Saturday, April 23, 2011

What's On Your Easter Dinner Table?

We’re having some dear friends and family over for Easter Dinner this year.  I personally adore Easter.  It’s a totally low stress holiday not at all focused on gifts, but my young children still make it magic in their pursuit of colored eggs and the mystery man of the day….the Easter bunny.  I like to celebrate the day with a memorable and special meal, but unlike Thanksgiving or Christmas, I don’t go crazy.  Keep it simple with an appetizer tray, salad, roasted lamb, potatoes, 2 veggies and a dessert and you’ll have a gorgeous meal, and still have the energy to enjoy it!

Here’s my meal plan and some recipes and ideas.  Hope you find some of it helpful!

The Warm-Up:             Vegetable Crudite and Pita Chips with 2 Dips

The Main Event:           Salad of Spring Vegetables
Garlic & Rosemary Crusted Boneless Leg of Lamb
                                    Herbed Baby Creamer Potatoes        
                                    Roasted Asparagus with Orange and Fennel
                                    Zucchini and Cherry Tomato Saute
The Wind-Down:         Toasted Coconut Cake with Raspberry Sauce

The Grapes:                Crisp Sauvignon Blanc with appetizer/salad
                                    Bold Shiraz with the Lamb
                                    Prosecco for dessert

My plan is to make the dips and the cake on Saturday.  Saturday night before I go to bed, I’ll also prep the lamb roast(s).  Then on Sunday, all I have to do is throw together the salad and the veggies, roast the lamb and make some gravy.  Easy-peezy lemon squeezie, right?

Here are the recipes, but remember that I don’t ever follow them exactly and you should use them as inspiration, but feel free to adapt to what you have available and what you enjoy….Bon Appetit!

By the way, if you REALLY want to take the easy way out, but a coconut cake and add your own fresh berries and sauce.  Buy some hummus and tzatziki in lieu of the homemade dips, and ask a guest to bring the salad.  Life if too short to stress out, so cook what you want, buy what you want, and enjoy your holiday.

Feta, Yogurt and Spinach Dip

1 small box frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
4 oz. light cream cheese
3/4 cup(s) low fat greek style yogurt
1/4 cup(s) crumbled feta cheese, reduced fat variety is fine
3 Tbsp(s) shallots, fresh, minced,
2 Tbsp mint, chopped
2 Tbsp basil, chopped
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp lemon zest
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp table salt, or less to taste (optional)

Be sure that spinach has all the water squeezed out first.  You may also use fresh baby spinach if preferred.  Simply chop it up, blanch it in boiling water, then drain and squeeze out the water.

Put the spinach, cream cheese, shallots, and feta in a food processor and pulse until pureed. Add the yogurt and pulse to mix.  Remove from the food processor and stir in the herbs, lemon juice & zest and salt & pepper. This is great with raw veggies or baked pita chips.  Leftover, it is also a wonderful topping for baked potatoes, or a dip for roasted potatoes or baby lamb chops.

Sun-Dried Tomato and White Bean Dip

1 (15oz.) can of Cannellini Beans, rinsed and drained
2 Tbsp Lemon juice
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp chopped rosemary
1 tsp crushed red pepper
¼ cup sundried tomatoes, chopped
Salt to taste
Fresh Italian Flat Leaf Parsley, chopped

First, boil some water in the microwave and add the dried tomatoes to re-hydrate.  Allow to steep for about 2 minutes and drain the water, squeezing it out of the tomatoes.  Chop and set aside.  Chop the garlic and rosemary. Now add the chopped garlic and rosemary, crushed red pepper, the rehydrated tomatoes, drained beans, olive oil and lemon juice to food processor and puree.  Season to taste with salt and turn into a serving dish.  Garnish with some fresh chopped parsley.  This is a nice alternative to hummus and goes well with pita chips, baked tortilla chips, and fresh veggies.

Coconut Cake with Raspberry Filling and Sauce

I cannot take total credit for this cake.  I pulled all the elements from some great sites on the web that I use frequently.  The cake itself comes from Cooking Light (, the frosting from Epicurious (, and the raspberry sauce and filling was my idea.  I hope you like it!

By the way, if you’re not a baker, just buy a coconut cake from a good quality bakery, transfer it to your cake dome, and garnish with fresh raspberries.  Make some of the sauce and spread on the plate before serving. Nobody will know!


