Duck and Cover: Microwave Spaghetti Squash

So, my dinner exploded last night.

The squash in question is hiding in the back by the paper towels.

I was, as usual, microwaving a whole spaghetti squash. I followed the directions on the label that had been stuck on one of the squashes I bought last fall. I pricked the skin multiple times (like 27 times with the tip of a rather dull steak knife), then put it in the microwave on high. After five minutes, it didn’t seem soft enough, so in for another five minutes it went.

In the meantime, I’d finished making the spaghetti sauce and the whole wheat pasta for the kids. Their hands were washed and I was dishing out their food when the microwave beeped. My daughter sat at the table talking about something or other (by evening, I kind of start tuning her out. It’s always about the reproductive or migratory habits of various animals anyway), and my son was engaged in some kind of crashing-trucks-into-teddy-bears game in the other room.

The squash was hissing and kind of squealing when I took it out of the microwave.

“This is new,” I thought. I didn’t remember the squash being so vocal before.

It was too hot to grasp well with my bare hands, but the hot mitts were across the room where my son dropped them earlier in the afternoon after pretending to check the doneness of his cookies. (“No, cookies aren’t done yet,” he’d said as he’d slammed the dishwasher door shut.) I balanced the stem end against the palm of my left hand and began prodding the squash along its equator with the one sharp knife we own. The skin of the squash was resistant. I applied more pressure with the knife blade.

“HisssSSSSSS…THWUMP!” said the squash as it split open and spewed molten squash innards on my hands, face, sweater, and pants.

I squealed, dropped the knife on the counter, and frantically flung the hot squash bits that clung to my bare skin onto the floor. I willed myself to reattain a calm demeanor as I ran cold water over my hands at the sink.

Squash splattered on the ceiling.

The squash strings and seeds that weren’t blocked by my body had continued on their trajectory until stopped by the floor, the table and chairs across the room, or the ceiling.

“What happened, Mommy?” my daughter asked from across the room with interest but without concern. She had been at a safe distance from the flying squash.

“My squash exploded,” I answered as I decided that the pain in my hands was a good sign since that meant the burns were likely only first- or second-degree, at least according to the information I’d retained from the anti-burns Shriners video they showed to my school when I was in third grade. That video neglected to warn about the dangers of microwaving spaghetti squash, but I’m fairly sure it was made before microwaves were in widespread use so I guess the omission is forgivable.

Squash burn, twelve hours later.

“What?” my daughter asked.

“My squash exploded,” I repeated.

My husband arrived home as I was trying to clean up the floor.

“What happened?” he asked from the doorway of the kitchen.

“My squash exploded,” I said yet again.

“What?” he asked. I looked at him over the rims of my squash-covered glasses. “Your squash exploded?”

“Yes, honey. My squash exploded.”

I have since discovered that I’m not remotely alone in my exploding squash experience. A quick internet search revealed that it’s a somewhat common occurrence, at least among bloggers. In fact, Mindy at Too Many Jars in My Kitchen! wrote about her exploding squash just a few days ago. If only I had found her blog before I made dinner last night.

I think that in the future, I might start cutting the squash in half before microwaving it. Unless there’s an intruder in the house, in which case having an improvised explosive might prove useful. Provided, that is, the intruder is willing to wait 5 to 10 minutes until the squash is done in the microwave.

Kitchenette Dinners, or Hotel Home-Cooking

As I’ve mentioned, we’re still living in a hotel. It’s a nice extended-stay type hotel with a little kitchenette and reliable wifi, but it’s been almost a month since we lived in a house, and I’m kind of missing some things.

Like my kitchen.

Every morning the hotel serves breakfast downstairs, and Monday through Thursday evenings, they serve a “light dinner.” Tonight was meatloaf and mashed potatoes; I’m not sure how that qualifies as “light,” but it’s the hotel’s descriptor, not mine.

Because I don’t eat gluten or dairy or undercooked eggs, there’s not much on offer for me at these meals. I’ll attend dinner when they have their “barbecue” theme and serve hamburgers, and I get their decaf from downstairs every morning, but mostly I eat my meals in the room. When someone offers me free food, I feel fairly neutral about it. It’s there whether I eat it or not, so if I don’t want it, why would I eat it?

