Thursday, December 28, 2017

Festive Brunch Buffet

The holidays are when we tend to go all out in regard to cooking, baking and entertaining, with huge, extravagant formal affairs. Why not make things as effortless, tasty and seasonal as possible? Your best bet is brunch. 

I love Brunch ... traditionally a combination of ‘late breakfast, early lunch’, a relaxed yet graceful way to entertain both family and friends. It’s the culinary experience that seems to have it all; you get up at a descent hour, enjoy a relaxed noontime meal with your guests and every one is gone by 3 o’clock, leaving you to enjoy the rest of the day in quiet comfort. 

Christmas Day Brunch 2017
Christmas Brunch in my home is almost always Eggs Benedict with Smoked Salmon. An rich combination including some of my favorite foods; Hornby Island cold smoked salmon, perfectly poached Corlan Vineyard and Farm organic free range eggs, real Hollandaise Sauce with a dash of Smoked Paprika, capers and avocado on the side. I joke that I could eat Hollandaise Sauce like soup... and no joke, when out for Brunch, always order extra 'Sauce on the side'. 
This is a fairly time consuming version but a special treat at Christmas.

On the simpler side of the brunch spectrum, set up an attractive and enticing brunch buffet. It offers lots of options for creativity in your menu and décor. Plan a tempting variety of foods. Fill your buffet table with a selection of both hot and cold items including appetizers, assorted cheese, crackers and fruits, elegant entrées, muffins or breads and sumptuous desserts.

To set up the buffet table, place dinner plates at the beginning of the table followed by appetizers, salads and fruits, breads, entrées then napkins and silverware. Position serving bowls and platters at varying heights by placing on stacked books disguised with fabric and greenery. Serve desserts and beverages at separate tables. Offer fresh juices, traditional brunch libations such as mimosas or Bloody Marys, assorted coffees, teas and a pitcher of ice water.

The delightful mingling of sparkling wine and fresh fruit juice served in an elegant glass is in itself a perfect reason to host a brunch. Sleep in and enjoy the gathering of friends and family with an easy brunch that’s not to be missed.

Here are a few of my favorite make-ahead, festive recipes.

These flavorful make-ahead enchiladas can be served for breakfast or brunch. If you have leftovers, reheat them in the microwave for a quick lunch. If you cannot find sausage meat, buy sausages, remove and use the meat ... discard the casings.

3 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, ½” dice
1 clove garlic, minced
1-2 small zucchini, ½” dice (about 1 cup)
1 lb. Mild Italian Sausage Meat
6 sun dried tomato slices, small diced
¼ cup sliced black olives
8  (8-inch) whole-wheat flour tortillas
2 cups grated cheddar cheese
4 eggs
2 cups milk
1 Tbsp. unbleached all-purpose flour
½ tsp. Worcestershire sauce
¼ tsp. Tabasco sauce
Snipped fresh chives for garnish
Sour cream

In a medium skillet, heat 1 Tbsp. oil over medium heat; cook onion, garlic and zucchini until softened and slightly browned. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. To the same skillet heat 2 Tbsp. oil and cook the sausage meat; keep the meat in about 1-inch chunks, don’t break it up too small as it cooks. Drain off any excess fat and add the fully cooked sausage meat to the bowl. Stir in the sun dried tomatoes and olives. Place about ½ cup of the sausage mixture into each tortilla and sprinkle each with about 3 Tbsp. of cheese.  Roll up tightly and place them seam side down, in a greased 13x9-inch baking dish
In a bowl, beat eggs, add the milk, and then blend in flour, Worcestershire and Tabasco. Pour over the tortillas, cover and refrigerate overnight or for up to 12 hours. Remove from the fridge 30 minutes before baking.
Using a spoon, baste the tortillas with some of the egg mixture in the pan. Bake in a 350˚F oven for 35-45 minutes or until egg mixture is set and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Sprinkle with remaining cheese; let stand 5 minutes. Garnish with snipped fresh chives, serve with salsa and sour cream.

BLACK FOREST TRIFLE                                                Yield: 12 servings
Trifle, a grand British dessert is transformed into a German favorite. This dessert can be made up to one day in advance. You can find Black Cherry Jam and Bottled Red Sour Cherries at ‘Runge’s Imports and Delicatessen’ on 4th Street in Courtenay.

