Mother’s Day Brunch – Croque-Madame in Honor of Mom

Mother’s Day Brunch – Croque-Madame in Honor of Mom

My lovely brothers are hosting a Mother’s Day brunch this Sunday for all of the moms in our close-knit family.  As one of the moms being honored at this Mother’s Day Brunch, I will be requesting that my brothers  follow Claire’s advice here by making something cheesy and savory and definitely topped with an egg. Claire not only provides us with another delicious breakfast/brunch recipe, she is also determined to make us all a little weepy with a beautiful dedication to her mom. I haven’t met Lynn, but if Claire is any indication, her mother has done a darn good job. Claire, I’ll hand this off to you now. Make us cry, but then please make us feel better with fantastic food!

For fairly obvious reasons, I’ve been thinking a lot about moms and motherhood these past couple of weeks. Not everyone has a mom, and not everyone who has a mom has a good mom. Reflecting on that fact makes me feel, above all, grateful that my mother, while human and flawed like anyone else, has been good and caring and supportive of me for my whole life. She put up with me and believed in me, even during my most chaotic years, which admittedly lasted far longer than they should have. She cried for me. She cheered for me. She went gray for me. Through everything, I have always known that if I needed her, she would not hesitate to be at my side, whatever the cost. She is a good mom.

Mother's Day Brunch

If anyone deserves to retire in style, my mom does, and damn it, she is doing it. This summer, she and my dad are selling the home I grew up in, and they are moving onto the boat they have spent the last 10 years restoring. They will spend the foreseeable future sailing around this gorgeous planet of ours, seeing all the things they didn’t get to see while they were busy being attentive and fiscally responsible parents. This morning, it occurred to me that once they set sail, it will be the first time in my life that my mom is going to be ACTUALLY unavailable to me, despite the fact that I moved over two thousand miles away from her eight years ago. It’s a new feeling, and one I’m having a hard time processing. It’s making me miss my mommy.

Mother's Day Brunch

So, in honor of my mom and my feelings, I am throwing a Mother’s Day brunch in her honor. Even though she’s too far away to join me at my table today, I know she’s well represented here. She taught me to appreciate a well-appointed place setting, and so I am setting the table with the linens I remember eating off of in her house, and serving the meal on her mother’s gold plates. She taught me to never scrimp where it mattered, so I am using the best ingredients I can find. And she taught me how to make Hollandaise, and it is finicky and temperamental, so I’m skipping it this year. Besides, eggs Benedict is played out.

I want something as unexpected and decadent as my mom for this Mother’s Day brunch, so I am going with croque-madame, which I am predicting will be the next big brunch staple.

Croque-Madame

  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 ½ cups grated Gruyère cheese, divided
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 8 slices of the best quality deli ham
  • 8 slices of good bread
  • 4 fresh eggs
  • 4 teaspoons Dijon mustard

Start by making your béchamel. In a 1 ½ quart heavy saucepan, melt 5 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk, cooking the roux until it is golden, about 2 to 3 minutes. Whisk in the milk and bring it just to a boil, whisking constantly. Reduce the heat and simmer, whisking occasionally, until the sauce thickens, about 5 minutes. Add the salt, nutmeg, and half of the shredded cheese and stir until the cheese is completely melted. Remove the pan from heat and cover it while you assemble the sandwiches.

Preheat the broiler with a rack in the top third of the oven. Prep a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper. Lay the slices of bread out, spreading a spoonful of béchamel on four of them and topping with the remaining shredded cheese. On the other four slices, spread the mustard and top each with two slices of the ham. Flip the ham side onto the cheese side and heat about a tablespoon of the remaining butter on a skillet or griddle.

Mother's Day Brunch

When the griddle is hot, carefully grill each sandwich on both sides until they are golden brown and the cheese is melted. Move the sandwiches onto the prepared baking sheet and top each one with about 1/3 cup of the béchamel. Broil the sandwiches until the sauce is bubbling, then turn off the broiler and move the pan to the lower third of the oven to keep warm.

