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EASTER PARADE; FASHION A STYLISH HOLIDAY BRUNCH, RESTAURANT STYLE.

Byline: Natalie Haughton Daily News Food Editor

This year, make Easter a special occasion at home with restaurant-inspired brunch recipes, shared by executive chef Jennifer Naylor and pastry chef Gustavo Escalante of Granita in Malibu. With these creations, you don't have to spend a bundle to go out - you can prepare a fabulous meal at home.

Naylor demonstrated three different brunch entrees - with a little assistance from Escalante - all from the restaurant's weekend brunch menu - and ones the restaurant will be serving on Easter Sunday - at a recent cooking class at the restaurant. In addition, Escalante showed how to make a beautiful coffeecake ideal for the festivities, too.

Although the recipes may seem a bit complex, Naylor has broken them down into component parts for the ease and convenience of home cooks. ``Read through the recipe before making it,'' advised Naylor. ``And get all the ingredients ready before you start.''

The Lemon Cream Cheese Blintzes With Mixed Berry Compote involves making crepes, a cream cheese filling and a mixed berry compote. None of the steps is particularly difficult. If you want to speed preparation time, pick up a package of prepared crepes in the supermarket produce section. They're made by Frieda's and come 10 crepes per package with a suggested retail of $3.99 (look for them at Vons and Ralphs).

Escalante passed out a couple of tips for those who prefer to make their own crepes: Strain the batter after mixing to remove any extraneous pieces of flour or egg. Also use clarified butter when cooking the crepe batter - it won't burn and the finished crepes will look and taste better.

The filling goes together in a jiffy with a package of cream cheese, grated lemon peel, sugar, vanilla and ricotta cheese. (The restaurant uses a combination of farmer's cheese blended with the cream cheese, but to streamline the recipe we opted for all cream cheese.) To avoid having the filling break down, don't overmix once you've added the ricotta.

If you use a pastry bag to fill the crepes, you'll have more control than if you spoon on the filling, but suit yourself. Fold in the two sides of the crepes and then roll up.

You can make the crepe batter or cook the crepes the day before (keep covered and refrigerated), but don't fill them or brown them in butter until an hour before serving on Easter day. Once you've cooked the filled crepes until golden, you can keep them in a hot oven a few minutes until serving. Another time you might want to fill the crepes with cheese, lobster or mushrooms.

Select the freshest and sweetest berries for the fruit compote - and mix and match according to availability. Have the compote ready and warm at serving time. The hostess can plate the crepes for each person - two to a plate, or three as the restaurant does - and top with compote, then sprinkle with powdered sugar. Or you can serve the crepes buffet style - on a large platter - with the warm compote in a separate dish, noted Naylor.

Another outstanding Easter brunch choice is an Omelette With Crab, Asparagus, Carmelized Shallots and Mascarpone. Serve with Granita's fabulous Breakfast Potatoes, which rated raves from tasters. They'd be great another time with scrambled or poached eggs.

Naylor uses peeky toe crab (so named because the crabs have pointed claws) flown in fresh from Maine. ``It is very sweet, and if you can get it, it's great to use in crab cakes, crab salad and squash soup,'' added Naylor. ``Other crab such as Dungeness or blue can be substituted, but be sure it is fresh.''

Mix it with mascarpone cheese and season with salt (taste and go easy as the crab may be salty) and pepper to use as the filling. ``If you don't eat shellfish, you can substitute porcini or morel mushrooms.''

To make each omelette, add cut-up blanched asparagus and carmelized shallots to butter in a skillet, then add the seasoned egg mixture (use a non-melt scraper to pull in the sides of the egg mixture as it starts to harden) and cook until it begins to set. Naylor keeps the eggs loose in the center - not hard. Top with the crab mixture and pop under the broiler to heat through. Then fold the omelette over, serve with the potatoes and garnish with a sprig of fresh rosemary. For those wanting to serve buffet style, half the omelettes, center on the platter and surround with the potatoes.

