Bean and ham soup

The arrival of cooler weather means that it’s time to start restocking the freezer with hearty winter comfort foods.  Some of the mac ‘n’ beef now resides in the freezer.  Another favorite that needs to be stashed in the freezer along with the chili con carne is some ham and bean soup.

Mix of 15 kinds of beans

a 15-bean mix

For my bean soup, I start with a one-pound bag of soup mix of fifteen different beans and lentils.  The first step is to discard the seasoning packet that comes in the bag with the beans.

The dried beans need to be soaked so it does require a little planning.  Use a brine of 3 tablespoons of table salt or equivalent amount of kosher salt (see Conversions page) in one gallon of water and soak over night at room temperature.

The next important ingredient is some country ham (a hock is good or a slice will do too)–not the “city” or deli ham.  If you’re lucky you’ll find real country (dry, salt cured) ham in your supermarket (not in the refrigerated meat section, but somewhere in the meat department), or maybe even in your local hardware store (right next to the new-crop pinto beans there in the bushel basket).

American country ham is dry, salt cured–like Italian prosciutto or Spanish Serrano ham.  (Deli or “city ham” is wet cured in brine and is a different matter.  You can use it for ham soup, but it’s a different flavor and complexity when you use country ham.)

Because the country ham is SO salty, it needs to soak in water (or milk) to remove some salt.  If your ham is a thick chunk like a hock,  it  needs to soak at least 24 hours, with the water changed about every six to eight hours, to remove salt.  For a thick slice of country ham, or even “biscuit” slices, an overnight or 8-hour soak would be adequate with a couple changes of water.

The “hock” is the small end of the hind leg that has been cured.  It will have some skin, bone and fat on it.  Don’t remove the skin, bone or fat…it has connective tissue that will “melt” with the slow cooking and give the soup a nice silky texture.

When you’re ready to start the soup, sauté  chopped onions, celery, and carrots in a bit of olive oil until they start to brown.  This caramelization adds an extra layer of flavor to your soup.  I like to add lots of whole garlic cloves for the last few minutes of the sauté. You can slice or mince the garlic if you want, but whole cloves will give mellow background flavor after they’ve cooked with the beans and almost fall apart.

Two cautions when making this soup:

  • First, you do not want to add acid ingredients (like tomatoes) to your soup until the beans are tender.
  • Even though the ham was soaked, it’s still going to be saltier than “city” or deli ham, so don’t add salt until you’ve tasted the cooked beans.

Drain the soaking water from the beans.  Put the beans and ham hock  into a Dutch oven with the aromatics (onions, carrots, celery) and herbs (a couple large bay leaves and about a tablespoon of classic herbes de Provence) and enough liquid (water or part chicken broth) to cover the beans by a couple inches.  Bring to a simmer on the stove top.  Once simmering, cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid put it on the middle rack of a 295 ° F  to 300 ° F oven.  It can simmer unattended for about an hour  to an hour and a half later when you should check to see how tender the beans are.

When the beans are almost tender, remove the pot from the oven. Take out the ham hock and remove the skin, fat and bones.  Chop the meat into bite-sized pieces and return it to the pot.

Now that the beans are tender, you can add acid ingredients to your soup.  I like to add two 14.5-ounce cans diced fire-roasted tomatoes, or just diced or crushed tomatoes–what ever strikes your fancy.  Either return the soup to the oven  for another 30 to 40 minutes, or simmer on the stove top to allow flavors of the soup and the  tomatoes to meld.

You now have some serious bean soup.  Just before serving I like to add a few drops of sherry vinegar to brighten the flavor. Some minced parsley would make a great garnish, adding some bright, fresh notes to this hearty, earthy soup.

This does make a lot of soup so some is destined for the freezer for that really cold, damp winter day when you need comfort food.

A son goût! 

Offal: beef tongue

Offal:  1 : material that is left as waste or by-product of a process of preparation or manufacture: as a : the stalks and dust from tobacco leaves b : less valuable portions (as the belly, head, and shoulders) of a hide c : the by-products of milling (as of wheat or barley) used especially for stock feed d : the parts of a butchered animal that are removed in dressing, that consist largely of the viscera (as brain, heart, sweetbreads, liver) and the trimmings (as tail, hooves, blood, skin, head meat), and that are used as edible products or as raw material in the manufacture of by-products e : small or inferior or unmarketable fish

(Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. Merriam-Webster, 2002. (20 Jun. 2011).


