Sunday Brunch - Part Homemade/Part Not

A bounty of yum.

A bounty of yum.

Hosting a brunch can be easy, or a lot of work.  It can be made up of all the usual suspects, or a mash up of the expected and the unexpected.  I am never one to shy away from hard work, but I am also a huge fan of working smarter not harder.  So the idea of creating a sumptuous brunch spread that would serve up that mix with as much ease as possible was what I was aiming for.

One of the keys to achieving success; a good mash up of homemade items with banging good store bought items.  This greatly cuts down on the amount work.  Another huge help is asking guests to bring an item or two.  I'm sure your guests, as do ours, always ask, "what can I bring?" This is the perfect time to say "Bagels, or lox".  Or both!

Such was the case when we hosted a Sunday family brunch.  Our guests provided the bagels, lox and cream cheese. While we prepared the remaining dishes. 

For me, the perfect brunch is a like a moveable feast.  As with any party that isn't a sit down meal, there should be a decent variety of items ranging in temperatures and protein choices. A to and fro of movement.  Nibbling here, picking there. Foods that can last for several hours of conversation without too much fuss.

Here is what we offered up, and what was consumed with zeal.

When you buy quality products, the best plan is to let them shine with maybe just a few embellishments. That was the case with all of the "some assembly required" items. The Spanish sardines were enhanced with cucumbers and tomatoes. 

Spanish sardines with cucumber and fresh grape tomatoes.

Spanish sardines with cucumber and fresh grape tomatoes.

Cucumber slices bring a crisp, freshness to the intense sardine.

Cucumber slices bring a crisp, freshness to the intense sardine.

Plate them simply and use the rich oil they are packed in. 

Plate them simply and use the rich oil they are packed in. 

You've seen me use boquerones before. This brunch crowd loves them so, of course, I would serve them.  These fresh anchovies dressed with chopped garlic and parsley and good olive oil always get gobbled up.

I selected fish shaped dishes for these two under the sea selections.  I love the shape and cobalt color. I've had these dishes for 30 years.  Yes, you read that number correctly.

I selected fish shaped dishes for these two under the sea selections.  I love the shape and cobalt color. I've had these dishes for 30 years.  Yes, you read that number correctly.

Cheese/Charcuterie platters are another easy to assemble ahead offering that everyone loves.  And a perfect brunch item.  So go ahead and create one chock full of your favorite combinations.

It's always good to have a full board of charcuterie and cheese mixed with fruits, olives and nuts.

It's always good to have a full board of charcuterie and cheese mixed with fruits, olives and nuts.

The lentils were partially homemade, in that I used delicious precooked lentils that I get from Despaña but enhanced them by sautéing onions, carrots and celery then adding the lentils to warm through.  That simple.

This group of guests hadn't had my Eggplant Gemolata dish yet, so why not make it again. I did alter the feta topping, keeping it simple and not using the sun-dried tomatoes, olives and lemon zest but adding oven roasted tomatoes to finish the dish.  It was a huge hit with no left overs. This is one of those dishes that you can prep, then cook right before serving.  The flavors are powerful and beautifully melded. It has never let me down, no matter the event or the guest.

Eggplant with feta gremolata. 

Eggplant with feta gremolata. 

A little something for the meat lovers. Pork belly, lovingly prepared by JuanCarlos, cut in bite sized chunks and simply served on a wooden board.

Pork belly does take some time, as it is twiced cooked.  Slow oven roasted to render the fat, then seared crispy in a skillet.

Pork belly does take some time, as it is twiced cooked.  Slow oven roasted to render the fat, then seared crispy in a skillet.

The usual brunch suspects, bagels, lox, cream cheese are always welcome and always the perfect Sunday comfort food.

Bagels, lox, cream cheese, capers.  Also served was Sushi grade Salmon Sashimi.

Bagels, lox, cream cheese, capers.  Also served was Sushi grade Salmon Sashimi.

Eggplant, lentils and a bowl of the extra oven roasted tomatoes.

Eggplant, lentils and a bowl of the extra oven roasted tomatoes.

