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Tasty little nibbles for Easter dinner

Let's think small this Easter. Think main-course finger food.

You ditch the big, expensive piece of protein, the large casseroles, too, and still keep the largesse with a menu that serves eight generously and has all the components of a typical Easter meal. It just puts them on a different scale. Everything is downsized a bit, meant, except for dessert, to be eaten without utensils. Elegant and cute.

Lamb or ham? You don't have to choose; both are here yet neither bears the burden of anchoring the buffet. A rack of lamb, crusted with a bread crumb-parsley-garlic mixture is sliced into chops, each yielding three or four juicy bites, plenty for a single serving with all the other offerings. Ham and cheese fill small puff pastries. Partially cooked, still crunchy little vegetables have a mayonnaise-type dipping sauce called aioli (a-ō-lee). It's usually made with olive oil and raw garlic, but this is a more refined version using a mild oil and roasted cloves.

You have to have eggs at Easter, and for most people that means deviled eggs, hard cooked with a stuffing made from the mashed yolks. Bite-sized quail eggs are given the same treatment except the yolks aren't removed. Instead, yolks from regular eggs become a topping.

Dessert is a smooth lemon cream, somewhere between pudding and mousse, with fresh berries.

And what to do with all those jelly beans in the Easter basket? Toss a few into a flute of sparkling wine or water. They add color and flavor to the liquid.

It's a rich meal, but designed to satisfy rather than sate, a perfect celebration for the season of renewal.

Lennie Bennett can be reached at or (727) 893-8293.


Deviled Quail Eggs

You can use regular eggs, but these are so cute and make great little poppers. They taste just like chicken eggs. I'm going to be honest, though: Peeling them is a chore. You'll have an easier time if you buy them early and refrigerate them for a few days so they shrink a bit inside their shells. (That's also true of regular eggs.) There are more caveats: The only place I can find them is in Asian markets. They're fragile, and usually at least one is cracked and has to be discarded. I made them an off-beat vertical, but you can also make them the more traditional horizontal. And you can add almost anything to the yolk mixture for variety.

24 quail eggs

6 regular eggs

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard or to taste

Salt and pepper

Minced chives for garnish, optional

Sea salt for garnish, optional

Put quail eggs in a large saucepan, cover with water and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally and gently. When water boils, remove pan from heat, cover and let sit for 2 minutes. Drain immediately and chill.

For topping: Put regular eggs in a saucepan, cover with water, bring to a boil, remove from heat and let sit for 8 minutes. Drain and chill. Peel the eggs and put yolks into a bowl. Add mayonnaise, mustard, salt and pepper to taste and mash.

To assemble: Cut a small slice off the bottom of the quail eggs so they'll stand upright, and a small slice off the top as a platform for the topping. Pipe or spoon the yolk mixture onto each egg. Garnish with chives and sea salt if desired.

Makes up to 24 eggs.

Source: Lennie Bennett, Times


Rack of Lamb Persillade

A frenched rack of lamb means that all the meat and fat have been scraped off the bones down to the tenderloin part, leaving a nice nugget of meat. I rarely buy racks that are frenched because a lot of meat and flavor are wasted. But for this meal, frenching the rack gives you a neat three-bite piece of meat you eat on its own stick. Which is why they're popular at fancy parties and often called lamb lollipops. Most racks sold here have 8 ribs, which is the size this recipe is based on. The ones I find aren't truly frenched since only a small part of the rib bone is exposed. Ask the butcher to take it down to the tenderloin.

1 rack of lamb, frenched

Olive oil

Kosher salt

Coarsely ground black pepper

1 cup loosely packed fresh parsley leaves

2 chopped garlic cloves

1/2 cup fresh white bread crumbs

Grated zest of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place the rack in a foil-lined pan, fat side up. Rub the top (not the bones) with olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast the lamb for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, place the parsley and garlic in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and process until they're both finely minced. Add the bread crumbs and lemon zest and process for a second until combined. Take the lamb out of the oven and press the parsley mixture on top of the meat. (You'll have more than you need.) Drizzle with the melted butter, tamp the topping down with the back of a spoon and return immediately to the oven and roast for another 15 minutes for medium lamb, 8 to 10 minutes more for medium rare. Take the lamb out of the oven and loosely tent with aluminum foil. Allow it to rest for 15 minutes, cut into chops. Serve warm.

Serves 4 to 8.

Source: Adapted from Ina Garten


Ham Turnovers

These are based on a recipe from the Junior League of Tampa's wonderful cookbook, The Life of the Party. The originals are bigger and use chicken. I subbed in ham and made them small. They're better if you make them ahead, freeze them, then bake frozen because the filling isn't as likely to ooze out as they bake.

