March is a month of in-betweens, wedged between lions and lambs, winter and spring, Valentine’s Day, Easter and Passover. For years, I saw March as an entertaining desert. Now, I see it as an opportunity, a month of weekends when friends are usually free and more than eager to hang out for hours. In short, it is the ideal month to celebrate that middle child of meals: brunch. The key to hosting a successful brunch — in my mind, that means one that lasts from late morning to just before dinner — is to choose dishes that require little hands-on time after guests arrive.
For menu inspiration, I checked in with Lynn Sinclair at Sinclair’s Sunrise Café and Tearoom in Kennett Square. Since 2005, Sinclair has been plating healthy, satisfying breakfasts and lunches seven days a week at her 80-seat upscale café on East State Street.
Sinclair’s ties to the culinary and hospitality worlds as well as to Kennett Square run deep. Before opening her restaurant in Kennett Square, she and her brother ran Sinclair’s Café in Newark, DE for 22 years. Her grandfather, F. Graff Sinclair, was the proprietor of Sinclair’s Restaurant on State Street in Kennett Square from just before World War I until the mid-1940s. Even before that, her family was known for its hospitality: the former Sinclair homestead, Sycamore Farm, was the scene of many post-foxhunt breakfasts and neighborhood celebrations at the turn of the 20th century. In addition to wearing a toque, Sinclair serves as the Chairwoman of the Kennett Historical Commission and researches her own family tree. Indeed, it was during her many trips to investigate her genealogy that Sinclair fell in love with Kennett Square.
The way Sunrise Café devotees devour Sinclair’s poached egg dishes, sandwiches and gourmet whole grain pancakes shows just how much this small town loves her back. While her pancake ingredients remain top secret — the mixes as well as her homemade chutneys and jams may be purchased at the Café — she graciously shared her recipes for other signature dishes: Ham, Asparagus and Asiago Quicha-dilla, the Bayard Taylor Hunt Sandwich, Huevos Ranchero Sauce and Rosemary Polenta.
To these savory offerings, I’ve added a vegetarian strata and a smoked salmon spread. And since no self-respecting brunch menu can claim greatness without a little sugar, I’ve also included recipes for a blueberry coffee cake as well as a slow-cooker apple cake.
Here’s hoping that you’ll enjoy this March by coming to the Table!
Ham, Asparagus and Asiago Quicha-dilla
At Sinclair’s, this cross between a quiche and a quesadilla is a frequent and well-loved special. While the restaurant uses a sundried tomato tortilla, feel free to use any flavor that suits you.
12-inch flour tortilla
¼ lb. ham, sliced thick
½ lb. asparagus
4 oz. grated asiago cheese
1 C. whole milk or light cream
9 large eggs
1 Tb. fresh dill, basil and/or thyme, chopped
Preheat oven to 375°.
Cut baked ham into ¼-inch cubes. Break off tough stem part of asparagus and discard. Cut spear ends into ½-inch pieces. Steam asparagus for 10 minutes and drain. Beat eggs with milk/cream.
Lightly spray a 10-inch pie pan with olive or vegetable oil. Fold tortilla in quarters and microwave for 20 seconds. Line the pie pan with the tortilla.
Distribute the ham, asparagus, cheese and herbs evenly over the tortilla. Pour milk/egg mixture into pie pan and bake for 45 -60 minutes, until the center of quiche is puffed. Makes 8 appetizer-size wedges.
Bayard Taylor Hunt Sandwich
Following the 1903 Bayard Taylor Foxhunt, Lynn Sinclair’s great-great grandfather hosted a breakfast at which the “womenfolk” served guests frankfurters and sauerkraut. Putting a healthy twist on the dish, Sinclair substitutes turkey sausage patties for the frankfurters and sandwiches the ingredients between slices of multigrain bread. While this dish is not on the breakfast menu, many regulars still order it first thing in the morning.
For those unfamiliar with Bayard Taylor, he was a 19th-century novelist, reporter and poet who hailed from Kennett Square. Most notably, Taylor brought attention to the town with his novel, The Story of Kennett. A little history is good with breakfast.
