Earle Wilkes Prepares Festive Easter Lunch For Family

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OPELIKA —

Vibrant, pink azaleas provide a warm welcoming setting at the lovely home of Earle and Kenny Wilkes in Opelika as they prepare for family to visit on Easter for a festive lunch after church. Earle will have the dining room table set with her fine china and serve dishes her children have enjoyed over the years that are now favorites of their grandchildren.

The Wilkes’ daughter, Emily Garner, and her two children, Wilkes, 11, and Gray, 10, who live in Auburn, will be attending the Easter lunch. While their son, Sam, a practicing attorney in Baldwin County, and his wife Libba with their two sons, Henry, 7, and Miller, 5, often visit at Easter, they will be at home in Fairhope this year.

Earle’s traditional Easter menu has changed some over the years, but many dishes remain favorites. When Emily was 11 years old and Sam was 7, Earle was featured in my Southern Gourmet food column that I was writing at the time. The article featured Earle and the children in a photo with a Mandarin Orange Cake, which is pictured in this year’s photo as still the Easter favorite.

Easter is a special day at the home of Earle and Kenny Wilkes of Opelika. Earle prepares a celebratory lunch with traditional family favorites. Pictured with the Mandarin Orange Cake and Easter Rice Krispie Nests are, from left, Gray Garner, Earle Wilkes, Emily Garner and Wilkes Garner.

Growing up in Selma, Earle has wonderful memories of going to her grandmother’s home after church on Sundays for dinner with many family members. Her grandmother was an excellent cook and generally served two types of meat. If they had roast beef at lunch, she would make hash for supper.

For Easter dinner at her grandmother’s home, turkey would be served instead of ham. Her grandmother would make a creamy vegetable casserole called ragout and an almond macaroon charlotte for dessert. Earle sometimes watched her grandmother cook and always enjoyed being in her home.

Earle met Kenny, who grew up in Opelika, when they were students at the University of Alabama. He was in law school, while she majored in social work. They married after graduating and moved to Opelika. Earle went to work as a social worker for the Department of Human Resources before Emily was born.

Along with his law practice, Kenny served as an Opelika municipal judge for 30 years. He retired four years ago. The former judge enjoys fishing at their lake home and spending time with their grandchildren. Since retiring, he began cooking as a hobby, but Earle still cooks the holiday meals.

When Emily graduated high school, Earle began her hobby of monogramming which became a small business. She still enjoys monogramming and sewing. Earle was active in the Arts Association of East Alabama for many years and is currently involved in the Opelika Historic Preservation Society, serving as secretary.

After graduating from the University of Alabama and physical therapy school at UAB, Emily married and was living in Carrolton, Georgia. In 2017, Emily and her two children moved to Auburn. Wilkes and Gray both attend Ogletree Elementary School.

Emily is a busy mom working as a physical therapist and in home health, and the children are active in after-school activities. Sometimes they don’t get home until seven at night, and then it is time to do homework.

Emily is glad to be back living near her parents and being at their home on holidays for her children, as they create happy memories.

“I love being back here,” she said. “My parents are always reliable for a good meal and have traditions at holidays that are important to us.”

At Easter, Wilkes and Gray color eggs and make festive cookies, such as Easter Rice Krispie Nests, with their mom and Grandmother Earle. After church, they will go to Emily’s parents for Easter lunch.

Earle plans ahead and will freeze some of the dishes for Easter lunch and prepare others the day before. When they return from services at the First United Methodist Church in Opelika, it will be easy to assemble the meal and bake the pork tenderloin that has been marinated overnight. Sometimes Kenny will grill the pork, but for lunch after church, it is easier to bake it.

Favorites include stuffed eggs, rolls, potato salad, macaroni and cheese and, of course, the Mandarin Orange Cake and Carrot Cake with Coconut and Pecan Cream Cheese Frosting.

Earle will set the table ahead with her good china and arrange flowers as the centerpiece. She sets a small table for the children in the dining room so they are all in one room.

“I want the children to know that Easter is a special time because of what it means,” she said. “Having the kids move back has been so much joy and I enjoy helping with carpooling at times.”

