Having a couple of friends over, we wanted to do a nice but not overly-involved Sunday brunch. Since it would only be the four of us, we didn’t want the buffet-style that we’ve previously done for brunches, but a simple serve-a-few-courses idea. We brainstormed a little and finally came up with:
Homemade Parm and Thyme Crackers
Chevre and roasted red pepper stuffed mushrooms
Golden Beet and Avocado Salad
Roasted Shrimp and Orzo with Carmelized Leeks
Orange and Amaretto Roulade
We did a good deal of the prep work on Saturday so that we could simply assemble a few things on Sunday and still have time to enjoy spending time with our friends. We made the crackers, the mushroom stuffing, roasted the beets, mixed the salad dressing, made the shrimp and orzo, and made the cake for the roulade in about a 4 hour span on Saturday evening (during which we also made and ate dinner). All that was left for Sunday was to do the mushrooms, roll up the roulade, and dress the salad.
PARM and THYME CRACKERS
Taken straight from Ina Garten’s “Back to Basics,” we added a quarter teaspoon of cayenne to the blend for a little extra bite at the end. We’ve made these a handful of times, always to great success. This wasn’t a course, but something that was sitting out when our friends arrived so there was something to nosh on if they wanted a bite with the first drink.
CHEVRE and ROASTED RED PEPPER STUFFED MUSHROOMS
This is one we put together ourselves. It’s a simple but classy appetizer that is always a pleaser.
8 oz baby bella mushrooms (about 12)
4 oz chevre
1 roasted red pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
Good extra virgin olive oil
Good balsamic vinegar
We made the stuffing by simply putting the roasted red pepper, which we had roasted and jarred ourselves a while back, into the food processor. After it liquefied a bit, we added the chevre and garlic powder, careful to not over-mix and separate the cheese.
We’ve discovered that first cooking the mushrooms by themselves in order to get them to give up some of their water is a good idea. After destemming and brushing them clean, we put each one into a space in a muffin tin. We baked them at 350 for about 15 minutes. I took them out of the muffin tin, put them on a paper towel, wiped the moisture out of the tin, then filled each of the mushrooms and put them back in the tin. I dusted the top with paprika and put a single pine nut in each. We then baked them at 350 for 20 minutes. We prepped a square plate with an Asian soup spoon, into which we put good olive oil and a single drop of balsamic. We then arranged the mushrooms on the plate for serving.
ROASTED BEET and AVOCADO SALAD
I’ve talked previously about this kind of salad. The style is one of our favorites, so we chose to do a variation on the theme, and used Giada De Laurentiis’ version as the base. We used winter white honey from Savannah Bee Company for the dressing and used baby greens instead of arugula. We’re also more fond of golden beets than red, so we used them instead. This is one of those recipes where each of the individual components is good, and as a bonus, they combine for something greater than the sum of the parts.
ROASTED SHRIMP and ORZO with CARMELIZED LEEKS
Another Ina Garten-inspired recipe, one of the reasons we made it Saturday is that it’s served at room temperature. We figured letting it stand overnight would blend in the great flavors, and I’m happy to report that this one fired on all cylinders. Ina’s recipe has cucumber and dill in it, which we both thought was a touch too much, wanting to feature the great flavor of the shrimp.
2 lbs Florida shrimp (16-20 count), peeled and de-veined
¾ lb orzo
1 cup scallions, minced
½ cup red onion, diced
1 ½ cup fresh parsley, chopped
½ cup lemon juice, freshly-squeezed
2/3 lb crumbled feta
3/4 cup Extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground pepper
6 Large leeks
With the oven preheated to 400F, we filled a 6 quart pot with water, added 2 tablespoons of salt (we’re not fans of putting oil in the pasta water, finding it completely unnecessary), and set it to boiling. While I was working on the shrimp, Gretchyn added the orzo and simmered it for about 8 minutes (check the package of our orzo, since cooking times can wildly diverge) until it was al dente. We drained and pour it into a large bowl, then in a separate bowl whisked together the lemon juice, 1/2 cup olive oil, 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper, which we then poured over the hot pasta and stirred well.
