As Easter weekend approaches, families across the state have two important decisions to make: what time to attend church and where to eat dinner.
After contending with the exodus of traffic leaving the church parking lot and the influx of traffic arriving for the next service; most people are done with crowds before Easter dinner even starts.
This year, save time, money and sanity by hosting my Easy Make Ahead Easter Brunch. The tips, shortcuts and timeline of this brunch will make preparation a breeze while dazzling your guests with a delicious and memorable meal.
(Serves eight-ten people)
Church Lady Punch, Fresh Meets Frozen Fruit Salad, Cake Mix Dinner Rolls, Homemade Beer Bread, Cheesy Potato and Ham Bake, Italian Froshia with Spring Vegetables and Shredded Parmesan, Three Way Bruschetta and Bunny in the Garden Parfaits
The menu for my Easy Make Ahead Easter Brunch is an original concept which features a mix of personal and borrowed recipes.
The best way to start preparing for the brunch is to make the bread and rolls first.
The Cake Mix Dinner Rolls (an internet recipe from Beth Ewing McClendon) and Homemade Beer Bread (from USA Weekend) can easily be made at the same time in under two hours and 15 minutes.
I would suggest making one recipe of the Rolls and doubling the Beer Bread recipe, to have a loaf to serve and a loaf to freeze. I started the Rolls first as they have to rise twice before baking. Once the Roll dough is rising the first time, put together the Beer Bread.
Since both the Rolls and Beer Bread bake at the same temperature, 375 degrees, I put the Roll dough near the oven to accelerate the first rising. Once the Beer Bread is mixed and ready for the oven, the Roll dough should be ready to shape and put in a baking pan. It’s perfectly fine to let the Beer Bread “rest” before baking while the Rolls are shaped. Once all the Rolls have been shaped, again set the pan near the oven for the second rising. I got about 40 rolls from once the recipe.
Bake the Homemade Beer Bread for around 45 minutes while the Cake Mix Dinner Rolls are rising in the pan. I always use “rapid rise” yeast so while the Beer Bread is baking, the Rolls should rise in the same amount of time and be ready to bake as soon as the Beer Bread is done. The Cake Mix Dinner Rolls usually bake in about 12-15 minutes.
The Homemade Beer Bread has a denser texture and a more savory flavor than the Cake Mix Dinner Rolls which are lighter and sweeter. A slice of the Beer Bread toasted is the perfect canvas for Three Way Bruschetta.
The Cheesy Potato and Ham Bake, my personal recipe, can be made a few days before Easter and placed in the refrigerator until ready to bake. It’s best to whisk together the cream soup, sour cream, onion powder and cheese first and then mix in the hash brown potatoes.
Using frozen hash browns makes the prep of this dish fast and easy; but can “freeze” the soup mixture.
Don’t worry about adding a few extra tablespoons of sour cream to make the mixture easier to spread in the pan. Once you have a layer of potato mixture in the pan; you can add a layer of sautéed, drained vegetables to make the dish vegetarian. Made with either veggies or ham this dish is also gluten free.
The Italian Froshia with Spring Vegetables & Shredded Parmesan, my recipe, is based on a dish that is served at the St. Joseph Altar, a Sicilian tradition celebrated on March 19 during the season of Lent. Froshia is the meatless, protein part of the St. Joseph Altar meal.
It is very easy to change up the Froshia by adding your choice of sautéed vegetables, cooked crumbled Italian sausage and a different shredded cheese.
Cooking and presenting the Froshia are somewhat difficult, which is why I flipped the partially cooked Froshia onto a plate and then slid it back into the frying pan to cook the vegetable side. I recommend making two 10 inch Froshias if you expect to have more than six guests.
Another easy and versatile dish on the Easy Make Ahead Easter Brunch lineup is Three Way Bruschetta, a personal favorite. This is a great appetizer or light lunch when served over multi grain bread or pasta. Changing up the acid component from red wine vinegar to lemon juice to balsamic vinegar gives the dish three distinctive flavors which can be specifically matched to the occasion.