My husband does not share this opinion about free food. When my husband is offered free food, he sees it as a challenge. I try to explain that they make more than they need and it’s not “wasting” if he doesn’t gorge himself, but he doesn’t seem to see my logic. To him, the more he eats, the more money he saves. To me, the more eggs and sausage and home fries he chows down on, the more likely we’re going to have to pay for some kind of heart procedure down the line a few years.

We are, however, both putting on weight living here. His is because of the free food. Mine is because the one place I’ve found to buy food is Trader Joe’s, and living in a hotel room is the perfect excuse to buy convenience foods that I otherwise never let myself buy. Beef tamales? Yes, please! Chocolate-covered frozen banana slices? Better get two boxes! A hummus quartet? Heck, I could live on nothing but hummus and those tiny rice crackers. And don’t even mention the wines.

I don’t think I’m eating too poorly. I’m just driving more and eating more and visiting the gym never (they’ve got a fitness room here but I find it excruciatingly boring to jog on the treadmill while watching at full volume a documentary about the Loch Ness Monster). The kitchenette is better than nothing, but it’s fairly rudimentary compared to my kitchen at home. The kitchenette has three not-so-sharp knives, one teeny cutting board, and one small colander. This setup doesn’t lend itself well to the rather complex meals I’m used to preparing.

So, what exactly am I cooking for dinner for myself?

Here’s one example:

This is the basic gmish.

When they sampled  it at the store, they used the Trader Joe’s brand Soyaki sauce. But that’s got wheat in it, so I passed on that and created my own. It’s Trader Joe’s pre-cooked frozen chicken breast strips, their canned pineapple chunks (with juice), and a sauce made of wheat-free tamari, canned minced garlic, fresh ginger, and a touch of honey. I mixed the sauce while thawing the chicken, then tossed it all together.

I was going to serve it over rice, but I forgot to cook the rice. So these are the ways I served it, one night and then the next night:

Over salad (lettuce, cucumber, bell pepper)

 

 

Surrounded by steamed broccoli (TJ’s ready-cut organic broccoli steamed in the microwave).

It’s pretty good stuff. But I get tired of pineapple pretty quickly. I bought more of the chicken strips, but I think I’m just going put them on salad and call it a day. Or I guess I could dip them in hummus.

What $5 wine would pair with chicken strips dipped in hummus with chocolate-covered frozen bananas for dessert?

Cleaning Out the Freezer: Steak Fajitas

It’s another “taking pictures of dinner” post!

Tonight: Steak Fajitas!

I don’t normally buy steak. But I ordered meat from a local farm as part of their meat CSA (which included steaks), and it’s been sitting in the freezer for a few months. Since we can’t take it with us, I’m trying to finish it up before we hit the road for Massachusetts.

We had about a pound of beef tenderloin steak in there, which isn’t enough for a steak dinner for four people (especially with as huge red meat fans as my kids are…you’d never guess their mom was vegetarian for seven years before they were born by the way they eat cow). So, I made fajitas.

I don’t really have a recipe for this, but I’ll try to walk you through. It’s pretty basic.

The marinade is the same for the meat as for the veggies. Lime juice, olive oil, garlic powder, salt, and oregano. Mix it in a dish and put the steaks in. Let them marinate in the fridge for an hour or more.

Line your broiler pan with foil (so you don’t have to scrub it) and start up the broiler in your oven. Once it’s preheated, put the steak on the broiler pan. Mix up the veggie marinade, toss with peppers and onions (I used three small green bell peppers and one large vidalia onion, sliced into half-moons). Then spread peppers and onions in a single layer on the baking sheet and pop in the oven part of the oven while the steaks broil.

Cook the steaks to your liking. We like ours medium-rare to medium, and with inch-thick steaks, this took about 15-18 minutes total, turning them twice and checking them once after about ten minutes. The veggies were beautiful and just starting to caramelize at the end of the steak cooking time.

When they’re done, put the steaks on a cutting board and cut into 1/4-inch thick strips. Warm some corn tortillas (I usually do this in a dry skillet because it seems hip to do that, but this time I just did them two at a time in the microwave, ten seconds on each side) and pile with steak and veggies. My husband eats his in a whole-wheat tortilla with cheese and avocados, but I’m something of a fajita purist and just did the steak and veggies (plus, I don’t do dairy, so that limits my topping options).

