Saturday, March 22, 2008

Thoughts for Easter

No, not those thoughts. Not the deep ones of light searing the darkness, life triumphing over death. I'll save those for church tonight and the festal celebrations tomorrow. Right now I'm engaged in the other sort of Paschal thinking, the sort that is to do with lists and last minute errands even though I thought I'd planned so well. (How is it 3 dozen eggs really isn't enough for one simple celebration?) What I do not have to think about, too much, is the menu. For the last several years it's been pretty much the same thing for the simple reason that once I hit on the crowd pleasing combination, why mess with it?

The guests who join us for Easter are in our home for other feasts throughout the year, feasts where we mix it up. They know what we can do. But Easter is one of those feasts which, for us, is a liturgical menu ...what we always eat.

My darling Kimberly Ann was sniffing around for some Easter inspiration. As I've waited until Holy Saturday to write anything it may be too little too late but here's our menu, with a recipe or two.

For aperitif we're having green olives and peanuts. I admit, this one is being phoned in a little this year. Usually there is a clever bruschetta or something. But we are also having people in for brunch in the morning and a girl has her limits.

Other than the cocktail hour, there aren't going to be any courses. We'll just have a big ol' family style dinner, the centerpiece of which will be what we all lovingly refer to as the BAH, the Big Ass Ham. The Spouse will be in charge of this beauty and the recipe, with nary a variation is straight out of Martha Stewart. The glaze is delicious.

Accompanying the ham will be these mind-blowing and marvelous biscuits:

Molasses Biscuits

2 c. all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 T. packed brown sugar
½ t. coarse salt
1 T. baking powder
¼ t. ground ginger
¼ t. ground cloves
1/8 t. freshly ground pepper
6 T. unsalted butter, chilled and cut in to pieces
¼ c. plus 2 T. milk
¼ c. molasses
1 T. heavy cream, for brushing

Preheat the oven to 375° with rack in center. Sift together flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, ginger, cloves and pepper. Using a pastry blender cut in butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

In a small bowl, whisk together milk and molasses until completely combined. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture, and add the milk-molasses mixture.

Using a fork, stir the mixture until it almost comes together. Gently bring the remaining smaller bits together with fingertips. Transfer dough to a very lightly floured surface, and pat into a flattened circle about 6 inches in diameter and ¾ inch thick. Cut dough into rounds with a 2-inch cookie cutter. Gently press the excess dough together, and cut several more biscuits. Gently press the remaining excess dough together one more time, and cut one more biscuit.

Transfer biscuits to a parchment-lined baking sheet; generously brush tops with cream. Bake until golden brown, 24-26 minutes. Place biscuits on a wire rack to cool slightly.

Recipe makes 10 biscuits. I strongly recommend you double or even triple the recipe if you are serving more than 4 people. Seriously. I don't lie about these things. Or make little mini-biscuits but even then, they will be inhaled so be prepared.

There will be two casseroles on the table, the classic green bean and a potato dish. And yes, I'm making the green bean casserole you're thinking of and go ahead and smirk if you wish, because they all did the first Easter I served it. Guess what is never left over?

I do make a few changes to the standard recipe. In the first place, I don't use tinned beans because that's just evil. Rather, I substitute a 24 oz. bag of Trader Joe's frozen haricot vert, cooked and drained. I also like to chop and saute a cup or so of crimini mushrooms, just to add a little more character to the dish.

Another regular feature of the Easter board is a roasted beet salad. The Spouse does not care for beets. I don't know how this particular fact escaped the vetting process before we were married. I might have made a different choice.

I adore beets and invented this in their honor. It is particularly pretty if you can find different colored beets but Easter came too early this year so I'll be using regular ol' sweet beets.

Roasted Beet and Orange Salad

2-3# beets
4 oranges
1 t. Dijon mustard
rice wine vinegar
extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 450°.

Trim beets if they still have greens, leaving on about 1 inch of stem. Poke beets a few times with a skewer and place on a baking sheet. Place in oven and roast until tender but not soft. (I can't give you a time because it depends entirely upon the size of your beets. The ones I'm roasting at the moment are mammoth so I'm not even going to check them for at least 40 minutes).

When done, remove beets from oven and allow to cool thoroughly. (You can do this a day ahead if you want).

While the beets cool, zest all the oranges, setting aside the zest. Peel the oranges. One at a time, holding the fruit over a bowl, supreme the oranges. (This is nothing more than slicing the flesh away from the membrane, section by section. The oranges will look like jewels and it's not at all difficult). When you have finished removing the fruit, give the membrane a good squeeze to get any remaining juice.

When beets are cool, peel off skins and slice (or cube) the beets.

For the dressing, whisk the Dijon into the orange juice. Add 1/4 c. rice wine vinegar and whisk in enough olive oil to emulsify dressing. Taste and adjust seasoning.

If using one kind of beet, toss the sliced beets in the dressing and arrange on serving plate. Lay supremed oranges over beets and drizzle with remaining dressing. Sprinkle with orange zest.

Salad may be served cold or at room temperature.

Note: if you are using multi-colored beets, toss each color in the dressing separately, leaving the darkest beets for last. If you toss everything together it will all look like the red beets and then what was the point of buying different colors?

Note 2: Sometimes I add a chiffonade of basil, if you can get your hands on some fresh. Otherwise, don't bother.

Have I forgotten anything? Oh, of course, dessert.

Easter dessert is typically a non-chocolate affair. No one notices. The Neighbor always brings a boisterously rich triple coconut cream pie from one of Tom Douglas' restaurants. I counteract all that richness (if only in theory) with a lemon curd tart. This year I'm going to try and decorate it with some violet confit that Nicole gave me last summer. It is, quite simply, a pot of violet jam. She had no idea what I'd use it for, she just thought it was pretty. It is. It smells quite strongly of violets (which is the loveliest of perfumes but perfume is the operative word) but the taste is much more delicate. (Don't ask me how they did that. Those French). I'm thinking of piping little beads of the confit around the edge of the tart or maybe even attempting violet-like flowers. But I'm not really handy with a piping bag so it will probably be beads or strips or swirls or something. But the pale purple against the deep yellow of the curd should be very pretty and spring-like, I think. Which is the point.

So that is what we are having and now, if you'll excuse me, I still have to start the dough for hot cross buns and prep the casseroles so I can have a good long Easter nap after brunch tomorrow.

Happy Easter!

1 comment:

Buck said...

Your beet & orange salad sounds much better than one I had. It was called "Fruity Beety" and it was pretty much just beets and oranges. Cute name, though.