Thursday, November 5, 2009

I'd forgotten all about Ham..... but it's a nice touch.....

I have to admit we're not big Ham fans. That's the truth. You'll never find one of those spiral sliced hams or big pieces of leg on our holiday tables.... it's just not the way we roll. We're more the Peking Duck, Beef Wellington, Szechuan Buffet kind of folks, that's just who we are - BUT.... this week, while perusing our local market food ads I happened to see that the Cook's Bone-In City Hams had been discounted to .99 cents a pound! That's worth noting for anyone..... and that's how we became the proud owners of a 9 pound (yikes!) piece of Hickory Smoked Prime piece of piggie heaven!

It did change my menu selections all of a sudden, it is a big piece of meat after all, but I could visualize juicy ham sammy's, scrambled eggs and ham, Eggs Benedict and last but not least - beans, lentils and favada cooked with the rinds this pig extremity would flavor to everyone's delight! YUM! and so, our culinary horizon was extended on this Thursday evening to become the centerpiece of what could very well be, a holiday menu par excellence.... Voila!

My homework began in earnest if I was to convince my finicky troupe that the evening's "vittle's" would be out of the ordinary and not just hillbilly grub (we love mountain man food!)..... and after a while of pouring over my recipes I was finally ready to get to work.... Here's the full menu:

One and Only City Ham.- Don't give up on ham until you've tried this version. Or, if you're a Ham lover then you have to try this and add to your repertoire, it's a keeper. Give yourself enough time for this since it does take a while, but worth the wait!

1 city style (brined) ham, hock end
1/4 cup brown mustard or deli mustard
2 cups dark brown sugar
1-oz bourbon (poured into a spray bottle)
2 cups crushed ginger snap cookies

Heat oven to 250 degrees F. Remove ham from bag, rinse and drain thoroughly. Place ham, cut side down, in a roasting pan. Using a small paring knife or clean utility knife set to the smallest blade setting, score the ham from bottom to top, spiraling clockwise as you cut. (If you're using a paring knife, be careful to only cut through the skin and first few layers of fat). Rotate the ham after each cut so that the scores are no more than 2-inches across. Once you've made it all the way around, move the knife to the other hand and repeat, spiraling counter clockwise. The aim is to create a diamond pattern all over the ham. (Don't worry too much about precision here.)

Make a tent with heavy duty foil over the ham, insert a thermometer, and cook for 3 to 4 hours or until the internal temperature at the deepest part of the meat registers 130 degrees F. (Depending on the size, could be 2 hours for small (ours). Remove and use tongs to pull away the diamonds of skin and any sheets of fat that come off with them. (save these for beans, soup, etc.!!!!) Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Dab dry with paper towels, then brush on a liberal coat of mustard, using either a basting brush or a clean paint brush (clean as in never-touched paint). Sprinkle on brown sugar, packing loosely as you go until the ham is coated. Spritz this layer lightly with bourbon, then loosely pack on as much of the crushed cookies as you can. Insert the thermometer (don't use the old hole) and return to the oven (uncovered). Cook until interior temperature reaches 140 degrees F, approximately 1 hour. Let the roast rest for 1/2 hour before carving.
Note: A city ham is basically any brined ham (with liquid) that's packed in a plastic bag, held in a refrigerated case and marked "ready to cook", "partially cooked" or "ready to serve". Better city hams are also labeled "ham in natural juices". Looks like a triangle or leg with a piece cut off.....
You're going to be waiting on the ham anyway, so why not make some extra special side dishes that will elevate your meal to a higher plane?

Spinach and Herb Souffle.- Don't be afraid of this, it's easy, just follow the steps and keep telling yourself "this is going to be sooo worth it...". This is the type of dish that you love and you're always sorry you didn't make more.....

5 tbl unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup plus 1 tbl freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 green onions, green parts only, minced
1 cup cooked spinach, drained, or 1 package frozen spinach, thawed
1 tbl finely chopped fresh parsley
2 tbl finely chopped fresh basil
1 tbl fresh thyme leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup whole milk
3 tbl all-purpose flour
Dash of hot sauce
4 large egg yolks
5 large egg whites, cold

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 1 1/2-quart souffle dish or 6 ramekins and sprinkle with 1 tbl of the Parmesan cheese on the inside. Set aside.

In a medium skillet, melt 1 tbl of the butter over medium heat. Add the green onions and saute until wilted. Add the spinach, herbs, and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until the moisture evaporates. Remove from the heat and reserve.

