Non-Holiday Ham

Let's see...

It's 40° outside, with Turkey Day a week away.  Time for a ham.

I love ham. but buying one for two people is a commitment.  Even a quarter-cut spiral ham like the one I picked up yesterday is enough for a few dozen meals, sandwiches, and a pot of bean or lentil soup.

As I said...  a commitment.

So we started off with just the basics...  ham, sweet potatoes, and baby broccoli - with little rolls to make little sandwiches.

The sweet potatoes were a bit different than usual.  I mashed 2 small sweet potatoes with about a half-can of pumpkin I had left over.  I added a pat of butter, salt, pepper, and a bit of thyme.  They came out really good.

We barely put a dent in it.

As I said... a few dozen meals.  I see a mac and cheese with ham and peas in our future, and maybe even fried ham sandwiches.  My father used to make fried ham sandwiches that were just to die for.  Fried ham on toast with butter.  That was back in the day when ham came in a tear-drop-shaped can and you needed a little key to open them.  The same type of key that was on coffee cans.   Yes.  Coffee used to come in metal cans.  Actual one-pound cans that had one pound of coffee in them.  My mom used to use them to make Coffee Can Bread.

But I digress...

We're getting ready for Thanksgiving...  Planning the menu and starting to buy what we can.  Around here it is a pretty much made-from-scratch meal, so a lot of things can't be bought until the last minute.  If the gods are willing, I'll be able to finish shopping Tuesday and spend Wednesday in the kitchen having fun.  It's a small group this year - 13, I think - so it will be pretty no-rush relaxing.

And then there's the Turkey Soup!  The best part of the holiday!




Snow Storms and Other Meals

Ah, snow storms...

They are fun, aren't they?  Especially when they come in October.

I must admit I wasn't thinking too much about the storm when it hit Saturday.  I thought we might get an inch or two of slush and that would be it.  I really wasn't expecting to lose power for two days - starting just as Victor was cooking dinner!

Out here in 'burbia, we have no natural gas.  The heat is oil, and everything else runs off electricity - except our cooktop.  When we bought the house, neither of us wanted an electric stove, so we had a propane tank installed just for cooking.

It was one of the smarter decisions we have made over the years.

I had pulled veal chops out of the freezer earlier in the day and Victor was cooking them up - a simple piccata with lemon and capers.  The power went out just as he put the sweet potatoes into the oven.  As he continued in the kitchen, I brought the potatoes out to the gas grill.  It makes a perfect oven.

He dredged the veal chops in flour, fried them in a bit of olive oil, and then finished them off with a splash of wine, lemon juice, and capers.  Brussels sprouts finished off the plate.

The kitchen was candle-lit when I took the picture - flash bulbs don't make for good food pictures, but you get the idea.

And it was good!

Sunday, we were  in town and didn't have to cook.  We were hoping to see lights on when we came home, but...  they were still out.  Another cold night.

Actually, it wasn't all that cold.  We had put

Monday dawned and I went checking out the freezer.  Everything was still frozen, but I had a pack of veal stew that was less-frozen than everything else.  Out it came for dinner.

We had pulled all of the peppers off the bushes out back when the snow started falling, so I decided a veal and pepper stew was in order.  I could cook it in the dark with ingredients on hand.

This was an easy one.  I floured and browned the veal, added a cup of red wine, a can of diced tomatoes, about 3 cups of sliced green peppers, a pinch of garlic powder, and about a teaspoon of Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper.   And then simmered it for about 2 hours.  While it was simmering, the power came back on!  We were very pleased.

I served it over creamy polenta and then baked a cake.

Electricity is good.

Tuesday came and Victor was in Charlotte, so I ate hot dogs.  It's tradition.

But he was home today - just in time for a clean-out-the-refrigerator stew.

This one was really a clean-out-the-refrigerator dinner!

I sauteed some pancetta and then added a cut up chicken breast and 3 links of chorizo I had grilled on Monday.

