Quick Birthday Brunch

what's cooking

My boyfriend’s birthday celebration weekend went beyond Peanut Butter Cup Cheesecake. I also surprised him Saturday morning with a quick brunch for two. The whole meal took less than an hour to prepare, as it utilized a mix of from-scratch and pre-made ingredients. And all this was done as he was still snoozing away.

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On the Menu:
Scrambled Egg Muffins
Bacon Hearts
Banana Berry Smoothie
Sea Salt Caramel Blondies
Fresh Fruit
Coffee

For the Egg Muffins:
I lowered the the oven temperature to 350 degrees (it had been at 400 degrees for the bacon). I beat about four eggs and mixed in 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, a pinch of salt, and a pinch of nutmeg. I sprayed a few molds in my muffin tin (I did not need all twelve molds), and filled each about halfway with the egg mixture. Because of how much eggs leaven when they bake, it was important not to overfill the tin, even though they eggs collapsed a bit after baking. The eggs baked for about 20 minutes, until they were just starting to turn golden and were firm in the center (use a toothpick or knife to check – if it comes out clean, the eggs are done). What is great about this method is that you have portion control and you can play around with ingredients in your eggs.

For the Bacon Hearts:
Since David’s birthday is just after Valentine’s Day, Pinterest and the blogosphere were full of cute recipes. I found this one at The Paper Mama. I did deviate from her recipe slightly, by brushing the bacon with some maple syrup and brown sugar for a hint of sweetness.

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For the Banana Berry Smoothies:
I love smoothies. I have one almost every day for breakfast. I usually mix in chia seeds and greens powder, such as Green Vibrance, but for this brunch, I kept it simple. I mixed a cup of frozen berries, a cup of frozen bananas, a cup of berry juice, in this case I used Tropicana Farmstand Pomegranate Blueberry, and a cup of unsweetened almond milk. I blended it all in my blender until smooth, about one minute.

For the rest:
The rest of the menu was pretty much ready-made items. The blondies were Dancing Deer brand that I bought on sale at work, and I cut them in to smaller pieces, we also had clementines, and coffee was made in my Keurig.

Vegan Chocolate Caramel Truffles

Leave it to post-Easter to continue on the meat free and dairy free crusade. I was asked to do a coffee tasting for a work meeting and I cannot do a coffee tasting without epic treats. It’s just my MO.

While I made Chocolate Chip Caramel Cheesecake Bars for the rest of the crew, one of my fellow managers is vegan, so I wanted to prepare a treat that he could eat as well. The coffee we were tasting, Starbucks Caffe Verona, goes great with chocolate and caramelized sugar. Most caramel recipes contain dairy, so I went on a hunt to find a caramel flavoring that was vegan. I could have just purchased Starbucks caramel syrup, but I was not thinking when I was at the grocery store. Instead, I found this product, Walden Farms Caramel Syrup. It was fat free, sugar free, calorie free, gluten free, etc….and more importantly for my purpose, dairy-free and vegan.

I wasn’t sure what to do with my caramel sauce, all I knew is that I had to come up with something vegan which included chocolate and caramel.

Racking my brains for a little while, it hit me. Modify an Oreo truffle recipe. Oreo truffles were a huge hit with my staff back at Christmas time, and they are super easy to make – oreos mixed with cream cheese and dipped in chocolate. At my disposal, I had vegan dark chocolate for melting, Nabisco Famous Wafer Cookies (which are essentially oreo cookies without the filling), and the caramel syrup. I decided to mix the cookies, sauce, and some margarine to create my truffle filling. The margarine and caramel sauce became my cream cheese substitute. Caramel was used for flavor and the margarine was used as a creamy fat which would solidify at room temperature.