My son shared my husband’s fajitas with him, and my daughter ate the fixings separated on her plate and didn’t like the green peppers because “they taste just like they smell.” I agreed with her, but I cleared my plate and went back for seconds because I liked the way the peppers smelled and tasted.

My New Comfort Food: Oyako Donburi

Oyako donburi means “parent and child rice dish.” It’s called parent and child because it has both chicken and egg in it. If you make it with beef and egg, it’s apparently called “stranger and child” which sounds kind of ominous. I’m thinking since I used turkey broth in it, I could call it “parent and child and cousin,” but I’d have to call it that in English because I don’t know the word for “cousin” in Japanese.

Oyako donburi is another dish my friend Amanda shared with me. She’s taught me a number of awesome Japanese dishes, even though neither of us is Japanese. She did live there for a period of time and can speak the language, which is more than I can say for myself. I just like the food. Of the language, I only know what I’ve gathered from cooking and the Buddhist temple (and I usually mess those up when I try to say them).

My recipe is a combination of Amanda’s, one from My Kitchen, and some modifications I made based on what was in my kitchen (ie, it called for dashi and I didn’t have that or the stuff to make it, but I did have homemade turkey broth in the freezer. And I didn’t have green onions, but my kids don’t like green onions anyway).

At any rate, my family loved it (except for my daughter who didn’t like the “oil” even when I told her there was no oil in it. “Whatever it is, I don’t like it,” she proclaimed). My husband said, “Oh! It’s Japanese comfort food!” And it was incredibly easy to make.

Oyaku Donburi

Serves 4

Prep time: 40-60 minutes, less if your rice is already cooked and you don’t have to thaw your broth.

Ingredients:

Cooked brown rice (about three cups)

1 quart turkey broth (you could use chicken broth or dashi or veggie broth or mushroom broth. I probably could have gotten away with 2-3 cups broth)

1/4 c tamari or soy sauce

1/4 c mirin

2 T sugar (I’m going to use 1 T next time I make it…it was a little sweet with 2)

1 package boneless skinless chicken thighs (about 4), cut into 1/4 inch strips

2 carrots, sliced thin

1 small onion, chopped or sliced thin

4 eggs, beaten well

1. Bring the broth, soy sauce, mirin, and sugar to a boil in a large skillet or saucepan. Allow to reduce slightly

Block-o-turkey-broth

while you’re prepping the other ingredients.

2. Add the chicken pieces, carrot and onion and cook until done (I don’t know, about 15 minutes?).

3. Gently pour the beaten egg over the top and cover tightly. Let cook until eggs are set to your taste. I like mine well, well cooked, but there seem to be people online who like runny oyako, which pretty much turns my stomach to think about.

4. Spoon rice into each individual bowl and spoon the oyako over the rice. Enjoy!

Bok Choy Redux

After my last bok choy recipe, I had several requests for more ways to eat bok choy.

We eat a lot of bok choy. We usually have it twice a week. It’s super-high in nutrients, and is one of the best non-dairy food sources of calcium out there. Plus, it’s just so yummy. I’ve even gotten my mom and my sister hooked on it, and they’re pretty much Midwestern eaters.

One of our staple recipes is stir fry. This is a recipe that’s developed over time and I kind of wing it every time I make it, following some basic guidelines more than a recipe. I’ll give you the guidelines, and then try to set up something resembling a recipe.

General stir fry guidelines:

-There are three main components to my stir fry: protein (chicken, beef, pork, or tofu), greens (bok choy or savoy cabbage), and other vegetables (almost always carrots, but other veggies we use include snap peas, bell peppers, water chestnuts, and baby corn (these are kid crowd-pleasers)). I try to use no more than 3 veggies total (greens plus two others). In addition, I make a marinade/sauce and either rice or rice noodles to serve the stir fry over.

-Do not overcook your stir fry. This requires the use of high heat and a well heated skillet. The veggies will still have some crunch but will be bright green and flavorful when done.

-Don’t use a wok unless you’ve got the whole authentic setup. Regular western residential stoves don’t have a large enough flame to make a wok hot enough on a large enough surface to cook everything quickly and evenly. Just use a big (like 12+ inches) skillet with straight sides.

