Archive for the ‘Holiday Brunch’ Category

The holidays may be over, but, as singer/songwriter Robert Earl Keen observed some years ago, the party never ends. And you always need appetizers. Guests drop in, and it’s nice to have something special to serve with a glass of wine. I’m partial to palmiers, especially because I can make them when I have a free half-hour and stick them in the freezer. They’ll keep for a month, well wrapped.

I almost always have a package of puff pastry dough in my freezer (it’s a thin box and only sucks up a very small portion of that precious freezer real estate)

Choose Your Own Filling Palmiers
Roll out one square of the two in the package. If you wet your work surface with a damp sponge and cover with plastic wrap, this job is achieved with very little mess.

Rolling toward the center

I always layer my dough between two pieces of plastic wrap and roll it out so it becomes about two inches longer than it was when I started. Try to roll so the dough becomes more rectangular in shape.

Take off the top piece of plastic wrap and brush the entire flat piece of pastry with olive oil. Now here’s the fun part. Sprinkle with finely grated parmesan cheese and – you choose! I’ve used caramelized onions, olive tapenade, crumbled bacon, my honey’s smoked tomatoes minced fine, minced garlic – the variations are as big as your imagination. The only caveat: use only a couple ingredients.

Now, starting at the left edge, start to roll your pastry toward the center. Use your plastic wrap to help in this process. Once you have reached just to the center, do the same on the right side of your pastry. Your pastry should look like two small rolls lying next to each other, and they will be about an inch tall. Wrap it with the same plastic wrap that you just used for your counter covering. Put in the refrigerator for an hour and then stash in the freezer somewhere where it will be able to keep its shape. If it’s cold from the refrigerator, it won’t form ice crystals after it hits your freezer.

When you’re ready, pull the dough out and let thaw for only 10 minutes (make sure to keep it firm) and then slice to about 1/3 inch thick pieces. Lay the slices flat on an ungreased baking sheet about a half-inch apart. If you have time, you can let them rise for about half an hour at room temp. Pop them in a 400 degree oven till golden brown and serve hot. They’re crisp, delicious and easy!



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With the last and first holidays of 2010 and 2011 fast approaching, Mary Wallgren has these words of wisdom to offer about weekend entertaining.

While the day after a party is usually a time to kick back and relax, wash the linens, and put away all the glasses and serving dishes, the holidays often bring out-of-town guests and the “opportunity” to entertain the morning after.

This year, our son and his friend drove up from soggy Southern California to enjoy a white Christmas and a few days away from the rain. While traditional breakfasts of bacon and eggs, omelets, hash browns, and/or pancakes are always welcome, I like to serve something special at least one morning during my company’s stay. My favorite recipe is Dutch Baby with Apple & Cranberry Compote.

Dutch baby, a baked pancake, is a simple but special holiday weekend breakfast dish.

Since this recipe takes a little more time to prepare than the traditional fare, it is ideal to serve for a late breakfast or brunch and looks pretty as well. I got this recipe a couple of years ago out of a Williams-Sonoma catalogue and have made a few changes. It does require a large (about 11-inch) oven-proof skillet. I use the old cast-iron skillet I got from my mother years ago, which is perfectly seasoned. There are some lovely new oven-proof skillets on the market today, but, as far as I know, they look prettier but don’t work any better. If you don’t have an oven-proof skillet, might I suggest the thrift stores or garage sales as a place to look?

Two other tips – the recipe calls for ¾ cup of cranberries. I like to buy them now while they are in season and often on sale and freeze ¾ cup portions in zippered freezer bags. The dry ingredients can also be measured out in advance to minimize work in the morning. It is easy to measure those ingredients a day or two in advance while I’m baking desert for the party since the ingredients are often similar.

Dutch baby is so popular that I never have any left over when serving four people. Fried ham is a delicious accompaniment. Enjoy the rave reviews!

Dutch Baby with Apple & Cranberry Compote

2 Pink Lady or other tart pie apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/4-inch slices (about 2 to 2-1/2 cups)
3/4 cup fresh or thawed frozen cranberries
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
2 Tbs. unsalted butter
1/2 cup water


3 eggs
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 Tbs. granulated sugar
Zest of 1/2 an orange
3/4 cup milk

3 Tbs. Unsalted butter

Confectioners’ sugar for dusting
Maple syrup for serving


In a bowl, stir together the apples, cranberries, the 1/4 cup granulated sugar, the cinnamon and nutmeg. In a skillet (NOT your oven-proof one) over medium heat, melt 2 Tbs. of the butter. Add the apple mixture and sauté until the apples are tender and the cranberries have broken down, about 12 minutes, adding the water halfway through cooking. Remove from the heat.

