Each morning I have the same dilemma- make a quick and usual breakfast, or make it an occasion by serving special foods that are timely to prepare but sure to please.
The need-to-please disease I have tells me that small breakfasts should induce guilt. But what if I could serve a sizeable breakfast without all the struggle and extra time in the morning? I didn’t want to just put any old leftovers together- that would be a bit too obvious….
Luckily my husband isn’t a picky guy and doesn’t snub food the same way I would if I didn’t like it, which actually made me want to do a nice thing- not take up too much time in the kitchen (which throws off our entire schedule entirely), without skimping on the food, either.
I decided to serve up eggs baked in ramekins (eggs en cocotte), a savory pastry filled with spinach and feta cheese (Spinach Borek), a mixed salad, and sliced grapefruit. Not too fancy, but just enough to please, I hoped.
I prepared the baked eggs or ‘Oeufs en Cocotte‘, according to the base of a recipe I saw on a Julia Child French Chef episode. I changed some things to make each dish of two eggs baked in a ramekin then set in hot water to our own liking: Mine was mixed with leftover homemade buttermilk dressing and on my husband’s I poured a simple, plain leftover tomato sauce (see details below). After about fifteen minutes of baking in the oven, they were done. In the meantime, I was able to set the table and prepare the next dishes.
The savory pastry is a favorite in our home, mainly because the smell of baked phyllo puts me in a wonderful mood. Based on a combination of a recipe for Turkish borek from my dearest friend, Inci, and a Greek recipe for spanakopita handed down loosely to me from my cousin’s Yaya (grandmother), I have finally found a recipe that works for us. This one was prepared yesterday, but we really couldn’t finish it last night. It was too hot to eat and this is one dish where patience allows you to enjoy it more. The cheese has time to set and the dough is not as flimsy when it’s cooled. Today three pieces were reheated in the microwave for about two minutes and resulted in a perfect, warm taste. The cheese was set and the spinach had time to mingle with it, just enough time to complement each other nicely (recipe below).
The salad was super easy. In my conscious effort to eat up the largest carton of mixed organic greens possibly for sale at Costco, I decided now was a perfect time to eat it up- and give my husband an excuse to eat something green. Just throw the greens in a large bowl, top with sliced tomatoes and drizzle the mix with olive oil, a pinch of salt and dried parsley flakes. Voila! It’s done.
I almost forgot to mention the proud addition I just had to put on the table- a small bowl of my homemade crème fraiche, which I had been experimenting with all week. Until I get it perfect, I suggest you just buy the best one on the market today: the Vermont Butter and Cheese Company’s Crème Fraiche, sold at Trader Joe’s stores or online.
The last addition was the plate of peeled and sliced grapefruit, a great way to end the meal and clean the palate after all the dairy at the table. The important thing to remember about grapefruit is that if it’s peeled properly, you won’t taste any bitterness; instead it will taste sweet and refreshing. It’s a bit of work, but don’t have it any other way.
Brunch was prepared and served today within a half an hour. It was delicious, healthy and very pleasing to both of us. There were no excuses left for today’s schedule to go awry. Uh oh, what have I started?
- 2 cups buttermilk
- 1 whole hard-boiled egg
- ¾ cup olive oil
- 10 sprigs parsley
- 5 sprigs celery leaves (optional)
- 2 cloves garlic
- 4 scallions, green and white parts chopped
- 1 handful of any fresh green herbs on hand, such as sorrel, nettle, watercress, or cilantro
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- Mix buttermilk, egg, oil, parsley, celery leaves, garlic, scallions, and herbs in a blender or food processor until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Makes 6 to 8 servings of dressed salad.
Eggs Baked in Ramekins (Oeufs en Cocotte) can be found in Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Fortieth Anniversary Edition, Volume One, pages 123-124, written by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck. New York, Alfred A. Knopf. 2001.
*Buttermilk Dressing recipe comes from the book Slow Food Nation’s Come to the Table: The Slow Food Way of Living, courtesy of Tierra Miguel Farm, p. 118)
- One package of frozen phyllo dough (same kind used to prepare baklava)
- 1 bag of frozen spinach (one pound)
- 1 pound feta cheese block or crumbled
- 2 eggs
- approximately ½ cup each of olive oil and cold milk, mixed together in a cup
- large rectangular glass baking dish
- 2 tablespoons black seeds or sesame seeds
- Defrost the phyllo dough in the refrigerator about 24 hours before you plan to make this dish. When the dough is completely defrosted and cold, open it up to its full length and lay it horizontally.
- With kitchen shears or scissors, cut the dough in half vertically. Reserve half in the fridge to keep cold and keep the other half out to prepare on your counter.
- Using a pastry brush, brush the bottom of your pyrex dish with a mixture of ½ cup olive oil and ½ cup milk (this should be in a cup next to you as you work). Lay a sheet of phyllo dough on top of it, then continue to paint each sheet one by one until you have finished this half of the dough.
- Mix the feta cheese, eggs and frozen spinach in a bowl until well mixed. Pour on top of the phyllo dough you have painted in the pyrex dish. Pat the mixture down so it lies flat.
- Bring out the cold dough from your fridge and continue to pain each layer individually until you are finished. Brush the very last layer generously and then add either sesame seeds or black seeds, but not both.
- Bake in a 350º F oven for approximately 50 minutes, or until the top is nicely browned.
- Allow to cool before cutting.