I am fortunate to have a wonderful supplierof organ meats, such as tongues, hearts, beef cheeks, and other offal at my local farmers’ market.  While it’s not a regular part of my diet it’s certainly a treat to cook some once in a while.  It can be hard to find recipes for organ meats.

Since I now have a ready supply of offal, I’ve recently discovered two delightful cookbooks dealing with offal.  The Whole Beast:  Nose to Tail Eating and Beyond Nose to Tail:  More Omnivorous Recipes for the Adventurous Cook by Fergus Henderson.  The onset of cool weather makes me want to do more serious cooking so I’ve searched for recipes for beef heart and beef cheeks, which reside in my freezer awaiting cooking.   My own cookbook library provided me with some, but wanting to be a bit more adventurous, I decided to see what other recipes I could find.  It would seem that offal is gaining favor, at least with adventurous cooks, judging from the results of my search for blogs and recipes.

Since I grew up on a farm where we butchered our own meat, I’ve never been squeamish about organ meats, either preparing or eating.  Beef tongue is really pretty tame when it comes to offal.  Some of my old stand-by recipes are found in Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Volume 2) by Julia Child, and in Glorious French Food by James Peterson.  Since I’ve been cooking beef tongue for so long, I don’t always do a fancy preparation–love it cold, sliced for sandwiches in the summer time; for that I break out the slow-cooker and just poach it.  I’m fortunate that the tongues I get from my supplier (Meadow Lane Farms) are extremely clean, I don’t have to do a lot of the cleaning and soaking that many recipes call for.  I sometimes salt, but sometimes I don’t and the results either way are excellent.

I usually poach the tongue with bay leaves, juniper berries, brown mustard seeds, or maybe herbs de Provence:  just pop it into the slow cooker and cover with water for really carefree cooking.  If you don’ t have the slow cooker, it can be simmered on the stove-top, but it does need monitoring so that it does not boil. You could also cook this in a slow oven so that you don’t have to do so much monitoring–bring to a simmer on the stove top and then move to the oven.

The tongue is simmered in the slow cooker for two or three hours, and then I check to see if the outer covering peels easily.  If so, I’ll pull it out of the slow cooker and peel it.  If you’re doing this on the stove-top, or even in the oven, it may be ready to peel in about an hour.  Since I want to use some of it for sandwiches or in a salad, I’ll return the peeled tongue to the slow-cooker for another hour or so, until it’s tender; then let it cool in the cooking liquid and chill it, since it’s easier to slice when cold. The cooked tongue is very tender and beefy in flavor.

A great hot meal can be made if you take thicker slices of the tongue and quickly brown them in butter, and then serve with the brown butter over as a sauce.  Great with asparagus, or haricots verts, and some potatoes.  In the summertime, when the tomatoes are really lush, the cold sliced tongue with a good sweet-tart tomato slice, on bread brushed with a bit of olive oil is wonderful.   As with other beef, horseradish complements it nicely, too.

Health-wise, it’s not something I’d have every week, but I doubt seriously that it is any worse for me than some of the things I might find in the local delicatessen, and I know exactly what is in it.  While it may not sound like something to prepare when you’re cooking for one, it’s so versatile that leftovers are never a problem!

A simple supper

When I did the smoked lamb and goat shanks for the Fourth of July I deliberately added some extras, even after I had allowed for the appetites of my guests.  What was left after our dinner was not “leftover” but was planned (even though I had nothing specific in mind just then) as future food since I thought that these would lend themselves well to improvisation.

I sliced some of the meat very thinly from the cold shanks and used it in a salad.  The goat meat was especially good here, but the lamb made a nice salad addition too.  There was still enough for one all-meat meal, or two meals if supplemented with a grain or beans.

Lamb and beans heating in skilletI had envisioned using the rest of the meat with some cannellini beans  to make a kind of mini-cassoulet that would be topped with bread crumbs and baked briefly to meld the just-added seasonings. That was just not on the program!  It’s been so hot lately that I just did not want to have the oven on even with the air conditioning running, so I opted for a “skillet” meal.

