Sunday, 24 February 2008

Sunday brunch ...American style

Lisa of Unique Little Bits and I have challenged each other to an InterContinental Cooking Challenge. We have decided that we will periodically think of a theme and each has to cook from the other’s cuisine. Lisa has actually lived in England for a while, while my ideas on American cooking are mainly gleaned from sitcoms and vegetarian cookbooks. So, apologies in advance for any cooking bloopers! I also suspect that Lisa is a much more creative cook than me, but enough with the excuses – the aim is just to have fun and to cook something a bit different. I suggested the first theme - the all-hallowed Sunday Brunch.

My own experience of American breakfasts and brunches is limited, but a central feature has been choice and plenty. I was in California in November, and woke up starving at about 3am on my first night. I was still awake at about 6, so I got up and found a 24-hour diner near the conference hotel, and treated myself to a pancake. I was expecting the small size which I sometimes cook at home but no - it was gargantuan! Thank heavens I only ordered one (and that I had nothing to do but digest for a while). It was extremely nice, needless to say - light and sweet, and came accompanied by a little dish of maple syrup (I like that, given that I'm ultra fussy. My American visit was about the first time I felt normal asking for everything to be modified from the menu, or on the side).

So, choice and plenty was a good start. That meant that the more guests I had the better, so I made Eco Sis, Munchkin Granny and Granny T, who were visiting this week (and who appreciated the newly tidy study) my unwitting participants. Last time Eco Sis stayed I accidentally defrosted a mini Christmas cake muffin for her for breakfast instead of a banana one, but she ate it happily so I thought probably I could win her over. Munchkin Granny is generally happy to participate in any nonsense I’ve dreamed up. I was pretty sure that Granny T would laugh at me, and certainly have no truck at all with being experimented on for the sake of my blog, so I planned something more sensible which I could pretend was part of the American experience. Thus porridge became oatmeal. I really wanted to use the word grits, but I’m still not really sure what they are. The Scientist was still away visiting his friends (and no doubt eating leftover pizza for breakfast – which actually perhaps is just another take on breakfasts in all-male households everywhere) so he missed out on the extravaganza this time. I did some web-surfing on American brunches to authenticate my ideas, and came up with a bewildering array of muffins, scones, biscuits and gravy (I'm very confused about this, especially since Eco Sis, who is married to an American, tells me that the gravy really is savoury), pancakes, eggs, tortillas and oats.

Given this array I may have selected a fairly orthodox choice for my guests, but I just felt too weird cooking gravy and tortillas for breakfast. Maybe a future choice for this event can be 'outlandish breakfasts'. At any rate, I am happy to report that brunch at Lysy's Diner went down very well. My guests were greeted with a menu of options for their selection, complemented by orange or pomegranate juice (I had the most amazing fresh orange juice in California; I'm afraid mine was from Sainsburys). Munchkin Granny was a little disappointed that the coffee was instant (in an ideal world if would, of course, have been filtered and served in one of those big glass jugs, but neither The Scientist nor I are big coffee drinkers, so we have eschewed all that paraphernalia), but she rallied and had tea. Everyone selected pancakes with maple syrup or honey, and Granny T and Eco Sis tackled the muffins, too. In fact I had done Granny T a disservice and she took part in the whole affair with relish. She has no truck with blogging, so I can safely say that she endorsed my brunch as the best she has ever tasted with no risk of being contradicted. In the end I was the only taker for the oatmeal and compote, which was really nice, and all the better for having an exotic name.

So, Lisa: how did I do on the authenticity? I had great fun making and serving it all, and I think that my diners would be happy to return (they didn't tip, mind...). The pancakes were Nigella Lawson's (from How to be a Domestic Goddess), and the muffins were from Moosewood Low Fat Favourites. I made the compote by simply nuking some dried fruit in an egg poaching pot in the microwave with a bit of water. I would normally simmer them in some orange juice over a low heat for a while, but there was too much going on on the stove top.

I'm very intrigued to read about what Lisa's English Diner served up. The next event will be Lisa's choice, and I'm looking forward to it already. Anyone for seconds?

**Update: read about Lisa's amazingly tasty-sounding take on an English brunch here. I will definitely be trying it out myself!**


LisaRene said...

Well done! You are actually quite authentic. Pancakes, muffins, oatmeal and coffee are on every breakfast menu. In typical American style they are served in HUGE portions as you have already discovered. How nice that you family was there for you to "experiment" on.

Grits and polenta are basically the same thing. Grits are common in the south and cooked up as you would porridge and typically topped with a pat of butter.

Biscuits and gravy are also popular in the south but is found all over the States. Plain buttermilk baking powder biscuit (scones) are served with a gravy made typically from sauteed pork sausage, milk and flour. Very thick! You pour the hot gravy over the biscuits and eat them with a fork. Very high fat!

I would have to have both the orange and pomegranate juice, maybe even mixed together!

You put a nice healthy spin on the oatmeal by making the compote. Unfortunately many Americans choose to top their healthy oatmeal with lots of butter and brown sugar as well as pouring milk over it completely negating the healthy part.

I must buy the Moosewood cookbook!

Glad your family had an enjoyable American brunch!

Lysy said...

Hooray - I'm so glad it passed muster! I'm still not convinced about those biscuits though. Perhaps I'll try them for dinner one night. Funnily enough, The Scientist tried the two juices mixed together when he got back last night and said it was really nice.

Do buy the Moosewood book - it's fantastic!