Wednesday, 14 September 2011

SmartCooks 9/11 Memorial Brunch

September 11, 2011

I discovered that it's difficult to prepare a Sunday brunch menu and watch 9/11 memorials at the same time.  The reason for this is simple -- even after a decade, I tear up watching and listening to the many, many stories, not just of that day but what's happened to people over the course of a decade.   

Everyone -- I'm positive about this -- remembers where they were and what they were doing on the morning of 9/11 2001.  It is surely one of the defining days of our time, much like the assassination of President Kennedy (yes, I'm of an age).  

For me, 9/11 2001 in retrospective was surreal.  I hope I never ever again live a day like that in Canada, in Ottawa, working next to Parliament Hill ... or anywhere in fact.  I can only say you have to view the events as both the extreme of the fragility of the human spirit, and the incredible resilience of it as well.  24 Canadians died, with hundreds of family members affected.  I prefer resilience .... 

I wrote a major major sidebar on this and decided to post it separately even though it contains no SmartCooks recipes. 

My 9/11 2011 Brunch


The 9/11 2011 brunch took place on the back deck of our downtown Ottawa townhouse, with small fountain streaming water down its wall, the sectional all new and clean, an equally new patio table and chairs, a swing seat and good company.

We're next door to a perfect inner city garden, lovingly tended by a couple who have lived there for 60 years plus.  I had to post a picture the garden (left) although a static shot cannot cannot possibly do it justice.  It is gorgeous.

Plus, the garden comes complete with a whimsical shed sign that says Seldom Inn that just recently appeared on the top of the shed door. The sign is a recent addition and I'm unsure what led to its posting.  It could be a statement on Canada's and Ottawa's relatively short summers or it could be a statement of their neighbours' elderly phase of life.  Anyway, the garden remains a stunning refuge in the centre of the big city.  And it's been particularly perfect this year as we've had a marvellous summer here in Ottawa.

Menu du weekend 


Buffet Server
-- Breakfast Sausages and Bacon 
-- Scrambled Eggs 
-- 3 Jams & Croissants 

Heirloom Tomato Tart 

Fruit Salad 

Peach Pie with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream 



Every lemonade recipe I found called for stunning (for me, anyway) quantities of sugar, which I try to shun.  So I used a basic recipe as a guide and put it together by taste.  

Here's one example, from Simply Recipes.  I will replicate it below and then describe my modifications. 

Perfect Lemonade Recipe
  • Prep time: 10 minutes


1 cup sugar (can reduce to 3/4 cup)
1 cup water (for the simple syrup)
1 cup lemon juice
3-4 cups cold water (to dilute)


1 Make simple syrup by heating the sugar and water in a small saucepan until the sugar is dissolved completely.
2 While the sugar is dissolving, use a juicer to extract the juice from 4 to 6 lemons, enough for one cup of juice.
3 Add the juice and the sugar water to a pitcher. Add 3 to 4 cups of cold water, more or less to the desired strength. Refrigerate 30 to 40 minutes. If the lemonade is a little sweet for your taste, add a little more straight lemon juice to it.
Serve with ice, sliced lemons.
Yield: Serves 6.


I started with lemons, 16 beauties that I had waiting for this occasion. I'm showing 9 of them in this photo (and in one of the many stunning plates that I own and that will feature in future photos.

I wanted 4 cups of lemon juice and found it took the full 16 lemons using my hand citrus juicer.  Okay, I have to do this short, funny aside about juicers that people say is just so me.

I started out in August to find a better method of juicing lemons than using a spoon, the only option I had at the time.

I headed off to my favourite small appliances store, Bed, Bath and Beyond, in search of an Olive Wood Lemon/Citrus Reamer/Juicer.  The cooks on a Martha Stewart ipad app video used it flawlessly and, once viewed, my immediate reaction was that it was EXACTLY what I needed. 

Nothing like that could be found at the store.  So, instead, I went looking for an electric citrus juicer. Struck out on that one too; however, obviously in a mood to spend money or buy electric gadgets I did not leave empty handed.  I carted home a treasure trove of Cuisinart products and I'm not being paid by them but really they are just right for a small kitchen ... Griddler/pannini maker, Compact fryer, Egg cooker.  No juicer of any kind. 


