Posts Tagged brunch

A Perfect Scone

As we all know, I love brunch—especially when that brunch involves a waitress bringing me eggs Benedict and mimosas. But, I have been known to love a potluck brunch at a friend’s house or to even host a brunch or two myself.

As much as I’d like to say that when I host brunch I make eggs Benny for everyone and the hollandaise sauce comes out perfectly, I am a mostly honest person. I do a lot of make-ahead recipes. And, this one that I found on epicrack is probably the best of the bunch. Quick to make the night before, easily portable, and generally a winner across generations (read as kids love ’em and they won’t bother the denture wearing set).

Chocolate Chip Scones

Makes 6 ridiculously large scones

  • 2 C unbleached all-purpose flour
  • ⅓ C plus 2 T sugar
  • 1 t baking powder
  • ½ t baking soda
  • ½ t salt
  • 6 T (¾ stick) chilled unsalted butter, diced
  • ½ t grated lemon peel
  • ¾ C miniature semisweet chocolate chips
  • ¾ C chilled buttermilk
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 t vanilla extract
  • Milk or buttermilk (for glaze)

Butter and flour baking sheet. Preheat oven to 400°.

Sift flour, ⅓ C sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into large bowl. Add butter and lemon peel; rub in with fingertips until butter is reduced to size of rice grains. Mix in chocolate chips. Whisk buttermilk, egg yolk and vanilla in small bowl to blend. Add buttermilk mixture to dry ingredients; mix until dough comes together in moist clumps.

Gather dough into ball. Press dough out on lightly floured surface to 8″ round; cut round into 6 wedges. Transfer wedges to prepared baking sheet, spacing 1″ apart. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.) This is the part I found most irritating. This is an extremely wet dough and will not cut nicely. Here are a couple tips:

  • Make this into 8 wedges (easier to cut than 6). The scones will still be plenty big.
  • Use a long, flat-edged, thin spatula (if you have one for frosting cakes that would be best) or a long chef’s knife. Dip it in water before each slice.
  • Use a wide spatula to move each piece to the baking sheet and then reform it a bit into a triangle. When these cook out, they will lose a bit of their triangular shape, so don’t worry if it’s not perfect.

Brush scones lightly with milk; sprinkle with remaining 2 T sugar. (I used large grain, sugar in the raw for this part so you could actually see the sugar after baking.) Bake until scones are crusty on top and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 18-20 minutes. Serve warm.

Results

This recipe is also very forgiving when swapping out the chocolate chips. For one batch, I used ¼ C chocolate chips and ½ C dried cranberries. I soaked the cranberries in about ½ C orange juice for a few hours. Then, replaced the lemon zest with orange zest. The dough was a bit wetter due to the additional liquid, but they still came out lovely.

Although the recipe says to serve warm, they work just as well the next day. So, these scones have become my go-to recipe for brunch potlucks and work breakfasts where my husband needs to take a dish to pass. Oh, and kids seem to love them even though they’re not as sweet.

Scones

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Jam Today

Whenever someone says the word jam, I hear Carol Channing singing “Jam tomorrow, jam yesterday. But never, ever jam today.” (Remember? It was from that awful 1980s TV version of Alice in Wonderland. Carol played the White Witch. YouTube it. See? You bastards never believe a word I say.)

Jam LogoNow that I put that ear worm in your head, we can talk about brunch. More specifically, brunch at Jam. It used to be in a teeny, tiny space on Damen Avenue south of Armitage. Jam has the dubious distinction of being the first restaurant that we took Mr. Moo. He was like 4… as in 4 days old. (Nothing comes between me and brunch. Not even sleeplessness, a newborn, or post-natal blob belly.)

Now, Jam is in a teeny, tiny space in Logan Square. Because as we all know, that’s where the cool kids are hanging out these days. OK, the space isn’t that tiny. But, it does have a raised area so wear nice shoes and longer skirts unless you want to be judged. It’s all modern and gray inside with pops of lime green. So, if any of that scares you… well, get over it… it’s just that good.

Also, I apologize again to all of the diners sitting near our table when we were there recently. My son still doesn’t understand that throwing objects at strangers is wrong (and mortally embarrassing for his parents).

What We Ate

Mr. Moo inhaled the French toast sticks off of the kiddie menu (yeah, they’re hip AND have four items for children). I had a bite and I’m sorry that they were just for kids because, man, they are good. Crusty and kind of deep fried yum. But not weird and squishy on the inside. Oh, and real syrup which always makes me happy.

