Epicure: Easter egg hunt and brunch | April 10, 2009 | Danville Express | DanvilleSanRamon.com |


Danville Express

Living - April 10, 2009

Epicure: Easter egg hunt and brunch

by Jacqui Love Marshall

Happy Spring! The Easter bunny is hopping into town this weekend and it's not too late to make plans to celebrate the arrival of warmer weather, a fresh harvest of vegetables and school vacations. While Easter is traditionally known as a Christian holiday, it has always had a secular component. In reality, Easter was originally a pagan festival.

In ancient times, Anglo Saxons celebrated the return of spring with a fun-filled festival that commemorated their goddess of offspring and springtime, Eastre.

When second-century Christians traveled north to convert pagan tribes, they scheduled their holy days to coincide with existing pagan observances. This allowed them to slowly spread the Christian message while the people continued to celebrate in familiar ways but with a Christian bent.

Coincidentally, the Eastre festival occurred around the same time as the Christian's observance of the Resurrection of Christ. The Eastre name eventually changed to a modern spelling: Easter. The goddess, Eastre, was worshipped with her earthly symbol, the rabbit. Hence, the Easter rabbit and her eggs became secular icons of the season.

While Easter symbols and activities had sprung up in European countries decades earlier, Easter was not widely celebrated in America until after the Civil War. Whether your family celebrates the religious or secular holiday (or both), Easter is generally a time for joy, rebirth, and renewal.

In lieu of a formal dinner, I've always been a fan of Easter brunch in a setting of casual elegance. It's easier and more flexible on what can be a busy day. But, perhaps add an Easter egg hunt this year for the kids (see box).

In honor of the Easter season, I've created two brunch menus for you to consider - one with lamb and, since many give up meat during the Lenten season, another with vegetarian cuisine.

Jacqui Love Marshall lives in San Ramon with her pug, Nina Simone, and volumes of cookbooks and recipes. Her column runs every other week. E-mail her at jlovemarshall@yahoo.com.

Easter fun

If you've got young children and adolescents in your friends/family network, why not consider having the teens host an egg hunt for the little ones while the adults set up for an Easter brunch? For pages of tips and ideas for a hunt, try this Web site: http://holidays.kaboose.com/easter/egghunt_backyard.html. Here's one tip: "Using plastic eggs, award random winners, rather than the children who have the most eggs. Simply place a note inside a certain number of eggs to declare the victors."

Easter menus

Epicure's Easter Brunch: Lamb

Devilled Eggs

Lamb chops with Tarragon-Mint Butter

Spring Vegetable Toss

Couscous or Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Fresh Strawberries & Crème Fraiche

Spring Punch & Mimosas

Epicure's Easter Brunch: Vegetarian

Artichoke Dip with Roasted Asparagus

Mushroom & Goat Cheese Pizzas

Spring Pasta Platter

Butter Lettuce Salad with Pine Nuts and Vinaigrette

Fresh Strawberries & Crème Fraiche

Spring Punch & Mimosas


Spring Punch (makes 2 quarts)

3 oz. fresh mint (about 2 bunches)

2 large "pitcher-size" tea bags for iced tea

1-1/2 cups granulated sugar

1 cup fresh lemon juice about 4-6 lemons)

1 cup fresh orange juice (about 4 medium oranges)

1 lemon, thinly sliced, for garnish

1. Add mint to large heatproof pitcher of boiling water. Add tea bags and simmer for 30 minutes.

2. Remove tea Bags and strain out mint; stir in sugar and juices.

3. Let cool to room temperature; refrigerate until cold. Serve over ice, garnished with sliced lemon.

To make Spring Mimosas: Pour 1/2 glass of Prosecco (Italian sparkling wine) into a champagne glass, fill rest of glass with Spring Punch.

Tarragon-Mint Butter (for Lamb Chops and Spring Vegetable Toss)

3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temp

3 Tbsp chopped fresh tarragon

3 Tbsp chopped fresh mint

4 tsp tarragon vinegar

2 tsp coarse kosher salt

1. Mix butter, tarragon, mint, tarragon vinegar and salt in medium bowl until well blended. Reserve 1/4 cup of the butter for the Spring Vegetable Roast.

