Brunch At Jenn’s: Harvest Fest 2017

I took a look back through my incredibly short archives and realized the last time I shared a post about my annual Harvest Fest brunch was FOUR damn years ago.

I’m sorry, darlings. I won’t let it happen again.

Suffice to say, the amount of food I serve and my style of entertaining has…evolved a bit since 2013.

Just a little.

Let me walk you through the process of hosting a brunch, @TheJennC style. It starts at least three or four weeks earlier, when I look through my Pinterest and cookbooks and try to decide what dishes and drinks to serve. I mean, it’s brunch, so there will of course be mimosas and coffee. A nice fruit plate is also a must, as is my oven-roasted bacon sprinkled with brown sugar and chile powder, and the cheesy hash brown casserole that my friends (apparently) cannot live without.  From there it’s a matter of what type of breakfast pastry/pancakes/waffles/etc. I’m feeling and what type of egg dish I want to throw together. There’s also usually a “desert” of some type served, and the past few years I end up making a couple of batches of French macarons as well. No matter how ‘simple’ I try to keep everything, from beginning to end it does add up to a fair amount of work. But I love to do it, and would hate to stop.

One thing that helps me is taking a day (or more) off from work – this year I had Friday off and was able to sneak out of work a tad early on Thursday. I got home Thursday afternoon and immediately started cleaning up the kitchen to set up for the macaron making, which didn’t actually happen until about 9 o’clock that night because I’m a professional goddamn procrastinator.

Classic me.

So I had the macarons done and was off to bed around 2 o’clock on Friday morning. I had a couple appointments and some errands to run early and my parents were coming by to do some work around the house; dad is in the middle of putting a fresh coat of paint on the ceiling in the living room and kitchen and we also wanted to clear out some old junk from the basement. So I was back up around 6:30 to shower, dress, finish up the dishes from the night before and write up my grocery and to-do lists.

I’m a to-do list kind of girl, I think I’ve mentioned in the past. I have full on notebooks for my to-do lists. I can’t think before I make a to-do list. I make to-do lists of my to-do lists.

I like lists, people. Lists are my thing. I list out everything I have to do that day before I can go to bed, then I list out everything I need to do the day of and the time I need to start the task (or have it completed) from the second I wake up until the second the food hits the table (yes, even showering and getting ready). It’s incredibly helpful to me to see everything I need to get done laid out and keeps me on task.

So, off to my appointments, grocery shopping, etc. and back to the house just a bit before noon on Friday. My dad was already at the house working, and I got straight into Cleaning Frenzy mode. I cleared the stuff up out of the basement that I wanted to leave for garbage collection and did the little cleaning around the house that I could while my dad had all his painting paraphernalia strewn about. He finished up and was out of my hair a little before 3, and I ran back out to the store to find the one thing I still needed that I couldn’t find at three other grocery stores earlier that day. (Yes, I was successful)

I returned home, finished all my cleaning with the exception of the floors, and moved on to prepping the little bit that I could for the next day. This included making the french toast casserole and a chocolate sauce, brewing up some coffee to chill in the fridge overnight, and getting my serving dishes, utensils, and decorations out.

Don’t ask what time I took that photo Saturday morning Friday night.

Off to bed for another four or five hours of sleep, and back up at 6:00 to shower and dress, and I was downstairs right around 7 am to get started.

The first thing I did was stir together the Chicory Coffee Milk punch and put it in the freezer to set for three hours. This is one of the recipes I found in my copy of Brunch at Bobby’s and it’s amazing. It’s supposed to freeze up and get slushy, but mine didn’t get so much slushy as super ice cold. I served it over ice and it was perfect. Boozy, creamy, a tad sweet, it gave my brunch a nice hint of southern charm. Look for it in an upcoming Cocktail Friday post!

