Articles in Breakfast
Easter is a moveable feast in both Eastern and Western church traditions — quite literally, since the date can vary by several weeks whether celebrated according to the Western (Roman Catholic) or Eastern (Orthodox Catholic) calendar: This year’s Roman Catholic Easter is March 31, and the Orthodox date is May 5. This can make for some confusion where the two groups intersect, as they often do in central Europe. Traditions in both camps, however, feature eggs as the universal symbol of rebirth.
A Russian Orthodox Easter as celebrated in the early 1990s by a self-sufficient farming family of Ruthenes living in Slovakia’s Tatras mountains on the borders of the Ukraine provided me with a lesson in maintaining national identity through festive traditions in a situation where church festivals were not officially celebrated at all.
The Ruthenes, Russian-speaking Ukrainians marooned in Slovakia in the aftermath of World War II, maintained their language and religion throughout the years of communism thanks, in all probability, to their minority status and the inaccessibility of their steep ravines and dense forest. Through the long winters, while the city dwellers of Eastern Europe endured shortages and bread queues, the peasant communities of the Tatras survived as they always had, through self-sufficiency and a well-stocked store cupboard. And at Easter, the most important festival of the Christian year, those who had moved to the cities to find work returned home to be with their families and enjoy the last of the stores, providing extra hands to plant the potato crop, the most important and labor-intensive task of the year.
At the time of my visit, my hostess, Anna Ludomirova — matriarch of a peasant farming family in the High Tatras — was preparing the Easter basket to be taken to the churchyard. Packed with good things — a tall round babka enriched with eggs and butter, decorated eggs, salt (a very important item in any self-sufficient household), the last of the ham from the brine pot — the basket was taken to be blessed with a sprinkling of holy water by the monks at the Russian Orthodox church on Easter Saturday. Once this ritual had been observed and the basket shown to the family ancestors buried in the churchyard, everyone returned home to unpack and share the contents.
Easter egg cheese part of traditional holiday meal
This picnic-style meal freed the ladies of the household to enjoy the company of visitors. But before the feast could begin, certain rituals had to be observed. A bowl of decorated Easter eggs painted with wax and dipped in colored dyes was set on the table and a ceremonial candle lit. Then Mama Anna sliced the top off a raw egg, mixed the contents with a little spoon and passed it round the table for everyone to take a little sip — a unifying gesture shared by all.
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These important rituals concluded, the company tucked into sliced ham and wind-cured sausage, spiced beetroot and gherkins in sweetened vinegar, grated horseradish in cream, eggs hard-boiled and saved in obedience to the prohibitions of Lent, thick slices of the buttery babka spread with more butter. Most unusual, however, was the centerpiece of the feast, egg cheese, a magnificent yellow globe as large and round as a soccer ball made by scrambling the first of the year’s eggs with the first of the year’s milk, tipping the result in a cloth and leaving it to drip overnight till firm and dry — a technique that mirrors the preparation of rennetted cheese later in the year, when the calves are weaned and the cows put out to grass. The eggshells did not go to waste, as they were emptied through pinholes to keep the shells intact and saved for the children to decorate with melted candle wax for the patterned Easter eggs sent to the churchyard in the basket.
After the collapse of the Russian empire and the splitting of Slovakia from the Czechs, the Ruthene communities returned to the Ukraine carrying with them traditions forgotten in their native land but preserved in all their ancient symbolism by a stroke of the politicians’ pencil all those years ago.
Wax-patterned Easter eggs
You need white rather than brown eggs for the patterns to be effective. You can use ready-blown eggshells from making egg cheese or cooled hard-boiled eggs. You’ll also need candle ends — plain, colored or both — food coloring and a pin with a large head.
1. Stick the pin in a cork to make a pen.
2. Melt the wax, keeping the colors separate.
3. Hold the egg firmly in one hand, big end upward. Dip the pen in the wax, and, starting half an inch below the apex of the egg, dab with the wax and drag it up toward the top to give a tadpole-shaped tick. Continue around the egg to make a sunburst pattern. If you use alternate lengths of stroke and different colored waxes, the pattern will be even prettier.
4. Repeat on the other end of the egg. (Hold it carefully or place in an egg cup so the warmth of your hand doesn’t melt the wax). Make more sunburst patterns around the sides.
5. Dip the eggs in diluted food coloring, as for batik.
6. Pile the eggs in a pretty bowl.
Easter egg cheese
This is a very unusual dish, a solid sphere of scrambled egg. It looks decorative, slices up neatly and goes very well with ham, the traditional Easter meat in northern and Eastern Europe.
1 liter of milk
12 free-range eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1. Bring the milk to a boil. Meanwhile, whisk all but one of the eggs with the salt.
