Articles in Breakfast w/recipe

Blueberry cornmeal pancakes. Credit:

A new cookbook serves up breakfast inspiration. Eight innkeepers who have served more than 184,200 breakfasts in their collective 150 years of feeding happy guests joined together to write “Eight Broads in the Kitchen” (Winters Publishing, 2014).

The book includes advice on stocking your pantry and a wide range of sweet and savory dishes and many muffins, scones, waffles and breads. Recipes include unusual breakfast fare like refreshing chilled peach soup, Maryland blue crab quiche and birchermuesli, a classic Swiss dish of rolled oats, fruit and nuts created by Dr. Maximilian Bircher-Benner in the early 1900s as a health food.

Below are six recipes that range from those simple enough for a workday to others perfect for a leisurely weekend, and all sure to brighten any morning.

Pineapple Napoleon

This pineapple napoleon is quick and easy to make. Credit: “Eight Broads in the Kitchen.”

Pineapple Napoleon

The William Henry Miller Inn

Prep time: 15 minutes

No cooking time

Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients

1 ripe pineapple

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup sour cream

4 tablespoons pineapple ice cream topping, such as Smuckers

3/4 cup sifted confectioners sugar, plus more for dusting

Dash of salt

Fresh berries, for garnish

Directions

1. Remove top of pineapple and cut rind off so that you are forming a “square.” Slice pineapple into thin square slices. Use an apple or pineapple corer to remove the tough center.

2. Using a sharp knife, carve out the good pineapple inside the rind of the pineapple to use as “center slices.”

3. Mix cream cheese, sour cream, ice cream topping, confectioners sugar and salt, and stir until creamy.

4. Layer slices of pineapple with cream. Each serving uses 3 or 4 slices of pineapple. Top with fresh raspberries, strawberries, or your choice of berries, and a generous sprinkling of confectioners sugar.

scones

These scones are made with white chocolate and cranberries. Credit: “Eight Broads in the Kitchen”

White Chocolate and Cranberry Scones

The White Oak Inn

Prep time: 10 minutes

Baking time: 12 minutes

Yield: 12 to 14 scones

The secret to good scones is to keep all the ingredients cold and handle the dough as little as possible.

Ingredients

2 cups flour

2 tablespoons sugar

4 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup butter

2 eggs

1/2 cup half-and-half or heavy cream

1/2 cup white chocolate chips

1/2 cup dried cranberries

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 425 F.

2. Mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut in butter, using either the pulse setting on a food processor or by hand with a pastry blender. Mixture should resemble coarse crumbs, with no visible chunks of butter.

3. Separate one of the eggs, setting the white aside. Beat the yolk with the other whole egg and the half-and-half. Add this to the dry mixture, along with the white chocolate chips and cranberries. Stir with a fork until barely mixed.

4. Turn dough onto a floured board and knead gently, about 6 to 8 times. Roll or pat dough out to 1/2-inch thickness. Cut into rounds with a biscuit cutter.

5. Place on an ungreased baking sheet about an inch apart and brush the tops with the reserved egg white.

6. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until top is golden brown.

ZESTER BOOK LINKS


Eight Broads in the Kitchen

"Eight Broads in the Kitchen"

Winter Publishing, 192 pages, 2014

» Click here to buy the book

Blueberry Cornmeal Pancakes

The Beechmont Inn Bed and Breakfast

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: 20 minutes

Yield: Sixteen 4-inch pancakes

Cornmeal adds a delightful crunch and bit of sweetness.

Ingredients

2 cups flour, plus 1 tablespoon for blueberries

1 cup ground cornmeal

1/3 cup sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup plain yogurt

1 1/2 cups milk

4 large eggs

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 tablespoons grated orange zest

2 cups blueberries

Directions

1. In large bowl, combine the 2 cups of flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Use a whisk to blend.

2. In a separate smaller bowl, blend the yogurt, milk, eggs, melted butter, vanilla and orange zest.

3. Pour the liquid ingredients into the flour mixture and blend, being careful not to overmix. Lightly coat the blueberries with a tablespoon of flour and add blueberries to mixture.

4. Preheat an electric griddle to 350 F. Cook pancakes on hot griddle until done.

5. Serve with warm syrup and your favorite bacon or sausage.

Crustless Veggie Quiche

This veggie quiche can be made with seasonal vegetables. Credit: “Eight Broads in the Kitchen”

Crustless Veggie Quiche

The White Oak Inn

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 40 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Vary the vegetables based on what’s in season. Change the seasonings with the ingredients: For an Italian twist combine tomatoes, onions and artichokes and Parmesan with traditional Italian herbs such as oregano, basil and parsley. For a Mexican flair, use chorizo, green chilies, tomatoes and onions, topped with Monterey jack cheese.

Ingredients

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup diced onion

1 large yellow or green zucchini, sliced into 1/4-inch slices

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 teaspoon dried oregano

5 eggs

3/4 cup milk

1/4 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup fresh diced tomatoes

1/2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded

1 cup feta cheese, crumbled

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Spray a 9-inch pie plate with cooking spray.