My first step was to sauté some chopped onion (1 medium) until soft and starting to brown, then add  garlic (2 large cloves, minced).  Next I added the chopped meat from the lamb and goat shanks.  I had enough for two servings–and I decided to use it all in this concoction as I though I would like two meals from this as it would only improve with reheating. I added about 1 teaspoon of herbs de Provence(seemed rather cassoulet-like) and a healthy dash of crushed red chili peppers for some spice, and about 2 tablespoons of water.  Finally I drained, rinsed and added one can of cannellini (white) beans to the skillet, which I covered and allowed warm over low heat to hydrate the herbs de Provence and the pepper flakes.

Without further ado it was time to eat. With the last of the bottle of wine that was Lamb with white beans and sliced tomatoesserved with the original meal  it was a very satisfying, and easy, meal. There will be one more serving (and that’s not a “leftover” either–maybe that will make it into the baking dish with the bread crumbs and some rosemary added. This could adapt well to any extra pork, beef or chicken that happened to be hanging about the fridge as a leftover.  All this needed was a salad to complete the  meal.  Dessert was just some fresh fruit.

18 July 2011

Just a quick update here.  I’m glad I made two serving of this.  The improvement on re-heating was fantastic.  The smokey flavor came out more–next time I do something like this, I’ll plan to make it one day and reheat it later.  I’d love to try this with goat!

Independence Day smoked lamb shanks

After seeing the photograph and reading about smoked lamb shanks I decided that was what I needed for the Fourth of July.  It took some searching but I did finally find some shanks.  Unfortunately, they were not as large as those shown in that photograph, but I decided to give it a try with the smaller ones.  I also included two goat shanks to see how those tasted smoked. (These were from Two Bridges Farm, Louisburg NC)

I took the basic seasoning  from Rufus’s post:  lots of rosemary, garlic, some chili powder, some cinnamon, and added a healthy dollop of Colman’s mustard powder, salt, and added enough oil to make a very thick paste–heavy on the rosemary.  The shanks were rubbed all over with this, and then allowed to stand (refrigerated) for about 18 hours (overnight until ready to start the smoking process).

The Weber kettle grill was set up with a pan in the middle with water in it; then added hardwood charcoal briquettes (unlit on both sides of the pan.  These were topped with lit briquettes, and the soaked hickory wood chunks.  Vents were adjusted for a nice slow fire.  I opted not to use a mop sauce this time–may well try that on the next round!  But soon there were wonderful smells wafting from the grill–smoke, rosemary and lamb.

Smoked lamb and goat shanksIn an effort to keep the day as simple as possible (read to avoid dish washing, either by guests or me) there were disposable plates. Although I really did have a platter set out on which to serve the shanks, they never made it into a serving dish since we were being so casual; hence, picture of shanks in the pan that was used to bring them from the grill.  The results were fantastic.  (The goat shanks are the two in the front of the pan–the rest are lamb). The seasoning was there, but not intrusive but complementing the meat– the hot mustard added some “spice” and “zing” without ever seeming “hot”.

Mojitos started us off; then we had a very eclectic meal–one of the guests prepared Padrón peppers for starters–I’d never tasted them before, but I certainly hope that it will not be the last time.  Those wereplate with lamb corn on the cob and potatoes followed by wonderful gazpacho, then by crab cakes, with some melon interspersed.  Then,  the main course:  lamb shanks, corn on the cob, and several kinds of newly dug potatoes steamed and then tossed with extra-virgin olive oil, salt and peppers.  There were Purple Majesty, Red Thumb, and Russian banana potatoes mixed.  (Unfortunately, the Red Thumbs lost their pink color during the steaming, but there were the lovely red skins to make it red, white(ish), and blue!)

For those of us who wanted wine with the meal, we had a 2008 Marcillac Rouge “Lo Sang del Pais” (Domaine du Cros)…this was not the wine that I had bought to serve.  My mistake–it was a bottle from my cellar that I  considered before I decided to go visit the Wine Authorities.  They suggested 2008 Rouge “Cuvee Jericho” Vin de Pays (Mas Montel (Mas Granier), France, that I bought.  When I was setting up the serving area, I put out the Marcillac (my original intention) instead of the Jericho (80% Syrah and 20% Grenache)!  The Marcillac was awesome with the lamb shanks–it’s 100%  from Mansois (Fer Servadou) grape.   So I still have a bottle of the Jericho (and some “leftover” lamb shanks–that may well be supper this evening.