Mother's Day Brunch

Add the remaining butter to the skillet and fry the eggs sunny-side-up, until whites are just set and yolks are still runny. Top each sandwich with an egg and serve. I put the remaining sauce in a little pitcher so we could add more as we saw fit, and I went a little crazy with the pepper grinder. Making that first cut, and seeing the yolk and steam release from inside the sandwich, I knew my mom would be proud. She taught me to revere a good sauce and a runny egg, so I know she would have loved this Mother’s Day brunch meal as much as I did. I also knew that she would be the first one to like the picture I would post to Facebook later.

Mother's Day Brunch

Mama, I know you’re reading, because you are my biggest fan and you never miss one of my posts. As you literally embark upon your next adventure, I know that you will continue to live as richly as you have so far. Even though you’ll be out of my reach, I will be thinking of you often. I hope it makes you feel as good as it makes me feel to know that you have imbued me with all of your vim and vigor and your incredible power to set an inviting table and top it with a damn good meal. I love you.

Mother's Day Brunch TablePrinter-friendly recipe: Croque-Madame

Favorite Breakfast Recipe – Biscuits and Gravy

Favorite Breakfast Recipe – Biscuits and Gravy

If breakfast is the most important meal of the day, then you better be paying attention, because Claire is about to share the most important recipe of your life! I sing Claire’s praises a lot around here, so it’s about dang time she gives up the recipe for my favorite breakfast of all time – BISCUITS AND GRAVY! She has made these for me every time I’ve gone to visit, and even my picky kid likes them. I have had biscuits and gravy from (at least) a dozen different restaurants, even in a couple in the South, but nobody makes them as good as Claire. Looking over this recipe, I’m a little surprised by how easy this is. I could actually do this, and if I can summon a little of that special Claire Hoenke magic, I bet mine will come out at least half as good (and that would be good enough for me!). Ok, let’s get moving along. Claire, enlighten us, please.

Last year around this time, I made a beautiful and nutritious breakfast for you using beautiful and nutritious spring produce. This is not that post.

This morning I had to take my kids to the doctor. They both needed to have procedures done, and they were going to be under anesthesia so the doctor told me to go home and wait for them to call me. When I got home, I didn’t have to use my purse to block the kids from running out the door. I sat down on the couch, and I didn’t have to worry about my youngest climbing onto my chest and burrowing into my hair. I decided to make breakfast, and I didn’t have to worry about my oldest jumping onto the counter and eating the ingredients. Oh, wait, did I say, “my kids”? I meant my cats, though for real, they are my kids, and it is really weird when they’re not here. I don’t like it.

Breakfast

(His name is Bacon. He is perfect.)

To deal with the discomfort of my weird, empty house, I decided I needed to curl up in the cocoon of some rich, creamy, easy-to-make, unhealthy comfort food. I mean real, serious business comfort food. The thing you always want to order in a breakfast cafe, but maybe you don’t think you should, or you don’t want to be seen eating it in public because you’re already a fat lady eating in public and you already have your own weird food issues and you don’t need that kind of judgement from strangers… ahem… Maybe that last one is just me. Anyway, that forbidden thing for me is biscuits and gravy. Luckily, sausage gravy is so easy to make at home, you never need to order it at a restaurant, which is actually good because it saves you from a lot of disappointing gravies that are really never as good as the recipe I am about to share with you.

Since I’m going for ease and speed, I am going to opt for a simple drop biscuit today. Combine your dry ingredients, cut in the butter, add the milk, drop on the pan, and bake. Bing bang boom. I’m also adding cheese to my biscuits because it’s my party and dammit, I love cheese. I really only make my fancy buttermilk biscuits for company, because they’re always going to play second fiddle to the gravy anyway. Honestly, you could put any bready thing under it and call it a success.