2. When the milk boils, whisk in the egg. Keep whisking until the resulting custard is thoroughly scrambled.
3. Tip the mixture into a clean pudding cloth. Hang it in a warm place to drain with a bowl underneath to catch the whey, exactly as you would fresh cheese.
4. When it’s quite drained, tip it out onto a clean dish, paint it with the remaining egg, forked to blend, and place it into an oven preheated to 350 F (180 C/Gas 4) for 10 minutes to glaze. The result should look like a large, shiny, yellow Easter egg.
5. Slice thickly and serve with ham, butter and bread.
Illustration: Ruthene women. Credit: Elisabeth Luard
Traditional Valentine’s Day gifts are chocolates or flowers, and there’s nothing wrong with that, especially if the chocolates aren’t from a drugstore. But it seems to me that lovers with a little more imagination could come up with their own traditions and, to start with, might find some inspiring ideas in the literature on aphrodisiacs.
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It should come as no surprise that this literature is vast, going back to ancient times, for, clearly, humans have always been interested in anything that can enhance their sexuality. The lore of aphrodisiacs is filled with examples of potions thought to have magical properties. One of them, yohimbe, derived from the bark of African evergreen trees, has a bit of science to back it up and is thought to be nature’s version of Viagra.
But the aphrodisiac qualities of most foods or other substances once believed to enhance desire are now seen as folklore. New World foods such as tomatoes, once called “love apples” were scarce and exotic-seeming when they first came to Europe, and the humble potato was likewise designated as having aphrodisiac properties just because it too was at first hard to get.
But the foods that have had the most sustained reputation as sexual enhancers derive from what is known as the “doctrine of signatures,” which are foods that resemble human genitalia. Carrots and bananas come to mind and, of course, oysters. My favorite, however, is the mandrake root. This plant, when mature, has roots that resemble people, prompting the ancients to assign it all kinds of medicinal and magical properties. It was used as an analgesic and anesthetic, treating everything from toothaches to hemorrhoids, but people also used it as an aphrodisiac.
Because the root of the plant resembled a human, it was thought that whenever unearthed, the root would scream, killing any person who heard it. When Harry Potter and his classmates studied the mandrake in herbology class, students were instructed to wear earmuffs as protection. As for its effectiveness as an aphrodisiac, people in the know have been forced to conclude that, as with most aphrodisiacs, its sexual-enhancing properties are more in the imagination than in fact, but, for the curious, I hasten to point out that packets of mandrake are available on Amazon for $3.99.
Food writers, food porn and aphrodisiacs
Connections between food and sex are so ordinary that they have come to be a cliché. How many times have we stumbled across the term “food pornography,” which usually refers to photographs of such tempting and caloric foods as profiteroles dripping with chocolate, guilty pleasures the figure-conscious prefer to gaze at instead of eat.
Food writers have had a continuing presence in the realm of food and sex. In 1963, Mimi Sheraton came out with “The Seducer’s Cookbook,” a pre-feminist, sexually-liberated romp connecting the human appetite for food with sex. And the intrepid Gael Greene has for years amused and enticed her readers with such titles as “Delicious Sex” and “Insatiable: Tales from a Life of Delicious Excess.”
But, the classic tome on the subject, having a cult-like following, is “Venus in the Kitchen or Love’s Cookery Book,” British novelist Norman Douglas’ ode to food and love. By the time it was published in 1952, the writer was at the end of his sexually adventurous life, and the old reprobate produced this book more for the amusement of his aging friends than for its efficacy in the bedroom. Commenting on recipes he had researched, Douglas mentions in his preface his “retaining a few delectable absurdities to show the length to which humanity will go in its search for the lost vigour of youth.” He offers, for instance, a recipe for skink, an African lizard he batters in egg and fries in olive oil. But most of his recipes use familiar ingredients, and can be characterized as being full of such Mediterranean deep flavors as garlic, anchovy, olives and wine.
This makes me acknowledge that foods filled with earthy flavors and aromas arouse the senses and are conducive to romantic dinners. One could do worse than look to Douglas for inspiration, and his influence on Elizabeth David came at a formative moment in her life. They met on Capri when she was 26 and he was 72. They struck up a friendship that involved long walks and Mediterranean lunches filled with sophisticated talk about food, conversations most other British found unseemly. Douglas carried around a lump of Parmesan cheese that he would hand over to waiters for grating, and he cautioned cooks to tear rather than chop the basil going into his dishes, details that did not escape David’s eagle-eye.
