Saturday, January 1, 2011

Eating for Luck: New Year's Day Soup (with more Christmas ham)

For as long as I can remember, my family has eaten a traditionally Southern lucky meal on New Year's day: black eyed peas, cooked greens and pork for a little health, wealth and progress. I'm truly afraid to know what my year will be like if I don't eat this meal, so that hasn't changed since starting my own family. What has changed is the amount of time and effort I put into this meal - far less than my mom does every year when she roasts a pork loin and spends the afternoon making hoppin' john and collard greens. That tradition changed a couple of years ago when I was simply too tired and hung-over to consider the thought.

Instead, I've found a terrifically easy Southern Living recipe for New Year's Day Soup, complete with black eyed peas, spinach and, you guessed it, leftover Christmas ham! The best part is that most of the effort involves opening cans. I love to serve this with cornbread (hint for the truly lazy, like me: Trader Joe's cornbread mix is better than anything I can make homemade and also super easy). Though I'm not hung-over this year, I am pregnant which, on most days, feels about the same as having had too much to drink. So, minimal effort is still key!

If you have never eaten a lucky meal on New Year's, it's not too late to start... just start with this soup. Best of luck to you in the new year!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

101 Things to Do with Leftover Christmas Ham

Okay, so I may not know of exactly 101 things to do with the 3 pounds of Virginia ham I have leftover from the holidays, but I'm on a mission to use every salty scrap - and no one in this family is going to eat another ham biscuit or ham roll to make it happen (especially not me since I'm back to wheat-free living after a gluten-ous holiday). So I'm still basking in the glow of what I threw together tonight: Risotto Milanese southern style. Heavenly, IMO.

What I love about risotto is that it is like a blank canvas - like pizza, when you use this method of cooking you can add whatever herbs, vegetables, meats, and cheeses you have on hand and it will probably be good as long as you don't add too many. And you can make it with whatever grain you have on hand. I have successfully made risotto with bulgar wheat, brown rice and the standard Arborio rice. The one challenge is that it demands attention, so having a two-year old running around is not always optimal... but slightly older kids can easily participate by stirring the rice constantly.

While the traditional Italian risotto Milanese is made with prosciutto, I made it using country ham. For those of you who haven't experienced a Virginia ham, this salt-cured specialty is a tradition dating back to early American colonialists. It's very salty and, unlike a honey-baked ham or others, I look at this ham as an accompaniment, not a main dish - a little goes a long way - very much like Italian prosciutto which is dry-cured. That's why it's perfect for this dish. Additionally, I threw in some peas to make this a complete meal, but it would make a rich side-dish for just about any meat.

Risotto Milanese Southern Style

2 T olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
Large pinch saffron threads
1/4 cup chopped ham
1 cup Aborio or other short- or medium-grain rice
Kosher salt and black pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
4-5 cups hot stock
1 T butter 1/4 cup fresh grated parmesan
1/2 cup cooked fresh peas

  1. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil on medium-high in a nonstick skillet. When oil is hot, add onion, ham and saffron, cooking until the onion is soft and translucent.
  2. Add the rice and cook until it's glossy and coated with oil, about a minute or two.
  3. Add the wine to deglaze the pan and let the liquid cook off.
  4. Add stock (I prefer chicken but you can use vegetable or beef) 1/2 cup at a time, stirring after each addition. When the stock is just about evaporated, add more stirring frequently. Be careful to keep the rice moist enough that it does not stick to the pan.
  5. Taste after about 20 minutes. When the rice is tender but is still slightly al dente, after 20-30 minutes, add peas with last 1/2 cup of stock and season with salt as needed. After most of the liquid is absorbed, remove from heat and add one tablespoon of butter, pepper and cheese to taste. Serve immediately.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Basic Gluten Free Banana Bread Recipe

In my quest to plan for a gluten-free, vegan Christmas dinner that suits various family members (not an easy task, might I add), I came across this simple banana bread recipe that meets both requirements on the Book of Yum blog (if using egg substitute). I like this recipe because it doesn't require ten different flours and xanthan gum like most g/f recipes. I can say it was a success and I'm now enjoying a most piece of banana bread, my first in a long time. YUM is right.

For this recipe, I made my own rice flour by washing, drying and grinding basmati rice in my coffee grinder. I will say that although it feels smooth to the touch, it tastes a little gritty when used in baking. I may soon break down and buy either a grain mill or actual rice flour, but for now it's so cheap and easy (with a little planning) to do make my own this way - especially when I've already purchased 1000 lbs of rice at my favorite wholesale warehouse! I'm just thrilled that I may not have to forgo all my favorite quick breads in my efforts to avoid wheat... Smile.

Mission Impossible Week Two: A Spending Freeze

Week two is long over and once again, my budget was blown this week after my husband went to Costco. Without me. He took my short list and decide to add to it quite a bit. I can't say I blame him, though, for buying that box of sweet potatoes (although I already had ten of them sitting on the counter) or the five pound bag of frozen blueberries (despite the fact we had one-and-a-half bags in the freezer already). We do eat a lot of them. And he was easily seduced into grabbing the gourmet frozen meatballs after that little sample he and our son tried - although I already bought pounds of ground beef and ground turkey to make homemade meatballs... Whatever. If I did the math and had an accountant to amortize all of the food he bought, then we'd probably be a-o.k. budget wise.... so I'll try not to sweat it this month. (cringe)

One of the reasons he was so excited to "stock up" at Costco (a.k.a. Disney World for adult men) is because we recently purchased a chest freezer. In our previous house we had two refrigerators which was a Godsend. Now we have the world's smallest refrigerator. We debated on whether we should get another one or just a freezer and the freezer won out - mostly because of the cost. Chest freezers are much less expensive than refrigerators (we bought ours at Sears for $170) and with a little know-how, one can freeze a lot... and save a lot of money.

By my calculation, buying a freezer was the most economical decision. I figured it costs us $.46/day or $3.26/week in its first year - and by then it's more than earned it's keep. Buying wholesale chicken breasts alone saves us $3/pound! My other favorite meats to freeze are inexpensive stew meat and pork shoulder - both are great crock pot meats and can be used in stew, tacos, and bbq recipes, among others. Suffice it to say, after the last trip to Costco I will not be buying meat for months.

Meat is not the only thing the freezer is good at preserving. I freeze just about everything - here are a few items we freeze that save us a ton of money:
  • Cheese: split up a 5 lb bag of shredded mozzarella into ziplock bags (2 cups each) and you're set for many pizza nights to come! Once thawed, use quickly since the extra moisture can lead to quick mold growth.
  • Vegetables: Whenever I have extra onions and peppers that are getting old, I slice or dice them and freeze them flat on a cookie sheet. Once they are frozen, put into a ziplock bag and use when needed. They work well in cooking but are not so great fresh.
  • Mashed Potatoes, cooked rice: make extra and freeze in ziplock. Put in boiling water to thaw when ready to use. Saves lots of time!
  • Extra broth and soups
  • Any leftovers: I always freeze one or two servings of leftovers we really like in individual serving containers - that way I can pull them out quickly when I don't feel like cooking or my husband can take them for lunch.
  • Bread: make bread crumbs from the heels of a loaf of bread and freeze.
Here's a quick guide to freezing just about anything!