Catch-up time! Yet another glorious side-effect of having my nose buried in and my psyche over-identifying with Julia Child’s life in France is that I find myself questioning why so often, we opt for the simple over the fantastic. Why the bagel from Murray’s on a Saturday morning when we could be enjoying our lazy mornings with inordinately good homemade fare? Plus, I tend to wake up hours before my more sleep-skilled roommate, and isn’t cooking a more noble investment of my time than reading the internets and watch the food teevee? Well, we opt for the simple because, unlike Mrs. Child, we have day jobs and I spend my mornings loafing because er, I’m not exactly the most earnest individual, yet sure enough in the last couple weekends breakfast around here had been sublime.
Last Saturday morning, just like my mother did almost every weekend when we were kids, I made pancakes, just plain-old, oat bran, yogurt, nut, seed and dried fruit-free pancakes before running out to catch the last day of the Edward Hopper exhibit at the Whitney. Mark Bittman’s recipe in the New York Times last month was almost exactly like the Joy of Cooking on my mother always used, replete with the confusing step of adding melted butter to cool ingredients, causing odd clumpage, which is of course quickly rectified in a hot griddle, but still. It always made me feel, and still does, like I did something wrong.
In true Bittman form, this is simply a core recipe and he encourages you to add what you wish to it to adjust it to your tastes; for me, some orange zest and a splash of vanilla. (no, not Baileys, and yes, I was a little surprised too), but he has suggested everything from a mashed-up banana to frozen blueberries or a partial substitution of whole grains. In my pancakes, at least, I embrace the KISS method.
Last Sunday, I made a “dump it” frittata, as in, “time to clean out the fridge!” One of the things I love about frittatas is that by jacking it up with vegetables and assorted goodies, you end up with a plate of healthful things bound lightly by some egg, versus a terrifying three-egg omelet with some vegetables added at the end, like an after-thought. The other thing that I like is that they’re nearly impossible to mess up. This one started with two strips of bacon (I’ve taken to keeping the extra we buy individually wrapped in parchment paper, then thrown in a freezer bag. Is this odd?), crisped and slivered into lardons, a sautéed shallot, two tiny microwaved-and-chopped-up red potatoes, a handful of defrosted and squeezed-out spinach, a tomato, three beaten eggs and a small pile of Jarlsberg before topping it with some green onions. Sadly, I have no recipe for you beyond this outline, nor a picture because at the time we dove in, I didn’t expect anything spectacular, but you’ll have to trust me that it was the best breakfast we’d had in weeks.
Breakfasts three and four were supposed to join together in some glorious, transcendent harmony yesterday, alas, after washing a sinkful of dishes (oh yes, and they were more than a day old) and preparing the yeast, I realized that we were pretty much out of flour and I had completely wasted my energy leading to all sorts of crankiness and a scowled face when Alex finally emerged from his slumber. Once this situation, and my attitude, was adjusted (also, the bathroom scrubbed, we are nothing if not spastic around here), I started the dough for English muffins. I had been inspired by a newsletter from Ruth Reichl I’d received earlier in the week about the glories of Eggs Benedict, which she said was really only perfect on a homemade muffin. Frankly, I’ve never even once considered making something already so good from the store, but she made it sound so simple, I couldn’t resist.
Her recipe is a cinch, perfect for you no-knead fantastics, but it goes awry near the end where she suggests you form the dough into discs and dredge them in cornmeal. There is nothing form-able about this dough, it’s nearly as wet as thick pancake batter, so I quickly consulted Google who brought me a savior in Alton Brown form. Alton Brown gets you to the same place in the recipe, but then suggest you cook the muffins in greased baking rings (shockingly, I have four, but he also says that a tuna can with the top and bottom removed will do). After much, much trial and error as I kept over-filling the rings, and over-cooking the exterior only to leave a still-raw center, I got a few right and I must say, they’re delicious. I mean, stellar, pure English muffin bliss. Too bad it was 3 p.m. and we’d had breakfast hours ago!
Breakfast on Saturday — and I’ll make this speedy as I’m well over my word-count here — was an absolute favorite of mine, as well as (in a story I’m sure I’ve told countless times) The Dish That Made Me No Longer a Vegetarian, Salad Lyonnaise. Unable to resist a poached egg, ever, I ordered this salad at Balthazar years ago, only to realize later that it came with bacon, only to realize that I loved bacon endlessly and would savor it, morals and laurels be damned. A bed of frisee is topped with a poached egg, lardons (thick-cut bacon slivers) and a vinaigrette made quickly from pan drippings and that’s it. Serve it immediately and eat it quickly and if you’re me, determine there is no cause more worthy of your allegiance in this life than the consumption of bacon with vigor. Or, just love your weekend
breakfasts lunches once again.
