Tag Archives: Easter

Nothing Says Spring Like Strawberry Pie!

It’s been a long time coming, but I think it might finally be spring. Sure, the bulbs aren’t exactly bursting with blooms, but I do see some daffodil buds and tulip shoots. The crocuses are out, so that’s a start. And the trees sort of look like there is some growth…sort of?!?!? Anyway, I’ll take it. It’s spring. And nothing says spring more than strawberry pie.

I’ll admit strawberry pie is not you’re most common. Sure, there’s strawberry rhubarb, which I’m sure is quite delicious. However, strawberry, with its sweet, bright red filling, and buttery, flaky crust just says sunny skies to me. So, for Easter, it was the perfect addition to the table.

To start, I use my standard pie crust recipe. You may remember it from Thanksgiving. You want a top and bottom crust for this recipe. As a side note, I had the chance to roll out the dough on my new granite counter tops…WOW! What a difference. The cold, hard surface made it a breeze to roll out dough. Definitely a plus for the new kitchen!

Roll out the crust for the bottom about an inch larger than your pie plate. Spray a 9 inch pie plate with cooking spray and carefully line with the crust. Rest the crust lined pie plate in the refrigerator while you roll out the top crust. You want the top crust a little larger than the pie plate so you can create a seal and crimp.ready to rollrolled outready for fillingFor the filling, you’ll need 4 ½ cups fresh strawberries, hulled and cut into quarters. In another bowl, combine 1 ¼ cups sugar, 4 tablespoons cornstarch, a pinch of salt, and 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon. Combine with the strawberries, and pour into the bottom crust. Dot with 4 tablespoons butter and cover with the top crust.slicingstrawberriessugar and spiceready for combiningready for piefilledTo seal and crimp, cut the edges, leaving about half an inch of overhang from the edge of the pie plate. Fold both crusts over the top so it creates a nice edge around the entire pie. Pinch the edges to crimp. You can do this in a decorative fashion; however, sometimes I just prefer the rustic look. Cut a few slits in the top for ventilation too.coveredcrimpedFor a shiny top, that also adds a delicious sweetness and crunch, cover the crust with 1 teaspoon ½ and ½ (or milk will do) and sprinkle 1-2 teaspoons sugar. It is my secret to a delicious crust, and I do it for all of my pies.making the crunchy toppingBake in a 425 degree oven for 40 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the juices are bubbling. I put the pie plate on a foil lined cookie sheet just to catch any overflow of the juices. And if the crust gets too dark, just cover with a piece of aluminum foil.ready for the oven

So, my next tip, don’t throw away that left over pie dough. Roll it out, brush with 1/2 and 1/2 or milk, sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar, and cut into strips. Bake on a cookie sheet in the same oven for about 10 minutes until golden. These cinnamon-sugar treats are absolutely delicious, and it lets you see just how flaky and perfect you made that pie crust! It’s definitely the perfect snack for the cook.doughcinnamonsugarslicedbakedperfectionIf you’re looking for a pie to make, or just craving something sweet, or something fruity, give this one a try this spring or summer. It is absolutely delicious and just screams warm weather!

Baklava for Easter!

When I was younger, I can remember going to my Aunt Antoinette’s for Easter dinner. While I don’t remember most of what she served those days, I do remember what she had for dessert one year. She had a whole tray of delicious baklava. If you’re not familiar with baklava, it’s a delicious, sweet, sticky, nutty Greek dessert. From that first amazing bite, I was hooked!

A few years later, while perusing my latest Martha Stewart Living magazine, I was thrilled to see the recipe in April 1996. There was a story about a Greek Easter, and this was one of the desserts shown. I excitedly made the recipe and proudly brought it to my Aunt’s that year for Easter. Of course, it was a huge hit, and ever since then, this has been a go-to recipe for me. It’s not very difficult to make, but it’s so impressive to serve, not to mention delicious!recipeTo start, you’ll need 1 pound phyllo dough. Phyllo is a super thin pastry. It’s sold frozen, usually in 1 pound size boxes. It’s usually right next to the puffed pasties and other desserts. Allow the dough to defrost completely before using it, otherwise the paper-thin sheets will stick together. phylloYou’ll also need 3 cups finely chopped walnuts, almonds, or a mix of the two. I generally just purchase chopped nuts and throw them in the food processor for a few seconds. It easy, just be careful not to run the food processor too long or you’ll make nut butter. To the nut mixture, add 2 teaspoons cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon cloves.

