Make-ahead brunch pastry recipe

One of the hazards joys of having a home on a lake in Maine is how your popularity exponentially increases through the summer months. Friends who are radio-silent from November-April suddenly announce they’ll be “in the area and might stop by!” once the weather warms up.

Kidding! We really enjoy having (invited) friends to visit and this is one of my go-to recipes when I want to serve something for brunch or even an afternoon snack but not spend the weekend resentfully cooking in the kitchen.

I call it a brunch pastry but the magnificent Chef Barbara Lynch (who created the original recipe) calls it “Ham and cheese puff-pastry bites with honey mustard”. It’s make-ahead so you can prepare the night before and your only job in the morning will be to pop it in the oven and mix up a batch of mimosas or bloody marys.

Buttery flaky puff pastry with melty gruyere, tuscan ham and caramelized onions

Chef Lynch writes that this is the one time you want to splurge on the more expensive Dufour puff pastry vs. the cheaper (and not as buttery) Pepperidge Farm and she’s 100% right.

Imagine the best grilled cheese you’ve ever had. Now replace the bread with flaky and buttery pastry. Intrigued? Then read on…

You’ll roll out your first sheet of puff pastry and spread it with a tangle of caramelized onions in honey and mustard. Chef Lynch recommends blitzing the mixture but I like the texture of the onions. These pictures were from the first time I made the pastry and I now increase the quantities of the onions – they’re so good (recipe at the end of the post). If you were really, really pressed for time or just being lazy, you could skip this part and just spread with a little store-bought honey-mustard. 

Drape your favorite ham over the onions

Cover the ham in grated gruyere cheese and then use a little egg wash to seal the top piece of pastry in place.

Bake until the top is a beautiful golden brown

Leave to cool for a few minutes and then cut into tasty little squares. It’s a rich and decadent little pastry so 2-4 bites per person is just right. You’ll also want a supply of napkins on hand if you’re entertaining or you can just lick your fingers if you’re alone!
And although it’s the best brunch recipe, it would be equally as good if you were doing cocktails and hors d’oeuvres in the evening.

Brunch Pastry with Tuscan ham, Gruyere cheese and caramelized onions

  • Servings: 8-12 people as a brunch snack
  • Difficulty: easy
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Author: www.MainelyEating.com

Ingredients:

1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
1 large Vidalia onion (or two smaller onions) – sliced as thinly as possible (ideally on a mandolin)
3 tbsp honey
2 tsbp Dijon mustard (more if you like things mustardy)
2 packages of Dufour puff pastry (defrosted) or 1 package of Pepperidge Farm puff pastry (if you really can’t find Dufour)
1/2 lb thinly sliced good quality ham – Tuscan ham, Niman Ranch Jambon Royale, Prosciutto Cotto)
1/2 lb+ Gruyere cheese (grated)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
A little flour for dusting rolling pin and parchment paper
Maldon sea salt

You’ll need 2 flat cookie sheets and parchment paper.

Directions:

  1. Make the honey-mustard-caramelized onion mixture. Over a low heat, cook the onion in the oil and butter.for at least 30-60 minutes. The longer the better. Keep the heat low enough that the onion doesn’t brown prematurely. Add the honey. mustard and a little salt and pepper to the onions. Set aside to cool.
  2. Preheat over to 375 degrees F
  3. Roll out the first sheet of puff pastry on a piece of (lightly floured) parchment paper. Slide this onto the baking sheet (the paper should be between the baking sheet and the pastry).
  4. Spread the pastry with the onion/honey/mustard mixture. Important! Leave a 1 inch border around the edge.
  5. Drape the ham over the onions (I like to remove any really fatty bits because I’m weird like that)
  6. Cover the ham with grated gruyere cheese – remember to leave the border clear again so you can seal the pastry later.
  7. Roll out the second layer of pastry on another piece of (lightly floured) parchment paper.
  8. Brush the border with the beaten egg, don’t throw away the remaining egg.
  9. Take the second layer of pastry (on the parchment paper) and carefully flip it over (the paper should be on top – this is a ham and cheese pastry, not a ham, cheese and paper pastry!).
  10. Gently press down on the border with your fingers (the egg wash acts like glue to stick the two pieces of pastry together) and then use the tines of a fork to give it an extra seal. If you’re making ahead, this is where you’d stop, collaborate and listen cover the pastry on the baking sheet with saran wrap making sure it’s tightly wrapped so it doesn’t dry out.
  11. Brush the top of the pastry with the remaining egg wash and sprinkle with a little Maldon sea salt. Then – don’t skip this step or your pastry will balloon alarmingly – lay a piece of parchment paper on top of the pastry and cover with the second baking sheet. This will weigh down the pastry and prevent it from puffing up too much. If you’re getting confused with the layers, there’s a picture guide at the end!
  12. Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes, then remove the top baking sheet and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes until the top is a perfect golden brown.
  13. Leave to cool for a few minutes and then cut into tasty little squares.

