Gang Activity

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Easter was a group effort this year in DC, with friends gathering at the communal table and sharing their best celebratory dishes to serve with a cognac-marinated leg of lamb. We were too hungry to get a lot of photos… but can absolutely testify to the tastiness of everything.

The menu:

Slow-Roasted Leg of Lamb. Marinated in cognac, garlic, marjoram, thyme and onions, the main course was an improvization based on recipes for Spanish lamb and Greek slow-roasted lamb from MoVida Rustica and Gourmet Magazine, respectively.

Whipped Celeriac and Potatoes with Caramelized Onion and Leeks. While the potatoes and celery root boiled, we caramelized onion and leeks in lots of butter for last-minute incorporation into the whipped root vegetables.

Asparagus, Feta and Couscous Salad. Mateja kept the Mediterranean theme going with this fresh and light salad, modifying the dish with the addition of chopped red onion, more asparagus, plum and balsamic vinegar, and a blend of dried herbs.

Carrot Salad wth Parsley and Mint. Elizabeth treated us to this crisp and delicious salad, perky with white wine vinegar dressing.

Kathryn’s Homemade Biscuits. We rewarmed these tasty risen biscuits right before serving. Recipe from King Arthur Flour’s Baker’s Companion.

Roasted Tomatoes with Sumac and Marjoram. The twist here: The tomatoes were tossed in a specialty olive oil from New Zealand that exuded buttery goodness.

Feta-Phyllo Torte. This savory pastry from the New York Times never fails to impress. We substitute ricotta for the cottage cheese and load it up with thyme and marjoram, in addition to the dill.

Green Deviled Eggs. Inspired by Dr. Seuss, these greenish eggs packed a spicy punch.

Potica. As per tradition, Mateja brought her famous Slovenian walnut bread. (A recipe for the Croatian version is here.)

Strawberry Marscapone Tart. A Gourmet confection with a lightly sweetened layer of marscapone cheese, whipping cream and vanilla covered by glazed fresh berries.

Raspberry Frangipane Tart. Gourmet provided the recipe for the frangipane base, which, once baked and cooled, was covered with glazed raspberries.

Eastover Offerings

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Easter Eggs 2012 (photo Three Points Kitchen)

A dinner companion the other evening recalled his childhood in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, where dishes for the Passover seder were prepared by the housekeeper. Like a scene out of The Help, she’d then turn around and make the family’s recipes, like  kugel, for her own church suppers, calling it Easter dressing.

It was the perfect anecdote for a weekend with a mashup of the Jewish and Christian calendars that people in the New York region had taken to calling “Eastover.” Around these parts, gatherings for either Passover or Easter invariably include friends and relatives of varying religious backgrounds.  So the table this Sunday included recipes that recognized both holidays:

  • Lois’ Mother’s Matzo Ball Soup These knaidlach (matzo balls) are of the fluffy variety, with whipped egg whites folded in to lighten the batter.  With a nod to contemporary tastes and food resources, the usual parsley was replaced with a mix of fresh dill and cilantro and a bit of ground ginger for zing.
  • Coffee-Cola Baked Ham — In the Southern tradition, poured a cola over the ham (using Boylan’s Cane Cola in place of the typical Pepsi, or Coca-Cola, depending upon your regional cola allegiance) along with the last of the morning’s coffee that is the origin of red-eye gravy.
  • Potato-Mushroom Kugel Fresh garlic —  looking much like scallions — and a touch of marjoram bumped up the seasoning in this Jewish staple.
  • Salad of Green Beans — The beautiful celadon-green color of Spanish Verdina beans screamed out for a place on the Eastover table. The lovely, creamy beans were cooked on their own, then tossed with some of the minced greens of the fresh garlic, chopped celery, dill and an olive-oil/lemon juice dressing. Served at room temperature.
  • Roasted Cabbage — A Martha Stewart recipe brought to our attention via Pinterest, with the reaction: Why have we not thought of this before? Simple green cabbage, cut into thick slices, drizzled with olive oil and set in the oven to roast while the ham and kugel baked. Like other roasted vegetables, cabbage turns into a real sweety.
  • Blackerry-Ginger Sorbet — Frozen blackberry pulp served as a base. Simply mix the defrosted puree with sugar to taste, add a touch of lemon juice if desired, and some minced fresh ginger (in this case we substituted a couple drops of the magnificent Fresh Ginger Chef’s Essence from Atelier Perfumes) Churn according to your ice-cream maker’s directions. A dollop of creme fraiche on top proved the perfect, refreshing touch for after chocolate Easter bunny consumption, while also meeting the needs of those avoiding leavened desserts for Passover.

Bread, Fast and Slow

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Easter and the beginning of Passover coincide this weekend, which presents an opportunity to reprise experiments in bread both leavened and unleavened.

A lesson in povitica

Mamma, matzoh!

Easter, and Not a Chocolate in Sight

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Good friends, inspired food and a sunny, 80-degree Washington combined for a glorious outdoor Easter potluck. On the menu: balsamic-braised mushrooms with goat cheese, Greek salad, Moroccan-inspired leg of lamb, apricot carrots, poireaux ménagère (a genius potato, leek and onion dish from the late Lutèce), asparagus tart, Slovenian potica and passion fruit-raspberry tart with whipped cream. Oh, and wines from Algeria, New Zealand, Spain, France and Chile. A holiday of multiple delights–the company not the least of them.

NEWS: Three photos from this feast were accepted by the Los Angeles Times food page, on the Weekend Eats section at: http://lat.ms/f9zBhT and in the “Sugar Rush” Section at: http://lat.ms/hdTk1R.

In My Easter Basket(s)

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I always had two Easter baskets as a kid. One was child-sized, filled with plastic grass, a few colored eggs, a Russell Stover chocolate bunny and some jelly beans.  It was mine alone. The other, a more serious large, woven affair, was the family basket, the real Easter basket. My mother handled that one as we made our way to the Catholic church on the day before Easter to have the baskets blessed. It’s a common tradition in the Polish and Croatian communities from which my parents hailed and the specified contents of the basket never varied: ham, kielbasa, home-made bread, colored eggs, spring onions, radishes and povitica, the sweet bread swirled with a nut filling made at holidays and for special events.

Each day of the Easter Week was consumed with the process of procuring and preparing those items, with special trips to the local butcher/sausage maker, and evenings spent with my mom cracking whole walnuts while my dad put them through the old-fashioned, hand-cranked grinder he’d attach to the kitchen table. Thursday was dedicated to povitica baking; Good Friday was always bread baking, egg dyeing and ham baking day. On Saturday morning, the baskets were filled with packets of the meats and breads, along with the prettiest of the colored eggs on which we’d scrawled names of each family member. Then the basket was covered with an embroidered cloth.

The church was always packed to the rafters for the special afternoon service. Baskets lined the aisles and the women toting them would stoop to carefully fold back a corner of their fancy linen covers as the priest made his rounds with incense and holy water.  (Although I always suspected a bit of one-upmanship in their carefully orchestrated maneuvers, each striving to make sure everyone saw that she had the best-looking basket.)

Saturday’s rite served as a punctuation mark on the Easter season, a sign that all the devotion and preparation was about to culminate in the next day’s celebration.  We weren’t allowed to touch anything from the basket until Easter morning, when it would be unpacked and the foods consumed to break our Lenten fast.  Sitting at the table, cracking open an egg, my mother would inevitably say, “Doesn’t the blessed food just taste better?”  We kids would roll our eyes at this oh-so-predictable comment. But somehow, it was true.