in the butter, use your fingers to smush the butter into the flour mixture, or incorporate the butter using a food processor. I have a really small food processor so I did this in batches but I’ve used just my hands before. Whisk together the milk, vanilla, and honey (it will be super gloopy–don’t worry) and stir that into the rest of the ingredients. It won’t look like dough at all. Have faith! Use your hands to clump and knead it together and dump the dough onto a floured surface. (I usually keep a cup of flour on my work surface.) Knead it and roll it out to 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch thickness. You can cut them into squares with a knife or use a cookie or biscuit cutter. I use a set of pretty, scalloped circular cutters that my mom gave me. You also have the choice of topping the cookies with cinnamon sugar or pricking them with a toothpick in a pretty pattern. Bake on a parchment-lined baking sheet for 12 minutes or until lightly browned.

Let the cookies cool completely and crumble them into your food processor or a zip-top bag (I used food processor and I didn’t even wash it out between mixing the graham ingredients and the graham crumbs. It’s the same stuff and no eggs! Slacker-friendly!). Process/crush until the grahams are a medium consistency. Don’t let them get too fine. Now you’re ready to make the crust.

Key Lime Pie adapted from Pepe’s in Key West, Florida:

1 1/2 C graham cracker crumbs
1/4 C granulated sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/3 C melted butter

2 eggs, divided (the original recipe calls for 2 more yolks but this works really well too)
1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
1/2 C key lime juice (fresh squeezed or bottled)

If it looks like there’s a lot of crust mixture going on, it’s because I made a double batch and froze half for later. That definitely wasn’t because I read the recipe wrong and added too much butter, forcing me to make  a double batch so I wouldn’t have to throw anything out. (Yes it was)

Preheat the oven to 325 (or just open the oven door for a minute and lower the temp from 350 to 325). Stir together graham crumbs, sugar, cinnamon, and melted butter. Press into a pie dish and bake for 10 minutes. No need for pie weights, y’all.

While that’s baking, juice the key limes and set aside. (You can also do this while the graham crackers are baking) One bag of key limes gave me pretty much exactly 1 cup of juice. Get an extra regular lime if you think you’ll need it.

At this point, the crust needs to cool. Keep the oven at 325. While it’s cooling, beat the egg whites and set aside. In a separate bowl beat the yolks for a minute and then add the sweetened condensed milk and lime juice. Try not to splash the lime juice all over yourself. Ahem. Fold in the egg whites and the pour the whole mixture into the crust. Bake for 20 minutes at 325. Let cool completely before refrigerating at least 2 hours. Best served really, really cold with whipped cream.

See that big indentation in the filling on the right side of the pie? That’s where Chad stuck his finger in the pie. He might have been in trouble for that one.

This pie is soooo delicious and creamy. If I hadn’t been chomping at the bit to make a scarf, I would have probably made fresh whipped cream. Instead, I fell back on the can of aerosol whipped cream. (Fun fact: Did you know that Reddi Wip is spelled like that–with no ‘h?’ How does that make sense? And you can’t make Stewie jokes without the hhhhh-wip)

H or no H, this pie is yummy and refreshing. The crust is great with store-bought graham crackers, but even better with homemade. That’s no offense to Pepe’s since I have never even had one of their pies, but this was a definite improvement on the first time I made it. Make this for your Memorial Day celebrations. And enjoy the extra graham crackers.


Wine Steamed Mussels with Crispy Bacon

Sometimes, for no good reason at all, I like to make slightly fancy dinners. Excuses range from “this was on sale in the meat department” to “I have a few hours free and this sounds fun to make.” The first time I made mussels, Chad came home to find a big dinner on the table and candles lit and he momentarily freaked thinking that he had forgotten our anniversary. But really I just realized that day that mussels are cheap. Seriously. At our grocery store mussels are 2 lbs for $5 and after doing some research I learned that they are often sustainably raised. And somehow I always thought of them, as I often do with seafood, as expensive and fussy and difficult to make. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Mussels are fast to make, hard to mess up, and really tasty. If you don’t eat pork or like bacon, forget about it. The mussels will still be yummy. Just add a pinch of salt to the wine to replace the saltiness of the bacon.

