An Easy Easter Afternoon

Spring is here!  I know that there will be more cold and wet days in Norway.  However, today was GORGEOUS and sunny.  With pops of purple crocuses and yellow daffodils in the neighborhood and the sun shining longer, nature is telling me it will get warmer and I can wear fewer layers soon.

The great weather and Spring blossoms inspired me to get the Easter decorations up.  I have cards that I’ve received through the years.  I put some in windowsills and add some to my ornament/photo chandelier. I string up bunting. Quick and easy decorations.

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Ornament-Photo Chandelier from Crate & Barrel

I love tulips and put a few small arrangements around the living area. I also have a small basket filled with colorful wooden eggs.  Nothing too over the top.  No 5-foot tall topiaries on my dining table with colorful eggs glued to them.  Nor will you find a life size Easter bunny lurking anywhere.  My overarching goal is for it to not look like the Easter Bunny was sick here.

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Thrift Store Finds – stuffed carrots and life-like straw rabbit in wire cage
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New Easter decoration – fluffy chick in a crown. Love my Carrot Jenga.

Having my Easter decorations up feels like, well, Spring to me.  Yellows, pinks, and purples sprinkled around the inside of the house.  A few stuffed bunnies, lambs, and chicks here and there.   It makes me smile.

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A side effect to having all the decorations in place?  I begin vacillating between whether I should or should not throw a party.  I like having friends and their kids over.  I also love seeing how much everyone enjoys my decorations.  I do worry the weather won’t be great, that the kids won’t have enough to do, and that the date I choose won’t work for my favorite families.  I send out some feelers and then decide if the party is a go or not.

Something I never worry about is what I’m going to serve.  I’ve done variations of this menu.  It is always easy and always well received.

To keep a laid back vibe, I tell my guests that we’ll be having ham sandwiches and champagne.  It sets the expectations low and gets the parents excited. We’re going for yummy not pretentious.  Kids are coming.  I want my guests to show up expecting fun, not fancy.  I am always pleased with their oohs and ahhs. It is an impressive spread.  It is colorful, flavorful, and super easy.  I promise.

Easy Easter Afternoon

The Easy Easter Afternoon Menu includes:

  • Crock Pot Ham and King’s Hawaiian Rolls with country mustard and mayonnaise
  • Asian Slaw with Ginger-Peanut Dressing
  • Fruit Salad
  • Veggie Tray with Dip
  • Deviled Eggs
  • Blue Chips with Mango Salsa
  • Lots of Champagne or Prosecco and Lemonade
  • Mini Carrot Cake Cupcakes
  • Festive Sugar Cookies

If this seems like a lot, here’s the brilliance in my plan – Make deviled eggs, veggie tray and dip, salad dressing, and desserts the day before. Ham goes in the crock pot in the morning. Prepare salads and put chips & salsa in bowls just before party. As guests arrive, pop the champagne!

Since the ham is the main event, I’ll start there.

Remember, I go for easy. I grab a 8-10lb smoked bone-in ham.  I usually get spiral-cut for its pre-cut-ness.  However, I go with whole when I want big chunks.  I place the unwrapped ham (flat side down) in my 7QT All-Clad Deluxe Slow Cooker. Cover it with the lid or with foil if it’s too tall. It needs about 8 hours on low or 6 hours on high.

I hear you asking, “No water? No 2 cups of pineapple juice? No 3 cups of brown sugar?”  To these important questions my response is, “Throw in what you want, but you don’t need them.”  Crazy?  I think that the ham tastes great as is.  It has a smokey flavor, and let’s not forget about the bone and fat are doing a fair bit of flavoring too. I also plan on serving a lot of sweets at my party.  I want the ham to be more savory than sweet.  (If you have to have your ham dripping with brown sugar and maple syrup juices, I recommend Life in the Lofthouse’s CROCK POT MAPLE BROWN SUGAR HAM.)