2. Melt butter in a skillet and sauté the onion until translucent. Add the zucchini. Sprinkle with basil and oregano. Sauté for about 3 or 4 minutes.

3. Combine the eggs, milk, flour and baking powder in a blender or food processor.

4. Spread the onion/zucchini mixture in the bottom of the pie plate. Spread the diced tomatoes, cheddar and feta cheeses evenly over top. Gently pour the egg batter over all.

5.  Bake for about 40 minutes or until set in the middle. Let sit for 10 minutes before slicing into 6 wedges.

Raised Waffle

Brampton Bed and Breakfast Inn

Prep time: 10 minutes, plus refrigerate overnight

Cook time: 20 minutes

Yield: 8 waffles

These waffles are light and crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. The batter is best made in advance and will keep refrigerated for up to three days.

Ingredients

2 1/4 cups whole milk, divided

1 tablespoon dry yeast

2 cups unbleached flour

2 tablespoons ground cornmeal

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1 stick, 4 ounces, unsalted butter, melted

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

Directions

1. Put the 1/4 cup milk into a large mixing bowl and sprinkle yeast on top. Let stand for 5 minutes. Yeast will dissolve and start to bubble.

2. In a separate large bowl, mix flour, cornmeal, salt and sugar. Set aside.

3. To another large bowl, add the 2 cups warmed milk (make sure milk is less than 110 F or it will kill the yeast), melted butter, eggs and bubbly yeast mixture, and whisk until everything is well incorporated. Add flour mixture 1/2 cup at a time, whisking vigorously after each addition. The batter should be smooth.

4. Cover with plastic wrap and set bowl on a large rimmed cookie tray to catch the overflow if necessary, as the batter will double in volume. Refrigerate overnight.

5. In the morning, preheat the waffle iron to high.

6. Whisk batter and then it will deflate. Let batter rest for 15 minutes at room temperature.

7. Pour about 3/4 cup of batter per waffle onto hot waffle iron. Bake until waffles are golden and edges are crisp.

8. Serve topped with warm maple syrup, any berries of your choice, or lightly sweetened fresh pineapple.

garden baked eggs

The secret to these garden baked eggs is the thyme. Credit: “Eight Broads in the Kitchen”

Garden Baked Eggs

Chambered Nautilus Bed and Breakfast Inn

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 20 to 30 minutes

Yield: 6

The real secret to this recipe is the thyme. It enhances the flavor of both the eggs and veggies. Serve with your favorite muffins, breads or potatoes.

Ingredients

12 eggs, 2 per person

1/2 cup half-and-half

Salt and pepper

1 teaspoon thyme (dried or fresh)

2 cups of your favorite chopped vegetables such as green and red peppers, asparagus, broccoli, zucchini, yellow squash, mushrooms, green onions

1/2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded (to sprinkle on top)

Chives, chopped

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Spray six (6-ounce) ramekins with cooking spray.

2. Blend eggs, half-and-half, salt, pepper and thyme (a 4-cup measuring cup with pouring spout is useful).

3. Fill ramekins with 1/3 cup chopped vegetables.

4. Put egg mixture in ramekins over the vegetables. Top with cheddar cheese and chives.

5. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until set.

Main caption: Cornmeal is added to these blueberry pancakes for a delightful crunch and bit of sweetness. Credit: “Eight Broads in the Kitchen”

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Oatmeal with caramelized bananas. Credit: Sharon Hunt

People today have at least one unlikely thing in common with the Neolithic bog people of thousands of years ago: oat porridge. It was found in the stomachs of  their 5,000-year-old bodies in Scandinavia and Europe and would no doubt be found in our stomachs if somebody digs us up thousands of years from now.

Oatmeal — or porridge as we called it, giving a nod to my grandfather’s Scottish ancestry — has been a breakfast mainstay since I was a girl. Now, with the return of cool fall weather, I am drawn to warm foods, especially in the morning.

My mother made oatmeal before sending me off to school, and although hers was a bit “gluier” than I liked, it was filling and took me through a morning of memorizing poems or learning long division. More important, especially for a child, it tasted great with a liberal slosh of table cream and an equally liberal sprinkling of brown sugar. Sometimes she grated apples on top or arranged slices of pears in a circle and, like Oliver Twist, I begged for more, although my oatmeal was surely better tasting than his gruel.

Porridge is made of oats cooked in water, milk or both and served hot with a variety of toppings. My grandfather made it in a big steel pot, reminding me of a wizard stirring a potion, although I’d never seen a wizard in a floral apron. Like me, he had grown up eating oatmeal for breakfast, but sometimes it was his dinner, too. It was inexpensive, which was an important consideration after he became the breadwinner for his mother and sisters at 10, his father having died, forcing him to leave school in fourth grade.

Oatmeal in the early years

In his 1755 monumental work “A Dictionary of the English Language,” Samuel Johnson described oats as “a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.” Lord Elibank, a proud Scotsman, soldier, lawyer and author, was said to have remarked about Johnson’s definition of oats, “And where else will you see such horses and such men?”

