This is going to be a monster post. It is going to take me awhile. In particular due to a culinary-related injury.
My take home lesson from Easter 2010: do not operate a mandoline 2 minutes after getting out of bed.
Nah, it’s cool. Here’s the thing: Easter is the best day of the entire year. For my whole childhood (and my mom’s generation before me) my wonderful grandparents, the best host and hostess on earth, would host EPIC Easter parties- every year, more than 100 people would overflow their house, reveling in their hospitality and, of course, unbelievable food.
This Easter was special for several reasons:
1. It was the day of my cousin’s first wedding anniversary, and four days before both my mom and my uncle Tom’s birthday (more on that later!)
2. It was so unbelievably perfect outside I’m sure my grandmother was interceding from the afterlife. Sunny, breezy, blossoms EXPLODING into bloom.
3. The whole religion thing! My current status in life has meant both that my lack of employment and things to do and my search for a future direction in life led to me logging some serious pew time at church this Lent. Easter felt really special.
Kind of funny- every Orthodox church in the world does the same Easter Sermon (it’s absolutely beautiful) and- so appropriate for me- there is a food reference!
both you who have fasted
and you who have disregarded the fast.
The table is fully laden;
The calf is fatted;
let no one go hungry away.
Enjoy the feast of faith;
receive all the riches of loving-kindness.
Anyway. The special, dramatic, meaningful Easter service takes place at midnight. And our church is a long drive away. So I went to bed at 2:30 or 3. I of course woke up at my usual times (6, 7, 8) but forced myself to stay in bed til 9:30.
And then I came down to the kitchen, pajama-clad, muttering “Must cut carrots” in a robotic voice, et voila.
Moving on. The, THE, essential Greek Easter ingredient? Lamb. My friend Eireni (Christos Anesti, love!) is a vegetarian… 364 days of the year.
I used this intensely delicious recipe for sun-dried tomato and herb stuffed leg of lamb. Yes! You getcher lamb:
We use Costco brand boneless leg. Then you unroll it, and trim off some but not all of the fat (gotta keep it moist as it cooks!), and then the fun part: mallet whacking!
Made the super yummy filling (I just slightly altered it by using homemade multigrain dried bread crumbs)
Smeared it on my whacked-out lamb…
Rolled it, twined it, and put it on some spuds to roast!
Like I said, the lamb is a big deal. So we made ours. Then my aunt Dena and Uncle Louie brought a roasted one. Then my uncle Fred brought a grilled one. Then my sister’s godmother Joanne brought another one. Gee, dyou think we have enough lamb?
Some of the spread :D
And the lamb-fatted spuds, mmm.
I wish those pictures were better. I guess my camera just isn’t used to taking pictures of meat and potatoes!
Wait, here we go—plants!
I got maimed for it, but the mandoline did produce some beautiful carrots (and I didn’t bleed on them, fortunately, although we got hysterical planning what we’d tell the guests- “Yes, as a symbol of the Resurrection, Ileana has shed blood on all the food today”).
This Moroccan-Greek hybrid recipe for carrot salad is from Mediterranean Cooking (in my Favorite Recipes page) and is fabbbbbbbbbbb and beauuuuuuuuutiful. You slice up the carrots and quick cook them (she said either pressure cooker or microwave- I microwaved them for about 5 minutes total, stirring in between. Apparently this makes the beta-carotene more bio-available, whoo!).
Then you make a dressing which includes the carrot steaming liquid, caraway seeds, harissa, cider vinegar, and olive oil. Plate with olives and feta. Flippin’ gorgeous!
2 pounds of carrots and hardly any leftovers :D Considering this one a triumph.
Oh God, these. The
beans banes of my existence.
I had this whole vision of making baked giant (gigante) beans we ate in Greece. So we’re at the Greek store and I see a bag of dried beans that looks similar. So I buy those, and then just as a precaution Google their name, “Lupini beans”.
NOT. THE. SAME. DO. NOT. BUY. You have to soak them for EONS in water, changing the water CONSTANTLY (which made me feel horribly guilty- I punch people for leaving the water running when they brush their teeth!). But wait, there’s more!
Apparently as a “traditional snack”, you shuck off the outer husks, revealing the bean below. I think they look like fetuses.
But I am not making my guests spend their Easter shucking beans! So I did it. For hours. I think I have a very very specific form of carpal tunnel.
But anyway, I made the Greek variation of Mark Bittman’s bean salad (in Favorite Recipes) with fresh mint (from the farmer’s market!), red onion, garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil.
Ended up looking and tasting okay. Yikes!
Ooh, much greater bean success! Another from Mediterranean Cooking: Lentil-Black Olive Puree. Also Moroccan-Greek blend!
You cook lentils until super tender, adding a splash of brandy for the end of the cooking time (can you tell what big drinkers we are by the dust-covered, almost-completely-full brandy bottle?!)
Then cook up some pitted wrinkly kalamata olives with whole garlic cloves, the lentil cooking liquid, red pepper flakes, and rigani (oregano :D I’m a snob)
It makes a jammy paste.
