Monday, January 24, 2011

Ask Whatever: The Effortless Art of Brunching

"Help, Cooking Whatever! I need ideas for a brunch this weekend that starts at 10! What should I make?"

Ah, Brunch. My all time favorite style of dining.

While brunch is by far the most fun to attend, it can often be a pain in the derrière if you're hosting.

Whether you're a morning person or not, waking up early to concentrate on cooking is challenging. Unless of course you're cooking whatever, then it's a easy as pie, or say quiche.

Here is my top advice for an easy yet elegant spread: start with a fresh fruit salad as a side dish. Really jazz up the display of the fruit and make it work! Then mix and match 2 or 3 items from my Ultimate Entree list below to suit your own preferences. Just keep in mind to pick dishes with variety to ensure you have something wonderful for everyone.

And my most important brunch tip: Always offer a signature brunch cocktail or mocktail, like a bellini or mango juice, fresh squeezed orange juice or anything else fancy. It's a nice bonus that shows off your expert hosting skills.

Brunch Entrees:

1.) Quiche or Frittata

Follow any easy quiche or frittata recipe (eggs, cheese, add-ins, done) and bake it the night before. Re-heat in the oven right before guests arrive. Never ever share your secret and complain/brag about slaving over a hot stove while they were still asleep.

2.) Strata

This gooey yet light and savory casserole-ish dish has to be assembled the night before and only takes about 45-minutes in the over the next day.

3.) Mini Eggs Benedict (see recipe below)

If you really want to impress and don't mind a teeny bit of stress, go for this cute version of the brunch classic. The secret is to use quail eggs, which are small and can be cooked in batches.

4.) Waffles 3 Ways

Make regular plain waffles and layout 3 (or more) varieties of toppings: think bananas foster sauce, shaved chocolate and whipped cream, cinnamon and sugar, coconut, maple syrup and walnuts. Display the toppings like you would see pairings on a cheese plate, maybe even with little index cards describing each one. It's easy but super fancy.

5.) Sausage-chip Pancakes

Yeah, you read that right. Just like you would add blueberries to your pancakes, simply fold in some cooked sausage (I think spicy Italian works best) into the batter. Definitely still serve with maple syrup. Yum.

6.) Savory muffins with scrambled eggs

Take a recipe for corn muffins and fold in bacon, mushrooms, cheddar cheese or anything else you think would taste good. I definitely recommend making the muffins the day before and re-heat in the oven before guests arrive. When you're ready to serve, slice them in half and scoop in some scrambled eggs for a cute little sandwich.

7.) Fruit Bread Pudding

Just like regular bread pudding but with a delicious addition of either fresh fruit (strawberries, blueberries) or dried fruit (cherries, rasins, cranberries). Just make sure to use fruit that is different than what is in the fruit salad side.

8.) Breakfast Pizza

Exactly as it sounds, take pre-made pizza dough and cover it with cheese, veggies and breakfast meats - skip the tomato sauce. I like to top mine with fresh greens just before it's pulled out of the oven so they don't get too wilted. The presentation is great and it's a winner among kids and adults alike.


Mini Eggs Benedict

White Bread
Quail Eggs
Hollandaise Sauce (try not to take the short cut with the packet, you really only need to add a few extra ingredients to make the real thing and its so much better.)


Cook spinach in boiling water until slightly limp and let sit in water, do not drain until you're about to use. This will keep it warm.

Layout the bread and use a cookie cutter to cut out the centers (think stars, hearts, or plain circles, the design should be big enough to hold an mini-egg in the middle). Toast them in the oven, keeping a close eye to make sure they don't burn.

Pre-crack the quail eggs. They can be very difficult so have a few extra on hand just in case. I usually use a sharp knife (be careful!) to crack open the top the shells and then pour the yokes gently into the pan. The closer the eggs are the pan the less of chance they have of breaking.

You can cook a bunch of these little guys at a time, so go for it.

Take the toast out of the oven just before the eggs are done.

Plate the bread, the spinach, then the eggs and add the Hollandaise on top or on the side if you have picky guests. Serve on a platter with a spatula and get ready to smile and say "oh, it was no big deal" over and over.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

WANT: NYE Champagne Punch Saucers

I love New Year's Eve. It is yet another excuse to eat fancy food and drink champagne (my two favorite things). For those Holiday Hostesses out there, I wanted to share my WANT for ringing in 2011. These fun, old fashioned 'saucers' add the perfect amount of class to your red bull and cheap champagne punch.

Kate Spade twirl larabee dot fete mini saucers, $75 for a set a four.

Obviously, these are the cream of the crop, but check your local party stores for cheap plastic versions.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Ask Whatever: Fresh Herb Preserve

"Dear Jen, I always have trouble keeping my herbs fresh (especially Cilantro)! Would you happen to know any 'tricks' or secrets that might help me keep them fresh a few days longer?"

This is a very common problem and one that can often deter you from buying fresh herbs (or worse, buying them and tossing in the trash/compost, what a waste!)

Here is my solution: Get a large glass jar, either something like a Ball Jar usually used for canning, or a re-purposed one from the recycling bin possibly from tomato sauce or pickles. Stay away from plastics if you can as they tend to get moldy quick.

