Pinings — Advice by Sherry Hughes

Cooking Help

Dear Sherry,

Iím not much of a cook and it looks like Easter dinner is at my house this year. Cooking lamb skeeves me out and I donít know how to cook it anyway. A couple of people are bringing food, but the bulk of it will be on me. My boyfriend is no help at all (although he will open the wine and help cleaning up). There will be anywhere from 8 to 11 people. Iím starting to panic. Youíve said before if we need help with this sort of thing to write. I need help. I donít know what to make. And having all those people in my house is freaking me out.

- Jan

Dear Jan,

If you have to host a holiday, Easter is one of the easy ones, in my humble opinion. On Thanksgiving, there are about a thousand side dishes to go along with the 20-pound turkey in the oven. At Christmas, there are presents to open, which can mess up timing. Easter is pretty straightforward.

Although lamb is considered traditional, ham is also a great Easter entrťe and itís way easier. Just put it in a pan, heat it up and serve. Go to the store and ask for a spiral-cut ham. Tell the person at the meat counter how many people are coming and he or she will steer you in the right direction. The cool thing about ham (in addition to leftover ham for sandwiches) is that itís already cooked. All you are really doing is heating it up. If you are a beginner, itís best to skip any fancy sauce or coating on the ham. Buy a couple of nice mustards (honey-mustard or a good Dijon) and serve them with the ham.

Side dishes for Easter dinner are also pretty easy. Asparagus is in season and itís fairly cheap around Easter. Buy a few pounds (and remember, itís better to have too much than not enough). Take it home, trim off about an inch on the bottom (the tough part) and soak it all in some cold water in the sink. Asparagus can be gritty, so soak it for a while. When itís cleaned, drain it on paper towels. After the ham comes out of the oven, crank up the heat to 400 degrees. Spray a large sided cookie sheet or a jellyroll pan with cooking spray or use a small amount of olive oil. Spread the asparagus out, sprinkle it with salt and pepper and then drizzle a bit (maybe 2 tablespoons) of olive oil all over it. Throw it in the oven and cook it just until the spears start to wilt. You might want to go in and move it around with a spatula a couple of times. It should take about 20 minutes or less to cook. To test for doneness, use a sharp knife and be sure you can cut through a spear.

Okay, you have ham and you have asparagus. Next, the starch. Red potatoes are lovely this time of year. Get a 5-pound bag. Wash them, quarter them and put them in a large pot. Cover them with water and bring them to a boil. When the water boils, turn it down a notch or two. Let them cook until they are soft (puncture them with a knife to test for doneness.) Drain the potatoes; toss them with chopped, fresh dill (a few tablespoons) and a dab of butter.

You can buy a loaf of crusty bread to serve with dinner Ė or ask someone else to bring rolls from the bakery (or buy them yourself).

If you are worried about an appetizer, buy some nice nuts, smoked almonds maybe, and put them out for people to munch on. Olives make a nice appetizer too Ö just grab a couple of different kinds at the store and put those out in bowls too.

Dessert can be fresh fruit and whipped cream (strawberries tend to be plentiful and ripe around Easter. Or an angel food cake (from the grocery store) served with fresh fruit. Put a bowl of Easter candy out. Make a pot of coffee. Keep the conversation lively. Go for a walk after dinner. Buy small chocolate bunnies to put near everyoneís plate or put them out near the front door for them to take home as they leave. 

If you are worried about the amount of food, make an extra side dish (buy a big bag of peeled baby carrots and follow the directions for cooking them on the back of the package). Better yet, ask someone to bring a side dish.

I love cooking Easter dinner. Springtime brings lots of options to the produce department. It tends to be a bit warmer, so families can go for a walk around the neighborhood after dinner or kids can play outside. Oh, and candy is involved.

The thing to remember is to keep it as simple as you can. And also keep in mind that the food is important, but the time spent together in a warm, welcoming home is what people will remember.

Good luck.

Sherry Hughes welcomes letters from readers. Contact her via e-mail at

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