Post #450 Glazing the Bone

January 18, 2016 at 9:57 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

For no other reason than we had it in the freezer and needed to use it, we made a great big bone in spiral cut ham this weekend.  It was not the classic Honeybaked ham; it was home cooked with a homemade glaze.

Whenever I think about ham glazes, I think about the “standard” glaze used since the middle 1900s.  It consisted of pineapple juice and brown sugar mostly and was basted onto the ham at regular intervals to impart a sweet and fruity flavor to counterbalance the saltiness of the ham itself.  There was a great Simpson’s bit where Marge is planning a dinner party where she’s making a glazed ham and decides she has time for one more baste on the ham.  She opens the oven and the ham is so hot, and there’s so much juice and sugar on the ham, the whole thing is glowing like a nuclear reactor.

Growing up, my mom made glazed ham fairly regularly, always a huge piece of meat with the bone in the center.  She did the same thing with it every time.  She cross hatched the top and stuck whole cloves in the intersections of the cuts.  She placed pineapple rings in a regular pattern over the top.  Then she made a glaze out of the pineapple juice and brown sugar.  Sometimes she would add a spoonful of prepared mustard to give it a kick.  The glaze would crust up and brown.  The fruit would char and get crispy.  The cloves just sat there.  You didn’t want to accidentally eat one of those suckers.  Nasty critters, they were.

That’s the same glaze everyone I knew made.  There were slight variations but for the most part it was just pineapple juice and brown sugar.

When I moved to the metro DC area, I “discovered” another glazed ham called a Honeybaked Ham.  There were specialty stores for this delicacy.    It was spiral cut on the bone so slicing it was easy.  They baked the ham in a honey sauce, then just before packaging, they would put sugar on the top and torch it creating a caramelized crust.  People were addicted to that crust.

Once I realized there were other ham glazes, I started experimenting with my own creations.  One of my favorites was to mix mustard and honey in a small amount of hot water and spread that over the ham about half way through the cooking process.  I’ve also used straight barbeque sauce right out of the bottle.  I’ve never put cloves on the ham.  I never liked the flavor they impart.  And they can get in the way, and destroy your tongue if you happen to bite one.

Once Partner/Spouse and got together and compared notes on our cooking methods, etc., we agreed we hated the standard glazes for most meats and embarked on a campaign to learn new glazes, and new techniques.  We tried some that were less than successful, but mostly we found glazes that were good, just nothing really terrific.

Then he found one that turned the corner for us.

It was a root beer glaze that needed to simmer for a couple of hours to blend the flavors and to reduce to a thick, sticky glaze that would adhere to the ham, or whatever other meat we were cooking.

You put no more than a quarter cup of brown sugar in a pan with a couple of tablespoons of water and let the sugar dissolve.  Then you add a tablespoon of either Worcestershire sauce or soy sauce, plus a couple of teaspoons of vinegar, and a pinch of pepper flakes.  Then you add an entire can of root beer.  Don’t use diet because you want the sugar to caramelize.  You can add some onion powder if you want.  We did.  Put it on a very low heat and allow to simmer for at least a couple of hours.  You want to gently steam the water and bubbles out of the glaze.  Don’t stir unless you think you need to keep it from burning.

You can do all this while the ham is cooking.  Once the ham is about 3/4 of the way done, spoon one quarter of the glaze over the ham.  About fifteen or twenty minutes later, baste again.  Keep doing this until the glaze is done and the ham has a deep rich brown color.  Finish the ham, slice, and eat.

This weekend, though, we found we didn’t have any root beer.  The only soda in the house was Pepsi.  Since we weren’t going to use the recipe we knew, he decided to experiment.  We ended up with Pepsi, strong Irish mustard, lingonberry jam, and a pinch of pepper flakes.

Boy, did THAT taste good on the ham!

We also had mashed potatoes with celery root, and sautéed green beans and asparagus with onions and almonds.

No reason for a big dinner except we had the stuff on hand.


Post #449 Food Trending

January 15, 2016 at 11:01 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Every year new trends in what people eat and how people eat become popular or fall out of favor.  “New” vegetables and grains are discovered; different or forgotten techniques are remembered and modernized.  Sometimes new kitchen gadgets are created and sometimes older ones are repurposed.  I find that the quickest way to discover what’s newly trending is to read food columns in national papers (online, of course.)  And the easiest way to figure out what’s no longer popular is to watch infomercials.

