Holidays · Meal Prep · Recipes

Easy Crowd Pleasing Easter Menu

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Happy Easter! This was my first time hosting since the birth of my daughter, and even though its a small group – 5 adults and a toddler – I still wanted to choose items that would be manageable without sacrificing taste or quality.

Here’s what I planned:

In the end, I didn’t make the asparagus. Between morning Easter basket time with my son, church, and nursing my daughter, it was a little too much. While I would have preferred to have a green vegetable as part of the dinner, we really didn’t need it and were very happy with the meal as it was, I’m glad I kept it stress-free. I’ll eat the asparagus this week instead.

Appetizers

What could be easier than these two options I picked? Very little. Comte is a French cheese that we get around the holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter). Its delicious and my toddler asks for it by name – its a little more special than just throwing some cheddar out there. The shrimp is a relatively healthy option and we won’t get too full before the meal by snacking on these.

Cocktails and Wine

I worked hard to build up enough breastmilk so that I could enjoy a glass of Prosecco, it was so delicious! Once Springtime starts, Rose is my wine of choice – but its got to be a good one – bad Rose is especially bad. We had a bottle of Cossinelle Gamay that my family enjoyed, but I went for the Prosecco this time.

I did not join in for a Whiskey Sour, but if you can enjoy an cocktail, I recommend starting guests off with one than switching to wine (or beer). My husband makes a mean whiskey sour, per the below.

Hubby's Whiskey Sour

  • Servings: 1
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


INGREDIENTS
2oz Fresh squeezed lemon and lime mix
2oz Bourbon
1oz Simple Syrup
1 Bing Cherry

INSTRUCTIONS
Shake first 3 ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker. Strain into cocktail glass, add cherry and enjoy!

Main Course

The good thing about my menu was that each item is pretty easy to put together. The negative was that there was very little that could be prepped ahead of time, meaning everything needed to be done on Easter itself. (The bread and cake were made ahead, on Saturday).

Baked Ham with Orange Mustard Glaze

I found this recipe on Food Network and loved it. I like that they offer various glaze options. I chose the Orange and Mustard and it was a big hit. This recipe is definitely my new go to for ham. I also served the ham with fresh pineapple slices – a great combo!

Honey Glazed Carrots

The carrots were also very successful – a little different because they incorporate lemon to cut the honey a bit. I also wanted to be sure I could cook everything except the ham on the stovetop, since I do not have a double oven and a 10lb ham takes up the full oven! This recipe also came from Food Network, was easy and tasty. I used full size carrots instead of baby (I did 3 carrots per person), cut in half before preparing. I also didn’t bother with the parsley (once again when juggling two kids under three I don’t take on too much!) and you won’t miss it.

Mashed Potatoes

You might notice that every holiday meal at my house includes mashed potatoes. Maybe its my Irish background or maybe its because they are so delicious, we’ll never know, but they never disappoint!

My method – Peel Russet Potatoes (2 medium per person) but keep whole. Place potatoes in a large pot and cover with water, salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a rolling boil and cook until potatoes are fully cooked, drain. Heat whole milk (roughly 1 tablespoon per potato) in separate pot on low until warm (using cold milk can lead to a gummy consistency). Return potatoes to pot or large bowl, add in butter (roughly 1 tablespoon per potato) and mash potatoes using electrical mixer or by hand. Slowly add warm milk until desired consistency is reached!

Bread and Dessert

Cinnamon Bread

I debated whether to go sweet or savory for the bread with dinner. In the end I went for the cinnamon bread because it pairs so well with the salty ham. This is one of my mom’s recipes, and its another staple in our family for many different holidays or get-togethers. She lists the walnuts as optional – but I always go for the walnuts.

Carrot Cake

This carrot cake recipe comes from Flour Bakery. If you live in the Boston area (or are planning to visit) Flour is a must-visit place. Everything they make is amazing, and I highly recommend the cookbook as well.

