What makes you feel rich? Ok, well, money would work for us all; I know. But for each of us there’s a little something or a big something (maybe more than one) that creates enough comfort in our heart to make us sigh and feel as though we need nothing more at all. Could be that once in a blue moon moment when all the wash is done and folded or perhaps after the fall garden cleanup is completed and the tulip bulbs are planted. A night after a long work project ends successfully. Close friends coming to stay for a few days. The day your afghan (or toychest) is finished, washed, and mailed. A night alone with your favorite movie of all time. (Mine is: “It Happened One Night.” That or “Michael.”) A lunchtime when the whole family is together. Might also be a full freezer. Walking a 5K; you’ll note that doesn’t say run. A case of canned tomatoes stored away for winter spaghetti sauce. For me, it’s also when there’s a slow cooker full of lusciousness bubbling all day long, promising an all-you-can-eat dinner and giving me a free day. (Hello, sleazy novel!) I feel even richer if I’ve time to bake a little something to go alongside that happy pot of goodness. A bread, simple or not, made especially to go with one particular meal. That’s really rich. This week’s jalapeño-studded peach cornmeal muffins are just such a bread. Even more so as they’re not your typical muffin. With their sweet-savory profile, they’re kind of on the special side despite their easy preparation and basically simple nature. If you’re on your toes, they’re made and baked and on the table in under 45 minutes, including preheating the oven — a must for big, round-domed muffins.
What is it about making brunchat home that feels extravagant and comfy all at the same time? We’re all over planning changeable, healthy dinner meals complete with menus, shopping lists, and Sunday prep, but morning fare is relegated to nearly the same dish over and over again. Folks literally eat oatmeal for breakfast every single day. Or peanut butter toast. Yogurt and granola. Whatever. But take us to a swank brunch buffet at a fancy hotel and we’re putting soft poached eggs on smoked salmon dill biscuits and snarfing down raspberries in Grand Marnier with dark chocolate waffles as if there were no tomorrow. And then there’s the bottomless mimosa, isn’t there? When we finally decide to put on an at-home morning spread–for Mother’s Day, say?– that takes more thoughtful preparation than slamming down bread in the toaster and manage some actual day-before cooking or baking, it’s amazing how pampered-rich, how homey and cosseted we feel. Kinda like, “Well, isn’t this nice?!” And it is.
For Hot Cross Buns and Easter brunch ideas, scroll down to bottom under LIFE GOES ON.
No matter what kind of fish or seafood you’re cooking, there are two basic secrets to its success. #1 Don’t overcook it. #2 You need a great sauce. I mean, think about it. Even everyday sorts of fish or seafood like fried shrimp or fish and chips come with a sauce you just have to have: cocktail sauce for the shrimp and tartar sauce for the fish. Right? This is also true of fish cooked by chefs in upscale restaurants, though the sauces may (or may not) be a tish more sophisticated. Sometimes butter and/or lemon are all that’s called for, as in Sole Meunière, which is not much more than thin and floured sole fillets cooked in–yes– butter and lemon, then sprinkled with, what else? Parsley. Simple is as simple does. And the dish has been top drawer famous forever! No matter the fish, it is often the sauce that counts.
That’s especially true in my quick Friday Fish for this week, Pan-Seared Halibut with Tomato-Sweet Pepper Salsa. Everyone knows pico de gallo and other sorts of Mexican salsas often made with cilantro and jalapeños, but a fresh tomato salsa (salsa only means “sauce”) without those two ingredients and with sweet peppers, tiny ripe tomatoes, parsley, green onions, and lemon, orange, or lime is something different. That difference is smile-worthy because instead of being overwhelmed by large-scale flavors, this mild fillet is enhanced and freshly seasoned by what is almost a baby salad garnish — which takes the dish over the top to my tastebuds.
If someone asked me, “What is a romantic meal?” I’m sure I would be expected to have an answer. After all, I’m a food blogger; I’m a cooking teacher. I’m married to the man of my dreams. I don’t think I do, though. (Today’s Pork Chop Parmesan with Lemon Mushroom Risotto might qualify!) Do I even know how to define “romantic”? To begin with, the word “romantic” is both an adjective and a noun. Leave it to the English major to think of that. If you just drop the word “romantic” into a conversation, I’m likely to think of Brahms, Chopin, Verdi, or Beethoven because I’m also a musician. While several definitions pop up when you search, here is one likely to make sense to most folks:
...conducive to or characterized by the expression of love.
"A romantic candlelit dinner."
Away from home and in an airbnb for two weeks at holiday time could be a recipe for disaster for many cooks. Dull knives, warped and nicked non-stick pans, dollar store utensils, and no pantry but for the ubiquitous old oil, salt, pepper, and weak coffee are the earmarks of many rental home kitchens. There are the rare gems stocked to the nth degree with nearly everything of which you could hope to find in your dream kitchen including All-Clad waffle irons, Breville food processors, Henckel knives, Italian coffee, and, of course, the most spacious of air fryers and instant pots. I’ll give you that, but such happy deals are few and far between and are usually in upscale houses for big groups. Having rested our poor weary heads in a large variety of these smaller houses over the years — often with friends — we come prepared. A small bag of our favorite spices makes the journey with us along with a whisk, a pastry blender, one great knife, a stovetop grill pan, a pie plate, and even a big soup pot if we’re going by car. While the store sometimes (but not always) sells nearly everything you’d want, it’s best to bring a few things along to avoid what might otherwise look like the largest grocery bill of your life. Even then, be prepared for the sticker shock that moves many vacation folks to skip cooking and head to restaurants. While we’d do a bit of that in good times, we’re currently avoiding restaurants like the plague. To coin a phrase. On the road, we do a drive-through at lunchtime in the winter, but are tossing meals into a cooler along with a nice bottle of wine for in-hotel-room dinners. No searching for take-out in the cold and dark and the dogs are happy to stretch out on the floor hoping for dropped crumbs from something way more interesting than grilled chicken sandwiches. Sorry, Wendy’s.
