Easter Dinner 2007

We are heathens and don’t really celebrate the religious holidays we were raised with, so I hadn’t really thought about doing anything special for dinner on Easter Sunday, but Mike emailed me last Wednesday to tell me that on his swing through the Greenmarket on his lunch hour, he purchased a small ham from Tamarack Hollow, and he thought we could make it the centerpiece of our Sunday dinner.

I’ll be honest, I never liked ham growing up. I sort of hated it. I’m sure my mom will remember a family gathering long ago when a certain picky little sprout protested loudly at being served ham and was sent off to sit in solitude as punishment for being rude. My, how times have changed.

As I have gotten older my tastes have developed, and I’m now a fan of ham of all kinds. I actually looked forward to cooking and eating this one. I’ve recently started paying closer attention to Ina Garten‘s show on Food Network, and I happened to catch an episode when I was home sick one day recently where she doctored up a store-bought ham with a chutney and mustard glaze. It looked delicious, and I decided to do something similar, basting our ham for the last hour of cooking with a mixture of fig jam (about a cup) and sharp dijon mustard (about 2 tablespoons). It caramelized beautifully, and the flavors worked so well with the rich, smoky ham. We have a ton of ham left, but you won’t find me complaining… it’ll be great on a sandwich with some good grainy mustard and sourdough rye.

One thing I do recall fondly from the ham dinners of my youth were cheesy au gratin potatoes, crisp on top and creamy in the middle. I wanted to downscale a bit since it was just the two of us for dinner, so I decided to make just enough to go into the two small terracotta bakers we usually use for brunchy baked eggs. I sliced two medium russet potatoes, skins on, with my cheap mandoline slicer, rinsed them well, and boiled them until they were just tender. I drained them well and let them dry for a bit while I made a cheese sauce, spiked with some dried Herbes de Provence:

Cheese Sauce for Potato Gratin

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons unbleached flour
3/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. dried Herbes de Provence
a pinch of Kosher salt
1/2 cup diced Raclette

Melt butter in a saucepan and whisk flour in until smooth. Cook for a few minutes then whisk in the milk and cream. Add herbs and salt and allow to cook over low heat until thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon. Add the cheese a bit at a time, whisking in, until thoroughly melted and smooth.

I tossed the potatoes with the cheese sauce, spooned them into the two buttered gratin dishes, added a bit more sliced Raclette cheese on top and baked them in a 400 degree oven until the sauce was bubbling and the potatoes were soft, about 35 minutes.

For our vegetable side, I wanted to go simple – one bunch of asparagus, trimmed, tossed with salt, pepper and olive oil, laid on a foil-lined baking sheet and roasted at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes. It’s one of my favorite ways to prepare asparagus, and it couldn’t be easier.

black plums

If you know me, you know I’m not a huge fan of the sweets and desserts, but my boss gave me some black plums earlier in the week and I wanted to use them in something. Mike asked me to reserve a couple of them so he could experiment with them in a drink, but I had three left, so I decided to combine those with some of last summer’s frozen berries and make a crumble. This is actually the kind of dessert I really do enjoy from time to time, more tart than sweet, with a bit of texture, and great with a scoop of really good ice cream on the side.

Black Plum and Berry Crumble

For the filling:

3 black plums, pitted and sliced
1 cup each frozen blueberries and raspberries
1 tablespoon lemon zest
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon cardamom syrup*

For the topping:

1 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped raw almonds

Combine the filling ingredients in a bowl and toss gently to combine. Pour into a shallow baking dish and top with the oat/sugar/almond mixture. Dot the top with a bit of crumbled butter, and place into a 375 degree oven for 25-30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temp with freshly whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

*We used cardamom syrup because Mike made a batch for a cocktail he is working on; the recipe he used is from the excellent book The Art of the Bar. The flavor of the cardamom is lovely with the plums, but if you don’t have the syrup on hand or don’t care to make a batch, you can use a standard simple syrup.

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