It Takes a Village

They always say it takes a village.  Or maybe it’s a group.  It could just be fate.  But I think it really is a community that cares and wants to see people grow.  

Many days, I stand in my kitchen alone.  It’s okay because I like to feel the love that moves from my fingers to my food.  It’s a process that a lot of people might not understand.  It something that comes from within, deep inside my soul.  But it is at the cost of alienating myself from people.  I can become a hermit, lost in the flavors and textures of creations I do for people.

This is why I value my community because they understand my passion.  I’m a novice to this community as many of them have been growing their trade for many years.  Yet they embraced me and welcomed me, despite the fact I have not the years of experience behind me.  They say people come in and out of your life for different reasons.  I have so many people that I believe are a reason I am where I am and most of you know who you are, whether you are still a part of my life or not.  You have all helped me grow and realize the road I should travel on.  

Kristin of Jollity was my first “real” client.  We did many parties together and she helped me to realize that small foods are great foods to have at your party and something that I love to do.  Although, not in my community any longer,  I still appreciate her help in the beginning.  Barbara, the creator of Virginia Wedding Week and owner of Style Events is the one who got me started in the wedding industry.  She took a chance on some pictures she followed and asked me to serve some of my food at a meeting they held.  It was one of the best and most

Ashley of Studio I do and Barbara of Virginia Wedding Week

important nights I’ve had.  I met so many amazing people that I would not have met if it wasn’t for her belief in me. I have to say I absolutely love this person for who she is and I hope she is always a part of my community.  Kelly of Inspired Events by Kelly and Ashley of Studio I do have had the trust and confidence in me for their important events and for that I am and will be always so grateful.  They are such a part of my community that I when I’m not working with them, I love seeking out just to say hi to.  And finally, Charles… my friend, my neighbor and my mentor.  As the owner of Blue Seafood, the help he has given me is probably more than he knows, and so appreciated.

Kelly of Inspired Events by Kelly

Where would any of us be without our people?  I’m sure many of you have thought you’ve done well at getting where you are on your own, but really has it been without those silent supporters that cheered you on?  Maybe it is just fate and we’re destined to be on that road no matter what.   Whatever the reason is, I am blessed to be where I am.  Whether we are “competitors” or acquaintances,  it is important to support and help grow each other.  In a world where “ME” comes first, where kindness is non existent, and neighborhoods are not really neighborly, I find strength in having that community around me.  

And that is why it’s okay if I’m alone sometimes.  I always know there is a village for me to reach out to.   

My Wish for Your Wedding Reception

I’ve been to several weddings over my lifetime. They have varied with budget and locations to eras and style. I have been to large weddings, over the top, intimate and styled. The one constant in all of these have been food. Yes, everyone wants to eat, and apparently, wants to eat well.

I went to a couple over the top weddings on Long Island. It must be something about the area. They love to eat! The first was a sit down with several courses. I can’t tell you what they were due to my escalating age and deteriorating memory and the fact the wine glass was NEVER empty. Luckily the people sitting next to me were a lot of fun because we were never able to get away from the table. The second had a reception that was geared to feed an army. Or, rather,  several armies. They had pasta stations, carving stations, meatballs, cheeses and even more. I thought it was amazing until someone mentioned we still had a full sit down dinner to partake in. The sit down was substantially subpar to the “snack” beforehand, and seriously, how much food can one eat in a four hour period? (I really should have eaten more of the pasta.) I didn’t even mention the Viennese Hour following this… gluttony at it’s finest.

Mini Twice Baked Potatoes

 

I’ve been to weddings with buffets but I can’t seem to warm up to food that has been sitting there and picked over by a multitude of strangers. A personal OCD situation but nonetheless, still unappetizing. People eat more than they need to or probably want to (hence the increased cost), but who wants to see full pans of food just sitting there? It’s like they’re calling out to you, “Come eat me! Don’t let me go to waste!” And of course, you must obey.

So many weddings and so many times I’ve been unable to talk to people because we’re stuck at a table eating. It’s not as fun as dancing and mingling, but we do expect a good meal. (yes, we’re there for the bride and groom too!)

