Thursday, 5 May 2011

Cooking into May

Finally making my way out of the April months and into more recent cooking territory, my last April culinary experience found me playing with leftover Easter dinner ham. And on a related note, my first May experience in the kitchen mashed new ingredients with a recently practiced recipe.

One of my most memorable childhood meals was ham and rice, but not just any ham. Following any major holiday where ham often replaced a rotisserie chicken or turkey, my parents would cook some ham in a skillet with sugar. It seems like the simplest thing in the world, but that particular flavour of ham coated with a slightly caramelized bit of sugar is often associated with clear home cooking. And with this in mind, I further sliced some ham into smaller pieces, while getting my orzo cooked. Indeed, by the time the sugar has melted and cooked with the ham, the orzo should be done.

Transfer the ham to a plate and in that same skillet, cook some frozen veg (here, I'm using "Parisian-style" vegetables) and once defrosted and cooked (covered; let the bits of moisture stuck to the but with a slight bite), toss in the ham and add all of this to the cooked orzo. Go ahead and give it all a taste, making sure to season with pepper (you will most likely not need any salt because of the salt from the ham).

Of course, the quantities of all this will vary depending on the number of people who will be eating; I happened to just make enough for two (or rather one, with leftovers). And remember that, as a savoury dish, you can get away with messing with the ratios. As for the orange balsamic reduction sauce I made to pair with this, the ratios are a little more specific. I have made the sauce before, and as you may recall from the photos, it ended up being rather runny, which is okay if you have something (such as the salmon) that can soak up the flavour. In this particular case, I made a substantially thicker sauce by pairing equal amounts of orange juice and balsamic vinegar, and with a dash of sugar, cooked it on medium heat until it reduced to about 1/4 the amount of liquid I began with. The only caution here is to make sure you do not burn your sauce; if you somehow leave it on the pan too long, you will get an intensified flavour of balsamic with a touch of orange and a caramelization equal to the amount of sugar you began with. Once you have your reduction ready, it is time to plate. Pack the orzo into a high cookie cutter, ramekin, etc., and remove the vessel, leaving behind a tower.

Then, go ahead and garnish the dish with your design of choice. A counterpoint to this rather sweet savoury dish, the orange-balsamic reduction sauce for this orzo tower of sugared ham and Parisian-style vegetables lends a great balance to the dish, while the slight bite from the vegetables lends to an otherwise soft orzo.

Into the last hours of April, my last dish was a cherry-flavoured effervescent Jell-O, which is simply a different version of the one I made and wrote about in my previous post. Preparing this dessert/snack/all-around goodness for a gathering the next day, and alongside the flavour change, I replaced 7 Up with Sprite and the pineapple rings and maraschino cherries with a can of drained "Very Cherry" fruit cocktail. Everything set perfectly, though I will say I prefer 7-Up to Sprite for this recipe.

Also of note, I finally received a paring knife and sharpening steel which arrived with the previewing of a Santoku knife, all of which are branded by "Cooking Pleasures." I set my new paring knife to work in my next post. Before you get there, though, click here for other photos from this last post on April food.

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