Breakfast of champions

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Because I’m such a good girl during the week, eating heart-healthy cereal and fruit for breakfast, I like to change it up on weekends. But the last thing I want to do is start off the day with a sugar bomb — that just leaves me cranky and sleepy — so I’ve been gravitating toward more savory fare in the last year or so. Often it’s just a matter of treating oatmeal as a grain and topping it with butter/olive oil/poached egg, but I wanted something a little more involved last Saturday and turned out this meal.

It started with a base of polenta cooked over a low flame for 30 minutes, then flavored with a bit of butter, a bit more parmesan, and lots of freshly cracked black pepper. For a topping, I grabbed a bag of oyster mushrooms that had been languishing in the fridge for a full week and sautéed them in butter and olive oil with thinly sliced shallots until they’d caramelized. Adding a poached egg and a drizzle of truffle oil just brought the whole thing over the top and, I think, made Gil just a tiny bit envious (but he’d already had his bowl of cereal).

Sittin’ here in La-La…

And we’re back, after spending almost a full week with family in Louisiana; catching up with everyone was lots of fun and the purpose of the trip, of course, but the balmy weather was what really put smiles on our faces after our 15-degree week here in the northeast. “But what about the food?” you say. Glad you asked…

Our first meal of the trip came shortly after we landed in Kenner. Gil and I had been up since 3:30am (early flights — what can you do?), so we weren’t exactly in the mood for a big production. Good thing there’s Spahr’s, just across the bayou in Lafourche Parish.


Neither Spahr’s nor the bayou, but a shack on scenic Dufrene Ponds behind the restaurant. Kind of takes what little romance there was out of it, huh?

At Spahr’s, seafood’s always on the menu and it’s usually deep-fried, though when crabs or crawfish are in season, boiled is also an option. What I’m saying is, you don’t come here for heart-healthy food. Gil and I split a seafood platter and left very happy and on the verge of passing out. No pics of the food, because a big plate of fried seafood is really only interesting if you’re sitting before it about to dig in.

When we left, my nephew Mason looked for the alligator that sometimes hangs around the restaurant.

Sadly, it was not to be found. Mason was inconsolable, and offered his head to the Catfish God.

The food we eat when we visit my family has turned into a strange mix of traditional Cajun dishes supplemented with Sandra Lee-ish recipes. Yes, friends, we had Velveeta and all manner of processed foods in abundance. But there also were platters of boudin, gallons of gumbo, and more jambalaya than our gathering of 40 or so could handle. Still, the sheer amount of sodium and fat we ate last week really took its toll and we’re on . . . well, not a diet, but a whole foods sort of eating plan again.

On our last day with the folks we went to Smitty’s, another hole-in-the-wall seafood joint that’s known for its oysters. Doused with Tabasco (or Smitty’s surprisingly delicious cocktail sauce), the plump, juicy oysters could be a meal in themselves.

We spent the last night of our trip at the Hotel Monteleone in the French Quarter — a necessary indulgence, because we had a late dinner reservation at Restaurant August with my cousin Wade and his wife Robin and didn’t want to drive the hour back to my parents’ house. I ate at August shortly after it opened; it had a very limited menu then, so I was curious to see how things had changed. I knew it was well-regarded, and John Besh has become a bit of an It Boy in food circles, so I expected great things. And what can I say? It was a terrific meal — no real surprises on the menu, but everything was perfectly done. I had the foie gras three-ways appetizer (I’m helpless in the face of foie), followed by a turtle soup that wasn’t swimming in an ocean of sherry (yay, for the light hand!), and grilled sablefish. The only dish of Gil’s I tried was a smoked (I think) pumpkin soup, which filled me with an insane jealousy the likes of which I only experience when he wins the ordering war in restaurants.

We rolled out of there three hours later, stuffed to the gills, ready for bed, and happy to have only a short waddle back to the hotel.

