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.

To Brussels, with love

Any sane person would never touch them again.When I was pregnant with The Kid I walked around for nine months feeling like a sorority girl who’s drunk way too much and knows it’s only a matter of time before their body rejects the alcohol in the loudest, messiest, and most violent means possible.

Not the drunk part, mind you, but the queasy part.  And it didn’t take much to get there—sometimes just brushing my teeth would push me over that particular cliff.

So, pregnancy brain (It’s a real thing. I’ve got stories I could tell you that would make you an avid proponent for cloning as a means of procreation), must be the reason I indulged in this obviously Hindenburg-level dangerous craving.

If you can’t tell what kind of vegetable is under all that sauce, just eat a PBJ.

I was about six or seven months along and for days all I could think about was Brussel sprouts drenched in lashings of Hollandaise sauce.

Yeah, I know, in the cool light of non-pregnancy that dish is unquestionably toxic which regardless of one’s gestational status should be avoided at all costs.

But again, cravings and pregnancy brain.

I hauled my bloated carcass to the grocery store and procured the supplies for this volatile dish.  Frozen sprouts and an envelope of Knorr’s Hollandaise sauce—just add milk, butter, and stir until it comes to a boil.I’ve had many different strains of the flu and a couple bouts of food poisoning, but I was never so sick in my entire life; before or since.  I think I revisited things that I ate in kindergarten.  At one point I’m pretty sure I saw a kitten and a Matchbox car come up.

But I still love those dainty little cabbages.  Like I said any sane person…

These days, fresh are pretty easy to find either bagged or if you get lucky, on the stalk.  The sprout-laden stalk looks like a bell stick made for Paul Bunyan.  For most recipes, I prepare them by rinsing and cutting them off the stalk if necessary.

I then cut them in half, top to bottom.  I remove a couple outer leaves, then blanch in very salty water for about four or five minutes.  I drain them and put them in icy salt water to stop the cooking and set the color.

New World Brussels sproutssprouts-wild-rice2 pounds Brussels sprouts cleaned and blanched

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 tablespoons butter, divided

1 cup pecan pieces, toasted

1 cup brown and wild rice blend, uncooked

½ yellow onion, chopped

1/3 cup dried cranberries

2 ½ cups water or chicken stock

Salt & pepper

Pea shoots or kale microgreens

Make rice: place one tablespoon butter into a large saucepan with a lid.  Melt on medium, and add onions and season.  Cook until the onions start to brown.  Stir in cranberries.  Put rice in pan and the 2 ½ cups liquid.  Cover and cook until rice is tender and liquid has completely absorbed (apporx 45-55 minutes).

While the rice is cooking, heat a skillet on medium.  Drop in vegetable oil and 1 tablespoon butter and when it’s melted, place seasoned sprouts, cut side down into pan.  Let them cook until they’re caramelized.  Cover to keep warm and set aside.When the rice is done,  let it sit, covered and undisturbed for 20 minutes.Uncover rice, and pour into a large bowl.  Add pecans and sprouts.  Gently mix together.  When plating, add a handful of shoots or greens on top.  Serves 6.

Brussel sprouts are also really good in hash, or caramelized and topped with crispy bacon.  You can also shred them and use them in place of regular cabbage in cole slaw.  Another idea is to tumble cleaned and halved sprouts into a roasting pan.  Place a hunk of meat on top, pour in some wine and cook.  The veggies will raise the meat up from the liquid, absorb flavor, and come out golden, tender, and delicious.

So buy a bag and give it some thought.  There’s an infinite number of ways to serve Brussel sprouts.

But please, I’m begging you; keep them away from the Hollandaise.Thanks for your time.

Sneaky Pilaf

Here’s my wish for you:

I hope that after more than thirty years together, you and your SO (significant other) are still capable of surprising the heck out of each other.

By now, Petey and I know each other pretty well.

He knows I consider frosting a necessary food group.  That Roger Moore was the best Bond.  And to never bring up how many shoes I own.

I’ve come to accept that when he is holding the remote, we will never watch a program all the way through from start to finish.  And it’s futile to try and get him out of what The Kid calls the Canadian tuxedo; jeans and a jean jacket, with a t-shirt in the summer, or a flannel shirt in the colder months.

But lately, when it comes to food, he has shocked me to the core.

A couple of years ago, I found out that coconut cake is one of his favorite desserts.  Then after making many, many batches of my green pork chili, he confessed that he’s not a fan (at the time of this revelation I had a gallon bagged up in the freezer, which The Kid generously offered to take off my hands).

In a quest to eat healthier, I bought a ten pound bag of brown rice at Costco; with Petey’s full knowledge and cooperation.

But a month or so ago, he sheepishly informed me that he doesn’t really like it.

I told him that we would have to eat it up, but I would alternate brown rice dinners with the white stuff.  I may have told him that, but I hate serving him food that he doesn’t enjoy, so it wasn’t really being used.

He does love pilafs.  When we go out to eat, if there is pilaf on the menu, he orders it, even over things like creamy mashed, or loaded baked potatoes.

The other night I decided to make a pilaf.  One thing I love about them is that they’re a great opportunity to use up any vegetables in the fridge that are past their prime.

I always use stock in my pilaf, so the cooked rice isn’t snow white.  So I would use this stock camouflage to substitute brown rice in my recipe, hoping that the flavor, and chewy characteristics of the wild rice I planned on adding would disguise my deceit.

It worked.  Petey had no idea he was eating brown rice.  And when I told him, he liked it so much, he didn’t even slow down the chowing down.

Brown and wild rice pilaf


3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

1 onion, chopped

2 cups mushrooms, sliced

1/2 cup dried porcini mushrooms

1 cup celery, chopped

3 large carrots, chopped

1 teaspoon each dried thyme

2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary

3-4 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/3 cups brown rice

2/3 cup wild rice

1/2 cup white wine

1 teaspoon porcini powder (available at Lowes Foods)

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

3 3/4 cups chicken or mushroom stock or some combination of both

Kosher salt

Freshly cracked pepper


Preheat oven to 375. Put 2 cups salted water in a saucepan and bring to boil.  Drop in clean dried mushrooms, and let boil for 3 minutes.  Drain, using cheesecloth or paper towels to catch any dirt and reserve stock for pilaf.  Slice mushrooms into bite-sized pieces.

In a heavy Dutch oven over medium heat, melt the butter with the oil. Sauté fresh and dried mushrooms, carrots, celery, onions and herbs, until lightly browned; about 8-10 minutes. Add both rices and garlic, then stir until the grains are toasted and well coated, about 3 minutes.

Deglaze with wine.  When’s it’s absorbed, stir in the stock, add porcini powder and Worcestershire. Taste liquid for seasoning, and adjust if needed.  Bring to a simmer, stir and cover.

Transfer the pot to oven and bake until all the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender, 65-75 minutes.

Remove from the oven. Serves 8 to 10.

     The recent spousal revelations have, at times, sent me reeling.  I’m afraid that one of these days I’ll find out I’m married to an opera lover who hates scrambled eggs, and loves cats.

Thanks for your time.