EASTER IS A TIME for celebration, a time to salute the season of budding trees, blooming flowers and soaring spirits.

You can soar into the holiday with a surprising new menu - lamb, a spectacular main course.Long noted for its delicate flavor, lamb is tender, versatile and leaner than ever. A 3-ounce serving contains only 176 calories, the same as lean beef or pork, and only slightly higher than chicken (roasted with the skin off). Lamb, meat from sheep less than a year old, is nutritious overall.

Lamb is a holiday menu item in my home. I grew up on a Mapleton farm where my dad, Ray Whiting, raised summer grain, hay and sugar beets to feed the winter lambs. Access to fresh lamb year-round indulged our family taste buds.

A holiday or celebration meant sharing a leg of lamb, mashed potatoes and lamb gravy. Anything else on the menu was secondary, even dispensable.

Maybe it's the nostalgia, the childhood memories, that makes lamb indispensable in our home now.

We remember learning to hoe and thin the whole beet field, row by row, with Grandpa Oscar checking behind us. (The sugar beets were processed into pulp that fed the winter lambs.) I remember how I drove the old Ford tractor when I was only eight years old, so the hay could be properly stacked for the winter feed.

In the fall when the lambs arrived, we herded them through the rural streets until they camped in the corral. Keeping the critters fed and dry throughout the winter was an impossible chore.

But it doesn't seem impossible, now, as we recall our lambing adventures.

And now, as then, roasted leg of lamb is the treat that ties members of my family to our Mapleton heritage.

Per calorie, today's lean lamb and other red meats have high nutrient density. A serving of lamb is a good source of zinc, iron and many of the B-complex vitamins, while providing close to 40 percent of the recommended daily protein for an adult.

Nearly all the fat in lamb is trimmable. Because lamb is processed from a young animal, there is very little fat within the muscle tissue. Fat makes up only 7.5 grams (67 calories) per 3-ounce serving. Because it is so tender, lamb can be prepared using methods that do not call for added fat.

Nutritious though it may be, lamb suffers from a gourmet label. But restaurants are serving more than ever before. According to the American Lamb Council, two-thirds of the nation's white tablecloth restaurants serve lamb as a regular menu item. Most frequently served was rack of lamb, followed by leg or roast, then lamb chops.

The variety of lamb cuts available, however, belies the upscale label. Lamb is versatile and can be used in a number of ways at home.

The whole leg of lamb can be purchased as an American-style, a French-style or a boneless rolled leg. For the smaller family the lamb leg is available as sirloin-half or shank-half roasts, center-leg roasts and leg chops.

Sirloin chops and sirloin roasts (bone in and boneless) are cut from the sirloin section.

Lamb loin chops (the T-shaped bone makes them easy to recognize), boneless double-loin chops, boneless double-loin roasts and loin roasts are cut from the lamb loin.

The regal-appearing lamb crown roast, rib roasts, rib chops and frenched rib chops are appealing cuts from the lamb rib section.

Frequently, some of the lamb cuts less familiar to homemakers are, as a result, also in less demand and are unusual bargains in good eating. The lamb shoulder, for example, may be less in demand in some markets. The shoulder cut provides bone-in and boneless shoulder roasts, cushion shoulder roasts (with a pocket for stuffing), arm and blade shoulder chops and boneless lamb for kabobs, lamb stew or other dishes featuring boneless lamb pieces.

The lamb breast and lamb shank sections are available in many markets as lamb riblets, lamb spare ribs, rolled breast, lamb shanks, lamb for stew and ground lamb for loaves, patties and lamb casserole dishes.

Because of its natural tenderness, lamb is also an ideal selection for outdoor cookery. Boneless leg, shoulder and loin roasts, rib, loin, leg and shoulder chops, lamb spare ribs, lamb kabobs and lamb burgers are among top favorites for grill and rotisserie.

After selecting the appropriate cut of lamb, cooking it depends on the tenderness, the size and thickness, and the cooking facilities. All cuts can be cooked easily so that the meat is tender, juicy and tasty. The fell (the thin, paper-like covering) should not be removed from the lamb leg, since it helps the leg retain its shape. Lamb chops, however, will be more desirable if the fell is removed before cooking.

Large lamb cuts should be roasted, uncovered at 325 degrees and about 25 minutes per pound. A thermometer helps determine the desired doneness - rare, 140 degrees; medium, 160 degrees; and well done, 170 degrees.

