Well Dined


Christmas 2012

I wanted to do a big Christmas dinner, but I didn't want to be in the kitchen all Christmas Day. I also wanted to try something different than the usual rib roast and Yorkshire pudding. So I decided to do dinner on Christmas Eve and to do some easy, low-prep dishes for Brunch on Christmas Day.


I ordered a half fresh ham through Whole Foods to try cooking a Christmas ham for the first time, but I made a few mistakes.  I wanted to cook it in the slow cooker with brown sugar and cider to make a glaze, but I didn't realize that "fresh ham" is not really what we consider ham - without the curing or smoke, it is more like a pork roast - so I didn't really get the flavor that I wanted.  I also couldn't get the whole thing to fit in my (very large) slow cooker insert, so I had to chop a chunk off - which actually ended up being a good thing because I roasted that piece and it came out better.


For the slow cooked ham -  I scored the fat cap and studded it with cloves.  Then I placed it in the slow cooker and filled it partway with cider.


Then I packed brown sugar onto the top.


Then I poured maple syrup over the ham; seasoned the cider with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, and orange peel; and filled the container to the top with more cider.

Filling the whole thing with cider is what the original recipe states, but I am not sure that much is needed.  If I tried it again (with a cured ham), I think I would only do halfway.


I cooked it on low for 10 hours.  When I took it out, it was falling apart quite a bit - so I sliced what I could and shredded the rest for leftover sandwiches.  The meat turned out pretty dry, actually (which is surprising considering it was submerged in liquid the whole time), and the flavor didn't really permeate the meat.  So this was pretty disappointing.

The sandwiches made with the shredded meat were much better.  I reduced some of the cider cooking liquid into a glaze and mixed that with the meat.  Then I served it on Hawaiian rolls with a creamy horseradish sauce to balance the sweetness and add more moisture.  So I did salvage it, but still - not my best.


For the extra chunk that I had - I decided to brine and roast it.  I have several jars of apple and spice brining mix sitting around, so I used that to brine the pork overnight.

Then I rinsed and dried the pork; rubbed it with a paste of olive oil, parsley, sage, garlic, mustard, salt, and pepper; and roasted it in the oven.


This turned out much, much better than the other method.  The flavor of the brine really permeated the meat and the crunchy, flavored fat cap was delicious.  So for a fresh ham - I definitely recommend this method!


For my first side, I made a gourmet green bean casserole - no canned soup or processed onion bits here!  This is made with blanched green beans, caramelized onions, a cheesy bechamel, and puff pastry.


For the second side, I made a cornbread stuffing with apples, sage, and turkey sausage.


Served up with plenty of sparkling apple cider (a tradition in my husband's family) - yum!


For dessert, I took one of Jasper's favorite things - a cheddar-apple crisp - and turned it into something else - apple hand pies with cheddar crust.  Shredded cheddar is added to the pie dough to make a chewy, flaky crust that perfectly complements the apples.  I happen to have an adorable mini apple pie press, but you can just cut out circles and fold them over the filling into half moons.


So - onto Christmas morning brunch.  First thing in the morning, I threw together this beautiful cinnamon monkey bread ring.


All you do is lay canned biscuits into a bundt pan, drizzle with melted butter and maple syrup, and sprinkle with brown sugar and cinnamon.  Cook for 15 minutes, then flip onto a serving platter for a beautiful and delicious breakfast treat.


While those sticky buns were baking, I got started on the breakfast casserole that we would eat later in the day (after we opened presents).  I layered frozen hashbrowns (thawed), breakfast sausage and onions (cooked the day before), beaten eggs, and shredded cheddar cheese into my slow cooker (which I made sure to clean out the night before).  I cooked it on low for about 3 hours, until the cheese was melted and the eggs were set.

With the casserole and the ham sandwiches - we had munchies to last the whole day!  And let's be honest, with that amount of food - we had leftovers the whole week.

Merry Christmas, from my family to yours.

