RISE AND SHINE KAUT43 OKC
Easter lunch is a classic… but Easter Brunch is my jam!
One of my favorite things to do on Easter morning is to sleep in, then hop out of bed and start knocking out some wonderful springtime brunch dishes in anticipation of friends and family stopping by after Easter services… or… a bit of a sleep in and Easter basket diving themselves.
But before I get into these recipes one of my favorite Easter memories popped into my head. If you’re here for the recipes scroll down… they’re at the end of this story.
Thinking back to Easter days of my childhood always reminds me of my Papaw. Papaw, Pastor Carl Pollard, was not my biological grandfather but the father of my Godmother (Aunt Barbara). You have heard me talk about Mamaw around Thanksgiving and her cornbread dressing… well, Papaw was the “daddy” of this whole group. Raising four girls, My Aunt Barbara, Aunt Margie, Aunt Frances, and finally the baby Aunt Millie, Papaw embraced our family of four as much as he did his four girls and their families.
Sometimes that meant traveling to Miami, Oklahoma where Papaw and Mamaw lived, for Easter gatherings, and going out back to his little white church (seriously, his little church was next to their house) to hear Papaw preach the “good word” of Easter.
The church, from what I remember, was a one-room sanctuary covered in deep blue shag carpet, and eight or ten long wooden pews on either side. Walking down the center aisle, like most of his daughters did when they got married, led you straight to a small raised area where Papaw would stand, no microphone, holding a well worn and read floppy, black bible. In a commanding , Southern Baptist-esq, “make the devil pitch a hissy fit” preaching, Papaw would recite scripture and tell you how you were going to BE the word, LIVE the word, and ACT out the word . Once you could finally exhale Papaw had this way of "winding’er down". Having said all he needed to say, the tone in his voice softened, the muscles in his face relaxed, and he would ask one or all of those daughters to come up to the front and sing a hymn.
Now, before I go on with this particular Easter Sunday service at Papaw’s, just let me preface this point… It is absolutely IMPOSSIBLE for my immediate family to sit together during a church service…any kind of service. Funeral to Wedding, it doesn’t matter, my family must be split up. The first time I recognized this “11th commandment” happened to be on this easter service at Papaw’s.
Okay, so like I was saying, Papaw had wound down his good word for Easter, and very gently, in a loving fatherly voice, looked at my Aunt Barbara and said
“Carlene” (that’s Aunt Barbara’s given name), “would you come up and sing pretty?” And that is when, while sitting next to my father in one of those old wooden church pews, I could physically feel him having a panic attack.
Again, I need to preface something: The first time my father ever heard my Aunt Barbara sing was at her sister’s, Aunt Milly, Wedding... in that church… all by herself up there on that royal blue, shag-carpeted stage. You know when it’s inappropriate to laugh, like when you’re at a funeral or a wedding? That kind of laugh that has to be contained... physically pushed down to the depths of your toes, else risking an eruption of boisterous eye-watering, toot escaping, red-faced, belly cramping, caterwauling laugh, when the only outcome would be the embarrassment, anger, and resentment of the person/persons you were “cracking up ” over? That’s what happened to my twenty-something-year-old father the first time he heard my Aunt Barbara sing. Not only did he get jet-propelled, fire daggers of rage shooting out of Aunt Barbara’s eyes, Pops also got the “Not today Satan” look from Papaw.
But this Easter, Aunt Barbara goes up to the tiny stage with Papaw while mamaw scrambles to the old electric organ on the other side of the altar, then and proceeds to play the introduction to The Old Wooden Cross. The tension and heat from my father sitting right next to me begins to increase. I turn to face him with a mix of horror and anticipation as I imagined one did when Mount Vesuvius blew it’s stack, and could see him looking down at his lap while pools of sweat rolled down his balding head. The only words I could make out between short and fast exhalations of breath was
“No….No….Please God, No.”
And then like a sleepy yawn from a child who is staring at you right in the eye, I could feel an instinctual reaction rise up in me the moment Aunt Barbara cleared her throat and belted out the first line of the song “I will cling to the old wooden cross”. Now it’s not that Aunt Barbara is a bad singer, I mean I love her and it takes some balls to get up there and sing for fifteen people, but like Uncle Jack (my Godfather) put it as we were walking back to the house,
“Either someone kicked a cat across the room or Barb was singing again!”.
You know life can throw challenging moments at us on any given day. With the days I have had in my life and career, THIS moment is definitely in my top three. The whole time Aunt Barbara sang she kept her eyes narrowed and focused on my bent over father, never missing a word and almost never missing a note, but keeping a steely gaze on him just waiting for Mount Vesuvius to explode. Then suddenly without any warning, I feel Ari, my little brother to my left, tighten up and radiate heat. Was he “feeling the spirit”, was he emotional because of the song and the words? No, his biological instincts inherited from my father kicked in as well, reducing the three of us to a beating from my mother… with a Kleenex. Yes, that is all she had available as a weapon of choice.. a close second was the bright yellow and round butterscotch candy (that probably tasted like Jean Naté and not butterscotch)" she had in the bottom of her purse. The swatting of the Kleenex, that mysteriously appeared I might add, for all three of us was her way of saying “KNOCK IT OFF!” And was by far more distracting than the contained laughter by her three boys.
