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Brunch with Friends – What a Weekend

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This was a crazy busy weekend. We had a birthday dinner to attend with some great friends on Saturday evening and then Gary & I hosted a brunch with two other couples that turned into an all-day affair on Sunday. I am not sure how I was able to accomplish that given that the Saturday birthday was still going strong when we left at 1:30 am (home at 2:00 am). At which point I had to clean the kitchen from doing brunch prep work until 20 minutes before the earlier departure time and make the custard for the breakfast casserole so it could soak all night. Whew! Finally in bed by 3:30 am. Guests to arrive at 11:00 am. My alarm goes off at 8:00 am, but I fall back to sleep. Roused out of bed at 9:00 am. I am never going to be ready on time.

The Brunch Begins

Our guests were Bryan and Craig, and Shawn and Michael. An hour before arrival I remember that I forgot to get orange juice for mimosas. I text Craig. He was right next door to a Harris Teeter, so he grabbed some.  Nice thought but we did not drink any of it.  It seemed that all the sparkling wines were quality bottles. There was no way we could to do that to such great wines.

sparkling wine

OMG, I have not laughed so much in a long time. Bryan and Shawn are wicked hilarious when you get them together.  You know it is a great day when brunch is still going strong at 3 hours in, so you invite neighbor Natalie over for some bubbles. At 3:45 Shawn and Michael have to leave because their dog has been indoors alone for hours with his legs crossed and needs to go outside. The rest of us with wine in hand walk down to the corner where there is an impromptu party with several neighbors with their golf carts (a legit form of transportation for local errands). I think we got back home around 6:30 pm and I still had to clean up the kitchen.

Yes, we took a ride in a trailer being pulled by a golf cart once the party migrated to the corner.

What a great day. What a great weekend.


Brunch Menu

Bubbles from various regions in France and California

Country Pâte and Cheese with Rustic Bread

Brioche Breakfast Casserole
with Caramelized Onions, Applewood Smoked Bacon, and Gruyére Cheese

Homemade Skillet Baked Hashbrowns

Honey & Brown Sugar Link Breakfast Sausage

Mixed Green Salad with Carrots, Fresh Fennel, Artichoke Hearts and Tomatoes
with a Maple Mustard Vinegarette

Double Chocolate Almond Brownies

Fortunately, the casserole was all ready to go in the oven. Making the hashbrowns and the brownies were next. The rest is easy.

Dang, this is way too much to write about all in one post so stay tuned for additional posts in the coming weeks.

brunch casserole


The Brunch Headliner –  Brioche Breakfast Casserole

Breakfast casseroles are fairly common brunch fare, but as always, I did not want to make just any casserole. We would be eating at noon, so I wanted savory flavors that did not scream breakfast. I keep plenty of dried bread in the pantry for bread puddings and dressing/stuffing, so I knew the start was dried brioche. I wanted caramelized onions and Gruyére cheese. And for the meat – Neuske’s thick-sliced Applewood smoked bacon. These are some intense flavors, but I felt that they would meld well together. And did they ever!

The Recipe

Ingredients

  • 8-10 slices, dried Brioche slices, cut into cubes (about 4 cups)
  • 12 ounces Nueske’s Applewood Triple-Thick Cut Bacon (5 slices) * Cooking instructions below, chopped
  • 6 slices traditional pre-cooked, microwaved bacon, (45 seconds), chopped
  • 1 lb Gruyrére cheese, shredded
  • Caramelized onions from 3 lbs of yellow onions * Cooking instructions below
    • 3 lbs Yellow Onions, thinly sliced
    • 3 Tsp Butter
    • 2 Tsp Olive oil
    • approximately 1/2 of the bacon grease from the pan
    • 2 Tsp Sugar
  • 12 large eggs
  • 2 1/4 cups half and half
  • 2 teaspoons dry mustard
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper

Preparation

You can cook the bacon and caramelize the onions ahead of time, but you want to do them at the same time. You will want some of the bacon grease to cook the onions. So cook the bacon first while you are slicing the onions.

Cooking the Bacon

This is for the Nueske’s bacon only. See above to the other bacon. Note: The Neuske’s bacon is meaty, intensely smoked and delicious but too much can overpower everything.

