little bit of heaven and a little bit of ah yah

What goes better with a bowl of chili than a nice big slice of cornbread?! Every time I think about cornbread or eat it, this song pops into my head. It makes me want to dance a little jig in the kitchen while I mix my batter.

This cornbread recipe is a nice base for your favorite mix-in's. I usually go classic with some corn kernels but you could go as crazy as you like (jalapeno chedda anyone?!). I like to serve it with a thick pad of butter and a drizzle of honey. Just sayin. 

originally adapted from barefoot contessa via the novice chef blog via pink parsley
yields 12 large pieces

3 c. flour
1 c. yellow cornmeal
¼ c. sugar
2 T. baking powder
2 t. salt
2 c. milk
3 eggs
2 sticks butter (½ lb) melted
1 c. frozen corn kernels

Preheat oven to 350º F. In a large bowl mix your dry ingredients (flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt). In a separate bowl, combine wet ingredients (egg, milk, and butter). Whisk the wet ingredients into the dry until it's combined (be sure not to over mix). Let mixture sit for 20 minutes*. 

* YES you have to let it sit… I didn't the first time I made it, what a mistake! You need to give the cornmeal time to absorb the liquid so it becomes nice and fluffy. If you don't it will be crunchy, not in a good way. 

Once mixture has rested, stir in your corn kernels. Grease a 9x13 baking pan with butter or pam and pour your batter in. Bake for about 30 - 35 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. 

improv style:
jalapeno cheddar is a classic cornbread combination. Add as much or as little of those ingredients as you would like. I'd start with about ½ c. shredded cheese and 1 - 2 jalapenos chopped. Add from there as you like. Other tasty ideas: bacon, diced green chile, red bell pepper, poblano, pimento, scalions… you get the idea.

if you don't like chunks in your cornbread, leave out the corn kernels. you can substitute milk for buttermilk or any % of milk you have on hand. i used non-fat. 


chili for this chill

The weather in Chicago has been a bit cold the past week. I'm not complaining by any means. We had unseasonably warm weather for a few weeks before that. But this chill in the air has me craving some of my favorite fall comfort foods. This weekend we had a huge tunder + lightning storm. I couldn't pick a better dinner than a big bowl of hearty chili to go along with that storm! 

This is my new favorite chili recipe. I've tried a few from scratch before and this one has everything I'm looking for. A little tang balanced with some brown sugar, a slight kick of heat - just enough to tickle your lips, and lots of hearty, thick chunks of meat and beans. I know in some parts of the country chili is religion - that's not the case where I grew up. I still think this recipe could hang with the best of them! 

balsamic + bean chili

2 lbs ground beef
2 onions, chopped
1 carrot, finely grated
6 cloves garlic, minced
12 oz (1 bottle) beer
2 - 25 oz cans kidney beans, drained & rinsed
2 - 28 oz cans diced tomatoes
4 T. chili seasoning
½ t. garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
½ t. cayenne pepper
1 t. oregano
2 T. brown sugar
½ T. worcestershire sauce
1 T. balsamic vinegar
3 T. chili pepper sauce (I got mine from trader joes but you could use your favorite)
4 oz diced green chile

to garnish:
sour cream
shredded cheddar cheese
finely chopped onions
chopped cilantro or parsley

In a large pot, brown your ground beef with a little olive oil. Once meat is browned, remove it from the pan. Add your onions and cook until translucent. Add in carrot and garlic and cook for another 2 minutes until softened. Add your meat back in the pot an pour your beer (I used PBR but any light beer would do), beans, and diced tomatoes. Give it a quick stir and add all of the remaining ingredients. Once mixture comes to a boil, reduce heat to low and gently simmer for about 4 hours, stirring occasionally.

Top with your favorite fixin's and serve! 

improv style:
think of chili as a hodge podge of ingredients. i add balsamic vinegar and a little brown sugar to balance the dish but you can leave it out. this chili is subtly spicy, if you like more or less kick, play with the cayenne and chili pepper sauce or red pepper flakes. don't have green chile? it's ok, you can leave it out. you could also add in your favorite veggies. think red bell pepper, or carrots, sweet potato or corn. 

i like the depth of flavor that beer adds to the dish. don't make the same mistake i once did and use a super hoppy IPA. chili is best with either a porter, stout, or american ale. i like PBR but you could use coors light, miller light, or your favorite light beer. if you're going the stout/porter direction, choose one you love. like the idea of beer but don't have any on hand? you can substitute a little instant espresso powder instead of using a porter or stout. don't want to use beer? that's ok too. just use a good beef stock or water. 

