Eat and Be Merry and “Crystal Chandelier”

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Be Inspired Seasonally with Rita Calvert

After exploring the cabin, we are back out amongst the sparkling silver trees. Ahead decorations, bells, baubles, beads and garnishes shimmer in crystal, glass and silver as the Crystal Chandelier casades from the ceiling of the forest. Puffy fur-fashioned polar bears along with their babies, lounge in the frosty landscape.

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 Chubby wooden penquins add natural charm to the glowing icy landscape. 

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“Eat and Be Merry” brunch is on the way as we move on to our  morning meal with friends to stave off our hunger.  Casual and cozy, this easy prep brunch dish is made for a laid-back morning before the big action begins!

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 Dessert is not absolutely necessary for a holiday brunch, however, sweets are always adored. Keep it simple and offer luscious truffles (these are from Spagnola-a MD company), in a simply beautiful bowl.

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Creamy Mushroom Tomato Strata

Serves 8-10

Make ahead, relax and bake off just before serving. I made the strata in two pie plates to make showy wedges.

  • 1/2 (16-oz.) French bread loaf, cubed (about 5 cups) 
  • 6 tablespoons butter, divided 
  • 2 cups (8 oz.) shredded Swiss cheese 
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese 
  • 1/2 cup chopped dried tomatoes, rehydrated 
  • 8 ounces sliced baby portabella mushrooms
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour 
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth 
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine (trade for more chicken broth if desired)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt and freshly ground pepper 
  • 1/2 cup sour cream 
  • 8 large eggs, lightly beaten 

Place bread cubes in a well-buttered 13- x 9-inch baking dish or two round pie dishes. Melt 3 tablespoons butter, and drizzle over bread cubes. Sprinkle with tomatoes and cheeses.

Melt remaining 3 tablespoons butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat; add mushrooms and garlic. Sauté 2 to 3 minutes or until tender. Whisk in flour until smooth; cook, whisking constantly, 2 to 3 minutes or until lightly browned. Whisk in broth and next 4 ingredients until blended. Bring mixture to a boil; reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, 15 minutes or until thickened. Remove from heat. Stir in sour cream. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Gradually whisk about one-fourth of hot sour cream mixture into eggs; add egg mixture to remaining sour cream mixture, whisking constantly. Pour mixture over cheese in baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap, and chill 8 to 24 hours.

Let strata stand at room temperature 1 hour. Preheat oven to 350°. Remove plastic wrap, and bake 30 minutes or until set. Serve immediately.

Award Winning Green Soup

Serves 4-6

Anna Thomas’ tells us her excellent recipe is also a template. You could use any greens, and any herbs. Instead of the potato Thomas has bolstered the broth with arborio rice, yams or other mild vegetable.

  • 1 bunch chard or spinach
  • 1 bunch kale
  • 4 to 5 green onions, sliced, white and green parts
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 medium Yukon Gold potato
  • 1 medium yellow onion
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
  • Marsala or dry sherry (optional)
  • 1 to 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 1/2 to 3 cups vegetable broth
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Cayenne
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, plus more to taste

Wash the greens thoroughly, trim off their stems, and slice the leaves. Combine the chard or spinach, kale, green onions, and cilantro in a large soup pot with 3 cups water and a teaspoon of salt. Peel the potato, or just scrub it well if you prefer, cut it into small pieces, and add it to the pot. Bring the water a boil, turn down the flame to low, cover the pot, and let the soup simmer for about half an hour.

Meanwhile, chop the onion, heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet, and cook the onion with a small sprinkle of salt over medium flame until it is golden brown and soft. This will take up to half an hour. Don’t hurry; give it a stir once in a while, and let the slow cooking develop the onion’s sweetness. If you like, you can deglaze the pan at the end with a bit of Marsala or sherry — not required, but a nice touch.

Add the caramelized onion to the soup. Put the remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil in the pan and stir the chopped garlic in it for just a couple of minutes, until it sizzles and smells great. Add the garlic to the pot and simmer the soup for 10 minutes more.

Add enough of the broth to make the soup a soup — it should pour easily from the butter and puree it in the blender, in batches, or use an immersion blender. Don’t overprocess, potatoes can turn gummy it you work them too much.

Return the soup to the pot, bring it back to a simmer, and taste. Add a pitch more salt if needed, grind in a little black pepper, and add a pinch of cayenne and a tablespoon of lemon juice. Stir well and taste again. Now use your taste buds — correct the seasoning to your taste with a drop more lemon juice or another pinch of salt, and then serve big steaming bowls of green soup.

Garnish with a thin drizzle of fruity olive oil.

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