Monday, April 14, 2008

Buckwheat Crepes of Brittany

I know the last post was on pancakes, but this is a breakfast recipe I've been wanting to post for a little while now. Plus, it would be a great dinner too, so there you go.

These crepes are made with buckwheat flour and served in the style of Brittany where they are a local favorite. There was a big, beautifully photographed story (can't seem to find it online) in the April 2007 issue of Saveur on the sweet and savory crepes of this northwestern corner of France which inspired me to finally try this delicious take on the savory crepe. I'm sure they're amazing with flour made from buckwheat grown in Brittany, but they are also awesome with the stuff from Whole Foods (Bob's Red Mill brand, to be exact).

Mike and I have made these a couple times now, and we really like them. It took some fooling with the recipe, but now we've gotten a feel for it. We try to make thin, but soft crepes that we fold over ham, shredded Gruyere cheese and an egg over easy. Good Gruyere, a hard cow's milk cheese from Switzerland, should be easy to find at stores with a decent cheese selection (again, Whole Foods to the rescue). It's one of my favorite cheeses -- good with eggs, on any sandwich, in gougeres, for grilled cheese.

This is one traditional way to serve crepes in France, but you can fill them with anything. And if you don't want to use buckwheat flour, you can make simple white flour crepes or experiment with all sorts of other grains, like whole wheat, barley or quinoa flours. I haven't tried them, but if you do - or if you have your own interesting crepe recipe - let me know how it works.

Buckwheat Crepes with Ham, Eggs and Gruyère (Crêpes de Blé Noir)
Adapted from Saveur magazine

The filled crepes are called crêpes complètes if you're lucky enough to have one in Brittany. There, they separate the yolks and discard the whites so they can cook the yolk inside the crepe along with the cheese and ham. We think it's easier to cook the egg separately - plus we can eat the white too.

Makes 8 to 10 crepes

For crepes:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 cups reduced fat milk
1 1/4 cups buckwheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp. fine sea salt

For filling:
thinly sliced deli ham, cut into pieces
shredded Gruyere

Whisk the melted butter with the milk, flours and salt. You can proceed with the recipe now or cover and chill (lay plastic wrap directly over the surface of the batter) for anywhere from one to 24 hours.

Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat and coat with cooking spray. Ladle about 1/4 cup batter into skillet and quickly tilt to spread into a round. If the batter is too thick to spread, whisk in some water, a little at a time, until you have a consistency you can work with. Cook for about 2 minutes until light golden on the bottom; flip and spread some ham and shredded cheese over one side of crepe. When crepe is cooked through, slide onto a plate, top with a fried egg, fold in half and serve.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Thai Fried Hardboiled Eggs

If you still have hardboiled eggs leftover from Easter, here’s the perfect way to save them from neglect. It’s not complicated, but it’s so different that you’ve got to try it!

This is a recipe from a Thai cookbook I bought when we were over there. It's one of those things where we looked at the picture and said, “Hmm, deep fried eggs…how can that be bad?” We made them as a snack on Easter, and if we had fried more than just 4 eggs, we would have eaten them all.

They taste just like regular hardboiled eggs - no oil gets inside - except with a warm, crispy outer layer. The cookbook called for a sauce made with tamarind pulp. All I had was tamarind concentrate, which I use in my pad Thai, so I improvised a dip with that, sugar and a splash of fish sauce. I really think any Asian dipping sauce you like would work with these – there are so many ready made sauces you can buy, or whipping one up yourself is just as easy. Tamarind has a very sharp, sour, and citrusy flavor, so try aiming for something sweet and tangy. In this picture, you can see the fried crust better...

Our whole Easter (except dessert, but I'll get to that later) had a Asian theme. While we had the pot full of hot oil going, we decided to make some coconut shrimp (actually, those were all Mike)...

There may have also been some shrimp and pork wontons, but there is no photographic evidence of alleged wontons.

