There are certain times of the year that many American families have “traditional” meals. New Years = sauerkraut or black eyed peas. Christmas = ham. Thanksgiving = turkey. Potato salad shows up at every family reunion or non-holiday event, including funerals.

Easter is a holiday I don't really engage with much. My family did the basket of candy/bunnies/egg hunt thing, but we were areligious. We usually had a dinner of ham and potatoes. I remember lots of fluffy rolls that came out of a can with a doughboy on the side. I'm sure we got out the special tablecloth—not the one with poinsettias on it, obviously, but the plain green one.

These meals are "special" in their whole family-at-the-table-ness. My mother is a good cook, do not misunderstand, but a slab of ham and some au gratin are not particularly rare to come by in a family from central Pennsylvania that's living in the UK.

I want to share two dishes that are traditional Easter fare and that I also love, one from England and one from Mexico.

English cuisine is meat and potato-based, bland, utilitarian. Heavy and caloric, you can drink while downing it. There are a few areas of UK food that shine. Sweets (which I will come back to some other time) and weird/awesome condiments.

At Easter you have roast lamb with mint jelly. My simple recipe for mint jelly is great with lamb or pork but also works on hearty whole wheat bread or as a filling in cookies.

Michael’s Stupid-Good Mint Jelly

  • 2 cups fresh mint
  • 2 cups water
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 oz liquid pectin (or 2 tsp Pomona’s Universal Pectin powder and the accompanying 2 tsp calcium water)
Take the mint with stems and add to the water in a blender. Blend until the mint is finely chopped. Bring this to a boil in a medium saucepan. Remove from heat and let steep for 45-50 min., or one episode of Legion. Are you watching Legion? Start while making this.
After steeping, strain well and voila: you should have 2 cups of mint tea. Put this in a medium saucepan and add the lemon juice. If you are using Pomona’s, pre-mix the calcium water into the lemon juice. Bring this to a boil.
Add sugar and stir until the mixture returns to a boil. If using Pomona’s, pre-mix pectin powder into the sugar. If using liquid pectin, it goes in after the sugar, once the mix has returned to a boil. Let cook for 1 minute then remove from heat. If you use Pomona’s you can get away with cutting the sugar down to ½ cup if you want a tart, low-cal version.
Pour liquid into jars. I use 4-oz Ball jars so I can gift the results. The jelly should keep up to four days. If you are into canning, you can water-bathe the jars to seal them. They will last up to a year unopened. Refrigerate once opened though.

I've lived in Santa Fe off and on for nearly two decades. I've come to love New Mexican cooking. I find the deserts to be especially interesting. The use of cheese is such a good idea, but a lot of people freak out about it.

Capirotada is bread pudding served on Good Friday. I had it for the first time at a misguided attempt by some kids from the East Coast to throw a Dia de los Muertos party.

Traditional Capirotada

  • 2 bolillos (or baguettes)
  • 4 ½ cups water
  • 12 oz Piloncillo (or 1 ½ cups dark brown sugar)
  • 4 cinnamon sticks
  • 6-10 whole cloves
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 3 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and cut up the bolillo (or baguette) into ½-inch discs. Butter both sides of the pieces and bake for 3 minutes on each side on a cookie sheet. Combine the water, piloncillo, cinnamon and cloves in a large saucepan. Bring this to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer for 20 minutes. It should resemble a light syrup. Remove from heat and let steep for 2 hours. Strain the mixture.
Lightly butter a 8-by-10 ½ inch baking dish and layer ingredients in this order: bread, raisins, cheese, 1 ½ cups syrup. Let it hang for 10 minutes. Then do a second layer. Then a third. Let the whole thing sit for 15 minutes—which adds up to a second episode of Legion. Seriously, watch it.
Cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Uncover and bake until the cheese is golden brown. Serve this warm with ice cream or fresh whipped cream.