Baked eggs with bacon and spinach

Sunday morning around 5 am, Joshua woke up screaming in his bed.  Luckily for me, before I had a chance to do anything, Cliff got up to go check on him.  Cliff thinks Joshua had a bad dream, because as soon as Cliff picked him up and started talking to him, Joshua calmed right down and went back to sleep.

To thank Cliff for taking care of that 5 am screaming, I wanted to make him an extra special breakfast.  The usual Sunday morning French toast and sausages won’t do it.  I found this easy recipe which I happen to have most the ingredients for: Baked eggs with bacon and spinach.

The original recipe was found on Epicurious.  I’ve changed it up a little bit because I didn’t want to use heavy cream, and I didn’t have English muffin on hand.  So below is what I did with the recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 4 slices applewood-smoked bacon
  • 4-ounce  baby spinach
  • 2 slices of whole wheat bread
  • 4 large eggs
  • 4 tablespoons of 1% milk
  • Special equipment: 4 ramekins

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 400°F. Cook bacon in large skillet over medium heat until crisp; transfer to paper towels. Pour off drippings from skillet; reserve drippings. Add spinach and milk to pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss over medium heat, 1 minute. Transfer to strainer set over bowl to drain. Brush four 1-cup ramekins with drippings. Crumble bacon.

Cut slice of bread with a round cookie cutter.  Place 1 toasted round of bread in each ramekin. Divide spinach among ramekins, then sprinkle bacon over, dividing equally. With back of spoon, shape well in center of each ramekin. Gently crack 1 egg into well in each ramekin, keeping yolk intact. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Bake eggs until whites are just set but yolks are still runny, 14 minutes.

I enjoyed it so much that I was almost hoping Cliff wouldn’t like it so that I can eat his share.  Unfortunately, he liked it too so he polished up his portion.  This would be something easy but special enough to make for a brunch get-together.  I can imagine doing this in the summer with fresh basil and tomatoes.  I think you can vary it up quite a bit with whatever ingredients you like.  14 minutes in the oven at 400F was perfect.  The egg white was fully set, and the yoke was just starting to set but still runny.  Delicious!

Asian Pear and Avocado Salad with Garam Masala Syrup

Sorry I’ve been quiet for a little while here.  Last week was a little crazy with work, and then I got sick with the flu on the weekend.  Oh the flu, how I loathe the flu.  Argh!

Anyway, just before I got the flu, I did keep my promise to myself on my weekly cooking challenge of making a new dish.  I tried a pear and avocado salad with garam masala syrup.  The name of the salad threw me off because it sounded so odd.  I mean, I understand using garam masala in cooking meat dishes.  But in a salad?  Really?

*****

This recipe came from Epicurious, cut-and-pasted here:

For garam masala syrup
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 (2-inch-long) piece cinnamon stick
  • 2 (1- by 1/4-inch) pieces fresh ginger, smashed
  • 2 teaspoons green or white cardamom pods, lightly crushed
  • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds, lightly crushed
  • 10 whole black peppercorns, lightly crushed
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes

For salad

  • 1/4 cup raw green (hulled) pumpkin seeds (not roasted)
  • 2 firm-ripe California avocados (1 to 1 1/4 lb)
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 Asian pears (1 lb total)
  • 4 oz mixed microgreens or baby greens (4 cups)

Make syrup:
Bring all syrup ingredients to a boil in a 1-quart heavy saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Reduce heat and simmer until syrup is reduced to about 1/2 cup, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let steep, covered, 1 hour. Pour syrup through a sieve into a bowl, discarding solids.

Prepare salad:
Heat a dry heavy 10-inch skillet over moderate heat until hot, then toast pumpkin seeds, stirring constantly, until puffed and beginning to pop, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer seeds to a plate and season with salt.

Halve, pit, and peel avocados, then thinly slice lengthwise. Gently toss slices with 2 tablespoons lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste, then gently toss with 1/4 cup syrup.

Halve pears and core, then thinly slice lengthwise. Toss pear slices with remaining 2 tablespoons lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Stir in remaining 1/4 cup syrup.

Drain pears, reserving syrup, and arrange slices on 4 plates. Transfer avocado slices to plates with a slotted spoon, discarding syrup. Toss greens with reserved syrup from pears and salt and pepper to taste. Mound greens next to avocado and pear slices and sprinkle with pumpkin seeds.

*****

The recipe says to use 2 cups of water, but I don’t find that necessary.  1 1/2 cup was plenty and it took long enough to reduce it down.  I wouldn’t suggest using 2 cups of water.

I didn’t have pumpkin seeds, so I didn’t put those on.  I think it would have been good with some pumpkin seeds or maybe toasted cashew nuts.  And I didn’t use asian pears, as I had some Bartlett pears on hand at the perfect ripeness.  I don’t think using Bartlett was a distraction from the salad.

Now, the real star of the show, of course, is the garam masala syrup.  Oh yeah, that was one very interesting dressing!  The guinea pigs I made the salad for all agreed that the dressing was interesting, and took a little bit of getting used to.  But at the end everyone decided that they liked it.  The ginger flavor really came through, but you can also tell there are a lot of other flavors working their magic together.

