Roast chicken. Coconut cake. Those are the two menu items I plan around when thinking of Easter dinner.

Not everyone in my extended family likes ham, but everyone will eat roast chicken. My method of cooking a whole chicken has always been to plop it in the black-speckled roasting pan, surround it with a bunch of garlic cloves and fresh herbs, put the lid on it, and turn the oven to 350 degrees.

This year, I thought it was time to try something different and the results are delicious. Roasting the chicken on a higher heat, uncovered, is the way to go if you want both juicy breast meat and crisp golden skin.

Because of the Easter bunny, you want to serve carrots alongside. Stir a smidgen of marmalade into them and even your most finicky eater at the table will devour their veggies, especially with the promise of coconut cake for dessert.

The first time I sampled a slice of this heavenly cake (shaped like a fluffy bunny and surrounded by baby bunny cupcakes) was at a friend’s house. It was Easter and I was nine months pregnant. Within just a few hours after dinner, my third child was born.

Her birthday doesn’t always fall on the holiday, but of course, more than 40 years later, I still want coconut cake for Easter.

Roast Chicken with Grapes

1 (4-5 lb.) chicken

2 tsp. kosher salt

1-2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1 lemon

4 tsps. olive oil

1 cup seedless grapes

2 tsp. Marsala wine

1 tsp. butter

After patting chicken dry, rub with salt and refrigerate in an uncovered bowl for at least an hour or better yet, overnight.

An hour before roasting, remove chicken from refrigerator, brush with 3 tsp. olive oil and season with pepper and lemon zest. Cut lemon in half, squeeze the juice over the chicken then tuck the lemon inside.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place chicken in a heavy roasting pan and cook for 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, toss grapes with remaining oil and a dash each of salt and pepper. Place the grapes around the chicken and continue roasting for 25 minutes. When using a thermometer in the thickest area of the breast meat, the temperature should read 150 degrees. The grapes should be wrinkled and caramelized.

Remove the chicken to a platter to rest before carving and set the grapes aside. Add wine to the roasting pan and set it across two burners on the stove top over medium-high heat. Cook juices until thickened slightly. Whisk in butter. Serve sauce with chicken and grapes. Yield: 4 servings

Roasted Carrots

3 lbs. carrots, peeled

3 tbsps. olive oil

1 tbsp. kosher salt

1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

2-3 tbsps. orange marmalade, warmed

2 tbsps. fresh parsley minced

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cut carrots in half lengthwise then slice 1-inch thick. Place the carrots on a sheet pan and toss with oil, salt and pepper. Roast for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender. Toss them with marmalade and sprinkle with parsley. Yield: 4-6 servings.

Coconut Cake

Cake:

2 cups flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

5 large eggs, room temperature, separated

2 cups sugar

1/2 cup butter, room temperature

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 cup buttermilk

2 cups shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease three 9-inch round cake pans and dust with flour. Sift together dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, beat egg whites with an electric mixer on medium speed until soft peaks form. In another bowl, cream together sugar and butter for 4 minutes with mixer. Add oil and mix thoroughly. Add yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition. Continue beating for 2 minutes.

Fold half the dry ingredients into the butter mixture. Beat in half the buttermilk. Fold in remaining dry ingredients and add remaining buttermilk. Fold in coconut then fold in egg whites. Pour batter into pans and bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean.

Allow cakes to cool for 15 minutes then slide a knife around sides of pans and invert cakes onto cooling racks. Cool completely.

Filling:

1/2 cup butter, room temperature

4 oz. cream cheese

1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar

1 tbsp. lemon zest

2 tbsps. lemon juice

2 tbsps. milk

Cream butter and cream cheese together in a bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add all other ingredients and mix well. Spread half the filling on top of one cake layer. Place the second layer on top and spread with other half of filling.

Icing:

1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar

1 (16-oz.) container sour cream

2 cups shredded coconut

1 tsp. vanilla

Combine all ingredients with an electric mixer and refrigerate at least 30 minutes before frosting cake. Refrigerate cake. Yield: 10-12 servings

Karen Scneider cooks and writes in the village of Cundy’s Harbor. You can reach her at [email protected].

Turn up your oven for roast chicken with grapes. Stand by for a delicious holiday meal.

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