These Biscuits and Gravy make the perfect breakfast – delicious, fulfilling, and surprisingly easy.

Biscuits

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup (one stick) cold butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 cup milk or half and half

Gravy

  • 1 lb pork sausage
  • 1/3 cup flour, divided
  • 4-5 cups milk
  • Hot sauce to taste
  • Black pepper to taste
  • Seasoned salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 400° and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, combine dry ingredients, and then use your fingers or a pastry cutter to cut in the butter. If you want to add in any additional ingredients (cheese, bacon, herbs, etc.), now is the time. Stir in the milk and use two spoons to drop the biscuits in semi-freeform lumps onto the baking sheet. I like mine to be kind of rounded, but with craggy edges so the finished biscuit has a little crunch to it. Bake until they’re golden brown with crunchy bits, about 15 to 20 minutes, and then serve.

Breakfast

While the biscuits are baking, make your gravy. Put the sausage into a heavy pan or skillet and brown it over medium high heat, using a wooden spoon to break the sausage into bits. When it is cooked through, add the flour in two phases, stirring until it is absorbed. Use the spoon to stir the sausage around and cook the flour, scraping the bits off the bottom of the pan, for about a minute or two. Add the milk, and stir, stir, stir while the gravy thickens. If it gets too thick, just add a little more milk. When the texture is right, season with hot sauce, black pepper, and seasoned salt, and spoon it over your biscuits.

breakfast

And just like that, you have a lovely, indulgent bowl of comfort right there to pet your tummy and remind you that your cats are just fine and they’ll be home tonight, and they’ll probably be all goofy and extra-snuggly while the anesthesia wears off. In the meantime, you don’t have to worry about Bacon trying to steal a bite of that sweet, sweet gravy. Sausage gravy brings out the truth in us, as evidenced today by my outing myself as a fat cat lady who eats her feelings. So who does the gravy reveal in you?

Printer-friendly recipe: Biscuits and Gravy

Back to School – On-the-Go Breakfast Cookies

Back to School – On-the-Go Breakfast Cookies

It’s Back to School season! That means hectic mornings for parents and kids as we all adjust to the new schedule. Thankfully, Sarah W. is here with the perfect on-the-go breakfast cookies. That’s right – BREAKFAST COOKIES! We’re not much for morning eating in my house, but I bet I could convince my kid to eat a cookie before school! I love that these are easily and endlessly customizable – add nuts, seeds, dried fruit, whatever!  So, Sarah, tell us how to make these back to school morning miracles!

Ah, September. Even though I don’t have children of my own, it’s hard to miss the displays in every retail outlet right now. New backpacks, new clothing, new shoes, and new time management schedules. After a summer with a more relaxed schedule, families with kids heading back to school must start to feel the pinch of getting everyone ready and out the door on time. Leisurely breakfasts are a thing of the past when the kids are headed back to school!

I think my favorite part of going back to school as a kid was getting new notebooks. I always preferred three-subject spiral-bounds with college-ruled pages that I could cram a million notes in. Something about fresh white pages, and knowing that I’d get to fill them with my own words was addicting about starting up the school year. At the end of the year, I always made cases to keep my old notebooks for a while – I didn’t really care about keeping old handouts or book covers, but my notebooks filled with my words, representing my thoughts and work… that was something special to see on the bookshelf in my room.

My least favorite thing about going back to school was definitely waking up early. I am a habitual night owl and would rather stay up late at night reading and making popcorn and watching movies than go to bed early in order to rise and shine or greet the new day, or whatever it is that holds appeal for you morning people. Eating early in the morning usually upset my stomach, so I’d end up skipping breakfast until my mom started forcing breakfast shakes and granola bars on me to eat en route to school.

With such a time crunch in the mornings, having something prepared ahead of time that can be eaten on the go in the car or on the bus can make all the difference in getting places on time. Managing the back to school rush by prepping breakfast for the whole week ahead of time can make a big difference.

