Tag Archives: Easter

We Went Casual

This Easter was a little different than usual.  This year we were on a hiatus from our traditional Easter extravaganza with a group of old friends.  I am the sort of person who enjoys tradition, repetition, routine, predictability.  I like knowing that from year to year, I can count on certain things to remain the same.  But life is about change, and sometimes things do get shaken up a bit.  That’s just how it goes and I learn, little by little, to embrace that.

So this year, we were writing our own script.  It was a family Easter this year.  And I thought that since we usually have a vegetarian Easter, why not make this one a little meatier?  One thing I knew I could not do without was well-paired wine, courtesy of my local wine merchant, Larry.  He put as much care into selecting the two bottles for this year as he does for the case I usually buy for Easter.  Something I decided I could do without was cooking all day, which isn’t my cup of holiday tea, so to speak.

So we went casual.  An extensive tray of charcuterie, a duck and cognac pate, an array of cheeses, olives, cornichons, slices of baguette, mustard, and quince paste for the first course, with a bottle of Malbec.

For the next course, a simple roasted chicken and a chard and onion panade, with a bottle of Pinot Gris.  My nephew loves chard, so this panade was for him.

And Sissy made devil’s food cupcakes with ganache frosting for dessert.

In this meaty feast, this pivot from our usual delightful vegetarian Easter fare, who would have guessed that the vegetables would steal the show?  The chard and onion panade was hot, fragrant, and hearty.  The combination of deeply caramelized onions, broth, bread, and cheese was reminiscent of French onion soup, but much more substantial.  The ribbons of chard were tender, but chewy, adding a bit of texture to the soft tangle of golden onions and pillowy, brothy bread cubes.  The panade could easily stand alone as a main course, needing nothing but a crunchy salad to complete the meal.

This dish did require about an hour of active cooking before slipping it into the oven to bake peacefully beside the chicken.  For a holiday meal, that’s a pretty good time investment.  It’s not too bad for any lazy Sunday afternoon either, when you can enjoy the cooking process, then go curl up on the couch with a book and wait for the rich smell wafting from the kitchen to envelop you like a comfortable afghan.

Chard and Onion Panade

(adapted from the Zuni Café Cookbook)

  • 1 1/2 pounds (about 2 large) thinly sliced yellow onions
  • olive oil
  • 8 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • Salt
  • 1.5 lbs Swiss chard (about 3 bunches), thick ribs removed, cut into 1-inch-wide ribbons
  • 10 ounces day-old hearty bread cut into rough 1-inch cubes
  • 3 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock for vegetarian version)
  • 8 ounces Gruyère, coarsely grated

In a large sauté pan, drizzle onions with enough olive oil to coat.  Add garlic and a generous pinch of salt.  Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until onions are golden and caramelized, but without any browned edges-about 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place another large sauté pan over medium heat. In three or four batches, drizzle chard with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.  If chard is dry, sprinkle on some water.  Steam chard until wilted but still bright green—3 or 4 minutes per batch.

In a large bowl, toss the bread cubes with a few tablespoons of olive oil, about ½ cup of the stock, and salt to taste.

In a flameproof, 3-quart casserole or skillet, assemble the panade in layers: onions, bread cubes, chard, cheese, repeat, topping with a handful of bread cubes.

Bring the remaining stock to a simmer and taste for salt. Add stock slowly around the edge of the dish to about 1 inch below the rim.

Set panade over low heat and bring to a simmer.  Cover loosely with foil, and place in oven with a cookie sheet on the rack below to catch any drips.  Bake for about 1 ½ hours, or until hot and bubbly.  Uncover, increase temperature to 375 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

Serves 4 as a main course or 8 as a side dish

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On The Other Side Of Lent

At Easter, one of my friends asked me what I planned to do about meat now that Lent is over.  “I don’t know,” I answered.  “I still don’t know what’s going to happen.”  I side-stepped the question, really.  With that group of friends, I could have talked the rest of the evening away on this one uncomfortable topic. 

I gave up eating factory-farmed meat for Lent.  I knew that I could do it for that limited time, and I hoped to use the time to step back and gain some perspective on the issue, but also to break the habit of saying yes, so I could start fresh. 

And I did it.  Given the fact that Catholics don’t eat meat on Fridays during Lent anyway, I probably didn’t inconvenience Michael all that much more than I already would have.  Once or twice I did suggest an alternative restaurant, when he wanted to go somewhere where I knew I would crack, like Mr. Gyros.  He took it with good grace, and mostly, I was able to choose a non-meat alternative wherever we went, without undue suffering.  It turned out that when I stopped before automatically ordering the meat option, I usually ended up with something just as good.  Shrimp Tikka Masala, Veggie Pho, beans instead of chicken in my burrito—they all tasted just fine. 

Of course, I still ate meat at home, and at Michael’s house too, because I already kept both places supplied with ethically raised meat and eggs, so that was business as usual. 

