The Modern Home Economist - Cooking Lessons: Cheese Souffle and Baked Ham

As a new homemaker many, many years ago, I came to my new home with a hope chest of sorts.  In it were most the items I'd use to set up my first kitchen.  Plates, silverware, glasses, a crock pot ($12 and 3 purchase seals from Premium saltines), a set of pots and pans.  No linens for beds, nor towels for the bathroom closets.  Only items meant to prepare food and serve it.  That's a telling thing, I realize.  I even had a collection of recipes carefully saved from several magazines.

One of the saved recipes was from Seventeen magazine for Cheese Souffle. I'd read an account in a Peg Bracken article in one of the women's magazines of a dinner she had to prepare on the fly.  Her husband had a business meeting with a man whom he'd invited home for dinner.  He called her at noon to give her notice and she went into a dead panic.  Peg Bracken's whole line was that she 'hated housework' which she wrote a book about with tongue in cheek.  Imagine the declared clutz of housework having a dinner guest by the name of James Beard...Well she pulled together a meal at day's end.  On her menu was a baked ham and a Cheese Souffle.

To me Cheese Souffle was the epitome of gourmet cooking.  Difficult by all accounts, and for a girl raised in rural Middle Georgia, exotic, too.  I couldn't wait to try my hand at that recipe and I'd not been married many weeks when I did.  Out of my oven came one lovely, perfect cheese souffle.  A deep satisfaction filled me as I looked upon it's lovely golden fluffy self.

Recently in reading my vintage magazines I've come across many mentions of cheese souffle.  In war years especially it was considered an economical dish.  And it is!  The older I get the more I realize that many of the recipes I most enjoyed were also the most economical to make.

If you've never attempted a souffle and always felt daunted by the very idea of it, then let me assure you it's really just an exercise in basic cooking methods that you probably already know.  It consists of a cheese sauce, beaten egg whites folded into the cheese sauce.  The fussiest thing you will do for this dish is to make a collar for your casserole dish if you've no deep casserole.  I tore a long length of foil, folded into fourths lengthwise and tied around the top of my dish.  I didn't have a round dish,  mine was square.

Avoid peeking in the oven if you can but just as with cakes, unless there is a sharply different temperature between your room and the stove and a draft that is blowing directly into the oven when you open, you shouldn't have a fallen souffle.  It is true that as it sits and cools it loses volume, so make sure family is seated and waiting at table.  If any of your lot drags their feet when you call that dinner is ready treat them as you would the chronically late friend and tell them to come to table extra early.

Cheese souffles are just a lovely thing, truly they are.  They can be eaten for breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner.  I'm more inclined to the brunch, lunch, dinner thing myself since they do take a bit of time to prepare and I'm not much on heavy prep at breakfast time.  I'd have to get up pretty early and saturate myself with coffee first.  But that's just me.

With Easter approaching, I thought I'd share the detail from one of those vintage magazines.  I think this was a Good Housekeeping magazine.  Below the souffle recipe and instructions you'll find an article from an old Woman's Day about choosing and cooking a ham.  Hope you try both these cooking lessons.  

Granny taught me to cook hams.  To avoid an overly salty taste, remove any of the cured or smoked skin that might be on the meat.  The fatty layer is not the source of that saltiness but the brown skin you will sometimes see on most cuts.  It's not a hard task but it is an awkward one and messy, just so you know.  Most of the hams I bought were halves either butt (more expensive but less bone) or shank (a big bone that is nice for boiling with beans for a thrifty but super tasty soup as a follow-up meal).

There are many ways to glaze a ham.  Scoring the fat before you cook and then placing a whole clove in the points of the diamonds formed adds a unique taste to ham that is very pleasing.  I generally used the brown sugar glaze for my hams.    I sometimes opened a small can of pineapple juice and mixed with the brown sugar and mustard and glazed the ham with that.  

I used to reheat slices of ham with a slice of pineapple between them for our family meals.  It was a nice way to keep the ham moist as it heated and added a very nice taste to the ham.  In my childhood, it wasn't uncommon to be served warmed ham slices with a cherry or raisin sauce.

Hams are far more economical than you might realize. You should manage several meals from even a half portion.  Our family of 7, often were served three or four meals and sandwiches at least twice from a shank half.  Some of my favorite leftover uses after the main event dinner of ham was the pineapple/ham slice dish I shared above, followed by  a crock pot dish of au gratin potatoes with thin bits of ham laid between the potato layers.  Another idea is twice baked potatoes with diced ham mixed in with the potato mixture that fills the shells.  

A third recipe for leftovers is quite simple: Mix a moist buttermilk cornbread batter.  Layer chopped green onions, diced ham and shredded cheese on the bottom of a casserole dish.  Top with the cornbread batter and bake until bread is done through.  Serve with a mushroom sauce spooned atop.  

Mama's favorite use of leftovers was a pot pie, in which ham replaced chicken.  It was tasty as well.  I sometimes served a pie of broccoli and ham bits in a light lemon sauce, but I lost that recipe in one of my moves, to my regret.

Last of all, if you have a bone in ham, do keep the bone and use to cook with any dried beans of your choice.  Black bean, Lima bean or 15 bean soups are all filling and quite nice with the flavoring and bits of meat from your ham bone.


Anonymous said...

My husband bought a good size bone-in ham, sliced it,and weighed it, but not the bun of course.
We compared it to the price of a ham slice's weight per pound and deli ham slices. I don't know if we kept the differences in price but the bone-in ham was much more economical. Tasted better too.
Love your blog but I don't have one but yours is very interesting. Thank you for it.

Lena said...

I stretch hams all the time too. We add it to soups, casseroles and omelets. But I've never tried to make a souffle :) They always intimidate me. But after your encouragement, I need to try it :)

Kathy said...

Yum! We love ham, and I like your recipes for leftovers. I have never made a cheese souffle before, but it sounds so good. I wonder if you could use cheddar or other cheeses?

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