Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Keaton's Limerick Ham

When I'm asked about my heritage, I reply that I am a mutt. I'm a little bit of everything: German, Irish, English, Dutch, and Welsh. I've always envied my friends who are 100% or 50% one thing or another. They have interesting traditions, languages and traditional food. None of my immediate grandparents are from other countries, and I've never visited any of my ancestors' home countries. Growing up, and even now, I have a hard time knowing which ethnicity to associate myself with.

Although my grandparent's didn't embrace our heritage very much, my mom has made sure we learn about and celebrate our roots. We embrace our Dutch background by celebrating Sinter Klaas Day, complete with Boterletters and gift-filled wooden shoes (klompen).

We also embrace our Irish roots with a few Irish meals a year. My family's favorite is Limerick Ham. I first discovered this recipe in the book Cooking the Irish Way. Limerick Ham's distinctive flavor comes from Juniper berries and branches used in the smoking process. I made this recipe for the first time several years ago on St. Patrick's Day. I didn't have Juniper berries on hand, so I decided to tweak the recipe a bit. It turned out a success, and has been a family favorite ever since! Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick's Day, but you don't have to wait until March, this Limerick Ham turns everyone Irish, all year round!

Keaton's Limerick Ham

1 8-10 pound smoked ham, bone in
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup cracker meal
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
3 cups apple cider

1. Preheat oven to 400
2. In a medium sized bowl, combine brown sugar, ground cloves, cracker meal, black pepper and cinnamon.
3. Place the ham in a large baking pan. Pour the cider over and around the ham. Pack the brown sugar mixture on the top and the sides of the ham.
4. Cover with foil and bake for 20 munutes per pound, about 3 1/2 hours. Half way through cooking time, spoon the apple cider in the bottom of the pan over the ham.
5. Let the ham sit for 5 minutes, slice and serve.


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Whole Wheat Focaccia with Roasted Garlic, Sun Dried Tomatoes and Rosemary

We're living in the age of technology. In so many words, technology helps us make things easier or more efficient. Facebook helps us connect with friends across the world. Iphones help us keep up with email and thousands of other tasks with the help of Applications. The Kindle give us access to thousands of books in the palm of our hands. For the most part, technology helps make life easier and more enjoyable.

Sometimes, though, technology can be a hindrance. Facebook has been known to cause drama between friends and exes more than once. Iphones and other smart phones seem to induce a zombie-like state in their many users. And the Kindle has taken away the magic of buying a brand new, stiff-paged, new-book-smell book. But the most tragic invention in the last 100 years is still used daily in kitchens across the world. It sits atop our counter tops, causing helpless individuals to fall victim of it's horrors. Scientist have projected that by 2050, this gadget will single-handedly cause the downfall of home cooking. So what is this toxic device? The bread machine. Since the 1980s, this gadget has turned home cooks into liars. That's right, throwing ingredients into a machine and pushing 'On' does not constitute homemade bread.

Okay, okay, I'm being a tad dramatic. But in all seriousness, bread making has become a lost art. Like any skill using your hands (gardening, painting, sculpting), it can be a tedious process, but rewarding nonetheless. There's almost something, dare I say, spiritual about bread making. Isn't it amazing that just by combining a few ingredients (which are boring and bland by themselves) working them with your hands and letting the dough rise, you eventually end up with a soft, warm, loaf of heaven? Whoever first thought to combine the right ingredients in the right proportions to form bread, is a saint.

Focaccia is my favorite bread, but I try to stay away from white breads altogether. But when the craving became too much to resist, I set out to make a whole wheat Focaccia that could stand up to it's white flour competitors. There's not much to say about this bread, except that it turned out awesome. I decided to really kick up the flavor, so I added roasted the garlic and sun dried tomatoes, along with fresh rosemary and lemon zest to add just that much more flavor. I am very pleased with this recipe, and I'm sure you'll enjoy it as well. There are several ways you can eat the Focaccia. Plain with a drizzle of olive oil or a pat of butter is delicious. My favorite: Cut the bread in half horizontally, and drizzle the halves with olive oil. Place under the broiler until slightly toasted. Remove, and top with slices of tomato and fresh mozzarella. Place under the broiler until the cheese has just melted. Or, slightly toast the focaccia and top with a poached or over-medium egg.

Whole Wheat Focaccia with Roasted Garlic, Sun Dried Tomatoes and Rosemary
Recipe adapted from 'Summertime Whole Wheat Focaccia Bread'

3 cups whole wheat flour
1 packet active dry yeast
1 1/4 cups warm water
1 head garlic
14 sun dried tomato halves, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
3 1/2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp lemon zest
Black pepper to taste
Sea salt

Roasting the garlic: Preheat oven to 375. Cut off the very top of the whole head. Remove the outer skin, leaving the cloves still in tact. Dip the cut end in olive oil.

