Spring Dinner

This post is long overdue. I've gotten so caught up with work that I haven't had a chance to tell you about my Easter dinner yet. And Easter feels like forever ago, doesn't it?

Since I work on Sundays and couldn't go home to celebrate Easter, my mom, my dad, one of my brothers, and one of my sisters and her boyfriend came up to visit me and Jeff a few weekends ago, and I made an Easter dinner for them. I also made a bunch of sweet treats to celebrate my mom's and my sister's birthdays.

I wanted to incorporate traditional Easter foods as well as spring foods into the meal. The main course had to be ham or lamb, sticking with the Easter theme. I ultimately went with lamb because my siblings wouldn't eat either meat, and Jeff doesn't like ham. (My mom came to the rescue by bringing grilled chicken and peppers for the kids. Can you believe I'm still calling my little sister, who just turned 18 last week, a kid?)

After weeks of flipping through magazines and cookbooks (yes, weeks... I'm a planner), I finally streamlined my menu to herb-crusted lamb with honey mustard glaze (Ad Hoc at Home, Thomas Keller), a potato roesti (Entertaining from Cook's Illustrated, Spring 2009), and steamed asparagus.

Because I'm not good at simple when it comes to entertaining, I started us off with a platter of steamed artichokes, colored peppers, celery sticks, baby carrots, tomatoes, provolone, chicken, and pepperoni, along with different salad dressings, roasted red pepper hummus, and bread.

I thought it would be nice to have something waiting for them when they walked in after the two-and-half hour car ride (and a brief hiatus at the "Natick Collection," which is really just an upscale mall).

For another starter, I made an asparagus tart. I got the idea from Gaby over at What's Gaby Cooking. All I did was brush olive oil on a sheet pan, lay a piece of thawed puff pastry on the pan, brush the puff pastry with olive oil, sprinkle some parm and gruyere over it, lay stalks of asparagus on top, season with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle more parm and Gruyere on top. I didn't even measure anything, which is pretty miraculous for by-the-book me. Then I popped the tart in the oven at 350 until the asparagus was tender and the pastry was deep golden brown and puffy. The tart was a huge hit. (And the leftovers weren't bad rewarmed in the toaster oven.) It was so flaky and buttery, and the two cheeses complemented each other really well.

Appetizers out of the way, we all relaxed, hung out, and caught up a bit. We alternated between watching my little brother (you can just see the back of his head in the picture below -- he's in that phase where he won't let anyone take a decent picture of him) and my sister's boyfriend play Wii and listening to Pandora radio on the TV.

Do you use Pandora? I never have before, but just the other day, Jeff showed me that we could get it on our TV, so I set up the Maroon 5 channel and was completely happy listening to Maroon 5 and Pandora-selected similar artists (like The Fray, Train, Jason Mraz, and Colbie Caillat) while I cooked and prepped away in the morning before my family arrived. It's definitely something I think I'll be using a lot while I'm cooking. I'm not really big on having constant TV background noise, but I love listening to music.

My sister and I kept putting in our votes for the Lady Gaga station, but we got vetoed. My dad made a shoutout for Audioslave, and since Jeff likes them too, we listened to the Audioslave channel until my mother shot that one down, and we moved on to The Beatles channel and the Simon and Garfunkel channel. It really was quite entertaining. I'm guessing I'm a little late to the game and you all probably already use Pandora on a regular basis, but I just had to share my excitement about it.

So after all of that, we had a chance to regain our appetites, and my mom and dad helped me get dinner under way. I got a lesson in checking lamb by just feeling it and making hollandaise from my dad.

And then my mom and I worked on the potato roesti. We devised a foolproof method of sliding it out of the pan and flipping it by using two sheet pans. I was so sure the huge potato pancake would break (it's bound only with cornstarch, no eggs or anything), but we somehow got it to stay intact.

My family loved the potato latkes I made when I was home for Christmas, so I thought I'd try making the potato roesti because it's basically the same concept, but it didn't require me to stand at the stove frying up individual latkes five at a time.

We all decided the roesti was a little plain compared to the latkes, but we all still ate every last bit of it. Next time I'm going to try grating onions (the same size and shape as the potato shreds), sauteing them, and mixing them in with the grated potatoes. And maybe I'll toss some scallions on top just to perk up its appearance a little.

The lamb was a little overdone in spite of my meat-checking lesson. I think there was just way too much going on to keep track of it, but I really loved the flavor of the meat with the honey mustard glaze. I've often dipped lamb chops in mustard and then in bread crumbs, but I'd never used honey before. The breading that went over the honey mustard glaze consisted of homemade bread crumbs, garlic confit cloves (which I made by warming garlic in oil on the stove for 40 minutes), and butter. I definitely recommend the recipe. I've been making so many recipes from Ad Hoc at Home lately. I'm really shocked at how approachable the cookbook is.

I served the steamed asparagus with the freshly made hollandaise on the side. I don't know about you, but I love hollandaise. I'd never made it at home though because it always seemed really daunting to me. After making it with my dad and seeing that it's merely some whisking, and drizzling, and more whisking, and seasoning, I think I'm going to give it a shot.

To be continued... desserts coming soon!

What do you do with family when you all get together? What sorts of games do you play, or how do you entertain each other?

Do you use Pandora?