That’s it! My advice is to keep it easy and enjoy the day, I know we did. For leftovers we love sandwiches of course, but ham is great in quiches and soups too!

Holidays · parenting

Best Easter Basket Items for a Toddler Boy

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Easter is a time for celebration, but the religious concepts that are the basis for the holiday are a little too advanced for a toddler. You can start to build associations for them though – that Easter is a happy time, it involves family and Springtime – a time of renewal and rebirth (and also chocolate and the Easter Bunny because why not let them be kids for a while…)

Maybe its because I have a newborn and want to be sure my oldest doesn’t feel forgotten, or maybe its because the day I went shopping for Easter was my first time at a store in weeks after the birth of my daughter, but I did go a little overboard with my sons Easter Basket this year. As I went back over all the items I had to actually assemble the basket, I saw that some of my choices were better than others.

Here are the best items to assemble a well-rounded, fun, and affordable Easter Basket.

Sand Toys – Summer is around the corner, and there’s not much that little boys (and girls) like more than playing in the sand (and getting dirty in general). If you don’t have a traditional Easter ‘basket’ you can even use a sand pail as the basket itself which would be super cute.

Books – Basically any occasion that calls for gifts (holidays, birthdays, etc) I include books. My son does love to be read to, but I also want him to associate books with presents – so that he’ll be excited to get a new one. There’s nothing I like more than getting a new book (I’m actually guilty of buying books constantly. I read obsessively, but my ‘To Read’ list is long and the stack of books in my nightstand waiting to be read is substantial – which makes me happy). For the basket, I wanted to include some Easter books but also just some books I know he’ll love. Here’s what I chose:

Puzzles – puzzles actually have a ton of benefits for early childhood development, and yet they are disguised as toys! Some of the benefits:

  • Cognitive – Color, letter and spatial awareness skills 
  • According to the Child Development Institute “a child’s brain development is influenced significantly when a child acts on or manipulates the world around him or her. Puzzles provide that key opportunity. Children learn to work directly with their environment and change its shape and appearance when they work with puzzles”
  • Confidence – the sense of accomplishment that comes with completion of the puzzle brings a ton of satisfaction to a child. Overcoming the challenges involved in solving puzzles gives them a sense of pride and self-esteem.
  • Motor Skills Development

I chose this Fire Truck puzzle for my son’s basket (he LOVES firetrucks) but also had a custom one made from Shutterfly, where you can add any photo you want to the puzzle, this picture is the moment he met his sister for the first time 🙂 and dinosaurs, of course.

Candy – He doesn’t get much candy, but he sure enjoys it when he does! He likes gummy bears and chocolate, but his Easter basket will have bunny chocolates (and the bag is cute too). Fun fact – 59% of Americans eat their chocolate Easter bunnies ears first.

Play-Doh – my son loves play-doh, and we need to keep replenishing the supply. I’m happy for him to play with it as its creative and quiet 🙂 These are perfect because they come in eggs and pastels for Spring!

Bubbles and Truck – For my son, if there wasn’t a car or truck involved then you’ve failed. He’s just obsessed. After a recent trip to the zoo, when I was asking him about which animals he saw and what was his favorite thing, all he could talk about was the tractor he climbed. Yup, that’s my son. I also included the bubbles because he’s finally old enough to hold it and create the bubbles himself, another activity that’s perfect for nice weather.

Stickers and Coloring – More creative, quiet, and affordable items – win, win, win! This sticker book is perfectly Easter and the Thomas (invisible ink unless you color on the page) will be a big hit!

That’s it! Throw it all in a basket (or bucket) with some Easter grass and have a great day! Maybe buy some extra chocolate for yourself too 🙂

Holidays · Recipes

St. Patrick’s Day!

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I have to admit, I was secretly hoping to be in labor or in the hospital by St. Patty’s Day – I also thought it would be cute if baby girl happened to have a St. Patrick’s Day birthday, I am half Irish after all :). However the baby has her own plans and I am still waiting for her arrival…..patiently?

