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CHRISTMAS DINNER REVISITED: HAM SALAD

CHRISTMAS DINNER REVISITED: HAM SALAD

On this day after Christmas, I would bet there are people staring balefully into their refrigerators at the considerable remnants of a ham and wondering what the hell possessed them to buy an entire leg of pig when they were only having six guests, one of whom only eats egg whites and oxygen because she’s perennially on a diet.

I mentioned that I impetuously-but-wisely bought two ten-pound hams.  (Neither of us is ever on a diet.) We’ve been enjoying the first one, mainly in scrambles at breakfast and grilled sandwiches, and amazingly we aren’t sick of it, but not everyone is as fond of ham.

I used to really like that product called Deviled Ham, made by Underwood and packaged in a teeny-tiny can and outrageously priced. I still like it but I’m not going to pay whatever it is they charge for it, not when I have an actual ham in the refrigerator.

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I love you but you cost too damn much.

I think of this as ham salad but deviled ham might be more accurate. I don’t know and I’m not going to look up the etymology right now. Ham salad does bring to mind a chopped rather than pate-like product, but call it whatever you want.  This does require a food processor, super-duper blender, food mill, or similar. I guess if you really like chopping ham with a knife into infinitesimal bits you could do that instead, but I don’t think the end result would be the same, not to mention the carpal tunnel issues.

HAM SALAD, AKA DEVILED HAM

  • 2 1/2 to 3 cups chopped ham from an actual ham (not deli ham), including at least 1/2 cup ham fat (don’t freak out: egg salad, tuna salad, chicken salad, etc. includes loads of mayonnaise, which is every bit as fatty)
  • 2-3 generous teaspoons better-than-French’s-type mustard (I used Plochman’s whole grain, but any spicy or hot mustard would work)
  • 2-3 generous teaspoons horseradish
  • generous 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • generous 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • Good shake of hot sauce

Put everything in the workbowl of food processor and pulse 10-14 times until finely chopped, then blitz continuously until ham is pâté-like – about 30 seconds. Give it a taste and add more whatever if you think it needs it.

Scrape ham mixture into a container and store, covered, in the refrigerator. This is better if you let it age at least a couple of hours; it’ll keep quite well at for a week. Makes great hors d’oeuvres on a cracker or thinly sliced baguette, filling for a tiny cream puff shell, sandwich filling, or whatever else comes to mind.

 

 

 

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THAI DUMPLING SOUP

THAI DUMPLING SOUP

Just a few days before Christmas and I am feeling like someone who has been living pretty high on the hog, I’m telling you. It’s been cold and rainy so we’ve been having large breakfasts – French toast, hash browns, ham scrambles, pancakes, etc. Not all at once, mind you, but still, a lot of breakfast every day.  While there are lots of fresh vegetables and fruit in the house, there’s also a lot of cheese and sour cream and cookies and pie. We’ve gone out to eat a few times, which is luxurious and delicious but also accumulative.

There’s been a bag of Trader Joe’s Pork Potstickers in the freezer just waiting for an opportunity to be used.  I thought a nice filling soup would be good on a rainy, chilly night, and not quite as indulgent as what we’ve been eating.

To make this vegan or gluten free, substitute frozen dumplings that are labeled as such, or skip the dumplings and substitute silken tofu (added with the spinach at the end of cooking just long enough to heat through). Also check the labels on Thai red curry paste, or make your own (there are many such recipes on the internet). I used Thai Kitchen brand.

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This can be prepped ahead for fast assembly. Cut up the vegetables to be sauteed and keep them in the refrigerator, wrapped up. Also prepare the spinach and herbs, and keep them the same way.  The veggies will stay good in the fridge a couple of days. When you’re ready to make the soup, the majority of the work is already done.

THAI DUMPLING SOUP

  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large white or yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped (red or green, or some of each) or a pepper with some heat like an Anaheim or Pasilla, minced
  • 1 sweet potato or yam, peeled and cut into 1/2″ pieces
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons Thai red curry paste
  • 3 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 can (14 ounces) coconut milk
  • 1 package  (about 12 ounces to 1 pound) frozen Asian-style dumplings or potstickers
  • 1 small bunch spinach, washed and torn into small pieces (substitute other tender greens like beet greens, bok choy, Swiss chard, etc.)
  • low-sodium soy sauce, tamari, or fish sauce (optional)
  • chili-garlic sauce, sambal oelek, or Sriracha (optional)
  • 3 or 4 green onions, thinly sliced (optional)
  • 1/2 cup washed cilantro leaves (optional)
  • a few fresh basil leaves (optional)
  • the juice of one fresh lime

Combine oil, garlic, onion, peppers, and sweet potato in four-quart kettle over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions soften a bit, 5 minutes or so. Stir in red curry paste and cook another few minutes. Then add the broth, water, and coconut milk and heat, stirring occasionally.

