Easter dinner is as much a celebration of spring as it is of family. The sun has returned to warm our backs, flowers bloom, and children's laughter drifts in from outside as they scamper about hunting Easter eggs.
Easter dinner very often centers around baked ham, although roast leg of lamb is also delicious and traditional. Ham is a good choice because it serves lots of people and is very easy to prepare. It's already cooked, so you only have to bake it until it's hot.
A large baked ham usually means plenty of leftovers, which is another benefit. Ham sandwiches, ham and eggs, and ham salad are all great.
Serve the ham with a selection of spicy mustards or relishes made with sweet cherries or pickled vegetables. These full-flavored accompaniments complement the honey glaze perfectly.
Asparagus, a symbol of spring, should have firm, green stalks and tight, dry tips. Discard the white ends before cooking. To keep for a few days, trim the base of the stalks and then set the bunch upright in bowl filled with a little water.
Some people prefer pencil-thin stalks, but regardless of its heft, the key to good flavor is freshness. To blanch asparagus, bring a large skillet filled with water to a boil and cook the spears for 5 to 8 minutes, or longer if very fat, until fork-tender.
When you buy carrots, look for bright orange ones. If the greens are attached, all the better; they indicate freshness. But trim them as soon as you can.
We stir-fry the carrots with tender young scallions, also called green or spring onions. These are so mild and sweet, they blend beautifully with the carrots.
Angel food cake is a wonderful spring dessert. You can serve it with nothing more than a dusting of confectioners' sugar, or dress it up a little with berries, sliced fruit, whipped cream, or ice cream.
The cake is leavened with egg whites, which must be beaten until glossy and soft peaks form. You can tell if the whites are stiff enough by lifting the beaters from their surface: the peaks should stand stiff and their tips bend a little.
The cream of tartar helps the whites to whip. If you don't have it, the whites will still turn stiff, but not as easily. Beating them in a copper bowl accomplishes the same thing. The interaction of copper and egg whites guarantees good, firm peaks.
Do not overmix the cake when you fold in the whites. Don't be afraid of them, but treat them with respect.
Once the cake is baked, it must cool evenly and completely in the pan. Many angel food cake pans, which are tube pans, are equipped with little feet so that the pan can sit well off the counter during cooling. Otherwise, rest it over the neck of a wine bottle.
Nothing in our menu is tricky or difficult. Good food for good times and good people!