Dear Chef Mom: This year, I'd love to use natural dyes to color our Easter eggs. Will that really work? If so, where do I begin? - Sarah M, Cleveland
Chef Mom says:
How fun! You can get a wide range of fabulous colors using everyday food ingredients.
There are several different ways to color eggs for Easter. We're going to focus on the safest methods - ones that will actually allow you to eat your dyed eggs. (This means not allowing the eggs to soak outside the fridge for an extended length of time after cooking.)
One great way to complete the job is to combine the cooking and coloring phases by boiling your eggs with the chosen dye ingredients. You will end up cooking smaller batches of eggs in order to vary the colors. This method works well with red and yellow onion skins, grated carrot, spinach, beets, red cabbage, saffron, blueberries (canned or frozen and defrosted) and cranberry or purple grape juice. (The greater the amount of colorful food or juice you add, the darker the resulting hue.)
A half teaspoon of vinegar in the boiling water will help the color adhere (although this is not necessary when using onion skins).
Before refrigerating the boiled eggs (just after cooking), you can also add some colors by soaking eggs in one cup of hot water, 1/2 teaspoon white vinegar and adding a coloring agent, such as instant coffee (1-2 tablespoons) for a nice brown, or cumin or tumeric for a lovely warm yellow (1-2 teaspoons).
Finally, you can soak your eggs after cooking in cool solutions of various juices, such as cranberry, beet, purple grape, blueberry or blackberry.
Hard-boiled eggs should be cooked thoroughly, refrigerated within two hours of cooking, and then eaten within one week. The US Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service further notes that hard-boiled eggs for an egg hunt must be prepared carefully to prevent cracking the shells, because if the shells crack, bacteria could contaminate the inside. Eggs should be hidden in places that are protected from dirt, pets, and other sources of bacteria.
And again, to make the hunt fun and to avoid spending the evening throwing up - or worse - the total time for hiding and hunting eggs should not be longer than two hours. The "found" eggs must be re-refrigerated until eaten. If the Easter egg hunt will take longer than two hours, it might be a good idea to hide plastic eggs instead, and bring out the colored real eggs for mealtime. (Need ideas? Try this recipe for divine deviled eggs, or make some delicious egg salad.)
Have a great time, and happy hunting!