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Freshen your palate for a warmer-weather menu

Fresh spring berries serve as the perfect topping for a seasonal, easy-to-make-ahead pound cake rich with sour cream.

MCT photo

At the cusp of each new season, I’m so happy to shift cooking gears that I tend to get carried away. Fresh asparagus? Let’s have it for every dinner. Berries in all their glory? Breakfast and dessert each day. At some point I’ll tire of these flavors, too, but for now, I want to indulge in the sheer relief that color — green! red! blue! — brings to the table.

With Mother’s Day just down the road and all those bridal and baby showers that 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 poured into 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.

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.

Roasted asparagus: 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.

Ham: 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.

EGG ROULADE

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

1 1/4 c. milk

4 eggs, separated

Freshly ground black pepper

Filling (see below)

Directions: 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 three 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. Cut into slices to serve.

Filling variations:

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.

• Diced tomatoes or roasted red peppers and grated Cheddar cheese

• Diced sauteed mushrooms and Gruyere cheese

• Cooked, chopped spinach (make sure it’s thoroughly dry) and Parmesan cheese

• Slices of prosciutto and any grated cheese

• Black beans and diced roasted red peppers

• Diced ham and grated Cheddar cheese

• Smoked salmon (lox), whipped cream cheese (so it’s easy to spread), chives or capers

• Cooked and crumbled bacon or sausage

Topping variations:

• Grated cheese or fresh, minced herbs

• Salsa

• Green chile sauce

• Hollandaise sauc

ROASTED ASPARAGUS

Servings vary.

Note: You can roast the asparagus at a variety of temperatures, depending on what else you have cooking in the oven. You’ll need to adapt the length of time accordingly. Generally I roast the asparagus at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes, but because the egg roulade is in the oven, for this menu I will cook it at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. If you’re making two roulades, consider roasting the asparagus prior to baking the egg batter. The lemon zest (the grated rind) gives the asparagus a bright, light flavor that seems springlike. Fresh asparagus Olive oil Lemon zest, optional (see Note) Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Break off ends of asparagus. Toss with olive oil and lemon zest, if using, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place in ovenproof dish. Roast for about 30 to 35 minutes, tossing once, or until asparagus is as tender as you want. Serve warm or at room temperature.

BROWN SUGAR HAM

Servings vary.

Note: To free up space in the oven, try cooking the ham in a slow cooker if it’s more than a few slices. (A 5-quart slow cooker can hold up to a 10-pound ham. Do not let the ham touch the top of the cooker; cut the ham to fit the cooker, if necessary). Or if it’s only a few slices of ham that you need, cook on top of the stove in a skillet. You won’t need to add any water to the slow cooker because ham contains a significant amount of water.

Brown sugar (for an 8 lb. ham, about 2 cups)

Ham (chunk or slices)

Directions: In a slow cooker or skillet, sprinkle half the brown sugar. Place ham, flat side down, on sugar and sprinkle remaining brown sugar on top.

In a slow cooker, heat on low for 6 to 8 hours, or on high for about 3 hours. In a skillet, cook until meat is thoroughly heated through and sugar has melted and caramelized on meat.

SOUR CREAM POUND CAKE

Serves 12.

Note: The cake can be made ahead and refrigerated or frozen. If you only have a smaller pan (9 inches instead of 10), use the excess batter to make cupcakes.

1 1/2 c. flour, plus more for dusting pan

2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. baking soda

8 oz. (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature

2 c. sugar

3 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature

Finely grated zest from 2 lemons

4 eggs, room temperature

1 c. sour cream Blueberry Sauce (see recipe)

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 10-inch springform pan, tube pan or 2 loaf pans.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda.

In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, beat the butter until it is smooth and creamy. Slowly add the sugar, while continuing the beating until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the cream cheese and lemon zest and continue beating.

Add eggs one at a time, beating well. Add flour mixture alternately with sour cream, beating until smooth after each addition. Pour batter into prepared pan(s).

Bake until toothpick inserted into cake comes out clean, about 1 hour and 20 minutes for 10-inch pans (40 to 45 minutes for loaf pans). Serve with Blueberry Sauce and fresh berries or whipped cream.

BLUEBERRY SAUCE

Makes about 2 cups.

1 pint blueberries (or about 12 oz. frozen and thawed)

1/3 c. sugar

3 tbsp. fresh lemon juice, strained

1 tbsp. water

1 1/2 tsp. cornstarch

Directions: In a stainless-steel pot, combine blueberries, sugar and lemon juice. Cook over medium-high heat until the blueberries burst.

Combine water and cornstarch into a paste and whisk into blueberries. Cook until thickened, about 1 minute. Cool and refrigerate.

SPRING MENU

• Egg Roulade

• Roasted Asparagus

• Brown Sugar Ham

• Sour Cream Pound Cake with Blueberry Sauce

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