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An Easter brunch that's sure to please

At a wedding reception one summer, Mom and I were seated with five other women and one guy. One Guy's wife looked around and let out a satisfying "Hah!"

"Finally!" she crowed, referring to the abundant female population at our table. "A wedding reception where I won't have to endure a bunch of sports talk."

One Guy sunk deeper into his chair, arms folded in resignation. But a familiar glint had formed in my mother's eyes. She and I exchanged knowing grins, and the next thing you know, Mom was off and running: "What do you think about the Jeff Garcia trade to the 49ers?"

One Guy perked up. One Guy's wife gasped then headed off in search of champagne. Too bad. She missed an insightful analysis of the NFL, NBA and the Pac-10, with a little Tiger Woods chit-chat thrown in for dessert.

Mom's always been a tad contrary that way. At a time when all the other mothers were forcing their children to fork down vegetables, my mother let me pass. On her part, there were no tantrums, no tirades and certainly no threats.

Mom's philosophy has always been lose the battle, win the war. In the case of vegetable combat, evening skirmishes never took place at the Roberts' dining table because Mom was hoping that in good time — with psyche intact — I'd come around on my own.

That time came in my early teens, during an elegant Easter Brunch at the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park.

Thanks to a persuasive waiter named Ramon who insisted that the green beans weren't to be missed, I took a token helping.

They were obviously fresh, lovingly French cut (in a restaurant, that's hours of prep time!), carefully cooked just until tender and lightly laced in drawn butter. One bite, and I was hooked. I went back for three helpings and have been partial to French-cut green beans ever since.

From that point on, thanks to my mother's enlightened attitude, I was open to discovering the humble goodness in all fruits and vegetables.

Now, when the spring line-up of fresh produce hits the market — luscious strawberries, zesty rhubarb, emerald green peas, lavender chive blossoms and elegant asparagus — I can truly celebrate the harvest.

Of course, that pivotal experience at the Ahwahnee also set me on course for a life-long love of brunches. Falling between the civilized hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., brunch is the perfect time for decadent fare — late enough to look appetizing, yet early enough to work off any overindulgence with a little afternoon exercise.

To partake in a brunch this Easter, design a menu that eliminates or at least cuts down on last-minute preparation, keeping in mind that the food should be festive yet comforting. Delicate, not sharp, flavors work best at this time of day.

Also, remember the best buffet foods are those that are delicious and attractive at a wider range of temperatures, from hot to room-temperature.

Then, load the table with fresh fruit, flowers and pretty linen to ensure brightened spirits. Additionally, consider:

  • Clear pitchers of orange and tropical fruit juices in sunshine colors are enticing. Be sure to add sprigs of mint.
  • When serving more than four, choose a main course that does not have to be prepared at the last minute
  • Instead of butter alone, serve a cream cheese along with red berry jam, peach preserves and a citrus marmalade with a bit of bite
  • Present bowls of plain and fruity yogurts alongside a selection of favorite toppings, including raisins, chopped nuts, granola and melon chunks.
  • Slice a loaf of French bread lengthwise, spread with butter and toast under the broiler.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, cookbook author and artist. Readers can contact her by e-mail at janrd@proaxis.com.

Fresh Green Beans for a Crowd

3 pounds fresh green beans or frozen French-cut beans

6 to 8 tablespoons softened butter, cut into 4 pieces

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

3 tablespoons minced parsley

If using fresh beans, trim them and French-cut; drop them into a large pot of boiling water. As soon as the water returns to a boil, simmer for about 2 or 3 minutes, just until the beans are barely tender. Quickly remove the pot of beans from the burner and strain beans through a colander, then plunge into a large pot of cold water to stop cooking process. Have cold water ready to go before draining beans.

If preparing ahead, refrigerate beans in plastic bags from this point until ready to finish cooking.

When ready to serve (or if using frozen beans), toss the beans in a large, heavy skillet over moderately high heat to evaporate moisture and reheat them. Add a piece of the butter and toss briefly. Salt and pepper, to taste, then add the remaining butter gradually, alternating with drops of the lemon juice while still tossing. Taste beans for seasoning. Turn into a hot dish, sprinkle with the parsley and serve immediately.

Makes 12 servings.

NOTE: A French-cutter is needed to prepare the fresh beans in this recipe. Available in various designs, French-cutters can be purchased in kitchen supply stores and many department or grocery stores.

Recipe adapted from "Private Collection," by Junior League of Palo Alto, Inc.

Rhubarb Filbert Muffins

11/2 cups diced, fresh rhubarb, or 2 cups sliced and frozen rhubarb

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1 egg

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

3 tablespoons currant jelly

1 cup milk

4 tablespoons butter, melted

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup chopped toasted filberts (hazelnuts)

If you are using frozen rhubarb, spread it on the counter for about 5 minutes until it is thawed enough to finely dice.

While the rhubarb thaws, heat oven to 375 degrees. Grease (14 regular-sized or 48 miniature) muffin cups or use paper or foil baking cups.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk the egg, brown sugar and currant jelly until smooth (jelly will not completely dissolve). Whisk in the milk, butter and vanilla. Stir in the filberts and finely diced rhubarb. Pour over dry ingredients and gently fold in with a rubber spatula just until dry ingredients are moistened. Scoop batter into muffin cups. Bake 20 to 30 minutes, or until light brown and springy to the touch in the center. Turn out onto a rack and cool at least 15 minutes before serving.

Makes 14 regular-sized muffins or 48 miniature muffins.

Recipe adapted from "Muffins,'' by Elizabeth Alston.

Asparagus Tips and Roasted Red Pepper Salad

21/2 pounds fresh asparagus

6 sweet red bell peppers

4 tablespoons red or white wine vinegar

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

4 hard-cooked eggs, chopped

To prepare the asparagus tips, cut each stalk to measure 4 to 5 inches long. (Don't waste the lower portion of the stalk: refrigerate it for later use in a soup or stir-fry dish.) Peel the stems to within 1/2 inch of the budded tips. Plunge asparagus into a large pot of boiling, salted water and cook, uncovered, for 4 to 5 minutes, just until stems are barely tender when pierced with a sharp knife. Drain immediately and plunge into cold water to stop cooking and set the color; drain again.

Position the washed peppers under broiler and broil on all sides until black all over. Place peppers in a bowl and set a plate or lid on top. Leave peppers to steam and cool for about 10 minutes to loosen skins. When cool enough to handle, peel blackened skin off peppers. Core and remove seeds. Cut into long, thin strips. This can be done several days ahead, then covered and refrigerated.

Arrange the asparagus and pepper strips on a large platter (if done the night before, cover with plastic wrap at this point and refrigerate). Whisk together the vinegar, olive oil and salt and pepper, to taste. When ready to serve, spoon vinaigrette over asparagus and top with the chopped, hard-cooked egg.

Makes 12 servings.

Recipe adapted from "Easter Menus by Chuck Williams," a booklet by Williams-Sonoma.