I majored in brunchology

Yesterday Heath and I had the opportunity to host a stock-the-bar couple’s brunch for our soon-to-be-married pals Mark and Ranjana. It was our first go at hosting a bridal-ish type shower, and I’m not gonna lie, I was a little anxious about it. Normally I’d give myself some prep time before hosting a monumental party for a few friends. You know, spend the day before making a few dishes, cleaning the house, hanging streamers and performing other party prep procedures. Unfortunately, I was shooting a wedding all day on the Saturday before, so party prep would be limited to only a couple of hours on the morning of. That in mind, I opted to forgo dazzling decorations and spend my energy instead on creating a menu that would fill up the masses yet still have the element of intrigue and in vogue you would expect of food stuffs at a bridal brunch.

Here’s what we came up with:

Egg, sausage, jalapeno and cheese braidThis recipe came from MyRecipes.com and seemed like it had all elements you would want in a brunch dish: egg, cheese, meat and spice.  I also like that it included the word “braid” which, to me, screams “HEY!  THIS DISH IS NAMED AFTER A HAIRSTYLE. THERE IS NO MEAL GIRLIER AND MORE APPROPRIATE FOR A BRIDAL BRUNCH THAN THIS.” Of course, when it was all said and done, I didn’t end up braiding the thing at all and instead just sort of folded the dough over the yummy gooey egg filling…sort of like making a bed. Braid or no braid, the dang thing was pretty good. We actually modified the recipe a bit besides just skipping out on the braid. Instead of real sausage, we went with a veggie variety so our vegetarian friends could get in on the action. And we used whole wheat pizza dough instead of regular flour–not out of some grand scheme to be healthier, it’s just all that H-E-B had during our trip to the grocery store. If I make it again, I think I’d try and sub pizza dough for crescent roll dough, which is sweeter and flakier and fits the brunch motif a little better than thick and chewy pizza dough. Either way, served with some salsa, the breakfast braid bread was a winner.

The fixins on the dough before folding it over.

The bread waiting to go in the oven.

On the table and ready to eat.

Migas Casserole. I basically made this recipe up but I love it because it’s fast, easy and flavorful.  The idea is simple enough– sautee onion, tomatoes, peppers, cheese and pieces of corn tortillas with oil and cumin, cover with egg mixture and bake. Voila. in 20 minutes you’ve got a ready-to-eat casserole that feels slightly exotic if not intriguingly spicy. Plus, with peppers and tomatoes instead of sausage and bacon, you can feel a little less guilty about going for a second piece.

Migas Casserole

Banana Cinnamon Waffles.  Heath is the designated waffle maker in the house, and for years has been using a tried and true recipe borrowed from the Martha Stewart Living Cookbook. But because we were trying to give this brunch a little flair, Heath decided to step it up and add banana, cinnamon and brown sugar–at Martha’s suggestion. It was an incredible addition and we ended up with sweet and moist waffles that mimicked the flavor of banana bread.

Waffles so sweet, syrup is no longer necessary.

We also incorporated fresh fruit, smoked salmon, peach salsa and crackers. And we had a few other friends pitch in with smoked brisket and a crock pot hash brown dish.

The goods.

All of that food paired with either a bloody Mary or mimosa made for a brunch that was almost as delicious as the beautiful betrothed coupled themselves.


Brunch

I get the concept of brunch. You take the first meal of the day, breakfast, and combine it with the second, lunch. Tada…Brunch. Noted. I got the concept just fine; it’s breakfast for late risers.

For some reason I was never a big bruncher. Weekends are precious and we don’t have the time to waste preparing elaborate mid-day meals. The days ought to, instead, be filled with swimming, shopping, dog walking and other activities that are “productive” and don’t squander the best part of a summer Sunday, the morning time.

But when Ranjana suggested a group brunch where each couple spends the morning contributing to a divine breakfast/lunch combo that tickles all the senses and provides a much-needed bonding experience, I found it hard to say no. Brunch it would be.

The menu:
• Pigs in a blanket
• Scrambled eggs with cheese
• Chipotle  sweet potato tamales
• Fresh peaches, strawberries and blueberries
• Bacon
• Bloody Marys, coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice
• Salsa

It turns out cooking with friends and enjoying a community meal, even if it is mid-day, is not a squander of time. It’s a celebration of diverse backgrounds, friendship and genuine deliciousness. What better way to create a family away from home than over a group brunch? Consider me sold on Sunday brunch.