I had the eggs Benedict (because what else would I get? I love them so). The eggs were perfectly done and gooey on top of itty bitty English muffins and brown sugar bacon sausage. Yeah, I said bacon sausage. And, I’ll also say fabulous. Bacon sausage: It’s as if you read my husband’s mind and put eggs on top of it. My dish was a bit on the small side so I also had the scone of the day (and I got lucky because it was mocha).

Paul had braised antelope… on a polenta cake. (See? I told you all the cool kids hang out in Logan Square eating cool stuff like antelope with sides of red Russian kale.) It looked ridiculously good. I was plenty pissed when Paul refused to share.

What We Drank

I had a spicy bloody Mary which was served with a smoked mussel as part of the garnish. They do the cocktail right… not too heavy on the vodka, not overly crazy with the spices. Paul had a beermosa. It’s beer and OJ. (Hipsters. What can you do?) Mr. Moo had the freshly pressed green apple juice.

Just go. It’s good.

Location: 3057 W. Logan Bvld. Street parking is generally free if you can find it.

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Stacking Brunch

I’m always on the hunt for the perfect brunch. Right now, my criteria are:

  • Fabulous food (always a must)
  • Short wait
  • Kid-friendly
  • Tons of carbs (see above… my kid is a carb loader)
  • Not super expensive

Stax Cafe LogoThanks to a friend’s recommendation, I can now add Stax Café to the list for brunching. The place has a ton of configurable tables, so if you go early on brunching days, the wait isn’t going to kill you. (They open at 7 a.m. for those of you who breakfast rather than brunch. Silly, sad early morning people. You make me sigh in exhaustion.) The floors are wood (read kid-friendly). Paul thought that the décor wasn’t much to talk about, but I appreciate loads of sunny windows and easy access to the tables without having my butt in another diner’s face.

As far as the food.. .well, it’s called Stax presumably because of the stacks and stacks of pancakes and crepes offered up on the menu. They also have eggs and lunch items as well. Oh, not to be missed are the fresh squeezed juices from the juice bar.

And, for cheap eats, they have a dish called the Starving Student—two eggs, two slices of bacon, and toast for less than $8.50. Can’t beat that with a stick (or stack… see what I did there?)

What We Ate

I had the parma prosciutto eggs Benedict. It’s two poached eggs sitting on top of polenta cakes with prosciutto, hollandaise, and parmesan cheese. Paul had some sort of meat mess. Quite frankly, I wasn’t paying attention to what he was eating. I was pretty consumed with my amazing plate. (Oh, how I love a savory breakfast.)

After conferring with the waitress, Mr. Moo had an order of plain pancakes. I briefly considered the banana cakes but the bananas are baked in and I had fear of the little due having a fit to find fruit inside his pancake. (They also have chocolate and peanut butter pancakes that I’d like to give a whirl one day.)

What We Drank

This is a non alcohol brunch place (another reason the bill is reasonable). So, coffee (Intelligentsia, thank you very much) and juices all around.

Location: 1401 W. Taylor. Street parking is pretty easy. They’re only open until 3 or 3:30 depending upon the day so no late night brekkies for you!

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Nanny, Nanny Boo-Boo

Nana LogoWhen my friend and I took are similarly aged children to the Museum of Science and Industry, we decided to cap off the outing with a bit of lunch. I suggested a place near my house that I have been meaning to try. And, that’s how I ended up at Nana on a weekday afternoon.

This is a wonderfully open and cheery restaurant. It’s very bright with natural wood floors. It has a beautiful high ceiling just the right height to carry the sounds of my screaming child to all corners of the establishment. (Yup, I had the first major baby restaurant meltdown. So much so that I had to take him outside for a bit of a walk.)

Nana is one of those great organic restaurants. The food is thoughtful and well-presented. The service is helpful. As I mentioned, the decor is inviting. Do not let one screaming child deter you from an otherwise wonderful place to dine.