When it was looking good, I added a can of diced tomatoes with green chiles and a quart of chicken stock.  I let it all simmer for a while and then added a bag of baby spinach, a half-bag of frozen corn, a can of small red beans, and a diced sweet potato.  I liberally dosed it with garlic powder, and added a bit of salt and pepper.  When all was cooked, I thickened it a bit with cornstarch, and then topped it with a sheet of puff pastry and put it into the oven for 20 minutes.

Really good.

Some of the best meals we have are concoctions we just call "stuff."  They're meals based upon what's in the kitchen at the moment and will never really be replicated.  It really is the best sort of cooking and it ensures that nothing goes to waste - even in snowstorms.




Victor hates sauerkraut.

Actually, Victor hates cabbage in all its forms - except coleslaw on a Corned Beef Special.

It's sad.  He grudgingly ate Corned Beef and Cabbage - once - but otherwise it's just never in the house.  No diced cabbage in soups, no Cabbage Rolls, no sauerkraut on hot dogs.

Not sad.  Tragic.

So what's a sauerkraut-and-cabbage-lover to do?  Cook it, anyway, of course!

I usually limit my sauerkraut-eating to hot dogs when Victor is away on a business trip, but last night I really had a hankerin' for it.  I had picked up some knockwurst and planned some Beanie Weenies for dinner - and sauerkraut was just calling my name.  I keep a small can of sauerkraut in the cupboard - up and behind other things so I don't disturb Victor's sensibilities - and down it came!

Victor saw it and went into shock.  In a panic-stricken voice he let it be known it just couldn't be anywhere near his dinner.

I promised to keep it separate.  I'm good that way.  I'm loving, caring, and have a great sense of self-preservation.

So we had Beanie Weenies with Cheese, and I had a side of kraut.

Gooey monterey jack and cheddar cheeses atop baked beans and knockwurst.  And huinks of homemade bread from the night before.

And on my side of the table... a small can of sauerkraut.

It was great. And Victor survived being in the same room with it.

I call that progress!



Savory Pies

Back in the '60s (I think) Bisquick came out with their "Impossible Pies."  It may have been longer than that, but I remember my mom making them when we were kids.  It's a pretty basic concept - a filling of sorts is put into a pie plate and a Bisquick batter is poured over it and baked.  The batter forms a crust on both bottom and top - Impossible!

I haven't bought a box of Bisquick in years - but I usually have a good baking mix - without partially-hydrogenated soybean oil - on the shelf.  I decided it was time to use it for something other than pancakes.

I headed over to Mom's Cook Books and found several recipes that were fun.  I played around with them a bit and came up with a variation of the Cheeseburger Pie and the Vegetable Pie.

Impossible Beef and Vegetable Pie

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1  cup mixed vegetables
  • 1 cup frozen chopped spinach
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 3/4 cup baking mix
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 3 eggs

Butter a 10" pie plate and set aside.  Pre-heat oven to 400°.

Brown beef and onions.  Add vegetables and heat through.  Season with garlic powder, salt and pepper.

Place cooked meat and vegetables in buttered pie plate.  Top with shredded cheese.

Mix baking mix with milk and eggs in a blender or mixer.  Pour evenly over meat and vegetables.  Place in oven and bake 30 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean.

Tons of childhood memories in every bite!

That was last night.

Tonight I decided I wanted Chicken Pot Pie.

I planned on cheating and buying a crust since I have a bazillion programs to load onto the newest computer - but I forgot.

Eh... It didn't take long to make one from scratch - and it really was a good one!

Pie Crust

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/3 cup pastry/cake flour
  • 2 sticks butter, frozen
  • pinch salt
  • 1/2 cup ice water

Using a food processor, add flours and salt. Pulse to mix.

Chop up frozen butter and add. Pulse until butter is incorporated and mixture looks grainy.

Slowly add ice water and pulse until mixed.

Turn out onto counter. Press and form mixture into two disks . Wrap in plastic and refrigerate about an hour to allow the flour to properly absorb the water and to relax the gluten.