Onto the hash browns. I’ve been making this slow-cooker version of Cracker Barrel’s famous hash brown casserole for a couple of years, and when I didn’t mention that I was making it for my New Year’s brunch this past January I could hear the pouts via text message, so I know it’s a must-have for every brunch at my place. (Yes, I ended up making it for New Year’s too. Spoiled-ass friends.) This creamy, cheesy casserole is super easy to make, and ready to serve after cooking on high for about three hours. I could have stirred it all together and had it ready to go the night before, but I had ZERO room in my refrigerator for it, so I opted to throw it together in the morning.

Then I made the batter for these Mini Pumpkin Churros, the recipe for which I also found in Brunch at Bobby’s. I thought they would be a perfect sweet companion to a fall brunch. I did not, however, stop to think about the amount of work it takes to fry a bunch of mini churros right before you’ve got a houseful of guests coming over, so if you’re hosting by yourself or don’t have a trusty assistant, I’d suggest trying those out another time.

You will thank me (and Bobby Flay) when you make them, though. Crispy, sweet, pumpkin perfection. The orange-chocolate dipping sauce makes a perfect companion.

By this time it was very close to 9 am, and I was expecting guests around 10, so I had to start hustling. I pre-heated the oven and started to prep my bacon. For 8-12 guests I buy two pounds of bacon and I usually end up with about two pieces left, if any. Line two baking sheets with foil, place a rack on each sheet and lay the bacon out on the racks. Sprinkle bacon with brown sugar, chile powder, and fresh cracked black pepper. Roast at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes and serve.

Magic.

Before I put the bacon in the oven, I had to bake the Texas French Toast Bake. I’ve always been super skeptical about french toast casseroles – I don’t like super soggy french toast to begin with, and those make ahead casseroles always struck me as such. I had this french toast bake a few months ago for a breakfast pot luck at work, and loved it. It’s perfect – not super “eggy”, with a touch of crisp on the bottom. This one’s definitely in the rotation.

Now I was getting down to the wire. I grabbed my macarons out of the fridge to take the chill off, and started to warm up the chocolate sauce for the churros. Everything else was baking, warming, or chilling, and I still had a floor to mop and tables to set. So I did the quickest round of Swiffer-ing ever and set up my tables and kitchen island for serving.

For parties like this, I always use disposable plates, cups, and utensils, just to make clean up easier. I like to buy “nicer” disposables, but disposables nonetheless. I found that cute little blackboard to use as a menu board in the dollar section at Target, and some greenery (leafery?) at my local grocery store, along with decorative gourds, motherf*ckers.

The little fake pumpkins were from Target, along with the colored/wrapped led lights. The serving plates I’ve had for a few years; you can always find really nice ones at Marshall’s/TJ Maxx and the like.

Back to cooking! I started the oil for my mini churros, took the french toast bake out of the oven, upped the oven temperature and started the bacon. I grabbed my fruit from the fridge, rinsed what needed to be rinsed, and started cutting up the pineapple.

In between batches of churros, I plated up the fruit.

Pineapple, mixed berries, and concord grapes. I used my large cutting board simply because all my other platters were too small.

The first of my guests started arriving at this time, so I snagged the bourbon/coffee/cream goodness out of the freezer and placed that out on the table I had set up for the plates and such, along with the juice and bubbly for mimosas, and the Bloody Mary fixings my friends brought with them.

The macarons were vanilla-raspberry and pumpkin spice-cinnamon bourbon. Yes, I can make macarons. No, I will not be writing about it any time soon, because I don’t have them perfected just yet.

Crunch time. More people arriving, more things to finish. The churros were popping out left and right, and the more I made the more I realized…I didn’t need this many damn churros. So I stopped frying them up about half way through the batch of batter (Note to self: make half the amount next time), and moved on to more pressing issues, mainly plating the bacon and starting the cheesy scrambled eggs.

Super easy. Whisk up a whole bunch of eggs, scramble in pan, add cheese, serve.

And there you have it! Everything was a big hit, I had a super fun day with some of my very favorite people, and I think I’m almost recovered from the lack of sleep and day drinking.

Some tips for your next brunch:

Start planning early. Pre-buy your booze, dishes, utensils, and decorations.

