Wednesday, December 31, 2008

In honor of my mama

Nothing is more comforting than hot soup on a cold day. Given that I grew up in Los Angeles, cold days were a rarity but that never stopped my mom from making a big pot of hot soup whenever she could. Sometimes that pot was full of a brothy, Chinese herbal soup, sometimes the pot was filled with a gumbo and more often than not, it was a quickly thrown together soup of broth and vegetables. Whatever the soup, it was always good. As such, soup remains as one of my favorite foods today, especially since I now live in a country that is cold 9 months out of the year. They're filling, nutritious, hydrating, hot, and soul-renewing.

One of my favorite soups growing up was my mom's version of black eyed pea soup. She would take a big piece of ham and boil the flavor out of it, making it into a rich, smoky, flavorful broth. She also added several cloves of garlic and let them boil down to a sweet, soft ghost of a garlic clove. To this salty, garlicky broth she added black eyed peas and sheets of dried, thinned tofu that we called "foo juk." This soup was the best ever. EVER. My favorite way to eat it was over rice.

This makes me homesick just thinking about it. So instead of complaining ad nauseum to my boyfriend about being far from home, being cold, and hating the ice, I decided to make soup. I made my own ham stock and added a couple of cloves of garlic and black eyed peas. I didn't have the foo juk so I used half a head of cabbage. Boiled cabbage is tender and sweet and it suited the salty broth perfectly. I'm still homesick and I still miss my mom but at least now, I'm a little warmer, a little fuller, and just a little less inclined to yell at my boyfriend.

Ham and Black-eyed Pea Soup
4 cups of ham stock
4 cups of water
3 cloves of garlic, whole with skin removed
3/4 c. black eyed peas, rinsed
1/2 head of cabbage, cut into large chunks
1/2 tsp ground black pepper (or to taste)
salt to taste

Bring the ham stock, water, pepper, and garlic to a boil and let it simmer for about 15 minutes. Add the cabbage and simmer for an addition 10 minutes. Add the black eyed peas and simmer for 35 minutes or until the peas are tender. Salt to taste.

Note: You can always put the cabbage in earlier or later, depending on how soft you like your cabbage. My mother, who hates vegetables cooked to death, is probably shuddering at the idea of boiling cabbage for 45 minutes but I love the wilted and tender cabbage. However, it is important to let the garlic simmer for quite some time; the garlic is too pungent when undercooked. Be mindful that overcooking the black eyed peas makes them disappear leaving beind a bunch of transluscent skins.

Calling all Snickerdoodles

I tried a new recipe for Snickerdoodles yesterday and I was sadly disappointed by them. The "secret" ingredient was to use cornstarch to help give it that soft and chewy texture but my cookies came out hard and dry. They didn't spread as much as I had hoped and I'm sure I can come up with a dozen different reasons why the texture went wrong, I also didn't think they tasted like a true Snickerdoodle. So, if you have any tried and tested Snickerdoodle recipes please send them my way. Also, the simpler the better because I'm relearning how to bake on an oven that measures its degrees in celsius. To make it even more complicated, my oven doubles as a convection oven and uses hieroglyphic signs to denote its settings. I haven't found the Rosetta Stone for my oven so it's all trial and error until I do. Thanks for your help!!

Meanwhile, here's a look at my sad, disappointing Snickerdoodles.

Notice: No crackled cinnamon sugar on top, no inviting, soft chewy center. Just brown hockey pucks. For those of you who have known me for a very long time, you know I am no stranger to hockey puck cookies but I thought I had grown beyond that! Maybe it's the oven...because it can't be me :)

Fried patties of happy

Last night, in the spirit of Hanukkah, starchy root vegetables, cold weather and fried food, I made Sweet Potato Latkes for dinner. These latkes were the perfect combination of sweet, savory, crisp, tender, and spice. The ingredients were simple - grated sweet potatoes, sliced scallions, flour, egg, salt, pepper, and my favorite - cinnamon. We put a small dollop of sour cream on each latke to round out the meal (dairy).

Sweet Potato Latkes

1 lb sweet potatoes, peeled and coarsely grated
2 scallions, finely chopped
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl. Coat a non-stick skillet with enough oil to go about 1/4 of an inch up the side. Heat the oil until it's hot, but not smoking. You will want the oil to be pretty hot so that the latkes crisp instead of boil in the oil and absorb it all. Place 1/8 cup spoonfulls into the hot oil. I used a small ice cream scoop and it worked like a charm. Spread the ball into a 3 inch patty and let the oil do its job. After about a minute, check the bottom of the latke for a golden brown color and crisp texture. If it is crisp, flip the latke and repeat on the other side. Take the latkes out and drain on a paper towel and serve hot. You may have to replace some of the oil if you're making a large batch. Garnish with a dollop of sour cream.