When buying mussels, make sure they are fresh and that your fishmonger doesn’t creep you out. Paranoid? Probably…but it’s fish! They should give you a mesh bag or a bag with holes since the mussels need to breathe. When you get them home, keep them in the fridge in a bowl with no water for up to 3 days. Water is the enemy here (as strange as that sounds). Keep them cold until you’re ready to use them.

2 lb mussels (or less since the two of us couldn’t finish this)
3 strips of bacon
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 C white wine (I used a Gewurztraminer)
pinch of saffron (this can be omitted but it tastes awesome)

Fry up the bacon in a dutch oven (or stock pot if you don’t have a dutch oven) until the bacon is crispy. Even if you don’t like your bacon crispy, it’s a must in this dish. Remove to a folded paper towel and pat dry.

While that’s going, rinse the mussels in cold water and toss out any that aren’t fully closed. If one is slightly opened, tap it on a hard surface and watch to see if it closes. If one is broken at all, it’s a no-go too. You don’t want bad mussels. Fo real.

For our 2 lb bag, we had 9 or so rejects. I made the horrible mistake of throwing these in the kitchen trash can and the next day I was severely punished. Use a separate bag. It’s the right thing to do.

Sauté some garlic and some onions or shallots if you feel so inclined) in the fat left from the bacon. If you’re not using bacon, just sauté in olive oil. After a couple minutes, add the wine and deglaze the bottom of the pot. Scrape up all those brown bits and cook the alcohol off. Sprinkle in the saffron and stir. Now sniff. It smells good, right?

Make sure the heat is at medium-high and dump in all the mussels. Immediately put the lid on and let them steam, undisturbed, for 15 minutes–just long enough for you to finish up some side dishes, toast some crusty bread, and break up all that bacon for the topping. When the 15 minutes are up, turn off the heat and pour the mussels and allllllll the sauce in a bowl. Or leave in the dutch oven if you are out of clean bowls. Top with bacon. Eat.

This is sooooo good. Chad had never had mussels before this and it was fun showing him how to use an empty shell to pinch like claws and get the meat from another. It’s fun and sort of like playing castanets! I especially love breaking off pieces of bread and dipping in the sauce in the bottom of the pot. I might love that sauce more than the mussels themselves.

Yet we couldn’t finish the whole pot. There were just too many! The fishmonger at the grocery store was new and didn’t know if he could open a 2 lb bag so he could give me just half (he can but I didn’t want to make him feel like he was going to get in trouble). So this whole thing can be done with fewer mussels and the same quantities of everything else. Figure 1/2 lb – 1 lb per person (depending how hungry you are).

Jamie Oliver’s Chicken in Milk Plus Homemade Stock

Don’t run away yet. This dish is insanely good in spite of its weirder than weird ingredients. If you don’t believe me, go check with the other foodbloggers. I’m certainly not the first to talk about Jamie’s brilliance with odd ingredients.

In fact, I remember watching the Naked Chef and just loving Jamie and his oddball expressions. He’s the one who first introduced me to the vodka in a watermelon trick! Now he’s a spokesperson for eating healthy and responsibly. His recipes focus on homegrown and ethically sourced ingredients (which I don’t always have access to–hey I’m on a small food budget that I spend too much of on treats to share with co-workers and friends) and the recipes are as delicious as ever.

Adapted from Jamie Oliver’s site (recipe first found on thekitchn)

1 whole fryer chicken with insides removed
salt and pepper
2 Tbsp butter
olive oil
1/2 cinnamon stick
handful of fresh sage
2 lemons
10 cloves garlic
2 C milk

Preheat the oven to 375. Put the butter and a drizzle of olive oil in a dutch oven over medium-high heat. I hate to say this all the time, but really a dutch oven is better than a large stockpot or anything else for this dish. My dutch oven is indispensable to me. And you can get one for a pretty decent price. Wash the chicken and pat dry with paper towels. Season with salt and pepper and place in the dutch oven. It should sizzle and crack–that means the skin is browning! By the way, I always always use Kosher salt for cooking but this especially is a reason to use it. Kosher salt is rough and jagged and sticks to food better than iodized table salt which is rounded and falls off.

While the chicken is browning, zest both lemons and tear the leaves off of the sage. Jamie also says to leave the skins on the garlic cloves but I took them off 1. for fear that they would get lost in the sauce and I’d eat one and 2. because I figured I could smash one of the cloves on some bread.