This is something I’ll do again, soon…the smoke flavor was not overwhelming, but very complementary to both the lamb and the goat and it was low-maintenance cooking, thought it took about 3-1/2 hours, that let me visit and relax while preparing it.  Perhaps the next thing to get smoked will be a goat leg.  The vendors from whom the goat shanks were purchased said that they had recently tried smoking a leg and it was excellent.  I’m glad that I discovered the post on smoking lamb shanks–and the associated information on smoking.

If there are “leftovers” after this evening, I think that those might end up in something with white beans for sort of a mini-cassoulet (for a hot dish) or maybe even a white bean salad–we’ll see what evolves.

I think there’s more smoking in  my future–and I’ll be learning to make the gazpacho that we had with this meal too!

Smoked lamb shanks

I was browsing the food-related blogs when I came across this post on smoked lamb shanks.  This looks like a must-try one as much as I like lamb. Even though it’s not quick, it certainly would do for single-serving cooking–and I can dream of some things to do with leftovers.

While I don’t have a smoker, I do have a Weber kettle grill, and Cook’s Illustrated has had some how-to articles on smoking using the kettle grill, so I think that I’m going to have to try this one.The July/August 2011 issue had an article (and video) on smoking chicken that makes it look possible to do the lamb shanks on the kettle grill with adjustments to time and only a little modification of technique.

I think this is going to be my Fourth of July food, even if the weather is hot and humid–I’ll just hope that it doesn’t rain!

Pork stock

Not an instance of absolutely great planning, but here I am as the thermometer hits the 90s making pork stock.  Well…I never said that I was the greatest planner in the world–strawberry ice cream and stock-making in the kitchen all at one time.  My favorite meat supplier (Meadow Lane Farm, Louisburg NC)  had great meaty pork neck-bones at the market this past Saturday so I had to bring some home–so despite the heat it’s stock-making time.

These are very meaty bones, so I’ll have some meat to use after the stock is finished.  Since there is so much meat on these bones, and I want to use it, I’m not doing the quick stock–but rather the stove-top method (now you’re sure I’m not great at planning, right?).  But when you have the opportunity to get pork neck-bones, you take it.  Meadow Lane farms is doing more pork (as well as beef) so next time I can plan to do this is cold weather.  (I’m glad I’ll have more access to pork…love that “other white meat”.)

Basic Stove-top Pork (or Meat) Stock


  • about 4 pounds meaty pork neck bones
  • 2 medium onions, chunked up
  • 2 medium carrots, chunked
  • 3 bay leaves (dried ones)
  • about 2-3 teaspoons salt
  • Rinse the bones well.  If you feel that there is any old, or “off” odor, or they’re very bloody, blanch quickly in one change of water.
  • Add aromatics–onions, carrots, and bay leaves
  • Add water to cover.
  • Bring to a boil quickly, and then reduce to keep a bare simmer, and leave for about  2 or 3 hours.  Test after about 2 hours–when the meat is fork-tender and “fallin’ off the bone” (a country expression that means really tender), remove from heat.
  • Strain to remove bones/meat and aromatics.
  • Cool stock quickly in an ice bath, stirring frequently to help cool evenly;  then freeze or refrigerate. (Do not put the hot stock in the freezer or refrigerator as it will (1) warm up the refrigerator and affect everything in it, and (2) it does not cool evenly and quickly so that you could have bacterial growth.)
  • When the bones are cool enough to handle, remove the meat and save for another use.
I want a neutral white stock, so I’m not roasting bones.  The meat from making this stock may be a bit less flavorful than had it not been used to make stock, but it will still be good to use for  eating.  I don’t add celery to my stock unless I’m making stock for a specific recipe that needs it.  Carrots and onions, and bay leaves provide some sweetness and depth.  Because I may want to use the stock in a recipe calling for reducing it, I don’t add much salt; I do add a little, because I think that helps develop flavor of the stock as it cooks.   (Salt is for more than just making things taste salty!)  The meat and the stock will both likely need to have additional salt added to taste, but now I have stock that I can use in a reduction sauce if I wish. 

There was a bit of cursing in the kitchen as I removed the meat from the bones because I tried to do it before they had cooled quite enough, but for my efforts (sweaty through they were) I have bit over a gallon of pork stock that is cooling in the refrigerator to be de-fatted.

