Sunday, April 12, 2009

In Search of the Egg

When I was a child Easter was a magical holiday. My father was the master of the Easter Egg Hunt. Now, I'm not talking close your eyes and i'll hide some eggs, then you scuttle around trying to find them before your bratty little brother. I'm talking personalized clues for both of us, made weeks in advance, hidden in candy filled eggs. We had to decipher the clue in order to find the next one, and hours later eventually find the treasure trove in a basket somewhere we never would have looked. The hunt began in an Easter egg suspended by ribbon just above our pillows, so when we woke up it we couldn't miss it.

To this day my dad insists that it was just a ploy to buy him a couple more hours of sleep. And although God knows a man who commuted 2 hours each way every weekday and traveled several times a month needed all the sleep he can get, I know it was a lousy excuse. He loved how happy it made us, how we felt like pirates searching for lost treasure and seeing our beaming faces all day long, straight through church service and on through dinner, even with the dreaded brussel sprouts. I think Easter was the one holiday my father actually enjoyed. His parents divorced over the winter holidays and so his memories are not so pleasant. But on Easter he would arise to our cheers and looting of our baskets and make a plate of deviled eggs and leisurely read the paper before we got dressed up and prepared for the day's festivities.

Now that we've all grown up and gone, I hope he still lingers in the window seat with his morning coffee and his thoughts drift back to days gone by, as mine have this morning. I hope it brings a smile to his face. Here's to you dad, and here's what I would cook for Easter.


Bacon Cheddar Scallion Quiche
Quiche is the perfect brunch dish. Here's why: 1 - you can make it with almost anything, any leftover meats and veggies you can scrounge up. 2 - It reheats beautifully (not to mention it's also good cold), making it the perfect make ahead dish. This was always a favorite of my dad's, although on easter, it would have been deviled eggs, probably with the hard boiled ones we dyed the day before. The ricotta may sound out of place, but it lends a delightful creaminess to the quiche, especially when left in small chunks. If this one doesn't suit your mood, try Cajun quiche instead.

1 store bought refrigerated pie crust
8 oz shredded sharp 2% cheddar cheese
5 slices bacon, crisp cooked
1/4 cup ham chunks (optional)
5 small scallions, white and green parts sliced thin
1/2 cup fat free ricotta
8 eggs
1/4 cup 1% milk
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 F, with a rack on the lowest shelf. Roll out pie dough and press into a greased 10 inch tart pan. Spread half the cheddar over the bottom of the crust. Sprinkle on bits of the bacon, ham and scallion. Dollop the ricotta in about a tablespoon at a time. Top with remaining cheddar. Beat the eggs with the milk until well combined, then pour over the fillings. Sprinkle the top with salt and pepper.

Bake on the bottom rack until crust and top is slightly golden and filling is set, about 45 minutes.


Root Beer Baked Glazed Ham over Carrots
I can't believe that a glazed ham has not yet graced these pages, since it's one of my standybys, especially for large gatherings. However, upon making it I can see why, it's not very photogenic. It is darn tasty though. Buy a ham that actually looks like it came off of a pig, with the bone in, and not one of those pressed monstrosities. I prefer the shank end, and try to make sure it doesn't have water added if you can. Do not bother with spiral sliced - they dry out easily and it's really not that hard to slice a ham.

1 small bag baby carrots
10-15 pound half ham, bone in
1 1/2 cups root beer
1 1/2 Tbsp whole grain mustard
1 Tbsp vinegar from a jar of hot pickled peppers (or white vinegar)
1 Tbsp maple syrup
2 Tbsp bitter orange marmelade (British if possible)
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp liquid smoke (optional)
1 tsp soy sauce
1 cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
1 tsp chile powder
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp black pepper

Preheat oven to 325 F.

In a 13 x 9 glass baking dish, line the bottom with a layer of carrots. Trim the ham of any hard rind and place flat side down on top of carrots. Use a clean utility knife open to the second click (you can use a regular knife, but be really careful about the depth of the cut) to cut a diamond pattern into the ham. It should cut through the fat without cutting much of the meat. Stud the corners of the diamonds with cloves. Pour 1 cup of root beer into the dish and bake on the bottom rack for 1 hour and 15 minutes, basting every 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the glaze by combining the remaining ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and reduce liquids to a thick syrupy consistency over medium heat. Remove cinnamon stick and bay leaf before using.

After the first round of baking, remove the ham from the oven, insert an oven safe thermometer - I like the probe kind that has a digital reader outside of the oven - and brush on the glaze (you won't use it all right away). Return to the oven and bake, brushing with glaze every 15 minutes, until internal temperature reaches 140 degrees F. Remove from oven and let sit 10 minutes before slicing. Serve any leftover glaze on the side for guests to brush on individual slices if they choose.

Serve with the carrots (which take on a fabulous flavor from the pan juices) and corn bake.

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