Make your life easy with the table setting.  Throw a graphic cloth down the middle as a landing strip for all the dishes. Then a simple stack of all the right plates, bowls and utensils in an easy to grab fashion keeps the laid back feeling going.

Finish with a little something sweet, Apple Tart.  And that's how part homemade/part not is done.

Create the vibe you want by selecting food that fits that mood.  A spread that spreads love.  One that invites conversation and fills their bellies and their souls.  What a great way to mark a Sunday, or any brunch day.

 
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Cauliflower: Spiced & Roasted

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I'm not sure which came first the cauliflower ideas or the idea to use cauliflower to mark the anniversary of this blog.  If have you been reading this blog from its inception you will recall that I launched the blog with my Faux Creamy Cauliflower Soup recipe, and then ended that year with a Creamy, Cheesy Cauliflower Dip.  Clearly, I like cauliflower and make it during the winter months. I love having that creamy soup on a cool fall or cold winter's day. As you know, I am also a fan of roasting. So the remainder of the time, I roast cauliflower. Just some plain Jane roasted cauliflower. (Poor Jane, we have no idea whether she was plain or not but she sure does get the short end of that stick.)

So instead of plain Jane roasted cauliflower, this time would prove different.  I have spices and I like to use them.  I especially like using turmeric because of its anti-inflammatory benefits.  With my cauliflower's need to not be plain and my need for variety, I opened the spice cabinet. 

I literally just pinched a little of this and a little of that right onto the sheet pan with oil and mixed it all around.  Then smushed (yes, the very technical term for imparting all that flavor onto the vegetable) the cauliflower around making sure the entire surface was covered with the tiny particulars of flavor.  While it was roasting, I decided to make a 'salsa' for a finishing topping. 

ingredients

1 head of cauliflower, sliced in slabs
3 T olive oil

pinches of:
cayenne
paprika
turmeric
salt
black pepper
red pepper flakes

Topping (optional)
1/4 c basil leaves
1/4 c mint leaves
1 medium garlic clove
1/8 t coarse sea salt
1/4 c olive oil

Instructions

As I mentioned, this was as easy as pour the oil on the roasting sheet and then add the spices and mix until you get a pasty mixture. 

Spiced oil mixture.  Basil, mint standing by to become a 'salsa'.

Spiced oil mixture.  Basil, mint standing by to become a 'salsa'.

Cut the cauliflower in slabs so you get a tree like slab. 

Cauliflower 'trees'

Cauliflower 'trees'

Place them on the pan and make sure they are fully coated with the spice mixture. Roast at 425 degrees, turning once to make sure both sides get a good suntan, back and front.  No one wants a tan on the front and a milky white backside. While the cauliflower is roasting, use a mortar and pestle to crush the basil, mint, garlic and salt together to form a paste. Then add the oil to create a salsa like mixture. (You can also use a mini blender.)

Swimming around in spices, these cauliflower slabs are ready for roasting.

Swimming around in spices, these cauliflower slabs are ready for roasting.

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I think this side dish would be a nice addition to a Meze platter. A perfect side dish to fish or steak.  Of course, any Indian inspired food would be a natural plate partner.  I served myself a slab alongside some sautéd kale, and garlic mashed potatoes.  I dabbed a bit of the mint/basil oil on top. It gave it more of a kick.  Jill and JC liked the cauliflower all by itself.  I venture to say that if you added yogurt to the basil/mint that the cream and fat content would be a lovely complement to that mixture.  As far as the roasting, this method can lead to a variety of other spice mixes.  Try it with oregano or Chinese Five Spice.  Whatever tickles your spice fancy.

Last Minute Stir Fry - Everything You Have

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Oh the panic!  What to make?  I know that doesn't sound like the me who is the cheerleader for 'don't worry, 'just throw something together.' Yet that was the overwhelming feeling I had last week when I got entrenched in work, looked up at the clock, realized it was 7pm and I hadn't started dinner.  Not only was nothing prepped or cooking at that hour but I really had no clue what I was going to make. And, tick tock, my sister was due to arrive. 
It's time like these when one really needs to rely on the Houdini skill set of making something appear out of nowhere.  Sure, I had produce in the fridge.  Some of which were destined for future recipe ideas for the blog, but, oh boy, did these seem like random items.  Fear not, as nothing is ever random or can't party together.  You just need to ruminate on what unites them.  (I venture to say that that is true in all aspects of life.)

