Easter is earlier than usual this year and has sneaked right up upon us. It’s a busy time of the year, with warmer days and gardens to be started.
Best of all, the purple martins have found their way back from deep in South America. How they do it, I’ll never know, but we are always happy to see them make their first appearances.
We like to make a special occasion of Easter, of course, and that usually involves preparing some good food. Meals on this special day traditionally feature ham, turkey or lamb, along with all the sides one would expect to go with these main courses.
Some folks opt to serve brunch after they attend sunrise services, so breakfast items such as hot cross buns, quiches, breakfast casseroles, or cinnamon rolls are also popular.
Here are a few ideas to help you plan ahead for a non-stressful Easter meals.
Easy Sausage Strata
This strata can be put it together the day before, then just remove from the refrigerator and bake. Ham or bacon can be substituted for the sausage. Diced peppers, onions, broccoli, spinach, asparagus or other veggies can be added, or even substituted for the meat.
1 pound pork sausage
6 (1 ounce) slices bread, cubed
2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground dry mustard
Place sausage in a large, deep skillet. Cook over medium-high heat until evenly brown. Drain, and set aside.
Layer bread cubes, sausage, and Cheddar cheese in a lightly greased 7×11 inch baking dish. In a bowl, beat together the eggs, milk, salt, and mustard. Pour the egg mixture over the bread cube mixture. Cover, and refrigerate at least 8 hours or overnight.
Remove the casserole from the refrigerator 30 minutes before baking. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
Bake 50 to 60 minutes in the preheated oven, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.
Cooking stats: Prep time, 20 minutes; Cook time, about an hour.
Overnight Cinnamon Rolls
These rolls are easy to prepare ahead of time as they rise in the fridge overnight and are popped in the oven the next morning to bake in about a half an hour.
1 cup milk
1/3 cup butter
1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
1/2 cup white sugar
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup raisins
1 teaspoon light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons half-and-half cream
Heat the milk in a small saucepan until it bubbles, then remove from heat. Add the butter and stir until melted; let cool until lukewarm.
In a large mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast in the milk mixture. Add the sugar, 3 cups of flour, salt and eggs; stir well to combine. Add the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring well after each addition. When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and supple, about 8 minutes.
Lightly oil a large mixing bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
Deflate the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and roll into a 10x 14 inch rectangle. Lightly brush the far edge with water. In a small bowl combine the cinnamon and 3/4 cup brown sugar and sprinkle over the rectangles. Then sprinkle the raisins and chopped nuts over the dough. Roll up the dough into a log and seal the seam.
Cut the dough into 12 equal pieces; place the pieces in a greased 9×13 inch baking pan, or 12 inch deep dish pizza pan. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to rise overnight.
The next morning, preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Take the rolls out of the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Bake the rolls for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden. Meanwhile, combine the corn syrup with the vanilla in a small bowl. Whisk in the powdered sugar and enough cream to make a thick glaze; set aside. Drizzle the glaze over the rolls and serve warm.
Hash Brown and Egg Casserole
1 (2 pound) package frozen hash brown potatoes, thawed
1 pound pork sausage
1 small onion, diced
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
salt and ground black pepper to taste
12 ounces shredded Cheddar cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease a 2 quart baking dish. Place the hash brown potatoes in the bottom of the baking dish.
Heat a skillet over medium heat and cook and stir the sausage and onion until the sausage is crumbly, evenly browned, and no longer pink; drain. Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs, milk, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, and pepper, and pour over the potatoes. Layer with half the Cheddar cheese, the sausage mixture, and the remaining Cheddar cheese. Cover with aluminum foil.
Bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour. Remove cover; return casserole to the oven and bake until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean, about 10 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.