walnutschoppedspicesThe other component you’ll need is butter. Melt 2 1/2 sticks butter. I know it’s a lot of butter, but it’s worth it. The butter will be the glue to hold all of those layers of pastry, nuts, and spices together.buttermeltedBrush a 13×9 glass baking dish with the melted butter. Lay 1 sheet of phyllo flat in the buttered dish. Brush that sheet with butter, then add another sheet of phyllo, and brush that sheet with butter. Keep doing this until you have 7 layers of phyllo and butter.readybrushinglayers

On top of the 7th layer, sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the nut and spice mixture. Then top with another sheet of phyllo covered in butter. Top with another sheet of phyllo, and sprinkle another 2 tablespoons nuts and spices. Continue with phyllo, butter, phyllo, nuts, phyllo, butter, phyllo, nuts, until all of the nuts are used. Make sure you save 7 sheets of phyllo for the top. When the nuts run out, top with the 7 sheets with butter in between, similar to what you did to the bottom. Top the last sheet with butter.nuts and spicesdonealmost readyOnce the baklava has been assembled, score the top into diamonds. You only need to go 1/4 inch down, not all the way through. Bake the baklava at 350 degrees for 40 minutes until golden brown.scoredgoldenWhen the baklava is cooked, combine 2 cups sugar with 1 cup water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to a simmer and continue cooking for 3 minutes. Pour the syrup over the baklava and allow to cool completely. The baklava soaks up the syrup making it sweet, sticky, moist, and wonderful!sugarboilingpouringready to eatIf you’ve never had baklava, you need to give it a try. And it makes the perfect dessert for Easter! It’s what we’ll be having on Sunday. Happy Easter everyone!

My Easter Dinner-Herb Rubbed Lamb Chops with Mint Pesto

Since yesterday was Easter, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to talk about what I made for dinner.  I know for many people, the traditional dinner for Easter is ham, but in my family, it was always lamb.  Don’t get me wrong, I love ham.  And we always had it on Easter, but it was for breakfast.  My grandmother would bring one every year to Easter breakfast (and Christmas for that matter), but dinner was always lamb.  Even though there were only two of us this year for dinner, I figured I would make lamb chops once again.

RubMy favorite way to cook lamb chops is to roast them in the oven.  I often times cook them with herbs and olives, but this year I decided to try something a little different.  I gave the chops an herb rub the night before and kept them in the refrigerator overnight.  I then roasted them and topped them with a fresh mint pesto, perfect for a spring recipe.  For this recipe, I used shoulder chops.  You could certainly substitute the smaller chops, or even a leg of lamb, although the cooking time will be different.  The shoulder chops were nice and big, and full of flavor.

Chopped and ReadyTo start, take 4 garlic cloves, 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and 1 teaspoon dried oregano, and add them to a food processor or chopper.  I prefer cooking with dried oregano.  I find the fresh just doesn’t have the same flavor, although it is one of the very few herbs that I prefer dried.  Spin those ingredients together until finely chopped.  I then add the juice of 1 lemon and 1 tablespoon of olive oil.  Give it one Lamb Marinatingmore spin, and you’ll have a nice rub.  Smear evenly over 3 lamb chops, about 8-10 oz each.  I just put the chops with the rub in a plastic bag and threw it all in the refrigerator overnight.  You don’t need to do this the night before, but the flavor does penetrate well when you have it marinating for a while.

When you’re ready to cook the lamb chops, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Add the Lamb Chops Cookedchops to a pan with 1/2 cup white wine.  I used a 9 x 9 square glass Pyrex dish, but you can use whatever works for your chops.  And you may be wondering about the white wine with lamb, but it’s what I had on hand.  If you prefer red, by all means, use it. The chops will roast for about 20-30 minutes, although check them after about 15 minutes.  You want them to be pink inside.  Once you take them out of the oven, let them rest a few minutes.

Mint PestoMeanwhile, make the pesto.  Add to the food processor or chopper about 1 cup loosely packed mint leaves (I bought a 3/4 oz package and it was perfect) and 1/4 cup walnuts.  Blend these until finely chopped.  Add 1 tablespoon olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.  That’s really it.  You can certainly adjust the quantities if you prefer, but you want a fresh, bright taste to go along with the lamb.

I hope everyone had fantastic food this weekend.  The perfect weather we had also got me excited for more spring and summer foods. Can’t wait!

Better Late Than Never…Getting the Table Ready for Easter!