In a small saucepan heat the milk over medium heat until small bubbles form around the edges. In a medium saucepan, melt the remaining 3 tbl of butter over medium-high heat. Stir in the flour and whisk until a smooth paste forms, about 2 min. Do not allow the flour to brown. Whisk in the hot milk, a pinch of salt, and a dash of hot sauce. Cook, stirring, until the mixture boils and thickens, about 2 min (I use a whisk). Remove from the heat and beat in the egg yolks one at a time. Fold in the spinach mixture and stir in all but 1 tbl of the remaining Parmesan cheese.

Put egg whites and a pinch of salt in the bowl of an electric mixer (make sure it's dry). Beat until stiff peaks form. Stir a large spoonful of the egg whites into the spinach mixture to lighten it, then fold in the remaining egg whites just until combined. Spoon the mixture into the prepared souffle mold or ramekins. Sprinkle the top with the remaining cheese. Bake until puffed and golden, about 30 to 35 min for the large souffle or 15 to 20 min for the small ones. Serve immediately.
Grown Up Macaroni and Cheese.- Who says you can't have Mac & Cheese? When this is done pulling out all the stops, it becomes more than just comfort food - it's heavenly and everyone will love it!

4 ounces thick-sliced bacon
Vegetable oil
Kosher salt
2 cups elbow macaroni or cavatappi
1 1/2 cups milk
2 tbl unsalted butter
2 tbl all-purpose flour
4 oz Gruyere cheese, grated
3 oz extra-sharp Cheddar, grated
2 oz blue cheese, such as Roquefort, crumbled
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Pinch nutmeg
2 slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed
2 tbl freshly chopped basil leaves

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place a baking rack on a sheet pan and arrange the bacon in 1 layer on the baking rack. Bake for 15 to 20 min, until the bacon is crisp. Remove the pan carefully from the oven - there will be hot grease in the pan! Transfer the bacon to a plate lined with paper towels and crumble when it is cool enough to handle. Drizzle oil into a large pot of boiling salted water. Add the macaroni and cook according to the directions on the package. Drain well.

Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan, but don't boil it. Melt the butter in a medium pot and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 min, stirring with a whisk. While whisking, add the hot milk and cook for a minute or 2 more, until thickened and smooth. Off the heat, add the Gruyere, Cheddar, blue cheese, 1 tsp salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooked macaroni and crumbled bacon and stir well. Pour into buttered baking dish. Place the bread slices in a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse until you have coarse crumbs. Add the basil and pulse to combine. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture over the top of the pasta. Bake for 35 to 40 min, or until the sauce is bubbly and the macaroni is browned on the top. Note: I change everything on this recipe: the pasta, the cheeses, the bacon (I use ham, pancetta, prosciutto) and it's always wonderful!
Here's a little appetizer you can get everyone going with. Hot Artichoke and Spinach Dip: I'll guarantee it's great, but you better have dinner nearly done or you'll drive everyone crazy once they have a taste!

1 cup thawed, chopped frozen spinach (or fresh)
1 1/2 cups thawed, chopped frozen artichoke hearts (I use marinated in a jar)
1 package cream cheese
1/4 cup sour cream (or add more...)
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp garlic powder

Boil spinach and artichokes in 1 cup of water until tender and drain (if using from a jar, just discard liquid or save marinade for salad dressing). Discard liquid. Heat cream cheese in microwave for 1 min or until hot and soft. Stir in rest of ingredients and serve hot.
Note: Use toasted bread, crackers, veggies.... works on all!
Well, as I sit here watching the ham rest after being in the oven for a while..... got the side dishes all ready (the souffle is in the oven), bread is toasting in the oven too so we can have the dip first. One of the reasons I like these types of menu's is that you can cook it all in the same oven, sure- at different intervals while you watch things develop, but it's a pretty efficient use of energy, don't you think? Oven bake the whole thing and as things get done, you just let them rest on top of the stove while the table is set and everything is readied for serving. As with all meat dishes that are oven baked, most foods "develop" while resting after coming out of the oven (except for souffles that is....) and their flavors get even better while meats need some time (at least 15-30 min) so their juices go back into the center and remain there keeping the meat juicy and wonderful for you, so don't despair and cut meats too soon, ok? It's all worth the wait..... Uh oh, there goes my timer, now we can start to carve the piggy.... Yum!

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