Should I cook my “fully cooked” ham?

This Sunday is Easter. All across the land, families will sit down to dinners featuring hams which were sold as “fully cooked” yet have been heated in a 350 degree oven according to a recipe like this one: “If the ham is labeled ‘fully cooked’ (does not require heating), heat for 8 to 10 minutes per pound, or to an internal temperature of 140°F.”*

Does this make sense? Is it a good idea? Is it remotely necessary? Let’s take a step back.

I am in possession of a beautiful fully smoked and cooked hickory ham on the bone sent to me by the folks at Jones Dairy Farm. I advise you to get such a ham if you possibly can. It’s sweet, not salty like a country ham, yet the hickory taste and smell pervades it. And because it’s cured on the bone it is firm and meaty throughout. Plus, you get a bonus hambone (hock) for beans and soup.

I am going to lightly trim the fat (which I’ll save for that aforementioned pot of beans) and then rub this ham all over with as much brown sugar it will absorb, same as if I was preparing a brisket for the smoker. I will not add any cloves or fruit juice because I want the hickory ham taste to come through undiluted. I will put this ham in a pan with a rack in a 350 degree oven and when it has reached a temperature where the fat has started to render then I will begin to baste it with the juices that drip off.

When it is fully heated through I will raise the oven temperature to 425 for 10 final minutes to caramelize the glaze, then I’ll remove it from the oven and let it rest half an hour before serving. (Be aware this is a fairly aggressive technique, and you should watch vigilantly so the glaze doesn’t burn. You may be happy keeping the oven at 350, and removing the ham when it reaches an internal temperature of 145 degrees.)

The result is a crispy, crackling, finger-licking crust similar to that in Honey-Baked Ham—a dish which, like revenge, is best served lukewarm, or even cold. It’s your reward for taking an extra measure of food safety precaution even if it may not be entirely necessary.

P.S. Watch the video for Philip Jones’ easy method to prepare a bone-in ham for carving. First, identify the side of the ham that has the majority of meat. Then, cut a slice off the other size, toward the hip, as a base the ham can sit on while you’re carving. Now carve out a wedge at the opposite end, by the shank, to expose the meat. You can now start serving up beautiful slices that won’t fall apart.

* 140 degrees is barely hot enough to kill cooties. To be sure of food safety, cook to an internal temperature of 145 degrees.

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Battle Tripe

Mayflower Trip

Magnificent, ethereal tripe at Mayflower dim sum restaurant

I love tripe. I love all organ meats, actually, but I have a particularly warm spot in my heart for tripe. It’s partly the spongy, chewy texture, strange and forbidding yet somehow irresistible. Partly the way this mild meat serves as a flavor platform for whatever it’s cooked with, soaking it up and enhancing it. And there is certainly an element of sense memory from all the restorative menudos and Chinese stews savored after a night of carousing.

So when I enjoyed one of the best tripe preparations I’ve ever had this week in the Bay Area—snowy bible or leaf tripe from the third stomach, plunged into boiling stock on the serving cart and then garnished with shaved scallions and peppers—I bemoaned the fact that when I returned to my home in upstate New York there would not be a tripe dish to be had in a 50 mile radius. The reason is not that tripe is hard to come by or prepare. It’s just “not for the American taste,” a server explained to me at a Vietnamese place. And I resolved to do something about it.

Google “airy book tripe (sach) is already cooked when you buy it” and you will find a page of references but they all trace back to this canonical recipe at Viet World Kitchen. So could it be that I could simply pick up a pound of tripe at the Asian Supermarket on Central, then shave it into my pho at Van’s or Kim’s or, god forbid, Pho Yum when the restaurant fails to provide it?

Not quite. The snowiness comes in part from bleach or other chemicals—rarely available “green” tripe is an unappetizing shade between grey and pink and must be cooked for hours during which time your kitchen will smell like the boys latrine at summer camp. I do not trust my friends at Asian Supermarket to completely purge these chemicals before selling, so I’m going to bring my sach home, wash it in several changes of water, then boil it (which will also give me an opportunity to correct any residual rubberiness through more cooking). Then I’ll load it into a zip-loc bag and we’re off for some pho. Tripe, let’s do this.

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Recipe: Poor Man’s Bloody Mary Mix

Poor Man's Bloody Mary Mix

Bloody Mary experiments in progress

Here’s a way to dress up boring tomato juice with ingredients you’re likely to have around the kitchen. The flavor profile is similar to seafood cocktail sauce. If you come into money, first thing to add is some vodka or tequila. 1 serving.

8 oz tomato juice (I use Campbell’s)
1 t Worcestershire sauce
½ t Tabasco
1 t horseradish
½ t sugar
¼ t salt
2 T pickle juice (I used McClure’s)

Method: Mix until dry ingredients are dissolved, enjoy. Note that all proportions are “or to taste”; feel free to vary.

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Recipe: Tomato Aspic

Tomato Aspic

Tomato Aspic with Kewpie mayo topping

You can’t get past the first serving station at the Highland Park Cafeteria without encountering an array of tempting aspics. Tomato is one of my favorites. This prep is sure to warm the heart of anyone with roots in the south. Serves 12.