Cooking spray
1 tablespoon cake flour
2 1/4 cups sifted cake flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 2/3 cups sugar
1/3 cup butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 (14-ounce) can light coconut milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

            Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat 2 (9-inch) round cake pans with cooking spray; dust lightly with flour.
            Combine 2 1/4 cups flour, baking powder, and salt, stirring with a whisk. Place sugar and butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended (for about 5 minutes). Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour mixture and coconut milk alternately to sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Stir in vanilla.
            Pour batter into prepared pans. Sharply tap the pans once on countertop to remove air bubbles. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes on wire racks, and remove from pans. Cool completely on wire racks.
Raspberry filling and sauce
1 (10oz.) package frozen raspberries in syrup, thawed
1 ½ Tbsp sugar
1 Tsp lemon juice
Mix all ingredients in a food processor or blender until well pureed.  Push through a sieve to strain out seeds and set aside.  Leftovers are great over ice cream.
3 1/3 cups powdered sugar
1 8-ounce package philadelphia-brand cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup (about) sweetened flaked coconut
1 pint fresh raspberries

Using the electric mixer, beat sugar, cream cheese, butter, and vanilla in large bowl until blended. Place 1 cake layer, flat side up, on plate. Slice carefully through it lengthwise, making 2 thin layers.  Spread 1 with raspberry filling and place other on top.  Now, spread the re-assembled layer with about 1 cup of the icing. Sprinkle with some coconut and place about ½ of the fresh raspberries on the cake.  Repeat the process with the 2nd layer.
Spread the remaining icing over the top and sides of cake. Sprinkle some of coconut over top of cake; pat more coconut on sides of cake. Garnish with the remaining fresh raspberries.  You’ll still have raspberry sauce left – store it in an airtight container. Make one day in advance if possible, storing in the refrigerator.  This cake is best served at room temperature though, so remove it to sit on counter while you are preparing the dinner.    Sit the remaining raspberry sauce out too.  When ready to serve, check the sauce.  If the consistency is too thick, add in about ½ Tbsp of water and stir well.  Spread about 2 Tbsp on each plate, topped with a slice of cake and a mint leaf for garnish. Enjoy!

Roasted Greek style Leg of Lamb

5 lb. boneless leg of lamb
6 garlic cloves
2 Tbsp whole grain mustard
zest and juice of 2 lemons
3 Tbsp Kosher salt
1 Tbsp coarse ground pepper
2 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves
¼ cup fresh rosemary leaves

Mix all ingredients except for the lamb in a food processor into a paste.  Cut some small slits all over the lamb roast and spread the paste evenly over the roast, pushing some of it into the slits.  Wrap well in plastic wrap and return to the refrigerator.  Allow to sit overnight or at least 8 hours.

Remove roast from refrigerator about 30 minutes before you plan to roast it.  Preheat oven to 425.  Remove plastic wrap and place roast in roasting pan, brushing with a bit more olive oil.   Roast at 425 for 15 minutes, and then reduce temperature to 325 and continue roasting until internal temp is about 130 degrees.  This should be approximately 1 more hour.  Remove lamb from oven and allow to rest for 20 minutes before carving. 

Meanwhile, you can make some gravy if you like.  Drain the pan juices from the roasting pan and separate out the fat.  Place the roasting plan on the stove over medium high heat.   Add about ¾ cup red wine to deglaze the pan, scraping all the browned bits off the bottom.  Add the pan drippings back to the pan, without the fat, which has been separated out.  Add about 2 cups of low sodium beef broth and continue to stir and reduce.  Make a paste of about 2 Tbsp flour and ¼ cup water.  Stir and add slowly to the gravy.  Stir out any lumps and season with salt, pepper and additional rosemary if desired.

Slice lamb and serve with gravy and mint sauce, tzatziki, or chutney as desired.

Herbed Baby Creamer Potatoes

 Creamer potatoes are tiny, baby new potatoes, usually of the Yukon gold variety.  You can often find them in grocers in the springtime.  If not, you can use red new potatoes or fingerling potatoes for this dish, but the smaller and fresher the potatoes are, the better this will be.  It’s a very simple dish, so you want to be sure to use the best ingredients possible.

