While paying for my leafy-topped carrots the other day to cook with the ham on Friday night, the girl at the register exclaimed, "Are these for the Easter bunny?"
I said, "Of course!" I suppose now I should actually leave one out for him, although the Easter bunny came early to our house, bringing us lots of chocolate eggs filled with caramel, cream, peanut butter and coconut.
We've had both sunshine and snow this week - in Colorado it's the April snow showers that bring May flowers. I kept my fingers crossed for a sunny Easter Sunday, and the day turned out to be so beautiful. I even got a little sun on my arms.
I love cooking family holiday dinners, remembering the old traditions and creating new ones, too. One of my all-time favorite scenes from a movie is from the family dinner scene in While You Were Sleeping - the dorky but loveable Bill Pullman and quirky Sandra Bullock resisting their attraction to each other, everyone at the dinner table talking at once about a million different topics with no one listening to anyone...
My sister and I must have had that entire movie memorized at one point, and would bounce lines back and forth in a way that never ceased to amaze my parents. How is it that I could memorize entire movies, but not remember the U.S. Presidents or any significant date in history except for 1492? And even for that one, I only remember it because of the rhyme...) But that's just the way it goes, I guess.
Jamie, on the other hand, can remember just about any type of wine we've tried on any number of special dates... and I remember what I was wearing that night.
For our Easter/Good Friday dinner with my parents, I started by slow-baking a ham for about 4 hours, basting it in a syrup of butter, brown sugar and orange juice, seasoned with cinnamon, cloves and crystallized ginger, with slices of tangerine becoming soft and candied in the juices. In the last hour of cooking, I added the carrots to the pot so they could get nicely glazed in the sweet citrus syrup. The house smelled incredible, and made my stomach growl all afternoon.
After taking the meat out of the oven, I poured the rest of the syrup from the roasting pan into a saucepan and let it reduce to a thick, fragrant sauce to drizzle over the ham and carrots before serving.
That morning, I had simmered some raisins to get them soft and plump, then mixed up the dough for the hot cross buns, using the warm raisin-infused water to activate the yeast. Adding the water used to simmer raisins into recipes was something I remember my mom doing all the time. One of my most-loved baked treats she made were Raisin Spice Bars, a soft, raisin-filled cookie bar full of sweet spices, and topped with a tangy cream cheese frosting. The batter for the cookie bars was so thick, and as much as I wanted to help stir it, I was more of a hindrance to my mom than I was a help. Something I'm sure moms don't mind most of the time, unless they just need to get something done quickly.
Hot cross buns were not something we ever made for Easter, but it's something I've been curious about, and wanted to start the tradition for Jamie and me. Until now, I thought that the white cross on top was frosting, and was surprised to learn that it was a flour/water paste which keeps the buns from browning where it's piped across them.
The soft, raisin studded dough smelled so fragrant, and was so relaxing to work with. I had no desire to let my Kitchen Aid mixer do the kneading for this recipe - I wanted to use my hands. The buns rose beautifully, looking soft, yeasty and lovely. After they came out of the oven all golden brown, I brushed some warmed orange marmalade over the top of them, which made them delightfully sticky.
For our dinner with my parents, I shaped the dough into 12 buns and baked them in a 9x13 pan, but for Sunday, I shaped them into 24 smaller buns and baked them in a mini-muffin pan, which worked just as well. I actually think the smaller buns were my favorite version.
To eat with our ham and carrots, my mom steamed colorful fingerling potatoes until they were tender, then seasoned them with butter, salt and pepper.
And for dessert, a decadent flourless chocolate cake, topped with a rich ganache. To drizzle over the cake, a warm salted caramel sauce completed the meal. I'll be writing a separate post with the recipe and photos of the cake and caramel...
After dinner, everyone was full and happy, and my parents agreed that it was an Easter dinner they wouldn't soon forget!
Now after eating two Easter dinners in one weekend, I think it's time for a nap on the couch while I watch While You Were Sleeping...
Citrus and Brown Sugar-Glazed Ham and Carrots
- 1 smoked ham, bone-in, about 6-8 pounds
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- salt and pepper
- 2 tablespoons crystallized (candied) ginger, chopped
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
- 2 cups brown sugar
- 2 cups orange juice
- 2 oranges, tangerines, minneolas, etc, thinly sliced
- 1 cup water
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 tablespoon whole cloves
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
- 1 bunch organic carrots with leafy tops (7-8 carrots)
Several hours before you plan to start baking the ham, set it on the counter to let it come to room temperature - this will help it to warm through evenly. Take a sharp knife and score the fat and skin crosswise in a diamond pattern, all over the ham. Rub the ham with the olive oil, then season generously with salt and pepper. Rub the ham with the crystallized ginger, working it into the cuts. Set aside in a roasting pan with a rack.