4 c tomato juice (I use Campbells)
1 T Worcestershire sauce
1 t salt (start with less, taste)
2 t white sugar (start with less, taste)
1 t Tabasco or to taste
½ c chopped celery and/or celery leaves
½ c chopped onion
½ c chopped green pepper
2 bay leaves

3 packets gelatin*
½ c cold water
2 ½ T cider vinegar
Mayonnaise (preferable Kewpie brand)

Method: Mix everything EXCEPT gelatin, water and vinegar in a large saucepan and bring slowly to a simmer. Continue cooking 5 minutes over very low heat until vegetables are just beginning to lose their crispness. Remove bay leaves. Meanwhile, mix gelatin into water in a shallow bowl and stir if necessary to thoroughly hydrate the gelatin. Turn off the heat and stir in gelatin, continuing to stir until all lumps disappear. Add cider vinegar and pour into a ring form or multiple individual molds (use silicon molds or else lubricate the surface with a tasteless oil). Refrigerate until very firm. Unmold onto serving plate(s); if the aspic sticks it helps to briefly dip the outside of the mold in hot water. Serve with a dollop of mayonnaise on each piece.

* The gelatin lobby wants us to use one packet for every cup of water but that’s definitely too much. I used three packets for insurance but two is probably enough.

VARIATION: Halve a ripe avocado then cut lengthwise into slices. Strain the vegetables from the aspic before adding the gelatin. When aspic is thickened but not yet set (after 1-2 hours in the refrigerator), carefully place the avocado pieces around the edges of the ring mold, curved side facing out, so each serving gets a piece of avocado. For individual molds, place a slice of avocado in each mold.

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Food for Thought: She Simmers

While researching green papaya salads for my Mock Som Tam recipe, I typed “how to make green papaya salad without a mortar and pestle” into the Google search box and up popped She Simmers. Leela Punyaratabandhu was born in Thailand but lives in the U.S. Her blog is dedicated to her late mom, the “cookbook addict”, and she presents recipes from those Thai cookbooks as well as her own creations and those of modern Thai chefs.

The recipes and discussions are presented in somewhat obsessive detail, but fortunately Leela is a fabulous writer. A cookbook, Simple Thai Food: Classic Recipes from the Thai Home Kitchen, will be published in May but may be pre-ordered on Amazon. Check out She Simmers and be prepared for a great read.

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God’s breakfast

God's Breakfast

God’s breakfast: crusty bread, good olive oil and zata’ar

One day I was visiting with the proprietor of my local Armenian market and discussing the various spices needed to cook the recipes in the Jerusalem: A Cookbook. He kept tucking into what he described as his “breakfast” which was a little saucer of olive oil laced with zata’ar, into which he’d scoop a morsel of pita.

He looked so satisfied that I had to try it for myself, which I now do regularly using zata’ar from his shop, my wonderful Frog Hollow olive oil, and ciabatta instead of pita because it soaks up the oil more easily. What a perfect mouthful, combining the fruity unctuous olive oil, the herbaceous country aroma of the spice mixture, and the cool wheaty texture of the bread. I realize it’s nutritionally the equivalent of bread and butter, but it sets me up for the day.

Zata’ar, as sold commercially, contains some sesame seed and salt, sumac for bitterness and the wild thyme also called zata’ar which grows primarily in the Middle East. Fortunately, it’s very cheap from Amazon and other sources. God made sure He or She had a reliable local supplier, but was kind enough to offer it to us with wholesale pricing.

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Recipe: Mock Som Tam (Green Papaya Salad)

Mock Green Papaya

Mock Green Papaya salad, made with cabbage

Real green papaya can be hard to come by, hence the workarounds. The flavor base of this is very strong and good so experiment until you get a vegetable combination you like. Serves 4-6.

4 c cabbage (½ head), finely shredded (or equivalent amount of shredded turnip, rutabaga, mango, cucumber or…)
¼ lb green beans, cut into 1 inch lengths
10 or so cherry tomatoes, halved lengthwise, or one large tomato cut lengthwise into matchsticks

1 jalapeno
3 cloves garlic
2 T fish sauce
¼ c lime juice
2 T sugar
3 T or more dried shrimp, ground in a blender

¼ c unsalted peanuts, roasted and chopped very fine

Method: Mash/bruise the beans and tomatoes by rolling a can or bottle over them or pound lightly with a mortar and pestle; the goal is to soften these ingredients so they will absorb the dressing more readily. Add to the shredded cabbage in a serving bowl. Mix the next 6 ingredients in a blender or food processor. Assemble the salad by combining cabbage, tomato, beans and dressing and garnish with peanuts.

Note: in Thailand they make this in a big mortar and keep adding the ingredients and beating them together with a pestle to meld the flavors. You can do much the same thing by letting it sit for 15 minutes before serving, but you do need to give the tomatoes and beans a light bashing for appearance. Don’t let it sit around, though; after half an hour the flavor starts to dissipate.

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This post is sponsored by… the FTC!

