Monday, March 24, 2008

Side dish Easter Sunday

I celebrated Easter away from home this year and I could not for the life of me figure out what I considered a "traditional Easter Dinner". Growing up we always went to my Grandma's house and typically, with such a large family, everyone would make a dish to share and it ended up being quite similar to least that is what I remember. My Easter memories consist more of finding my hidden basket, over indulging in chocolate and jelly beans and locating those pesky eggs we spent hours dyeing the night before. I think dinner was just something we let the adults worry about.

This year, at Erin's house, I came to realize that I was in fact one of the adults now. I really wanted to take a bigger role in creating Easter dinner so I checked with her mom and they didn't really have any traditions either. With that being said it was quickly suggested that ham be the meat de jour. I had never made ham before and most of the packaged hams already come cooked and glazed (you just heat in the oven for a few hours) so erin's mom said she would handle that job. The sides were up to me!

I perused the normal websites/cookbooks for Easter ideas, however alot of them were geared toward brunch ideas. I knew that erin was a huge fan of scalloped potatoes (normally out of a box) and potatoes go great with ham. Also everyone seemed to really enjoy the asparagus that I made with the fish a few weeks back, and for an easy side I opted to make my Mom's homemade applesauce. With the menu in place I set off to find the perfect, low cal recipes.

I already had the applesauce set and I knew that for asparagus I wanted to try a Roasted recipe. The one big issue was the potatoes. Now erin is a HUGE fan of this dish so although I was trying to find something a bit healthier than your typical boxed brand, I also wanted to keep in mind that it was the holidays and it should be delicious above all else. I spent a few days printing out recipes and running them by erin until we both settled on Asiago, Bacon and Potato and Bacon Gratin. (the bacon sold us both!)

The big Easter day came and I was ready to cook. Now for most of my dishes there was prepping that I could do ahead of time so that when it came time for dinner the four glasses of wine in me wouldn't alter the dishes!

I began with the applesauce. Now my mom always made this straight out of the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. Unfortunately through the years the cookbook has gone through many revisions and in turn lost some pretty great recipes...this applesauce included. It's fairly simple and can be made in a pan and cooked within an hour, a crock pot and cooked all day or a pan simmering all day (this is the one I went with). I diced up a bag of Macintosh apples, combined them with a cup of water, 1/2 a cup of splenda for baking (the recipe is originally for sugar of course), 1 teas. of cinnamon and I opted to add a few dashes of nutmeg. You bring this all to a boil and as the apples heat up you take a potato masher and create the sauce. I reduced the heat as low as possible and let it cook all day long! My mom told me that it really is ready after about twenty mins. but since I had the time I let all the flavors just sit together for a few hourse. I must say that it also made the house smell amazing!

The next item on my list to prep was the potatoes. Probably the most tedious part of this recipe was the peeling and slicing. I used the Yukon potatoes and used the large side of a cheese grater to get those 1/4 inch slices. I think if you used a knife it would have taken way to long to slice, or made the slices far too thick. Once this step was done the rest was a piece of cake! I pre-sliced the shallots and chives, and also grated the asiago cheese. One little side note with the asiago cheese is that you really don't need a very large block, I have a huge block left in the fridge from this recipe. When it came time to boil the potatoes that is when I also fried up the bacon. I substituted turkey bacon with this and because it doesn't crispy up like regular bacon I simply chopped it by hand. I also used skim milk as opposed to 1%. This casserole looked scrumptious before it even went in the oven and the layering really helped to get the cheese and bacon throughout the whole dish. (this is important if you have that one person who always wants the top of the casseroles...that's me!)

Cooking asparagus is always fun because I already love the taste, so any additional flavor is just a bonus. I decided to roast it because alot of recipes I have seen used this cooking method. Roasting is simply putting the asparagus on a cooking sheet, drizzling oil over the stems and roasting it in the oven for about 15 mins. In this recipe: Roasted Asparagus you also drizzle balsamic vinegar over the stems after they are done cooking. This was a nice dish but erin and I both agreed that in the future steaming them takes far less time, no oil needed and it still hads a great taste. The balsamic however was a nice addition that I would try again!

One last item I happened to whip together, and should be mentioned, was a low fat cheese sauce. Now I will preface this dish by saying that when erin and I moved to Boston I started cooking for her parents more...and her Dad has been very courageous and tried everything I have laid out. The one comment he always gives me is how great cheese sauce would be on my veggie dishes :)...So for the holiday I decided to indulge his palate. I found this Light Cheese Sauce recipe and thought it would be a mix of my healthy concoctions and his love of cheese. This came together quickly and you have to be careful because it gets pretty thick as soon as it begins to cool.

I think this may have been the largest meal that I have blogged about so far, but it really was simple and fun to make. Prepping everything in the morning, while everyone else got ready, was the perfect way to go. Everything came out great. The applesauce was warm, the potatoes were cheesy and the asparagus was crispy. A little bit of everything for everyone.

Perhaps my new Easter dinner tradition is Scrumptious Side Dishes!