Here’s a cooking question for the ages: is it possible to take a classic, tried and true recipe and improve upon it? Is there a quintessentially perfect basic blueberry muffin, for example, or pot roast, and is it a sacrilege to modify them? Or how about a ham and bean soup? As far as I know, Americans have been making ham and bean soup since the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. (Or at least once they figured out how to not starve–go read Nathaniel Philbrick’s excellent book Mayflower for a lesson on how the Pilgrims were kind of boneheads when it came to agriculture.) Anyway, if not since Plymouth Rock, ham and bean soup has been an American staple at least since the 1980s–I know because there’s a recipe for it in my very own passed-down Better Homes and Gardens “Red and White” cookbook.
Which, come to find out, is now going for 90 bucks on the Internet. Sweet!
If a recipe is in the red and white cookbook, I consider it a classic. But to tell you the truth, last week when I read through the Ham and Bean Soup recipe in the BHG Bible, it just didn’t excite me. It used water instead of broth, had minimal seasonings, and called for dried navy beans when I wanted canned. The one thing that DID match my criteria was that it used a ham bone, which I had saved from our Christmas Ham-fest. Still, that wasn’t enough to give it the pizzazz I was hoping for, so I decided to tempt fate and tinker until I came up with something a bit more interesting. Adding chicken broth, carrots, dry mustard, and nutmeg gave this hearty soup enough flavor to eliminate the need for added salt–always a plus, if you ask me. And cutting out the dried bean soaking time got it from prep to table in under an hour. After two bites, my 7-year-old proclaimed it his new favorite soup of all time.
So, if I dare say it, I think our family has a new classic Ham and Bean Soup. Try it out and tell me if you feel the same.
Ham and White Bean Soup
A hearty soup to warm you from the inside out!
In a large stockpot, heat butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add carrots, celery, onion, and ham bone and saute until vegetables have softened, about 6-8 minutes. Add garlic and saute another 30 seconds.
Add all remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer at least 30 minutes.
Remove ham bone and bay leaves and serve.
Happy December! I hope your Thanksgiving was happy and, like we talked about in the last post, HEALTHY!
So…I hope you won’t hate me…or think I’m a big ol’ hypocrite…if my next post is about a ridiculously amazing, gingersnap-crusted, cream-topped showstopping pumpkin cheesecake.
Sorry? But not sorry?
All I can say is that my approach to food is all about balance, and with that in mind, occasional portion-controlled indulgences like pumpkin cheesecake can absolutely be included. That’s my Official Nutritionist Stance on the matter. My Official Foodie Stance on the matter is that this cheesecake rocks my world.
You may be feeling pretty over it when it comes to anything pumpkin-flavored now that it’s December, but let me encourage you not to trade all your gourds in for candy canes just yet. If a Christmas party or other special occasion is in your future this holiday season, THIS is the dessert you want to bring. For me, it is ALWAYS the dessert that people hover around, comment about, groan over in delight, sneak into their purse, etc. Last month I served it at a house concert we hosted and a week later, two people happened to mention separately that they were still thinking about it. (So am I.) It takes some time and effort, but really is not difficult to make for such a gorgeous and delicious final product. There are no unusual ingredients, no chef-level techniques, and–best of all for cheesecake–no water bath.
So this season, be the showstopper of the neighborhood Christmas party/work potluck/New Year’s Bash with something truly special. And for me, your nutritionist friend, enjoy it in moderation.
Showstopper Pumpkin Cheesecake
This stunning cheesecake is always a hit!
Make the crust: in a medium bowl, combine graham cracker crumbs, chopped pecans, gingersnap crumbs, and both sugars, then stir in melted butter. Press carefully into the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan. Freeze for at least 20 minutes.
Make the filling: in a large bowl, whisk together pumpkin, eggs, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. Add the cubed softened cream cheese and sugar and blend on medium speed with a hand mixer until no lumps remain. Beat in cream, cornstarch, vanilla, and bourbon (if using). Pour into chilled crust.
Bake at 350 degrees for 50-55 minutes or until the center is set. (If your springform pan tends to be leaky like mine, you may want to place a baking sheet underneath it.) Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the cream topping: in a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream, sugar, and maple syrup. Spread over the top of the baked cheesecake, smoothing with a spatula. Bake another 5-10 minutes, then cool completely. Garnish with pecan halves and store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
*Tip for serving: instead of a knife, try slicing the cheesecake using dental floss. Way less mess!