Put an 11-inch French skillet or other ovenproof sauté pan, such as a cast iron frying pan, in a COLD oven. Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Meanwhile, put the eggs in a blender and blend on medium speed until very frothy, about 1 minute. (If your blender is as noisy as mine, this will probably wake your guests, if they are still sleeping.) Add the flour, salt, zest, the 1 Tbs. granulated sugar and the milk and blend on medium speed for 2 minutes, stopping the blender early on to scrape down the sides. Note – this needs to be done at least once.

When the oven reaches 400 degrees, put the remaining 3 Tbs. butter in the hot skillet and return it to the oven until the butter melts; do not let it brown. Carefully pour the batter into the hot skillet, then distribute the apple-cranberry mixture evenly on top, including any remaining liquid. Bake until the Dutch baby is lightly browned and the sides have risen, about 25 minutes.

Remove the skillet from the oven, dust the Dutch baby with confectioners’ sugar and serve immediately with maple syrup.

Serves 4 to 6.

Mary Wallgren

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December…yeah, okay. We like to throw theme parties, and December is nothing if not a month of opportunities for theme events. Here are the parties, large and small, that we are contemplating for this December:

Hannukah–it begins Wednesday evening, on December 1. That means it’s really early this year, and I’m pretty sure that also means Laurel Blechman will, once again, not have a chance to decorate for the holiday (too bad–we’d love to show you how she does it). But we will be posting directions for making the world’s easiest potato latkes, based on the method used by Sarah Gilden, daughter of Latvian immigrants–but also a real 1950s American cook. That means she loved certain convenience foods.

Roswell is as ready for the holidays as she ever gets.

Tree-Trimming Tea (try saying that fast three times! I can barely type it)–Hazel specializes in teas, so this will be fun. Don’t miss her gingerbread pumpkin trifle recipe. It’s easy; it’s delicious; it’s spectacular.

Solstice Gala–every year I promise myself I will keep this, my big annual party, simple. Every year I run amok. But this year, really, honestly, I’m going to keep it simple. Yes. Simple. (Stop snickering!) I’m contemplating setting up a taco bar, featuring my sister Hellen’s fabulous salmon taco recipe. And, naturally, a dessert bar.

Lazy New Year’s Day Soup & Salad supper? Or perhaps a Rose Parade brunch? Or?? We’ve got almost a month to think about how to ring in 2011.

We also going to take a few days to talk about party-planning essentials–how to find inexpensive, or at least reasonably priced, floral supplies and other party supplies. When you’ve got a whole month of entertaining ahead of you, every penny counts.

We’ll keep you posted.


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Thanksgiving came on so suddenly this year! It doesn’t usually sneak up on me because we almost always have Thanksgiving dinner at my house. This year, my aunt Mary and I switched, so I didn’t put in the usual two weeks of cleaning, shopping and cooking. Not to say I didn’t cook, of course I did, just not as much pre-cooking as usual. Since I didn’t slave away for two weeks, I had my four-day weekend planned before our brunch was finished. I hung my outdoor Christmas lights. My 14-year-old niece Madison got roped into helping me (thanks, Maddie!) and now I’m inspired to start on Christmas.

At some point I made up this rule that my Christmas tree needed to be decorated on the weekend closest to my December 7 birthday. But it will be rough this year, because over Thanksgiving dinner, we somehow decided December 5 would be the perfect weekend to have a Tree Decorating Tea — at my aunt Mary’s. We’d get a great holiday tea and Mary would get her tree decorated — win-win, well, except my tree will remain undecorated til… hmmm, my sister Hellen has a phrase for this.

Mary is perhaps the one person I know who loves tea more than I do. We had a casual tea just last Saturday to plan our Thanksgiving dinner and here we are planning another in just a week. But teas are a lot more fun to plan than a huge dinner. Maybe it’s the tiny sandwiches or the great desserts…not sure why, they’re just fun! And Christmas-y teas are even more fun because the food is always so festive.

My aunt Mary and her husband, Phil, live in a historic mansion in Southern California at the foot of the mountains. It lends itself to both tea and holiday decorations, and Laurie and I are always inspired to do special teas for this wonderful couple and the house we dubbed Toad Hall in deference to its resemblance to the stately home in The Wind in the Willows.

