Recipes add excitement to Easter menu

April 13, 2011 

With Easter a week and a half away, now's the time to start planning your Sunday feast. Looking to wow your eager diners? Here are a few recipes to add some excitement to your menu.

The Easter ham can be more than heat and eat

By JIM ROMANOFF

The Associated Press

The prepared ham has become so ubiquitous -- honey baked and spiral cut, anyone? -- at Easter, many cooks assume they can just heat and eat, leaving all their culinary creativity for the rest of the meal.

To be sure, cured and smoked pork legs are tasty as is, but there's little reason not to give it an exotic treatment, as with this apricot-peach and gingersnap crusted baked ham.

Here, the bright flavors of apricot-peach jam spiked with some Dijon mustard and brown sugar provide the glue, if you will, for a spicy crust of gingersnap cookie crumbs, all of which combine to create a perfect balance to the salty ham.

This simple and versatile crusting technique comes courtesy of meat expert Bruce Aidells. If you like, passion fruit jam or guava jelly also work well in this recipe.

Apricot-Peach and Gingersnap Crusted Baked Ham

Start to finish: 2 hours 15 minutes (15 minutes active)

Makes: 14 servings

8- to 10-pound bone-in or boneless ham

1 1/2 cups apricot-peach jam (can substitute apricot or peach jam for the blend)

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

1/3 cup Dijon mustard

1 1/2 cup gingersnap cookie crumbs (about 15 cookies pulsed in a food processor)

1 1/2 cups chicken broth

1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in 4 tablespoons of water

Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Place an oven rack low enough in the oven so that the ham won't touch the roof of the oven while baking.

Trim any skin from the ham, then trim the external fat to about 1/4-inch thickness. Place the ham, fat-side up, in a roasting pan and place in the oven. Bake until the internal temperature reaches 130 degrees at the center, about 10 minutes per pound. Remove from the oven and increase the heat to 425 degrees.

In a bowl, whisk together the jam, brown sugar and mustard. Set aside.

Using the tip of a sharp knife, score the surface of the ham in a crisscross diamond pattern. Spoon about two-thirds of the jam mixture generously over the entire surface of the ham. Apply the gingersnap crumbs, pressing them on with your hands to form a thick layer. Return the ham to the oven and bake until the surface begins to brown and become crusty, about another 15 minutes.

Remove the ham from the oven and transfer to a cutting board to rest for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, to make a sauce for the ham, pour the liquid from the roasting pan, including any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, into a medium saucepan. Stir in the chicken broth and remaining jam mixture. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then season with salt and pepper. Stir in the cornstarch mixture and boil, stirring, until the sauce just thickens. Strain the sauce, if desired.

Serve the carved ham with the sauce on the side.

An easy rethink of the traditional hot cross bun

By ALISON LADMAN

The Associated Press

Most people consider hot cross buns an Easter treat, but there is no reason to limit yourself to just once a year.

To help get hot cross buns onto American plates more often, we decided to blend their luscious buttery spicy taste with the ease of a traditional muffin. They still have all the great flavors -- spices, citrus and currants -- but in a quick and easy muffin.

These muffins work equally as well as breakfast or snack. If you like, add mini chocolate chips in addition to or in place of the currants.

Hot Cross Muffins

Start to finish: 30 minutes, plus cooling

Makes: 12 servings

FOR THE MUFFINS:

1/2 cup orange juice

3/4 cup currants

2 cups all-purpose flour

2/3 cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon allspice

1/2 cup milk

1/3 cup vegetable or canola oil

2 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Zest of 1/2 orange

Zest of 1/2 lemon

FOR THE ICING:

1 cup powdered sugar

1 tablespoon lemon juice

In a microwave-safe bowl, combine the orange juice and currants. Microwave on high for 1 minute, or until bubbling. Set aside to cool.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Coat a 12-cup muffin pan with cooking spray or line with paper muffin cups.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, cloves and allspice. In a second bowl, whisk together the milk, oil, eggs, vanilla and both zests. Add the milk and egg mixture and the currants, including the orange juice, to the flour mixture. Stir just until the dry ingredients are moistened; there may still be bits of flour visible.

Divide the batter between the prepared muffin cups and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted at the center of the muffins comes out dry. Allow to cool for 5 minutes, then transfer to a rack to finish cooling.

