Ham It Up

You know how they say that inside every heavy person is a thin person waiting to get out?Well, inside of this person (me) is a three-year-old who flat-out hates to wait.  Who wants to know when it’ll be over.  Who thinks this is stupid and it’s gonna take forever.  Who don’t wanna…Who’s done and will now sit and pout and probably cry dramatically.

That inner three-year-old is the reason why I make a ham for each and every ham-eating holiday.My mom used to order one of those honey-glazed, spiral-sliced, straight from central casting holiday hams.  They were gorgeous, and delicious.

But.They cost about a thousand dollars per pound.  And, Jason had an easier time getting his mitts on the golden fleece.  The hams must be pre-ordered in advance.  The stores are usually at some random strip mall in the middle of nowhere. And pickup is its very own circle of hell.  I’ve seen the lines.  They are so long that while in it, time moves in reverse.  Folks at the head of the line check the time by glancing at their phones.  In the middle of the line, they rely on sun dials.  At the back of the line, time frightens and confuses them, and they entreat the sun to ensure a good harvest.That little impatient three-year-old inside me just couldn’t let my mother subject herself to that porky purgatory one more time.

I decided to do some research, talk to good cooks, and learn how to prepare a ham.So, I am now the family pig preparer.  Each year I make a different flavored glaze, then crust it with chopped nuts that go, flavor-wise.  This year it’s watermelon rind preserves and pistachios.                                                          &But we always have a ton left after the holiday meal.  And everybody’s got their favorite ham dish.

I love my Dad’s ham salad:

Dad’s Holiday ham salad

ham salad 2

2 cups leftover ham pieces

1 small yellow onion

Put ham and onions into food processor and blitz until it’s fine and of uniform size.

Stir in:

2 tablespoons sweet pickle relish

Enough mayonnaise to make spreadable consistency. 

Season with salt and pepper.Refrigerate for at least an hour, then serve on bread, or use as a dip for crackers or crostini.

Petey likes ham croquettes.

Petey’s ham croquettes

ham croquettes

1 cup finely minced ham

1 cup leftover mashed potatoes

2 finely grated carrots

2/3 cup Swiss cheese, diced

¼ cup melted butter

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

Salt & pepper to taste

1 egg + 2 for breading

2 tablespoons flour + more for breading

½ cup milk

2 cups Panko breadcrumbs

Oil for frying

Gently mix together all the ingredients except for 2 eggs, extra flour, breadcrumbs and oil.  Set aside.Make three-part dredge.  Put seasoned flour in one vessel, beaten eggs and milk in another, and Panko in a third.

Roll ham mixture into 3-4 inch long logs.  Roll into flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs.  Place into fridge for at least one hour to set and for coating to adhere.

When ready to cook, put enough oil into heavy pot to go up about 1 ½ inches, and heat to 350 degrees.  Working in small batches, fry on each side until golden brown.  Makes 8-10.The Kid?

The Kid (and me too) loves this sandwich.

On the freshest baguette you can find, slather on way too much mayo, sliced tomato, and provolone cheese.  Add sliced ham, and season with salt & pepper.

We first had it at Jersey Mike’s.  It’s a gestalt thing; the whole is tastier than the sum of its parts.Thanks for your time.

Hold your ham

Abbondanza.My mother agonizes over each dish at each meal served at her table.  An Italian girl from Jersey, she was raised with “Mangia!” (Eat up!), and “Abbondanza!” (abundance).  The burning question in her mind is, will there be enough?

I offer this advice for all first time diners at Chez Mom.

If you want a lot more, tell her you only want a little.  If you want a little more, tell her you’re full.  If you truly can’t eat another bite; then run, run like the wind, Grasshopper.  But she’ll be ready and waiting for you at her door with a doggy bag large enough to feed you and your entire family until the cows come home, milk themselves, and buy a Dairy Queen franchise.So, there are regularly large quantities of leftovers at my parents’ house.

In my kitchen, except for sauces and gravies, which for some reason I always make too much of, we rarely have leftovers, except by design.  Either I have a plan to transform them into something different, it’s something we really like and relish eating again, or the nature of the dish works better made in quantity; like chili or soup.  Then they get packed up and frozen or are purloined by The Kid.

Throwing away food, to me is a personal failure. Image result for big easter hamAnyway, for holiday meals, my contribution is the ham.  It makes a big impact, feeds a lot of mouths, but is deceptively easy to prepare.  This year it was a 17-pounder.