Which you then puree with capers, lemon juice, olive oil, and anchovies.
I served it in this awesome triple dipper with store bought labneh and taramosalata. SO good.
Since she’s been gone, we’ve tried to include some kind of tribute to my grandmother in our menus for family events. This year, we hit up the farmer’s market and spotted some gooooorgey watercress. My grandmother looooooved watercress- she made yummy salads and intensely amazing rolled tea sandwiches with watercress and BACON. Mmm mm mm. Anyway, I made a salad with watercress, shaved fennel (again, props to that dangerous mandoline), oranges, and a homemade shallot-dill-lemon dressing.
With the veggie dishes I did, I made a conscientious effort to make the menu seasonal! Yes, Greek salad with tomatoes is delicious- in August. Today, I wanted to celebrate the bounty of spring! I think I pulled it off nicely :D
The Greeks always do red eggs for Easter. It’s just the rule. And you go around challenging people to whack their egg against yours. Whoever’s egg doesn’t break wins. This continues until there is just one winner. My uncle Louie takes this VERY seriously.
I loved having the whole gigantic family over for dinner, and I reallllly love that everyone brought food! The basic math is 1:3; three people will bring enough food for 9; 4 enough for 12; etc.
My aunt Kathy brought beets (bliss!)
And beet greens.
Like most families, we are divided into beet lovers and haters. I am firmly, firmly in the lover camp.
Also, fabulous homemade spanikopita.
And, from her fave Mediterranean store, pickled turnips (SO great and horseradishy!) which we plated with our beloved baby eggplants. I deliberately didn’t crop this all the way because you can see Kathy’s signature toe ring :D
When she called to ask if we needed anything, my Aunt Georgia said “It’s Spring, so I’ll bring something artichokey!”. This arrived. Bliss. Must get recipe!
And her mom, my great aunt Rose, brought tiropita, a cheese and phyllo concoction of bliss.
Along with koulourakia and kourambiedes!
My aunt Dena brought kalidopita, which is kind of a Greek spice cake, garnished with those dangerously delicious chocolate malt eggs.
So on the topic of desserts: remember the birthday and the anniversary I brought up earlier? Is that cake batter I smell?
Mmm yes. I had a birthday cake vision: I wanted a jam cake like this. But I loved the idea of a cake with buttermilk, my current favorite baking ingredient, and one that fit in my eight inch pans. So I used this cake recipe and iced it with jam (I also remembered that the anniversary-eers had had at their wedding one year ago an intensely awesome raspberry wedding cake! I wanted to evoke it)
Tip from my grandma, cake baking champ: use the butter leftover on the paper the sticks are wrapped in to grease your pan. I did cooking spray on the edges and bottom but once I put on the wax paper I used real butter on top:
In went the
yummy batter (obviously I would never risk raw salmonella that way… *cough*)
And out. PERFECT! The last time I made cake the center collapsed and it ended up with me flipping out and throwing things.
If anyone wants a good, simple, moist, nicely-crumbed, cake recipe, this is it!
I love, too, that Cooking Light gives really clear instructions in their recipe- for example, I know there’s a science to how flour gets incorporated, and it was nice to specifically hear how to add the dry ingredients and the buttermilk alternately, starting and ending with flour.
I had a temporary heart attack when I was rereading the directions about when to take the cake out of the pan to finish cooling and noticed I’d been supposed to flour the pan! But they came out like a dream. It must’ve been the butter trick. Thanks Grandma :D
I wish I were better at taking pictures, cause my sister did a gorgey job of decorating the cake. But here tis:
Man it was yummy.
Look, Barbara gives it 5 stars!
Anyway, there was scads more food, but I got caught up with guests and whatnot, and couldn’t possibly get everything! Our friend Ellen was nice enough to offer to take my picture tableside, to get a feel for the general splendor
Those flowers in the center of the table are pussy willows from the farmer’s market. Aren’t they beautiful?!
Here’s a plate.
To call it “my plate” would be a lie. The whole TABLE is my plate. In my family we are PICKERS. Everything is finger food :D Do have to make a special shoutout for Dena’s manestra- the orzo dish, center. It’s traditional to make lamb with either potatoes or manestra- clearly we did both, cause we’re awesome and love carbs. The funny thing is, most of the year I think orzo is slimy and weird but for Easter, all rich and coated with lamb drippings and tomatoeyness? Heaven!
A note on decor: matching furniture is for squares. We go for a mad-tea-party type look. And also everybody spilled out onto the deck (the weather was gorgeous, and it’s where the wine was :D).
We try to bring out the Greek linens. Isn’t this beeyootiful?
And yeah, we all just soaked up the day. Gee I sure hope we had enough food, *sarcasm sarcasm sarcasm we have enough leftovers for, likely, the entire month of April*
Still, my sister’s boyfriend seemed hungry enough to eat her arm…
Also, Greg and Louie had some troubling reactions…
Aw man I love my fam.
Happy Easter everybody!