Porridge was originally a means of preparing crops before ovens became common enough in Europe that more people could make bread. British inmates in prison were said to be “doing porridge,” a slang for doing  time. They also ate porridge while behind prison walls.

Oats were well suited to Scotland’s short and wet growing season. Scottish universities, during the 17th century, observed a holiday known as Meal Monday (or Oatmeal Monday) when students, whose diet consisted largely of porridge, returned home to stock up on supplies for the coming months of study.

Oatmeal today

Oatmeal remains popular for breakfast today and is available in long-cooking, quickly prepared or instant varieties.

On a recent trip to Ireland, I found oatmeal on breakfast menus from Dublin to Belfast and towns in between. In Dublin I enjoyed it with sour cherries and grated nutmeg; and in Belfast, it was delicious with thick cream, honey and cinnamon. The best oatmeal I had (and, for that matter, the best breakfast) was at Coolefield House Bed and Breakfast in tiny Millstreet.

Coolefield House is a jewel, as warm and welcoming as the dish of oatmeal that Pam and Mike Thornton, the owners, prepare for their guests. Their oatmeal, made with organic oats by Flahavan’s, a popular Irish brand, was cooked in milk until creamy and topped with caramelized bananas, buttery and sweet. As a special treat, the Thorntons sometimes add a splash of Drambuie, the aged Scotch whisky blended with honey, spices and herbs, which adds extra richness to an already rich and delicious bowl.

How to make oatmeal

Make oatmeal with your preference of water, milk or a combination of the two. Scottish traditionalists like my grandfather used only water, but milk makes a richer porridge. If you prefer to use both, a ratio of 1 part milk to 2 parts water gives a good consistency or, if you wish for less milk, try 1 part milk to 3 parts water. Cook the oats according to the directions on the package.

Quick-cooking oats — different from instant oatmeal — are, as the name implies, quicker to prepare, whereas instant oatmeal is faster still, although I prefer longer-cooking oats for a deeper flavor.

For a nutty flavor, consider toasting the oats for a few minutes over low heat in a dry pan or under the oven broiler before cooking, or let cooked oatmeal sit, with the lid on, for 5 to 10 minutes to develop more flavor.

Oatmeal toppings

Choose from a variety of toppings to add flavor to your bowl of oatmeal. Ideas include caramelized apples or bananas; sour cherries; blueberries; raspberries; peaches; brown sugar; honey; Greek yogurt; table cream; grated fresh nutmeg; and cinnamon.

Main photo: Oatmeal with caramelized bananas. Credit: Sharon Hunt

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Green tomatoes on the vine. Credit: Martha Rose Shulman

Anybody who grows tomatoes during the summer reaches that fall day when the weather may have cooled (though not so far in this scorching September in Southern California), the tomato plants look brown, and it’s time to decide whether or not to pull them. They may still be sporting a fair amount of fruit, but that fruit stays green. Some may blush, but they will never be juicy, sweet, red summer tomatoes.

This is the point at which I pull my browning plants, but not before harvesting the green tomatoes. I feast on the obvious: fried green tomatoes (I didn’t grow up with them, but I learned to love them during the 12 years I spent in Texas) and fried green tomato sandwiches. I even make green tomato relish and green tomato pickles like the ones I used to shun at the deli when I was a kid (I liked the dill pickles much better). But I also make the not-so-obvious: Mediterranean green tomato frittatas, pasta with green tomato pesto, and salads with green and red tomatoes that cry out for Russian dressing. One of my new favorite green tomato dishes is an amazing sweet tart. It’s an adaptation of a recipe in a cookbook by the late Bill Neal, who was renowned for his Southern cooking, and I will now be making it every fall as my tomatoes go from red to green.

Green tomatoes are not at all like red tomatoes, and they don’t resemble tomatillos, which have a much more pungent flavor and a different texture. They are hard, and they hold back their flavor until you cook them. Interestingly, their nutritional profile is not too different from ripe tomatoes, though they don’t have the antioxidant-rich lycopene present in red fruit.

Green Tomato Tart. Credit: Martha Rose Shulman

Green Tomato Tart. Credit: Martha Rose Shulman

Sweet Green Tomato Tart

This is based on a recipe by the late Bill Neal, a great Southern cook and baker. It is an unbelievable tart, and somewhat mysterious: It tastes a bit like a lemon tart, but the green tomatoes contribute texture and body, as well as their own fruity flavor; then there are the spices that are reminiscent of pumpkin pie. The original recipe is sweeter than mine, though this is plenty sweet. Neal says to blanch and peel the green tomatoes, but I found that they were very difficult to peel, so I didn’t. The peels don’t get in the way.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Baking time: 30 minutes

Total time: 45 minutes

Yield:  9-inch tart, 8 servings

Ingredients

9-inch sweet pastry, fully baked

1 pound (450 grams) firm green tomatoes

3/4 cup  (165 grams) organic sugar

2 tablespoons (20 grams) flour

1/2 teaspoon (1 gram) ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon (1 gram) ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon (pinch) salt

