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Sunday, April 12, 2009

egg salad sandwiches and grilled asparagus

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Easter traditions

One of the fun things about growing up is that you get to start making your own holiday traditions. At least, I thought I ought to be able to do that when I got married, since my mom and dad always had wonderful holiday parties with their friends (and accompanying children). However, I hadn’t reckoned on the power of family proximity. My mom and dad had moved to Alaska before they met—my mom from San Diego, my dad from a small farming town in Washington. I remember very clearly, soon after Dan and I were married, checking with my mom to see if she minded if we did our own thing for Easter. I was shocked when she seemed hurt and disappointed at the suggestion.

I told her that we had an idea to hike Bird Ridge with some friends and then come home and make pizza with toppings (including ham and sliced hard boiled eggs—the obligatory nod to tradition). I was honestly confused at her reaction, and I told her that I was just thinking of doing like she and my dad had done…  finding friends of our own to celebrate some of the holidays with. “Yes,” she said, ”of course that’s what we did—but that was because our families were so far away!” Suddenly I had a totally new perspective on those wonderful holiday gatherings I had grown up with—certainly all those close family friends FELT like family (WERE family!), but now I understood that my mom had missed her parents and siblings at the holidays.

Still, my dad thought it was perfectly reasonable for us to do our own thing on this one holiday, and my mom came around without too much fuss. And of course we shared many meals with my parents in all seasons, holiday or no.

But now, as time has passed, the Bird Ridge hike, as well as the ham and egg pizza, has gone by the boards…  As soon as our daughter Meredith got heavy enough to be a burden in the baby carrier, we switched strategies. One year we pulled her in the pulk on an afternoon’s ski trip up in the mountains above Anchorage. But these past couple of years, egg hunt festivities have replaced mountaineering. These days we’re more likely to have a family ski or a short hike. And for dinner? We invite the remaining family in town: my brother and his girlfriend, Christi. I guess I’m getting to be more like my mom all the time!

But, unlike my mom’s Easter ham, this is what we eat for dinner: the unconventional but by now, thoroughly traditional egg salad and grilled asparagus. Are you laughing? Come on, are you seriously going to tell me you DON’T like egg salad? These sandwiches are SO good when you make egg salad with homemade mayonnaise (especially when you use extra-virgin olive oil for the mayo). And of course I love to use up those colored hard-boiled eggs that Meredith has mined out of snowdrifts, from under trees, and behind car tires. I think you’ll love this meal, whether you make it for Easter, or any time in the spring with great bundles of asparagus!

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open-faced egg salad sandwiches

Mayonnaise
Of course, you can use mayonnaise from the store, and your egg salad will still be delicious. But if you want to make truly luscious egg salad, I recommend making your own mayonnaise; the olive oil really does make a difference! You can make it the day before and you’ll be all ready to mix it up with your Easter eggs. Isn’t it funny: egg salad is eggs mixed with an egg dressing!

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 egg
½ teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt (adjust to taste)
pinch of white pepper
1 cup mild extra-virgin olive oil, or a mixture of extra-virgin and regular olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice or white wine vinegar

Combine the mustard, egg, salt and pepper in the bowl of a blender or food processor. With the motor running, add the olive oil in a slow, thin, steady stream. Process until the mixture starts to thicken. Stop when all the oil has been added and scrape down the sides. Then add the lemon juice a little at a time, combining well. Taste for salt and white pepper, and add more lemon juice if you like. Transfer the mayonnaise to a jar, cover tightly, and refrigerate for up to 5 days.

Perfectly Cooked Hard-Boiled Eggs
This method keeps the eggs from overcooking, and ensures a creamy yolk without that green ring around the outside of the yolk.

1 dozen eggs (or fewer)

In a heavy pot, cover raw eggs with cold water. Bring slowly to a boil over medium heat, and when the water starts to boil, let the eggs simmer gently for one minute. Turn the heat off, put the cover on the pot, and let it sit for 6 minutes. Then carefully pour the water off and run cold water over the eggs, draining and replacing the cold water until the water stays cold. I usually drain the water once, refill it partway with cold water, and then fill the pot with ice cubes.

The Egg Salad Sandwiches
Is it silly to include a recipe for such easy (and delicious) sandwiches? Maybe, but this is how I make them. I like to use up the hard boiled Easter eggs that cracked in the dyeing process, so the egg whites are crazed purple and bright pink. Makes it more festive, don’t you think?

12 perfectly cooked hard-boiled eggs (see previous recipe)
mayonnaise (see previous recipe, or use store-bought)
Dijon mustard
fresh-ground pepper
paprika (optional)
flat-leaved parsley, chopped fine
slices of whole-grain bread

1. Peel the eggs. If you’re interested in cutting down the saturated fat a little cut 4-6 of the eggs in half and discard the yolks. Chop all the eggs up into a bowl. Add mayonnaise to moisten nicely, including a couple of large dollops of mustard to your taste (I like quite a bit, but use your own judgment). Add freshly ground pepper, and if the mayonnaise and mustard didn’t add enough salt for you, add salt.
2. Toast the bread well and top each slice with lovely thick mounds of creamy egg salad. Dust with paprika and more pepper, then sprinkle lavishly with parsley. Eat with your hands or with a knife and fork.

grilled asparagus

This is so easy it’s almost embarrassing to call it a recipe, but since it’s so good, and you might not have discovered it yet, I’m including it here.

a pound or two of fresh asparagus (buy more than you think you could possibly eat)
extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt or kosher salt

1. Heat your grill to very hot.
2. Snap the ends off the bottoms of the asparagus, as close to the bottom of the stalk as they will still snap nicely. Toss them with olive oil and a sprinkling of salt.
3. Turn the grill heat down to medium. Grill the asparagus until they are nice and tender and have grill marks all around; about 9 minutes, turning them every 3 minutes or so.
4. Eat them right away or else eat them later at room temperature. Try not to eat them all right as they come off the grill, because you are likely to burn your tongue, and the rest of your family will be annoyed.

Tip: To keep your asparagus fresh when you get it home from the grocery store, cut about a half-inch off the bottom of the stalks, wrap a wet paper towel around the bottoms of the stalks, and stand them upright in an open plastic bag wrapped around their bottoms. Fasten the bag around the bottom of the stems with a rubber band.


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