Hit up Aldi or another discount grocery store for your essentials, and then go to the fancy grocery store for the specialty items.

If you need to clean your house (like I always do), start early in the week to avoid last minute/late night speed cleaning (like I always do).

Set out extra chairs/tables/etc. the night before. Set out dishes and decorations too.

Pre-make and prep what you can the day or night before.

Get out of bed a half an hour before you think you need to.

CLEAN AS YOU GO. Start the morning off with an empty sink and dishwasher to avoid a back up in the sink.

Always take help from your friends when they offer, even if it’s just to clean the fruit or grab a dish from the cabinet.

Sit. Drink. Laugh. Enjoy yourself. And leave the dishes for Sunday.

The Ridiculously Long Rest-Of-My-Summer Recap, or: Shit, I Forgot I Had A Blog.

So I seem to have fallen off a bit, haven’t I? Just your luck I’ve decided to do a quick(ish) (though probably not really, it is me we’re talking about here) recap on the rest of my summer. It all went pretty nicely until one sucky week in August. But I’ll get to that in a while.

Firstly: High Tea with my favorite ladies at Jessica’s Tea Room

A group of my nearest and dearest and I were trying to come up with a way to celebrate my friend Vanessa’s graduation from one school and acceptance (including a full scholarship, thank you very much) to another. I got the idea from a coworker to take her to Jessica’s Tea Room at the Weaversville Inn. It just seemed so fun and out of the ordinary, and Vanessa just happens to love a nice cup of tea. Perfect! We all got dressed up very fancily and surprised her with high tea on a gorgeous Saturday in June. The food was delicious, the tea was refreshing, the service was outstanding, and the company, as always, was the best ever.

Of course when we got there, we had iPhones at the ready. Because why do something if you’re not going to Instagram it immediately?

We all opted for High Tea service, which included a pot of tea (duh) for each (hot or iced), scones and banana bread, soup or small salad, choice of two finger sandwiches, entree, and dessert.

The finger sandwiches weren’t quite what we expected and were the one dull spot in an otherwise fantastic meal. A little too heavy, a little too much bread.

I opted for the turkey, bacon, and cheddar puff pastry blossom for my entree. It was simple yet delicious, and I’m going to be copying this at home very soon.

Grilled chicken salad with apples and dried cranberries.

Of course I have no shots of our actual tea. However! There were a variety of mini desserts offered to finish our meal, of which we each were able to choose two.

 

The desserts obviously are not made in house but the rest of the menu is, and the service and experience alone were enough for me to overlook a couple frozen mini eclairs. If you’re in the mood for something fun or different to do in the Valley, or even if you’re just feeling a little fancy, I highly recommend checking them out.

Secondly: Five Courses/Five Chefs Benefit for the Southside Bethlehem Film Festival

A friend is on the board of directors for the Southside Bethlehem Film Festival, and they scored a major benefit this year with a five course meal prepared by five different Lehigh Valley chefs, all hosted at Molinari’s on South 3rd Street. When I saw the list of chefs I jumped at the chance to go and was not disappointed.

Fist things first, however: LOOK AT MY PRETTY DRESS. LOOK AT IT.

Ahem. Would it kill you to smile, Jenn?

(Apologies for the following few pictures, all I had on me for the dinner was my iPhone, and by the end of the meal, the light was nonexistent.)

First course was foie gras (there’s always foie at these things, isn’t there?) with banana bread and some sort of fruit gastrique, by Tim Wildrick from Edge Restaurant.

I’m not the biggest fan of foie on its own, it’s a little too rich and fatty for me. Combined with the other elements of the dish, however, this was pretty tasty.

Our soup course was a work of art. Tortellini with morels and proscuitto, with the broth poured over it separately. This is a trick you’d usually see at Bolete, but this night was done by Chef Mike Joyce of Molinari’s.

 

I don’t remember everything that was in it, but I do remember it was delightful. (Have you gone to Molinari’s yet? You really should.)