2 eggs, beaten

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Set the tart shell on a baking sheet.
  2. Slice the tomatoes and place into a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse until roughly pureed and transfer to a fine strainer set over a bowl. Let drain for 15 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, sift together the sugar, flour, ginger, cinnamon and salt.
  4. Return the tomatoes to the food processor and add the sugar mixture. Pulse until well combined. Beat the eggs and add to the processor, along with the lemon juice and zest. Pulse again until well combined. The mixture should be processed until it is a coarse puree. Pour into the baked tart shell.
  5. Bake 30 minutes in the middle of the oven, or until the filling is set. Don’t touch as the top is sticky and will adhere to your finger. Just jiggle the baking sheet gently to make sure the tart is set. Remove from the heat and cool on a rack.

Oven-Baked Green Tomato and Feta Frittata

This baked frittata has Greek overtones. It puffs in the oven, though it will deflate soon after you remove it. I prefer to serve it at room temperature. It’s a good keeper and packs well in a lunchbox. 

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 45 minutes

Total time: 1 hour

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

1 pound green tomatoes

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

9 large eggs

2 tablespoons low-fat milk

About ½ cup fine cornmeal, or a combination of flour and fine cornmeal, for dredging

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (more as needed)

2 garlic cloves, minced or pureed

2 tablespoons snipped chives

1 tablespoon chopped fresh marjoram

3 ounces feta, crumbled (about 3/4 cup)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Core the tomatoes and slice about 1/3 inch thick. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Beat the eggs and milk together in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper (I use about 1/2 teaspoon salt). Quickly dip the tomato slices into the egg mixture and dredge lightly in the flour or cornmeal. Place on a parchment-covered baking sheet. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a 10-inch cast iron skillet over medium-high heat and fry the sliced tomatoes for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, just until lightly colored. Transfer to a rack set over a sheet pan, or to paper towels. You’ll probably need to do this in batches, so you might need to add more oil before adding the second batch. Quarter half the fried tomatoes. Wipe away any cornmeal residue from the pan.
  3. Stir the garlic, chives, marjoram, feta and the quartered fried green tomatoes into the beaten eggs.
  4. Return the skillet to medium-high heat and add the remaining tablespoon of oil. Swirl the pan to make sure the sides are coated with oil, and pour in the eggs, scraping every last bit of the mixture out of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Tilt the pan to distribute the eggs and filling evenly over the surface and gently lift up the edges of the frittata with the spatula, to let the eggs run underneath during the first minute or two of cooking. Distribute the whole fried green tomato slices over the surface of the frittata, turn off the burner and place the pan into the preheated oven. Bake 25 to 30 minutes, until puffed, set and lightly colored. Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before serving. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

Main photo: Green tomatoes on the vine. Credit: Martha Rose Shulman

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Dashimaki tamago. Credit: Sonoko Sakai

If there is an egg or two around the house, I would rather eat at home than go out. I love the taste of a good egg, especially my preferred pastured eggs.

I like to make dashimaki tamago, a simple Japanese omelet made with kombu seaweed dashi, or an even simpler dish: cracking a raw egg over a bowl of freshly steamed rice, drizzling it with a little soy sauce and eating it with chopsticks. The hot rice cooks the raw egg to become a creamy, non-fried rice. Either egg dish brings me to my comfort zone, but there is no shortcut for getting good eggs.

My sources for pastured eggs are my local farmers in Tehachapi, Calif. — Jon Hammond and Kim Durham of Linda Vista Ranch — named by one of Hammond’s great aunts in 1921 because of the great views. (Linda Vista means “beautiful view” in Spanish.)

The great views come from the fact that the ranch is on a gentle ridge that is one of highest points in the Tehachapi Valley. Hammond and Durham have a cooperative venture with neighboring farmer Alex Weiser, who provides the cull produce and leftover plants after harvest from his farm for animal feed. The three farmers raise English pigs called Gloucestershire old spots and chickens for pastured eggs — Americanas, Orpingtons and Black Stars.

For a person like me who grew up in cities for the most part, picking up a carton of fresh eggs directly from a farmer can turn into an adventure. On a recent visit, flocks of gregarious chickens were roaming freely on their pasture, scraping the ground for seed, insects and other critters. I didn’t know chickens eat small animals until Durham told me about a family of mice she found inside the chicken shed. Before she had a chance to trap the mice, the chickens got to them and pecked them alive.

The floor of the chicken hut is covered in fresh hay. It is always clean and pleasant inside, with gentle light coming through the gaps between the aged planks. The eggs laid that morning are waiting to be collected by Durham. A few hens are in the brooding boxes, and a rooster with black plumage and a large red comb on his head crows out loudly, perhaps reminding me who is boss around the farm.

Durham said she doesn’t care much for the roosters because they pick on the hens. “We are actually going to have this one tonight for dinner,” she says. Before long, her friend Jose arrives to prep the rooster, which will be cooked in a pit.

