Introduction: Breezy and Beautiful, Bountiful Brunch (Vegetarian)
I'm convinced that serving brunch should be as fun and relaxing for you as it is for your guests. I don't mind working up a big sweat in the kitchen for a dinner party, but on Sunday morning, things should stay easy. So my brunch plan has the following requirements: (1) I can prep almost everything in advance, so that on Sunday morning I can wake up and throw it all together without a hassle. (2) Everything can be served at room temperature, so there's no rush to eat, people can be late, and chatting among my guests and myself can go on as long as we like. (3) Everything is light, so we can eat lots of different things and still not feel like we need to go right back to bed. (4) The spread is colorful and looks delicious. (5) Finally, everything is vegetarian, but appealing to non-vegetarians as well.
Additionally, no power implements (blender, food processor, mixer) are required for any of these. The recipes and quantities given here can be expected to comfortably feed up to eight people.
Here's what I'll be making:
Spiced cheddar and nut quickbread
Olive oil crust rustic vegetable galette
Beet and orange salad
Quinoa and black bean salad
Chocolate-covered cashew butter sandwich cookies
Each of the "steps" in this instructable takes less than an hour (inactive cooking/baking time not included) and they can all be done between one and three (or even four) days before brunch time. I assume you will pick and choose from my recipes and they are presented with ingredient lists individually, but if you want to do the whole shebang, a comprehensive shopping list follows the end of the instructable. Most of these recipes willingly accommodate substitutions and additions.
Step 1: Baking Prep: Quick Bread and Galette Crust
This step covers the spiced cheddar-walnut quick bread and the dough for the olive oil crust.
The quick bread requires the following ingredients:
1.5 cups of flour (I used one cup of stone ground whole wheat and half a cup of white AP)
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
spices (I recommend experimenting here, but I used 1 full tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp ginger, 1/4 tsp cloves and some fresh-shaved nutmeg)
just 2 tbsp brown sugar
half a 15 oz. can of pureed pumpkin or other squash, or 3/4 of a cup if you're steaming it yourself
3/4 cup finely grated cheddar (use a microplane if you have one)
generous 1/2 cup of light coconut milk, way easier to deal with than whole (sub vegetable oil if you don't have coconut milk, but I highly recommend it for superior texture and no gross oily residue)
coarsely chopped toasted walnuts, up to 1 cup (toast by spreading them on a baking sheet in the oven while it preheats; check often, remove when they get fragrant)
toasted pumpkin seeds (they puff up and go "pop" when toasted) and other seeds if you have them, like sunflower (toast) and poppy (don't toast), up to 1/2 a cup
Preheat the oven to 350. Prep a loaf pan by lining with a parchment paper sling. In my experience, this is hands-down the best way to go - no greasing, and no losing the bottom third of your loaf when you turn it out.
Mix the dry and wet ingredients separately (put the wet in a larger bowl), and then dump the dry over the wet and stir until just barely combined. Add the nuts and company and fold them in gently, then pour the batter into your pan and stick it in the oven.
My loaf was done after 45 minutes. The top should spring back if you press it, and a knife should come out mostly clean. Let it cool for a few minutes in the pan, then run a knife between the loaf ends and the pan, lift out the loaf in your parchment sling, and let it breathe on a cooling rack (or wooden cutting board or towel on the counter) until it's totally cool, at which point you can wrap it plastic and stash it.
The quick bread recipe was (quite liberally) adapted from one in a book called Savory Baking.
The galette crust requires the following ingredients, and you can put it together in a couple of minutes after you put the bread in the oven and before you put away the flour.
1 cup AP flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
(or 2 cups white whole wheat, a personal favorite of mine which I am out of at the moment)
1/4 cup of good olive oil (none of that "light" crap)
1/2 cup of cold water
dried herbs (I had marjoram and dill on hand)
Mix everything together with a fork, and knead it until smooth and malleable - this takes only a few turns, and you can do it in the mixing bowl, no need to turn it out. Cut it in half, flatten each half into a nice disc, wrap them in plastic and stick 'em in the fridge.
The olive oil crust recipe, not at all adapted, comes from the wonderful blog chocolate and zucchini.
Step 2: Quinoa and Black Bean Salad
Dried beans are much more user-friendly if you soak them overnight. I will be using soaked beans for this recipe, but you can certainly use canned beans instead and that's totally fine; you don't need to boil them.