Manual Citrus ReamerI persevered elsewhere and eventually found an acceptable manual citrus juicer that did up the lemons in the photo and more in short order and rendered 4 cups of lemon juice.

For the lemonade's simple syrup, I followed directions and started with a generous 1 cup of sugar to 1 cup of water i.e., just enough to dissolve the sugar.  I then added many cups of filtered water to the syrup mix and only a little more sugar.  I put it in a pitcher, added a few sprigs of mint and a whole lime cut in two.  Bottom line, it was delicious -- neither too tart or too sweet.


It was Buffet Adventures (no, not Buffy adventures ... my one-time absolutely favourite show) but this buffet experience definitely had its moments.  The triple-try buffet warmer from Paradis with tops and holes for serving spoons was perfect for sausages/bacon, scrambled eggs and croissants.  I swear by this warmer although it takes up an enormous amount of space in a small kitchen.  I've seen smaller ones and may switch it out at some point.  It's an essential small appliance for an event like this. 
Bacon and Sausages:  

The 2 lbs of bacon and 12 breakfast sausage were from Saslov's Meat Market  and both were organic, nitrate and hormone free and supposedly free of anything else bad except for fat and calories. I'm not much of a fan of either and cook them for special occasions like this one. So, out came an older grill for the bacon (picture below) and the new Cuisinart Griddler (picture above) for the breakfast sausages. 

All was good for the first 10 minutes.  My goal was crispy bacon and golden brown sausages.  The bacon burbled away on the old reversible griddle which covers two burners on my gas-top cooker.  I quickly realized that the bacon grease was more than I had every seen and started spooning burning hot grease into a can.  I tried a turkey baster to suck it up and dissolved the plastic on the baster in seconds.  Yikes, the grease started to smoke on the griddle and pool under the burners very near the gas flames.  

I called for my husband to grab the baking soda (where is the fire extinguisher when you need it?) and closed the doors to the family area so that the smoke detectors wouldn't go off.  Phew ... 10 minutes later, under control, bacon drained, dried with paper towels, crisp and resting in the buffet warmer.  That griddle is about to be retired permanently.  But this also underscores why I like to cook before guests arrive ... who wanted to see that mess? 
On a more positive note, the Cuisinart Griddler pictured above worked like a charm for the breakfast sausages.  They produced grease but it dripped obediently down into drip cups which I kept emptied.  The sausages were perfect.   

Scrambled Eggs:

They worked perfectly.  16 organic brown eggs from Herb and Spice Wellington Street and 1 can of Carnation fat-free milk, with chives snipped from the back deck herb planters.  The recipe for scrambled eggs that I read are divided in their advice on how to achieve nirvana with scrambled eggs i.e., fluffy, light, not dry.  I settled for this one, which I found from Mr. Breakfast (yup)...

Basically, take the eggs, milk, salt and pepper and whisk like crazy with a hand beater for about 30 seconds until the eggs are a pale yellow colour with some foam.  Then let the eggs sit for a few minutes and pour into a hot pan (I Pam-ed mine first, nixed the butter).  

I put the burner on medium low and let the eggs sit until the edges started to show signs of cooking (about 5 minutes).  Then I used the Martha Stewart scrambled eggs technique where she says:  "Using a spatula or flat wooden spoon, push eggs toward centre while tilting skillet to distribute runny parts."  I did that for a bit and kept stirring as the scrambled eggs began to come together.  

Do not let the eggs get dry -- I took the pan off the heat while the eggs still looked 'wet' and put them in the buffet warmer where they would continue to cook and set.  I added them to the warmer just before company rang the door bell.

3 Jams & Croissants:

Confession time ... I buy bags of 40 frozen croissants from Loblaws and cook them a few at a time on special occasions.  I have never tried them from scratch and doubt I ever will as pastry is not my thing.   

The croissants always turn out.  After pulling 16 from the freezer, they sat for 30 minutes, were then wrapped in a damp tea towel and left to sit for 4-5 hours, then lightly brushed with a mixture of egg yolk and water and cooked for 20 minutes in a 350 degree oven. They kept warm in the buffet warmer.  I think they're yummy, guests do too and the foodies either say ho-hom or diss them.  But until I perfect something else, that's what there is.  

I offered a choice of salted/unsalted butter for guests and 3 jam complements:  all 'no sugar added' jams from Manitoulin Island Hawberry Farm.  There's a very funny story on their website about 'hawberries' and how they started their line of jams, spread etc.  I bought orange/marmalade, cranberry and raspberry.  All 100% delicious.    

