I found myself at the garage workbench, prying open the plastic grinding cap of a black peppercorns jar and wondering why I have to go to a spice store to buy loose peppercorns. Go to any grocery store and I challenge you to find black pepper that is not already ground or packaged with its own convenient plastic grinder attached to the top of the jar. Thing is I like to grind my own pepper and my own pink salt. I like pinching this, sprinkling that and pouring in something else.
Last night, I was making hummus and accidentally spilled in more paprika than intended. No problem! At least it wasn’t the cumin. The whole point of cooking is to bring together flavors, not just pour sauce out of a jar.
For the recent New Year’s celebration, I wanted a basic little ham to cook in a Madeira wine bath. Now, I needed two cups of Madeira and only had one, but I found a cup of frozen red wine in the freezer, which was perfect. The ham baked in 3 parts chicken broth to 2 parts red wine/Madeira with two bay leaves. Whenever a recipe or standard practice calls for two bay leaves, I just can’t help myself and toss in two.
Here’s how to start the ham: slice two large carrots and one medium size onion in large pieces. Pour olive oil (about 1/4 cup) into Dutch oven over gas stove. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Saute carrots and onions in pot. Sprinkle some dried herbs in (I used herbs de provence) and the two bay leaves.
Once the onions are golden place the ham in the pot. Pour in the wine and stock. Bring to a boil and place in the over to cook for two to two-and-half hours. Here’s the tricky part: about every 20-30 minutes you want to baste the ham with the cooking juices so clear everyone from the kitchen because you are pulling out a very hot Dutch over pot. Use your best oven mitts. If possible, rest the pot on the open over door and carefully pull off the lid. With a ladle, generously pour the wine-stock juices over the ham.
The other delightful thing you can do with the ham-wine-stock juice is use it for other food you are cooking at the same time. For New Year’s, I was making hoppin john and ladled ample amounts of my stock into the black-eyed peas. This would work with with any beans.
The key to this kind of cooking is patience. This is not a quick fix. There is no immediate gratification. Let it bake. Let is stew. Let it ruminated. Relax. And then enjoy.