Lou's Clues: Hamming it up!

Last week, I gave you a great recipe for one of my favorite cold cuts -- roast beef. This week, we're moving on to another popular lunch meat: ham!

I think ham is just about the most versatile meat on the market today. Don't believe me? Then consider this: one day of good ham prep could help feed you for the better part of a week -- heck, even longer if you make the right dishes.

Ham can start as a Sunday dinner, get sliced into sandwich meat (using that handy slicer you bought two weeks ago) for Monday's lunch, chopped into tasty croquettes for Wednesday's dinner, and the bone can be simmered for a few hours to make a tasty ham and bean soup! Freeze the soup, and you have something that can be reheated in a few weeks when life has you too busy to make a proper meal.

See? A little ham goes a long way -- and at bargain basement prices, too! In my experience, ham can usually be found at about a buck per pound. Cheap, versatile, and tasty: ham is one of the ultimate money-saving, flavor-giving foods around.

"But Louie," you may be saying, "I've been eating ham my whole life, and it's never really rocked my world. It's too salty, or too dry, or just too... blah." Well, you're in luck, because I'm here to provide a recipe for ham that is out of this world: Chef Louie's Hot/Sweet Ham.

For this recipe, you'll want to use a bone-in, fully cooked, cured ham -- about a 7-to-8 pounder. If you're on a health kick, you might be inclined to trim some of the fat down to 1/8 of an inch.

In a separate dish, mix 1 cup of dark brown sugar with 1 to 2 tablespoons of cayenne pepper, depending on your tolerance for heat. Take 8 strips of thick sliced bacon and press both sides into the mixture, coating the bacon well, then lay the bacon strips over the ham, completely covering the fat side on top. To ensure the bacon doesn't slip off while you're cooking, secure it by impaling a few cherries on toothpicks and using those.

To keep things moist and tasty, splash a cup or two of Marsala wine into the pan, along with half a stick of butter. Bake in a high-sided baking dish for two hours, or until the meat thermometer shows 140 degrees.

When the ham is finished, you can start on your gravy. Toss 2 tbsp. of butter into a saucepan over medium heat, and incorporate 2 tbsp of flour to make a roux. After about 10 minutes, your roux should be a medium brown. This is the color that you want for your gravy, so at this point add about 2 cups of pan drippings from the ham, about 1/2 cup of wine, and cook until thickened, stirring constantly.

If you're wondering where the "Sweet" in "Hot/Sweet" comes from, it's the side dish. It may sound a little weird, but trust me -- it's delicious.

Toss a can of crushed pineapple into a baking dish, then cover it with shredded cheddar, and pop this into the oven to broil. Take it out after about 10 minutes, or when the cheese gets to what the professional chefs call, that "oooey, gooey stage." Sounds crazy, I know, but the tasty-sweet combo will make even the pickiest eater light up!

If that's a little too out-there for you, try a baked sweet 'tater with butter and cinnamon to fulfill your side dish sweet tooth.

Stay tuned to Lou's Clues over the coming weeks for the finest leftover dishes, my "Soup Sandwich," and the best homemade Ham and Cheese cold cut loaf you will ever have -- all at a fraction of what the stores charge for their processed, pre-made counterparts!

Salud!

Chef Louie hosts Good Day Food & Wine, a nationally syndicated weekend radio show. A culinary veteran, Chef Louie pledges to empower you in the kitchen, the supermarket, and help you eat better, entertain better and keep more of that hard-earned money close to home. Sign up for his free e-newsletter here.

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