Cooking Like a Mutt, Week-Old Deli Ham and Sports

top of hill

Last Run of the day – photo taken by Tom Sinclair (I forgot to ask him where he was skiing, but it sure isn’t the Alleghenies)

Week of January 29 – February 4, 2018

celery soup

Tuesday:                            Celery Soup with White Pizza

chicken Jardiniere

Wednesday:                      Chicken Jardinière

Enchilada Close

Thursday:                          Swiss Chard Enchiladas

linguine con vongolle

Friday:                                Ham and Cheese Bites, Clams with Linguine, Salad


Winter is far from over in the Hood

Saturday:                           Dinner at Il Pizzaiolo – Good dinner, Comfortable Bar

coq au vin buffet

Sunday:                              Super-Bowl Fare

[a little note occurs at the very bottom of this post, after the recipes, on why you can and should be a sports fan, an opera buff, a brain surgeon and a cook at the same time]

Janice Hart’s Stuffed Cabbage
Spicy Beef Nachos
Coq au Vin
Baby Greens with Queso Fresco, lemon juice and olive oil
Hilda Slavish’s Sugar Cookies with Chocolate Stars

“Tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are.”

  • Brillat-Savarin, typically arrogant Frenchman and father of haute cuisine

I am often surprised at the pride, and the occasional chippiness, of Americans about their heritage.  Not that I am lacking in pride about or fascination with my Irish and Alsatian ancestors.  But by the time I arrived on planet earth (my parents and grandparents having been born in America), I figure we were Americans – mutts* who combined, if we were lucky, the best traits of our ancestors with a few tricks we’d picked up in the New World.  Also, I figured that if the old sod or terre had been so good to us, we would surely have stayed there.

*With apologies to the Westminster Kennel Club, if you’re a dog-lover, you know that mutts are the best-tempered and most sane of animals, whereas purebreds are generally a cross between canine Olympian and slavering head-case.

Food, of course, is a bit different – pure French or Italian or Chinese can be very good, but it can also be too garlicky or texturally unpleasant.  Translated by American restaurateurs, however, they all work well for us mutts.  And that’s pretty much how we cooked last week, going from French to Mexican to Italian and then back to French with American ingredients and American taste preferences.  I don’t mind people calling our cooking mutt-ish, or whatever they want, as long as they eat it.  And eat it they did, last week.

The celery soup is a special treat – we’ll try it again cold this summer and share it with you.  The Chicken Jardinière is really special – but we’ve done a lot of chicken lately, so you’ll have to wait for that one as well.  And I imagine most of you know how to cook a good Coq au Vin or make nachos.  So, we’ll share with you our most unusual dish of the week – Swiss Chard Enchiladas (talk about a mutt dish).  It’s hard to believe that you can get so much flavor out of a bunch of greens wrapped in a tortilla.  The secret is twofold:  1.  The spices and cooking liquid for the greens.  2.  The tomatillo salsa dressing the enchiladas.  Bringing this all together and keeping it hot is a trick that eluded us.  If you can do that, please call  back with the secret.

Oh – I almost forgot about the week-old deli ham.  Beez, who refrigerates ketchup, a culinary sin, also suspects other foods of having turned or gone bad from the moment they enter the house.  So that the very good sliced Virginia Ham that I offered her as a sandwich was rejected as being ‘not dry enough’ to the touch.  She was, as she often is, correct about this.  But that same evening Billy and Emily came out for linguine con vongolle and I, determined not to pitch this expensive ham, turned it into one of the simplest and tastiest of starters.  We’ll share that with you as an Extra.

enchilada platter


(adapted from Gonzalo Guzmán’s recipe in WSJ of 1/27-28. 2018, p. D6)

Timing:                                                                 45 minutes – 1 hour

Ingredients:                                                             Serves 4

6 tomatillos, husked and rinsed  [Note:  If you have never made tomatillo salsa, you are in for a treat]
1 ½ Jalapeños stemmed and seeded
3 cloves of garlic (we used one)
3 cups fresh cilantro, plus more for garnish (we augmented with some parsley)
¾ cups crema or sour cream
12 cups Swiss Chard, ribs removed and leaves roughly chopped (about 1 large bunch)
12 corn tortillas
1 ½ cups Oaxacan or Monterey Jack cheese, coarsely grated
½ cup Queso Fresco, crumbled  (you can substitute Feta , but try to find the Queso Fresco, it’s more succulent)
¾ cup canola oil
Kosher salt
Lime wedges for serving
Other Fixings: Sour Cream, Cilantro Leaves, Jalapenos, etc.