-Use the right kind of oil. Because you’re cooking with high heat, you need oil with a high smoke point. I usually use a combination of canola and toasted sesame oil (the latter is for flavor. If you don’t like sesame, you can use all canola).

-Get all of your ingredients cut up ahead of time and lined up in the proper order before you start cooking (you’ll add the longest-cooking veggies first). Once you begin, it only takes a couple of minutes to cook.

-Cut the ingredients in uniform thickness and size. You can vary the sizes, just make sure that the veggies you’re adding at the same time are about the same size so they take about the same length of time to cook.

-If you’re using tofu, press it between a couple of layers of paper towel  and two plates. Weight the top plate with a couple of heavy cans to press the excess moisture from the tofu. Press the tofu in the fridge for several hours or overnight, before you cut it. This will help the tofu hold together when you fry it. Some people freeze the tofu, then thaw it, which is supposed to make it firmer. I’ve never tried this method.

And that’s about it. Once you’ve got the guidelines down, you can vary the ingredients to suit your own tastes and sense of adventure.

Now, the pseudo-recipe to get you started.

Chicken and Bok Choy Stir Fry with Brown Rice

Marinade Ingredients:

1/2 c soy sauce

1/2 c mirin

~1 T sweetener (I use either brown sugar or agave nectar)

~1 t granulated garlic

~1 t powdered ginger

(you can use fresh garlic and ginger, I just rarely take the time to. This is our quick meal, and peeling ginger doesn’t seem quick to me.)

Mix marinade ingredients together in a shallow glass pan large enough to accommodate the meat. (I don’t usually marinate tofu, I just use the marinade as a sauce.)

Other ingredients:

2-3 T canola oil

1-2 T toasted sesame oil

1 pound boneless and skinless chicken breasts or thighs, sliced quite thin (~1/4-inch thick) across the grain

1 bunch bok choy, rinsed and sliced thin

3-4 carrots, scrubbed and sliced on the bias

~2 c snap peas, rinsed and strings removed. You can cut them in half so they’re not so long, if you like. This is optional.

Put the chicken in to marinate in the fridge, then start the rice. Basic rice cooking directions: place 3 c water and 1.5 c long-grain brown rice in a saucepan (you can rinse the rice first, if desired). Cover and bring to a bowl. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, over very low heat for 40-60 minutes or until all water is absorbed. At altitude, this takes closer to 60 minutes. At sea level, it’s closer to 40 minutes.

Prep all of your veggies and place them in separate bowls, lined up next to your skillet.

Heat ~1 T canola oil and ~ 1/2 T toasted sesame oil in a large skillet until very hot. The surface of the oil will look somewhat psychedelic and tiny wisps of smoke will be coming up from the edges. Using tongs, lift up scoops of chicken from the marinade, letting the excess sauce drip back into the marinade container. Add the chicken to the skillet. Once all chicken is added, stir it pretty constantly until it’s no longer pink inside. Remove from skillet and set aside.

While the chicken cooks, put the remaining marinade into a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer for a couple of minutes until it’s reduced slightly. (This will give a nice, concentrated sauce and kill any bacteria from the chicken.) If it reduces too much, just add a few tablespoons of water to thin.

Add another ~1 T or so of oil to the skillet and let heat again. Add the sliced carrots and cook for a couple of minutes until bright orange. Add your snap peas and stir fry for about a minute until they’re just bright green. Then add your bok choy and stir fry until it wilts slightly and the top leaves are just bright green. Stir the chicken back in. Remove from heat when the chicken has gotten hot again.

Serve the stir fry over brown rice with the sauce spooned over it.

There's brown rice under there, I promise.

If Loving Bok Choy is Wrong, I Don’t Want to be Right

I love bok choy.

I love it in stir fries, I love it in soups, I love it sauteed up with a little sesame oil. I don’t love it raw, but I love it lightly cooked so it’s crunchy and juicy and satisfying.

Yakisoba is one of the many ways I love to cook bok choy.

This recipe is a favorite at our house. My kids love it and just tear into it as soon as I put the bowl in front of them.

It’s yet another recipe that originates from Feeding the Whole Family by Cynthia Lair. I’ve made a few changes, including serving it over brown rice rather than soba noodles, using chicken broth/stock instead of water, and doubling it, but it’s essentially her recipe. If you’re avoiding gluten, be sure to get 100% buckwheat soba noodles (a little pricier than the regular ones) or substitute brown rice.