When the last person took their last bite of dinner, there was at least ten or twelve pounds of ham left.  Everyone got a porcine parting gift.  And I got requests for recipes using that ham.

This has the elements of chicken Cordon Bleu but comes together easier.  You can make one large dish, or multiple smaller dishes, and freeze.

Chicken Cordon Bleu Rice bakecordon bleu rice bakeThe meat from ½ rotisserie chicken, cut into bite-size pieces

2 cups leftover ham, in bite-size pieces

2-6 or 7 ounce boxes long grain and wild rice, made according to directions

5 tablespoons butter + 2 tablespoons for breadcrumbs

½ yellow onion, chopped

4 tablespoons flour

3 cups low-fat milk

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese

1 cup shredded Swiss cheese + ½ cup for breadcrumbs

¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

1 cup breadcrumbs

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350.  When rice is done, let sit covered until sauce is ready.

For cheese sauce melt 5 tablespoons butter in large heavy saucepan.  Add onion, season, and cook until it’s lightly golden, has released its liquid which has cooked off.  Add flour, and stir.  Cook on medium-low for five minutes to cook out raw flour taste.  Whisk in milk.  Cook on medium, whisking continuously, just until it begins to boil.  Stir in mustard, then cheese, a little at a time until it’s all in.  Season, check, and re-season if necessary.

For breadcrumb topping, melt the 2 tablespoons of butter, and mix with ½ cup Swiss and breadcrumbs.  Season.

Stir together chicken, ham, rice, parsley, and sauce.  Pour into greased dish, cover with foil and bake 20 minutes.  Uncover, top with breadcrumb mixture, and bake 40 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbly.Let sit 10 minutes before serving.  Serves 8.

While sandwiches are great, that leftover meat can be put to much more exciting uses.  And if you have any leftover Easter chocolate, give me a yell, and I can take it off your hands.

Just saying.Thanks for your time.

Wham, bam thank you ham

So have you ever driven past one of those ham stores, or worse yet, pulled in for a nice big holiday oinker?It looks like the release day of the new iphone and a 90% off shoe sale all in one little store in one little strip mall.  It’s a scene from a dystopian apocalyptic epic.  There are hundreds of cars and thousands of eager ham-seeking missile-people.  In the run up to ham-eating holidays some locations even have off-duty constables directing traffic.

And my mom used to put herself through that at least twice a year so she could have an impressive piece of pork as her holiday centerpiece.

But it came at a price, and I’m not just talking about the hefty monetary tab, though there is that.  From start to finish it took at least three or four hours.  And although my mom neither looks nor acts her age, in reality she’s a rheumatoid arthritis sufferer who went to sleepaway camp with Dolly Madison.  She never complained about the Herculean effort to put a ham on the table, but we knew it took a lot out of her.My mom is the kind of person that if she had $10 and you needed $20 and a lung, she would rip out a lung and steal ten more dollars.  So, if I could at least take the ham procurement off her list during holiday craziness, I at least had to try.

I’ve thought for years that my ham recipe came directly from Alton Brown.  But recently I looked over his recipe on Foodnetwork.com, and discovered something.Very little of my ham came from that culinary mad scientist.

Other than the target temps and the multi-layer coating procedure, my recipe was something that I had unknowingly developed myself.  Unbeknownst to me, I’m a freaking kitchen genius—yeah, waaaay more freak than genius

The most important part of making a show-stopping Easter ham is the ham itself.So, two or three weeks before Peter Cottontail shows up, I call Regina at King’s Red & White (305 E Club Blvd Durham {919} 220-2192).  Everybody in the Bull City that knows good food shops there.  And what Regina don’t know about meat ain’t worth knowing.

This recipe will tie up your kitchen for most of the day, so plan accordingly.  But despite the oohs and ahs it will elicit, it’s deceptively easy to make.I wish you and yours a very Happy Easter.  And I hope you get all the chocolate you can handle (I never in my life met more chocolate than I could handle).

Debbie’s Holiday Ham

Takes 5-8 hours (approx.)                                                                     

For Glaze:2 cups jelly, jam, or marmalade, warmed and strained or 4 cups of the soft drink of your choice, reduced (cooked at a rapid boil) by half 

2017 ham glaze

2-3 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

2 bay leaves

1 & ¼ teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder

1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

One mini bottle of brandy rum or apple jack (optionl)

¼ teaspoon fresh cracked pepper

Combine ingredients, and simmer on low until it has reduced to thick, sticky syrup.  Cool.  This may be made days in advance.

