Sunday, 14 April 2013

Preserving Lovely Easter Dinner Memories

April 2013

SmartCooks here.  

I wanted to preserve the Easter dinner menu for posterity and thanks to photographers Jane and Michael.  If I don't write it up now, I'll never remember what I did next year.  What I won't forget though is the fun of having good friends and family for dinner.  

Easter 2013 menu


Just two of them, each one quite different and meant to appeal to the range of appetites ... vegetarian or not.  

Bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with blue cheese

Variations on this recipe are endless.  They can be made ahead of time and cooked at the last minute -- 20 minutes in the oven or under the broiler.  

The only ingredients are Medjool dates (ideally), pitted, stuffed with crumbled blue cheese (or something else of your choice if blue cheese is not your thing), and wrapped in half a slice of bacon.  The morsel is then secured with a wooden toothpick (guess who tried multi-coloured toothpicks and then remembered, at the last minute, that plastic is not oven-friendly.... sigh) and then cooked in the oven.  This is Husband's favourite appetizer, along with BBQ chips.  sigh.  

Vegey trap with dip 

There are so many great designs for vegey trays.  I went geometric this time and copied the design onto a tray and made a low-cal dip.  It was fun and easy to make and a delight to show.  

Main Event:  Ham with Pineapple and Cloves

I pre-ordered a bone-in ham from Glebe Meat Market and specified enough for 7-8 people, with no leftovers.  I must remember next year to say 'leftovers' as it was one of the best hams I've ever cooked.

For some reason, I'd never cooked ham with pineapple and clover before (not sure why) so I patiently watched the videos showing me how to do a diamond pattern across the ham and where to place the cloves (at the apex of a diamond).  

The video chefs made it look incredibly easy.  Me... well, I obviously need a boot camp at Greco's or better knives.  It was a frigging nightmare sawing away on the ham to get the diamond pattern right.  One slip and I knew my finger (and dinner) would be toast.  

The ingredients were standard (pineapple, brown sugar, cloves) but with one weird item -- a lemon-lime flavoured carbonated beverage.  Nonetheless, it worked like a charm. Husband did the basting every half hour or so but It then cooked far faster than the published time.  End result was simply superb.  Pineapple, both cooked and on the side, was a welcome addition.  Allrecipes was ace.  

Scalloped Potatoes

Two versions of this scalloped potatoes were prepared by Chef Fred -- one with cheese and the other without.  Both were hits... they disappeared pronto.  Will ask him for the recipe for next time.

Salad:  Mixed Baby Greens with Mandarin Oranges

Photographer Michael captured this gem of a dish on a plate that was a present from the friends-next door neighbours.  It certainly shows off the mixed baby greens and mandarin oranges to advantage.  It appealed to those who aren't big fans of vegetables (and you know who you are....)

Food Network (Rachael Ray) prepared a version of this dish which I adapted.  Greens, cucumber, oranges, rice wine vinegar, toasted sesame oil and sesame seeds all put together at the last minute to keep it super fresh and perky.  

A keeper for sure...

Sides:  Asparagus with Balsamic Tomatoes 

Cooking Light featured this dish in a special on low-fat Easter dishes.  It rocked the table, with lightly blanched asparagus drizzled with balsamic vinegar.  Grape tomatoes provided great colour contrast and the final touch -- dots of crumbled goat cheese -- completed the picture.  

There are intriguing variations for future experimentation -- e.g., raisins and pine nuts, sesame-ginger glaze or lemon-tarragon dressing.  

Green and Yellow Beans with Red Peppers 

Kalyn's Kitchen inspired a version of green and yellow beans, laced with red peppers, and spiced with ginger.  

It was the perfect green for the anti-asparagus crowd at the table. 

Cumin-Orange Root Vegetable Slaw 

If it were just me cooking and eating dinner, my preference would be ham, pineapple and a root vegetable slaw.  The Kitchn showed me a version I couldn't resist -- beets, celery root, carrot tossed in a vinaigrette of cumin, orange and sherry vinegar.  

It was a lot of chopping, done ahead of time, but the end result was pleasing to both eye and palate.  


Irish Soda Bread it was.  Recipe posted previously. 

Dessert:  Hazelnut Torte Bomb (without the e) 

I saved the worst for last. I experimented.  I goofed.  It reinforced my antipathy to making desserts which I was determined to conquer. I failed.  I will rise again.  Oh well, the home-made ice cream on the side made up for it.  

Smitten Kitchen raved about this torte, saying it was the best thing ever to come out of her kitchen.  I read the recipe many times. Seemed straightforward.  

First, I ran out of hazelnuts.... Easter morning there's not much open and Husband's expedition trip turned up nada.  Undeterred by this ominous sign, I googled 'substitutes' and found some tepid suggestions to use almonds.  So the last third of the required amount was almonds.  I don't think they added to the taste.  

Then, I laid out the hazelnut/almond layers, spread a layer of chocolate, cooled them outside for 20 minutes, brought them back in and stacked them up one atop the other.  Hmmmm.... by layer three I knew something was amiss.  The cake looked nothing like the picture ... flat and lopsided.  Hmmm.... I re-read the instructions.  Yup, I missed a crucial step of putting white whipping cream on top of the chocolate BEFORE adding the next layer.  sigh..

I managed to peel away two of the three layers and start again but one layer just wouldn't cooperate.  After a few 'darns', I stuck it all together as best I could and smushed the rest of the topping around the cake covering over the boo-boo areas.  I then shaved chocolate on the top and stood back to take stock. 

End result:  lopsided, with a few dents in various spots, not as high as adverted in the photo, and generally a little sad and droopy.  The taste was OK but with a sharp taste of hazelnuts which I think was caused by the almond mixture.  

Verdict.  Guests were kind.  They ate and poured another glass of wine or water.  

Next time.

Despite the dessert bomb, all in all.... Fabulous evening. 

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