1 tablespoon milk

1 (5-ounce) package Boursin garlic and herb cheese

½ pound smoked ham, thickly sliced and diced

1 shallot, minced

2 sheets of frozen puff pastry, thawed but still very cold

1 egg, beaten

2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese, optional

Preheat oven to 350. Mix milk into the cheese, then add ham and shallot. Cut each sheet into 9 squares, brush the edges with the egg wash, put about 2 teaspoons of the filling in the center of each square and fold into triangles. (You'll have extra topping; it's good on toast or in a baked potato.) At this point, you can freeze them for up to one month. To bake, brush tops with egg wash. Sprinkle with a little cheese if desired. Bake on a parchment-lined baking sheet for about 10 minutes or until golden.

Makes 18.

Source: Adapted from The Life of the Party


Lemon and Berry Parfaits

Meyer lemons were rarely available here commercially until recently. They're less bitter and have a beautiful golden skin that's thinner than our regular lemons. They make a fleeting seasonal appearance during the spring so I use them with abandon. For a faster lemon cream, whip a cup of heavy cream and fold a jar of lemon curd into it. Any berries will work for these parfaits, but strawberries are a great bargain right now.

For the lemon cream:

½ cup plus 2 tablespoons lemon juice (Meyer or regular)

3 large eggs

1 large egg yolk

¾ cup sugar

Pinch of salt

1 cup unsalted butter

Pour water to a depth of about 2 inches into a saucepan, place over medium heat, and bring to a simmer. Combine the lemon juice, whole eggs, yolk, sugar, and salt in a stainless steel bowl that will rest securely in the rim of a saucepan over, not touching, the water. (Never let the egg yolks and sugar sit together for more than a moment without stirring; the sugar will cook the yolks and turn them granular.) Place the bowl over the saucepan and continue to whisk until the mixture becomes very thick, about 10 to 12 minutes. It should thicken to the point that your whisk leaves a trail through the curd. Remove the bowl from over the water and let cool for a few minutes, stirring from time to time to release the heat. Meanwhile, cut butter into tablespoon pieces. Pour the lemon cream into a blender. With the blender running, add the butter 1 tablespoon at a time, blending after each addition until incorporated before adding the next piece. The cream will be pale yellow, opaque and quite thick.

You can use the cream immediately or refrigerate in a container with a tight-fitting lid for up to 5 days. Makes about 2 1/2 cups.

To assemble:

1 pint strawberries, cut up and/or other, smaller whole berries, sprinkled with a teaspoon of sugar to release juices

½ cup heavy cream, whipped

2 to 4 butter cookies, crumbled

Divide the lemon cream among 8 small cups. Add a layer of berries. Top with a dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkle of cookie crumbs or small pieces.

Serves 8.

Source: Food 52


Steamed Baby Vegetables

This isn't really a recipe. You can use any regular-sized vegetables, but the little ones, found in most supermarkets, are festive and fun though more expensive. Roasting the vegetables gives them more flavor, but I like the look of steamed ones on the plate for this meal.

A package each of little carrots, zucchini, squash and potatoes, plus asparagus tips and, for color, uncooked little tomatoes

Put about 1 inch of water in a large pot fitted with a steamer rack. Cook each type of vegetable (except the tomatoes, which are served uncooked) separately by covering the pot and bringing the water to a boil to create the steam. Carrots and small potatoes need about 3 to 5 minutes, depending on how crisp you like them. Zucchini and squash take about 2 to 4 minutes and asparagus 1 to 2 minutes. Test them with a knife tip. When done, remove the vegetables and put them in an ice bath to stop the cooking. They can be made a day ahead and refrigerated. Serve at room temperature. I add lemon wedges for spritzing and the mellow roasted garlic aioli for dipping.

Serves 4 to 8.

Source: Lennie Bennett, Times


Roasted Garlic Aioli

To address concerns about raw eggs, I use pasteurized ones. But you can also substitute mayonnaise for the egg and oil. Three heads of garlic seem like a lot but once roasted, they become mild and creamy.

3 heads of garlic

1 egg yolk

1 teaspoon white wine vinegar

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 cup or less of neutral oil such as grapeseed or canola

Salt and pepper

Juice of 1 lemon

To roast garlic, wrap the heads in foil and bake in 350 degree oven for about an hour. Cool to room temperature. For the aioli, beat the yolk with the vinegar and mustard in a bowl. Whisk in the oil, drop by drop, until it becomes very thick, like mayonnaise. Cut the top off the garlic head, squeeze garlic cloves into the mixture and whisk until smooth. Season the aioli with salt, pepper, and lemon juice to taste. Can be made two days ahead and refrigerated.

Makes about 1 cup.

Source: Adapted from Laura Calder

Tasty little nibbles for Easter dinner 04/03/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 3, 2012 4:30am]
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