Spring & Easter
What's Easter without Easter eggs? Hide them. Roll them. And, best of all, eat them. Of the many dishes associated with Easter, deviled eggs have always been high on my list. Traditional deviled eggs are delicious but with some adventuresome spices, hardboiled Easter eggs take center stage on this festive occasion.
Our fingers stained blue, red and yellow, my sister and I loved dyeing and decorating Easter eggs. Our parents would hide the eggs around the house and outside. I'd race against my sister, each of us hoping to find more than the other.
Ultimately when we had delivered the eggs back into the kitchen, our mother turned our colored eggs into deviled eggs with a simple recipe: peel off the shells, cut the eggs in half and remove the yolks. Chop up the yolks, add a bit of mayonnaise, season with salt and pepper and spoon the mixture back onto the egg white halves.
When were kids those flavors were good enough. But for my adult palate, deviled eggs need spicing up. With experimentation, I discovered that doing something as simple as adding cayenne or Mexican chili ancho powder gives mild-mannered eggs a mouth-pleasing heat. Sweeten the flavor up a notch by stirring in finely chopped currants or borrow from Indian cuisine and mix in curry powder that has first been dry roasted in a sauté pan.
I have to admit I'm a little miffed that the Greeks seem to get all the attention for their Easter traditions. Armenians roast lamb and even dye their eggs red. My mother never baked those eggs into a loaf of bread but we did play a game with them called egg tapping, another one of those Pagan rites taken over by the early Christians. The point of the game is to break your opponent's egg without cracking your own.
One of my favorite dishes always served at Easter is Cheese Beorag, the Armenian version of Spanakopita. Our family even came up with their own version of this cheese and filo ecstasy that makes a perfect addition to an Easter Brunch. It's easy, can be made ahead of time and baked just before you are ready to serve it and I've yet to come across anyone who didn't love it and come back for more.
We always eat lamb at our house for Easter. As a child we ate lamb twice on Easter, breakfast and dinner. Walking or rather hiking through snow for half a mile to our camp on the lake for our breakfast lamb feast. Yes, it took a while as we helped our father navigate with foot braces on both legs. It was my father’s happiest place on Earth, so he pushed himself to walk that long half-mile. My mother was happy to put together a ‘lovely’ breakfast in the middle of nowhere. In recycled grocery bags, we each ‘carried in’ marinated 2 inch thick chops, 2 per person, cherry tomatoes seasoned with garlic and oregano - ready for a quick skillet sauté and the cutest ‘breakfast’ size baking potatoes. The paper grocery bags had a duel purpose, they created a fire long enough to char 2 marshmallows each before they flamed out.
The first thing once the door was unlocked at camp was to take the fuse breaker out of its hiding place and electrify the place. My sister and I ran from room to room turning on heaters to high while my mother turned on one of the ovens to bake the little potatoes as my dad set the long harvest table he constructed. My sister and I played outside on the ice-covered lake and slid on beer trays down the hill as the scent of garlic and oregano grew stronger. We knew when breakfast was close as the smell of garlic went from sharp and pungent to mellow and sweet. We were always hungry - we ate non-stop because we played non-stop.
When it comes to holidays, I do not discriminate. Any excuse to bake massive amounts of new treats, purchase unnecessary packaging, ribbons, and lovely little boxes, then gift them to the those that I love gives me great joy. Easter creates endless possibilities. We don’t celebrate Easter, but why should my kids miss out on all the creativity that the holiday has to offer?
I had been reading about naturally dyeing eggs and I was trying to find an excuse to do this intensely laborious project. When I was asked by Levi’s kindergarten teacher for some cooking project ideas related to both Passover and Easter, it took me about 2 seconds to know exactly what I wanted to do with 25 kinders. Upon doing a little more research, I turned my kitchen into an Easter egg lab. Utilizing all my pots, pans, and bowls the mad scientist in me came alive and I could not have been in a more happy place.
Simple garden vegetables; beets, spinach, carrots, carrot tops, parsley, and cabbage make wonderful, rich colors. Storing the dyes in ball jars made transporting the materials to Levi’s class effortless. I waited to add the vinegar until right before the kids placed their eggs in the dyes of their choices. If you have the time, let the eggs rest in the dye for at least 30 minutes to an hour. The longer they sit, the richer the color.
Easter is almost here and while many of us are planning the main meal, whether that's brunch or dinner, we can't forget about treating the kids (or adults) to something sweet for breakfast while they are hunting for those eggs.
I'm not sure if these Peeps Chocolate Dipped Marshmallow Chicks are new this year (I haven't seen them before), but they are sure cute. I imagined them sitting on a nest of chocolate and thought baked donuts would be the perfect perch.
My kids eyes lit up when they walked in and saw these. I had to fight them off while I photographing as they wanted to just dig in and try them. I don't blame them.
The brown Peeps are chocolate mousse-flavored and very yummy. The chicks have also been pre-dipped in milk or dark chocolate.
I’ve spent most of my life turning up my nose at mushrooms. That all changed last summer when I discovered the sublime flavor of chanterelle mushrooms plucked fresh from the forest floor and sauteed in butter with garden-fresh sage leaves. I blogged about my foraging experience in Duluth with Dick Ojakangas last summer. Beatrice Ojakangas immediately transformed our chanterelle harvest into a luscious appetizer.
That foraging experience was followed by my weekend at Mushroom Camp. After that, a visit to Dallas Flynn’s farm in Frazee, Minnesota. He sent me home with some of the shiitake mushrooms he raises. Those beauties went into a pasta dish. I became hooked on mushrooms.