Apparently, the meat comes out especially tender when cooked this way. I realized that the eggs I got from Durham that day would be the last related to this rooster. Sorry, pal.

Authentic flavors for a Japanese omelet

Dashimaki tamago is a light and slightly sweet omelet with a rectangular shape. The rectangle is achieved by using a rectangular or square pan called a tamagoyaki-ki, which can be found in Japanese hardware stores or online. I like the copper pans with tin linings. You can also use a regular round omelet pan or a well-seasoned skillet.

Unlike a Western omelet, butter and cream don’t come into the equation for dashimaki tamago. I use a little stock, usually a kombu or bonito dashi, soy sauce and a little sugar or mirin.

omelet2

omelet2
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Dashimaki tamago. Credit: Sonoko Sakai

Another distinct characteristic of the Japanese omelet is its beautiful layers. The egg is not scrambled; instead, while it is frying, a fork or pair of chopsticks is used to roll it into a tube. When it is cut into slices, a swirl pattern emerges. The omelet is allowed to cool and then cut into bite-sized pieces. For more color and flavor, you can chop some herbs or vegetables and incorporate them into the swirl.

My grandmother made her dashimaki tamago in a round pan instead of a rectangular one. She got the eggs from a local farmer in Kamakura, Japan. The eggs were wrapped in old newspaper and carried in a hand-woven basket on the farmer’s back. I always wondered how the farmer kept the eggs from cracking. Maybe they were pastured eggs that had strong, resilient shells.

My grandmother would serve dashimaki tamago on a small, wooden cutting board and slice it right at the table. It was one of the signature dishes she made for me while we visited with each other. Grandmother always tried to make the best out of every occasion. The eggs served her well.

Dashimaki Tamago

Serves 2 to 4

Ingredients

6 pastured eggs

6 tablespoons dashi (see recipe below)

2 teaspoons Usukuchi soy sauce, plus more for serving

2 teaspoons cane sugar or mirin

1 tablespoons chive sprouts  (optional)

2 tablespoons grapeseed, walnut or light sesame seed oil

2 tablespoons grated daikon radish

Equipment

1 square pan or medium-sized round, well-seasoned skillet

Sushi mat

Directions

1. In a bowl, combine the eggs, dashi, 2 teaspoons soy sauce, mirin or sugar. Do not beat too much; combine just enough to mix the egg yolk with the egg whites. Mix in chives if using.

2. Heat the pan with the oil over medium high heat. Test the pan by dropping a little egg batter on it. The batter will sizzle if the pan is hot enough.

3. Pour ¼ of the batter into pan and cook the eggs, spreading the batter quickly and evenly over the pan.

4. When the batter is cooked halfway (about 30 seconds), lift a far corner of the egg and fold it in. Then push the rolled egg into the corner on the opposite side and add another ¼ of the batter, making sure to lift the egg roll so the batter gets underneath it.

5. Cook the batter and roll it again. Essentially, you are rolling the egg omelet to make layers. Repeat this step two more times, until all the batter is used, incorporating the first roll into the second, the second roll into the third roll and so on. When finished, transfer the tamago onto a cutting board.

6. Using a sushi mat, roll the omelet into a rectangle shape and let rest for a few minutes.

7. Slice the omelet crosswise into 1½- to 2-inch pieces. Serve with grated radish and additional soy sauce.

Konbu Dashi

Makes 1 cup

This is a versatile seaweed stock that can be used as a base for making miso soups and sauces. Store in the refrigerator.

Ingredients

2-inch piece of kombu seaweed

1 cup of water

Directions

1. Hydrate the kombu seaweed in water overnight.

2. Use the infused stock, called kombu dashi, to season the dashimaki tamago or other recipes.

Main photo: Dashimaki tamago. Credit: Sonoko Sakai

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A woman feeding hens. Credit: Elisabeth Luard

Lent, which begins Ash Wednesday (March 5 this year), was the start in Britain of a short period of carnival preceding the 40 days of the pre-Easter fast — abstention from good things including meat, eggs and butter.

As with carnival traditions everywhere, the festival traditionally was marked by egg games — some versions of which are still to be found as municipal events, particularly in the north of England — and involved competitive rituals and the license to behave badly by young people who had not yet acquired families of their own. Medieval market towns, ever on the lookout for trade, took the opportunity to throw rowdy entertainments such as greasing the pig, egg rolling, cockfighting, dancing on the village green, pancake feasts and general indulgence in as much socially unsuitable behavior as the community was prepared to tolerate. Sometimes the festival took the form of pelting rival gangs with raw eggs and flour bags, and there is mention in Victorian accounts of license granted to choirboys to chuck eggs at senior members of the clergy.

Similar traditions still exist in the lands of the Mediterranean, where Shrove Tuesday’s specialties were — and sometimes still are — prepared by children and young people, those who do not normally cook, so the recipes had to be simple, and the ingredients, just to add to the general anarchy, had to be begged, borrowed or stolen.

