Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Eggs for Dinner

My mother believes I'm the only person on earth who reads cookbooks before bed.  But I know this isn't true.  I know for a fact that several of my friends read cookbooks like novels.  (Laura, I'm specifically thinking of you, here.) Last night I was particularly enthralled by Marion Cunningham's  The Breakfast Book, originally published in 1987 and which I bought used off Amazon.  This book is filled with all sorts of things you'd never think to have for breakfast, but which sound amazing.  I'm particularly anxious to try the Pumpkin Mush, which sounds scary until you realize it's pumpkin puree, ginger and cornmeal all cooked up into something nutritious and filling.  I plan to add a little pumpkin pie spice to it, but that is for another day.  I'll let you know how it turns out.

So, it's Wednesday, I haven't been to the grocery again for a long time and I'm down to about 8 eggs, a shriveled half onion, kale (also shriveled), some boursin, some Parmesan, and Marion Cunningham has me thinking frittata.  I like frittatas better than omelets because they are less labor intensive, and you can throw pretty much anything into them and they'll still taste good.  I've made them with meatballs and tomatoes, green beans and a can of artichoke hearts, last night's left over baked potato (sliced), garlic and cheddar.  Left over penne pasta is especially yummy and gives the dish a nice chew.  It's good to have some cheese to bind it all together, but not entirely necessary.  I've made it without.  And I've used weird cheese, like goat, or ricotta or even cottage...  Of course I was the girl whose favorite sandwich in college was grilled baloney, yellow mustard and cottage cheese.  I know, it's a bit Elvis, but it was what I could afford at the time, and it was good

Anyway, I think eggs make a great dinner, and a frittata makes them kind of special.  Plus you don't have to clean more than one pan at the end of the night, which for me, is a major bonus.  

The only downside to a frittata or an omelette, or even a pile of scrambled eggs, however, is that you really need at least six eggs (eight to ten is better) to feed a family of four this way.  Sometimes I go to the fridge and it is bare as a bachelor's.  Inside are four sad looking eggs, and maybe a rind of Parm.  When that is the case, I boil some pasta (angel hair is particularly good),  throw in some frozen peas right before the pasta is done,  drain, then sprinkle with some olive oil.  While the pasta is cooking, fry one egg per person.  I like to heat the pan, swirl with olive oil and fry the eggs over easy, but sunny side up is good too.  After plating up the pasta, I'll slip an egg on top of each serving.  At this point you can sprinkle some sea salt and pepper on top of the whole shebang, and no one would argue if you grated some parmesan over it all either.  The yolk breaks all over the pasta and everything is just creamy and warm and incredibly satisfying. 

And if there are only two eggs --  or God forbid, one -- well, the girls like noodles and peas on its own and Smith and I plop the egg on a double serving of pasta, and fight over who gets more. 

To Make a Frittata: (NOTE: you need a pan that can withstand the heat of the broiler -- I use a cheap, but nicely seasoned Lodge cast iron skillet, but anything that is heat proof will work)

  1. Preheat your broiler to low.  (If you don't have a broiler, I'll tell you what to do later.)Preheat your pan too, over medium flame. 
  2. Roughly chop whatever onions you have lying about (old onions are fine, leeks are good, green onions, shallots, who cares)and then swirl about a tablspoon of olive or canola oil into the pan and toss in the onions.  Sautee until translucent.
  3. Dice and toss in whatever else you have -- redpeppers, say, or kale, like I have right now.  Maybe you have some bacon, or a little chicken left over from another meal.  If you have garlic throw that in.  If you have frozen peas (I always seem to have frozen peas) throw those in.  Cherry tomatoes -- whatever.  It's all good. Stir that around for a bit.
  4. Crack your eggs into a bowl -- use as many eggs as you have. Six is really the minimum you can get away with.  Tonight I have eight. Beat those eggs quickly with a fork or a whisk or a good old fashioned egg beater.  If you have some cheese whisk 2/3rds of that in too, then dump it all into the pan, right on top of everything there.  Stir a minute, to distribute all the goodies, turn your heat to medium low, and let it cook until the edges start to look set.
  5. Sprinkle the top of your frittata with Parmesan or your remaining 1/3rd of cheese (or both) and stick it in the broiler. DO NOT MOVE FROM THE OVEN.  I constantly believe I have several minutes to do something else (thumb a catalog, feed the dogs, web-surf) and then I burn the top.  Keep an eye on the frittata. Do not leave the frittata.  Respect the Frittata. When its top is all slightly brown from the cheese, and the whole thing looks fairly set, take it out and let it sit a minute.  Then, serve it up!  Everyone loves a frittata.