The Breakfast Potatoes can be prepared in advance, then popped into a hot oven to heat through. ``You want to make sure they are crispy when served,'' said Naylor. Roast the red marble potatoes (small potatoes available at selected farmers' markets) initially in a hot oven - either uncovered and with a bit of water in a pan, or covered - until tender. Then combine with sauteed red and yellow peppers, red onion, asparagus pieces and rosemary for a dynamite dish.

The most complicated and sweetest offering is the Banana French Toast with Date Cream and Coconut Syrup. Many tasters found it overly sweet but thought it had possibilities if the flavors were simplified some - either by removing the dates from the cream mixture or skipping the coconut syrup entirely. A raspberry or other fruit syrup might be a nice complementary touch.

Also, the topping was a beautiful golden crown of carmelized bananas that was difficult to cut through. You might skip this step and add cut-up bananas to the cream instead of dates.

The restaurant makes banana brioche from scratch to use as the French toast base, but for ease the recipe version that follows calls for egg or raisin bread slices. The recipe has possibilities - adapt it to suit personal tastes.

While the class was in progress, the pastry chef passed around a plate of Lemon Scones hot from the oven. They were tender and fabulous - and difficult to resist. Although the recipe was not included in the class, after a little arm twisting, Escalante shared it. With a few tweaks, it came out terrific in the home kitchen. But be forewarned - use whipping cream in the recipe - no substitutes.

Escalante also demonstrated a wonderful and fragrant Warm Pecan Coffeecake with Fondant Icing that many in the class had requested. ``Pastry is fun but time consuming.'' It contains a Pecan Sugar Filling and a Streusel topping; after baking, a powdered sugar icing is drizzled over the cool cake. Escalante offers a warm slice to diners for $4.50 that's gilded with yummy caramel sauce and creme fraiche. What a splurge!

For those who want a special grand finale to brunch or Easter dinner, Escalante also shared a wonderful Chocolate Tart. The restaurant makes its version with Valrhona bittersweet chocolate, but it comes out great with other brands as well. In a bind, you can even use semisweet chocolate. We adapted Escalante's recipe for the pate sucre because when we reduced the recipe to home-size, it came out rather bland. We preferred using a favorite cookie-style crust for the tart shell.

Remember that a recipe is a guideline, not something to bog you down, pointed out Naylor. ``Cook from your heart, not your head. If you like something spicier, add more spice. Or add more olive oil or vinegar.''

Cook with all your senses and start with the freshest ingredients. How something looks, tastes and smells is important. When you present the food, it should look clean and fresh - not manipulated - and still have life to it.

Now there's no excuse for not serving a glamorous Easter brunch. These inspired recipes from Granita will help make the meal - and the cook - shine. And if you're not up to cooking on Easter Sunday, head to Granita from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. to sample some of the terrific fare.

LEMON CREAM CHEESE BLINTZES WITH MIXED BERRY COMPOTE

3/4 cup pastry flour

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 eggs

3/4 cup milk

1/2 cup half-and-half

3 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoon vanilla

1/2 cup peanut oil

6 tablespoons clarified butter

Cream Cheese Filling

Mixed Berry Compote

Powdered sugar for garnish

For crepes, in a large mixing bowl, sift together flour and sugar. Form a well and add eggs, one at a time, incorporating into dry ingredients with a wire whisk until gluey.

Add milk and half-and-half and whisk together until blended. Whisk in honey, vanilla and peanut oil until well blended.

Pass mixture through a fine strainer. Let rest in refrigerator 2 hours.

Brush a nonstick 8-inch saute pan with clarified butter and place over medium heat. Pour a little crepe batter into hot pan and cook on one side until golden brown. Do not flip crepes or you will have to use more butter. Remove from pan and cool on kitchen towels.

For blintzes, pile or spoon some of Cream Cheese Filling along one side of cooked side of EACH crepe. Fold in sides of crepes and roll up.

In a large skillet, cook filled crepes, in butter, on both sides until golden and warm throughout.

Serve warm, 2 blintzes to a serving, topped with Mixed Berry Compote. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Makes 8 servings.