When the first side is browned, turn the chicken over to brown the other side. Don’t worry, the chicken will cook through when you put it in the oven. When the second side is browned, remove the chicken to a plastic cutting board (using raw meat on wooden cutting boards freaks me out). Put the milk, zest, garlic and sage leaves in the pot and stir well. Place the cut lemons (with seeds removed) and the cinnamon stick in the cavity of the chicken. Jamie doesn’t do this either but I’m always a fan of aromatics inside chickens and turkeys. Place the chicken back in the pot and bring the milk sauce to a simmer.

At this point I looked at the contents of the dutch oven and thought to myself This can’t possibly end well! Look at this gunk! But Jamie proved me wrong and taught me never to question a Naked man because clearly if he’s bold enough to be Naked, he’s right about something.

Place the lid on the pot and the pot in the oven for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, take the lid off and baste the chicken with the sauce. There are so many clumps in the sauce that it’s a good idea to just use a spoon instead of a baster. Keep the chicken in the oven for another hour, basting occasionally. When the time is up, remove the chicken and test the temperature with an instant-read thermometer inserted to the thickest part of the meat. The temp should read 165 or higher. Cook longer if need be.

The chicken is so succulent and moist and the lemon, sage, and cinnamon somehow complement each other so well. Everything just works in this dish. I like to cut off some meat (I prefer white to dark) and spoon on some of the thin, lemony milk. The sauce is also great on creamy mashed potatoes and I imagine it would be great on broccoli too. There’s an entire dinner idea for ya. Boil potatoes, mash with butter, salt, pepper and cream, microwave frozen broccoli and make this chicken. Easy, delicious, and budget-friendly. This is perfect for a busy weeknight or any night when you have lots of homework.

If Ina Garten makes anything that isn’t a lemon tart, it is pretty much inevitable that she will use chicken stock and tell you that you can use store-bought chicken stock but it’s really best to use homemade. Every. Time. And use good olive oil, good vanilla, and her overpriced boxed mixes. From what I can tell, these are the credos of the Barefoot Contessa. I can agree on the vanilla (why not make your own!), the olive oil for dipping (inexpensive is fine for other stuff), and the chicken stock. Homemade chicken stock is cheaper, more flavorful, and allows you to control the amount of sodium which is important since you can control the sodium in dish you use the stock in. Big deal. So when you’re done with the chicken, toss the bones and tough parts in a pot with some water, leftover vegetables, and whatever leftover herbs you’ve accumulated and stored in the freezer. I use store-bought fresh herbs in the winter and I can never use them before they go bad. So a few days before they get gross, I stick them in the freezer in a little bag. Whenever I have extra vegetable pieces I add those too. This can also be done with just bones–beef, veal, etc or just vegetables. So in this batch of stock I used the bones and attached meat of the chicken, lots of water, a cut up carrot, asparagus ends (remember those?), sage, basil, and chives. Just boil this for a while, then cover, reduce the heat and ignore for a while longer. It freezes or stays in the fridge for a few days. You can also label plastic bags with measurements and spoon cupfuls of broth in before freezing. Quick, easy, and smart storage.

Update 4/12/10

Michael Ruhlman gives a great set of instructions (and reasons for using) for stock. So does Thomas Keller and co. in his French Laundry cookbook. It’s worth checking out at the library for the best instructions for complicated, takes-a-few-days stock. Carol of French Laundry at Home and Alinea at Home fame goes through the French Laundry process and the Alinea process because she is clearly a rockstar. But like Michael says, the most important thing is to make your own stock…however you do it. He even prefers water to bought stock. (Shocking!)

Creamy Morel Mushroom Toasts

Before I tell you how to make this decadent appetizer, I have to tell you a story. I can’t stand onions. I don’t hate them as much as cilantro or bell peppers, but I’m not a fan. I typically replace them with shallots whenever possible because they’re milder and sweeter. So I buy a lot of shallots and I go through them quickly. On my latest trip to the big, crazy grocery store far away, I went to the spot where they regularly keep shallots and found morel mushrooms in their place. Because it’s morel mushroom season! Shroomers are going nuts right now but I wasn’t in the market for morels and I was let down about the shallots. I looked all over and finally asked a sweet produce lady where I could find them. She searched around and finally went to the back room to ask. When she returned she told me they were out of stock since they had to make room for the morels. I must have looked really disappointed because she told me that if I wanted, she could give me half off of the morels. What?! Half-off morels? They are, in all the seriousness I can muster, $49.99 per pound. I didn’t want to look like I was taking advantage of her unnecessary and unrequested discount so I only bought a few. But honestly, discounted fresh morels are a big deal and I had never even had them (did you read the part where they are $49.99/pound?) so I looked for a recipe that would feature them and celebrate their expensive awesomeness.

