Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Last Minute Brunch

Even if I know several weeks ahead that I'm hosting an Easter or spring brunch I usually don't decide on the menu very far ahead. There are always so many new recipes I want to try I find it hard to decide.

Here's a recipe I developed for a popular brunch class. Look for prepared crepes in the produce department. I usually add cold smoked salmon (similar to lox) but smoked salmon or grilled salmon are also great choices.

You can prepare the crepes a day ahead, cover and refrigerate. Reheat just before serving. Avocado slices and sprigs of fresh dill are the perfect garnish.

Baked Crepes with Smoked Salmon and Scrambled Eggs Filling

Serves 8

2 tablespoons butter
12 eggs, lightly beaten
¼ cup milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, cut into small dice
4 oz package smoked salmon, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
8 purchased crepes
½ cup sour cream
Additional chopped dill

Heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Whisk the eggs, milk and salt until smooth. Add the eggs to the skillet. Cook until the eggs begin to set. Reduce the heat to low and stir until the eggs remain slightly creamy. Remove the eggs from the heat and add the cream cheese, smoked salmon and the chopped dill. Stir gently.

Place a crepe on a work surface and divide the eggs into 8 portions. Spoon the eggs down the center of each crepe. Roll up the crepe and place seam side down in a buttered 13x9 inch baking dish. Cover with aluminum foil. Bake about 20 minutes or until the crepes are heated through. Remove the foil and continue baking until lightly browned about 5 minutes. Serve with sour cream and chopped dill.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Spring Celebration Brunch

There are so many events celebrated in the spring and I think the easiest way to gather family and friends-for the cook- is to host a brunch. Most of the food can be prepared a day ahead and baked the morning of the party.

Graduations, wedding showers, and Mother's Day are only three possibilities. I serve a main dish, usually a strata such as the Mediterranean Strata below, muffins and or sweet rolls and a fruit platter or a fruit plate.

Don't forget Easter is next week. A perfect time for a spring brunch. Add colorful tulips to the table and bring some spring sunshine inside.

Mediterranean Strata

This hearty brunch casserole brimming with sunny flavors from the south of France is always a hit. Because it can be refrigerated overnight, it can be in the oven as the guests arrive.


6 English muffins, split and cubed
12 ounces drained, cooked Italian sausage
1 (14-ounce) can extra-small artichokes, drained and quartered
1/2 cup chopped roasted red pepper
1/4 cup Kalamata olives or ripe olives, pitted and sliced
1 1/2 cups shredded Provolone cheese
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
3 cups whole milk
8 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons basil pesto
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

Lightly spray 13 x 9-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.
Arrange muffin cubes in bottom of baking dish. Crumble sausage over muffins and top with artichokes, red pepper, olives, Provolone cheese, and feta cheese.
Beat milk, eggs, pesto, and salt until blended in large bowl and pour over other ingredients. Using a spoon, press ingredients down into the liquid. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Heat oven to 350°F with oven rack in middle. Uncover the casserole.
Bake 40 to 50 minutes or until set and a knife inserted near center comes out clean although it will be wet.
Letting the dish sit for 5 to 10 minutes before cutting makes it easier to serve. Cover and refrigerate any remaining.

BAKER’S NOTE: You can let the dish stand at room temperature about 1/2 hour until the milk is absorbed if you don’t want to make it the day before serving.
SECRETS TO SUCCESS: I like the texture of English muffins, but cubed French bread or other chewy bread creates variety.
Unless you make your own pesto with fresh basil from the garden, purchase it already prepared. You can also purchase roasted red peppers in a jar.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Think Spring: Think Asparagus

This is the time of year when it seems like winter will never end. I was just in upstate NY and say crocuses popping up through the grass. At least our snow is melted and we're having bright sunny days but no sign of crocuses.

One of the problems with eating fresh and local is very evident this time of year. We're tired of winter vegetables but there are no fresh spring vegies appearing. At least at the supermarket fresh asparagus is abundant but not cheap. I question the nutritive value of fresh asparagus by the time I get it home and prepare it, but like all vegetables while some vitamins may be diminished it's still a nutrition powerhouse.

