Ham and mushrooms, butter and garlic

It’s been a while since I wrote a food-oriented post—and of course a holiday weekend is just the thing to trigger one. Lisa’s parents were here this weekend, so our relatively freewheeling Easter dinner that we have honed over the past few years got expanded a little stylistically while reining in a few of the more eccentric ingredients.

The menu: deviled eggs for hors d’oeuvres; glazed ham; mashed potatoes; asparagus; and mushrooms. The deviled eggs were the most restrained compared to past years, where I used wasabi in place of the horseradish my parents always used to perk things up. Instead of wasabi, I just used hot sauce, slightly increased the salt for flavor, and diced up some shallot very fine to mix into the filling. The eggs were superb: eminently edible but leaving one still hungry—and thirsty. As is also traditional at Easter, I accompanied mine with a small amount of bourbon over ice as I was cooking. This year it was Blanton’s, a serendipitous find that I was delighted to have in my liquor cabinet. No juleps this year, though; for one thing, at 30-something degrees, it was too damned cold out to have them or want them.

The potatoes were simple too—half and half and butter in the place of the chicken broth and buttermilk that I’ve used in the past to give them flavor, and I thought the potatoes were bland as a result. But! They were a perfect foil to the mushrooms (sliced, cooked in olive oil and butter with more diced shallot and two cloves of garlic, and then finished covered in the pan), which were a hit. The garlic was definitely the thing. Alas the asparagus! cooked much too long.

The ham was tasty, but—and here regional prejudices rear their head—I do wish I could have found a proper ham. And by proper, I mean country ham, dry-aged, the kind that comes in a burlap bag and tastes a little like a salt lick and a little like a smoky prosciutto. That’s the ham I had a lot of growing up, both at home and at church, where ham biscuits were the order of the day after a sunrise service. But this ham—a spiral sliced ham with a brown sugar and orange juice glaze, was pretty good in its own way—just not quite the way my mouth remembered it.

After dinner, of course, the requisite ham biscuits. Mine reflected my inner culinary struggle, with mustard on top and butter on the bottom. Yes! Butter with ham. And if you think it’s insane, ask the street vendors in Provence selling jambon cru sandwiches with thick local butter about it, and then come back and tell me I was right. Of course it‘s not the Provençal coming out in me so much as the Pennsylvania Dutch grandmother, but oh well.

Others had clam chowder with dinner—Legal’s, sold prepackaged, and it occurred to me how much easy access to the greatest ambrosia breeds contempt. Watching the others eat it made me think about the Bull Island clam chowder I grew up with, cooked with a clear broth, not milk, and certainly not with tomato.