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Who Will Speak for Ham?

January 06, 1994|MARION CUNNINGHAM

What has happened to the once ubiquitous ham? I rarely see it on buffet tables or restaurant menus anymore, and I can't remember the last time someone served me a baked ham for dinner. A friend who is a fine home cook summed up the problem when she said that baked ham lingers . She uses the leftovers in omelets and sandwiches and split-pea soup, but even then there'll still be some ham in the refrigerator, like a standing reproach.

There is another school of thought, however, well expressed by the fine Virginia-born chef and cookbook author Edna Lewis: "Ham holds the same rating as the basic black dress. If you have a ham in the house, any situation can be faced."

I am of the Edna Lewis school of thought.

As she points out, ham can be sliced and fried with red gravy on short notice. "As an appetizer it can be made easily into a spread," Lewis says, "or a savory tart, and thin slices of ham with melon is a fine starter to a meal. And what would we do without ham for a chef's salad?"

One of my favorite foods is herb ham loaf. It is well flavored and moist, and quite different from most ham loaves because of the fresh spinach and herbs.

The Cheddar cheese biscuits are very much in Edna Lewis' Southern style. They are a treat taken hot from the oven and served with little slivers of ham put onto the center with the cheese. They can also be frozen and reheated without losing their appeal. Serve without the ham slivers with the herb ham loaf.

Basically, a ham is a cured leg of pork, but these days a ham (unless labeled "fresh ham") may be any cut of pork that has been through a preserving process. Although refrigeration has made it unnecessary to preserve pork this way, our palates have learned to enjoy the salty, smoked flavor of ham.

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This is good hot, and also for sandwiches when cold.

HERB HAM LOAF

2 pounds ground ham

1 pound ground pork

1 bunch spinach, rinsed, dried and chopped

2 teaspoons dried thyme, crumbled

1 bay leaf, crumbled

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup milk

2 eggs, lightly beaten

Salt, pepper

Put ham, pork, spinach, thyme, bay leaf, onion, garlic, milk and eggs in large mixing bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Lightly with salt, since ham is salty). Mix well. Place in loaf pan or pat into loaf shape and set on baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees until juices are bubbling all around bottom of pan, about 45 minutes. Makes 6 servings.

Each serving contains about:

369 calories; 2443 mg sodium; 190 mg cholesterol; 16 grams fat; 5 grams carbohydrates; 49 grams protein; 0.55 gram fiber.

CHEDDAR CHEESE BISCUITS

2 cups flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup vegetable shortening

1 cup milk

3/4 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

Put flour, baking powder and salt in large mixing bowl and stir well. Add shortening and rub into flour with fingertips. When mixture looks like coarse, irregular crumbs, stir in milk and mix. (Dough will be sticky, so flour hands well.)

Put dough on floured board and knead about 8 times. Pat into circle about 11 inches in diameter. Using 2-inch cookie cutter, cut out biscuits, but don't remove from circle of dough yet. Spoon about 1 rounded teaspoon cheese onto half of dough rounds. Pat cheese down and place remaining biscuit rounds on top of cheese.

Place biscuits in greased 9-inch-square baking pan and bake at 450 degrees until lightly browned, about 12 minutes. Serve hot. Makes 14 biscuits.

Each biscuit contains about:

137 calories; 306 mg sodium; 10 mg cholesterol; 7 grams fat; 14 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams protein; 0.05 gram fiber.

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