Take three paper towels, stack them on top of each other and and fold them into a square (usually 2 times).

Run a thin stream of warm water in the sink and carefully dampen the towels so they're moist but not 'wet'. Ring if necessary, keeping the square shape intact.

Gently slide the towels into the jar, lining the sides.

Then stuff the herbs in, stems first. It's OK if you need to get a little rough with them and really push them in.

Then keep it in the fridge and your herbs should be super fresh for a week, a little dark but still usable after 11 days and just use your judgment after that.

To use the herbs, just pop the lid and cut a little off. No need to take the whole bunch out again until you get closer to being finished.

Lemongrass Shrimp

I love seafood, especially shellfish like clams, oysters (with champagne of course) and shrimp.

I wanted to share this easy shrimp recipe that I created on the spot at the Silver Lake Farmer's Market while visiting California.

It's easy but the presentation makes it look like you hired a little old Thai lady to cook for you. Seriously.

1 lb of large shrimp
Small nub of ginger, about the size of a golf ball
1/2 cup of fresh cilantro, chopped very thin
1 lime
Olive oil
1 bunch of Lemongrass stalks, 2 tbs chopped small, the rest cleaned and reserved to the side

Clean, de-shell and devein the shrimp, making sure the shrimps are left in their original form original. This is important, take your time and be detailed!

Cut up ginger into medium-thick slices

Take cilantro and roll into a ball then start to slice, then continue to chop the pieces until they are as small as you can get them

Place ginger and cilantro to a small bowl, squeeze lime juice over ingredients and toss with a spoon, then add enough olive oil to create a sauce just thin enough to cover all of the shrimp enough. Cilantro should float in the oil.

Now, here is where the fancy presentation comes in.

Clean the long lemongrass stalks and chop off the rough ends. Then cut it in half short ways then slice in half long ways as evenly as possible.

Slowly peel out the stalks inside, preserving the ones that feel very strong, be careful not to bend them.

Take a shrimp and a small pairing knife (steak knife will also do) and insert a small cut all the through at the top of the shrimp.

Slide a lemongrass stalk through the hole, piercing it.

Then insert another small cut at the bottom of the shrimp and insert the same lemongrass stick through the cut. Pull through so the shrimp is in the middle of the stalk.

Continue and repeat until all of the shrimp are pierced.

Pour a small amount of the marinade in the bottom of a shallow glass baking dish big enough to lay shrimps flat or to stack just one additional layer if necessary.

Place the cleaned shrimp in the dish and pour the marinade over, tossing the shrimp so that they are completely covered.

Marinade for at least an hour, up to 4.

Transfer shrimps to a foiled-covered baking pan and broil on each side for 3-4 minutes each (or until pink and solid looking).

Remove ginger slices. They are too bitter to eat since most of the flavor was extracted in the marinade and broil.

Once out and plated squeeze a little lime juice over them and enjoy!

I like to tie the left over lemon grass into little bundles as garnish.

Click on the image to enlarge so you can really get a good idea about how to pierce the shrimp. Once you do one or two you'll easily get the hang of it.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Jen's Quick Tips: Baking Bacon

Here is a really simple, fantastic trick on cooking bacon in the oven.

Take a shallow baking pan, like one you would use for cookies and take an over-sized sheet of tin foil(long enough to hang over both ends of the pan by at least 2 inches.

Start from one side and begin to pinch the foil into high, peaks rows.

Continue until the entire piece of foil is pinched and peaked.

Lay bacon over the peaked rows and voila! The fat will drip in between the cracks but still steam upwards to flavor the meat, persevering that natural gooey fatty taste of bacon without all of the actual fat.

I like to add fresh or dried rosemary leaves over the bacon before placing in the oven.

Back from LA

Hello friends,

After a short hiatus in the City of Angles visiting two of my most fabulous friends, I have returned with more tricks of the trade!

While I work on my next posts, enjoy these photos from a wonderful dinner party thrown in my honor in a downtown LA loft space co-occupied by Dave Foley.**

**Dave Foley was not actually at this party but he does reside down the hall from where the festivities took place.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ask Whatever: I have a ton of brussels sprouts

"Do you have any brussels sprout recipes?? I just bought 2 stalks since the farm stand was closing for the winter."

Lauren, this is a great questions since brussels sprouts are so very plentiful right now.

An easy cure for plain jane sprouts is obvious and can be applied to any vegetable, mineral or meat: add bacon and cheese.

But if you want to get a little crazy, use brussels sprouts in a breakfast hash. It's so good and different and healthy and less carbs since you're skipping the tots.

Clean and cut the sprouts in halves and quarters (they can be tough to tackle in one bite whole). Cover them in a little oil, salt and pepper and start cooking them in a frying pan. Add some white onion, garlic, maybe a little chopped tomato. And sure go ahead and add some bacon, I know you can't control yourself (cut the bacon into bits before frying). Then top with some runny, dippy, sunny side up eggs.

You have never experienced a garden breakfast so healthy and hearty all at once.

Another unique option I like (which may not be kid friendly) is to stir-fry the sprouts with garlic, butter and douse them in red wine. It's an easy, delicious new way to experience them.