The version below is the doubled version. Cut in half if you’ve got a smaller family and/or don’t like leftovers.

Bok Choy and Buckwheat Noodles in Seasoned Broth (aka Yakisoba)

Reprinted (modified) from Feeding the Whole Family by Cynthia Lair (Sasquatch Books, 2008) www.cookusinterruptus.com

Prep time: about 30 minutes

Serves 8 (or 4 with plenty of leftovers for lunch the next day)

Ingredients:

1 pound soba noodles, prepared according to package directions (or 1.5 cups brown rice cooked in 3 cups water)

4 T toasted sesame oil

1 large onion, cut into thin half-moons

4 to 6 cloves garlic, pressed or minced

2 to 4 carrots, cut into matchsticks

10 shiitake mushrooms, cut into bite-sized pieces

8 c water or broth (I use 4 c broth and 4 c water)

2/3 c tamari (wheat-free if you want this dish to be gluten-free)

1 pound firm tofu, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

2 T freshly grated ginger

1 bunch bok choy, rinsed and chopped

4 scallions, sliced thin for garnish

Heat oil in a 4-quart pot. Add onion and garlic; saute over medium heat until onion begins to soften. Add carrot and mushroom pieces; saute a few minutes more. Add water, tamari, tofu, and ginger. Bring heat up until mixture begins to simmer. Cover and let simmer for 10 minutes. Add bok choy and simmer until leaves are bright green.

Serve this dish by placing a handful of noodles or scoop of rice in each serving dish. Ladle broth and vegetables over the noodles/rice. Garnish with scallions.

Slow-Cooker Smothered Pork Chops

We’ve made Cook’s Illustrated’s non-slow cooker Smothered Pork Chops (especially the variation that includes collard greens) multiple times. But today, we were going to the Utah RV Show, so I wanted something that I could stick in the slow cooker so it would prepare itself in our absence. Luckily, there’s also a Slow-Cooker Smothered Pork Chops recipe in the Cook’s Illustrated The Best Slow & Easy Recipes. I whipped that up this morning while my husband was at music class with the kiddos and it cooked while we were  looking at RVs in Sandy, Utah. (More on the RV Show tomorrow.)

It turned out almost as good as the non-slow cooker version, just with a slightly thinner sauce. We loved it. The chops (which we bought locally from Christiansen Farm) were so tender, we could cut them with a fork. We served it with brown rice and Brussels sprouts. The sauce was super yummy on rice.

My son’s demanding my attention and my daughter’s begging to play a board game before bed, so without further ado…

Voila!

 

Slow-Cooker Smothered Pork Chops

from Cook’s Illustrated The Best Slow & Easy Recipes cookbook

Ingredients:

4 ounces (about 4 slices) bacon, cut into 1/4-inch pieces

3 medium onions, halved and sliced thin

4 t light brown sugar

3 medium garlic cloves, minces or pressed

1 T minced fresh thyme leaves, or 1 t dry (I used dry)

Salt

3 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1/4 c soy sauce

2 T Minute tapioca (I used tapioca flour, which as a GF-type cook, I always have on-hand)

2 bay leaves

6 bone-in blade-cut pork chops, about 3/4-inch thick (I used 4 pork chops. I have no idea what cut they were. They were probably about 3/4-inch thick, though.)

Ground black pepper

1 T cider vinegar (I used rice vinegar. That’s what we stock in our kitchen. We like its incredible mildness.)

1 T minced fresh parsley leaves (I didn’t use these. Garnish isn’t something that moves me.)

1. Cook the bacon in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until crisp, about 8 minutes. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate, leaving the fat in the skillet, and refrigerate until serving time. (I’m trying to move away from paper towels, but I didn’t know what else to use in this situation. So I used one. Just one.)

2. Pour off all but 2 T of the bacon fat left in the skilet and place over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onions, 1 t of the brown sugar, garlic, thyme, and 1/4 teaspoon salt to the skillet and cook, stirring often, until the onions are soft and caramelized, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in 1 cup of the chicken broth, scraping up any browned bits.