Gouda Grit Cakes with Shrimp and Bourbon Glaze

Aren’t we there because it’s a celebration, a time to catch up with people you haven’t seen for a while or meet for the first time? You don’t want to sit all night, and especially don’t want to if the ones you’re sharing the table with have no personality!                                                           

As a caterer and owner of The Twisted-Fork, I wish more brides and grooms would choose to have finger food receptions or food stations. It’s so much more fun!

 

My specialty is making big food small, so I guess I may be a little biased, but hear me out. When you have a reception of finger foods or stations, you have a variety of foods to choose from which is great for foodies and is also more accommodating to guests with dietary restrictions.

You can mingle, talk and dance and people can eat when they want instead of being sent to the troughs at relegated times. More often than not anymore, this type of reception can be quite creative. Sliders, pasta or donut stations, mini potatoes stuffed like that big one you have at the steak house, and lasagne that can be eaten in one bite but with the same big flavor punch. For a caterer and foodie like myself, this is considered nirvana.            

Other than throwing out the thought of a traditional wedding meal, this plan can really work for anyone and everyone. It can still work with your budget and style. Your stomach will still be satisfied and your guests will still be happy. You can have tables and chairs for everyone but if your space is limited take away a little of the seating and this is a great way to have everyone attend comfortably.

Basil Cheesecakes with Tomato Jam

So please, do me a favor. Get that rubber chicken idea out of your head and start thinking of Mini Chicken Parmesan Meatballs or a Mashed Potato Bar with a variety of toppings. Put your own stamp on it and let your taste buds walk on the wild side. You’ll be happy you did and you’ll make me one happy caterer.

 

Living the Dream

Last week we went to the U.S. Open. It was a dream of my husband’s and although I like golf I think I could have lived without it. The deal was, however, that we would go into East Hampton the next day and hopefully run into Ina Garten. How could I pass up a deal like that?

The golf tournament was ok. It rained, I was soaked, they played on. Blah, blah, blah. I did however see Tiger pull off a good bogey, Bubba walked by and Michelson played very well on the 9th. It wasn’t a bad ending to the day, but certainly there were better things ahead of us. LIKE SATURDAY IN EAST HAMPTON!

Coincidentally, Ina had posted a blog about if we came to East Hampton, here were her favorite places to go. (are you kidding? it was like an invitation to stop by for dinner!) So there I was, with my list, headed to the land of Ina Garten. I would run into her and she would then realize we were destined to be the best of friends. (I might be stretching the truth just a little bit here and although she never responded, I did send her an email inviting her out to dinner).

The first stop (and the best stop) was a little cheese shop in Sag Harbor. It was called Cavaniola’s Gourmet Cheese. I walked in and fell in love. It was so quaint and I knew if I lived closer, I would be there every day. The girls in the shop were so nice and so helpful. We tasted a couple of cheeses I had never had and of course bought some. I ended up buying some of their gourmet items also, much to the chagrin of my husband’s wallet.

I walked in and fell in love. It was so quaint and I knew if I lived closer, I would be there every day. The girls in the shop were so nice and so helpful. We tasted a couple of cheeses I had never had and of course bought some. I ended up buying some of their gourmet items also, much to the chagrin of my husband’s wallet. And as you might have guessed, I asked if Ina really came to the shop. The girls said she came in all the time, was a sweet and as real as anyone. I thought I would hang out for a week or two and wait for her but my husband really wasn’t keen on that idea, so we had to leave.

As I left, I asked them to say “hi” to Ina for me, and told them she just hadn’t realized we’re best friends yet. I’m sure they think I’m some crazy stalker-ish kind of person. I’m not really. I’m just a wanna-be Barefoot Contessa kind of person hoping to run into one of my favorite idols.

And Ina Garten, I’m still waiting and hoping for your phone call.

Love Was In The Air

Sometimes, like this past week, you watch true love in action. The royal couple put on a splendid wedding that didn’t disappoint. Other times, something more subtle might come along, albeit with the same level of love and passion. The only difference is, the entire world doesn’t get to view it.

