I learned to cook, to host, and to love it from this incredible woman. My Mom, Wendy, is a magician in the kitchen. She is partial to ethnic food, but can do it all. Her cooking journey began at “the Bell’s restaurant because the cook walked out one day, and the manager said ‘Can you cook?’ my response was ‘Can I cook?’ [insert joking and sarcastic tone] and off he sent me to the kitchen.” “But, the real start was when I cooked for the priests.” Yes, you read that right. My Mom cooked for the Dominican priests in a Seattle priory, “Blessed Sacrament.” She learned because she had to. Her sister was on speed dial when she cooked a roast for the first time. She never has stuck to recipes, even then when she was first learning. She had an old fashioned “Betty Crocker” cookbook, an Indian cookbook and a Japanese best friend. The large pantry of food filled with dry goods and a freezer filled with lamb, elk, steak, salmon, trout, you name it. “That’s how come I was able to try a lot of things, normally, you wouldn’t get to try in a year or two. I would never have purchased lamb, and veal, and trout. But because I had it I was able to try it.” “And the foreign foods I was trying used a lot of those ingredients so I was really fortunate to be in that kind of situation when I was first learning, I had lots of things to experiment with.” I asked her what happened if she cooked something gross. “I didn’t. Because I was always smelling and tasting as I went and if I made what I liked, usually other people liked it too.” She will try anything and often adapts it even the first time she makes a recipe because she knows what she likes. “I just do it, I do what I want to do.” “Sometimes, I follow a recipe. But I mean I hate Tabasco sauce so if it calls for that… I’ll do something else.”If you have ever eaten something my mom cooked you know it was delicious. She’d never brag, but boy she’s good.
In all honesty she has great instincts and raising me in the kitchen helped me gain similar ones. I am grateful for that. And thankful that I can now take this advice.
- try new things
- taste and smell as you go
- use different ingredients, stock your kitchen well
- if you see or taste something you like (say in a restaurant or store) try it, ask for a recipe or ingredient list and give it a try
Today she said, “you ever just get in the mood to cook?” “I made lentil and ham soup, that lead to navy bean soup.” Now she is whipping up homemade playdough with her grandkids, planning what recipe she’ll tackle next. She’s thinking curried lentils with garbanzo beans. She mentioned potato salad, “because the boys like it.” “And boy would I like to make cinnamon rolls.” She shares food, she will give anyone her recipes, and she opens up her home. I want to be just like her when I grow up. For now here is the only way I really like lentils, and one of the few ways I’ll eat ham… Her recipe for “Ham and Lentil Soup.”
Ham & Lentil Soup
This is Wendy’s Ham & Lentil Soup as best I can get her to commit. She never wants to give exact measurements and asks that I tell you to just “toss in what you like.”
2 14oz cans of chicken broth
4-6 cups of water
(OR 6-8 cups water and 2 heaping Tablespoons of chicken bullion)
2 cups diced ham
3/4-1 lb. brown lentils
1 1/2 cup diced carrots
4 stalks of celery, diced
1/2 cup diced onions
1 clove garlic, peeled and sliced
1 packet of dry onion soup mix
1 tsp salt
1/2-1tsp pepper – (4-5 turns of the pepper mill)
1. Rinse lentils in cold water, pull out any dark or blemished lentils.
2. Put lentils and ham hock (or even better a ham bone with ham on it) in a stockpot or dutch oven with the liquid ingredients.
3. Turn burner on medium high adding diced vegetables.
4. Add seasonings – dried soup mix, Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper to taste
5. Bring to a boil, then turn down to medium-low temperature.
6. Cook on low until vegetables are soft and flavors develop. Add diced ham towards the end, since it is already cooked.
-The first choice for the ham is to save a bone from your ham dinner. Keep the bone, with the meat on it, and toss it in the freezer for when you are ready to make the soup. You bring this to a boil in steps 3 and 4. After the soup is cooked you pull the bone out, let it cool, and pull off the ham in little chunks to add back to the soup. This produces the most flavorful soup.
-You can find a ham hock at most grocery stores in the meat section or ask you local butcher to pull one out for you. When using a ham hock look for the meatiest one. Even then will probably want to add diced ham from a boneless ham dinner or pre cubed ham you can also find in your meat section.
-All the quantities are approximates, you should add what you like. Add more of your favorite vegetables, add more broth if you you like a thinner soup. You can include more lentils if you need it heartier.
-Soups get better with time so making it ahead is a great idea, or serving leftovers is when the soup is near perfect.
These boys grow up in and near the kitchen. Today Cashel pushed Copeland in his bed over to the kitchen “so he wouldn’t be lonely and so he could watch Nona cook.” Corban sat just an arms length away eating lunch and “observing” as well. We are cooking family for sure.
You can also try this “Black Bean Soup for the Soul” that is one of my favorites, but since it has a bit of a Mexican flair and because Cashel isn’t as much of a black bean fan I don’t get to eat it as much. It’s delicious with cheesy quesadillas or chips! I also have started to use my instant pot to prepare the beans, instead of having to soak them overnight. Here is the great no soak black bean recipe, from A Bountiful Kitchen, for the instant pot. I used bacon and leave it in when I cook the beans if I am using them for this soup recipe since the soup also calls for bacon.