Crock Pot Ham

Ingredient:

8-10lb smoked bone-in ham

Directions:

  1. Place unwrapped ham (flat side down) in crock pot.
  2. Cover pot with the lid or with foil if ham is too tall.
  3. Cook for about 8 hours on low or about 6 hours on high (145° minimum internal temperature).
  4. Remove ham from crock pot and allow it to rest for 5 minutes. It should easily fall apart.  Remove any fat and bones.
  5. Place on a serving platter. Serve with King’s Hawaiian Rolls with country mustard and mayonaisse.

Asian Slaw with Ginger Peanut Dressing

I adore Jennifer Segal’s Asian Slaw with Ginger Peanut Dressing Recipe. It is colorful, delicious, and healthy.

asian-slaw
Photo courtesy of seriouseats.com

Ingredients:

For the Dressing

  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon peanut butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon Sriracha sauce (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced (about 1 1/2 teaspoons)

For the Slaw

  • 1 small head shredded green or white cabbage (about 1 quart)
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and grated on the large holes of a box grater (about 2 cups)
  • 1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup cooked and shelled edamame
  • 2 medium scallions, finely sliced on a sharp bias
  • 1/2 cup chopped or whole salted peanuts
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed chopped fresh cilantro

Directions:

  1. Combine all of the dressing ingredients in a medium bowl. Stir until the peanut butter is dissolved. Set aside.

  2. Combine all of the slaw ingredients in a large bowl. Add the dressing and toss well. Let sit at least ten minutes so the vegetables have a chance to soak up the dressing. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt or Sriracha sauce if necessary. Serve cold.

Fruit Salad

With so many great fruit salad recipes out there, I’m not going to put one here.  I will leave you with this – fruit salads should be as fresh as possible and colorful.  To that end, I play around a bit.  I gather what’s in season or available.  I’ve done watermelon, mango, blueberry, and raspberries. Kiwis, red grapes, strawberries, and bananas. In a pinch, I’ve also mixed a banana, apple, can of pineapple chunks and some of the pineapple juice, green and red grapes, and a can of diced peaches or mandarin oranges.  Don’t judge me. As with the ham, I don’t get too fancy with adding sweetened dressings for this party.  (If you are keen to have a sweeter fruit salad, I recommend Cooking Classy’s Honey Lime Rainbow Fruit Salad. Honey and lime.  Yum.)

Veggie Tray and Dip

Find some veg.  Slice is up and serve it with a great dip.  Done!  Are you starting to see a pattern here?  There is no wrong way to do this.

cabbage bowl
Photo courtesy of eddieross.com

I like color.  I find it interesting and, well, decorative.  I love Eddie Ross’s idea of hollowing out a cabbage for the dip.  I don’t get all fancy and arrange my veg in a crudité though. Kids will be at this party, as will semi-drunk parents.  No one wants to be embarrassed when the gorgeous, labor-of-love crudité has been knocked off the table and is laying sadly on the floor.

Most kids like carrots, so I always include them.  My kids like sugar snap peas and cucumbers. I like bell peppers in various colors.  (A bag of mini sweet peppers work too).

With the veg washed and prepped on your serving platter, whip up this dip. I would like to give someone credit for this dip.  I did not come up with it on my own.  Someone told me about it or I read it.  I can’t remember.  I’ve been making it for years now. So, to whoever developed with recipe I say, “THANK YOU! It’s delicious.”

Dip

Ingredients:

  • Greek Yogurt (7oz)
  • Sour Cream (8oz)
  • Zesty Italian dressing packet (about half of a 0.6oz packet)
  • Ranch dressing packet (half to most of 1oz packet)

Directions:

Mix yogurt and sour cream.  Add half of the Zesty Italian dressing packet and half of the Ranch dressing packet.  Stir until combined.  Add more of either dressing packet to suit your taste. Refrigerate for 2 hours.  (Overnight is best.)

