It started on Thursday. Well, no, it started a week ago – two weeks ago actually – the first ingredient was collected at the morel hunt. The main entree – a giant piece of local cured ham – was added a week ago, as were a number of other secondary ingredients. The last and final items were picked up at the market Saturday morning – the brunch was set for Saturday at about noon.
Last year, Amanda and I invited both of our sets of parents over for a mother’s day brunch on our back porch. We also invited my brother and his family, and Amanda’s brother as well. We had great weather, a ton of great food, and an all around wonderful time. At that point in our lives, we had only just gotten married – had only been back from our honeymoon for about two months – so it was one of our first “statements” as a married couple. It was casual, of course, but still one of our first actual events of having some company over and doing it up right. So it was significant to us.
With fond memories of last year, we decided we’d invite everyone to do the same again this year and maybe start a kind of tradition out of it. They say two consecutive years makes it a tradition, right?
In the time between that last year’s mother’s day and this year’s, I’ve gotten quite a bit more… well, let’s say conscious of my cooking. Whereas last year I kind of just stumbled my way through with a bunch of food I had collected to throw together, this time I had a plan. I organized a menu, I scheduled my shopping and where I would have to go to source my various ingredients, and I even made a rough timeline for putting it all together.
This aforementioned method is generally not my style at all when it comes to cooking. I only wish I could be more organized – I rarely know what meals are coming more than maybe a day ahead of time, and it’s a big effort of mine right now to try to better coordinate my weekly meals with my shopping trips – an effort that often feels like two steps forward and one step back. And then two steps to the left. And then a pirouette to an arabesque, and then three steps to the right… and then I make tacos.
So, knowing that I’d have to feed 12 people – 10 adults and 2 kids – this mother’s day, I figured organization was called for. I finalized the menu several days ahead of time, printed out ingredients lists, and even laid out my plan of attack for when to start each recipe.
Of course, my schedule wound up being “early, earlier, first, late, later, whenever, etc” but at least it was something.
There were really just too many dishes for this brunch for me to include each one step by step, so I’m going to do a kind of abbreviated little session here. If you have any questions about anything in particular, please feel free to ask.
I started designing the menu around a big piece of ham that I got from Calhoun’s Country Hams at the Alexandria market. I used the mango-ginger ham recipe that Jaden posted over on Steamy Kitchen. I had a few questions about the recipe and about the ham itself, which Jaden was gracious enough to answer quickly for me with a few brief emails. Thanks Jaden!
I also used a dessert that she had recently posted – strawberry almond cream tart.
With those two items anchoring the menu, I started to fill in the rest – leaning pretty heavily on my new Thomas Keller cookbook that was dying for some use.
I had a bunch of morels still left over, so I knew I wanted them to make an appearance.
I decided on a mushroom and leek salad – from Keller – with a few alterations. I used morels and shiitakes, and instead of leeks I used some ramps that I picked up from the market that morning.
The recipe calls for making a mushroom conserva beforehand. This is basically heating up some oil with a few herbs in it, cooking the raw mushrooms in it for about 5 minutes, and then lowering the temperature and letting them steep in the oil for about 45 minutes. Once you’ve done this, you can store the oil with mushrooms in a mason jar pretty much indefinitely. And when you’re ready to use the mushrooms, you can keep the oil and re-use it as a vinaigrette.
I made the mushroom conserva on Thursday night.
The recipe also called for roasted tomatoes and a shallot vinaigrette. I threw some asparagus stalks in for good measure.
It turned out great but I felt the roasted tomatoes were a little over powering. If I made it again I might leave them out, if only to highlight the mushrooms a little more effectively.
Friday night, I started assembling the strawberry almond tart. I only had one large tart pan, as opposed to several smaller ones, so I used that option instead. I made the crust, glaze, and toasted the almonds all on Friday night and refrigerated it over night.
I also juiced about half a gallon’s worth of oranges for fresh mimosas the night before, and made sure I had done all the prep I could so Saturday morning would go smoothly.
Saturday morning I got up at 5am to start soaking the ham in water. It was a cured ham, which means it had been heavily salted, and if I planned to bake it I would need to do as much as I could to get that salt off the meat. I went down into the kitchen, half asleep, and started rubbing and scrubbing it under hot water, and left it in a stock pot to soak. Then I went back to sleep for awhile.
When I did get up, a few hours later, I started the morning with a quick trip to the farmer’s market for last minute freshness. When I got back, I put the ham in the oven and started putting everything else together.
My niece’s distractions with her haute couture poses in my wife’s heels did make it a little difficult to concentrate, I admit.
The food started with some watermelon for the kids, and grilled cheese with tomato gazpacho (both also Keller recipes).
The ham was beautiful and delicious (still just a smidge on the salty side, perhaps), and the mango nectar smelled wonderful as it was cooking in the oven.
There were also a few dishes that never got proper camera attention that day, unfortunately, but as you can imagine it was a bit hectic and I wasn’t going to worry too much about the pictures. The final menu looked like this…
Grilled Cheese (with Havarti, Jack, and Colby cheeses)
Gold Tomato Gazpacho (from Keller’s Ad Hoc At Home)
Mango Ginger Ham using Steamy Kitchen’s recipe
Homemade biscuits (from Keller’s Ad Hoc At Home) with Bigg Riggs Farm Strawberry Biscuit Fixer
Mushroom and Ramp Salad (adapted from Keller – substituted ramps for leeks)
Ramp and Potato Pancakes (adapted from Keller – substituted ramps for scallions)
Potato and Beet Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette (Keller)
Strawberry Almond Tart from Steamy Kitchen
The day was a great success, if a bit exhausting. The food turned out fantastic, despite the fact that the power went out on our whole block for an hour right in the middle of the food prep and while the ham was in the oven. It made for a bit of panic, a bit more stress than planned for, but it all turned out alright in the end. Meanwhile I was trying to calculate how I could get all this food out through the grill if need be, and if I’d even have enough propane for it. Thank god for the champagne.
Me and mom…
Somebody’s due for a haircut.