Upon grabbing every produce item I could find, I sectioned off what I thought would work.  As I stared at them, pondering their destiny, I wondered what common thread would weave this tale... 

Rice Sticks.  The perfect item to string them together.  Let the chopping, stirring and combining begin.

From the top left: Enoki mushrooms, spinach, Cremini mushrooms, scallions, Shitake mushrooms, garlic, snow peas, parsley, onion, red cabbage (which at the last minute I opted not to include), and savory cabbage which seemed to be camera shy and slipped out of the shot.

From the top left: Enoki mushrooms, spinach, Cremini mushrooms, scallions, Shitake mushrooms, garlic, snow peas, parsley, onion, red cabbage (which at the last minute I opted not to include), and savory cabbage which seemed to be camera shy and slipped out of the shot.

Ingredients

Vegetable Stir Fry (These were the amounts that I grabbed.  It was enough for 2 servings.  Increase for your needs.  Also, you can add more of any items that suits your fancy but these proportions created a good blend of flavors.)

3-4 T olive oil
1 T sesame oil
1/2 onion, diced
1 garlic clove
6-7 Shitake mushrooms, sliced
8-10 Cremini mushrooms, rough chop
1 - 7oz package of Enoki mushrooms
1.5 c snow peas, cut on diagonal
2 c Savory cabbage, chopped
3 c baby spinach, rough chop
2 scallions, sliced
1/4 c parsley, rough chop
salt and pepper to taste
fresh grated ginger (optional)

Rice Noodle Stir Fry
1/2 pkg Rice Stick Noodles (you can also use a wider rice noodle, or rags)
1/2 onion, sliced
1 garlic clove
1/3 heaping c chives, fine chop
2 T olive oil
1 T sesame oil

Whenever I have a lot of ingredients that don't need to be cooked all at the same time instead of the usual mise en place ( prepping everything first), I opt to chop what needs to be cooked first. Then while those are cooking, I continue to prep the remaining ingredients.  Ah, multitasking. It's a glorious thing.  To help make this recipe easier, I listed the ingredients above in the order they should be prepped and cooked. 

Instructions

Let the rice stick noodles soak in warm water until softened.  Do not cook these, just soak them first.

Rice Noodle sticks.  You can use whatever style you prefer.  A wider noodle would also work well.

Rice Noodle sticks.  You can use whatever style you prefer.  A wider noodle would also work well.

In a large skillet, sauté the onions and garlic in olive and sesame oils until translucent. Add the Shitake and Cremini mushrooms, allowing them to get a nice sear before adding the Enoki mushrooms.  Season with salt and pepper. If you are adding the freshly grated ginger, add that at this time. 

An earthy mix that starts the flavor base.

An earthy mix that starts the flavor base.

While the mushrooms are cooking, in a separate sauté pan, add oils, onions, garlic and chives and cook until softened.  Add the rice stick noodles and stir until all the noodles are coated with the oil.  You might need to add some of the soaking liquid to avoid them clumping together.  Season with salt.

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Once the mushrooms have a good sear, then add the snow peas and allow to soften but still have crunch.  Next add the cabbage and spinach and stir until just wilted. Then add the scallions and parsley. Taste for seasoning and adjust according.

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To serve, you can combine the noodles and vegetables together. We opted for noodles on the bottom and stir fry on the top.  I didn't use grated ginger because Jill isn't a fan. (What!!?? I know, it's a crime.  Even though I didn't add it for our dinner, I am absolutely sure it would be a great addition to the dish.)

So sure, this is another easy, something from nothing, pull it out the air kind of dish, but here is the funny part.  I realize that I always say this or that recipe is easy.  And I truly mean it. So when my sister, Jill, enjoyed this meal so much she went back for seconds, a very rare occasion since she eats the amount of tiny bird, I told her it was easy, she could totally make it. Her response, "You say that about everything you make. It's easy for YOU."  But when I recounted what I did she said, "Well, I guess that IS easy."  So there you have it.  From the mouth of my muse, if she thinks it's easy, so will you.