I don’t know about you, but I feel like April is flying by.  I couldn’t wait for the warmer weather and sunshine, and now that it’s here, I feel like I’ve missed the passing of 2 weeks in the blink of an eye.  It’s already Easter on Sunday.

FabricLast summer, I got the idea of making a runner for my dinning room table out of patches of seersucker fabric.  I thought it would work well for the summer, and brighten up the dining room a bit.  I went to my local fabric store, and, sure enough, they had NO SEERSUCKER!  Unfortunately, at this point, I had it in my mind and there was no changing courses.  Eventually, they finally found a few colors, but I was really looking for reds, blues, greens, and yellows to highlight the colors of summer.  Sure enough, I finallyCutting found the colors, in November!  The good news was, I had plenty of time to sew a runner, right?  Wrong!  Even though I purchased the fabric then, I haven’t done anything for it until last week, when I thought it would make a good addition for Easter and spring.

Now, I have to admit, I am not a good seamster (again, I had no idea what the male version of seamstress was, but I looked it up…and this seems to be it).  I can barely sew a straight line, but, with the help of a sewing machine, I can usually get by.  I originally envisioned an elaborate patchwork of colors, but I quickly realized that was going to be well beyond my incredibly basic skills.  Instead, I settled for a Sewingsimple runner of 1 foot squares, alternating colors and directions of the lines.

To start, I cut 2 14 inch squares of fabric in green, red, blue, and yellow.  Actually, my nephews cut…I brought in some help for this one.  Then, I simply placed the fabric back to back and sewed a straight line across.  I alternated the directions of the stripes,Bad Side and I sewed the green to red, red to blue, blue to yellow, yellow to green, green to red, red to blue, and blue to yellow.  This made one long strip.  One thing to note, you want all of the “bad” sides on one side, so you have one clean side with no visible seams.

Next, I had to sew together some strips of white for the backing.  If you have a long enough piece of fabric, just cut it to size, about 98 inches by 14 inches if you sew everything with a 1 inch Ready to Sewborder.  I, of course, did not sew everything with a perfect 1 inch border, so I just patched the white together until I had a piece as long as the seersucker piece.

Once you have your similarly sized strips ready, you want to line them up with the good sides facing each other.  Basically, you want the seams for the seersucker piece and the seams (if you have any) for the white backing to face out, so you have the smooth, pretty pieces facing in.  The reason for this is you’re going to turn the whole thing inside out once it’s done, putting the clean sOpeningides on the outside.

Once it’s lined up, and I did pin it to make sure it stayed together, you want to sew a 1 inch border all around, but leave a few inches open at the bottom.  To do this, start sewing maybe midway on the skinny end, then go all the way around the whole thing, leaving a 1 inch border, and stop when you get maybe 3 inches from where you started.  Now, cut out any excess fabric that is along the sides that you don’t need.  This isn’t imperativeTurn Inside Out, but it helps to make a clean finished product.  Then, reach in through that little 3 inch opening you left, grab the other end, and pull it through.  This will take some adjusting to get it looking nice, especially with the corners, but it’s pretty easy to do.

Now that the good sides are facing out, you can smooth it out and iron it so that the edges are nicely creased.  That’s it.  I know it Ironingmay sound complicated, but it’s really pretty easy, and I love how summery the seersucker fabric looks, especially with the colors.  I added to the table some white egg holders and a white bowl and filled both with plastic eggs.  I think it turned out pretty good.

Oh, and just to prove that I’m really not good with the sewing, you’re supposed to now hand sew the opening you pulled the fabric Openingthrough.  Instead, I just fold it under and hit it really good with the iron.  As you can see, there’s still an opening, but the great thing is, no one will ever know…well…at least no one besides you! 🙂

I hope everyone has a wonderful Easter, or is having a wonderful Passover!  And I hope you’re having great spring weather, where ever you are, too!  Enjoy!

More Spring Produce with Braised Artichokes

As I told you earlier in the week, I love the produce that starts appearing in the spring.  While I went on and on about sugar snap peas, another one of my favorites is artichokes.  Maybe you’ve never had them outside of the jarred hearts, which, don’t get me wrong, are delicious!  I know the whole artichoke can seem intimidating…those sharp edges, tough leaves, and you probably wonder “what do I even eat?”  But if you take a little bit of time, and prepare them right, they can be delicious.

cut off topsBraising is simple, basically searing something off on the stove, then finishing it simmering in some sort of liquid.  Usually it’s reserved for meats, and they can be delicious.  The searing gives you great color and flavor, and the slow simmering in the liquid results in tender, juicy meat.  Definitely a keeper.  But this time, I’m take a similar approach, but with the artichokes.  They cook in a garlic, lemon, white wine sauce that really brightens the flavor and makes a great vegetable.

