Easter -A Celebration of Faith, Family and Food
In just 12 days, we will celebrate Easter. It is the biggest holiday and most holy of days for those who are Christians. It is the story of sacrifice and redemption, of good overcoming evil, the story of love triumphing over death, the story of resurrection and new life. Ultimately it is our reason for hope. I love Easter.
My parents and grandparents and extended family instilled in me from my earliest recollections that “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” This knowledge of God’s love for me was planted deep in my heart, it took root in my soul and goes to the very core of who I am. Love, joy and abundant living is not just a nice slogan to me. It is the result of God’s gracious gift to anyone who will receive it.
I tell you this because I don’t want to give you the impression that Easter, to me, is just about a new dress and some tasty food. Food does play a part however, and no small part, thank you very much, in my celebration of Easter. The food is not so important on it’s own. But for me, and maybe for you too, certain food can trigger a memory or serve as a reminder of something that I hold dear. It is very connected to my sense of “abundant living” because the food I prepare for Easter is made with love and a desire to serve those people I love and remind them of God’s care and love for them too.
Many people use holidays as a time to experiment with new recipes and new menu ideas as their families gather together. There is nothing wrong with that, but while it may seem boring to make the same things each time a specific holiday rolls around, in our home, that is exactly what happens. A new food may be added by someone who wants to try it out but the basics are always the same. Certain foods are tradition to us. And those traditions anchor us, in a sense to our past and to the future. Recipes and menus handed down to me from my grandmother and mother, and now given to my daughters, are like treasures. Just the smell or taste of a particular food can bring back a memory of the celebrations we have enjoyed over the years and trigger a reminder of the significance of the holiday we are celebrating.
I got a sweet reminder of this today as I was preparing for this post and cooking the food photographed here. Not aware of what I was working on, my eight-year-old grandson, Jeremy, came bounding into the kitchen from playing outside and with a wide grin asked, “Lolli is that the Easter bread I smell?” It isn’t just bread to him, already at only eight it is very specifically ‘Easter bread’. I sometimes make this bread at other occasions during the year. But I ALWAYS make it for Easter and Jeremy has already made that association, it is already an anchor in his young life to the memory of Easter and its celebration. That is why food is so important to me and why I have the desire to share it with you.
My hope for your Easter celebration this year, as with the Passover foods shared yesterday, is that you will begin to create your own family traditions; to establish your own ‘anchors’ for those you love; to create sweet memories through the food you make for your family and that in these times of celebration, you will know more and more love, joy and abundant living!
Our Easter Menu Traditions
Hot Artichoke Dip
Honey Baked Ham
Roasted Chicken or Fried Chicken
Au Gratin Potatoes
Roasted Asparagus with Hollandaise Sauce
Curried Rice Salad
Fresh Fruit Platter
Mrs. Renello’s Sweet Bread
1 lb. frozen spinach,thawed and well drained
1 can water chestnuts, drained and chopped
3-5 green onions, chopped
2 cups sour cream
1 cup mayonnaise
1 package Knorr Vegetable Dip mix
Blend all ingredients together and refrigerate until ready to serve. Hollow out a round loaf of sour dough or shepherder bread and serve dip in bread bowl. Cut the bread that was removed from ‘bowl’ into chucks and serve along side for dipping.
6 potatoes, peeled and sliced thinly
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 T butter
1 1/2 lb. sharp cheddar cheese, grated
3 cups half and half
Kosher salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a baking dish. Slice potatoes in food processor or by hand very thinly. Layer potatoes, onion, salt, pepper, small pieces of butter scattered, and cheese. Repeat layers until all potatoes and cheese are used.
Add garlic to half and half and warm in a pan just to scalding. Pour half and half over potatoes. Loosely cover baking dish with foil. Bake in oven for 1 hour. Remove foil, increase oven temp to 375 degrees and continue cooking until the liquid has been absorbed and the top is browned.
1 lb. carrots cut into 2 inch pieces
4 T butter
1/4 cup orange juice
2 T sugar
Melt butter in a pan and add carrots and juice. Sprinkle with sugar and a bit of salt. Saute carrots in juice until tender and juice has been reduced to a thickened glaze.
4 eggs yolks
juice if 1 lemon
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
a few drops of Tabasco sauce
1 cup melted butter
Put egg yolks, lemon juice, mustard, salt and Tabasco in the jar of a blender. Begin blending on medium speed. While the blender is running, add the butter, in a slow, steady stream, to the egg yolks. The mixture will begin to thicken as the butter is incorporated into the egg. Blend 10-15 seconds more. Sauce is ready to serve. Leftover sauce can be saved for up to a month in the refrigerator. To soften, place container in warm water and allow to sit for a few minutes.
5 cups of chicken stock
2 cups of rice
1 can artichoke hearts, drained and juice reserved
4 oz. pimento
3 stalks of celery finely chopped
5 green onions chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1/4 bunch of parsley chopped
1-2 T curry powder or to taste
2 cups mayonnaise
Cook rice in chicken broth and let cool. Chop all other ingredients and add to rice. Whisk reserved artichoke juice with mayonnaise and curry powder. Pour over rice and mix together. Refrigerate until ready to serve. (Refrigerate overnight, if you have the time.)
Lillian Renello was a dear little old Italian lady, fresh off the boat from Italy, who lived next door to my husband, Randy, when he was growing up. She made this bread every Easter and would bring a fresh warm loaf to his parents’ house for the family to enjoy. The bread is a bit like a brioche that is flavored with anise ~ sweet and dense and perfectly delicious! I asked her to share the recipe with me and she informed me in her very broken English that there was no recipe. She just did what her grandmother and her mother did. ”Well what is that? ” I asked her. What I got from her was more like a handful of this and a bit of that, so I asked to watch her make it and this is my own interpretation of her “recipe”. You can cut these amounts in half and you will still have enough to feed a small army. Easter isn’t Easter at our house without Mrs. Renello’s Sweet Bread.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
5 lbs. flour
4 T butter
2 T salt
3 cups sugar
3 T anise seed
3 pkg. dry yeast
7 eggs at room temp
1 cup warm water
Enough water to make a a firm dough
Combine, flour, butter, salt, sugar and anise seed in bowl of mixer. Stir all together. Dissolve yeast in water with about 1 T sugar. Allow yeast to become active. It will foam up. This process is called “proofing” , as you are getting proof that the yeast is active.
Add yeast and water to flour and begin mixing. Beat eggs with another cup of water and add to flour. Keep adding water, a little at a time, until dough pulls away from the sides of the mixer. Continue kneading in mixer for 5 minutes. If you are working dough by hand, add water to dough in the bowl but once dough all comes together, then take it out on to a floured surface and knead for 5- 10 minutes. Divide dough into 1/3 and 2/3 pieces. Cut each piece of dough into thirds and braid.
Place smaller braid on top of larger braid on a baking pan. Cook for approximately 40 minutes or until loaf is browned and feels firm. Cool bread and then slice in thick slices. Slather with butter and enjoy!