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After the Egg Hunt

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When Sarah Pillsbury moved into her Rustic Canyon home near Santa Monica three years ago, she realized that it was the perfect setting for an Easter egg hunt.

She has a beautiful front yard with plenty of flower beds to hide chocolate treasures and large trees with low-lying branches that have secret nooks perfect for egg hiding. Now that her children, Nora, 14, and Will, 10, are old enough to find all of the eggs within minutes, she loves to have friends over with their younger children to help prolong the hunt, and has held a party on Easter Sunday for two years running.

This year’s party, however, was going to be more difficult to pull together than usual. Pillsbury, an independent film producer (“Desperately Seeking Susan,” “How to Make an American Quilt”) with her partner, Midge Sanford, has a movie opening next month, “The Love Letter” starring Kate Capshaw and Tom Selleck. She also runs a nonprofit organization called Liberty Hill, which funds community projects. With the movie pressing on her already busy schedule, and her kids’ vacation plans taking them out of Los Angeles over Easter weekend, some adjustments had to be made. First, she held her party early. And to relieve her workload, I offered to help her with the food.

The first things I put on the menu were deviled eggs and a watercress-endive salad with Easter eggs. These are not only practical dishes--there is always a need to use up Easter eggs--they are symbolic of Easter as a celebration of new life and hope. There is no greater universal symbol for life beginning anew than the egg. And it doesn’t hurt that these dishes taste great.

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Ham has become the traditional American Easter main course, from those crazy-looking pineapple-and-maraschino-cherry-bedecked centerpieces to honey baked versions. For Pillsbury’s menu, I planned a precooked ham glazed with an orange-Bourbon sauce from a recipe I found in a cookbook from the ‘60s. And since this is a brunch, I added salmon roulades and scones to be served with strawberry-thyme butter, a wonderful taste of spring.

Seasonality, of course, is essential for an Easter menu. It’s often the first chance most people have to entertain with meals that use the best of early spring produce: morels, asparagus, rhubarb and strawberries.

As some mushrooms may alter your mind, morels will rock your soul. They are expensive but worth every penny if you are a food lover. One terrific way to use them is in a tart with leeks and asparagus. It makes a great main course for vegetarians avoiding the ham.

Rhubarb, another quintessential spring ingredient, is so prized by dessert cooks that it is often called Pie Plant. I went with tradition and created a rhubarb crisp, updating it by serving the crisp with ginger ice cream.

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As if I didn’t have enough for everyone to eat, I added chocolate-dipped strawberries and banana bread.

We gathered on a clear Friday afternoon, narrowly escaping a predicted rainstorm, and had a wonderful party and egg hunt. There was plenty of food--and Easter eggs--for all.

MENU

Salmon Roulades

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Deviled Eggs

Asparagus, Leek and Morel Tart

Watercress and Endive Salad With Chopped Easter Eggs in Grainy Mustard Vinaigrette

Orange Bourbon Ham

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Scones

Strawberry Thyme Butter

Banana Bread

Rhubarb Crisp With Ginger Ice Cream

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Strawberry Thyme Butter

Active Work and Total Preparation Time: 10 minutes

1/2 cup diced strawberries

1/4 teaspoon minced thyme, optional

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1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened

Dash salt

* In food processor or blender, coarsely puree strawberries and thyme, if using. Add butter and salt and process until fairly smooth. Serve at room temperature. Recipe can be made 1 day in advance and refrigerated, tightly covered. Bring to room temperature before serving.

1 cup. Each 1 teaspoon: 17 calories; 24 mg sodium; 5 mg cholesterol; 2 grams fat; 0 carbohydrates; 0 protein; 0.01 grams fiber.

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Scones

Active Work Time: 15 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 35 minutes

Serve the scones with Strawberry Thyme Butter or preserves.

2 cups cake flour

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2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons very cold butter

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2 eggs

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon whipping cream

Grated zest of 1 lemon or orange

1/2 cup currants

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* Sift together flour, baking powder, 1/4 cup sugar and salt. Cut in butter with pastry blender or 2 knives.

* Combine eggs, 1/2 cup cream and zest.

* Make well in center of dry ingredients. Pour in currants and egg mixture. Stir until almost fully incorporated. Place dough on lightly floured surface and knead 5 times; it will be sticky.

* Divide dough in half. Place on parchment-paper-lined baking sheet and pat into 2 circles 1 inch thick. Cut each circle into 4 wedges but do not separate. Sprinkling sugar on knife may make dough easier to cut. Brush with remaining 1 tablespoon cream and sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon sugar.

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* Bake at 400 degrees until light golden brown on top, about 20 minutes.