That’s where these On-the-Go Breakfast Cookies come in – the perfect solution to you back to school chaos!

I like something sweet in the morning, and these cookies do the trick. Subbing applesauce for eggs, and using chickpeas as the base may sound like a weird hummus, but these taste like no-bake cookies. Adding chocolate chips makes them extra special. These do have a tendency to fall apart, so be extra careful when transferring them to your cooling rack. Any crumbles can be saved to sprinkle on yogurt, too, if that’s more your speed in the morning.

The hardest part of this recipe is getting the consistency right. First, you need to grind your chickpeas in a food processor. I’ve done this without a food processor, and it’s much harder since chickpeas have a translucent husk or outer layer that needs to be totally pulverized in order to give you a smooth consistency. Stand mixers and hand mixers just won’t do it. Be careful to pulse your food processor, as opposed to holding down the button for long spurts of time – I burned out a Ninja motor doing this, and now am more careful with my little red Cuisinart. I ended up using 4 cups of oats to make the batter hold together – you really just want a dough that will hold its shape on the cookie sheet. Oh, and applesauce! If you buy those little individual-sized containers, fear not on measuring – they’re each half a cup!

I modified this recipe from a great blog, Chocolate Covered Katie, by adding enough oats to beat this batter into submission, allowing it to be formed into balls to bake.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cans chickpeas/garbanzo beans
  • 3 T oil
  • 1 ½ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 2tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • About 4 cups oats
  • 1 cup chocolate chips (hahaha, I used almost a whole bag – add these to taste)

-Preheat oven to 350°F.

-Rinse chickpeas thoroughly. Blend in the food processor until you have a hummus-like consistency. I found it helpful to add the oil and some of the applesauce to make this easier, and to switch back and forth between the Chop and Grind settings on my machine if things got stuck.

-Put your hummus in a large mixing bowl and add everything but the oats and chocolate chips. Mix well. You should have a sort of runny batter.

Back to School

-Add your oats about a cup at a time until your dough will form a ball.

-Add your chocolate chips. Then add a few more.

-Drop by rounded tablespoon (I use a melon baller) onto a greased cookie sheet or a sheet lined with a silicone baking mat. Use the back of your spoon to flatten slightly. Bake for 20 minutes.

Back to School

-As each batch of cookies comes out of the oven, very carefully transfer to a wire cooling rack. These will be ready to be handled when the next batch is out (about 20 minutes cooling time). Don’t try to move them before they’ve cooled (unless you want extra crumbles for yogurt). Store in an airtight container.

Back to School

These are great with a glass of milk, and since chickpeas have a decent amount of protein (7g per ½ cup), these make a great morning boost to get a jump start on your day – both for you and your back-to-schoolers. My husband has been sneaking them after dinner for a treat, too.

What’s the best part of going back to school? What shortcuts in your morning routine help get you out the door on time?

Mother’s Day Brunch – Stuffed French Toast

Mother’s Day Brunch – Stuffed French Toast

Happy Mother’s Day to all you amazing moms out there! I hope your refrigerators are covered in macaroni art and your kids bring you breakfast in bed! Well, that might be a little strange if you have adult children, so we asked Sarah Weber to update the tradition to something a bit more grown up. Stuffed French Toast can be made ahead and is sure to please Mom and the rest of your guests for a delightful Mother’s Day Brunch. Sarah, tell us how to get stuffed!

Ah, Mother’s Day. I love celebrating my mom, grandma, and mother-in-law, but figuring out something to do and finding a proper gift is getting harder every year.

Is it just me, or as we get older, are more and more problems easily solved with brunch? While panicking about what to do to honor the various mothers in my life this year, I remembered something.