When the sweet potatoes are almost tender, add the frozen dumplings. Stir to separate them if necessary, then let them cook another ten minutes. Don’t let it boil – the dumplings will fall apart. Taste the broth and season with chile-garlic paste, soy, tamari, or fish sauce if needed.

When the dumplings are done, add the spinach, green onions, and herbs; simmer until spinach is just cooked (maybe another 1 – 2 minutes). Squeeze in the juice from half a fresh lime and taste; add the juice from the other half if the soup needs it for a nice balance.

Serve in large bowls with additional garnishes of sliced lime, green onions, cilantro, basil, soy or fish sauce, and chile-garlic paste.

 

 

 

 

87 Cents a Pound

87 Cents a Pound

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Back in the 1960s and 70s there was a guy named Merle Ellis who wrote a column called The Butcher in the San Francisco Chronicle (later picked up by newspapers nationwide). It was all about how to get the best deals at the butcher counter. In one column he dispensed a jewel of wisdom I have never forgotten:

If you see any meat or fish for under one dollar per pound, buy it and worry about what to do with it later. 

I’m sure I am paraphrasing, but that was the message.

When I walked into the supermarket last week I immediately came face-to-face with a refrigerated case full of half-hams marked 87¢ per pound. Merle Ellis.

I bought two ten-pound hams.

It should be said here that my husband was not quite as thrilled initially with my purchase until he realized he’d been buying sliced ham at the deli for $4 or $5 per pound. He then admitted that it was a pretty good deal.

Dorothy Parker said eternity is two people and a ham, but here the ham seems to be disappearing at a shockingly rapid pace.  I cut one ham in two more-or-less equal-sized pieces & put half in the freezer; we are eating from & cooking from the other half.  The second ham is still in its original wrapper and will keep in the refrigerator at least until February, or whenever we decide to cook or freeze it (ham keeps wonderfully well.)  We seldom have it the rest of the year, so it’s a treat in very late fall and winter (traditional hog-slaughtering time). We’ve been making it into scrambles and ham sandwiches and just big ol’ chunks of ham eaten as is, but I made a couple of dishes that we really liked.

The first is a sauce that I used on Brussels sprouts, but I think it would also be good on shredded sauteed kale, cabbage, beet greens, green beans, broccoli, and whatever else might come to mind (warm spinach salad?). At this time of year the intense deep flavors of winter vegetables sometimes needs a little perking up, and this was really, really good as well as insanely easy.

DEVILED BRUSSELS SPROUTS

  • 1/2 cup ham fat and ham, cut into very small (less than 1/2″) pieces
  • 1 cup apple juice or apple cider
  • 2-3 teaspoons mustard (I used Plochman’s Whole Grain)

Put the cut-up ham into a dry frying pan over medium-high heat and fry, rendering the fat, until the bits are browning and crispy. Add the apple juice and continue to cook until reduced by half and the juice is turning syrupy. Stir in the mustard.  Toss with hot cooked Brussels sprouts.

In lieu of ham, some cooked and mostly-drained bacon or sausage would work very well.

The other thing I made is just a fast riff on the Pennsylvania Dutch dish schnitz un knepp, which is pork or ham cooked with dried apples.

This isn’t even a recipe. Cut some ham into pieces about 2″ X 1″ (more or less) and put in a dry frying pan to brown a bit.  Thinly slice some apples (I used Fuji) into the pan, add some apple juice, and toss and fry until the apples are tender. Serve with French toast or pancakes or crepes.

 

 

 

 

TWO EARLY-WINTER SALADS

TWO EARLY-WINTER SALADS

We had our Thanksgiving dinner on the Saturday after T-Day. I was waiting for our guest to arrive and looking over the food… something just wasn’t right. Turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, Brussels sprouts, cranberry sauce, rolls, pie… Hmmm. All soft cooked foods. We need something cold, raw, sharp.

It just so happened that a friend gave us with a bag of Fuyu persimmons.  He said he couldn’t get enough of them and they were $1 a pound near Sacramento, so brought them as a gift in exchange for sleeping on our sofa. I  like persimmons but… well, it’s more like I don’t dislike them, but there are fruits I like better. I like the idea of them more than I like to eat them.  Still, there they sat in their roundness, waiting for a purpose in life.

(In case you’re a persimmon neophyte. here is an explanation about the differences in persimmons – many varieties but two main types, and it is important to know which you are dealing with.)

I looked in the fridge and saw fresh celery. Maybe a persimmon Waldorf? Would that work? It did.