This recipe makes quite a lot. Cut it in half if you like - if you're new to quinoa, for example, and don't yet know whether or not you want to eat it five more times in the next week. I know I do, though.
2 cups quinoa
black beans to your liking (I use about a dry cup)
1 bell pepper - I recommend orange or red
a couple of vine tomatoes or a good handful of cherry/grape tomatoes or whatever you've got
some red onion, use judgment
a chili pepper if you like that sort of thing (I don't)
one of those "champagne" or ataulfo mangoes, or half a regular mango
fresh cilantro (don't bother with dried)
Also feel free to add...
fresh boiled or frozen corn
shaved red cabbage
whatever else sounds good
olive oil (1/4 cup to 1/2, use your judgment)
juice of one lime
cider vinegar to taste, a few tablespoons
salt & pepper
Beans take the longest to cook, so if you're cooking them (and not using canned), get on that first. Just put them in a pot with a good amount of water and boil, then simmer them until they're soft. Expect this to take forty-five minutes to an hour.
The quinoa only takes about fifteen minutes. Rinse it first if you feel like it. Quinoa cooks like rice: for every 1 cup quinoa, add 1.5 cups of cold water, bring to a boil, then cover and simmer on low. Check it at fifteen minutes; it's ready when the water is absorbed and the quinoa is soft and has released those spirally things.
While the simmering is going on, chop the veggies/fruit nice and small and mix the dressing up. Put everything together in a nice big bowl. When the quinoa and beans are ready, add them and toss. Let the salad cool and then cover and refrigerate it. I've refrigerated this salad up to five days or so; by then I've always eaten it all.
Step 3: Beet and Orange Salad
Love this salad so much. It improves with age, so make it a couple of days ahead.
beets (3-4 hefty ones)
walnuts, maybe 1/2 cup, or less - go light on them; toasted or raw according to your preference
goat cheese (1-2 ounces)
vinaigrette of your choice (I went with lemon juice and olive oil with S&P and a bit of cider vinegar, but other light-colored vinegars would also be fine - just not balsamic)
Roast the beets. Wash them, cut them into uniform-ish large pieces, cover with foil and bake at 350 until they're easily pierced with a knife. Takes about thirty minutes, but always check.
Once the beets are cooked through and have cooled enough to handle, peel off the skin with a paring knife and slice them into bite-sized pieces. Toss them in the vinaigrette. If you have a wedding to attend the following day or something, you may want to wear gloves for handling the beets, because you will look like you have just fled the scene of a murder.
The next part can be done at the same time, or later.
Peel the oranges (with a knife - it looks better for salad) and cut them into wedges; put them in a bowl or container. You may want to shamelessly suck the juice off the cutting board at this point...
Slice the red onion super thin and add this to the orange slices. Add the walnuts and goat cheese (crumble it with your fingers).
Keep the beets-in-dressing segregated from the rest of the salad until you're about to serve it. Otherwise, the beets will dye everything red, and you won't get to enjoy the fantastic color contrasts between the beets, oranges, and white cheese.
Step 4: Vegetable Filling
The veggie filling also improves with age. I made it the day before and had some for lunch. The recipe will make enough to fill two tarts.
1 smallish eggplant
2-3 zucchini, depending on size
4-5 large mushrooms
shallot or garlic
can of crushed or diced tomatoes, or fresh, blanched & peeled tomatoes
dried herbs of your choice, or fresh if you have them on hand - I'm using dried marjoram and dried mint. Don't use fresh mint, though. It's too sweet and very powerful.
Salt & pepper to taste
Prepare the eggplant by slicing it and salting it to draw some of the water out.
Heat the olive oil (medium heat is fine). Mince the shallot or some garlic and brown it. Slice the carrot and add that. Slice the zucchini and add them. Slice the mushrooms and add them. Rinse the eggplant slices, cut them into cubes, and add that. Add herbs and let everything mingle for a few minutes, then drain your canned tomatoes and add the tomato parts to the pan. Cover and turn the heat down. You can do other things at this point and leave the veggies alone for about ten minutes. Then start checking them. Once they are good and tender, you're done. Let everything cool, then stick it in the fridge.