For this Brunch, I chose to make the Bruschetta with balsamic vinegar which gives the dish a bold, tart, yet sweet flavor. I tend to prefer the lemon based Bruschetta over pasta and the vinegar based Bruschetta on top of toasted bread. The Beer Bread makes an excellent base for the Bruschetta which can be made an hour before guests arrive.
Gathering the supplies for my dessert creation, Bunny in the Garden Parfaits is as easy as dipping into the kids’ Easter candy and arranging it on a plate! Again, this recipe is pretty versatile and can be customized to individual taste. I used a box mix pound cake flavored with almond extract and added some extra vanilla extract to the instant pudding which is then mixed with Cool Whip. The pound cake and pudding/Cool Whip mixture can also be made a few days ahead of Brunch and refrigerated.
The Fresh Meets Frozen Fruit salad and Church Lady Punch are both from my personal recipe collection and can be made 30 minutes before guests arrive. Change up the Fruit Salad by using a mix of frozen fruit topped with bananas or frozen mango topped with seasonal berries. I sprinkle a bit of sugar over the top for taste and presentation.
For the Church Lady Punch, I made the punch ahead and froze some of it in a ring shaped mold. Carefully run warm water over the backside of the frozen mold to dislodge the punch ring and place it in the punch bowl. A sweet sparkling white wine can be used in place of lemon lime soda to spike the punch.
My Easy Make Ahead Easter Brunch is an inexpensive yet elegant way to enjoy the fellowship of family and friends. With healthy, versatile, colorful, fresh and flavorful dishes, everyone can avoid the onslaught of restaurant crowds and celebrate the spirit of camaraderie.
CAKE MIX DINNER ROLLS
Beth Ewing McClendon
21/2 cups of warm water (110 degrees)
2 pkg. (4 ½ tsp) active dry rapid rising yeast
1 (15.25–18 oz) yellow cake mix
1 Tbsp. Oil
7 cups plain flour
1 ½ tsp. salt
4 Tbsp. butter, melted for spreading after they come out of the oven
In a bowl, pour warm water, sprinkle yeast over warm water, then sprinkle with cake mix. Let sit 5 minutes. Add oil, gradually add the flour—you may not need all 7 cups, then the salt and mix all together. Knead to combine everything and make a smooth ball. Cover with a warm damp towel and place near lit oven to speed the rising. Let rise 30-40 minutes or until doubled in size. Knead lightly then shape rolls. Pinch off small dough balls and put into a 9×13 baking pan for pan rolls OR roll out a dough square about an inch thick and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and dot with butter. Roll up the dough square and cut round slices off one end using dental floss to make cinnamon rolls. Let pans of rolls rise again until doubled about 30 minutes. Bake at 375 degrees for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. Brush with melted butter as they come out of the oven. Makes about 40 rolls.
HOMEMADE BEER BREAD
7 cups all-purpose flour
6 Tbsp. sugar
2 Tbsp. baking powder
1 Tbsp. salt
24 oz beer
1 egg beaten
Adjust oven rack to lower middle position and hear oven to 375 degrees. Mix flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Add beer (no sips!) and stir with a fork until just combined. Turn dough onto a floured surface; knead quickly to form a ball. Place bread on a greased baking sheet and confidently slit an X on top with a very sharp knife. Brush loaf with egg wash. Bake until golden brown, about 45 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
CHEESEY POTATO AND HAM BAKE
2 lbs. frozen hash brown potatoes
1 ½ cups sour cream—can use lite or regular
2 cans 98% fat free condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 ¾ cup reduced fat shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 Tbsp. onion powder
1 cup cooked cubed ham or 1 cup sautéed vegetables drained (optional)
3 Tbsp. margarine or butter
1 ¼ cup cornflakes crushed
Mix together sour cream, soup, cheese and onion powder. Pour mixture over frozen hash brown potatoes. Spread half of potato mixture into a greased 9×13 pan. Layer in ham or vegetables and top with other half of potato mixture. Sprinkle top with mixture of finely crushed cornflakes and melted margarine. Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly.
