Elegant brunch taps into fresh spring arrivals Easter Made Easy

March 27, 1994|By Mary Malouf | Mary Malouf,Universal Press Syndicate

No celebration is complete without a festive meal. But it's hard to cook and enjoy the party at the same time.

The following Easter menu was designed from the cook's point of view. It's seasonal and special but prepared almost completely in advance, so you can hide Easter eggs and still have brunch ready by noon.

Because it's the essential spring feast, the Easter meal should reflect the foods that remind us of spring: young chicken, asparagus, strawberries. On this menu, rock Cornish hens -- not spring chickens, but close -- nest in greens. A warm potato casserole, poached asparagus and an easy strawberry trifle round it out.

Dallas chef Helen Duran has prepared Easter brunch for five years. She has developed some requirements that the at-home host would do well to keep in mind.

"It has to be elaborate and special," she says. "The food has to be sophisticated enough for the grown-ups but simple enough for the kids."

There should be both hot and cold foods.

Game hens are good cold or at room temperature. Nested on the salad, they're more dramatic than a casserole. Coating them with pecans adds flavor and crunch.

Ms. Duran says that after the hens are cooked, you're starting with a clean slate as far as bacteria are concerned. Cover the hens lightly with foil and refrigerate them immediately. Once they're cold, wrap them more tightly. Never leave poultry at room temperature for more than two hours.

The Easter salad served with the hens is based on the traditional Greek Easter greens salad. Edible flowers and red bell peppers add color. The lemony dressing serves as a refreshing sauce for the hens, too.

The trifle and the potato custard are adapted from Ms. Duran's recipes. The potatoes can be baked ahead of time and reheated, served hot from the oven.

The trifle looks extravagant. But because it uses store-bought pound cake and a mixture of whipped cream and cream cheese instead of cooked custard, it's also easy.

"Buffet food has to have staying power," Ms. Duran says.

"You have to think what the food will look like on the table, not on a plate. And I always think surprise and detail are important elements to Easter decoration. . . . I like to use little toys or colored Easter eggs hidden in the flower arrangements."

Pecan-crusted rock Cornish hens

Makes 5 servings

5 rock Cornish hens

1 egg

1 tablespoon water

1 tablespoon oil

salt and pepper

3/4 cup pecans

1/2 cup bread or cracker crumbs

Thaw hens in the refrigerator overnight. Remove giblets from the cavity; wash hens and pat dry. Truss the hens; or, cut slits in the flap of skin over the cavity, cross the legs and tuck them through the slits.

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Mix egg, water, oil, salt and pepper and brush over the tops of the hens and over the legs. Grind the nuts and crumbs together until fairly fine, using the pulse button of a food processor or turning the blender on and off quickly. Do not over-blend, or the mixture will become pasty.

Pat the crumbs over the hens. Place the hens on a rack in a roasting pan and roast for about an hour or until done. A thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh, not touching the bone, should register 180 degrees, and juices should run clear. Baste occasionally with pan juices or melted butter, using a spoon rather than a brush to keep from brushing the coating off. Refrigerate. Serve nested on Easter salad.

Per serving: calories: 728; fat: 46 grams; cholesterol: 241 milligrams; sodium: 476 milligrams; percent calories from fat: 58 percent.

Easter salad

Makes 5 servings

5 to 6 cups of mixed greens (choose at least 4 from young spinach, arugula, chicory, curly endive, red leaf lettuce)

strained juice of 1 lemon

salt and black pepper to taste

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup edible flowers

1 red bell pepper, cut into tiny slivers

7 scallions, cut into quarters, then slivered lengthwise

1/4 cup fresh dill leaves, coarsely chopped

1/2 tablespoon finely grated lemon peel

1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

Pick over greens. Wash and spin dry or let dry on towels. Wrap in a kitchen towel or paper towels and refrigerate up to overnight.

Combine lemon juice, salt and pepper in a bowl and whisk in olive oil. Combine the greens with the remaining ingredients in a bowl and toss with the dressing. Spread salad on platter and nest hens on top.

Per serving: calories: 154; fat: 14 grams; no cholesterol; sodium: 137 milligrams; percent calories from fat: 82 percent.

Pepper Jack scalloped potatoes

Makes 5 to 6 servings

2 tablespoons butter

5 to 6 potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced

3/4 cup grated pepper Jack cheese (divided use)

1 1/2 cups cream or milk

3 eggs

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