And for breakfast, we had kimchi and rice bowls with eggs. This is our new favorite thing. The Asian grocery store we've been frequenting lately seems to be Korean-owned because they sell huge jars of this fantastic, fresh (as fresh as a condiment made of fermented cabbage could be) kimchi. It's got a good heat level, but not too much for me, and the cabbage is just a little crisp. I love it, and I think Mike could eat it by the pound.

Anyway, I put some in a bowl with brown sushi rice (any rice would be great) and top it with fried eggs - a perfect meal! It was my dinner tonight, actually. So, if you're feeling adventurous, try frying some hardboiled eggs. We did it because we've never seen it before, but it's really good!

Thai Fried Hardboiled Eggs with Tamarind Sauce
Adapted from Authentic Recipes from Thailand by Sven Krauss, Laurent Ganguillet and Vira Sanguanwong

For 4 eggs; make as many as you want.

Canola oil for deep frying
2 large shallots, sliced
4 hardboiled eggs, peeled
chopped cilantro for garnish (optional)

For dipping sauce:
3 tablespoons tamarind concentrate
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon fish sauce

Thoroughly combine all sauce ingredients in a small bowl. Taste and adjust flavors to your liking - this is not an exact science. Alternatively, use any sweet/tangy dipping sauce.

Using a deep fry thermometer, heat oil about 3 inches deep in a medium saucepan to 350-360 degrees. Try to maintain this temperature as closely as possible the whole time. Fry the shallots until golden; drain on paper towel.

Fry two eggs, turning once or twice, until golden, about 2 minutes per side. Repeat with remaining eggs. Slice eggs in half lengthwise and serve with dipping sauce, shallots and cilantro.

A quick note: Mike and I are going to Boston this weekend to celebrate our 2 year wedding anniversary (it was actually March 19th). So, you probably won't be hearing from me until Tuesday, since I'm crazy with trying to finish up a work project before I go.

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Sunday, February 03, 2008

Healthy, Easy Spanish Tortilla

I can't really say breakfast is my favorite meal because I love ALL good meals. But, I do enjoy making breakfast food. I like waffles and crepes, but we don't make them too often, so it's all the more fun when we do. I love quick breads, especially scones. I adore pancakes, though this is probably the breakfast item that gets the most abuse. Don't give up on pancakes, even if you've been served one too many that had the weight and texture of a flat tire. Light, thin cakes mixed with a light touch and topped with maple syrup are one of life's great breakfasts.

When it comes to egg-centric breakfast dishes, there's hardly anything I don't like. One of my standards is eggs over easy with runny yolks, buttered toast and a roasted vegetable, preferably asparagus or zucchini. When we want something that involves a little bit more ceremony, my favorite thing to make is a frittata. I've written about frittatas before, and they're a mainstay in my cooking repertoire because they're incredibly easy, good for any meal, not only breakfast, and adaptable to any ingredients you have on hand.

It wasn't until just recently, though, that I got a handle on the Spanish version of frittata, known as tortilla. The traditional version doesn't need anything more than eggs and sliced potatoes, but you'll also see them made with some onion and maybe peppers. Usually, the thinly sliced potatoes are pan-fried in a skillet using a considerable amount of olive oil. Not only is this less healthy, but it takes time and vigilance over your hot stove. I never bothered making tortilla because it seemed like a lot more work than a standard frittata.

When I had a bunch of leftover red potatoes one day, I decided I wanted to use them for a potato frittata. I would slice and roast them in the oven, then just proceed with my usual frittata method. It dawned on me that the finished product would ultimately be a Spanish tortilla, but a lot healthier and simpler--perfect!