Roll out crust and place in pie plate. Crimp edges and fill.

Total simplicity.  Really.  I'm glad I forgot to buy the crust.  This one really is superior to a store-bought.

I made the filling with chicken breasts, onions, garlic, a chopped potato, a couple of carrots  and celery stalks and a cup of frozen mixed vegetables.  I used salt, pepper, garlic powder, poultry seasoning and French herbs added some chicken stock and thickened it all with flour and water.

Into the crust it went, topped with another and baked at 400° for about 30 minutes.

It was just what the weatherman ordered!  And really quick and simple to pull together  quickly so I could do all the fun computer-related things I needed to do.

I'm looking forward to Fall.



Italian Sausage Polenta Pie

Our Monday La Cucina Pasta went on hiatus this week.  Neither of us felt like actually cooking.  I thought it would be nice to do something vaguely Italian and originally was thinking a baked pasta dish of sorts.

I needed a bit of inspiration and came across a fun recipe in my Mom's Cook Book - Italian-Sausage Polenta Pie.  It fit the criterion for dinner tonight.  Italian and baked in the oven.  Plus I had all the ingredients.

That cook book is a lot of fun.  It really is a snapshot into what cooking was like 45 years ago.  Balsamic vinegar is unheard of.  A convenience product is Bisquick.  Someone really would make "Meat Loaf en Croute" using pie crust mix - and serve it or a special occasion.

Cooking  - and eating - was a lot more fun and adventurous.

So on that fun and adventurous note, I followed the basic concept but added a few twists and turns.  I had some homemade sauce in the freezer, so I didn't need to make the sauce from the recipe.  I also added some mushrooms with the sausage and added a layer of cooked arugula in the middle.

And Mozzarella cheese.

It was perfectly ooey-gooey.  And I only dirtied something like 4 pots to make a one-pot meal.

Mom would have been proud.

Spiral-Sliced Ham & Potato Pancakes

Every now and again I have to get a bone-in ham so I can get a ham bone.  Lentil, navy bean, or split pea soup is the real reason for having a ham in the first place.  I loves me soups.

And I like ham.

I picked up a quarter-ham (which is still way too much ham for just the two of us) and then played clean-out-the-refrigerator for the rest of dinner.

We had leftover mashed potatoes from a few days ago that I specifically asked Victor to save so I could make potato pancakes.  He laughed and said his Uncle Rudy always wanted the leftover mashed potatoes to be saved for the same reason - and never made them.  The not so subtle implication was that I wasn't going to, either.

He was almost correct.  I had forgotten all about them until Victor was looking through tupperware for lunch.

He found The Potatoes.

I immediately announced we would be having them for dinner!  It was almost as if I had planned it all along.  We both knew I hadn't.

But I did make potato pancakes for dinner with the ham!

To about a cup and a half of potatoes, I added a hefty couple of tablespoons of flour and 1 egg.  A pinch of salt, pepper, and garlic powder, mixed well,  and they went into a hot skillet with a bit of olive oil.

The brussels sprouts were merely cut in half and sauted.

Tomorrow I think I will bring Victor's mom over a bit of ham when I do her shopping and package a bit up for the freezer.

I think Victor should make lentil soup with the bone on Tuesday.  He just finished his fresh  pasta for tomorrow...

Beef Stew and Stormy Weather

I love cold, gray, wet, and dreary days.  They're the perfect excuse to bake some bread, make a soup or stew, light a fire in the fireplace, and, generally, be a slug.  All of my favorite things to do.  Especially the slug part.

And today was the perfect cold, gray, wet, and dreary day to do a couple of the above.  I got home too late to make bread, but I had plenty of time to make stew and be a slug.  And the fireplace is being lit as I type.

Life is good.

