Shortcuts make short work of Easter dinner

  • By J.M. Hirsch / Associated Press
  • Tuesday, April 3, 2007 9:00pm
  • Life

Looking to make your life easier this Easter? Let your grocer do most of your dinner prep.

Relying on an already cooked ham, a few supermarket shortcuts and fresh herbs to liven up things will minimize your work and ensure you have time for what really matters – say, eating the ears off chocolate bunnies.

Most prepared hams take about an hour (plan 6 minutes per pound at 350 degrees) in the oven to come up to temperature. For even the least adept cook, that’s plenty of time to assemble a satisfying, vibrant meal to celebrate the arrival of spring: roasted new potatoes tossed with olive oil and fresh rosemary; steamed baby carrots with thyme butter; and asparagus spears drizzled with a quick cheese sauce.

Accompany that with purchased rolls and finish with vanilla ice cream topped with warm berry sauce, and you’ve got a great Easter dinner that can easily be pulled together after you return from religious services or while the kids are hunting for their eggs.

Here’s how to do it, counting down from the hour it takes to heat most hams.

1 hour to go: The ham will take the longest, so start there. Follow the directions for your ham, but plan to preheat the oven for at least 15 minutes. Once the ham is in the oven, you can focus on the rest of the meal.

50 minutes to go: Give the potatoes a good scrub, then place them in a bowl and add the oil and seasonings. Toss to coat, then arrange the potatoes on a rimmed baking sheet. Add them to the oven 10 minutes after the ham.

15 minutes to go: Working between the two other vegetable dishes, start those recipes, making thyme butter and cheese sauce while the carrots and asparagus steam.

5 minutes to go: Wrap the rolls in foil in bunches of six. Pop the rolls in the oven so they’ll be warm when you bring them to the table.

After dinner, start the warm berry sauce about 10 minutes before you want to serve dessert. Remove the ice cream from the freezer about 5 minutes before you plan to scoop it to give it time to soften a bit.

Except for the cheese sauce, the following recipes make enough to serve four people, but are easily doubled or tripled to accommodate your crowd. As written, the cheese sauce should make enough to serve at least eight.

If you’re looking for a wine to accompany the meal, consider a vinho verde, a light, low-alcohol and slightly effervescent Portuguese white wine. Serve it room temperature or slightly chilled.

Precooked ham (heat according to package directions)

Rolls (to be wrapped in foil and heated in the oven during final 10 minutes of ham heating time)

Vanilla ice cream

Start to finish: 50 minutes

1 1/2 pounds new potatoes (a mix of colors, such as purple and yellow, is nice), halved

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 springs fresh rosemary, leaves stripped and roughly chopped

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Kosher salt, to taste

If oven is not already going, preheat to 350 degrees.

Wash the potatoes and transfer to a large bowl. Add the oil, rosemary and pepper. Toss to coat, then transfer to a rimmed baking sheet. Roast, turning once during cooking, 50 minutes, or until lightly browned and cooked through.

As soon as the potatoes come out of the oven, sprinkle with kosher salt.

Makes 4 servings.

Start to finish: 15 minutes

8 ounces baby carrots (half of a standard-size bag)

4 tablespoons salted butter

2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves

Fill a small saucepan with about 1/2 inch of water. Add the carrots, cover and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Lower heat to simmer and steam the carrots for about 5 minutes, or until tender.

Drain the carrots and return them to the pan and cover.

In a microwave-safe measuring cup, combine the butter and thyme. Microwave in 30-second bursts until the butter is melted. Add to the carrots and toss to coat. Cover the pan and let rest for several minutes.

Makes 4 servings.

Start to finish: 15 minutes

1 pound asparagus spears, bottoms trimmed

1 recipe for creamy microwave cheese sauce (recipe follows)

Arrange the asparagus in a large, deep skillet. Add about 1/2 cup water, cover and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Steam the asparagus for about 5 minutes, or until just tender. While the asparagus cooks, make the sauce. To serve, arrange asparagus on serving plates and drizzle with sauce.

Makes 4 servings.

Start to finish: 10 minutes

1 cup whole-milk plain yogurt

4 ounces cream cheese, softened

1 cup (4 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon butter

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 dashes hot pepper sauce, or to taste

Combine all ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for 1 1/2 minutes. Let sit for 2 minutes, then whisk and microwave again on high for 1 1/2 minutes. Let sit for 2 minutes, then whisk until smooth. If necessary, microwave for an additional minute.

Makes 2 cups.

Recipe from “Joy of Cooking”

Start to finish: 10 minutes

110-ounce bag frozen mixed berries

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon cornstarch

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the berries and balsamic vinegar. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring often, 5 minutes, or until the berries become a liquid.

In a small glass, combine the cornstarch with 2 tablespoons cold water. Add this mixture to the berries and cook, stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens. Let cool for several minutes, then drizzle over ice cream.

Makes 1 1/2 cups.

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