Sunday Lunch with Friends

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When I was growing up Sundays were traditionally a family gathering day. It revolved around the main meal served around 2pm usually consisting of pasta and meats from the gravy (sauce).  Oh the glory days, when life was much simpler and we made time to gather for food and laughter.  Much to my sadness, those days of living around the corner from one another and having oodles of time are long gone.  And so are the weekly family gatherings.  I could go into a long diatribe about that subject but the point here is to try to create new Sunday traditions.  With that in mind, JuanCarlos and I usually cherish making pasta on Sundays.  We have this funny joke between us where one of us will smilingly state, "Lidia said".  We glommed this phrase after watching a cooking show with Lidia Bastianich where she stated that it's ok to eat a little pasta every day.  That was all I needed to justify my habit. We couldn't agree more and with her permission we proudly, confidently shout out: "Lidia said", and a tradition was born.  We also try to harken back to those olden days and invite people over.

The only unfortunate part is that since we live in the burbs we don't have many friends who can just stop by.  
We do, however, have a few that like to venture up from the Big Apple.  And so one wintery Sunday we were graced with a visit from two adventurous souls from Manhattan willing to share a Sunday meal with us.  They are originally from Florence, Italy.  Our friend, Tecla, now lives in NYC but her dad, Paolo, recently returned to Tuscany and was here for a visit.   When we were in Italy last April, he welcomed us into his home, so it seemed only fitting that we would return the favor in this small way. (Tecla's husband, Scott was not able to join us.)

Tecla is always smiling and laughing and is a blast to have around.  Paolo is a gentleman and a gem of a man.

Tecla is always smiling and laughing and is a blast to have around.  Paolo is a gentleman and a gem of a man.

First things first. Set a simple but inviting table. 

It was a Sunday lunch so I wanted to keep it informal yet welcoming.  Staying with an all white dish theme and adding cream hued napkins helps to tone down the formality.  In order to keep it from feeling too overdone, I opted for no tablecloth instead using a layered placemat approach.  First layer is a cream linen placemat with a dark wooden wicker mat placed in the opposite direction so it hung over the table.

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Bird's eye view of this simple but chic table setting.

Bird's eye view of this simple but chic table setting.

Adding individual salt & pepper shakers to the table avoids each guest having to pass them around. It's especially helpful since some guests might feel intimidated to ask thinking that adding salt/pepper is an insult to the chef.  

I left the middle of the table open as the landing spot for the family style platters and moved all the candles and votives to the far end of the table. It's all about the food and company.

Now with the table set, onto the food. 

What a treat to share a Sunday meal.  I know I rambled on and on about enjoying pasta on Sundays.   So I bet you are anticipating a pasta dish.  Foiled again.  We swerved from that tradition, and instead made risotto and pork loin.  The traditional part was served by a big dose of enjoying a meal with people we love, and that was plenty enough tradition for us. 

Hosting doesn't mean that you have to go nuts preparing for days. Simple food that tastes good is all you need.  And that is exactly what we did.  I had made a bean and escarole soup the day before and thought it would be nice to start with a little bowl to warm their souls on that chilly day.  Then we moved onto to snacking from a cheese/charcuterie platter followed by roasted eggplant topped with feta gremolata and roasted tomatoes.  We enjoyed those treats in our kitchen while we caught up on life, and while I began making the risotto.  

Charcuterie & Cheese Platter, chock full of Serrano ham, chorizo, Mahon Curado cheese, grapes, Marie's Gone Crackers

Charcuterie & Cheese Platter, chock full of Serrano ham, chorizo, Mahon Curado cheese, grapes, Marie's Gone Crackers

Roasted eggplant with feta gremolata and roasted tomatoes.  Honestly, having a ton of roasted tomatoes in your fridge or freezer is your best secret weapon.  The dishes you can make are endless!

Roasted eggplant with feta gremolata and roasted tomatoes.  Honestly, having a ton of roasted tomatoes in your fridge or freezer is your best secret weapon.  The dishes you can make are endless!

