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Brunching it up for Easter

Published: Wednesday, April 16, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT
Caption
(MCT News Service)
Brunch has practically become a required event on Easter Sunday. One menu suggestion includes Italian scrambled eggs with asparagus and ham.
Caption
(MCT News Service)
Another menu suggestion for Easter brunch includes fruit salad with port reduction glaze.
Caption
(MCT News Service)
Another menu suggestion for Easter brunch is peanut butter chocolate chip muffins.

First comes church, for those who go to church. Then comes brunch.

Easter brunch has become almost as much a part of the Easter celebration as chocolate, eggs and bunnies. It is a way to continue that feel-good sense of contentment with friends, family and loved ones.

And if you aren’t religious, it is a great excuse to come together for a Sunday brunch, the best of all possible meals.

Sunday brunch is about happiness; it is a pleasant, slow-paced way to put off chores and think about the week ahead. Good food, good company, eggs. Who could want anything more?

Perhaps because of its religious connotations, Easter brunch always seems to be the most enjoyable brunch of the year. Everyone seems to be in a good mood. Spring has almost always arrived. Flowers are blooming. And those little egg-shaped chocolates wrapped in brightly colored foil certainly help. So do jelly beans and Peeps.

For this year’s Easter brunch, I decided to feature a single dish that combines all three of the foods most closely associated with the season: eggs, asparagus and ham.

Eggs and asparagus, of course, are related to spring, rebirth and renewal, the not-so-subtle subtext that runs through the Easter celebration. Lamb is eaten by some at Easter because it is a springtime dish, and because Jesus was called the Lamb of God, but ham is popular for Easter because, well, it just is.

My recipe for Italian Scrambled Eggs with Asparagus and Ham comes from the invaluable “Frog Commissary Cookbook.” The original version is made with prosciutto, rather than ham, and prosciutto is an unbeatable accompaniment to asparagus. While the saltiness of prosciutto brightens the flavor of the dish, the smoke in ham does the same thing from another angle. I went with ham here because of its associations with Easter.

The dish is made especially memorable by employing a trick used by restaurants to boost the flavor (and fat content) of scrambled eggs. Just add pieces of cream cheese to the beaten eggs, bringing a rich depth to the meal. Yes, it’s decadent, but what the heck – it’s a holiday.

Such a sumptuously textured entrée begs a side dish that is simple and elegant, yet in its way just as delicious. The perfect choice is a simpler version of one of my favorite ways to cook potatoes.

If you have eaten a well-marbled piece of beef or tender lamb at my house, there is a good chance you have been served oven-roasted potatoes with onions and rosemary. It’s a standard; we probably make it too often, actually, but we have found few other starches that are as simple, yet as profoundly satisfying.

The rosemary would overpower the delicate egg dish, so I left it out. We are left with oven-roasted potatoes with onions, a deceptively easy dish, but one that pairs perfectly with any egg dish. Essentially, it is a simpler and possibly healthier version of hash browns. You cut up a potato into bite-size pieces, toss them with plenty of salt and some pepper, and pop them into the oven. Cook them for a bit, add chopped onions, and cook until done.

I’m a big fan of fruit salad, so I chose to make one for a first course. Making a fruit salad is an art, and a sense of culinary balance is needed, but it all begins with whatever fruit looks freshest and best at the market. Buy that, and make sure it will be ripe by the day of your brunch.

Once you have your fruit, there are a few rules to follow. The most important principle is to present a variety of different kinds of fruit. You’ll want at least one citrus choice and probably at least one apple. Count on one portion of fruit per person (one apple, one orange, one slice of melon). Be sure to add a selection of berries, preferably at least two different kinds, and don’t forget the grapes, if you like them.

Toss in a handful or two of raisins, dried cranberries or other dried fruit to inject a delightful contrast of textures and – what the heck, it’s a holiday – sprinkle the top with some nuts. I like almonds, but walnuts, pecans or hazelnuts would work, as well. And if you have chocolate chips lying around, lonely and forlorn, throw those in, too.

To make the fruit salad really special, top it with a port reduction glaze, a trick I learned from a restaurant in Michigan. Take four parts of port and one part of sugar, and boil it away until it thickens and resembles syrup. Pour the glaze sparingly over the fruit for a hint of unexpectedly complex sweetness.

And finally, every good brunch deserves dessert. I decided to make peanut butter chocolate chip muffins. Why? They are peanut butter chocolate chip muffins. No other explanation is needed.

If pressed, you could say that chocolate is a traditional treat at Easter, and that nothing goes with chocolate like peanut butter. Besides, a great meal should end with a great dessert, preferably one that can be made the night before.

What the heck. It’s a holiday.

