Remember "snow days" when you were a kid? The sky grey and overcast, the air frigid and sharp with the smell of winter, the household calm with everyone absorbed in quiet activity, reading, hobbies. Lunch time rolled around and greeted you with a crispy grilled cheese and cold milk.
I just came from there.
So maybe there's no snow, the air is still cold at 40 degrees and smells decisively like winter. I slept in and spent the morning drinking americanos and reading the Times online. A grilled cheese seemed in order. Of course I rarely make a boring grilled cheese and never ever with "cheese food"; I opt for melty real cheeses like muenster, provolone, gouda and/or fontina and often include some sort of sliced meat.
Today's selection was very simple. I didn't have any good, rich, grainy bread so I was forced to use too-soft "wheat" bread. Mild provolone won out over gouda because it would complement well the thick slice of leftover Christmas ham I was using. That baked pork butt was the magic ingredient, turning an average afternoon grilled cheese into a delightful and imaginative visit to a long ago childhood.
Christmas was the second time I made ham. My first ham stemmed from a desire for home made split pea soup a few months ago in which a meaty ham bone is key. What's the best way to acquire that but to make a bone-in ham. Wandering into new territory led me to ask my mom and grandma, both very experienced in making soups, who advised me to look for "pork butt". I thought maybe that was just a term my very frank-speaking grandma used but at the store I found bone-in pork butt. Perfect.
For that first ham I followed a recipe for Baked Ham with Sweet Bourbon-Mustard Glaze. It was easy and very apparent that you really don't need an actual recipe to make a ham. You can seemingly mix anything you want to make a glaze as long as you include something sweet such as molasses, brown sugar, syrup even coconut nectar and something liquidy and acidic such as orange or apple juice. Then you put it in a low-300 degree oven until the ham reaches about 140 degrees, basting periodically to build up the layer of glaze. Done.
This time I made a glaze with some basics I had on hand: the small remaining amount of maple syrup from the fridge with a bit of molasses to compensate, Bragg's apple cider vinegar ("the best" I've heard), the handful of brown sugar left in the pantry and prepared yellow mustard just because. I again used only a Pyrex dish to cook it in, I refuse to buy a roasting pan and rack which doesn't seem nearly as versatile as my beloved Pyrex collection.
The resulting ham was delicious, of course. I served it with some leftover redskin mashed potatoes, reheated with some Boursin cheese stirred in (yum!). The vegetable side dish was green beans with mushrooms. I steamed the beans to maintain their crispness and sauteed sliced cremini mushrooms and green onions in the bacon fat left from the Christmas morning bacon (yum, again!) then combined them.
We've been picking off the ham since Christmas, snacking on cold chunks just pulled off and making cold or hot sandwiches, including the amazing grilled ham and cheese this afternoon. In the next couple days (as my work schedule permits) I will prepare the ham bone for the split pea soup by slicing off good sandwich-sized pieces and picking the rest off into soup-sized chunks.
When I make the split pea soup I'll try to remember to document the process for the learning cooks who may read this because it's really easier than you may think. The world of soup seemed intimidating to me because I am partial to thick, hearty soups/stews and always thought they were difficult to make. I wonder if that is a sign of my cooking skill progression, now that I think about it. I consider myself a solid "intermediate" because I can cook well without recipes but still turn to them for inspiration and guidance. Nonetheless, stay tuned.
[I labeled this post as "frugal" because ham is relatively inexpensive and you can use it in endlessly creative ways making it stretch as far as you want, including the bone.]