Growing up in Connecticut, our family dinners revolved around thick grilled steaks, roasted chickens, the occasional boiled lobster. And I was bored almost beyond eating. Stymied by my Goldwater-Republican father, who insisted he would keep on eating what he had always eaten, and my sister, who was threatening vegetarianism, my mother had to move carefully. She wanted something new yet familiar, something cheap in case the dish was rejected by the rest of the family, and something easy to make.
My mother pulled out the Minute Rice recipe booklet, found something called ham-it-up skillet, and made it with the leftover Easter ham and, for me then, exotic green olives stuffed with pimentos. I was dazzled.
Years passed, my tastes changed and the ham-it-up skillet slowly lost its appeal: Yet, my fond memories remained. I tried repeatedly to make the dish come alive again but it never worked.
Enter Lisa Schumacher, who tests recipes in the Tribune test kitchen. We subbed out the 1960s convenience foods, used regular long grain rice, and tweaked flavors to update the dish for the 21st century.
HAM-IT-UP SKILLET, UPDATED
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 25 minutes
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 pound boneless cooked ham, cubed
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3 cups low sodium beef broth
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 cups long-grain rice
¾ cup sliced green olives
¼ cup chopped parsley
1. Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Cook ham, onion and garlic until ham browns lightly and onions are soft and slightly caramelized, about 6 minutes. Add beef broth, mustard, vermouth, thyme and bay leaf. Stir in rice; heat to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low; simmer, 15-20 minutes.
2. Remove from heat; rest 5 minutes, covered. Fluff rice with fork; stir in olives and parsley.
Nutrition information: Per serving: 317 calories, 10 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 40 mg cholesterol, 33 g carbohydrates, 21 g protein, 1,683 mg sodium, 1 g fiber.