So…here’s my on the fly recipe:

  • 20 Nabisco Famous Wafer Cookies
  • 1/4 cup Walden Farms Caramel Syrup
  • 1/4 cup Margarine, melted
  • 4 ounces Vegan Dark Chocolate (more or less may be needed), for dipping
  • 1 tablespoon Vegetable Shortening, for dipping mixture
  1. In a food processor, process cookies, syrup, and margarine until mixture is smooth. Transfer truffle filling to a bowl and refrigerate for at least two hours, but preferably overnight.
  2. Remove the bowl from the refrigerator. Using a teaspoon or tablespoon (your preference depending on what size you’d like the truffles), scoop out filling and roll into balls and place on waxed paper. Place the balls back in the refrigerator while you work on the next step, or until you’re ready to dip.
  3. When you’re ready to dip, melt chocolate and shortening over a double boiler until smooth. The addition of the shortening is a short cut so you don’t have to spend the time tempering the chocolate. Remove from heat.
  4. Dip the cookie balls into the chocolate, roll around using two forks or two spoons. As each ball is coated, transfer to waxed paper. When all the balls have been dipped, you can move the truffles to the refrigerator to cool and harden.
  5. Truffles can be served immediately after the chocolate is hardened. To store, keep refrigerated in an air tight container.

FOS – When Onions Become the Foundation of a Healthy Relationship

When I was in high school, I loved comedian Paul Reiser’s book, Couplehood. There was a chapter in the book that discussed going out for coffee. It was a pretty elaborate chapter and I wish I still had my copy of the book to accurately quote what he was talking about, which was essentially there isn’t anything beyond coffee that people could meet up for without it sounding odd or complicated. By going out for coffee, the name coincides with the event, you know what you will do when you get there. I want to show Mr. Reiser how this has evolved and you can in fact get together for more than a coffee date and less than a full meal – the answer lies in soup. French Onion Soup, specifically. Or, how I like to refer to it and hope it takes over the world, FOS.

This very food has formed the foundation of one of my friendships, the man whom I also commissioned for the graphics of this blog and one of my Starbucks partners, Mr. Eric Shine. We didn’t hit it off when we initially met and he was just a customer in my store, it was upon interviewing him and offering him a job that everything fell into place. Now Eric and I are in very different places in our lives, not just because of our 14+ year age difference. I am practically mid-career and focused on settling down and finding someone to share my life with. Eric’s life, in a way, is just beginning – he’s finishing up high school and starting college in the fall. Over time, we discovered we had quite a bit in common, such as our sharp wits, love of technology, entrepreneurial spirits, and a love of food. All of these commonalities were slowly discovered bowl after bowl of French Onion Soup…and we didn’t have to be hanging out to bond over the soup. It got to the point that we would just inform each other when one party was eating said soup somewhere, and the rest of the conversations follow. As Eric would say, when we met, onions cried…

Eric has an un-quenching thirst for the combination of savory broth, sweet caramelized onions, French bread, and gooey melted cheese. It is just one of those dishes that he endlessly craves. Up until about three months ago I had never even attempted to make it at home, it had never crossed my mind, but over time and knowing Eric, I was up to the culinary challenge.

Since my first attempt, I feel I have perfected my recipe, though I will continue to meet for FOS.

It all starts with an onion

Slice about 5 - 6 large onions to begin...

Melt about a stick of butter in a large stock pot, preferably one with a heavy bottom. Add the onions and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally.

After about half an hour of stirring around the onions, they will start to brown and caramelize. Once they are brown, soft, and syrupy, you can add your seasonings.

For seasonings, I went with thyme, salt, pepper, bay leaves, and some parsley

Add about two quarts of beef stock, and allow to simmer for an least an hour. Soup can be served immediately, or cooled to be reheated and served later.

When you're ready to serve...in oven-safe soup bowls, ladle in some hot soup.

Add your French bread...I had rubbed a bit of garlic on the bread and toasted it first.

Add your cheese. Gruyere, Gouda, and Swiss all work well. Here I have Gouda. Place the bowl under your broiler. I have mine on a sheet pan to make it easier to place in and take out of the oven.

In 3 - 5 minutes, you have your own French bistro fare, worthy of the finest of friendships.