It's Easter. That usually means the meat of choice is ham. I love ham, good ham that is. Spiral ham. Spiral ham with that delicious crunchy brown sugar and clove glaze. Sometimes fruit too!
Ok enough about the ham. It is always difficult to decide what to serve along side this succulent hunk of meat so I am constantly brainstorming ideas and presenting them to a crowd of stubbornness (hi family!). Well, I fought tooth and nail to bring this dish to the table last Thanksgiving, and if you know my family then you know ANYTHING different during a holiday is a huge no no. Sorry, I just got tired of the same old bland mashed potatoes!
Anyways, whenever I think of having ham as the main dish, I always think of Au Gratin Potatoes as an accompaniment. What is Au Gratin? Well, it is a French dish of something, could be almost anything, baked in a shallow dish topped with something that would create a lovely brown crust. In this case, cheese is the browning agent of choice and potatoes is the "anything."
Start off with a good starchy potato, you'll want the starch to thicken the sauce during cooking, if you don't have starchy potatoes at hand, no problem, just sprinkle a little cornstarch between the layers. If you have a Mandoline Slicer, then your job has just been made much much easier! Actually, this recipe is pretty simple, seriously...try it.
4-6 Potatoes, peeled and sliced fairly thin
1 large onion sliced in rings
2 cups milk
1-2 cups shredded sharp cheese
3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp flour
Salt n Pepa to taste
Preheat oven to 400F.
So slice your potatoes, you'll want them thin but not too thin so that they break down while cooking. I'd say a little thinner than quarter of an inch. Slice the onions in rings, you may actually want to chop them instead as the rings may put people off. Butter a large glass baking dish and spread out half the potatoes, sprinkle with salt and pepper and top with the onions. Add the remaining potatoes and salt and pepper again.
Next, heat the butter in a medium sauce pan. Once melted, add flour to create a roux, yes I said it...the ROUX (don't be afraid of it). Its pretty easy, just keep stirring over medium heat for a minute. Slowly add the milk, stirring constantly! You don't want to heat the milk too quickly or it could curdle though, ugh.
When the milk is hot enough, add the cheese and keep stirring, when it is all melted pour the lovely cheese sauce over the potatoes and enjoy the sharp cheesy perfume. Cover with non stick foil (or you could spray it with cooking spray) and pop this baby in the oven for an hour and a half. So, I made this in advance and will reheat tomorrow in the oven, probably the same heat, allowing the cheesy top to form that brown crust that we all fight for. You can broil too for maybe 5-10 mins (just don't burn it!)
Lastly, if you have a stubborn family like mine who insist that they will HATE HATE HATE anything different at a holiday, smile and say "ok!" Bring them a dish of this magical wonder without telling them and guaranteed they will ask you to make this at every holiday.
TIP: you can keep the fat and calorie content down pretty easily. I use butter yes, but I never use whole milk, usually 1% for something like this. I also discovered 2% Crackerbarrel cheese. SOOO GOOOD. Cuts out a lot of the fat right there too but doesn't compromise taste!