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Fox Valley Cooks: No fuss Christmas dinner

Jen Karg gets started preparing ham dinner using an old family recipe.
She is wearing an aprfrom her husband's grandmother.

Jen Karg gets started preparing a ham dinner using an old family recipe. She is wearing an apron from her husband's grandmother. | Photos by Judy Buchenot

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Ham Glaze

2 tablespoons vinegar

2 tablespoons yellow mustard

About 1 cup brown sugar

Mix together vinegar and mustard. Add enough brown sugar to make a paste that is thick but still able to flow off a spoon. Mix into a shredded or sliced ham that has been sealed in foil and cooked for six to eight hours in 12 ounces of cola.

Mustard Sauce

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons flour

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup dry mustard

3/4 cup half and half

1/4 cup water

2 eggs, beaten

3/4 cup vinegar

Mix salt, flour, sugar and mustard in a sauce pan and set aside. Mix together half and half, water and eggs in a bowl. Add to the dry ingredients and cook over medium heat. While mixture is heating, warm vinegar in the microwave. Add to saucepan and continue to cook until mixture thickens and comes to a boil. Serve at room temperature as a spread for ham. Sauce is also ideal for sandwiches, hamburgers and even makes a great dip for pretzels.

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Updated: December 20, 2012 2:34PM

Eating well during the holidays sometimes depends on who you know. Jen Karg, a 36-year-old Aurora mother of two, knows two amazing cooks who arrive like elves for the holidays.

On Christmas Eve, her mother, Nina Richardson, teams up with her twin sister to cook a proper Italian meal, featuring calamari, squid, smelt, cod and other seafood served alongside tender pasta. Then on Christmas day, her mother-in-law, Linda Karg, takes over the range to prepare a tender ham dinner that minimizes preparation to maximize family time.

“They are both wonderful meals,” Jen Karg says.

The two family matriarchs have shared their secrets with Karg. Her mother-in-law actually compiled a three-ring binder with more than 200 family recipes safely sheathed in plastic covers, which she gave to Karg at her wedding shower. The book includes ingredients, family connections and helpful hints, such as “this recipe says cook for an hour, but I always cook it for about 1-1/2 hours.” The recipe book is organized into categories so it is easy to use.

“One of our favorites is Auntie Linda’s Ham,” says Karg, referring to a meal that can be made in advance — making it perfect for serving when the house is filled with guests.

The recipe begins with a frozen, bone-in half ham weighing between 9 and 10 pounds. Karg unwraps the ham and pops it into either a deep roasting pan with a lid or an electric roaster. She pours a 12-ounce can of any brand of cola, including diet over the ham. She then covers the ham with foil, sealing it. The lid then goes on over the foil, sealing the ham completely. The ham is then cooked in a 320-degree oven or roaster for six to eight hours.

“I like to put it in and let it cook overnight,” Karg says. “In the morning, it is so tender.”

She cools the ham, removes the fat and shreds or slices it. She saves a cup of the liquid to add later if needed. The ham can be wrapped and refrigerated at this point for a few days.

When it is time to serve, Karg prepares a simple glaze from the recipe book. The notes from the recipe point out that this glaze was served over a ham at her mother-in-law’s wedding rehearsal dinner 43 years ago and notes “that’s how long I have been making this glaze.”

Karg works the glaze into the sliced or shredded ham and then heats the ham at 350 degrees for about two hours or until heated through.

She serves the ham with a mustard sauce which Al, her father-in-law, can’t live without.

Her family likes the ham served on fresh home-baked rolls slathered with mustard sauce. Side dishes for the meal include a cheese and hash-brown casserole, corn or bean casserole, a lettuce salad and Jell-O.

“The leftovers can be frozen and reheated,” Karg says. “It really is an easy way to fix a meal that everyone just loves.”

When Karg gets ready to serve the family ham dinner at Christmas, she puts on a holiday print apron that once belonged to her husband’s 90-year-old grandmother, Georgia, allowing three generations of cooks to be represented at Christmas dinner.

She shares the recipes that have been made in her family for many years for a no-fuss holiday meal.

Know someone who really likes to cook and is good at it? Contact columnist Judy Buchenot at

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