8 scones. Each scone: 261 calories; 364 mg sodium; 88 mg cholesterol; 13 grams fat; 31 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams protein; 0.29 gram fiber.

Salmon Roulades

Active Work Time: 30 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 1 1/2 hours

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1/4 pound thinly sliced smoked salmon

1/3 cup whipped cream cheese

1 tablespoon chopped dill, plus 1 large sprig for garnish

1 tablespoon chopped capers, plus 24 capers for garnish

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Dash hot pepper sauce

1/4 teaspoon lemon juice

Pepper

24 slices cocktail pumpernickel bread

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* Place salmon on 10-inch-long piece of plastic wrap in solid single layer.

* Combine cream cheese, chopped dill, chopped capers, hot pepper sauce, lemon juice and pepper to taste. Set aside 2 tablespoons of cream cheese mixture.

* Spread remaining cream cheese mixture over salmon. Roll up salmon as you would a jelly roll, being careful not to roll up plastic wrap as well. Use plastic wrap to help mold roll smoothly and keep roll as cylindrical as possible. Wrap in plastic wrap and place in freezer at least 4 hours. This may be done several days in advance.

* Cut 1 (2-inch) round out of each slice of bread with cookie cutter. Lightly toast rounds and let cool.

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* Remove salmon from freezer and remove plastic wrap. Cut into 24 thin slices, about 3/8 inch thick. Spread very thin layer of cream cheese mixture on each toast round, reserving some for garnish. Place slice of salmon roulade on each toast. Garnish each with small dot of cream cheese mixture, small piece of dill and 1 caper.

24 servings. Each serving: 53 calories; 200 mg sodium; 4 mg cholesterol; 1 gram fat; 9 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams protein; 0.18 gram fiber.

Deviled Eggs

Active Work and Total Preparation Time: 30 minutes

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The only reason I keep celery salt in my cupboard is for deviled eggs and egg salad, because it seems to bring out the flavor of hard-boiled eggs.

2 slices bacon

1 dozen hard-boiled eggs, peeled

4 teaspoons Dijon mustard

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1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/2 teaspoon celery salt

Pepper

Paprika

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24 sprigs chervil or parsley

* Cook bacon to desired crispness. Break into small chunks.

* Halve eggs lengthwise. Place yolks in medium bowl and set whites aside. Combine yolks, mustard, mayonnaise, celery salt and pepper to taste. Press through sieve if too lumpy. Fill each egg white with yolk mixture using pastry bag or spoon. Sprinkle with paprika and garnish with piece of bacon and sprig of chervil or parsley.

24 servings. Each serving: 62 calories; 96 mg sodium; 108 mg cholesterol; 5 grams fat; 1 gram carbohydrates; 3 grams protein; 0 fiber.

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Asparagus, Leek and Morel Tart

Active Work Time: 1 hour * Total Preparation Time: 2 hours * Vegetarian

If you can’t find fresh morels, soak dried ones in hot water until they regain their shape.

CRUST

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1 1/4 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

2 to 4 tablespoons ice water

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* Combine flour and salt in bowl. Cut butter into flour with 2 knives or in food processor until butter is size of peas. Drizzle in water and mix just until dough comes together. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill 1 hour.

* Roll out dough into 13-inch circle on lightly floured surface. Place in 12-inch tart pan. Fold any excess dough back into pan and press against sides. Place piece of foil or parchment paper on top of crust and fill with pie weights, rice or beans.

* Bake at 375 degrees until edges barely begin to brown, about 20 minutes. Remove weights and foil or parchment paper.

FILLING

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3 to 4 leeks

3 tablespoons butter

Salt

6 ounces fresh morel mushrooms or other aromatic wild mushrooms, such as porcini or chanterelles

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1/2 pound Gruyere, dry Jack or Parmesan cheese, grated

1 large bunch asparagus, about 16 spears

30 small or 20 large cherry tomatoes, halved

Vegetable or olive oil cooking spray

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* Cut all but 1 inch of green tops off leeks. Split down middle and rinse very well. Cut into 1/8-inch-thick slices. There should be about 4 1/2 to 5 cups sliced leeks.

* Melt 2 tablespoons butter in skillet over medium heat. Add leeks and season with salt to taste. Saute, stirring frequently, until soft and translucent, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from skillet and set aside to cool.

* Quickly rinse mushrooms in cold running water. If using morels, halve lengthwise. If using chanterelles or porcini, cut into 1/8-inch-thick slices. Saute mushrooms in remaining 1 tablespoon butter over high heat until most of liquid evaporates, about 3 minutes. Remove from skillet and set aside to cool.

* Spread leeks in bottom of tart shell. Spread mushrooms over leeks. Cover with grated cheese. Place on baking sheet or piece of foil.

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* Bake at 400 degrees until cheese begins to melt, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from oven.