Husk and rinse tomatillos
Stem and seed jalapeños
Strip cilantro leaves
Remove and discard chard ribs and roughly chop leaves
Grate cheese
Slice garlic
Measure out oil and other ingredients and slice lime into wedges


Make the Salsa:

Place tomatillos and jalapeños in a pot and cover with water.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until tomoatillos fully soften – 8 minutes or so.

After draining, transfer tomatillos and jalapeños to a blender and add half the garlic, 3 cups of the cilantro, 3 cups of the chard and 3 tablespoons of the cream or sour cream.  Season with salt and purée until smooth.

Now heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a medium-sized pot over medium-high.  When hot, pour in the salsa and simmer until thickened a bit – 5 minutes.

Make the filling:

Heat 2 tablespoons of the canola oil in a large sauté pan over medium.  Put the remaining garlic in the pan (make sure that you don’t burn it) and cook for a minute or so.  Add the remaining 9 cups of chard and sauté until wilted but retaining some chew and bite.  Turn off the heat and stir in the cheese and season with salt.

Heat the tortillas:

Fill a medium to small pot with the remaining oil and heat over medium.  It may take a while, but when bubbles begin to form, reduce heat to low and, using tongs, dip tortillas (one at a time) into oil until fully submerged.  Cook about 15 seconds until slightly puffed and place on a plate.  Cook all the tortillas.  Add oil, if needed.

Assemble and Serve:

Divide tortillas among 4 plates or put on large platter.  Top with filling.  Roll tortillas around filling and arrange seam-side down.  Slather with warm salsa – be generous – and garnish with remaining cream or sour cream, queso fresco and cilantro leaves.  Serve warm with lime wedges other fixings and discover, as Cheech and Chong might say, “We don’t need no stinking carne asada.”

ham and cheese bites

EXTRA                                                   Ham and Cheese Bites

There are not specifics to this recipe and it takes only as long as it takes to heat your oven to 400 F and to cook the bites.  You can grate the cheese and cut the bread and ham while the oven heats.


Deli Ham sliced thin.  We had some very good Virginia Ham from Labriola’s that was a week old and had developed some unpleasant moisture on its surface.  DO NOT THROW OUT HAM LIKE THAT – USE IT IN THIS APPETIZER.

Hearty bread for toasting – we used multi­-grain sourdough from Whole Foods, but any good bread will do.  Regular sourdough would have been better and the stronger tasting whole wheats and ryes will tend to suppress the ham and cheese flavor.  But they all work.

A good melting cheese.  We had Monterey jack left over from our enchiladas.  But swiss, fontina, etc. all work.


Cut the bread into bite-sized pieces and cut the ham to top those pieces.

Toast the bread in the oven (400 F) for 4-5 minutes, then top with the grated cheese and the ham.  For an extra jolt put a bit of mustard or pepper jelly on the cheese before topping with the ham.

Put the bread back in the oven for a minute or two – until the ham is crisped.

Serve – Pickles, either cornichons or bread-and-butter would be a nice accompaniment.

Note on the Super Bowl and Sports:  This is my week for being a curmudgeon, so let me add another pet peeve.  Beez, Billy and I are unabashed sports fans (Andrew just a little less so), devotees of the Pirates, the Steelers, the Penguins, Pitt Football and Basketball, the English Premier League, the NCAA Basketball Tournament, and anything Holy Cross, Georgetown, Princeton or Johns Hopkins, except curling.  So, it is natural for me to ask people what they thought of the Super Bowl or just last night’s game.  I am perfectly fine with people who say that they have no interest in sports.  I am perfectly fine with people who say that they are not interested in a particular sport (soccer seems to be the top choice in this category).  But I want to strangle the people who answer along this line:  “I’m really into dance (or politics or literature or theater, etc.) and don’t pay attention to sports.”  This is usually announced as if it were a cultural badge of honor and makes me want to slap them with a wet Terrible Towel or, if I’m feeling less aggressive, commiserate with them on their narrow existence. The facts are that we like theater and music, and study philosophy and listen to opera and . . . but you get the point, there are many things to do and enjoy in this life and great athletes and games have fascinated everyone from the ancient Greeks (who invented drama and philosophy) to the modern Stewarts.

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