Brunch. I’ve always thought it was a strange concept and a strange meal.
I don’t know who came up with the idea but I am convinced it was a restauranteur who didn’t like opening his business at 7 a.m. but still liked scrambled eggs and pancakes.
When I lived outside Canton, Ohio, I worked at a restaurant called the 356th Fighter Group.
I don’t mind giving them a free plug in this story because a bad flood a couple of years ago sadly put this landmark place out of business. I was a chef there and I can honestly tell you that in all of my years of culinary experience, no one did brunch like this place.
On Sundays, the 356th would be converted and nothing but brunch was on the menu – all day.
And people would wait sometimes up to two hours in the lobby to get in for brunch. I know this because my only job was to work the omelet station and it was not unusual to make 500 omelets on any given Sunday. I had never experienced anything like it before or since.
Until working every Sunday for a man named Bob Scofield (he didn’t like getting up at 7 a.m. either), I was never a big fan of the theory of “brunch.” It never made sense to me – this combination of breakfast and lunch. I never understood why anyone would want to get pancakes and then wait 20 minutes and dig into lasagna.
That was until I spent time talking to people in line at my omelet station and I realized brunch is not just a meal – it’s a complete social event that totally revolves around food.
Brunch is not hurried. It usually involves a group of friends who want to enjoy a longer and lazier get together.
At brunch, you get to visit and laugh and partake in good food – and for some it’s a reason to drink alcohol before noon.Being invited for brunch is still a special invitation and the food served at brunch is still on a menu all its own.
Sausage Hash Brown Casserole
1 pound hot pork sausage
15 ounces of frozen hash brown potatoes, thawed
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
11/2 tsp. salt, divided
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1 cup milk
3 large eggs, beaten
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease a half-casserole baking dish or deep-dish pie plate. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook and stir sausage in the hot skillet until browned and crumbly, 5 to 7 minutes; drain and discard grease. Stir hash browns, cooked sausage, Cheddar cheese, 1/2 teaspoon salt and black pepper together in a large bowl. Whisk milk, eggs and remaining salt together in another bowl. Pour hash brown mixture into prepared baking dish; pour egg mixture evenly over hash brown mixture. Bake in the preheated oven until bubbling and golden, about 45 minutes.
Orange Pecan French Toast
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup butter, melted
2 tbsp. corn syrup
1/3 cup chopped pecans
12 slices of thickly cut bread
1 tsp. grated orange zest
1 cup orange juice
1/2 cup milk
3 tbsp. white sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting
In a small bowl, stir together the brown sugar, melted butter, and corn syrup. Pour into a greased 9×13 inch baking dish, and spread evenly. Sprinkle pecans over the sugar mixture.
Arrange the bread slices in the bottom of the dish so they are in a snug single layer. In a medium bowl, whisk together the orange zest, orange juice, milk, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and eggs. Pour this mixture over the bread, pressing on the bread slices to help absorb the liquid. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour, or overnight. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the cover from the baking dish, and let stand for 20 minutes at room temperature. Bake for 35 minutes in the preheated oven, until golden brown. Dust with confectioners’ sugar before serving.
1 pound sliced bacon, diced
1 sweet onion, chopped
4 cups frozen shredded hash brown potatoes, thawed
9 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
1 ½ cups small curd cottage cheese
1 ¼ cups shredded Swiss cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9×13-inch baking dish. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat; cook and stir bacon and onion until bacon is evenly browned, about 10 minutes. Drain. Transfer bacon and onion to a large bowl. Stir in potatoes, eggs, Cheddar cheese, cottage cheese and Swiss cheese.
Pour mixture into prepared baking dish. Bake in preheated oven until eggs are set and cheese is melted, 45 to 50 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before cutting and serving.
18 refrigerated biscuits (unbaked)
8 ounces breakfast sausage
7 large eggs
1/2 cup milk
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
1 cup mild shredded Cheddar cheese
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Grease 18 muffin cups with cooking spray. Roll out biscuit dough on a lightly floured surface to form 5-inch rounds. Place each round in the prepared muffin cups, pressing into the base and sides to form a dough cup. Cook and stir sausage in a skillet over medium-high heat until browned and cooked through, 5 to 10 minutes; drain fat. Spoon sausage into dough cups. Whisk eggs, milk, salt and pepper together in a bowl until well-beaten. Pour egg mixture into each dough cup, filling each just below the top of the biscuit dough. Sprinkle Cheddar cheese on top of egg mixture. Bake in the preheated oven until eggs are set and biscuit dough is golden, 15 to 18 minutes.
2 cups all-purpose flour
4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
11/2 cups milk
6 tbsp vegetable oil
2 eggs, separated
Preheat waffle iron. In a large mixing bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Stir in milk, oil and egg yolks until mixture is smooth. In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Gently fold egg whites into batter. Spray preheated waffle iron with non-stick cooking spray.
Pour mix onto hot waffle iron. Cook until golden; serve hot.
Polenta ‘French Toast’
For the Polenta:
61/2 cups water
1/2 tsp. coarse salt
2 cups cornmeal (not quick-cooking)
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1 cup raisins
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
Finely grated zest of 1 orange
1/8 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup low-fat (2%) milk
For the French Toast:
Vegetable oil cooking spray
1/4 cup corn flour
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 cup raspberries
For the polenta: Bring water and salt to a boil in a 2-quart pot. Add cornmeal in a slow, steady stream, stirring constantly. Cook, stirring often, until mixture begins to thicken, about 4 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring often, for 1 hour. Stir in syrup, raisins, cinnamon, zest, nutmeg and milk. Cook for 30 minutes. Spread polenta onto a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet, and let cool. Cover, and refrigerate overnight.