As recently as the 1970s, my own four young children took part in just such a Shrove Tuesday ritual in Languedoc in southern France, disappearing with classmates for the whole day and well into the evening. Afterward they were very mysterious about what they had been up to, and it was not until several years later that they told me they had all gone around the village pinching supplies from unattended larders. Then they sneaked off to an isolated barn and cooked up a gigantic omelet in a huge iron pan. After the omelet had been torn up and eaten (no plates, knives or forks permitted), the event developed into wild, unruly games. And that was as much as they were prepared to explain.

Shrove Tuesday Omelet

This is really a fat egg pancake cooked up with bacon and fortified with potato and onion, though these can be omitted if unobtainable from the larder.

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients

Eggs. Credit: Elisabeth Luard

Eggs. Credit: Elisabeth Luard

About 4 ounces slab bacon, diced

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 large mild onion, finely sliced

2 to 3 cooked potatoes (about 1 pound), diced

8 large eggs

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. In a roomy frying pan or skillet, fry the bacon gently till the fat runs.

2. Add the butter and onion and fry until soft and golden but not browned.

3. Add the diced potato and let it feel the heat.

4. Fork the eggs together to blend. When the potatoes are ready, pour the eggs over and around them.

5. Stir over a gentle heat till most of the egg is set, then stop stirring and let the omelet brown a little on the base.

6. Serve in its pan, without turning it out.

La Trouchia

Languedoc and Provence, France, like omelets cooked in the Spanish way, as a fat, juicy egg cake set in olive oil rather than the soft, rolled butter-cooked omelet of northern France. Only the leaves of chard are used — the stalks are too juicy and would make the omelets gray and damp as they cool to the right temperature for eating.

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients

1 pound Swiss chard leaves (save the stalks to cook like asparagus)

4 ounces strong cheese (such as Cantal, Gruyère, Emmental, cheddar)

8 eggs

Salt and pepper to taste

Generous handful of chervil or flat-leaf parsley, amounting to 3 to 4 heaped tablespoons when chopped

4 to 5 tablespoons olive oil

Directions

1. Wash and dry the chard leaves and slice finely.

2. Grate the cheese and beat it into the eggs in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Chop the herbs and then mix them in with the eggs.

4. Warm 3 tablespoons of the oil in a roomy frying pan or skillet. Stir in the chard leaves and turn them quickly in the oil till they wilt. (Don’t allow the greens to burn or they will taste bitter.)

5. Tip the contents of the pan into the eggs and stir all together.

6. Add the last tablespoon of oil to the pan. When it is quite hot but not burning, pour in the egg-chard mixture. Cover the pan and cook over a gentle heat until the eggs are set — 15 to 20 minutes should do the trick.

7. Turn the now-firm pancake out, reversing it as you do so the cooked side is uppermost, onto a plate. Slide it gently back into the hot pan (add a trickle more oil if necessary) and finish cooking uncovered on the other side — allow another 5 to 8 minutes. Notice that the cooking is very gentle, which is the style of an omelet in Languedoc and Provence, where culinary habits are closer to those of Catalonia, Spain.

Top illustration: A woman feeding hens. Credit: Elisabeth Luard

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Crêpes to celebrate chandeleur. Credit: Phillip Sinsheimer

Early February in France means it is time to get your pans ready. The winter days are finally getting a little longer and sunnier and la chandeleur (derived from chandelle, “candle” in French) is at hand, which means crêpes are in the air.

The French tradition, combining pagan and Christian origins, has been going on for centuries, but it seems to be losing momentum. Everyone still knows about it, but fewer and fewer seem to indulge in the annual crêpes orgy.

As in other parts of the world, home cooking is on the decline while TV food shows are getting more popular. Bakeries now sell ready-made crêpes for a quick fix at nearly $2 a pop. “Ridicule,” said my mother over the phone the other day. And Maman, as often, is probably right. Crêpes are a fun, easy to do homemade affair.

The church, crêpes and a sweet tradition

What are we celebrating, besides a humble form of sweet gluttony? In the Catholic Church, chandeleur marks the presentation of the child Jesus, his first entry into the temple, as well as the day of the Virgin Mary’s purification. I fail to see how thin pancakes came in the picture, except for the resemblance one could see between them and the halo depicted over the heads of holy figures in religious paintings since the 4th century or so.

The pagan origin of the chandeleur links more directly to the round disks of cooked dough the form and shape of the sun which, come February, becomes more and more present as days get longer at a faster pace. It’s not spring yet, but you can see light at the end of the tunnel, and it is still cold enough in most parts of the Northern Hemisphere to stand in front a stove flipping pancakes without having to turn the air conditioning on.

This is also the period of the year when winter wheat was being sowed. Crêpes were a way to celebrate the flour to come by using the one at hand. Interestingly enough, a Comité de la Chandeleur was founded and funded by a major French flour producer in 1997,  reminding the population of the godly tradition with ads and billboards. The committee no longer exists. It is now in our hands to make the tradition survive.

