An Easter Celebration

Easter dinner usually features ham. Choosing the correct ham is the most difficult part of the ham preparation. A ham is a cut of meat from the hind leg of the pig.

The “butt half” of the ham is the upper part of the leg. It is very tender and flavorful, but contains a portion of the hip bone, making it challenging to carve.

The “shank half” of the ham is the lower portion of the leg, and is much easier to carve.

“Spiral cut hams” are partially boned hams and sliced before packaging. They are usually prepared with a glaze. They need to be reheated very carefully or they will dry out.

Unprocessed ham is referred to as “fresh” ham. Most hams go through a curing process and are then referred to as “cured” ham.

Dry cured: Salting the surface of the ham and drying to cure

Sweet cured: Immersion in a sweet brine with spices or brown sugar added. It is also referred to as sweet-pickle curing or brown sugar cured.

Injection cured: The ham meat is injected with a brine. Most commercial supermarket hams are injection cured and many are of excellent quality.

After curing, the ham may or may not be smoked.

A unprocessed ham must be heated to 148℉ or above. A fully cooked ham should be reheated to 130℉ to release the full flavor.

For several of my favorite sides for ham, see the following recipes:

Two Potato Gratin

3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper

1 pound (3 large) potatoes

1 pound (3 large) sweet potatoes/yams, both peeled and sliced thin

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1 cup milk

3/4 cup Planko bread crumbs

1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

3 Tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350℉.

Grease with butter a 9×13″ baking pan or a 2-1/2 quart casserole dish. Combine spices in small bowl. Slice potatoes and alternate layers in baking dish. Sprinkle potatoes with spices as you layer the potatoes. Combine heavy cream and milk and pour over layered potatoes. Press layered potatoes down and cover completely. Cover baking dish with aluminum foil. Bake in 350℉ oven for 1 hour and 30 minutes until potatoes are completely baked through and tender. Remove from oven; remove foil. Mix Planko, parmesan cheese and melted butter together in a small bowl. Sprinkle over potato dish. Return to oven and bake for an additional 15 minutes until golden in color. Remove from oven and allow to stand 15 minutes before serving. Yield: 8 to 10 portions

Asparagus, Green Beans, Brown Sugar Carrots

Many side dish vegetables are easily prepared at the last minute if they are steamed or cooked in advance. Then the vegetables may be flavored and finished just before serving. These are three vegetables which work well with ham.

Asparagus: Take a stalk of asparagus and snap it at the end. Where ever the stalk snaps, cut the remaining aparagus spears to the same length. Place the spears in a pot with a steamer basket and a small amount of water, cover, and steam 6 to 8 minutes until the spears are tender. Remove from pot and set aside. The asparagus may be served with a lemon slice, a confit of red peppers and onions in olive oil, a little melted warm butter.

Green Beans: Wash and trim green beans. Place in a pot and add enough water to fully cover. Add 2 slices raw bacon and 1 Tablespoon per pound of coarse ground black pepper. Cover and cook 10 minutes until the green beans are tender. Remove from heat, drain, remove and discard the bacon, and set aside. Rewarm the beans with a little butter to serve.

Brown Sugar Carrots: Wash and lightly peel the carrots. Do not use the “baby carrots”, which are just pieces of full-size carrot run through a machine to cut and shape to the baby size. Either slice your carrots into long spears, or slice into coins (rounds). Place carrots in pot with water to cover, cover and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, until the carrots are soft and pierce easily with a knife. Remove from heat and drain well. Set aside. When ready to serve, melt 2 Tablespoons butter in a large skillet, add prepared carrots, 1 teaspoon ground Ginger and 1/2 cup brown sugar. Cook carrots in butter brown sugar until the brown sugar melts and begins to caramelize. Remove from heat and serve. You may also use Maple syrup in place of the brown sugar.