I’m talking about the marriage of Mike and Annette. Two people I can now call friends. I had the honor of catering their wedding a couple of weeks ago. It was a small wedding, but can we say quality versus quantity because they didn’t want anyone there that didn’t matter to them. It was a ceremony that only included friends and family that have always been a part of their life, and that is why I was so honored to be a part of it.

I don’t know their love story, except that one day Mike had a sparkle in his eyes and he started talking about this girl. I met Annette once or twice before the wedding and thought how nice and how pretty, but I didn’t really know the depth of love they had for each other.

Until I watched them take their vows and dance the first dance.

I can’t say that I saw fireworks or stars, it was much more subtle than that. As I watched, it was more like a warm glow that filled the room, a beating of the heart, a goosebump that crawls along your arm and the tender look they gave each other. It was the love story we all want to feel in our own lives.

I was happy to be a part of this, to share my food that I made for them with the same intensity of love in my heart. I was fortunate to be a part of something so special. It was a wedding I won’t forget.

Chicken BBQ sliders
Mini Crab Cakes with Smokey Remoulade
starters

Holidays are coming!

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I don't want to frighten you but there are only 31 days left until Thanksgiving and 63 days              until Christmas.  Once we've passed Halloween it will be upon us with lightening speed and if you're anything like me, you won't be ready.

Every year, I say the same thing to myself.   I am going to shop throughout the year, have everything wrapped by Thanksgiving, decorate before December 1st and enjoy the month before the carnage begins.  Well... that never happens.  What actually happens is I see the Christmas decorations out before Halloween so I think I have all the time in the world, I haven't started any shopping until three weeks before because, well the holidays are busy,  and if it's anything like last year... I got the tree up and had no decorations on it.  Luckily it was a pre-lighted tree.

Let's face it.  We're all busy and this time of year just gets crazy.  We want to do it all and be another Martha Stewart, but if you're anything like me the thing we want most is to be with our friends and family.  That adds the additional pressure of entertaining and what to make in the limited amount of time we already have.  One thing I have learned is to make it easy on yourself.  It doesn't have to all be gourmet, or homemade... in the infamous words of Ina Garten "Store-bought is fine!"  I, of course being in the business of catering, have a multitude of appetizers and meals I can easily make for you, so if you don't want to do it, I am available to help you.  However, if you want to do it yourself, I've listed a couple of recipes below that will wow your guests and still be easy on your pocket and you.  Enjoy!

 

SMOKED SALMON CHIPS 

INGREDIENTS (makes 25 appetizers

approximately 1/2 cup creme fraiche

3 oz package smoked salmon

chives, cut into 1 inch pieces or you can also chop

Place a teaspoon of creme fraiche on each chip, a small folded piece of salmon and then your chives.

 

MINI CAPRESE SKEWERS

INGREDIENTS (makes 25 appetizers)

Approximately 1/2 pounds Grape or Cherry Tomatoes

Approximately 8 oz Ciliegine Mozzarella

6 large Basil leaves, chiffonnade (stack your leaves one on top of the others, roll tightly and slice thinly)

25 bamboo skewers

Balsamic Glaze (store bought is fine!)

Wash and dry tomatoes.  Skewer one tomato, one ball of mozzarella and then one more tomato.  Continue with the remainder of skewers, tomatoes and mozzarella.  Arrange on platter and sprinkle the chiffonnade basil over the skewers.  Squeeze a thin line of Balsamic Glaze over your arrangement.

My First Mushroom

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Someone asked me today what got me started in my business; where did this passion come from?  I had to sit back a minute and think about it.  After all, I've been doing it for such a long time that I feel it was always there, but there is always a beginning to every story, and this is mine.

Growing up, I couldn't really cook.  My parents were of the era where meat was cooked until it turned to shoe leather, vegetables came from a can, and the trend for convenience and budget meant potato spuds from a box.  I rarely liked what was put in front of me, with few exceptions.

Money was used to pay bills and not to go to college, so after I graduated high school, I went to an art school in Pittsburgh via student loans.  In order to pay for room and board, I stayed with a French family and watched their young daughter and helped with the cooking.  This was an introduction into another life I had never experienced.  I was 19 and tasted my very first mushroom!  Imagine a mushroom being the catalyst to buying my first cookbook.  I actually still have it in my collection so many years later, and I am sharing my first recipe ever made that I still make to this day.