Deviled Eggs

My husband loves deviled eggs.  I almost need to make him his own plate so he’ll be happy to let others eat some at our party.  If you have a favorite, go-to deviled egg recipe, please use it.  I’ve tried several recipes.  I even bought a cookbook dedicated to deviled eggs.  One year a friend offered to bring deviled eggs to our party and I’ve used a variation of her recipe ever since.

Ingredients:
  • 12 eggs, hard boiled and sliced in half
  • 3-5 Tbsp mayonnaise
  • 2 Tbsp mustard
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire or soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp curry powder
  • salt & pepper
  • paprika
 Directions:
  1. Place your cooked egg yolks in a small bowl  and mash. Add mayo, mustard, Worcestershire (or soy) sauce, and curry.  Stir and taste.  Add additional mayonnaise to increase creaminess. Sprinkle with salt & pepper as desired.
  2. Scoop filling into the egg whites. Sprinkle with paprika (or curry).

Blue Corn Chips and Mango Salsa

I love the color of the blue corn chips for my party spread. If you can’t find blue corn chips, just grab your favorite bag of corn chips.  They’ll be fine.

Mango Salsa is delicious.  I used to buy it at Costco.  Ellie Krieger’s Mango Salsa is even better, especially if you add more mango than the recipe calls for.  (I prefer my mango salsa to be heavy on mango.)  Fresh mango is nice, but price and availability have led me use Del Monte Canned Diced Mangos or  SunFresh® Sliced Mangos.  I also omit the 1 Tbsp of chopped jalapeno she recommends.

Ingredients:

  • 1-2 mangos, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 cup peeled, diced cucumber
  • 1/3 cup diced red onion
  • 1 Tbsp lime juice
  • 1/3 cup roughly chopped cilantro leaves
  • Salt and pepper

Combine diced mango, cucumber, and red onion, lime juice and cilantro leaves. Mix well and season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Desserts

I can get too ambitious when it comes to the desserts at my party.  One year I had mini carrot cake cupcakes, festive sugar cookies, Bird’s Nests, Salted Caramel Almond Pretzel Popcorn, 2 Ingredient Lemon Bars, and put out a bowl of Starburst Jelly Beans. Talk about sugar overload.

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I had a Pinterest fail a few years ago. Jenny Hobick’s Easter Bunny Cake is too  cute not to try.  My attempt split right down the middle.  No amount of icing and toothpicks were keeping him together.  We ate him anyway and he was delicious.

Now I stick to mini carrot cake cupcakes and sugar cookies. Jelly beans might make an appearance. If I’m lucky to find Cadbury Mini Eggs (and haven’t eaten them all), I love Chef in Training’s Cadbury Mini Egg Blondies. Holy moly.  I’m in Norway and KNEW I wouldn’t find mini eggs here. I ordered a 5 pound bulk bag of Cadbury Mini Eggs from Amazon in February to ensure I will be eating these blondies soon.

Carrot Cake and Cream Cheese Frosting

Bon Appétit has figured out how to make a carrot cake and I don’t stray too far from their recommendations.  I do, however, replace all of the oil with unsweetened apple sauce. I generally make half of the following recipe since this cake is immense.  Even if you make the whole recipe, you can get away with half of the icing, though most won’t argue with extra cream cheese frosting.  The recipe makes a beautiful cake.  For my party, I prefer mini cupcakes.  They’re easy to eat and half of the recipe makes 24-36 minis.  More the merrier.  (We love this cake so much, my daughter has had it for each of her eight birthdays, and I even made a small version of the layered cake for my husband’s recent birthday.)

