Spring & Easter
Way back in March of 1990 I started making a cheesecake from a recipe that I clipped from an issue of the Brainerd Daily Dispatch. It's called Absolutely Sinful Chocolate Grasshopper Cheesecake. Its pale shade of green comes from the addition of green creme de menthe. I've always enjoyed serving it as a perfect dessert for a St. Patrick's Day celebration.
Over the years I've made little changes to the recipe. It was always sinful, but now it's mortally sinful.
Light and creamy with a hint of mint on a crunchy chocolate crust and smothered with a chocolate topping that stays soft even after chilling in the refrigerator, it's a little like Jello -- there's always room for it, even after a big meal. It's not too sweet and not nearly as rich as it sounds, making it a great go-along to a late-night cup of coffee.
I love soccer so I get really excited when I go to visit my dad in London where it’s soccer season all year long. England as you probably know has an undying passion for the sport, they treat it less as a game and more as a way of life. For example, on a sold out night at Emirates Stadium after Arsenal scores the crowd collectively expenses 100 times the world’s energy output for a day in the 30 seconds after the goal. Like baseball or basketball in the US, football in the UK permeates the culture – it’s everywhere. It has both a light and dark side, and can go from having fun with your mates to total warfare very quickly.
Spring break senior year, two months before I graduate from NYU is not exactly a vacation even though I went to London to visit my Dad. It’s more like preparation for my final senior project, a focused study amalgamating EVERYTHING I’ve learned up ‘til now, split up by small breaks of art, shopping, and of course, food. Basically, stress oozed out of every pore the entire ten days. I tried doing yoga; I tried going for runs; I tried a few breathing exercises, and sure, all of that helped, but there’s really only one thing that hit the spot: chain restaurants.
As Spring slowly arrives in Maine and the snow stubbornly retreats, I push back the compost covering my rhubarb patch that has been growing for as long as I can remember. The day is sunny and kinda’ warm, what that means around here is, the mid fifties.
The air smells alive, the birds are flying happily and my rhubarb is poking through the winter protective covering. With the spring rain it will grow at lightning speed and keep growing as I madly pull at it to make many Spring and early Summer treats.
In my house this is the first pie of the year and the first food out of our garden, making us dream of what pies lie ahead, small sweet strawberries, fragrant raspberries and mounds of wild Maine blueberries. But today we “make do” with rhubarb....
From tomatoes to tiaras, Southerners are notorious for celebrating a crop with a beauty queen. There's Miss Vidalia Onion, Miss Georgia Peach, Miss Georgia Peanut, Miss Sweet Potato and my personal favorite Miss Jiggy Piggy.
Ok, I know there is no such thing as a crop called 'jiggy piggy' but these pageants are are always followed by a festival of fine food. Miss Jiggy Piggy represents the Pig Jig in Vienna, the biggest barbeque festival in Georgia.
I read a lot of newspapers from all over, even a lot of local newspapers and whenever I see a picture of a girl with a tiara on her head holding long stem red roses my eyes get big and my mouth starts watering.
In many homes on Easter Sunday, a succulent ham shank, crusted with brown sugar and mustard, is brought to the dinner table glazed and bubbling, surrounded by creamy scalloped potatoes. This will happen again in just a few days in many homes, but not mine.
Ham has never been part of the Easter meal tradition at my house. Growing up with a German-Czechoslovakian father meant every holiday dinner involved a roasted loin of pork, crusted with flavorful caraway seeds and softball-sized dumplings to soak up the drippings from the pork and lots of creamy sauerkraut.
After I got married, though, I discovered ham and scalloped potatoes. I tried to learn to prepare a moist ham and creamy scalloped potatoes. But, I almost always wound up with dry ham and curdled potatoes. I gave up and went back to the familiar pork dinner that I was more comfortable with in the kitchen. My favorite guy missed the cheesy scalloped potatoes, but adapted well to the more German-style Easter meal.
There are many different Lenten practices between Ash Wednesday and Easter that include fasting, abstaining from eating meat, or simply giving up a favorite food like chocolate or ice cream. Over the years, the tradition of fasting or eating Lenten foods has become less strict. But in my family, we almost always observed Lent by eating pasta on Fridays. Cabbage and noodles or pot cheese and noodles are some popular Lenten dishes for Hungarians. Pasta makes a good choice for a Lenten meal, because it's filling while also being humble.
