Cooking For Others: Non-Picnic Brunch

Posted by on Monday Apr 27th, 2009 | Print
the spread

EVENT: Frisbee in the Park Brunch
VENUE: Cara’s Apartment, Park Slope
PARTY SIZE: 10
MENU: Biscuit Club Sandwiches; Greens with Apricot-Cashew Relish and Basil Vinaigrette; Baby Carrots; Pound Cake with Strawberries and Creme Anglaise; Mimosas

In college, six of my friends won the housing lottery twice in a row. They managed to commandeer this amazing dorm room both junior and senior years: it had six singles connected by an enormous common room and surrounded by a wraparound balcony that not only looked out over the river and the other dorms but also the rooftop of the campus’s most popular bar. If you were brave, you could even scale the shingled roof to the belltower at the top and look out over the entire city. Granted you had to climb five painful flights of ridiculously steep stairs to get there, but once you arrived, you were entitled to the same privilege as the room’s inhabitants—the company, the view, and the fanciest George Forman Grill in existence—a free-standing one that looked like a Weber BBQ.

Being a dorm room, the place lacked a kitchen, but that didn’t stop Tatyana, Joe, Francesca, Connor, Max, Precious, and Joanne from cooking on their George Forman. Most Sunday nights, they’d plug in the grill, de-rig the smoke alarm, and cook up everything from sausages to Korean barbecue. We’d sit around and eat and collectively dread the arrival of Monday.

Now, I’m lucky enough to live close to Prospect Park, which is a blessing but can sometimes feel like a curse when I wish I had an excuse not to exercise. While the apartment lacks a belltower and a George Forman, it does of course have a kitchen, and so I decided, last Sunday, to combine my collegiate nostalgia with a new wish to play Frisbee outdoors, by inviting the “sixpack” plus some groupies to come over for brunch.

On Sunday, the weather was beautiful, and my inner kindergartener just wanted to play. Still, like the lazy adult that I am, deciding it was too much of a hassle to bring the food to the park (and how would we then have made our way through like 5 pots of coffee?), I invited everyone over for indoor brunch, then pressured them to throw around the Frisbee with me afterwards. In any event, the meal I ended up making was the type of spread that could easily have been carried outdoors as a picnic, should we have chosen to do so.

Our grasp of hand-eye coordination in comparison to the champion pick-up soccer players on one side was embarrassingly bad and was probably closer to the level of the nerf-launching children on the other side of our game. But after a long winter, it felt swell to be out in the sun and we ended the afternoon with a walk, full of cake, vitamin D, and endorphins. It felt almost as swell as being in college, and as we capped the afternoon with a second meal out at a German schnitzel and beer place, we succeeded—as we had back as undergrads—in making Monday morning feel eons away.

really?–2 whole people in my tiny kitchen

From my small, park-side kitchen to yours,

Cara, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK

**Recipes**

Biscuit Club Sandwiches
Serves 10-12

15 Whole Wheat Biscuits (recipe follows)
1 ball fresh mozzarella cheese
8 slices ham (optional)
2 avocados
3-4 tomatoes, thinly sliced
2-3 tablespoons pesto*
1/2 cup creme fraiche**

Notes: I used store-bought, but you can find Phoebe’s pesto recipe here.
You can easily substitute mayo for the creme fraiche (mayo scares me and I don’t keep it in the house).

Combine the pesto and creme fraiche.

Slice the cheese and tomatoes as thinly as possible and set aside on paper or kitchen towels to drain. Just before assembling the sandwiches, cut the avocado into thin slices.

Slice each biscuit in half. Spread both top and bottom thinly with pesto-creme fraiche mixture, then top with a half slice of ham if you’re using, a slice of cheese, avocado to cover, and then a tomato slice or two. Press the top half of the biscuit on top.

Whole Wheat Biscuits
15-18 sandwich-sized biscuits

What liquid you use in these is flexible: use milk and half and half for richer biscuits or mix the milks up with water, as below, for biscuits that won’t undermine the sandwich fillings.

Ingredients
3 cups flour
3 cups whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
6 tablespoons butter, cold but not frozen
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup half and half
1 – 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat the over to 425°F.

Combine the flours, salt, baking powder, and sugar in a large bowl. Dice the 6 tablespoons of butter and add to the bowl. Using your fingers, smear the butter into the flour mixture until there are no large chunks left and the whole thing looks crumbly. Make a well in the center and add the milk, half and half, and water. With a rubber spatula, combine well but with as little mixing as possible. The dough will be fairly wet, but you should be able to handle it.