beans or no beans... it all depends on where you're from. for me chili isn't chili without beans. i like kidney beans but you can use whatever ones you have on hand. black beans or pinto beans would be great in this for a little mexican twist! oooh, if you do that, add some corn kernels too, yum! you can also play with the type of meat you use. lighten it up with some ground turkey or chicken breast. try it with a combo of ground pork and chuck, OR don't use ground meat and use chunks of brisket, steak, or even pulled pork. mmmmm, pork.

if you like a thinner or thicker chili, you can add more liquid or thicken it up with some cornmeal or cornstarch. 


what to do with leftover ham

Every year growing up I'd look forward to the fresh ham sandwiches that came after a holiday meal. I went through a phase where the ham had to be cut into small chunks so that my little teeth could get through the meat and every bite had a bit of ham goodness in it. My dad always lovingly obliged my finicky demands. I have many memories of the two of us in the morning assembling the masterpiece of a sandwich that would be my lunch. I'd tell him exactly how I liked it and he would help me bring my creation to life. I seriously have the best dad in the world. 

Last year, my Uncle blew my mind with an idea for leftover ham from our Easter dinner… HAM SALAD. I've had egg salad, I've had tuna salad sandwiches, but I had never thought to do the same with ham! Maybe you've heard of this before? I hadn't and the thought never even crossed my mind. In case you're like me, I felt it was my duty to share the idea of ham salad with you. 

This is an easily adaptable recipe and I have a few improv suggestions below that you should check out. If you have leftover ham from Easter, definitely do yourself the favor and make this sandwich for lunch this week! 

ham salad
yields 2 sandwiches

2 c. shredded ham
½ c. mayonaise 
2 T. dill relish (or 2 small pickles finely chopped)
4 slices good ole' white bread
2 leaves of lettuce (optional)

Place your leftover ham in a food processor and let it go until it becomes a fine shred. Whatever texture you prefer, get it to that point. If you don't have a food processor, you can do this by hand with a knife. You could also just cube the ham but I much prefer the shred…

In a bowl, combine shredded ham, mayo, and dill relish. Stir until combined. Place half the mixture onto a slice of bread, add a leaf of lettuce, cover with other slice of bread. Repeat for the other 2 slices. 

improv style:
I think this recipe begs for good old fashioned, chewy white bread. Health nuts everywhere are cringing in their seats, sorry! you can use your favorite type of bread (whole wheat, an artisan loaf, etc…). heck, if you're doing the whole passover unleavened bread thing but you're still down with pork, put it on a matzo! mmmmm... this is also great as a snack on crackers.

if you're trying to lighten it up, you could substitute some of the mayo for light or fat free mayo, greek yogurt, or even smashed up avocado. avocado is a similar consistency and doesn't impart too much flavor. i still think this sammich calls for good ole full fat mayo! it's the holidays…

not a pickle fan? leave it out. my uncle does sweet pickle relish. i'm not down with the sweet pickles but if that's your thing, use that instead! you could add your favorite sandwich toppings but i like to keep it simple and let the ham shine! 


a classic

Deviled eggs are all the rage right now. I've seen TONS of unique recipes and even a few pop up on local restaurant menus. I'm a sucker for a deviled egg and while I love all of the unique flavor variations, nothing beats a classic deviled egg to me. 

My mom makes hers creamy with a bit of a kick and tang from 2 types of mustard and a light dusting of paprika really makes them pop. I have all sorts of great improv suggestions for a classic deviled egg including how to lighten them up if you're watching your waistline this year! 

classic deviled eggs
adapted from my mom's recipe
yield 12 servings

6 hard boiled eggs
5 T. mayonnaise 
½ T. dijon mustard
½ t. mustard powder
¼ c. shaved ham
salt + pepper to taste
sprinkle of paprika

Cut eggs in half and gently scoop out the yolks. In a bowl, mash the egg yolks with the back of a fork until they become a course powdery texture. Add in mayo, mustards, ham, and salt + pepper to taste. This is where you should taste the mixture to see how you like it. Adjust from there. 

Place yolk mixture into a ziplock bag or pastry bag fitted with your favorite tip. If using a ziplock bag, cut the tip off the end and pipe into eggs. You could just plop the mixture into the eggs with a spoon but I feel like the small touch makes for a beautiful presentation. Plus if you put it into a bag, you could make the day before serving to save yourself time. Just pipe it into the eggs when you're ready to serve!

