Food & Drink

Easter brings memories of family dinners, sweets

Spring is finally here and Easter is this Sunday. Everyone, children and adults alike, enjoys receiving an Easter basket filled with goodies such as chocolate bunnies, jellybeans, marshmallow Peeps, dyed Easter eggs and plastic eggs filled with candy or other treasures. Easter is also a special time for family and friends to gather, share a meal and celebrate this meaningful holiday.

I think there are a few kid-favorite candies that are a must for any Easter basket — a chocolate Easter Bunny, jellybeans and marshmallow Peeps. These three Easter sweets have been around for as long as I can remember. Another yummy basket addition and requested favorite at my house is the Cadbury chocolate egg.

When I was growing up, the whole family spent every Easter weekend together at my gramma’s lake house. It was always a big family gathering with lots of food and fun. Our Easter morning started about 5 a.m. when we kids were roused out of our beds to attend Easter sunrise service.

We dressed in our Easter outfits, which for the girls included bonnets, white gloves and frilly dresses. The boys normally wore dress shirts with a bow tie and pants held up by suspenders. Waking up and getting dressed was not the hard part of the morning. What was difficult was leaving behind the filled Easter baskets left by the Easter Bunny. The rule was: No baskets before church.

Year after year, the church service was on the same grassy knoll overlooking the lake. As we sat on the uncomfortable wooden folding chairs listening to the sermon and watching the beautiful sunrise appear over the lake, the thought of chocolate bunnies and candy danced in our heads.

After church, dinner preparation started in the kitchen while we kids hunted for Easter eggs, ate our chocolate and candy and played in the lake. By the time dinner was served, we were full and had stomach aches from all the sweets and hard-boiled eggs we had eaten. To this day, the fond memories of those Easter sunrise services and family gatherings hold a very special place in my heart.

Main event

A delicious baked ham is usually the centerpiece of our Easter dinner. I think ham goes with springtime and Easter in the same way that turkey goes with Thanksgiving. The only thing I like better than a baked ham dinner is leftover ham tucked between two slices of mustard-slathered fresh bread.

Ham is versatile and easy to prepare. Almost all packaged hams are either partially cooked or fully cooked; the exception is a fresh ham. A partially cooked ham needs to cook an additional amount of time before eating. A fully cooked ham can be eaten cold just as it comes from the package (I still like to reheat mine as I think it enhances the flavor, loosens up the juices and I like to add a glaze to the exterior). Canned hams are also fully cooked and ready to eat.

The most traditional way to prepare a ham is to bake it. To heat it all the way through, allow about 20 minutes per pound for a partially cooked ham and about 10 minutes per pound for a fully cooked ham.

Although ham is perfectly delicious by itself, you can make it extra special by adding a glaze. The most popular glaze recipes contain fruit juice (my mom always used cherry juice), honey, mustard, brown sugar, fruit preserves and spices. Coat or glaze your ham the last 30 to 45 minutes of cooking. I also like to score the fatty exterior of the ham in a diamond pattern, then stud each diamond with a whole clove. I also like to place pineapple rings with maraschino cherries on the exterior of the ham after glazing.

On the lamb

Another springtime main entrée favorite is lamb. I like to purchase American lamb instead of New Zealand lamb because I find the meat has a milder flavor and tastes sweeter. I prefer a boneless leg of lamb.

Marinate your lamb with lemon juice, wine, olive oil, garlic and oregano, or slather the roast with a combination of honey, Dijon mustard, fresh rosemary, lemon zest, fresh chopped garlic along with salt and pepper, then grill it on a barbecue grill or bake in the oven until the juices run clear when pressed with a fork.

Serve it with baked potatoes and a tossed salad, or create a pasta salad made with orzo, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, chopped red onion, spinach, feta cheese and chopped fresh oregano.

Easter eggs

Dying Easter eggs is a great family event that kids especially look forward to every year. Store-bought dyes are easy to use; however, some common foods we have in our cupboard, pantry or refrigerator can be used instead and, I think, provide fun experimentation for everyone.

