Sunday, September 23, 2012

Deviled Ham... please, no spam

If someone were to ask me, "What's the most utterly disgusting thing you ever ate and actually LIKED?"  I'd pass over the sweet memory of chocolate-crusted insects  my 7th grade science teacher made the entire class eat and would shamelessly admit that "my thing" was a lovely pink mush packaged in a petite round tin, gift-wrapped in crisp white paper with bright red lettering and a mischievous pitchfork-toting, horn-headed devil. This mystical substance slathered between mayonnaised slices of wispy Wonder sans crust, cut two times two into triangles... this canned pet food-like substance... was my adolescent culinary bliss, especially if slammed before bitten into a crumb pile of Amish-made chips... the fancy ones with those lard-filled bubbles.  

My affinity for this pastel poo followed me well into the age of "you know better" and well beyond any justifiable excuse for label-reading ignorance.  I wouldn't dare read the ingredients label.  Why ruin it?  Surely it wouldn't exactly be a list that was truly "honest in content" anyway, considering a fire-breathing heathen from hell served as its spokes... uh, beast. 

It's been decades since I've ripped paper with a can of  Underwood Deviled Ham, a Spamettini of sorts, but if those neatly stacked cans to the left of the tuna catch my eye, the cravings pour in, and I know exactly what I have to do when I get home. I still, to this day, have no idea what I was actually eating back then. The white paper wrapper with its little red devil was quickly wadded into an aerodynamic ball and shot three-point style into the trash; a ritual performed as my nonchalant way to avoid exposing myself to any poison control warnings thereon with instructions to induce vomiting immediately. 

I should apologize to my organs and systems for introducing them to the toxic fluff, especially considering I've known my way around a kitchen from a fairly young age. But knowing your way around a kitchen and "how to prepare food" can actually be hazardous to your health and fringe on fruitlessness if what you're actually doing is experimenting with a chemistry set of ingredients from an industrialized/pharma-driven food nation.  Try to stumble upon food truths every day. It's right at our fingertips. We're not a bunch of imbecilic fools who don't know the difference between corporate and unadulterated real food, but it does seem to me sometimes that this natural instinct way of eating has been "modified" right out of us through corporate commercial brainwashings.   [end tangent].  

I certainly haven't sacrificed fulfilling my cravings for this mystically savory pink stuff, although it hasn't always been easy to meet the challenge of socking away enough leftovers from those too-few ham dinners we had on chosen holidays during the year to pulverize into a more civilized spread fit for human consumption.  But now that we raise our own sweet pigs in an organic and free-frolicking environment on our property, ham dinners have become a bit more commonplace around here. Lest  my appreciation threaten to wane for ham stuffed hard-boiled eggs, tea sandwiches, or gloppity spoonfuls directly from the mixing bowl, I only make it a few times a year... AND if I want the whole damn ham to grind out my guiltless pleasures, I'll just bake or simmer a whole butt, reserve a few choice slices for breakfast, and cleave the rest up 'cuz  the devil made me do it. 

It's as easy as whipping up a bowl of tuna salad, really, but I tend to go purist with mine in that only a processor will attain that authentic fine texture.  There's no sin in liking it chunky style, of course, and hand chopping with a sharp knife will do the trick if you're lacking in the whirly blade appliance department.  According to the blogger over at Pork, Knife and Spoon, "deviled" foods got their name from the "hot seasonings" worked into them. The only seasoning I use is a little freshly-ground black or pink peppercorns; the devil coming through in the horseradishy goodness of my favorite mustard:  Silver Springs Beer & Brat.  Plain yellow or any good-quality mustard will do, and there are certainly tons of specialty mustards to choose from these days.   

I once spent an unwarranted amount of cash on a wee jar of Maille whole grain Dijon because it was a key ingredient in the dressing Ruth Chris used on their chopped salad that I was so determined to replicate at home because... well, that luscious round mini tower of produce cost an unwarranted amount of cash and pipedreams of visits to Ruthie's house meant navigating beyond the boundaries of our modest "financial neighborhood."  The attempt to dupe the dressing was a major fail (it was that weird mustard, I swear); a labor- and ingredient-intensive salad "tossed."  Haven't made a second attempt to mimic Ms. Chris, yet, but I have managed to find other useful tasks for the gadgety mini tower mold Greg custom crafted for me out of PVC after nodding without eye-rolling (at least until he got out to his shop) through my overly-descriptive attempt to explain exactly what I needed and why.  

