Saturday, April 28, 2012

Baked ham

Now that I've finished my Paris recap, I thought I should go back and update on how Easter brunch went. According to SP's final count, we served brunch to 63 adults and children, followed by stories, a massive Easter egg hunt, and various other shenanigans. As far as I could tell from the middle of the kitchen whirlwind, a good time was had by all, including me. Serving food to 63 people is a new record for me, and, as always, my worries about undercatering turned out to be ridiculously unfounded.

Baked ham with a sweet and spicy glaze
I concocted this recipe to glaze about 25 lbs worth of ham (in 3 large pieces), so you might want to scale back accordingly--1 cup of liquid total is probably fine for one regular ham.

1 cup wholegrain mustard
1 cup blood orange juice
1/2-1 cup maple syrup
1-2 Tbsp dry mustard
1 tsp cayenne pepper
3 hams, each weighing around 8 lbs*

Mix the first three ingredients in a small saucepan and bring just to a boil, then let simmer and thicken slightly. Taste before adding dry mustard and cayenne to see if the sweet/tart/spicy balance is to your taste; I like mine more on the tart/spicy side, which is why I started with less maple syrup. (I ended up using about 1 cup of it in the end, proportional to the other ingredients.)

When glaze components are balanced to your liking and you are ready to bake your ham, preheat the oven to 275F and place the ham in a roasting pan with the fat side up. Pour glaze over the entire ham, using a pastry brush or similar to coat the whole surface and lifting ham up so that some of the glaze is in the pan underneath.

Cover ham with foil and put in the oven to heat through according to packaging instructions. (I usually estimate 10-15 minutes per lb.)

Slice and serve warm, pouring some of the glaze from the pan over the meat.

Serves a crowd, with leftovers.

* These instructions are for American baked hams, which are purchased already cured and cooked. Adjustments to cooking times will be required for uncooked meat.


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Paris recap

Hotel de Ville - possibly my favorite building in Paris
Well, I’m back. Returned from an all-too-brief sojourn in Paris, which was spent cramming in as much face time as possible with my colleagues (a pleasing amount of it in sidewalk cafés), along with a few jaunts to local landmarks and a fair amount of mooching around the Latin Quarter. I hadn’t been in Paris for more than a weekend in 20+ years, when I spent a few months there as a student, and it brought back a flood of memories—most of them positive. I was struck by that when talking to a younger friend of mine who was also visiting, whose first impressions of Paris years ago were overwhelmingly negative, and has never liked it much since as a result. It made me feel very fortunate that it’s firmly ensconced as one of my favorite cities, and it made me think about what it is that I love about it particularly. I came up with a few things:

Walkability. I walked more in Paris last week than I normally do in a month here in Missouri. I lived as a carless person for more than 10 years, and walking is one of my favorite activities and modes of transport. Central Paris is chockablock with interesting stuff to see, do, and eat, but is pretty contained for such a major city, so you can walk for a half-hour or an hour, see a lot, and get to any number of destinations. And if you get fed up with walking, there’s bound to be either a nice café or a Métro stop not too far away—both of which make walking a much more feasible prospect.

Reality. Yes, Paris is a huge tourist destination, and as a result is riddled with the cultural caricatures and commercial junk thought to appeal to the perceived lowest common denominator of taste and experience. But alongside that—sometimes literally—it is Parisian business as usual, the daily business of millions of people living and working in a complex urban ecosystem that has been growing and developing for centuries as the cultural and commercial heart of France, and which can absorb the vagaries of tourists along with any number of other incidents that occur in the daily round. Case in point: my visit to E. Dehillerin, the renowned kitchen store, where local chefs and clueless visitors are treated with the same brisk courtesy, and where the complicated system of actually making a purchase (involving at least 3 employees) remains unchanged, regardless of how many people are in line. It may not be the most convenient way, but it’s their way, and I’m glad to have experienced it.

