Seduce Your New In-Laws With Delicious Ham! My Nefarious Thanksgiving Plan.

Last year, I had Thanksgiving dinner. I had hosted it once before for my family, when I lived in a crappy little apartment in Lawrence, KS.  I had a tiny rickety table that used to be my grandmother’s, and I served dinner on it in my carpeted kitchen. Carpet in a kitchen — not the 1970’s best idea. And this carpet was a particularly egregious example of the ’70’s breed:  mottled brown, mustard and avocado dabs and swirls, which made the floor look like years and years of cooking spills had accumulated on it and produced a moldy fuzz. Despite the surroundings, dinner was good, and I felt accomplished.

I’d attained a milestone of adulthood; I’d hosted a Family Holiday. Nothing burnt, I almost had enough gravy, no one was poisoned and all family members were speaking to each other at the end of the dinner.(Granted, my immediate family consists of my parents, still married to each other — we don’t count the two years they were divorced in the 1980’s — and my younger sister. Not a large or especially contentious crew.)

Last October, I’d just moved in with my boyfriend. My family wasn’t used to the idea of me having a boyfriend  (they would have been less surprised if I had announced I was taking up graduate studies in mathematics, and math and I are enemies of long-standing ) and me actually living with a man…well, they were bewildered. Not from any outraged moral sensibilities, but rather as if the family dog had woken up purple, say, and with tiny horns. “Well, what the hell? Never would have expected that,” they might say. Same with me setting up house with a guy.

The house was still very much in a his-and-hers state, rather than a cohesive whole, but I now had a real dining room and a real kitchen. I broke out my grandmother’s lace tablecloth (her table had been relegated to the back porch) and her silverware, and made a ham and all the trimmings. I decorated to the best of my abilities and strained budget (I’d just lost my job a few weeks ago, which had precipitated the move — we were going to move in together in November, but the lay-off moved the schedule forward a bit.) My family brought side dishes, and they had the chance to sit down and get to know D., who I think is a stellar fellow. I got my parents to play Wii bowling, which they quite liked, and D, my sister and I got a little drunk, and then they went home. It was nice.  Adult Milestone added: Hosted Family Holiday with Significant Other With Whom One is Cohabitating in a Real House.

This year, will be another Adult Milestone, and one that’s a little more fraught with nerves for me than last year: Hosting First Blended Family Holiday As Wife, with In-Law’s Meeting My Family For The First Time, In a Home One Owns. Whew. That’s a lot of firsts.

Now, my in-law’s are very nice, and I am really sure everything will be pleasant, with just the normal amount of slightly stilted politeness that goes with combining two groups of people who don’t know each other in a house for 4 hours,. D. and I will be having my parents and sister, and his mother, stepfather and aunt to dinner. I have not meet his aunt yet, either. (D and I got married in a small courthouse wedding in April, so the families really didn’t have a chance to meet and mingle.)

So I am cleaning, and our house, while still a work in progress on the decorating front (I’m still without a full-time job currently, and our finances are, shall we say, challenged.) is starting to look quite nice. If you ignore a few things, like the hole in the kitchen ceiling, where we needed to access some pipes. And the masonry on the front porch we hacked off this summer, when the mortar began to slide away, rendering a simple jaunt down the steps into a Himalayan Death Slide.  Other than that, it’s great! Really. Well, it’s clean, and many things match.

D’s parents are bringing us their old dining room set (with a SIDEBOARD! I didn’t expect to have a sideboard till I was 50. I am thrilled!) which is quite nicer than the IKEA dining room table we have now, so we will have plenty of seating.  Things should be fine, and well, there will be wine.

And my ham. Let me tell you about my ham. My family always has ham for holidays, and while my mom makes a fineham, I am a bit more adventurous in my culinary style than she. Mom is country-basic. I like a little more zing, so I tried this recipe for ham from America’s Test Kitchen. It’s not nouvelle cuisine, as that would be Not On for my family, but it is very, very good.

Here’s the menu for my traditional Thanksgiving dinner, with a couple of recipes for the ham, and a family favorite known as Cherry Junk.