Make the “French toast”: Cut cold polenta into 4-inch squares; cut each square into 2 triangles.
Heat a large nonstick pan over medium heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Toss polenta triangles with corn flour, dusting off excess. Add to pan; cook until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. Serve with maple syrup and raspberries.
Banana Walnut Muffins
11/4 cups brown-rice
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, finely ground
1/2 cup potato starch
1/4 cup tapioca flour
11/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp xanthan gum
1/2 tsp salt
2 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup safflower oil
1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
11/2 cups mashed overripe bananas (3 to 4)
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Line a 12-cup muffin tin with baking cups. Whisk together brown-rice flour, ground walnuts, potato starch, tapioca flour, baking powder, xanthan gum and salt. Whisk together yolks, oil, sugar, bananas and vanilla. Fold flour mixture into banana mixture. Whisk whites until stiff peaks form. Working in three batches, fold whites into batter.
Fill each baking cup with batter. Bake until light golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean, 22 to 24 minutes. Let cool slightly. Turn out muffins onto a wire rack, and let cool completely.
Almond Torte with Pears and Whipped Cream
For the Cake:
11/4 cups whole natural almonds (about 6 ounces), toasted
1 tsp cornstarch
4 large eggs, separated
3/4 cup sugar
2 tsp finely grated lemon zest (from 1 lemon)
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp coarse salt
For the poached pears and topping:
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 cinnamon stick
5 wide strips lemon zest (from 1 lemon)
4 firm, ripe Anjou or Bartlett pears, peeled, cored, and quartered
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup sour cream
Make cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor, blend almonds and cornstarch until finely ground, about 15 seconds. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat egg yolks, sugar, lemon zest, vanilla, and salt until light and fluffy, 4 to 5 minutes. Gently fold in almond mixture. In another large bowl, whisk egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold one-third the whites into almond mixture; fold almond mixture into remaining whites just until combined. Pour batter into a 9-inch springform pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool in pan.
Make pears and topping: In a large saucepan, bring 4 cups water,3/4 cup sugar, cinnamon, and lemon zest to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, add pears, and cover pan with a piece of parchment to keep pears submerged. Cook until pears are tender when pierced with a paring knife, about 15 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer to a plate. Bring liquid to a boil and reduce until thick and syrupy, 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool to room temperature.
In a large bowl, whisk heavy cream until soft peaks form. Whisk in sour cream and 2 tablespoons sugar; continue to whisk until soft peaks return. Serve cake with pears, syrup, and whipped cream
Banana, Coconut and Cashew-Cream Tart
11/2 cups whole pecans
Pinch of coarse salt
11/2 cups pitted dates
2 tsp pure maple syrup
1 cup raw cashews, soaked overnight and thoroughly drained
1/2 cup water
2 tbsp plus 2 tsp pure maple syrup, and more to taste
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
3/4 cup desiccated coconut
3 or 4 ripe but firm bananas
Coarsely chop pecans and salt in a food processor. Add dates; pulse until thoroughly combined, 15 to 20 seconds. Add syrup; pulse just until combined and mixture sticks together. Press nut mixture firmly and evenly into a 9-inch pie plate, wetting your fingers as needed. Set tart shell aside.
Make filling: Grind nuts to a coarse paste in a blender. Add water, syrup, and vanilla scrapings; blend until smooth, about 5 minutes, scraping sides as needed. Mixture should be the consistency of thick pancake batter. Set aside 2 tablespoons coconut; add remainder to blender, and process to combine. Pour into prepared shell, spreading evenly.
Thinly slice bananas on the bias; arrange in slightly overlapping rows, beginning at edge of tart. Sprinkle with reserved coconut; serve immediately.
Pickled Bloody Mary
3 cups bottled Bloody Mary mix
1 tbsp prepared horseradish
1 tsp chopped fresh dill
1 tsp hot pepper sauce
2 tbsp dill pickle juice
1/2 cup kosher salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp celery seed 1 lime, juiced
1.5 ounces vodka
6 dill pickle spears
1 fresh lime, cut into wedges
In a large pitcher, stir together the Bloody Mary mix, horseradish, dill, hot pepper sauce, and dill pickle juice. Taste and adjust seasoning if desired. In a shallow dish, stir together the kosher salt, pepper and celery seed. Pour the lime juice onto a saucer. Dip each glass into the lime juice to coat the rim, then into the spice mixture. Fill each glass with ice. Pour one shot of vodka into each glass if using. Fill with the Bloody Mary mixture. Garnish each glass with a wedge of lime and a dill pickle spear.
12 ounce can apricot-mango nectar
12 ounce can pineapple juice
3/4 cup cold water
6 ounce can frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed and undiluted
Bottle of cold champagne
Stir together apricot nectar, pineapple juice, water, and orange juice concentrate in a large pitcher until combined. Pour in bottle of sparkling wine just before serving.
William Hand is a culinary contributor to Allegany Magazine. His book, “Hand in the Kitchen” reached No. 7 on the Amazon new release charts in January 2021.