Nueske’s Applewood Triple-Thick Cut Bacon is by far the best bacon you will ever eat. Yes, it is mail order only and a bit pricey, but you will not regret the spend. I will buy it and portion it out and freeze it until I am ready to use it. Generally, it is for special occasions.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the Triple-Thick Cut Bacon on a non-stick sheet pan with a 1/2 lip. Then place another sheet pan on top of the bacon, so it is sandwiched between the pans. Put the pans on the lowest rack in the oven and bake for 10 minutes or until crispy on the outside with a soft interior.

Sandwiching the bacon between the pans keeps the bacon from curling and the grease from splattering. When done, allow the bacon to cool, then slice into 1/4 inch pieces and mix in with the other chopped bacon. Set aside.


Making the Caramelized Onions

For this step, you will need a 12-inch diameter skillet and the ingredients for above the onions. Slice the onions as thin as possible. I tend to cut a finger whenever I slice onions, so I came up with this trick.  If you have an English Muffin Splitter, stick it through the entire onion. Then slice on each side of the metal skewer. If the ends hang over the end of the Splitter, you can carefully make several cuts, and the onion should not move. It is super fast, and I never cut a finger anymore.

brunch
Yes, this is my muffin splitter

For the next 15-25 minutes, this will require your undivided attention.

Place the butter, olive oil and bacon fat in the skillet over high heat. Move the butter around, so it melts and does not burn. Toss in a single slice to see if it sizzles when it hits the fat. If no, wait until it is sizzling. Once melted and sizzling, quickly pour the melted fats on the bowl of onions and toss to coat.

Then quickly add back into the hot skillet. It should fill the skillet with room to toss. With a pair of tongs, about every 20 seconds, gently move the onions around. Pull up the onions on the bottom of the pan to the top.

Because you have been continuously tossing the onions as they cook, they should all have a soft exterior at this point. Sprinkle with the 2 tablespoons of sugar and toss well. The onions will begin to caramelize. Switch to a metal spatula to scrape up the fond (crispy brown bits) from the bottom of the pan. Continue cooking until the onions are soft through and through and a caramel brown color.

Starting to caramelize
Getting close
That is what I want in my caramelized onions.

Put a strainer in the same bowl that held the onions, and scrape all of the cooked onions into the colander to drain off any excess fat. Set aside.


Completing the Casserole

Sorry, no pictures of the layering. I was in a rush. I had to get to the birthday party.

Spray a 9×13 glass or enameled cast iron baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. Place bread cubes in the prepared dish. Spread the caramelized onions over the top of the bread. Sprinkle both kinds of bacon over the top of the onions and bread. Sprinkle the freshly grated cheese over the top of the bacon.

Side note: This is as far as I got on Saturday before the birthday party, so I put it in the fridge until I returned home. At 2:00 am, I got home, cleaned the kitchen and then proceeded with the recipe.

In a medium-size bowl, beat together the eggs, milk, dry mustard, salt, and pepper. Beat until all of the eggs are well blended. Pour the egg mixture over the cheese. Cover the casserole with foil and refrigerate overnight or for at least 8 hours.

 

{It is 3:00 am for heaven’s sake. There are no pictures of the custard being made.}

 

brunch
But this is what it looked like before it went into the oven.
Remove the casserole from the fridge so it can take the chill off, so it will cook evenly. I took mine out 2 hours before it went into the oven.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the casserole, covered with foil, for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for an additional 15-20 minutes or until the middle of the casserole is puffed and set. Check by inserting a butter knife into the center. It should come out almost clean. Cut into squares and serve warm.

This made the best brunch main course. I highly recommend it.


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That is all for now.
Cheers,
rick

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4 Comments

  1. Pam

    That casserole looks so good !!!! How do you think it would turn out w/o the Brioche?????

    • Any dried bread will work. I gave so tried a crusty French loaf and it worked well.

  2. Cheryl Joynt

    What a fun post! I am going to try that bacon. I also wish I had been there!! Love it.

  3. Jenelle Gordon

    I like the 2 pan bacon idea!! 🙂

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