What do we have planned? Stick with us: You’ll see. From food to flowers, we’ll show you how to decorate a tea, er tree.
Posted by Hazel

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First things first: Have something ready to hand your guests as they walk into the room. A cup of coffee, a festive mimosa…maybe a bite of something in case someone has been out for a 15-mile run before coming over. (Yes, I do have friends who do that.
Especially if they’re preparing for a marathon—or they have an idea that today’s menu will be caloric. And I’m here to tell you, this is not diet food!) We picked up some mini quiches at Costco to heat and serve. While we were there, we also bought a dozen croissants for the filled French toast. And, oh yeah, a tub of soft cream cheese. It’s true, Costco is the land of giants, but, boy, is it a great resource when you’re planning to feed a crowd.

The nice thing about this menu is that most of it can be prepared before your guests arrive, even the bacon (which we bake).

Mimosas, coffee or orange juice
Mini quiche appetizers

Essential Ingredients

Filled French Toast

Start by assembling the French toast:

8 croissants
2 cups softened cream cheese
1 1/2 cups cherry preserves

8 eggs
2 ½ cups milk
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
4 tablespoons sugar

Split the croissants. Spread each one with about a quarter cup of soft cream cheese; top with about three tablespoons of cherry preserves. (But if you prefer strawberry or raspberry preserves, go for it.) Press the halves together again. Place the croissants close together, so they are touching, in an 11×15-inch baking dish. (If you don’t have a baking dish that big, use two 8×8 square ones. Just be sure the croissants are packed together closely.)

Lightly beat the eggs, then stir in the sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and milk. Pour over the croissants. At this point you can put the pan in the fridge for an hour, until the last of your guests escape the freeway and arrive, hungry and cranky. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Give everybody a mimosa or coffee and then put the croissants in the oven to bake for about 30 minutes, until the egg stuff is cooked through. Pass syrup and powdered sugar for those who like their French toast nice and sweet.

We made a cinnamon-flavored syrup to pick up on the cinnamon in the French toast:
1 cup water
2 cups sugar
two cinnamon sticks

Bring the water and sugar to a boil, stir until the sugar dissolves. Add the cinnamon sticks and simmer for about five minutes. You can make this earlier and set it aside to steep. Rewarm and remove the cinnamon sticks when you’re ready to serve.

You don’t want to make syrup? Pick up something that looks yummy, maybe a berry-flavored syrup.

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I adore flowers! I enjoy giving them and getting them. I love gardens, although I must admit, Laurie is the gardener, as you might notice if you’ve ever seen her garden blog. Not to say I don’t have my own garden with lots of roses. I do, but all that work! Wowzers! I’d rather someone else did it and let me just cut and arrange the flowers. But then they wouldn’t be dressing up my front patio and white picket fence. Plus, my rose taste leans toward coral and peach and pink, which severely limits my centerpieces, especially this weekend!

And that, my friends, brings me to our centerpiece. I try not to limit myself to just flowers. Fresh fruits and vegetables are always a great addition to any centerpiece. So that’s what I am doing for this weekend’s brunch. At the farmers market I picked up a mixed bunch of fall flowers and added a bunch of quirky orchid-like flowers in a fun variety of orange and rust. You can always find a great bunch of fall color at Trader Joe’s or at Costco.

I was recently gifted with a set of antique vases that are low and, when used together, link to make an oval. The only problem in the case of this arrangement is that the vases covered in a pastel rose pattern that clashes dreadfully with my fall colors. So I filled them with my pre-soaked Oasis, inserted all the flowers, cut to between 2 and 6 inches, until each vase was full, and then arranged fruit and fall gourds in front of and in between them. The result was fun and low, so our guests wouldn’t have to fight with the flowers to speak to each other.

If you don’t have something like this marvelous low vase, I suggest a few shallow bowls – there are always great choices at the 99 Cent Store. You can pick up three or four clear or, for this event, amber glass; load ’em up with soaked Oasis (available at Michael’s) and add your flowers. If you don’t want to spend a bunch on flowers, go outside and look around. There are fabulous autumn leaves everywhere. Fill your empty spots with short branches of colorful leaves, cut a little shorter than your flowers. I usually start with a few sprigs of leaves, add flowers and then fill in where needed. For less than $20 you will have an arrangement that will wow your friends and have you soaking up their praises.

Stick with me, today the flowers, tomorrow the table!

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