When I make soups and stews, I somehow think I'm still cooking on an aircraft carrier.  I don't know what it is, but small amounts just do not compute.  There are two of us.  I do not need several pounds of meat, and even more potatoes, celery, carrots, etc...  But I break out the pot and need to fill it.  And we then have enough to feed the neighborhood.

My solution tonight was to just use a smaller pot.  (I know...  what a concept, eh?!?)  I've tried it before with other pots - and ended up dumping everything into a larger pot.  I decided to make a go of it one more time.  And tonight, it worked!  A manageable amount!

I also cooked the onions in bacon grease - and then because there just happened to be three slices of bacon in the refrigerator - I sliced up the bacon and added it to the onions, then browned the mushrooms and the beef.  I generally don't use bacon in my beef stew - I save it for making Julia’s boeuf bourguignon - but it was there.  And I'm really glad it was.

I wasn't vying for the complex flavors of boeuf bourguignon.  I just wanted to add a bit more flavor to a Thursday night beef stew.

It worked.

Potatoes, celery, carrots, a quart of beef broth and a pinch of herbs d'Provence.

That was it.

Another thing I did differently was thicken it with rice flour.  I picked up a box of it a while ago because it is especially good at thickening things that are going to be frozen.  It keeps things from separating when they thaw.  I added the same amount nixed with water as I would have with wheat flour and it worked just fine.

And warm cheese focaccia to dunk.

Time to slug.

Lamb Chops, Pears, and Potato Risotto

When our friends Ann and Julie were in Paris a few weeks ago, Ann sent me an email describing a potato dish she had had for dinner one night... a creamy pureed potato with chunks of potato.  She raved about it!  I don't mind living vicariously through anothers culinary adventures thousands of miles away.  Really.   I was extremely only slightly jealous as she was describing the dish... I thought it sounded close enough to a potato risotto that I just made a potato risotto!  At the risk of sounding like I'm bragging (and of course, I am!)  the dish came out fantastic!

I am reasonably certain it's nothing like Ann's Parisian Potatoes (I added cheese and didn't top with almonds, for one...) but it's something that will be going into the winter rotation at our house!  Yumlicious!!!

Potato Risotto

  • 2 cups 1/4" cubed potatoes
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese

Saute onion in butter in small frying pan.  Add potatoes and mix well with onions.  Add about 1 cup broth and bring to boil.  Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until most of broth is absorbed.  Add another half-cup and continue cooking until potatoes are tender.  Add a bit more broth as needed to keep potatoes moist.  You do not want them to dry out.

When potatoes are fairly tender, add cream and continue cooking until sauce thickens a bit.  Stir in cheese.

These were definitely a hit.  A bit of a stove-top take on scalloped potatoes.

The lamb was an impulse-buy at the grocers today.  It just looked good.

I marinated the chops in olive oil, garlic, and rosemary, and quickly browned them in a hot skillet.  I took them out and added about a half-cup of fresh apple juice and let that cook down for a minute.  I then added 1 red pear that I had peeled and cut up.

When they were hot-through, I drizzled on some balsamic vinegar and then cooked it all down to a saucy consistency.

I'm now in a fall-cooking mindset and the weather is supposed to be mid-to-high 70's most of the week.

We need another good BBQ.  Maybe Tuesday.

We have Pasta Monday tomorrow!

Shrimp and Andouille Pot Pie

Okay.  It's not exactly pot pie weather outside, but I was feeling slightly brain-dead.  Besides...  It's not your typical pot pie.

The idea was always shrimp and andouille.  I just wasn't sure exactly how they were going to go together.  I first thought a kind of jambalaya - really simple - and even toyed with the idea of a fritatta of sorts.  But when I got home, I found we were down to one ripe tomato. I didn't want to use canned, so...

Time to change gears.

I remembered a recipe I had seen in Bon Appetit a while back and came up with a variation on a theme.

I had picked up the puff pastry during my weekly shopping trek and there was a tad of heavy cream left from making ice cream and two pasta dishes.