Either way – I did have my corned beef and cabbage ingredients ready just in case, and of course, we ended up with a great Irish-American dinner at home instead.

Since my son, Sean, is only 2 – he doesn’t quite understand holidays or what they mean, but he can tell when we have a ‘special’ meal or event, and I think it adds just a little magic to life, so I like to celebrate all holidays and occasions!

For March 17th – I picked a Skinnytaste Corned Beef and Cabbage instant pot recipe this year: https://www.skinnytaste.com/instant-pot-corned-beef-and-cabbage/ but did make a couple modifications. I also made an Irish Soda bread and mashed potatoes, that I’ll talk about below.

First, 2lbs doesn’t turn out to be very much meat, even for a family of three – and I definitely wanted to have leftovers for a few sandwiches the next day. So I went with a 3.5lb piece of corned beef.

Then, instead of cooking in water, I used beef broth. If I weren’t pregnant I would probably go with half beef broth and half Guinness for extra St. Patty’s flavor!

The last modification (and most important) is that the carrots and onions do not need to cook the whole 1.5hrs – they would definitely turn to mush! so – here are my modified instructions below. (The veggies turned out perfect, my meat slightly overcooked, so in the instructions below I cut the cooking time for the meat down slightly to adjust).

Skinny Corned Beef and Cabbage

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3.5 pounds trimmed, lean corned beef brisket
  • 5 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1 cup frozen pearl onions
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/8 tsp whole peppercorns
  • 1 medium head cabbage, cut into 6 wedges
  • 1 box beef broth

DIRECTIONS:

  • Place the corned beef brisket, parsley, bay leaves and peppercorns in the Instant pot and add 3 cups of broth.
  • Cover and cook on high pressure 1 hr 15mins. Natural release then open.
  • Add the carrots and onions, cover and cook on high pressure 7 minutes, quick release.
  • Add the cabbage to the top, cover and cook on high pressure 3 minutes, quick release.
  • Remove meat and slice into 6 pieces.

For the Irish Soda bread, I picked an Ina Garten recipes, but made some modifications of course! When it comes to Irish bread, there are two different types – those made with buttermilk and those without. They lead to two very different consistencies. I would say if you’re looking for the more traditional texture, a little dry and crumbly, this is probably not the recipe you want – this one is a little bit heavier and smoother. Both delicious, just a matter of taste and expectation. https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/irish-soda-bread-recipe-1949134

The modification I made is that we don’t have raisins or currants in the house, they can be deadly for dogs, and our son will feed the dog anything, so its just too risky for us. So I went a very untraditional route and used dried cherries in our bread – that turned out to be a delicious move, so I’ll probably keep doing that in the future!

I also sprinkled the top with some sugar before baking to give the crust a little sweetness. Otherwise I stuck to the recipe, as follows:

Irish Soda Bread

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for currants
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 1 3/4 cups cold buttermilk, shaken
  • 1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon grated orange zest
  • 1 cup dried currants (or in my case, dried cherries!)

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper (or use a handy cooking mat like I prefer!)
  • Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the butter and mix on low speed until the butter is mixed into the flour.
  • With a fork, lightly beat the buttermilk, egg, and orange zest together in a measuring cup. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture. Combine the dried fruit with 1 tablespoon of flour and mix into the dough. It will be very wet.
  • Dump the dough onto a well-floured board and knead it a few times into a round loaf. Place the loaf on the prepared sheet pan and lightly cut an X into the top of the bread with a serrated knife. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. When you tap the loaf, it will have a hollow sound.
  • Cool on a baking rack.
Before
After!

Then, you can’t celebrate St. Patty’s Day without potatoes, but the traditional would be boiled potatoes, usually cooked in the delicious meat juices. Since the potatoes aren’t included in the instant pot recipe, I decided to switch it up and just make mashed. I knew it would be a bigger hit with my husband this way too!

Ready to Eat!