Andrea Howe

Editor, The Daily Clarion

Let’s just say that company carry-in dinners are always interesting around here at The Daily Clarion.

We love to eat, and we have some pretty good cooks!

If there’s an excuse to eat heartily, we find it, and a Christmas carry-in is the perfect reason to forget about a balanced meal.

Our center counter in the office filled up quickly last week when Maggie Armstrong outdid herself. Her momma Judy True baked a pineapple upside-down cake and some of those Pecan Dreams that Maggie wrote about last week.

She filled up two crockpots with cheesy potatoes and another with a baked ham warming up in apple juice.

Courtney Shuttle brought in a chili dip, Rick and Bronda Simmons brought fried chicken and baked beans. Quiche Matchen brought a good pan of green beans that helped me stay on my diet a little better than I thought I would.

Rachel Graber Akpotu brought one of her famous berry pies, which I did not touch, but dreamed about. I’ve had ’em before. The woman can bake a pie!

The Schumachers brought addictive “puppy chow” mix, Lucas Whitten brought cookies and I was the cheater, shopping at Princeton’s Hometown IGA for a cake just before I came in for work.

But the thing Maggie was excited about trying was something Michael Melson over at Uniquely Michaels suggested at our Taste of Home Cooking Show this fall.

She tried one of the store’s hot apple cider mixes, which made the office smell wonderful!

I make a wassail over the holidays for home that no one but me likes, but I make a huge soup pot full just because it smells good.

You can pick up one of the mixes and save yourself the trouble, but if you like a hot drink and you don’t mind buying a bunch of cinnamon sticks just to use two, you could try this one I use from the tasteofhome.com website:

Wassail

• 2 quarts apple cider

• 1-1/2 cups orange juice

• 3/4 cup canned pineapple juice

• 1 tablespoon brown sugar

• 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

• 2 cinnamon sticks (3 inches)

• Dash ground cinnamon

• Dash ground cloves

In a large saucepan, combine all of the ingredients. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes. Discard cinnamon sticks. Serve hot in mugs. Yield: 10-12 servings (2-1/2 quarts).

I promise that whatever method you choose, it will smell and taste wonderful.

But there’s a lesson you should take from our mistakes here.

Grazing around our carry-in dinner offerings, I lifted the lid of a crockpot, ready to scoop out a second cup of the hot cider Maggie brought to me earlier in the morning.

Luckily for me, she caught me before I ladled in a cup of “ham juice” left in the crockpot after she had taken the ham out for slicing!

Because we’re ornery, we did offer Publisher Jeff Schumacher a cup of the “punch.” But he knows us too well, and wouldn’t have any of it.

Ham is a great Christmas dinner focal point. We’ve done them with pineapple and brown sugar glaze, just baked ’em and we’ve smoked ’em. Every version is good.

We like ham because it will carry us into the New Year, taking on a new life for our New Year’s Day ham and beans staple.

But there are some other great uses for leftover ham.

Every time we have a ham, I start talking about a ham and asparagus sandwich I had at a pub in North Conway, New Hampshire years ago.

It was served shaved over thick toast (French or Italian works), with roasted asparagus spears, Hollandaise sauce and melted Swiss cheese.

If you’re not thinking of ham and beans or a sandwich, there are a few other great uses for leftover ham.

Whatever you do, don’t attempt to make ham salad in a blender as I did 25 years ago. I grew impatient with the speed at which the ham was getting chopped up, and pushed into it. I lost the top of my finger in the blender and obviously decided it would be best to toss out the rest of the contents.

Here’s a safe recipe that doesn’t involve a blender. It’s easy and a great oven breakfast or supper that my husband uses. He doesn’t really use recipes, so I’m following as closely to his method as possible:

Ham, potato and cheese casserole

• One bag of thawed shredded hash brown potatoes (or peel a bunch of potatoes as he does, slice them thinly and keep them covered with water while you’re doing the rest)

• 1 stick melted butter

• 3 cups shredded cheese.(You can do half cheddar, half pepper cheese or some other variety you like)

• 1-1/2 cups cubed ham

• 6 eggs

• 1 cup cream

• 3/4 teaspoon Country Bob seasoned salt or something similar

• Pepper to taste

In a greased 9×13 inch pan (or hubby’s cast iron dutch oven), layer potatoes, pour melted butter over them and bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes.

Layer the ham and cheese over the potatoes, whisk the eggs and cream and Country Bob seasoning together and pour it over the layers.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes.

You can cover it with foil to prevent too much browning, or plop that cast-iron dutch oven lid on the thing and don’t worry about it.

Meanwhile, if anyone has a good ham punch recipe, I’m game to try that — so long as there’s no blender involved!

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