3 Transfer the mixture to the slow cooker and stir in the remaining 2 c broth, remaining T brown sugar, soy sauce, tapioca, and bay leaves until evenly combined. Season pork chops with salt and pepper and nestle them in the slow cooker. Cover and cook, either on low or high, until the meat is tender, 7 to 8 hours on low or 4 to 5 hours on high. (I started out on high, thinking we didn’t have enough time to finish it on low. After about two hours, I conversed with my husband about it and we agreed that we should switch it low for the remainder of the time. Turns out, we ate later than we expected and would have had plenty of time to cook it on just low. The two hours on high just gave this ex-vegetarian peace of mind that the meat was cooked through.)

4. Transfer the pork chops to a serving platter with a large spoon, tent with foil, and let rest for 20 minutes (I think we left it for about 5). Let the cooking liquid settle for 5 minutes, then gently tilt the slow cooker and remove as much fat as possible from the surface using a large spoon. Remove the bay leaves, stir in the vinegar, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Reheat the bacon in the microwave on high power until heated through and crisp, about 30 seconds. Pour 1 cup of the sauce over the chops, sprinkle with the crisp bacon and parsley, and serve, passing the remaining sauce separately.

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Classic Beef Chili…with Bacon!

After so many serious blog posts, I decided to take a break and blog about dinner again. We had an awesome chili tonight, and I’m thinking some of you might enjoy it. Except the vegetarians. Sorry, this isn’t a dinner post for you.

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Classic Beef Chili with Bacon

modified from The Best Slow and Easy Recipes from Cook’s Illustrated

8 ounces (about 8 slices) bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

2 medium onions, minced

1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

6 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed

1/4 c chili powder

1 T ground cumin

2 t ground coriander

1 t red pepper flakes

1 t dried oregano, preferably Mexican

1/2 t cayenne pepper

Salt

1-2 pounds beef stew meat (I used sirloin tip roast that was on sale, cut into small pieces)

2 15-ounce cans dark red kidney beans

2 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes

Fry bacon in bottom of dutch oven over medium heat until crisp. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat and leave the bacon in the pot. Add the onions, bell pepper, garlic, chili powder, cumin, coriander, pepper flakes, oregano, cayenne, and 1 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are softened, 8 to 10 minutes.

Increase the heat to medium-high. Stir in the beef until no longer pink, about 3 minutes per pound.

Stir in the beans, diced tomatoes and juice, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour.

Uncover and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until the beef is tender and the chili is dark, rich, and slightly thickened, about 45 minutes longer. (If at any time the chili begins to stick to the bottom of the pot, stir in 1/2 cup water.) Season with salt to taste before serving.

My daughter ate this with cheddar cheese on it. My son loved the kidney beans and the meat from it (he called it “chicken,” but we understood what he meant). My husband and I quite liked it, too.

And right after we were finished eating, we got to watch a fella fail a roadside sobriety test right outside our kitchen window! I was impressed that he was driving an Audi TT in our neighborhood! We even got to see him cuffed and put into the police car. Exciting stuff, and very educational for my 5.5-year-old.

Roast Fresh Ham (with a Side of Kale and Blackeye Peas)

I’ve been holding onto a recipe for Roast Fresh Ham from America’s Test Kitchen/Cook’s Illustrated for a few years now. I could never figure out how to get a fresh (uncured) ham. Sure, I could have asked at the meat counter, but those guys always seem in such a hurry, and I just can’t figure out how to broach the subject of how to get something that isn’t in the display case. The one time I did try to special order a corned beef brisket, the butcher guy said, “Oh, there’ll be plenty! You don’t need to special order it.” When I went to get the brisket he said, “Sorry. All the ones we have are reserved for people who special ordered them.” Not really worth confronting my fear of talking to store employees.

As luck would have it, I got a fresh ham in my meat CSA share from Christiansen Family Farm a few months ago. I’ve been holding onto that ham just waiting for the right occasion to roast it up. The recipe is basically an all-day affair, plus the 24 hours of brining that precedes the actual cooking, so I needed to find just the right combination of time off for my husband and no plans for the rest of us.

The stars aligned this weekend, just in time to have Roast Fresh Ham for New Year’s dinner! I served it with a side of Kale and Blackeye Peas, traditional New Year’s fare which I kind of threw together.

