Monday, May 24, 2010

Book lovers brunch gets rave reviews

Here is what is written on the jacket of my friend Heidi's book, The Girl Who Fell from the Sky:

"Haunting and lovely, pitch-perfect, this book could not be more timely"
---Barbara Kingsolver

"A stunning debut"
--- George Hutchinson

"A post-modern novel with heart"
--- Ms. Magazine

"Artfully constructed and beautifully written"
--- Hettie Jones

--- Whitney Otto

Here is what might be written on the jacket of the brunch we had for Heidi yesterday:

"These eggs are so good!*"
    --- The author's mother-in-law

"What is the salad dressing on the arugula?  It is to die for!**"
   --- Friend who brought tray of delicious homemade zucchini bread

"Pass the mimosas!***"

"Those cheese pastries?  Sick! Sick, I tell you!****"
   --- Gourmet chef in attendance because he is related to the author

"Was there basil in the pineapple salad?*****"
   --- Person I should have recognized because I've had dinner with her about five times, but didn't so was embarrassed by introducing myself to her as she walked in.

"Now, if you don't mind, I must have the recipe for those sinfully delicious lemon bars.******"
  --- Longtime soccer mom

"There's nothing here that I like."
   --- My son, who managed to make a meal out of grapes and brownie bites because he doesn't eat eggs or salad

"Man, that lady selling books was slow.********"

"Spoiler alert: The brunch has a happy ending."
   --- Me

*Night Before The Brunch Strata
 The beauty of this recipe is that you assemble it completely the night before.  About an hour ahead of when your guests arrive, take it out of the fridge, pop it into the oven, and that's it.  It is also incredibly versatile.  I made four different kinds by putting out all kinds of yummy ingredients and tossing different mixes into each casserole. All of them turned out great.

Butter a 13x9 baking dish, preferably an oven-proof glass or ceramic one that will look nice for serving.  

For the custard:
8 large eggs
3 cups whole milk
1 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup finely grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
2 tsp. dry mustard
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. freshly ground pepper
generous grating of nutmeg

Whisk all ingredients together in a large bowl.  Set aside. 

Cut a 1-pound loaf of rustic French bread into 1/2-inch-cubes.  Should make enough cubes to completely cover the bottom of your pan, and then some.  Prepare a few assorted fillings of your choice (mix and match to your heart's content):

1 lb. hot Italian sausages, casings removed, crumbled and browned
12 slices bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled
1 1/2 c. of diced ham
1 cup of sliced green onions
1 bunch of spinach, washed, roughly chopped and cooked in a little butter, garlic and salt
1 small onion, chopped, sauteed in either the bacon fat, the sausage fat, or a little olive oil and salt
Sliced Crimini mushrooms, ditto
All of the veggies above, sauteed together
3-4 fingerling potatoes, thinly sliced and sauteed for 5 minutes
2 leeks, thinly sliced and sauteed for 5 minutes
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into strips

No matter what, you will need:
2-3 cups of grated cheese of your choice (or try a combo!):
  • Cheddar
  • Fontina
  • Gruyere
  • Asiago
  • Jack
Cover the bottom of your prepared baking dish completely with bread cubes.   Layer on your filling ingredients, and top with enough cheese to cover generously.   Pour in the custard mixture until you see it just reaching the level of the cheese.    Cover with plastic wrap, with enough slack in the wrap so that if you push down, it will touch the top of the casserole, and put into the fridge.  Set a heavy plate on top, if you have one.  This will prevent the ingredients from floating, and help the custard soak into the bread.

In the morning:

Preheat oven to 375.  Remove the strata from the fridge.   When oven is ready, bake for 40-50 minutes, or until puffed and light golden brown.   Casserole should move slightly (like Jello) but not look liquid-y in the middle (like molten lava) when you jiggle it.  Allow to cool for 10 minutes, then serve!

**It's the yummy one from the latke lesson with my crack dealer.

 ***Citrus Cooler for a Crowd
Adapted from Brunch at Five Points Restaurant, by Marc Meyer.  Depending on the size of your crowd, decide how much is one "part".

4 parts orange juice
2 parts orange-tangerine juice (or other variety of orange juice)
2 parts grapefruit juice
1 part combination fresh squeezed lemon and fresh squeezed lime juice
1 part pomegranate juice or cranberry juice

Combine all ingredients in large pitcher.  Serve on its own, or with Champagne as a citrus mimosa.

**** These were the to-die-for cheese rolls from Porto's Bakery.

*****Fruit Salad with Orange Basil Balsamic Vinaigrette

1/3 c. water
1/3 c. sugar
zest of 1 orange
1/3 c. of orange juice
2 Tbs. of finely chopped basil
2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
1 Tbs. olive oil
Sliced pineapple and blueberries, or other fruit combination of your choice (this is great with watermelon, for example)
About 1 Tbs. finely chopped mint

In a small saucepan, combine sugar, water and zest. Bring to a boil and cook for 2-3 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in juice.  Allow to cool slightly, stir in basil.   Let sit for several hours.  Strain the mixture.  Add vinegar and olive oil and whisk to blend.  Chill.   Just before serving, drizzle enough dressing over your fruit to add flavor, but don't douse it.  Sprinkle with chopped mint, stir and serve.

******Sinfully Delicious Lemon Icebox Squares
One of my fellow mommy caterers made these for our recent event, and I had not been able to get them out of my head.  Thank goodness Heidi wrote a book so I could make them again.  The recipe originally was for a pie, and is from the Dam Good Sweet cookbook by David Guas.   This is also a great one to make ahead and freeze until needed.

For the crust:
18 whole graham crackers, plus about 20 gingersnaps (can use all graham if you like) -- enough to make about 2 1/2 cups of crumbs
1/3 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
9 Tbs. butter, melted

Using food processor, grind cookies until they are coarse crumbs.   Stir in sugar and salt.   Slowly drizzle in the butter and stir until mixture holds together when you press it with your fingers.   Press into the bottom of a buttered 9x13 baking dish and set aside.   Preheat the oven to 350.

For the filling:
2 14 oz. cans of sweetened condensed milk
1 1/4 c. fresh lemon juice, strained
zest of 2 lemons
8 large egg yolks

Whisk the milk and the lemon juice together in a bowl.  Whisk the lemon zest with the egg yolks until the mixture looks pale, 30-60 seconds.  Then add the milk mixture and whisk one more time to blend.  Pour the filling over the prepared crust.   Bake for 25 minutes, or until custard is just set.

Cool for at least 1 hour.  Loosely cover with plastic wrap and freeze for at least six hours or overnight.  About 10 minutes before serving, remove from the freezer so the bars are a little easier to cut.    Dust with powdered sugar, or top each piece with a spoonful of fresh whipped cream.

******* As molasses.   Good thing I have pushy persevering friends.

1 comment:

  1. I reserved the book through the library today and look forward to reading it!