Instead it is an excuse to haul out to NJ for a giant holiday-type meal and time to be together as a family.
(Also, no matter what train you take back to the city, you WILL run into someone you went to high school with while waiting on the platform. So run a damned comb through your hair before grabbing that giant bag of leftovers...)
In recent years it has become much like the other big holidays, which is to say, more and more it consists of hours in the kitchen cooking with my mother, and seeing my brother and father (and husband) at the dinner table later.
This year the cooking took approximately 3 and 1/2 hrs. Not awful, but not easy. And nothing we made was anything we had made before, so there were a few lessons learned along the way.
The menu was as follows:
Herbed squash soup, garnished w/ sunflower seeds
Leg of lamb, later accompanied by Queen Anne cherries
Potatoes w/ horseradish cream and caramelized onions
Carrots with pecans and bacon
The soup my mother had made in the past, and this time made it ahead of time and froze it for convenience. And was very tasty as usual.
The rest I helped her with start to finish. Start being trimming the thicker sections of fat off the leg of lamb, as per the recipe instructions. The afternoon consisted of much butchering, peeling, slicing, more peeling, more slicing, lifting, and stirring. I even sharpened her knives while I was there to make all the butchering and slicing easier on me.
The lamb we learned we should cook the way my grandmother wrote down, because our directions made us overcook it just slightly. It was not dry, but it was no longer pink. When I say the Queen Anne cherries came later, that is because we may have forgotten to heat them through at the end of the 3 hrs and only did so once everyone was already at the table. The cherries were used instead of a gravy (I SO would have made my flambé cherry sauce for this had I been allowed... brief video of Fun with Fire here.)
The potatoes came out better than I had expected. This was a recipe that a cousin of mine made for my dad at her house years ago, so my mom had gotten the recipe to make at some future time. Apparently, this Easter was that time.
I do not like horseradish as a general rule, and I was afraid it would overpower the potatoes to the point that I would not be able to eat them, but instead they came out tender and creamy, and the onions on top made a nice crust once baked. However, compared to other potato dishes it is possible that this one was not entirely worth the effort they took to make in the end.
Note: trying to slice parboiled yukon gold potatoes creates some kind of rubber-cement-like substance on your knife and fingers. It is REALLY weird, and kind of annoying. However, I am assuming the parboiling comes into the procedure to avoid the chance of any still-crunchy a.k.a. raw potatoes in the dish.
The carrots were definitely the star of the meal. First you cook the bacon, then you sauté the pecans in the bacon drippings, and then you cook the diced carrots in the drippings and some chicken broth until they are tender and the liquids reduce. There is also some butter, brown sugar, and lemon juice to finish it off. Basically, it was making your vegetable into something delicious that totally negated the idea of eating a vegetable (which is something of a trend with our NJ holiday meals.) Still, incredibly tasty.
The dessert, however, was the truly decadent part of the meal. My mother and I stayed up until about 1AM the night before making what was actually a very simple dessert. We just stayed up that late because we were trying to do a bajillion things in one night, as per usual when we get together.
We both saw the same episode in which Jacques Pepin made this, which was incredibly useful since I did not see the instructions my mother had written down anywhere while we were doing it. But it turned out perfectly, and really, once you see how we did it, you'll see why it is almost impossible to screw up.
(I'm sorry I don't have pictures of any of the process of this, but I was busily cooking in a kitchen that was not mine, and left my camera in NYC. I do have pictures of the final product tho, taken w/ my mother's VASTLY superior point-and-shoot camera.)
Step one: gather whatever ingredients you would like to have drenched in chocolate. (Fresh berries, hazelnuts/almonds/peanuts, dried fruit, etc)
Step two: chop up your bars of excellent quality chocolate into similar sized pieces, for even melting. (We used semi-sweet Ghirardelli bars)
Step three: set up a double boiler on your stove top to melt the chocolate. ---> One pot with about an inch or two of water in it boils while a heat-proof (glass or pyrex, etc) bowl sits above it containing the chocolate. Do not let the water touch the bottom of the bowl when it is boiling.
Step four: place wax paper on cookie sheets/jelly rolls and set up cupcake wrappers
Step five: melt your chocolate, stirring frequently to avoid burning
Step six: as soon as your chocolate has all melted, place one heaping spoonful into each cupcake wrapper. When they are all filled, top them with your chosen ingredients.
Glowing raspberries surrounded by Ghirardelli chocolate
Go nuts.Alternate choice to cupcake forms:
Place corn flakes in a mixing bowl (yes, really, corn flakes. Works with Rice Krispies too) and when the chocolate is melted, add enough to just cover the flakes. Gently mix with two spoons until almost entirely coated. Then dole out spoonfuls on your wax paper and make sure the clumps are not too scattered.
Refrigerate either a few hours or overnight, so the chocolate can set.
This same method can be used to coat strawberries in chocolate, and if you do white chocolate (NOT actually chocolate...) and dark chocolate you can create those nifty "tuxedos" if you are crafty enough. We were not that crafty this time.
But the cereal was remarkably tasty in this form, because really, there isn't much that wouldn't be tasty smothered in melted chocolate.
Go forth and make dessert!