Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Christmas Meatloaf

I lied.  I'm not going to talk about My Enemy From the Deep, The Lobster, today.  (But I look forward to that conversation.)  It being post -Christmas and pre-New Year's, I must talk about our Christmas meal.

I've never made a big holiday meal before.  There's something about the holidays that invites giant enormous meals.  I mean, I'm definitely up for the challenge of cooking something big and yummy at any other time of the year, but for some reason Cooking Around the Holidays is daunting.  I suppose because cooking a meal for your family, at this time of year in particular, makes one a Grown Up.  You become like all the women before you in your family who were suddenly expected to feed everyone.  I suppose that in making my first sizable Christmas meal, I'm morphing from Pennie into Mrs Cuevas.  Or Mom.  Yikes.

But anyway.  I went grocery shopping with my mother in law recently, and we spent so much that we earned a certificate for a) a free ham, or b) $10 worth of groceries.  We chose the ham, of course, because we figured it was a steal (not knowing that the ham they were offering costs about 10 bucks anyway).  My husband had just suggested that I cook on Christmas Day, and the Free Ham sealed my fate.

So I tried to plan the rest of the meal.  In my head, large holiday meals include more than one kind of meat.  Turkey at Thanksgiving is accompanied by pernil.  In my family, we always seem to have at least 3 kinds of animal present.  My second meat had to be something tender, something that my mother in law, who is 80 and wears dentures, could enjoy, in case the ham was too tough.  LAMB, of course!  I made a lamb shoulder once, years ago, and man that was delectable.  Melts in your mouth.  However, I brought that lamb from a farmer's market, and I couldn't find lamb shoulder at the damn supermarket.   I settled on chops.  Very simple to cook and tender enough, right?

Now, the ham recipe.  For recipes and ideas, I always go to  This site RULES.  It's so awesome.  It's well organized, has tons of user feedback.  I've been going there for years and everything I've tried has always been delicious.  I used this recipe - HAM!

By the way, I really like exploring new foods and new ways of cooking.  This recipe calls for Worcestershire (I'm pretty sure I'm saying it wrong every time.  Wustershur?) sauce, something I've never used before and seldom eaten, and liquid smoke flavoring, something I'd never even heard of.  And I love them both SO MUCH I keep putting them in everything.  GOD it's good.

But I digress.  This is what my gorgeous ham looked like after 8 hours overnight in the oven:

 Yeah, I had to get a little ghetto with the pan because I realized too late I don't have a proper roasting pan.  So I used a smaller pan and covered it with a shit ton of foil.  (Maybe the drippings spilled over onto the bottom of the oven and burned and my husband made me get up at 6 am to check it and maybe I woke up Claudia who screamed for about three quarters of an hour because she'd been woken up before she was ready.  Maybe.)  Worked well enough - that meat was really tender and fell apart as soon as I took the bone out.  I don't know if I "deboned" it properly - when I was done it looked more like pulled pork than ham, as in I couldn't slice it the way I'm  used to seeing ham sliced.  Hmm.

Anywho, the recipe then calls for the ham to be covered in a mixture of the ham drippings, brown sugar, honey, and the Worcestershire and liquid smoke flavoring.  I also added a cherry glaze my husband found, and:

Looks pretty good, right?  'CAUSE IT WAS.  When he woke up, I told him the ham was so damn good he'd want to marry me again.

So in addition to the ham and lamb chops (which I seasoned with salt, pepper, and fresh rosemary), I made scalloped potatoes and spinach tomato couscous.  Both from a box, because 1- I am not above it, and 2- I didn't want to be cooking all day.  Now, the meal went over like gangbusters.  My husband loved it, our daughter ate some of it without complaining before spitting it out like she does with all of her food these days, et cetera.

the lamb

some of the ham + the potatoes
that's me, all tarted up on Christmas Day, with the first plate

My mother in law enjoyed it too. In the only manner she could.

As I mentioned before, my dear husband's mother is getting on in years and has long since said goodbye to her teeth.  As such, she often fusses over her food, which of course is understandable.  No one wants to cut their gums on a piece of bread.  When I served her (after cutting up the lamb into bite-size pieces, and tossing the bones), she said she'd really enjoy it more if she put it in the food processor, which she does with her food often.  Okeydokey, I said.

I figured she was talking about the meats.  What actually happened was she combined the ham, lamb, potatoes AND couscous ("Coo coo?  Foo foo?  Oh it was delicious dear.") into a brown lump that sat in the middle of her plate.  She called it a meatloaf.  I call it baby food.  But no matter.  As long as she enjoyed it.  I'm not offended in the least.

Well, not really.

(Maybe a little.)