Food. Of course, French food is known worldwide, and justly so. Having said that, it is possible to get mediocre or even lousy meals in Paris, and I’ve had a few. But what I really love about food in Paris is how it is taken for granted as a central part of daily life, and the infrastructure is ordered accordingly. This means that, cliché or not, you really are never far from a café or a small market. There are open-air markets in the busiest parts of the city, and in this age of big-box chain everything, everywhere, I saw multiple independent butchers, bakers, fishmongers, and pastry shops just in the part of the 5th arrondissement where I was staying and working, less than 10 minutes’ walk from throngs of tourists at Notre-Dame. (The contrast with where I live now, where the nearest supermarket is a 20-minute drive away, couldn’t be more striking.)

And so, back to realities of daily life here in the Midwest, where there are no warm chaussons de pommes and café crème waiting for me around the corner at breakfast time. But it’s nice to know that they’re out there somewhere.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Bonsoir Paris

Bonsoir mes amis! Sorry I didn't manage to mention this sooner, but I'll be spending this week in Paris--ostensibly for work meetings, but really to consume as much stinky cheese and patisserie as is humanly possible in 5+ days. Here's the view from my hotel room in the Latin Quarter--if you've got any recommendations on must-try Paris eats, especially in this part of town, send them along. I haven't been here for 10 years and want to get to the good stuff without any delays.

More updates to follow...

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Sweet/Tart

I believe my love of rhubarb is well documented here. I first encountered it when I was already an adult, so I’ve had to make up for a lot of lost time. I can rarely pass it up when I see it for sale, and it’s unparalleled as a conversation starter in the checkout line. If you, like me, have a salt/tart tooth (as opposed to a sweet tooth) and you haven’t tried rhubarb, don’t waste any more of your life missing out on it.

I was fortunate enough to find an early batch in the midst of preparing a selection of homemade jams to stockpile for Easter brunch. I debated about pairing it up with something else—either its most famous partner, strawberry, or my more recent discovery, apple—but in the end I decided to let it stand alone.

Rhubarb jam
I based this recipe, as usual, on Dinner with Julie’s simple formula for jam without a recipe, using the higher ratio of sugar to compensate for rhubarb’s characteristic tartness. This allowed the flavor of the rhubarb to shine through without being overpoweringly puckery.

4 cups rhubarb, chopped
2 cups sugar
2 Tbs lime juice

Combine all ingredients in a large pot over medium-high heat and stir to combine thoroughly. Continue stirring regularly while mixture comes to a boil; mash chunks of rhubarb with a potato masher or similar as they start to soften, to assist with breaking up and make the finished jam a more consistent texture. When mixture boils, lower heat as necessary and continue cooking until it has reduced and is starting to look like jam. (There are various tests you can use – thermometers, saucers in the freezer, and so on – but when I can draw a line across the bottom of the pan and see it for more than a few seconds, I shut the heat off.)

When it has cooled a bit, spoon into jars and refrigerate for immediate use. To can, follow the usual method and process in boiling water for 10 minutes.

This amount made 2 half-pint jars of jam with a bit left over.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter prep

Yikes! It's been too long since I put up a post. There's a lot going on at the moment. In addition to a last-minute solo trip back to Boston over last weekend, I also find myself having agreed to prepare Easter brunch for a scarily large number of people (ie more than 50(!)). And it's not even at my house! So there'll be more on that later. For now, here's a list of what I'm making:

- baked ham with a sweet and spicy glaze
- deviled eggs (something like this, but not as chunky)
- Neapolitan Easter pizza chiena
- lots and lots of scones
- a selection of homemade jams (including this and this)
- Italian Easter tarrale
- chocolate-coconut nests with jordan almond eggs (working off this coconut cluster recipe)
- sea breeze mimosas
- bloody marys
- shandy punch

Updates and photos to follow; in the meantime, I wish my fellow celebrants a very happy Easter, Chag Sameach to those celebrating Passover, and a lovely weekend to everyone else!
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