What We Ate

I had the smoked pulled pork sandwich. Thick slabs of bread slathered in ancho BBQ sauce with caramelized onions. It came with a side of addictive jalapeño-lime slaw. My friend had the grilled chicken sandwich. Again, the same slaw and the same large slabs of bread. Perfect for adults, but…

When we ordered the grilled cheese off of the children’s menu, we got the same mega thick cut of bread. With masses of cheese. It was too much for both of our little ones. First, the portion was the same size as the adult sandwiches (crazy!). Secondly (and most importantly), the sandwiches were too thick for them to eat. They couldn’t open their little mouths to get the sandwich in. And, if you think it’s just because Mr. Moo is wee, my friend had the same issue when she brought the sandwich home to her almost 4 year old. Too much sandwich! And, too much work cutting it down when you’re trying to feed a fussy toddler.

What We Drank

Milk for the kiddies and iced teas for the adults. They also have a full bar with seasonal cocktails.

I want to go back for dinner as well as brunch. This kind of restaurant is my favorite kind—fresh, happy, and family-friendly (even when all the family members aren’t that friendly).

Location: 3267 S. Halsted Street. Parking on the street is pretty easy.

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Easter Turned into an Epicurious.com Freak Out

I know I promised not to rely on epicrack.com (I mean epicurious.com). But, I just couldn’t help myself when creating our Easter brunch. With the exception of one recipe, everything we made was based in part or wholly on a recipe from that infernally wonderful site.

My sister and I started the planning with a nod to the Southern cuisine. (Primarily because my mother requested that I make a shrimp and grits recipe she just loves.) But, it ended up being a hodge-podge of spring. And, isn’t that what Easter is all about? We, in the Northern climes, dress in absurdly spring-like clothing while shivering down to our boots. We gorge ourselves on chocolate eggs and jellied beans. We look forward to a bunny bringing us eggs. Just smoosh anything spring into this holiday festival.

Our brunch menu (as usual) was excessive. I’m going to share the recipes that I actually made and captured in pictures. The links are the actual recipes on epicrack. The ones below are my modifications.

  • Cornbread muffins with maple butter
  • Shrimp and grits (no pics, so no recipe review.. but it’s a good one)
  • Roasted pepper and asparagus egg bake (my mom and sister did this one)
  • Baked ham with mustard glaze (it’s ham with a glaze)
  • Beet salad
  • Asparagus salad
  • Fruit salad with lime and yogurt dressing
  • Cookies, cheese cake, and coffee cake (I never make dessert so, no pics of this)
  • Cocktail: Gin and grapefruit juice (and, as we all know, I’d never make a cocktail out of gin… this was all Emily… all of the drinkers loved it)

Cornbread Muffins with Maple Butter

Maple butter

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3 T pure maple syrup (preferably grade B)

Muffins

  • 1 C yellow cornmeal
  • 1 C unbleached all purpose flour
  • ¼ C sugar
  • 1 T baking powder
  • ¼ t salt
  • 1 C buttermilk
  • 1 large egg
  • 5 T unsalted butter, melted, cooled slightly

For maple butter

Using electric mixer, beat butter in medium bowl until creamy. Gradually beat in maple syrup until well blended and smooth. Can be made up to a week ahead. Cover and refrigerate.

For muffins

Preheat oven to 375°. Butter 12 regular (⅓-cup) muffin cups. Sift cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt into medium bowl. Whisk buttermilk and egg in another medium bowl; whisk in melted butter. Add buttermilk mixture to dry ingredients; stir just until incorporated (do not overmix). Divide batter equally among prepared muffin cups. Bake muffins until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 15 minutes (muffins will be pale). Cool on rack 10 minutes. Serve with maple butter.

Results

Corn Muffins

Yes, those are egg-shaped plates, decorated specifically for Easter.

This is a pretty easy cornbread muffin recipe, but you could make it even easier if you used a box mix. I know, I know… how horrible! But, if you’re in a rush, a mix is pretty quick and the muffin is nothing to write home about. The butter, on the other hand, is awesome. I tried to put it in a pretty mold with a bird, but it didn’t quite come out that well. No worries, the taste made up for it.

Beet Carpaccio with Goat Cheese and Mint Vinaigrette

  • 12 2-inch beets, trimmed
  • 1 C crumbled soft fresh goat cheese (about 5 oz)
  • 2 T minced shallot
  • ⅓ C unseasoned rice vinegar
  • ⅓ C chopped fresh mint
  • ¼ C olive oil
  • 1½ t sugar
  • ¼ C chopped fresh chives

Preheat oven to 350°. Line rimmed baking sheet with foil. Place beets on sheet (if using both light- and dark-colored beets, place them on separate sheets to prevent discoloration). Sprinkle beets lightly with water. Cover tightly with foil. Bake until beets are tender when pierced with fork, about 40 minutes. Cool on sheet. Peel beets. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Place in resealable plastic bag; chill.)

