Tidewater Kitchen - April 2006 - Pamela Meredith-Doyle  

Springtime Brunch for Easter

   I am now living in Massachusetts and New Englanders have a reputation for being traditionalists at heart. We may be the home of Revolutions – the American, the Industrial, and a baseball team, for that matter – but we also know when to hold certain things sacred. For this year’s Easter Brunch menu, we give proper reverence to the classic spring elements: asparagus, lamb (I chose it over ham, although both are typical of the season), and citrus flavors.
    But, lest I repeat myself from years past, I have given each item a thoroughly modern twist. It is a classic brunch that respects tradition, while embracing the freshness of a long-awaited spring. With these fun ideas, I also like to have a spread of assorted quick breads or muffins and bagels with all the fixings to make lox and bagels.

HAM and CHEESE SCONES with HONEY MUSTARD

Scones:
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tablespoons baking powder
1½ teaspoons salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter
6 ounces coarsely grated extra-sharp Cheddar (about 1½ cups)
1 cup whole milk
2/3 cup heavy cream

Mustard:
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
3 Tablespoons coarse-grained mustard
3 Tablespoons honey

6 large soft-leafed lettuce leaves such as Bibb
1/2 pound very thinly sliced cooked ham (preferably Black Forest)

   Preheat oven to 425 degrees and butter a large baking sheet.

   Scones: Into a large bowl sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Cut butter into small bits. With your fingertips or a pastry blender, blend into flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal. With a fork, stir in Cheddar. Add milk and cream, stirring until just combined.
    Transfer mixture to a floured surface and with floured hands, knead until it forms a dough. Roll out dough into a 12-inch round (about ½-inch thick). Using a 2-inch fluted round cutter, cut out scones and arrange about ½-inch apart on baking sheet. Gather and gently re-roll scraps. Cut out more scones and arrange on baking sheet.
    Bake scones in the middle of the oven until pale golden, about 12 minutes, and transfer to a rack to cool. Scones may be made one day ahead and kept in an airtight container at cool room temperature.
    In a small bowl, stir together the butter, mustard and honey. Tear each lettuce leaf into 4 pieces. Split scones and spread each split side with honey-mustard butter. Make sandwiches with scones, lettuce, and folded slices of ham.
    Makes about 24 small sandwiches.

ROASTED LEG of LAMB with HERBS

10 large unpeeled garlic cloves, divided
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 (6-pound) boneless leg of lamb, trimmed and tied
4 to 5 pounds small unpeeled potatoes (16 to 20 potatoes)
2 Tablespoons good olive oil

   Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place the oven rack in the lower third of the oven so the lamb will sit in the middle of the oven.
    Peel 6 of the cloves of garlic and place them in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the rosemary, 1 Tablespoon salt, 1 teaspoon pepper and butter. Process until the garlic and rosemary are finely minced.
    Thoroughly coat the top and sides of the lamb with the rosemary mixture. Allow to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
    Toss the potatoes and remaining unpeeled garlic in a bowl with the olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Place in the bottom of a large roasting pan. Place the lamb on top of the potatoes and roast for 1¼ to 1½ hours, or until the internal temperature of the lamb is 135 degrees (rare) or 145 degrees (medium).
    Remove from the oven and put the lamb on a platter; cover tightly with aluminum foil. Allow the lamb to rest for about 20 minutes. Slice and serve with the potatoes.

GOAT CHEESE and PROSCIUTTO TIMBALES with MIXED FIELD GREENS

   This is a great combination of flavors that makes an elegant first course – for brunch or dinner. The timbales need to be chilled overnight, so begin preparing this dish the day before serving.

12 to 16 thin slices prosciutto
10 ounces soft fresh goat cheese (such as Montrachet), room temperature
2 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup chopped green onions
8 ounces haricots verts or slender green beans, trimmed, cut crosswise in half
1 Tablespoon plus 1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup Champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
3 Tablespoons chopped shallots
12 cups mixed baby greens

   Line six 2/3-cup ramekins with plastic wrap, leaving overhang. Line each ramekin with 2 slices prosciutto, overlapping in center and patching any holes with extra prosciutto.
    Stir goat cheese, cream cheese and 1/4 cup green onions in a bowl until well blended. Season generously with pepper. Spoon into prepared ramekins, dividing equally. Fold prosciutto over to enclose. Fold plastic over to cover; pres to compact. Chill overnight.
    Cook beans in medium pot of boiling salted water until just crisp-tender, about 4 minutes. Drain; rinse with cold water and drain well. Pat dry. The beans can also be prepared the day ahead and chilled overnight.
    To serve – invert ramekins to release timbales. Peel off plastic. Heat 1 Tablespoon oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add timbales, bottom side down. Cover; cook until cheese is just soft when the top of the timbale is pressed, about 5 minutes. Transfer to plate; let stand 1 hour to set up.
    Meanwhile, combine vinegar and shallots in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in 1/2 cup oil. Season with salt and pepper.
    Combine greens, beans, 1/4 cup green onions and 2/3 cup dressing in a large bowl and toss to coat. Divide salad among 6 plates. Top each with a timbale.    Drizzle some of the remaining dressing over each. Serves 6.