Having the good fortune of  the best life can offer in the meat department (our own backyard to basement storage freezer), I want to use the best quality, preferably organic, mix ingredients. We've always got a cupboard full of home-grown pickles jarred up, but I just love those jalapeno-stuffed or "World's Largest" olives on the shelves at Trader Joe's, so I use them instead of pickles sometimes.  A relish works if you like yours on the sweeter side.   

To Make Deviled Ham (oneflewover farm style):
  • Fill bottom of processor bowl with chunks of lean ham.  A wee bit of soft fat is good.  
  • Top with three or four "spaced out" generous clouds of homemade or best-quality mayo and one or two spurtles of your favorite mustard.  Whirl with two or three quick pulses, then add in large chunks of pickle (or olives); large so they don't totally dissipate into microscopic flecks.   
  • Another two or three quick pulses, then scrape down sides and up from bottom. Repeat short, quick pulse button pushing and thorough scrapings until blended uniformly to the texture you prefer, making any necessary ingredient additions along the way to get your desired result.   
  • Enjoy with hard-boiled eggs, downy soft white or crusty seeded rye (Triscuit's rye crackers are great for scooping),  or drop like a centerpiece atop your favorite salad greens. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Fresh Herb Butters and Succotash for the sufferin'

Sometimes a simple word will snag on my brain as it rolls off my tongue and I'll subliminally ponder where in the world that ubiquitous word originated anyway, and how ironic it is that it sounds so perfectly right for exactly what it is. Nowadays, the etymology of just about anything, whether confirmed fact or suspicious wive's tale, is but a quickie search and Wiki walk away.

           - oOo -
September is like the pentultimate checkpoint before the final curtain call on the plentitude of the "backyard-fresh" and locally-grown produce we enjoy all summer.  Dozens of just-picked, quick-blanched and sharp-sheared ears of corn from Reed's Farm, as well as our own modest  corn crop, have already been hustled into air-tight bags for chilly weather comfort foods... think airy fluffs of custard casseroles, souffles and spoonbreads.

So, with this pensive thought of pending seasonal changes, I ventured out early Saturday morning to tend to errands I'd put off forever if it weren't for the fact that my favorite cool weather business attire jackets were due for a dry cleaning and my swimming pool damaged hair was overdue a good chopping.  Whenever I do manage to drag myself "out there," I usually make it a mission to cram as many "necessary things" as can possibly be squeezed into that venture... motivation often coming from unnecessary things accumulating in corners and tote bags... some migrating closer and closer to the doorway as gentle reminders that it's time to make a public appearance.   

Heading home with a half dozen errands checked off the list, a few solid drops in the AmVets used clothing bin and no "confrontational episodes" encountered, my sense of accomplishment evolved into shameless thoughts of deserved rewards, which led to a glimmering hope that Reed's, which is right on route, still had some corn and maybe something else of seasonal interest... besides apples.  I knew a basket of blushing ripe peaches was wishful thinking, but I'm not ready for apples just yet. Oh, joyous reward, there were limas!  Corn, too, they said for about 7 to 10 more days; thus, I knew this was to be my last "husky" haul 'til July 2013.   

With little regard and nary a care as to what else might round out our Sunday dinner plates, I was squarely making succotash!  I really didn't need to store up any more corn, so I figured I'd  try some Pinterest experiments on "alternative ways to cook corn" with a few ears while hulling limas and finally getting around to whisking together fresh herb butters to freeze before a mean October frost delivered its buzz-killing blow to the herbs gone wild party in the half barrels outside the kitchen door...and then, of course, there's that experimental corn that so graciously made itself available for the obligatory herbed butter taste test, volunteering without protest to lie still for repeated merciless slatherings...  now well-decorated kernels, a medal of honor is served.     

To make herbed butters:  Gather an assortment of sprigs of organically-grown herbs and/or edible flowers, chop or snip into bits and incorporate well into cold unsalted butter of the finest quality.  Spread smoothly into tin molds, jar lids, any cutesy vessel on hand, or log roll with parchment if you want to make cookie-cutter slices later.  Keep it simple or get creative with combos or a multitude of additions such as citrus zest (lime/cilantro, lemon/tarragon), boldly colorful juices such as carrot or beet (so as to use a bare minimum of liquid), garlic, crushed nuts or seeds (try hemp or chia), flowers such as nasturtium, viola, borage, or those bolting above the herbs or veggies.