Shrimp and Andouille Pot Pie

  • 1 sheet frozen puff pastry
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 2 leeks, chopped
  • 1/2 bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 link andouille sausage, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup white wine
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 cup cubed red bliss potatoes
  • 1/2 pound shrimp
  • salt & pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400°. Cut out pastry rounds to fit bowls. Place on parchment-lined baking sheet and bake about 15 minutes, or until golden.

Whisk cream and flour in small bowl. Heat skillet and add a drizzle of olive oil. Sauté leeks, celery, and bell pepper until tender, about 10 minutes. Add andouille and garlic and sauté until sausage colors.

Add wine and simmer until liquid evaporates. Add chicken stock and and thyme. Bring to simmer. Add potato and cook uncovered until tender.

Add cream mixture to skillet; stir. Simmer until sauce thickens and boils, about 3 minutes. Reduce heat. Add shrimp; simmer about 3 minutes.

Add salt and pepper, to taste

Divide hot filling among oven-proof bowls. Top each with pastry round. Bake until filling bubbles, about 10 minutes.

This was really good.  Creamy, slightly spicy, the puff pastry made a crumbly mess all over the place when we started eating...  Perfectly fun food!

Doing to pastry topping in the oven first really helps to keep it flaky on top of the pot pie.  No doughy-gooey unbaked pastry to deal with.

I can see several more variations on a theme as the weather turns.....

Rustic Summer Tart and Tomato Salad

We had our semi-annual dinner with Linda and David on Saturday.  It's always a really fun time - and there is always so much food it's ridiculous.  They're under the impression we like to eat, and they really like to eat, so the food just keeps coming!

One fun thing Linda made was a Rustic Summer Squash Tart.  She cut the recipe out of a Woman's Day magazine a couple of years ago and decided we were just the folks to try it out on.

I'm glad she did.

It was really good!  The photo above  is from the magazine.  The actual recipe makes a single large tart.  Linda served hers as an appetizer, so she made it thinner and wider.  Her version was a lot easier to eat standing!

I decided to make two individual tarts for our dinner tonight.  It also calls for a refrigerated pie crust.  Naturally, I had to make my own, because...  well... they're so easy to make and they taste so much better.

I followed the concept, but tweaked the filling a bit to use up some things in the refrigerator.

Rustic Summer Squash Tart Recipe

By Woman's Day Kitchen from Woman's Day | August 1, 2008

Active Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 5 minutes

Recipe Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 lb mixed summer squash (zucchini, yellow squash and pattypan), cut in 1/4-in. rounds
  • 2 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 2 tsp chopped fresh thyme or marjoram, plus sprigs for garnish
  • 1 tsp chopped garlic
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 refrigerated pie crust (from a 15-oz. box)
  • 4 oz Roquefort cheese, Gorgonzola or other good-quality blue cheese
  • 1 roasted yellow or red pepper (freshly roasted or from a jar), cut in strips
  • 1 large plum tomato, sliced, seeds removed
  • 1 large egg, beaten

Recipe Preparation

  1. Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add squash and shallots and cook, turning pieces as they start to color, 7 minutes or until crisp-tender. Remove from heat; stir in thyme, garlic and pepper to taste. Cool to room temperature.
  2. Heat oven to 400° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; unroll or unfold pie crust on the parchment. With a rolling pin, roll crust to a 13-in. round. Crumble half the cheese over crust to within 2 in. of edge. Arrange squash mixture, pepper strips and tomato slices on cheese; fold edge of the crust over filling and brush crust with egg.
  3. Bake 35 to 40 minutes until pastry is golden. Slide tart, still on parchment, onto a wire rack. Crumble remaining cheese over top. Let cool before serving.

For the filling, I used 2 pattypan squash, 1 zucchini, fresh spinach, and an andouille sausage that I sliced into rings and sauteed - and the other stuff listed.

I made my basic food-processor pie crust and put the remaining half in the freezer for another day.

And while I was relaxing, waiting for the tarts to cook, Victor moved into the kitchen and made Tomato Salad from some of our bounty of tomatoes from the garden!