Set the mood with good food
M.F.K. Fisher is another writer who expressed the sensuality of food, often with the simplest of recipes. I still make her unusual rice pudding, topped with meringue and filled with plump raisins and fragrant spices that permeate the kitchen while cooking and after. And her description of peeling and eating a juicy tangerine is so sexy that it could serve as the perfect shared dessert after a hearty Mediterranean meal.
So to set the mood for a romantic Valentine’s dinner, choose favorite foods that may already have some stored memory between you and your partner. In other words, come up with your own traditions for pleasure, and if stuck for ideas, you could do worse than turn to the likes of Douglas, David and Fisher for inspiration.
Caviar Omelet (adapted from Norman Douglas’ “Venus in the Kitchen”)
4 eggs, well-beaten
1 teaspoon dried bread crumbs
2 teaspoons of caviar
½ teaspoon chopped chives
½ teaspoon chopped parsley
¼ teaspoon grated lemon peel
1 tablespoon butter
1. Mix together all ingredients except the butter in a bowl.
2. Warm butter in a frying pan. When hot and bubbly, pour in the egg mixture and make sure it covers the bottom of the pan. When cooked on one side, flip over and cook on the other side. Serve.
Photo: Chocolates for Valentine’s Day. Credit: Barbara Haber
A new year with new resolves for personal improvement is the best of times and the worst of times. At the top of many people’s resolutions is eating sensibly with an asterisk to give up everything that tastes good. To eat well doesn’t mean denying yourself pleasures. In fact, consider the gastronomic advantages of a one-egg omelet.
Three, two, one
A neighborhood restaurant we frequented for many years proudly publicized their three-egg omelet. The omelet was a plump 2-inches thick and settled on the plate like a seal sunning itself on a wave-washed rock.
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After eating their three-egg omelet, I always felt like going back to bed.
At home I experimented. What I was looking for was a ratio of bulk: flavor that pleased my palate and wasn’t overly filling. Three eggs were never considered, and eventually two eggs gave way to one. Another significant milestone was switching from a stainless steel pan to the more forgiving qualities of a nonstick pan.
Thin one-egg omelet is a reminder of delicate crêpes
One egg creates texture not bulk and places the emphasis solidly on the filling. Just about anything sautéed, roasted or grilled can find itself tucked into the confines of an eggy bed.
Whatever the mix of ingredients, the key to a good omelet is creating a warm creaminess of melted cheese.
The combinations are limited only by your palate preferences. The salty-sweetness of sautéed ham, Comte cheese, spinach, shallots and shiitake mushrooms complement the pliancy of the egg. Grilled asparagus and Parmesan cheese, dusted with finely chopped Italian parsley leaves makes an elegant omelet perfect for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Shredded lobster, Manchego cheese, cilantro, raw red onions, a dusting of cayenne and a small amount of finely chopped ripe tomatoes transform an ordinary egg into a culinary adventure.
Adding country-fried potatoes, buttered toast with jam and crisp bacon, a tossed green salad or a bowl of fresh fruit to fill out the plate and the one-egg omelet creates an enviable meal, heavy on flavor and careful about calories.
One-Egg Omelet With Spinach, Comte Cheese, Shallots and Shiitake Mushrooms
Use any cheese of your liking. I prefer a cheese that plays well with others. Strong cheeses, such as blue cheese, will dominate the other flavors in the filling. Mild cheddar, Comte, Manchego and soft goat cheese work well.
The recipe is for one, because making each omelet individually will result in the best looking dish. If you are serving more than one, multiply the number of diners times the ingredient quantities for the filling to create the correct amount needed to make all the omelets.
Use a 9-inch nonstick pan, understanding that nonstick pans are designed to be used on low heat. Because an excessive amount of fat is not required to prevent the egg from sticking to the pan, the butter is used for flavoring. Could the omelet cook on a nonstick pan without the butter? Yes, perhaps as serviceably, but that little bit of butter adds a lot of flavor.
2 teaspoons sweet butter
2 cups spinach leaves and stems, washed, pat dried, chopped
1 shallot, washed, ends and skin removed, finely chopped
½ cup or 2-3 shiitake mushrooms, washed, root ends trimmed, finely sliced longwise
1 farm-fresh egg, large or extra large
1 tablespoon cream, half and half, whole milk or nonfat milk
⅓ cup freshly grated cheese, preferably white cheddar, Comte, Manchego or goat
Pinch of cayenne (optional)
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
1. In the nonstick pan, melt 1 teaspoon butter and sauté together the spinach, shallot and shiitake mushrooms until wilted and lightly browned. Season to taste with sea salt, freshly ground pepper and cayenne (optional). Use a high-heat or Silpat spatula to remove the sauté from the pan and set aside.
