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Published: Tuesday, 4/18/2000

Contemporary twists on the holiday dinner fit modern lifestyles

BY KATHIE SMITH
BLADE FOOD EDITOR

Easter dinner traditions are as diverse as our ethnic backgrounds, religious customs, and the size and mobility of the family.

The menu served on holidays is also generational. Baby boomers grew up with the holiday ham and the roast leg of lamb, deviled eggs, potato salad, fresh asparagus, and Easter egg hunts on the lawn or in the family room.

In the last two decades, lifestyles have changed. Massive, multi-course Easter brunch served at a local restaurant has become as common as the holiday dinner at home. While this may take mega-dollars for a car-load of folks, the time needed to cook a big family dinner may outweigh the cost.

And, with more families traveling during the school holiday recess, those family Easter dinners may be in a condo, a campground, or a fast food restaurant on the road.

For those who like to rush summer, Easter dinner can launch the grilling season with butterflied leg of lamb or a smoked or deep-fried turkey prepared on the patio.

If you have tried all of this and are still looking for something new, here's an entree for two or three; a new look at lamb, and a cutting -edge concept that's ducky.

Let's start small.

Veal Piccata made with lemon and caper sauce is a perfect entree for a small dinner - it serves two to four. Total preparation and cooking time is 25 minutes. Veal leg cutlets, sometimes called scaloppine by local butchers, are preferred to shoulder cutlets, which will be thicker and require longer cooking.

The veal cutlets are coated and seasoned with flour and sauteed in under five minutes. Don't overcook the cutlets; they must remain moist and tender. The secret is to heat the oil first and turn the cutlets only once. Using a nonstick skillet, a pound of cutlets can be sauteed in just 1 tablespoon of oil.

When purchasing veal, look for meat with a fine grain and creamy pink color. Any fat covering should be milky white. After purchasing, refrigerate promptly. Unopened packaged veal may be refrigerated for a day or two.

Or, you can cook for a crowd.

For a larger gathering around your Easter table, a leg of lamb makes a special and delicious dinner. It can be completely boned; as such, it is often sold butterflied for grilling, and boneless, rolled, and tied for roasting. The latter is perfect for stuffing, according to The Complete Meat Cookbook by Bruce Aidells and Denis Kelly.

Serve Apricot Stuffed Leg of Lamb, a light meat glazed and stuffed with a blend of dried apricots, raisins, and cherries. The recipe calls for four to five pounds of boneless leg of lamb, which is about six pounds bone-in. Ask the butcher to debone it and cut it to size. If there is extra meat, simply cut it in cubes and freeze for later use in stew.

Lamb should be well-trimmed of fat. It does not need a high degree of marbling to be tender. Look for red, finely textured meat, with bones that are reddish and moist. Store only two to four days in the refrigerator before cooking.

The perfect entree is cutting-edge and suitable for any size crowd. The problem is, it can take time. At least this one does.

Roasted Pepper Duckling with Sweet Potato Puree and Spring Peas with Natural Juices was the entree served last Saturday at the Toledo Symphony League's 2000 Symphony Ball Celebration.

Before Chef William Whitehead prepared it in the March tasting for the committee led by Linda Wininger, they had never considered duck. But the flavor literally won each person over. They could not believe it was duck.

What makes this recipe unique is how the fat common to duck is reduced. "People don't like to see fat or eat fat in duck," said Chef Whitehead, who prepared 200 ducklings for the occasion. "One of the methods the Oriental cooks use is to air-dry the duck, which breaks down fat and helps it recede. They also use a little salt with that process. I like to take that black pepper and very little Kosher salt and encase the duck, let it sit in a drafty area in the cooler, and then roast it very slow. Then all the fat recedes quickly, which makes the skin nice and crispy and makes the flesh nice and tender."

At home, put the duck in the refrigerator and let it set. If you have a second refrigerator available in your home, it would be a good place to keep the duck.

To accompany the duck, the chef selected sweet potato puree. "I like the richness [when] the sweet potato marries with the duck," he said. "A lot of people like sweet sauces on duck. I like a natural duck au jus, and then I pick the sweetness up from sweet potato." Madeira wine gives an earthy sweetness to the sauce.

The combination of the two - duck and sweet potatoes - illustrates how the accompaniments can add interesting flavors to any entree you choose.

"We forget about all the other starches out there, like cheese grits, creamed basmatis, and old-family traditions like casseroled potatoes, risotto, and barley," said Chef Whitehead. "We're back to the basics."

Any of these entrees is likely to create a new culinary tradition at your Easter table. Although each fits into a certain lifestyle, whichever you choose will be pronounced delicious!



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