I enjoyed following the recipes and even more so, I enjoyed the results.  Little by little, without realizing it, I was laying the foundation for what would become my passion.

And then life happened.  I got married, started a family, got a divorce, and had to get a job.  I went to work for a mortgage company and ended up settling in for sixteen years.  Cooking and baking were on the back burner.

Fast forward ten years.  I remarried, and my children were pretty much grown and doing their own thing.  I had more time but still didn't really think of food as my passion, as much as it was a necessity.  I enjoyed entertaining and creating little bites for my friends that would ooh and aah, but I believe I thought it was more about the entertaining.  Then one day, I was watching a show about making cupcakes.  It was a contest, it was fun, and I started thinking what flavor I would make; I then, of course, had to make them.   How hard could cupcakes be?  After all, I was pretty good with a recipe. With a huge amount of confidence, I made my special flavor, and when I pulled them out of the oven, I was aghast to see all I had made were hockey pucks.  What?  The second try resulted in the same disgusting manner.  The challenge was on, and I was going to win.

With determination and malice, I rose to the cause of defeating my nemesis.   I researched, I watched, I read, and I discovered what I was doing wrong. Finally after several attempts: voila!   I had created a light, fluffy, and moist cupcake.  I took them into work, and they were devoured.  So naturally, I had to make more.... and then I made even more.  It was almost like once I had succeeded, the underlying bug in my bed of creativity was awoken and all I wanted to do was cook or bake.

I was like a sponge.  I couldn't read enough food magazines, watch an overabundance of food shows, or practice on too many people.  I would take my samples into my work kitchen and watch everyone enjoy.  I was loving what I could accomplish.                                

Then the market dropped out, and within a short span, my father and my youngest brother died.  It was almost like I died.  The only thing that seemed to keep me going was stirring a bowl of chocolate or finding some new hors d'oeuvre to try.  I was losing my desire to go to work.  I didn't know what to do until a friend sat me down and said, "Do what you love."  But at my age, the fear of starting over was a little overwhelming.  It wasn't until I went to my last closing and noticed "the sign" on a cup of coffee; this little quote on the side of a cup was what made me decide to take the leap.  "Follow your passion and you will find your purpose."

Today, it's been three years to the month that I have been the owner of The Twisted-Fork, and I haven't looked back. It hasn't been without difficulty, but every day is a new day, and I love it. There are learning curves everywhere, and every day I move forward with new knowledge of something to continue making my food beautiful and tasty.  I know this is the right path for me because truly... "if you follow your passion, you will find your purpose."

 

 

Bah Humbug

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Christmas will be here in one week.  I'm sure for many of you it's panic time.  You still have shopping to do or dinner plans to make, wrapping gifts or just trying to squeeze in all the friends and family time.  I'm usually there with you..  but not this year.  This year brings a feeling of dread.  The closer to the day at hand there is a suffocating presence, a desire to run and hide, a feeling of emptiness.

Christmas has always been my favorite of the holidays.  It's all I can do to get beyond Thanksgiving so I can decorate my house, plan not only a special dinner but also the dessert of all desserts.  I shop, I wrap, I look for the best of gifts to fit into a stocking so personal that it is like pulling love out with every little surprise.  My house looks like Christmas threw up in it and I can't wait for any visitor to come by just so they can see how happy it makes me.

Things changed so drastically this year.  I tried to feel the same but it never came.  I managed to get a tree up but it's the smallest one we had and there are no decorations on it, save for one that I just bought at my favorite little French store, Le Marche.  I don't want to shop or wrap or even (gasp) plan a dinner.  I think I'm going to end up being like the person who burnt the turkey or something equally crazy and they go to the one Chinese restaurant that is open.  Although right now it's not a bad option.