1 pkg. sauerkraut, drained
16 slices multigrain bread
Country Dijon, grainy or deli mustard
16, 2-oz. turkey sausage patties, cooked
8, 1-oz. slices of cheddar cheese
Butter or olive oil spray for grilling
Heat sauerkraut in microwave or in sauté pan. Butter bread slices on one side. On the other side of 8 bread slices, spread mustard. On the remaining 8 slices, place one slice of cheddar cheese.
Put all bread slices on griddle, butter side down. Top cheesy bread slices with ½ cup sauerkraut and two turkey sausage patties. Grill all slices until brown, and flip bread slices with mustard onto the bread slices with cheese, sauerkraut and sausage. Makes 8 sandwiches.
Huevos Ranchero Sauce
Lynn Sinclair ladles 2/3 cup of this spicy sauce over two sunny-side up eggs. On the side, she serves sour cream, a grilled tortilla and either homefries or rosemary polenta (recipe below). For a brunch at home, she suggests making scrambled eggs instead and serving with a side of sour cream and tortilla chips.
Cooking tips: When chopping a jalapeno, wear rubber gloves or wash your hands very well before touching your eyes. If you can’t find chipotle powder, increase the chili powder to 2 Tb.
2 Tb. cooking oil
11/3 C. chopped onion
11/3 C. chopped poblano or red bell pepper
2 fresh jalepeño peppers, seeds removed, finely chopped
2 or 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 C. canned diced tomatoes
1 C. water
1½ Tb. chili powder
2 tsp. chipotle powder
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. ground coriander
Saute onion, poblano and jalepeño peppers and garlic in oil until vegetables are lightly browned.
Add all the other ingredients and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, for about an hour. Serve over sunny-side up or scrambled eggs. Makes 6 cups, 8 to 10 servings.
Polenta is just grits with an Italian accent… and every bit as satisfying.
1½ C. stone ground corn meal
2 tsp. crushed rosemary leaves
4½ C. water
Bring water and rosemary leaves to a rolling boil. Slowly whisk in the cornmeal. Put a lid on the pot and reduce heat to low. Cook for 20 minutes. (At Sinclair’s, chefs use a heat diffuser to keep the polenta from scorching. At-home cooks should stir it frequently.)
Spray an 8x8-inch pan with olive or vegetable oil. Remove polenta from heat and whisk again. Pour hot polenta into pan and refrigerate until cold.
Using a wet knife, cut polenta into 8 pieces. To serve, heat in a cast iron pan that’s been lightly sprayed with oil. Cook on both sides until toasty and brown.
Vegetarian (or not) Strata
A strata is a savory bread pudding that lends itself to all kinds of variations, so feel free to substitute other vegetables and add some cooked bacon or sausage. Just make sure you let it sit overnight so that the bread fully absorbs the egg mixture.
1 baguette, torn into bite-size pieces
1 Tb. butter
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
1 large red or green pepper, cut into ½-inch dice
4 C. sliced mushrooms
9 large eggs
1½ C. milk (not skim)
½ C. half-and-half
1 Tb. ground mustard (powder)
1/3 C. dried chives
2 C. shredded cheddar cheese (a combination of cheddar and Monterey jack also works well).
Optional: 6 oz. bacon, cooked and crumbled
Grease a 9x13-inch baking pan and arrange bread pieces in a layer.
Melt butter in a pan. Add onion and pepper, and sauté 4-5 minutes until beginning to soften. Add mushrooms and a pinch of salt. Sauté vegetable mixture another 2 minutes until mushrooms start to soften and yield their juice. If necessary, drain liquid from veggie mixture. Mix in chives.
Spoon vegetable mixture over bread and distribute evenly. Top with 1 cup cheese and bacon pieces.
In a separate bowl, beat together eggs, milk, half-and-half, mustard powder and chives. Pour egg mixture over the bread/veggie/cheese mixture. Cover with aluminum foil. Refrigerate overnight.
Bake covered at 350° for 35-40 minutes or until eggs are set. (A toothpick inserted in the strata will come out clean.) Uncover. Top with remaining cup of cheese and cook for 5 minutes more, until cheese is melted.
