Caramel apple of my eye


Oh, yes, you will click this to see a larger version. You can’t not click it.

This year’s cider-baked ham turned out even better than last year’s, from eye appeal to moistness right through to flavour. That’s steam at the upper left immediately after its final glazing in the oven with highly-reduced cider, dark brown sugar, and freshly ground pepper. We tented this loosely and rested it for fifteen minutes before tucking in.

The big Christmas meal – traditionally on Christmas Eve in my house – was the ham, twice-baked potatoes with sour cream and Parmigiano-Reggiano, roasted corn, and cornmeal biscuits:


The twice-baked potatoes come under the fancy-sounding guise of Potatoes Suzette, even though the Kennedy White House recipe, served as part of a lunch with the Canadian Prime Minister, has only a few points in common with the original pommes de terre Suzette. The Americanised version is a sort of mish-mash of Suzette and Roxelane potatoes. My version includes more egg yolks, sour cream, and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. The roasted corn was from Trader Joe’s freezer case and was better than I expected – their corn is nicely sweet and roasted well. The biscuit recipe comes from Cook’s Illustrated.

The ham itself, recipe also from Cook’s Illustrated, is made with nearly a gallon of cider (fresh, not fermented) with eight cups used with cinnamon and cloves for a several-hour brine, another cup inside the oven bag the ham is heated in, and four cups reduced for over an hour to a sticky, caramelly 1/3 cup. That 1/3 cup is used to paint the ham not just for more apple flavour but so the dark brown sugar-pepper mixture will stick properly to the ham during the final glazing at 400F/200C.

I’m happy to report that I got the smoked ham from the same place I got one last year, Blood Farm, which suffered a devastating fire in the middle of the night of 29/30 December 2013. The four-alarm blaze destroyed the building that housed the smokehouse, meat processing room, offices, and retail store, and the Blood family was initially unsure whether they would even attempt to recover. Hundreds of producers and customers and even people from the state of Massachusetts agricultural bureau convinced them to rebuild. An independent fund was set up to support idled employees in the intervening months. They finished the new building in September and the smokehouse restarted operations shortly after that. I also bought some of their fairly spectacular bacon when I picked up the ham last week.

Dessert has been delayed to today and will be Blueberry Grunt, a real favourite around here.

Old-school butchers

They’re a rarity in Massachusetts, especially since Blood Farm’s fire last December, though the Blood family are nearly done rebuilding the combined smokehouse, processing, and retail building that was lost. At a Groton town meeting the other day, Elliot Blood said they’re planning a “soft” opening around the end of this month – meaning a grand reopening event is also in the works, I imagine.

There’s a place equidistant from my house that claims to be a butcher shop. It’s not. When they opened several years ago I went in there twice, once shortly after they opened to be disappointed and the second time a few months later – to see if they were still as dismal, not because I’m a glutton for punishment. They were.

Anyway, it sounds like I should be able to get one of Blood Farm’s delightful smoked hams for Christmas again this year. Here’s last Christmas’s cider-baked ham with deep-fried cauliflower and Julia Child’s Purée de Pommes de Terre à L’ail – that is, garlic mash, from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1, recipe at the end of this post. To me, there’s nothing better than raw garlic if you’re looking to ruin a batch of perfectly mashed potatoes, but slow-braising the garlic in butter first provides the perfect mellowing.


In the meantime, I may visit Fairway Beef, which I recently found mentioned in an eGullet thread. It’s about 30 minutes from my office and sounds like my kinda place. Who knows, I might even be able to get some of the specialised cuts I can order at Blood Farm, though I strongly doubt Fairway sells goat or has bacon smoked over the other side of the building.


PURÉE DE POMMES DE TERRE À L’AIL (Garlic Mashed Potatoes)
Julia Child

Two whole heads of garlic will seem like a horrifying amount if you have not made this type of recipe before. But if less is used, you will regret it, for the long cooking of the garlic removes all of its harsh strength, leaving just a pleasant flavor. Garlic mashed potatoes go with roast lamb, pork, goose, or sausages. Although both garlic sauce and potatoes may be cooked in advance, they should be combined only at the last minute; the completed purée loses its nice consistency if it sits too long over heat.

For 6 to 8 people

2 heads garlic, about 30 cloves

Separate the garlic cloves. Drop into boiling water, and boil 2 minutes. Drain. Peel.

A 3- to 4-cup (small) heavy-bottomed saucepan with cover
4 tablespoons butter

Cook the garlic slowly — low heat — with the butter in the covered saucepan for about 20 minutes or until very tender but not browned.

2 tablespoons flour
1 cup boiling milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch of pepper
A sieve and wooden spoon, or an electric blender

Blend in the flour and stir over low heat until it froths with the butter for 2 minutes without browning. Off heat, beat in the boiling milk and seasonings. Boil, stirring, for 1 minute. Rub the sauce through a sieve or purée it in the electric blender. Simmer for 2 minutes more.  (May be done ahead of time. Dot top of sauce with bits of butter to keep a skin from forming. Reheat when needed.)

2 1/2 lbs. (just over a kilo) baking potatoes
A potato ricer
A 2 1/2 quart enameled saucepan (medium)
A wooden spatula or spoon
4 tablespoons softened butter (2 oz)
Salt and white pepper

Peel and quarter the potatoes. Drop in boiling salted water to cover, and boil until tender. Drain immediately and put through a potato ricer. Place the hot purée in the saucepan and beat with the spatula or spoon for several minutes over moderate heat to evaporate moisture. As soon as the purée begins to form a film in the bottom of the pan, remove from heat and beat in the butter a tablespoon at a time. Beat in salt and pepper to taste. (If not used immediately, set aside uncovered. To reheat, cover and set over boiling water, beating frequently.)

2 to 3 tablespoons heavy cream
4 tablespoons minced parsley
A hot, lightly buttered vegetable dish.

Shortly before serving, beat the hot garlic sauce vigorously into the hot potatoes. Beat in the cream by spoonfuls but do not thin out the purée too much. Beat in the parsley. Correct seasoning. Turn into hot vegetable dish.