Adapted from Mark Bittman, New York Times 12/20/06
Yield: 4 to 6 servings.
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar, optional
1 1/2 to 2 cups milk
2 tablespoons melted and cooled butter (optional), plus unmelted butter for cooking, or use neutral oil.
1. Heat a griddle or large skillet over medium-low heat. In a bowl, mix together dry ingredients. Beat eggs into 1 1/2 cups milk, then stir in 2 tablespoons melted cooled butter, if using it. Gently stir this mixture into dry ingredients, mixing only enough to moisten flour; don’t worry about a few lumps. If batter seems thick, add a little more milk.
2. Place a teaspoon or 2 of butter or oil on griddle or skillet. When butter foam subsides or oil shimmers, ladle batter onto griddle or skillet, making pancakes of any size you like. Adjust heat as necessary; usually, first batch will require higher heat than subsequent batches. Flip pancakes after bubbles rise to surface and bottoms brown, after 2 to 4 minutes.
3. Cook until second side is lightly browned. Serve, or hold on an ovenproof plate in a 200-degree oven for up to 15 minutes.
Blueberry or Banana Pancakes: Use fresh or frozen (not defrosted) blueberries; overripe bananas are great. Just before cooking, stir blueberries into batter. For bananas, slice them and press into surface of cooking pancakes. Cook pancakes a little more slowly than you would other pancakes as they burn more easily.
Whole-Grain Pancakes: Substitute whole wheat flour, cornmeal, rolled oats or a combination for up to 1 cup of flour and proceed with recipe.
Recipe from Ruth Reichl, cooking technique from Alton Brown
Mix 1/3 cup warm water with 1 tablespoon sugar and 1 package active dry yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer. Melt 3 tablespoons butter in 1 2/3 cups milk. When cool, add to yeast mixture along with 1 egg, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 tablespoon white vinegar. Add 2 1/2 cups flour and mix, at medium speed, 5 minutes. Add 2 1/2 cups more flour and mix well. Cover and let rise 1 hour.*
Preheat a griddle to 300 degrees F.
Place metal rings onto the griddle and coat lightly with vegetable spray. Using #20 ice cream scoop**, place 2 scoops into each ring and cover with a pot lid or cookie sheet and cook for 5 to 6 minutes. Remove the lid and flip rings using tongs. Cover with the lid and cook for another 5 to 6 minutes or until golden brown. Place on a cooling rack, remove rings and cool. Split with fork and serve.
* I mixed this by hand, adding all of the flour at once and not for five minutes and had no trouble with the dough.
** Unable to figure out what size scoop this was, I can only caution you to not fill the ring more than halfway. It puffs plenty while cooking.
Frisee Salad With Lardons and Poached Eggs (Salad Lyonnaise)
Gourmet, February 1999
Makes 4 servings
1/2 pound frisee (French curly endive)
6 ounces slab bacon or thick-cut bacon slices
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons chopped shallot
3 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
Tear frisee into bite-size pieces and put in a large bowl. If using slab bacon, cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Cut bacon slices crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick sticks (lardons).
In a heavy skillet cook bacon over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until golden and remove skillet from heat.
Have ready another skillet with 1 inch warm water. Half-fill a 4-quart saucepan with water and stir in white vinegar. Bring liquid to a bare simmer. Break each egg into a teacup. Slide 1 egg into simmering liquid and immediately push white around yolk with a slotted spoon, moving egg gently. (Egg will become oval, with yolk completely covered by white.) Add remaining 3 eggs in same manner. Simmer eggs about 1 1/2 minutes for runny yolks to about 3 minutes for firm yolks. (Serving this salad with runny “not fully cooked” yolks may be of concern if there is a problem with salmonella in your area.) Immediately transfer eggs to skillet of warm water.
Reheat bacon in its skillet over moderate heat. Add shallot and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add red-wine vinegar and boil 5 seconds. Immediately pour hot dressing over frisee and toss with salt and pepper to taste.
Divide salad among 4 plates and top with drained poached eggs. Season eggs with salt and pepper and serve salad immediately.