ChokeFor this recipe, start with 6 artichokes.  Because they discolor, you’ll want a bowl with acidic water.  This will also be used as braising liquid.  Take 3 lemons, and first, zest 2 of them.  You’ll use the zest later.  Then cut all 3 in half, and squeeze the juice into a big bowl.  Add some cool water.  You don’t need a ton of water, just enough to cover the artichokes.

The next step is cleaning.  Because the cleanedleaves are very tough, you need to clean them so you only end up with the more delicate interior leaves.  If you’ve ever eaten stuffed artichokes, you know you can’t eat the outer leaves.  The principle still stands for these.

Start by cutting about an inch ofin lemon waterf the entire top of the artichoke.  Just cut straight down.  Now start pulling off the leaves.  You really want to take off a lot.  You need to get to the delicate, yellow, almost white inner leaves.  It will seem like you’ve taken too much, but you’re fine.  And don’t worry, if you find that you haven’t taken enough off when you start eating, just cut off any tough leaves and don’t eat those.  Once the outer leaves are removed, take a peeler and peel along the stem to remove the tough skin.  Cut the artichoke in half, and, trust me, you’re almost done, remove the choke.  This is where the artichoke gets its name.  In the middle of the inside is a fuzzy choke.  You need to grab a spoon and just scoop it out.  It comes out very easily.  Once that’s done, just drop your 2 halves in the water.  Continue cleaning until they are all in the water.

cookingOnce the artichokes are clean, mince 3 cloves garlic.  Heat about 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat in a saute pan large enough to hold all of the artichoke halves.  Add the garlic and 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes.  Feel free to add more or less red pepper flakes depending on if you like a little heat.  Saute for a minute until the garlic gets some color.  Add the artichoke halves, cut side down, to the pan.  Cook for a minute or two, then add 1 cup white wineit's doneLet the alcohol cook off, then add 1-2 cups lemon water (this is the water the artichokes were soaking in).  You want the water to come about half way up the artichoke halves.  Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.  Bring the liquid to a boil, then lower to a simmer.  Cook, covered, for about 15 minutes, until the artichokes are soft when pierced with a knife.  Remove the lid, raise the heat to high, and boil for about 5 minutes to tighten up the sauce a bit.

parmigianoTo serve the artichokes, I plate them and spoon over some of the sauce.  Sprinkle the reserved lemon zest and about 1 tablespoon chopped chives.  I also like to add some shaved Parmigiano cheese.  It works really well with the artichokes and lemon.

These artichokes make a really nice side dish, and it’s the perfect time of year to enjoy them.  They would make a pretty good addition to an Easter dinner too.  Hmm…I might have to adjust my menu for next week!

A Perfect Dessert for Easter, Martha’s Coconut Crunch Cake

So, can you tell I’m getting ready for Easter?  Last week I wrote about making Easter bread, and this week I’m thinking about dessert for Easter.  For me, Easter screams coconut.  I’m a huge fan of coconut, in any form.  I love coconut eggs, coconut cream pie, coconut shrimp, anything coconut.  A woman who I used to work with made the most amazing coconut cake…I’ll have to write about that sometime!  Anyway, so, when I was flipping through the April edition of the Martha Stewart Living magazine, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I stopped at the Coconut Crunch Cake!

Flour MixtureThis coconut cake is different.  It has a coconut flavored cake-like layer on the bottom, but with a soft and chewy coconut topping.  Covered in chocolate sauce, it is an amazing dessert that reminds me of a reconfigured coconut cream egg.

To start, whisk together 1 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, and 3/4 teaspoon salt in a bowl.  In a liquid measuring cup, mix 1/2 Cream of Coconutcup cream of coconut (as a side note, this stuff is amazing and I can eat it straight out of the can with a spoon) and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.  If you have trouble finding cream of coconut, it may be in the Hispanic section of your grocery store, if you have one.

Next, with a mixer, beat 1 stick softened butter and 1/4 cup coconut oil (in solid form, do not melt) on medium-high speed until smooth.  Add 1 cup sugar anBatterd beat until fluffy, 3-5 minutes.  Add 3 eggs, 1 at a time, beating and scraping the sides after each addition.  Finally, with the mixer on low, add the flour and cream of coconut mixtures alternatively.  Starting with 1/3 of the flour, then add 1/2 of the cream of coconut, then flour, coconut, ending with flour.  Beat until just combined.  The cake batter is now ready.

