Spring & Easter
It’s April 1993, and I have just woken up on the living room couch. My eyes feel a bit sore from trying to stay awake in order to catch a certain creature hopping through my home.
Gosh, how I would have loved to have caught that white-haired—or brown-haired animal, red (dye) handed—with a now-naked hardboiled egg on the floor beneath him or her and a half eaten carrot in the opposite paw.
But I didn't catch what I had imagined to be a five-foot, eight-inch bunny, that night. In fact, all I caught was the back of my eye lids, and whatever I dreamt that night (probably sweet succulent dreams of chocolate eggs filled with caramel...
I couldn’t say if it was the year after that—or five years later that I discovered the truth behind the Easter Bunny, but each year I still debate sleeping on that couch, straining my eyes until they can’t take it to catch my five- foot, eight-inch tall mother in the act of hiding an egg behind a picture frame and another behind the pillow of the opposing couch. Was it a coincidence that the bunny I had imagined and my mother were the same height?
Easter isn't complete without eggs, be it chocolate eggs, plastic eggs, or desserts made with eggs. Eggs are popular around Easter time, not just because it's what the Easter bunny delivers, but also because of it's religious symbolism. The sunny yolks just look so vivid, that they alone can fill the holiday with the promise of new beginnings. Braided breads and yellow cakes made with eggs are traditional but for something even sunnier and sweeter, these lemon bars really make a beautiful dessert for Easter.
I've had many good and bad lemon bars, but the best I've ever had were at Baked Bakery in Brooklyn. About five years ago, I made my first pilgrimage to this exceptional bakery. I still remember my first taste of the lemon-lime bars I had that day. I never forgot them and knew immediately one day I would try making them myself. When Baked came out with their first book, I was overjoyed to have the recipe. Here I adapt it to use Meyer lemons, which lend more sweetness and flavor than regular lemons.
I love deviled eggs and there are so many delicious variations. I'm making these for Easter dinner hors d'oeuvres and using some of the Smoked Sockeye Salmon that I brought back from a recent trip to Alaska.
Deviled Eggs with Smoked Salmon
7 large eggs (cold)
Place eggs in medium saucepan, cover with 1 inch of water, and bring to boil over high heat. Remove pan from heat, cover, and let stand 10 minutes. Meanwhile, fill medium bowl with 1 quart cold water and about 14 ice cubes (one tray). Transfer eggs to ice water with slotted spoon; let sit 5 minutes.
Peel eggs and slice each in half lengthwise with paring knife. Remove yolks to a medium bowl. Arrange whites on serving platter, discarding two worst-looking halves. Crumble the yolks and add the salmon, 1 tablespoon of the chives, the mayonnaise, onion, capers, lemon juice, zest, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper (salt to taste) and mix. Mound the filling into the egg whites. Garnish with the remaining 1 tablespoon chives and several grinds of black pepper.
– Recipe courtesy of Cook Like James
This week, Italian women everywhere will be knee deep in eggs, butter, sugar, and ricotta cheese -- it's time for making Easter pies. Easter, as with most holidays for Italians, is a time for culinary celebration.
Both sweet and savory pies are a hallmark of an Italian Easter. Every year my grandmother made countless delicious Easter pies. And every year starting several weeks before Easter, anyone who even remotely knew her would start visiting or calling her. Their motive: to butter her up enough to get a piece of her Pizza Chena.
Nan, as my mother would say, "was dumb as a fox;" she knew when people were only after her Pizza Chena, and she wasn't going to give it to just anybody. That's because it was time-intensive and expensive to make. Of course, her mailman always got a piece because he would tell Nan that of all the Italian women in the neighborhood her Pizza Chena was the best. (Not too subtle, but it worked every time.)
Since Nan moved into an Alzheimer's unit several years ago, we haven't had Pizza Chena. It's one of a few dishes that my mom lost the desire to make after Nan wasn't able to cook anymore. So my mom was both delighted and nostalgic when I called her for the recipe.
I love all French desserts and confections, but one of my most favorites is the macaron. Available in countless colors and flavors, macarons are very popular in France. In Paris, customers line up to buy them at many famous pastry shops, such as Dalloyau or Ladurée, which invented the double-decker sandwiched macaron in 1930. Since Paris is a bit too far for me to travel, I usually buy them at Bouchon Bakery in New York. I love all the flavors they offer even though their selection is not as wide as in France. But for me it doesn't matter, because the chocolate macaron is what I consider to be the best.
French macarons are basically meringue cookies made only of powdered sugar, egg whites, and almond flour. Getting the proportions exactly correct is key to the perfect macaron. Unlike the dense and chewy coconut macaroons, which French macarons are almost always confused with, macarons are smooth, light as air, and only slightly chewy. A smooth and flavorful filling in between two of the cookies is the icing on the cake. Pastry shops have come up with very unusual macarons and fillings, such as passion fruit and green tea, but the chocolate macaron is probably the most popular.
My youngest son has taken it upon himself to write to the office of the governor of different states. While he has sent out many letters, the first returned was from Governor Mark Parkinson of Kansas.
He felt quite proud receiving his letter as well as some other materials teaching him about life in that state. He couldn't wait to take it to school and share it with his class.