The funny thing is, although she has no teeth and is therefore very picky about her food, she has the worst sweet tooth (no pun intended) of anyone I've ever met.  She never purees cookies.

Feliz Navidad.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Texas Chili dun have beans!

Since I last wrote, Fetus has made his entrance into the world.  Meet Max:

He’s two months now, and a doll.  He's like a camel, or his eyes are at least; big dark eyes with long lashes.  For those interested, the labor was 7 hours long (less than half of how long it took to get his sister out).  I was quite rudely woken up at 2am with regular contractions and he was out at 9:10.  I had been, as it turns out, 4 cm dilated before labor even started.  Five minutes of pushing.  It was as smooth a labor and delivery as I could have hoped for.

But enough about that.  This is a food blog and placentas need not apply.  (I’m honestly not sure I would be into that.  Eating it, I mean.)  So anyway, I love Top Chef.  My husband doesn’t.  What irritates him most appears to be the portions that appear in fine dining.  “I’m hungry!  Where’s the rest of the food?  I wanna be fed!”  While I have never fine dined like the kind of fine dining they often do on Top Chef, he has.  He always felt hungry afterwards.  So he has a modicum of contempt for the whole thing, for poor Padma Lakshmi (“She’s not a chef.  Why the hell should they listen to her?”), for reality shows in general.  (He’s forever getting on my case about reality shows.)  “You make ze meal!  And zen we eat eet!  And zen ve jodge you!”  Unfortunately, Top Chef is not something that we can enjoy together.

So he didn’t see the recent chili cook off episode with me.  I first made chili about two years ago.  I found a recipe for it in the New York Metro (a free newspaper that workers near subway station exits press on you every weekday morning).  I’ve been unable to find that recipe again since, which is unfortunate because that chili was BADASS.  It was pretty dark, so it probably called for more chili powder and cumin than I’ve gotten into the habit of using, but it was really good.

The thing about this Top Chef episode was that this season they are in Texas, and as locals were so eager to point out (bless their Texy souls), Texas chili does NOT have beans in it.   That first recipe I used called for beans and meat, and I always put both in my chili.  I like it that way.  I think it’s hearty.  In fact I don’t think I’ve ever had chili without beans; but then again, I’m a damn Yank.

Nevertheless, I like to think of chili the same way I think of stew; an amalgamation of a bunch of different things.  The more stuff, I think, the better.  This chili that I made the other day was more…amalgamated than usual.

That there is spaghetti sauce, chopped onion, red kidney beans, and corn - a new addition.  The hubs requested corn, so I decided to throw it into the chili instead of serving on the side.  Made it rather sweet.

And here are two of my loves, my kitchen mainstays.  Sofrito and recaito are flavored bases often used in Hispanic cooking; I have a tendency to use them often.  Sofrito is, as you can see if you squint, a tomato base, and recaito is a cilantro base.  About a tablespoon of each glopped onto half of what I cook packs a nice wallop.  (These bases are what give yellow Spanish rice its flavor and what makes it yellow.  Took me forever to figure that one out.)  Snootier Puerto Rican cooks will yap about how they make their own from scratch, but I'm not quite there yet.  Store bought does just fine for now.

Here's an interesting one: our friend Celery.  (My mother in law has recently been trying to get me to drink Cel-ray, which is apparently a celery flavored soda.  She keeps saying it's good; I keep saying I'll take her word for it.)  I don't really use celery a lot; usually only in chicken soup when I'm sick.  But I had some left over from the last time I made said soup, and I was using a lot more vegetables in this here chili, so why the hell not.

I also used some chopped garlic (the little jarred type):

Yes, I'm too lazy to use fresh garlic.  I find that when I buy it fresh I don't use it fast enough.

Observe: the Sodium Collection.  What I seasoned the chili with, and, indeed, what I season almost everything with (except for the Murphy's Oil Soap in the background that I just realized is there....).  I'm like Giada; "a little bit of salt and a little bit of pepper" goes into practically everything.  Sea salt is healthy right?....

And now THE HUNK OF GROUND BEEF!  What meat eater doesn't like a hunk of ground beef?  I would have liked to use ground pork, which I've used as a burger before and I found it surprisingly lean and yummier than I expected, but I only had le boeuf.  I usually smoosh it up with my fingers and season it a bit before browning, but I was lazy that day.  And also hungry. 

I do not, sadly have a picture of the finished product, because it, well, got eated pretty quick and I forgot to take a picture of it before it got devoured.  You know, I didn't hate it, buuuut I didn't love it either.  It was a little too vegetable-y.  I think I'll skip the celery next time.

Next time I'll write about that most fearsome of creatures: the Lobster.