As an Ex-pat living far away from home, it is particularly easy to get homesick on traditional holidays. To soften the blow, I try to do my best to re-create our family traditions and celebrations wherever I may be, and to include friends who feel like family. Of course, adaptations must be made and flexibility is key.
I started celebrating by doing a little bit of decorating. I put out a few baskets with “Easter grass” and eggs I blew out and colored several years ago, when my children were still at home. The eggs store amazingly well in egg cartons in my plastic storage bin. I also have a giant stuffed Easter chick, a small wooden “Happy Easter” sign, and a bunny ear headband. If I still had children in the house, we would definitely color more eggs and make some sugar cut-out cookies in the shape of bunnies, eggs, and chicks. The next step was to send out invitations. Due to the pandemic, we kept the number to 8 total and the entire event was held outside in our yard.
MENU: Deviled Eggs; Shrimp Cocktail; Onion Dip with Crudite and Chips; Grilled Lamb Ribs with Zataar; Potatoes Au Gratin; Broccoli, Cauliflower and Carrot Casserole with Chevre Sauce; Green Beans Almondine; Homemade Dinner Rolls; New York Cheesecake with Berry Sauce
The day before, I made the New York Cheesecake. Authentic, old-school New York Cheesecake is truly a labor of love! The recipe I normally use is found in the Joy of Cooking cookbook. However, I neglected to bring that cookbook with me to Saudi Arabia so I had to find the closest thing online. Here it is: . https://www.onceuponachef.com/recipes/new-york-style-cheesecake.html.
As confirmed in the above recipe, the secret to smooth, gorgeous cheesecake that doesn’t crack is to bake it in a water bath. However, this is a little risky; if water gets into your springform pan, it will totally destroy your crumb crust. So, to prevent that from happening. you have to wrap your pan in the giant-size aluminum foil (I refer to it as the “turkey size”). Living overseas, I frequently have to get creative in substitutions for ingredients in recipes that I am unable to find. When shopping for my Easter dinner, I could not find graham crackers. Now, some folks make a shortbread crust for New York Cheesecake, but I personally prefer the cookie-crumb texture. I combed the very large “Biscuit” aisle at the local supermarket and decided on Lotus Biscoff (yes, the same cookies they give you on airplanes). Because they are pretty sweet themselves, I eliminated the additional sugar from the crust. Another challenge in living overseas is in converting Imperial (U.S.) weights and measures in my favorite recipes to metric. The packaging in Saudi Araba is all listed in metric. Therefore, a digital scale that shows different units of measurement is invaluable. Hint: I constantly ask my Amazon Alexa for the conversion (e.g., how many grams does one cup butter weigh?) For this recipe I had to weigh the butter for the crust and the cream cheese for the filling to get the required amount.
I was able to find all the other ingredients locally, including Philadelphia brand cream cheese. I have not, however, been able to find the block type, only the tub. I know from experience that the tub has a higher water content so I cut back on the sour cream by about 2 tablespoons. While the cheesecake was baking away in its water bath I made the berry sauce (a link in the Once Upon a Chef recipe. After what seemed a very long time, the cheesecake was finished. It came out beautifully smooth!
On the day before the dinner, I also made the potatoes au gratin. I sliced 6 potatoes thin using my KitchenAid food processor. I made a standard cheese sauce: melted butter, adding flour, then milk and adding cheddar and monterey jack cheese until I got the desired consistency. I poured all into a 9 X 13 pan and refrigerated overnight. Just before baking I sprinkled it with bread crumbs mixed with a bit of melted butter.
On the day of the party, I relaxed in the morning and started cooking two hours before the guests arrived and three hours before I planned to serve dinner. First, I started the dough for the dinner rolls. I love King Arthur Flour recipes. The recipe I used for my Easter dinner is here: https://www.kingarthurbaking.com/recipes/soft-dinner-rolls-recipe. My KitchenAid Artisanal Stand Mixer did a great job of mixing, then kneading the dough. No hand-kneading was required. While the dough was rising, I made the vegetable dish. This recipe is one I adapted from a Martha Stewart cauliflower recipe. I dropped one head of cauliflower and one head of broccoli (both cut into florets) and 3 carrots (cut into coins) into salted boiling water for 5-7 minutes. Meanwhile, I mixed 2 small logs of chevre, crumbled, 1/4 cup orange juice, 1/4 cup chicken broth (from Better than Boullion) and 2 Tbsp minced fresh rosemary. I tossed the strained cooked vegetables in the sauce, poured into a 9 X 13″ pan and sprinkled with parmesan cheese. I let this casserole sit, covered, on the counter until ready to cook.
By then, the dough was ready to form into rolls and let rise again. Next, I prepped the appetizers and snapped the green beans and placed in steamer baskets in my wok. I then had time to rest a bit, shower, and dress. The potatoes went in the oven 1 1/2 hours before dinner time. One hour before, the veggie casserole went in the oven. 45 minutes before, I started the charcoal on the grill. 30 minutes before I turned on the beans and put the rolls in the oven. My husband then rubbed the lamb ribs with olive oil and sprinkled with zataar and salt, and placed them on the grill. Just before placing dinner on the table, I tossed the steamed beans with butter, garlic salt, and slivered almonds.
We enjoyed a relaxing dinner and shared how our families of origin celebrated Easter when we were growing up. We moved to comfortable outdoor seating for cheesecake and coffee.
Easter is a good time to reflect on new beginnings, the new life of Spring, and treasured traditions! May you celebrate this season with your family or, at least, with friends who seem like family!