By Sandy Hu
Love it or hate it, travel comes with the territory in the PR business, an occupation that has taken up the greater part of my career. Most times the destination is a big city, where we stay at very nice, but impersonal hotels.
Built in 1915, the house has changed hands over time, reflecting the economy of the country. At one point, it was bought for a dollar during the Great Depression, Virginia explained. The proprietors purchased the house in 2000 and opened in 2001.
“Structurally, the house was in good shape, but cosmetically it needed an upgrade,” Virginia said. “It needed new plumbing, electrical work and air conditioning. Fortunately, Tim had the manual skills to do most of it.”
Both Virginia and Tim came from the world of publishing, Virginia in production and manufacturing; Tim on the computer side. Why did they change careers? “In this business, everyone has a different story about why they chose this path,” Virginia reflected. “For some people, it’s a lifelong dream.” For Virginia, it was an evolution, as she assessed her life and what she wanted to do next.
Virginia is a talented baker and the inn’s breakfasts are exceptional. The meal starts with fresh-squeezed organic fruit juice and a compote of fresh fruit. There are always three different menu choices and a freshly baked surprise as well. The ingredients are locally sourced – seasonal produce, regional bacon and sausages, dairy products and eggs from farmers they know.
As someone who makes fabulous breakfasts seven days a week, I asked Virginia for tips Special Fork readers could use when entertaining at breakfast or brunch. Here’s her advice:
- Plan your menu around what’s in season because seasonal produce will be of the best quality. “The stuff I do isn’t really fancy, but I use the best of whatever is available,” Virginia says. “Right now, I’m serving peaches, blueberries and blackberries. But in the fall and winter, I’ll use local apples, bake them and serve with cream.”
- Bake fresh. “I always bake fresh that morning; it doesn’t taste the same if you bake ahead.”
- If you commit to baking fresh, look for ways to shortcut the prep end so you aren’t spending too much time in the kitchen. For example, she says, “I prepare muffin batter and pour into the muffin tin the night before, cover with plastic wrap and chill overnight; then bake off the next day. I form scones the night before and have them ready to bake in the morning.” Not all recipes will take to overnight refrigeration so test yours first.
- Presentation is important. Virginia likes to make individual servings, which she finds more appealing. “I can bake a classic sour cream coffeecake in a springform pan, but I can also bake them in muffin cups lined with fancy Italian muffin paper cups and make coffee cake muffins.” If you make smaller portions, you’ll have to adjust baking times since smaller sizes take less time to bake.
Here’s Virginia’s recipe for a simple Cheese Soufflé. She makes this so often, she gave me the recipe from memory as we sat in the cozy living room.
To get the best results, you need the right size ramekins or soufflé dish.
The soufflé will rise up and sink quickly, so be sure to have everything set and ready to go. Remove from the oven immediately and whisk to the table.
Makes 4 servings
4 large eggs
½ cup half and half (it must be half and half)
½ teaspoon Italian seasoning
½ teaspoon dry mustard
¼ teaspoon seasoned salt
2 cups roughly shredded hard cheese such as Cheddar, Asiago, Gruyère (about 2 ½ ounces)
Preheat oven to 450°F. Spray with cooking spray four 5-ounce ramekins (capacity is 2/3 cup liquid) or one 6-cup soufflé dish or round baking dish. Combine eggs, half and half, Italian seasoning, dry mustard and seasoned salt In medium bowl and beat with a rotary beater or electric mixer on medium speed, or using a whisk, until the eggs are fully blended so the mixture is one uniform color and there is no separation. About 1½ minutes with an electric mixer.
Pour egg mixture into prepared ramekins, divided equally and filling until slightly more than half full. Divide cheese in four piles and put one cheese pile on the egg mixture in each ramekin. Put ramekins on a baking sheet and slide onto the medium rack of the oven. Close the door and bake for 12 minutes. Do not open the oven door until done. (If made in a soufflé dish, times will be longer – about 5 more minutes; it’s ideal if you have an oven with a glass door so you monitor the baking.) Soufflés should be golden, high and puffy. They will collapse quickly, so serve immediately.
Note: You can cut back the cheese to 1 cup, depending on how "cheesy" you want it.
Recipe from Virginia Hadam, Morningstar Inn, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
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