Spring & Easter
With Easter only a few days away, 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.
My mother thought organized religion was one of the problems with the world, this extended to the Girl Scouts and the PTA (a somewhat convenient belief for a mother of 4, since you can’t ask someone to go against their beliefs). She also believed that children shouldn’t be allowed to act.
I have never quite understood how I talked her into letting me enter the Beverly Hills’ Miss Easter Bunny pageant when I was 8 – one of the prizes was a screen-test – but I did.
I don’t know what I was thinking. I think I thought it would be fun to ride down Beverly Drive in an old white cadillac with the top down sitting next to the Mayor of Beverly Hills and wave at the throngs of people I imagined would be lining the streets. I think I thought I was going to win.
Little did I know, the fix was in.
When I was little, I had absolutely no idea what Easter
represented. All I knew was it had something to do with Jesus and you
got chocolate bunnies for it. My neighbor, Rory McManus told me Jesus
was always by your side. I loved that idea. Here was a magical being
who could witness all my acts of kindness and maybe I’d get a reward of
some kind. I don’t know, maybe all the candy I wanted, or maybe I’d be
the kind of “pretty” boys fought over.
There was so much about Easter to love. Spring for one thing. I loved that time of year because of the colors. Spring is beautiful in Los Angeles. Our street was endowed with bougainvillea in every imaginable variations of pink, yellow, orange, red and purple. The ritual of dying boiled eggs along with the smell of vinegar was intoxicating, and another thing that involved color. Pleasing ones. Pastel ones. The candy around Easter time was the best.
Perennial bulbs such as daffodils, tulips, and lilies bring about some of springtime’s best qualities - all making for exceptional cut flowers as well. Even wintertime’s brisk and chilly climate can provide glimpses of floral beauty with Hellebores heralding the coming spring and giving the gardener a glimpse of what is to come. When all things become new again, unthawing from winter’s chill, consider lilies for an accent and spark of year to year blooms for the home and garden.
Bulbaceous and herbaceous lilies alike make fantastic additions to the garden. Planting lily bulbs in the spring ensures sprays of flowers to perfume your garden and interiors as well. Asiatic or Oriental lilies found in florists and flower markets can easily be grown in your own garden. Just think how wonderful it can be to cut ‘Casa Blanca’ lilies direct from your own garden! Hundreds of varieties in numerous sizes, colors, bloom times, and aromas can fill the garden and then vases inside.
Start with a collection of a few of your favorite colors and scents or add to a successful assortment already growing in the garden. Lasting for nearly a week as a cut flower and dousing the garden with intoxicating perfumes, lilies spice up the air and atmosphere of the gardening lifestyle.
Is there such a thing as a ham of your dreams? I didn't think so until I had this one. BAKED HAM with RUM and COKE GLAZE is not your ordinary, dried out, gross, nasty, ham-holiday-dinner that you are used to. It is one of the best ham's I have ever had in my life.
It's so juicy, and puts Honeybaked Ham to shame. Trust me. Even after refrigerating and reheating the next day, it is still perfectly, PERFECT. (The ham sandwiches are to die for.)
If Easter for you means ham, this is the one for you. Let's have a little HAM 101 before we get started.
First of all, never ever buy a spiral-sliced ham. That is one of the first precursors to having a dried out piece of meat. The extra-processing ruins any chance of a juicy ham. All the pieces are exposed to air which leaves you with dried, processed meat. Yuck.
You need to pick the right cut and the BUTT half is the only way to go. A whole ham is way too hard to carve. A shank has all the connective tissue. But a BUTT is easy to slice with easy to see muscle groups, making carving a cinch.
There are many stories regarding the history of Hot Cross Buns. One interesting one comes from Alan Davidson's "The Oxford Companion to Food". He says that the Saxon invaders in Britain chomped on buns adorned with impressions of crosses in honor of the pagan goddess of light, Eostre, from whom the name Easter is derived.
Today they are traditionally served at Easter and there is a superstition that Hot Cross Buns baked on Good Friday never became moldy and in the past one Hot Cross Bun would be saved as a good luck charm until the next year's buns were made. Whatever the history, these sweet tender buttery buns are a delicious treat and should be enjoyed all year long.
This is adapted from a Cook’s Country recipe for Sweet Dough.
It's not that Easter is really about excess, because it isn't. But we always think it's a lot of fun to have a lot of sides at Sunday dinner even if you just eat a little bit of each one...and since it's a 3-day weekend (or a 5-day weekend for some of us), we figured it was time to get cooking.