2. Beat together the 1 egg and milk until frothy.
3. On a medium-low flame, heat the nonstick pan, melt the remaining teaspoon butter and pour in the egg-milk mixture using the spatula to get every drop into the pan.
4. Swirl the egg mixture around to coat the bottom of the pan so it looks like a full moon.
5. Gently sprinkle the cheese on one half of the omelet — the half moon with the filling –and spoon on the sauté to cover the cheese.
6. When the cheese has melted and the egg is cooked the way you like, use the Silpat spatula to gently flip the empty side of the half moon on top of the filling.
7. Use the Silpat spatula to help slide the omelet onto the plate and serve hot.
One-egg omelet with shiitake mushrooms, spinach, Comte cheese and shallot filling, plus crisp bacon and Fuji apple slices. Credit: David Latt
There are a lot of Middle Eastern pastries you’re better off not trying at home. Here is one exception. It’s a crunchy little packet of ground walnuts dripping with syrup; add a cup of coffee and you’re ready to face a winter morning.
Yes, a Middle Eastern pastry for breakfast. Why not? This one is actually a pancake, a deep-fried pancake. By the way, it’s one of the oldest pastries in the world. There are recipes dating from the ninth century. This was the kind of thing you got to eat if you were the Caliph.
Its Arabic name is qataif mahshiyya, which literally means “stuffed pancakes” (in Turkish, it’s dolma kadayif; same meaning, though it’s a little surprising to see the word dolma, which generally refers to a stuffed vegetable or grape leaf). You start with a simple yeast batter and fry up smallish crêpes, on one side only. The idea is that you leave the top side half-raw. It remains tacky so you can fold it around the filling. This being a Middle Eastern treat, the filling is always ground nuts, but I suppose somebody might try a slice or two of peach.
In effect, these are sweet samosas, being folded over a filling in much the same way. (Medieval samosa recipes actually sometimes call for this sort of pancake as a wrapper.) The difference is that they’re made with leavened batter rather than kneaded dough, so they absorb syrup like a bandit. First they crunch in your mouth and then they spurt syrup, and that’s before you even get to the nut filling part.
Messy, but forgiving
These little pancake bombs are relatively forgiving for the cook. (In fact, some people don’t go to all the trouble of making the traditional leavened batter and just use pancake mix.) They’re homey-looking; nothing fancy, sort of like miniature Portuguese-men-of-war with syrup oozing out of them.
However, they do make something of a mess in the kitchen, like many a fried food. In the first place, you ought to remember that Russian proverb, “The first pancake comes out as a lump.” So even though the measurements given below should technically give you 12 qataif, don’t count on quite that many. And you’ll go through a substantial amount of oil.
As this pastry is made today, the syrup is usually flavored with rose water, or a mixture of rose water and orange blossom water. I’ve given up trying to get my fellow Americans to overcome their irrational distaste for rose-flavored pastries, so I’m recommending only the orange blossom version. You could also flavor the syrup to your taste with orange oil flavoring or a bit of fine orange or lemon zest.
For the batter:
In a mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast in 2 tablespoons warm water. When the yeast starts to bubble and give off a fermenting smell, dissolve in the remaining ¾ cup warm water and add the flour. Whisk until smooth, cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and let ferment 1 hour.
For the syrup:
Place the sugar, water and lemon juice in a small saucepan and bring to a full boil. Remove from the heat.When the bubbles subside, the syrup should be clear. Add the orange blossom water.
For the filling:
Put the walnuts, sugar, cinnamon and optional clove in a food processor and pulse until ground medium fine.
- Put 2 tablespoons oil in a small frying pan. When very hot, whisk up the batter and pour2 tablespoonsinto the pan, coaxing it with the measuring spoon into a 4-inch circle. Fry until the surface of the cake is bubbly and has lost its wet look. Try to avoid getting the edges of the cake oily.
- Immediately remove the cake with a spatula — without turning it over — and place on a cookie sheet or work space. Repeat with the rest of the batter, adding oil as needed. Theoretically you can end up with 12 half-done pancakes, tacky on top.
- Put 2 teaspoons of nut filling on a pancake and fold it over. The edges should stick (since you’re not deep-frying them, they’ll cook up all right if they don’t stick but won’t look so neat). Pinch the edges tightly shut and repeat with the rest of the pancakes and filling.
- Put enough oil in a 10-inch frying pan to barely cover the pancakes. Heat the oil until the edge of a pancake will sizzle if dipped into it. Fry the pancakes in batches of 3 or 4 until crisp and golden brown on both sides, turning over as needed.
- As the qataif are done, transfer them to paper towels to drain excess oil and then to the syrup, soaking both sides for at least 1 minute. Remove to a serving dish.