Fresh Fruit Tart

Tart Crust: From Nick Maligeri, How to Bake

1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspon kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon baking powder

10 Tablespoons (1 and 1/4sticks) unsalted butter

4 to 5 Tablespoons cold water

To form the dough by hand, combine the flour, salt and baking powder in medium mixing bowl and stir well to combine. Cut the butter into tablespoon chunks and add to the dry ingredients. Toss well to coat butter. Use your hands or a pastry blender to rub the butter into the dry ingredients. Continue rubbing the butter into the dry ingredients until it resembles a coarse-ground cornmeal and no large pieces of butter remain visible. Sprinkle the minimum amount of water on the butter flour mixture and stir gently with a fork. It should begin holding together. If the dough still appears dry and crumbly, add the remaing water 1 teasppon at a time, until the dough holds together easily. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and form into a rectangle. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, for at least one hour. For best results, have all the ingredients cold and work quickly so the butter does not melt, which would toughen the dough.

Makes two 8-inch tarts.

Roll dough out on lightly floured surface. Fit inside an 8-inch tart pan. Line tart pan with parchment paper and pie beans or weights. Bake in a 350℉ oven for 10 minutes. Remove pie weights and parchment paper and continue baking until crust is golden in color. Remove from oven, set aside on a rack and cool.

Tart Custard Filling :

1 and 1/2 cups whole milk

1/3 cup granulated can sugar

3 egg yolks

Pinch kosher salt

2 and 1/2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combin milk and one half of the sugar in a saucepan. Whisk once and place over medium heat to come to a boil. Whisk egg yolks and salt in a separate bowl and whisk in remaining sugar. Sift or sprinkle the flour over the egg yolks and mix in. When the milk boils, pour one third of the milk into the egg yolk, salt and sugar mixture, whisking constantly. Return the milk to the heat and whisk the egg yolk mixture into the milk mixture. Stir the pastry cream constantly with a wooden spoon until the cream thickens and comes to a boil. The cream will be cooked to “nappe,” meaning it will coat the back of the wooden spoon. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract. Add any other ingredients or flavors at this time, before chilling. Place in a glass or ceramic bowl, cover the surface with plastic wrap and refrigerate. May be prepared one day in advance.

Cake layer: Thin (1/4 inch) vanilla cake layer, or pieces of cake to fit 8-inch tart pan. Any white or yellow cake layer or pound cake will work.

Fruit: Peeled, sliced, prepared fruits of your choice for tart. The tart shown has Mandarin orange slices, drained on paper towels, kiwi sliced and halved, blackberries and raspberries.

Apricot Glaze: The finishing touch for all French desserts. A glaze of 1/2 cup apricot jam (I really prefer Smuckers Preserves) mixed 50/50 with warm water and one Tablespoon White Karo Syrup (Red label). Mix well and glaze fruit completely. Chill and allow to set.

To assemble Tart:

Place cake layer in prebaked and cooled tart shell. Fill tart, covering cake layer, completely with pastry cream. Allow to set for a few minutes, up to several hours to lend flavors. Place fruit in your design on pastry cream and cover tart completely. Glaze fruit with Apricot glaze. Chill for 30 minutes before serving. An 8-inch tart will serve 8.

The purpose of the cake layer is to help hold the fruit in place without sinking down into the pastry cream. If you slice the cake thinly and allow the pastry cream and cake to blend for several hours it will not be noticeable. The cream will taste like pastry cream and your fruit design will stay in place. Use seasonal fruits for best results. Very ripe melon, honeydew, cantaloupe and watermelon sliced into shingles are also good choices. Blueberries should be placed in a small bowl, mixed with Apricot glaze and then used. It is almost impossible to glaze blueberries one at a time. Fresh peaches, pineapple and apricots also work well. Citrus fruits work well if segmented neatly, which is why I use canned mandarin oranges. Mangos and papayas work well with citrus fruits. Do not use fruits which turn brown when cut.

If you are terrified of making pastry cream, use one small package Jell-o Instant Vanilla pudding and 1 and 3/4 cups heavy cream as a substitute. Mix well, cover and chill.