By Lee Svitak Dean, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
With Mother's Day just around the corner and the bridal and baby showers that tend to pop up in the spring, I have entertaining on my mind.
Whatever the season, my mantra for cooking for company is "keep it simple." The only rules I consider are to limit the menu to a single showy item and to make sure only one dish needs last-minute attention. As the cook, I want to enjoy my guests at the table and not be left behind at the stove.
For this spring menu, the roulade (pronounced rou-LAHD) shines as the star, with its lovely swirl of egg, cheese and vegetables served in slices. Its simple elegance is perfect for a brunch.
Months ago I stumbled onto the roulade in a cookbook and, though I vowed to use it for a spring menu, I never did remember where I first saw it. I was smitten immediately by its look and the notion of a rolled up egg.
Like a jellyroll, the roulade batter is pouredinto a pan with edges. Once baked, a filling is spread atop the egg surface, which has become nearly as firm as a crepe, and then it's carefully rolled up. The filling can be anything, much as you choose what goes into a frittata or omelet: Diced ham with cheese. Smoked salmon and capers. Black beans and roasted peppers. Spinach and mushrooms.
Although you can (and should) prepare the filling in advance, the dish does require attention from the cook right before it is served. That's not my preferred method of entertaining, but I've made the dish enough times (including for my mother's 80th birthday, whereit was a big hit) that it doesn't bother me to work on it at the last minute.
However, if you're making the roulade for the first time and have guests you want to impress, try giving the recipe a run-through in advance, on your own timetable.
Caution for the cook: Expect a bit of a mess. You'll go through quite a few dishes in the prep of the roulade, as you prepare a roux, whip egg whites and cook the filling. But repeat after me: It's worth the effort. I practiced making the recipe for one guest, who later sent me a text message: "I can't stop thinking about the egg dish. When can I have it again?"
With the more difficult course under your belt, the rest of the spring menu is a breeze.
Enjoy its short season. Asparagus is a flexible companion for any meal and needs little attention from the cook, which makes it perfect for company. Toss the asparagus with olive oil and add some lemon zest for a bright flavor.
Then roast it for a short time at a high temperature, or a longer time at a lower temperature, depending on what else is in the oven. Or make the asparagus in advance and serve it at room temperature.
At many spring gatherings, ham is the centerpiece. But if there's a crowd at the table, the oven tends to be crowded, too. While trying to figure out a way to handle the traditional meat, given the need to bake the roulade, I stumbled across advice to use a slow cooker to heat ham. (Think Crockpot.) Of course! Why didn't I think of that earlier? The slow cooker is the perfect heating vehicle. Sprinkle some brown sugar on the meat and you're set to go with a simple glaze.
Too few at your table to cook a hunk of ham? Then cut up slices to fit in your skillet, sprinkle brown sugar on top and heat them on the stovetop. Fabulous.
Pound cake with blueberry sauce:
I look for a dessert that can be made in advance. Pound cake, which can be refrigerated for days, is the perfect choice for busy cooks. Add a simple blueberry sauce, also made in advance, and you are set for a fine finish for your spring menu. If your preference leans toward a strawberry sauce, make that instead. Improvise! You're the cook. Recipes shouldn't be carved in stone.
This meal is an easy one to dress up to fit your crowd or suit your comfort level in the kitchen. Want to fill out the menu a bit more? Start with a mimosa -- half orange juice, half sparkling wine. Add a light green salad (spring greens and your favorite salad dressing), if you prefer, or some dinner rolls.
Just keep it simple.
Your delicious spring menu
Brown sugar ham
Sour cream pound cake with blueberry sauce
Serves 6 to 7
Note: This calls for a 10- by 15-inch jellyroll pan (a baking sheet with edges). If you have a different size, just shape the batter on the pan accordingly. I've made two of these at a time, for a group of 12 diners, and I made the batter individually for each. With two roulades, it's a little extra last-minute pressure, but given the ease of the rest of meal, it's doable. The oven, however, will be full. Adapted from Sara Moulton.
5 tbsp. butter
6 tbsp. flour
11/4 c. milk
4 eggs, separated
Freshly black pepper
Filling (see below)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line the 10- by 15-inch jellyroll pan with parchment paper; either butter or spray it with cooking oil.
Melt butter in a medium saucepan. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes. Increase heat to high, whisk in the milk and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring often.
Transfer flour mixture to a large bowl. Whisk in the egg yolks 1 at a time. Season with pepper.
Beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Stir a third of the whites into yolk mixture and fold in the rest.
Pour the batter onto the parchment paper and smooth it out. Bake for 15 minutes, or until firm to the touch.
Meanwhile, prepare any filling that needs to be warmed. Increase oven temperature to 375 degrees. Cover the egg surface with another oiled or buttered piece of parchment. Invert onto the counter, and peel off the parchment on the top.
Sprinkle the egg surface with whatever filling is to be used. Starting on the long side of the egg surface, and using the parchment on the bottom to help, roll up the egg, jellyroll fashion. Place the roulade back on the jellyroll pan, with parchment underneath, and return it to the oven. Bake until any cheese in the filling has melted, about 10 minutes. To serve, cut into slices.
The filling must be prepared and hot (except for cheese) before it is placed on the cooked egg surface. Make sure any moisture in the vegetables is gone; heat in a saute pan to assure it.