4-6 cups baby creamer potatoes
2 cups low sodium chicken broth
¼ cup butter
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 Tbsp fresh mint, chopped
2 Tbsp fresh basil, chopped
Sea salt and Pepper to taste

Rinse the potatoes well but leave them whole and unpeeled.  Place the potatoes and chicken broth in a medium saucepan, and cover with water to fill pan about ½ way.  Bring to a boil and simmer uncovered for about 5 minutes.  While the potatoes are cooking, chop the herbs and melt the butter in the microwave.   Check the potatoes with a fork –they cook quickly because of their small size.  Drain and return to pan, turning off heat on stove.  Add butter and fresh herbs to the potatoes and salt and pepper to taste.  Serve immediately.  I like to smash 1-2 potatoes on each plate and then add several whole ones on top.  Spoon a little of the herbed butte over the smashed ones and enjoy.  You can really use any herbs you enjoy in this - tarragon or thyme are nice additions as well.

Zucchini and Cherry Tomato Saute

1 Tbsp Olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
2-3 medium zucchini, sliced into ¼ inch rounds
1 pint bucket of tiny cherry or grape tomatoes
2 Tbsp fresh oregano or parsley, chopped
3 oz. crumbled feta or goat cheese
Salt & Pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil over medium high heat in large sauté pan.  Add the zucchini and sauté for about 5 minutes until there are some nice golden and brown spots on the squash, but it is still somewhat crisp.  Add in the tomatoes and sauté for 1-2 minutes more until they are slightly softened/blistered.  Season well with salt and pepper and add the chopped herbs.  Transfer to a serving dish and allow to cool for a few minutes.  Add in the crumbled cheese and toss just before serving.  This dish comes together in a snap and is very pretty on the plate.  It’s a great side for lamb, roast chicken, or steak.

Roasted Asparagus with Orange and Fennel

1 ½ lbs. asparagus spears, trimmed (about 24 spears)
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
2 Tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
zest from ½ orange
1 tsp fennel seeds
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp high quality balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Toss asparagus with orange juice and zest, fennel seeds and olive oil.  Spread out onto baking sheet in single layer and season with salt and pepper.  Roast for between 14-18 minutes, depending on thickness of spears.  Remove from oven and drizzle with balsamic vinegar.  Transfer to serving dish and serve immediately.

Spring Vegetable Salad

½ thinly sliced red onion
6 radishes, thinly sliced
1 cup fresh English peas
1 small head Belgian endive
1 bulb fennel
4-6 cups of fresh mache, watercress or arugula as preferred

½ cup cider vinegar
¼ cup water
½ tsp sugar
3 Tbsp Olive oil
1 tsp whole grain mustard
1 tsp honey
2 tsp fresh tarragon, chopped
1 1/2Tbsp white wine or champagne vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

First, make a quick cold pickle of the red onions.  Mix the cider vinegar, water, and sugar together and add the onions.  Allow to onions sit in the vinegar and sugar combination for 20-30 minutes and then drain.  While that is happening, make the salad dressing and blanch the freshly shelled peas by cooking in boiling slated water for 2 minutes.  Drain and plunge into ice water for 3 minutes or so, draining again.  To make the dressing, mix together the honey, tarragon, white wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, and salt and pepper in a blender.  Slowly add the olive oil while blending to emulsify.  Set aside.  Slice fennel and radishes very thin.  Separate the endive leaves and slice into 1 inch pieces.  When ready to serve, toss the chosen greens, radishes, fennel, pickled onions and peas together and add the dressing.  Serves about 6.    

Shopping List  (assuming you have basic pantry staples)

Boneless Leg of Lamb                                    Lemons
Prosecco                                                         Fresh Raspberries
Sauvignon Blanc                                             Cherry Tomatoes
Shiraz                                                              Salad Greens or Mache
Butter                                                              Fresh English Peas
Greek Yogurt                                                  Baby Creamer or New Potatoes        
Feta Cheese                                                    Oranges
Cream Cheese                                                Fennel Seed               
Basil                                                                Frozen Spinach
Parsley                                                            Fresh Garlic
Oregano                                                          Frozen Raspberries in Syrup
Rosemary                                                        Cake Flour
Mint                                                                  Sweetened Flaked Coconut
Tarragon                                                         Canned Light Coconut milk
Radishes                                                         Powdered Sugar
Fennel Bulb                                                     Olive Oil
Asparagus                                                      Sun-dried Tomatoes
Red Onion                                                       Whole Grain Mustard
Shallots                                                           Cannellini Beans
Chicken Broth                                                  Beef Broth
Belgian Endive                                     Flowers for the table

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