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PERSIMMON WALDORF SALAD

  • 2 Fuyu persimmons
  • 2 cups thinly sliced celery
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion

Peel the persimmons with a knife, removing the calyx (that’s the leafy part) and tough core). Slice them thinly and combine with the celery and onion.

Dressing:

You can use any oil-and-vinegar type dressing, but this is what I made.

  • 1 tablespoon apple cider or sherry vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil (such as safflower or canola)
  • 1 -2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon or stoneground mustard
  • salt and pepper

Combine dressing ingredients and whip like crazy with a fork until emulsified. Taste and adjust seasoning – you may want more sugar or mustard. When it’s just right, pour over salad and toss.

This salad does not keep well after 24 hours so make it the day you intend to serve it.

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No sooner than I got home with a gorgeous emerald-green head of Romaine than the alerts came in: Romaine implicated in e-coli cases. Well, shit (so to speak). After a day of dithering, I threw it out. Now what?

It was cold Monday night. I’d had sad news on a couple of fronts, and I just didn’t feel like making some lean and healthy veggie dish. Dammit, I wanted comfort food. Since I’m the chief cook in the house, that’s what we had. Meatloaf (made with grass-fed beef and Italian sausage), macaroni and cheese, and… since I’m not a complete hedonist, I made this salad. It might be another take on Waldorf.

White cabbage is very good right now in the market and provides a super-crisp crunch. I found Arkansas Black apples in the natural food store – $2.29 a pound, but what price deliciousness? I was not surprised to learn they are probably related to the King David apple, another rarely-seen but incredibly flavorful apple. I knew there was fresh celery in the crisper.

This salad keeps very well for at least two days (my husband ate the leftovers the second day so I don’t know how long it might keep after that). It tends toward the excessively pale, hence the brightly-colored apple suggestion.

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WINTER WALDORF SALAD

  • 1/2 large head of white cabbage, chopped into about 1/2″ pieces
  • 2 very crisp, juicy, flavorful apples, preferably with vividly-colored peel
  • 2 cups sliced crisp celery

Wash the apples, core them, and cut into pieces that are easily bite-sized (i.e. less than 1/2″). Combine with cabbage and celery.

Dressing:

Any cole slaw-type dressing or creamy dressing will work, but I like this combination of celery seeds and anise seed with apple cider.

  • 2 tablespoons apple juice or apple cider
  • 2 tablespoons canned evaporated milk, cream, or half-and-half
  • 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon sour cream
  • 1-2 teaspoons sugar to taste, optional
  • 1 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1 teaspoon anise seed, lightly crushed
  • salt and pepper to taste

Beat dressing ingredients together until blended. Pour over vegetables, toss, and let sit in refrigerator at least two hours before serving.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THAI SWEET POTATO SOUP

THAI SWEET POTATO SOUP

Until I moved here, I only saw two kinds of sweet potatoes in the store – the whiteish ones and the orange ones.  Last time I was in the co-op I saw Garnets, Jewel, Hannah, Japanese purple, and another one I can’t remember the name of. I looked online and saw there are many varieties that never make it into the supermarkets, at least not around here.

(Yes, I know some are yams and some are sweet potatoes but for purposes of this post I am calling them all sweet potatoes.)

I like sweet potatoes but I do not like all that marshmallow gunk that people blanket them with. Just roast them in the oven in their skins – they will be plenty sweet. If you have to do more, mash them with pineapple.

But they also make good soup. I found a similar recipe in 300 Sensational Soups and adapted it a little. This would be an elegant way to serve sweet potatoes at a formal Thanksgiving dinner, or on a cold day anytime.

THAI SWEET POTATO SOUP

  • 2 pounds sweet potatoes (about two average), peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 carrot, cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • 1 red, yellow, or orange bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 small hot red pepper, minced (optional)
  • 1 piece fresh ginger, about 3 inches long, minced
  • 1 14-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk (don’t use the low-fat, it has no taste)
  • 3 cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • salt, freshly ground black pepper, cayenne to taste (you might skip the cayenne if you use the hot pepper)
  • 1 juicy lime
  • chopped cilantro and sliced green onion

Combine all ingredients except lime, cilantro, and green onion in a pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 20-30 minutes.

Puree the soup. You can use a stick blender but it takes freaking forever. Better to let the soup cool a little, then blitz it in a blender or food processor until smooth, then return soup to the pot.

Add a good squeeze of lime juice, then taste and adjust the seasoning – more salt if needed, probably more lime juice. When it’s to your taste, add the cilantro and green onions.