Well, we made it through that version of The Old Rugged Cross, and thankfully “the look” from Papaw for disturbing his Easter service never transpired. Once the "Lord’s Prayer" was recited, and we were instructed to “Go in Peace”, I looked up at my Papaw as all fifteen of us exited his one-room church. Still standing in the center of the stage, black floppy bible in one hand, and his free arm outstretched beckoning us to “go forth!”. My eyes looked up and met Papaw’s eyes and for a brief second, I swear he gave me a "now, that was funny!" wink.
“Let’s go eat, Papaw!” I said
“O-Kay, I’m comin’, Hon." Papaw said following me out the door.
"... and get your mother another Kleenex. The girls are singing I'll Fly Away after lunch.”
Here are two of my favorites for your Easter brunch, or any Brunch really. The spoon bread recipe is reminiscent of any holiday meal at Mamaw and Papaws… and of course, using my Cornbread Dressing Blend inspired my Mamaw’s Cornbread Dressing. The Baked Eggs and Mushrooms are just something I threw in for good measure.. and the fact that they are in individual dishes like a cocotte reminds me of tow people sitting in a church pew. Queue my mother’s Kleenex.
Cheesy Herbed Spoon Bread serves 6
1 1/3 cup medium grind organic cornmeal
5 eggs, separated
3 cups whole milk
5 tablespoons butter plus extra for buttering your dish
1 cup grated Swiss cheese (I used Emmentaler)
1/2 cup grated Gruyère cheese
1/2 cup minced chive
1/4 cup chopped Italian Parsley
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and butter the inside of a soufflé dish or 3-quart casserole dish. Sprinkle the inside with grated parmesan, like you would when Buttering and Flouring a cake pan. In a bowl add the cornmeal, Cook’s Line Seasoning, and Cornbread Dressing Blend and toss together. Set aside.
- In a heavy bottom sauce pot, pour enough water into the pot that it covers the bottom in a shallow skim. I find this helps to prevent scorching when boiling milk… because that is what we are going to do next. Add the milk and slowly bring to a boil. When the milk boils pour in the cornmeal and seasoning mixture and slowly cook for 5 minutes. The “porridge” should be thick but not solid. A few chunks at a time mix in the butter until melted and combined. Set the porridge aside to cool down a bit.
- Place the egg whites into a clean metal mixing bowl and whip to stiff peaks. Beat the egg yolks with a fork until smooth. A little at a time add the beaten yolks to the porridge and mix in quickly… careful not to scramble the yolks. Next, fold in the grated cheeses until fully combined, then fold in the chopped herbs (chive and parsley).
- Place a good size scoop of the stiff egg whites into the center of the mixture. Mix in quickly to “loosen” the porridge up. Add another good size dollop into the center and carefully fold in the egg whites. Going straight to the bottom then folding the mixer up, and over, itself. Do this until all of the reaming whipped whites are incorporated.
- Pour the mixture, gently into the butter and cheese coated dish or pan. Smooth off the top and place into the oven. Bake approximately 40 minutes or until the center is slightly jiggly and set.
- Once removed from the oven serve this dish immediately. As with a soufflé it has just minutes, if not seconds before it “deflates”. It is still delicious … even warm! Enjoy!
BAKED EGGS WITH MUSHROOM & TOMATO serves 2*
*You could easily develop this dish for a larger crowd by by baking in a casserole dish or even Paella pan for a more dramatic presentation. Of course increase the ingredients to taste and remember 2 eggs per person.
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, plus extra for buttering dishes
2 tablespoons (or more) Grapeseed oil or olive oil for browning the mushrooms
10 ounces of prepared mushrooms (I used a mixture of Oyster, Crimini, and Portobello)
1/4 cup pickle juice (not sweet)
4 large fresh eggs
1 Handfull of heirloom cherry tomatoes (get as much color as you can.. it is spring!)
1 cups shredded Manchego Cheese (may also substitute with Gruyère or Parmesan)
1/2 cup heavy cream
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Butter the inside of 2 small oven-safe dishes, or large casserole dish and set aside.
- In a skillet begin to melt the 2 tablespoons of butter along with the grapeseed oil. Once the butter has stopped foaming add the mushrooms to brown, along with stemmed fresh thyme… around “a pinch” per batch. Do not overcrowd the pan and cook in batches if need be. Drizzle in a little of the pickle juice to cook with the mushrooms… this not only seasons the mushrooms it also brings out the flavor and helps to caramelize. Add fresh cracked black pepper if you desire but watch the salt! Once all of the mushrooms have browned layer them in the bottom of your individual dishes or in the casserole pan.
- Slice the heirloom cherry tomatoes and dot them colorfully around the dish on top of the mushrooms. Crack the eggs, 2 eggs per dish on top… carefully. The idea is to keep the yolks whole.
- Sprinkle the top of each dish with Manchego cheese to add flavor and get that “gratin” or browning when baking. Next, drizzle in the heavy cream all along the top and sides of the dish, along with fresh leaves of tarragon. This not only makes a delicious sauce while baking, but the cream develops a caramelized butter flavor that really complements the mushroom and tarragon.
- Place the dishes on top of a small cookie pan or flat oven-safe surface and place in the oven on an upper rack. Bake for 12-15 minutes depending on your oven, or until the egg whites are just set and the yolks are still soft.
- Serve with plenty of toasted bread and homemade jam to Scooooop up the goods from this dish. Enjoy!