In a large saucepan, combine the butter, brown sugar, orange juice, sliced oranges, water, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce to a simmer for about 30 minutes. Taste it - the citrus syrup is so delicious, you'll want to drink it straight from the pot!
Preheat the oven to 300. Pour the syrup and slices of fruit all over the ham. Insert a meat thermometer into the center of the ham, not touching the bone. Bake for about 3-4 hours (about 18-20 minutes per pound), basting with the syrup every 30 minutes, until the internal temperature is 150. The skin and fat will be crispy and browned, even blackened in some areas, and the ham inside will be extremely moist and flavorful.
While the ham is baking, trim the tops off the carrots, leaving a little green for a pretty effect. Peel the carrots, if you like. When the ham has about an hour left to bake, place the carrots in the roasting pan with the ham and baste them with the juices. If the carrots aren't tender enough by the time the ham is done, you can return them to the oven in a separate baking dish and roast until tender (I returned my carrots to the oven to finish up while I baked the hot cross buns, and roasting them at 400 gave them the nice charred, candied edges that everyone loved).
When the ham and carrots are done, remove from the oven and cover with foil to rest while you finish the rest of the meal. Use a bulb baster to remove the liquid from the roasting pan. Pour it into a saucepan and place on the stove over medium heat. Bring to a boil and boil over medium heat for 15-20 minutes until reduced and very flavorful. Drizzle the syrup over the ham and carrots before serving.
To make your own ham stock, slice as much ham off the bone as you can for leftovers. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large stock pot. Add 1 diced sweet yellow onion with a pinch of salt, and saute for 5 minutes. Add the ham bone, 4 whole cloves of garlic, a handful of fresh sage, 1 tablespoon black peppercorns, several teaspoons of salt, 1 tablespoon whole cloves and 1 thinly sliced orange. If I had them on hand, I would have also added some chopped celery and carrots. You could also add cinnamon and nutmeg, and any number of fresh or dried herbs that you like. Fill the pot with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to medium low to simmer for 4-5 hours. Turn off the heat, strain the liquid and let cool. After it cools, skim off the fat, and you'll have a delicious homemade ham stock. I like to portion out my homemade stock in freezer bags or small Tupperware, and freeze for future use, so that I can just thaw out what I need for a particular recipe.
Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen
Hot Cross Buns
- 1 cup raisins
- 2 cups water
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 3 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon allspice
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened, cut into pieces
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/2 cup orange marmalade, slightly warmed
Combine the raisins and water in a small saucepan. Over medium low heat, bring barely to a simmer, just enough to plump up the raisins. Drain, reserving the water.
Measure 1 1/3 cups of the hot raisin water into a small mixing bowl. Stir in the sugar and yeast. Set aside for 10 minutes until the yeast is foamy.
In a large mixing bowl, combine 4 cups of flour, salt, cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg. Sprinkle the pieces of butter over the flour and use a pastry cutter to cut the butter into the flour until crumbly. Add the beaten eggs and raisins and stir just to moisten the mixture. Pour in the yeast mixture and stir to form a soft dough.
Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for about 5 minutes, adding the remaining 1/2 cup flour as needed, until the dough is smooth and elastic.
Lightly oil a large bowl. Place the dough in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside to rise until doubled in size, about an hour.
Punch the dough down with your fist. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and use a bench scraper or knife to cut into 12 equal portions. Shape each portion into a ball, and place in a greased 9x13 baking dish. I also made these smaller for a party on Sunday, dividing the dough into 24 small balls, and baking the buns in a mini-muffin pan - very cute!
If you'll be baking these immediately, go ahead and preheat the oven to 400. Let the buns rise again for 15-20 minutes in a warm place before baking. If you're preparing these in advance, then at this point, cover the pan of buns with plastic and refrigerate immediately. The cool temperature will help to slow down the second rising - although they will still rise a little in the fridge. Remove from the fridge to come to room temperature 1 hour before baking. These can be made up to a day in advance.
The last step before baking the buns is to mix the flour/water paste to create the cross. Many recipes call for equal parts flour and water, but I found that ratio to be far too thin, and it ran everywhere. Start with 2 parts flour and 1 part water, then slowly add a little more water if needed to create a thick, but pliable paste. Scrape the paste into a plastic baggie and snip off the corner. Pipe the paste across the buns to create a cross across each.
Bake the buns for 10 minutes at 400. Reduce the heat to 350, and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes, until risen and golden brown. Before serving, brush the tops of the buns with the warmed orange marmalade.
Yields 12 large or 24 medium buns.
Recipe adapted from Hot Cross Buns by Citrus and Candy.