1 single layer 9” chocolate cake
     or 2 small chocolate pound cakes (about 1½ lb total)
½ cup black cherry jam
½ cup cherry brandy
2 cups pitted red sour cherries, drained

1½ cup whipping cream
1¼ cup milk
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, very finely chopped
8 egg yolks
½ cup plus 1 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1/3 cup Dutch cocoa
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

2 cups whipping cream
2 Tbsp. confectioner’s sugar
½ tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 oz. bittersweet chocolate

Custard: In a saucepan heat cream, milk and vanilla over medium heat until bubbles form around the edge. Remove from the heat and whisk in 4 oz. very finely chopped chocolate until melted. In a large bowl whisk together egg yolks, sugar and cocoa. Gradually pour the hot cream into the yolks and sugar mixture, whisk constantly. Pour back into the saucepan; cook, whisking constantly until the custard thickens. Make sure it does not boil or it will split and curdle. If it seems to get too hot, remove from the heat and whisk rapidly. The custard does not need to be thick; it will continue to thicken as it cools. Strain into a clean bowl; place plastic wrap directly on surface to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate for 4 hours or until cooled.
Chef's Note: The custard can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.

Assembly: Slice the chocolate cake and use to make 'jam sandwiches' with the black cherry jam. Lay jam sandwich pieces in the bottom of a 12-cup wide trifle bowl; brush or drizzle with half of the liqueur. Spread with 1 cup pitted red sour cherries and place a few cherries around the side of the bowl. Spread with half of the custard.
Place remaining cherry jam sandwiches in the center and drizzle with liqueur. Cover with remaining cherries and place a few around the side of the bowl then spread with remaining custard. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours or up to one day.
Whip remaining 2 cups cream with confectioner’s sugar and vanilla, spread over top. Garnish with grated chocolate or chocolate curls. 

Happy New Year! Wishing you a healthy, happy 2018!
Till next year... Bon Appétit!

Recipes by Sally Rae
Photos by Sally Rae 

Friday, December 22, 2017

Year End Wrap Up

The Christmas parcels and greeting cards are addressed and sent on their way. Donations to the local food hampers and various charities have been delivered. In the garden; the strawberries, kale and garlic are tucked in, mulched under a thick blanket of dry maple leaves. Dinners with friends are winding down this week... as is my work schedule. After a busy year, I'm looking forward to a very quiet Christmas.
Billie meets Santa 2015
Shado and Bobbi 2010
Thank you, for spending time with me here every month. I enjoy sharing my food and gardening knowledge ... and experiments! Feedback, questions and comments are very much appreciated. I'm already pouring through seed catalogues ... thinking about my garden for 2018!

Till next year... Bon Appétit!
Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a Healthy, Happy New Year!
Billie and Portia

Poodle Photos by Sally Rae

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Lemongrass Questions Answered

Lemongrass ~ 2 fresh stalks - cut and dried -  powdered
'Lemongrass' is a tropical plant from the grass family. It is easy to use because it imparts its flavor very quickly, especially when added raw to a marinade or simmered in a clear broth. It's available fresh, dry and powdered, most recipes call for fresh lemongrass. It will grow well in temperate regions if given the right conditions.  

The stalks can be found fresh at most supermarkets; (Thrifty Foods, Superstore etc) and Asian Markets. When choosing lemongrass, look for stalks that are firm, full and pale green... the pale color indicates freshness. The bottom of the stalk may be woody, but it should not be shriveled or moldy. Bend the stalk and smell it. Choose a moist, fragrant one. 

To grow, sow lemongrass seeds indoors in late winter using bottom heat or a seedling heat mat. Maintain moist conditions and a temperature around 21°C (70°F), and the seeds will germinate in 5 to 21 days. Be sure to use sterilized seed starting mix, and a clear dome over your seedling tray to maintain moisture. Transplant outdoors or into containers in full sun once the weather has warmed up in early summer. At the end of summer move container plants into a frost free environment with good air circulation. Reduce watering to almost none, making the soil barely moist once a week. It may take a while for your home-grown plant to get as big as the stalks you find in the supermarket. 