* Trim each asparagus spear to 5 1/2 inches. Place asparagus spears on top of cheese like spokes of wheel. Place cherry tomatoes in decorative fashion, cut side up, on cheese. Lightly spray with cooking spray. Season to taste with salt.

* Bake at 400 degrees until cheese is bubbly and asparagus is tender, about 15 minutes.

10 servings. Each serving: 305 calories; 368 mg sodium; 59 mg cholesterol; 21 grams fat; 21 grams carbohydrates; 11 grams protein; 1.40 grams fiber.

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Watercress and Endive Salad With Chopped Easter Eggs in Grainy Mustard Vinaigrette

Active Work and Total Preparation Time: 15 minutes

2 bunches watercress

4 large Belgian endives

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2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard, such as Pommery

2 teaspoons minced shallots

1/2 teaspoon chopped thyme

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1 teaspoon minced parsley

Salt, pepper

6 tablespoons oil

2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped

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* Wash and trim watercress. Cut endives into 1/4-inch slices, discarding core.

* Whisk together vinegar, mustard, shallots, thyme, parsley and salt and pepper to taste in small bowl. Gradually whisk in oil.

* Place watercress in salad bowl. Sprinkle endive around watercress. Top watercress with chopped eggs. Drizzle on vinaigrette. Serve as is or toss and serve.

8 to 10 servings. Each of 10 servings: 128 calories; 97 mg sodium; 42 mg cholesterol; 10 grams fat; 8 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams protein; 2.04 grams fiber.

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Banana Bread

Active Work Time: 20 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 1 hour 20 minutes

This is great to serve in case the kids didn’t get enough chocolate (ha!) or won’t share theirs with you (a more likely situation). I like to use some whole-wheat flour for texture but you can use only all-purpose flour. Be sure to use mini chocolate chips because the large ones tend to sink to the bottom. I often double the recipe so I have a second loaf to freeze for another time.

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

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1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup whole-wheat flour

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1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 cups mashed very ripe bananas

1/2 cup sour cream

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1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

Nonstick cooking spray

* Beat butter and sugar until creamy. Add eggs and beat until incorporated.

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* Sift together all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, baking soda and salt. Combine bananas, sour cream and vanilla.

* Add flour mixture to butter mixture and mix. Stir in banana mixture, then fold in chocolate chips. Pour into 9x5-inch loaf pan sprayed with nonstick cooking spray.

* Bake at 350 degrees until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 1 hour.

10 to 12 servings. Each of 10 servings: 330 calories; 350 mg sodium; 72 mg cholesterol; 15 grams fat; 40 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams protein; 0.30 gram fiber.

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Rhubarb Crisp

Active Work Time: 12 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 1 hour

Fresh rhubarb is just beginning to show up in the markets, and is usually available at least through May. Pick the slender stalks; they will be more tender. Serve each piece with a scoop of Ginger Ice Cream.

1 3/4 to 2 pounds rhubarb

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1 cup brown sugar, packed

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon cinnamon

3/4 cup flour

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3/4 cup oatmeal

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

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1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

* Cut rhubarb into 1-inch pieces to make about 6 cups. Combine brown sugar, cornstarch and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. Toss with rhubarb. Place in 2-quart oval casserole or 13x9-inch baking pan.

* Combine remaining 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, flour, oatmeal, granulated sugar, salt and nutmeg. Mix butter into flour-oatmeal mixture by squeezing between fingers until incorporated. Sprinkle on top of rhubarb.

* Bake at 375 degrees until bubbly and light brown on top, 45 to 50 minutes.

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10 to 12 servings. Each of 12 servings: 312 calories, 199 mg sodium, 21 mg cholesterol, 9 grams fat, 56 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams protein, 3.32 grams fiber.

Ginger Ice Cream

Active Work Time: 15 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 1 hour 40 minutes

The ginger flavor in the ice cream is very subtle. If you prefer a stronger ginger flavor, use up to 1 additional tablespoon minced ginger root or add 1/4 cup finely diced candied ginger to the ice cream in the ice cream maker when it is almost frozen.

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1 3/4 cups milk

1 3/4 cups whipping cream

2 tablespoons minced ginger root

4 egg yolks

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1/2 cup sugar

* Scald milk, cream and ginger over high heat just until steam appears at edge of pan. Remove from heat and steep 1 hour. Return to heat.

* Whisk together yolks and sugar until well-incorporated. Pour small amount of hot milk mixture into egg mixture, stirring well. Slowly add egg mixture to hot milk mixture, stirring constantly, and cook over high heat until thickened enough that finger leaves trail on back of wooden spoon, about 3 minutes. Strain into bowl.