“Being home takes me back,” Emily said. “I get to feel like a kid again. When I walk in the house I grew up in, it slows me down and makes me feel relaxed and comfortable.

“I like the traditions of Easter with the table set and favorite foods. My parents make it special, and my kids get to see that Easter is a special day, and new memories are being created.”

Traditional Stuffed Eggs

6 eggs

¼ cup mayonnaise

1 tsp. yellow mustard

¼ cup pickle relish

Lemon juice

Salt and pepper, to taste

Paprika, to garnish

Place eggs in a single layer in a saucepan and fill with enough water to cover. Add a little baking soda to make it easier to peel the eggs. Heat on high until water comes to a full boil. Cover and remove from heat. Let stand for 15 minutes, then rinse with cold water.

Crack eggshells and peel under running water. Slice eggs in half lengthwise, removing yolks. Mash yolks and add mayonnaise, mustard, pickle relish, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.

Spoon egg yolks into egg halves. Garnish with paprika, if desired.

Easter Rice Krispie Nests

4 cups marshmallows

5 cups rice cereal

¼ cup coconut oil

2 tsp. vanilla

2 cups mini eggs or jelly beans

Grease a 12-cup muffin tin and set aside. Place the marshmallows in a large microwave-safe bowl and heat for 25 to 30 seconds. Stir well and repeat heating if needed. Add the melted coconut oil and vanilla extract to the marshmallows and stir well to incorporate.

Add the rice cereal a cup at a time, gently folding it into the marshmallow mixture, until all the cereal is incorporated. Scoop heaping ¼ cup portions of the Rice Krispie treats into the prepared muffin tin. Wet hands to keep from sticking and press mixture into a cup shape. Place in the refrigerator for 2 hours or overnight to set. When set, pop them out of the tin and fill with mini eggs or jellybeans.

Mandarin Orange Cake

1 box golden butter cake mix

1 cup canola oil

4 eggs

1 can mandarin oranges, do not drained

Combine all ingredients and mix well. Pour into 3 greased and floured cake pans. Bake for 25 minutes at 350 degrees. When layers are cool, frost and refrigerate.

Frosting:

1 large can crushed pineapple, drained

1 large pkg. instant vanilla pudding

1 large container Cool Whip

Mix frosting ingredients together and spread on cooled cake. This cake freezes well.

Potato Salad

I always make this a day ahead to let the flavors meld.

6 medium Yukon gold potatoes, skin on and quartered

2 Tbsp. white vinegar

2 celery stalks, diced

½ cup sweet onion, diced

3 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and chopped

1 ½ cups Hellman’s mayonnaise

2 tsp. yellow mustard

1 tsp. celery seed

¾ cup sweet salad cubes

2 Tbsp. lemon juice

Salt and pepper, to taste

Add the potatoes to a large pot of cold water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a lightly rolling boil over medium heat and add 1 tsp. salt. Cook for 20 to 25 minutes or until the potatoes are easily pierced with a fork. Drain and set aside until cool enough to handle.

Peel the skins from the potatoes and cut into ½ to ¾ inch square pieces. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and sprinkle with the white vinegar and toss. Set aside to let cool, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Add the celery, onions, pickle and chopped eggs to the potato mixture.

In a medium bowl, mix the mayonnaise, mustard, celery seed and salt and pepper. Fold into the potato mixture and season with more salt and pepper.

Vegetable Casserole

1 can white shoe peg corn, drained

1 can French-style green beans, drained

½ cup chopped bell pepper

½ cup grated sharp cheese

½ cup chopped celery

½ cup chopped onion

½ cup sour cream

1 can cream of celery soup

Salt and pepper to taste

Topping:

½ box (small) crumbled Ritz cheese crackers

½ stick butter, softened or melted

½ can slivered almonds

Mix all ingredients, except for topping, in a 2 qt. casserole. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Combine topping ingredients. Add topping and brown slightly.

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

1 lb. elbow macaroni

Kosher salt

½ stick unsalted butter

2 cups milk

2 cups grated sharp cheese

Macaroni:

Bring 4 quarts water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add 2 tsp. salt and macaroni. Bring the water back to a boil and cook until tender, about 12 minutes. Drain well.