The next morning, we weren’t hungry in the least, but when you’re staying in the Quarter, you suck it up and have the world’s most perfect breakfast, anyway.

Beignet and café au lait at Café du Monde, for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure.

’08 Advent Calendar, Day 20

OK, maybe just a little more sugar wouldn’t hurt me.

Looking for a lighter cinnamon roll than the heavy butter- and icing-bombs you find most places, I decided to adapt my king cake recipe this morning, with stellar results. A light, bready brioche wrapped around a buttery cinnamon filling and topped with honey-cream cheese frosting … oh, I didn’t meant to imply they’re light, just lighter.

For the 2007 Advent Calendar, click here.

recipe after the jump

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A short tale of two breakfasts

Breakfast is a subject I take seriously. Most mornings I start the day with some sort of heart-healthy cereal because let’s face it, I’m not getting any younger. But on weekends, that sensible thing flies right out the window, especially when I’m waking up to a frosty morning.

And nothing says weekend breakfast like eggs — they’re so delicious and versatile. Saturday morning, the last of our farmers’ market eggs provided the base for a refrigerator frittata — we had leeks, potatoes and a big bag of spinach hanging around, so into the pan they went along with some pecorino romano and good, fruity olive oil. Just the thing to get us going.

Our Sunday ritual continued with taking Rufus to the 9am (!) greyhound hike at Wawayanda State Park, so I decided to make another big breakfast to keep the chill out of my bones on the long trek. One of my favorite things about eggs is that you can poach one and add it to just about any leftover, and presto –  instant brunch! So that’s how I polished off the last of my leftover aloo gobi experiment from a few nights earlier. So good, and it really kept me going on the long hike. I’m not saying this breakfast was the reason I felt energetic all day, but it certainly didn’t hurt.

Another post about pancakes

The comments section of a well-traveled food blog can be a pretty useful and interesting place to visit. For the same reason I enjoy reading letters to the editor in a magazine, I’ll at least skim comments on a post that has caught my attention.

Sunday morning, I found myself back at Smitten Kitchen‘s pancake tutorial because I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to do more with my blueberry stash than to toss them in a big stack of pancakes for breakfast. (My runner-up would’ve been a galette, but you know how I feel about pastry dough, and I just couldn’t face failure so early in the morning; I find it sets a bad tone for the day.) And even though hunger was calling and I wanted to eat close to immediately, I started to skim the comments section out of habit. Good thing, too, because one of them left a rave review of another recipe that sounded more intriguing than the traditional buttermilk pancake. I googled it and was off!

This recipe was posted by The Wednesday Chef, who adapted it from the NY Times Magazine. I adapted it further, substituting blueberries for the cranberries, and loved it; Gil even nodded his approval between bites. The cornmeal in the batter gave these pancakes just the slightest crunch, the hefty amount of baking powder made them light and fluffy, and because the batter wasn’t too sweet, topping them with a goodly amount of maple syrup didn’t send us to a sugary slumberland. At least not right away.

recipe after the jump

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Weekend meals

Sometime last week, one of my friends asked me, “What can I do with barley and mushrooms?” I put on my thinking cap and came up with barley risotto for her, which sounded pretty good once I gave it more thought, so I threw it together for dinner Friday night.

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And being the first risotto of any kind I’ve ever made, I was pretty happy with it. Not ecstatic and not quite thrilled enough to give you a recipe just yet, but definitely pleased.

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Weekend breakfasts, brought to you by Zabar’s

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A few weeks ago, I made a Dutch baby pancake for breakfast and learned from Audrey in the comments section that lingonberry jam is a terrific addition. So when I found myself at Zabar’s last Sunday (my first time!) after brunch with Gil’s family (another first!), I made sure to look around their jam section for a jar. I chose between three brands, which was such a luxury.

