Monday, November 23, 2009

food project: ham

so here i am changing the rules yet again. what? it's my blog.

as has been in evidence, um, all year, i don't get much time to come here and post much. something about having a crazy job and a crazy two year old. so i'm going back to something bryan and i used to do in our early days - food projects.

when bryan and i were first dating, i was far more meek in my food choices. i had grown up with a huge organic garden, so i was already familiar with and a champion of that whole concept. mom cooked home cooked meals every night, made killer baked goods (and still does), and i enjoyed cooking and baking as well. but i had never been exposed to the professional side of cooking, or anything necessarily gourmet. bryan changed that, a change i rather welcomed.

however, that also meant stepping out of my comfort zone some, trying new things. so to keep from overwhelming me, we'd select a food project, something particular for me to tackle, be it eggplant or tofu. this worked very well. now that i'm past most of my food phobias, we've gone on to do food projects together - experimenting with intermediate and advanced techniques. i'm modifying my format here to do that with you, dear reader.

so here's your first food project: wet cured ham, 2 varieties: baked, and smoked.

the first step in making your own ham it to get your hands on a fresh ham steak. a real butcher will have this. you could also cure a whole shoulder. again, this is something a butcher will have. it is possible you can ask for it at your super market as well; if they carry any large cut of meat and have an actual bandsaw in the back (something you'd expect but is a lot less likely than you'd think), they'll have it. i used 3 fresh ham steaks, about 2 inches thick, and roughly 7 or 8 inches long by 4 or 5 inches wide. so, not your normal giant christmas ham, but with a family of 3, i don't want to have huge hams that take a week for us to finish.

next, find a brine recipe you'd like to use. i used a very simple one from Michael Ruhlman's book Charcuterie, which can also be found online, here. in the past, i've also done hams in a brine with garlic, juniper berries, allspice, cloves, and bay leaves. a brine is essentially water and salt, and usually sugar. the recipe i used also called for pink salt (not hawaiian pink salt, but a specialty curing salt), which i didn't have, so i omitted it and added a small amount of potassium nitrate (also known as saltpeter) instead, which i have on hand for curing corned beef.

submerge the fresh pork in the brine. i have some cambro food storage bins i like to use (you can get them at a restaurant supply store). i did also have to use my giant roasting pan since i needed more space than i had (which is ok - since the brine didn't contain acid of any sort, it's safe to use metal pans). it's important to fully submerge the meat, which generally means weighing it down. i covered the containers with plastic wrap, then put bowls on top of the hams with cans inside of them. the containers then go into a fridge. the recipe suggests 1 day per 2 pounds of ham in terms of curing time - about a week for a large ham. i left my hams in for a day short of 2 weeks, knowing it wouldn't hurt anyone.

after 2 weeks, we smoked 2 of them, and baked 1 of them. the plan was to eat the baked one for dinner, but we ended up having one of the smoked ones. and it was so good. rich, salty, caramelized sweetness. mom and dad joined us, and we ate nearly the entire ham. dad loves ham, and i think this made him a convert.

baked ham

smoked ham

we sliced off some of the baked ham for croque monsiuers, and froze the rest of the baked ham and the remaining whole smoked ham for later use.

so there you have it! a big success. i urge you to try this. it's really simple - make the brine, put in the meat, and forget about it. even if you don't have a smoker, you can bake it, so you have no excuse not to. and it's far, far superior to supermarket ham, which is one dimensional flavorless meat that tastes of salt and not much else. home cured ham has a depth you can't match elsewhere. and you get to impress your family and friends, who'll think you're a magical genius with super powers. go forth and CURE!

