Sunday, March 20, 2016

Scalloped Potatoes and Ham

Do you ever look at the grower on that sack of potatoes you buy? I read everything on a label these days, from calorie count to country of origin. Maybe it's because my husband worked many years for a major food company, I do like to support America's farmers. What that makes me is possibly the worst kind of shopper to get behind in the grocery store aisle!

Potatoes make their way into millions of shopping carts every day. It's the old standby for most of us, it goes with practically any meal and there's hardly a person who dislikes them. I'm never without potatoes, I only vary the kind I buy. Right now we have baby reds and russets in the potato bin. How you store your potatoes makes a big difference in their shelf life. When you bring home a bag of potatoes, you need to go through them to make sure there aren't any green, bruised or soft ones. In fact, give that bag a good once over before you leave the store. You can easily spot a bad one. The best tip of all is to find a cool, dark place with good ventilation to store your potatoes. The ideal temperature to store them is between 50 and 60 degrees, the temperature of many garages in the winter is perfect. Transfer them to a brown grocery bag or a cardboard box to keep the light out. A single ripe apple will prevent the potatoes from sprouting since the apple produces ethylene gas and will lengthen the time you can keep your potatoes. Armed with all these suggestions, go ahead and buy that 20 pound bag of russets and reap the rewards of buying in bulk!

When we think of potatoes, Idaho comes to mind... but actually potatoes are grown commercially in 36 states. It's almost the perfect food; fat, sodium and cholesterol free, low in calories and loaded with nutrients. One medium potato has nearly half the day's requirement for Vitamin C and more potassium than a banana. A great antioxidant, potatoes contain glutathione that may help protect against some cancers. That's well worth the 110 calories! You thought there were more calories in there, didn't you? Well, it's what we do with the potato that gives them a bad reputation! By the time we load them up with butter, sour cream, shredded Cheddar and bacon bits... that healthy baked potato is now a full meal of calories! The russett also is the chosen potato for french fries and potato chips, all I can say is... "Thank you Lord" for the potato!

I want to share a great recipe that I found on Pinterest (duh!) It's a Pioneer Woman recipe so you can be assured it is slap dab delicious! She posted this one around Easter, perfect for our ham leftovers. I had never thought of adding meat to scalloped potatoes and serving as a main dish instead of a side dish. It was a BIG hit, what's not to love if you start with potatoes and cheese ;)

Scalloped Potatoes and Ham 

(adapted slightly from The Pioneer Woman's recipe, I halved the recipe since it's just the two of us)

3 pounds Russet Or Yukon Gold Potatoes, Washed Thoroughly
2 Tablespoons Butter
1 whole Yellow Onion, Diced
3 cups Diced Ham
1-1/2 cup Half-and-half
1-1/2 cup Heavy Cream (I used all half and half, I can't imagine how good it would have been w/whipping cream!)
1/4 cup Flour
 Black Pepper To Taste
1 cup Grated Cheddar Cheese
1 cup Grated Monterey Jack Cheese (I used all cheddar, cause that's what I had!)
 Chopped Parsley (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a large casserole dish. 

Heat butter in a large skillet. Add onions and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, or until they start to turn translucent. Add ham and cook for 3 to 4 minutes until thoroughly heated. Remove from heat and set aside.
Combine half-and-half and cream in a microwave-safe container and nuke for a minute or so, until no longer cold. Whisk in flour and black pepper until totally combined. Set aside. (You may add salt, but cheese and ham are salty, so add sparingly.)
Combine the two grated cheeses. Set aside.
Using a mandoline or slicer, slice potatoes into 1/8-inch slices (very thin.) Layer 1/3 of the potato slices in the buttered casserole dish. Sprinkle on 1/3 of the ham/onion mixture, then 1/3 of the cheese, then pour on 1/3 of the cream mixture.
Repeat this twice more, ending with a sprinkling of cheese and a pouring on of the rest of the cream mixture. Cover dish with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 20 minutes at least, or until bubbly and hot.
Cut into squares and serve. Sprinkle on chopped parsley if you'd like!
(Note: To speed along the process a bit, you may boil sliced potatoes for 3 to 5 minutes before assembling the casserole. Just drain and slightly cool before assembling.)
I used Ree's tip on boiling the sliced potatoes for 5 minutes and it really does make them cook faster and have great melt-in-your-mouth texture. That CAN be a dangerous thing though!!

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