Cider-Baked Bone-In Ham with Cider-Dijon Glaze

Turkey with Stuffing (brought by D’s stepdad, who is an amazing cook)

Mashed Potatoes with Turkey Gravy

Green Bean Casserole

Mom’s Homemade Mac&Cheese

Cherry Junk

Rolls

Olives (Black and Green)

Cranberry sauce from a can (I can’t abide the stuff, but mom and dad love it, so there it is.)

Wine, Beer, Iced Tea

Cider-Baked Ham

1 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces

1/4 tsp. whole cloves

13 c. apple cider

8 c. ice cubes

1 cured bone-in half ham (7 to 10 lbs.), shank end

2 tbsp. Dijon mustard

1 c. packed dark brown sugar

1 tsp. pepper

Large oven bag

1. Toast cinnamon and cloves in large saucepan over medium heat until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add 4 c. cider and bring to boil. Pour spiced cider into large stockpot or clean bucket, add 4 more c. of cider and the ice and stir till melted.  Make sure you will be able to fit the container into your refrigerator!

2. Remove skin from exterior of ham, and trim fat to 1/4 inch thickness (this may not be necessary, depending on your ham.) Score fat at 1″ intervals in crosshatch pattern. Transfer ham to container — CAREFULLY, no splashing or dropping the ham so it goes bouncing piggily across the kitchen floor — where the liquid should nearly cover ham. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or up to 12 hours. (I will be marinating my ham Tuesday night, so I can cook it Wednesday night, and then just heat it up to serve Thanksgiving Day.)

3. Discard cider mixture and transfer ham to large oven bag. (Read the directions on the oven bag; sometimes you need to flour the inside of the bad so it doesn’t burst while cooking. It varies with the bag. No one wants an exploding ham.) Add 1  c. fresh cider to bag, tie securely, and cut 4 slits in top of bag, about 1″ each. Transfer to large roasting pan and let stand at room temperature for 1 1/2 hours.

4. Adjust over rack to lowest level, and heat oven to 300 degrees F. Bake ham till internal temp is 100 degrees F, or about 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours, depending on lbs.

5. While ham is baking, bring remaining cider and mustard to boil in saucepan. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring OFTEN DO NOT SCORCH WATCH THIS LIKE A HUNGRY HAM-LOVIN’ HAWK. This takes about an hour; upi want the mixture to be very thick and reduced to about 1/3 of a cup, so I suggest doing other prep work in the kitchen while the sauce is reducing, like drinking wine and peeling potatoes while watching old episodes of Leverage on your laptop.

6. Combine sugar and pepper in bowl. Remove ham from oven and let rest for 5 minutes. (It’s had a long day.) Turn oven up to 400 degrees F. Roll back oven bag, and brush ham with reduced cider mixture. Using hands, carefully press sugar mixture onto exterior of ham. Return to oven and bake until dark brown and carmelized, about 20 minutes.

You can now transfer the ham to a cutting board, let sit for 15 minutes, then cut and serve, but I let it sit, wrap it in foil and put it somewhere the cats can’t get to overnight. Then just heat the oven to 350 and pop it back in for 20 minutes or so to heat up before serving.

Cherry Junk

1 can of Wilderness Cherry pie filling

1 can crushed pineapple

12 oz. whipped cream (I suppose you could make it real, but we use about 1 and 1/2 tubs of Cool Whip. This is Midwestern grandma church dinner fare, y’all)

1 can Eagle Brand Condensed Milk

Nuts, if desired.

Drain liquid from pineapple, and mix all ingredients well. Refrigerate for about 2 hours, or you can spread it in a casserole dish and freeze it. We prefer it fluffy.

Let me know if you try the recipes and how you like them. And have a happy holiday yourselves. Here’s hoping my plan works.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Samantha
    Nov 24, 2010 @ 10:58:11

    Sounds delicious!

    I would go crazy over a real dining room set and sideboard–of course first I’d need a dining room! Right now I can barely fit our table in our 1970’s kitchen–with groovy carpeting, of course!

    Reply

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