Now before you try to have me committed or cross this off as an over-indulgent pity party for one, I have to explain why.  The reason is, for the first time in about seventeen years, my children will not be here.  (commence rolling of eyes)  My daughter is leading the life of an international world-famous teacher in China and I miss her horribly.  My son is still deciding if he wants to acknowledge he has parents or not but for the first time in a long time is fortunate enough to spend some time with his grandmother.  As a mother this can be devastatingly lonely.  I know people have put up with much worse, husbands or wives off to war, spouses or children no longer with us.  I get it.  I'm being absurdly pathetic.  But for me , it's now just like any other day.  Nothing exciting to look forward to, no special visitors and certainly no family.  There will be no grandchildren, which is an entirely different and much longer story, and isn't Christmas all about the children?  The Elf on the Shelf is still on the shelf...in the closet.  How does one adjust to this type of change?  Why can't I be the person that can adapt and move on?

Luckily, I have been very fortunate and very busy with holiday business.  It's been a great divergent and quite fulfilling.  Peter, my husband, and I have been able to spend a little more time together which is also good for the heart.  So I am out there trying.  I even bought a couple of gifts the other day. No need for the straight jacket yet.

Why do I tell you all of this?  Why after all of this time do I expose my inner-most feelings and angst with the couple of thousand people who thought I had disappeared, never to return?  I've gotten away from this cathartic writing.  I've wanted to return, sharing stories and recipes with friends that I don't yet know but there has been this block of what to say and to top everything off, this blog has been experiencing hundreds of spam postings.  However, I am finally now here again, bemoaning my lack of holiday spirit.....but at least I'm here. I am once again sharing something.  I know it's not a recipe, but it is a beginning.

2017 is right around the corner, a new beginning.  It can be a fresh page for anything and everything.  I can try writing again, I can share some recipes with you and I can start planning for maybe a better holiday next year.

It is exactly like Scarlet O'Hara once said, "After all, tomorrow is another day!"  For all of you I wish you a very merry Christmas, but for me I think I look forward to a brand New Year.

Candied Bacon

We all know the food groups that were part of our learning as we were growing up.  Vegetables and Fruit, Grains and Cereals, Protein, Milk and Dairy and Sugars and Fats.  No where in that learning did we cover the sixth and barely known food group… Bacon.  People of the world…wake up!  Bacon is not a new discovery, but it has become an important part of our daily lives.  Well, unless you don’t eat meat, I guess.   It’s everywhere now.  There is bacon and maple donuts, bacon chocolate, bacon flavored gum, bacon cupcakes. Need I say more?  I have said all along it should be its own food group.   I think you too will agree with me once you try this little gem of a recipe I found in Food & Wine.

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Candied Bacon.  I made it for Super Bowl and it was gone in minutes.  It’s like food crack.  You can’t stop eating it.  Sweet and savory, salty and crisp…it’s addictive.   It might not be the healthiest thing to eat, but let’s face it, this isn’t something you’re going to eat every day.  (although I really could).  It’s super easy and one of those dishes that once you make it,  everyone wants to know how you did it.

candied bacon 008

Trust me on this one….  Bacon and easy to make.  You can’t go wrong with this.

People of the world!  I give you Candied Bacon!

Candid Bacon

MAKE AHEAD: The candied bacon can be made earlier in the day. Store at room temperature.
Course Appetizer
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 20 Strips

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chile powder
  • 20 slices thick-cut bacon 1 1/2 pounds

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with foil.

  2. In a small bowl, whisk the brown sugar with the chile powder.

  3. Arrange the bacon strips on the foil and coat the tops with the chile sugar

  4. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until caramelized and almost crisp.

  5. Transfer the bacon to a rack set over a sheet of foil to cool completely. Serve.

Garlic Shrimp

When I go to a restaurant I am my husband’s – and probably the wait staff’s – worst nightmare.  I must have it my way.  A little of this and a little of that.  If I could take a bit from each entrée it would be perfect because it seems there is always something I don’t like on every item, but something I do like on every item.

Such is the way when I look at a new recipe.  I become inspired by one recipe, but like ingredients from another and pretty soon I have a collaboration of two or three different recipes.  Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t but I think tonight’s adventure did.

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This is a marriage of ingredients from 3 different recipes, inspired mostly from a Food and Wine recipe I found online.  It was a fairly quick meal to fix and although I paired it with coconut rice, you could serve it with a salad or crusty bread and it would still be a filling meal for you.