ITALIAN FROSHIA WITH SPRING VEGETABLES AND SHREDDED PARMESAN
Salt & pepper to taste
1 cup chopped asparagus
1 ½ cups chopped mushrooms
½ cup chopped onions
1/3 cup shredded parmesan cheese
Beat eggSautéSautéSautéSautéSautéSautés in a bowl and add a sprinkling of salt and pepper set aside. In a 10 inch frying pan, sprayed with butter cooking spray and over high heat sauté mushrooms until almost done, remove to a plate. Sauté asparagus until almost done, remove to a plate. Sauté onions until almost done. Remove to a plate. Combine all the veggies and lightly salt the mixture. Wipe out frying pan and place it back on the burner over medium high heat. Spray with butter cooking spray. Pour in egg mixture and swirl mixture in the pan. As the eggs cook, gently pull back the edges of the eggs and tip pan to allow eggs to cook evenly. When the eggs are set but still jiggly on top, gently pour the veggie mixture over the eggs and top with parmesan cheese. Cook over medium heat for 2 minutes Place a 10 inch plate over the frying pan and flip the froshia onto a plate. With the egg side up, slide the froshia back into the frying pan and finish cooking vegetable side. Cut into wedges to serve. Serves six. Make two froshias in two separate pans to serve more than six.
THREE WAY BRUSCHETTA
1 ½ cups grape tomatoes cut into halves or quarters
1/3 cup—heaping of crumbled reg. or low-fat feta cheese
1 Tbsp fresh basil chopped fine—omit if using lemon juice
Salt, pepper and garlic powder to taste
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar OR balsamic vinegar OR 2 ½ Tbsp of fresh lemon juice & 1 1/2 tsp of grated lemon peel
1 1/12 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Place ingredients in a bowl following the recipe order. Mix ingredients and place them on toasted ½ slices of Beer Bread. May also use multi-grain bread or cooked pasta as a base.
FRESH MEETS FROZEN FRUIT SALAD
Distribute ½ cup frozen pineapple or mango into ramekin dishes, top with 5-6 fresh assortment of blackberries, blueberries and strawberries. Can also use banana slices to top frozen mixed fruit. Top salads with sprinkling of sugar.
CHURCH LADY PUNCH
8 cups of Crystal Light Fruit Punch mixed and chilled
2 L of diet lemon lime soda chilled OR 1 750ml bottle of sweet sparkling white wine chilled
1 quart of Dean’s Lemonberry sherbet or 2 pints of Kemps Pink Lemonade sherbet
Pour about 2 cups of the Crystal Light Fruit Punch into a ring mold and place in freezer overnight or for 3-4 hours. When the punch ring is frozen, carefully run warm water over the ring while holding the ring in your right hand to dislodge the ring from the mold. Put punch ring smooth side up in a 12 cup or more punch bowl. Carefully pour about 4 cups of punch in the center of the ring and then about 4 cups of soda or wine in the middle of the ring. Do not pour liquids over the ring. Stir gently to combine punch and soda. Scoop sherbet into the center and outsides of the punch ring. Makes around 8-10 cups.
BUNNY IN THE GARDEN PARFAITS
3.4 oz box of instant vanilla pudding prepared with 2 cups 2% milk—add 1 tsp vanilla extract
4 cups of thawed Lite Cool Whip
2 ½ cups of prepared pound cake cut into cubes
1 cup of Mini Eggs, Whoppers Robin Egg or jelly beans
2 assorted packages or bunny or chick Peeps
5 pieces of green gumdrop slices
1 1/3 cups finely crushed Oreo cookies
Make pudding according to package directions add vanilla extract and let the pudding set up. Assemble the parfaits: place a tablespoon of Oreo crumbs in a 10 oz clear plastic drinking glass. Top with 2-3 Tbsp of the pudding mixture, then with 2-3 cubes of pound cake. Continue layering pudding mixture and pound cake until about 2 inches from the top. Sprinkle Oreo crumb on top of last pudding layer and decorate with Easter candy. Cut slices from the green gumdrop candies to make leaves. Assemble parfaits prior to brunch and store in refrigerator or guests can build their own parfaits from