Our meal was a simple offering of:

Pork Loin
Creamy Risotto
Sautéd Mushrooms
Apple Crisp Salad

Served with an Italian red wine 

Cream Puffs served with warm strawberry compote

Pork Loin, simple but tasty and fresh with a squeeze of lemon.

Pork Loin, simple but tasty and fresh with a squeeze of lemon.

Creamy risotto, replacing pasta this Sunday. Still hearty and satisfying.   

Creamy risotto, replacing pasta this Sunday. Still hearty and satisfying.   

Apple crisp salad and sautéd mushrooms

Apple crisp salad and sautéd mushrooms

Fill your plate.  Fill your heart.

Fill your plate.  Fill your heart.

Dessert was a pile of cream puffs served with warm strawberry relish, and continued to keep the wine flowing.

Cream puffs

Cream puffs

I can't tell you how fortunate we are to have such wonderful friends, and the ability to share delicious food that is super easy to make, and even easier to enjoy.  

I hope you have a Sunday tradition that you cherish, or take this cue to create one to enjoy for decades to come. 

P.S. Out of pure coincidence and happiness, this post is launching on Tecla's birthday.  So happy birthday, dear friend.  Here's to many more Sunday lunches and more!

 

I love hearing from you, so please feel free to leave a comment.

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Linguine with Oven Roasted Tomatoes, Olives & Spinach

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Hello fellow pasta lovers.  I know I have been neglecting you. Believe me when I tell you that it is not from a lack of making pasta. Quite the contrary. I make and eat pasta. (Gluten free now) Maybe not as often as before when I used to eat it every day.  Yeah, you read that correctly.  EVERY DAY. Oh the glory years.  Every day requires a lot of invention. Which meant I needed to come up with a variety of combinations to swirl, toss and top my pasta.  This is the very essence of the 'something from nothing' style, and how I pretty much make every pasta dish. Which leaves you wondering why the hell I'm not posting them given that it is the literal building block of my blog. Oh the irony.  Quite frankly, these dishes, although delicious, didn't seem like such revolutionary ideas, nor ones you wouldn't have thought up yourselves.  But maybe not. So, if it's pasta you want, it's pasta you get.  Who I am to deny anyone from eating pasta? I'm not crazy.

This combo literally was a throw it together dish from last week.  I was spending time with my niece Gianna before she headed back to college, my alma mater Binghamton University. Our afternoon of shopping ended right at the dinner hour and we were hungry.  We first thought of grabbing a bite at some local restaurant, but Gianna being every thoughtful and dollar conscious, said why spend money.  After mentioning that I didn't have a ton to choose from at home, save pasta, her answer: "Well, I would never turn down pasta."  And this why she is my goddaughter.  Like minds.

Here we go with the old open the fridge and see what we have...

Container of oven roasted tomatoes

Moroccan oil cured black olives

Baby spinach

That's all we needed to make a pasta that had some real depth of flavor.

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Ingredients

1 lb. linguine (I used Tinkyada gluten free)
3.5 c oven roasted tomatoes
1/2c approx. roasting oil & juices from the tomatoes
1/3 c Moroccan oli cured olives, rough chop
4 c baby spinach, rough chop
1/2 med. yellow onion, diced (approx. 2/3 c)
3 large cloves garlic, sliced
pinch red pepper flakes, optional
Magic 3 (Olive Oil,  Salt, Pepper)

Moroccan Black Oil Cured Olives

Moroccan Black Oil Cured Olives

Instructions

Dice the onions, slice the garlic, chop the olives. While the pasta is cooking, sauté the onions and garlic until just softened. Add the olives and stir to combine. 

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Add the tomatoes plus their roasting oil and spinach and let cook until spinach is wilted and everything is warmed through.  Season to taste. (Note that the olives add a salty flavor so go light handed when adding salt.  TASTE, taste, taste.)

Once pasta is al dente, transfer it to the sauce pan and combine all together letting it cook the last minute in the sauce.  Top with grated cheese.

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The sweetness from the tomatoes, the salty, earthy flavor from the olives and the bite of spinach. There really is no need for me to tell you that this was yummy.  Trust me, it was.  So much so, I made it again when my sis, Jill came for her weekly visit.  Pasta NEVER disappoints. It really does provide a double dose of love.

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