To celebrate, what could be better than a cake replicated as a sunflower, which happens to be the state flower of Kansas. Coincidently, it just so happens to be the time of year when Peeps are available everywhere, easily making the petals on this cake.
Overall, the cake is very striking and would look beautiful on your Easter table. I also think it would make an adorable birthday cake for a little girl's "Sunflower and Ladybug's" party.
I get excited when I see fresh asparagus standing tall in the produce department at the grocery store. It tells me spring is almost here. Although fresh-from-the-garden asparagus probably won't be available around here until sometime in June, I know that when spring hits the produce department it won't be long before we actually feel that season in northern Minnesota. Now, that's something to celebrate.
I've been blanching, steaming, sauteeing and roasting asparagus for the last week. I've discovered I love having blanched asparagus in the refrigerator. I can grab a spear and nibble on it just the way it is or dab it into some of the roasted red pepper and garlic hummus that I whip together in my food processor and store in the refrigerator for a healthful snack.
Asparagus with Hazelnut Crumble is a quick-to-make dish that takes advantage of blanched asparagus. On a recent evening I melted some butter in a saute pan. When it was hot, I added some minced shallot (because I had some in my little garlic basket on the counter) and cooked it just until tender. Then, I added blanched asparagus spears and kept shaking the pan back and forth so that the spears would be totally coated with butter.
"Hi, Mom. Can I have your recipe for rice pie?"
"You mean Nan's recipe? I've always made Nan's recipe."
"OK, then can I have Nan's recipe for rice pie?"
"What for, your ba - log?"
"Yeah, I want to do a post on Italian Easter pies."
"Ooh, isn't that nice, honey."
"So, do you still have the recipe?"
"Yeah, first you start with -- "
"What, you found the recipe already?"
"Aaaa-y I've been makin' rice pies for so many years, I know it by heart. First, you start with 2 dozen eggs, then you add --"
From the L.A. Times
Every spring as a kid, I reveled in the same Easter basket filled with
store-bought candy that all of the other kids in the neighborhood tore
into: plastic eggs stuffed with foil-wrapped, peanut butter-filled
chocolates, marshmallows machine-molded into pink bunnies and yellow
chicks, and jelly beans nestled with tiny, speckled malted milk eggs in
whorls of green plastic grass.
But somewhere along the path to adulthood, I realized my basket could be so much more.
No doubt fueled by the memories of those toothache-inducing mornings,
I've since become an avid candy maker. It's no wonder then that Easter
– nearly as synonymous with candy as Halloween – now signals the time
to skip drugstore sweets and celebrate old-fashioned candy making at
This year, I've decided to make three of my favorite candies for our Easter baskets: sugar-dusted marshmallows, cream cheese mint straws and hand-dipped chocolate eggs with almond butter centers.
When I think of Easter, I think of pies. Not chocolate bunnies, marshmallow peeps, or colorful Easter eggs, but delicious Italian pies, especially ricotta.
Growing up, my mom always prepared a traditional and labor intensive Easter dinner. In truth, she could have skipped the whole thing and just served her pies. In the week before Easter Sunday, our house became a dairy. The shelves in the second refrigerator in our basement sagged from countless dozens of eggs, pints of cream, pounds of butter, and tubs of ricotta cheese needed for our pie production.
Although it can be made year-round, ricotta pie (torta di ricotta) is an Italian cheesecake that is especially associated with Easter. There are many regional recipes for ricotta pie, some savory and some sweet. Savory versions usually include meats and additional cheeses, while sweet pies are typically flavored with citrus, nuts, and chocolate.
When I called my mom for her recipe last week, I learned that it was Nan's and that it had a storied past. "Nan was the first person in the family to use pineapple instead of citron in her ricotta pie. And boy were her sisters jealous!” I had no idea Nan was a baking maverick.
Easter in our house, a tiny hovel on the east side of Kansas City, Missouri, was always fraught with tension generated by my Mother.
She was not used to entertaining and on holidays we hosted my cousin, a Jesuit priest, for Sunday dinner. We usually did Turkey and Fixings’. Mama would get up in the middle of the night to put the big Tom turkey in the oven.
No wonder by dinnertime it was dry and tough. But she made pretty good gravy and it was the most requested part of the meal. “Any more gravy, Irene? My, my! That sure is fine gravy! Please, pass the gravy!”
The moistening effect on the dry turkey was just what was needed.
Calling Vermont winters “long” is like saying I have “salt-and-pepper” hair. My hair is gray, the winters are endless, and even the craggiest New Englanders start to get a little squirrelly once Christmas is over. This situation is exacerbated by something called, “the January Thaw;” a cruel, meteorological joke which, somehow, allows the weather to warm up sufficiently for a couple of days to melt all the snow.
This sends giddy people who ought to know better, rushing onto the roads in jogging shorts and into their yards to chip golf balls. Then 48 hours later, another storm thunders in, the temperature plunges below zero and everyone slinks back inside to retrieve their long underwear from laundry baskets and fire up their wood stoves.
Around Valentine’s Day, however, we start to get indications that liberation, in the form of an actual spring, is on the way. Even though it’s still so cold the air is blue, seed catalogs being arriving in the mail. Next, we read in the paper that the Red Sox are heading to spring training. Soon we’ll actually be able to see them running around on the field down in Florida if a nor’easter doesn’t knock out the satellite dish.