Wednesday, April 27, 2011

"The Ham Book" & "Insatiable" - Glazed Ham Ring with Red Devil Sauce and Macaroni and Cheese

Date I made these recipes: April 24, 2011 (Easter Sunday)

The Ham Book by Monette R. Harrel and Robert W. Harrel, Jr.
Published by: Donning Company Publishers
ISBN: 0-915442-14-0
Recipe: Glazed Ham Ring with Red Devil Sauce – p. 136-137

Insatiable – Tales from a Life of Delicious Excess
by Gael Greene
Published by: Warner Books
ISBN: 0-446-57699-9
Recipe: Almost Like Mom’s Macaroni and Cheese – p. 19-20

People, you would think that having a book called The Ham Book would make Easter planning a walk in the park but you’d be wrong!

The first recipe in this book is for a traditional southern ham weighing 10-12 pounds. Let’s pause here for a moment: I do not have access to southern ham (nor do I need to one) and there are only two of us in this household so we didn’t need that big of a ham. I’m not even sure my oven could handle that puppy!! Besides, ham is expensive and we would have practically bankrupted ourselves had we gone with that recipe. So that was out.

Also out was canned ham as called for in many of the entrée recipes. Aside from chuckling over one of this season’s Mad Men episodes where Pete and Peggy have to advertise a canned ham, there’s nothing about a canned ham to recommend itself to me. If you’re going to go canned, go with SPAM. (Note to the good people at SPAM – Call me! I think I have a new jingle for you!!)

Lucky for me, I found a ham ring (i.e. loaf) recipe that was pretty easy and did not call for canned ham. And there was much rejoicing.

I have to say, though, that my husband looked less than enthusiastic when I told him we were having ham ring and even less so when I said it was topped with Red Devil Sauce. Silly rabbit – he was probably thinking that this would be spicy given the name but as we know, ketchup is not a spice…unless you live in Minnesota.

So, I got out my Cusinart, chopped the ham, added there rest of the ingredients, got out my ring (Jell-O) mold and holy cow – talk about overflow. The instructions said to gently pack but even if I would have really jammed it in there, we are talking too much meat. I could have easily have made two ham rings. And okay, sure, they said it the recipe would serve 8-10 but did they really think all that meat mixture would fit in one ring mold? Hardly! So I resorted to Plan B and plopped the mixture on a baking sheet (with the 1” sides as directed) and made a huge, and I do mean HUGE ham ring. It came out just fine.

The sauce was pretty easy to make although I must say the color was off-putting. Remember mixing your ketchup and mustard together on a plate and then dipping your meatloaf in it? (Well, at least I did!). Well, that’s the look we had going on. But it was tasty and that was all that mattered.

And so in the end, The Ham Book redeemed itself but alas, it gets put back on the shelf, never to be used for the blog again. Rules are rules. One recipe only, not exceptions unless I decide to make one; I feel I’m good as is.

In a complete about face from my usual scalloped potatoes, I decided I was in the mood for macaroni and cheese and remembered that Gael Greene’s book had a recipe that sounded yummy. (Thought for the day: Is it because I was deprived of mac and cheese as a child that I am so fixated on it?) And indeed, the recipe turned out to be fantastic. But oh my word, reading her book to get to the recipes was another story.

For those of you who don’t know, Gael Greene was a well-known food writer/critic for the New York magazine. Well, perhaps it was a stretch to say “well-known” since she tried to remain anonymous as much as possible and is famous for her many hats that hid her face from inquiring restaurant servers. Gael also spent two seasons as a judge on Top Chef Masters, a show I far prefer to the original, Top Chef (although careful readers will note that I watch the original show all the same). This year they changed the format and so Gael will only guest star. Bummer, that. (P.S. - Gael still writes about food - check out her Insatiable Critic blog -

Anyway, back to her book. It’s been a while since I read it but back in her youth she was known more for… well…shall we say sexual exploits than her culinary skills (thus the title)? Not that I’m a prude but I’m not always comfortable with books like this because I feel like a peeping Tom (or rather a peeping Ann). My best advice to Gael and to Paula Dean (who also wrote a similar book) is “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” I’ll forgive Gael though since the mac and cheese was exactly what I wanted.