I had half a jar of piquillo peppers, the hot-sweet pickled chiles that are a common Spanish ingredient. I cut those up and used them to add some color, and their kicky flavor turned out to be a nice match for the bland potatoes. Now, I use this method to make potato frittatas with any ingredients I want. The last one I did was with sauteed spinach, caramelized onions and feta. The potatoes turn the otherwise light frittata into a more substantial dish. If you have potatoes lying around along with the odd hunk of cheese and some vegetables in the fridge whose time is limited, you've the got the makings of a great frittata for any meal.

Spanish Tortilla or Potato Frittata
This, like any frittata recipe, is an approximation, not a scientific formula. You can add or take away an ingredient to suit your taste. You can make it with 6 eggs if your skillet is 8 to 10 inches, but I would not go with any less than that. Any type of potato will work here. If you can't find piquillo peppers, either leave them out, try roasted red peppers, or saute some thinly sliced fresh red bell pepper with the onion.

Serves 6

Nonstick cooking spray
3 or 4 small red potatoes, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tsp. olive oil
1/2 large onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
8 eggs
1/2 cup drained and chopped piquillo peppers
Parsley, for serving

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spread the potatoes in single layer on a baking sheet coated with nonstick cooking spray. Lightly coat the potatoes with cooking spray and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 10-15 minutes or until tender.

Meanwhile, add the oil to a 9- to 12-inch oven safe skillet, preferably nonstick or cast iron, over medium heat. Cook the onions until soft and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and season with salt and pepper. Add the onion mixture and the piquillo peppers. Preheat your oven's broiler to high and position a rack about 6 to 8 inches away from the heat source. Generously coat the empty skillet with nonstick spray or olive oil and heat to medium-low. Arrange the roasted potato slices in overlapping concentric circles. Pour the egg mixture over the potatoes and cook until the eggs start to set around the edges. Tilt the skillet as you lift the edges of the tortilla with a spatula, letting the liquid egg run into the gaps. When most of the egg is set around the edges, transfer the skillet to the broiler. Cook until egg is just set in the center, about 2 to 5 minutes. It's fine if the tortilla browns a little on top, but watch closely because it can start to burn fast. Let tortilla rest for a few minutes, then serve sprinkled with fresh parsley.

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Asian Scrambled Eggs with Shrimp

Sake is a really good thing. I haven’t touched the stuff in four years because of one bottle that was so unpleasant I didn’t bother with it again until last night. For the past year or so, Mike and I have been feeling uneasy about our aversion to sake. We love Japanese food, and we were sure there had to be something good about an alcoholic beverage beloved by so many people around the world. It was silly to miss out on all the fun.

Mike was traveling for work last week and enjoyed some lovely sake at a sushi restaurant with co-workers. That was it. We decided it was time for us to get over our fear of sake. And it gave us an excuse to make maki rolls which, incidentally, we hadn’t done since we bought that last bottle of bad sake about four years ago. We wanted a dry sake meant to be served cold, which we picked up at Whole Foods Market for $11. It was great! It was far from flavorless, yet very neutral like vodka without any harsh sting--sake usually has an alcohol content around 15% like a strong wine.

Our maki rolls, made with smoked salmon and cooked shrimp--nothing fancy--were great too. Unfortunately, I sort of burned some of our sushi rice, so were left with a bit of extra seafood. Before we even finished the maki rolls, I was dreaming up what I would do with the leftovers for breakfast.

Even though runny, fried eggs are my gold standard, I immediately thought of creamy scrambled eggs with Asian seasonings, shrimp and cilantro. Since I can’t even remember the last time I made scrambled eggs, I checked Mastering the Art of French Cooking for advice. Since I’ve gotten that book, I’ve used it on several occasions to find the best technique for basic recipes--all the recipes I’ve referenced are so well detailed with methods that work so well, I honestly wonder why everyone doesn’t do it Julia’s way.

