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Easter gatherings bring a chance for hope and happiness | WHIDBEY RECIPES

Of all the holidays of the year, Easter is the one most associated with hope and happiness. Whether or not you attend church, temple or services of any sort to mark the day, it’s basically about rebirth and a confirmation of life.

In my large extended family, Easter was almost a mandatory family get-together day, one we all tried our best to be present for, even if we had to travel some distance to make it happen. The last Easter my father was alive was two years ago, and the family gathered at my aunt and uncle’s home. More than 20 were present, ranging in age from 100 (my dad) to 2, with four generations represented.

When I think back to so many previous Easters, I realize that there are no unpleasant memories associated with this holiday. We’ve had many a family squabble, many a disappointment during other events, but I can’t think of even one associated with Easter.

Oops, I have to take that back; there was one semi-disaster the year I rose very early and hid two dozen decorated hard-boiled eggs outdoors around our house. My then-husband, not knowing I’d done this, let our big old Saint Bernard out for a morning ramble and he, always hungry, found and ate all but one or two of the eggs. No colored eggs for the kids’ Easter baskets that morning, which was not easy to explain considering they were very young and very excited about the Easter egg hunt they’d anticipated for days.

I briefly considered telling the kids that Brandy, our beloved dog, had accidentally eaten the Easter Bunny before he left their baskets (I was really angry with Brandy at that moment), but that obviously would create only more tears, and they loved that dog too much to make him the evil one.

But now, even that memory brings only smiles, however, and after all these years it has become part of the treasure chest of those “remember when” events that we all create and share when families gather.

We could all use a huge dose of hope and happiness these days, and my hope for all of us is that this coming Sunday, whether or not you call it or celebrate it as Easter, will be a day full of happiness (along with some fine food, perhaps?).

RECIPES

I’m not sure which I enjoy more, Easter brunch or Easter dinner. Here are some suggestions for either one; you provide the family and friends.

Can there be an Easter without hard-boiled eggs? Make your deviled eggs a bit more special by adding crab — fresh crab whenever possible, but canned if necessary.

CRABBY DEVILED EGGS

8 large hard-boiled eggs, peeled

3 T. mayonnaise

1½ T. chopped fresh tarragon

1 T. minced shallot

2 t. fresh lemon juice

1/8 t. (pinch) cayenne pepper

¼ t. hot pepper sauce

8 oz. crabmeat

Tarragon sprigs for garnish (optional)

Cut eggs in half lengthwise. Scoop out yolks. Place yolks from 4 eggs in a bowl, reserving remaining yolks for another use. Mash the yolks with a fork; mix in mayonnaise, tarragon, shallot, lemon juice, cayenne and pepper sauce. Mix in crab. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Mound the crab mixture in the cavity of each egg half (about 1 heaping T. in each). At this point, you can cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Place eggs on a serving platter and garnish each with a small sprig of tarragon, if desired. Makes 16 deviled eggs.

What could be tastier than sausage and eggs? This dish is great for an Easter brunch (and it’s easy to make and take, if that’s what you need) with fresh fruit as an accompaniment, but it can also serve as a fine Easter dinner, with a green salad and warm, crunchy bread.

EASTER EGG & SAUSAGE CASSEROLE

1 lb. Italian sausage, casing removed

½ cup chopped shallots

2 cloves garlic (more if you like), minced

½ cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and chopped

4 T. chopped fresh parsley or cilantro

5 large eggs and 3 large egg yolks

1 cup half and half

1 cup whipping cream (come on; it’s a special day)

2 cups grated mozzarella cheese

½ t. salt (or to taste)

Preheat oven to 375 and butter a 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Saute the sausage in a nonstick skillet over med. heat until brown and cooked through, breaking it up with a fork into small pieces, about 10 min. Add shallots and garlic; sauté 3 min. Add tomatoes and 2 T. of the parsley; stir 1 min. Spread the sausage mixture in the prepared dish.

Whisk eggs and yolks, half and half, cream, 1½ cups of the cheese and salt in a bowl, blending well. Pour egg mixture over sausage mixture, sprinkle with remaining ½ cup cheese and 2 T. parsley. Bake until top of casserole is golden brown and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean, about ½ hr. Let stand 5 min. before serving. Serves 8-10 depending on serving size.

Whether for Easter brunch or Easter dinner, there must be at least one spectacular dessert, and this one is it, featuring a rosy rhubarb glaze and fresh strawberries, a perfect springtime treat.

RHUBARB GLAZED STRAWBERRY-COVERED MASCARPONE CHEESECAKE

For the crust: 1¼ cup graham cracker crumbs

2 T. sugar

¼ t. ground cinnamon

¼ cup melted unsalted butter

For the filling: 1 lb. cream cheese, room temp.

1 cup sugar

1 lb. mascarpone cheese, room temp.

2 T. flour

6 large eggs

1½ t. vanilla

1 T. fresh lemon juice

2 t. grated lemon peel

Pinch of salt

¾ cup sour cream

For the glaze: 4 cups of ½-inch pieces of fresh rhubarb

8 fresh, ripe strawberries, hulled and halved

¾ cup sugar

2/3 cup plus 3 T. water

2 T. fresh lemon juice

1½ T. cornstarch

For strawberry top: (See note below) 1/3 cup seedless strawberry jam

1 T. fresh lemon juice

1 basket (16 oz.) fresh, ripe strawberries, hulled and thinly sliced lengthwise

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Spray a 9-inch diameter springform pan with nonstick spray. Mix crumbs, sugar and cinnamon in a bowl; add butter and stir to blend. Press mixture evenly on bottom of pan (not on sides). Bake until crust is set, about 10 min. Cool completely. (Leave oven on.)

Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese and sugar in a large bowl until smooth. Add mascarpone and beat until smooth. Mix in flour. Beat in eggs one at a time. Mix in vanilla, lemon juice, lemon peel and salt. Pour into pan. Bake until cheesecake is puffed around edges and the center moves slightly when pan is gently shaken, about 1 hr. (the center may fall and crack a bit). Turn off oven and leave cake in the oven with the door closed for 1 hr. Transfer cake to a rack and cool completely. Stir the sour cream until smooth and spread on top of the cake. Refrigerate cake overnight.

Make the glaze: Combine rhubarb, strawberries, sugar, 2/3 cup of water and lemon juice in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat and simmer until rhubarb is tender, about 9 min. Remove from heat, cool 10 min. Pour mixture through a strainer set over a 4-cup measuring cup, pressing on solids to extract 1½ cups liquid. Return this to the pan, bring to a simmer over med. heat. In a small bowl, whisk together cornstarch and the 3 T. water to blend. Add to liquid in saucepan, whisking constantly until mixture boils and thickens, about 6 min. Pour glaze into a small bowl; chill until cold (about 2 hrs.) Spread glaze over cheesecake and refrigerate up to 1 day.

When ready to finish/serve cheesecake, combine jam and lemon juice in a small saucepan; bring to a simmer, stirring over med. heat until jam melts. Remove from heat. Arrange sliced strawberries in concentric circles over the cheesecake top. Brush with the melted jam mixture. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Makes 10-12 servings.

 

Note: If you wish, you can slice the fresh strawberries for the topping, as indicated, and simply place them on the top of the rhubarb glaze and refrigerate, skipping the extra glaze of the jam mixture.

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