Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Basket Case

After years of not doing much to celebrate Easter in the grand family tradition (of a ham dinner), this year I ended up being invited to two family dinners.

My Wonderful Parents, of course, were glad to make room at their table for an early Easter dinner on Saturday evening, and since they had planned the whole meal, I simply offered to bring dessert. Then -- I promptly forgot about it and received a gentle reminder on Friday.

That, perhaps, was not the best news I could get since I had already planned to spend Saturday baking for two other upcoming dinners, but I unearthed my astoundingly simple recipe for an applesauce cake and was able to whip that up in less time than it took to find the recipe in the first place. And when the Chef Mother offered butter pecan ice cream as well, I knew the two would be a perfect fit.

Other than that, though, I spent time on Saturday preparing two dishes to share with the Renaissance Man and his family for a traditional ham dinner down on the farm. I had expected that I would be able to survive on the vegetables offered at the meal, but the Renaissance Man gently suggested that I might consider taking something along that would keep me from going hungry, not knowing how much food would actually appear at the table.

Well, I don't generally need to be asked twice to cook something, and I thought a dish that combined vegetables and a starch might be just the ticket as an entree for myself. After some quick thought, I decided to bake a casserole with brown basmati rice, chopped spinach sauteed with local garlic and a dollop of my garlic-shallot jam, a handful of home-dried red peppers, and a sprinkling of mozzarella cheese.

I also decided that since I had already made one dessert for the weekend, why not make another? I reasoned that with a dozen people at the feast, including a handful of teenagers, one dessert probably would not suffice.

I've been meaning to make cheesecake recently and just hadn't gotten around to it, so this seemed the perfect opportunity. I used the recipe from the "new" Moosewood cookbook and replaced the lemon rind and juice with orange, adding a bit of fresh grated peel to the graham cracker crust, too.

Though I used the monster mixer to whip the filling into a thick creamy froth, I still didn't get all the cream cheese perfectly blended, and once chilled, the filling resisted slicing, so I don't have a good view of the finished dessert, including a drizzle of homemade strawberry-ginger jam on top. (But it sure tasted good!)

Once we made it to the farm, I also helped prepare the remaining vegetables, something I was happy to do since I find socializing so much easier if I'm doing something comforting like cooking. I mean, who doesn't love gathering in the kitchen to chat while they work?

The entire meal met with general approval, and I'm pleased to report that while not an overwhelming success, the spinach-rice casserole did have its fans, and the cheesecake was duly savored with many dreamy sighs. (I still had plenty of leftovers, though.)

A walk after lunch helped to relax me after all the effort -- not that it was strenuous or difficult, but a change of pace is always welcome -- and it made me happy to realize that even after becoming so accustomed to running my own kitchen and controlling the dinner menu, I could work well enough under someone else's supervision. There's always something new to learn.

But I hope that next Easter won't catch me off-guard again!


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