If you don’t have a copy of Barbara Lynch’s book “Stir” then you should stop whatever you’re doing and order it RIGHT NOW. Click on the thumbnail below to get your own copy (affiliate link).

Umami-Rich Bolognese Recipe

Thankfully, it looks like the impending Winter Storm Jonas will miss us here in Maine but one of my favorites things to do in a snowstorm is to stay warm inside with something delicious simmering on the stove. And when I think of slow-cooking and simmering, a rich Bolognese ragu sauce always comes to mind

Ragu bolognese - rich and high in umami

There’s a little prep work upfront (chopping the veg and browning the meat) but once the fragrant sauce is gently bubbling on the stovetop you’ll feel a huge sense of accomplishment. Bonus, each time you come inside from shoveling, your home will smell like it’s been taken over by an Italian nonna.

Growing up in the UK, my parents didn’t have money for lavish vacations but they were resourceful and my dad converted an old VW camper and each summer we’d head off to Italy for 6 glorious weeks. I’m kind of ashamed to admit that I was an incredibly picky eater as a child and I’d turn up my nose at slabs of authentic Italian pizza, refuse to eat any pasta I didn’t recognize and generally subsist on Coco Pops.

Once we returned home, my mum would regularly make this Bolognese sauce over the winter months to remind us that summer would be here before we knew it. Over the years I’ve made small adaptations to her recipe, mostly because I’m somewhat obsessed with the idea of boosting the umami in the dish. If you’re not familiar with the concept of umami, it was discovered to be the fifth taste by the Japanese. Umami is a pleasant savory taste imparted by glutamate, a type of amino acid, and ribonucleotides which occur naturally in many foods. Most people don’t recognize umami when they encounter it, but it plays an important role in making food taste extra delicious!

Foods naturally rich in umami include beef, pork, carrots, tomatoes (is umami responsible for the popularity of tomato ketchup?!?!?), mushrooms, soy, parmesan cheese (with crazy high levels of naturally occurring glutamate at 1200mg/100g of cheese). And guess what? I’ve incorporated all of these ingredients into this Umami-rich bolognese sauce.

I get out my largest 12qt stockpot and go to town, ending up with around 10 quart size baggies of sauce (perfect for 2 people) which I’ll lay flat to freeze and then stack on their sides in a freezer draw.

One other note, a few months ago we bought the meat grinder attachment for the kitchen-aid, this has been life changing! I’ve never been the biggest fan of ground meat but the texture of home-ground meat vs. store bought meat is like night and day. Home-ground meat is almost fluffy in texture, it doesn’t clump or stick together plus you know exactly what you’re eating. I like to see what cuts of meat look good and maybe what’s on special but I always include some combination of beef chuck, pork and prosciutto or pancetta.

Let’s get to it. Head out to the store where hopefully you can find all of the ingredients even if the shelves are empty of bread and milk, and spend your weekend making this sauce. The following recipe results in enough sauce for about 20 servings (10 meals for 2 or 5 meals for 4) but you can divide it by half if you’d prefer to make less.