As a kid, my family used to go to the fancy country club where my parents held their wedding reception to have a big fancy brunch with my grandparents. Little did I know that years later, I’d hold my own wedding reception in the same hall. My mom would share stories about working there when she was younger – folding napkins into elaborate designs; bringing home fancy leftovers for my dad; learning to use silverware from the outside in; making a “b” and “d” with your hands to remind yourself which bread plate and drinks were yours (this is still one of my favorite tricks to use at a crowded table). I would watch my blue collar-raised dad put his napkin in his lap before eating, and feel an odd kind of pride in him. My brother and I would raid the desserts table with my grandfather, returning to the table laden with chocolate pudding in glass cups and carrot cake and lemon pie on tiny cream china plates. My grandma would just about burst from beaming like a proud mother duck. She loves having family together. We’d stop at the garden center on the way home to pick new hanging baskets for my mom and grandmother to hang from their porches for the summer.

It’s been years since we’ve been to that brunch, but it was a very strong family tradition growing up. There was always French toast, with lots of maple syrup. Being something of a maple connoisseur, I figured I could work with that memory to make my own brunch. But to fancy it up a little, let’s try stuffed French toast. And let’s make it easy by making it the night before and baking it the day of. We know I love shortcuts!

Two quick discussions:

Bread – Brioche is a wonderful, lovely soft bread to use for this recipe. It soaks up the egg nicely and doesn’t fall apart when you cut into your finished product. Look for a bread that isn’t too dense – a loaf of Italian will do wonderfully, while sourdough isn’t going to absorb your egg mixture as well.

Fruit – You can use any combination of fruit your heart desires. I’ve made this with canned peaches, ricotta, and cinnamon; fresh strawberries, ricotta mixed with cream cheese, and the fruit glaze you put on cheesecake; even pie filling. Some other suggested combos: fresh blueberries slightly macerated with sugar and a touch of Merlot and mascarpone; apple pie filling with extra cinnamon and ricotta; mixed berries glazed with simple syrup and rum with ricotta. There are really no wrong answers here.

Ingredients:

  • 1 loaf bread (unsliced)
  • 1-2 cans fruit filling or fresh fruit, in bite sized pieces
  • 12 oz. ricotta cheese
  • 6-8 eggs
  • Splash of milk
  • Pinch cinnamon/nutmeg, or spices of your choice
  • Maple syrup

Start by slicing your bread pretty thinly and uniformly. Grease a 13×9 pan and line the bottom of the pan evenly with bread. This can lead to some creative cuts in your slicing.

Spread about half of your ricotta cheese evenly over bread. We’re going to cover this up, so it doesn’t need to be perfect!

Top your ricotta with fruit.

Repeat with more bread, ricotta, and fruit. Top with a layer of bread.

Mother's Day

Mix your eggs with a splash of milk and your spices. Pour evenly over bread.

Cover and pop this into the refrigerator overnight. This lets your eggs really soak into the bread. Remove from the fridge 30-45 minutes before you plan to bake this. When you’re ready, heat your oven to about 400 degrees and bake for a minimum of 45 minutes. You can cover with foil for the first half of your cooking time to keep the top from getting too brown.

Slice and serve with a drizzle of maple syrup on top. Adding some bacon and a Bloody Mary is an awfully good idea.

Do you have any Mother’s Day traditions? How are you planning to honor the moms in your life this year? What’s your favorite brunch food?

Printer friendly recipe: Stuffed French Toast

Breakfast with Spring Produce

Breakfast with Spring Produce

Breakfast is the greatest creation of humanity.  Because I amBreakfast a grownup (ha!), I can have breakfast whenever I want. I can also take a road trip to visit my amazing friend, Claire Hoenke, who just so happens to be the Goddess of All Things Breakfast. The first time I visited Claire, she made the world’s best biscuits and gravy, and I may have proposed marriage. The last time I stayed at Claire’s, I had driven up as a surprise for her birthday (planned by her husband, who is obviously the luckiest man alive), so she didn’t have any special ingredients stocked away to spoil me with.  Somehow Claire managed to whip up an absolutely delightful breakfast feast without waking me up.  I finally stirred when the scent of bacon, potatoes, sautéed veggies, and perfectly fried eggs became so overpowering my brain decided that maybe I could be a morning person. What I am trying to convey to you is that Claire is the best hostess and also the best at breakfast, so you should listen to everything she says. I am so excited that she is sharing some of her delightful self with us today. I think I’ve gone on long enough, so I’ll pass the mic to Claire now.

