New Year’s Ham and Corn Chowder

By definition a tradition is “a specific custom or practice of long standing”, but then how do “new” traditions get started?

In the case of our New Year’s tradition, it came down to a newsletter from 1996.

In the southern United States, the traditional New Year’s meal is collard greens and black-eye peas. I’m not a huge fan of either, and usually by New Year’s Day I’m still dealing with holiday leftovers.

One thing I struggled to deal with was the leftover Christmas ham. A tradition in our family, there is often so much other food that there is plenty of ham left after Christmas dinner. I was thinking about this at the end of one year decades ago when I came across a newsletter I had saved from the winery Clos Pegase.

In the early 1990s, Andrea and I lived for a year in Sonoma County, California, which was just a short ride over the hills to Napa Valley. Considered the heart of California wine country, it was also home to a vineyard created by Jan Shrem dedicated to Pegasus, the winged horse from Greek mythology.

Winter/Spring 1996 Clos Pegase Newsletter

In this newsletter was a column called “Matchmaking with Mitsuko” written by Shrem’s wife. It had a recipe for “Winter Chowder” which I adopted for our annual tradition. I thought folks might like it so I’m sharing it here.

New Year’s Ham and Corn Chowder

  • 1 pound (or more) leftover Christmas ham. Ours is usually smoked and you can substitute bacon or other meat.
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup butter, plus two tablespoons for browning the ham
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 cans creamed corn
  • 1 quart half and half
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 2-3 russet potatoes, peeled and cubed)
  • white pepper to taste

I cook this in a Crock-Pot but you could use a heavy pot on the stove as well. You are mainly cooking this to make the potatoes tender but I also like to slowly blend in the flavors.

Place the ham in a food processor and pulse until chopped (I usually do it until the pieces are pea-sized).

In a skillet heat up the two tablespoons of butter until melted. Add the onion and saute until tender, then add the ham. I usually stir it until bits of the ham start to caramelize.

Dump the onion and ham into the Crock-Pot and add the creamed corn, half and half, chicken stock, potatoes and white pepper. Turn the Crock-Pot on low.

Wipe out the skillet and add the 1/2 cup of butter and heat until melted. Slowly add the 1/2 cup of flour while stirring to create a roux. I don’t let it get too brown, just to a light tan.

Add the roux to the Crock-Pot and stir until everything is incorporated. Cook on low for five to six hours, stirring occasionally until the chowder is bubbly and has a thick consistency.

Serve in bowls and top with oyster crackers.

Ham Chowder in Bowl topped with Oyster Crackers

The Cheesecake Recipe

Recently I posted on Twitter a picture of a cheesecake that I made. A couple of people asked me for the recipe, and since Twitter is not the best way to present that information I figured I’d post it here.

Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Cheesecake

I’ve been making cheesecakes for over two decades now, so this recipe is actually an amalgam of a bunch of ones I’ve tried over the years. The cheesecake in the picture is a “Chocolate Bourbon Pecan” cheesecake but I use the same base for every one I make, so I’ll go over that here and then post the differences. I plan to update this post as I make other flavors, although this one is a favorite.

I love to cook but I don’t bake much, mainly because I am not very good with precision recipes. I tend to “guesstimate” the amount of ingredients and I also like to change things up a bit. Since most baking is more like chemistry it isn’t very tolerant of improvisation, but cheesecakes seem to be an exception.

So that is the first caveat: the recipe I’m presenting is approximate. Feel free to play with it. Also note that some cheesecake purist don’t like my cheesecake because it is too light. The consistency tends to lean more mousse than cake. I like it that way but if you don’t de gustibus non est disputandum. (grin)

The second caveat concerns the oven. When we moved to the farm the house came with a Kitchen Aid double oven, and the top oven was also convection. That oven eventually stopped working so we replaced it with another Kitchen Aid, also convection. The temperatures and cooking times I use work well for my oven but may not work the same for yours. You’ll need to experiment, which I know can be a pain making things like cheesecakes. Apologies in advance.

I start every cheesecake with the crust. Heat the oven to 325˚F. You’ll need a springform pan. Mine is approximately 9 inches in diameter and 2.5 inches deep.

Cut a square piece of either parchment paper or non-stick aluminum foil, place it over the bottom of the pan (make sure the non-stick side is up if using the foil) and lock the ring in place. This will help when removing the cake from the pan. Since it tends to be lighter than a traditional cheesecake you can’t just flip it out easily.

