We've always had ham for Easter. This is not necessarily a favorite with the women in the family so once in a blue moon I sneak in a leg of lamb, which I've always considered the only acceptable alternative to ham on Easter Sunday. But the guys always want ham. And in the same breath they ask: are you making the mustard ring? Which, as near as I can figure, is a necessity or don't bother having ham. It's tricky to get anyone outside the family to try this recipe. I even posted it when I first started blogging but sincerely doubt anyone made it. You probably thought I was nuts.
Back in the 60's this mustard ring won best of show in a big, albeit local, cooking competition. My friend Grace was the winner and she told me it was an old family recipe. Only I never got the chance to taste it that day and when all the recipes were finally published in a cookbook, I just stared at it dubiously, wondering how on earth it ever won over all the fierce competition. So this mustard ring had to be beyond great, right? It even beat out some scrumptious desserts! Well, well. Best in Show. Good for you, Grace!
But it still took me a couple years before I finally made it. It's not rocket science but it does take a little time. The color is such a delicate yellow, making it very Easter-like. I spoon-tasted it as it was cooling and it was sweet with a tangy bite; pretty tasty actually. Then you fold in some cold whipped cream and the color turns an even softer yellow and while the bite is still there, it's not as sweet. And served with ham? Spectacular. Unusual. The first question invariably is: what is this?? Some kind of lemon dessert? Definitely not. In the end, everyone is asking if it will keep in the fridge for leftovers. And they've been asking for it ever since.
You don't need to make it in a ring mold (although it puts to good use the old molds we used to make those ghastly jello salads in) but I do because it's fun to fill the center with something. If I have it at Christmas, I use holly. Other times I've used black olives, crabapples, flowers, fruit...just about anything. But my favorite is a Rhubarb (quelle surprise) Ginger Compote. I love the colors together. And spring is always when I first get my hands on some rhubarb.
Here's a prediction: you're going to read this post, comment politely that it looks good and then not try it. I know, because that's what I did. But just this once, when ham is next on your menu, please remember Grace's prize-winning Mustard Ring. You have to make it a day ahead anyway (I've made it as much as 3 days ahead) so you're not adding one more thing to think about for dinner that day.
And because I'm mad for the Rhubarb-Ginger Compote, I'm posting that recipe too. Don't wait for the mustard ring to make the compote, because it's a killer recipe. I keep sneaking spoonfuls!
Grace's Mustard Ring
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons dry mustard ( I use Colman's)
1 envelope gelatin
1/3 cup water
2/3 cup vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup whipping cream
Whisk the sugar and dry mustard together in the top of a double boiler to make certain there are no lumps. Add the vinegar and water and then the well beaten eggs.
Soak the gelatin in 1 T. cold water then melt over hot water.
Cook the egg/mustard mixture slowly in double boiler stirring constantly, adding gelatin when it becomes hot. Cook until creamy and thickened. Remove from heat, cool over ice cubes.
When cool, beat the whipping cream until peaks form. Slowly fold in the cooled mustard mixture. Pour into a mold and chill.
From an article entitled Rhubarb Bites by Molly O'Neill, New York Times Magazine, May 15th, 1994
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 shallots, peeled and minced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons grated ginger
2 cups water
1 cup sugar
4 cups rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch slices
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons rice-wine vinegar
1/8 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Heat the olive oil in a medium-size saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the ginger and cook, stirring, for 45 seconds. Add the water and sugar and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat so that the liquid barely simmers. Add the rhubarb and cook without simmering until the rhubarb is tender but still whole, about 12 minutes.
Remove rhubarb from the liquid with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl. Bring liquid to a boil. Cook, adding juices that accumulate from the rhubarb, until reduced to 1 cup, about 30 minutes. Set aside to cool. Stir in vinegar, salt and pepper. Stir in the rhubarb. Serve immediately or store in the refrigerator.
Makes 2-1/2 cups