Tuesday, September 18, 2007

SPAM--the meat, not the annoying messages

My plan to sell a cooking column worked—sort of. I placed one column—the one on canned soup—with a statewide magazine I write for occasionally. The editor said they’d edit out the snob aspect, because her rural audience sees nothing wrong with cooking with soup. And I’m wishing I’d told them about Louella’s Rice, but that’s another story.
Here’s the third and final of my prototype columns. I haven’t given up the idea. But then I haven’t given up on my mystery either.
A few days ago on the TODAY show the final segment featured a chef from Food & Wine magazine talking about and demonstrating “American gourmet” recipes—pickles soaked in Kool-Aid (sorry I didn’t catch the drink flavor), Frito pie made in the bag, and Hormel SPAM treated as sushi. It’s a dish from Hawaii where a slice of SPAM is put atop rice and wrapped with seaweed. Popular as a lunch treat, it’s called musubi.
My thought though was that the faux gourmet draws the line at SPAM. For those that might not know, it’s a canned lunch meat made of ham, pork, sugar, salt, water, starch, and sodium nitrite. Since it was introduced in 1937 over six billion cans have been sold worldwide.
I used to eat it as a kid. SPAM sandwiches were made much like a ham sandwich with lettuce and mayo, or you could have used mustard. My frugal mother, who’d lived through the Depression and was living through the second World War in her lifetime, treated a whole can of SPAM like a ham—she criss-crossed knife slashes across the top, sprinkled it with brown sugar, studded it with cloves, and baked it. I remember liking it, but back then my favorite meal was a can of Campbell’s spaghetti and a can of spinach. What did I know? Mom sliced the leftovers and fried them for breakfast meat.
Now every once in a while I think about trying it again, buying one of those small cans and baking it the way Mom did. What stops me is the fat content—2 oz. has 15 grams of fat, and six grams of saturated fat.
Nutrition aside, SPAM has become sort of an inside joke these days. Hormel has a huge SPAM website that you can explore for hours (http://www.spam.com), but much of it seems tongue-in-cheek. The SPAM Museum is apparently a virtual museum—or is it? Listing visits per year, the site says, “As many as you’d like.” There’s a page devoted to Spammobile, a gift shop that sells T-shirts, coffee cups and mugs, drop earrings with SPAM cans, lapel pins, bumper stickers that say “I love SPAM,” a SPAM fan club (“your membership lasts a lifetime”), and an endless list of things. The Book of SPAM is available online from amazon.com. Today SPAM comes in a dithering array of flavors—original, hickory smoked, with bacon, with garlic, with cheese, lite, turkey SPAM. There’s an annual recipe contest, and the website has recipes—SPAM stroganoff, SPAM meatloaf, SPAM quiche, a speedy dip, croquettes, and a minestrone soup made with SPAM. There are also suggestions for adapting the ubiquitous meat to various cuisines. Prefer French food? You can have your SPAM in ratatouille or something called Ragin’ Cajun SPAM party salad. Asian? How about Speedy Cheesy Stir-fry? SPAM a la orange? Sweet and sour SPAM Cantonese? If Mexican is your preference, you can have SPAM in chili rellenos, ranchero eggs, chimichangas, or breakfast burritos. And finally, of course, there’s Italian—pizza is inevitable, but you can also make Turkey SPAM lasagna, eggplant Italiano, spaghetti sauce, or fettucine primavera. The possibilities are endless, but I won’t be trying any of them soon. I draw the line.
It’s no coincidence that spam has become the term for unwanted junk email. There’s an explanation on the web, but it went over my head.
Ham may be a tad more expensive, but it’s less fattening—and it’s good. Here’s an old standby recipe:
Spinach ‘n Ham Roll-ups
1 10-1/2 oz. can cream of celery soup
1 c. sour cream
2 Tbsp. Dijon-style mustard
1 c. quick-cooking rice
1 10-oz. pkg. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and pressed dry
1 c. small curd cottage cheese
2 eggs
½ cup finely chopped onion ¼ c. unsalted butter
¼ c. flour
18 slices (about 1-1/2 lbs.) boiled hem (get the deli to slice it)
Parsley-buttered bread creams
Preheat oven to 350. Mix soup, sour cream and mustard. In separate bowl, combine ½ cup soup mixture, rice, spinach, cheese, eggs, onion and flour, Put 2 heaping Tbsp. spinach mixture on each ham slice, roll up and put in 11x7 baking pan. Spoon remaining soup mixture over ham rolls. Top with bread crumbs and paprika. Bake 35 minutes or until hot. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

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