Chat Leftovers: Powdered Vanilla, Ham Surplus and Food Blogs

As promised, I'm following up with a batch of questions left in this week's What's Cooking queue. Your contributions are vital to the mix, so please don't be bashful in the comments area below.

Alexandria, Va.: Where in the D.C. area can one buy powdered vanilla?

For those who don't know, powdered vanilla is the ground-up version of a dried vanilla bean. It contains no alcohol, but likely would include the addition of some kind of sugar or dextrose base. Alexandria, you need not go out of your neighborhood for your powdery pursuit; head straight for independent cookware oasis La Cuisine. The powder is available via its Web site, so I'm betting if you give them a call, you'll have the stuff pronto. My second choice would be Sur La Table's Pentagon City store, which carries a well-stocked selection of cake and candy supplies.

Web sites/blogs: Kim -- what are your favorite Web resources for reliable recipes? I love 101 Cookbooks and would like a few others to keep an eye on.

Here's a recent roundup of recipe-centric blogs and portals that tickle my fancy, and last year, I compiled of list of meatless blogs that are doing equally good work. The Web is constantly in flux, so a certain amount of diligence and a Web filing system are paramount to keeping on top of things. To that end, I wonder how many of you are subscribing to RSS (real simply syndication) feeds to stay current with all of your Web favorites or if perhaps you like bookmarking tools, like del.icio.us?

Soon I hope to have a blog roll in the left-hand margin on this very page, so stay tuned.

Oklahoma: I bought some whole nutmeg. How much is usable? Do you grate all of it or just the outside?

First thing you should do is try to crack open the nutmeg, and if there is an outer shell, you will see it pronto (I have a bag of whole nutmeg from Grenada in my freezer and most of the nutmegs still have their outer shell.) Peel away if this is the case, then you can begin grating. You'll see (and smell) pretty quickly just how aromatic this seed is, and a little goes a long way. The whole thing is usable, and it will last you a good long time. Grate only what you need. Did you know that the spice called mace also comes from the nutmeg fruit? It's the outer red membrane of the seed and is dried and then ground.


Silver Spring, Md.: Help! I have most of a 9 lb. spiral sliced ham left from Easter. I am making split pea soup with the bone and some of the meat tonight, but we still have so much yummy ham left. We are having ham and eggs for breakfast every morning, but there is only so much that two people can eat in a day. It seems like I have tons of ideas for leftover turkey recipes after Thanksgiving, but I am at a loss for anything creative to do with this ham. Do you have any favorites you could pass on?

Okay, in no particular order, some hammy thoughts that come to mind:

*Fried rice with some chopped ham

* Some version of a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, be it a croque monsieur, a Monte Cristo or ham and swiss on rye with a dab of Dijon mustard.

* What about some take on a Chef's salad, with some of those leftover hard-boiled colored eggs, a bed of mixed greens, you know the drill. You could also go the frisee route, and fry up cubed ham into little lardons and top the whole thing off with a lemon-y vinaigrette and a poached egg.

* When I think of ham, I always think of the quiche Lorraine my girl Karla makes on Christmas morning. Paired with a tart salad, you've got dinner or Sunday brunch plans...

* Or what about deviled ham? Here's a recipe from Food & Wine that I'm sure will be much tastier than the Underwood stuff from a can. Boy, that takes me back to the 1970s. I can see the white paper label with the devil's pitchfork like it was yesterday!

The last word:
Pie crust!: I am a convert who once was very scared of it! I was raised on frozen crusts, and have in the last year learned to make my own. I make lots of kinds of crust now, the food processor helps, a glass of wine (not in the crust -- in the cook!) helps, and leaving a lot of time helps. It's not always perfect, but i'm not cooking for the king. It's just my family, and they're grateful for dinner.

Bethesda, Md.: I missed the chat today but reading through the transcript I noticed the question about CSAs and wanted to add my two cents. The half share we had last year that was great! We barely went into the produce aisle for months because we didn't need the old standards, we had new things to experiment with. We had shared with family when we started to get overwhelmed by certain items and had a dinner party one night with several neighbors with about 90 percent of the meal coming from the CSA. I think we definitely ate more veggies and my boyfriend discovered that he really did like some things he had previously avoided. Both of us missed it when the season ended.


