There comes a time between breakfast and lunch when tummies scream and/or gurgle for sustenance.
Be it the chocolate bar stashed in an office drawer for just such an occasion, a second donut to chomp with a fourth coffee, or a slice of last night’s apple pie to go with a cup of tea for elevenses, there’s a time somewhere in here when we need a little something to ease mid-morning pangs of hunger, and at the same time, to please palates.
All of these things are the fare of Monday to Friday, the workday, grab-and-go days. These are mini-meals that invented themselves out of necessity, but never really found a solid spot between the three squares.
Then came the weekend. Enough of the stolen moments of simple snacks. These are the days to bring on this thing called brunch! The days to trot out the piled-high breads, buns and bagels, the exotic jams and jellies, the frou-frou foods that celebrate those historically-clear Saturdays and Sundays. When even in the middle of the day, we can pop the champagne and party on.
Wikipedia elegantly describes brunch as a portmanteau of “breakfast” and “lunch” — it originated in England in late 1800s and became popular on this side in the 1930s. Whenever it happened, it was a good idea. A meal that presented the right food at the right time. More than breakfast, less than lunch, it is “cheerful, sociable and inciting. It sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week.”
Clean up the leftovers of a non-descript dressing-gown and pyjama-decorated semblance of a very petit déjeuner, and prepare for a mid-day feast of much more lavish sweets and savouries.
A post-church formal table groaning with a roast of four-legged protein, mashed potatoes, gravy and stilted conversation? No way, dear choristers and congregation! Forget that “post-church ordeal.” Invite the rellies and friends to a Saturday or Sunday bruncheon smorg. Get going around noon and keep it bubbling until the doggy-bags are packed, the sun goes down and everyone wanders home to a night of whatever.
OK, all of this joyful informality may not be quite universal in our 21st century bungalows, high-rises and basement suites. To begin with, weekends are not as clear of work as they once were. As well as there being a need to cut the lawn, shovel the snow or make a trip to the supermarket, technology has kept many of us text-close to offices and other Monday-Friday responsibilities. The work week, sorry to say, is too often all week. Families are fragmented and high-priced sit-down meals simply don’t happen as they once did.
My research among foodies and others seems to say that the informal, but sumptuous brunch has, or is replacing the weekend Norman Rockwell-type table d’hote that began with soup or salad, followed with a fancy app, a main and a dessert. We simply don’t have the time, the money, the inclination or the politically-correct chopping boards to keep doing it that way. Tell me it ain’t so, but many of us have moved on.
To what? To a loose and more-lovely brunch with family and/or friends, where taste rules. Special dietary issues? By all means welcome pot-luck offerings of exotic(?) soy concoctions, quinoa salads, mounds of brown rice or whatever it is that the diet-special people enjoy. And if you wish, mix and match their fare with the things you’ve made for the rest of the mob — with delicious meats, eggs and cream. And do begin brunch with the pop of a champagne cork, because that’s the way you do it. For the designated drivers, a chilled bottle or three of Badoit.
Many weekend brunch dishes can be made in spare creative times and frozen. Thawed the morning of, and reheated. I’ve also found that a big weekend brunch presents an opportunity for a “black box,” with what’s in the fridge or freezer. The savoury pie I made (below) was concocted from what was available. Forgive me if the recipe lacks precision, but I wasn’t making notes as I put it together. Adjust to make use of what you have. It’s forgiving.
coconut curry eggs with gujarati chickpea crêpes
The great and jolly Vancouver chef Karen Barnaby obliged with this mighty tasty recipe. In her intro she wrote that “after watching over thousands of plates of traditional brunch items, I wouldn’t mind at all if I never again saw another Eggs Benedict, plate of French Toast, or a stack of blueberry pancakes. But this is a dish I would be happy to see at any meal.” Said Chef Karen: “You can eat it by pouring the curry over the crêpes, or ripping the crêpes into large pieces and using them to scoop up pieces of egg and sauce. The recipe can be easily doubled and all the components can be made in advance. All of the ingredients for both dishes can be found at an East Indian grocer or a well-stocked grocery store that caters to an East Indian population.” Curry leaves come in bunches and the leaves are easy to strip from the stems. What you don’t use can be frozen for use in future delicious curries.