CREAM CHEESE FILLING: Cream together 1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese and 1/2 cup sugar until smooth and creamy. Fold in grated peel of 2 lemons and 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla. Fold in 2/3 cup ricotta cheese, mixing only to incorporate.

MIXED BERRY COMPOTE: Clean and rinse 1/2 cup strawberries, 1/2 cup blueberries, 1/2 cup raspberries and 1/2 cup blackberries. Cut strawberries and blackberries in half. Place all berries in a medium saucepan. Add 1/2 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until fruits are cooked down to compote consistency.

OMELETTE WITH CRAB, ASPARAGUS, SHALLOTS AND MASCARPONE

1 pound Peeky Toe OR other crab meat

1/2 cup mascarpone cheese, softened

Salt and white pepper to taste

12 large eggs

1/2 cup clarified butter

1/2 cup shallots, sliced

1 bunch fresh asparagus, trimmed, blanched (in salted, boiling water until crisp-tender) and cut into thirds

Granita Breakfast Potatoes (recipe follows)

Mix together crab with softened mascarpone cheese and season with salt and pepper.

Whisk eggs and season to taste.

Heat 1/4 cup butter in a saute pan and add shallots. Cook over high heat until caramelized, then season.

Heat 1 tablespoon of remaining butter in a nonstick omelette pan and add 1/4 of asparagus and 1/4 of cooked shallots. Add 1/4 of egg mixture and cook over low heat until eggs begin to set. Add crab meat mixture.

Place under preheated broiler or in oven to heat crab mixture and then carefully fold over to form omelette. Repeat process to make 3 more omelettes.

Serve with Granita Breakfast Potatoes. Makes 4 servings.

GRANITA BREAKFAST POTATOES

1 pound red marble potatoes OR other small red potatoes, rinsed and quartered

Extra virgin olive oil

2 sprigs rosemary, chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into medium dice

1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into medium dice

1 red onion, cut into medium dice

6 stalks fresh asparagus, trimmed, blanched and cut into thirds

Salt and pepper to taste

Toss potatoes with a little olive and rosemary. Season well with salt and pepper and place on a baking sheet.

Bake in preheated 400-degree oven about 20 minutes, turning occasionally, until golden brown and crispy. Keep warm.

In a skillet, saute peppers in 2 tablespoons olive oil until softened, set aside.

In a separate saute pan, cook red onion in 1 tablespoon olive oil until caramelized. Add asparagus and peppers; heat through. Toss mixture with warm potatoes and serve with omelette. Makes 4 servings.

BANANA FRENCH TOAST WITH DATE CREAM AND COCONUT SYRUP

4 bananas

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup clarified butter

12 slices egg OR raisin bread

Egg Wash (recipe follows)

Date Cream (recipe follows)

1/4 cup coarsely chopped toasted macadamia nuts

Coconut Syrup (recipe follows) OR maple syrup

1/2 cup fresh berries for garnish

Slice bananas and arrange on a baking sheet or jellyroll pan in 4 concentric circles. Sprinkle generously with sugar. Caramelize by placing under preheated broiler or with a propane pastry torch. Set aside.

Heat clarified butter on a flat grill or in a large heavy-bottom skillet. Soak each slice of bread in Egg Wash and place on grill. Cook on each side until golden brown. Remove from pan and keep warm.

Place 1 slice of bread in center of each serving plate. Top with 1 tablespoon Date Cream and sprinkle with macadamia nuts. Repeat process until you have used 3 slices of bread. Carefully top each stack with a caramelized banana circle. Serve with Coconut Syrup and fresh berries. Makes 4 servings.

EGG WASH

8 eggs

1/4 cup whipping cream

Pinch EACH ground nutmeg, ground cloves, ground cinnamon, ground ginger and ground allspice

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon sugar

Splash Grand Marnier

Mix together all ingredients and refrigerate until ready to use.

Use to dip bread slices for French toast.

DATE CREAM

Whip 1 cup whipping cream until firm peaks form. Fold 1/2 cup honey dates, skinned, pitted and chopped and 1/2 cup Medjool dates, skinned, pitted and chopped, into cream. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

COCONUT SYRUP

Scrape 1 soft vanilla bean into a pan. Add 1 can (8 ounces) unsweetened coconut milk. Cook over low heat until reduced to a thick consistency. Add 1/2 cup simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water) and cook an additional 5 minutes. Serve warm.