With floured hands, form balls somewhere between the size of a golf ball and a baseball. Drop onto a buttered baking sheet and bake for 8 minutes. Brush the top of each with some melted butter, rotate the pan from back to front, then bake another 8 minutes until brown and firm. Serve warm, or at least within a few hours of making.

non-picnic in action

Greens with Apricot-Cashew Relish and Basil Vinaigrette
Serves 10

Ingredients
5-6 cups mixed greens and arugula
Apricot Cashew Relish (warm or room temperature)
Basil Vinaigrette

Put the dressing and relish in the bottom of a bowl. Add the greens. Just before serving, toss to combine.

For the relish:
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 cup diced sweet potato
6-7 dried apricots, cut into slivers
1/4 cup cashews, chopped
1 small carrot, grated
juice from half a lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper

Heat the olive oil in a small pan. Add the sweet potato, and cook over medium heat until softened and brown, 4-5 minutes. Add the cashews and toast, then, when they’re fragrant, add the apricots and stir to combine. Sprinkle with salt, and squeeze the lemon over all, letting it bubble and reduce. Off the heat, stir in the carrots and top with lots of pepper. This can be made ahead and refrigerated, but let come to room temp before adding to the salad.

For the dressing:
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1/2 tablespoon mustard
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon minced basil
salt
pepper

In a blender, mini mixer, or bowl with a whisk, combine the mustard, basil, and vinegar. Stirring constantly, add the oil until combined, then the honey. Salt and pepper to taste.

Pound Cake with Strawberries and Creme Anglaise
Serves 12

1 pound cake (recipe follows)
2-3 pints strawberries, cleaned, sliced and sprinkled with 1-2 tablespoons sugar
creme anglaise (recipe follows)

You can assemble these yourself by slicing the cake and topping each portion with fruit and creme anglaise, or just serve the cake whole and let guests add strawberries and cream. To simplify, use regular whipped cream instead of creme anglaise.


This pound cake is adapted from The Silver Palate Cookbook‘s Bishop’s Cake. My mom makes it every year for Thanksgiving, and I’ve modified it with her tips, which focus on mixing the batter for an interminably long time.

Ingredients
2 sticks unsalted butter
2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 eggs

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour and 10-inch bundt pan.

Cream butter and sugar gradually; beat until fluffy. Sift flour and add to butter mixture. Stir just enough to blend. Add lemon juice and vanilla; stir well. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition (at least 1 minute, 2 if you can stand it). After adding the final egg, beat the whole thing for 4-5 minutes.

Pour batter into prepared bundt pan. Bake for 1 hour or slightly more, until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. After the first 30 minutes, cover cake closely with aluminum foil.

When cake is done, cool in its pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and cool completely.

For the Creme Anglaise

This is not unlike the ice cream base we used for Mazto Crunch Ice Cream. I just never froze it, so it remained a custard of pourable consistency. I used some leftover (plain) creme fraiche from the sandwiches to make the custard thicker and slightly less sweet, but it’s optional.

Ingredients
1 cup low-fat milk
1 cup half and half
1 egg
1 egg yolk
6 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons creme fraiche

Heat the milk and half and half with 3 tablespoons of the sugar until it measures 175°F on an instant-read thermometer.

Meanwhile, beat the egg yolk, egg, and the remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar until light and thick, 2-3 minutes with an electric beater.

When the milk is hot, pour about a half cup of it into the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Off the heat, stir the eggs back into the milk, return to the heat, and cook, stirring constantly 7-10 minutes (180°F on the thermometer). Stir in the vanilla and creme fraiche and cool in a heatproof bowl in the fridge. Can be made 1-2 days in advance.

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  • Kate

    This sounds delicious. I especially like the sweet-salty-sour combo of the salad. Tonight’s common’s menu lacks any inspiration, so I think I am going to try an amended version in the dining hall, can’t wait!!

  • Frankie

    How cum you’re afraid of mayo? the commercial brands all use pasteurized eggs, not raw like homemade.

  • Phoebe and Cara, the Quarter-Life Cooks

    Frankie, I think I can trace my fear back to my father’s insistence that mayo was the best makeup remover. If I was in a play or had dressed up for Halloween, I had to smear mayo on my face. It was gross and traumatizing, as you might imagine. However, if it’s served to me on a sandwich, I can usually handle it,…