Brunch Time with the Girls

I have gotten a bit behind on my blog posts.  It has been an exhausting couple weeks at work.  I tried to write all weekend, but I was too tired to get anywhere.  I really hope I can finally get this post written.

I had a fabulous brunch this weekend with my girlfriends.  I have been fortunate enough to have made some really good friends at work.  We all met over three years ago and have had many things to bond over, one of which being how stressed we all were at work.  We don’t all work at the same office anymore, but we are still friends and love getting together when our busy schedules permit.

After going out for brunch the weekend before, I had a urge to cook my own brunch.  I was going to cook brunch for just myself on Saturday, but that felt a bit depressing.  Brunch is a meal best shared with friends, so I invited my girls over to enjoy it with me.  We were also long overdue for a get together.

In an uncharacteristic move, I planned a brunch menu that was classic and delicious but required minimal effort.  I brought everything together in less than two hours (and that included a fight with my food processor).

My normal trend for cooking for a get together is that I pick elaborate dishes (or just too many dishes) and spend way too much time prepping and cooking.  I love to cook, but when I spend hours cooking (and end up still cooking while my guests arrive) I don’t enjoy the event as much because I am so focused on cooking.  For this brunch, I did end up running around for a few minutes as every arrived, but this was more to put the final touches on everything and get them onto serving plates.

I only prepared two dishes for brunch (plus brownies for dessert).  I planned a build-your-own tostadas bar.  Build-your-own bars are such an easy way to liven up a dinner party or brunch.  It means you actually have to do less work, and it gives your guests something fun to do.

Breakfast Tostadas

For my tostadas, I decided to make the tostada shells myself.  I am absolutely not against buying pre-made tostadas from the store.  In fact, I probably would usually choose that route.  However, I ended up with a handful of  yellow corn tortillas from my weekend at Deep Creek Lake.  Tostadas felt like a good use for those tortillas.  I am not big on using yellow corn tortillas for tacos; I’d rather use white corn.   The texture is much better to me.

To make the tostadas, I fried each individually in a medium frying pan with a shallow pool of vegetable oil (enough for the tortillas to swim in).  After the tortillas started to boil, I flipped the tortilla over to the other side.  I repeated this if I felt the tortilla had not browned enough.  I then transferred the tortilla to a plate lined with paper towels.  I put three tortillas on the paper towel and then layered a new paper towel until complete.

After completing this step, I was not satisfied with tostadas.  They were so oily that they were still a little flimsy and not crisp like I wanted them.  So, I threw them on a baking sheet and stuck them in the oven for 350 until the oil baked off and the tostadas were brown and crispy.  I pulled them out at just the right time.  They were perfectly crispy without being burnt.

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To serve with the tostadas, I had black beans, eggs, guacamole, salsa, and cheese (I made everything but the cheese).  I had chopped up some cilantro to garnish on top.

To make the salsa, I combined the following ingredients in the food processor and pulsed until combined:

  • four tomatoes on the vine
  • one medium red onion
  • three jalapeños with seeds
  • one can of crushed tomatoes
  • one small can of diced green chiles
  • the juice of one lime
  • cilantro (small handful)
  • cumin to taste
  • salt and pepper to taste

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Unfortunately, my food processor and I got in a fight during the process, and the result was a mess.  The good news is I still ended up with a gorgeous bowl of salsa.  It was definitely spicy, but I do like a fair amount of spice.  If I were to do anything differently, I would have added one or two chipotle peppers in adobo sauce to make it a smoky salsa.

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To make the guacamole, I put the following ingredients in a medium mixing bowl and combined using a potato masher (and then a fork for a finer mash):

  • three avocados
  • one tomato, diced
  • half a medium red onion, diced
  • two jalapeños (seeds removed and diced)
  • small handful of cilantro (roughly chopped)
  • juice of one lime
  • season salt and pepper to taste

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The avocados I had were right on the line of being ripe, so they were a little difficult to mash, but the taste and texture of the guacamole ended up coming together well.  I ended up preserving the leftover guacamole in the fridge with some lime juice and destroyed the rest of the guacamole the next day after returning from a volunteer event.

Of course you could always keep the seeds in the jalapeños for a spicier guacamole.  Since I made a spicy salsa, I wanted to keep a mild guacamole for a cooling agent.

To make the black beans, I sautéed thinly sliced red onion (the other half of the onion that I did not use for the guacamole) in a medium frying pan over medium heat until they were translucent.  I then added a can of black beans (liquid included) and simmered over low heat.  To season, I added cumin, ancho chili powder, chipotle powder, salt and pepper.  I really couldn’t tell you how much seasoning I used.  I just sprinkled until it looked right.  When seasoning, think about what seasons are the strongest and don’t overdue it.  You don’t want to overpower your dish with any one flavor.  I let the beans simmer on low heat until the the sauce reduced.

