Easter brunching

We have a lot of meal traditions in my family.

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Christmas Eve means honey baked ham, mashed potatoes, green beans and my mother’s sour cream dinner rolls, followed by church, followed by Stilton cheese and pears.

Christmas morning means orange glazed sweet rolls while we open presents, followed by a sit-down breakfast of some sort of casserole that has evolved over the years but always involves sausage and cheese.

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Thanksgiving in our family means cauliflower gratin with pancetta and gruyere, as well as a foul, lime-green jello mold which only my sister and aunt eat but which gets made every year.

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But a few weeks ago, I realized something: Easter, or at least the Easter meal, was up for grabs. We have the usual Easter traditions–Easter baskets in the morning (except now instead of candy I get Zyrtec), church, and a meal after church–but the menu itself isn’t set in stone.

So this year, I decided to take over Easter. My mother wanted ham and biscuits, but she didn’t specify the kind of biscuit, or what else might appear on the plate next to it…so I began scheming.

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In digging around the Smitten Kitchen brunch archives, I found a recipe for baked eggs with spinach and mushrooms. They’re easy to make, can be done largely in advance and, bonus, are pretty to look at. I was sold.

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I’m also excited to be sharing my favorite (and sort of only) biscuit recipe, Deb’s caramelized onion and gruyere biscuits.* These are great with soup, they can pass as breakfast, and they’re excellent, as I now know, with baked eggs and ham.

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Smitten Kitchen’s baked eggs with spinach and mushrooms:

Note: When I made it I halved this recipe so if you’re wondering why there are only six eggs in my pictures, that’s why.

2 pounds fresh baby spinach or regular spinach leaves
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
3 small garlic cloves, minced
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound mushrooms, thinly sliced (Deb uses creminis, I used a mix of creminis and white mushrooms)
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 teaspoon table salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (optional; Deb skips this, as did I)
12 large eggs
Sprinkle of parmesan cheese

If you’ve just washed your spinach you don’t need to dry it before wilting it in the pan. If it’s already dry, bring a 1/2 inch of water to a boil in a very large ovenproof heavy skillet, then add half of spinach and cook, turning with tongs, until wilted, about 30 seconds. Add remaining spinach and wilt, then cook, covered, over moderately high heat until spinach is tender, about 1 to 2 minutes.** Drain in a colander and cool under cold running water. Gently squeeze handfuls of spinach to remove as much liquid as possible, then coarsely chop. You will have about 2 cups fairly tightly packed cooked spinach.

Wipe skillet dry, then melt butter over medium-low heat. Cook onion and garlic until softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Add mushrooms and increase heat to medium-high, then cook, stirring, until mushrooms have softened, exuded liquid and that liquid has cooked off, about 5 minutes.*** Stir in cream, salt, pepper, nutmeg (if using), and chopped spinach and bring it back to a simmer. Remove skillet from heat.

If baking eggs in this skillet, make 12 large indentations in mixture, each large enough to fit an egg. Otherwise, you can transfer this mixture to a 9×13-inch baking dish and do the same there. You can use a spoon to make the indentations–you want the walls to be as tall as possible so that the eggs will not merge together.

Do ahead: You can then set this aside for a few hours or up to one day in the fridge, covered.

When you’re ready to bake the dish, or about 30 minutes before serving, put oven rack in upper third of oven and heat oven to 450°F. Crack an egg into each well. Bake until whites are firm and yolks are still runny. You can check this by inserting a toothpick into various parts of the eggs and seeing whether they’re runny or set, which takes anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes. The range is long due to different ovens and baking vessels. It’s better to have to check more often than to let them overcook.****

Remove dish from oven, sprinkle with additional salt and pepper, plus grated Parmesan.

*: YES I have an obsession with Smitten Kitchen, NO I won’t apologize for it. There are a lot of recipes on that site so at the very least I can say that I’m curating them for you. You are welcome.
**: By the time I had wilted my second batch of spinach, I felt it was all sufficiently cooked and so didn’t cook the additional 1-2 minutes.
***: My mushroom/onion mixture took much longer than 5 minutes to cook; say, 10-15.
****: This I know firsthand, as mine overcooked and not one single yolk was runny, which was a tragedy.

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Smitten Kitchen’s caramelized onion and gruyere biscuits

Yield: Deb says 10, my experience is closer to 12

9 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 small onions, halved and thinly sliced
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon coarse or kosher salt
4 ounces (about 1 cup ) gruyère or another Swiss-style cheese in 1/2-inch cubes (I use TJ’s swiss and gruyere blend, which is shredded and saves you the time and trouble of cubing the cheese; however, you lose the beautiful cheesy pockets Deb’s biscuits have)
1 cup buttermilk
Flaky sea salt (I use Maldon)
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon butter and add olive oil. Add the onions, reduce the heat to low and place a lid on top, letting them steam for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the lid and continue to cook the onions, stirring occasionally, until they’re deep brown about 10 to 20 more minutes. (I find that caramelizing onions takes much, much longer. The last time I made these, it took over an hour but in fairness, I crowded my onions in a too-small pan. Point being: if it takes longer, don’t worry about it. It’s better to take your time and get beautiful, golden brown, jammy onions as a result.) Set aside to cool.

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From this…
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…to this!

In a medium bowl (or the workbowl of a food processor), combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Dice 8 tablespoons remaining cold butter into 1/2-inch bits. I use my hands but you could also use a pastry blender to work the butter into the flour mixture until the mixture is crumbly and the butter is almost entirely incorporated.

Stir in diced cheese. Pour buttermilk over cooled onions and stir to combine. Add buttermilk-onion mixture to bowl and stir until combined. It may seem dry and you can knead it together a few times in the bowl but don’t worry if a couple floury spots remain. Turn the dough out onto a floured counter and roll out to a 1-inch thickness. Use a floured 3-inch cutter to stamp out circles and space them apart on prepared baking sheet. Gather the scraps and re-roll them as needed. Sprinkle biscuits with sea salt and pepper and bake until the scones are deep golden-brown and the cheese is melted, between 20 to 23 minutes.

Eat warm. Reheat in an oven or toaster oven, NOT the microwave, for the love of all things holy.

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Recipes:
Baked eggs with spinach and mushrooms: http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2014/04/baked-eggs-with-spinach-and-mushrooms/

Caramelized onion and gruyere biscuits: http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2015/01/caramelized-onion-and-gruyere-biscuits/

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