Heath prepares the O.J.

A Bloody Mary sans celery and instead with bacon. At the end, the bacon tastes so good. Give it a try.

Even the dogs get to enjoy a little brunching.

Brunch time agrees with Heath.


Mussels Anyone?

For some people (me) it’s difficult to envision slowly killing a living, breathing creature by boiling them in a cauldron of hot water or steam until their flesh turns red from the heat or their once-closed shells hesitantly crack open after a two-minute struggle to protect it’s vulnerable insides. It’s barbaric! It’s savage! And it’s also how we kill millions of lobsters, crayfish, mussels, crabs, oysters and other fresh- and saltwater-dwelling creatures every year. I’m no vegetarian, and don’t have qualms with eating meat that has been humanely cared for and killed, but there is something about boiling an animal alive that gives me the willies. Afterall, we don’t throw chickens in the oven still clucking, (believe me, we know after one life-changing experience), and we don’t throw live pigs on the fire before eating bacon (though my Philippines-born grandfather will tell you that’s how it’s done in his birth country), so why is it so acceptable to engage in this horrible, savage form of murder on our exoskeleton-bearing, aquatic invertebrates brothers? I had to do some research.

Friends Eric and Lisa invited us over for a mussel-making experience a few weeks ago. My hesitance to participate in the mass murder of dozens of shellfish was an issue, but ultimately I made the decision to suck it up, ignore the hypocrite inside that begged to indulge instead in a mammal killed weeks earlier, far away from my safety zone—and just go with it. We picked up some french fries from the beloved P.Terry’s and headed over to the Lighthouse for our first tryst with steamed mussels.

Step 1 | Clean ‘em and shave ‘em
As my bearded friend Eric said, “Unlike people, mussels are not better with beards.” The fuzzy beard of byssal threads, or fibers emerging from the mussel’s shell, had to be identified and removed before the execution could begin. We also picked through the bunch, looking for any mussels whose shells were opened—a no-no if you want the best mussel-eating experience that money can buy. And of course there was the rinsing, scrubbing and removing of any barnacles that we didn’t want making their way into our steamed mussel stew.

Step 2 | Prep the broth
In our case, the seasonings we used to enhance the mussel flavor was an array of fresh herbs (parsley and thyme), tomatoes, and the tried-and-true flavor-making ingredients of salt, pepper, butter, olive oil and white wine.

Step 3 | Let the execution begin
Once everything was prepared, the next step was pretty simple–combine and cook. Very little water is actually used in the steaming process because, when heated, the mussels open up, releasing their own delectable juices that blend with the tomato/white whine/herb mixture. Too much water and I’m told the flavor is lost.

Step 4 | Relax and literally dig in
Once on the table and surrounded by hand-cut french fries, fresh salad and homemade bread, the mussels didn’t seem as intimidating as I had envisioned. Onto the plate went each of the sides as they were passed about the table. And when no other side options were left, I made room for the mussels on my plate. Into the shell opening went my fork, releasing the meat from its encasing. It emerged with the unfamiliar, opaque blob of protein that is the mussel’s essence. It went into my mouth, onto the buds of my tongue and down my throat. With each movement of my jaw as I chewed, I processed the experience, challenged my preconceived notions of mussel murder, and made my conclusion: steamed mussels are sinfully delicious.

…Perhaps instead of a geyser of death, I can conveniently consider the cauldron more of a shellfish sauna.


The food you love with the one(s) you love

Valentine’s Day has important meaning to we Robinsons. Yes, of course, like everyone else we like to celebrate our love by showing abundant affection for one another, but it’s also the anniversary of Bryan’s death. So we committed to taking that day to  celebrate with many of the people we love and not just each other because life is short. And so was born the Valentine’s Dinner.

Last year was the first event. It included an evening at The Lighthouse with fondue and fixings and a brief viewing of Tyrannosaurus Sex on The Discovery Channel. This year we upped the guest list, lost the dino porn and hosted at The Doodle House. The event is on its way to becoming one of my favorite traditions.