Seperating EggsMake the topping by beating 2 egg whites with 1/8 teaspoon salt in a mixer until thick and frothy, about 1 minute.  Stir in a 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract.  Fold in 3 cups sweetened shredded coconut.

Butter and flour a 10-inch spring-form pan.  Spread the batter evenly in the pan.  Top with the coconut topping and carefully Ready for the Ovenspread to make it even.  Bake on a sheet pan at 350 degrees for 1 hour, or until a toothpick comes out with just a few moist crumbs.  You may need to cover with foil if it is browning too quickly.

For the chocolate sauce, I doubled the recipe.  What can I say, I love chocolate.  For the original recipe, heat 1/3 cup heavy cream and 1/4 cup sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat until the sugar Chocolate Sauce Pre-Shotdissolves, and the mixture is close to boiling.  Pour the cream mixture over 4 oz chopped bittersweet chocolate and 2 tablespoons butter.  Make sure the mixture is in a heat-proof bowl.  Stir until smooth then add 2 teaspoons vanilla extract.  This is a delicious chocolate sauce, so don’t worry if you have leftovers.  To serve, slice the cake and pour the chocolate sauce on top!

If you’re thinking of something sweet and different for Easter, and you love coconut as much as I do, this is a great pick!  Give it a try this year, and way to go Martha…it’s a great recipe!Chocolate Sauce

With Easter Around the Corner I’m Making Easter Bread!

Loaves of Easter BreadSome of my favorite things about holidays are the customs and traditions that people keep.  They may be very new, or they can go back for generations.  They can involve any number of different rituals, but, thankfully, many of the traditions center around one of my favorite topics, food!  That is certainly the case in my family…it’s all about the food.  For Christmas, there is the fish dinner (Feast of the Seven Fishes), for Thanksgiving, there’s holiday soup (Italian Wedding), and for Easter, there is always Easter bread (spianata)!

RecipeSweet breads are very common around the holidays.  Many cultures have their own versions, but this one is an Italian Easter bread.  Flavored with vanilla and anise seeds, it’s a great breakfast treat.  There are many different recipes, some more light and bread like, others more dense and cake like, but they are all delicious.  For this one, I used my Mommom Phil’s recipe.  As you can imagine, in my Mom’s recipe box, she has a ton of different recipes (Mommom Phil, or Philomena, being my Dad’s Mom), and this one is more cake like and makes about 6 loaves.

ProofingTo start, mix 1 envelope yeast with 1/2 cup warm water and 1 tablespoon of sugar.  Let this proof for a few minutes while you mix everything else.  Using a mixer, cream together 1 stick softened butter and 1 1/2 cups sugar.  Add 6 eggs and continue to mix.  Add 1/4 cup vegetable oil, 3/4 cup warm milk, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1 teaspoon anise seeds, and the yeast mixture (make sure that the yeast mixture has bubbled up and you no longer see the individual yeast seeds).  Mix everything until combined, then add about 2 1/2 lbs flour (about 9 cups).  Mix until a dough Mixing Doughforms.  You may need to add an extra cup or two of flour so that you have a dough that you can knead.

Dump the whole thing on a floured surface and start to knead.  You want the dough to be smooth and consistent.  This won’t take long.  Once it’s ready, pour a little bit of oil in a large bowl and swirl the ball of dough in the oil, then turn it over.  This way the dough is covered in oil, including the top.  Cover the dough with a piece of plastic and a towel (because that’s how my Mom and RisingMommom do it), and set the bowl in a warm place to rise.  I put mine right next to the radiator.

After a few hours, the dough should have doubled in size.  Take it out of the bowl and divide it into 6 equal portions.  This is always the tough part for me…equal portions.  Shape the pieces into loaves and place in greased loaf pans.  You’ll want to again cover these and set them in a warm place to rise.  I let them rise another hour or two.

Loaves RisingThese loaves bake at a very low temperature, 250 degrees.  They’ll take about 50 minutes to an hour.  You want them to be very light in color, but just cooked through.  You can tap on them to see if they sound hallow, or just use a toothpick to make sure they’re cooked all the way through.

This Easter bread, or spianata, is perfect smothered with butter, or you can do it the old school way like my Aunt Elvira and pour a little bit of olive oil on it.  Either way, it makes a great breakfast, especially on Easter Sunday!