- 8 extra large eggs, hard cooked
- 1 tbsp extra-virgin coconut oil
- 1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
- 10 curry leaves
- 1 cup finely diced red onion
- 2 medium-sized ripe tomatoes, finely chopped
- 4 serrano chilies, slit on one side
- 1 tsp finely chopped garlic
- 1 tsp grated fresh ginger
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1/2 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
- 1 can coconut milk (414 ml)
- Sea salt to taste
- Cilantro leaves for garnishing
Place the eggs in a pot large enough to hold them comfortably. Add cold water to cover the eggs by 2-inches. Place over medium heat and bring to a boil. Cover the pot and remove from the heat. Let the eggs sit for 10 minutes. Immediately cool under cold running water until completely cold. Shell the eggs and set aside. This can be done up to a day in advance.
In a medium-sized pot, heat the coconut oil over high heat. Add the mustard seeds and let them pop and dance about. Add the curry leaves and stir once. Add the onion, garlic, ginger and chilies.
Turn the heat to medium and cook until the onions soften and start to turn golden around the edges. Add the turmeric and garam masala and stir to mix the spices in well with the onion mixture. Continue stirring for about 30 seconds.
Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring frequently until the tomatoes disintegrate. Add the black pepper and the coconut milk. Bring to a simmer, then turn down the heat. (The sauce can be done up to a day in advance. Cool and refrigerate the mixture. You may need to add a little water when reheating as the sauce will thicken with sitting.)
Cut a lengthwise slit on one side of each egg just down to the yolk. Add the eggs to the sauce and simmer for 5 minutes until the eggs are hot all the way through. Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with the cilantro.
Gujarati Chickpea Crêpes
Makes 16 crepes
If you’re familiar with making crêpes, the technique is the same for making these. The recipe makes a lot of crêpes because I’m assuming that your first few may not turn out, as is generally the case until you get your technique and heat adjustment figured out. (Chickpea flour is known as besan.)
- 2 2/3 cups chickpea flour
- 2 cups water
- 1 serrano chili, finely chopped (remove the seeds before chopping for less heat)
- 2 cups fresh cilantro leaves, loosely packed
- 4 tsp grated fresh ginger
- 4 tsp coarsely crushed cumin seeds
- 1 1/2 tsp sea salt
- Vegetable oil for cooking the crêpes
Whisk the water into the chickpea flour to form a smooth batter. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Cover and let sit for 30 minutes to 2 hours or, refrigerate overnight.
Heat an 8-inch (10 cm) non-stick pan over medium heat and oil lightly using a brush. Stir the batter and add a scant 1/4 cup to the pan, swirling the pan around by the handle to form a round crêpe.
Cook until lightly browned, then flip over and cook on the other side until brown spots appear. Continue making the crêpes, regulating the heat so they cook nicely and oiling the pan before making each one.
Stir up the batter before making each crêpe. These are best eaten as soon as they are made. Keep them stacked on a plate in a low oven until all are completed.
potato and onion tortilla
A signature dish of Spain, this delicious thick potato and onion omelette is eaten at all times of the day, hot or cold.
- 1 1/4 cups olive oil
- 6 large potatoes, peeled and sliced
- 2 Spanish onions, sliced
- 6 medium eggs
- Salt and ground black pepper
- Cherry tomatoes, halved, to serve
Heat the oil in a large, non-stick frying pan. Stir in the potato, onion and a little salt. Cover and cook gently for 20 minutes until soft. Beat the eggs in a large bowl.
Remove the onion and potato from the pan wit a slotted spoon and add to the eggs. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Pour off some of the oil, leaving about 4 tbsp in the pan. (Reserve the leftover oil for other cooking!) Heat the pan again.
When the oil is very hot, pour in the egg mixture. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Cover the pan with a plate and invert the omelette onto it.
Slide it back into the pan and cook for a further five minutes until golden brown and moist in the middle. Serve in wedges with the tomatoes.
Vancouver chef friend Marcus Von Albrecht offered this recipe when I was looking for a fresh and colourful salad to add to the brunch mix. Marcus is an owner of Mava Foods, a company that utilizes local ingredients to produce home-meal replacements. He is past president of the BC Chefs’ Association, and this year was inducted into the CCFCC Honour Society Hall of Fame.