The eggs were exactly what I was hoping for--soft and creamy with the subtle saltiness of tamari soy sauce (naturally fermented, wheat-free soy sauce) and a bit of fish sauce balanced by the richness of sesame oil--mere drops are all you need here. We had leftover Brussels sprouts from last night too that I sautéed with seasoned rice vinegar, sugar, fish sauce and tamari (there's no limit to the tastiness of Brussels sprouts). Fantastic breakfast! And it was all thanks to sake. Too bad there was none leftover--we had to settle for coffee instead.

Asian Scrambled Eggs with Shrimp
From Julia Child’s master scrambled egg recipe, I learned you mustn’t add anymore than one teaspoon of liquid for every 2 eggs. She, of course, uses cream, but I substituted Asian flavors for this dish. When it comes to shrimp, I’m a little snobby about never buying pre-cooked shrimp--they’re so easy to cook yourself--but pre-cooked would do fine in this recipe. Tamari, a naturally fermented, wheat-free soy sauce has mild flavor that is more than just pure salt. It’s available in many supermarkets now, and I definitely recommend it in this recipe where you want delicate flavor. I made this for breakfast, but I would love to eat it for dinner too.

Serves 2 (doubles easily)

4 eggs
1 tsp. low-sodium tamari soy sauce (I like the San-J brand)
1/2 tsp. fish sauce
1/2 tsp. water
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Cooking spray
1/2 tbs. butter
3/4 cup cooked, medium shrimp, cut into 2 or 3 pieces each (or use a combination of shrimp and smoked salmon)
1/4 cup (packed) chopped cilantro
salt to taste
1/4 tsp. dark sesame oil

Add the eggs, soy sauce, fish sauce, water and black pepper to a large bowl and whisk for about 30 seconds.

Coat a large nonstick or cast iron skillet with cooking spray. Add the butter and place over moderately low heat.

Add the egg mixture to the skillet and stir with a rubber spatula. It might take 2 minutes or so for the eggs to heat. When the eggs start to form large curds, stir rapidly, scraping the bottom of the skillet as you go. After about 1-2 minute or when the mixture has thickened a bit, add the shrimp and cilantro. Continue stirring until shrimp is heated through and eggs are no longer liquid, but still soft and creamy. Taste and add a pinch of salt if necessary. When the eggs have just reached the consistency you want, immediately transfer to a plate. Drizzle with sesame oil and serve immediately.

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Vegetable-Barley Soup with Poached Egg

In my last post, I mentioned that we have been into healthy, comforting meals in the hopes of balancing out the holiday decadence. This is one of those recipes. Upon looking at the ingredients and method, you'll see there's nothing exotic here--but wait, the simplicity is deceptive.

This delicious soup is truly greater than the sum of its parts. It can be made effortlessly any night of the week. Once you've chopped onion and garlic, sauteed them along with some mushrooms and relaxed while the barley cooks in just 15 minutes, you'll wonder if you forgot something--it's just too easy, you'll say.

After you stir in some fresh spinach at the end and ladle the hot soup into bowls, it's time for the big finish--crowning each portion with a gently poached egg. Cook the eggs for a mere two minutes so the yolks remain soft and creamy enough to add a totally luscious quality to your soup. Honestly, this is unexpectedly good even without a poached egg, but with it--you'll want to eat this every night.

Now you have the perfect quick, satisfying meal for the crazy weeknights ahead when you don't want something too heavy, but you don't want to feel in the least bit deprived. It came from the November issue of Gourmet by the way, which also provided recipes for this beautiful Cranberry Crostata and another quick dinner we really liked (but didn't put on the blog), Sauteed Calamari with Bacon and Lemon Quinoa.

So, have you started doing any holiday baking yet? I did today--so much good stuff to blog about, I can't wait! We got our Christmas tree too. I love decorating it and going through all my ornaments, some that I've had since I was a baby. And I officially know it's the holiday season because Mike made his hot cider-rum drink with cinnamon--I could knock those back all day! So what are everyone else's favorite December traditions, whether you celebrate Christmas or not?

