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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Potatoes au Gratin with Ham

I keep one of those dorm-room size refrigerators in my office in Columbus.  That way I've got salad dressing and mustard and the like on hand in the event I'm down there and actually have time for lunch.  Used to be that if I had time for lunch I'd run downstairs to Kramer's.  But, they consolidated to one location and the new owner just can't cook.  Not quite sure how in the heck she stays in business but she does.  And, I'm glad for our landlord's sake!  This visit south, I didn't bring leftovers since I was starting with annual reviews for employees at a client's office.  The reviews were over and I had a real dilemma.  Stop at Wendy's and get some chili or go to the grocery and hit the deli.  The deli won out.  Except when I got there, there was a herd of men ordering their lunches.  Very slowly ordering their lunches.  Plan B.  You remember Plan B, don't you?  Always have a Plan B in the event Plan A doesn't work.  Plan B was a salad.  One of those pre-packaged deals.  They were mostly marked down.  Because the lettuce was brown.  Pretty unappetizing!  Ok, on to Plan C.  Build my own salad.  I bought a bag of romaine lettuce, a bag of carrots and snow peas, a container of diced ham and a bag of shredded cheese.  Italian dressing was in the fridge at the office.  Well, now, that made a pretty wonderful lunch!  And, since I'd not gotten around to figuring out dinner, I now had leftovers to work with.  I had some red potatoes that'd be perfect. 

So, I have a confession here.  I could sit down and eat a whole cup of cheese sauce.  I'm not terribly fond of white sauce on food - particularly vegetables.  But, put enough cheese in there and sign me up.  And, cheese soup?  YUM!  Particularly beer cheese soup.  Or cauliflower cheese soup.  Or broccoli cheese soup.  You get the idea, I'd eat about anything as long as it was smothered in cheese sauce. 

Mom's never cooked with Velveeta.  I've found it makes some pretty terrific cheese sauce and is great melted in some appetizers.  Would I ever eat a bite of the stuff plain?  Not unless forced to.  But, it does have it's place.  That being said, my favorite cheese sauce is cheddar.  Made with Cracker Barrel Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese.  The basis of cheese sauce is white sauce.  To make white sauce, you melt butter then whisk in flour and let it cook a bit or a lot depending on what you're doing.  Most of the time you just let it cook for a few minutes and don't let it get brown.  You can vary the butter/flour/liquid proportion also - depending on what you're doing again.  More flour, less liquid will be a thicker sauce and less flour, more liquid will be a thinner sauce.  For basic white sauce I usually stick with one tablespoon of butter/one tablespoon of flour/one cup of milk.  Then, I toss in enough cheese so that it tastes REALLY cheesy :-)  In this case, I used four's (4T butter, 4 T flour and 4 c milk) and a 10 oz package of cheddar.  We wound up with about a cup of extra sauce.  Believe me, that won't go to waste!  There is a secret ingredient...

Potatoes au Gratin with Ham

2 potatoes
1/2 c diced ham
1 T butter
1 T flour
1 c milk
3 oz cheddar cheese, grated

Cook and cube your potatoes. 

Or cube them then cook them.  The first is good if you're using the microwave, the second if you're boiling them in some water on the stovetop.  I never peel them because the skins are so good for us!  While the potatoes are cooking,  make your cheese sauce.  Melt the butter.  When it's totally melted and bubbling just a little, stir in the flour.  Cook it for a couple of minutes but don't let the butter get too brown. 

See how the roux (butter/flour mixture) is just a little bit brown in the photo?

Slowly whisk in the milk.  Stir until the mixture thickens. 

Now, it's time to add the secret ingredient - nutmeg. 

Just a couple of grates of fresh nutmeg will make a huge difference in your sauce.  I can't quite explain the difference but it is so true!  Once the white sauce is thick - coats the back of a spoon - you can add the grated cheese. 

Here's where you can be creative if you'd like.  Cojack, pepper jack, parmesan, brie, you name it, you can add it.  Reserve just a little of the cheese for sprinkling on top.  Now, toss the potatoes with the ham

and fold in the cheese sauce. 

Put all of this in an ovenproof baking dish.  Sprinkle with the reserved cheese and bake at 350 for about 20 minutes. 


Monet said...

Hi Kate! It is always good to have back-up plans when it comes to lunch. I try to bring my lunches most days of the week, but when I forget, I head to Einstein's bagels. As for your'm drooling! I love all things smothered in cheese sauce too! Thank you so much for sharing. I hope you have a wonderful Wednesday.

kitchenarian said...

My mother used to make a potato casserole with ham when I was a child. Such good comfort food.