A simple crêpes recipe for indulgence

Like every person brought up in France in the last century, I have my good share of childhood crêpe memories: pleasure and pain mixed in a batter of family recollections. While my father and brother were expert at eating the end result, my mother and I were excited by the making process.

We didn’t bother with a recipe and that in itself shows the tradition was still vivid, culturally ingrained. We just knew what to put in the dough: flour, eggs, milk, as well as water, cider or beer, a little fat (oil or melted butter), a little sugar, a touch of booze, traditionally dark rum, and a dash of salt. The trick was to avoid any lumps by using first a wooden spoon and then a whisk.

After letting the batter rest for an hour or so, came the time to show more developed skills. For years, we didn’t have a non-stick pan. We dipped a halved potato in oil to grease the thin metallic pan we used for about everything. With time, I’ve favored using a piece of paper towel folded in fourths and dunked in oil rather than a spud, leaving me to wonder how common paper towels were in Paris in the 1960s. The first crêpe always stuck, no matter what.

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Crepes celebrate the sun as the winter days finally begin to get a little longer. Credit: Phillip Sinsheimer

At age 7, there was my culinary confirmation that you can’t always get things right the first time in life. The ugly torn crêpe was eaten nonetheless, giving the chance to adjust the recipe-free batter with a little more liquid, salt or sugar if necessary.

If the crêpe didn’t have enough elasticity an egg was added and then, we were good to go. A super-hot pan is essential to achieve one of the essential criteria of a noble French crêpe,  thinness, or finesse. Held as a rising sun, the crêpe was supposed to let light go through it, if not the image of my smiling mother behind the lump-free delicacy. A ladle was poured in the super-hot greased pan and then, with a swift movement of the wrist, the batter was to cover the whole pan in a thin coating.

Mastering crêpe-making technique

Chandeleur folklore says that if you manage to flip the crêpe in the air while holding a gold coin in your left hand, good fortune will come your way. I’ve personally never seen this done, perhaps because our entourage didn’t carry gold around so often. We just weren’t keen on the tossing-in-the-air show, partially because our crêpes needed some help with our bare fingers to be lifted off the pan.

When the edge started to get brown, we lifted one side with a small knife, then pinched the crêpe with both hands and flip it as fast as possible to avoid blisters in the process. I was always fascinated by the fact that the A-side of our edible records had a beautiful, uniform golden hue, whereas the B-side looked so different with its erratic brown spots.

We kept piling the crêpes on top of each other on a plate set atop a pot of simmering water so that we could enjoy our crêpes warm en famille. Brother and father were called to come and the filling game began with a variety of jams and spreads. For me, butter and sugar were the only fixings I needed to make me forget my reddened fingers, as crêpes were washed down with Normand cider, mindless of the few degrees of alcohol that helped make the pain go away and the party feel special.

Crêpes

Makes about 12 crêpes

Ingredients

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon sugar

¼ tsp salt

2 large eggs

1 cup milk

6 tablespoons water (or beer or cider)

1 tablespoon melted butter (or neutral oil)

1 tablespoon dark rum or cognac (optional)

Oil  and paper towel to oil pan

Directions

1. Sift the flour with sugar and salt in a mixing bowl. Whisk in eggs, milk, water, melted butter and rum or cognac.

2. Let rest for 1 hour or more.

3. Heat pan greased with oiled paper towel. Add ¼ cup of batter or so and tilt the pan in a circular manner to spread the batter as fast as possible. When edges begin to brown, flip over with your hands or in the air and cook the other side 30 seconds.

4. Place cooked crêpe on a plate and repeat, repeat, repeat!

Tips and variations:

  • To avoid any lumps and go faster, mix batter in a blender adding dry ingredients into the wet ones.
  • For savory crêpes, eliminate sugar and alcohol from batter and add a dash more salt.
  • To keep crêpes warm, place them on a plate sitting atop a saucepan with simmering water.
  • Typically, French crêpes are rolled or folded in four.
  • You can also layer the crêpes one on top of each other smeared with one or several toppings until you obtain a form of cake that you can then slice in wedges.
  • Crepes can be kept wrapped in plastic and refrigerated up to 3 days or frozen up to 3 months.

Top photo: Crêpes to celebrate chandeleur. Credit: Philip Sinsheimer

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Breakfast casserole with eggs, bacon, French bread and cheese. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

I no longer drink and therefore no longer need to deal with hangovers, but plenty of revelers do have to manage that problem on New Year’s Day. A dish you’ve made ahead will be a welcome sight.

If you were like me you could barely make the coffee, let alone a breakfast that your fat-seeking taste buds believed was your hangover salvation. There always was a solution lurking in the back of your mind, but unfortunately you needed to have prepared it before New Year’s Eve.

I’m referring to the modern American miracle known as the breakfast casserole. It’s simple enough: You basically get everything compiled the day before and then bake it in the morning. It’s as easy as pie or as casserole.

Egg and Bacon Breakfast Casserole

This strata casserole is a delight for a Sunday brunch with a few friends or a New Year’s Day breakfast. The first time you make it you will immediately start dreaming up alternative fillings. No problem, it’s a versatile casserole.