Christmas breakfast should be, without a doubt, nearly carefree. That being said, it must also be delectable, desirable, and delightful all the while taking care of itself while you open gifts, listen to A CHRISTMAS CAROL, or zoom with the family or friends. Egg breakfast or brunch casseroles — also known as stratas — fit the bill perfectly and are endlessly adaptable to ingredients on hand. This bacon (ham? sausage? veggie crumbles? chorizo?) version topped with brightly colored chopped peppers (mushrooms? tomatoes? jalapeños? zucchini? fennel?) provides six or eight servings but is also perfect for a smaller group who also might enjoy leftovers. That would be us. Though we are rarely at home alone for Christmas, we are this year as are many people all over the world. We’ll make our brunch dish a day ahead, of course, bake it on Christmas morning, and enjoy it over the whole weekend. We might even freeze a couple of pieces for an easy weekend brunch in January.
Serving one? Halve the recipe, which works perfect in an 8 or 9-inch square casserole dish. Relish for a couple of days, share, or freeze.
Before moving to Colorado, I don’t remember eating pepitas, but I certainly got to them as fast as I could upon arrival. The tiny, full of health “pumpkin seeds” we eat for snacks, add to salads, tacos, omelets, or granola, and what I put on my muffins (above), aren’t like the pumpkin seeds you remove with all of the gloppy mess inside the typical Halloween jack-o-lantern. I mean, you could open up those big fat seeds (which have their own happy uses–see below at MORE THAN YOU WANTED TO READ) and try to get at the little inner seed, but that’s not where pepitas come from. Read on:
I can remember, but just barely, my dad scraping the flesh of an apple with a spoon and feeding it to me when I was a capital-T Tiny little kid. Was I spoiled? Oh, I’m sure I was. I was the fourth kid and born 10 years after the third. Did I learn to love apples? You betcha. And, because God was good (and yes, “God did make little green apples”), I grew up in the same house my entire childhood with apple, plum, and pear trees right outside one door or the other. To say nothing of a midwestern summer garden I’ve never since seen the like of. Of course that all meant work, too, even for the kids. There was planting, fertilizing, weeding, hoeing, picking, cleaning, and the final coup de grâce (crushing blow), canning. Lord, the heat. Apples, plums, and pears, but especially apples, however, didn’t necessitate those long three months of labor followed by a week of boiling jars in a steaming, no-AC kitchen. You simply watched as the trees blossomed in the spring, knowing somehow in the sweet fragrance on the breeze that when fall arrived, you could just munch away to your heart’s content by doing nothing more than reaching up to the low-hanging branches or getting your taller sister to do it for you. There was one thing, though. My mom liked to make jam and jelly, so there were still a few hot Mason jars for that, more’s the pity. She’d make it out of just about anything she could find, but because she had tons of apples in her own yard, we had apple jelly out the kazoo. If I ate a PBJ come wintertime, there’d be apple jelly on it nine times out of ten. Well. That was a lot of the same jelly, so….
When my husband Dave and I became empty nesters several years ago, we began to eat brunch out on Sundays after church and rarely cooked it at home except on holidays or special occasions. Then came COVID-19. No church except online. No restaurants open until recently. (We’re still not going, though we did go to our local dive drive-in for ice cream the other day.) We immediately hopped to and began cooking brunch at home again–just like in the old days. We shared the work–Dave making eggs, etc. and me happily baking a goodie like the Blueberry Buckle below, which I hadn’t been doing in eons. We’ve taken turns on what we now call our Cheep A** Bloody Marys (more on that later) and now eat brunch BEFORE church for the most part. We’ve even gone way old school and made Dave’s mom Lorna’s comforting egg casserole a time or two as it provides excellent lunch leftovers. (Recipe in photo below.) Could we ever have imagined all this? No. You probably hadn’t either.
French home cooks always seem to have a dozen wonderful things up their sleeves to make on the spur of the moment. Great ideas to use up leftovers come awfully naturally, as well, and they all appear to know about how to feed 6 people with a cup and a half of milk, 3 eggs, a bit of ham, and a handful of grated cheese. How DO they do it? These folks are always frying croutons, whipping up homemade hot chocolate, baking an apple tart using apples from the backyard tree, simmering cream soups or vegetable pastas, stirring up something tasty with canned tuna … or even making quiche! How is it that even carbs aren’t a problem for them? This is proven routinely by the unending ubiquitous photos of yard-long baguettes being carried home by slim citizens riding bikes down tree-lined sunny Paris streets. (Well, right now they’re limited to an hour out a day and can’t go far from home. Sigh.) Over the years I’ve been writing the blog, I’ve read and seen quite a lot about this phenomenon, but staying in France for two weeks a couple of years ago gave me a much more complete and definitely personal insight. I’m finding it all definitely useful in today’s cooking world.