The people's voice of reason

Southern Cuisine for March

In past Southern Cuisine articles, cooking tips, preparation instructions, food safety, and individual recipes were highlighted. Recipes called for the produce that was usually available for the month the article was published. I rarely wrote an article that had an entire holiday menu with one theme. I believe it was a past Valentine's Day article when I last had a theme for

an entire meal.

I wanted to do an entire menu designed for a holiday and give my readers enough preparation time. Easter is on April 1, and my next article will miss this opportunity. Therefore, here is a single menu designed for Easter. All the usual parts of a dinner menu will be presented. Some preparation alternatives are added to cover individual tastes and availability of products. Another concern will be ease of preparing the recipes, making as much as possible ahead of time, cook times that are not absolute and serving the meal so everyone will be able to enjoy the special occasion together. I will mention some brand names for products, but even then, a personal preference for other products is your choice. I do not gain anything from mentioning products; they are the ones that I prefer.

While I was working in hotels, ordering for a banquet took place several weeks before the event. If the protein or a particular vegetable was not available, we had time to ask the client if we could change the menu. In addition, the closer it was to a certain holiday the more likely, that some products would not be available because everyone wanted the same thing. If you could find the product, the price would be much higher than usual. If your favorite uncle is coming from Iowa to have Easter with the family and he is constantly leaving not too subtle hints that he likes only Cane Sugar Dr. Peppers, then I would start looking now!

We need to start with the longest cooking item and the one that takes some preparation. Ham is my protein of choice. Traditionally lamb or ham is served for Easter Dinner, I picked ham because of cost, and ham is the easiest to prep and cook. I narrowed the ham choice down to a fully cooked, bone-in ham. The next choice to make is the cut of ham.

The two highest grades of ham sold are either whole or half hams. For up to 14 people, a half-ham is sufficient.

The butt half is the upper part of the ham. Its meat tends to be very tender and flavorful-but it often contains part of the hipbone, which makes carving a little awkward. An electric knife can make slicing easier and quicker.

The shank half is the lower part of the ham. It is easier to carve, but this cut is tougher and chewier.

Do not buy a spiral cut ham. The ham tends to dry out quickly and these hams usually already have some commercial grade glaze added to them. I like the traditional topping for ham. First, cut crisscrosses on the top of the ham and poke whole cloves into the intersection of each cut. Then place pineapples slices on top and liberally cover with brown sugar. Pour the juice from the can of pineapple slices into the slow cooker. Other toppings include mustard and honey, just do not use a store bought pre-made glaze. There are many recipes for toppings to be found.

Next concern is the size of the ham and if it will fit into your slow cooker. If need be, take a measuring tape and measure your cooker and then go shopping for a ham that fits. I once purchased a roaster to fit the turkey I had in the freezer. It is very important that the lid of the cooker fits snugly to prevent moisture from escaping during the cooking process. Do not think that a tent of aluminum foil will help.

You now have your fully cooked, bone-in butt half-ham and it fits your slow cooker. How long and to what temperature it is should cook? Keep in mind that hams are precooked, the trick is adding flavor and reheating them without drying them out. There is no hard-set rule for cooking times and temperatures for slow-cooker ham. I would start on low and if you have an 8-pound ham plan on 4 to six hours. Check temperature of ham after two hours with a meat temperature and keep checking until temperature of the ham at 140 degrees. Remember you are reheating not cooking the ham.

This menu will have three sections: Salad, Entree (Ham) and two sides, and Dessert. These recipes are written to serve eight, but you know your guests and if you think this is not enough prepare more.

Your favorite uncle from Iowa may also have a vegetable or starch you may want to add to the menu.

Last note on the ham. When ham is ready to serve, place on large platter, take slices and arrange around the platter. Reserve any pineapple pieces and liquid from slow cooker to dress the ham pieces.

After all the dinner items are ready to serve, put the rolls in the oven to bake while eating the salad.

My favorite is Mrs. Schubert Dinner Yeast Rolls. They are frozen par cooked, take 10 minutes to heat, and serve.

Always make room for dessert and this is a true Alabama dessert. It will take patience some skill and a free weekend afternoon. You may have to go shopping for some of the ingredients. Warning: This recipe calls for bourbon. If this does not bother you, use the good stuff. If it does, substitute the same liquid amount with apple cider.

I did not add appetizers or drinks, or Easter candy. These are for you to decide on. Please read the recipes completely and make notes on timing and dishes and bowls to use. The more planning you do, a happier Happy Easter you and your family will have.


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