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Sunday, April 5, 2015

Easter Feast

Without getting into religiosity for the fuzzy-wuzzies, let me just state succinctly that I am not religious.  As always, that is a very, very complicated question to answer so concisely, but unless you want to engage in a very long debate about the virtues of spirituality over organized religion I suggest we just let it lie, with the glib answer that I am not religious.


So why do I celebrate Easter and Christmas?  You might have noticed I often post about large feasts on these Christian holidays.

Well, the short answer is that I'm not celebrating them as religious holidays, but instead as a nostalgic nod towards my past and traditions which have brought me happiness for other, non-religious, reasons.

I've always enjoyed the eating of copious amounts of food at these holidays, and now in my old age, these dates serve as a good excuse to put a little more time, money, and effort into a feast.

Well that's enough justification, I'd say; let's get to what I made for Easter 2015.

Tonight's extravaganza consists of Meyer lemon glazed country ham, with sides of bacon-baked peas and buttermilk scalloped potatoes.


The potatoes are actually what will be taking the longest amount of time here, surprisingly.  The ham I bought was literally the smallest one the butcher had, and being a smoked ham, it was already cooked... so it just needed a touch of searing, and then a slow glazed cooking.

So, the potatoes.

To begin, I whisked together a dry concoction of flour, salt, pepper, and some freshly-ground nutmeg.  Then I tossed in my sliced raw potatoes until they were all very well coated.

If you've followed my spatterings at all, even slightly, you'll know that I am pretty much all about texture.  I absolutely can not stand traditional scalloped potatoes because invariably you'll find a long, slimy, rubbery onion in every mouthful of pillowy potato.  To anyone who likes that I say SHAME on you!

That's just laziness!

Of course, I love the flavour of onion, so I do what I do before almost everything I cook, which is to sweat a large amount of onion in some vegetable oil until they are soft and tender, and then purée them with my immersion blender.

That picture above is actually said onions, with a small amount of fresh garlic also sautéed, some more ground nutmeg, and then topped up (I deglazed the pan) with a couple of cups of fresh buttermilk.


Next I greased up one of my new Emile Henry baking dishes quite liberally with butter.

The wife was helping with today's meal, and thankfully she offered to take over the painstaking task of layering the potatoes in the pan.

Which left me free to move on to making the Meyer lemon glaze for the ham.

I had five left from weeks earlier (they were starting to look a touch the worse for wear, but a glaze is a good death for a spent lemon, in my opinion), so I saved the best looking one of the bunch, set him aside, and then zested the other four of all their usable, and not-unattractive, rind.

Then I halved their carcasses and squeezed the life-juice out of them.

Fresh citrus zest is one thing, but when you juice a lot of lemon, I find that amid the detritus there are all sorts of broken seed particles and large hard bits and such... So I strained the juice before adding it to the zest.

Then I added some organic cane sugar.  I'm sorry, but I actually forget how much sugar I added.  :(

I did it 'to taste' so however much brought the mixture from sour to sweet & sour.  :)

I whisked that up real good, I had to heat it a little bit as the mixture was sursaturated.  For those of you who are not nerds, that's a term from chemistry that basically just means that your solution has become over saturated with something.  In this case the lemon juice was only physically (literally) capable of dissolving a certain amount of the sugar, but by heating up the liquid we physically increase the spaces between the lemon juice molecules, literally making more room for the sugar. So if you ever find something has reached the point where it isn't absorbing any more of something, just add heat.  Neat stuff, right?

That last lemon (that relatively handsome guy I set aside earlier) I then sliced up nicely as he was going to adorn the ham like a tart, orange, crown.

Before I get out of chronological sorts here, the wife had finished with the potato-layering, and then added the buttermilk-onion-garlic-nutmeg purée.  So we popped it in, uncovered, to a 350° oven right away.

Fortunately I had the foresight to place a baking sheet under that hot bubbly mess.  :)

Those weren't in there for very long, however, before the ham needed to usurp the oven for a quick, super hot, sear.

I scored the ham shallowly on top in a cross-hatch pattern, and then put it in my cast iron Le Creuset on top of a small metal cage I use for raising up meat for searing.  Once the oven hit 500° I popped it in, uncovered, and let it sear for about 5 minutes.

The potatoes, we figured, would easily be able to handle this sudden climate change, as they were heavily padded by layers of thick, goopy, gloriously insulative buttermilk.  :D

When the ham was nicely browned on top, we took it out, removed the metal cage, and then carefully added several layers of the glaze.

Then in goes more lemon.

When the wife saw the top of the ham where my shallow cross-hatch was perhaps not as shallow as it should have been, she asked, somewhat excitedly, "Did you put bacon on top?!?".  To her dismay I had to answer that, no, that was just the top of the ham.

Because we had layered on many, many coats of thick sweet glaze, we opted to cook this uncovered.  Of course we did wait for the oven to get back down to 300° for a nice low, slow cook.

Then it was just waiting.  The potatoes were going to take at least an hour or two.  Yup... that's one heavy dish of (previously mentioned, insulated) potatoes.

While they were cooking, though, we got the peas ready.  That was basically just baking some finely chopped bacon (that's just one piece of bacon, btw, so don't freak out) in a small baking dish.

Baking bacon is the way to go, by the way.  If you've never done it, I highly recommend it.

Anyway, after about 10 minutes of sharing the oven with the ham and potatoes, the baking dish o' bacon said adieu and got taken out.

To which a large amount of frozen peas was incorporated.

But then these were set aside for now.  I figured they could sit out on the counter for a little while until right before everything else was ready, when I'd throw them back in the oven for a short period.

Well, after a very long, but exceedingly aromatic and ultimately tantalizing, hour or two, the potatoes were nice and browned and crisp on top, and the ham was piping hot and still juicy.



I took the ham out first, and let it rest for about 10 minutes, cooked the peas, and set the table.

I sliced the ham thickly, and then plated everything.

And then we sat down and enjoyed a not-too-healthy, but very, very delicious feast.

It may not look like a lot of food, but that's only for two people... so, yah...


Happy Easter to anyone who celebrates this holiday, whether religiously or not!