Easy and Elegant Easter Entertaining

What more joyous way to celebrate Easter, a wonderful festival of hope and renewal, than to share a delicious meal with family and friends? Showcase the seasonal bounty of spring with a delicious but simple menu you can enjoy preparing and eating and still have enough energy left over to hunt for eggs.

Brunch, lunch or dinner? Decide when you want to share your holiday meal and plan accordingly. No children in the family? Sleep in and plan your celebration for evening with an elegant Easter dinner. Feeding a large brood? Try a hearty brunch buffet with choices to satisfy every craving. If you are sure of balmy weather, plan an extravagant outdoor Easter egg hunt and prepare a casual but fun Easter luncheon.

Start with an easy menu. Remember, you want to celebrate too. Plan your menu around a spectacular but easy-to-cook ham slathered with a delicious glaze. Try roasting a traditional leg of lamb studded with garlic, and surround it with whole baby red potatoes that cook with the roast. For a faster but equally delicious choice, have your butcher butterfly a leg of lamb for marinating and grilling. If your oven is occupied with the Easter roast, plan your menu with side dishes, salads and desserts that require little time in the oven or can be completely or partially prepared ahead of time. Traditional, seasonal breads such as hot cross buns can be included in your meal as well; bake them ahead of time and freeze until needed, or buy them from one of your favorite bakeries.

Take advantage of spring's seasonal bounty and include some of the wonderful fresh fruits and vegetables available at this time of year in your holiday meal. Prepare a sunny carrot salad tossed with fresh herbs and a spicy vinaigrette instead of more traditional cooked carrots to add a zing of color to your holiday table. If you can't imagine your Easter dinner without fresh asparagus, try grilling it instead of steaming it to add a delicious smoky flavor to the spears. Trim the asparagus, drizzle with olive oil and season with kosher salt and pepper. Grill over medium heat until lightly browned and crisp-tender. Fresh springtime strawberries should definitely be included in your holiday meal. Try them in a fruit salad tossed with chunks of fresh pineapple and fresh raspberries, or prepare an unusual salad by tossing quartered strawberries with baby spinach leaves and drizzle with a balsamic vinaigrette. Sliced strawberries are also delicious tossed with a little sugar and Grand Marnier, spooned over slices of homemade pound cake and topped with freshly whipped cream.

Include a fabulous dessert: Every holiday menu needs to include a great dessert, but it doesn't have to be difficult. Create a fabulous fruit "fool," an old-fashioned English dessert, by folding together sweetened fruit puree and freshly whipped cream. Strawberry, raspberry or even rhubarb puree can be folded into cream for a rich, easy dessert reminiscent of a simple mousse. Serve in a beautiful dessert bowl, or create your own edible bowl by dipping blown-up balloons in melted white chocolate chips. Place the dipped balloons on a waxed paper- lined baking sheet and refrigerate until the chocolate is hard, pop and remove the balloon, and voila -- an edible white chocolate bowl. Or try a pavlova, an ethereal meringue dessert first popularized in Australia.

Bring the beauty of the outdoors in: Bring spring indoors with an Easter centerpiece of fresh flowers for your table. Line an Easter or other decorative woven basket with heavy plastic and fill with potting soil. Plant colorful primroses in the basket and press moss over the soil between the flowers. Alternatively, plant individual primroses, pansies or other spring blossoms in tiny terracotta pots. Use the pots as place cards, propping a name card in front of each pot and setting one at each place setting.

Eggs-cellent placeholders: For alternative place card holders, buy alphabet stickers from craft or stationery stores and spell out each guest's name on a hard-boiled egg. Dye the eggs in vibrant colors. When the egg has achieved the desired hue, dry it and remove the stickers. You can also brush the names with a little craft glue and sprinkle them with clear or silver glitter for a sparkly look. Set the eggs in decorative egg cups and put one at each place setting.

Make color count: Create a simple but eye-catching table and decorate in monochromatic Easter hues. Lay your table with pale butter-yellow linens. Place cream or white china over decorative chargers and tie patterned yellow napkins with sheer, yellow chiffon ribbon. Place a glass vase full of dozens of fresh yellow daffodils for an eye-catching table. Try the same approach with different colors such as lilac, pale green or pink.

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