Bolognese sauce rich with umami

  • Servings: ~20 (10 quart size baggies which serve 2 people)
  • Difficulty: easy
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Author: http://www.Mainely Eating.com

Ingredients:

  1. 9lbs of meat (remember this will give you a lot of sauce!)
    Store bought: 6lbs ground beef chuck, 3lbs ground pork (can substitute up to 1lb with ground veal)
    Home ground: 6lbs of beef (I like an equal mix of beef chuck, boneless short ribs and sirloin tips for maximum beefiness), 2lbs pork, 1/2lb veal, 1/2lb prosciutto or pancetta
  2. 10 large carrots, peeled and finely diced
  3. Half a head of celery, washed and finely diced
  4. 2 large onions, peeled and finely diced
  5. 8 cloves of garlic, finely sliced or minced in a garlic press
  6. Big glug of olive oil (~2tbsp)
  7. Large knob of butter (~2 tbsp)
  8. 2x6oz cans of tomato paste
  9. 2 cups of while milk
  10. 1 large 28oz can of diced tomatoes (Muir Glen are the best in my opinion)
  11. 1 large 28oz can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes (also Muir Glen if you can find them)
  12. 1 bottle of red wine (doesn’t have to be a stellar vintage but should be drinkable)
  13. 2 tbsp soy sauce
  14. 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  15. Small handful of dried mushrooms – porcini or chanterelle or European mix
  16. 3 or 4 Parmesan cheese rinds
  17. 8oz finely grated parmesan cheese (ideally imported Parmigiano Regiano) plus more to serve

Directions

  1. In a 12qt large stockpot, melt the butter and add the olive oil over a medium heat. Add the diced carrots, onion, celery and sauté for ~10 minutes, stirring occasionally until soft but not colored. Season with a little salt and pepper.
  2. Add the minced garlic to the vegetables and cook for another 3-5 minutes (your house should start to smell delicious right about now!)
  3. Add the tomato paste to the vegetables, stir well to combine and lower the heat.
  4. Put the dried mushrooms in a bowl and pour over 1 cup of boiling water
  5. In a separate large frying pan over a medium-high heat, start browning the meat (more umami boost!). The objective isn’t to cook the meat all the way through, just to brown so don’t crowd the meat or it will simply steam. If you’re using ground meat from the store then try to get rid of any clumps.
  6. Add each batch of browned meat to the large stockpot containing the vegetable/garlic/tomato paste. Low heat until all of the meat has been added. Feel free to drain off excess meat fat but you don’t want completely dry meat so make sure you add some.
  7. If your frying pan has browned/crispy bits, add a half cup of the red wine to deglaze and pick up this tasty fond and add to the stockpot.
  8. Turn the heat up to medium-high and pour in the milk. Stir frequently to ensure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot. When the milk has bubbled away, add the two cans of diced tomatoes.
  9. Add the soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce
  10. Remove the mushrooms from the water, slice them finely and add to the pot. Also add the mushroom soaking liquid (watch out for grit at the bottom of the bowl)
  11. Pour in the bottle of red wine (cook’s privilege to enjoy a glass while cooking!) and lower the heat to a low simmer. You should see the occasional bubble come up to the surface
  12. Add the parmesan rinds
  13. Simmer the sauce for 3-5 hours, stirring it every time you pass by the stove. If it starts to look at all dry then add a cup of water. Towards the last 30 minutes, stir in the finely grated parmesan cheese.
  14. Remove the parmesan rinds (they’ll pop up when you stir the sauce), taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.

To freeze, let cool and ladle into quart size baggies (lay flat to freeze and then stack upright)
To serve, cook your favorite pasta (I’m fond of thin fettuccine egg noodles), drain (always reserve a mug full of the cooking water!) and add back to the pan with a little butter. Toss with the Bolognese sauce (add a little of the hot pasta water to loosen things up) and shower with grated parmesan.

Helpful tips:

Clumpy sauce is the worst. Home-ground meat doesn’t clump but often store-bought meat does. This “meat unclumper” can help (affiliate link)!

The sauce inevitably tastes better the day after cooking once the components have had time to mingle and make friends.

If you don’t want to use wine you can substitute chicken stock (or vegetable or beef)

The sauce is perfect over spaghetti or fettuccine, as the basis for a lasagne, as a pasta bake when mixed with fusilli and topped with fresh mozzarella before a quick broil.
Simmered for hours, this rich and tasty bolognese sauce is high in umami

Caramelized onion, gruyere and ham quiche recipe

Caramelized onion, gruyere cheese and ham quiche recipe
We’ll often have friends join us for the weekend at our home in Maine (especially during the summer – I wonder why that is?) and it’s ever so helpful to have food to hand that doesn’t require you to spend the whole weekend in the kitchen.When we’re expecting guests, I like to make quiche ahead of time.