And one more for the road
...
I went back and forth on the idea of CSAs and finally decided going to the farmer's market every weekend is the best way for me to #1 support a local farmer #2 eat more variety of seasonal foods and #3 try new things. I knew I would be throwing away produce if I got a box every week, even if I shared it.

By Kim ODonnel |  March 26, 2008; 8:05 AM ET Chat Leftovers
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For the person asking about food blogs, if you like 101 Cookbooks, I bet you'll like these: figsbaywine.blogspot.com, orangette.blogspot.com, and mattbites.typepad.com. Enjoy!

Posted by: MBinDC | March 26, 2008 9:50 AM

Hi Kim,

I tuned in a little late for the chat yesterday. I had a question about white wheat flour. I have been asked to bake cookies for a function in a few weeks. I'd like to use some wheat flour. Is it a 1:1 substitute?

Posted by: LisaLuvs2Cook | March 26, 2008 11:36 AM

I think the important thing about CSAs is internalizing some of the farmer's risk. I am a CSA member because I think it's important to help farmers have some kind of insurance, and my membership fee is part of that insurance. If I were to shop at the market only, I only give money to farmers who have successful harvests. If there is drought, hail, pests, whatever, the affected farmers must internalize all of the costs of the harm themselves. By joining a CSA, I have helped my farmer be sure that even if the harvest isn't enough to earn sufficient funds at the farmers' market to cover his costs, he has enough earnings to stay solvent. Going to the farmers' market and buying what looks pretty from an individual farmer doesn't accomplish this end. I like feeling attached to the land, and pulling for a good year, because I too have a stake in the weather.

Posted by: sava | March 26, 2008 11:52 AM

Ham Ideas:
I know you said you were going to do a split-pea soup. My sister-in-law made a soup with ham in it from the leftover Easter Ham. She put cabbage, veggie broth, salt, pepper, onions, and ham in the pot. It was delicious!

What about ham in a breakfast casserole or in an ommlette?

Posted by: Anonymous | March 26, 2008 12:12 PM

I need to know where to buy vanilla bean in DC/Va??? I've looked and looked and looked and nothing! nada! I'll be back up there next week and would like to find it! Got something planned for the fam.

Thanks crew!

B-
flanboyanteats.com

Posted by: Flanboyant Eats | March 26, 2008 12:39 PM

For the vanilla bean - there's a Penzey's in Rockville - maybe there's one in VA too?

What I need help with is steel-cut oats. I accidentally bought a box, and as I eat breakfast in the car, in a hurry, the 30 minute cooking time isn't happening. What else can I do with it?

Posted by: Aspen Hill | March 26, 2008 1:01 PM

Aspen Hill- no need to cook your steel cut oats every morning for breakfast. Cook a big pot once or twice a week and just reheat in the morning. Oatmeal is just as good reheated.

Posted by: Sweetie | March 26, 2008 1:25 PM

Kim, thanks for the link to the fried rice recipe. I'm the guy that asked about Au Gratins and I was also interested in making fried rice without using packaged spices. Some of my leftover ham is going into rice tonight!

Last time I made it, I used two packages of pre-cooked rice (one white, one long grain and wild) and my partner loved it.

I hope my Giant has shallots... yet another addition to my kitchen, thanks to you. But could someone tell me what a CSA is? Sure you're not getting veggies from the Confederate States of America...

Posted by: Arlington, VA | March 26, 2008 1:39 PM

CSA stands for community supported agriculture. It involves individuals paying farmers for a share of their harvest over the course of a growing season. Typically the farmer drives into the city once a week, and the CSA members pick up their shares of produce. CSA members eat seasonal, local, usually organic, produce, and stretch out of our culinary comfort zone by eating what we are given. We reduce the carbon emissions needed to transport our food. We support small farms and small farmers by guaranteeing payment to the farmer no matter what the harvest. If you have read Barbara Kingsolver's book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, CSA members get some of the benefits of that kind of understanding of bounty and seasonality without becoming amateur farmers. Google "community supported agriculture" for more information!

