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Try these recipes for a rich and elegant Easter brunch

Be they chocolate with gushy cream centers, plastic rattling with jelly beans or the real deal hard-boiled and deviled, eggs are an integral part of Easter.

The humble egg plays a starring role at Sunday morning brunches, too, in quiches, frittatas, omelets, stratas and eggs Benedict, possibly the most diabolically good but bad-for-you dish on the planet. A piece of ham is placed on a toasted, split English muffin and a poached egg lies on top. Draped over all is a hefty spoonful of lemony Hollandaise sauce. Did we mention butter-laden?

Yep, that sounds like a keeper for brunch this Sunday, but I've opted to ramp up the original dish, replacing the ham with a crab cake. Crab Cakes Benedict, sometimes called Eggs Chesapeake, is a true gilding of the Easter lily. In a move toward redemption, bare-naked and barely cooked asparagus is served alongside. Resist the urge to spoon Hollandaise over the green stalks.

For something sweet, a Lemon-Glazed Buttermilk Bundt Cake adorned with strawberries and blueberries is lovely with coffee or tea.

This is not a brunch menu for a crowd but an elegant repast for a small group. You may find that bigger eaters will eat two portions of the main dish (one of my wolverines did). If you're worried you won't have enough food, make some cottage potatoes from scratch or buy frozen. Plate the meal in the kitchen and then bring to the table to a chorus of wows.

Being crabby is good

There are two elements of Crab Cakes Benedict that might be challenging to less experienced cooks: the crab cakes and the Hollandaise sauce. Tales of the buttery sauce "breaking" — butter separating from the other ingredients — are legendary. Crab cakes, too, have their own issues, chiefly falling apart in the pan.

Really, neither is that difficult to master, but the beauty of this dish is that you can buy crab cakes already made. Look for them frozen or ready-to-cook at the seafood counter.

For the Hollandaise, you'll have to pick your poison. Use a packet mix (Knorr and McCormick are two popular brands) for ease and make the sauce with low- or nonfat milk to reduce fat. But read the label and you'll see the mixes are loaded with stuff that's hard to pronounce.

Make Hollandaise from scratch and you can't deny the effects of two sticks of butter, but at least you can control the quality of ingredients. As for the sauce "breaking," the blender method used in the recipe that accompanies this story is close to foolproof. Watch out, though, when you reheat the sauce. Too much heat for too long will cause the butter to pull away. I had good luck microwaving it on 50 percent power for 15 seconds at a time. Watch carefully and stir after each increment of cooking.

The crab cakes come together easily. Make them the night before and let firm, covered in a single layer, in the refrigerator. I used a 1-pound can of Phillips pasteurized crabmeat, which is shredded, but you can splurge for lump or backfin to mix in if you want bigger pieces of shellfish.

I prefer to poach eggs in a poacher, but a more rustic outcome is achieved in boiling water with a teaspoon of vinegar mixed in. The whites will be a bit ragged but you can trim them or keep them free form.

A lemony snippet

The lemon-glazed Bundt cake can also be made the night before your brunch. With lemon zest in both the cake and syrupy glaze, you'll get plenty of puckery punch. The buttermilk adds tang, enhancing the flavor all around.

Sliced fresh strawberries and plump blueberries are tasty accompaniments in theory, but sometimes they just aren't juicy enough. Unfortunately, you don't always know that until you get them home.

To enhance the strawberries, add a few tablespoons of orange juice (and a teaspoon of sugar or artificial sweetener) or Grand Marnier liqueur to sliced berries. Let them sit for about 20 minutes to draw out natural juices. When served alongside a generous slice of cake, the sweet juice seeps into the crumb and, well, everyone will be talking about you and your cooking prowess later.

I like this brunch menu for its simplicity and elegance. It gives the egg its due, but tinkering with a classic makes the meal special.

Contact Janet K. Keeler at jkeeler@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8586.





. GOOD TO KNOW

Variations on the theme

Egg Benedict with its rich Hollandaise sauce probably got its start in France, but has been served in American restaurants for more than a century. Here are some variations on the classic poached egg and ham version:

• For Eggs Florentine substitute spinach for ham.

• For Salmon Benedict replace ham with smoked salmon.

