Every once in a while I step out of my comfort zone in the kitchen. Sometimes I get inspired by the recipes I see on ya'lls blogs. Sometimes I just like to twist things up a bit.
The other day when I was at the market I picked up some cream cheese, (perhaps a cheesecake in my future?) and I saw this stuff further down in the case.
Chorizo. Have you ever cooked with this stuff? I've heard it mentioned on the Food Network but have never used it. See it all the time here in the stores. Lacking any inspiration in the "What to cook for dinner" department, I thought "Today is the day" for me to try chorizo. I had visions of a red bean, rice, sausage (ie chorizo), jumbalaya type dish dancing in my head.
So I get the rice, beans, tomato's and seasonings all going and open the packet of chorizo to discover that this ain't no sliceable sausage. The casing it comes in can't be cooked. They package it to look like a tube of sausage. In reality you're supposed to fry the stuff up, drain the fat and smear it on a tortilla or toss it in some eggs. It's very, very fine ground pork with lots of spices.
So I fried it up, tossed it in the rice along with some cubed up ham and waited for SM's verdict. I didn't think it was half bad. Neither did SM. Will I use it in a rice dish again? Probably not. I still have a package left in the fridge. Any suggestions from the cheap seats?
Sunday morning, I took the ham bone out of the freezer, soaked (the night before) some Great Northern beans and thought I'd do a bean soup. But instead of cooking it in my stockpot on top of the stove, I thought I'd use my Dutch Oven and put the soup in the oven for a few hours. Slow cooking at it's finest.
I brought all the ingredients (Ham bone, water, carrots, onion, garlic, celery (or celery seed) a squirt of mustard, salt, pepper and butter = the elixir of life) to a boil on top first, then set the oven to 250, stuck it in and went outside to do some yard work. After 3 hours I pulled it out of the oven, fished the ham bone out and put any big chunks of ham aside to cool so I could shred it and put it back in the soup.
SM looked over my shoulder "It's not very thick, yet." He observed. "I'm not done yet." I replied.
This is where I twist things up a bit. If you want to learn to cook or even become a better cook, than in my opinion what you have to do is taste. Period. You've got to know what you want in order to get what you need. A recipe in and of itself can't do that for you. It's someone elses taste buds doing the talking. And with soups in particular, you also need time. Time for everything to meld together.
Most recipes for Ham and bean soup are like this one from Allrecipes. It's a good base but nothing special, the broth is thin and there's no "zing" to it IMHO. I'm not fond of bay leaf so I don't use it. Yes, you could blend everything together to achieve a thicker soup but I like seeing beans and carrots and ham in my soup.
The soup had cooled down a bit from being in the oven. You can't really taste when something is hot either. Lukewarm is perfect. So I tasted. Bland...nothing special.
First things, first then. I wanted to thicken up the broth. I use mashed potatoes for that. If there's no left over mashers, I use instant from a box. That's my secret for a thickener. I always have some dried instant flakes in the house.
Taste. Needs some heat. A couple of shakes of red pepper.
Needs a touch of smooth sweetness. My ham wasn't "Honey Baked" and I like that flavor so I added some brown sugar. (What? Brown sugar? Not a lot, maybe 3 Tspoonfuls.)
Salt. (Be careful.) Mine wasn't a salty ham, plus the potatoes have a tendency to remove any salty flavor.
I turned the stove top on low to simmer these new flavors together. Taste. (Something wasn't right. What was I forgetting?) I went and did other things for a bit when it hit me. Acid. The last time I'd made Ham and Bean soup, I'd tossed in a can of diced tomatoes. Once it has a chance to cook down, the tomatoes add a nice zingy flavor to the soup. So back in the house to toss that in. By 2:00 it was ready and so was SM.
"That stuff's not just good, it's "Holy Shit" good." SM said. "It's Dean and Deluca good. It's $8 a bowl good."
"Why, thank you." I smiled at him as he went for seconds. This is why I cook and also why I've learned to cook well. I know SM truly appreciates food. He was born to be a foodie.
And I guess that means that I was born to be a foodies cook.