This year’s guest list:
Eric & Lisa

Santiago & Alex
Rob & Kat

Mark & Ranjana (in spirit)

The menu:
Wedge salad

Olive oil mashed potatoes
Homemade honeywheat bread
Steamed veggies
Shrimp kabobs
Banana pudding

The six-hour wine and dine fiesta was filling both in conversation and food. Everything fromThe Game to peanut butter and onion sandwiches was up for discussion and the laughter and loving was ample. Why take a day and celebrate with one when you can celebrate with many?

 


Banana Pudding Please

This weekend I learned a valuable life lesson. Never, never make instant banana pudding.

I love banana pudding. It’s one of my all time favorite desserts in the history of desserts. So this weekend when Heath and I were assigned to bring dessert to our Second Annual Valentine’s Potluck Dinner, I knew I had to bring banana pudding. After all, it meets all three of my key criteria: it’s fast, it’s cheap, it’s delicious. I loaded up on a few packages of JELLO-brand instant banana creme pudding, fresh naners and a box of Nilla Wafers.

In went the milk, in went the mixture and the fresh bananas and out came a completely unspectacular dish of jiggly, bland pudding. No, no. This wouldn’t do. There was a dinner party for eight to be had and I owed my guests something grander than this pathetic display of artificial banana-flavored sugar.

Luckily the box of wafers came to my rescue. There, on the side panel, were instructions for homemade-in-less-than-30-minutes banana pudding.

3/4 cup sugar, divided
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
Dash salt
3 eggs, separated
2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
45 NILLA Wafers, divided
5 ripe bananas, sliced (about 3 1/2 cups), divided
Additional NILLA Wafers and banana slices, for garnish

1. Mix 1/2 cup sugar, flour and salt in top of double boiler. Blend in 3 egg yolks and milk. Cook, uncovered, over boiling water, stirring constantly for 10 to 12 minutes or until thickened. Remove from heat; stir in vanilla.

2. Reserve 10 wafers for garnish. Spread small amount of custard on bottom of 1 1/2-quart casserole; cover with a layer of wafers and a layer of sliced bananas. Pour about 1/3 of custard over bananas. Continue to layer wafers, bananas and custard to make a total of 3 layers of each, ending with custard.

3. Beat egg whites until soft peaks form; gradually add remaining 1/4 cup sugar and beat until stiff but not dry. Spoon on top of pudding, spreading evenly to cover entire surface and sealing well to edges.

4. Bake at 350°F in top half of oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until browned. Cool slightly or refrigerate. Garnish with additional wafers and banana slices just before serving.

I must apologize for being late to the party. While I’m sure everyone in the universe has made homemade banana pudding before, I sadly admit this was my first stab at it. In a world where fast food drive thrus, Ramen Noodles, and instant coffee are all a part of mainstream America, I bought into the idea that, perhaps like Betty Crocker cake mixes, prepackaged, precooked and essentially premade banana pudding is probably just as good as the real thing. It. Is. Not.

The frothy egg white topping, the rich and soothing custard, the light and crunchy mingling of wafers and ripe bananas made my tongue and insides do somersaults. How could I have been so blind during all of these years of cooking for myself? And what’s more perplexing, why would anyone make instant pudding when in just 15 extra minutes you can have a platter of heaven in your own kitcken? Oh world, how mysterious thou art.

So this is my farewell to the old, and a big bear hug welcome to the homemade good stuff. I feel homemade banana pudding and I will be very happy together.

 


Indian food: a doodle house favorite

In an effort to recreate a dish we often order at favorite restaurant Clay Pit, I invented this very crude, completely unauthentic but incredibly delish Indian dish. It’s Heath’s favorite, so I thought I would share.

Chicken Coconut Curry, Serves 2-4

1 chicken breast fillet
1 can coconut milk
4-6 small red potatoes
2 cloves garlic
1/2 onion diced
[Amounts of the following ingredients should be determined according to taste. For strong, powerful dishes use more curry powder. For sweeter, increase ginger and brown sugar. And for spicier, go heavier on the red chili pepper]


brown sugar
ginger
yellow curry powder
dried bay leaves
crushed red chili pepper
olive oil

Sauté potatoes, onion and garlic in large skillet over medium high heat. When potatoes are nearly cooked add in chicken, brown sugar, ginger, curry powder, dried bay leaves and crushed red chili pepper. Cook about 10 minutes on medium heat, stirring occasionally. Add coconut milk and let simmer on low for about 10 more minutes. Serve over rice.

It’s quick, it’s easy and it’s mighty fine.


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