Smoked Salmon Spread
Delicious slathered on bagels or slices of baguette, this spread combines all the ingredients found on a classic smoked salmon platter. Also delicious if made with smoked trout.
4 oz. cream cheese
2 oz. smoked salmon, chopped
2 Tb. capers
1 Tb. shallot or red onion, minced
1 tsp. lemon juice.
Optional: 1 Tb. sour cream and
1 Tb. fresh dill, chopped
Mash all ingredients together with a fork. Makes 1 cup.
Jean’s Blueberry Coffee Cake
A friend from my old neighborhood, Jean, brought this light cake to many gatherings. Not a crumb was ever left, and Jean was always asked to bring the cake and copies of the recipe to the next get-together. If you have any blueberries from last summer still in your freezer, I can’t think of better way to use them up.
For the cake:
1½ C. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
½ C. butter, softened
½ C. sugar
2 C. frozen (or fresh) blueberries
½ cup milk
For the topping:
¼ C. flour
¼ C. sugar
½ tsp. cinnamon
3 Tb. butter
Preheat oven to 375°. Grease, lightly flour a square baking dish (9 x9).
Mix flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. In a separate bowl, cream softened butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg. Alternate adding flour mixture and milk to butter mixture. Mix until well combined and batter resembles cookie dough. Gently fold in blueberries and mix until just combined. Spread batter into baking dish, distributing evenly.
With a fork, mix together topping ingredients until crumbly. Sprinkle over batter. Bake 45 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the cake’s center comes out clean. Serves 8-10.
Slow Cooker Apple Cake
Before you store your slow cooker for the spring and summer, give it one last hurrah. This moist cake takes about 15 minutes or prep time and tastes like a cross between apple cake and apple pudding. It can be served warm right out of the slow cooker or at room temperature, and I’m sure no one would object if you topped it with a scoop of vanilla or butter pecan ice cream.
1 C. flour
1 C. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. salt
4 medium cooking apples (Granny Smith work well), peeled, cored and cut into ¼ -½-inch dice
2 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
Grease your slow-cooker with butter or cooking oil. Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt together. Add apples, tossing to coat.
In a separate bowl, beat eggs and vanilla together. Stir egg mixture into apple mixture until moistened.
Cover and bake on high for 2 ½ hours. Serves 6-8. -CL-
If you’d like to contact Laura Muzzi Brennan, please e-mail her at LauraBrennan@ValleyDel.com.
What to drink?
Mimosas, Bloody Marys, a steaming pot of coffee and an inviting cup of tea are always hits. While you may not be able to offer tea as Sinclair’s does — they sell 35+ types of loose teas, tea paraphernalia and host private teas in their tearoom — you can please a crowd with this no-fuss beverage.
Since I survive on Arnold Palmers in the summer, I thought I’d give my favorite drink a March makeover. It’s delicious served hot from a saucepan on your stove or over ice if the weather goes mild instead of wild.
Hot Orange Arnold Palmer
8 C. mint tea
juice of 4 tangerines (about 1 C.)
juice of 3 small lemons (about ½ C.)
1 C. water
¼ C. granulated sugar
In a saucepan, bring orange and lemon juices, water and sugar to a boil. When sugar is dissolved, add juice mixture to tea and stir well. Makes 8 cups.
Dear Fellow Cooks:
One thing I’ve learned about cooks is that we are a social bunch. Not only do we love to feed friends and family, we love to talk food, to exchange recipes, to lift the lids of each other’s pots.
One of my hopes for Brandywine Table is to create a community of culinary enthusiasts, and so every once in a while, I’ll ask your to share your ideas and recipes.
In keeping with this month’s theme, I’m inviting you to send in your favorite breakfast and brunch recipes. We’ll publish a few of them on our website, and you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you made life in the Brandywine Valley that much tastier.
With each recipe, be sure to include the number of servings, all the steps needed for preparation, as well as your name and phone number. Please e-mail submissions to Laura@ValleyDel.com.
Happy cooking, and thanks for sharing!