Cheese Sauce:

Melt ½ stick butter in a 1-quart saucepan. Using a wire whisk, stir in flour and 1 tsp. salt, stirring and cooking over medium heat until the roux bubbles and the flour turns pale brown, about 3 minutes. Slowly whisk in 1 cup of the milk and then whisk in the remaining 1 cup milk. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens. Add the cheese and stir until melted. Add the drained macaroni to the cheese sauce and mix thoroughly.

Transfer to a buttered 1-quart casserole dish and bake in preheated 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes or until it bubbles around the edges.

Broccoli Slaw

12-16 oz. bag of broccoli slaw

2 cups small broccoli florets

8 slices cooked bacon, crumbled or bought bacon bits

½ cup thinly sliced red onion

2/3 cup dried cranberries

½ cup chopped walnuts (can use toasted almonds)

½ cup crumbled feta cheese

½ to ¾ bottle coleslaw dressing

Combine all the salad ingredients in a medium bowl and toss.

Pour some of the coleslaw dressing on the top. You will only need ½ to ¾ of the bottle. Can be made the day ahead. Serves 6.

Oven Roasted Asparagus

1 bunch asparagus

3-4 Tbsp. olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 garlic cloves, minced

3 Tbsp. freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Juice of ½ lemon

Heat oven to 425 degrees.

Wash the asparagus and trim the bottom inch or so of each stalk to get rid of the tough part.

Pat dry and spread by single layer on baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle generously with kosher salt. Toss to coat evenly and roast for 8 to 10 minutes until tender.

Remove from oven and sprinkle garlic, Parmesan cheese and lemon juice over top.

Grilled or Baked Pork Tenderloin

2 pork tenderloins

½ bottle Allegro Original Marinade

½ bottle Italian dressing

1 tsp. rosemary

Place 2 full pork tenderloins into a resealable plastic bag.

In a small bowl whisk together ½ bottle each of Allegro Original Marinade, Italian dressing and rosemary. Marinate 4 hours to overnight in the refrigerator.

Cook on grill or bake in oven at 350 degrees for around 30 minutes. (Internal temperature 145 degrees or higher)

Carrot Cake with Coconut and Pecan Cream Cheese Frosting

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp. soda

1 tsp. salt

2 cups sugar

2 tsp. cinnamon

1 ½ cups canola oil

4 beaten eggs

3 cups finely grated carrots

Sift together dry ingredients add oil, eggs and carrots. Mix well. Bake in 3 8” layer cake pans at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Make sure pans are greased and floured well. Can be baked in 13x 9-inch pan at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

Icing:

½ cup butter, room temperature

1 box confectioner’s sugar

8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, room temperature

2 tsp. vanilla

1 cup chopped pecans

3 ½ oz. can coconut

Cream softened butter and sugar. Add softened cream cheese. Beat until smooth. Add vanilla, nuts and coconut. Frost cake.

Freezes well.

Strawberry Congealed Salad

6 oz. pkg. strawberry Jell-O

1 cup boiling water

Two 10 oz. pkgs. frozen sliced strawberries, thawed

20 oz. can pineapple crushed, drained

3 bananas, mashed

1 cup pecans, chopped

8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened

1 cup sour cream

In large bowl, stir Jell-O in boiling water until dissolved. Add strawberry, pineapple, bananas and nuts. Pour ½ mixture into 13 x 9 pan and refrigerate until firm.

Combine cream cheese and sour cream and spread over bottom layer of Jell-O. Gently spoon on remaining Jell-O and chill.

Sweet Potato Casserole

3 cups cooked sweet potatoes

1 cup sugar

½ cup butter, room temperature

2 eggs, slightly beaten

1 tsp. vanilla

1/3 cup milk

Combine all ingredients and pour into casserole.

For topping mix:

1 cup brown sugar

½ cup flour

1/3 cup butter, room temperature

Sprinkle topping over casserole and bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Serves 8 to 10.

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