The ham turned out even better than I’d imagined it would. My husband raves about it. He said he would have been satisfied had he gotten something like this at a fancy-shmancy restaurant in San Francisco. Although it’s a little like, “Wow! That’s so good, I’m amazed that you cooked it!” I’ve decided to take it as a compliment. The kids even loved it, but they’re big meat eaters. (My 16.5-month-old walked in the kitchen while I was carving the roast, yelled, “Meat!” and went to get a plastic plate out of the kid-dishes drawer.)

Roast Fresh Ham with Maple-Orange Glaze

Roast Fresh Ham

reprinted from Cook’s Illustrated‘s The Best Slow & Easy Recipes, published by America’s Test Kitchen, 2008.

Ham and Brine

1 (6- to 8-pound) fresh bone-in half ham with skin, preferably shank end (I’m not sure what part ours was. I think it was more like 3-4 pounds, though.)

3 cups packed brown sugar

2 cups table salt (I used 4 cups kosher salt)

2 medium heads garlic, cloves separated and crushed

10 bay leaves

1/2 cup black peppercorns, crushed (I put the garlic cloves and peppercorns in a big Ziploc freezer bag and beat them with the bottom of a pan, then poured them in the brine liquid.)

2 gallons water

Herb Rub

(I made a half recipe of this since our ham was so much smaller than called for. The amounts below are the original amounts)

1 cup lightly packed fresh sage leaves

1/2 cup lightly packed fresh parsley leaves

1/4 cup olive oil

8 medium cloves garlic, peeled and chopped coarse (about 8 teaspoons)

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 1/2 tablespoons ground black pepper

1 recipe glaze (see below)

1. For the ham and brine: Carefully slice through skin and fat on the ham with a serrated knife, making a 1-inch diamond pattern; be careful not to cut into the meat.

2. Dissolve the sugar and salt in 2 gallons water in a stockpot or large container. Stir in the garlic, bay leaves, and peppercorns, submerge the ham in the brine, cover, and refrigerate for 18 to 24 hours.

3. For the herb rub: Process the sage, parsley, oil, garlic, salt, and pepper together in a food processor to a smooth paste, about 30 seconds. (I ended up adding a tad more olive oil to make this the consistency of pesto.)

4. Set a wire rack inside a roasting pan. (I wrapped the rack with foil and poked several holes in the foil.) Remove the ham from the brine and rinse. Pat the ham dry with paper towels. Transfer the ham, wide cut side down, to the prepared wire rack. (If using the sirloin end, place the ham skin side up.) Rub the garlic and herb mixture all over the ham, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let sit at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours. (I didn’t allow enough time for this step, so I skipped it and just put the ham in the oven at this point.)

5. Meanwhile, adjust an oven rack to the lowest position and heat the oven to 500 degrees. Roast the ham for 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and brush (I just spooned) the ham with the glaze (recipe below). Continue to roast the ham, brushing it with the glaze every 45 minutes, until the meat closest to the bone registers 145 to 150 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 2 1/2 hours longer.

6. Transfer the ham to a cutting board, tent loosely with foil, and let rest until the meat closest to the bone registers 155 to 160 degrees, 30 to 40 minutes. Carve the ham and serve. (I didn’t let the ham rest. I just roasted the ham until it was ~160-ish degrees then took it out and called it done.)

Maple-Orange Glaze

reprinted from Cook’s Illustrated‘s The Best Slow & Easy Recipes, published by America’s Test Kitchen, 2008

makes 1 generous cup, enough to glaze 1 spiral-sliced or fresh ham

3/4 cup maple syrup

1/2 cup orange marmalade

2 tablespoons unsalted butter (I used Earth Balance Buttery Sticks)

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Cook all of the ingredients together in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is thick and syrupy, 5 to 10 minutes. (The glaze will thicken as it cools between bastings; rewarm over medium heat as needed to loosen.)

Kale and blackeye peas

Kale and Blackeye Peas

2 cans blackeye peas

1 large leek, cleaned well and chopped

1 bunch kale, de-ribbed and torn or cut into bite-sized pieces

salt

rice or apple cider vinegar

In a large saute pan, mix the peas, leek, and kale. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the kale is wilted and the mixture is hot. Add a dash or two of vinegar and salt to taste.

Breakfast for Dinner

We waited all day for the snow to start.