Friday, November 20, 2009

2 years and counting

oliver turned 2 on october 31st (yes, i know that was nearly a month ago; i'm a horrid mom, k?!). hard to believe he is 2 already!

we started off the day with chocolate chip pancakes and presents. he finally got a boots to go with his dora, a mailbox (just ask him to wail about mail), a robot, paint with water, and his very own dora toothbrush with toothpaste (very exciting).

after all that, we geared up and headed to the zoo for trick or treat. i had made oliver his costume - a robot! i used a box, cut out the bottom as well as holes for his head and arms, covered in silver fabric, some old computer parts, and fun things ollie and i found at home depot (including a switch on the back!). it was so cute!! i was worried he wouldn't want to wear it, but he loved it. he was chilly so i bundled him up in long underwear and a fleece sweatsuit, a knit hat (which i had attached an antenna to), and gloves, and he was perfectly fine. everyone at the zoo loved his costume. too bad we didn't do the costume contest, because i'm pretty confident he would have won by a mile. we only saw one other homemade costume there, and ours was definitely the best regardless. it was his first trick or treat experience, and it took him longer to catch on to the candy part than i thought it would (probably a good thing).

after lunch, shannon and i took him to a few houses in the neighborhood, more so that the folks we know could see him in his costume. it was then he started to catch on to the candy thing. he helped hand out candy once we got home, and was very good at it, except he thought he deserved a piece every time he gave some out.

mom, dad, and shannon came over for birthday dinner and cake. we had tacos, one of oliver's favorites, and peanut butter cupcakes with chocolate fudge frosting and dirt (crumbled chocolate fudge cookies) and (gummi) worms. he got to open some more presents and play. all in all, i think he had a pretty awesome day.

more pictures from the day in the gallery.

my 2 year old is a wonder and a challenge. it is amazing to watch him learn, and grow. he is truly a little person now. his unique and charming personality in still firmly in place, and he now has the ability to communicate with more words. he's speaking in sentences, something i love and am still getting used to. he's incredibly silly. he's a pretty typical 2 year old - throwing tantrums and testing his limits. but he's incredibly intelligent (of course!), sweet, and fun. he brings joy to our every day.

i love you super oliver!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

by popular demand

whilst in atlanta, i had a number of people request i post links to the food i talk about in my facebook statuses. today's list is too long for a facebook status, so - egads! - i'm updating my blog. and i completely admit i am taking the easy way out by only posting in regards to today's projects, entirely ignoring the past 2 months of food, events, and the atlanta trip. deal with it.

bryan started the day by making one of his lovely chicken stocks. for those not in the know, we almost exclusively use homemade chicken stock. because it is so easy. after we have a roast chicken, we toss the carcass in a freezer bag, along with vegetable scraps - the ends of onions, carrots, celery, whatever. after we have a few carcasses, we make stock. which consists of peeling the frozen hunks of chicken and veg bits out of their bags, covering with water, and slowly simmering for a few hours. once the mix has reduced nicely, we cool, strain, and freeze off in 1, 2, and 4 cup measurements. couldn't be easier. and it tastes roughly 400 million times better than store bought. cooking all day, leaching the bones of all nutrients leads to an incredibly rich stock - at room temperature, it is solid, like jelly. i call it chicken jello. appetizing, no?

i finally decided to tackle some of the giant cuts of pork we have in our freezer from our whole pig. i started with the easy route - wet curing 3 huge ham steaks. after a week or 2 in the brine, i will bake one as is, and slow smoke the other 2. i was reading my Charcuterie book, which started getting me very, very excited for doing more. i plan on doing a dry cured (salted and hung) ham, as well as a blackstrap molasses country ham. this excites me. it's practically naughty.

i also prepared a sirloin tip roast for roast beef with yorkshire pudding, which we'll have monday or tuesday. i seasoned the roast with salt and pepper, and rubbed it with olive oil, garlic, rosemary, and thyme. it smelled heavenly. i am planning rocky road bars for dessert, because only chocolate and red wine can follow beef like that.

bryan is working on a potato and leek soup for consumption and freezing sometime this week.

and we're not even eating any of that today.

tonight we're having chicken fried steak and celery root and squash gratin with walnut-thyme streusel, a dish which sounds fancy and time consuming, but is a breeze to make.