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Preparing For Easter

Easter - Hot Cross Buns

Like every chef I always really look forward to Easter. Not only does it usually signal the end of the cold dark mornings and the start of spring, but it is also the first bank holiday of the year, hooray!

When I was young I was always competitive with my friends to see who would get the most Easter eggs and then proudly display them on the windowsill of our house for all to see! We would then usually spend the next three months trying to eat them!

Nowadays what really excites me is the abundance of various ingredients that start to come into season. From the first spring lamb to wild garlic and if you are lucky and the weather has been kind, you might get to see some lovely Jersey Royals.

When preparing for Easter the key is always in the planning. Because it’s a four day break and traditionally Easter Sunday is a day when all the shops close, you need to make sure the fridge and cupboards are nice and full so you can enjoy the break, cook great food and relax.

One of my most favourite things at Easter, other than chocolate of course, are hot cross buns. I love them! I enjoy mine simply toasted and spread with a nice layer of butter. These sticky, lightly spiced fruity buns are really easy to make and I  suggest you give it a go. They don’t have to be traditional, although I suggest never removing the five spice, but you can change the fillings.  My favourite is white chocolate and pistachio, but also dark chocolate and orange works really well. Make these early on Good Friday morning and they should last you all weekend. Even if they start to go a bit dry you can always try dipping them in beaten egg, flavoured with vanilla and sugar and then gently frying them in a little butter on both sides till golden brown. Serve them with a little crème fraiche, some maple syrup or some lovely local honey.  They are also delicious with crispy streaky bacon.

As tradition dictates that turkey should be served at Christmas, for me lamb should be served on Easter Sunday. Early spring is when lamb is bang in season and full of flavour. I personally love every single cut that can be taken from the lamb including the offal.  We cooked a great dish at our nose to tail course recently. We boned a leg of lamb and stuffed it with cooked fragrant basmati rice, apricots, cranberries, rose petals, chopped pan fried liver and kidney. This was all stuffed inside the leg and slowly roasted, it was delicious. However if you are not feeling adventurous you can simply roast the leg, shoulder or belly of lamb with some lovely fresh rosemary, sea salt and maybe even some grated lemon zest. My personal favourite is to stud a shoulder of lamb (with the bone still in) with fresh rosemary, garlic and smoked anchovies. I slowly roast it in a low oven and for the last hour I like to cook my potatoes alongside the joint so they can absorb all the lovely cooking juices.  Serve with some homemade mint sauce and a rich gravy. Perfect!

We must not forget that Easter is a religious holiday and traditionally a Simnel cake should be served. Simnel is a rich fruit cake with marzipan running through it, as well as topping the cake.  There should also be 11 small balls of marzipan that decorate the cake. Each ball represents the 11 faithful apostles of Christ. When I was thinking of a pudding I didn’t want to add to the already burdening collection of chocolate. So instead I would personally choose English rhubarb. As it is at its vibrant pink best at the moment. I would serve mine simply as a crumble, maybe with some chopped stem ginger to spice it up a bit. I also make my crumble topping with light soft brown sugar and some rolled oats, this make a crunchy, almost caramelised topping. Serve it simply with some custard or my favourite, vanilla ice cream.

My final tip is for all those leftover Easter eggs (if there are any left over) is to make Rocky road. Simply place all the chocolate in a large bowl melt carefully over boiling water, then add in crushed biscuits, dried fruit, marshmallows and nuts then pour into a lined baking tray and leave to set overnight. The kids and adults will love it.

Happy Easter