15-Bean Soup

February has flown by. Our annual Mardi Gras Madness party is always the Saturday before Mardi Gras, and this year it was early: 2/2. We spent the first full week of February recovering from the party as well as a stomach bug, and getting our house back in order. The second week brought a sinus infection, Valentine’s Day, and prepping for a trip to Prague and Budapest which we did the third week (I plan to post a bit about our culinary adventures later). Now here we are, tired, broke, and grocery-less. I raided the non-perishables which we keep on an old bookshelf in the basement, and I found a package of Hurst’s HamBeens Brand Original 15-Bean Soup. Not sure where it came from or how old it is, but it is just a mix of 15 different types of beans so I figured it wouldn’t kill us.

Now, there is a recipe on the back, but as I tend to do, I figured it was only a suggestion. When we left for school on Monday morning, I emptied the beans into a large pot and covered them with 2 quarts of water, figuring they could soak until I got home, which they did. I rinsed and sorted them, and put them back in the pot. I added a fresh two quarts of water and set the beans, AND one pound of smoked sausage (I actually used Hillshire Farms Lite Polska Kielbasa) that I cut into bite-sized pieces, first to boil then to simmer for two hours. After simmering, I sort of followed the recipe and added one diced onion, three cloves minced garlic, three tablespoons lemon juice, three teaspoons chili powder and a 15-oz can of diced tomatoes. Side note: I’d probably add more tomatoes next time. I also took it upon myself to add a few shakes of cayenne and about two teaspoons of dried thyme. The package included a small envelope labelled “ham flavor” or something, which I quickly decided to discard. I added another cup of water and let it all simmer for another half hour. The soup had the consistency of a thick bean chili, and the cayenne and chili powder gave it a subtle smoky heat which was nicely balanced with the thyme. We enjoyed the soup with a crusty French bread as Chris repeated “I love soup” as if it were his mantra.


Mardi Gras Madness 2008: Cola Ham

Saturday was our annual Mardi Gras Madness party. I used to live in New Orleans, and when I moved back to New England, I promised myself that I would do my best to keep NOLA in my life. We started our Mardi Gras tradition in 2003, a year after moving into our house, and it just keeps getting better. That first year, we knocked ourselves out trying to make everything from gumbo to jambalaya to red beans and rice. We had “throws,” which are trinkets that are thrown to spectators during Mardi Gras parades, Mardi Gras cups, and king cake, the traditional Mardi Gras dessert, shipped up from Louisiana. Best of all, we made original Pat O’Brien’s Hurricanes, a potent concoction of hurricane mix, water, and light and dark rum. Over the years, we learned to delegate. We usually have about 100 people in our 1600-square-foot home, and we’ve discovered that our family, friends and neighbors are more than willing to bring a dish. In fact, many of them get into the spirit of things and bring their best Cajun- or Creole- inspired dishes. They will all attest to the fact that the Mardi Gras table is always groaning with food, yet this year, besides decorations, throws and Hurricanes, all Chris and I prepared was fried turkey (although we had five of them throughout the night!) and Coca-Cola ham. Our guests took care of everything else, and it was probably the best Mardi Gras ever!

We’ve discussed the wonder of fried turkey in a previous post, and I base my Coca-Cola ham on Nigella Lawson’s recipe from the “Trashy” section of Nigella Bites. Here’s what I do: I buy a spiralled ham that will fit in my stock pot. The night before Mardi Gras, I put the ham in the pot, add one onion that I cut in half but don’t bother to peel, and then cover the ham with Coca-Cola or whatever cola I have on hand (apparently this year it was Pepsi). It usually takes at least a 2-liter bottle. I boil this with a loose lid for an hour or so. The sweet cola seeps into the spiralled ham really nicely and turns it a pretty dark brown. When the ham has boiled long enough, I cover a cookie sheet with aluminum foil. I put the ham on the sheet and score diamond-shapes into the fatty skin, studding each diamond with a clove. I then spread dark molasses over the ham, sprinkle it with ground mustard powder, and then pat it with brown sugar. Be sure to wear an apron, as this is a messy, sticky endeavor. I place the ham in the oven and broil it for about 10 minutes, until the glaze gets dark brown and bubbly. I let it cool enough to take the slices off the bone and place them in an aluminum pan. Once the ham is finished cooling, I cover the pan and refrigerate it. I serve it cold, right from the pan, at the party. It’s nice because it’s something that can be done ahead of time, and everyone is always pleasantly surprised at the balance of sweetness and spiciness that infuses each meaty bite.