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PEARS AND CHEESE

PEARS AND CHEESE

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I bought some beautiful Comice pears at the farmers market without a definite plan for them. They were just so luscious, shapely, and evocative of autumn that I had to get them.  Fortunately,  my friend Sharon arrived at our house with this delicious dish. She brought it as a first course, but it could work just as well as a warm salad (I suggest placing each pear half on a bed of arugula or frisée, lightly dressed with lemon juice and olive oil, toasted walnuts sprinkled over), a side to chicken, pork, ham, duck, turkey, game, or as a dessert (perhaps with a little warm real maple syrup drizzled over).  It would also be great with sausages, ham, or bacon at breakfast or brunch.

If apples is what you have on hand, treat them the same way, with blue cheese or something different (extra sharp Cheddar or very aged real Gouda comes to mind). If hot sauce isn’t your thing, try brushing the pear halves with some port, sherry, Madeira, or Marsala.

With the holidays coming up, this is just in time for an easy way to serve a lot of people.

Ingredients:

  • 1 firm (not ripe) pear per person
  • Gorgonzola, Roquefort, Stilton, or other blue-veined cheese
  • Hot sauce of your choice (Sharon used Tabasco; I used Penzey’s Berbere spice)

Wash pears and slice in half lengthwise. Remove the core/seeds with a spoon or an apple or pear corer. (I will tell you right now, I have never seen a home kitchen with an actual pear corer. I didn’t even know they existed until high school ceramics class, back in the 1970s, where we used them for easily trimming wet clay bowls thrown on the wheel.)

Sprinkle the cored pear halves lightly with hot sauce, Berbere, port, or whatever. Then carefully place some sort of blue-veined cheese on top of the halves. I used about 1 tablespoon cheese on each half, but more is good too. Or less. Your choice.

Put cheese-topped pears in a baking dish. Bake at 350 – 375 until pears are easily pieced with a fork or knife, maybe 25 – 45 minutes. These can be made ahead and rewarmed.

 

Where Were We?

Where Were We?

So it’s been a while since I updated here. But I have a good excuse: we moved. That involved many 300-mile round trips to find a new house, then buying that house, then selling the old house, plus a forest fire. So I was a little preoccupied for the last year or so.

Jumping right in: Here are some photos from a trip to Amsterdam we took OVER A YEAR AGO. People did ask me when I was going to post those – well, here you are. I’m just gonna post them in order of how they’re saved on my computer, and hope I remember what they are and why I thought I needed to take a picture of them.

Little mints with coffee at Bagels and Beans.

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We decided to taste-test as many French fries as possible, since they are a very popular (and incredibly delicious) snack in Amsterdam. These are from Vlemninckx Sausmeesters on Kalverstraat, probably the most famous fry vendor, and for our money the best. For some reason I lost my mind and ordered this cone with sambal on top. That shit’s HOT and it turned my hands orange. Took six Wet Wipes to clean up.

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My husband had the sense to just get mayonnaise on his. Two Wet Wipes.

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At the Ten Kate Markt in the Oud West, the Firma Ad Straathof Marktbakkerij sets up six days a week.

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Fresh mint tea. Available almost everywhere.

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At the Saturday Lindengracht Markt.

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Another French fry test. This was from a vendor at a street market near Nieuwmarkt. They got marks for cleverness with the little pocket on the paper cone that holds mayonnaise. The fries were just average.

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A whole smoked mackerel. I like smoked mackerel and they have them every week at Lindengracht, so bought one for us to enjoy. What I didn’t know was that the guts and all are still intact. It was a bit off-putting to slice in and reveal the insides. Still, it was pretty tasty.

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Hot chocolate was another thing we decided to taste-test, until we wised up and realized all the cafes just used commercially-made chocolate milk.

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More fries: these from Blaffende Vis (Barking Fish), the pub around the corner. They were nothing to write home about – surprisingly, since their other food is very good.

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Home-cooked meal: potato soup and make-them-yourself BLTs.

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A meal at Ikea: The meatballs and lingonberry jam, fries (pretty good) and some very good green beans.

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THE BEST CHOCOLATE IN THE WORLD.

Puccini Bomboni.

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THE BEST ICE CREAM IN THE WORLD.

Ijscuype.

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There is a tiny cafe near our apartment that sells Indonesian food. I don’t remember what everything was but it was dirt cheap and amazing.

Afhaalcentrum Terang Boelan.

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Again at Lindengracht Saturday market.

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There are two brothers running a hot food stall at Lindengracht; we call them the Rocky Raccoon Brothers because the first time we saw them, that’s what they were singing. I always stop for a sausage sandwich.

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And after shopping on Saturday, we usually wind up at Cafe Hegeraad behind Nooderkerk for coffee or chocolate with a tiny piece of gingerbread.

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More later. I really will try.

 

 

 

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