Some color examples and the foods used to achieve them are:

Blue — canned blueberries or purple grape juice

Green — boiled spinach leaves

Orange — boiled yellow onion skins or carrots

Pink — juice from pickled beets, cranberry juice, red grape juice

Red — lots of boiled red onion skins, pomegranate juice

Violet or purple — red wine

Yellow — boiled ground cumin or turmeric, lemon peels or carrot tops

The only drawback is the length of time the eggs have to soak in the natural liquid versus store-bought dye to obtain color. The longer you soak the eggs, the more intense the colors will be.

Homemade Marshmallow Peeps

q Vegetable oil (for the pan)

q Powdered confectioner’s sugar

q 2/3 cup cold water, divided

q 2 envelopes (2 tablespoons) unflavored gelatin

q 1-1/3 cups granulated sugar

q 1/2 cup light corn syrup

q 1/2 teaspoon salt

q 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

q Colored sugar for decorating

q Tiny amount of melted chocolate for decorating

q Chick or bunny shaped cookie cutter

n Line the bottom and sides of a 13x9-inch baking pan with plastic wrap; oil and generously dust the bottom and sides with powdered sugar. In a large bowl, place 1/3 cup cold water then sprinkle the gelatin over the surface.

n Meanwhile, in a heavy saucepan with a tight fitting lid, add sugar, corn syrup, salt and remaining 1/3 cup water; stir to dissolve the sugar. Cover the pan and place it over moderately low heat. Remove the cover after 4 to 5 minutes. The steam will have caused any sugar crystals to dissolve and the syrup will be bubbling lightly. Increase the heat to high, insert a candy thermometer and boil the syrup, without stirring, until it reaches 240 degrees. Immediately remove from the heat.

n Fit your electric mixer with the whisk attachment. Slowly and carefully pour the syrup into the gelatin while the mixer is beating constantly at medium speed. When all the syrup has been added, increase the speed to high and whip for approximately 10 minutes until the mixture is lukewarm, very white and the consistency of marshmallow cream. Add the vanilla extract toward the end of mixing. Pour the marshmallow mixture into the prepared pan; smooth the top and sprinkle liberally with colored sugar. Let the pan stand, uncovered, at room temperature to dry.

n NOTE: Depending on the humidity, this may take several hours or up to 8 hours. Generally, the longer the setup time, the easier the marshmallow sheet will be to cut. When ready to cut, invert the pan onto a clean cutting surface; remove the plastic wrap and coat the top with colored sugar (it should adhere easily). Use cookie cutters to stamp out your peeps (or bunnies) and toss them in a bowl of sugar to coat the edges. If you find your cookie cutter getting sticky, wash it and lightly coat with vegetable oil. With a toothpick, apply a dot of chocolate to form an eye. Store the marshmallow peeps in an airtight container.

n Source: Recipe from What’s Cooking America

Michelle’s Chocolate Cherry Cake

Cake:

q 1 package fudge cake mix

q 1 (21 ounce) can cherry pie filling

q 1 teaspoon almond extract

q 2 eggs beaten

Frosting:

q 3/4 cup sugar

q 1/3 cup milk

q 5 tablespoons butter

q 1 (6 ounce) package semi-sweet chocolate chips

n Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

n Grease and flour a 13x9x2-inch pan.

n Combine the cake mix, pie filling, almond extract and eggs; mix until well blended. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 35 minutes.

n For frosting – in a saucepan, combine the sugar, milk and butter; bring to a boil over medium high heat, boil 1 minute stirring constantly. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the chocolate chips.

n Mix until the chips are melted, then pour over the cake.

Chocolate Cheese Pie

q 1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened

q 1 (3 ounce) package cream cheese, softened

q 3/4 cup sugar

q 1/4 cup Hershey’s Cocoa

q 2 eggs

q 1 teaspoon vanilla

q 1/2 cup heavy cream

q 8-inch or 9-inch packaged graham cracker crust

q Slice fresh fruit (optional)

n Combine the cream cheese and sugar in a large mixer bowl; blend well.

n Beat in the cocoa, scraping sides of bowl and beaters; beat in the eggs and vanilla. Add the cream; blend well.

n Pour the mixture into the crust.

n Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes (center will be soft but will set upon cooling).

n Cool to room temperature. Chill for several hours or overnight. Garnish with fresh fruit, if desired.

n Source: Hershey’s Cocoa Recipe

Diann Greene, whose column appears weekly in Accent, can be e-mailed at downhomecook@gmail.com.

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