OH -- if you don't have a broiler, cook it a little longer, then flip it onto a clean plate (put the plate over the skillet, flip it, remove skillet, voila, frittata on plate) then slide the uncooked side back into the skillet and cook a minute or two more.  Sprinkle the left over cheese onto the new top. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Comfort Food

Emma and I had a rough week last week.  Part of it is middle school.  One minute it's good, the next it's the 9th circle of Hell.  Frankly, you couldn't pay me to go back to middle school.  I wouldn't take a billion dollars delivered by Bruce Springsteen to go back to middle school.  All those complicated relationships, which are complicated further these days by facebook, email, text messaging... according to Emma, you can be friends with someone on facebook, but never speak to them in school.  It gives me angina just thinking about it.  

The issue here, is that it all rolls downhill.  Complicated middle school relationships for Emma translates to crabby relationships with everyone at home.  And who can blame her, really?  She can't say or do what she feels all day long -- it has to come out sometime.  As the oldest of four girls, I remember vividly the brutal pinches, bra snaps, nuggies and snipes I doled out to my sisters.  I'm quite sure they remember them too.

Which brings me to comfort food.   

When I was in middle and high school, the only time I got along with my sister Elizabeth was when we made oatmeal cookies on a Saturday morning.  Usually we'd mix all the ingredients together, and then eat half the batter before it made it into the oven.  The consequent stomach ache was well worth the time spent together.  So I made cookies for Emma:  Chocolate chip oatmeal cookies.  I also made applesauce muffins from a Martha Stewart recipe, which was clearly missing baking powder as an ingredient because they didn't rise.  (The recipe called for baking soda only and had no other leavener other than eggs).  And finally, I made raisin bread.  For me, toasted raisin bread with good butter is the ultimate comfort food.  So throughout the weekend, the girls snuck cookies and I surreptitiously toasted slices of bread.  By Monday everything was gone.  

Time to make more.

Here is the recipe for cookies.  The muffins I have to experiment with again and I'm going to create a separate post for the bread:

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies:
(adapted from The Cook's Bible, Kimball, Christopher, 1996)

2 sticks softened unsalted butter (*see tips below)
1 cup brown sugar (light or dark, what ever you have)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs - room temperature (* see tips below)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp Kosher salt (or 1/4 tsp table salt - Kosher is better)
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp nutmeg - OR 1/4 tsp cinnamon (don't use both,it's too much - but some kids don't like the taste of nutmeg)
3 cups rolled oats
1/12 cups milk or dark chocolate chips depending on preference

  1. Heat oven to 350.
  2. In bowl of electric mixer beat butter until creamy then add sugars and beat until fluffy.  Beat eggs in one at a time.
  3. Sift flour, salt and baking powder and cinnamon or nutmeg together. 
  4. Add to butter mixture using a spoon or rubber spatula.  Stir in oats and chips.  
  5. Scoop a heaping tablespoon of batter onto parchment lined cookie sheet  (Parchment just makes life easier, but if you don't have it just plonk the cookies onto a cookie sheet, no need to grease it)  Now, I like to get all my cookies plonked onto sheets of parchment, instead of just letting it all hang out in the bowl while the first batch bakes.  This seems to cut down on the amount of fingers swiping chocolate chips from the bowl.  Since I only have 3 cookie sheets, I reserve one cookie sheet for the parchment, and make layers -- batch of cookie dough, new parchment on top, batch of cookie dough new parchment etc.  
  6. Bake each batch for 15 - or so minutes -- until the bottoms turn brown.  Then slide the parchment with the cookies on it off onto a cooling rack (if you don't have one of these use the rack of the broiler pan that came with your oven, and if you don't have parchment, let your cookies rest on cookie sheet 2 min or so before spatulaing them onto the rack.  I just made up a new verb: spatulaing) and let them cool.
  7. Rinse your cookie sheet to cool it down before you slide the next parchment of cookie dough onto it.  If you don't your chocolate will start to melt too soon, and your cookies could burn and stick.
  8. If you can manage it, let your cookies cool 15 minutes or so before digging in.  I can never manage it, and always have burnt fingers and tongue after making cookies.

You really should use unsalted butter because otherwise your salt ratio in the recipe will be all messed up.  That said, I never remember my mom having unsalted butter in the fridge when my sister and I made cookies, and I never remember my cookies being too salty. Then again, I have a high tolerance for salt. Buy some unsalted butter and leave it in the freezer.  The softening tip below works as well with frozen butter -- it just might take a wee bit longer.

I can never seem to remember to take the butter and eggs out early enough for them to get soft, but I've found that if you cut the butter into teeny tiny pieces and spread them out on a large plate, by the time you've gathered together all the other ingredients and the bowls, and found the beater attachment for the mixer, and looked in the basement for another tube of parchment, and slapped your children's hands away from the chips, your butter will be just the right softness.

Eggs can easily be brought to room temperature by sticking the whole egg into a bowl of warm water for a minute.  Or you can crack the eggs into a bowl right after cutting up the butter, but before gathering, looking, arguing.  They'll warm up to room temp this way too.