Let's Talk Food: Here's all you need for a terrific bruch, bloody Marys and all

One of the greatest ways to entertain friends and family during this busy season is a brunch.

Most of us think of brunch as an American invention. Not so.

H. L. Mencken wrote, "Brunch, designating a combination of breakfast and lunch, eaten about noon, appeared in England about 1900. It was 30 years later before it began to make any headway on this side of the water."

Mencken goes on to tell us about one of the first brunches ever served in a restaurant. On Easter Sunday, April 10, 1941, the Fifth Avenue Hotel in New York advertised a "Sunday stroller's brunch, $1.00 per person served from 11 A.M. to 3 P.M."

In 1896, a Punch magazine food critic in London wrote: "To be fashionable nowadays we must 'brunch.' Truly an excellent portmanteau word, introduced last year by Mr. Guy Beringer of Hunter's Weekly, and indicating a combined breakfast and lunch."

The French culinary bible, Larousse Gastronomique attributes the origin of the word to the United States but clearly our English cousins deserve all the credit for this gastronomic invention.

This is my favorite brunch recipe because it is delicious and it can be made the day before, refrigerated and baked the next morning — while you're having a mimosa or bloody Mary with your guests.

SAUSAGE STRATA

6 to 8 slices white bread (I use Wonder Bread)

Enough softened butter to spread on bread

1 cup sliced mushrooms

1 cup diced sweet onion

1-1/2 pounds skinned or bulk pork sausage (either spicy, sweet or mild)

6 large eggs

1 cup milk or more as needed

Salt and pepper to taste (I use white pepper but not necessary)

2 or 3 drops hot sauce, to taste

1 teaspoon dry mustard, optional

3/4 cup grated or shredded Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese

3/4 cup grated or shredded Swiss cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (if serving immediately). Grease a 9- or 10-inch baking dish that has 2-inch sides. Butter the bread and arrange the bread slices in one layer to cover bottom of the dish with buttered side up. Place sausage in a large skillet over low heat and when it begins to release the fat, add the onions and mushrooms. Stir until the sausage is cooked, taking care not to brown the onions and mushrooms. Drain the sausage well and place on top of the bread. Beat the eggs, milk, seasonings, hot sauce and mustard until well blended and pour over the sausage mixture. Sprinkle with cheese and allow to cool to room temperature. Cover and seal with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator over night. The next morning, allow the strata to come to room temperature before baking in a preheated 350-degree oven. Bake for 30 minutes. Serves 8 to 10. May be doubled.

The bloody Marys

Once a popular brunch libation, the bloody Mary has been replaced by the mimosa. Yet there are those who find Mary to be bracing and invigorating, especially for the host and hostess who prepares it the night before. Also, the mixture without vodka can serve as a Virgin Mary.

OVERNIGHT BLOODY MARYS

1 46-ounce can V-8 Juice

1 46-ounce can tomato juice

2/3 cup lemon juice

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon salt or to taste

1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt or to taste

3 cups vodka

Tabasco sauce to taste

Combine all ingredients except the vodka. Mix well and cover and chill overnight. Also place the vodka bottle in the refrigerator to chill. Stir in the chilled vodka just before serving. Pass the Tabasco for those who like plenty of spice. Makes 12 to 15 servings.

Coffee cake, of course

No brunch would be complete without something sweet and this coffee cake is a delectable addition to any meal, including Christmas breakfast.

PRUNE AND APRICOT COFFEE CAKE

3/4 cup dried prunes, pitted

3/4 cup dried apricots

Boiling water

2 cups plus 1 tablespoon sifted flour, divided

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup packed brown sugar

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1/4 pound plus 4 tablespoons butter, softened

1/4 cup sugar

2 eggs

1/4 cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

6 tablespoons melted butter

1/3 cup chopped walnuts or pecans Cover prunes and apricots with boiling water. Let stand 5 minutes. Drain and chop finely. In small bowl sift 2 cups flour with baking powder and salt. In another small bowl combine brown sugar with remaining tablespoon flour and cinnamon. Set aside. Cream butter until fluffy. Add 3/4 cup sugar, mixing well. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating until light. At low speed add flour mixture to butter mixture alternately with milk and vanilla until just blended. Fold in chopped fruit. Pour a third of batter into greased 9-inch tube pan. Spread evenly and sprinkle with a third of brown sugar mixture. Drizzle with a third of melted butter. Repeat for 2 additional layers. Top with chopped nuts. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven 55 minutes or until inserted tester comes out clean. Cool on rack for 10 minutes. Remove cake from pan and return to rack to cool thoroughly. Serves 12 to 15.

Ask Doris

Q: I'm a newly married Canadian with a Southern husband. His parents visited recently and my mother-in-law prepared a wonderful breakfast of ham, biscuits and gravy that she called Redeye, made with Coca-Cola. She left us a real country ham and I'd like to serve it with biscuits and gravy but have no recipe. Please help.

— Lydia Fremont, Estero

A: Redeye gravy is usually made with coffee but others swear by the Coca-Cola. Take your choice.

COUNTRY FRIED HAM BISCUITS WITH REDEYE GRAVY

3 generous slices country ham, 1/4 inch thick

1/2 cup strong coffee or Coca-Cola

1/4 teaspoons sugar

6 large biscuits (recipe below)

Fry the ham in a large skillet with no shortening since the ham will release drippings. After the ham is well brown remove it from the pan dripping and stir in the coffee or cola and sugar. Put ham back in gravy. Simmer until very hot. Place the ham slices on split biscuits and spoon the gravy over all.

BISCUITS

2 cups all-purpose flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons salt

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 cup vegetable shortening (Crisco or similar shortening)

3/4 cup milk or buttermilk (I suggest buttermilk but plain whole milk will do)

Sift the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Cut in shortening until it is the size of a pea. Add milk slowly, mixing well. Roll out dough on floured board and cut biscuits to desired size. Place on a greased pan and bake in a preheated 400-degree oven for 20 minutes.

Chef Schultz remembered

Last week my column dealt with memories of Naples past and an extraordinary man, William "Bill" Schultz. He was the chef at the Naples Hotel, long gone but certainly not forgotten.

Maria Gabriel, a resident of Boston, lived in Naples during her early years. She was the oldest of 11 children and the family lived in Naples Manor. When Maria was 20, in 1967, she lived in the same neighborhood as Chef and Mrs. Schultz.

They did not know one another until Maria and her sisters and brothers began selling tomatoes to the neighbors. Maria was intending to use the money she earned to make a down payment on a car.

The Schultzes welcomed the young entrepreneur and invited her into their home. When they found out that Maria needed a car, Chef Schultz did not hesitate to give Maria the $500 she needed.

In a letter to me following publication of the column last week, Mrs. Gabriel told of paying back the money, and in the years that followed, she has often thought with great respect and love of Chef Schultz' generosity and trust.

In her letter she said: "The moral of my story is that this man who did not know me was so kind to a stranger that I have never forgotten his kindness."

Merry Christmas to all and a special blessing to all those who have extended hand and heart to those less fortunate.

Doris Reynolds is the author of" When Peacocks Were Roasted and Mullet Was Fried' and "Let's Talk Food." They are available for sale in the lobby of the Naples Daily News. For comments and questions regarding today's column contact Doris Reynolds at foodlvr25@aol.com.

© 2004 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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