Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter for Two

Easter for two almost never happens. It is usually Easter for 20++. My Easter Brunches were well attended. They started in San Diego as a "Block Party" in Mission Beach. Sandi & Frank, our next door neighbors, contributed Huevos Rancheros, I always made a large loaf of bread, at that time it was a yeasted oatmeal based beauty. Avocado-citrus platters, beans, and I honestly can't remember all of the other foods our neighbors brought. Most were recipes and ideas from Sunset Magazine. Someday I will go through the pictures from that era (early 1970's)and post them. We set up a long table in the parking spaces in front of Barbara and Jerry's place on San Rafael Place. It was a short block from Mission Blvd. to the Boardwalk so we didn't block traffic. Sandi had a low brick wall that we all sat on, Steve & I had a small deck for drinks, copious amounts of margaritas, mimosas, Ramos Fizzes and of course beer. Those were sunny days and our young bods were just starting to getting tanned. It was usually too windy on the Pacific side so we would head over to the Mission Bay side after brunch to lay out in the sun and drink some more beer. Frank had a small sailfish that we would often fill the hatch with beer and take out across the bay to join another party. Fun,Fun!

That was the beginning of the Easter Brunch tradition for us. When my friend Rosa moved to San Francisco and I would visit, she took me to the famous "Mama's" Cafe on Washington Square. Everyone waited in line to eat there. The chef was a woman. I don't know if she was part of the Sanchez family that owned it or not. She was fabulous. One of our favorite things was the fruit salad that she made. When I returned to San Diego, I wrote her to ask how it was made. Frances "Mama" Sanchez replied on a "Mama's" note card which I still have in my files. It became a staple for Easter. Usually I made my "Fluffy" French toast and spooned the fruit over it. This was accompanied by bacon and champagne ( you could still call sparkling wine champagne back then). We didn't assemble huge "brunch" buffets back then like the kind that were offered in hotel restaurants. I mean who eats green salad or pasta before noon? Eating breakfast foods was a treat as we never ate breakfast! Needless to say we had to change our eating habits as we aged and breakfast starts our day now.

I carried this tradition on when we moved to Chicago. As the number of friends increased so did my offerings. I began to make a beautiful Easter bread that I found in Sunset Mag. in the 70's. It is a Greek style bread, shaped like a wreath with eggs nestled into it. Dried figs, candied orange peel and anise seed were kneaded into it. I used different colored eggs and the whole thing was glazed with a honey-orange juice glaze. This is the first year that I didn't make it. Steve can't eat bread yet and I didn't feed a crowd.

Mill Valley was the epitome of the Easter Brunch from 1980-2000. I had a small catering business that I called "Cooks for Hire" in the 80's and began working for Tante Marie's Cooking school developing a catering department. Later I worked as a Chef for Edible Art Caterers which merged with Taste Catering. This line of work meant that I had access to wonderful foods and unusual ingredients. I used my gatherings to try out new recipes as well as present dishes from the menus developed for clients of Taste Catering.

When my sister in law, Linda and her husband Kevin had their first child, my niece Jedel, the bar was raised. She would come over after church dressed up like we used to when we were little, Easter dress, hat, new shoes and a big smile. I hid eggs around the house and always had an Easter basket for her and later her little brother, K.J. We had a big deck overlooking my garden. I borrowed tables and chairs from Taste and used my own linens and serving pieces from Cooks for Hire days. My table was laden with food. The Easter bread took center stage with Black Forest ham, Bruce Aidell's sausages, Mama's Fruit salad, usually a Frittata, sometimes smoked salmon with capers, whipped cream cheese, sliced tomatoes and onions. I made James Beard's cream bisquits and had sliced rye bread and mini bagels as well as my homemade mustard, but no green salad!
Domaine Chandon was our bubbly of choice in those days.

At our present home in Cayucos, we are able to set up small tables on the deck and,weather permitting,eat outside.
Last year we had what I have begun to call the "Cayucos 18". When anyone entertains there are 18 core people that are invited. You have to just know it will be larger than that number as people have guests or "Easter Orphans" so buffets are the norm. The menu was robust! I made Basil Cheese Strata from Margaret Fox's "Morning Food" book. Since Easter was only a week after St. Patrick's Day I had corned beef leftover and tried James Beard's "Corned Beef Hash Ring". You make it in a bundt pan and it is easy and delicious. The Greek Easter bread was present, my friend Laurie brought her "Harry's Eggs", a sausage, mushroom, cheesey(and very yummy)dish. A platter of brown sugar-glazed bacon disappeared quickly. A new friend, Barb made a fantastic Coconut Cake which I paired with fruit and honeyed yogurt. We made mimosas with Tangerine juice. The day was perfect! Another friend,Sharon was showing a few ladies how to knit. She owns a great needlework shop in Cambria, "Flying Fuzzies".

This year just Steve and I enjoyed the brunch. It is a cloudy chilly day with a threat of rain. My niece longs for the day she can come up here and join us on Easter. She is now a freshman and UCLA and doesn't have transportation. Maybe next year! I still decorated our house with colored eggs, made a pseudo Easter basket in a metal basket, and freed the Easter Beanie Babies from their box. The Beanie Baby thing is another blog altogether so don't ask. Steve loves jelly beans so I scattered those around and he could actually eat them. I skipped the Chocolate Bunny as it usually ends up chopped up in cookies anyway.

I made a new favorite brunch dish this year, Baked eggs in ham cups. Chef Gale Gand demonstrated it on some TV show and I printed out the recipe. We used to make these cute little frilly ham cups when I worked at Taste but the addition of eggs was a stroke of genius. I always have a fruit salad, but not always "Mama's" as I use what I have on hand and there are alot more choices today with mangoes, kiwis, blueberries etc.available.
We popped a bottle of Bubbly and cheered to Steve's clean bill of health from his last check up.

"Mama's" Fruit Salad"
The night before, cut up bite sized pieces of fresh pineapple and navel oranges. Refrigerate them in separae containers so the next day they are ice cold and firm. In the morning, cut up fresh firm banana,apples, melon and strawberies. Add pineapple and oranges and cover all with apple cider ( sometimes I use Martinelli's sparkling cider). The natural juices all blend together for the wonderful fruit ambrosia.

" Baked Eggs in Ham Cups"
Butter 2- 1 cup ramekins. Overlap 2 thin slices ham letting it overhang so it forms a cup. Place 1 tsp. pesto in the bottom of the ham cup and crack 2 eggs over that. Tuck 2 cubes of cheese ( I used little balls of goat cheese or mozzarella) and a quartered cherry tomato into each cup. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper. Just because I have it, I also sprinkle sundried tomato granuales on top, satisfying my need to gild the lily. Place the ramekins on a sheet pan and bake at 375 for 15 -20 min. Watch carefully and pull them when the egg whites are barely set. They continue to cook. Garnish with a dab of pesto plus grated parmesan cheese if you want.
Biting into this is gooey, flavorful goodness. The egg yolks should be runny. The ham, cheese,pesto and tomatoes almost make you think it is a liquid pizza. Enjoy!

A plate of toasted English muffins is all you need!

Bubbly of choice today was from Witch Creek, a small winery in Carlsbad, CA, called "Cool Cat". It is made in Baja of all places and quite good.

I am trying to figure out how to post pictures as I always snap a few of our brunches and other stuff. Soon.