Saturday, March 22, 2008

Its all about Easter

From bonnets to bunnies, Easter lore traces back to pre-Christian societies as well as church-decreed customs, including variations developed by local villages and their people. The egg, for instance, universally symbolizes new life and fertility. Long before Christ was born, the ancient Egyptians, Persians, Greeks and other cultures habitually colored eggs in the springtime, offering them as gifts to reflect the rebirth of the earth. In fact, Middle Eastern cultures believed the earth itself was hatched from a single magnificent egg.

I've gathered some good recipes for using up Easter's hard-cooked eggs, along with some Easter lore to entertain you while you peel and eat.
You call them hard-boiled eggs, but in the food world, a "hard boiled" egg is now politically incorrect. The preferred term is now "hard cooked."

What's the difference,

Experts no longer recommend boiling (or even simmering) an egg for 15 minutes to cook it Instead, one should merely heat the water with the egg in it. Then, just as the water begins to boil, turn off the heat and let the egg stand in the hot water for several minutes.

Why shouldn't you boil an egg anymore? Because boiling results in a hard, dry yolk, instead of a creamy, soft one, and the white becomes rubbery.

Recipe for Hard Cooked Eggs:

Place eggs in single layer in large pot. Fill pot with cold water to cover eggs by one-inch. Set over medium-high heat and bring the water just to a boil. Turn off the heat and let eggs remain in the water for 12 minutes. Plunge eggs into ice cold water. When cool, drain and refrigerate until ready to peel.

Easter Egg Recipes

Chili con Queso Eggs on Muffins

Serves 4

4 sliced English Muffins, split8 hard cooked eggs, shelled4 Roma tomatoes, chopped (about 3/4 to 1 pound)4 green onions, chopped1/4 cup mild salsa, or to taste 1/4 cup cream,2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, Tabasco Sauce (optional)3 tablespoons chopped cilantro for garnish (optional)

Heat the broiler. Place the English Muffins on a broiling pan and set aside.
Slice the shelled hard cooked eggs into quarters lengthwise and set aside.
In a small saucepan over medium flame, heat the tomatoes, salsa and green onions. Cover and cook until the tomatoes have released their juices and are partially liquid, about 4 minutes. Reduce the heat to low.
Remove the pan from the heat and slowly stir in the cream, to prevent curdling. Stir in the cheese and return the pan to the stove over low heat. Stir constantly until the cheese melts and forms a sauce. Add a dash of Tabasco Sauce, to taste. (Don't overcook the cheese sauce or cook it on too high a heat—the cheese will separate.)
While the tomatoes and cheese cook, toast the muffins in the broiler until golden brown.
For each serving, place two halves of a muffin on a plate. Arrange 4 quarters of hard cooked egg (1 egg) on top of each muffin half. Finish by pouring some of the tomato-cheese sauce over each half. Serve immediately, garnished with a few sprigs of fresh cilantro.

The Devil's Best Eggs

Makes 24 pieces

12 hard cooked eggs,
3 tablespoons mayonnaise,2 tablespoons mustard, preferably Dijon, or one with intense flavor,2 tablespoons lemon juice,2 tablespoons finely minced green onion,black pepper,paprika,capers,parsley, or celery leaves for garnish.

Mix the mayonnaise, mustard, lemon juice and green onion together in a large bowl. After shelling the eggs, cut them in half, and, using a fork, mix the yolks in with the mustard mixture till smooth. Season with black pepper to taste. It should have a very strongly pronounced lemon and mustard flavor, so add more if you feel it needs more zing.
Fill the cavity in each egg white half with the yolk mixture. Top with a sprinkle of paprika. Place a parsley or other leaf on top, and finish by placing three capers at the stem end of the leaf. Chill till ready to serve.

The Easter Parade in History

In the early days of the church, the newly baptized wore white robes for the baptismal ceremony and during Easter week. Others wore new clothes at Easter to represent their participation in Christ's new life. After Easter mass, medieval worshippers, dressed in their new clothes, formed a procession through the streets, lead by a crucifix. Later, the custom of walking to or from church on Easter Sunday, bedecked in new clothes and Easter bonnets, evolved into the Easter parade. Begun in 1860, New Jersey's Atlantic City Easter Parade featured finely clothed citizens strolling along the boardwalk, and New York City soon sported its now famous Fifth Avenue Easter Parade. Similar parades sprung up across the country, many with prizes for best dress and bonnets, and the frillier the bonnet, the better. Few Easter parades still exist in modern times, and the Easter bonnet is largely a fashion relic of the past.

The Easter Parade in Movies

The Easter Parade starring Fred Astaire and Judy Garland, and co-starring Peter Lawford and Ann Miller (MGM, 1948), was the second highest grossing film of the year, and won the Oscar for Best Scoring of a Musical Picture. In this Irving Berlin spectacular, Astaire plays a dancer whose partner abandons the act. In a Pygmalian type of effort, he takes on a new partner: Judy Garland. This is the only picture in which the two superstars worked together. Gene Kelly was originally cast in the lead but broke his ankle prior to filming. Similarly, Ann Miller won her part when Cyd Charisse injured her knee and had to be taken off the picture.

Sweden's Easter Hags

In Sweden, witches or "Easter hags" were once believed to be especially powerful and active in the week prior to Easter— flying around on broomsticks, getting caught in chimneys, congregating in church towers and such. Today, on Easter eve, youngsters dress up as Easter hags and leave decorated letters for their neighbors, in hopes of getting a treat or coin in return.

Pussy Willows

Eastern Europeans follow the tradition of placing olive branches at Easter ceremonies, but with a slight twist: they use readily available willow branches instead of the impossible to find olive branches. Willows are the first flower to bloom in the spring, and as such represent rebirth. In Poland, boys lightly swat the girls with willow switches on Switching Day, celebrating the end of Lent, and the girls return the custom on Easter Tuesday.

Easter Lily

White and pure, the lily was the medieval symbol of purity and the Virgin Mary. Blooming in spring and being so pristine, the lily became the flowering representation of Easter and the resurrection of Christ. Earlier Greek mythology, though, relates the lily as milk which fell to the earth from Juno, queen of the Greek gods, as she nursed her son Hercules; the Milky Way galaxy was believed to be the milk that spilled but did not fall to earth. The prim and prudish Victorians adorned their churches with lilies, but not without removing the suggestive stamens and pistols from them first.

Easter and Spring Celebrations in Mexico

Easter is a hugely celebrated affair in Mexico. Baptisms, passion plays, and solemn processions mingle with fireworks, dances, music and feasts. As is typical in Mexico, Indian rituals are woven into the culture as strongly as Catholic ones. In the San Cristobal de las Casas area, town elders race around with ribboned hats and staffs, deterring demons away from the resurrection. In Chichen Itza, the famed Mayan pyramid El Castillo puts on its own natural display: the feathered snake god appears to slither down the pyramid—but on one day only, the vernal equinox, when the sun's light precisely hits the balustrade in a remarkable example of Mayan architectural accuracy.