Thursday, May 19, 2011

Making the Most of Your Holiday Ham

I am a huge fan of ham, but we typically only get a half ham about once or twice a year – around holidays due to it not being the healthiest item out there.  If we aren’t having company I have often taken advantage of the sales and coupons and stuck a half ham in my freezer for a time when our family will make use of it.  My parents usually give me their ham bone since my mom is not a fan of split pea soup, but my dad is.  I make the soup with their ham bone and save some for my dad. 

When we do have ham, I make the most of it!  For lunch my favorite is a hot ham and Swiss cheese sandwich on a soft fluffy roll or grilled ham and cheese on whole grain bread.  For dinner we make split pea soup with a meaty ham bone; ham casserole which either consists of jarred whole mushrooms, ham and boiled eggs drenched in a white sauce (made with whole wheat flour of course) or ham and asparagus drenched in the same white sauce but adding a bit of parmesan cheese and serving over whole grain toast; or for a special treat (usually Christmas) we make ham pithiviers (a very fancy Julia Child recipe).  And for breakfast we make scrambled eggs with onions, peppers, ham and cheese; quiche or this wonderful strata recipe below (adapted from my favorite quiche recipe).  The best part about having a ham is that it keeps on giving.  We don’t need to eat all of these meals in the same week, we can freeze the bone and freeze the meat and pull out as much as we need for various recipes over the next several months.

One loaf day old whole grain bread
One sweet onion, chopped
4 oz ham, chopped
3 – 6 oz fresh spinach
½ - 1 cup grated cheese (swiss, gruyere, edam, etc.)
3 eggs, beaten
¾ cup egg whites (about 5 large eggs)
1 cup low fat milk
salt and pepper to taste
dash of mustard (optional)

Spray large sauté pan with oil and add chopped onions, over medium low heat caramelize onions (this may take awhile).  The idea is to cook them for awhile at a low heat so that they soften and gradually brown, not burn or get crunchy.

While you are waiting for your onions to caramelize, carefully cut your day old bread into 1 inch slices and lay them in the bottom of an 8x8 glass baking dish. 

Whisk the eggs and milk with salt and pepper and optional dash of mustard (dry or wet) in a large pourable measuring cup or bowl. 

Add your chopped ham and spinach to the onions when they are light brown but still soft.  When the spinach is wilted spread the contents from your sauté pan over the first layer of your day old bread. 
Sprinkle some grated cheese over the top of your meat and veggies then top with another layer of sliced day old bread.  Pour the egg and milk mixture over all layers and top with remaining grated cheese. 

Cover the strata with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.  I suggest putting another pan the same size as your glass baking dish on top of the plastic wrap and weighting it down so that the bread has a chance to fully soak up the egg mixture. 

In the morning remove the strata from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature for 20-30 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Remove plastic wrap and cover strata with aluminum foil.  Bake for 30 minutes covered, remove foil and continue to bake for another 25-30 minutes or until it puffs up, is golden brown and does not jiggle in the middle.

If you don't happen to have day old bread on hand, check your local grocery store for discounted day old bakery items.  If you can't find it, ask and I'm sure someone can help you locate some day old bread.  Otherwise use some earlier in the week alongside a pasta dish and then save the rest for breakfast another day later in the week!  Enjoy!

For a printable copy of the recipe above (without pictures) click on the title of the recipe.

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