Next up, the most perfectly cooked scallop I’ve ever had over heirloom risotto with a pea puree, all by Chef Lee Chizmar of Bolete.

Chef Chizmar is a fricking genius, by the way.  You should head to Bolete, too, while you’re at it. Their tavern menu alone is outstanding.

On to the meat. Mmm, beef. Chef Domenic Lombardo from The Mint on West Broad knows his way around a steak.

That dry aged beef was outstanding. I’ve been lukewarm on The Mint in the past but I do believe this dish earned them a mulligan.

And finally…oh, my babies. Brace yourselves for this. This masterpiece of a dessert, by Alan Pitotti at Dolce Patisserie in Hellertown. Yes. Hellertown.

I remember lemon mousse. The fluffiest, most delicate lemon mousse. Tartly flavored, but not overly so. A strawberry sauce. And – on the right side of the plate – a chocolate pesto. I don’t know how he did it, I don’t understand how it all worked, but I’ll be damned if that wasn’t the most original, most outstanding dessert I’ve ever had. All of this food, of course, was accompanied by fantastic wines hand-picked by South Italy Imports. This meal was the single most amazing gastronomic experience of my life. Kudos to the Southside Bethlehem Film Festival for putting it all together, and thank you, thank you, thank you, to all the chefs who participated. It was a meal I won’t forget.

Thirdly: Haley’s High School Graduation

It’s really hard to think about the fact that it was just a little over 19 years ago that my baby cousin came into this world. She’s turned into an intelligent, strong willed, beautiful young woman and it’s been an absolute delight to watch her grow up. We’re all so proud of her and her accomplishments over the years.

Way to go, kid. I love ya.

Fourthly: Color Me Rad 5K and Musikfest 2013

In early August I volunteered to throw orange-tinted corn starch at people during the Musikfest Color Me Rad 5K. It was a fun, if exhausting, experience, even in the rain. However, given the crappy weather, the slippery, uneven ground conditions, and a shitty pair of sneakers, my ankle was not happy with me by the end of the morning. I could barely walk the rest of the day, which put the kibosh on my Musikfest plans for that evening.

As a matter of fact, pretty much ALL of Musikfest 2013 was shot to hell for me, between my inability to walk the first weekend and the worst summer cold ever during the week. I was able sneak over on the second Saturday for about 90 minutes before I started wheezing in the heat and humidity.

Ah, well. I got my Take-A-Taco, and that’s all that matters.

This made me so happy it was a little embarrassing. 

Fifthly: Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z Legends of Summer Tour at Hershey Park

When I heard that JT and Hova were going on tour together I knew I needed to see them, no matter where or how much it would cost. As luck would have it, the tour had a random stop in Hershey, PA, and I got my hands on a couple of pre-sale tickets. Great seats, great show, amazing night. Justin is a wonderful entertainer, and Jay-Z is just incredible live. I’m so very glad I got to catch this tour.

You get that sexy on, JT.

Sixthly: I have a new boyfriend, and his name is Gabriel.

Look what my friends Susan and Danny made!

Snuggly new babies are the best.

And, finally, the last part of my summer was also the best part. I always consider the weekend which I celebrate my birthday to be the “end” of summer. This past weekend I turned 38, and I was able to spend time with all of my favorite people during it.

There is always Hello Kitty when I have a birthday. 

Yes, I made my own red velvet cake for my birthday. You would too, for this cake. 

It started with burgers, beers, and birthday cake with friends on Friday night. I had to work a bit on Saturday morning, but I got to see my bestie the few hours I was there.

Saturday night I hit the casino to see Russell Brand on his Messiah Complex tour, and it was ‘unbelievably satisfying’. I even got close enough for a few good pictures.

Sigh.

Follow all this up with dinner and mini-golf with mom and dad on Sunday and I was a happy girl this weekend.

Have I mentioned how freaking much I love this dress?

He cheats. 

Looking back, I had a pretty great summer. There were definitely more good times than bad, and that’s all we can really ask for.

Plus I got a tiara, and who doesn’t need a tiara, really?