Cheesecake Crust Base

  • 1 Cup Graham Cracker Crumbs
  • 1/4 Cup Light Brown Sugar
  • 1/4 Cup (one half stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Melt the butter over low heat on the stove or in the microwave. Let it cool slightly. Mix the other ingredients in a bowl, then add the butter. Pour everything into the springform pan and distribute across the bottom, pressing down using your fingers until you’ve created a compact crust that covers the bottom of the pan evenly.

You can use gluten-free graham cracker “style” crumbs to make this suitable for people with gluten intolerance.

Place in the heated oven for 12-15 minutes until lightly browned. Remove and let cool, reducing the oven temperature to 270˚F.

Note that this is just where I start. We will add some things to the crust for the Chocolate Bourbon Pecan variation.

Next you’ll need the ingredients for the cheesecake itself:

Cheesecake Batter Base

  • Two pounds (four packages) cream cheese
  • Two Cups granulated (white) sugar
  • 5 Eggs
  • Two teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 Cup sour cream

A couple of things about ingredients. You want everything to be at room temperature. I also tend to use particular brands, such a Philadelphia cream cheese, Breakstone sour cream, and Land-o-Lakes butter. I know that all salt is basically sea salt, but I like to use a finer salt than, say, kosher. I also use a high grade pure vanilla. We raise chickens so the eggs are farm fresh, and I like the fact that I don’t have to wait for them to come to room temperature, but store bought eggs work fine too.

These are just my preferences, feel free to experiment with your own.

A good stand mixer makes this recipe a lot easier. I have an older Kitchen Aid mixer that I’ll probably hand down to two more generations at least. They are expensive but worth it, especially if you make a lot of cheesecakes. I use the whisk attachment when making my cheesecakes, but I assume you could also use the standard beater.

Plop (yes that is a technical cooking term) the cream cheese into the mixing bowl and beat until soft (usually two to three minutes). Add the sugar one-half cup at a time, beating for a minute or two after each addition and scraping down the sides as needed.

Next add the eggs, one at a time and beating after each addition until well incorporated. In my mixer there is a little dead spot directly under the beater that I make sure to scrap after the third egg.

Now you are at the point where you can add your special ingredients if making a variation on this cake. I always add the vanilla except when I am making one that I want to be Halal. The jury is still out on whether or not the alcohol used in processing vanilla is Haram or not, especially after it cooks out, but I don’t like to take chances with peoples’ food preferences.

Finally add in the sour cream and mix well, about three minutes. I think my cheesecakes are “fluffy” because I use the whisk and sour cream instead of butter. I put “one cup” but usually I just dump in one of the small containers of sour cream if I have one on hand.

There is one final step before baking. I take three (3) sheets of heavy duty aluminum foil and wrap it around the bottom and sides of the springform pan. This is because, and I think it is very important, I bake my cheesecakes in a water bath. If the springform pan is wrapped in foil it tends not to leak. You don’t want a soggy cheesecake.

I place the wrapped springform pan in a large roasting pan, pour in the batter on top of the crust, and then fill the roasting pan until the water is roughly halfway up the sides of the springform pan.

I then place it into the 270˚F convection oven and I let it cook for 100 minutes (1 hour, 40 minutes on the timer). After it cooks, without opening the oven door, I turn the oven off and let it “coast” for 30 minutes.

Once it is done cooking, I remove it from the oven. I take out the springform pan and remove the heavy duty foil, and I place it on a rack to let cool for one hour. It then goes into the refrigerator to cool overnight (at least eight hours).

When it is cold and set, I take a knife and run it around the edges of the springform pan, and then I release the ring. It usually lifts out cleanly but leaving just enough on the ring that I can scoop it up with my finger and taste how well it came out. (grin)

I then lift up the parchment paper or non-stick aluminum foil to remove the bottom of the springform pan, and then I can gently transfer the cake to a serving plate. That, to be honest, is the hardest part of the whole process.

This usually results in a cake that doesn’t crack and has a uniform texture throughout. I occasionally experiment with ingredients that are a little more liquid and sometimes the center doesn’t set fully, but most of the time it works well.

Now, for this variation:

Chocolate Bourbon Pecan

To the crust add one tablespoon of Cocoa Powder and one quarter cup of finely chopped pecans.

To the batter (after the eggs have been beaten in) add one and one half ounces of good Bourbon, and four ounces of melted and cooled unsweetened chocolate. Top with a quarter cup of roughly chopped pecans.

I hope folks find this useful and yummy.