2. Refrigerate remaining butter and serve as topping for lamb chops, cooked as desired.

Spring Vegetable Toss (serves 8)

12 oz. turnips, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

12 oz. carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch diagonal slices

2 cups shelled fresh peas (or 10 oz. frozen peas, thawed)

8 oz. sugar snap peas, strings removed 1/4 cup of the Tarragon-Mint Butter (recipe above)

2 tsp chopped fresh tarragon

2 tsp chopped fresh mint

Kosher salt & freshly-ground black pepper

1. Cook turnips and carrots in boiling salted water about 2 min.; add fresh peas and sugar snap peas. Cook all until vegetables are just tender, about 1-2 min more. Drain vegetables and return to pot.

2. Add thawed peas, if using. Add herb butter, tarragon and mint to vegetables. Over low heat, toss to heat through and melt butter. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve hot.

Artichoke Dip with Roasted Asparagus (serves 4-8)

1 batch asparagus, thin stalks

1 14 oz. can artichoke hearts, drained and coarsely chopped

1 cup mayonnaise

1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1. Pan-grill or roast the asparagus stalks until just crisp-tender. Cool and refrigerate.

2. Preheat oven to 350. Mix hearts, mayonnaise, cheese and pepper and spread into a baking dish. Bake for 20 min. or until top is golden brown. Serve hot with crackers and asparagus.

Mushroom & Goat Cheese Pizzas (serves 4)

2 Tbsp unsalted butter

3 Tbsp all-purpose flour plus more for dusting 11/2 cups milk

2 oz. fresh goat cheese, thickly sliced

Freshly grated nutmeg

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 pound pizza dough (try Trader Joe's)

2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil plus more for brushing

1 garlic clove, smashed

1 pound assorted fresh mushrooms (e.g. porcini, white button, shiitake), thinly sliced

1 tsp thyme leaves

1. Preheat oven to 500. Preheat a pizza stone or generously oil a large baking sheet.

2. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter; stir in 3 Tbsp of flour until a paste forms. Gradually pour in the milk, whisking until smooth. Bring the sauce to a simmer over medium high heat, whisking constantly until thick, about 4 min.

3. Reduce heat to low and cook, whisking often, until no floury taste remains, about 10 min. Remove from heat and stir in goat cheese until melted. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Note: The sauce can be made and refrigerated up to 2 days. Bring to room temperature before proceeding.

4. Cut the pizza dough into 4 pieces. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out each piece to a 6-inch round. Dust the rounds with flour and let rest until slightly puffed, about 15 min.

5. In a large skillet, heat the 2 Tbsp of olive oil. Add the smashed garlic and cook over medium heat until golden, about 2min. Add mushrooms, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and browned, about 15 min. Discard the garlic. Season mushrooms with salt and pepper and add thyme leaves. Roll out one of the dough rounds to form a 9" round. Transfer the round to the stone (or baking sheet) and brush the edge of the dough with olive oil. Spread 1/2 cup if the sauce over the dough and scatter 1/4 of the mushrooms on top.

6. Transfer the round to the pizza stone and back for about 5 min. until the edges are crisp and the sauce is bubbling. Transfer the pizza to a work surface; cut into wedges and serve. Repeat with remaining dough and toppings.

Spring Pasta Platter (serves 4)

Kosher salt & freshly-ground black pepper

1 12 oz. bag extra wide egg noodles

1 small clove garlic, minced

3 cups fresh Spring vegetables (e.g. baby carrots, baby turnips, medium-thick asparagus, spring onions, sugar snap peas), trimmed and cut into 1-3" x 1/2-3/4" pieces

1/2 cup shelled fresh peas

1/4 cup loosely packed pea shoots or watercress sprigs, additional for garnish

1/4 cup loosely packed chopped mixed herbs e.g. basil, parsley, tarragon, mint, chervil; additional for garnish

4 Tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

11/2 tsp freshly grated lemon zest

Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano for garnish

1. Start pot of well-salted water to boil. In a large straight-sided saucepan, bring 2 1/2 cups water, the garlic, 1 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper to a simmer over high heat. Add the mixed vegetables and simmer briskly, until just crisp-tender, aabout 3-4 min.

2. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a large plate. If using fresh peas, simmer them until barely tender, about 2 min. and transfer them to the plate also. Raise the temperature to high and boil the pan broth until reduced to 1 cup, about 3-4 min.

3. While vegetables are cooking, cook pasta until al dente, about 2-4 min, and drain. Add the vegetables, pasta, pea shoots (or watercress), herbs, butter and lemon zest to the broth. Toss over medium heat until the butter is melted, about 1 min. Season to taste with salt and butter.

4. Serve on a platter with garnishes of pea shoots (or watercress), fresh herbs and Parmigiano, as desired.