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Ingredients:

For the Cake

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened apple sauce
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3 cups finely grated peeled carrots (about 1 pound)
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans (about 1/2 ounce)
  • 1/2 cup raisins

For the frosting

  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla extract
Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Lightly grease three 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 1 1/2-inch-high sides. Line bottom of pans with waxed paper. Lightly grease waxed paper. (If making cupcakes, line pans with paper cups or spray generously with cooking spray.) Using electric mixer, beat sugar and apple sauce in bowl until combined. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg into sugar and oil mixture. Stir in carrots, chopped pecans and raisins.
  2. Pour batter into prepared pans or cups, dividing equally. Bake until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean and cakes begin to pull away from sides of pans, about 45 minutes for cakes, 15-20 minutes for cupcakes, 9-14 minutes for mini cupcakes. Cool in pans on racks 15 minutes. Turn out cakes onto racks and cool completely. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Wrap tightly in plastic and store at room temperature.)
  3. Using electric mixer, beat all frosting ingredients in medium bowl until smooth and creamy.
  4. Place 1 cake layer on platter. Spread with 3/4 cup frosting. Top with another cake layer. Spread with 3/4 cup frosting. Top with remaining cake layer. Using icing spatula, spread remaining frosting in decorative swirls over sides and top of cake. (Can be prepared 2 days ahead. Cover with cake dome and refrigerate.) Serve cake cold or at room temperature.

Festive Sugar Cookies

I would make homemade sugar cookies for almost every holiday.  However, I don’t particularly like rolling out dough.  I get flour everywhere.  They are soooooo good to eat though.  My husband refers to them as “Christmas crack” since it is in our prenup that I will bake them then.  I own cookie cutters in so many shapes it’s obscene.  Most recently, I found a Queen Elizabeth II cookie cutter.  (Place a hand over your heart and shed a tear for Queen E! Yes, I’m American.)

My friend Zelda shared this recipe with me.  The secret ingredient is powdered sugar in the dough and not granulated. You could eat these cookies without icing; they are that good.  I make browned-butter icing for a deeper flavor. If I’m feeling especially adventurous, I’ll make the cookies and icing and allow guests to decorate their own cookies.  Fun for everyone! [Note: this can only be done if you are zen enough to ignore the icing, sprinkles, and half-eaten cookies you’ll find everywhere after the party has ended.]

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 salt

Directions:

  1. Cream sugar and butter until fluffy in a large bowl. Add egg and vanilla and mix until incorporated.
  2. In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder, and salt.
  3. Add flour mix to wet mixture.  Stir until just combined.
  4. The dough will be soft, so cover and chill for at least one hour.
  5. Working in small batches, roll dough to 1/4 inch thick on floured surface and cut-out desired shapes.
  6. Bake on cookie sheet for 10 minutes in a 350°F preheated oven.  Makes 2-3 dozen cookies.

Activities

Kids just want to play.  However, my house has been destroyed by kids just playing.  My more brilliant activities included renting a bouncy house for the backyard. The parents sat in the sunshine while kids jumped FOR HOURS and got sweaty.  That was a wonderful party.

Crafts are a great option for older, craft-loving kids. I prefer ones that don’t require parental help.  It’s hard to help a 6 year old glue feathers to something while drinking champagne and eating a ham sandwich.  Refer to bouncy house idea.  If it is raining on party day, the LEGOs will come out.  Parents love them too.  They are quite amazing little pieces of plastic, aren’t they?

I live next to a park now.  I can actually sit in my living room and see my kids on the monkey bars, slide, and swings. There is also a combo basketball court/soccer field.  This year, I may just throw some plastic shovels and balls of various size out the back door and release the sugar-high kids while the parents sit in the sunshine.

This party is so easy and so adaptable.  I have used this same formula for a Mother’s Day party.  (Interesting info: Norway celebrates Mother’s Day on second Sunday of February, while we celebrate it on the second Sunday of May in the US.  In the UK it is celebrated three weeks before Easter Sunday.  I’m celebrating all three this year!)  It would be great for graduation and other family/social get-togethers.  Norwegian Constitution Day (May 17th) would be a great day to use this party plan.  Turn it into a potluck assigning certain tasks/recipes to attendees.

It’s Spring.  No one should be stuck in a kitchen slaving away on party food, especially when there are easy, delicious treats like these. Enjoy the sunshine, new blossoms, and your party.

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