notes on dinner

Maybe I’m weird, but I’ve always loved Split Pea Soup. I remember that 2 of my brothers (Mike and Pete) and I used to fight over which kind of soup we would get for dinner. Mike liked Cream of Chicken, Pete liked Cream of Tomato, and I liked Split Pea with Ham.

My mom got tired of us arguing over it all of the time so one day she came up with a brilliant idea… she mixed all 3 of them together and served it to us. The soup was BROWN. The terrible appearance was surpassed only by how terrible it tasted. Anyway, that shut us up and we were quite civil after that about taking turns as to which soup would be served. After 6 kids, I guess she’d learned a few tricks….

“notes on dinner” is a wonderful food blog by Sarah Gannholm.. we’re related in a 3rd removed kind of way… her grandfather and my dad were cousins and grew up together. She has 3 kids and a busy life, yet she still finds time to put real food on the table for her family.

It’s still winter for about 3 more weeks, so I think that soup, a delicious winter salad with oranges and shallots and a loaf of crusty french bread sounds perfect. Sarah came up with a keeper…. enjoy browsing her site too!

On THAT note, I’ll spill the beans on how my mom managed to have all of those soup choices every night….. yep, Campbells canned soup. Love my mom, but there’s no comparison. ( I bet Sarah doesn’t serve her kids velveeta cheese (?) and bologna either)!

winter/salad: arugula, oranges and shallots

Winter. Salad. It’s hard to put those words next to each other. Winter salad brings to mind tough-skinned, mealy tomatoes, pale, watery lettuce, limp, wet cucumbers and sad little rings of scallion; bleak as the grey sky. Bitter greens are better. Spinach, arugula, frisee, escarole. Add some finely sliced shallot, pinked up in champagne vinegar? Slices of citrus: grapefruit, oranges? It’s the crescents of deep pink and orange, their sweetness, the bite of bitter arugula and the sharp pink bloom of shallots in vinegar that make this salad so welcome after weeks of dark braised greens. Fresh, crisp intensity – that’s what I want right now. So I’ve been making this salad. (almost every night!)

Split Pea Soup

Last week we had an eight year old friend over for dinner.  I had a few misgivings when I offered the invitation because I was committed to making Split Pea Soup and I don’t know too many kids who would want to eat Split Pea Soup. The truth is, this particular kid is averse to some of the most kid-friendly foods like tomato sauce, cheese and pasta so the probability of actually getting him to taste the soup, seemed low. I am not even sure there are too many grown-ups who would be delighted to eat the thick green porridge. I knew even my kids would probably have to be bribed (or as I like to think: incented) with chocolate milkshakes for dessert and another viewing of the Old Spice commercials on Youtube afterwards.  Also, it didn’t help that (as a joke) I described the soup as “green glop with pink chunks in it”. Sorry about that. It did seem funny at the time.  It is a testament to how completely delicious this soup is that every kid ate quite a lot of it, but our eight year old guest devoured it with gusto! If that isn’t enough to convince, I have nothing more to say to you.  As we ate we had some big laughs about the plethora of hair that would grow on his chest because he ate it all – he practically licked the bowl.

I do not come from Split Pea eating people. My mom never made split pea soup. Even my husband, who is from Sweden, where many families have split pea soup and pancakes every Thursday night, even his family never really adopted the tradition. So I am not sure why I decided that the Split Pea Soup from the most current issue of Cooks Illustrated would be just the thing. But it was.

Since I had never made split pea soup before, I looked it up in the Joy of Cooking to see how this version differs from the traditional method. Barring substituting a ham steak and bacon for the ham hock, the methods are strikingly similar. It’s a lot easier to shred a ham steak than deal with the complexities of the hock with its skin, bone and fat. In addition to the traditional croutons (please just make these yourself – or don’t bother) I added crumbled bacon and a swirl of something called balsamic cream that my dad brought me from Germany. Perfect with this soup and I will tell you how to make something similar if you want to try it.

Split Pea Soup is warming, filling, mild and yet somehow very delicious. I can’t pretend that it is pretty.  It is very easy to make. It is perfect for January.

Split Pea Soup

  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 large onion, chopped fine
  • sea salt
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, minced or grated with a microplane
  • 7 cups of water
  • 1 ham steak – about 1 pound, cut into 4 pieces
  • 3 slices of thick cut bacon
  • 2 cups split peas
  • 1/2 tsp of dried thyme or 2 sprigs fresh
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 carrots cut into 1/4″ dice
  • 1 celery stalk, cut into 1/4″ dice
  • Black pepper, crumbled bacon, croutons and balsamic reduction (recipes follow) for garnish
  1. Over medium high heat, melt the butter in a heavy bottomed 6 quart soup pot. Add the onion and a 1/2 tsp of salt. Cook 4 minutes, stirring.
  2. Add garlic and stir for 30 seconds.
  3. Add water, ham steak, bacon, split peas, thyme and bay. Increase heat to high and bring soup to a simmer. Cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer until peas are tender – about 45 minutes.
  4. Remove the ham steak and put on a plate. Cover with aluminum foil to keep it from drying out.
  5. Add carrots and celery and cover. Simmer for a further 30 minutes.
  6. While the soup is simmering, shred the ham with two forks, removing and discarding skin. Remove thyme sprigs – if you used them, bay leaves and bacon slices and discard. After 30 mintues, stir the ham into the soup and serve right away. The soup will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. If it gets too thick, it can be thinned with a few tablespoons of water.


  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cups 1/2″ bread cubes  – I used a dense baguette with the crusts removed
  • Coarse sea salt
  1. Melt the butter with the olive oil in a medium sized heavy bottomed saute pan.
  2. Add the bread cubes.
  3. Stir occasionally for 7 minutes until the bread is golden and crisp
  4. Sprinkle with a couple of pinches of sea salt

Balsamic Reduction

This is so easy that it isn’t really recipe.

  • 1/2 cup of balsamic vinegar
  1. In a small heavy bottomed sauce pan, reduce the vinegar by half until it is thick and syrupy and coats the back of a spoon.
  2. Cool.

Don’t forget to add freshly ground pepper just before serving!



Posted in easy


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