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A Picnic in Bed
It's the weekend: a chance to relax before the beginning of the busy holiday season, when it seems neither time nor inclination affords you an opportunity to unwind for a moment. This year, before the hectic pace of the season sweeps you into its inevitable feeling of bedlam, why not treat yourself (and your romantic other) to a gentle, easy morning of a brunch picnic in bed? For those of you who are dyed-in-the-wool traditionalists, who believe that this is certainly not your idea of a picnic, try to relax your thinking just this once. This article is written for you in particular.
The picnic should be a very unstructured and spontaneous time for the two of you if one of you is willing to plan ahead and make a few dishes before the event. The only activities that will take much effort on picnic morning are: brewing the coffee, pouring the champagne and grabbing the paper before you slip back under the covers to await the feast warming in the oven.
The menu is designed to be simple to prepare and easy to serve. To make the mood seem extra special, plan on having some lacy linen napkins and maybe a vase of sweetheart roses on the tray as you serve the food. Some soft, gentle background music wouldn't be a bad idea, either --maybe some old, throaty blues from Dinah Washington or the sultry voice of Carmen McRae.
A buttery potato and smoked salmon "pancake" will be the center of attraction on your plate, balanced by a light lemon and artichoke filled portabella mushroom caps (a refreshing change from the usual stuffing), and orange-hazelnut scones made rich and fragrant by a combination of buttermilk, hazelnut oil and orange zest. I know some of you may be uneasy about the use of sour cream, cream cheese and butter, but I've used low-fat products whenever possible to reduce caloric content without compromising flavor. This is a special occasion meal that may happen just once a year, thoroughly enjoy it.
And, if the spirit moves you, you may just want to start a regular tradition of weekend mornings with brunch in bed. Just be sure to opt for the fruit salad, juice and toast -- and hold the butter.
Artichoke, Lemon and Parsley stuffed Mushroom Caps
The earthy meatiness of the portabellos make them a filling vegetable, so only one is needed per person, although leftovers are delicious served room temperature with a squirt of lemon juice. If you are inclined to desire leftovers, just double the recipe and serve as a light dinner accompanied by a green salad, crusty bread and a bottle of your favorite fume blanc.
2 medium-sized portabello mushroom caps, stems removed and reserved
1 plum tomato, seeded and chopped
3 canned artichoke bottoms, packed in water (reserve the rest for another use)
2 Tablespoons low-fat or light mayonnaise
zest of one lemon
2 scallions, thinly sliced
3 stems Italian parsley, chopped
1/4 cup plain toasted bread crumbs
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 teaspoon extra virgin oil
Preheat oven to 350 degree F. Clean caps by brushing with a damp paper towel. Chop stems and plum tomato into small pieces and place in a medium size bowl. Dice the artichoke bottoms and add to the mushroom mixture. Add the low-fat mayonnaise, lemon zest and Italian parsley and combine well. Add the scallions, bread crumbs, salt (taste first as artichokes may be salty), freshly ground pepper and stir to blend well. Pack half the mixture into each portabello cap and drizzle with the one teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil. Place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and bake for 25-27 minutes. Serve with a wedge of lemon.
Potato and Smoked Salmon Cake
This recipe makes enough for the two of you to enjoy for breakfast plus a light lunch or dinner on another day. Just expand your menu if serving for dinner by adding a salad, bread and wine as in the suggestion for the previous recipe.
1/4 small red onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup low-fat cream cheese
2 Tablespoons low-fat sour cream
1/2 teaspoon dried dill weed
2 medium-sized russet potatoes, washed and dried well
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
salt to taste
freshly ground pepper to taste
3-4 thin slices of Nova lox, shredded
Preheat oven to 350 degree F. Melt one tablespoon butter in a heavy bottomed pan over medium heat. Quickly saute the red onion and garlic, about 45 seconds, until they are soft but not brown. Cut the cream cheese into small pieces and stir into the saute pan with the two tablespoons of low-fat sour cream and dill weed, stirring until the cream cheese melts and blends with the other ingredients. Remove from heat. Slice potatoes 1/8-inch thick and toss with the two tablespoons melted butter, salt and black pepper. Set aside. Lightly spray a nine-inch glass pie dish with vegetable spray. Place a single layer of seasoned potatoes on the bottom, salt and pepper slices. Top with dollops of the cream cheese mixture and spread with the back of a spoon to evenly coat the potatoes. Sprinkle with half the shredded salmon. Repeat with a second layer of everything ending with a topping of potatoes and cream cheese mixture.
Wrap tightly with foil and bake in the preheated oven for one hour or until the potatoes can be pierced with a knife. Remove the foil and turn up the heat to 400 degree F and bake for an additional 10 minutes to brown the top of the casserole. Remove from the oven and refrigerate after it has cooled completely. Cut into wedges before serving. This can be eaten hot or at room temperature. To make ahead and reheat, first bring to room temperature, then wrap in foil and place in a preheated 325 degree F oven for 15-20 minutes.
These scones are so flaky and moist, I find they are best eaten plain or with a hint of your favorite orange marmalade. I have reduced the fat content by using low-fat buttermilk instead of cream. This recipe makes eight scones so you can freeze the remaining for another breakfast. Make these ahead and reheat in double wrapped heavy duty foil in a preheated 325 degree F oven for 10-15 minutes.
2 cups flour
4 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon orange extract
3 Tablespoons cold unsalted butter
1 Tablespoon best quality hazelnut oil
1/2 cup whole toasted hazelnuts
zest of one orange
1 teaspoon orange extract
1/3 cup low-fat buttermilk
2 large eggs
Preheat oven to 400 degree F. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, nutmeg and salt in a large bowl. Cut in butter and oil with a pastry blender until mixture looks like crumbly peas. Add hazelnuts, orange zest and orange extract and stir a few times to mix together well. Add buttermilk and eggs and stir until mixture is well blended. Dough will be a little stiff and slightly wet.
Scrape dough onto a lightly floured surface, turning to coat all dough surfaces with flour. Knead gently about 15-20 times.
Divide dough into two equal portions, patting each piece into a circle of about one inch thickness. With a sharp knife, cut each circle into four wedges. Place wedges on a parchment-lined baking sheet. (You can also place on a greased baking sheet but this will add needless calories.) Bake in preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, or until golden. Serve immediately.
Rosemary Furfaro is a freelance food writer.