Delicious food is an essential part of both religious and secular celebrations in cultures throughout the world.

Delicious food is an essential part of both religious and secular celebrations in cultures throughout the world.

Seasonal treats make the holidays

This week is Holy Week in the Christian calendar. It’s the last week of Lent and is always the week before Easter. Holy week includes religious holidays of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, and goes until, but not including Easter Sunday. It commemorates the last week of the earthly life of Jesus Christ according to canonical gospels.

In the Jewish calendar, it is also the time of Passover, an eight-day holiday and festival that commemorates the story of Exodus in which the ancient Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt. Together with Shavuot (Pentecost) and Sukkot (Tabernacles), Passover is one of the three pilgrimage festivals during which entire Jewish populaces historically make a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem. It is sometimes called the festival of unleavened bread.

Breads are a big part of both Passover and Easter but Christians aren’t restricted to unleavened breads as Jewish people are. Today I have two recipes for the Jewish holiday of Passover; the first is a delicious prime rib and the second is a sweet matzo treat.

For Easter celebrations, we have a wonderful braided Easter bread and a prize-winning baked ham which is sure to be a hit.

Winning Holiday Baked Ham

1 cup maple syrup

1 cup orange juice

1 cup ginger ale

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup honey

1 (10 oz.) jar maraschino cherries, halved

1 (12 lb.) fully-cooked, bone-in ham

1 (15.25 oz) can pineapple slices in juice, drained

1 box round wooden toothpicks

1 large oven baking bag

Preheat oven  to 350 F.  In a medium bowl, mix together the maple syrup, orange juice, ginger ale, brown sugar and honey. Stir in the juice from the maraschino cherries, and half of the cherries.

Score the outer edge of the ham with a sharp knife in a diamond pattern. Cuts should be about 1/4-inch deep. This will allow the ham to soak up the juice. Place ham into an oven bag, and carefully pour the juice mixture over it, keeping all of the juice in the bag. It may look like there is too much juice, but the ham will soak it up while baking. Place the pineapple rings all over the top of the ham and secure with toothpicks; place cherries into centres of pineapple slices and secure with toothpicks also. Tie the top end of the bag closed with the ties provided, place in a large roasting pan, and cut a few small slits in the top of the oven bag. Bake ham for 2 hours in preheated oven. Internal temperature should be 160 F. Remove from bag to a serving plate, and let stand for 10 minutes before carving.

Bread Machine Braided Easter Bread

1/4 cup warm water

1/4 cup butter, melted

1/2 (3.4 oz) pkg. instant vanilla pudding mix

1 cup warm milk

1 egg at room temperature, lightly beaten

1 tbsp. white sugar

1/2 tsp. salt

4 cups bread flour

1 (.25oz) pkg. active dry yeast

5 raw eggs, coloured if desired

In the pan of your bread machine, combine water, melted butter, vanilla pudding, warm milk, egg, 1 tbsp. sugar, salt, bread flour and yeast. Set machine to Dough cycle; press start.

When dough cycle is finished, turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 3 equal portions. Roll each piece into a long roll, about 36 inches long and 1-1/2 inches thick. Braid loosely, leaving spaces for the 5 coloured eggs. Seal the ends of the ring together and use your fingers to slip the eggs between the braids of dough.

Preheat oven to 350 F. (175 C). Place loaf on a buttered baking sheet and cover loosely with a damp towel. Place in a warm place and let rise until double in bulk, about 45 minutes. Brush risen braid with melted butter. Bake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until golden brown.

Passover Garlic Prime Rib

1 (10 lb.) prime rib roast

10 cloves garlic, minced

2 tbsp. olive oil

2 tsp. salt

2 tsp. pepper

2 tsp. dried thyme

Place the roast in a roasting pan with the fatty-side up. In a small bowl, mix together the garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper and thyme. Spread the mixture over the fatty layer of the roast (or all over if you wish), and let the roast sit out until it is at room temperature, no longer than an hour. Preheat oven to 500 F (260 C). Bake the roast for 20 minutes in the hot oven, then reduce the temperature to 325 F (165 C), and continue roasting for an additional 60 to 70 minutes. The internal temperature should be at 145 F (53 C) for medium rare. Allow the roast to rest for 10 to 15 minutes before carving so the meat can retain its juices. Recipe can be halved.

Amazing Passover Chocolate Toffee Matzo

6 whole matzos

1 cup salted butter

1 cup dark brown sugar, packed,

20 oz. semisweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 325 F. Line baking sheets with foil or parchment paper; pinch edges into a lip to contain drips. Place the matzos onto the baking sheets, breaking them in half if needed.

Melt the butter in a saucepan with the brown sugar over medium heat; bring to a boil and reduce heat. Simmer the mixture until thickened, about 5 minutes. Ladle the hot sugar mixture over the matzos, spreading with a rubber spatula. Bake in the preheated oven until the sugar mixture is bubbling and thick, about 20 minutes. Set aside to cool until the toffee coating is firm, about 15 minutes.

Place the chocolate chips into a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on low until the chips are just melted (do not let them overheat or scorch). Spread melted chocolate over the toffee-coated matzos; sprinkle chopped pecans on top. Place baking sheets into the refrigerator until treats are cold, about 30 minutes. Remove from the foil, break into pieces, and store in an airtight container in fridge or freezer. Yum!

Cathi Litzenberger is The Morning Star’s food columnist.