experiments in cooking

Archive for the ‘Sauces’ Category

Christmas Dinner: Spiral-Cut Ham with Cranberry Glaze and Ranch Mashed Potatoes

A few weeks back, I volunteered to make Christmas dinner, because my mother-in-law was scheduled to work all Christmas Day. I, on the other hand, would be home and available to cook.

I let Chris decide what he’d like for dinner, and he chose ham. I’d never baked a ham before, but I said I’d do it. A couple of days before Christmas, Chris’s brother dropped off a spiral-cut ham for me to bake. Thanks to his work schedule, he wouldn’t be at Christmas dinner himself, but we planned to send ham and all the fixin’s to him after dinner was over.

Spiral-cut hams are typically fully cooked, so you just have to warm them before serving, unless you want to serve cold ham. It was going to take quite some time to warm up a ham the size of the one Jeremiah brought over. The package recommended two and a half hours at 275 degrees, so I popped the ham in the oven at 2:15 p.m., planning to take it out of the oven at 4:45 and serve it at 5 o’clock.

Around 4 p.m., I mixed up a cranberry glaze (taken from Joy of Cooking) for the ham and began a pot of mashed potatoes. I’d never made mashed potatoes myself before, although I’d helped my mom make them once or twice. The thing is, I hate mashed potatoes. But most people, including my husband, seem to love them, and they go well with ham, and it was Christmas, after all, so I thought, Why not? For the potatoes, I combined an online recipe with one in my new 2006 edition of Joy of Cooking.

At 4:45, the potatoes were coming along swimmingly, and the cranberry glaze was on the ham, but the ham just wasn’t hot. Frustrated, I checked my Joy of Cooking, which suggested baking a fully cooked ham at 325 degrees, a full 50 degrees hotter than suggested by the instructions that came with the ham. Stupid instructions! I wound up having to turn up the oven to 400 degrees for the last several minutes, and shortly after 5 p.m. got the ham warm enough to eat. But it still was not as hot as I would have liked.

The ham tasted good, even if I wasn’t happy about the baking process. And the cranberry glaze was delicious. (In fact, it was so good that I used the leftover glaze a couple of days later as a topping for baked chicken breasts—baked them beneath the cranberry glaze at 350 degrees, covered, for 40 minutes. Yum!)

Also, Chris and his parents told me the potatoes were great. They certainly looked good—white and fluffy as any I’ve ever seen—and they smelled good too. The ranch dressing, everybody said, added a nice flavor.

Finally, Chris begged me to try a bite, and I did, but couldn’t stomach ’em. I just flat out don’t enjoy mashed potatoes, no matter how pretty they are. You know how much easier my life would be if I could enjoy a big pile of mashed potatoes? For one thing, then I wouldn’t have to hear Chris telling everyone how weird I am.

Below are the recipes for the best parts of our Christmas meal: the glaze that I loved, and the potatoes that Chris loved.

Cranberry Glaze

1 can of cranberry sauce, jellied or whole

¼ to ½ cup brown sugar

Orange juice (amount left to the cook’s discretion)

Optional: whole cloves

Mix cranberry sauce, brown sugar, and orange juice. If you are using the glaze on a ham, remove the ham from the oven 45 minutes before the end of the baking time. If you want to use cloves, press them into the outside of the ham. Spread cranberry sauce mixture over the outside of the ham and return the ham to the oven.

Ranch Mashed Potatoes

3–4 baking potatoes, peeled, cut into chunks

1 bay leaf

2 cloves crushed fresh garlic

2 tbsp butter

¼ cup Light Ranch Dressing

For best results, cut potatoes into equal-size pieces to ensure even cooking. Cook vegetables, garlic, and bay leaf in boiling water in large saucepan 20 min. or until tender; drain and remove the bay leaf. Add butter and dressing. Mash until light and fluffy.

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Caramel Dipping Sauce – Whatever you do, FOLLOW THE RECIPE

Friday night I got the urge to make caramel dipping sauce for apples. I really wasn’t hungry myself, but I figured Chris would eat some apples and dip; plus, I needed some practice melting caramel because I hope to make caramel apples for a church bake sale next month.

It’s a good thing I practiced, because I learned that once the caramel is mostly melted, if you leave the caramel alone for even a few seconds, it will burn.

Below is a simple recipe for caramel sauce. It’s adapted, based on my experience, from the back of the caramel bits package I bought at Russ’s Market. If you follow it exactly, your caramel sauce should not be peppered liberally with burnt black flakes.

Of course, if you stray and it does burn, you can still serve it to your husband. But I wouldn’t use it to make caramel apples for your church’s bake sale.

Read the entire recipe now—it’s not long, and the instructions at the end are crucial and should be committed to memory today before you actually try the recipe.

Easy Caramel Sauce

1 bag caramel bits (so you don’t have to unwrap a bag of caramels one by one)

2 tablespoons of water

½ tsp vanilla

Pour the caramel bits into a small or medium saucepan. Add the water. Melt the caramel bits on low-medium heat, stirring constantly. When they are mostly melted, stir in the vanilla. When the caramel is completely melted, remove it from the heat. DO NOT WALK AWAY TO USE THE RESTROOM, WATCH A COMMERCIAL, OR EXTRICATE YOUR KID FROM HIS PAJAMA SHORTS OR TRASHCAN OR OR WHATEVER HE HAS GOTTEN STUCK IN.

Use warm or refrigerate.

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