And there you have it, Easter 2011. Questions?

Glazed Ham Ring with Red Devil Sauce – 8-10 servings
Ham ring
About 1 pound ground cooked ham
1 pound ground beef
½ cup chopped onion
¾ cup fine cracker crumbs
1 egg, slightly beaten
½ ten-ounce can tomato soup
½ ten-ounce can tomato soup
1 egg, slightly beaten
2 tablespoons prepared mustard
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon sugar

Preheat the oven to 350.

Combine the ingredients for the ham ring and mix well. Pack lightly into a ring mold or form in a ring on an inch deep baking sheet or pack lightly into a 9 ½ x 5 x 3 inch loaf pan. Brush with Red Devil sauce before and during backing. Bake for about 1 hour. Pour off excess fat and let stand 5 minutes, then turn out on a platter. Fill the center of the ring with warm potato salad, whipped potatoes or green peas with small potatoes. Serve with Red Devil Sauce. (But caution: if you plan to serve the sauce on the side, make sure to put it in a separate bowl, otherwise you will cross-contaminate your food!)

To make the sauce, combine all ingredients and cook, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens. I used medium heat.

Almost Like Mom’s Macaroni and Cheese – serves 2 as a main course, 4 as a side dish…or just me!

Olive oil spray or ½ tbsp mild-flavored olive oil, plus 1 tbsp for tossing later
½ lb small elbow macaroni
1 tbsp salt
2 ½ cups shredded or chopped firm cheese (Gael notes “Needless to say, my mother used Velveeta, but I make this with sharp cheddar and Emmentaler, half and half. Once I threw in some leftover Brie, a triple crème from France, and a half cup of crème fraiche and the result was celestial.”)
Optional: ½ cup chopped baked ham or snipped crisp bacon
1 cup whole milk
1 ½ tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
4 tbsp fine dry bread crumbs
¼ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Preheat oven to 350.

Spray the bottom and sides of a shallow 6-cup metal baking dish with olive oil spray. Bring several quarts of water to a rolling boil. Add tablespoon salt. Boil macaroni until just tender: Drain well. Immediately turn macaroni into baking dish (a flat baking pan gives more crispiness than a loaf pan). Use a pan that can go under the broiler later. Toss macaroni with tablespoon of olive oil. Then add (cheddar) cheese, optional ham or bacon, milk, salt and freshly ground pepper and mix well.

Bake in the oven for 10 minutes, then remove from oven, close oven door, and stir. Taste for seasoning. Sprinkle fresh bread crumbs and grated Parmigiano on top. Bake another 15 minutes. If there is still some milk in the bottom, return to the oven for another 5 to 10 minutes. If topping has not browned and crisped like Mom’s used to, stick it under the broiler (three or four inches away from heat) and brown, watching so it doesn’t burn.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

"Good Things to Eat Are Hard to Beat - United Methodist Church, Mason City, IA" - Chicken Casserole

Date I made this recipe: April 3, 2011

Good Things to Eat Are Hard to Beat – A Cookbook from First United Methodist Church – Mason City, Iowa – 1977

© 1977

Recipe – Chicken Casserole – submitted by LaVonne Oleson – p. 151

“We’re on a mission from God…” Elwood Blues (Dan Aykroyd) – The Blues Brothers

People, I couldn’t help but think of this line from The Blues Brothers movie during my week-long quest to find a casserole to make. And not just any casserole, no sir. I had ideas. Big ideas. It just took me a while to get there.

This all started a week ago when I suddenly developed a craving for a shepherd’s pie (sans lamb). This was all very simple—I wanted ground beef, cream of mushroom soup (naturally) and veggies, topped with mashed potatoes. In theory, finding a recipe among my 1300 cookbooks should have been a slam-dunk; in reality, not so much.