I don’t know why, but something about waiting and waiting for snow made the day just drag on and on. That and the even-more-futile-than-usual task of trying to clean up the house. Entropy just got the better of us. I gave in, quit trying to clean, and helped my daughter cook up some pink play dough.

My daughter kneading pink homemade play dough.

We rallied in the evening, though. It helped that my husband brought home three bars of Chocolove Almonds and Sea Salt in Dark Chocolate (Whole Foods got me hooked on it and then didn’t carry it for weeks). One bar (3 servings my foot) gave me enough energy to do dishes and make breakfast for dinner while my husband and the kids were upstairs watching Curious George. It was the first time I’d made either of the recipes I used (both from Feeding the Whole Family by Cynthia Lair), and they turned out to be the perfect thing for dinner tonight. Nothing like leafy greens to give a mommy back her energy.

Breakfast for Dinner: Green Eggs (No Ham) and Healthy Home Fries from Feeding the Whole Family

One was Green Eggs (No Ham). I cooked the eggs a little more than the recipe called for (I like well-cooked eggs. When I get eggs that are the least bit runny, I have the same reaction Napoleon Dynamite did when he tried the egg-laden orange juice at the chicken farm). What was nice, though, was that the addition of the little bit of rice milk in the eggs when I whisked them up along with the moisture of the spinach at the end of the cooking process kept the eggs moist and fluffy even though I browned them like I always do. The kids even liked them. My daughter said, “Mmm! Spinach! My favorite!” I’m guessing you could substitute chard leaves if spinach is not your favorite.

The other recipe was Healthy Home Fries. I used russets rather than red potatoes because that’s what I had on hand. It was a simple but very satisfying accompaniment to the eggs. I ate them with ketchup.

I’m still thinking about decluttering and making plans for next month’s resolutions (I’m planning to take some kind of class as part of January’s “Explore” theme, but I can’t decide what to take), but I’m trying to give myself a break from all the decluttering talk.

So, have yourself some yummy breakfast for dinner (or breakfast for breakfast). You’ll need your strength to tackle all of the post-holiday decluttering and re-stashing of decorations. Unless, of course, you celebrate holidays on the Orthodox Christian calendar, in which case you still have another week to go, and you’ll probably need your strength to get through the run-up to all of the celebrations to come, but you won’t be able to eat the eggs because you’re fasting. If this is your situation (or if you’re vegan full-time), Cynthia Lair’s book has a recipe for Tofu Vegetable Breakfast Burritos you might like to try. Have I mentioned this is my favorite cookbook?

Green Eggs (No Ham)

reprinted from Feeding the Whole Family by Cynthia Lair (Sasquatch Books, 2008) www.cookusinterruptus.com

Prep time: 10 minutes

Makes 2-3 servings

4 eggs

2 T water or milk

1/2 t sea salt

1 T butter (I used olive oil)

1 c baby spinach leaves (I used ~1.5 cups cut-up grown-up spinach leaves)

1/4 grated cheese, optional (my family made these into burritos with cheese, but I didn’t cook it in)

Whisk together the eggs, water, and salt in a bowl. Heat a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the butter; when it melts, add the eggs.

Using a heatproof rubber scraper, gently stir the eggs as they cook, lifting the curds from the bottom of the pan. When the eggs are nearly cooked, add the spinach and the cheese, if desired. Cover briefly (less than 1 minute) to wilt the spinach.

Remove from the pan when the eggs appear light and fluffy, but still shiny and wet (I think I’ve already made it clear that mine looked dry and lightly browned when I removed them from the pan). Serve immediately.

Healthy Home Fries

reprinted from Feeding the Whole Family by Cynthia Lair (Sasquatch Books, 2008) www.cookusinterruptus.com

Prep time: 25 to 30 minutes

Makes 4 servings

6 red potatoes, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices

1 T extra-virgin olive oil

1 onion, cut into half-moons

1/2 t sea salt

Freshly ground pepper

Place potatoes in a steamer basket and steam 7 to 10 minutes until tender.

Heat oil in a large skillet. Add onion and sauté until soft. Add steamed potatoes, salt, and pepper. Flip potatoes occasionally until browned on both sides. Serve warm. (My family added them to their burritos with the green eggs and cheese. I ate them with ketchup.)