Easter centerpieces set the tone for your celebration, so start there. Photo credit: Tulips and Teacups: bhg.com; Egg tree: countryliving.com
Southern hospitality knows no borders because it’s all about making guests feel special and at home. So this Easter, let’s all “Southern up” and treat our friends and family to a day they’ll remember long after the last Easter egg is rolled across the lawn. Here’s how.
Centerpieces do more than decorate when created with guests in mind. They become conversation starters and set everyone at ease. Modernists will like the sleek, elegant look created with glass cylinders, a few tulips and moss, above. Vintage tea cups add cottage charm when filled with lily-of-the-valley plants and placed by each table setting.
Kids of all ages will smile at this egg-travaganza for the eyes–a charming DIY egg tree and mini-floral garden as shown above, through which a chorus line of little chicks strut.
Try matching vibrant colors of spring flowers with the color scheme of your plates and napkins. Add a hard-boiled egg at each plate, as in this example. Photo credit: countryliving.com.
If monochromatic elegance is more your style, an all-white tablescape is a natural for Easter. Photo credit: countryliving.com
For a sweet favor at each seat, Easter bird nests made of marshmallows, chow mein noodles and Whoppers Robins Eggs are always a favorite. Photo: countryliving.com
Save guests the awkwardness of sitting here, there, everywhere and trying to balance plates on their laps. Invest in a well-sized dining table and buffets for spreading out the feast.
At 132″ long, the Sanctuary Refectory table will seat a crowd.
At 132 inches long with leaves extended, the Sanctuary Refectory table will seat your Easter crowd. Photo: Hooker Furniture.
The comfy Sanctuary dining arm chairs will encourage guests to linger well past mealtime.
Encourage guests to linger after Easter brunch with comfy dining arm chairs. Photo: Hooker Furniture.
Serving a buffet? The Emerald Fretwork Chest in its bright palette fits in beautifully with spring dining themes.
The Emerald Fretwork Chest is a perfect buffet for spring occasions. Photo: Hooker Furniture.
And the Black Shaped Apron Console Table creates additional serving surface without taking up too much space.
The Black Shaped Apron Console can serve dining buffet duty during any special occasion. Photo: Hooker Furniture.
On to food. An entree that can be assembled -or cooked- in advance is ideal because it frees you to spend time attending to guests instead of last minute meal prep. This recipe from Denise Gee’s cookbook, “Southern Casseroles–Comforting Pot Lucky Dishes” can be prepared up to three days in advance. Whew.
Croque Monsieur (French Ham ‘n Cheese) Casserole is a creative twist on an Easter favorite–ham. Photo credit: Robert M. Peacock, chroniclebooks.com
Croque Monsieur (French Ham n’ Cheese) Casserole
from “Southern Casseroles-Comforting Pot Lucky Dishes” by Denise Gee
Serves 6-8; Ingredients:
Two 8-ounce cans refrigerated crescent dinner rolls
¼ cup dijon mustard
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
½ Cup grated parmesan cheese
3 cups grated Gruyère cheese (see note below)
1¼ cups classic white sauce (recipe below)
½ teaspoon chopped fresh or 1/8 teaspoon dried thyme
¹⁄₈ teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 pound thinly sliced brown sugar -or maple- glazed deli ham, torn into about 3-inch pieces
Garnish: Fresh thyme sprigs
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Grease two 13-by-9-inch baking dishes. Unroll the crescent rolls into the dishes. Use your fingers to seal the perforations, pressing the dough up the dish sides so that it looks wavy and rustic. Bake each dish 10 to 12 minutes, or until the rolls are light golden brown. Remove the dishes from the oven and set aside to let cool. In a small bowl, combine the mustard and lemon juice. Use a brush or spoon to spread half of the mustard-lemon mixture atop each of the hot, baked crusts. (It absorbs best when the crusts are still warm). Whisk the Parmesan and ½ cup of the Gruyère into the white sauce. Add the thyme and nutmeg and set aside. Select the crust with the prettiest edging to use as the top and set aside. In the dish with the bottom crust, spread half of the cheese sauce over the crust. Add the ham evenly across the crust and top with 1 cup of the Gruyère. Remove the top crust from the other baking dish and place it atop the ham layer, using a wide spatula to press the top crust down gently. Evenly spread the remaining cheese sauce over it and top with the remaining 1 ½ cups Gruyère. Press down gently once more. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the filling is thoroughly heated. If desired, turn the broiler to low and cook the casserole for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the topping is lightly browned in spots. Let cool and cut into squares. Garnish with thyme sprigs before serving. NOTE: Suggested Gruyère substitutes are Emmentaler, Jarlsberg, or Swiss, in that order.
This can be made a few hours ahead of baking (but add the top layer of cheese just before putting it in the oven). Once cooked and tightly covered, it will refrigerate well for up to 3 days. I don’t recommend freezing it because of its cream sauce and cheese, which could make it gummy once reheated.
Classic White Sauce
Makes about 1½ cups. INGREDIENTS:
¼ cup butter or vegetable oil (see Notes)
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk, half-and-half, or cream, warm (see Notes)
½ teaspoon ground sea or kosher salt
¼ teaspoon ground white or black pepper (see Notes)
Dash of nutmeg
In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the butter and add the flour, whisking constantly until the mixture begins to bubble, 1 to 2 minutes. Slowly add the milk, and whisk to combine. When it just begins to boil, in about 2 minutes, reduce the heat to low, and whisk the sauce until smooth and thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. Season with the salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Use as directed. Notes: Vegetable oil and white pepper are often used to ensure the whitest sauce (though the flavor is less buttery); use black pepper if desired. Microwave each cup of milk for 40 to 50 seconds before adding it to the roux; warm milk (105°F to 110°F) will help the sauce incorporate faster and create less floury lumps. Without warming the milk, the sauce will be fine as long as you whisk it constantly; strain out any lumps if necessary. The richer the dairy product, the richer the sauce. For more complex flavor, replace half the liquid with chicken broth. For a thinner sauce, reduce the butter and flour by half.
Recipes courtesy of “Southern Casseroles–Comforting Pot-Lucky Dishes“ by Denise Gee; chroniclebooks.com