*tip* to prevent your eggs from sliding around the plate, slice a thin layer off the bottom of the egg so it sits flat. just be careful not to cut through the egg. OR you could put a little of the yolk mixture on the bottom and stick the egg to the plate. you could be a little playful and cut your eggs in half hamburger style to be a little different. see below:

improv style:
there's all sorts of variations on this dish that you could try. i'm going to stick to classic suggestions but i've seen some cool combos like caesar salad flavored and truffled deviled eggs - how fancy!

i like best foods full-fat mayo. especially for the holidays, go big or go home, right? if you're not into that, you could use your favorite low fat, fat free, or miracle whip type mayo. want to make it REALLY healthy?! try substituting ½ the mayo for greek yogurt. it will add some more tang to the deviled eggs. or you could try substituting with a little bit of hummus.

shaved ham... where do i get that?! i usually cut off a small hunck from my holiday ham. you could also buy thick cut deli ham or buy the ham slices from the meat section of your grocer. i just pulse mine in the food processor for 30 seconds but if you don't have one, you can finely chop it with a knife and it will be just fine. not a fan of ham or looking for something similar but different?! try pancetta, bacon, or prosciutto. my cousins boyfriend so cleverly leaves out his ham from the yolk mixture and garnishes his eggs with a chunk of bacon. one of the many reasons why i love him so! 

on to tweaking the recipe to your taste... if you're not a huge mustard fan (i'm not usually - this being an exception) try scaling back the amount at first. remember, you can always add more. the worst thing you could do is add too much to the yolks. i've seen some runny deviled eggs in my day and i wonder what people were thinking. that being said, if you like it runny, add more mayo to your mixture! if you like a little kick, consider adding a few dashes of tabasco or cayenne pepper. a few squirts of worcestershire sauce could be a nice addition to the mix. 

if you end up splitting a few of the egg whites, don't panic. pop those in your mouth and no-one will notice! plus you'll be able to have more filling for the other eggs... see, a welcome accident! you can always boil more eggs... it's not too hard! 


how to cook a ham

Everyone has a different theory on what is the better "cut" of meat for a ham. I like a bone in butt end because bone in lends more flavor and butt end has more meat and better tasting meat (in my opinion). Shank end is easier to cut and has a nicer bone (if that matters to you). Really you can't go wrong as long as you buy a bone-in half or whole ham. 

Do not, I repeat, DO NOT buy a spiral ham. They tend to be saltier and dry out much quicker. Treat yourself and buy a nice ham from a butcher or grocery store. It will be so much tastier!

People have all different traditions and theories on glazing, cooking, and preparing a ham. I like making ham gravy with ham hocks so I can glaze my ham and get the best of both worlds. I've tried all different types of glazes and my favorite is a non-traditional fig + mustard glaze (not just for chicken) inspired by Claire Robinson. It's a beautiful purple/brown and gets sticky and caramelizes beautifully on the skin. It's divine!  You can take your favorite glaze recipe or not use one at all. The cooking principal is the same…

how to cook a ham:

Preheat oven to 325º F. On the fat/skin side, score your ham. All you want to do is make some horizontal and vertical lines to allow the fat to crisp up. Place ham skin side up in your baking dish and place in the oven for 30 minutes. This will allow the fat to cook down a bit and the skin to crisp up. After 30 minutes of baking, add about 1-2" of liquid (chicken stock, veggie stock, water) to the bottom of the dish and continue cooking for about 2 more hours depending on how big your ham is. If you're glazing, this is the point where you want to put that on your ham. 

Baste every 30 minutes (pour some of that liquid in the bottom over the ham to keep it moist). Factor in about 20 minutes of cooking time per pound. The goal is to get your ham to an internal temperature 135º F. When you pull it out to rest for 20-30 minutes, it will continue to rise to about 140 F which is your goal. You'll want to cover it in a tin foil tent so that it stays warm. Resting is important because it allows the juices to distribute throughout the whole hunk of meat. If you jump the gun and cut into it right away, you'll end up with a ton of juice on the plate instead of juicy meat. 

improv style:
the improv is really how you treat your ham… glaze, pineapple rings with cherries, clove studded, etc… the cooking method is simple and easy. i don't have a large roasting pan so i just use my 9x13 pyrex pan. work with what you have and if you have any questions, post a comment below and i'll respond as quick as possible!


saucy goodness

If you're like me and my family, you've probably waited until the last minute to figure out what you're making for Easter dinner. And in true fashion, this post is a little later than I would have liked to share with you guys. Hopefully you're like me and haven't given two thoughts to your Easter dinner yet. Do you want to do something a little different or do you stick to the classic family recipes? 

