I find it becomes more and more difficult to narrow down and write about only one thing I’m thankful for each day. I am in the very fortunate position of feeling very thankful for a lot of things. But nonetheless, I have to narrow it down, and so today, I want to write about how thankful I am for friends.
This morning, I hosted a brunch with a small group of close friends who I don’t get to see as much as I’d like. We’re all busy, all with different schedules, different demands. Our lives are very similar, but they are diverging more and more as we follow our chosen paths in life. But even as we walk our separate paths, it’s good to leave the beaten down clearing or stop thrashing through the underbrush and come together and celebrate our friendship.
Yesterday, I blogged about my gratitude for cooking and my love of preparing food for my friends. Today’s brunch really allowed me to follow through on that part of my life, on the sharing and hospitality. It allowed me to nourish them and get them a wee little bit drunk on mimosas. We teach; we need alcohol.
Tonight, Amanda and I will make pie and deviled eggs; we’ll eat chicken wings and broccoli for dinner. We’ll watch Oprah’s Favorite Things on the DVR before tomorrow’s feast for two. (I should point out that when I told my friend Andrea what was on our menu for tomorrow, she asked if we were having company. No, I said. It’s just for us. She shook her head, but she also admitted it sounded fantastic. And it will be.)
But before I head off into the stupor of cooking and eating and relaxing before tomorrow’s day of cooking and eating, I wanted to share with you my brunch menu and recipes. I wanted to take a moment and express how grateful I am for my friends, who I refer to as my “chosen” family. Because one family you’re born into. But the other one, you pick out along the way, drawing them close to you, taking comfort in them when you’re far away from your born-into family, celebrating their successes, mourning their losses, and sharing in that sweet sense of community.
Every year, I like to do a big breakfast the day before Thanksgiving. The past two years, I’ve done Monkey Bread, but I knew it would be just me eating it here by myself while Amanda was at work. So I invited reinforcements, one of whom is a vegetarian, so I chose to make a vegetarian-friendly strata as well.
Monkey Bread takes me right back to Sunday School potlucks when we would bring breakfast for everyone to share. Monkey Bread was one of my favorite dishes. I got this recipe from Allrecipes.com.
3 (12 oz) packages of refrigerated biscuit dough
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 cup butter
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
(Optional: 1/2 cup chopped walnuts; 1/2 cup raisins – I’m a purist, I leave them out. Consult original recipe, linked above, for instructions with these ingredients.)
1. Grease a bundt pan with cooking spray.
2. Cut biscuit dough rounds into quarters. Mix the granulated sugar and cinnamon in a gallon bag. Shake the dough quarters, 6-8 at a time, in the bag to coat with cinnamon-sugar filling. Arrange the dough quarters in bundt pan, making sure you arrange them to build up the sides and also against the middle tube.
3. In a small saucepan, melt butter and light brown sugar. Bring to a boil and boil for one minute. Remove from heat and pour evenly over dough quarters in pan.
4. Bake for 35 minutes at 350 degrees. Let stand for 10 minutes, then invert onto a serving plate. Don’t cut. You should pull apart with your fingers or some tongs.
Spinach and Cheese Strata
Since one of my guests is a vegetarian, I wanted to serve a savory dish she could eat. Most breakfast casseroles have bacon or ham or sausage in them, but this strata from smitten kitchen was perfect and relatively easy to make. I’m going to research cost-effective substitutions for Gruyere cheese; that ish is expensive! I’ll also take one of the readers’ advice and add a second package of spinach for a bit more of a spinach presence.
Spinach and Cheese Strata
Adapted from Gourmet (sniffle), February 2003
Serves 6 to 8
1 (10 ounce) package frozen spinach, thawed, squeeze of all excess liquid, and chopped
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion (1 large)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
8 cups cubed French or Italian bread in 1-inch cubes (1/2 lb)
6 ounces coarsely grated Gruyère (2 cups)
2 ounces finely grated parmesan (1 cup)
2 3/4 cups milk
9 large eggs
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
Sauté onion in butter in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat until soft, about 5 minutes. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper and nutmeg and continue cooking for one minute. Stir in spinach, remove from heat and set aside.
Spread one third of the bread cubes in a well-buttered 3-quart gratin dish or other ceramic baking dish. Top with one-third of bread cubes,one-third of spinach mixture and one-third of each cheese. Repeat layering twice with remaining bread, spinach and cheese.
Whisk eggs, milk, mustard and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper together in a large bowl and pour evenly over strata. Cover with plastic wrap and chill strata for eat least 8 hours or up to a day.
The next day, let it stand at room temperature for 30 minutes while preheating the oven to 350°F. Bake strata, uncovered, in middle of oven until puffed, golden brown, and cooked through, 45 to 55 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
1 bottle of champagne
1/2 bottle of orange juice
Optional: triple sec or peach schnapps
1. Get a pitcher.
2. Pour in bottle of champagne. Add half bottle of orange juice. Stir slowly and only once. (I stirred with a bit too much vigor and entertained my guests with a mimosa volcano.)
3. Pour into champagne flutes. Drink copiously.
If you’re going to drink copious amounts of mimosas, you need to stay hydrated. I call this “fancy” water because it has stuff in it that makes it taste all yummy and fresh.
Fresh mint or basil (if you have it)
1. Get a pitcher.
2. Slice lemons, limes, and cucumber and add to pitcher. Add torn mint or basil.
3. Pour in water. Chill and/or serve over ice.