The not-so-traditional Easter dinner: North Fork Chef

Start your Easter meal with deviled eggs surrounded by avocado, grapefruit and baby kale. (Credit: John Ross)

Start your Easter meal with deviled eggs surrounded by avocado, grapefruit and baby kale. (Credit: John Ross)

Although lamb is more commonly served in the spring and at Easter due to its long tradition dating back centuries, smoked ham is a popular second choice. This came from a scarcity of lamb in northern Europe and the tradition there of smoking and curing ham over the winter. This tradition continued in colonial America, especially in the South. Today, we continue to enjoy smoked ham as a choice for Easter.

Last year at this time I cooked (and wrote about) a bone-in smoked ham coated with a bourbon/Coca-Cola glaze, which I slow-cooked over hickory chips in my charcoal grill. It was very delicious, with an abundance of smoked flavor.

As you know, these hams are fully cooked and only need to be heated through before serving, but it seems they are always better when enhanced by some kind of flavoring or sauce. This year I cooked the same ham but, instead of the charcoal grill, I cooked it in a plastic bag in my kitchen oven.

The bag is a Reynolds Oven Bag, designed for turkeys and sold at any grocery store. The idea is to trap the moisture and flavorings inside the bag while the turkey (or ham) cooks. It requires no basting or other attention during cooking and produces a nicely glazed ham. In my version, I used the same bourbon/Coca-Cola glaze I used last year. The result was a moist, tender ham with a very flavorful crust on the outside. It was not quite as good as the charcoal version, but certainly much less trouble. Here are the complete Easter dinner recipes:

Deviled Eggs with Avocado, Grapefruit and Baby Kale
Place 8 eggs in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring them to a boil, cover and remove from the heat. Let them sit, covered, for 15 minutes and they will be perfectly cooked. Place them under cold water for a few minutes and add ice cubes to the pan. Peel the eggs and refrigerate.

Wash and spin-dry one package of baby kale and refrigerate.

Remove the sections from 2 pink grapefruits and cut off the membranes.

Peel 2 avocados and cut them into wedges lengthwise. Toss them in 1 tablespoon lemon juice and refrigerate.

In a small Mason jar, combine the juice from 1 lemon, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 1/4 cup olive oil and a dash of salt and pepper.

Cut the eggs in half and remove the yolks to a bowl, placing the whites on a tray.

Mash the yolks with a pastry blender or fork. Stir in 2 tablespoons cream cheese, 2 tablespoons sour cream, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1/4 cup minced chives and 1/4 teaspoon white pepper. Chop 2 ounces of smoked salmon and fold it into the egg mixture.

Stuff the eggs using 2 teaspoons and garnish with capers and a leaf of cilantro.

At service time, toss the kale with the dressing and place on a tray or on individual salad plates. Arrange the grapefruit, avocado and deviled eggs on the tray or the plates.

Smoked Ham with Bourbon Glaze and Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes
Purchase a 10-pound bone-in, fully cooked smoked ham, preferably the shank end. Remove the plastic cover and cut off any of the skin, but not the fat. Score the fat with a knife in a criss-cross pattern and place whole cloves in the squares.

Purchase a package of Reynolds Oven Bags, turkey size. Open a bag and place ham in it cut side down. Set it in a large roasting pan.

Combine 1/2 cup brown sugar and 1/3 cup Dijon mustard to make a paste. Rub this paste over the ham while it sits in the open bag.

Combine 3/4 cup Coca-Cola with 1/2 cup Kentucky bourbon. Pour this into the bag (not over the ham) and tie the bag closed with the tie string included in the package. Make sure the bag is not sticking to the sides of the ham, but is loosely covering it.

Cut three slits in the top of the bag and place the whole thing in a 350-degree oven. Let it cook for 2 hours and then let it rest for 30 minutes before carving.

Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes
Wash and trim 8 sweet potatoes and place them on a foil-lined sheet pan. Bake for 1 hour at 400 degrees and let cool for 15 minutes.

Cut off the tops and scoop out the flesh, leaving a 1/4-inch rim around the potato.

Mash the flesh with a potato masher and add 1 cup cream cheese, 1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Stuff the potato shells with this mixture and set aside. At service time, reheat in a 400-degree oven for 15 minutes.

Individual Cheesecakes with Brandied Apricot Sauce
Spray eight 12-ounce soufflé dishes with no-stick. Melt 6 tablespoons butter and distribute it among the soufflé dishes. Measure out 1 cup graham cracker crumbs and sprinkle them into the soufflé dishes. Pat them down with the bottom of a drinking glass.

Cut 2 pounds of cream cheese into pieces and place in the bowl of an electric mixer with a paddle attachment. Beat at low speed until smooth and add 4 eggs, one at a time.

Continue at low speed and add 2 cups sugar, the juice and zest of 1 lemon and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Scrape down the bowl and beat at high speed until smooth.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and bring 3 quarts of water to a boil.

Fill the soufflé dishes with the cheese filling and place them in a large roasting pan. Put the pan in the oven and pour the boiling water around the soufflé dishes, making sure the water comes up halfway on the sides of the dishes.

Bake the cheesecakes in the water bath for 45 minutes, then turn off the oven and let the cheesecakes rest with the door closed for another 30 minutes.

Remove the pan and let cool for about 30 minutes before turning the cheesecakes out onto individual plates or a platter.

To make the sauce, add to a small saucepan 1 cup apricot preserves, 2 tablespoons apricot brandy, 1/4 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons water. Bring to a simmer, stirring, for 10 minutes and remove. Pour over the cheesecakes at service time.

John Ross