Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Love of a Good Egg

More than a few of my best childhood food memories (of which there are many) involve eggs. A soft boiled egg broken over torn pieces of buttered toast, the yolk soaking into the buttery bread; my father making "Egyptian Eyes" essentially an egg in a hole, a triangle shaped hole reminiscent of the pyramid with the eye on a dollar bill; or the tiny fancy egg cups and little spoons my dutch grandmother had for us.

My love for eggs has risen and fallen over the years. These days it's by far on the up swing with my family eating two or three dozen a week. Yes really. Eggs are one of the least expensive types of protein, rivaled maybe by beans, but they are far more versatile and quick to cook, so eggs make it into many of our meals, breakfast, lunch or dinner.  A number of years ago I started reading about how egg laying hens are treated in factory farms an was totally disgusted, so now I mostly buy organic or certified humane eggs as well as eggs from small local farms when I can. Some of the grocery store eggs are from big farms like Pete & Gerry's in New Hampshire (the medium sized ones are usually much cheaper) and some are from local farmers at the CitySeed Farmers' Markets, or when I'm lucky from my mechanic's wife at Aquilla Motors Garage down the street....

Yes, homegrown eggs at our urban gas station, lovin' it!
While humanely raised eggs are more expensive than the bargain priced cousins, when I think about how many meals we can get out of a dozen costing $2,50 or even $4, and how the chickens were not feed animal byproducts and kept in tiny cages, well, it makes me actually want to eat them.

One of my favorite staple egg dishes is rice and beans with a fried egg on top. I love the richness the yolk adds to the dish. Similarly, if we make rice and stir fried or roasted vegetables for dinner, topping it with a fried egg and some good hot sauce transforms the dish and adds some much needed protein.

Another great stand by meal (for breakfast, lunch, or dinner) is an Omelette. Some chefs will wax poetic about the sill needed to cook the perfect Omelette. Don't worry about making it perfect, or if it browns a little (like mine did accidentally) just find some good eggs, and some delicious fillings, sautéed greens and cheese, scallions, fresh tomatoes, zucchini and thyme...whatever you have on hand and a pinch of salt and pepper...It's a quick, delicious, affordable and healthy meal. 
Making the perfect soft boiled eggs is also a bit tricky. I find that you have to test it out with a specific pot, burner size and amount of water, all of those factors influence how quickly the egg will go from soft to medium to hard. In general, I cook an egg for one minute at a simmer, and it is soft, but if I use a different pot, I may get a slightly uncooked egg or a medium cooked egg.

So here's to hoping that more folks start eating eggs for dinner. It's a great quick alternative on those nights when you might have been tempted to get take out or eat not so healthy packaged foods. 

If you are looking for a fun but slightly sweet breakfast or dessert with eggs, check out this puff cake with fruit.

Please share your favorite egg dishes!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Oatmeal Take Two: Caramelized Banana and Hazelnuts

There have been many cold mornings when the thought of oatmeal for breakfast reminded me of gruel or watery plain congee; bland and totally unappealing. Maybe it was the years of eating oatmeal and peanut butter for breakfast at 6am, before heading in to work at a restaurant, or to teach; a functional breakfast, filling, cheap, and easy.  I took a multiyear break from eating oatmeal as a regular breakfast item, which must have been a good decision, because suddenly it has reentered my life, reborn and deliciously adorned, like a grown-up fancy cousin, not the plain jane I once knew.  

The thing about this upgraded oatmeal is that it is still simple and delicious; the toppings really take so little time to prepare, but they make such a difference.  I generally add some chopped nuts or nut butter to my oatmeal to add protein, and if I have it, any kind of fruit so there is something fresh, and a natural, unrefined sweetness. I almost always add a sprinkle of cinnamon, which lends a bit of sweetness, and occasionally a little drizzle of honey or maple syrup.  The easiest toppings are things that don't have to be cooked, like strawberries, shredded unsweetened coconut, walnuts and honey, or diced apples, almonds and dates.  On a weekend morning I give it a little more time and sauté some bananas with butter and maple syrup, and caramelized some hazelnuts in the same mixture, making a sweet warm decadent addition to the bowl. When I'm in a rush and I need to save the few pieces of fruit in the house for my kid's lunch or snack, a handful of raisins, cooked up plump with the oats, a big spoonful of peanut butter on top, a drizzle of milk and honey make for one of my workday winter favorites. 

Caramelized Banana & Hazelnut Oatmeal
Serves 2
Prepare plain unsweetened oatmeal (recipe below)
Make toppings while oats are cooking

2 ripe bananas. peeled
1/2 cup hazelnuts (whole or chopped)
3 tablespoons maple syrup or honey (you can use less if you want)
2 tablespoons butter (or less if you want)
pinch salt
milk (any kind)
cinnamon or other spices optional

The Nuts: Generally I add a slice of butter (less than 1 tablespoon), a drizzle of maple syrup or honey (1 to 2 tablespoons) and a pinch of salt to a frying pan set over medium heat. Simmer until butter and syrup are mixed and let them bubble and start to caramelize, about 1 minute. Watch carefully so it doesn't burn. Add a handful of whole or chopped hazelnuts. Stir frequently cooking until nuts are well coated and starting to brown. Remove nuts into a bowl or plate and set aside.

The Bananas: Add one tablespoon of butter to the frying pan right after you remove the nuts, (no need to wash it out). Add 1 or 2 tablespoons of maple syrup on honey, a pinch of salt and any spices you like. While this is bubbling over medium heat, slice 2 peeled bananas in half across the middle and then along the length. Place them in the bubbling syrup and butter. Cook until browned slightly on one side, turn over and cook on other side. If the caramel starts to get too dark, you can add a few drops of water. The bananas will start to soften, so handle gently.

To Complete: spoon one serving of oatmeal into a bowl, top with caramelized bananas and nuts. Drizzle a little milk of your choosing (cow, almond, rice etc...) around the edge. Add a sprinkle of cinnamon if you like. Enjoy.

Basic Oatmeal - Serves 2
1 Cup Rolled Oats*
2 Cups Water (can use 1/2 milk or almond milk if a creamier oatmeal is desired)
pinch salt (optional)
  1. Combine oats and water in a pot. place over medium high heat, bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer oats. Stirring occasionally. 
  2. Cook until oats are cooked through and soft. You can adjust water to make your oatmeal thinner or thicker, depending on how you like it. 
*If you have quick oats you can use the same ratio of oats to water, but they will cook much quicker. If using steel cut oats, you need 1 cup oats to 3 or 4 cups of water. Check out this recipe for how to cook them.

Really I think almost any fruit or nut is wonderful on oatmeal. Mango and strawberries are particularly delicious and beautiful...sadly we ate that bowl before any pictures could be snapped... Medjool dates, melted butter and almonds make for a deep rich version, perfect for these cold winter mornings.

What are your favorite oatmeal toppings?  Please share!