- If you want to be fancy, grind a couple of tablespoons of pistachio and sprinkle on the qataif.
Zester Daily contributor Charles Perry is a former rock ‘n’ roll journalist turned food historian who worked for the Los Angeles Times’ award-winning Food section, where he twice was a finalist for the James Beard award.
Photo: Pancake bombs. Credit: Charles Perry
It’s all about square footage, as they say in real estate. And the square footage of my refrigerator is like New York City; space is limited, so whatever is in there better be good. Besides the obvious refrigerator staples (olives, butter, prosciutto), buttermilk always has a place on the shelf. It’s one of my go-to ingredients and yet it has to be one of the most misunderstood foods around.
Mention buttermilk and immediately diet-conscious people will visibly cringe, while a few Southerners will start beaming. Someone needs to stand up for buttermilk, so here is what could be called a love letter to this luscious ingredient.
First, a few facts set the record straight. As with many tasty foods, it all comes down to bacteria. Traditionally, buttermilk is made from the liquid left over after churning butter. (The bacteria in milk ferments the milk’s lactose, and it’s lactic acid that gives buttermilk that tangy flavor.) Today, you most often see “cultured buttermilk,” which is pasteurized 1- or 2-percent milk that has been inoculated with bacteria “culture” to ferment the lactose.
Now it’s time for the science lesson: When an acid like buttermilk is combined with a chemical leavener like baking soda, gas bubbles are produced. This is what makes buttermilk a baker’s best friend — amazingly light cakes, breads and pancakes are the result of this chemical reaction.
Healthy and inexpensive
Besides baking, I use buttermilk in savory dishes such as salad dressings and dips. It adds a creaminess without that mouth coating you get from heavy cream or mayonnaise, and the tang it brings is just what a snack dip needs. Really, truly, you cannot make pancakes without it. If this pancake recipe doesn’t convince you, nothing will.
And calorie counters, take note: Buttermilk has less fat than regular milk because the fat has been removed. (A glass of buttermilk has 99 calories versus a glass of regular milk with 157 calories.) And it’s high in potassium, B12 and calcium. If you need yet another reason to try it, it’s inexpensive. (The pH level of buttermilk gives it a longer shelf life and thus a lower price than regular milk.)
If you’re really in a pinch and need a buttermilk substitute, you can make your own with milk and an acid. (But it’s not the same as using real buttermilk.)
- Add the vinegar to a measuring cup and add enough milk to bring it to the 1-cup line. Mix and let stand for at least 15 minutes.
The Best Buttermilk Pancakes
What better way to start a holiday morning than a stack of pancakes? These not-too-sweet pancakes fluff up to about ½-inch thick, so don’t forget the syrup. And they’re guaranteed to make you a buttermilk lover.
Makes eight 3½-inch pancakes; serves 2 to 4
¾ cup all-purpose flour (see note)
¾ cup whole-wheat flour
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon baking powder
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 large egg
1 cup buttermilk
canola or vegetable oil, for greasing the griddle
maple syrup, for serving
- Place the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and baking powder in a medium-size mixing bowl and stir to combine.
- Place the melted butter and the egg in a bowl and whisk to blend. Add the buttermilk and whisk thoroughly to combine.
- Pour the egg mixture into the dry ingredients and mix until combined, but do not over-mix. The batter should be thick and lumpy.
- Heat a griddle over high heat until very hot (a drop of water should sizzle on contact). Lightly grease the griddle with a small amount of oil and lower the heat to medium. Pour the batter onto the griddle. Don’t crowd the pancakes; you want the batter to spread easily, leaving enough room between the cakes to be able to flip them.
- Cook the pancakes until they begin to firm up and bubbles appear on the surface (watch closely; sometimes the cakes firm up before the bubbles show up), 2 to 3 minutes. Use a spatula to lift a pancake to check its bottom side; if it’s nicely browned, flip the cake. Check all pancakes before flipping.
- Continue cooking the pancakes until the second side is nicely browned, about 1 minute more.
- Serve the pancakes immediately with syrup, if desired.
Note: You can use any combination of flours that you have in your pantry. The whole-wheat flour makes them a bit more nutritious, but using only all-purpose flour results in even fluffier pancakes. Also, this recipe doubles easily.
Zester Daily contributor Laura Holmes Haddad lives with her husband, daughter and son in Los Angeles, where she writes about wine and food and runs her website, gourmetgrrl.com. Her latest collaboration is “Plats du Jour: A Journey Through the Seasons in Wine Country” with the girl & the fig restaurant in Sonoma, Calif., released in November 2011.
