Friday, December 28, 2018

COLUMN: Ham Candy

(Yep, that's an ACTUAL PHOTO.)

There are a lot of things in life that I don't want to be.

I don't want to be murdered. I don't want to build any type of city on rock and roll. I don't want to be nominated to the Supreme Court. And perhaps more than anything, I don't ever want to be one of those people who posts pictures of their dinner to social media.

You know the type, right? "I'm so much better than you because I made perfectly plated pecan-crusted salmon with mango chutney and capers!" Look, it's not tough to best me when it comes to food. I have no idea what chutney is. I don't even know what a caper is. Truth be told, I barely know what salmon is.

I'm not so great in the kitchen. Fairly early in my adult life, I discovered that it's far easier to sit at a table or drive past a window and pay strangers to cook and serve me lunch. And dinner. And sometimes breakfast. This, however, is not exactly the healthiest way to live. At any given point in time, there's a strong possibility that I am legally taco-toxicated. It's probably a good thing for everyone involved that there's no breathalyzer to test for blood-salsa levels.

But a couple years ago, I set about to change things. I started learning about some of these weird devices in my kitchen like, umm, a stove. I went grocery shopping. I bought cookbooks. Well, truth be told, my friends sort of threw cookbooks at me when I told them I was going to "wing it." I even cracked open a few of those dusty tomes my mom passed down (sample sentence: "When your husband gets home from a hard day's work, he DESERVES a hot, tasty meal!")

It wasn't always pretty, but I daresay I've made some giant culinary steps. I can grill fish. I can bake chicken. I can roast potatoes. Someone came to my last party just because they'd heard about the food (and presumably didn't show up just to laugh at it. I hope.)

Last week, though, I discovered it's possible to become a little over-confident in one's cooking ability. Last week was a big oops. An oops big enough to send me back to fast food while I re-evaluated the progress of my life. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and sometimes you inadvertently create a toxic bio-hazard. Plates had to be DESTROYED, people.

I know what you're thinking. I probably attempted a recipe well beyond my skill level, right? Something complex with multiple steps and foreign ingredients requiring an experienced delicate touch. I wish.

Instead, I ruined a HAM STEAK.

That's kind of impressive. It takes a certain level of skill to improperly cook something that comes PRE-cooked. I might be lousy at cooking, but I'm clearly awesome at blunders. The worst part? I still don't exactly know what I did wrong, but I'm blaming Youtube.

You name the recipe and there's a kajillion videos on Youtube to help you. I found over 50 different videos alone on how to cook ham steak, which is notable considering all you have to do is warm it up, and even that's optional.

But Chef Shane wanted to elevate his ham steak game, so I found a video that seemed super easy to follow. Cook the steak until "it browns nicely." Add some pineapple juice, brown sugar and dry mustard to the leftover juices, let it caramelize, and then pour your delightful glaze over your delightful steak, presto bango.

Well, I cooked that ham steak like a champ and it didn't brown one bit. Either I'd discovered a race of heat-resistant pigs or I was cooking too low. So I turned up the heat and kept at it until I finally gave up some fifteen minutes later and plated my decidedly NON-brown steak.

Then I added pineapple juice, brown sugar, and mustard. A few minutes later, it started bubbling just like the video, so I let it caramelize for a minute and then poured the glaze over my steak. At this point, things looked pretty good. I suppose my first clue something was amiss was when I touched my knife to the ham steak and heard a noticeable "clink."

Somehow, some way, in the two minutes between pouring the glaze on the steak and attempting to eat it, the entire concoction had solidified into a hard blackened plate of nightmares. Instead of a succulent and juicy ham steak, I'm pretty sure I had just invented ham candy, and let's just say no one would turn up at a party to sample it (at least not without a pickaxe.) I tried my best to chisel and scrape away the smellier and/or more carcinogenic parts of my meal, but it was a lost cause. All that's left now are some photos that are blurry because I was laughing too hard at my ineptitude to hold my phone steady.

Maybe one day charred ham candy will be a delicacy and I'm simply waaay ahead of the curve. Or maybe I just royally botched it. But I'm not giving up. After a few days of self-doubt, laughter, and a LOT of carryout tacos, yesterday I attempted a casserole that came out so perfectly, I took a picture and put it on Facebook without hesitation.

I guess if there's one thing I REALLY don't want to be, it's a quitter.

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