Make-ahead menu allows you to enjoy the holiday and entertain beautifully too

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Easter will be here soon, and we'd rather concentrate on our bonnet with all the frills upon it -- or the sunrise service we're hoping won't be rained out or the eggs we plan to decorate and hide -- than fret over what we're going to eat.

So we've planned a relaxed menu that lends itself to advance preparation and offers something for just about everyone. It would be lovely as a breakfast or brunch and would work just as well as a light, buffet-style lunch.

You can stretch it easily if you're expecting a crowd, or you could just make the coffeecake if that's more your style.

Here's our lineup:

* Crumb-topped coffeecake. Made with orange marmalade or raspberry jam, it's easy and delicious and can be made ahead and frozen.

* Tortilla Espanola. Eggs seem essential for this menu, but who wants to scramble on Easter morning? We've opted for a Spanish-style flat omelet filled with sauteed potatoes, onions and roasted red peppers. It can be made ahead and reheated. We'd recommend doing all the prep work ahead -- saute the potatoes and so forth -- and then cook the omelet closer to serving time. It's traditionally served at room temperature.

* Glazed Canadian bacon. We love Canadian bacon because it's fully cooked and needs only to be warmed through. It's also much lower in fat than regular bacon or sausage and it doesn't require that you stand at a frying pan with hot grease popping on your good clothes. Be sure to get an unsliced chunk of Canadian bacon; to serve, cut into thick slices, then halve them again. For a little pizazz, melt a spoonful of apricot jelly and spike it with hot pepper sauce, then brush it over the meat as it warms in the oven at 350 degrees.

* Chilled steamed asparagus with salsa. Asparagus is in season now, which means it's both cheap and plentiful. Steam or blanch it ahead of time, then plunge it into ice water to stop the cooking. Lay the stalks on kitchen towels to dry, then wrap in plastic and refrigerate. At serving time, arrange them on a platter and spoon the salsa over them like a belt. You can make the salsa a few hours ahead. (You could make hollandaise sauce, too, but salsa is less temperamental and much more nutritionally correct.)

* Fruit salad. What a trifecta: It's beautiful, easy and good for you. Combine orange sections with chunks of fresh pineapple and a few handfuls of berries. You could peel and section the oranges the day before; cover and refrigerate. Ditto for the pineapple. Then just chunk it and combine with the other fruits the morning you're serving.

* You can make this coffeecake with raspberry jam or orange marmalade. If you're feeling generous, make it both ways. The recipe is from one of our favorite dessert cookbooks, "Sweet Times" by Dorie Greenspan (William Morrow, 1991).

Crumb-topped jam coffeecake

Serves 12.

TOPPING:

2/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

1 cup slivered or chopped blanched almonds, toasted and cooled

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 8 pieces

CAKE:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

2 large eggs

1 cup good-quality orange marmalade (or raspberry jam, with or without seeds)

1/2 cup buttermilk, at room temperature

Make the topping: Place all ingredients in a food processor an pulse until the mixture forms curds and holds together when pressed between your fingers. Leave in the processor until needed.

Make the cake: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-by-12-inch baking pan. Measure the flour, baking soda and baking powder into a mixing bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.

Cream the butter, sugar and almond extract with an electric mixer on medium speed. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for a minute after each addition. (Don't be alarmed if it looks curdled.) Mix in the marmalade or jam on low speed. Mix in half the flour mixture on low speed and beat

just until it is incorporated. Add the buttermilk and mix. Add the rest of the flour and beat just until smooth.

Spread the batter in the pan, using a spatula to help get an even layer. Sprinkle the topping over the cake and pat gently into the batter with your fingertips. Bake 40 to 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the cake starts to pull away from the sides of the pan. Cool the cake in the pan on a rack for 20 to 30 minutes before serving, or, wait until it reaches room temperature.

Cut the cake into portions in the pan and arrange them in a napkin-lined bread basket or stack attractively on a large serving platter. (The cooled cake can be wrapped airtight and frozen for up to 1 month.)

* Tortilla Espanola -- In other words, an omelet. In Spain they're called tortillas (not to be confused with Mexican tortillas), and in Italy they're known as frittatas; both are served cut into wedges, and begin cooking the same way. The difference comes when the omelet is almost done; you flip a tortilla onto a plate, then slide it back into the pan to cook the other side. You finish cooking a frittata under the broiler.

Tortilla Espanola

Serves eight.

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 medium potatoes, peeled, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced

1 large onion, thinly sliced

1/2 cup canned roasted red peppers, drained, rinsed and patted dry, then

sliced into strips

12 large eggs (or use egg substitute)

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a large saute pan or heavy skillet, add potatoe and onions and cook gently over medium-low heat until potatoes are tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Add red peppers and saute briefly. (If you like, arrange the potatoes and peppers in a pretty pattern before adding the eggs.) Lightly beat the eggs with salt and pepper, then pour into skillet. Tilt the pan and gently lift the filling so the eggs flow around and under it. Lower heat and cook gently until eggs are just about set. To finish the frittata, slip it under a preheated broiler for a few minutes, watching closely, until eggs are set and frittata begins to brown. Slip or flip onto a plate and cool. Slice into wedges to serve.

Tomato-orange salsa

Makes about 2 cups.

2 ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped

1 orange, peeled, sectioned and cut into chunks

1 shallot, peeled and minced fine

2 tablespoon pine nuts

1/4 cup fruity olive oil

1 tablespoon balsamic or red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

Combine tomatoes, orange, shallot and pine nuts in a smal bowl. In another bowl, whisk together oil and vinegar, then basil. Combine tomato mixture with vinaigrette and serve over cool, steamed asparagus.

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