Thursday, December 24, 2009

Ah, the Holidays..... best time of the year for food!

The wait is over and the holidays are here. I had some last minute events come up for consultation services and more than a couple banquets to get done so I've been really busy.... but by tonight I'll be free to concentrate on my family's holiday and I've started researching some great brunch ideas to have on hand which are simple, yet really pack a punch!

Now that the kids are on vacation and people take advantage of this time of year to take some time off, you might actually be able to sleep in so Brunches can be the perfect idea for everyone! No rushing around at the crack of dawn and instead you can take a moment to prepare some incredible edibles for your family and friends. Everyone loves Brunch! What a great way to get people together, eat fantastic food and share the Season!

With so many opportunities for having Brunch during these times, here are some great options for you that my family loves! I'm writing this from the kitchen of a fantastic mansion on the Lake where there will be a "Secret Dining Club" dinner for VIP's. These Dining Clubs have become popular all over the country for foodies to get together, with one or more guest Chefs, and present the most unusual and exotic dishes to a select few (which I love since you can really concentrate on intricate preparations and shine) "members" and go all out, literally! The location is kept secret and only the select few are notified, everyone pays a membership fee so there's no bill and menu's can be wild! You can see celebrities, prominent politicians and professionals as well as other Chef's as guests and every dinner course (we've had up to 15 courses!) is more fantastic than the last! You really get a chance to let your creativity go wild, I love it! Plus you add this to incredible locations.... Wow!

Getting back to Brunch, wait until you see the great ideas I have for you! (I will be serving these as well over the next couple of days. Will work for New Year's and then more Brunches as I wind up my holiday events). Here we go:

Apple Parfait.- This fruit-filled compote — a classic Norwegian dessert — makes a festive breakfast parfait when layered with plain or vanilla yogurt and butter-toasted cinnamon bread crumbs. You can make ahead and have ready for a quick and tasty treat!

Plain, Vanilla or Honey Natural Yogurt (your choice)
4 lbs Golden Delicious Apples, peeled and chopped
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup golden raisins
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tbl spiced Rum
1/4 tsp salt
6-8 slices bread (any kind you like, especially hard, stale bread or toast well)
3-4 tbl butter
1-2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp sugar

Boil all ingredients in a large pot, reduce heat and simmer until the apples are soft and you can mash them easily, about 20 min or so. Once done, refrigerate and cool up to 5 days.

To make the bread crumbs, put the bread in the blender or food processor until you make fine bread crumbs. Melt the butter either in the microwave or in a pan, cool a bit and add to the crumbs along with the sugar and cinnamon until JUST moistened, you don't want these drenched in butter but light. Reserve.

Select a lovely glass to serve and alternate layers of fruit, yogurt and bread crumbs. Enjoy!
Blueberry Pancakes or Waffles.- My son's favorite pancakes! These are fabulous and you can make the mix ahead of time and have it on hand for an anytime meal!

3 1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
4 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

Place the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large mixing bowl and stir, using a whisk, to thoroughly combine. Transfer to a clean, dry canister fitted with an airtight lid. Store for up to 3 months.

Heat a griddle over high heat. Place 1 cup mix in a medium mixing bowl. Beat 1 egg, 1 tablespoon melted butter, 1/2 cup buttermilk, 1/2 cup milk, and 1/4 tsp vanilla together and stir into the dry mix until just combined. Let the mixture rest for 1 to 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low. Lightly brush the griddle with canola oil or butter. Pour 1/3 cup batter for each pancake, leaving 2 inches between each one. Cook until bubbles form on the pancake surface and the underside is golden, about 5 minutes. Flip pancakes and cook until golden, about 2 more minutes.
NOTE: I also use this mix for waffles, biscuits, coffee cake, etc.
Oatmeal with all the fixins.- Nothing is better on a cold morning than this fixed up oatmeal (think of the health & nutritional benefits too which are amazing!)... We have this all the time!

1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup quick-cooking oats
2/3 cup shredded apple
1/3 cup raisins
2 tbl pure maple syrup
2 tbl chopped walnuts
Butter, (optional)

In a 2-quart saucepan, combine 2 cups water, cinnamon, and salt; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add oats and cook 3 minutes. Stir in the shredded apple, raisins, 1 tbl maple syrup, and 1 tbl walnuts. Cook 5 minutes more. Divide oatmeal between 2 serving bowls. Drizzle remaining maple syrup over top and sprinkle with walnuts. Garnish with butter, if desired.
Corn Pudding with Cheese Grits.- Here's a lovely way to get some fiber while having lots of taste in a wholesome way.

1 1/2 cup whole milk
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 cup grits
3/4 cup grated aged Cheddar cheese
2 large egg yolks
3/4 cup puréed canned corn
1/4 tsp fresh-ground pepper
3 large egg whites

Make the grits: Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Bring milk to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and, stirring constantly, add grits in a slow, steady stream. Continue stirring until thick, about 25 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and cool slightly.

Make the pudding: Stir cheese, yolks, and corn into the grits. Transfer mixture to a large bowl and add remaining salt and the pepper. Beat egg whites in a large bowl until stiff peaks form. Gently fold egg whites, in thirds, into the corn mixture. Fill eight 1-cup ramekins and place on baking sheet. Bake until puffed, 40 to 45 minutes. Serve immediately.
Camembert and Tomato Tart.- What a lovely version for tarts, you'll love the smooth cheese and fresh tomato taste and so will everyone else!

