Brunch for TEN!?

My lovely friend Jen emailed me the following question today:

If Ginnie was serving brunch for 10 this Sunday, what would she make? :)

And being me, I over-replied. But I realized this might be a heck of a useful post!

For TEN!? What have you gotten yourself roped into?

1) Meat: I’d do ham steak/s instead of bacon or sausage because it’s easier to cook (just sear in pan & voilà) and doesn’t make the house stink like meat for vegetarians. Make ’em look fancy by doing grill marks if you have the requisite apparatus and time and sanity. I don’t like putting much of any kind of sauce or glaze on ham, but something orangey would be nice if you felt like dressing them up. Another plus is that since ham is pre-cooked/cured, you’re not likely to accidentally undercook meat or give anybody a food-borne illness.

2) Sweet: I’d make the Blueberry Pecan French toast recipe from Epicurious since you can prep most of it the night before. Throw in a bit of cinnamon too and use real vanilla bean if you can. Also make sure you use full fat milk or even half and half — nobody eats French toast to be healthy & it’ll taste better. :) I like making it with strawberries instead of blueberries too, but definitely shell out for fresh fruit, not frozen. You could probably sauté apple or banana if berries are too scarce. Use Grade B maple syrup for maple-ier flavor — Trader Joe’s has good prices. You could whip up some cream for a festive addition to this.

3) Egg: Then you can do a big easy vegetable omelet (arugula & fancy mushrooms like oyster or chanterelle?) or scramble, and fancy it up with drizzlings of truffle oil — but keep that part optional on the side if you have kids or other picky eaters to feed. Maybe truffle half of it and stick a little shroom on top to distinguish the truffled half. Go very easy w/ that stuff!

4) Drink: Do a big pitcher of mimosa on ice; more people like those than Bloody Marys or other AM cocktails, and people can always wander into your kitchen to tweak the ratio. (Maybe leave out some decent brandy on the counter if they feel like spiking their version.) Cristalino cava is usually $7-9 per bottle and works great; the normal kind is best but Extra Brut works too. Don’t get the pink. Fresh squeeze the oranges and have extra pre-squeezed from the night before so the fun keeps flowing. I like to use blood oranges if available for a fun look — but don’t fret over orange selection because the reddish peel coloration rarely corresponds to the color of the flesh. Just grab & go and know that any oranges will be delish. :) If you have an opaque pitcher use that instead of clear, because the pulp residue makes clear pitchers look unnecessarily dirty/icky after just one pour.

GOOD LUCK!!! Oh, and this may also be of service.

Spaghetti (squash) and meatballs

Ah, the challenges of attempting to eat South Beach/heart healthy/low refined starch, and still eat inexpensively. It’s damn tough! This one’s been lingering in my draft pile, but it was so yummy I didn’t want to let it slide.

Back when Grant wanted spaghetti and meatballs RIGHT AFTER a bunch of starch-overloaded Stroganoff, I countered with spaghetti squash and meatballs. He consented. I cooked. I had never made this dish before, or even heard of spaghetti squash before my friend Jen introduced me to it a couple years ago. I was so thrilled to learn of a less starchy spaghetti alternative!

I used About.com‘s guide for cooking the actual squash, because Martha’s said to cut it open raw and I thought that might be too rough on my tennis-elbow-crippled arms. And I used roughly Martha’s turkey meatball recipe, but I kinda fudged it as I’m wont to do. My meatballs were better anyway, and beefier. (I don’t know why, but I just really really hate ground turkey. I think it’s sort of like carob — it feels like someone is just trying to trick me.)

Always better with some Italian flat-leaf parsley mixed in. And prettier, too.My sauce was just a jar of Newman’s Tomato Basil to which I added a bunch of herbs and veggies, as I usually do. It’s nice that there’s a cheap, easy to find, no sugar added natural sauce out there — makes me feel less bad about using a prepared sauce. This wound up being a pretty tasty dish, all things considered, though the meatballs make it much more labor-intensive than just a straight up meat sauce. It all depends on how much time you have to spare. Either way, yum!