To finish off the tostada preparation, I took four eggs with a splash of milk and some salt and pepper and whisked them together in a bowl.  I added some oil to a small frying pan and poured the eggs into the pan once it was warm.  I recommend cooking eggs over low heat.  I let the eggs sit and gentled scrambled every couple minutes until they were fully cooked.

To serve, I put each component in its own bowl and put on a cute serving platter (it has a pineapple on it!)  Everyone got to put exactly what they wanted on their tostada and it prevented having a soggy tostada by preassembling.

Biscuits and Gravy

The other dish I made for brunch was biscuits and gravy, a southern specialty.  Now, you may be thinking, what does a girl from Pennsylvania know about making biscuits and gravy?  Well to be honest, it was only my second time making biscuits, and it was my first time ever making sausage gravy.  So maybe take whatever I say about making this dish with a grain of salt.

For the biscuits, I used a buttermilk biscuit recipe from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe.  This is absolutely my favorite food blog, and I will sing Mel’s praises until the end of time.

My biscuit dough turned out great, but I made one fatal flaw in the cooking process.  I forgot that the biscuits needed to be basically touching on the pan in order to rise while cooking.  I guess I got over confident because I made this recipe once three years ago and didn’t go back and read the entire recipe.

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The biscuits still tasted good.  They were just more flat and didn’t have the flaky layers I was trying to achieve.  My friend told me I should be more open about talking about my not so perfect baking/cooking results.  I am a bit of a perfectionist, so it is hard for me to talk about my mistakes.  However, I said I wanted to write about being a home chef, and that means that not everything is going to be great.  I am not a professional chef.  I am not even a trained chef.  I don’t want to lie and make it seem like I make everything perfectly.  That wouldn’t be a normal experience for even professional chefs.  So I am trying to embrace my hiccups and grow from them.  I do think these biscuits tasted fine, but I am itching to try again and see if I can get the flaky layers I wanted.

To serve over the biscuits, I made sausage gravy.  I took one pound of breakfast sausage (I used Jimmy Dean’s) and cooked it over medium-high heat until it started to brown, breaking the meat into pieces as it cooked.  I added about a 1/3 cup of flour to the meat after it was brown and started to turn a little crispy.  Once the flour was fully incorporated into the meat, I added four cups of whole milk.  I started it on high until it began to bubble, and then I reduced the heat to low to allow it to simmer until it thickened.  I seasoned the gravy with salt and pepper.

It really was that easy.  It came together very quickly and tasted phenomenally.  To quote Guy Fieri, “I’d eat that on a flip flop.”  Okay, maybe not, but I’d eat it with a spoon.  It was that good.

Just like that, I had two wonderful and filling brunch dishes planned.  My friends brought fruit, salad, and mini quiche (the quiche will make an appearance in a future post).  I served everything with traditional OJ mimosas and coffee (using my pour over).

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I had no idea how much we needed this brunch until it happened.  I knew I needed some time to unwind and vent, but it is unreal how cathartic this brunch was.  We obviously had a lot to discuss, since everyone arrived around 11:30 am and we finished talking at about 6:00 pm.  I didn’t even realize how much time had passed.  That is how into each other’s company we were.

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There is something very valuable these women have taught me since we have become friends, and that is how important it is for women (especially young women) to spend time with other females.

When I first moved here, I only had a couple male friends.  That grew into a bountiful pool of male friends, but I really didn’t have female friends here in DC.  That was at least until a couple of my female friends moved to (or back to) DC and when I bonded with my female co-workers.

This is not to say that I don’t find value in my friendships with my male friends.  They are just different and always are going to lack something.  Even my most well-meaning male friends are not going to be able to understand what I am feeling as a woman the way my female friends do (because they are living it, too).

I remember one of the first times we all met for happy hour after work and ended up into a feminist rant.  We all got to vent our frustrations over our female experiences.  Letting out that anger and pain with people who not only understand but support each other is such a great feeling.  I didn’t realize until that moment that spending time with my friends could be so uplifting and energizing.  Unfortunately (despite actual intentions) when I socialize with my group of male friends, I often end up feeling drained and let down.  It is more than a feeling of being out of place.  It is like my friends are actively working against my own well-being (even if they don’t know they are doing it).

This is why spending time with my female friends is so important.  We love to support each other and give the space to just exist without all the negative energy put into world against women.  We are just women supporting each other, lifting each other up, wanting to see the best happen for each person.  There really is nothing better than that.

I will say that my female friends have absolutely been the most supportive and encouraging about my growing idea for my new plans for my future.  I feel like I have people on my side who believe in me and trust me to do the right thing for myself.  I really needed that encouragement this weekend, and I thank my friends for spending the day with me.

 

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