Gift of ham from generous parents will just keep on giving
by Alan Reed
Mar 21, 2007 | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In addition to being my friend Martha Smith’s birthday, March 17 also happens to be St. Patrick’s Day. Like every good man of Irish, err, Lithuanian descent, I had planned to cook corned beef and cabbage for the Cadiz Record crew, until fate intervened.

On Friday night, Hawkins’ parents invited us to dinner at their house in Madisonville. His mother Laura prepared a pork roast, with green beans, mashed potatoes and a very tasty fresh fruit salad. His father Randall and I tried a number of different condiments on our roast, including Dawson Spring Barbecue Sauce, horseradish brown mustard and maple syrup. After dinner, the Teague’s announced they had started a diet and would give Hawkins some of the foods proscribed by their plan. One of the items received was a large ham. With no room in my freezer or in Hawkins’, we had to cook the ham the next day.

I didn’t take too close of a look at the big, frozen ham the night before, and had prepared to spend all day baking the meat. It came as no small surprise to learn that the ham was precooked. Though frozen and cold, it still needed to be heated. The meat itself had a peppery exterior, some black pepper infusion and had been de-boned.

To bake the ham, I started with a good glaze. The glaze used a quarter-cup of well-packed brown sugar, 12-ounces of lemon-lime soda, a teaspoon of cinnamon, the juice from a can of pineapple, and a quarter teaspoon of nutmeg. I had some ginger-root left over from last week, so I grated in a teaspoon for a little extra spice. With the ginger, I decided that the glaze needed just a teaspoon of soy sauce. Mix everything very well.

To prepare the ham, I scored the top with a knife in a checkerboard pattern. At each corner, I pushed a whole clove into the meat, and then basted the ham with the glaze. I used toothpicks to pin all of the pineapple rings to the top, and also a few maraschino cherries in the middle of each ring. As I said, the ham still needed to be heated, and the directions called for baking for 20 minutes per pound at 325 degrees. If your ham is uncooked, use a meat thermometer to record the temperature in the deepest, meatiest part of your meat, but not against the bone. When it reaches 160 degrees, it is done. To ensure a juicy, sweet ham, I basted the meat every half hour with left-over glaze and the juices in the pan. A good, slow cooking bakes the glaze and spicy-sweet flavor into the meat, and candies the pineapple and cherries on top.

We did not have a roasting pan to accommodate the meat, so I bought an aluminum roasting pan and placed it on a large baking sheet because the aluminum was not stout enough to support the weight of the ham. The package did not give the weight of the meat, so I guessed about 12 pounds. After four hours, the ham was hot, tender and juicy. Hawkins said that he was not a big ham fan, but with the sweet glaze contrasting with the spicy pepper exterior, and the tenderness from slow cooking and basting, he admitted he was impressed.

Any time you have such a nice main course, I like to balance things out with a few side dishes. For the St. Paddy’s meal, I decided to have sort of a compliment-and-contrast theme with two dishes mimicking the sweet-and-spicy ham, and one to contrast. As I said with cooking, side dishes that use some of the same ingredients compliment the main course create an overall theme. To do this, I made one dish of carrots similar to the ones served at Bern’s Steakhouse in Tampa, Fla. I grated about two cups of carrots and steamed them with a tablespoon of water in a small sauce pan. To season the carrots, I added a teaspoon of butter, a tablespoon of grated orange peel, a half teaspoon of grated ginger root, a tablespoon of brown sugar and the juice of half of the orange. My mother told me that Burns uses cherry liquor in their carrots. Sadly, I had nothing of the sort, so I tried a teaspoon of the syrup of the maraschino cherries. I added a quarter cup of pecans, too. Steam it in a small sauce pan, with the lid on until the carrots are slightly tender. The flavor was similar to Bern’s, and nobody complained at all! I had to deem it a success.

I cannot imagine serving ham without some yams. With so many other side dishes, I did not get too crazy with the amount cooked. Just take a small can (10-12 ounces) add two tablespoons of brown sugar, and a tablespoon of butter. Stir the yams in a pan until it has a mashed, but slightly chunky texture, the sugar and butter melt, and until everything is good and warm.

To contrast the sweetness of the ham, carrots and sweet potatoes, I made German potato salad. The potato salad has a starchy-vinegar taste that clears the palate when overwhelmed by brown sugar in the other dishes. Dice three cups-worth of Irish baking potatoes and boil them until tender. Baking potatoes work best because they have a floury texture and crumble when cook. Most recipes call for peeled potatoes, but I left the skins on, if only because I like potato skins. If you feel differently, peel them before cooking. Once boiled, drain the potatoes and set them aside. Brown four slices of bacon in a skillet and reserve them as well. In the bacon drippings, sauté one small onion, diced finely, until translucent. Bring a quarter-cup of apple cider vinegar to a slow boil in a large pan. Add two tablespoons of water, three tablespoons of white sugar, a teaspoon of salt, and a teaspoon each of mustard seed and celery seed. For color and flavor, I added a tablespoon of parsley, and a quarter teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper and an equal amount of paprika. Once the sugar dissolves, dump the potatoes back in with the onions and two of the bacon slices, crumbled well. Mix everything completely. The potatoes should crumble slightly. Use the rest of the bacon as a topping when the salad is warm.

I had planned to cook some biscuits with the meal, but the oven was full of ham unfortunately. It was a big ham, with enough to feed an entire army. We sounded the alarm to invite everyone we could to join us. Eric Snyder had plans, while none of Hawkins’s friends were available. We did find Matt Martini, who made the drive in from Murray. He said that he loved the potato salad, never seeing it slightly chunky as I served it. The side dishes would have served four, and the ham, well, don’t be surprised if every recipe in my column features ham for the rest of my life! Every plate had carrots, yams, and potato salad, with a generous cut of ham topped with a little pineapple and a few cherries. We dipped it in some of the pan’s drippings before serving for a sweet sauce.

After dinner, and with full bellies, we watched the 1978 film, “Superman, The Movie.” I have always been partial to “Superman II,” based on Terrance Stamp’s performance as “General Zod,” though I will leave the film reviews to my colleague. Whether it was due to the lengthy, slow-paced film or a full stomach, I found myself a bit sleepy during the film, but not so much that I could no prepare the perfect dessert for a sweet and spicy ham- a pumpkin pie. I admit that after a long day, I did not feel like cooking from scratch, and took a shortcut with a frozen pie. Matt and Hawkins agreed that the pie had been a good selection for the meal, which was probably a few weeks early for Easter. Maybe that’s when I’ll make corned beef and cabbage. With the great gift of a ham, some tasty side dishes and a sweet dessert, a good time was had by all, even if the film was a bit slow and campy. Good eating.
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