Garden Diary

Monday, April 09, 2007

We hosted Easter dinner yesterday afternoon. Laurie invited her whole family, so we made a party of 14. So the planning began about two weeks early for this feast.

On the Sunday before Easter I made a meatless lasagna, which went into the freezer. This would be the main entree for our two vegetarian relatives. Thursday night my son flew in from Washington from school for the weekend, so on Friday we moved furniture around to create a dining space in our living room, setting up three tables and moving the living room furniture into the much smaller dining room.

Saturday began a barrage of cooking. Laurie made crescent rolls and I baked a loaf of Irish Soda bread. I also made the dough for a double-batch of hot cross buns, which are a tradition with us on Easter morning.

Hot Cross Buns

1 Tbsp yeast
1/3 cup water
1/3 Cup scalded milk
1/2 Cup melted butter
1/3 Cup sugar
3/4 tsp salt
3-1/2 to 4 Cups flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3 eggs
2/3 Cup raisins or currants
1/2 Cup confectioner's sugar

Add a pinch of sugar to the warm water and add the yeast to proof.

Add scaled milk, melted butter, sugar, salt and beat together. When cooled, add eggs and beat. Add yeast and water, beat, then add cinnamon, currants and flour, beating well after each cup.

Knead thoroughly on a floured surface (about 6-7 minutes) and let rise in a warm, buttered bowl.

Punch down, and form small round balls of dough (about 20) and place in a buttered 9 x 13 pan. Let rise until doubled in size and then bake at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes.

When cooled make a glaze with confectioner's sugar and water (or milk) and use it to make a cross on the top of each bun.

I put the buns in the refrigerator as soon as they were rolled out, and then on Easter morning took them out before saying Mattins. After about 90 minutes they were ready to bake, and by the time everyone else was up, they were ready to be frosted with glaze.

Another, newer, tradition, is our special "Easter" Eggs. Unlike most Easter eggs, though, we don't color the shells. We color the eggs.

I hard boiled 10 eggs, and once cooled, took off the shells. Then, cutting each egg in half, I scooped out and saved the yolk, and put the halves into colored water.

To make the colored water, have four deep bowls, and add about 3 cups of warm water, with a tablespoon of cider vinegar. Then add a few drops of food coloring to the water.

Leave the egg halves in the water for at least ten minutes, then put on plates lined with paper towels to dry. Once dry, arrange on a plate and fill with the yolk filling:

10 egg yolks (hard-boiled)
1/3 cup mayonaise
1/4 cup mustard
1 Tbs horseradish

Mash together, and fill the egg cavity. This can also be made the day ahead; just cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

For dinner we had roast lamb and a baked ham, with lots of vegetables and the breads and potatoes. Recipes for those later this week.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Ash Wednesday is fast approaching
and it's a good idea to begin assembling Lenten recipes. One good online source of recipes that might not occur to you immediately is Meriadoc's Miscellany. This online book from members of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) has lots of recipes. Because the SCA is very interested in Medieval European customs, which included much stricter fasting practices, many of the recipes are very good for Lent.

With Lent beginning in the cold of February, meals of hot soup and bread are seasonally as well as penitentially appropriate. The first recipe we'll look at is Rapes in Potage.

The recipe in the Miscellany is:

1 lb turnips, carrots, or parsnips
2 c chicken broth (canned, diluted)
1/2 lb onions
6 threads saffron
3/4 t salt
powder douce: 2 t sugar, 3/8 t cinnamon, 3/8 t ginger

Wash, peel, and quarter turnips (or cut into eighths if they are large), cover with boiling water and parboil for 15 minutes. If you are using carrots or parsnips, clean them and cut them up into large bite-sized pieces and parboil 10 minutes. Mince onions. Drain turnips, carrots, or parsnips, and put them with onions and chicken broth in a pot and bring to a boil. Crush saffron into about 1 t of the broth and add seasonings to potage. Cook another 15-20 minutes, until turnips or carrots are soft to a fork and some of the liquid is boiled down.

To make this suitable for Lent, substitute vegetable broth for the chicken broth; and if saffron is beyond your budget, you could add 1/4 tsp turmeric, but a better idea is to look in the Spanish/Mexican section of your grocery store. The spices in that section are usually cheaper than in the "regular" spice aisle or the baking needs aisle, and saffron is a common spice in Spanish cooking. We've used Goya brand and found it quite suitable. You can also check in some of the larger dollar stores; around the Boston area, the Ocean State Job Lots have large spice areas, although I'm not sure if you'll find saffron there (but you will find the cinnamon and ginger). Also note that the original recipe from which the Miscellany's was derived, called for three vegetables: turnips, carrots or parsnips, and water parsnips. The latter are near impossible to find, but the first ingredients are plentiful, so perhaps having 1/3 pound of each would be a bit more authentic (and tastier too).

To go with this soup, a nice bread is in order. This recipe is called "Tear (as in cause a hole, not as in weeping) Bread" because it's brought to the table in a whole loaf and everyone tears off pieces.

1 tsp yeast
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 cup warm water
3 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup warmed milk (substitute almond or soy milk in Lent)

add yeast and sugar to a bowl, pour in warm water (around 95 degrees) and let the yeast begin to proof (i.e., bubble). Add flour, salt and once mixed slightly, add warmed milk. Continue to stir and add more flour as necessary.

Knead the dough for 7-8 minutes and place in a bowl covered with a towel for about 1-1/2 hours. After the dough has risen, punch down and knead for 2-3 minutes and form into an oval loaf. Put this on a cookie sheet dusted with corn meal or on a baking stone dusted with corn meal. Slash the top of the loaf and cover to rise a second time (about 1/2 hour). Preheat oven to 375 degrees and bake for about 20-25 minutes. Let the loaf sit about 15 minutes before serving and bring to the table to be torn into ; )

If you want to use this recipe for festive occasions outside Lent, you can add 1/4 stick softened butter and an egg, and adjust the amount of flour upward as needed.

Friday, February 02, 2007

You know we're nearing the beginning of Lent

when bloggers begin talking about fasting. Over at The Continuumthere's a new discussion about Orthodox fasting practices and a link to St. Nectarios Press cookbooks that can be useful in preparing food in the distinct mode that the elimination of meat, wine, dairy, eggs and oil requires.

One useful trick is to use soy milk instead of milk both for over breakfast cereal and in baking. If you want to follow fasting rules strictly and have no oil, you may have to read the ingredients label, as most soy milks have some oil. But buying soy milk is a whole lot easier than making your own almond milk, which was the solution that our medieval forebears came up with. You can buy almond milk, but it's rather pricey, and could interfere with your almsgiving, which wouldn't be a very good thing to do during Lent.