• For Artichoke Benedict use canned artichoke bottoms in place of English muffins.

• Corned beef stands in for ham in an Irish Benedict.

• The Pennsylvania specialty scrapple is used in a Dutch Benedict instead of ham.

• For a Veggie Benedict replace meat with avocado and tomato.

• Stretching tradition really far is Eggs Benedict Arnold. A poached egg with a firm yolk sits on a biscuit half and both are smothered with country gravy. Sounds more like biscuits and gravy with an egg!

Sources: Wikipedia.com, About.com and Seriouseats.com

>>sauce

Blender Hollandaise Sauce

4 egg yolks

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon water

1/4 teaspoon salt

Dash of cayenne pepper

1 cup (2 sticks) butter (no substitute), melted

• In a small, heavy saucepan over medium-low heat, combine yolks, lemon juice, water, salt and cayenne pepper. Whisk constantly until mixture bubbles and begins to thicken, 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape mixture into blender. Add butter in a slow, steady stream while blending. Blend until all the butter is used and sauce is thickened, about 30 seconds.

Makes 1 1/2 cups.

For variations, add to the finished sauce: 1 tablespoon chopped chives or parsley; 1 teaspoon dried mixed herbs; or 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard.

Source: The Big Book of Breakfast by Maryana Vollstedt (Chronicle Books, 2003)

>>entree

Crab Cakes Benedict

3 English muffins, split, toasted and lightly buttered

6 crab cakes (see the accompanying recipe, at right, or use frozen and prepare according to package instructions)

6 large poached eggs

Blender Hollandaise Sauce (see accompanying recipe or use a packet sauce mix and prepare according to package instructions)

Flat-leaf parsley for garnish

Lemon wedges for garnish

• Place 1 English muffin half on each of six plates. Place 1 crab cake on each muffin half. Top each with a poached egg and then with Blender Hollandaise Sauce. Serve immediately, garnished with parsley and lemon wedges.

Serves 6.

Source: The Big Book of Breakfast by Maryana Vollstedt (Chronicle Books, 2003)

>>dessert

Lemon-Glazed Buttermilk Bundt Cake

3 large eggs

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons grated lemon zest

3/4 cup canola oil

2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated or ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk or low-fat plain yogurt

1 cup (4 ounces) unsalted roasted cashews or slivered almonds, coarsely chopped

Glaze:

1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 cup sugar

• Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9- or 10-inch Bundt or tube pan.

• In a large bowl, mix the eggs, sugar, lemon zest and oil with a wooden spoon or an electric mixer until blended.

• In a medium bowl, combine the flour, nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir to blend. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture alternately with the buttermilk or yogurt in 2 increments. Mix just until blended. Fold in the nuts. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan.

• Bake for 35 minutes, or until the cake is golden brown and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

• While the cake is cooking, make the glaze: In a small saucepan, combine the lemon zest, lemon juice and sugar and heat over medium heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved; set aside and let cool.

• Let the cake cool in the pan for 15 to 20 minutes, then turn out of the mold right side up on a serving plate. Pour the syrup evenly over the warm cake. Serve at room temperature, cut into slices.

Serves 12.

Source: Coffee Cakes: Simple, Sweet and Savory by Lou Seibert Pappas (Chronicle Books, 2006)

>>entree

Crab Cakes
1 pound cooked crabmeat, flaked

1 large egg, beaten

1 cup finely crushed saltines (about 24 crackers)

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons finely chopped green onion, both white and green parts

3 tablespoons mayonnaise

1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning or other seasoning salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon butter or margarine

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

• Place crabmeat in a large bowl. Add egg and crushed crackers and mix well. Then add lemon juice, mustard, green onion, mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, salt, Old Bay Seasoning and pepper. Mix well and form into 6 crab cakes, each about 1/2 inch thick.

• Place flour on a piece of waxed paper. Dust cakes lightly on both sides with flour.

• In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt butter with oil. Add cakes and cook, turning once, until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes on each side.

Source: The Big Book of Breakfast by Maryana Vollstedt (Chronicle Books, 2003)

Try these recipes for a rich and elegant Easter brunch 03/18/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 19, 2008 4:47pm]
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