Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Ham Dinner

Testing a Ham
I think I'm going to go 'traditional' this year and make a ham dinner.  I'm not sure how many guests we'll be having, but a ham is always welcome especially at Christmas time and will feed a crowd.  I get my hams at Nueske's in Wisconsin, which isn't far away.  The Nueske family came to Wisconsin in 1882, bringing with them European skills of Applewood smoking and dozens of recipes for spicing and curing meat.  They still make their hams this way and for flavor and texture, they can't be beat.  The reason many ham dinners are good but not excellent, is that the ham is often over cooked.  To start with, look for labeling on your ham.  Most hams come precooked and ready to eat.  This is because the ham has been cooked as part of the smoking process (and is also usually skinless when you purchase it.)  These hams only require the most gentle warming before serving.  Very few people ever buy a raw ham (often called 'picnic ham' in your butchers meat case.)  I know of people that put the pre-cooked ham in the oven at 350F and cook it for several hours, as if it had been a raw picnic ham.  This will guarantee a tough dried out ham.

Let your smoked (pre-cooked, ready-to-eat) ham sit on the counter at room temperature for an hour or so before you put it in the oven to help it begin to warm.  If it was frozen, let it defrost in your refrigerator for 4-5 days prior.  For a whole, bone-in ham keep the oven temperature low (200F) and let it warm for approximately 60 minutes or heat at 350F for half the time (30 minutes.)  Whatever method you choose, just gently warm until it's serving temperature, about 140F when tested with an instant read thermometer.  It doesn't need to be really hot, or it will lose all of its juice and lots of its flavor. 

I usually glaze the ham with some type of fruit glaze.  It can be anything from pineapple to cherry (as shown here), or even a simple brown sugar maple sauce.  I make the glaze on the stove top and brush it on just before warming.  A nice glaze can be made from pineapple juice and brown sugar, cooked down until it thickens somewhat.  Glaze the ham with it, add some rounds of sliced pineapple (using toothpicks) and you'll have a picture perfect ham to bring to the table.   I brush most glaze on before putting the ham in the oven, but for added effect, you can give it one final glazing when the ham is about ready to come out of the oven.  If you do this, turn up the oven temperature to 400F for the final few minutes to help glaze bake onto the ham.

For Christmas, I spend lots of time making the table and the food look pretty.  Of course if you know me, you know I  like a fancy table just about anytime.  But at Christmas I do even more.  As shown here at the top of the charger, I found some little enameled sleighs at a Christmas in July sale.  Here I put a little votive candle in each and then filled around it with pistachio nuts.  Then I got a Godiva chocolate reindeer to put with it and placed these at each table setting.

With ham, I often like sauerkraut and mashed potatoes. It's rather a tradition in the are of Ohio I'm from and my 'kraut is never too sour as I add thinly sliced apple, a little brown sugar and shredded carrots (for both color and taste.)  It can be cooked in a pan separate from the ham for about 45 minutes at 375F.  Then add it around the ham when you put the ham in the oven to warm.  Any juice that does come from the ham will add flavor to the sauerkraut.  I usually serve the 'kraut on top of the mashed potatoes.

I serve a salad or soup prior to the main course.  You can see the dinner rolls in a cute little hand-stitched caddy made for this purpose, which I found while shopping in Europe.

The dessert finale must be impressive for the holidays, and so I adjourn from the table to have dessert in the Great Room, where our largest tree is located.  With the fire going, and an impressive group of desserts laid out, the guests will find room for more food while they relax and enjoy the warm glow that Christmas brings.  I usually provide several offerings, including some festive liqueurs and brandied eggnog.  Have a good Cognac on hand (Martell cordon bleu is my favorite) for a little later.  What could be a more satisfying way to end the evening?

Whatever you prepare for Christmas dinner, I'm sure it will be wonderful and that your friends and family will be looking forward to your culinary delights.  My best wishes to you and yours for a very Merry Christmas!

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