On this Earth Day weekend, I’m making Mushroom Crostini. Buttery cremini mushrooms or creamy and light shiitakes are both good choices for this appetizer or snack. It’s so easy to make.
First, toast some baguette slices. Brush both sides of each slice with olive oil. I toast them in a grill pan. When the weather is nice, use your outdoor grill.
It's almost hard to believe that winter is gone and spring is actually here. The weather has been so unpredictable lately that if it wasn't for the blooming flowers and trees, we'd still think it were fall or winter. But it's the time to celebrate renewal and nothing says it more than the Easter holidays, which are just days away.
Easter celebrations vary from culture to culture and religion to religion. And then of course there's Passover. But what ties all these religions together is the presence of food and interestingly it's common to find lamb served at both a Seder and at an Easter dinner. It has symbolic ties to both Judaism and Christianity. So this year I'm making braised lamb shanks for the holiday, which is synonymous with Passover.
My Spanish-style recipe is both suitable for Passover and Easter. The lamb is braised in sherry vinegar and white wine, both of which add an acidic tang to balance the richness of the meat. Also included are garlic and onions and the spices cumin and paprika. The braising liquid is partially puréed to create a creamy gravy without the use of cream. I pair the lamb with creamed white beans and sautéed kale for a hearty holiday meal. Your family will love this meal whether you celebrate Passover or Easter.
With Easter just passed, who isn't thinking about eggs? When I was a kid I loved dyeing and decorating eggs. But instead of using hard boiled eggs, I thought it was infinitely cooler to de-egg my Easter eggs.
I remember using one of my mother's sewing needles to punch holes on either end of the uncooked egg. Putting my mouth against the egg, I'd huff-and-puff and blow until the raw egg dropped into a bowl.
Admittedly that was a lot of extra work and there were risks. Making the holes and blowing into the egg could crack the shell. Worse, all that huffing-and-puffing sometimes led to hyper-ventilating, so my mother kept an eye on me, just in case I got dizzy and fell off the chair.
In my child's mind, that extra effort was worth it because the feather-weight shells, brightly dyed and covered with decals, were so much more artful than the heavy hard boiled eggs.
I love hard boiled eggs. Using them for egg salad and especially for making deviled eggs is always a treat. They are also the perfect high-protein snack right out of the refrigerator.
While I love a good hard cooked egg, I detest peeling off their shells. I have tried every method possible to remove the shell without ruining the egg itself. Nothing has been foolproof. I've also used fresh eggs and old eggs and still nothing has been really successful.
The perfect hard cooked egg is SUPER important when making deviled eggs. The white needs to remain intact instead of looking like a mangled mess. I have found with the pressure cooker, the egg shells are very easy to peel away.
This method doesn't significantly lessen your prep or cooking times, but you do save at the end when it comes to peeling. Totally worth it to me! And your deviled eggs will be pretty.
I realized today that I haven’t given a lick of thought to what we’ll have for Easter dinner—nor have I set aside time to develop a new Easter side dish to post for you all on the blog. My apologies. But just so I don’t leave you high and dry, I thought I’d offer you a piece of advice about everyone’s favorite Easter vegetable, asparagus: If you’re cooking for a crowd, keep it simple and pick a method like grilling or roasting.
While I’ve already posted about three methods I love for cooking asparagus (stir-frying, sautéing, and quick-braising), unfortunately these methods are best for serving three or four people. (And Easter dinner usually means at least a few more seats at the table.) Once you start overcrowding the sauté or stir-fry pan, you risk overcooking asparagus (steaming it before it browns). I also find poaching and boiling large amounts of asparagus to be risky, too (tips get overcooked or stem ends get undercooked).
What I love about grilling and roasting is that you can cook lots of asparagus at once. The big broad expanse of a gas grill’s grate or the generous surface area of a large sheet pan can accommodate twice as many asparagus as a sauté pan. Also, if you’re cooking a big ol’ leg of lamb and maybe some mashed potatoes, suddenly a quick and simple side dish becomes very appealing.
I made hot cross buns last week. I used a recipe from a class I took years ago that focused on breads and rolls made with yeast dough. The sweet, egg- and butter-rich buns have mashed potatoes worked into the dough. I’ve got to believe it’s the potatoes that produce a soft, moist dough. Hot cross buns are an Easter tradition in many homes.
When I was doing some research on hot cross buns, Google directed me to JustHungry, a food blog I’d never visited. There I found some cute Hot Cross Easter Bunny Buns. Made of the same dough that the author used for her hot cross buns, they were shaped with chubby little faces and long bunny ears. Best of all, the author included step-by-step photo instructions, from rolling the dough, to creating the ears and faces.
I knew I had to try making the little bunny buns myself. With one batch of dough, I was able to create 12 Breakfast Bunny Buns. Each one came out of the oven with its own charm. The ears were long and funny, some pointing straight up, some a little bent and some a bit uneven. Their little currant eyes made them simply irresistible.
I finally got the urge to bake bread for the first time yesterday. I decided to make a traditional Hungarian kalács that my mother and her mother before her used to make for Easter. It can be made for any holiday, but it has the most symbolism on Easter particularly because it's made with eggs. But also if the dough is formed into a wreath it mimics Jesus' crown of thorns.
It can also be placed in a loaf pan if you like the Wonder-bread look. Traditionally kalács is made with milk and butter to create its brioche-like texture and is braided with three or four strands. The bread looks a lot like a Jewish challah bread too, and technically this recipe is perfect for making challah bread, but to keep it kosher simply replace the milk with water and the butter with margarine.