* Put bowl containing ice-cream base in bowl filled with ice and water and stir constantly until cool. Add more ice to water as it melts. When cool, freeze in ice-cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Or make ice cream base several days ahead and, when cool, refrigerate until ready to freeze in ice-cream maker.

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10 to 12 servings. Each of 12 servings: 192 calories, 34 mg sodium, 141 mg cholesterol, 16 grams fat, 11 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams protein, 0 grams fiber.

Orange Bourbon Ham

Active Work Time: 15 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 2 hours 45 minutes

This recipe was adapted from “American Cooking” (Time Inc., 1968).

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1 (12- to 14-pound) smoked, processed, precooked ham

1/2 cup orange juice

1/2 cup bourbon

2 cups brown sugar, packed

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1 tablespoon dry mustard

* If ham has rind, place on rack in roasting pan. If ham has no rind, wrap with foil and place on rack in roasting pan. Bake at 325 degrees until meat thermometer registers between 130 and 140 degrees, about 2 hours. Remove from oven. If ham has rind, when cool enough to handle, cut away rind, leaving 1/4-inch layer of fat. Increase oven temperature to 450 degrees.

* Combine orange juice and bourbon in small skillet. Ignite carefully with long match to burn off alcohol. Reduce over high heat to 3/4 cup.

Mix 1/4 cup of orange juice-bourbon mixture with brown sugar and dry mustard to form paste. Brush ham with remaining 1/2 cup liquid. Pat brown-sugar mixture on just on top ham.

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* Bake at 450 degrees until sugar has melted and begun to glisten, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool 15 minutes before slicing.

16 servings. Each serving: 536 calories; 4867 mg sodium; 160 mg cholesterol; 17 grams fat; 22 grams carbohydrates; 66 grams protein; 0.05 gram fiber.

INGREDIENTS

SHOPPING LIST

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1 large bunch asparagus

1/2 pound bacon

4 or 5 very ripe bananas

1 bunch chervil

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1/2 pound Gruyere, dry Jack or Parmesan cheese

1 (8-ounce) carton whipped cream cheese

1 (8-ounce) bag mini chocolate chips

6 ounces bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate

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1 quart whipping cream

1 bunch dill

4 heads Belgian endive

1 (2-inch) piece ginger root

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1 (12- to 14-pound) smoked, processed, precooked ham

4 leeks

6 ounces fresh morel mushrooms

2 oranges

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1 bunch parsley

1 loaf cocktail-sized pumpernickel bread

2 pounds rhubarb

1/4 pound thinly sliced smoked salmon

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1 (8-ounce) carton sour cream

2 quarts strawberries

1 bunch thyme

20 large or 30 small cherry tomatoes

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2 bunches watercress

STAPLES

Baking powder

Bourbon

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Butter

Oil

Capers

Celery salt

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Cinnamon

Cornstarch

Currants

Eggs

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All-purpose flour

Cake flour

Whole-wheat flour

Mayonnaise

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Milk

Dijon mustard

Dry mustard

Whole-grain mustard

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Nutmeg

Lemons

Oatmeal

Vegetable or olive oil cooking spray

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Paprika

Hot pepper sauce

Pepper

Salt

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Shallots

Sugar

Brown sugar

Vanilla extract

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Red wine vinegar

GAME PLAN

Up to two weeks before: Bake and freeze Scones, Banana Bread and tart shell.

Morning to afternoon before:

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* Make ginger ice-cream base and let steep.

* While ice-cream base is steeping, hard-boil eggs for the Easter eggs that become Deviled Eggs and make Salmon Roulades and freeze. Make Strawberry Thyme Butter and refrigerate.

* Finish ice-cream base, cool and refrigerate.

* Saute leeks and let cool. Saute morel mushrooms and let cool. Grate cheese. Refrigerate cooled leeks and mushrooms separately.

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* Rinse watercress and Belgian endive, wrap in paper towels and place in plastic bags in refrigerator. Make Vinaigrette and refrigerate.

* Cut pumpernickel bread into rounds and toast. Cool, then store airtight at room temperature.

Evening before: Decorate Easter eggs.

Morning of: Remove Scones, Banana Bread and tart shell from freezer and let thaw at room temperature.

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3 hours before: Begin baking ham. Assemble and bake Asparagus, Leek and Morel Tart.

2 hours before: Make Deviled Eggs and refrigerate.

1 1/2 hours before: Assemble and bake Rhubarb Crisp. Freeze Ginger Ice Cream. Make glaze for ham.

1 hour before: Glaze ham. Assemble roulades.

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45 minutes before: Remove ham from oven and set aside to cool.

30 minutes before: Set up buffet.

15 minutes before: Carve ham. Assemble Watercress and Endive Salad.


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