I’ve been struggling lately with the whole cooking business. Maybe it’s the nightly power struggles to get my little girl to eat; maybe it’s the shorter days and dreary weather, complete with a recent October Nor’Easter that knocked out power in some nearby communities for almost a week and even canceled Trick or Treating in one place; maybe it’s general exhaustion from dealing with a teething baby who won’t sleep at night and makes this momma feel like a zombie; or maybe it’s the mental gymnastics involved in trying to wean the little guy from baby food to regular food and planning meals around stuff he can eat. In any case, cooking has been a challenge and the temptation to serve chicken nuggets and fries on a nightly basis has been great. But in the last few months we’ve made great progress with making mealtimes a routine with everyone sitting at the table together. The little guy has moved from his recliner to the high chair (now that he can support the weight of his big head), Little Missy is in her new big girl booster, and mom and dad are getting used to eating dinner waaaay earlier than they used to.
I find that eating dinner together makes for a calmer evening and on the nights that I simply can’t pull off cooking and Missy gets a kiddie dinner on her own, everything just goes to pot and the hubs and I wind up eating junk for dinner around 9 PM. That said, between 3 and 5 PM, when I try to carve out some time to prepare dinner all hell breaks loose at our house with the little guy energized from his afternoon nap and Little Missy overtired from refusing to nap. Seriously, if I go down to the basement freezer to grab something it sounds like there’s a horde of shrieking elephants traipsing through the house. I would feel sorry if we had downstairs neighbors. Because of this logistical constraint, anything I make for dinner has to be super fast and easy to prepare. Any easier and it would actually prepare itself. This potato and ham casserole is one such dish and it’s made in the tradition of the ultra Scandinavian Jansson’s Temptation (a potato and anchovy casserole). This dish is also one of my childhood favorites so I’m excited to introduce it my kids and all of you. The beauty of this dish is that you can adapt the method to include other meats or even make a vegetarian version and adult it up with the addition of stronger cheese (how about a potato, cauliflower and blue cheese casserole?).
Ham and Potato Casserole
1 lb ham steak, diced
1 packet frozen shredded potatoes (30 oz. For example, Ore Ida Hash Browns, Country Style Shredded Potatoes)
Half a medium yellow onion, finely diced
1 pint half and half
½ to 1 cup shredded cheese (depending on how cheesy you want to make it)
Salt and pepper to taste (note, because of the saltiness of the ham you won’t need much salt)
Preheat oven to 375 F.
Finely dice onion and sauté until translucent. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
While onion is cooking, dice the ham steak to about ¼” cubes . You can also cut these into strips approximately the size of the hash browns.
Pour the still frozen hash browns into a casserole dish (the one I use is 9x12x2”). Mix in the onion and diced ham and add freshly ground black pepper. Since the ham is already quite salty be careful about adding salt. If you want, you can also mix everything in a large bowl and then pour into the casserole, but why dirty another dish?
Pour the half and half over the potato mixture.
Cook in the oven for 30-40 minutes, until browned. In the last 5 minutes, add shredded cheese to the top and allow to melt.
When this comes out of the oven the top will be browned and crunchy and the potatoes will be soft and creamy and nicely flavored by the ham and onion.
Serve with a fresh salad or your favorite vegetable side dish.