Food & Drink

Easter brunch spiced up

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Amidst the widely available menu ideas for Easter brunch, one can find endless recipes for ham, asparagus, potatoes au gratin, ambrosia salad and cupcakes topped with buttercream and Peeps.

Creatures of habit, most of us will turn to the tried and true family recipes that we've scarfed down every spring for as long as our taste buds can remember. We all find meaning in traditional holiday foods, and at many family gatherings, memories come flooding forward with just one bite of a given dish.

I fondly remember my Aunt E's cinnamon butter buns, my Aunt T's rainbow Jell-O mold, my grandpa's uncompromising demand for ham at every family event and even the Easter bunny cake my mother made, covered in coconut frosting. I ate it every time she made it, despite my distaste for coconut. I noshed on it, not because I particularly enjoyed it, but because I was an eater at heart, plain and simple. Not to mention that devouring a coconut bunny cake just seemed like an appropriate thing to do on Easter Sunday. Yes, I was that kid.

Lest I digress into the dark ages of my slightly overweight childhood, let's move on to Easter 2009. Our family gatherings have changed. We all get to pitch in now, and we happen to love trying new things every year. By no means am I suggesting that traditional recipes have nothing to offer, but the following recipes are ideal for an amateur cook to proffer at this Sunday's impending day of celebration. The recipes are fresh, a little off the beaten path and easy to make ahead. And as tradition may oblige, these dishes will coordinate well with a glazed ham and all the fixings.

Stratas are a fantastic way to feed a crowd. They are typically made with a base of bread, cheese, and custard, but the potential flavor additions are infinite. This particular recipe boasts beautiful colors, fine ingredients, and every bite is delicious!

Pesto and Sausage Strata with Artichoke Salsa

Strata

1 pound Italian sausage, cooked, drained and crumbled

1 loaf of crusty French bread, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 dozen eggs

1 pint half-and-half

1 cup milk

3 cups mozzarella cheese

1 cup of pesto

1 cup of parmesan cheese

2 tbsp Dijon mustard

1 1/2 tsp kosher salt

1 1/2 tsp cracked black pepper

Spray a 9-by-13 dish with nonstick spray. Layer 1/2 of the bread cubes in bottom of dish. Sprinkle with 1/2 of the parmesan cheese and 1/2 of the sausage. Pour all of the pesto evenly over the sausage layer. Sprinkle the pesto with 1/2 of the mozzarella cheese. Add the second layer of bread cubes, followed by the remaining sausage, then the mozzarella and finish with the remaining Parmesan.

Crack the eggs into a medium bowl. Don't worry if you get a few shells in there. Just tell your family that it's Easter, and eggs are symbolic of new life, and you meant to do it. Whisk the eggs well, then add the half and half, the milk, the Dijon mustard and the salt and pepper. Whisk until the mixture is consistent. Carefully pour the egg mixture over the bread and sausage layers. Press the bread cubes down to soak up all of the liquid.

At this point, you can wrap the strata in plastic and store it in the fridge for up to 24 hours until you are ready to bake it, or you can just let it sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes before baking.

Baking instructions: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cover the strata with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Use this time to make the artichoke salsa. After 45 minutes, uncover the strata and bake for 30 minutes more, or until all liquid is set. Allow strata to sit for about 15 minutes before serving. Cut into squares, and top with artichoke salsa after plating.

Artichoke Salsa

1 C marinated artichoke hearts, chopped coarsely

3 Roma tomatoes, diced

1/2 small red onion, diced

1/2 cup Italian parsley, chopped

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

1 tbsp olive oil

Mix all ingredients. Allow flavors to blend for about 30 minutes before serving.

New Recipe

Berry "Margarita" Trifles (serves 8)

These little treats are fancy, easy and mouth-wateringly yummy. Trifles are a delicious dessert, but I've always taken issue with the way they are scooped out of the pretty trifle bowl and slopped onto a serving plate. By the time it comes to the table, the dessert is unrecognizable.

While the flavor is uncompromised, it seems inappropriate to spend so much time layering a pretty dessert, only to have a serving spoon demolish it like a wrecking ball. Solution: make individual trifles using lovely glasses. Margarita glasses work best, but martini glasses, rocks glasses or just about any clear tumbler you've got should work well. If the thought of washing so many glasses makes you cringe, you could even use short plastic 9-oz tumblers. Make this with any berries you prefer. I used fresh strawberries and frozen raspberries thawed in a colander.

Recipe

16 slices of pound cake (store bought or homemade)

1.5 cup sliced strawberries

1 cup raspberries

1 pint heavy whipping cream

1 cup sugar, divided

8-oz package cream cheese, softened

2 tbsp lime juice

3/4 cup apricot jam

1/2 cup Grand Marnier

In a small saucepan, combine apricot jam and Grand Marnier. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, and continue to cook for about 5 minutes, whisking the mixture occasionally. Break up the large bits of apricot so that the mixture resembles a syrup. Remove from heat.

Next, using a wire whisk attachment, whip the heavy cream with 1/2 cup of sugar on high speed for about 2 minutes, or until the cream has just formed stiff peaks. Do not over-whip. Transfer whipped cream to a clean bowl and reserve in the refrigerator. Add the softened cream cheese to the mixing bowl used for the whipped cream. Mix the cream cheese with the remaining sugar and the lime juice until the mixture is smooth. Fold about 1/2 cup of the whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture.

This would be an ideal time to lick the spatula. Go ahead -- no one's watching. Well, except for maybe the Easter Bunny.

Layering: Place a few berries in the bottom of each Margarita glass. Top with a slice of pound cake. Drizzle the slice of pound cake with Grand Marnier syrup. Spread about 3 tbsp of cream cheese mixture on top of pound cake slice -- just eyeball it! Add another layer of berries, followed by another slice of pound cake, then drizzle pound cake with Grand Marnier syrup again.

This time, top it off with whipped cream, spreading out to the edges of the glass. Wrap with plastic and store trifles in the refrigerator for at least an hour, and up to 12 hours. Garnish with more berries before serving.

Happy Easter, my friends!

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