There are a couple of infomercials out right now that show some trends on the way out.

Ever heard of “dump” dinners or “dump” cakes?  The concept is simple.  You dump a bunch of random ingredients together and cook them and they turn out delicious.   There’s no real rocket science to the process and anyone can create their own favorite recipes.  You just have to understand ingredients and how they work together.  But there are people who are getting money for cookbooks based on “dump” ingredients.  You know how they created those recipes?  They took an idea, a crock pot for instance, and started putting stuff in it.  If it tasted good, they had a recipe.  It probably was a little more professional than that, but that’s the gist.  You can do the same thing.

Another trend that’s on the way out is “spiralizing”.  You can substitute flour pasta noodles with long ropes of vegetable noodles.  You can use a spiral cutter to make the noodles.  You can also use a vegetable peeler to do the same thing.  The spiral cutter is a good idea and can be used to make a lot different vegetable cuts, but it’s a novelty and it’s fifteen minutes of fame is waning.  I’ve got one, and used it once.  It was fun, but it wasn’t so useful that I’ve used it since.

Another trend I’ve written about for years here on the blog has received a new name.  It’s called Brinner.  It’s making breakfast for dinner.  We do this all the time.  We love pork products and routinely have bacon and sausage with eggs for dinner.  Sometimes we’ll have hashed browns or fresh biscuits with it, and occasionally grilled veggies.  Once in a while, waffles and/or pancakes show up at dinner, too.  This has become amazingly popular in recent years, to the point that many restaurants other than diners are now offering breakfast all day.  Even the fast food giants have moved with this trend.

Speaking of fast foods, they’re echoing a trend that’s moving out of the trend category and becoming a hard principle in the food world.  People want healthier and cleaner food.  And they’re getting it, slowly but surely.  I’ve written about farm to table cooking, where you cook only what’s fresh on the farm at the moment.  But beyond that, people are getting “fed up” with the amount of pesticides being used to grow food.  Chemical fertilizers are also being questioned.  Even organics are being looked at more closely than ever.  People want to know more about their food and where it comes from and the grocery stores, restaurants, and manufacturers are giving them the information they want.  Consumers are making their desires known through their purchasing efforts and the food industry is responding.  It’s a slow march, but it is a march.

Another trend happening right now really makes me shake my head, but it’s a logical step in a long running trend.  Food home delivery has been around for decades.  But now, rather than delivering completely cooked food, there are services delivering only the ingredients and recipes for you to cook.  On one hand, I can see that this can be a good idea since you don’t have to spend a lot of money buying ingredients in quantities you won’t use, and you can find out what flavors you like and don’t like without a hefty investment of time and money.  But as a cook, I look at that and think, “I can do that without their help.”  Maybe I’m just jealous I didn’t think of it first.


Recently I was talking to a friend and mentioned a cherry chip cake I’d made once a long while ago.  She wanted the recipe so here it is.  It’s really easy.

cherry chip cake

Make a basic white cake batter, whether from a box or scratch.  It’s your choice.  Drain one bottle of maraschino cherries and set cherries aside.  Chop cherries roughly into the size of chocolate chips.  Fold cherries into cake batter, then pour batter into prepared cake pans.  Bake per recipe instructions.  Cool, then frost.

For the frosting, I made a white buttercream frosting.  Instead of using vanilla extract, I used cherry extract.  This gave the frosting a light cherry flavor and a pink coloring so slight it was almost invisible.

It was really good.


Post #448 Another Mexican Favorite – Burritos

January 13, 2016 at 10:30 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Several years ago, just after I came out and had started dating again, I invited a friend over to my condo for lunch.  I made bean and beef burritos and we ate them on my balcony.  He thought they were very tasty but the thing that amazed him most were how expertly they were wrapped.

“Did you buy these somewhere?”

“Nope, I just know how to do it.”

“Can you show me?”  He was really interested.

So after we were done eating, we trooped into the kitchen and I showed him how to fold a flour tortilla around some filling so it became a well-wrapped burrito.