And for those of you who, like me, are horrified at the idea of pasta plus more starches, this is a great way to feel less guilty about making the perfectly accompanying garlic bread.

Saffron-chèvre peas

My husband recently confessed to me that he loves and misses peas. Yes, peas. I’m not sure why it is that it never occurred to me to make them — partly because they’re kind of sweet, and I used to have a mild aversion to sweet vegetables (remedied by wonderful squash soup and parsnip purée recipes), and I think because I’m a bit of a snob about only getting fresh not frozen veggies when possible. And peas are usually frozen. (This recipe uses frozen peas, anyway.) But he recently brought home a deli dish of a cold pea salad with cream and onion, and I went nuts for it. So I decided to try my hand at my own variation. Et voilà !

1 shallot (or one bulb if it’s a large shallot)
about 1 Tbsp butter
about 5 Tbsp milk, to taste (I use whole un-homogenized)
about 3 Tbsp heavy cream
1 pinch saffron threads (about 10 threads total)
1 bag frozen peas
About 3 Tbsp un-flavored chèvre (creamy goat’s cheese)

Finely mince the shallot, or if you prefer the texture, leave it in rings.

Sautée the shallot in butter and a tiny bit of salt until brown and beginning to become translucent. Add in the milk and the cream and simmer a bit. Add in saffron threads, adjusting quantity for desired saffronicity — but remember, it takes a while for the full flavor to “bloom” so start small. I added my saffron in two batches.

Then, while the saffron-milk sauce is very gently simmering, cook a package of microwave peas to half finished (my directions said to microwave covered with a bit of water; I just zapped for 3-4 min. instead of 6-8). Remove with slotted spoon and add to saffron mixture.

Crumble up the chèvre and toss it into the mixture, in three batches, mixing as it simmers and waiting for it to fully melt before adding the next batch. Stir the mixture constantly on low heat until the peas begin to soften and a few start to burst ever so slightly.

Of COURSE we ate them before we remembered to take a picture. They go great with ham steak, though.

Chez nous !

OK, so yes, this is a picture of reheated Popeye’s chicken leftovers. But hey, don’t knock it just yet! First of all, we have a tacit understanding that anytime there’s an Ikea run, there must also be a Popeye’s run. That’s just how it is being married to Grant. Second of all, when I got stuck in horrid post-Ikea traffic and called him to have him preheat the oven, and we both forgot that I had three dishes of salted oiled kale leaves ready to make chips, and he didn’t think to check it, and he roasted them at 400 for like 20 minutes, it actually wound up crisping them almost perfectly with only slight burny residue on a few leaves (which I still happily ate). Hooray accidental snackery!

AND we had enough chicken left over for dinner AND I managed to clean up our living and dining rooms so we got to eat on an actual table for only the second time since moving in AND I made Grant prepare the sides (biscuits, also left over, plus steamed broccoli) so I could get a little cooking break. SO check out this pseudo-fancy shot of our eating space. Decent, right? I mean, the décor is still a bit bare as we haven’t hung any pictures, but come on. CLOTH NAPKINS AND CRYSTAL CANDLESTICKS, people. Sh*t is coming together now. (Now if only I could find my Pyrex containers to take leftovers in to work easier!)

One night, two very different foods

#1: Red Velvet Cupcakes. Only old-school, cocoa-heavy, extra-tangy ones. #2: Kale chips. (Told ya they were different!)

For item #1, I sought out a recipe that was a bit chocolatier than most store- or bakery-bought red velvets and, well, apparently I was also seeking out tangy without meaning to. I heard from our wedding cake baker that a cake with cocoa and vinegar is the more traditional Red Velvet origin, but I managed to forget that I’d made one like that once before in that fashion and it was kind of weird and unpleasant. So! Once again! Kind of weird and unpleasantly tangy, especially with my more-tangy-than-most cream cheese frosting. But also kind of good, in that not sickeningly sweet, maybe I’ll pass these off on my coworkers kind of way. (Tee hee, in case any are reading this.)