Posted by: sava | March 26, 2008 2:22 PM

I love it when you talk among yourselves and help each other! Here's Walter Nicholls's story on DC-area CSAs, with subscription and contact info:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/02/05/AR2008020500865.html

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | March 26, 2008 2:31 PM

I actually love to take the leftover ham and place it in a sauce pan with about 2 cups of BBQ sauce and about 1 Tbs. Ketchup and 1 cup of water. My son loves this, and I remember my mother making it for me when I was a kid. It is a great way to use leftover ham. In fact after Easter I made that for my son and his two cousin's and they gobbled it up.

Rachel
The baked blogger
http://bakedblog.com

Posted by: Rachel | March 26, 2008 6:43 PM

Kim (and others), I'm making a caramel dark rum fondue for a party this weekend. I have suggestions for what to dip, but what to pair with it for drinks? Alcoholic and non are both welcome.

Posted by: Sarah | March 26, 2008 7:02 PM

Thanks sava and Kim (new signature to set me apart since I hope to meet Kim at Farmer's Market this spring).

The CSAs look like a great option, but I don't like to shell out that much at one time and, with just two of us, even a half share would probably be too much. We ARE eating more veggies, especially since I've become a Kim Fan, but my partner isn't huge on leftovers so my meals are usually just enough for two (or some leftovers for my lunch).

Kim, I did find shallots and I have everything chopped for tonight's fried rice!

Has anyone tried Sugar Snap Peas? (I think that's the brand name). I recently found them at Giant; they're a cross between the English pea and regular snow peas... great flavor; they look like fat snow peas but crunchier.

Posted by: Gay Arlington Food Fan | March 26, 2008 7:07 PM

Ham leftovers: I like to dice it up and put in a risotto with peas, or saute with onions and veggies to toss over pasta. Of course this stretches the ham even further, so it can feel like it takes longer to eat it. My husband is a fan of ham salad sandwiches. We usually make up small packages of ham to put in the freezer, then pull out a little at a time when we need it.

Posted by: So.Rding | March 26, 2008 9:08 PM

Powdered vanilla can be found at a lot of cake supply stores (there is a great one in Annapolis - the name escapes me at the moment) and at the Pennsylvania Dutch/Amish market at the Harbour Center in Annapolis (where they have every type of whole and powdered spice in the world it seems)

Posted by: jp | March 27, 2008 10:43 AM

Sarah, this is a toughie. I guess I might want to know just how rummy the fondue is. If it's really boozy, you may want to offer sparkling water, coffee and tea, with a bottle of really good rum as a chaser. Think it will be hard to pair up with wine, although I'm not object to the idea of a sparkling wine -- a light prosecco, perhaps?

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | March 27, 2008 10:53 AM

There is definitely a Penzeys in VA now. It's on Route 7 in Falls Church - I think the address to search on is 513 W. Broad St. Heading towards Tyson's Corner, it's on the left side of the street. It's on the first floor of a multi-story building, with (I think) a tall condo building in the back.

Posted by: pl | March 27, 2008 1:21 PM

Kim, Thank you for the suggestions! I haven't made the fondue before, so I have no idea what the consistency will be. I had been wondering if a sparkling wine would pair well. I'll probably cover all my bases by having rum, water and prosecco and hope for the best!

Posted by: Sarah | March 27, 2008 4:45 PM

There's going to be a Penzey's in Richmond, on Cary St soon for those of us south of DC, btw. (I'm am Sooooo excited *GRIN*)

My favorite way of using up ham besides Split Pea Soup is throwing some in Scalloped Potatoes. And one of these days I'll actually have enough leftover to actually try to make a ham loaf- something I've wanted to try.

And lastly, for the CSA's. I am unable to afford buying into a share this year but I talked with a local farmer and when we have the money I will let him know ahead of time (a week) and he'll round up what he can and I'll pick it up at the Farmer's Market. How great is that! I can still support him as best as I can, and get local veggies too! And it's not much more than what I try to have for when I go to the market in the first place! (And in even better news, the county I actually live in is starting a Farmer's Market this year too!) YAY!

Posted by: JJ | March 27, 2008 5:59 PM

JJ -

Good luck not breaking the bank at Penzeys! I went in for only 1 thing - almond extract. Yeah, right. Came out with 5 types of pepper (they taste really different!), the extract, and about 5 or 6 bags of other spices. Of course, it all tastes so good, and, with a local shop, now I don't buy in bulk so much - much better to get a fresh supply more often...

Posted by: PL | April 1, 2008 3:14 PM

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