How to Use Up All That Easter Ham

Recently, some of my friends have encouraged me to share more recipes on the blog. I've shied away from this for a long time, because it's not like I'm sitting on this huge pile of amazing recipes I've concocted from scratch. My cooking is improvisational, based on a well-stocked pantry, and very much inspired by other's awesome creations. I rarely make up a technique 100 percent on my own, preferring to find something that looks doable and delicious, and then use the method as a template for my own ingredients. 

I'm also hugely intimidated by the whole step-by-step photography thing that's basically required these days for recipe blogs. I do work at my photography, but I have no direct sunlight in my kitchen and all that setting up seems...counter to my a pinch of this and a glug of that style in the kitchen. 

But enough excuses! This week, I was trying to come up with some fancy pasta to make with all our leftover ham from Easter (I don't actually groove on eating ham as a main course, so we always have loads left over), and Shawn said, "Why don't you just put it in mac and cheese?" Uh yeah, because macaroni and cheese is one of the most delicious things in the Universe! Let's do this!

Macaroni and Cheese with Ham

2 Tb Butter
2 Tb Cornstarch
1 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Black Pepper, freshly ground
1/2 tsp Dry Mustard
1/4 tsp Cayenne
1/8 tsp Nutmeg, freshly ground
2 1/2 C Skim Milk
2 1/2 C Shredded Sharp Cheddar*
2 C Elbow Macaroni
1 C Ham, chopped to 1/2 in dice
1/4 C Dry Breadcrumbs
1 Tb Olive Oil

First off, please shred the cheese yourself. Also, if you're wondering why I put the * next to the cheese in the ingredient list, you should know that I almost never make mac and cheese with just one type. Your dairy is your star here, so go all out. But the best quality cheese you can swing. With the ham, I wanted to use mainly cheddar, so it was two kinds of extra sharp white cheddar, plus a little pecorino Romano I had in the fridge that needed to be used up, and I also like to smooth out the sharpness of the cheddar with two slices of good old white American. There is just something about the bland creaminess of American that perfects a cheese sauce. Other good options would be Gouda, emmentaler, Asiago, Monterey Jack, and even a mild Brie. Do your thing! Just make sure you end up with two and a half cups. 

I chopped the leftover ham up into a half inch dice, because I wanted the pieces to be about the same size as the macaroni.

Unlike mac and cheese recipes that force you to make a complicated white sauce, this one starts with the butter, cornstarch, and all the spices with the milk, all at once, in a sauce pot. After a nine hour day at work, do I really want to wrestle a temperamental mornay? No, I do not. That's one of the main reasons this recipe is my favorite. Flick the heat on med-high, and just whisk continuously. 

Meantime, start another pot for the pasta with lots of water over high heat. Salt the water, generously:

And then drop the pasta and cook it for five minutes only. Preheat your oven to 375.

When your milk comes to a boil, continue to whisk it for one minute, the turn off the heat and add two cups of your shredded cheese, whisk that until combined, then throw in the ham and set that aside until your pasta's done.

Add the par-cooked pasta in after you drain it:

Then transfer it to a casserole sprayed with Pam.

Top with the remaining half cup of cheese. 

Here's the gangster move that will make your dish spectacular: mix the breadcrumbs and olive oil in a little dish first, and then top the casserole with them for maximum crunchification.

Coat the top evenly with your secret weapon.

Make sure to put the dish on a cookie sheet before popping into your preheated oven for about 30 minutes. Here's why:

Oh my!

So this is dinner. The sweetness and saltiness of the ham went so well with the sharp, earthy cheese, while the nutmeg and cayenne in the sauce add the complexity you need to elevate this dish from the everyday, pedestrian, kiddie mac and cheese to your signature mac and cheese.

You can make mac and cheese with bacon, caralemized onions, chicken and broccoli, or lobster, but this cheddar and ham version is pretty dang delicous, if I do say so myself. Shawn agreed.

So tell me how I did! Would you like to see more recipe tutorials like this on BHS? Do I desperately need a light box I can assemble on my kitchen island to improve the photos? Sound off in the comments. My personality is big; my hunger is bigger!

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