Split Pea Soup with Ham, Fresh Peas and Mint

I cured my own ham to serve for Thanksgiving this year. This was one huge piece of pork from Yonder Way Farm. It was cured for a couple of weeks before being smoked, braised, glazed and baked. The ham made for a fantastic meal or more like ten meals including breakfasts and work lunch sandwiches. After a couple of weeks of that I still had a large ham bone with a good bit of meat stuck on it. What else to do with it other than a rich split pea soup.

I remembered that Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home has a recipe for split pea soup so I went to review it and found that, of course, it was not your straightforward typical split pea soup. The typical version usually entails boiling a bunch of dried split peas with a ham hock or ham bone and aromatics. The soup is usually very rustic with chunks of pork from the ham and whole split peas. It’s a tasty warming winter dish. Thomas Keller takes those elements and makes a wonderful version that is at once refined, rich and satisfying on all levels. I stuck fairly close to the recipe, but instead of the ham hock I used the ham bone I had. I used the pressure cooker to make a very tasty ham bone broth with onions, leeks and carrots. Then I simmered  split peas in the strained broth until they were soft and almost falling apart. Now, instead of leaving the peas whole Keller has you pureeing the whole thing to make a perfectly smooth soup that has a creamy mouthfeel but has no cream.

To finish, I blanched a bunch of frozen green peas in boiling water until barely done and still retained their freshness. Half of these went into the pureed soup. In each bowl I put some of the remaining green peas and some shredded reserved meat from the ham (I reserved the meat before I used the bone for stock). Then I poured in the soup and garnished it with mint leaves and a few dollops of creme fraiche. It was amazing, comfort food at its best and a great example of a split pea soup. Keller often talks about “finesse” and refinement, the details that make a good dish great. In this case it’s not just pureeing the soup, but the addition of those fresh green peas and mint leaves. They add so much pop and freshness to a bowl of soup that could be otherwise a bit monotonous. Of course that meant I probably ate way more of it that I should’ve.

A Superb Pineapple Upside Down Cake

The saying “Tastes like Sunshine” has to be one of the most clichéd terms in the food writing and TV world and its pretty damn stupid. What does sunshine taste like anyways? Maybe I’ll ask the next food critic who puts it in their review of a restaurant and its cooking. So, I’ll avoid saying it but I’ll admit that this was the first thing that came to mind when I unmolded this fragrant cake out of its baking pan. Sunshine. It sure looks like sunshine.

It’s also a bit of a cliché to state that this is the ultimate example of its kind. However, in my opinion, it sure is. I have never tasted a better pineapple upside down cake. It’s not too sweet, has none of those shitty fake-tasting “Maraschino” cherries and just brims with the flavors of ripe fresh pineapple, a hint of rum and soft vanilla cake. It really amazed me how good it turned out, especially since making it was sort of an afterthought. I had a pineapple and needed some dessert for a dinner of pork chops and bbq chicken and I remembered seeing it in Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home book (that book has never disappointed yet). It came together in no time. Keller proves that to make the best pineapple cake all you need is fresh fruit and a handful of pantry staples. Canned sugary fruit be damned.

I first cut up the pineapple into wedges about a 1/4 inch thick and maybe 2 inches wide. Then I made a “shmear” from brown sugar, butter and rum. That gets spread in the bottom of a cake pan in an even layer with a sprinkling of salt. The pineapple pieces get shingled on top of the “shmear”. The cake portion is a straight forward vanilla cake made by creaming butter and sugar then adding eggs and flour. That gets spread on top of the fruit (I sprayed the pan with a little “Pam for Baking” before adding the batter since I was not using a silicone pan) and the pan gets baked (and smells great) until the cake is firm and light brown. After it rests for 20 minutes or so, you turn it over on a cake stand or plate and there it is: the most amazing Pineapple Upside Down Cake ever. It went so well with both kids and adults, that I barely was able to sneak a slice and save it for myself to taste it.