April 19, 2009

Easter Orphans - A week after the fact

Easter has always held a very special place in my heart.

On my mother’s side of the family, this is a big family holiday. When I was young, it came complete with all the usual trappings, including a special outfit, Easter eggs and baskets, the Easter egg hunt, and – best of all – a very large Easter dinner.

Growing up, Easter dinner was almost always an Easter ham, potato salad, baked beans, some sort of veggie and bread. This was a tradition that I very much took for granted my first year at college, when I had no plans to go home and then broke down at the very last minute.

And I mean that literally. I was a crying, desperate mess making last minute arrangements to get home for Easter. I simply could not fathom *not* being home for Easter. In my books, it would be almost as bad as not going home for Christmas.

After that first year at college, my Easter traditions began to change. I spent an Easter with my paternal grandmother and her side of the family enjoying time with family I don’t get to see as often as I would like. Then I moved to DC, where getting home to see family became harder since I was an underpaid staffer on the Hill trying to make ends meet in a city that eats your paycheck before it’s even in your bank account. It was while I was living in DC that I began my own Easter tradition.

Easter Orphans Dinner.

And lest you start thinking that I’m some sort of noble soul hosting actual orphans, let me set the record straight.
Easter Orphans is a dinner I host for friends who, like me, can’t go home for Easter Dinner. And when you live in DC, there are a lot of people in very similar situations.

My first Easter Orphans Dinner did not feature my family’s traditional menu. Instead, I served a Tex-Mex feast of chicken enchiladas and assorted other goodies. In subsequent years, I
served the traditional menu, but I also hosted an Easter brunch whose center piece was the mimosa bar.

This year’s Easter Orphans Dinner was actually brunch for supper, featuring a mix of recipes from my family’s Bed & Breakfast days and new-to-me recipes from Ina Garten’s “Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics” cookbook.

Oh. And mimosas. Mimosas are a must when it comes to brunch, even if it’s a brunch served at supper time. An absolute must.

First up on the menu was an Easy Quiche we served our Bed & Breakfast guests. The recipe is uber-easy and relies upon Bisquik rather than a pie crust. Add some eggs, cheese, sour cream, assorted spices and your choice of filler, and you’re all set. Following my waste-not rule, I used the cheddar and smoked apple chicken sausage already in the fridge as the key flavors in the Easy Quiche. I was a little worried that the smoked apple chicken sausage would be weird, but it turned out just fine. And the cheddar complemented the apples and vice versa.

But more to the point of my whole cooking challenge, I used two new recipes from Ina
Garten’s “Back to Basics.” First off, let me just tell you that I want to make everything in this cookbook. Even the fish dishes, and I *hate* fish. For Easter weekend, I settled for tackling two recipes.

ctually, I feel like I should say I tackled three recipes. “Back to Basics” has two tomato-based soup recipes. One of which was more complicated than the other. The other of which used fresh tomatoes.

Being somewhat lazy and not having five pounds of tomatoes on hand, I went with the easier recipe, but used canned tomatoes as described in the more complicated recipe. The easier recipe had the added benefit of being Creamy Tomato Basil, a soup I love, love, love.

Essentially, you sauté an onion and couple of carrots in olive oil. I added two cans of Hunt’s Diced Tomatoes and one can of Hunt’s Fire Roasted Tomatoes in place of the five pounds of fresh tomatoes. Add chicken stock, fresh basil, salt and pepper; simmer for 30 minutes or so; add heavy cream; and then blend it to a smooth consistency. The easier recipe said put all through a food mill. I don’t own a food mill. So I just put the soup through the blender in batches.

Et voila! A Creamy Tomato Basil Soup to die for. I will never buy the pre-made stuff again. Well, unless I’m really freaking sick and can’t even contemplate putting one foot in front of the other, let alone making a soup that requires the use of a knife and blender.

The tricky part of the meal was the stupid warm goat cheese salad I made. Lawd!

The recipe made it sound so simple. Goat cheese wrapped up in some bread-crumb dusted phyllo dough.

Yeah. Whatever.

First off, I used the wrong type of goat cheese since the recipe called for a wheel and I used not-wheel goat cheese. Second, I put too much bread crumb between the layers of phyllo dough.

It looked pretty enough, but it wound up being too dry and not cheesy enough.
Oh well. You can’t win ‘em all. The spring greens with champagne vinaigrette (store bought) that accompanied the warm goat cheese were lovely though…

Dessert was an ever so simple Strawberry Shortcake. I love making Strawberry Shortcake. Any recipe that is easiest to make by simply squishing the ingredients together with your hands gets big points in my book. And smishing strawberries together with a touch of sugar doesn’t get any easier or yummier. The shortcakes were made using the super, duper, top-secret Bisquik recipe that you’ll find on the side of the box.

And yeah, in case you haven’t noticed, I like Bisquik. So does Paula Deen.
If you care to suggest alternatives to Bisquik, feel free to do so. Just know that I’m not very likely to listen.

And that was this year’s Easter Orphans Brunch for Supper Dinner. I made a big mess, had a great meal with fabulous company, and managed to walk away from the day with no injuries.

Definitely a success so far as I’m concerned.

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