Using cheese slicer or knife, slice beets very thinly. Slightly overlap slices on platter. Sprinkle with cheese, then shallot, salt, and pepper. Whisk vinegar, mint, oil, and sugar in small bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle over beets. Sprinkle with chives.

Results

So, after we were halfway through making this, Em and I looked at each other and said, “We should have gotten golden beets as well.” Just didn’t think about it until we were placing them on the platter. The golden beets would have made a nice contrast to the dark beets. And, probably wouldn’t have been quite such a mess.

Also, next time, not doing the chives in chopped format. I’ll make them long and lean for decorative purposes only.

Beets on a platter

Asparagus, Green Onion, and Cucumber Salad

Dressing

  • 2 T fresh lemon juice
  • 2 t red wine vinegar
  • ½ t Dijon mustard
  • ½ t coarse kosher salt
  • ¼ t freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ C extra-virgin olive oil

Salad

  • 2½ lbs medium asparagus, trimmed
  • 2 bunches green onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 large cucumbers, peeled, seeded, cut into ¼-inch cubes
  • 1 T fresh Italian parsley, chopped
  • 3 T spring greens, chopped
  • 1 T fresh chives, chopped
  • 1 T fresh mint, chopped

For dressing

Whisk first 5 ingredients in small bowl. Gradually whisk in oil. Can be made a day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature and re-whisk before using.

For salad

Fill large bowl with lightly salted ice water; stir until salt dissolves. Cook asparagus in large pot of boiling salted water until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Drain, reserving 3 cups cooking liquid. Transfer asparagus to bowl of salted ice water to cool. Place green onions in another large bowl; pour hot reserved asparagus cooking liquid over onions and let stand until cool, about 30 minutes. Drain asparagus and green onions well. Transfer onions to clean kitchen towel and squeeze dry. Asparagus and onions can be made a day ahead. Wrap separately in several layers of paper towels, then enclose in resealable plastic bags and refrigerate.

Combine green onions, cucumbers, and herbs in mixing bowl. Add dressing; toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper.

Arrange asparagus on platter. Spoon cucumber mixture over and serve.

Results

This is a whole lotta asparagus. I even cut down from the original recipe. We had seven adults, and we still had tons and tons of leftovers. Seriously, who eats this much asparagus? The dressing is good with the cucumbers, but I found the soggified green onions in boiling water unnecessary, to say the least.

Asparagus and cucumber salad

I guess there’s just so many better ways to serve asparagus—especially in the spring.

Fruit Salad with Honey-Lime Dressing

  • ½ C plain yogurt (I used whole… full of fat yumminess)
  • ¼ C fresh lime juice
  • ¼ C honey
  • 1 t grated lime peel
  • 2 C diced peeled cantaloupe
  • 2 C diced peeled honeydew melon
  • 2 C seedless red or green grapes
  • 2 C diced peeled cored pineapple
  • 1½ C diced peeled papaya
  • 1 C halved hulled strawberries

Whisk first four ingredients in small bowl to blend; set dressing aside. Combine remaining ingredients in large bowl. Cover dressing and fruit separately and chill until ready to serve, up to 6 hours.

Mix dressing into fruit. Let stand 15 minutes to blend flavors.

Results

Fabulous and easy. Not enough yogurt to make me sick, but enough to give it a bit of creamy tartness. Obviously, you can use whatever fruit you have on hand. Two cups isn’t a lot, so this is a great recipe if you regularly buy pre-cut fruit (instead of a whole melon, for example).

Fruit Salad

So, that’s it. Our Easter blow-out, brunch style. Happy spring!

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Tweeting Before Twitter

Before Twitter, when a Chicagoan said, “Let’s go Tweet.” you knew, you were headed north on Sheridan for some serious brunching. This is still very much the case as I don’t think anyone has ever suggested tweeting on Twitter as a group activity. “Wanna hang out?” “Sure. We can tweet together.” I’m old, but not that old.

