Saturday, November 14, 2009

I didn't cook today!

I didn't cook today, but I thought a lot about it. Mostly I had ham and prime rib on the brain. With the holidays coming up on us fast, I'm ordering gifts and planning menus, so I have food on my mind (again.) Is it any wonder I have problems controlling my weight?

Let's talk ham first. Don't you just love ham? It's such a easy and delicious food and is often featured as the center piece of many Christmas dinner tables. Around the world there are many things called ham. Cuts referred to as ham in the U.S. are called gammon in the U.K. and Ireland. If you ask for ham in Italy, you are most likely going to be served prosciutto. The Spanish take ham (jamón) to a whole new level and classify it according to preparation, the pigs diet, and the region from whence it came. The Chinese have many varieties too, although Jinhua ham is a dry-cured ham that much resembles our own U.S. version (and is used in the famous Chinese dish, Buddha Jumps Over the Wall.) But I'm talking about the standard American smoked ham. My favorite hams come from Nueske's in Wisconsin. I order them a couple times a year, have my colleague Diana pick them up when she drives by on her way to visit family, and also send them out as gifts. They've been doing apple wood-smoked cured meats since 1933, and the experience shows. If you get up that way or place an order online, toss in a couple pounds of peppered bacon and a Kringle for your breakfast. You won't regret it. Of course the key to a good ham dinner is generally not overcooking the meat. It just dries out. It only require ever so gentle a warming and it is ready to serve.

Things are not quite so simple with a standing rib roast of beef. This is the meat that is commonly called prime rib once you cut it off the bone. I have used what I consider to be a classic technique similar to the one at What's Cooking America. I'm pretty sure this will be the center piece of my Christmas dinner this year. But I'm not so positive about the cooking technique. A couple friends have now recommended I consider a dry-aged and slow roasting method (200F for about 5 hours) as discussed here by Food TV's Alton Brown. As you may know, the one and only time I had a terrible turkey was when I followed his 'food science' methodology, so I'm a bit leary. But in principle it does sound correct. One of the issues you run into using the classic method is that the roast is more done toward the edges and more rare toward the center. The slow roasting method purports to solve this issue and provide a more uniformly cooked prime rib. I'll do some more investing but I have decided I don't want to buy an $80 piece of meat on which to practice. If you have some suggestions, please post them.

I'm also planning to do all of the traditional English trimmings, such as Yorkshire pudding, mashed potatoes, peas, and a horseradish cream sauce for the meat. I'm hoping to finish up the table service with a steamed Zoar Black Pudding (steamed stove top and made with flour, brown sugar, dark molasses, dates, raisins and nuts, served warm and topped with whipped cream and caramel sauce.)

I couldn't find any reference online to this specialty pudding which I've made dozens of times. I got the recipe years ago while working at the Zoar Hotel in Ohio. The village of Zoar was founded in 1817 by a group of German Separatists and their story is an interesting one. I worked in this town's historic hotel just out of college and while there picked up this unique recipe from the cook where it had been handed down for decades. It is shown here from a prior Christmas garnished and ready to serve. ( I also learned how to make spaetzle while there, but have never since seen the tool used to make it properly over a boiling pot of stock.)

After the Christmas dinner we will retire around the Great Tree for my favorite cognac, Martell Cordon Bleu and warm ourselves by the fire. It's all sounding so picturesque already!

Of course with more than a month to go, my entire meal plan still could change. I'm having eight people for dinner, all men, so I think this meal would satisfy. I'm sorry if the post seemed to become an advertisement for products. It was not meant to be so and I get nothing from any of the wonderful items I mentioned (except perhaps a few more pounds around my mid section.) Drop me a note if you have suggestions or comments, as I always enjoy reading them and responding when required.

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