Once the muffins are cool, prepare the icing. In a small bowl, stir together the powdered sugar and lemon juice until smooth. Drizzle the icing across the tops of the muffins in a line in one direction, then again in the other direction to form a cross over the top.

Simple polenta makes a comforting side for Easter

By ALISON LADMAN

The Associated Press

This simple, slowly cooked polenta is perfect for the Easter table. It is gently seasoned with fresh herbs. And if our choices of herbs don't suit the rest of your menu, simply swap them for those that do.

Be sure not to use instant polenta for this recipe; you want coarse cornmeal. And if there are leftovers, simply pour them into a shallow dish, then refrigerate. The polenta will firm up and can easily be cut into slices. Those slices are delicious grilled (on a grill or in a grill pan), or can be topped with cheese and roasted or broiled.

Herbed Polenta

Start to finish: 1 hour

Makes: 12 servings

4 cups milk

5 cups water

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups polenta or corn grits

3 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano

2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme

3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

3/4 cup half-and-half

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter

Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

In a large saucepan over medium-high, combine the milk, water and salt, then bring to a boil.

While whisking, slowly pour the polenta into the pan. Continue whisking while the mixture returns to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, for 50 minutes.

Stir in the oregano, thyme, mint, half-and-half, Parmesan and butter. When the polenta is smooth, season with salt and pepper.

Loaves are easy! Sculpt Easter bread into a dove

By ALISON LADMAN

The Associated Press

Italian dove bread lies somewhere between brioche and pannetone. It is eaten around the Easter holiday, often accompanied by espresso or a cappuccino. It is a bit of work to make, though none of the steps is particularly difficult. And it makes a beautiful centerpiece for the Easter table.

Traditionally, the bread is flavored just with candied citrus peel, but you can add other dried fruit if you like. Just mix them in at the end with the candied peel. A combination of chopped apricots and cranberries would be beautiful.

Though the dove shape of this bread is traditional, for simplicity it also could be baked in a loaf pan.

Italian Dove Bread

Start to finish: 4 hours (1 hour active)

Makes: 1 large dove-shaped loaf, about 12 servings

FOR THE DOUGH:

1/2 cup milk, warmed

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup honey

3 eggs

Zest of 1 lemon

Zest of 1 orange

1 teaspoon salt

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons instant or fast-acting yeast

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, room temperature

1 cup candied orange or citron peel

FOR THE DECORATION:

1 egg, separated

1/2 cup almond paste

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Whole almonds

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the milk, sugar, honey, eggs and both zests. Turn the mixer on low, then add the salt, flour and yeast. Mix until a dough comes together, then let the mixer knead the dough on low until smooth, about 3 to 4 minutes.

Add the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, and continue kneading, allowing each piece to be fully incorporated before adding the next. Mix in the candied peel. Remove the bowl from the mixer, cover with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.

Meanwhile, prepare the decorations. In a medium bowl, mix together the egg yolk (reserve the white), almond paste, flour and almond extract. Once mixed, use your hands to knead the mixture until smooth. Roll the mixture into about 25 to 30 marble-sized balls.

Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.

Once the dough has risen, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough in half.

Roll one half into a log about 12 inches long and place on the prepared baking sheet. Using the heel of your hand, gently flatten the center of the log.

Form the other half of the dough into a triangle, about 15 inches long and 6 inches wide at the base. Place the triangle over the log, so that the wide end, extends 4 inches inches below and the pointed end 7 inches above. Bend about 3 inches of the pointed end to the side to represent the heat and beak.

Using a sharp knife or kitchen shears, cut the edge of the wings (the log) and the bottom of the tail (the wide end of the triangle) to create feathers.

In a small bowl, beat the reserved egg white until foamy. Use a brush to paint the egg white over the surface of the dove. Decorate the dove with the balls of almond dough, pressing them into the wings, tail and chest of the bird, as well as using 1 ball for the eye. Repeat with the whole almonds, gently pressing them into the surface of the dough.

Loosely cover the dough with a kitchen towel and allow to rise again until puffy and about doubled in size, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Toward the end of the rising time, heat the oven to 325 degrees.

Bake until golden and cooked through, about 40 minutes.

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