I came across a recipe on epicurious (<3 everything epicurious) for Morels in Cream on Brioche. I didn’t have brioche or intend on making some since I already had some pane bello for the mussels I was making for dinner. I figured pane bello would work just as well and it did.

This recipe is simple and scrumptious. Adapted from Epicurious:

4 medium morel mushrooms
3/4 C heavy cream
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp white truffle oil (if you don’t have this, use truffle salt or omit entirely)
1 Tbsp flour
sprinkle ground pepper
2 slices thick bread, toasted
1/2 C grated gruyère cheese

Heat up the cream in a small saucepan or a cup in the microwave until just warmed through. Meanwhile heat the butter in a separate saucepan. Add the butter and whisk to combine. Chop the morels into pea-size pieces (a rough chop is fine) and after a minute or so, add them to the saucepan. After they have sautéed for a few minutes, add the warm cream and continue whisking. Let the mixture cook on very low heat for 15 minutes and stir occasionally. Meanwhile, toast the bread. When they are nearly done toasting, add the grated gruyère so that it melts. You can do this in the oven or a toaster oven. When the mushroom sauce is done, turn the heat off and add the truffle oil (if not using truffle oil, add the truffle salt after the mixture is on the toasts) and spoon the mixture onto the toasts.

Oh my goodness. This is so delicious. I think, though I’m not an expert on morels, that this is a great way to feature them and appreciate them. You really taste the nutty flavor and the gruyère compliments the whole experience. I almost omitted the cheese entirely for fear it would overpower the taste of the mushrooms, but it really worked. If you mushroom lovers can spare a few dollars on these, it only takes a few to make this dish and it’s completely worth it.

Cream of Walnut Soup

I’ve been taking a small break from blogging. I’ve posted a new recipe every day for a couple weeks now and it got a little tiring. Don’t get me wrong, the cooking isn’t the tiring part. It’s the photo editing, uploading, descriptions, writing, photo-insertion, linking, proofreading, and then all the updating on community sites. Spring break fever set in after four days of work preceded by a short day off visiting Chad’s family (it’s a boy!) and a looooong week of midterms. So I took a couple days off. And man was it nice. Yesterday I had a day off work and I went to the library and (finally) got a library card. It seemed unnecessary since I had the school library at my disposal but then I kept seeing my cookbook wishlist grow and I realized I should probably try some of those books before I shelled out for them or asked for them as gifts (since Chad already has my cookbook wishlist in the event he “does something wrong” which I find hilarious). So I put on a cute summer dress (IT’S WARM OUT, YOU GUYS!) and took my water bill to the library. I returned with nineteen books but one of the ones I hoped to find was lost. See, I’ve been looking for the French Laundry Cookbook because I’ve been reading this blog (or rather its archives since the blogger finished the project) and have been stunned by the recipes. I’m a big fan of Thomas Keller and Carol’s persistence and work ethic have bowled me over. She’s done amazing things in her Maryland kitchen and she’s now working her way through the Alinea cookbook which is even more massive and complicated looking and plumb insane. And she gets her cookware at TJ Maxx too. Go Carol3! (<-Math nerd, thy name is Kristen)(<-Shakespeare nerd, they name is also Kristen)

Enough chatting. The point of the matter is that I’ve been pouring over this blog of hers and I found a recipe I had to make. It’s rather simple and unassuming but it sounded incredible and combined some of my favorite flavors: poached pears, vanilla, cream, nuts. (ha) However, without the cookbook itself and without a recipe courtesy of Carol (who doesn’t post them presumably because she’s blogging the whole book and that would defeat the purpose of other people buying it) I had to wing it and go off of her photos and the photos of the same recipe here. But since I’m not blogging the whole cookbook, I think it’s fair for me to share this self made imitation recipe. The book is $30 and I really want it. Read Carol’s site and you’ll want it too.