We’re lucky that the Gulf shrimp we get nearby is so fresh and so good. I’ll happily spend the time cleaning it instead of using previously frozen stuff. After it was cleaned, rinsed, and patted with a paper towel, we tossed it with about a ¼ cup of olive oil, 2 tsp of salt and 1 tsp of pepper. I like mixing things with olive oil by hand instead of with tongs, because I think you just get a better coating on each individual piece. I usually use a latex glove, mostly because getting oil off your hand is a pain. We roasted the shrimp for about 7 ½ minutes. Paying attention to the shrimp is important. Roasting times will vary based on their size count, and you definitely don’t want them overcooked. The clue I usually use is waiting for them to turn that good, bright orange color, then wait another minute until they’re firm. Nothing’s worse than undercooked shellfish, but overcooked will ruin a dish pretty quickly as well.
After the shrimp was done and had cooled a bit, we added it to the orzo and then added the scallions, parsley (which we had just brought in from the garden), onion, and another 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. We tossed it together relatively well and then as the last bit added the feta. We used crumbled feta instead of cubes because we wanted it to integrate into the dish, not sit on top like a Greek salad. We covered it with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge overnight, bringing it out about 2 hours before our friends arrived.
The leeks were moderately simple. We trimmed them then sliced them lengthwise in half to clean. We parboiled them for about 4 minutes to ensure the insides were done, then coated them with a bit of olive oil, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper before roasting them in a shallow pan at 400F for 20 minutes. This is another thing you’ll have to judge by how it looks. Different leeks of different size might crisp up faster or slower.
ORANGE and AMARETTO ROULADE
This is a 100% Rocket-Scientist developed creation, which has gone through several iterations. I think my only input was turning on the oven for her. The roulade requires a lighter cake, since you’ll be rolling it up. A heavier cake would probably just crack. We’ve made multiple variations on this theme—dark chocolate cake with cherry ice cream filling, and so forth. These days I’m pretty fond of “platforms,” things that you can go many directions with. This is definitely one of those things.
For the cake:
4 eggs, separated
¼ cup and ½ cup sugar
1 tbl vegetable oil
1 ½ tsp orange extract
2/3 cup cake flour
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp dried orange peel
For the filling:
8 oz marscapone
¼ cup sugar
3 tbl Amaretto di Saronno
½ tsp orange extract
1 ¾ cup heavy whipping cream
¼ cup powdered sugar
I preheated the oven to 350F. My contribution to this part completed, I watched the rest happen. I may have mixed us a few bourbon and gingers while watching.
She started by beating the egg yolks until they were thick and then slowly added the ¼ cup of sugar, oil, and orange extract.
In a separate bowl (and this is where it’s nice to have two bowls for the Kitchen Aid stand mixer), she whipped the eggs whites until they were foamy and then gradually added the ½ cup of sugar, beating them until they were stiff but not dry. She then folded the egg whites into the yolks by hand (with a spatula, not the mixer).
In another bowl, she mixed together the flour, baking powder and salt then gradually added it to the egg mixture until there was a smooth batter, which she spread into a greased jelly roll pan and baked for 10 minutes, until the toothpick came out clean.
She laid out a kitchen towel, coated with powdered sugar. When the cake was done, she upended the pan onto the towel, and while still warm, rolled it up from the short end, leaving it stand overnight.
The filling is a two-step process. First, she beat the marscapone, sugar, amaretto, and extract until creamy. Then she whipped the cream and powdered sugar together and then folded into the amaretto. While she made the filling on Saturday, we didn’t finish the roulade until Sunday morning. We didn’t want the cake to absorb too much moisture from the cream, and simply figured that it would be better fresh.
On Sunday morning, she carefully unrolled the cake, spread about 2/3s of the filling inside, then carefully rolled it back up, then covered the cake with the rest of the filling, grating a bit of orange zest on the top. We put it in the fridge, pulling it out about 15 minutes before serving.
Our friends Neal and Jim arrived right around noon, armed with a bottle of J Vineyards and Winery Cuvée 20 25th Anniversary, a soft and delicious California sparkler, which we had with the mushrooms (after eating quite a few of the crackers while we were chatting and showing them around the house, since this was their first visit). That seemed to disappear rather quickly, and we fortunately had on ice a bottle of Taittinger Champagne La Française Brut, so we drank that through the salad course. For the Shrimp and Orzo, I opened our last bottle of 2008 Sea Smoke Pinot Noir Southing. I know Neal and Jim are Pinot lovers, and the Sea Smoke is a favorite around here, so it was a win all around. With dessert, I poured some Graham’s 40-year-old Tawny, which might have been the most inspired pairing of the day. Afterwards, the gents had espresso, the lady had some Earl Gray, and there may have been Sambuca Romana and the revelation that we don’t have any Frangelico left in the house.
All in all a great day (funny how “brunch” can extend to almost five hours) in which we were quite happy with the recipes and most especially the company.