Asparagus is one of the vegetables I often prepare in the microwave because it is so quick and keeps its brilliant green color. I also like to toss the spears with a little olive oil and roast it as 425 degrees about 5-7 minutes. Sprinkle with a little lemon juice and sea salt just before serving.

Frozen vegetables can be more nutritious than those from the supermarket because they are frozen shortly after harvest locking in nutrients. I especially find frozen baby peas and asparagus cuts great substitutes for fresh. USDA values indicate that as much as 50 % of some nutrients can be lost in just 1 or 2 days storage at room temperature but nutrients such as fiber, minerals and fat soluble vitamins are fairly stable. When you purchase fresh vegetables refrigerate them as soon as possible and serve them within a few days.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

St. Patrick's Day for Two or More

Be sure to wear green tomorrow! We'll be having Crock-pot Corned Beef, with New Potatoes and Stir-fried cabbage. Instead of cooking the cabbage with the corned beef, I'm going to quickly stir-fry it. This keeps the delicate green color and prevents any bitter flavor compounds from developing. I don't know if it is Irish or not, but I like horseradish with my corned beef.

Since corned beef doesn't come small enough to serve only two, I selected a 3 pound package and plan to make Reuben Sandwiches with the leftover meat. For each sandwich I use 3 thin slices of the corned beef, 1-2 tablespoons thousand Island dressing, a slice of Swiss cheese and about 1/4 cup drained sauerkraut. My favorite bread is pumpernickel and I lightly butter the outside of both slices of bread. I cook the sandwiches on my panini grill.

Rye or pumpernickel bread sometimes comes in a half loaf, and I freeze any bread we don't use. Any remaining sauerkraut also goes into the freezer. Swiss cheese is added to sandwiches. Other times of year I use deli turkey and make "Rachel" sandwiches. Still very tasty and definitely healthier!

The luck of the Irish to ye!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

California Cooking

When I was in CA recently I was fortunate enough to take two cooking classes. The first class, Big, Bold, Beautiful Cabernet at Sur l'Table in San Francisco featured five recipes containing cabernet. Since Napa Valley is famous for its' "cabs" it was the perfect class for me before we spent a couple of days in Napa.

Cabernet is know for its body and depth and pairs well with steaks and fatty fish such as salmon. We prepared Steak au Poivre with drunken cab-infused mushrooms, Steak burgers with a cabernet reduction( like an onion jam) and Salmon with a balsamic/cabernet glaze. The steaks were seared in a skillet at high heat and finished in a 400 degrees F. oven. This is a great way to prepare steak for guests as you don't have to be cooking the steaks at the last minute and can finish up as the steaks rest.

My second class was a demo class at the Culinary Institute on American in St. Helena. Once again we had Steak au Poivre, Classic Bistro fare. The CIA has a beautiful demo classroom with stadium seating and a camera that focuses on the action. The chef did an excellent job of teaching as she prepared the foods and had no trouble filling the time. She emphasized that the recipes were guidelines with lots of flexibility.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Foodie Fun in Sunny California

I just returned from a week in San Francisco and Napa Valley and was very lucky to see so little rain. When we looked at weather forecasts before we left snowy Minnesota, several days had predictions of a 95% chance of rain. I did survive a downpour in Chinatown, but it only lasted a couple of hours.

While my husband attended a conference, I played and ate for three days. Fortunately I also did a lot of walking. Here is a brief synopsis of my "foodie fun"

The first morning I spent at the Ferry Terminal and enjoyed a fish taco for lunch while I sat beside the bay and listened to a yippy seagull. I also sampled sea salt caramels and S'Mores from Recchiuti Candies. Cowgirl Creamery provided some of the best blue cheese I've ever eaten produced at their Point Reyes creamery. It was so rich and velvety, it stuck to the knife and melted on my tongue.

For a mid-afternoon break, I devoured a buttery, flaky almond croissant from Acme Bakery and sipped a latte from Peet's Coffee and Tea.

After all this, I hopped on a cable car and rode up and down the hills enjoying the sunny day, although it was a bit nippy!

In the next few posts I provide details of my meals at Zuni Cafe, Boulevard and Bottega (Napa Valley). My walking tour ended with a Dim Sum lunch in Chinatown. I also took a class "Cooking with Cabernet" at Sur L'Table and a demonstration at the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) in St. Helena. And more!