Place on a baking sheet, and cover with foil. Roast in the oven for 50-60 minutes. Remove and let cool. Squeeze out the garlic from each clove.

Set the oven to 350.
In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, sun dried tomatoes, roasted garlic, rosemary, lemon zest and black pepper to taste. Set aside for 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine the warm water and yeast. Add the oil and tomato mixture, salt, and flour. Combine with a wooden spoon. If the dough is too sticky, add a bit more flour. If the dough is too dry, add a drizzle of olive oil.

On a floured surface, knead the dough in a folding motion until it has become elastic and smooth, about three minutes.

Coat the inside of the large bowl with olive oil, place the dough in it, and roll around to coat. Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel, and set aside in a dark, warm place. Let the dough rise, 30 minutes if you used quick-rise yeast, 60 if you used regular yeast.
After the dough has risen, punch it down once or twice. Again, knead the dough a few more times on a floured surface.

Place the dough onto a light greased baking sheet, and using a rolling pin, roll the dough to desired thickness- I like it about 1/2 inch thick. Poke holes with your finger all across the dough. Sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper to taste.

Bake at 350 for about 30-35 minutes. The bread will feel firm to the touch, and a toothpick inserted will remove easily.

Let bread cool for 10 minutes before slicing. Eat within 3 days, or freeze in a zip top bag. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Apple Cider Chicken and Seasonal Vegetables with Sage

What comes to mind when you hear the words 'Comfort Food'? Mashed potatoes with gravy? Southern fried chicken? Warm biscuits with a pat of melting butter? Unfortunately, many of our favorite comfort foods are some of the worst for us. However, with a little tweaking and a dash of know-how, you can cook a comforting and healthy meal, without sacrificing flavor.

When I awoke yesterday morning and saw frost on the grass outside, I knew it was the perfect day to make dinner for my family. What's better than sitting down on a cold evening, and enjoying a warm, filling meal together? Not much, in my book! My parents are from Iowa, so their idea of supper is meat, potatoes with gravy, and vegetables covered in butter. Tasty, but not exactly the most heart-friendly meal. So when I'm cooking for my parents, I like to make it hearty yet healthy, and simple but flavorful.

I've said it before and I'll say it again- I LOVE using seasonal produce. There's something almost spiritual about using the fruits and vegetables that flourish in each season. Not to mention they're at the peak of ripeness and flavor! Another favorite seasonal ingredient? Apples. They're no longer just for brown-bag lunches and snacks on the go. Apples pair wonderfully with Autumn's wide variety of seasonings and produce, so I decided to make it the star of our meal. I roasted a whole chicken with apple cider and herbs. Then, I combined apples with parsnips and carrots, and seasoned them with salt, black pepper and sage. Finally, I reduced apple cider and served it to drizzle over the vegetables and chicken. It was the perfect ending to such a chilly night. My family loved it, and we decided it was 'blog worthy,' so here it is!

Apple Cider Chicken and Seasonal Vegetables with Sage Serves about 3 with left over chicken

1 whole chicken
1 1/3 cup medium diced carrots
3/4 cup medium diced parsnips
2 1/3 cup large diced apples
2 cups apple cider plus a couple of tablespoons
Fresh Rosemary
Dried Sage
1 dried Bay leaf
Dried Thyme
Sea salt
Black pepper
Olive oil
Ground cloves

Special Equipment: Deep dish chicken cooker like this or an oven safe bowl and a beer or soda can.

1.Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2. In a bowl, combine 1 cup apple cider, 1 teaspoon fresh Rosemary, 1/8 teaspoon black pepper, a pinch dried Thyme, a small pinch ground cloves, and a whole bay leaf. If you're using the chicken cooker, pour the mixture into the well. If you're using an oven safe bowl and a can, pour the mixture into the empty can, and set in the center of the bowl. Place the chicken on top of the well or the can (make sure the chicken is steadied by the sides of the bowl, so the can won't spill)

3. Brush the chicken with olive oil, and season with sea salt and black pepper.

4. Place the chicken in the oven and roast for about 45 minutes, checking at 30 minutes. The thighs should reach an internal temperature of 180 degrees.

5. In a small sauce pan, combine about a cup of apple cider, a pinch of black pepper, and a few sprigs of Rosemary. Boil the cider until it has reduced by half, about 10 minutes.

6. To cook the vegetables, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Lightly coat the bottom with olive oil. Add the carrots and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Next, add the parsnips. Add about 2 tablespoons apple cider, cover, and cook for about 5 more minutes. When the carrots and parsnips are nearly tender, add the apples and sprinkle with dried sage. Toss and cook until the apples are slightly softened.

7. When the chicken has finished cooking, let it rest for about 10 minutes before carving.

8. Serve the reduced cider on the side to pour over the chicken and vegetables. Enjoy!