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Just make sure when you eat this, share the joy.  There is a lot of garlic in it and you know they always say that if one eats garlic, then everyone should.  Don’t worry, they’ll all love it.

On a side note…no vampires will be visiting for a while.

Garlic Shrimp

Course Appetizer, Entree
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup olive oil extra virgin
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1/2 red pepper, sliced thin
  • 2 stalks baby bok choy, sliced thin
  • 4 Tablespoons butter
  • 3 Tablespoons dry sherry
  • 1/2 lemon juiced about 2 Tablespoons
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped parsley

Instructions

  1. Heat oil in saucepan.

  2. Add bay leaf, garlic, crushed red pepper and saute until fragrant, approximately 3-4 minutes.

  3. Salt and pepper shrimp and add to oil mixture, cooking until shrimp are done, approximately 3-4 minutes.

  4. Add red pepper and bok choy and cook for 1 additional minute.

  5. Add butter, sherry, lemon juice and stir until butter is incorporated and melted.

  6. Add chopped parsley.

  7. Serve immediately.

Split Pea Soup, Split Decision

When it comes to the standard way of making things, or trying something new, my husband and I are typically at odds.  For Peter, lobster has to be served steamed in a shell, shrimp can be with a cocktail sauce or in scampi.  You can’t have pizza with goat cheese and you certainly can’t have pea soup without green peas.  Until now that is, because I live by a different set of rules.

Let me just give you a little background on this.  I grew up with pea soup.  It was always a staple when we had leftover ham.  It was green and thick and not very appetizing.  So it was a huge mistake on my part, when I mentioned after our ham dinner, the idea of making soup.  It turns out, much to my dismay, that he loved pea soup.

Well, I half-thought about it and when I was at the market, I picked up a bag of split peas.  Peter would be so surprised if I actually made this for him.  But visions flashed before me of the thick green paste and I immediately scrubbed that idea and threw the peas back on the shelf.  I started to walk away and out of the corner of my eyes I saw a bag with split yellow peas.  That’s right….YELLOW peas.  I never had them before, but after looking at the back of the bag and the recipe idea it gave, I thought I could make it work.  It was a good compromise.

That weekend, since it was cold and definitely feeling like a soup day, I decided to give it a try.  I cooked my ham bone down and reserved the broth and although I did refer to the bag recipe, I did change the recipe quite a bit to make it more my style.  This was working!

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The flavor was really good and the texture of the broth was more like a vegetable broth.  I was so happy because I thought his was something I could eat and Peter would love that we had split pea soup.  I really believed this was our soup of compromise.

Until my husband sat down to dinner that is.  He took a bite and it wasn’t so bad.  He took another bite and it was ok.  The third bite, he decided to tell me that pea soup was meant to be green and mushy.  This simply was NOT going to do.

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So once again we were at odds.  I loved it and he did not.  He wanted his green thick mush and I liked the texture more like a broth.  And it’s okay.  It’s okay if he doesn’t like it, because he doesn’t have to love everything I make and he has his standards.  But I will probably make it again and he will probably eat it again and complain again.   And have another two helpings again.

Do you really have two helpings if you don’t like something?

Split Pea Soup, Split Decision

Course Appetizer, Entree
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 5 hours
Total Time 5 hours 20 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 bag yellow split peas
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 large onion, diced
  • 4 carrots, diced small
  • 2 stalks celery, diced small
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 8 cups water, chicken broth, ham bone broth or a combination I used 6 cups chicken broth and 2 cups of my ham broth
  • 2 cups diced, cooked ham
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup croutons optional

Instructions

  1. Soak, rinse and sort peas per package instructions.

  2. Heat oil in a large, heavy 5-7 quart pot.

  3. Add onions, carrots, celery and cook until tender,

  4. Add garlic and cook another 1-2 minutes or until fragrant.

  5. Add salt and pepper and stir to coat vegetables.

  6. Add cup of wine and stir to deglaze, scraping up any bits from the pan.

  7. Add broth and or water and bring all ingredients to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until peas are tender, about 2 to 3 hours.

  8. Add ham and serve topped with croutons if desired.

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