After you make this version with bacon you can start replacing the bacon with, let’s say, a cup of diced ham and a half cup of sautéed sliced mushrooms. Or you could use Swiss cheese and diced cooked chicken, or cooked broccoli and Gruyère cheese, tomatoes and cooked pork sausage, or, well, you get the idea.

Serves 6

Ingredients

Butter for greasing dish

4 cups ½ -inch cubes hearty white bread or French bread, with or without crust

2 cups (about 6 ounces) shredded mild or sharp cheddar cheese

½ cup finely chopped onion

8 large eggs

¾ cup half and half

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

6 thick-cut bacon slices, cooked and crumbled

Directions

1. Heat the oven to 350 F. Butter a 10-by-12-by-2-inch or similarly sized baking casserole.

2. In a large bowl, toss the bread cubes, cheese and onion together, then arrange this mixture evenly over the casserole.

3. In the same bowl, beat the eggs, half and half, mustard, salt and black pepper to blend. Pour this egg mixture over the bread cubes.

4. Sprinkle the bacon over.

5. Bake until a knife inserted into the center of the strata comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Serve hot.

Top photo: Breakfast casserole with eggs, bacon, French bread and cheese. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

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Labne, the origination of what is marketed in the U.S. as

I’ve been exploring Mediterranean food for decades and written books about it, but only recently have discovered the phenomena of Greek yogurt, which was perplexingly unfamiliar.

I didn’t know what Greek yogurt was, a term that first surfaced quite recently. I consulted other Mediterranean food experts and they were baffled, too. So I figured that it was one of two things: yogurt from Greece or a slick marketing term devised by American food companies to sell yogurt as a health food. Well, it’s certainly the latter.

More importantly, I have figured out that what marketers call Greek yogurt is none other than what I’ve been writing about and eating for 40 years, that is labna (also lubny or labneh or labne), which is strained yogurt.

Labna is the Arabic term, and it was only in Middle Eastern markets that you could find strained yogurt until quite recently. It is also called strained yogurt, kefir cheese and yogurt cheese. I had to laugh. For those of us who write about Mediterranean food and who eat it, hearing someone talk about Greek yogurt was like listening to a little kid marvel over a jack-in-the-box.

Yogurt in Greece and around the Mediterranean

Until the mid-1990s when high-quality yogurt became available I simply made my own because it’s ridiculously easy and there should be no hype about yogurt. Yogurt, a Turkish word (yoğurt), is a semi-solid cultured or fermented milk containing the bacteria Bacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. These organisms present in the “starter,” given warmth, will ferment whole or skimmed fresh milk overnight.

Yogurt may have been known by the ancients Greeks as pyriate. Andrew Dalby, who wrote an important study on classical Greek gastronomy, wrote about the Greek physician Galen, who related this older term, pyriate, with the oxygala familiar in his own day, which was a form of yogurt and was eaten on its own or with honey. The first unequivocal description of yogurt is found in a dictionary called “Divanu lugati’t- turk” compiled by Kaşgarli Mahmud in 1072 during the Seljuk era in the Middle East.

Yogurt spread rapidly throughout the eastern Mediterranean, but it hardly penetrated the western and northern Mediterranean. The use of yogurt was first recorded in France in the 16th century, when it was said to have cured the ailing King Francis I. The yogurt was administered daily by a Jewish doctor who had traveled on foot from Constantinople accompanied by a flock of sheep, and that was the last France saw of yogurt until the 19th century.

Make your own Greek yogurt

The Turks are far more picky about yogurt than Americans, and as a result one finds very high-quality yogurt in Turkey. Most yogurt is made from cow’s milk, with some made from sheep’s milk, while goat’s milk yogurt is rare in Turkey. Yogurt is a staple food in the Middle East and is now ubiquitous in the United States. Making your own is easy and after straining the yogurt I still call it labna.

Homemade Yogurt

Makes 1 quart

Ingredients

1 quart whole milk

3 tablespoons whole plain yogurt

Directions

1. In a saucepan, bring the milk to a gentle boil over medium heat, stirring frequently to make sure you do not scald the bottom of the pot. Once the milk is shimmering on the surface, simmer for 2 minutes. Pour the milk into a large mixing bowl and let cool until you can keep your little finger submerged in it to a count of 10.

2. Stir a few tablespoons of the hot milk into the yogurt and then quickly stir this back into the hot milk. Cover the bowl and leave overnight inside a turned-off electric oven. The next morning you will have homemade yogurt that will keep for a week. You can save some of this homemade yogurt as your starter for the next batch.

Note: To make strained yogurt, or “Greek yogurt,” pour the yogurt into a linen towel or several layers of cheesecloth, tie off, and hang from a kitchen sink faucet to drain overnight. In the Middle East strained yogurt is used as a breakfast spread for Arabic bread, served as a dip for hot foods, or eaten plain with some olive oil or honey.

Top photo: Greek yogurt. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

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