I’ve recently seen a number of disclaimers at the bottom of bloggers’ posts about specific products that go something like this:

The product(s) featured in this review was provided free of cost to me for the sole purpose of product testing and review. This review has not been monetarily compensated and is based on the views and opinions of my family and/or self. Please note that the opinions reflected in this post have not been influenced by the sponsor in any way.

To me such legal language has a chilling effect on what should be a friendly conversation among people who like good eats. And the beauty part is… it’s total unnecessary! Who says? Our friends at the Federal Trade Commission, which is the agency that oversees such matters.

The FTC’s Revised Endorsement Guides: What People are Asking is maybe the only government-produced document you’ll ever see that is actually understandable. To quote,

“The revised Guides – issued after public comment and consumer research – reflect three basic truth-in-advertising principles:

  • Endorsements must be truthful and not misleading;
  • If the advertiser doesn’t have proof that the endorser’s experience represents what consumers will achieve by using the product, the ad must clearly and conspicuously disclose the generally expected results in the depicted circumstances; and
  • If there’s a connection between the endorser and the marketer of the product that would affect how people evaluate the endorsement, it should be disclosed.”

A product review in which the reviewer is paid and doesn’t disclose this obviously violates these principles. So what about complimentary samples provided for review, invitations to tastings and such? If you are a regular reader of Burnt My Fingers, you may have noted that I am always careful to say when I have tasted a product at the invitation of a producer, as in recent posts on Orchard Bars, Market Bistro and Jones Dairy Farm. I think the admission is more important than the stilted language, and the FTC agrees with me:

“Is there special language I have to use to make the disclosure?
“No. The point is to give readers the information. Your disclosure could be as simple as ‘Company X gave me this product to try . . ..’
“Do I have to hire a lawyer to help me write a disclosure?
“No. What matters is effective communication, not legalese. A disclosure like ‘Company X sent me [name of product] to try, and I think it’s great’ gives your readers the information they need.”

Also, I (and many other bloggers) don’t actually endorse products. We talk about our experience with them. If I have a really bad impression of something provided to me, I just won’t write about it (though I may Yelp it). Life is too short. Even with a generally favorable experience, like my initial visit to Market Bistro, I found some nits to pick at. (Cheese priced higher than I thought it should be.)

The defense rests. Disclaimer: no lawyers were harmed in the production of this post.

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Orchard Bars from Liberty Orchards

Orchard Bars

Orchard Bars are slightly irregular in proportion from one to another. I like that.

During my peak backpacking years I was a big consumer of Gorp—the do-it-yourself trail mix made by dumping a bag of M&Ms, a can of mixed nuts and a box of raisins into a bowl and mixing them up together, then dumping the result into a Ziploc bag. (Internet searches suggest that GORP stands for “good old raisins and peanuts”.)

Since then I have tried the various snack bars that come along as improvements, especially Clif and Luna, and I am sure they are healthier and more nutrition-packed, but to me they taste like cardboard even with peanut, chocolate, lemon and other attempts at flavoring. The purpose of a snack bar, in my opinion, to deliver a measured dose of sugar energy and protein to keep you going in a strenuous exertion.

Greg Taylor, a onetime advertising client who is president of Liberty Orchards in the apple country of eastern Washington, sent me a selection of his Orchard Bars to check out and I like them a whole lot better. Greg is a master of delivering a precisely controlled sweetness through apple juice, instead of refined sugar, and Orchard Bars are definitely sweeter than most snack bars but without approaching the sweetness level of candy. They are firm without being hard and the generous amounts of nut bits provide a quick dose of crunch. My tasting panel (consisting of school age kids) proclaimed them the best of all snack bars they’d tried. One more test: I left a bar on the top of a heater, to simulate the experience of spending a hot day in a backpack, and it held up fine.

There are six flavors of which Strawberry-Walnut seems to be the most popular, though I like Macadamia Banana the best. They seem to be somewhat hard to find at retail but you can order them on Amazon. You can also get a sampler of two bars for $2.50 with free shipping, direct from the producer, which is probably the best way to satisfy initial curiosity. Orchard Bars are vegan, non-GMO and contain no gluten or dairy products.

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Recipe: Mari’s Little Lamburger

Lamburger done

Lamburger, done

Adapted from the somewhat mysterious Conspirator’s Cookbook, this provides a very juicy patty you can enjoy on a bun or on its own. Serves 4.

1 lb ground lamb*
¼ c chopped parsley (or chopped mint, or a combination)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 T milk
2 T tomato juice**
1 large egg
1 t salt
¼ t pepper
White flour, for dredging
Butter, for frying

Method: beat egg in a mixing bowl, then add other ingredients except flour. Mix well and refrigerate for 2 hours. Shape into 4 mini-meat loaves or patties. The meat will be gloppy; it helps to wet your hands between patties. Dredge lightly in flour on all sides then sauté in butter over medium heat, turning once, for about 5 minutes or until medium rare.

* I find that most packaged ground lamb is way too fatty so I grind my own from shoulder or leg or “lamb stew meat”
** If you don’t have tomato sauce on hand, you can use a little of the liquid in a can of tomatoes. Or, for a tarter taste, substitute lemon juice.

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