My Pandemic Diary, Entry #26

My Pandemic Diary, Entry #26

Hello Fellow City Cooks,

It’s Saturday morning and it’s drizzling so Mark and I decided we'd take no walk today.

After losing nearly all of yesterday to resuscitating my much-loved MAC -- which so far today is behaving itself -- I have a very long to-do list for this weekend. Mark and I are cleaning the apartment and I’ve already given the kitchen a really good scrub. The laundry I’d sworn to do but never did is now looming, I have a French lesson on Monday and I haven’t yet finished my homework, I need to replace my computer’s external hard drive where all my back-ups reside (as advised yesterday by one of the Apple geniuses), and there’s so much reading I want to do.  

Plus, it’s the weekend so I want to make at least one special meal, the menu for which got decided for me earlier this morning.

Cooking and Groceries

I decided last night to do another grocery store run, sooner than I had expected, given that I’d done such a big shop just a week ago. But I had seen too many stories on the news yesterday about the terrible problems in some of our meat packing facilities across the country – so many workers have become ill and plants are closing. These companies have to figure out how to conduct their business without risking employees, and in the meantime, the plant closings are likely to impact the food chain. In other words, there may be meat and chicken shortages.

This is what sent me to the market early this morning to buy some extra chicken and ground beef. I now have enough to get us through the next couple of weeks. I also got some fresh produce, including strawberries, cherry tomatoes, two bags of shredded cabbage that I’ll use for a coleslaw recipe I’ve wanted to try, and two very nice bunches of broccoli rabe. I had wanted some spinach but there wasn’t any. Likewise there was no bread flour. You never know what they might be out of.

But as I shopped the meat department (which was very amply stocked – not a shortage in sight), I struck gold. There, sitting in the chill case was a 9.1-pound bone-in hickory-smoked ham, also called a city ham. Ever since Easter week, I’ve been craving ham and wanted to find one that would be make several dinners, maybe also a lunch or two or with eggs for breakfast, and also have a bone that I could use for making pea soup. [A little culinary humor: What’s the definition of eternity? A ham and two people.] 

Before today I had called my favorite butchers from whom I would normally get a ham but they aren’t delivering. And the ones that do are so costly that I ruled out the whole ham idea entirely. I never thought I’d find one at my small neighborhood grocery store but there it was.

The ham I bought this morning is not fancy or nor is it a cured country or artisanal ham. It’s the kind of ham that only has to be reheated; this one will take about 2 hours at 275° F.  It’s also pre-sliced, which I wish were not the case as they can dry out while being reheated but I’ll watch it carefully. I was so blissed when I saw the ham that I forgot to think if I had anything to make a glaze. The ham came with its own little bag of something called “glaze and dipping sauce,” but aside from its flavor being teeth-aching sweet, its first ingredient was high fructose corn syrup so that went into the trash. But I later dug through all the little jars and bottles stashed on the door of my refrigerator and eureka, I found a half-used jar of red pepper jelly. Perfect! I’ll warm that until it’s liquefied and will brush it all over the ham. Because it’s pre-sliced, I will not score the ham’s surface into a traditional crosshatch. 

I plan to serve it with coleslaw; I have a recipe I’ve wanted to try that is seasoned with horseradish and poppy seeds that I think will counter the ham’s natural sweetness. Or else I’ll make a potato galette. I may also make a traditional hot mustard sauce that is from a treasure of a little cookbook called Aunt Freddie’s Pantry: Southern-Style Preserves, Jellies, Chutneys, Conserves, Pickles, Relishes, Sauces and What Goes With Them. Its title is almost as long as the book itself, seventy-two pages and forty-five recipes. It was written by Freddie Bailey, aunt of Lee Bailey, the celebrated author, designer, and tastemaker (I love that word), who wrote the foreword for his aunt’s book which was published in 1984. My copy was given to me by Roy Finamore, Lee Bailey’s long-time editor and a gifted food writer and author himself, and a lovely man.

I think the Hot Mustard Sauce is quite versatile and as Aunt Freddie, a true southern lady who was born in Louisiana and lived for many years in Nachez, Mississippi, wrote in her book, “My hot mustard sauce is so good on anything that requires mustard – especially on a smoked ham or a brisket sandwich, which I make from leftovers.”  Here’s her recipe which makes about 2 ½ cups:

4 ounces (1 large or 2 small cans) Coleman’s dry mustard
1 cup sugar
1 cup cider or distilled white vinegar
2 eggs

Combine all of the ingredients in a blender or food processor and mix until smooth.  Transfer the mixture to the top of the double boiler and cook over simmering water until thick. Spoon into a jar and refrigerate before serving. Will keep a long time, at least 6 months (refrigerated).

I’m going to bake the ham for tomorrow’s dinner so I’ll report in on Monday. For tonight I’m making something easy, a sliced sirloin steak that I plan to first marinade in fish sauce and lime juice (based on a NY Times recipe), plus two salads -- cucumber and radicchio.  Mark put a bottle of prosecco in the fridge to chill.  It’s Saturday night.

Stay safe and have a nice dinner.

Kate McDonough

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