To prepare fresh lemongrass for your recipes; wash it thoroughly, remove any loose, tough outer leaves and trim the ends. You'll need a sharp knife, as the stalks are very fibrous. Clean, garden pruning shears are a great tool for this! Use the heart of the stalk... the bottom four to eight inches up to the point where the leaves branch out. Because of its tough texture, lemongrass is usually added to recipes whole, then removed and discarded before serving, much like a Bay leaf. The center portion can be eaten if it's finely chopped. Either use whole pieces, crushed slightly under the back of your cleaver, or slice sections very thinly in cross section. It's important to crush it before you chop or slice it, this gets the oil out.

Store fresh stalks in the fridge wrapped in a paper bag, lemongrass grass stems can last 2 to 3 weeks in the refrigerator. The stems can also be frozen for several months. To dry the stalks or leaves, cut them into pieces while the plant is still fresh, as they can become crumbly and difficult to cut when dry. Separate the leaves from the stalks, and lay them on paper towels or on a screen in a dry area out of direct sun. When completely dry, store in a jar in a cool, dark place.

What to do if you can't find fresh lemongrass? Substitute 1 tablespoon of cut and dried lemongrass for each fresh stalk. It is advisable to soak dried sliced lemon grass for two hours before using. If dried isn't available, try several strips of lemon peel per stalk... the effect won't be quite the same, since lemongrass has a more subtle, delicate flavor than lemons or limes. The zest from one lemon is equal to two stalks of lemongrass. You can also use lemon zest along with something else that can replicate lemongrass's herbal notes. For example, you can use arugula to provide this aspect of the lemongrass flavor. Coriander stalks have more flavor and should be used instead of the leaves. This substitute is best used in soups and broths. Other substitutes: lemon verbena or lemon balm or lemon leaves. When using the ground powder use one teaspoon as an equal to one stalk of fresh.

For an introduction recipe using lemongrass, check out my 'Thai Sweet Potato Soup' ...kefir lime leaves can also be purchased fresh at Edible Island and Thrifty Foods. The excess leaves can then be dried and stored like Bay Leaves.

Till next time... Bon Appétit! 

Photos by Sally Rae 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Starship Enterprise Cake

When the party theme is Star Trek, it doesn't matter the age... Trekkies both 
young and old will be impressed with this beauty!
Starship Enterprise Cake
When attempting a 'replica cake', assemble models, photos, blueprints or illustrations showing the detail required for the cake and sketch out your project. 
Cake batter ready for the oven

Use a heavy cake batter recipe, pound cake works well.
This ensures it will be easy to carve into the shapes needed and remain sturdy for construction without crumbling. Consider the shapes needed for the finished cake and bake different shapes or sizes to have less cut edges to deal with when frosting. Any elevated pieces can be shaped using Rice Krispy treats for less weight.
Elevated supports and engines made of Rice Krispy treats

For this project, a piece of cardboard, cut to replicate the Starfleet assignment patch worn on the left breast of the uniforms, was covered in silver tissue paper. The cake requires dowlings and skewers for stability and support. A larger styrofoam piece was covered in black tissue paper and placed below the cake board. Edible star-shaped sequins (from the Bulk Barn) added, then both boards covered in plastic wrap.  
Cake board, styrofoam and dowlings

The cakes are cut and shaped, Rice Krispy treat sections shaped, then the cakes covered with a thin layer of frosting called a 'crumb coat'. The crumb coat seals in stray crumbs before the second layer of frosting is applied. It also shores up the cakes' basic shape giving clean edges and straight sides. The crumb coated cake must be chilled until the frosting is set before applying the second frosting.
Allow frosting to 'firm up' at room temperature

A 6" cake separator was used to elevate the main body of the cake and three dowlings are pushed through the cake, cake board and into the styrofoam then cut level with the cake top with clean garden pruners. The Rice Krispy treat supports and engines have numerous wooden skewers inserted to stabilize the height and weight. 

The second coat of frosting is smoothed onto all surfaces and allowed to sit at room temperature until dry enough to touch. When the frosting does not stick to your finger when gently touched, smooth any imperfections with your hand over a piece of plastic wrap. Pipe the detail onto the cake using the assembled drawings, models or illustrations you gathered in the beginning. Sparklers give a great effect... insert through the back of the 2 engines.
An edible Starship Enterprise!

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial post as much as I enjoyed creating this cake!
Till next time...  Bon Appétit!

Photos by Sally Rae
Starship Enterprise Cake by Sally Rae