I have about a pound of very tender, succulent pork to use for another purpose, maybe a chili verde since the garden is rife with green chili peppers.  The meat recovered after making stock is not as flavorful as it would be had I cooked it primarily to use  just the meat, but it’s certainly great for a dish that is supplemented with herbs and spices like that.  I could also use it in hot and sour soup, or posole.

My active cooking time was about 45 minutes from setting the stockpot on the stove to washing the stock pot.  That includes the time to remove the meat from the neck bones!  Although not the ideal time of the year to make stock–it’s well worth the effort.  (Have to have some priorities–right?)  In the winter, I’d have put the pot in the oven for the cooking time, but I thought that, perhaps, the stove-top (very low simmer) would be a bit cooler way to do this. (No, I’m NOT planning to check that out any time soon!)

Pot roast with brown gravy

You’ll notice that I said “gravy”–this is too much of a comfort food to use “sauce” because what you’re getting is plain, down-home gravy that needs bread or potatoes to complement it.

After I got my Christmas present (See The Petit Brasier) I had to give it an immediate test run.  What better to test than a favorite braised dish:  pot roast.  This was nothing fancy at all.  You’ll note that I’m not even saying it had a sauce–I really did mean good, old-fashioned, down-home, satisfying brown gravy, lots of onions, and good tender beef.

Even though I say I dislike leftovers, there are some exceptions and pot roast is one of the exceptions.  Sometimes I get the great big chuck roast and make a lot of it and put it in the freezer in single-serving packages, right with the chili, the stock, and some soups so that I can have an “instant” meal–the microwave is great for defrosting and individual portion.  I don’t always want to have to pack and freeze leftovers, so with the small braiser, and a cooperative butcher or meat department at the supermarket, I can make a small pot roast that’s good for two, or maybe three meals since there are some very easy ways to kind of spiff it up for the reruns.

This is really not a recipe–it’s a happening–quantities are approximate as the amount of oil you need will vary with the size of you pan, the amount of mushrooms and onions you are going to sauté–just use what you need.  (Improvise! Wing it!  Just do it–it will work.)


  • 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 pound piece of chuck roast
  • 4 or 5 small onions (or 3 medium to large ones) sliced moderately thinly
  • 2 teaspoons flour, plus flour for dredging the beef
  • about 3 tablespoons olive oil (divided as needed for  sautéing mushrooms and onions.
  • 8 ounces of mushrooms, sliced (more if you really like mushrooms)
  • 1 to 1-1/2 cups of water or stock
  • salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste
  • about 8-10 medium garlic cloves.


  1. Pat the pot roast dry with paper towels and dredge in a flour seasoned with salt and pepper.  Let it stand while you cook the onions and mushrooms.
  2. Slice the mushrooms and sauté in a little of the olive oil until they release their liquid and brown.  When brown and liquid has evaporated, remove to a bowl.
  3. Add a bit more olive oil, and sauté the sliced onions until they start to brown and caramelize.  When partly browned, remove to a bowl with the mushrooms.
  4. Add the additional olive oil, as needed, and brown the beef well on both sides. Put it to the side for final assembly.
  5. Take the rest of the olive oil, and the 2 teaspoons of flour, and brown the flour in the oil until it turns a nice golden brown and smells toasty.  Turn the heat down, add the stock or water to the browned flour.
  6. Add the sautéd onions and mushrooms, and return the browned roast to the pan, with the onion/mushroom mixture around the sides, sprinkle the garlic cloves over the top.
  7. Bring to a simmer on the stove top, cover and place in a 295-300 ° F oven and cook until fork tender–about 2-3 hours (unattended).  Check periodically to see if you need to add more liquid.  You need just enough to make nice thick gravy, and the onions are going to cook down to help thicken the gravy.

For that first meal, all you really need is a salad, maybe a baked potato….or some noodles.For the second serving, stir a tiny dollop of sour cream into the portion of brown gravy for this serving to add some tang and be a bit “stroganoff-ish”, add some steam-sautéd (See Cooking Vegetables Quickly) carrots, or spinach as a side.   What about the third?  As you reheat, add some tomato paste, or some tomato sauce to the last bit for a different taste.

It’s pure unadulterated comfort food.  Even if it’s not a single serving, it’s an appropriate quantity for small-time cooking, but it sure has big-time taste.  It’s great what having the right size pan does for cooking for one.

A son goût!