Adapted from Carol Blymire’s inspired completion of a French Laundry recipe:

Walnut-infused Cream base:

2 C milk (I used 2% but you can adjust cream for whole or skim)
1/4 C heavy cream (oh my)
1/2 vanilla bean
2 C walnuts, shelled and toasted

Poached Pear Purée:

1 pear (I used bosc)
2 C white wine (any will work)
1/2 C water
1/2 C sugar

I definitely took liberties with this dish. I could have done everything as Carol described, but I took a couple shortcuts with the (correct) assumption that I know how to poach pears like a champ. His holiness Sir Thomas Keller wants his readers (and cult followers) to bring wine to a boil then add water and sugar then bring that to a boil before adding pears. Too many “then’s” for me. I can’t imagine that my results were too different. I also halved the quantities because I knew I’d be the only one eating this.

The first step is to combine the milk, cream, and vanilla beans for the cream base over medium heat. Use a knife to cut the pod in half lengthwise and scrape the beans out of the bean pod. You can reserve this for your next batch of homemade vanilla extract or throw it in. I threw it in the pot. Meanwhile, toast the walnuts until warmed through and fragrant. When the milk and cream mixture begins to simmer, add the walnuts and turn the heat down to medium low. Let this simmer for 25-35 minutes. Other bloggers indicate that the instructions say to simmer for 40 minutes to let the walnuts infuse their flavor into the cream/milk mixture. I was afraid that it would get bitter because walnuts always run that risk. While that’s going, peel and slice a pear into 8 segments. Remove the core and that tough strip up the center. Pour the wine and water into a saucepan and bring to a boil, uncovered. Add the pears and pour the sugar over them.

I chose to use my favorite measuring cups for this step. The one-cup measure lives in the big ole flour canister but these three get used for fun recipes like this.

Cover the pears and hike up the heat to medium high heat. Let this cook and poach and be awesome for 20 minutes (I flipped them over midway through cooking). It should be done around the same time as the walnut cream but if not, just strain the walnut cream and let it sit. I used a fine mesh strainer and I only strained it once because I can’t stand cleaning my strainer. (<-Logic)

Spoon the pears and about a third of a cup of the poaching liquid into the bowl with the walnut-infused cream. Now bust out your boyfriend’s immersion blender aka his favorite present from Christmas 2K9 (yeah, it beat the Wii and Wii Fit I got him) and pulse until gorgeous and smooth and frothy. If you don’t have an immersion blender, use a blender or processor (But have fun cleaning that up suckers! Immersion blenders rock.).

Oh my goodness. You can’t imagine how delicious this is. It’s creamy and rich with a nutty background flavor and a scrumptious poached pear flavor. Poached pears might be my favorite taste in the whole wide world. I love that this brings this flavor to a new medium and doesn’t lose the signature grittiness of the pears. This is incredibly easy. One could argue that this takes the same amount of time (or even far, far less) as a horrible, horrifying Sandra Lee recipe. I think it would be great with tuille cookies or biscotti too.

Lahana Salata: Turkish Cabbage & Carrot Salad

Cabbage again?! What can I say…it’s St. Patrick’s Day! And cabbage is even cheaper than normal so I can’t resist the temptation. This is barely a recipe though. It’s just a way to eat cabbage. But it’s a way that Chad will eat cabbage so you know it passes the taste and picky-eater tests. It’s technically a Turkish salad called lahana salata but most recipes call for pepper and I think it’s good with or without. I leave it pepper-less and let people add pepper themselves. At the Turkish restaurant where I used to work, my boss made his salad with green and red cabbage (2 parts green to 1 part red) but that turned pink after a few hours. Pink salad is even less appetizing to a farm boy. I use all green.

So I suppose you could say that I’m trying to get in the Irish spirit by making a Turkish dish. Strange? Yes. Normal for me? Also yes. I blame Chad for not wanting corned beef because he “only likes corned beef once in a while.” Pfft. We haven’t made corned beef since New Years but Chad wants steak for St. Patrick’s Day. And he wants a chance to cook since I’ve been commandeering the kitchen for a while now. So here is my side dish suggestion for your St. Patrick’s Day eating. It’s not heavy and calorie-laden either so you shouldn’t feel guilty about drinking all that green beer.

