First of all, I have to say that I pride myself in being a halfway decent home cook. Usually people, especially my lovely husband Dave, rave when eating food I’ve cooked. I also usually have no problem following and adapting recipes if need be, and I consider cooking to be overall an enjoyable experience. So I gladly volunteered to make food for a friend’s baby shower brunch. I decided to use Joy of Cooking as inspiration. For those of you not familiar with Joy of Cooking, it is basically the “bible” of American home cooking. It was originally published in 1931 by Irma Rombauer, a homemaker who had just lost her husband to suicide, who used writing the book as a sort of emotional and financial recovery. It has had many editions since, with the most famous being the 1975 version. I actually do not have that edition, but I have the somewhat hated 1997 edition and the throwback 75th edition published in 2006. I use both versions often and they are great references for when say, I don’t have buttermilk and want to know if there is a substitute (there is–sour milk!) or how to perfectly boil an egg. Joy of Cooking also has a nifty section where it provides menu ideas for events, holidays or everyday meals. It also has a section for brunch. I saw a few ideas that caught my eye and offered to cook them for the shower. I chose sweet cheese blintzes with poached sour cherries and artichoke frittata for a crowd. With a quick glance at the recipes, I assured myself that they would be quick, easy and delicious. In reality, the execution of these recipes ended up being slow, exasperating, but thankfully delicious! At the beginning of the menu section of Joy of Cooking it states two important rules for creating a menu for an event. One is to pick foods that can be made ahead of time so you can spend more time with guests and two is “…never, ever, make a dish for company you haven’t made before and mastered.” Hmmm, well I thought I was obeying the first rule, but I knew I was not obeying the second. But who cares, I’ve cooked many meals for the first time for people and had no problems! A few days before the shower I shopped for my ingredients and started to get to work. I realized both recipes aren’t the greatest for making ahead, and the blintz dough had to be refrigerated for at least an hour, and for best results up to two days. Overnight would have to do! I decided the frittata would taste best if I made it the morning of, so I put that recipe aside. I made the blintz dough and then realized, no, I actually made crepe dough. Ack! Joy of Cooking said to cook blintzes like crepes and referenced a page a few pages back that would explain the process. I took a look, but never flipped back to the blintz page! When looking at the blintz recipe, there were only minor differences, so I pressed on and made the blintz filling and poached cherries, which I completed with ease, telling myself, see? it won’t be too bad. The next day I set out to assemble the blintzes. The recipe said that once assembled they can be refridgerated for a few days or frozen until you want to use them. Upon further analysis of the recipe, I became concerned because it also said to serve the blintzes immediately once you cook them. I will not be able to do this because the shower is taking place at a friend’s house and I won’t have a lot of prep time. Great! Now what? I’m frantically looking in both of my Joy of Cooking and other cookbooks to see if there is ever a time that blintzes can be served cool or at room temperature. Nope. “Serve immediately”. I call my sister who is a great knowledgeable home cook and she has no idea either. I lament to Dave, “what should I do?!” Ever practical Dave tells me to look it up online. “But Dave, I can’t, can I? Wouldn’t that go against my New Year’s Resolution? In fact, the exact resolution you challenged me with?” “No”, he explained, “you won’t be looking up a recipe, you’re looking up what to do with a food, you’ve checked every reference you have and you’ve called your sister. Your only option to look it up online.” With his blessing I did, and discovered that I could place the assembled blintzes in a well buttered baking dish and keep them in the oven at 250°F until ready to serve. Whew! Crisis averted! I promptly wrote that tip next to the recipe. Thinking back, this makes so much sense, but in the moment I was panicking. So I put the blintzes together and started putting them into a well buttered baking dish. It made around 17 blintzes, which would be just enough for everyone to have one, and few people might get two. Once I started filling them, I realized these are fragile little buggers and I had a few casualties, which Dave and one of his buddies ate with no complaints. Enough survived that there would still be plenty for the shower. Yum! The finished result of sweet cheese blintz with poached cherries. I got up early the day of the brunch and set out to make the artichoke frittata for a crowd. I’ve made frittatas many times before and was not worried. I whipped up the eggs, chopped the artichoke hearts and measured out the roasted red peppers and parmesean cheese. I followed the recipe and started to pour the egg mixture into a cast iron frying pan which quickly overflowed. And when I say quickly, I mean pretty much immediately. The solids of the artichokes and roasted red peppers stayed in the bowl and all of the egg flew out all over the place. Some of the egg mixture did end up in the pan, but also all over the burner and a horrible burning smell began to waft over me. I turned off the burner and started to move the pan to another burner forgetting how heavy a cast iron pan with a bunch of liquid in it would be, and promptly dumped another lob of the frittata in the other burner. I’m looking at the clock, thinking about how I only have enough blintzes for one per person and I’m ruining this frittata. I’m on the verge of tears. “Dave! I need help!” He groggily got out of bed and came downstairs. “What do you need help with?” What did I need help with? I have no idea, he really couldn’t do anything more than what I can just do myself. “Moral support!” He did help me clean up the mess and had many encouraging words. In the end the frittata turned out beautifully and it had rave reviews! People who normally do not eat artichokes even enjoyed it. Lesson learned however, follow the two rules of entertaining in the Joy of Cooking. Make food that can be easily made ahead, and master the recipe beforehand.
Spread of food from the shower…and I was worried there wouldn’t be enough! Picture by Jaime Ostergard. My cheese blintzes pictured top row, left and artichoke frittata center row, left.