- 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup virgin olive oil
- 4 basil leaves, chiffonade (cut into thin strips)
- 1/3 head chicory
- 2 tomatoes cut into eighths
- 1/2 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into slices
- 1/2 cup green beans, sliced on a bias
- 2 whole artichokes, cooked, cut into quarters
- 2 whole eggs, hard boiled, cut into quarters
- 4 pieces romaine, washed
- 1/2 red, yellow and green bell peppers, cut into batonnet size
- 250 g albacore tuna, fresh, grilled and chilled
- 1/4 cup nicoise olives
Make a vinaigrette dressing, using the red wine vinegar, salt, pepper, olive oil and basil leaves. Wash and dry the chicory.
Core and cut each tomato into wedges. Peel and slice the cucumbers. Trim and cook the green beans al dente, chill.
Peel the eggs and cut into wedges. Cook the artichokes, trim the outer leaves from each artichoke, leaving only the heart. Remove the choke from the heart and cut into quarters.
Line each cold plate with two romaine leaves, then arrange the remaining ingredients on top of the leaves. Top with tuna.
Whisk the dressing and pour on top of salad.
I was ‘long’ on some frozen blueberries — away in the back of the freezer — when I first made these. Take special note of the short stir. It makes a better muffin.
- 1 3/4 cups sifted flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 2/3 tsp salt
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 4 tbsp butter, melted and cooled
- 3/4 cup milk
- 2 eggs beaten
- 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
- 1 tsp grated orange or lemon peel (optional)
Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar.
Add the butter and milk to the eggs and combine with dry ingredients in a few swift strokes; fold in the fruit and the peel, if using, before the dry ingredients are completely moist. Be sure to hold the mixing to an absolute minimum — a light stirring of 10 to 20 seconds — that will leave some lumps. Ignore them. The dough should break in coarse globs.
Fill well-greased muffin pans about two thirds full. Bake in a preheated 400˚F oven for 20 to 25 minutes. If the muffins are left in the pans for a few moments after leaving the oven, they will be easier to remove. They are best when eaten promptly.
This invariably ends up as cinnamon rolls, which, when sloshed with butter, pair beautifully with brunch. If you’re new to yeast baking, don’t be scared. You’ll be amazed at your results and your guests will call you a genius.
- 1 package dry yeast
- 1/4 cup warm water
- 1/4 cup lukewarm milk (scalded, then cooled)
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 egg
- 1/4 cup shortening
- 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 cups flour
Dissolve yeast in warm water in large mixing bowl. Stir in milk, sugar, salt, egg, shortening and 1 1/4 cups of the flour. Beat until smooth. Stir in enough remaining flour to make dough easy to handle. Turn onto lightly floured surface.
Knead for about 5 minutes — until smooth and elastic. Place in greased bowl, greased side up. Cover and let rise in warm place until double — about 1 1/2 hours.
If you’re making cinnamon rolls, mix 1/2 cup brown sugar, 2 tsp cinnamon and 1/2 cup raisins. Roll the dough into a rectangle about 15 x 9 inches, spread with 2 tbsp butter and add the mixed ingredients.
Roll up tightly, beginning at one of the long sides. Pinch edge to seal. Cut into rolls about two inches wide.
Place on greased tray, let rise (about 45 minutes) then bake for about 25 to 30 minutes in a 375˚F oven.
If you like them really gooey, top with a mixture of half a cup of icing sugar and a tbsp milk.
I made this for brunch with ingredients I had on hand, including the tomatoes, which I had seasoned and baked in a slow oven during the previous season, bagged and frozen.
- 2 cups flour
- 1 cup butter or lard
- 1 egg
- 1 tbsp white vinegar
- 1 tbsp cold water
- 1 tsp salt
1 cup diced sweet onion
- 1 cup diced summer sausage
- 1 cup diced celery
- 1 cup diced mushrooms
- 1 medium can chopped tomatoes
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 3 eggs, beaten
- Grated cheddar
- Herbs and spices to taste
Chop the butter into the flour, and mix until it has the consistency of corn meal. Beat the egg and vinegar together, and add to the flour. Add enough water to bring together as dough.
After resting the dough for an hour or so, roll and line a large baking dish. Prick the dough with a fork and bake in a preheated 375˚F oven for 15 minutes.
Remove and allow to cool. Fry the onion, sausage, celery and mushrooms in an oiled pan for five or so minutes or until heated through and browned.
Mix with the tomatoes and spread the mixture into the pie shell. Mix the eggs and cream together with your choice of seasonings, and add to the pie.
Top with grated cheddar and nutmeg. Bake for 40 minutes or until golden brown in a 375˚F oven.