I love cooking for my friends. Welcoming people to my table gives me a sense of fulfillment like nothing else does.

While I adore hosting dinner parties, anyone who has ever spent the night at my house knows that breakfast is where I really shine.

And why not? What could be better than waking up to the smell of fresh bread and a hot griddle? Starting my morning with a hearty meal is the best way to guarantee a good day. For me, nothing beats bacon and eggs with buttermilk biscuits, or waffles with pools of butter and syrup… until spring rolls around. When the ground starts to warm and the first plants of the growing season start popping up, my appetite shifts and I crave something different.

BreakfastAround this time of the year I find myself flashing back to spring in my childhood home, huddled with my friends in my parents’ vegetable garden. As kids, my sisters and I spent all spring and summer in the back yard, and when we got hungry, we would head for the garden. I can remember the feel of the cold dirt under my bare feet, the smell of the mint, and the sweet crunch of the sugar snap peas between my teeth. There is nothing like fresh veggies right off the stem. Alas, as an adult who seems to have inherited none of her parents’ magical green thumbs, the best I can do is head to the farmers’ market with a basket on my arm.

Waking up the morning after a particularly successful trip to the market, the piles of fresh green things always call to me from my fridge. “Cook me! I’m healthy and tasty and sweet! I’m some kind of crazy gift from the earth!” and I am not one to ignore the food voices in my head. This recipe is perfect because it can be made to order. Whatever fresh produce is at the local market this week is what belongs in this dish, and it’s that kind of simplicity that appeals to the barefoot kid in me. This time, I am using:

  • Half a bunch of asparagus, cutBreakfast on a diagonal into 1” pieces
  • White and pale green parts of 2 leeks, thinly sliced
  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • A small fistful of watercress
  • ¼ cup of basil, torn into ½” bits
  • ¼ cup mint, torn into ½” bits

Depending on where you call home, you might be lucky enough to find fresh fava beans, ramps, or spring onions at your market, and those would be perfect in this dish. Spring peas are also well worth the work of shelling, and fresh escarole would take this dish to a whole new level.

In addition to your produce, you will need:

  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar
  • 2 or 3 ounces of Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano
  • 4 eggs
  • Good, crusty bread

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a medium sauté pan. When the oil starts to shimmer, turn the heat down to medium-low and toss in the asparagus and leeks. Cover the pan and cook for about 2 minutes, until the asparagus just starts to get tender. Add the scallions and garlic and cook for another 2 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally. Add the mint and basil and cook until the asparagus is very tender. Add the watercress and toss until it’s just slightly wilted. Season with some kosher salt and divide the greens into four bowls.Breakfast

Meanwhile, bring about two inches of water to a boil in a large saucepan. Reduce the heat to bring the water down to a simmer and add the vinegar. Crack an egg into a small bowl, and then gently slide the egg into the water. Once the white is opaque, repeat the process with the next egg, and so on. Poach the eggs for about 3 minutes each until the whites are set, but the yolks are still runny.

Breakfast

Using a slotted spoon, transfer each egg as it finishes onto a bowl of greens. Drizzle each serving with olive oil and some grated or crumbled cheese. Serve with slices of bread and soak in the goodness!

Breakfast

Wait; it gets better…

BreakfastAre you still breathing? Want to meet me at Claire’s for breakfast? If you’re not up for the trip, print off the recipe and give it a go at home using goodies from your own garden or local market!

Printer friendly recipe:  Poached Eggs with Spring Veggies