WARM PECAN COFFEECAKE WITH FONDANT ICING

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup butter

4 egg yolks

3/4 cup dairy sour cream

1 tablespoon vanilla

Pecan Sugar Filling and Streusel (recipe follows)

Fondant Icing (recipe follows)

Caramel Sauce (recipe follows)

2 cups creme fraiche for garnish (optional)

Mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Manually cut butter into mixture and combine by hand until mixture forms pea-size pieces.

Beat egg yolks; add sour cream and vanilla and beat until blended. Add egg mixture to dry ingredients and fold by hand until just combined.

Turn 1/2 of batter into a greased and floured 8-inch springform pan. Sprinkle with Pecan Sugar Filling. Top with remaining batter. Sprinkle with Streusel.

Bake in preheated 300-degree oven about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours. Cool. Remove from pan.

When cool, drizzle with Fondant Icing. Serve warm with Caramel Sauce and creme fraiche. Makes 1 cake.

PECAN SUGAR FILLING AND STREUSEL

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 cup chopped pecans

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup raisins

1/4 cup butter

Mix together sugars, nuts and cinnamon. Remove 1/4 of mixture. Add flour to this mixture and cut in butter by hand to form streusel for topping. Set aside.

Add raisins to remainder of mixture and reserve for filling.

FONDANT ICING

Whisk together 1/2 cup powdered sugar and 1 1/2 tablespoons water. Drizzle over cooled cake.

CARAMEL SAUCE

Melt 1 cup sugar in a saucepan until it reaches carmelizes and is light brown color. Remove from heat. Carefully whisk in 1/4 cup whipping cream and 4 tablespoons butter. Return to heat and bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Serve warm. Makes about 1 cup. If you make sauce ahead, you can reheat sauce gently in microwave oven for a few seconds until warm, stirring once or twice.

GRANITA SCONES

1 cup flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/3 cup (2/3 stick) butter, cut up

3 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon grated lemon OR orange peel

1/2 cup whipping cream

1/2 cup raisins (OR dried cherries, semisweet chocolate chips, etc.)

In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine flour, baking powder and sugar. Process until blended. Add butter and lemon peel and process until crumbly. Add cream through feed tube and process just until blended. Do not overmix. Stir in raisins

On a floured surface, roll or pat dough out to 1-inch thickness. Cut into 2-inch rounds with a cookie cutter or a glass dipped in flour.

Freeze until solid. If you do not freeze scones before baking, they will not keep their shape when baked.

When needed, remove from freezer. Place on an ungreased foil-lined baking sheet. Brush with additional cream and sprinkle sugar on top.

Bake in preheated 325-degree oven 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown on bottom. Do not overbake. Makes 8 scones.

CHOCOLATE TART

1 cup whipping cream

4 ounces dark bittersweet chocolate (Valrhona brand preferred), cut up

2 eggs

1/4 cup sugar

5 (4-inch) Tart Shells (recipe follows)

In a microwaveable glass bowl, heat cream and chocolate in microwave oven on high power 1 to 1 1/2 minutes, until melted and smooth when stirred. Whisk in eggs and sugar until combined and smooth.

Let cool. Divide evenly among 5 prebaked tart shells.

Bake in preheated 325-degree oven 10 to 12 minutes or almost until set.

Serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream. Makes 5 tarts.

TART SHELLS: In a food processor, combine 1 1/4 cups flour and 1/3 cup sugar. Add 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, cut up, and process until well mixed. With machine on, add 1 egg and 1 teaspoon vanilla through feed tube. Process just until dough clings together and leaves sides of bowl.

Remove dough ball. Divide into 5 portions. Press each portion into bottom and up sides of an ungreased 4-inch tart pan. (OR roll each portion on a floured surface into a 6-inch circle and fit each circle into a 4-inch tart pan.)