Tweet LogoThere are two decidedly different brunch crowds at Tweet. The first (early birds, if you can excuse the pun) are people toting tots. Tweet is super kid-friendly in the morning. Not only do they put down the paper under the highchair, but they bring a huge basket of toys and books to occupy your child. Then, the waiter stops by with an organic hand wipe and a plate of sliced bananas with a baby fork. Yes, this is where you want to be if you have children who like to brunch.

The second brunch crowd strolls in a bit later. They don’t have children, but they do have hangovers. And, that’s OK because Tweet’s sister bar, Big Chicks, is right next door with an adjoining portal to the alcohol. They serve mimosas and bloody Marys and all sorts of heavenly concoctions while you wait for your table. (And, if you get there in the hung over crowd, there will be a table wait.) You can also order drinks and they’ll be brought to your table.

I recently went to Tweet with a friend and our young sons.

What We Ate

Despite their evident love for children, their actual children’s menu is limited to a plate of pancakes and ordering off the list of sides. Mr. Moo had the pancakes (with a side of fruit) which he proceeded to throw on the floor. Mr. Moo’s dining companion was much better behaved and ate all of his scrambled eggs.

I ordered what I always order: The quiche platter. It’s the quiche of the day (there are usually two… one with meat and one without), organic salad, fruit cup, and a massive croissant. I have never actually finished the entire thing. The quiche slice is probably ¼ of the pie and the fruit cup is loaded with berries and just a few melon bits.

On this particular day, the veggie quiche option was sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, and goat cheese. I always end up on the platter for two reasons:

  1. The menu is huge and I overwhelm easily in the mornings.
  2. I really like their quiche. It’s just plain good—a perfect balance between the egg and the filling. The crust is thick, but not gooey.

My friend ordered the same thing, so I think that’s a win.

What We Drank

Coffee… because I was with the Moo… lots and lots and lots of coffee.

A few other items worth mentioning: Tweet is cash only, but they have a generic ATM on site. And, they have a very sizable gluten-free menu, including gluten-free pancakes and bagels. (GF lox platter! Huzzah!)

Location: 5020 N. Sheridan Road. Metered parking is usually available somewhere nearby. If you’re willing to search and walk a bit, free street parking can be found as well.

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Hipster Brunch

There are times when you want to grab brunch and be all hipster-like you used to be before you had children. (And, by you, I will confess I mean me.) Then, the realities of the situation set in. You have a spouse. Your spouse deserves a morning of rest and relaxation because maybe he’s been spending every Sunday morning with the babe for many months. So, then you have the brilliant idea of grabbing brunch with a few girlfriends, but doing it early enough to bring the child before he gets beastie.

Prasino logoWhoa, but you still need to get your slinky hipster on, you say? Head on over to Prasino in Wicker Park. When you walk in, you’ll be reminded that you once knew what it was like to feel cool. But, there are enough little humans around that you don’t feel terribly bad about spawning.

Another reason to love their menu is that they list out the vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free items. And, there are enough of them to make it worth the trip.

What We Ate

I had the caprese eggs Benedict. It starts with the standard multi-grain English muffin, but tops it with tomato, basil, mozzarella, poached eggs (two of them), balsamic reduction, and hollandaise. The eggs were done to my perfection—drizzling, gooey yolk with a firm exterior. This dish made me wonder why caprese salads don’t come with eggs on top.

My friend had the Irish skillet which comes in the actual skillet (I do appreciate truth in advertising.) It’s exactly what you would expect it to be—corned beef hash, onions, peppers, cheddar cheese, and two eggs exactly how you like them to be served. Pretty good and pretty gluten free.

My sister had the achiote chicken chilaquiles. The dish arrives in a skillet as well but this time has a tortilla, eggs, charred tomato salsa, avocado, and the chicken. Also gluten free and completely annihilated by the end of brunch.

Finally, Mr. Moo had a multigrain bagel and good portion of my potatoes. (The kid loves his carbs.)

Next time I go, I’m definitely trying the sweet potato hash as well as the ginger snap pancakes.

What We Drank

My lovely dining companions had few breakfast cocktails. And, despite what you people may think, I’m not a complete drunk around my child. I went with coffee. Loads and loads of coffee. Because let’s be honest, if I’m not drunk I need to be heavily caffeinated. (I jest! I really jest.)

Location: 1846 W. Division. On Sundays, they have free parking across the street. I told you, you could be hip and still have your baby with you.

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