I grew up on the Mexican border in Arizona so this was something I took for granted.  Everyone I knew could do this with their eyes closed.  It wasn’t until I moved to Virginia that I realized Mexican food could be a mystery.  I have one friend who calls all Mexican foods burritos regardless of what she’s eating.

After I showed my friend how to fold the burrito, he called me a week later to crow about the fact that he’d done it himself to take some for lunch and impressed his coworkers.  I told him he could use the same technique to make sandwich wraps, etc.

Burritos are different from tacos in that they are soft flour tortillas wrapped around various fillings to create a closed tube.  The traditional fillings are beans and cheese, but over time many other ingredients have become standard.  Seasoned beef, chicken, shrimp, fish, or pork can be added to the beans, or be by themselves with no beans at all.  Plain or flavored rice can be added to the filling.  Fresh salsa or salsa sauces are common.  Sour cream is a must for some people, as is guacamole.  Lettuce, tomato, cilantro, chilis, jicama, and other veggies show up with regularity.

Then there’s the sub-category of breakfast burritos.  My first introduction to these tasty morsels came when I was working at a factory in my home town.  I was called in to work one Saturday and about mid-morning, they surprised us by bringing in a bunch of burritos.  They had scrambled eggs, chopped bacon, fried potatoes, cheese, and green chilis, and tasted phenomenal.  Of course, my first bite was into a chili and I spent the next five minutes trying to breathe again.

My favorite burrito is a beef, bean, and cheese burrito.

But here’s how to fold a burrito: (my apologies to anyone who owns these photos.  I took them off the net and they aren’t mine.  Let me know if you want me to remove them.)


You take a large flour tortilla at room temperature so it folds easily.  Place the filling in the lower third part of the tortilla.  Fold the sides into the center, and fold the bottom over the filling.  This creates a pocket.  Tuck the tortilla you’ve just folded over the filling under the filling as well as you’re able to, then roll the burrito tightly up over the rest of the tortilla.  The final result should look like this:


Easy peasy, right?  The inward fold creates a leak-proof edge, so just pick up the burrito and start eating from either end.  If you haven’t rolled the burrito tightly, it will get messy, but it will still taste great.

Another variation is called the wet burrito.  Basically, it’s an ordinary burrito that has cheese melted on top, or sauce poured on top, or both.  It’s also called an enchilada-style burrito since many times the sauce used is an enchilada sauce.  This is relatively new.  We didn’t have this when I was growing up.

burrito wet

But more cheese and a savory sauce can only be a good thing, right?  When I ordered one of these, it’s usually a chicken burrito because enchilada sauce and chicken are perfect combo partners.

Another variation that’s been around for a long time is the fried burrito, called a chimichanga.  These things are huge.  You make a gigantic burrito and roll it as tight as possible.  Then you deep fry it so the tortilla is brown, flaky, and crunchy.  Then you top it with melted cheese and fresh lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, and guacamole.  The only word to describe it is YUM!

burrito chimichanga

It’s fried.  How can it be bad?

When a certain Mexican styled fast food restaurant first opened up a few years ago, my coworkers and I used to go once a week.  I was addicted to their soft tacos, but one guy would always get what he called their footballs.  They make a burrito that’s so stuffed with filling, it is almost the size of a football.  I never ordered it because I knew I would never ever finish it.  It was so big the tortilla would only wrap once with the ends of the tortilla just barely touching.  They used the aluminum foil wrapping to hold it together.  This coworker would pop that open and start eating.  He’d finish an hour later, burping slightly, stomach distended, and claiming he’d have another one tomorrow.

I made myself a bunch of burritos yesterday to take for lunches at work.  I spread a quarter cup of refried beans on the tortilla, sprinkled it with cheese, added some cut up steak I’d just grilled on the stove, and dotted with chunky salsa.  I folded them up, wrapped them in foil, and put them in the fridge.  It’s like a present waiting for me.

So I made a cake, too.


Post #447 A Calvin and Hobbes Interlude

January 11, 2016 at 11:02 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

In 1985, a comic strip by Bill Watterson hit the papers and became an instant hit.  Calvin and Hobbes followed the exploits of a six year old Calvin, a boy ahead of his time, and his stuffed toy tiger Hobbes.  The tiger was alive to Calvin and they talked, played, and romped through their world.  Everyone else just saw a stuffed toy tiger.