Tart Dough
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
6 tbl cold unsalted butter , cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp coarsely ground pepper
2 tbl(add more as needed) extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbl water
1 tbl Dijon mustard
1/2 cup grated Gruyère cheese
4 plum tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch slices and seeds removed
6 ounces Camembert cheese, sliced into 1/8-inch strips
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
1 tsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 tbl fresh thyme leaves
1 small bay leaf, finely crumbled
1 clove garlic, minced

Make the tart dough:Using a pastry blender or 2 knives, combine the flour, butter, salt, and pepper until mixture resembles coarse meal. Using a fork, mix in 2 tablespoons of the oil and the water just until the bottom of the mixture begins to cling together. If necessary, add an additional tablespoon of oil. Gather into a ball, flatten into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill for 30 minutes. Bake the tart:Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Roll out the chilled dough into a 14-inch circle and place it into a tart pan; set aside. Spread the mustard over the bottom of the tart shell. Sprinkle the Gruyère evenly over the mustard and alternately place the tomato and Camembert over the Gruyère. In a small bowl, mix the remaining 1/2 cup of extra-virgin olive oil, all of the herbs, and the garlic together and brush two-thirds of the mixture over the tart. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 35 minutes. Remove the tart and brush it with the remaining oil. Serve warm.
NOTE: You can use this as a base and change the ingredients around too!
Banana Bread Pudding.- A really great take on this, you can also add Cream Cheese Frosting if you need more sweetness.... it's great!

8 tbl (1 stick) butter
4 bananas, sliced 1/3 inch thick
6 tbl light brown sugar
2/3 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tbl granulated sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
6 slices firm white bread (or your choice)

Heat oven to 325 degrees F. Butter (using 1 tbl) a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate and one side of a 12-inch square of aluminum foil; set aside. Cook bananas with 4 tablespoons butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat until golden brown. Sprinkle in 2 tablespoons brown sugar and cook until sugar melts and coats bananas. Set aside. Beat the milk, cream, eggs, yolk, 1/3 cup granulated sugar, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon, and remaining 4 tablespoons brown sugar together. Brush bread with the remaining butter, cut each slice in half, and layer in the pie dish. Tuck bananas between the slices. Pour in the milk mixture. Press to absorb the liquid. Cover with foil, bake for 30 minutes, remove foil, sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon granulated sugar, and bake uncovered until golden brown, about 25 more minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.
NOTE: You can add nuts or anything additional you'd like too.
Tunisian Inspired Coddled Eggs.- Once you taste these, they'll become a favorite!

4 tsp butter, softened
1/2 cup chopped Merguez sausage (Spanish or your choice will work too)
1 tsp harissa (see below)
8 eggs
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 ground black pepper< 8 tbl whole milk yogurt 4 fresh mint leaves Brush the insides of 4 small ramekins with the butter and set aside. Heat the sausage in a skillet over medium heat and cook thoroughly -- about 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside. Whisk the harissa and 1/2 teaspoon water together in a small bowl and whisk in 4 teaspoons olive oil. Crack two eggs into each jar and season with the salt and pepper. Divide the sausage among the jars, cover each, and set them into a saucepan large enough to fit all four ramekins. Pour enough water into the saucepan to reach 1 inch from the top of the ramekins, and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook for 10 minutes; turn off the heat and let the jars sit in the hot water for 5 minutes. Remove jars, uncover, and drizzle each with the harissa mixture and remaining olive oil. Garnish with yogurt and a sprinkling of mint. Serve immediately. NOTE: Harissa is a fiery paste of cayenne pepper, coriander, cumin, mint, garlic, caraway seeds, and olive oil. It originates from North Africa and is used in couscous, fish, meats, and stews. You can substitute it with 1/2 teaspoon chile paste and 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika.
Pesto Ricotta Phyllo Pie.-
A delicate taste, flaky texture and great flavors combine in this easy pie to bring deep satisfaction to your table.... I love the "look" of this....

1 large leek, trimmed, washed, and thinly slice
2 large eggs
2 large egg whites
1/4 cup cream
1 cup ricotta (or you can use cottage cheese)
1/2 cup grated parmesan
3 tbl chunky chopped pesto (see recipe below)
2 tbl finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper

Heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly butter 9-inch pie plate and set aside. Heat 2 tablespoons butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the leeks and cook, stirring often, until soft, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside to cool. Whisk the eggs, egg whites, and cream together in a medium bowl, add to the leeks with the ricotta, Parmesan, pesto, parsley, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine and set aside.

Melt the remaining 4 tablespoons butter. Lay one sheet of phyllo in the prepared pie plate. Brush the phyllo with melted butter, leaving the outer 1 1/2-inch rim unbrushed. Repeat with seven more sheets of phyllo. Trim the edges to conform with the shape of the pie plate using shears and pour in the filling. Brush the top of the phyllo rim with butter, and bake until the edges are golden brown and the filling is set, about 40 minutes. Cool before serving

Chunky Chopped Pesto Recipe
Puree 7 1/2 cups basil leaves, 1 1/2 cups extra-virgin olive oil, 3 cloves garlic, 1 teaspoon coarse salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper in a food processor. Add 3/4 cup toasted pine nuts and 3/4 cup grated Parmesan and pulse until the nuts are roughly chopped.
NOTE: You can use cilantro instead of the Basil for a different flavor, exchange the nuts for almonds and use Cotija Cheese too for a change. You can use to mix with pasta, over potatoes, on eggs, etc.
Have lots more ideas but the post is getting really long so I'll save them for another day, besides, my Mille Crepe Cakes are coming out of the oven and need me to torch the tops while the cream sets... so I have to get going. The rest of the menu is coming along splendidly and it promises to be another memorable dinner experience! YES!..... It doesn't matter if you're snow bound or smack in the middle of a tropical paradise- the holidays are special all over the world so make the most of them!
Hope everyone's holidays are full of wonderful flavors and aromas giving you more enthusiasm to keep learning and tasting. Cheers everyone! Merry Xmas to All!

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