For easier carving and more attractive servings, it is desirable to allow a cooked roast to "set" 15 to 20 minutes. Meat continues to cook upon removal from the oven. If the roast is permitted to "set," it should be removed from the oven when the thermometer registers about 5 degrees lower than the desired doneness. Lamb should be served hot or cold, never lukewarm.

Lamb chops, kabobs and patties are quick to broil. Individual timing of cuts may vary, depending on thickness and the fat-to-lean ratio of the lamb.

Less tender cuts of lamb, shoulders, riblets, breasts and shanks, can be braised, but for a shorter period of time than similar beef cuts.

Cuts of lamb can also be microwaved. For best results, use appropriate microwavable containers. Cover lamb with wax paper to prevent splattering and to hold in heat. Use a small piece of foil to prevent overcooking the lamb edges or plastic wrap to retain moisture. Be sure to leave a small opening in plastic wrap to allow steam to escape.

For roasts, insert a microwavable thermometer in the thickest muscle. Cook to the desired degree of doneness, rotating the rack one-quarter turn halfway through cooking. Remove the roast five degrees before the desired temperature of doneness. Then cover the roast with foil and let it stand for 10 minutes to allow the temperature to rise.

Share the Whiting family legacy with some of our favorite holiday recipes. And happy Easter eating!

Lora's Roast leg of Lamb

1 4- to 6-pound leg of lamb

Minced Garlic

3/4 cup water

Throughly rub lamb with minced garlic. Place roast in uncovered roasting pan. Add water. Bake at 350 degrees for about 2 hours, reduce heat to 325 degrees and cook to desired doneness (1 to 2 hours). Check roast after one hour of baking; baste lamb with drippings every 30 minutes during duration of cooking. Remove roast from oven; allow to set for 5-10 minutes before carving.

Degrease drippings and thicken for gravy. Serves 10-12.

Betty"s Lime Jello Salad

1 6-ounce package lime jello

2 cups boiled water

1 cup pineapple juice

1 8-ounce package cream cheese

1 cup whipping cream with 1 tablespoon of sugar (or 2 cups non-dairy substitute)

1 1-pound 4 1/2 ounce can crushed pineapple, drained

1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts.

Dissolve jello in boiling water; add pineapple juice and softened cream cheese. Beat until well blended. Chill until thick; then whip. Fold in wwhipped cream, pineapple and nuts. Pour in a 9-by-11-inch pan and chill until firm. Serves 10-12.

- From Betty Aragon

Val's Rolls

2 2/3 cups hot water

2/3 cup sugar

2/3 cup shortening

2/3 cup dry powdered milk

2 teaspoons salt

3 eggs

2 tablespoons yeast

Approximately 8 cups flour

Beat shortening, sugar, salt, milk and hot water together. Continue beating while adding 4 cups flour, yeast and eggs. Blend in additional flour, one cup at a time, using mixer as long as possible. Allow dough to rise, without kneading, until double in bulk.

Roll dough out on lightly floured board. Cut in circles, mark half circle; dip bottom half of circle in melted butter. Place rolls, folded in half, on cookie sheet, brushing tops lightly with butter. Allow to rise until doubled again. Bake at 375 degrees for 12-15 minutes. Makes 6 dozen rolls.

Note: Roll dough is soft. Work with a minimum of flour to manage dough, yet still produce a light, fluffy roll.

- From LaRhea and Valerie Twelves

Chocolate-Coconut Bavarian Cream Pie

2 squares unsweetened chocolate

2 tablespoons butter or margarine

2 tablespoons hot milk or water

2/3 cup powdered sugar, sifted

1 1/2 cups coconut

1 cup heavy cream, whipped

3 cups shredded coconut

1 envelope unflavored gelatin

1/4 cup sugar

3 egg yolks

1 1/4 cups milk

3 egg whites

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 square chocolate, grated

Early in the day: grease an 8- or 9-inch pie plate. In a heavy saucepan, melt 2 squares of chocolate and butter. Stir to blend. Combine hot milk, powdered sugar, then 11/2 cups coconut. Press to the bottom and sides of pie plate. Chill.