I found ground beef, tomato soup, green beans and mashed potatoes and that was a no. I found a couple of tater tot recipes, one of which had no vegetables (WHAT???) and one that called for only peas. But I wasn’t interested in tater tots. I wanted mashed potatoes.

I found an inordinate number of recipes for ground beef and corn (mostly from Iowa community cookbooks) but no. I found a few recipes for ground beef and hash brown and once again no.

Nothing I found seemed to do the trick. So I thought about life as we know it and then changed my search to chicken and noodles and maybe some broccoli thrown in. And again, you would think this would be easy but hell, no!

I found plenty of chicken divan recipes but those didn’t contain noodles. Then there were your chicken and rice recipes and while I loved rice, now I was obsessed with noodles.

There were plenty of recipes for chicken and soup, chicken and broccoli and soup, chicken and stuffing (tempting…but no) and on and on. There was Mexican chicken, Peruvian chicken, Moroccan chicken but no freaking chicken and noodles and cream of mushroom soup.

I was on the edge of despair. I pulled everything off the shelf that I thought could yield the recipe I wanted but no. I can tell you that a cookbook for three-star meals did not contain said recipe, nor did the Junior League of the City of New York yield what I wanted. It goes without saying that none of my international cookbooks had anything nor did any of my Jewish cookbooks (The cream of mushroom soup alone disqualified them, never mind the milk I had to add to a chicken casserole. Jewish recipes do not mix meat and dairy.).

But finally, just when all hope was lost, I once again reviewed my community cookbooks and voila, there was a chicken casserole recipe containing…wait for it…chicken AND cream of mushroom soup AND milk and noodles! No broccoli was harmed in the making of this dish but such is life. I was just happy as hell to finally score something that satisfied my craving. But I was halfway to my pantry to start pulling ingredients when…wait a second…aw nuts! I have to mix up the ingredients and refrigerate the concoction for 24 hours. Shoot.

And so I had a minor setback, so what? My mission from God was complete. I bought the few ingredients that I needed, mixed up my casserole, refrigerated it and then on Sunday popped the thing in the oven for 1 hour and…ahhhhhh. “Heaven, I’m in heaven….”

Now I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t express a few concerns. First, I try not to cook from community cookbooks seeing as you all will likely have a hard time getting your hands on the same book. But when a craving hits, a craving hits and that’s all there is to it.

Second, two cans of mushroom soup (plus ½ tsp of salt plus 13 ¾ oz chicken broth—what’s up with that) might be a bit much for those concerned about their salt intake. I am not a big salt person and didn’t find it super-salty but I definitely tasted the salt in the soup. That being said, I hesitated using reduced sodium soup because it was not as god intended and I wasn’t sure if the taste would fall flat or not.

Third, green pepper is a major ingredient in most community cookbook recipes and yet I’m not overly fond of it. And so I left it out and call the Iowa State Police already, I don’t care.

But other than that (“…Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play”) this worked for me. I actually like the fact that all I had to do was pop this in the oven on Sunday and that was that.

Now that the weather is warming up, I should be done with the need for this kind of casserole although one never knows. My latest craving is not for another casserole but rather another viewing of The Blues Brothers, if nothing else to hear them utter the word “penguin.” (“Penguin” is what we called the nuns in my Catholic grade school…among other things that cannot be repeated in mixed company.) Blockbuster, here I come!

Chicken Casserole – serving size not indicated

2 cups chicken (diced, cooked) or ham, beef, etc.)
2 cups (8 oz.) macaroni (uncooked)
2 cans mushroom soup (I’m pretty sure she meant Cream of Mushroom)
1 soup can milk
1 (13 ¾ oz.) can chicken broth (or substitute)
1 small onion (finely chopped)
½ green pepper (finely diced)
1 (2 oz.) jar pimiento (diced)
1 (5 oz.) can water chestnuts (finely sliced)
½ pound Cheddar cheese (grated)
½ teaspoon salt

In 9 x 13 inch pan, refrigerate overnight the above ingredients, well mixed. Bake at 350 for 1 hour.