Splurge With Your Easter Celebration

IN THE KITCHEN

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Springtime calls for fresh flavors and bright colors, guaranteed antidotes to the winter blahs.

Whether the occasion is Easter dinner for the family or simply a time to enjoy the first signs of spring, what better way to bring on the season than a meal to appeal to adults and youngsters. For the cook, the best part of this celebration meal is the easy-to-prepare recipes and make-ahead ideas.

The menu calls on citrus flavors to awaken the taste buds.

Headlining the meal, asparagus and chicken are made quickly with the convenience of ready-to-use bottled lemon juice. The combination of lemon juice and mustard to marinate the chicken before baking, produces a tender and juicy result. Serve the chicken with rice to soak up the sauce.

And what food signals spring better than gourmet, intensely flavored jelly beans? They take center stage on the tabletop as a cheerful centerpiece. Clear, simple containers let the colors of the jelly beans shine, a welcome change from the usual floral bouquet. The candy shop centerpiece also serves a dual purpose when the guests select a jar to take home as a parting gift.

To make the most eye-appealing centerpiece, collect five or seven containers of the same shape, but varying sizes. Layer individual flavors of jelly beans in springtime colors, such as cotton candy, berry blue, piña colada and kiwi flavors. Arrange the jars on a tray and sprinkle more jelly beans around the base.

Jelly-Bean Studded Meringue Nests

Make these nests the day before and scoop the sorbet just before serving.

6 egg whites

Pinch of salt

1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1 1/2 cups sugar

4 ounces assorted jelly beans (cotton candy, berry blue, lemon drop, island punch, lemon lime)

Mango sorbet or sherbet

Preheat oven to 170 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Using round cookie cutter or small can, trace the outline of a 4-inch circle, for 8 to 10 circles. Set aside.

In clean, dry mixing bowl of electric mixer, beat egg whites, salt and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. With mixer running, add almond extract and gradually add sugar. Beat until stiff and glossy. Spoon meringue about 3/4 cup at a time onto parchment-lined baking sheet, using tracing lines as guides for size. With large spoon, make indentation in each meringue mound to form nests.

Gently press jelly beans into sides of meringues. Bake 2 1/2 hours, or until hard.

Just before serving, fill meringue nests with small scoop of sorbet or sherbet. Serve immediately.

Makes 8 to 10 nests (Note: nests can be made two days ahead. Store in airtight container.)

Mustard-Lemon Chicken

A little sweet, a little tart -- mustard and lemon are a winning combination.

1 (2 1/2 to 3 pounds) whole fryer chicken

1 cup lemon juice from concentrate

3/4 cup coarse-grain brown mustard

1/2 cup sugar

1/3 cup cooking oil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Rinse chicken; pat dry. Skewer neck skin to back; tie legs to tail. Twist wings under back. Place, breast side up, on rack in shallow roasting pan.

For marinade, combine lemon juice, mustard, sugar and oil in small bowl. Pierce chicken with fork, pour half of marinade over; cover with plastic wrap. Marinate in refrigerator 2 to 4 hours. Reserve half of marinade.

Bake chicken 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Remove from oven when drumsticks move easily, juices run clear and thermometer registers 180 degrees to 185 degrees. Cover and let stand 10 minutes before carving.

Bring remaining marinade to boil; cover and boil 1 minute. Serve reserved marinade with carved chicken. Serves six.

Asparagus With Browned Lemon Butter

The splash of lemon dresses up springtime's favorite vegetable.

1/2 cup margarine or butter

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1/4 cup lemon juice from concentrate

2 pounds asparagus, oven-roasted or steamed

Toasted almonds, optional

Heat margarine or butter in small skillet, cooking until melted and just lightly browned. Remove from heat and stir in garlic and lemon juice. Spoon over asparagus; sprinkle with toasted almonds if desired. Serves six.

Jelly Bean Juleps

Lime juice and melted jelly beans make a refreshing spring drink.

1 cup lemon-lime flavor jelly beans

3/4 cup water

1 cup lime juice from concentrate

1/2 cup fine sugar

2 tablespoons mint syrup

4 cups club soda

Fresh mint and lime slices for garnish

Place jelly beans and water in pan and heat until jelly beans are melted, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and add lime juice, sugar and mint syrup. Pour into small pitcher. Add club soda. Stir to dissolve sugar. Pour in tall glasses over ice. Top with club soda and garnish with fresh mint and slice of lime. Serves six.

Recipes from Family Features

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