For Easter, brunch recipes with a little help from Gale Gand

Brunch is less overwhelming than a fancy holiday dinner and more controllable than a potluck. And over the years, it has become the standard way to gather family and friends to celebrate Easter.

The versatility of the meal that combines breakfast and lunch is its biggest draw. Easy savory egg casseroles and a big glazed ham cozy up to coffee cakes and sweet quick breads on the buffet table. Don't forget a heaping bowl of fresh berries splashed with Grand Marnier. If you want to play short-order cook, prepare made-to-order omelets, pancakes or waffles.

"I find brunch the perfect way to entertain and not feel overwhelmed," says Gale Gand, whose latest cookbook, Gale Gand's Brunch! (Clarkson Potter; $27.50), has just been published. "My strategy is all stuff you can make ahead."

Gand is pastry chef and co-owner of Chicago's award-winning Tru restaurant and used to have a show on the Food Network, Sweet Dreams. Her recipes can still be found on the network's Web site (foodnetwork.com). Brunch! is her seventh cookbook. Among her others are Butter Sugar Flour Eggs (Clarkson Potter, 1999) and Chocolate and Vanilla (Clarkson Potter, 2006).

We talked with her by phone recently from her Chicago area home where she was making nearly 400 cookies for a school function. She has a 12-year-old son and 4-year-old twin daughters.

Because Gand is widely known as a master of sweet treats, she says she likes to prepare brunch because it lets her branch out. "I'm never sure if people will accept me as a savory cook."

The book's 100 recipes include many savory dishes, including an overnight strata with five variations (we vote for veggie and blue cheese). But strata isn't the only dish that can be made ahead, she says. Crepes and potato pancakes can be cooked early and warmed the next day, as can most baked goods. Pancake batter, though, should be mixed just before making.

"Get your kids to help you," Gand says. "I love to have kids stir pancakes, that way I still get the lumps (which you want). Kids don't overmix, they undermix. Give them a bowl twice as big as they need."

Another hallmark of a Gale Gand brunch is a house cocktail that is served along with coffee, tea, water and juices.

"That way you're not doing a lot of different drinks," she says. "Set up the glasses and tell your guests 'Today we're having Cranberry Pins. Would you care for one?' "

Set up the drinks separate from the food so you don't create a logjam of people.

Who you've invited to your brunch should dictate the menu, Gand says. Lots of children? Make sure there are plenty of finger foods. All adults? Pull out the good china and plan an elegant sit-down meal.

"Either way," she says, "there should be a main dish that's the focus, a few side dishes and some baked goods. Really, just like a dinner."

Using Brunch! as a jumping-off point, we devised an elegant Easter brunch that's fairly simple, but still flashy. Gand's Baked Eggs in Ham Cups are the centerpiece and take about 30 minutes to prepare, including baking time. They can be kept warm for about 30 minutes before serving. )

Along with the ham cups, we baked Lemon Scones the night before and let them cool completely before covering. If you cover while they are warm, they will steam and become soggy. A simple confectioners' sugar glaze is drizzled on before serving. Roasted asparagus sprinkled with lemon zest and fresh berries were the other accompaniments.

Our house cocktail was a rum drink mixed with a splash of Cointreau and tangerine juice. Of course, we call it Tangerine Dream.

The juice is lovely on its own for those who don't want to imbibe. Or make it sparkly by adding champagne, then a few berries.

Remember, versatility is the thing for brunch.

Janet K. Keeler can be reached at jkeeler@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8986.

Picture, not so perfect

Those beautiful color photographs in cookbooks inspire us. They also make us feel less than worthy when our efforts don't look the same.

Thus was the story with Baked Eggs in Ham Cups from Gale Gand's Brunch!

Two eggs sit pretty in the fluttery ham cups, a bit of pesto peeking through white, nestled next to a roasted cherry tomato half. So the photo shows.

When we tested the recipe, we didn't have such luck. In fact, two large eggs, which is what the original recipe calls for, spilled out of the muffin cups before the 12-cup tin went into the oven. Then, the volume of ingredients caused the ham cup to splay when it was removed from the tin. Perfectly edible, but hardly like the photo.

Here's the deal, use one egg, as we eventually did. Make a few extra and if you have big eaters, they can have two.

We made 10 cups — seven with two eggs — and only one held firm with double eggs. We even looked for medium eggs at two grocery stores, thinking that might help. Out of luck, again. Large was the smallest size.

We look at cooking as a big experiment. Different ingredients, equipment and ability creates different results. We don't easily give up, though, even when the finished product isn't ready for its closeup.

This show-stopping recipe was worth the effort.

Janet K. Keeler

>>MODERATE

Lemon Scones

3 cups flour

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/3 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 lemon, zest only

3/4 cup butter, cut in small pieces

1 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon lemon extract

1/4 cup dried cherries or cranberries (optional)

Glaze:

1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar

3 tablespoons milk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

In large bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, ginger and lemon zest. Cut in butter pieces and mix by fork or by hand and until butter is the size of peas. Do not completely incorporate. Add buttermilk, lemon extract and dried fruit. Mix together.

Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead gently a few times. To shape, press dough into a floured 9-inch cake pan, then remove dough and cut into 12 wedges. Place wedges on parchment paper lined baking sheets, about 2 inches apart.

Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes or until golden brown. While scones are baking, make glaze. Stir milk into confectioners' sugar. Add vanilla. When scones are cool, drizzle with glaze. (Glaze may be thickened with confectioners' sugar or thinned with milk or other flavored liquids.)

Makes 12.

Source: Janet K. Keeler,
St. Petersburg Times

>>EASY

Tangerine Dream

1 1/2 ounces rum

Two splashes Cointreau

Tangerine juice

Fill a tumbler with ice and add rum and Cointreau.
Add tangerine juice to fill glass.

Serves 1.

Source: Janet K. Keeler, St. Petersburg Times

>>MODERATE

Baked Eggs in Ham Cups

Unsalted butter, for tins

4 1/16-inch-thick round ham slices, about 5 inches around

2 teaspoons pesto

4 large eggs

8 cubes fresh mozzarella

4 cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat oven to 375 degrees.

Butter 4 compartments of a metal muffin tin. (Cups should be at least 2 inches deep.) Fold each ham slice into quarters, insert the point end in a buttered muffin cup, and let it open — it will have a ruffled look. Place 1/2 teaspoon pesto in the bottom of each ham cup, then carefully crack 1 egg into the cup. Tuck 2 mozzarella cubes and two cherry tomato halves into each cup on top of the eggs and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. (Remember that the ham and pesto both lend saltiness to the dish.)

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the egg white looks set but the yolk is still a bit runny. Remove the ham cups from the muffin tin and serve on individual plates or lined up on a platter.

Makes 4.

Source: Adapted from Gale Gand's Brunch! (Clarkson Potter, 2009)

>>EASY

Roasted Asparagus With Lemon

1 pound asparagus spears, woody stems removed

1 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Juice and zest from 1 lemon

Kosher salt to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place spears in a single layer in a baking dish or a foil-covered roasting pan. Drizzle olive oil and lemon juice over the spears, rolling them back and forth until they are all covered with a thin layer of olive oil. Sprinkle evenly with salt.

Roast for about 8 to 10 minutes, depending on how thick your asparagus spears are, until lightly browned and tender when pierced with a fork. Remove from oven and sprinkle with lemon zest.

Serves 4.

Source: St. Petersburg Times

For Easter, brunch recipes with a little help from Gale Gand 04/07/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 8, 2009 8:07am]

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