And Audrey was oh, so right — the jam was a perfect accent to the pancake. It melted into the butter and lemon juice and turned into a sweet & tart glaze and oh dear lord I really need another one right this second…

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Deep breath. And moving on…

Because I didn’t know when we’d be coming home or after how much walking last weekend, I didn’t want to get too loaded down at Zabar’s. It was tough, but we left with only a few precious items. In addition to the jam, I picked up a smallish container of truffle butter because I could almost taste the shirred eggs I’d make when I first saw it.

The butter did not disappoint. Especially when mixed with heavy cream.

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Don’t you just love blood oranges, by the way? I’ve been eating my weight in them this week while they’re still around. The color just sends me.

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We now return to your regularly scheduled program

…already in progress.
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Yes, I really have missed cooking, so I took the opportunity to fire up the oven this morning when it became clear there wouldn’t be enough milk to go around for our standard bowls of cereal. But what we did have was the basics — eggs, butter, flour, sugar, lemons, and just enough milk to make a simple but elegant breakfast of Dutch baby pancakes. These were adapted from a recipe I found a while back at Orangette; we didn’t have half-and-half on hand, so I made do with equal parts lowfat and evaporated milk, and used only half of the butter called for, just because it was already pooling in the center of the pancake when I took it from the oven.

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No? You can’t see the butter? Sorry, I focused on that gorgeous browned crust before it flew too close to the sun and fell back to earth, but trust me, the butter is there. I love these Dutch babies because the texture is somewhere between a custard and a pancake — very eggy and light, and not cakey at all.

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That light flavor and airy texture is greatly enhanced by a liberal dousing of lemon juice, which brightens everything. I mean, just look at it — this is one happy breakfast. I can imagine this would be completely delicious with orange juice instead of lemon juice, but it’ll be difficult to change a thing next time; this was a real treat and just as easy as throwing together a simple breakfast of eggs and toast.

Oh, and let’s get a close-up of the finished pancake, shall we? That little pool in the corner is butter and lemon juice, and should, if my calculations are correct, make you weep and run to the kitchen to make this yourself.

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recipe after the jump

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An envie for couche-couche

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Ayyyy, I’m turning into my mother.

Ahem.

Anyway, in honor of LSU’s ridiculous victory over the Crimson Tide Saturday night (and superstitiously hoping to bring a little luck to the Saints), I pulled out the big guns and made myself couche-couche for breakfast Sunday morning. This dish is as Cajun as it gets — no pig, it’s true, but it takes a few humble ingredients and lets them shine.

I’m pretty sure my grandpa ate this every single morning. As a young kid, whenever I’d sleep over, my grandma would make extra and then our silly ritual would begin.

Paw-Paw: Here, try this.
Me: (duly taking bite)
Paw-Paw: C’est bon?
Me: Bon … ?

He got such a huge kick out of that little exchange, he didn’t bother telling me what it meant until I was a little older. [The only time my grandparents really spoke French around us was when they wanted to keep their conversations private, so I didn’t start learning it until ninth grade. My grandpa was already gone by then, but I credit him with teaching me my very first French phrase.]

Even though I haven’t had couche-couche since I was a small child sitting at my grandparents’ kitchen table, I woke up Sunday morning with a craving (or envie) for it. Part skillet cornbread, part pancake, part porridge, it develops a deep, roasted flavor from the hot cast iron skillet and has a nutty crunch that plain cornbread never achieves. It’s traditionally topped with milk and sugar or just cane syrup, but I wanted the best of both worlds that morning. I didn’t break it into tiny pieces the way my grandma used to because I didn’t have the patience, but it was fine just the way it was.

Can’t wait to get home for Christmas.

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Update: The November issue of F&W has a good article on Chef Donald Link’s (of Herbsaint and Cochon restaurants) recommendations for an eating road trip through Cajun country. I can vouch for Poche’s — my aunt brings pounds of their boudin to our Christmas gathering every year. So many other great things in the issue, too — the obligatory Thanksgiving section, a cheese primer, an article devoted to Oregon whiskey, and the list goes on.

recipe after the jump

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