Cousin Camp Out (Recipe: Sour Cream & Onion Potato Packets)

I‘ve been camping ever since I was about ten, when my sister and I would sling a backpack of food and blankets into a canoe and paddle off to spend the night on a nearby island.

We’d build beds out of moss, sleep under the stars and wake up early for a dip in the lake. It was completely magical – and I still can’t believe my parents let us go! Nowadays, I camp with my young family, crash in a tent and stick to provincial campgrounds over wilderness, but our camping trips are every bit of an adventure as my childhood excursions.

This past weekend we invited a couple of the cousins and grand parents over for a backyard camp out on the summer solstice. It gave us a chance to test out our gear before we head next weekend for two nights of country camping with friends.

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Creamy New Potatoes with Bacon and Chives

If you want to feel good about your gardening skills, you should grow potatoes. They don’t give you any trouble, don’t need staking or thinning, and yield a good crop at the end of the summer – or earlier.

My boys grow our potatoes, taking care of everything from cutting the seed potatoes and placing them in the earth – ‘eyes at the sky’- to weeding and occasionally hilling around the plants. Undoubtedly, though, the best fun is at harvest, when they climb into the raised beds with their toy shovels and fling dirt everywhere like a couple of pirates searching for treasure.

When they’ve collected a small bucketful of potatoes and hosed them off, we always head for the kitchen, especially if these are the first spuds of the summer. A freshly-dug potato, boiled and buttered, is one of life’s little pleasures.

Mateo is already wondering aloud when it will be time to dig for potatoes, but with all of our rain and cool temperatures, the garden is slow to mature this summer. In the meantime, we’re enjoying new, locally grown spuds and I have a favorite new side dish that’s made with them.

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Three recipes for a simpler, smaller Easter dinner menu

A simple Easter dinner for 4 on

Buying potted yellow tulips, playing with bright flavors in the kitchen, and digging out my pair of summer Toms (even if only wearing them indoors) are a few of the motions I must go through during this time of the year to try and feign a feeling of spring.

It’s late March and the snowbanks on either side of our driveway tower over my head like steady ramparts, as if barring spring from ushering in wildflowers and fresh clover. It’s unfathomable to think that we will have a green Easter, although I can recall many an egg hunt in the past enjoyed in the grass, not to mention brunch on the patio. This year will be different and that’s okay.

Since we are barreling toward the Easter long weekend, it’s time to do a little menu planning. Mother Nature may not be on board, but perhaps that won’t matter, as we’ll be to busy tucking in to…this.

A simple Easter dinner for 4 on

I made this menu for a recent Sunday dinner (remember, I’m bringing back the tradition for our family) and while I was setting the table and whisking together the mustard vinaigrette, it struck me that the meal would make a lovely, small scale Easter dinner.

The whole meal came together in just under an hour and featured Sunday dinner classics: roast poultry, young potatoes and fresh asparagus. Each component was simply prepared, but packed a punch of flavor thanks to vibrant pairings with ingredients such as Meyer lemons, capers, mustard and blood oranges.

Perhaps you’ll only be joined by a friend or two for the holiday meal, or celebrating Easter with a few family members around the table. If you are, and don’t wish to spend half a day in the kitchen, then this menu for you.

I would suggest beginning the celebration with a pretty plate of Guacamole Deviled Eggs, and finishing with these Easter Pavlovas with Lemon Whipped Cream and Vanilla-Rhubarb Compote. Of course there’s always Mini Lemon Tea Cakes that are idea, too.

If you’re not hosting on the upcoming holiday, bookmark this post for your next Sunday dinner. Better yet, forward it to your husband and drop a hint about Mother’s Day. Either way, be sure to enjoy these recipes this spring.

Hit the jump for three recipes for a simpler, smaller Easter dinner menu.

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Simplest Scalloped Potatoes

My technique for scalloped potatoes comes from a young chef I once worked with when I first moved to Montreal. The fact that he proposed marriage to me every second Saturday never lessened my admiration for his skill in the kitchen, and I learned a lot during the time we were together.

We were both transplanted, he from Lyon, France, and I from Canada’s West Coast. Trapped together in a small, hot kitchen six nights a week, we talked of family back home, the peculiarities of Quebec, and, of course, food. He would prepare the sauces and trim the meats for the evening service, and I would make the desserts and accompaniments to the entrees. Like these Pomme de Terre Dauphinois, or scalloped potatoes.

My chef-friend showed me how to layer thinly sliced potatoes in a shallow baking dish and cover them with cream for the simplest – yet delicately rich and lovely – side dish. The only seasoning on the potatoes was salt and pepper; hence, they went with nearly every dish on the menu.

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Roast Potatoes Two Ways: Polenta-Crusted and Rosemary Hash Browns

Potatoes tend to be served up in one of three ways at my table, all of the variations special in their own way. There are the classic Perfect Mashed Potatoes, naturally, a favorite with my children, and oh-so-comforting. Puff-pastry wrapped Potato Strudel is an elegant side dish that has won many of you over with its surprisingly easy assembly and beautiful presentation.

And then there are roast potatoes. Crispy and golden, with creamy white interiors, infused with a rosemary-garlic oil. They have to be my favorite side to accompany everything from the Sunday roast to a batch of scrambled eggs for brunch. Don’t save them just for when company comes over, these roast potatoes are even simple enough to be cooked up with sausages or a ham for a weeknight dinner.

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