Amounts are going to be determined by how many tomatoes you have.  Don't worry.  Just make it.  Ya can't screw it up!

Tomato Salad

  • Fresh tomatoes, sliced
  • red onion, sliced
  • minced garlic
  • red wine vinegar
  • olive oil
  • fresh basil
  • salt and pepper

Mix and refrigerate.

One of life's great pleasures is to have some fresh crusty bread to sop up all of that lovely juice in the plate.  I didn't make any today because we were having the tart with a crust, but I did make a batch of dough so we can sop tomorrow!


Stuffed Zucchini

I had a big ol' zucchini from our neighbor that was just calling to be stuffed.  I thought something simple, bround beef and a bit of cheese, some fresh herbs, would be a nice filling.  And maybe some rice on the side...

But there was that basket of tomatoes...

I didn't want to make a tomato sauce, per se, but I did want to use some of them.

A recipe was born!

Stuffed Zucchini

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1/2 cup onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 5 plum tomatoes, sliced
  • 8 sun-dried tomatoes, minced
  • asiago cheese (slices and grated)
  • 1 egg
  • fresh herbs (basil, oregano, parsley)
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1/2 cup rice
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • zucchini

Hollow out zucchini for stuffing, leaving 1/4" shell.  Add 2 tbsp (approx) shredded asiago cheese to zucchini.  Set aside.

Cook onion in a bit of olive oil until translucent.  Add garlic, then ground beef.  Cook.  Remove half the beef/onion mixture and allow to cool, a bit.  When cool, add 1 egg, salt, pepper, fresh herbs and mix well.  Stuff into zucchini on top of cheese.

Meanwhile, add tomatoes, salt, pepper, and herbs to pan with ground beef.  Cook well.  Add red wine and continue cooking.  Stir in rice, herbs, beef broth, and salt and pepepr.  Bring to boil.

Place zucchini atop rice mixture, cover, reduce heat, and let cook about 20 minutes, or until rice is cooked through.

Remove cover, place sliced cheese atop zucchini and recover for cheese to melt.

Uncover and serve.

It really was an easy meal and came out pretty good.  I probably could have seasoned the stuffing beef a bit more - maybe added some tomato paste or chopped olives, or something.  It was good, but not spectacular.

The rice, on the other hand, was stellar!  It more than made up for the blander zucchini filling - and once they were cut up, things all mixed together, anyway.

I have some couscous from Sardinia that I almost used for this, but decided I needed something a bit more special than stuffed zucchini.

More ideas to come.

And peach pie.

Chicken Salads and Homemade Bread


When I cooked yesterday's chicken, I had tonight's dinner in mind.  I knew I was going to make salads - I just wasn't sure what was going to be in (or on) them.

Cold chicken started me thinking about ham.  Victor had boiled some eggs, so A Cobb-type salad was formulating.  And then some ravioli, or tortellini, or something...

I settled on perline pasta mixed with a red pepper and eggplant dip I had in the cabinet.  Quick and easy pasta salad.

The bread was a take on the no-knead breads I've been making for a while.  I finally got a copy of the actual book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day.  (It was a freebie using Zoom Panel points.)


There was a recipe for a rustic bread using whole wheat and rye flour.  Since I just happened to have both in the cabinet, I made a half-batch of the dough last night.  When I got home today, I formed the loaf, put it outside into Mother Nature's proofing box, and in 30 minutes it was in the oven!

Half-Batch Rustic Bread

  • 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
  • 1-1/2 tbsp yeast (1 packet)
  • 3/4 tbsp kosher salt salt
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup rye flour
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat flour

Mix all ingredients.  Let proof about 2 hours.

Refrigerate. (Dough is ready at this point but handles better when chilled.)

Preheat oven to 450°.

Form grapefruit-sized ball of dough into loaf.

Let rise about 30 minutes.

Bake for 25 minutes.

Cool before slicing.

It was pretty good!