When Kiddo was not yet a year old, Hubby’s career was on the fast track to the top, but reaching that plateau required us to pack up and move from the central valley that I had called home my entire life. Moving to the dessert wasn’t easy. I had never been away from family before.
In the beginning, we made the ten-hour drive several times a year to be with family. One by one, those treks became fewer and fewer. First it was Christmas. Since we came out for Thanksgiving, Christmas was too quick of a turn around. And then the summer camp-out disappeared. Eventually even Thanksgiving every year became tough to manage. While I missed my family deeply, the move to another state meant we had the opportunity to develop our own little family traditions. I wanted to give Kiddo the holidays I remembered. We made friends, and they became our large, extended family.
Over the years, we developed our own magical family traditions. So to did our California family.
When we returned to California a few years back, once again adjustments needed to be made. Hubby, Kiddo and I hosted a full-blown sit-down Christmas Dinner with a big ham and all the trimmings for our adopted families. My family does a cold-cut smorgasbord on Christmas Day. We missed the big, fancy dinner. So we began rearranging our traditions. Our big dinner was moved to Christmas Eve. That posed some issues since our Christmas Eve was also rich in keeping with the spirit of Seven Fishes. When we lived in the dessert, we were adopted by a great Italian family. They were old school Catholics, so Christmas Eve was an unending feast of pastas and seafood, followed by Midnight Mass. When we first landed back in California, we did a smaller, more intimate version of the Christmas Eve Feast and skipped the Christmas Supper entirely. It wasn’t long before my guys were missing their old traditions. Wanting my guys to be happy, and clinging to our own traditions, we ignored the dates on the calendar. For us, Christmas Eve is December 23, Christmas is the 24th. We have our traditions while acclimating to the traditions of others.
I love doing it this way for several reasons. First off, I have the ham bone for our big pot of beans for New Year’s Day. Secondly, shortly after Christmas I make my guys one of their favorite casserole. Typically, it consists of Macaroni, Cheese, Peas and diced ham saved from Christmas. This year I tried a new recipe, adding Ritz Crackers to the mix. Guess what? It was a hit – as in nothing left. My guys polished it off with eager delight.
Ritz Mac and Cheese Ham Casserole
For the Casserole
2 Boxes Kraft Three-Cheese Macaroni & Cheese Dinner
8 tablespoons (1 stick) Butter
1 cup Milk, divided
1 1/2 cup chopped Smoked Ham
1 can Peas, drained
1/3 cup shredded Mild Cheddar Cheese
1/3 cup shredded Monterey Jack
Buttery Ritz Topping
1 sleeve Ritz Crackers, crushed
2 tablespoon Butter, melted
1/2 cup shredded Mild Cheddar Cheese
Heat oven to 375 degrees.
Cook pasta as directed. While the pasta is cooking, chop the ham, drain the peas and crush the crackers. Place the crackers in a small bowl. Blend with 1/2 cup cheese, and drizzle with melted butter. Set aside until ready to use.
Once the pasta is cooked al dente, drain the pasta. In the now empty pot, meld 1 stick of butter. Blend melted butter with macaroni cheese packets. Stir in 1/2 cup milk. Return pasta to sauce pan over low heat.
Add chopped ham, peas, remaining 1/2 cup milk and both cheeses. Stir to blend over low heat until cheese has melted and mixture is well blended.
Spread mixture into a 9×13 casserole dish. Top with Ritz mixture.
Bake for 15 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
This is great with a simple salad.