I grew up in Louisville, where there are two holiday seasons: the month of December and the couple of weeks leading to Derby Day, the first Saturday in May. Both are a whirl of parties and entertaining. The trick for both was to plan your party so you would have the most people come, and your wouldn’t miss a really good one given by someone else.
As a young bride, I found a solution that worked best for me. I tended to be a bit more moderate in my fun-having than some. So my traditional party was a brunch, the Sunday after Derby Day in May, and on New Year’s Day in January. Everyone came, since I was the only one entertaining on those days, and all appreciated not having to cope with getting breakfast together themselves.
The trick to this is to have dishes that can be mostly prepared in advance. Recently a group of friends got together for a leisurely brunch. We set out a platter of assorted cheeses and crackers to start. The main event was a made-ahead mushroom-cheddar sauce with hard-cooked eggs and Canadian bacon on toasted English muffins and served with a salad. For a sweet, we had an easy lemon coffeecake from a recipe I’ve had for a while. It probably came off the back of a Bisquick box.
The last minute work on this is minimal. The day before, make your sauce, cook your eggs and make your cake. Then for the brunch. all you have to do is reheat the sauce and add the eggs, warm the Canadian bacon and toast the muffins. Toss a bag of spring greens with a small can of Mandarin oranges (drained), sliced strawberries and purchased poppy seed dressing. Make a big pot of coffee. Set out pitchers of orange and tomato juices with bottles of vodka and sparkling wine if that’s your inclination.
We made a sort of Kir Royal with champagne and pomegranate juice (available in the produce section of most supermarkets). It was an experiment and a felicitous one, since it wasn’t too sweet.
Why don’t you start your own New Year’s Day tradition? Invite your friends, feed them and then let them put their feet up to watch the football games, work the crossword puzzle or just nap a bit. They’ll be so grateful!
Mushroom-Cheddar Brunch Muffins
1 lb white mushrooms, divided
8 tbsp unsalted butter (one stick), divided
6 tbsp all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup half-and-half
1 tsp each dry mustard and sugar
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup dry sherry
12 ounces sharp cheddar, shredded
1/2 small onion
1 cup sliced black olives
1 jar (12-ounce) roasted red peppers, drained and sliced
24 slices Canadian bacon
12 English muffins
12 eggs, hard cooked, peeled
Sweet paprika, for garnish
Slice about half the mushrooms. In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons of the butter and sauté the sliced mushrooms over medium heat until lightly browned. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the remaining butter to the pan. When it starts to foam, whisk in the flour and cook, stirring constantly for a couple of minutes. Whisk in the stock until smooth, then whisk in the cream. Add the mustard, sugar, Worcestershire sauce and sherry. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened.
Meanwhile in a food processor, combine the remaining mushrooms and the onion and pulse to make fine “crumbs.” When the sauce is smooth and thick, add this mixture and continue to simmer for about five minutes, stirring often. Add the reserved sautéed mushrooms, the olives and the roasted peppers. Stir in the cheese until melted. At this point you can cover, cool and refrigerate until ready to use, up to three days.
When ready to serve, peel and slice the eggs. Warm the sauce and gently stir in the eggs. Split the muffins and place on a baking sheet. Put the slices on Canadian bacon on another sheet. Preheat the broiler. Place the Canadian bacon on a lower shelf with the muffins above. Toast the muffins, watching carefully (they go from toasted to charred very quickly!). On dinner plates, place two muffin halves, top each with a warmed Canadian bacon slice, then the sauce. Sprinkle with paprika and serve immediately.
You can also put the sauce in a chafing dish, set out the muffins and Canadian bacon, and let folks serve themselves as they wander in. Serves 12.
Bisquick Lemon Coffee Cake
2-1/2 cups Bisquick baking mix
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp poppy seeds
1 lemon (peel and all) warmed, seeded and cubed
1/3 cup butter, softened
2 tbsp milk
1 cup powdered sugar
5 tbsp fresh lemon juice
Preheat oven to 350o. Stir together Bisquick, sugar and poppy seeds. In a blender or food processor blend lemon pieces until finely chopped. Add eggs and butter and blend well. Pour into dry ingredients. Add milk and stir until just moistened. Pour into a greased 9-inch cake pan. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until lightly browned. Cool about 15 minutes.
In a small bowl, stir together powdered sugar and lemon juice. Drizzle over the cake. To store, let glaze set, then wrap in plastic wrap and store at room temperature. Makes 12 modest sized servings.