Last year I celebrated Easter with my Aunt and Uncle for the first time. I hosted my very first Easter dinner with all the fixings my family traditionally has. I was really proud of myself. Everything went without a flaw (I got lucky). I was really happy I got to share a bit of my Seattle family traditions with my Chicago family.  I was able to introduce my Uncle to ham gravy - something he had never thought of before. Something I couldn't imagine ham dinner without… seriously, HAM GRAVY. Do I need to say more? 

Is it just my family that makes this or is it something you've heard of before?! Either way, I feel it is my duty to share this salty, meaty, porky goodness with you all. If you haven't had it, make sure you include it in your Easter menu this year. You can thank me later. 

If you're all about a glazed ham, not to worry. I've taken it upon myself to figure out how to get ham gravy goodness without sacrificing your beloved glaze. Check out the improv style section below the recipe for all of the different options you have. And if you're looking for a tasty glaze that's not bourbon brown sugar, maybe try my fig mustard glaze. Fig + Ham were a match made in heaven in my book. 

This year, Easter dinner is at my Aunt and Uncle's house. I can't wait to see what their family meal traditions are!  I know what they do with their ham leftovers and I can't wait to share that with you guys! My Uncle blew my mind last year when he suggested it… GENIUS and yet so simple! What are some of your Easter or Passover traditions? 

ham gravy
yields about 2 c.

for the stock:
1 ham hock (you can get this from the butcher)
4 c. water or chicken/veggie stock

for the gravy:
2 c. of your stock (created from above ingredients)
3 T. butter
3 ½ T. flour

for the stock:
Preheat oven to 325º. Take a big knife to your ham hock and gash it a few times in the bone. This will help release the flavors. In an oven safe dish, combine ham hock with water or stock (I use my 9x9 glass pyrex). You don't have to measure perfectly how much liquid you put. Just fill the dish as much as you can with water and cover up the ham hock at least half way. I usually use a box of chicken stock and then fill the rest up with water. I know chicken isn't pork but I find it helps add to the depth of flavor in the gravy. It also gives it a nice brown color. Heat in the oven for at least 2-3 hours so that the ham flavors get in the liquid. Strain liquid into a bowl and let cool. You can do this up to 3 days before you want to serve. 

for the gravy:
Depending on the amount of liquid you yielded and the consistency you like, the next steps vary. For me, I like a gravy that isn't runny but isn't a thick, gelatinous lump either. For thinner gravy, add more liquid or less flour. For thicker gravy, add more flour or less liquid. In a medium sized pot, melt your butter with flour and stir until it forms a  paste. Pour your stock over the roux (flour + butter mixture) and whisk like a crazy person until it's incorporated. Gently simmer for about 15 minutes until mixture is thickened. If you find your gravy too runny, you can always mix some flour with a little bit of water (you want to dissolve it best you can) and slowly stir a little at a time into the pot and wait 5 minutes to see how it thickens up. If your gravy is too thick, you could add a little more stock if you have it or chicken/veggie stock OR a little water if you must. If your gravy turns out lumpy, never fear. You can put it in a blender or use a hand blender to incorporate all of those little lumps. 

improv style:
first off, if you have more than 2 c. of stock, adjust the measurements accordingly. I did a smaller batch so that people could always go bigger if they wanted. i tried to make it easy to batch out…

this is a basic ham gravy. i like a strong ham flavor but if you want to make it a little fancy, you could add some herbs (thyme, rosemary) or booze (sherry, bourbon, or a little white wine). whatever you like to do to your turkey gravy would make sense here for the most part. you could add some veggies like carrots, celery, onion and garlic to the pan with the ham hock as you cook it to add more flavor. maybe i'll try that next time i make it.

gluten free? NO PROBLEM! use cornstarch instead of flour. Just make sure you mix it well with a bit of the cold stock or water. You want to turn it into a slurry (a thin paste) to drizzle into your hot stock. You can always add more so be light handed at first! it will thicken after about 7 minutes and you'll know if you need to add more or less. 

don't want to buy a ham hock or can't find one at your store?! no problem. pour some water and chicken stock in the bottom of the pan you cook your ham in. baste it every 30 minutes with the juice to maximize the ham flavor in your broth. you won't want to glaze your ham unless you want a sweet gravy or your gravy to taste similar to your glaze. i've found sweet gravy = gross. while your ham is resting, make your gravy.