4 medium large red potatoes(key ingredient for this, as they are much moister than russets), each wrapped in foil and baked until done (400 degrees for about 1 hour, just until soft when gently squeezed). When done, remove from foil and let them set out to cool down enough to handle, or make them ahead of time and keep in refrigerator (once cooled) until ready to use.
6 to 8 ounces smoked ham, cubed into bite size pieces (ask the deli to slice a 3/4” slice of smoked ham if you don't have any ham leftovers to use - be sure to use smoked, not honey, ham)
4 TB butter
4 TB flour
1 teapsoon garlic powder (don’t use garlic salt since there’s plenty of salt in the ham and butter - you can mince a couple fresh garlic cloves, if you prefer)
Jane’s Crazy Mixed-up Salt (about 1 teaspoon)
Pepper (about ½ teaspoon)
1 small tablespoon chicken base (it’s like bouillon, but I like it even better, more intense – it’s semi-solid and it is refrigerated after opening – usually found in the soup aisle with the bouillon)
16 ounces half-and-half (gives you a richer sauce than milk)
6 to 8 ounces grated gruyere cheese
3 to 4 ounces grated Velvetta cheese
some thin butter slivers for topping
How to make it
Generously butter an 11x7 glass baking dish (or a 10” deep dish glass pie dish works, too) – glass is preferred because it will give you a nice browned, crusty bottom, top and sides of casserole when cooked.
Peel cooled potatoes and dice into bite size pieces (or leave the skin on, which is how we prefer it).
Place diced potatoes into buttered baking dish.
Add ham cubes and toss together.
Prepare sauce by melting the 4 TB butter in medium pan; use a whisk to stir in the flour, seasonings and chicken base.
Bring this to a gently simmer, whisking continually.
When it simmers, remove pan from heat and gradually whisk in the half-and-half until well blended.
Return pan to medium/medium low heat and add the cheeses.
Continue to whisk the mixture until the cheese is melted completely and incorporated into the sauce.
Adjust seasonings, if needed - but not before this point, as the cheeses will add quite a bit of salt. Keep in mind that the ham will add saltiness to the sauce, too.
Pour the sauce over the potatoes and ham; top with about 8 thin slivers of butter.
Bake at 425° for 30 to 45 minutes, until top is bubbling and browned in spots. I just watch it, and when it has lots of good "crusty brown" areas, I take it out of the oven. It really depends on your oven and the heat. When I am baking it with other dishes, I may need to reduce the heat, so it requires a bit more time to brown up. It doesn't HAVE to brown up, we just like the crustiness and texture of that! Remember, all the ingredients are already cooked through, so you are basically just heating it and letting the flavors blend...