Photo: Buttermilk pancakes. Credit: Laura Holmes Haddad
Parents fret about how their kids eat all the time, but not on Christmas morning. Not many parents can claim kids like my three who, when they were little, followed the principle of “you snooze, you lose” at the table. They ate everything, like a swarm of locusts. “Finicky” in our house meant you asked what it was you just ate. But even for picky eaters, Christmas morning is a time of unfettered delight. Not only are there presents waiting under the tree, but usually Mom or Dad will be making something special for breakfast.
For parents, the sight of their children’s joy is motivation enough to make their dream breakfast. In our family, it was Belgian waffles with real maple syrup with thick-cut bacon and freshly squeezed orange juice, or occasionally blueberry pancakes. But there was another breakfast I sometimes made: broken pancakes, or torn pancakes. This was something that I came across in Switzerland and the former Czechoslovakia many years ago, and the kids loved it.
Basically, you make regular pancakes with raspberries or blackberries and start breaking them up as they cook. They are turned out onto a plate, sprinkled with powdered sugar and whipped cream, and garnished with mint leaves. My kids used to suck the mint leaves and then throw them away. The nice thing about this recipe is you’ll make two big pancakes to serve four, and the pancake itself doesn’t have to look pretty since it’s broken and then garnished. You can cook in a large nonstick skillet too, in which case only preheat it for a minute or two.
Broken Pancakes With Raspberries and Whipped Cream
- In a bowl, sprinkle the raspberries with 2 tablespoons sugar and let rest until needed.
- Preheat a 12-inch cast iron skillet over medium heat for 10 minutes.
- In a bowl, sift the flour, then re-sift it with the salt, the remaining 3 tablespoons sugar, and the baking powder.
- Pour the milk into a 2-cup measuring cup and add the egg yolks and beat. Add the melted butter to the milk.
- In another bowl or measuring cup, beat the egg whites with an electric or handle beater until they form peaks.
- Pour the milk mixture into the bowl with the dry ingredients. Fold in the raspberries. Then add the egg whites and fold — don’t beat — all the ingredients together. Let sit 15 to 30 minutes.
- Pour or ladle half the batter into the skillet so it reaches the sides, pushing the batter out to the sides with the bottom of the ladle. Cook for a few seconds, until the bottom sets then start breaking it up into pieces with the edge of a spatula, turning the pieces to cook all sides until golden brown, 5 to 6 minutes. Set aside while you cook the second pancake if you’re not using two skillets.
- Remove to serving plates, dust with powdered sugar and a dollop of whipped cream and a small sprig with 3 or 4 mint leaves.
Zester Daily contributor Clifford A. Wright won the James Beard / KitchenAid Cookbook of the Year Award and the James Beard Award for the Best Writing on Food in 2000 for “A Mediterranean Feast.” His latest book is “Hot & Cheesy” (Wiley) about cooking with cheese.
Photo: Broken berry pancakes with whipped cream and mint. Credit: Clifford A. Wright
Like the other 29 people in my BodyPump class at the Sag Harbor Gym this morning, I am committed to exercising away the effects of holiday overindulgence. Well, maybe not quite as committed as they are. I have no idea what everyone else was thinking as we heaved barbells over our heads in unison, but I was probably the only one who was debating what to bake when class was over. At our village’s natural foods store a little later, I saw some of my classmates crowding around the juice bar. But I wasn’t there to pick up a spirulina smoothie or a week’s worth of Master Cleanse supplies. Instead, I headed to the grains-and-seeds aisle and filled my reusable shopping bag with organic whole-wheat flour, rolled oats, flax, sunflower and sesame seeds. Then I headed home to make some waffles.
For me, the new year isn’t a time for renunciation as much as it is an opportunity to recalibrate recipes and adjust tastes for a brand-new baking season.
After almost two straight months of baking butter cookies and pecan pie, I start to crave rugged bran muffins, pumpernickel pretzels with sprouted rye berries, and johnnycakes made with stone-ground cornmeal and sweetened with molasses. I don’t consciously aim for “healthy.” It just happens that the baked goods I want to eat now are loaded with satisfying ingredients that happen to be super-nutritious. When I first started baking with these items, I didn’t even know that sunflower seeds are an excellent source of hearth-healthy vitamin E, flax seeds provide anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, and sesame seeds are rich in minerals such as copper, which is believed to relieve arthritis symptoms, as well as calcium and zinc, which promote bone health. I just liked the way seeds added crunch and flavor to my breads, muffins and cookies. Although I had heard rumors about oatmeal’s cholesterol-lowering capabilities, I kept a box of oats in the pantry not for medicinal purposes but to give my cookies, muffins, pancakes and waffles the crispy-chewy texture I sometimes prefer.
