A recent trip to my friend Kristen’s parents’ home in Falmouth, Massachusetts, was a food and cooking getaway, filled with lots of laughs and games, too.
We travel in a pack of eight: Kristen, Cary, Steve, Cindy, Dominic, Deanne, Swing, and me. Most of our adventures are on the island of Nantucket and home in Boston, but no matter where we are, we have fun together. Kristen’s family let us take over their gorgeous Cape Cod home — many bedrooms, right on the water, looking out toward Marion and Mattapoisett on the mainland. We settled right in, choosing bedrooms and making sure we had enough chilled wine for our 24-hour stay.
The weather wasn’t really cooperating, so we trucked into the Quarterdeck in Falmouth. Fried-seafood sandwiches and a winning Bruins game in the background were perfect for laying a base. We found a hula-hooping young woman in a park, and Dominic got a free lesson (he may need a few more); then we did some damage in an art gallery and some of the many great shops (Mother’s Day is covered!). With that work behind us, it seemed time for a cocktail, so we bellied up before retreating to the manse.
Dominic is a banker by day, but has such an eye for decorating — especially making a dining room table beautiful and inviting. While Cindy, Steve, Swing, Cary, and I made fools of ourselves playing pool in the basement, Dominic cleaned empty quahog shells and hand-stamped everyone’s names on shells for placecards. And he arranged sunset-colored ranunculus flowers and candles on an orange runner. He also tossed in a pair of swimming goggles and candles at everyone’s place setting. By the way, no one, I mean not one person, looks good in goggles.
Despite the cold, rainy weather, we fired up the grill and made grilled pizzas, steaks, and individual grilled Caesar’s salads. Things got a little silly at the table, and many stories were shared; as always, the laughter competed with the great music mix (thanks, Cary) we played all night. Time for pajamas and games.
I almost survived a full round of Pictionary before retiring for the evening. Apparently I missed all the shenanigans.
Before going to bed, Kristen prepared a strata (sort of a savory bread pudding; recipe follows), which soaks overnight. I think there may have been more wine served at this point. Like so many of us, our dear friend Steve is a bit attached to — nay, obsessed with — his BlackBerry. He has wonderful manners and is a kind and generous man, but sometimes I don’t think I have his full attention when I talk about nail-polish colors or Chardonnay clones (maybe the Chardonnay). Anyway, whenever we go away, we perform mild sabotage on his BlackBerry. Usually it’s the same trick of removing the battery or hiding it. Once he starts sweating — or an actual rash develops — we give it back to him. Harmless.
Again, I was fast asleep, so this is all secondhand information, but I was told that while Kristen prepared the strata, someone managed to get Steve’s BlackBerry. First it went into the fridge, but was quickly removed, as folks thought there might be too much moisture and it could get ruined. Then they put it into a cabinet. Not good enough. They placed it in another spot where he’d never think to look, and then off to bed everyone went.
When morning came, Kristen turned the oven on to preheat and removed the strata from the fridge. She made coffee, and one by one, people came into the kitchen — sleepy still, but happy to see that the weather had changed and the view was even more spectacular. I made “Bunny Hops” (recipe attached, plus a link to the Today show), and all seemed right with the world — until Kristen opened the oven to bake the strata.
Sausage Cheese Strata with Sun-Dried Tomatoes
- ½ cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
- 12 oz. hot Italian sausage, casings removed
- 3½cups milk
- 8 eggs
- 2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme (or ¾teaspoon dried thyme)
- 1½ teaspoons salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- 11 slices white bread, cut into 1-inch pieces
- ½ cup chopped onion
- ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 cup freshly grated Provolone cheese
- ¼ cup crumbled goat’s-milk cheese
- Chopped fresh parsley, to taste
Place the sun-dried tomatoes in a small nonmetal bowl. Add enough hot water to cover tomatoes. Let stand for 15 minutes or until soft.
Brown the sausage in a medium-size skillet over medium-high heat, stirring until crumbly. Using a slotted spoon, remove to a bowl lined with paper towels.
Grease a 9×13-inch baking dish with butter.
Whisk the milk, eggs, thyme, salt, and pepper in a large bowl until blended. Add the sun-dried tomatoes, sausage, bread, onion, and Parmesan, and mix well.
Spoon into a baking dish and chill (covered) 4 to 12 hours.
Preheat oven to 375°. Bake uncovered 45 minutes, or until puffed and golden-brown. Sprinkle with Provolone and goat’s-milk cheese. Bake an additional 10 minutes or until cheese melts.
Cool on a wire rack 5 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately.
The “Bunny Hop”
- 1 cup pomegranate juice
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 3-inch fresh ginger, grated
- 2 tablespoons Cointreau or other orange liqueur, divided
- 2 tablespoons St-Germain liqueur, divided
- 1 bottle brut Champagne or Prosecco, well chilled
In a small heavy saucepan over high heat, boil pomegranate juice, sugar, and ginger, stirring often, until syrup is reduced to about 1/3 cup, about 10 minutes. Strain and cool.
Pour 2 teaspoons pomegranate syrup, 2 teaspoons Cointreau, and 2 teaspoons St-Germain into each of four 6-ounce Champagne flutes. Fill each with sparkling wine.