Slow Cooker Cider Ham
adapted from All Recipes, adjusted to account for my mistakes

1 (6lb) bone in cooked ham (not fresh, 3lbs if boneless)
1/4 cup whole cloves
2 cups apple cider, or as needed
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup maple syrup
2 tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp ground nutmeg
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground allspice
peel of 1 orange

Press whole cloves into the ham so they are evenly distributed.  You may score the ham for easier insertion if you wish.  Place the ham in a slow cooker.  Combine the cider with spices, pour in to cover 1/3 - 1/2 of the ham.  Pack the brown sugar on top of the ham, pressing into the cloves.  This will get washed away in the next step but any that stays on is a bonus.

Pour the maple syrup over the ham.  Add the orange peel to the pot.  Cover and set to low; cook for 6 to 8 hours.  Remove the ham from the cooker and set aside.  Turn the cooker to high and reduce the cider to a glaze; brush the glaze over the ham.  Serve.

Brined and Roasted Ham
adapted from Food Network

1 (6 to 9lb) shank-end fresh ham, bone in (skin on or off)

1 gallon water
2 cups kosher salt
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
1 tbsp black peppercorns
1 tsp whole cloves
1 tsp whole allspice
1-2 whole star anise
1 piece of orange peel (or 1 tsp dried)
3 quarts ice water
1 quart apple cider (cold)
1 large brining bag

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup whole-grain mustard
1 heaping cup fresh flat-leaf parsley
12 fresh sage leaves, chopped
9 large cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1 gallon apple cider
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
2 tbsp unsalted butter, softened

One day before roasting: In a large pot, combine the water with the salt and brown sugar and heat until dissolved.  Add the spices.  Add in the ice water and cider and allow to cool to room temperature.  Score ham in a diamond pattern through the skin (if using) and fat, taking care not to cut into the meat.  Place the ham into the brining bag and add the brining liquid.  Refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to 8 hours, turning once halfway.

Rinse and pat the ham dry, and refrigerate until needed.  One hour before roasting, remove ham from the refrigerator.  Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

For the rub: Pulse the olive oil, mustard, parsley, sage, garlic, salt, and black pepper in a food processor to make a paste.  Rub it all over ham.  Place the ham into a large roasting pan with a rack.  Roast the ham for 30 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F, and roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 165 degrees F, about 4 hours.  After the first hour, loosely wrap aluminum foil around the bone to keep it from burning.

Meanwhile, for the glaze: Boil, then simmer, the remaining apple cider in a saucepan, skimming as needed, until syrupy and reduced to about 2 cups, about 1 1/2 hours.

During the last 1 1/2 hours of roasting the ham, brush it with the glaze every 30 minutes.  Transfer the cooked ham to a carving board and loosely cover with foil.  Strain the pan juices into a saucepan, skim off any excess fat, and bring to a boil.  Make a paste with the flour and butter and whisk a bit at a time into the juices.  Boil until thick. Carve the ham and serve with the sauce.

Gourmet Green Bean Casserole
adapted from The Chew

1 1/2 lbs green beans (ends trimmed; cut into roughly 1-inch pieces)
2 large sweet yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup white wine
3 tbsp butter (divided)
2 tbsp flour
1 3/4 cups whole milk
8 oz shredded white cheddar
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese (divided)
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 egg, beaten
Kosher Salt and freshly cracked Black Pepper

Melt one tablespoon of butter in a large sauté pan over medium-low heat; add onions and salt.  Cook until brown and caramelized (will take several hours). Add garlic, cook for one minute.  Deglaze pan with white wine, and then reduce by half.  Note - this can be done a day in advance.

Blanch green beans in salted boiling water 3-5 minutes.  Plunge green beans into an ice bath.  Drain beans, and then toss in pan with onions until beans are coated with onions and wine reduction.  Transfer mixture to a 9x13 casserole dish.  Set aside.

For the sauce, melt the remaining two tablespoons of butter in saucepan, add flour and cook, while whisking for a couple of minutes over medium heat, or until the mixture is golden brown.  Slowly whisk in milk, and cook until thickened.  Add mustard, cheddar, and two tablespoons Parmesan; stir until melted; season with salt and pepper.