Fruit Salad

This is my favourite.  I could do a meal just from fruit salad and scrambled eggs.  I searched around for various ideas on fall fruit bowls for brunches and, naturally, Martha Stewart came closest to some of what I thought i would like in a Memorial Brunch fruit bowl.  

I started with finding the freshest, most natural, local i.e., not organic fruit I could find, including some of those small, new (to this area anyway) seedless watermelons.  It was really, really red and ready to be eaten.  

The best tip from Martha ... I cut up everything the night before and drizzled with a bit of lemon juice to keep the fruit from browning EXCEPT for the bananas.  They were added the morning of the brunch and worked like a charm.  The bowl disappeared, with just enough that I had with yogurt for breakfast.  

I used Martha Stewart's recipe just as a guide for quantity, as follows:


2 ripe peaches, pitted and sliced 1/2-inch thick

  • 2 ripe plums, pitted and sliced 1/2-inch thick
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 2 ripe nectarines 
  • 2 bananas, peeled and sliced 1/4-inch thick
  • Juice of 2 navel oranges
  • 6 fresh mint leaves, thinly sliced


  1. Place all ingredients in a large bowl; toss until well combined

I couldn't find blueberries so substituted:

------ 2 apples 
------ 1 watermelon (small) 

Heirloom Tomato Tart 

This one was a trial. It took a lot of time but it somehow worked and looked very pretty.  I discovered 'pie weights' and that I didn't have them.  I couldn't find a substitute for them (the suggestion was beans) so used pots on top of the crust while it cooked.  This was only partially successful.  When the tart was all assembled, I warmed it slightly and this worked as well.  I'm not sure I would try this again unless I have all the right equipment but it was very tasty.  

Here is the basic recipe from 101 cookbooks and how I modified it:

Heirloom Tomato Tart in a Parmesan Crust

This recipe will make one 9 or 10-inch tart OR five 4 1/2-inch tarts.

6 perfect, colourful, medium-sized heirloom tomatoes, washed, sliced 1/6 inch thick
1 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
1/2 unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup unsalted organic butter, well chilled and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
4-ounce chunk of good quality fresh Parmesan, microplaned-grated to give 2 cups loosely packed grated cheese.  Leftover grated cheese for sprinkling on the crusts when they come out of the oven
2 T ice cold water
2 T best quality extra virgin organic olive oil
1/4 cup slivered basil

Special equipment:  tart pan(s), pie weights, paper towels

Prep the tomatoes:
To avoid a soggy crust later on, you need to rid the tomatoes of some of their liquid. Clear a space on your counter and put down a double layer of absorbent paper towels. Place the tomatoes in a single layer on the paper towels and sprinkle them with about 1 teaspoon fine-grained sea salt. Top the tomatoes with another layer of paper towels and press gently. Let the tomatoes sit here until you are ready to use them.
Make the tart crust(s):
Place both flours, butter, and Parmesan in a food processor and pulse quickly about 25 times. You are looking for a sandy textured blend, punctuated with pea-sized pieces of butter. With a few more pulses, blend in the 2T of ice water. The dough should stick together when your pinch it between two fingers. Pour the dough into the tart pan. Working quickly, press the dough uniformly into the pan by pressing across the bottom and working towards the sides and up to form a rim. Place in the refrigerator and chill for 15 minutes.
Bake the tart crust:
Pull the tarts out of the refrigerator and poke each a few times with the tongs of a fork. Cover the tart with a square of aluminum foil and fill generously with pie weights. Place on a baking sheet and slide the tart onto the middle rack in the oven. Bake for 15 minutes, pull the shell out of the oven and very gently peel back and remove the tinfoil containing the pie weights. Place the uncovered tart back in the oven, weight free, and allow to cook for another 10 minutes, or until it is a deep golden brown in color. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with a little shredded Parmesan (this will act as another barrier to the tomato liquid). Let cool to room temperature before filling.
Assembling the tart: Just before serving, arrange tomato slices in a concentric pattern inside the tart shell. Drizzle with your best quality extra-virgin olive oil, and sprinkle with the slivered basil.  Can also sprinkle more parmesan. Serve at room temperature (although I warmed it slightly because it came out of the refrigerator).  

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