Delicious-But-Easy Easter Fare

Cooking, Holidays, Recipes By Apr 05, 2012

An easy Easter brunch. Ahhhh, sounds good.

To my way of thinking, eggs are an essential part of any Easter brunch or breakfast. A symbol of new beginnings, eggs make delicious, no-hassle entrees.

For years I’ve been tinkering with one strata recipe after the next, cooking up different versions of the ubiquitous egg-based casserole.

I love the strata-in-a-skillet devised by the perfectionists at America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Illustrated magazine.

The texture of the skillet strata is denser than a soufflé, but lighter than a traditional strata with a custardy bread pudding vibe.

The flavor is suburb, with Pepper Jack cheese offering a little bit of spicy heat and bacon pitching in with its signature smoky fat-meat luxury.

The downside is that some of the work, not much, has to be done right before it goes into the oven. All the ingredients can be prepped in advance, and the bacon and onions can be cooked in an ovenproof skillet an hour or so before the completion process starts.

Thirty minutes before serving, heat up the skillet and add the bread to the onion mixture. You may need to add a little canola oil or olive oil around the edge of the skillet for proper bread toasting, especially if the bacon is lean. Once the bread is tossed and toasted, take it off the heat and add the egg-milk-cheese mixture. Then it requires 12 minutes in the oven. Voila.

To round out the menu, I like to concentrate on spring ingredients. I include a colorful wedge-veg salad garnished with asparagus. And of course a dessert with a little spring glam, a coconut cake adorned with fresh berries.

I make it from scratch, but if you are running short on time, use a packaged yellow cake mix to create two 9-inch rounds.

The first time I made this skillet strata I was concerned that my 10-inch ovenproof non-stick skillet wouldn’t have enough volume because it has sloped sides. But it turned out to be the ticket. When using a skillet in the oven, remember that the handle is very hot. I’ve made the mistake of grabbing it with a bare hand. Ouch.

Bacon and Pepper Jack Skillet “Strata”
Yield: 6 servings or 8 small servings
6 large eggs
1 1/2 cups whole milk
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 ounces Pepper Jack cheese, shredded (1 cup)
4 ounces bacon, about 4 to 5 slices, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 slices high-quality crust-on white sandwich bread, cut into 1-inch squares, see cook’s notes
Garnish: 2 green onions, trimmed, thinly sliced including dark green stalks
Cook’s notes: For best results use either Pepperidge Farms Farmhouse Hearty White or Orowheat Country White Bread.
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees. Whisk eggs, milk and pepper in a medium bowl. Stir in cheese and set aside.
2. In a 10-inch ovenproof skillet on medium-high heat, cook bacon until it starts to render fat about 2 minutes (if bacon is super lean, add 1 teaspoon of olive oil or canola oil to the skillet). Add onion and salt; cook until onion softens and browns lightly, about 6 minutes.
3. Add bread, and using a rubber spatula, gently fold bread into onion mixture until evenly coated. Cook bread, folding occasionally, until lightly toasted, about 3 minutes.
4. Off the heat, fold in the egg mixture until slightly thickened and well combined with the bread. Gently press on the top of the strata to help it soak up the egg mixture. Transfer the skillet to the preheated oven and bake until the edges and center are puffed and the edges have pulled away slightly from the sides of the pan, about 12 minutes. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving. Top with green onion slices and serve.
Nutrition information (per serving): 300 calories,  42 percent of calories from fat, 14 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, 340 mg cholesterol, 33 g carbohydrates, 19g protein, 980 mg sodium, 2.0 g fiber
Source: “The Best Skillet Recipes” from the Editors of Cook’s Illustrated (America’s Test Kitchen, $35)

For years this classic coconut cake from the “Silver Palate Cookbook,” has been one of my favorites. In the cookbook the authors advise that the oh-so-chunky frosting be used between the layers and on top, leaving the sides “naked.” I like to use a generous amount as a filling and just enough on top to cover it; then I cover the sides of the cake as well. I use a large spoon to put some in place on the side, then smooth it out with a frosting spatula.  I repeat this all the way around the cake, making a thin layer to cover the side. I garnish it with fresh berries, Easter chocolates and pesticide-free Cecil Bruner roses from my yard.

Coconut Cake
Yield: 10 to 12 servings
Butter for greasing pans
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus a little extra for dusting pans
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 cups (sweetened) shredded coconut, about 14 ounces
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
Garnish: fresh berries
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9-inch round layer cake pans.
2. Beat sugar and eggs together in large bowl of electric mixer. Mix on medium speed for 30 seconds. Add oil, wine, flour, salt, baking powder, and vanilla; beat for 1 minute, scraping down sides half way through mixing time.
3. Pour batter into prepared pans. Set on center rack of preheated oven and bake until cake has pulled away from sides of pan and a knife inserted in center comes out clean, 30 minutes.
4. Let cakes cool in pans for 5 minutes. Turn them out on a rack and let cool for at least 2 hours before frosting.
5. Prepare frosting: Mix sour cream, vanilla and coconut in mixing bowl. Blend well. Add sugar and mix thoroughly. Place one cake layer on cake platter or plate and spread the top with half of the coconut mixture. Place second layer on top of the first and spread with the remaining coconut mixture, leaving sides of the cake unfrosted (see introduction). Garnish with fresh berries.
Nutrition information (per serving): 400 calories, 21 g fat, 9 g saturated fat, 65 mg cholesterol, 51 g carbohydrates, 2 g protein, 430 mg sodium, 1.1 g fiber
Source: Silver Palate Cookbook (Workman, $19.95)


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