Thursday, April 28, 2011

Guilt in the Kitchen

I'd like to say that guilt has no place in the kitchen, but my kitchen is full of it today.

I was sick with a nasty cold last week and I didn't feel much like cooking the labor-intensive meals I'd envisioned when I bought a cart-full of supplies at the grocery store.  As a result, much of the food I bought last week was sent to the frosty netherworld of my freezer or sat festering in my refrigerator.  I've been feeling guilty about this state of affairs all week and this morning I couldn't take it anymore.

I was supposed to have spent this morning working, but instead I rolled up my sleeves and dove into the refrigerator to see what I could find.  After some rooting around I came up with a pile of "needs to be used" ingredients... and a plan.  I would make spaghetti sauce and turkey chili-- a giant pot of each.  I'd been having a craving for chili lately anyway, perhaps because it's a food that nobody else in my family likes so I never make it.  Today I had an excuse--  "I need to use up a LOT of onions".

Other ingredients from my refrigerator in search of a dish to call home included a package of ground turkey, some carrots starting to root, and two kinds of ham.   I know that ham has no place in a traditional chili, but I thought it might go in mine.  In the end, the country ham made it in and the Western ham did not.
A boneless, commercially produced country ham in my kitchen, leftovers of which were used in today's chili, April 2011.
As far as I'm concerned, country ham can go in almost anything... when chopped fine and fried in a little oil, it can provide a rich, salty basis for almost any soup, stew, or chili.  I'd tried to find a chili recipe in my great-grandmother's cookbook, but I wasn't too surprised when I didn't find one.  There were lots of recipes for bean soups, many of which amounted to throwing a ham hock into a pot of water, adding some onion, carrots, and beans and calling it a day.  So why not add country ham to my chili?  It turned out to be delicious and I ate a big bowl of it for lunch.  While it was still simmering I was afraid I'd made it too hot, but as soon as I realized that nobody else would eat it anyway, so who cares?  I added a giant squirt of Rooster sauce for good measure and stirred the pot.  Yea, I know that's kind of a weird addition, but this was just for me after all.  My taste buds call out for hot foods and since my family doesn't like hot foods, I have very few choices of "hot" ingredients in my kitchen.

Adding Thai hot sauce to chili is one thing, but adding Western ham turned out to be another thing entirely.  And it was unacceptable.  I must admit that this revelation surprised me.  I'm never quite sure what to do with a Western ham and until this Easter, I'd never cooked one before.  In fact, as I write this I'm starting to question what this ham should be called.  When I was growing up we'd call it "city ham" and I wonder if readers will know what I'm talking about.  Maybe you call it "spiral ham", although I always thought that referred to how you cut a ham, not the actual ham variety.  Maybe most people just know it as "ham".  I'm talking about a non-cured ham purchased from the grocery store.  It was pre-cooked, although I cooked it again, glazed with a sauce I made from hot mustard and my homemade marmalade.  I have to admit that it was a nice addition to our Easter brunch, which included guests who weren't fans of country ham.  I've realized over the twenty years I've spent away from the South that country ham is an acquired taste if you didn't grow up with it.  In my house, so is Western ham, at least for me.

I encouraged my husband to eat ham sandwiches for lunch and he did.  I ate a few myself.  I even added small bits of it to a pasta dish one evening (not the best idea), and we still had more ham leftover.  Maybe it was regenerating itself every night it lived in my refrigerator.  I felt guilty about throwing it out, but I didn't really want to eat it either.  At least, not in my chili.  So the chunk of Western ham was the one ingredient that went BACK into the refrigerator unused.  I felt a little guilty about that too, until I ate my second bowl of chili.  It was delicious. And there was something very decadent about making food that was just for me.  I still feel a little guilty about it, but the guilt recedes with every bowl of chili I eat.  I've already frozen several single-serving containers of chili because I know my love for this chili won't last for more than a day or two and there's a lot more chili to be eaten.  There's also a giant pot of spaghetti sauce still sitting on the stovetop and I hope that my family will enjoy it while I heat up another bowl of chili for dinner tonight.