Confession, I used to have somewhat of an aversion to quiche. At university I dated a guy who shared that his sole ambition in life was to live within walking distance of the Stockport Country soccer club and to spend Saturday evenings at home eating quiche and salad. Needless to say, we didn’t date for much longer after that.

Luckily, I’m now over my fear of quiche and it’s on my go-to list when we have a house full of friends. One or two quiches can be baked, wrapped and left in the fridge so your friends can help themselves to a slice whenever they feel hungry. Quiche works at room temperature for breakfast or served warm with a crisp green salad at lunch.

Quiche lorraine is perhaps the most well-known quiche with bacon lardons but much as l love bacon it can be a little overpowering. I’m also not a fan of soggy mushrooms in quiche. I’ve played around with all sorts of flavor combinations and this is my favorite:

Ingredients for caramelized onion, gruyere and ham quiche

Caramelized onion, gruyere and ham quiche

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Author: Mainely Eating

Ingredients:
2 large vidalia onions – finely sliced (ideally on a mandolin)
1 small knob of butter
1/3lb of good-quality cooked ham (Nimon Ranch Jambon Royale or a Prosciutto Cotto Italian ham works well) – chopped into bite-size pieces
Small bunch of chives (or parsley)
1 package of Gruyere cheese (usually ~6oz) – grated
3 large whole eggs and 2 egg yolks
1/2 cup + heavy cream
2 tbsp mascapone (substitute with an extra glug or two of heavy cream if you can’t find either)
Salt & pepper
A deep dish pastry crust from the freezer (defrost) or make your own pastry case

Directions:

  1. Start with the caramelized onions as they take the longest time. Over a low heat, cook the finely sliced onions in a little butter and olive oil with salt and pepper. Don’t rush this. You want the onions to really caramelize vs. char so expect them to cook for a good 60-90 minutes. The fluffy white pile of onion ribbons will reduce down to a sad looking tangle but will taste oh-so-good.
  2. Pop a store-bought (defrosted if frozen) pie crust into a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes, you’re just looking to partially cook it. Ideally you’ll “blind bake” it (put a piece of parchment paper in the base and weigh it down with beans or rice to stop the dough from rising up) or if you’re lazy just poke it a few times with a fork.
  3. Mix the 3 whole eggs, 2 egg yolks, heavy cream, mascapone and chives. Season liberally.
  4. Add the caramelized onions to the bottom of the partially cooked pastry case.
  5. Top with half of the grated gruyere cheese.
  6. Follow with a layer of chopped ham.
  7. Add the rest of the cheese.
  8. Pour over the egg/cream/mascapone mixture.
    It helps to poke a fork around as you add the egg mixture, this ensures the mixture sinks all the way to the bottom (through the cheese, ham and onion layers) and there are no hidden air pockets. Don’t overfill as the eggs will rise up a little during baking and you don’t want your quiche to overflow.
  9. Lower the oven to 325 degrees F and bake for ~40-60 minutes (use a skewer/cake test/toothpick to check the interior isn’t still super runny). If the edges of the pastry are getting too brown/burned halfway through cooking then wrap them in a little aluminum collar (top right picture). You want a tiny tiny bit of wiggle/jiggle when you shake the quiche as it’ll keep cooking once you remove it from the oven. The exact cooking time will depend on your oven, it takes ~40 minutes at our home in Maine but closer to an hour at my Mom’s house.
  10. Let the quiche rest for at least 15 minutes before slicing. Enjoy straight away or keep in the fridge for hungry guests for 3-4 days (but it probably won’t last that long!)

And here are pictures – look at those sad onions, but they’re so delicious! Step by step pictures of how to caramelize onions

I used to have one of those complicated-to-set-up Japanese style mandolines but it was a pain to deal with. I bought one of these nifty little mandolines recently (image on left) and I love it (click on the image to buy through Amazon affiliate link). Great for onions, wafer thin slices of cucumber for salads, zucchini and more.

Filing up the pastry case:

Delicious caramelized onion, gruyere cheese and ham quiche recipe