Saturday, December 22, 2012

Bring out De Ham!

Well yes, the Yuletide season is here. The frenzy of buying, giving, cooking, cleaning and working ourselves harder on Christmas week than we did for the other 340-odd days of the year is ‘orn like boil corn!’
It’s funny that after promising myself that I would forego the cooking part this year, I once again found myself longing for the creature comforts of a childhood Christmas. Since posting about soaking the fruits for the black cake (and I’m glad to say they have attained maximum plumpness in that alcohol), the quest was on to fulfil other tastes. I didn’t have to go very far this time, since a trip to a certain store to get my new laptop resulted in an unexpected gift of a bottle of wine and a very hefty ham. While happy I wouldn’t have to buy one, the ham was certainly a surprise, because it’s actually the biggest one we’ve ever had come through my kitchen.

After leaving it to thaw for a day, we had to guess its weight, which for some strange reason was left off the wrapper. Enter Errol, who promptly began doing bicep curls with the thing.
He: “I say is about 10 pounds, man. Look how meh pecs pulling!”
Me: *Dr. Evil voice* “Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiight!” (Then I broke into a giggle fit that lasted for some time.)

Anyway, we soon saw our porcine treasure boasted a low sodium label. Nice! But the skin that covered him was anything but healthy and I imagined what that would look like as the heat melted it… not a pretty sight, right? It’s a good thing Errol was there, because the next step would have proved impossible by myself (especially while trying to wield a camera.) So, Errol grabbed the closest knife and started to perform some surgery on Mr. Ham.

After taking the wrapper and the netting off the ham, I patted it dry with some paper towels so the operation wouldn’t be too slippery. That thick covering of skin was split open by Errol and sliced away.

The now nude ham was scored in a diamond cross hatch pattern. Didn’t go too deep, about a quarter inch was a good depth to work with.

Next, a handful of cloves. I inserted each one into the corners of each diamond, ensuring a delicious stab of spicy flavour.

Tore off two long sheets of foil (enough to envelop the ham completely) and crossed them over each other. The clove studded ham was then placed in the centre of the cross and the flaps were brought over it and squeezed tightly to seal it. I then got my baking sheet and placed my foil roaster on top of it to steady it. (These roasters aren’t exactly strong so they need a flat surface, especially when cooking something heavy.)

Here’s the foil covered ham in the roaster, which was placed into a waiting 350°F oven. When baking hams, the general rule is 20 to 25 minutes per pound. At a ‘guestimate’ of ten pounds, this one was baked for nearly three hours.

Here it is after the first 2 ½ hours of baking. As you can see, there are some fat drippings on the bottom of the roaster. (Imagine how it would’ve look if I had left the skin on… the ham would be doing a greasy breast stroke! Hahahahaaaa!)

Out it came for the next step. Using tongs, I removed the foil – you can imagine the scent that hit me! Now the ham was still pretty pale, and definitely needed to get some colour, soooo….

I mixed up some ketchup, Angostura bitters, oyster sauce, ginger powder and honey mustard… I just wanted something different from the sweet glazes. This low sodium ham needed some spice!

Brushed it on carefully. A few cloves popped out, but I stuck them back in. Back to the oven it went – uncovered – so it could get the colour it needed  for the remaining time.

TA-DAH!!! My beautiful Christmas Ham!

Of course, we had to take a taste!

There it was. Our lovely ham, perfectly done and making the house smell like Christmas past. Using my home seasoning blend coupled with the cloves gave it a taste and smell that was out of this world. So you can imagine the scene, having to literally stop ourselves from taking taste after taste after taste…

(For the record, this ham on toast with chow-chow and pepper sauce? BESS!!!

So, on that note, thanks again for taking a peep at my cooking adventures. Lots more to come this Holiday season, and I’m looking forward to sharing.

Take care, everyone, and like I always say, don’t forget to mind the pot!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Soaking in Rum and Wine

Another long absence, but I am finally present. How have you all been?

Feeling glad to be here again. The usual job stresses multiplied a million fold; such are the perils of working in the media. So, I made a deal with myself to jump back into my other love, which is cooking and creating delicious things to eat and enjoy.

This year, I am going to revisit my Granny’s special black cake. It’s one that I have really fond memories of, because when I was little, she used to bake them on order for family, friends and clients. As was the custom of “employing” the children around to keep them out of trouble, I was her helper. I would break the eggs for her, peel the lime rind, measure the flour, sugar and butter… and I can never forget the sound of her wooden spoon scraping against the giant white plastic bucket she used to mix the batter. Incidentally, her son (my late uncle) was a boss cake maker himself, and I used to look forward to when he visited, because they would have an annual cake exchange. He would make a black cake especially for her, and she’d make one for him. They would sit together in the kitchen at the old wooden table, and cut a slice from each other’s cakes, sip on some ginger beer and chat about their recipes and whatever else struck their fancy.

And so, I am getting the ball rolling. Step one – getting the preserved fruits together for the soaking process – is always a fun one for me. Step two? Come take a look and see.

The stars of this cake are prunes, mixed peel (citron), raisins, and glazed fruits. I’m using just 8 ounces of each for my cakes.

Can’t forget the bottle of maraschino cherries, now!

The next step was to wash and de-seed the prunes. I gave the raisins a good washing as well. Back in the day Granny would spread the fruits on a platter and put them out in the sun to dry. I dispensed with this step since it was rainy. (By the way, that remainder of raisins won’t be going to waste… pastelles will soon be calling!)

Next, I opened the packs of glazed fruits and mixed peel. The bottle of cherries was opened, drained and cut into fourths.

Got my giant bowl and potspoon and mixed all the fruits together into a bright, colourful mass.
My giant 62 ounce glass bottle was on the ready, having been cleaned well beforehand. I also had another smaller bottle as a backup, just in case. So, I started spooning the fruit in.

Rule number 34… always fill the bottle to roughly three quarters with fruit. This is because that preserved fruit is going to be sucking in that alcohol which will make it swell, and when things swell, they require room. Thus, the backup bottle was called in to hold the remainder. Like its big brother, it too was filled to three quarters of the way.

And here are the big boys… Fernandes Black Label dark rum and Charlie’s Red Spanish Wine. These are the only two things Granny soaked her fruits in. If she couldn’t find Charlie’s, she would use Cherry brandy, but Charlie’s was always her first pick.

In my bowl, the dark rum and the Spanish wine were combined and then decanted into the waiting bottles of fruit. 

Hmmm… looks like this bottle’s getting all tipsy!

Lastly, I covered the bottles tightly and gently tilted them from side to side to make sure all the fruit can move around. And that was that. 

As it stands, I will be checking on them every day to see how they’re doing. They will soak for at least a week to 10 days or so, but they will be good to go by the time I’m ready to bake the cakes.
Since putting these bottles down, the levels of the fruits have already risen a couple of inches, believe it or not. Take a look for yourself.

The fruits are rising!

See why we left that space? Grannies always know what they’re talking about!

And so, I hope you enjoyed sharing this part of the black cake prep. There will be more steps to come and I plan to document them all for you to enjoy. 

Take care, my dears, and like I always say, doh forget to mind the pot!