Step 5: Sandwich Cookies
2-4 dozen wafer cookies, depending how many people you want to serve (I don't recommend making them yourself unless you're a veteran roll-out cookie baker, or you have a strong affinity for boring, repetitive tasks. I made these quite a while ago from the first part of this recipe - it took several hours I got some six or seven dozen - and stored them in the freezer.)
1/4 cup to 1/2 cup cashew butter (or another sticky filling; if you don't have access to bulk cashew butter - yay Pearl Street Whole Foods! - it's pretty expensive by the jar)
about 1/2 cup of chocolate chips per dozen sandwiches
Prep a baking sheet by lining it with parchment. Parchment, parchment, parchment. Parchment. Waxed paper is cheap, but it always lets you down. And foil will stick in little slivers to the bottoms of your cookies. Chocolate will permanently fuse to anything else.
Make the sandwiches first by putting just enough filling between the cookies to hold them together. Put them on your sheet and refrigerate them for a few minutes.
While they chill, melt the chocolate. I improvise a double-boiler with a small pot of water and a stoneware bowl; bring the water to a simmer over medium heat, then turn it down low. Let the chips melt thoroughly.
Take the sheet out of the fridge. Equip yourself with two forks. One at a time, give each sandwich the briefest possible dip in the chocolate spa, and when it's evenly coated, get it back to its spot on the parchment. The heat will make the cookies want to slide apart if you take your time.
Now, I'm not going to lie to you and say this is easy. It's pretty awkward, actually, and there isn't really a fantastic way to go about it that doesn't make you look like you have three arms and you're trying to control them by bouncing your mind waves off a mirror and through a kaleidoscope. But do the best you can, and be quick about it. I needed both hands during this and couldn't take photos.
Once your cookies are coated, stick them back in the fridge to harden. Fifteen minutes should be plenty of time, but there's no harm in leaving them longer; just come back at some point and put them into a sealed container, which then remains in the fridge.
Step 6: Brunch Day
some milk - I recommend whole
Parmesan (optional) - I recommend Parmeggiano Reggiano, which isn't cheap but keeps well in your freezer and lasts a long time
Flour for dusting
Yogurt and garlic (optional)
The first thing to do on brunch day is take everything (except the cookies) out of the fridge. Set things out and let them come to room temperature.
Set the table or something to give the galette dough a little time to warm up.
You'll want to preheat your oven to 350. Then roll out the dough. This dough is particularly easy to work with (especially if you have a French rolling pin), but even though it isn't made with butter, it still shares some qualities with short crusts and it will split and crack if you rush the rolling process. So be patient and gentle and use a little flour as often as necessary. Roll it out quite thin, and then slide it into a pie pan. Technically this means you are not making a galette, which is free-form, but don't hold it against me.
Poke holes in the bottom with a fork and blind-bake it for five minutes or so, then let it air out on the counter while you beat three eggs with a little bit of salt and some whole milk (not more than 3/4 cup, more like 1/2). Spoon your vegetable mix into the crust, leaving behind most of the liquid (use the leftovers on pasta or something). Pour the beaten eggs slowly over the vegetables. If you like, grate some Parmesan over the top.
Bake until set, 30-45 minutes. Just keep an eye on it; it starts to look golden and stop jiggling when it's done. Remove it and let it cool. It's better at room temperature, so there's no rush.
Mince some garlic into a little plain whole yogurt if you'd like a cold, zingy condiment for the galette.
Put things in serving dishes if you're doing that, slice the nut bread and the galette, and when your guests arrive, stir the beets to get the dressing moving and then pour your orange-walnut-goat cheese fixings on top of them.
Serve champagne, sparkling lemonade, ginger beer and rum, or whatever you like in accompaniment. Leave the cookies in the fridge until the very last minute, especially if, like it is here today, it's 80 degrees on your back porch.
Step 7: Comprehensive Shopping List / Pantry Checklist
Whole wheat flour
spices (your choice; I used cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, thyme or marjoram, mint and dill)
extra virgin olive oil
whole grain mustard
light coconut milk
pumpkin seeds (raw unsalted)
quinoa (dry), 1 cup
black beans (dry), 1 cup or one can of prepped beans
bright-colored bell pepper
a chili pepper of your choice if you like that sort of thing
2-3 zucchini, depending on the size
canned crushed or diced tomatoes
plain whole yogurt
melting chocolate (e.g., Ghiradelli dark chips)