It was at other friend’s houses, as I knew it would, that things got tough.  I just didn’t feel ready to declare myself, and didn’t know what to say if I did.  I was able to unobtrusively avoid the pot roast at one dinner.  Filling up on vegetables wasn’t so awful, really.  I fretted in advance of a dinner party a girlfriend gave.  Should I say something?  Should I just eat the salad?  Would she be offended if she noticed?  In the end, it all worked out fine and I had plenty to eat without calling attention to myself. 

But here I was, on the other side of Lent, without a time-limited resolution to fall back on.  So now what?  What happened next was this.  On the Monday after Easter, we returned from our weekend on the coast.  I dropped Michael off at his place, and picked up some take-out Pho on my way home.  With thin-sliced beef.  Oh, it was good.  I was off the wagon and it tasted great!  

Okay, I gave myself that freebie, but I still want to continue to avoid factory-farmed meat.  I’m willing to compromise to the extent necessary for good manners at friend’s homes, but I’m also going to speak up where appropriate and just explain that I’m mostly vegetarian now.  I’ll probably make the occasional exception at restaurants–let’s be honest here.  But I know what I want to do and I know now that it’s possible for me to do it.

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Camping Out

It’s funny how we get used to the effortlessness of maneuvering in our own kitchens.  It’s so much easier to cook in my own domain, where my hand reaches out without thought, without even my even having to look really, to find the colander or the right knife, or a spice.

As I’ve mentioned, we spent Easter weekend in Long Beach on the Washington coast with friends.  Michael and I had our own cute little funky beach cottage with a fireplace, a deck, and a kitchen.  All of the required elements of a kitchen were technically there—sink, refrigerator, tiny stove, and a rudimentary supply of tableware, pots, and pans.  We brought all of the food we expected to need with us from Seattle, and a few must-have kitchen tools like Pyrex lasagna pans and the corkscrew.  But for the most part, we decided to be adventurous, to camp out, and use the kitchen items that were there.  Items that we did not bring included, but were not limited to: Michael’s calphalon egg scrambling pan, good knives, big red wine glasses, salt and pepper, cloth napkins, and a microwave.  Yes, we were roughing it, but it was fun.  Michael called on long-buried Boy Scout skills to produce eggs and bacon under pioneer-type conditions.  I managed to set off the smoke alarm while using the oven.

On Saturday afternoon, we assembled two lasagnas from our friend Rob’s recipe.  We would take these over to the big townhouse our friends were staying in to bake them for dinner.  One was a vegetarian lasagna with wild mushrooms, and the second one had a meat sauce and thinly sliced circles of Italian sausage.   I was glad that Michael had made the marinara in advance, at home.  I managed to soak the dried wild mushrooms, and to sauté the fresh mushrooms without too much difficulty.  I was temporarily stumped by the instructions in the lasagna recipe to let the ricotta sit and warm up for a while.  Nothing was going to warm up in our damp, frigid cottage kitchen.  Finally, I was inspired to place the tubs of ricotta on an ottoman directly beneath the one wall heater in the living room and crank the heat up.  Success!  This was my first experience with no-boil lasagna noodles, and I was very impressed.  It’s a lot easier to spread thick ricotta cheese evenly on a crisp, dry noodle than on a slippery freshly boiled one.

We wrapped the lasagnas with aluminum foil, donned our foul weather gear, and drove the 100 yards or so, through a monsoon-level deluge, to the big house.  There, all was light and warmth, and kids running around, and music playing. We uncorked a few bottles of red wine and relaxed while the lasagnas cooked.

Rob’s Lasagna

  • 2 lbs. of whole milk ricotta (1 big 32 oz tub, in other words, none of that part skim bullshit)
  • 1 lb of whole milk mozzarella (the fresher the better), thinly sliced.  I usually cut it into 1/4ths before thinly slicing for reasons that will become apparent later on.
  • 1 1/4 cups of nice import parmesan or pecorino or mix (you know cheeses)
  • 1 box of no-boil lasagna noodles (not much overlapping with this, but it should be fine), or alternately, you can use fresh noodles.  You’re basically making four layers of noodles in a 13×9 inch pan
  • 1 metric ton of marinara
  • Wild mushrooms, of whatever abundance you desire, cooked up like Jamie Oliver’s wild mushrooms for risotto.  http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/risotto/grilled-mushroom-risotto
  • (Alternately, you can make little meatballs of ground beef, and cut up some nice sausage for the layer and use a meat-based sauce in general)

Start with thin layer of sauce in the pan, then put a layer of noodles.  For the no-boil noodle this meant about three sheets of noodles per layer.  I do two horizontal noodles, one vertical per layer, and alternate the position of the vertical noodle for every other layer.  An HTML geek would think in terms of ALIGN=LEFT or ALIGN=RIGHT, pretending the vertical layer was an image and the horizontal were text.