POTATOES AU GRATIN

4 potatoes (or 1 potato per person)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup grated Gruyere of Swiss cheese
4 Tablespoons butter
salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup heavy cream

   Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Peel the potatoes and cut them into thin slices, then wash them thoroughly with cold water to remove the excess starch. Pat them dry. I usually slice mine with the food processor and soak them if I want to do this step ahead of time.
    Butter a heat-proof 9x12 baking dish and put a layer of the sliced potatoes on the bottom. Cut the butter into small pieces and put some of it on the potatoes then season them with salt and pepper. Sprinkle some of the cheeses over it and continue this pattern until all of the potatoes are used and finish it off with cheese on top.
    Pour the heavy cream over it and cover the dish with aluminum foil. Bake in the preheated over for about one hour or until they are soft (this depends on what type of dish you used). Remove the aluminum foil and cook for a few minutes more so the top can brown.
    If you are in a hurry, the potatoes can be par-boiled for about 3 minutes.

ROASTED ASPARAGUS

2 bunches medium asparagus
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Grated or shaved Parmesan cheese, optional

   Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Trim the woody ends from the asparagus, usually about 1½-inchs. Lightly peel the remaining stalks. This step isn’t always necessary, but it is my personal preference.
    Spread the spears in a single layer on a baking sheets, drizzle with olive oil and salt and pepper and roll to coat thoroughly.
    Roast the asparagus until lightly browned and tender, about 8 to 10 minutes, giving the pan a good shake about halfway through to turn the asparagus. Arrange the roasted asparagus on a serving platter and top with the Parmesan cheese. Serve warm or at room temperature.

STRAWBERRIES with CARDAMON

   Ground cardamon is a clever addition to the sugar in this simple recipe.

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamon
1/4 cup Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur or orange juice
2 16-ounce baskets whole strawberries, hulled
Fresh mint sprigs (optional)

   Whisk sugar and cardamon together in a small bowl to blend. This can be done 3 days ahead. Store mixture in a covered container at room temperature.
Pour Grand Marnier into a large bowl. Add strawberries and toss to coat. Spread cardamon sugar on large platter or baking sheet. Using a slotted spoon, and working in batches, transfer strawberries to platter with cardamon sugar. Roll in sugar to coat well.
    Divide strawberries among 6 wineglasses. Pour any remaining Grand Marnier from bowl over berries. This should be done about 2 hours before serving. Cover and chill.
    To serve, place 1 wineglass with strawberries on each of 6 plates. Garnish with mint sprigs and serve with your favorite truffles.

BEST LEMON CAKE

Cake:
1 cup (2 sticks) butter at room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 eggs, room temperature
3 cups sifted self-rising flour
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Lemon wedge for garnish
Mint sprig for garnish

Frosting:
1½ cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup water
2 pasteurized egg whites
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Filling:
8 egg yolks
1½ cups sugar
1/4 cup (½ stick) butter
4 lemons, zest grated and juiced

   Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 3 9-inch cake pans.
    To make the cake: Using an electric mixer, cream butter until fluffy. Add sugar and continue to cream well for 6 to 8 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
    Add flour and milk alternately to creamed mixture, beginning and ending with flour. Add vanilla and continue to beat until just mixed.
    Divide batter equally among prepared pans. Level batter in each pan by holding pan 3 or 4 inches above the counter, then dropping flat onto counter. Do this several times to release the air bubbles and assure yourself of a more level cake.
    Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown. Cool in pans for 5 to 10 minutes. Invert cakes onto cooling racks. Cool completely.
    To make the frosting: Place sugar, cream of tartar, salt, water, and egg whites in the top of a double boiler. Beat with a handheld electric mixer for 1 minute. Place pan over boiling water, being sure that boiling water does not touch the bottom of the top pan. Beat constantly on high speed with the electric mixer for 7 minutes. Beat in the vanilla. Set aside.
    To make the filling: Place the ingredients in a clean double boiler over boiling water. Don’t let the top pan touch the water. Cook and stir until mixture begins to gel or thicken. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
    To assemble: Add 1 Tablespoon of filling to the cake pedestal. Run hands along the side of the cake to remove excess crumbs. Place the cake layers on the pedestal, spreading filling between the layers on top. Spread the sides and top of the cake with the remaining filling. Frost top and sides of cake with frosting.    Garnish with lemon wedges and a sprig of mint.

And...JUST FOR KIDS - BUTTERFLY BITES

3 stalks celery
12 large twist pretzels
pretzel pieces
6 Tablespoons spreadable cheese
raisins

   Wash the celery and cut in half crosswise. Fill each celery piece with 1 Tablespoon soft cheese. Add 2 pretzels for wings. Use pieces of pretzels for antennae and raisins for decoration. Eat your butterfly before it flies away!