When I was a kid, my favorite Lenten dish was my mom's walnut noodles, which consisted of buttered egg noodles sprinkled with ground walnuts and a little powdered sugar. The same dish can also be done with poppy seeds. I really liked the sweet and nutty taste of the dish because it's almost like having dessert and dinner all rolled into one. So for Lent this year, I decided to upgrade the dish and add a few twists to make it a bit more rich in flavor and texture. And instead of wide egg noodles, I use springy Italian pasta for some fun.
|Since Easter is all about sweets, we like to ask our friends and family to bring a dessert to Easter dinner. Here's some of our favorites.|
Along with the first calls of the loons, the chirping of birds, the bright sunshine and the earthy fragrance of the woods, comes my desire for pound cake. Most years, these signs of spring in northern Minnesota coincide with Easter.
This year, though, snow still covers the grass around my house and it's cold enough outside to warrant a warm jacket. But even an Easter with no sign of spring in sight does not prevent my thoughts from turning to the tantalizing aroma of a baking pound cake wafting through my kitchen.
Every year, during the week before Easter, the pound cake season begins. Using the best butter I can buy, lots of eggs, flour and sugar along with my favorite flavorings, I bake at least one cake in an old cast-iron lamb mold that has been handed down to me through generations of use in my dad’s family. I nibble my way through pound-cake season as I bake that same batter in a bundt pan and serve it with clusters of fresh grapes or topped with fresh strawberries. I cut generous chunks from the cakes and wrap them up tightly in clear plastic wrap to share with friends.
Dear SOS: Whenever I get out to L.A., I have to stop at Auntie
Em's Kitchen in Eagle Rock for a cupcake fix -- specifically, for a
coconut cupcake with coconut cream cheese frosting. It's a miracle of a
baked good. Do you think you could get the recipe for a Bostonite who's
stuck on the East Coast dreaming of this confection?
-- Jenny Sawyer, Boston
Dear Jenny: This billowy coconut cupcake is pretty irresistible. The cake has a hint of almond and a light buttermilk tang. There's tender, shredded coconut baked into the cake too. And the frosting -- it's a cream cheese frosting with butter mixed in, airy and creamy both, finished with a sprinkling of more shredded coconut on top. This one's for you, Bostonites.
In a true southern kitchen, Coca-Cola is not only found in the refrigerator, it's also found in the pantry. You are more likely to find a few cans of Coke stashed with the flour and sugar than you are to find a bottle of balsamic vinegar. We marinate ham with it, make barbeque sauce out of it, add it to baked beans and even bake cakes with it.
I have been convinced for years that someday I will be discovered by a Coke executive in a hotel at 5 am, as I am standing by a Coke machine in my pajamas, or what I refer to as my 'almost pajamas,' a line of clothing I am going to design someday for those of us who start our day wandering around the halls searching for a Coke machine. It would be a perfect commercial.
I am not a fan of cake. I like chocolate cake but prefer to eat the chocolate that goes into the cake as the flour and butter do nothing but dilute the chocolate. Why waste the calories on the other ingredients when you can instead, just eat more chocolate?
My mother is a terrific cook, but she never made cakes. She would buy those dry, tasteless cakes with the icky icing from the grocery store and put some candles on it and that would be my birthday cake. When I got older she found an elderly lady who lived next door to my grandmother who makes a pretty good chocolate cake even though I was never too thrilled about it.
As Easter fast approaches I get excited at the prospect of having a houseful of friends and family that have been fasting for the last 30 hours that I can lovingly overfeed!
When my Grandmother came to America in 1914, all her recipes were stored in her head. As she settled in a small town in Maine, she had a tin knocker make a set of baking pans for her food. I was lucky enough to have these handed down and we fill them every Easter just as she did.
My sister and I cook non-stop for 2 days, then we start decorating the house. The olives need marinating, the eggs have to be dyed and polished, the cookies need to be baked and dusted with confectionary sugar, the lamb butterflied and bathed in wine and herbs. We are busier than santa’s workshop!