1/2 head of green cabbage
2 carrots
2 big pinches of salt (plus more to taste)
1/4 C vegetable oil (don’t use olive oil–it will make the cabbage taste off)
3 Tbsp lemon juice

Grating the carrots is simple enough, but I’m pretty picky about the slicing of the cabbage. I like to cut the head of cabbage in half and then slice that half into thirds. Then I slice, using a sharp knife, into 1/4 inch or 1/2 centimeter slices. Dump the cabbage and shredded carrots by the handful into a medium bowl. Sprinkle on the salt and pour on the oil and lemon juice. Toss with spoons or mix with your hands.

It’s so simple and refreshing. This salad is a fantastic accompaniment to spicy foods or any sandwich. I’ve never been one for coleslaw anyway.

Split Pea & Cabbage Soup

I don’t know about you, but where I live, it’s still cold out. I had ONE DAY this week to wear a short-sleeved dress and thin tights and now I’m back to jackets and sweaters and grey skies. I was also in a crabby mood today because, like many Hoosiers, I’m wholeheartedly against daylight savings time (it’s just stupid and it’s another reason I want to move to Hawaii with Chad). Naturally when I got home I wanted soup, hot, yummy, comforting soup. So that’s just what I made.

I’ve been wanting to make my Aunt Karen’s split pea soup for a while now. She made it once when I was up in Naperville for my cousin Sara’s birthday (we actually usually visited for her birthday since it fell on a school holiday) and I really liked it. Sara hated it though which kind of sucked since it was her birthday dinner. Aaaaaaaaanyway I asked my cousin Dan for the recipe and he quickly sent it over. I met a small problem though when I realized I 1. didn’t have an onion, barley, or lima beans and 2. needed to make this taste a little less like peas so that Chad would eat it with me. Then I realized that 1. I don’t like onions or barley that much and 2. I always picked the lima beans out of Karen’s soup. I had all these other vegetables that would taste great in place of those missing ingredients. In fact, I got a head of green cabbage at the grocery store for (get ready) twenty-seven cents. Hooray for the Irish! For real. I’m making cabbage and carrot salad soon too. Yum.

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp minced garlic
2 carrots, chopped
1/4 head of green cabbage, sliced
2 small or 1 large russet potatoes, chopped
1 C split peas
4-6 C vegetable or chicken stock*
1/2 tsp celery salt
1/2 tsp parsley
1 tsp basil (dried today since there is NO good fresh basil at the grocery stores)
1 bay leaf
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper**
parmesan rind (opt)
shredded jack or parmesan cheese for topping (opt)
chopped bacon for topping (opt)

*I used homemade chicken stock made with the bones and leftovers from a roast chicken. Then I wanted more broth and added a cup of white wine. Use whatever you have around or whatever you want to get rid of. You can also use water if you’re trying to limit sodium and fat.
**I used a bit less pepper than I would have because I knew I was going to add bacon to the soup after it was done and we had peppery bacon. You can always add more to taste.

Feel free to use a regular stock pot for this. I just prefer the dutch oven since it heats evenly and retains heat after the burners are off. First add the olive oil and garlic. Let this sauté until fragrant before adding the carrots and potatoes. Cook these over medium heat until you can see that they are beginning to be cooked through.

Dump in the chicken stock, peas, cabbage, and spices and stir. The liquid probably won’t cover the cabbage, but the cabbage will cook down. Cover the pot and cook at medium low for about an hour. Go play scrabble with your significant other or watch Man vs Wild or clean up all the red lentils you spilled on the floor when you were organizing your pantry.

After the hour of cooking, stir well and use this opportunity to throw in a parmesan cheese rind. Doing this with your rinds instead of throwing them away once you grated all you can keeps you from wasting precious flavor. The rind breaks down and with frequent stirring it will give up bits of cheese throughout the broth. I think I saw this first on but I know Giada talks about it a lot too (when she’s not showing, in great detail, how to enunciate Italian words). Now I can’t go through parmesan fast enough in pursuit of the leftover rinds. Yum.

This soup is flavorful enough on its own, but with some shredded parmesan or jack cheese (people forget about jack cheese) it’s even better. I also cooked up some bacon (oven at 375 for 10 minutes) and tore it up over the soup in an effort to get Chad more on board with the whole “so there are peas in the soup?” routine.