Not relying on 100 percent whole-wheat flour
On Christmas morning I might have used a stick of butter and three eggs in my waffle batter for flavor and richness. In January, I still want flavorful and rich waffles. But these days they get their flavorful quality from nutty whole-wheat flour and earthy oats. No matter how healthy a waffle is, I’m not going to enjoy it if it is heavy and dense. Instead of using 100 percent whole-wheat flour in this and other “healthy” recipes, I mix whole-wheat flour with a larger portion of white flour. The whole-wheat flour provides fiber and nutrients while the white flour contributes the gluten that will give my baked goods the structure they need to sustain a nice rise. This is where the seeds come in: They add flavor and nutrients too, but like chocolate chips suspended in cookie dough, they won’t affect the chemistry of the batter.
As with my regular waffles, I stick with buttermilk to moisten my healthy waffle batter because of its tangy taste and the bubbly texture it lends to the finished dish. The same rules that I follow when making white-flour waffles apply here: I’m careful not to overmix the batter (which will deflate its air bubbles and over-develop the gluten, making them flat and tough), I grease the grids of my iron with nonstick cooking spray before baking each batch (there’s nothing worse than tearing into the interior of your waffles as you open the iron), I try not to overfill the machine (a leaking waffle iron used to be my specialty), and I bake them on my machine’s highest setting (for a crispy exterior and a properly cooked — not raw — interior).
You could top these waffles with pats of butter and drown them in maple syrup (I won’t lie — they taste great this way). But a lightly sweetened fruit topping will add bright flavor as well as more vitamins, minerals and fiber. Try sliced bananas drizzled with just a little of that maple syrup, berries macerated in a teaspoon or two of turbinado sugar, or my personal favorite, honeyed oranges and pomegranate seeds
Waffles for the New Year
For the waffles:
For the honeyed oranges with pomegranate seeds:
- Heat the waffle iron.
- Stir together the flours, oats, sesame seeds, flax seeds, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl.
- Whisk together the buttermilk, egg, honey, and oil in a large glass measuring cup.
- Pour the liquid ingredients into the bowl with the dry ingredients and stir until moistened. Do not overmix!
- Spray the grids of the waffle iron with nonstick cooking spray. Pour some batter (how much depends on the size of your waffle iron) onto the grids and spread it to the edges with a spatula. Cook the waffles until they are golden brown, 4 to 7 minutes, depending on your machine. Serve immediately, repeating with the remaining batter and spraying the grids with more cooking spray before beginning each new batch.
Zester Daily contributor Lauren Chattman is a cookbook author, freelance writer and former professional pastry chef. Her recipes have appeared in Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, Cook’s Illustrated and The New York Times. She is the author of 14 books, most recently “Cake Keeper Cakes” (Taunton, 2009) and “Cookie Swap!” (Workman, 2010).
Photo: Waffles. Credit: Lauren Chattman
I practice a simple breakfast ritual. I like to have a piece of toast, preferably dense bread like a pain de mie. I spread it with generous amounts of butter, using my grandmother’s old butter knife with the rounded point. An occasional poached egg, maybe with some tomato-chili salsa leftover from last night’s dinner? Even better. But what really ignites my morning engine and shifts me into first gear is a bowl of miso soup, a classic breakfast soup in Japan. The daughter of Japanese parents, I was born in New York and raised in Tokyo, Kamakura, San Francisco and Mexico City. I straddle East and West, but when it comes to breakfast, no matter how eclectic, the Japanese component brings me to my comfort zone.
Recently, my breakfast ritual took a sharp turn East, when soba master, Akila Inouye from Tokyo stayed with us for nearly three weeks. He and I taught more than a dozen soba-making classes in my Santa Monica home. I have held cooking classes before, but had never done anything with flour and water on such a scale. I often found myself scraping buckwheat flour dough off the hardwood floors and washing mixing bowls way past midnight. But no matter how busy we were, Akila got up at dawn to make a full Japanese breakfast. “It feels like I never left Japan,” he said.
What is a traditional Japanese breakfast? Besides miso soup (see recipe below), there must be rice, and then as many side dishes as you like. What you are looking for is nutritional balance and simplicity. Bread, which was introduced to Japan by Portuguese missionaries and trades people in the 16th century, doesn’t appear on a traditional Japanese breakfast menu. For Akila, bread is like emergency food — he enjoys it, but eats it mainly when he runs out of rice. I am quite the opposite. I love rice but can happily make a crusty baguette my entire meal.