Bake tart shells filled with pie weights or lined with foil and beans in preheated 350-degree oven 10 minutes or until light golden. Remove weights or foil and beans and bake about 8 to 10 minutes longer or until golden. Makes 5 (4-inch) tart shells

CHEF PROFILE

Jennifer Naylor

Age: 35

Profession: Executive chef, Granita restaurant, Malibu.

Hometown: Santa Monica

Food background: She's from a third-generation restaurant family. Her grandfather, Tiny Naylor, owned the Tiny Naylor's restaurant chain in Southern California, which was sold years ago. Jennifer baked and cooked a lot with her mother and grandmother when she was young and won awards for her baking in grade school.

After graduating from Southern Methodist University in Dallas with an art history/studio art major and a minor in Spanish, she worked as a waitress at a restaurant in Manhattan Beach. At her request, chef Roland Gibert (now at 72 Market Street in Venice) gave her a chance to work in the kitchen doing cold salads and appetizers. She fell in love with it.

After a year and a half, she left to work with Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger at the City of Angels for two years. Then it was on to DC3 in Santa Monica and Eureka (Wolfgang Puck's restaurant, which has since closed). ``Wolfgang called me the sausage queen,'' she noted, as she made all the specialty sausages.

She moved to Granita eight years ago as the kitchen manager. However, in 1996 she worked a year for Gianfranco Vissani at his restaurant in Baschi in Italy's Umbria region - and for Nadia Santini in her restaurant outside of Mantova in the Lombary area. On her return, she went straight to Chicago (for five months) to help open Spago there - and upon returning to California two years ago she became the executive chef at Granita.

Cooking style: Before she went to Italy, her style was very California cuisine, but now it's California cuisine with Italian and Mediterranean influences using the freshest ingredients.

Kitchen secrets: Shopping at the heart of the source - going directly to the farmers. ``Shop first and plan your menu later - and you won't go wrong.''

Most popular dishes she makes: Seafood risotto with Maine lobster, scallops and prawns; bouillabaisse.

Three favorite foods: Any kind of pork (such as prosciutto and culatello, which is a cured pork product found in Italy); pasta; anything with extra virgin olive oil drizzled all over it.

Favorite junk food: Haagen-Dazs Dulce de Leche (caramel ice cream).

Food she hates: Calf's liver (but she loves foie gras).

Secret food passions: Black truffles; she also collects antique culinary treasures.

Favorite kitchen gadget: Her grandmother's old hand-crank meat grinder.

Pet peeve: Incorrect orders - whether from a purveyor, a takeout order from a restaurant, etc.

Favorite cookbooks: ``Le Ricette Regionali Italiane'' (regional Italian recipes that cover every region of Italy); ``The Splendid Table,'' by Lynne Rosetto Kasper.

Ideal vacation: To go anywhere in France and Italy where she can enjoy the wine, food and men.

Favorite restaurants: Vincenti in Brentwood.

Most memorable meals: Trois Gros in Rouen, France; French Laundry in Yountville, Calif.

What does she do when not cooking?: She spends a lot of time with her family, which is very large.

Dream job: To be a professional traveler.

If she could dine with anyone (current or historical), who would it be?: Julia Child.

The worst part of being a chef is: You never meet any men. There is no time to date.

- Natalie Haughton

CAPTION(S):

6 Photos, Box

Photo: (1--3--Color) For a restaurant-inspired Easter brunch, offer Lemon Cream Cheese Blintzes With Mixed Berry Compote, left, Omelette With Crab, Asparagus, Shallots and Mascarpone Served With Breakfast Potatoes, top right, and Warm Pecan Coffeecake With Fondant Icing.

(4) Gustavo Escalante, pastry chef at Granita, cuts a slice of Warm Pecan Coffeecake With Fondant Icing - a delectable sweet for an Easter celebration.

(5) Banana French Toast With Date Cream and Coconut Syrup makes a wonderful Easter menu selection.

(6) Jennifer Naylor

Andy Holzman/Daily News

Box: CHEF PROFILE - Jennifer Naylor (See text)
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Recipe
Date:Mar 28, 1999
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