Put 1/ 4 of the ricotta on top of the noodles.  This stuff doesn’t spread easily cold, so you might just leave it out for a little bit before starting this recipe.  Then you put 1/4 of your wild mushrooms on top of the ricotta.  On top of that, put your thinly sliced mozzarella such that you get nice coverage.  It’ll melt into gaps, so don’t fret too much about it.  Then put a cup of sauce on top of that.  Then you put 1/4 cup of grated up parmesan on top of that.

Basically repeat that last paragraph 3 more times.  Noodles, ricotta, mushrooms (or meat), mozzarella, sauce, parmesan.

On top of that last layer of sauce, you’re going to add one last layer of noodles, then another layer of sauce (a cup or so, like before), then add the last 1/4 cup of the parmesan cheese to make the crust.  If I have leftover parmesan, I sort of go to town on top, because you’re just making that nice crust of cheese, and is too much really too much?

Oven to 350, cook it for an hour and 10-30 minutes.  You basically want cheese melted and slightly browned on top and sauce bubbling in the sides of the pan.  Check on it as it’s cooking and if the cheese on top is browning too quick, then cover it up with aluminum foil.  I’ve even used a meat thermometer before just to make sure it was hot in the middle.

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We drove south from Seattle to Long Beach Washington last Friday, through driving rain and high winds that blew the car sideways with every gust.  Water covered the road in places, and pine trees lashed back and forth wildly like palm fronds in a hurricaine.  My shoulders ached from the effort of holding the car in its lane for three hours.

The trunk of the car was well-nigh packed with food.  Two coolers full, and a box of non-perishables too, because we would be spending the holiday weekend in a little beachside cottage, making breakfasts, sharing dinners with the friends we would be meeting there, and even engaging in a bit of yogurt making.  There was no way I would leave our meals to the mercies of the local grocery store, Sid’s IGA.  So the car was full of the really important things: fresh farmer’s market eggs, Niman Ranch bacon, a couple of cheeses, coffee, fruit, all of the ingredients for our Saturday night lasagnas.  And a case of wine, a bottle of Aperol, and an all-important bag of hand percussion instruments.  I knew Allyson’s car would be similarly stuffed with food and musical instruments.

It was a lovely weekend, with time to rest, to eat leisurely breakfasts with Michael, to run on the beach, and to attend Easter mass.  I made yogurt with Summer, and sat at the kitchen table watching Summer and Allyson cook, helping a little here and there.  We all came together at the table for food and wine and to all talk at once.  And the music!  Tobin, Jeremy, and Allyson rocked out in the evenings.  But mostly, it was wonderful to just be in the presence of some of my favorite people.

Allyson and Summer care about food and it shows.  They produced an Easter dinner that was a fitting end to the austerities of Lent.  The meal was served in courses.  I don’t know why we don’t do this more often instead of gobbling an entire meal at once; when courses are served separately I can really taste each dish, notice its nuances, and savor specific flavors and textures.

We started off with Garlic Soup with Tortillas, Avocado and Lime.  The soup was light and fresh, with a surprisingly delicate broth.

Then followed the salad, made from Tobin’s homegrown lettuce, radishes, and Creme Fraiche Citronette dressing.  Crunchy!  Tangy!  Good!

The vegetable course consisted of Roasted Asparagus with Garlic, and Baby Artichokes with Lemon Vinaigrette.  I had spent an enjoyable twenty minutes or so during the afternoon, trimming the artichokes with scissors, so I felt a special pleasure in this course.  But I wasn’t the only one.  The artichokes, having gone soft in their bath of lemon and garlic, were the delight of all.  We dipped the leaves in butter and scraped and sighed at what Michael dubbed “hand grenades of buttery goodness”.

We were slowing down a bit by this point, but rallied for the Buttermilk Strata with Portobello Mushrooms and Leeks–a hearty, warming dish that would be equally good at a Sunday brunch.  With all of these courses, we had a panful of cheesy, peppery biscuits.

And finally, we rounded off a perfect meal with a poem of a dessert, that Easter institution, Lemon Cake.  Even I, an avowed cake skeptic, like this cake.  It’s as rich and dense as a pound cake should be, with the zing of lemon juice to brighten it to an almost impossible level.

On Monday morning, Michael and I pointed the car back toward Seattle.  And as I drove into the rain, I chewed over the satisfactions of the Easter holiday again in my mind, savoring them.

There are rhythms to life, to the passing of the seasons, and to the liturgical year, with its quiet ordinary time, the solemn waiting of Advent and Lent, the building anticipation of Holy Week, and the feasts of Easter and Christmas.  So too, there are the traditions we make for ourselves– rituals that mark the passage of time in our friendships, our families, our communities.  And there are those connections that are woven deep into our hearts, a bright golden thread inseparable from the very fibers of the soul.

Oh happy Easter, when the ties that bind us tighten just a bit, just enough to draw us back together, gently, gently.

Summer and Allyson’s Easter recipes came from Fresh Food Fast, by Peter Berley.

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