During Akila’s stay, however, my consumption of rice multiplied by the bowls full. He cooked four cups of rice every other day. It was always on standby in the rice cooker. The rice saved us when we got to be so busy with the workshops and had made no plans for dinner. Akila would also make fried rice. It was so good, I could eat it for breakfast too.
Miso soup can be whipped up in a few minutes if you have dashi, the stock, on hand. We often had dashi left over from the workshop, so all we had to do was add the miso and a combination of seasonal vegetables, seaweed, meat, seafood and tofu. Even made from scratch, miso soup is quick — dashi takes less than 15 minutes to pull together, compared to chicken stock, which takes hours. Back in February, Akila and I had made miso. It still needed to age a little so we blended it with a more mature miso for our soup. The fun of making miso soup can be in the blending and in coming up with your own favorite flavor.
Thinking about tomorrow: breakfast and bento
A wise Japanese home cook will prepare dinner with the next day’s breakfast and bento box in mind. When the leftover braised duck with ginger, or the shishito peppers and shrimp tempura Akila and I made during the workshops appeared on the table the next morning, I was elated. I often serve grilled fish, like salmon, with a Japanese breakfast. Other typical ingredients include nori to wrap the rice; fermented soybeans called natto, which are slimy, strong smelling and nutty; and pickled plums, or umeboshi. Natto is a vital source of protein in the Japanese diet and is readily available at Japanese markets. It is believed that an umeboshi a day keeps the doctor away. Both natto and umeboshi may take a bit of practice to appreciate, but give them a try. They are full of nutrients. I also like to have some fruit with plain yogurt with my breakfast. Japanese breakfast feels like dinner, but it’s never heavy or fatty. Consider the low rate of obesity in Japan. Eating a wholesome breakfast may have something to do with it.
During Akila’s visit, I’d sometimes wake up with bread cravings. I once snuck out to Huckleberry, my neighborhood bakery, for a scone to satisfy my bread fix. The one time that we dined out at an Italian restaurant, I practically finished the entire bread basket by myself. And after Akila left, I pulled out my toaster and my grandmother’s butter knife and went back to eating toast for breakfast again. But I also make traditional Japanese breakfast whenever I have fresh steamed rice on hand. With my bowl of miso soup, eclectic in one world, traditional in another, I am in my comfort zone.
Heirlooom Tomato and Tofu Miso Soup
3½ cups dashi (see recipe below)
3½ to 4 tablespoons Mugi, Koji, white or red miso
1 tomato (cut in quarters, then slice each quarter crosswise into ½-inch thick pieces)
½ square of soft tofu
2 green onions, sliced thinly
- Bring the dashi to a boil in a medium saucepan, then reduce the heat to maintain simmer.
- In a small bowl, dissolve 3½ tablespoons of the miso paste in a few tablespoons of the warm dashi. Add the mixture to the saucepan. Taste and add more miso paste, dashi or water, depending on how strong the soup tastes.
- Add the tomato and tofu, and simmer for 1 minute. Turn off heat.
- Pour the soup into individual bowls.
- Sprinkle each bowl with chopped green onion. Serve immediately
This dashi, which will keep for five days in the refrigerator, can be used for miso soup, suimono, ohitashi and other dashi-based sauces. Bonito flakes and dashi kombu can be found at Japanese markets.
- Using scissors, make several crosswise cuts in the konbu. This helps to extract the flavor during cooking.
- Place konbu and water in medium saucepan and let stand 15 minutes. Cook on medium heat until water is about to boil, then remove kombu (this will prevent a fishy odor).
- When the water boils, turn off the heat and add ½ cup of cold water. Let liquid cool down for a couple of minutes then gently add bonito flakes. Do not stir.
- When bonito flakes have settled near the bottom, about 3 minutes, strain them through a very fine-mesh sieve or a sieve lined with cheesecloth and discard them. Don’t stir the stock because it will cloud the dashi, which should have a light golden color.
Sonoko Sakai is a Japanese freelance writer and film producer who divides her time between Tokyo and Santa Monica. She has contributed stories and recipes to the Los Angeles Times, the former Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Saveur and Bungei Shunju (Japan). She is passionate about making soba by hand, and with master chef Akila Inouye of the Tsukiji Soba Academy, has created MazuMizu to teach Japanese home-cooking in Japan and abroad.
Photos, from top:
Japanese breakfast: rice topped with seasoned ground chicken and cut nori, umeboshi and pickled daikon, napa cabbage salad, nameko mushrooms and tofu miso soup
Japanese breakfast with salmon and, clockwise from left: carrot and cabbage salad, rice, tamagoyaki, yogurt with raspberry puree, umeboshi, daikon miso soup.
Heirloom tomato, tofu and miso soup
Credits: Sonoko Sakai