It all started with a strip about the tiger’s favorite food.

Calvin 16

Hilarity ensued from there.

Over the next ten years, food figured prominently in the strip.  Calvin either hated it, loved it, or was puzzled by it.  Hobbes just wanted more of it.

Calvin 17

So, I’ve posted many of my favorites for you to enjoy.

Calvin 9

Calvin 8

Calvin 7

Calvin 6

Calvin 4

Calvin 3

Calvin 2

Calvin 15

Calvin 14

Calvin 13Calvin 12

Calvin 11

Calvin 10

Calvin 1

Hope you liked this!






Post #446 A Monumentally Bad Day

January 8, 2016 at 2:33 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

I won’t go into details, but yesterday was not a red-letter day.  I started out cranky and went down hill from there.  The only bright spot was getting off work at 4:30.  That meant I could actually have dinner with Partner/Spouse for the first in days.  Also, I had today off which meant I could indulge in more than a single glass of wine, if I chose to.  I chose to.

Once I got home, we spent several minutes filling each other in our respective days, a mix of good news and less than good news.  I slugged down a glass of wine while we stood and talked.  Then I had to turn my mind to dinner and what to make.  I wanted simple; I wanted quick; I wanted comfort.  I had thawed out chicken cutlets.

What to do with these huge slices of chicken breast that I hadn’t done before more than a dozen times?

I started out by dipping them in egg to hold a flour crust.  Then I dredged them in the flour and immediately rolled them panko bread crumbs that I’d added parmesan cheese to.  While they sat for a few minutes, I heated olive oil in a skillet and turned on the electric tea pot to heat water to boiling.  Turning back to the skillet, I added minced garlic to the oil and seared it for a few seconds, then added the chicken.

Letting that cook, I turned back to the boiling water and measured out two cups for instant mashed potatoes.  I love these instant mashed potatoes.  They’re worlds away better than they used to be decades ago.  Two cups of boiling water in a bowl.  Add the contents of the package and whisk until blended.  Let it set till it thickens, about 30 seconds or so, and instant mashed potatoes that taste like actual mashed potatoes.  They’re light and fluffy and have a range of flavors to satisfy anyone.  Once those were done,  I flipped the chicken and started on the salad.

Oooops, the salad kit was far too old to use.  It was a chopped salad, which meant it was mostly cabbage, and we thought it would last longer.  Either it was an older one when we bought it, or we misremembered when we actually bought it.  I tossed it and reviewed my options.

My heart wasn’t in cooking, but once the process started, I relaxed and let the creative flow happen.  I rough chopped some carrots, some celery, and put them in a bowl.  Then I dumped out some grape tomatoes into another bowl and called it good.

After a few more minutes, I took the chicken off the stove, arranged everything, refilled my wine glass, and we gathered our repast that only minutes before had been in the fridge.  We sat on the couch with our favorite television show and dove into our plates.

The chicken was tender and juicy with the lightly salty/cheesy taste of parmesan with the hint of garlic throughout.  It had crunch and coating from the flour and panko.  It was terrific.  The salad was chill, fresh, and tasty.  The potatoes were hot, fluffy, and very good.  Overall, a good effort for an uninspiring day.

But after the meal was over, I wandered through the kitchen and pantry, looking for something else, something to complete the meal.  We didn’t have any cookies, and the only cakes were in boxes of cake mix.  I wanted chocolate but all the Christmas candy had found its way to Partner/Spouse’s office to feed his troops.

So, on went the oven, and out came the cocoa, sugar, butter, eggs, and vanilla.  Brownies on the way!  I always thought there was no way to add too much chocolate to brownies.  Turns out, I was wrong.  I added about a cup of mini chocolate chips to the completed mix and about half a cup of sweetened coconut flakes.  I was going to add some sunflower seeds, but thought that might be too much.  I should have added them.

For the first time in my life, I cut the brownies while they were still hot.  We ate them like lava cake.  They tasted the Mounds bars.  They were so good!  The ultimate comfort food for a bad day.

That’s why I like being a cook.


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