And here’s my favorite bit: filling cupcake tins is so much easier with my Pancake Pen, which is in turn best filled by my Wide-Mouth Funnel (both of which appear on my Favorite Tools page). Also, I forgot to add sugar at first, and when I dipped my finger into the batter I got a nasty surprise. Good thing I taste tested! o_O

And for item #2, I used smitten kitchen’s kale chips recipe, only I had crazy curly kale (cale?) so the proportions and times and temps were off. Plus, we broke our Oxo Salad Spinner apparently, so I had to hand dry it. Luckily, there’s a website to fix it, but so far no luck. :( And my hand-dried curly-ass kale was sort of imperfectly crisped, like the outer bits too crisp and parts still chewey. I’m planning on letting it sit out overnight and seeing how I like it for weird breakfast, at which point I may just pop it back in the oven for a bit more crisping.

And there you have it! A night of odd choices, to be sure, but both yummy enough in their own way I hope.

Further bread success

After our Thanksgiving extravaganza, in which Grant made an adorable but short & heavy little loaf of whole wheat bread, we’ve been doing a lot of experimenting with our Zojirushi. After our slightly imperfect Turkey Day attempt, I started doing some research as to what makes for good bread.

We learned that bread flour (or high gluten content or other glutinous binders) would help create a better web with which to trap yeast bubbles, and a faster rising yeast (like Rapid Rise or Perfect Rise varieties) would both help, and that dry milk would help over wet (aka “normal”) milk.

But even though our bread-flour, dry-milk loaf turned out great, I wanted to figure out a way to use up all the whole wheat flour I’d bought, plus I wanted to try out the quicker bread recipes that only take 2 hours instead of 3.5. So I designed a blend of whole wheat and bread flour, and I included about a half teaspoon of xanthan gum in the dry ingredients. And it worked! Check out the loftiest little loaf we’ve managed yet!

Shroom Envy

The other day, Smitten Kitchen posted a delish post on steakhouse-style garlic butter roasted mushrooms, and my mouth had been watering ever since. We tried to make reservations at The Met for New Year’s Eve and were told they were fully booked, so I decided to cook us a steakhouse-style meal at home, complete with said shrooms. However, circumstances happened to deliver me to Uwajimaya instead of a typical grocery, so I wound up grabbing Japanese brown beech mushrooms in addition to the normal crimini. (I also picked up a $5 black truffle, but that’s a whole other post!)

So I threw this together loosely based on sk’s recipe, though I failed to stir, threw in too much lemon juice, and probably overdid it on the beurre. That’s OK, though — we wound up forgetting to make bread (!) for the NYE dinner, so we saved the mushroom drippings and soaked them up with our bread the next day. Huzzah!

Thanksgiving 2010

I decided to host Thanksgiving this year with my mum, hubby and five friends — this would be the first time we cooked for anyone else since our July wedding! Eek! It was a wonderful affair, though — I got to use literally every single wedding/engagement gift we had received, and all the foods turned out delicious (if not perfect). This post is hecka long and detailed, so read on if you’re brave or hungry! Continue reading “Thanksgiving 2010”

Orange Chocolate Mousse…

With orange bourbon vanilla whipped cream, garnished with orange zest and shaved bittersweet chocolate.

This is what follows the awesome meal I cooked for Grant’s folks, which also includes:

  • Goat cheese wrapped in black sesame seeds, to nibble while I finish cooking
  • Organic spring green salad with raspberry cumin poppyseed Dijon vinaigrette and toasted almonds
  • Organic pork chops with balsamic-roasted pears
  • Roasted garlic tarragon mashed potatoes
  • Steamed broccoli (hey, something’s gotta be simple!)
  • A nice 2006 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

Man, I love a good excuse to cook!