4 cups chopped nuts. *match nuts to glaze, peach/peanut, orange/pecan, cherry/almond etc.

½ city ham, shank or butt endEquipment needed:

Large roasting pan

½ clean bath towel, or whole kitchen towel

Very sharp knife for cutting through skin


Pastry brush

Preheat oven to 250.  Line pan with towel.  Clean and dry ham.  Cut through skin and fat only in diamond pattern.  Place ham, cut side down, into towel-covered roasting pan.  Insert probe thermometer away from bone, set to 120.

Cover tightly with foil, and bake until temp.

Remove from oven, and remove foil.  Set oven to 325 or use low-temp broiler.  Using tongs, remove skin and thick pieces of fat.  Firmly brush on thick layer of glaze.  Press layer of nuts evenly over ham.  Insert probe into new spot for 140 and return to oven.

When temp’s reached, check to see that exterior looks toasted.  If not, under broiler, toast damp spots.

Remove from oven.  Allow to rest, lightly covered for thirty minutes.

Serve hot or cold.

Thanks for your time.

Greens, Eggs, and Ham

You know those wooden pork stands in the grocery store, back by the meat department?    If you’ve ever checked out this porcine scaffolding, you’ve likely noticed they’re stocked with just about every part of the pig, save face and squeal.  From fat back to ham steaks, it’s there.

They have packs of bits and pieces of country ham.  Which is what I picked up to make Puerto Rican rice and beans.

There was enough, even in the small package that I divided it u and threw them in the freezer for a meal to be attempted at a later date.

Then I had a food chat with the former chief of the Durham Police Department, Jose Lopez, and his wife Becky; both Puerto Rican.  They invited me into their home, and gave me a comprehensive class in the cuisine of the island.   

She taught me a few dishes and one of them was a big pot of beans.  They were delicious and tasted and smelled just like Puerto Rico.

There was only one problem.  There was pork in the recipe, but not ham—ham hocks.

So now I had a couple bags of ham pieces, and nothing to do with them.  There was no way I would toss perfectly good meat.  But I had an idea; I would use it for a pot of not beans, but risotto.

Ham and egg risotto

ham egg risotto

½ cup country ham trimmimgs, cut bite-size

½ onion, diced

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 cup arborio rice

½ cup white wine

3 ½ cups chicken stock (approx)

12 ounces frozen peas and carrots, thawed

¼ cup parmesan cheese

¼ cup butter

3 cups raw baby spinach

Salt and pepper to taste

6 eggs

1 tablespoon vinegar

Heat one heavy saucepan to medium-high. 

Put stock into another saucepan, and set to medium-low.  You only want the stock to simmer, turn down if it starts to boil.

Put oil, ham, and onion into another saucepan, and sauté until the onion releases its water, and starts to caramelize.  Add Arborio and toss until the rice starts to toast and a little browning occurs on the pan bottom.

While the risotto ingredients are browning, put a shallow bottom pan on the stovetop poach eggs.  Fill with water, and add vinegar.  Turn on medium and bring to very gentle simmer.

Back at the rice pot; pour in wine, and toss until the wine cooks out.  Constantly stirring, add about ½ cup of hot stock to rice until the liquid is absorbed, then add more.  After about 2 1/2 cups stock, start tasting for doneness.

At this point, start poaching eggs n the simmering water, 3 at a time for about 4 minutes.  Remove from water with slotted spoon, and place on clean kitchen towel to keep warm, and dry.

When the rice is cooked through, add peas and carrots, butter and cheese.  Gently stir until butter is melted. 

To plate: Lay a big handful of spinach on plate, then spoon about 2 cups risotto over spinach and place 2 poached eggs on top.  Serves 3.

dancing pig 1

Cute, right?

This dish is very versatile.  You could eat it for any meal, and if you have any rice left, it heats up very well in a microwave with a little water added.  Or, you could make cakes, or arancini, which are breaded and fried rice balls, each one stuffed with a piece of mozzarella.

Oh yeah, the ham hocks needed for the rice?

dancing pig 2.png

Yet this one is deeply unsettling.  Why is that?

I found them on that ham kiosk in the back of the grocery store.

Thanks for your time.