Pour cheese mixture over beans and onions.  Press down with spoon to create an even layer.  On a floured surface, roll out puff pastry to the size of the casserole dish.  Cover dish with one sheet of puff pastry, folding the edges over the side.  Brush egg wash over puff pastry, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and black pepper.

Place dish on a baking sheet and bake in 400 degree oven for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown.

Apple Hand Pies with Cheddar Crust
adapted from Alexandra Cooks
I made 9 mini pies and had some filling left over. You may get more or less depending on the size of your pies.  To make a traditional pie, use the same crust recipe and double the filling recipe.  Dot the filling with 2 tbsp of butter, and bake for 1 1/2 - 2 hrs, tenting with foil halfway through.

Cheddar Crust:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
14 tbsp (1 3/4 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
4 oz white cheddar cheese, coarsely grated (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup ice water

Combine flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl.  Cut in butter with a pastry cutter until the size of peas.  Cut in cheese.  Add ice water and mix with hands until the dough comes together.

Turn dough out; gather into 2 balls.  Roll each ball out on a floured surface to 1/8 inch thickness and cut out your shapes of choice, re-rolling scraps to get as much as you can.  Stack the cutouts between sheets of parchment and refrigerate, covered, for 30 minutes while you make the filling.

2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into small cubes
2 Fuji, gala, or other type sweet apple, peeled, cored, and cut into small cubes
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp apple pie spice mix
1/8 teaspoon salt

1 egg yolk beaten with 2 tablespoons of water
turbinado, sanding, or regular granulated sugar for dusting

vanilla ice cream for serving (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stir together apples, sugar, flour, lemon juice, apple pie spice, and salt.

Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator.  Spoon about 1 to 2 tbsp of filling onto one half of each circle of dough.  Using your finger, brush a little cold water around the circumference of the dough.  Fold the circle in half so the unfilled side comes over the filling, creating a semicircle.  (You might need to let the circles stand at room temperature for a couple of minutes so they become pliable.)  Seal the hand pie, and make a decorative edge by pressing the edges of the dough together with the back of a fork.  Repeat process with remaining dough.  Place the hand pies on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and return to the refrigerator to chill for another 30 minutes.

Remove the chilled hand pies from the refrigerator, cut a small slit in each and lightly brush with the egg yolk wash.  Sprinkle a pinch of the sugar lightly over the pies, and place pies in the oven to bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes.  Remove the pies from the oven, and let stand to cool slightly before serving.  Serve with vanilla ice cream if desired.

Breakfast Sticky Bun Ring
adapted from Too Stinkin Cute

2 small tubes refrigerator buttermilk biscuits OR 1 tube Pillsbury Grands buttermilk biscuits
3 tbsp butter, melted
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Spray a bundt pan with non-stick spray.  Combine the melted butter and syrup in a small bowl and set aside.  In another bowl, combine the brown sugar and cinnamon.

Place about half of the syrup mixture in the bottom of the pan.  Then sprinkle half of the brown sugar mixture on top.

Lay the biscuits on the bottom of the pan, overlapping edges to form a ring.  Top with remaining syrup and sugar mixtures.

Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes or until golden brown.  Cool for 1 minute in the pan, then invert onto a serving platter and enjoy!

Easy Slow Cooker Breakfast Casserole
adapted from Shaken Together

1 bag (20 oz) frozen hashbrowns, thawed overnight in refrigerator
1 yellow onion, diced
1 lb breakfast sausage
12 eggs
splash of milk
2 cups sharp cheddar cheese

Brown and crumble the sausage in a pan over medium-high heat.  Drain off the liquid, add the onion and cook until soft.  Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Layer the thawed hashbrowns into the bottom of a slow cooker insert, season with salt and pepper, top with the sausage mixture.

Beat the eggs with the milk and pour over the sausage and hashbrowns, top with the cheese.  Set the cooker to low and cook for about 3 hours, until cheese is melted and eggs are set.

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