Italian Scrambled Eggs, Asparagus and Ham

Yield: 6 servings

6 tablespoons butter, divided

1¼ cups sliced mushrooms

¼ pound ham or prosciutto, slivered or diced

3/4 teaspoon minced garlic

½ medium green pepper, cut into ¼-inch dice

½ pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths

10 eggs

1½ tablespoons minced fresh basil, or 1 teaspoon dried

1 teaspoon dried oregano

¼ teaspoon salt

3⁄4 teaspoon pepper

3⁄4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

6 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

6 ounces mozzarella, shredded (about 1½ cups)

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the butter. Add the mushrooms, ham, garlic and green pepper. Sauté over medium heat until the vegetables are tender. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Blanch the asparagus in boiling salted water until crisp-tender. Drain well and set aside. Whisk together the eggs, basil, oregano, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Cut the cream cheese in bits into the eggs.

2. Just before serving, heat the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter in the skillet. Add the egg mixture. Cook over medium heat while folding the mixture with a spatula to blend in the cream cheese. When the eggs are half set, add the warm vegetable-ham mixture, the mozzarella, Parmesan and warm asparagus. Continue to cook while gently folding in the cheese with the spatula. When the eggs are just done, serve at once.

Per serving: 465 calories; 37g fat; 20g saturated fat; 410mg cholesterol; 28g protein; 6g carbohydrate; 2g sugar; 1g fiber; 600mg sodium; 350mg calcium.

Recipe from “The Frog Commissary Cookbook” by Steven Poses, Anne Clark and Becky Roller

Oven-roasted Potatoes with Onions

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

2 1/2 pounds unpeeled all-purpose potatoes

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon pepper

1/3 cup corn oil

2 1/2 cups finely chopped onion

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Cut the potatoes into ½- to ¾-inch dice and toss them with the salt, pepper and corn oil. Spread them in a single layer on rimmed baking sheet or pan and bake for 20 minutes.

2. Remove pan from oven and combine the potatoes with the onions. Return to the oven and continue to roast for 25 minutes or until browned and crisp. Stir occasionally.

Per serving: 320 calories; 19g fat; 2.5g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 4g protein; 35g carbohydrate; 4g sugar; 4g fiber; 895mg sodium; 40mg calcium.

Recipe adapted from “The Frog Commissary Cookbook,” by Steven Poses, Anne Clark and Becky Roller

Fruit Salad with Port Reduction Glaze

Yield: 4 servings

1 apple

1 orange or 1/2 grapefruit

1 wedge melon, your choice

1 pear or banana

1 cup grapes, optional

1 cup strawberries

1/2 cup blueberries

1/4 cup raisins, craisins or other dried fruit

1/2 cup almonds, walnuts or hazelnuts

1/3 cup chocolate chips, optional

1 cup port

1/4 cup granulated sugar

Note: For each additional person, add 1 serving of a large fruit (1 mango, 1/2 cup pineapple, 1 kiwi fruit, another wedge of melon, etc.) and another small handful of berries, raisins, nuts and chocolate chips.

1. Cut each fruit into bite-sized pieces. Place in a large bowl. Mix well. Shortly before serving, add nuts and chocolate chips, if using.

2. To make the port reduction, mix together port and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a high simmer or low boil, and reduce by 2/3 or 3/4 until the liquid clings to the back of a spoon and when you draw your finger across the spoon you can see the trail of its path. Allow to cool. Add sparingly to fruit salad, and toss. Extra glaze can be refrigerated for a week or 2.

Per serving: 265 calories; 9g fat; 0.5g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 5g protein; 42g carbohydrate; 28g sugar; 7g fiber; 6mg sodium; 85mg calcium.

By Daniel Neman. Port reduction glaze recipe adapted from Gabriel Vera of Lena restaurant, Ann Arbor, Mich.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Nut Muffins

Yield: 18 muffins

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons butter, softened

2/3 cup creamy peanut butter, see note

1 cup packed brown sugar

2 large eggs

3/4 cup milk

2 cups (12 ounces) chocolate chips or mini-chocolate chips

Note: To make these rich muffins with fewer calories, use reduced-fat peanut butter

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Paper-line or grease 18 (2 1/2-inch) muffin tins.

2. Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl. Beat butter, peanut butter and brown sugar in large mixing bowl until creamy. Add eggs and milk; beat until smooth. Add flour mixture to peanut butter mixture; beat until just blended. Stir in chocolate chips. Spoon batter into prepared cups, filling 3/4 full.

3. Bake 18 to 20 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in centers comes out slightly sticky. Cool in pans on wire racks for 5 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

Per muffin: 260 calories; 10g fat; 4.5g saturated fat; 21mg cholesterol; 6g protein; 40g carbohydrate; 24g sugar; 2g fiber; 220mg sodium; 45mg calcium.

Recipe adapted from Nestlé.

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©2014 St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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