Combine gelatin with 1/4 cup sugar. In a heavy saucepan, beat egg yolks; stir in gelatin/sugar mixture. Add milk. Cook, stirring until custard coats spoon. Refrigerate custard, stirring occasionally, until custard mounds when dropped from spoon; then beat just until smooth. Beat egg whites with salt till quite stiff; gradually add 1/4 cup sugar, beating until stiff; fold in custard mixture, then whipped cream, vanilla and 2 cups coconut. Pour into crust, reserving about one third of mixture. Refrigerate pie and reserved filling until almost set; then heap remaining filling on center top of pie; refrigerate until serving time.

To serve: About 15 minutes before serving, remove pie from refrigerator and let stand. Garnish top with 1 cup coconut and grated chocolate. Serves 8-10.

- From Marilyn Whiting Alston

Spinach Salad

1/2 cup cottage cheese

1/2 large sweet onion, sliced thin

1 package fresh spinach

1 1/2 cups Swiss cheese, grated

3/4 cup bacon, crumbled

1 cup mushrooms

1/2 head lettuce

Dressing:

1/3 cup vinegar

5/8 cup oil

3/8 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons grated onion

1/8 teaspoon dry mustard

2 teaspoons poppy seeds, optional

Wash and drain spinach and lettuce; break into bite-size pieces. Blend in cottage cheese, onion, cheese, bacon and sliced mushrooms.

Mix dressing ingredients; whisk to blend. Toss with salad and serve. Makes 10-12 servings.

Broccoli with Cashews

1 large bunch broccoli or 2 10-ounce packages frozen broccoli

2 tablespoons minced onion

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup sour cream

2 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon vinegar

1/2 teaspoon poppy seeds

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1 cup roasted cashews

Cook broccoli until crisp. Saute onion in butter. Stir in sour cream and remaining ingredients, except cashews. Layer broccoli in a buttered 11/2-quart baking dish and cover with sauce. Sprinkle with cashews and bake uncovered at 325 degrees for 25 minutes.

- From "Colorado Cache"

Lamb Kabobs

1/2 cup unsweetened apple juice

1/2 cup lemon juice

6 cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 1/4 pounds boneless lean lamb, well-trimmed, cut into 11/2-inch pieces.

1 small apple cut into 1-inch chunks

2 small bananas, cut into 8 slices each

1 8-ounce plain lowfat yogurt

Combine apple juice, lemon juice, cloves 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg to make marinade. In 2-quart glass baking dish, combine lamb pieces and marinade to coat. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Drain reserve marinade. Thread lamb, apple and banana onto metal skewers. Place on broiler rack 3-4 inches from heat source. Broil 7-8 minutes, or until desired doneness; brush with marinade frequently and turn once. Combine yogurt with remaining cinnamon and nutmeg. Serve yogurt sauce over kabobs. Makes 4 servings.

Herb Stuffed Lamb Leg with Garlic Butter Sauce

4-5 pound boneless leg of lamb, butterflied

Salt

Freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup coarse brown mustard

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped garlic

1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

1 tablespoon each chopped fresh dill, thyme, tarragon and marjoram, or any fresh aromatic herbs

Garlic Butter Sauce:

2 whole heads garlic, peeled

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup butter

1 teaspoon lemon juice

Rub interior of leg with salt and pepper. Spread mustard evenly over meat. Place garlic and herbs down center of leg. Roll up roast. Secure with burtcher's twine. Roast at 350 degrees until thermometer reads 130-145. Remove from oven and cover with foil.

For the sauce, bring garlic and water to boil. Reduce liquid to 1/4 cup. Add butter. Over low heat, whisk until blended. Add lemon juice. Strain sauce through sieve. Serve garlic butter on lamb slices. Makes 8-12 servings.

- From "Gatherings"

Grilled Herbed Leg of Lamb

1 4-5 pound leg of lamb, bone and butterflied

1 onion, sliced

1 clove garlic, minced

Juice of 1 lemon

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

3/4 cup safflower oil

1/4 teaspoon oregano

1/4 teaspoon thyme

1/2 teaspoon rosemary

1/2 teaspoon basil

1 teaspoon salt

Dash of pepper

Place lamb, flattened, in a glass dish just large enough to hold it. Combine remaining ingredients and pour over meat. Marinate for several hours in the refrigerator, turning occasionally. Roast meat over hot charcoal fire for 25-20 minutes per side for medium rare. Makes 6-8 servings.

- From "Colorado Cache"

Additional recipes on C4

Recipes continued from C2