Vegetable-Barley Soup with Poached Egg
Adapted from Gourmet magazine, November 2007

Serves 4 as main course

1 tbs. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
pinch dried marjoram (optional)
1 (14 1/2 oz.) can diced fire-roasted tomatoes (such as Muir Glen)
1 qt. vegetable broth (such as Swanson’s Organic)
1 cup quick-cooking barley
6 oz. spinach leaves
1 tbs. white vinegar
4 large eggs

Add the olive oil to a large saucepan and heat to medium. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, and cook until mushrooms are soft and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, thyme and marjoram and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes more.

Add the tomatoes and vegetable broth; raise heat and bring to a boil. Add the barley, season with 1/2 tsp. salt and ground pepper to taste; cover the pot and reduce heat to maintain a brisk simmer. Cook for 10-15 minutes, or until barley is tender.

Meanwhile, fill a large skillet with water, about 1 1/2 inches deep. Bring to a brisk simmer over medium heat. Add the vinegar. As soon as the soup is finished, you want this skillet to be ready for the eggs.

When barley is tender, stir the spinach into the soup and cook for 1 minute. Check for seasoning and add additional salt and pepper to taste.

Ladle soup into shallow bowls, and immediately add the eggs to the poaching water by cracking the eggs, one at a time, into a ramekin or small bowl and gently tipping each one into the poaching water. Cook for 2 minutes and transfer the eggs directly into each soup bowl using a slotted spoon. Serve right away.

If you want to check out the round-up of posts for November's Sugar High Friday where the theme was beta-carotene, here's part 1 and part 2. Look for my All-In-One Holiday Bundt Cake among the delicious entries.

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Friday, May 25, 2007

Brik, or the greatest fried egg ever!

I think I went through most of the past decade avoiding fried foods, with the exception of the occasional french fry. Then I discovered New England fried clams and things went downhill from there. But, wait, fried food, done right, isn’t that big of a deal. It’s just another way to cook things, and when Mike and I do it on occasion, it is usually a lot of fun. On top of that, the results can be a revelation.

We’ve fried donuts and egg rolls; even squash blossoms. When I saw the recipe for Brik, a wonton-like Tunisian turnover, in the May issue of Gourmet, I knew I had met the fried food of my dreams. It seemed to defy logic: a raw egg cracked into a little nest of tuna and parsley, wrapped in egg roll dough and fried to a golden crisp, yet keeping the yolk soft and silky within to create a rich, yellow dipping sauce that would ooze out when the brik was cracked with a fork. Too wonderful to be possible, right? Of course, we had to give it a shot.

Gourmet came through with this one, people. The recipe worked perfectly, and the promise of a soft, runny yolk was fulfilled. I have never eaten anything, much less fried anything, quite like this. As exotic as it sounds, it employs everyday ingredients, and requires a simple skillet for the quick shallow fry. We did watch our oil temperature carefully using a deep-fat thermometer, but this was really easy to do, especially with two cooks.

Just a couple slight changes to the recipe: The egg roll wrappers they sell in our grocery store are 6 x 6, not 8 inches, as the recipe calls for. The 6-inch wrappers were too small to fold over to form a triangle, so we just used 2 wrappers, one on top of the other to form a “pillow” with the egg and tuna nest in the middle. We did not brush the wrappers with oil because we forgot and then it didn’t seem necessary. We fried one brik at a time and pretty much ate as we went. They do keep beautifully for a few minutes in a low oven, however, if you need to fry a bunch and then serve.

These were so much fun, especially if you love a great, runny egg. Here is the link to the recipe, and if you have the magazine, there’s a lot of pictures in there too.

Just a quick note: Mike and I are leaving on Saturday to travel to Seattle to see his family, then on to Tokyo, Singapore where his aunt and uncle live, then Thailand and Vietnam. We'll be gone for over three weeks, but I'm going to blog as we go...I don't know what to expect, but it should be an amazing time; and I absolutely cannot wait for the food!

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