My favorite part of this recipe was making the garam masala syrup.  Cliff gave me a mortar and pestle set for Christmas 2 years ago, and I love every chance I get to use it.  I used it to crush up the peppercorn, cardamom pods, and coriander seeds.  All the spices, ginger, sugar, gets boiled and reduced down to a thick and golden colored syrup.  It is spicy, sweet, tangy, and just…interesting!

This is something that doesn’t take a lot of effort, especially when my box of “exotic spices” are properly stocked on my shelf, but gives an interesting twist to a regular dinner.  Two thumbs up!

Sorry, no pictures of the final salad.  I was so excited to eat it that I forgot to take pictures of the salad.

Buttermilk roast chicken

My friend who gave me the Larabar recipe told me about the Smitten Kitchen blog site.  I was scrolling through the site when I came across this buttermilk roast chicken recipe.

I’ve never used buttermilk as a brine before, and the recipe sounded so easy to make, so I decided to try this as my weekly cooking challenge.  The chicken legs bathed in the seasoned brine for 24 hours, and got roasted for about 35 minutes in the oven.  It was probably one of the easiest recipes ever, and the chicken was totally tender and juicy.  This can totally be a week night meal, and only requires about 5 or 10 minutes to throw together the night before.  Two thumbs up!

*Quick update: The Smitten Kitchen web site says to marinade the chicken for 24 to 48 hours.  I made it the first time after marinading for 24 hours, and it was great.  Tonight I roasted the chicken after marinading for 48 hours, and it was even better!

A weekend full of food

I started feeling sick on Friday, so we made no set plans for the weekend in case I get too sick to do anything. It turns out that it was just a head cold, and not some nasty flu that hit me hard around Christmas time.  We figured that as long as I don’t sneeze on people’s faces, I might get away with pretending to look normal.  So on Saturday we went out for lunch.  Cliff suggested a place called Meat & Bread.  The name of the place didn’t quite get me interested.  I mean, really?  Meat & Bread?  It didn’t seem very creative to me.

But from the moment we walked in, I was sold.  First, the decor was simple, with a vintage feel to it.  The entire place was open, with a big communal table to share.  The blackboard menu only had a handful of items on it.  To order, you first talk to the person who’s cutting up their main attraction–the porcheta.  It’s a large piece of pork with crackling on it, roasted (I assume) until the crackling is crispy and flavorful.  If you’re ordering the porcheta (and most people do), this person will slice off your portion of the pork, top it up with some crunchy skin, and serve it on a chiabeta bun.  The next guy gives you a squirt of homemade mustard on a wooden board, and drizzle on some salsa verde on your sandwich.

I loved the idea of the sandwich being served on a wooden board.  How original!  And how cool!

Yes, it is just a sandwich, but man, it was one of the best I’ve ever had.  It is truly just meat and bread.  The meat is super tender and juicy, and the salsa verde makes it oh so flavorful.  I ordered mine with the bun to share with Joshua, and Cliff ordered his without a bun so his portion of the meat was served in a little dish.  All three of us devour our food and smacked our lips with happiness afterwards.

After filling our bellies with delicious meat and bread, we walked across the street to Revolver.  I’ve never heard of the place, but apparently Cliff has a secret life here.  This place makes your coffee using an exact amount of water (they weigh the water!) so that your coffee is the exact same strength every time.

I am not a coffee connoisseur, so places like this intimidate me.  I have no idea what I can even order, so Cliff ordered their featured coffee.  And just based on past experience at snobby coffee shops, I’d better not ask any stupid questions or they’ll deem me unworthy of smelling their roast.  So, I did the sensible thing and kept my mouth shut.  However, I couldn’t help but snap some pictures when the barista was making the coffee.  He looked up at me when he heard my shutter click, and I was just about to apologize when he said, “take as many pictures as you want.”  Hmm, ok!  I took that as a hint that I am allowed to ask questions, so I asked, why did you weigh the water, why do you make it with a metal filter, why did you cover it with a lid, is this scientific or tradition, blah blah blah.  The barista was very nice and actually explained to me why they do things a certain way.

The coffee was delicious, and I didn’t have to feel stupid asking all those questions.  It probably isn’t my all-time-favorite coffee, but it was a very neat experience with quite a good coffee.

We took it easy in the afternoon, and didn’t do much for the rest of the day.  I had been struggling with trying something new to cook this week.  When I saw the package of wholewheat tortillas shells out of the corner of my eyes, I had an idea.  A while ago I was at a party and someone brought some tortillas chips they baked.  So I found a Christmas cookie cutter and proceeded to cut up some tortillas shells, and baked the pieces in the oven at 350F for 10 minutes.  They turned out crunchy and went really well with some store-bought hummus.  Yes, store-bought hummus.  Come on, I can’t do everything!

 

Then Sunday was a day of experimenting with a recipe a friend gave me.  She posted a recipe for making her version of the Larabar, and I used the recipe as inspiration for this peanut butter and jelly bar:

It’s just dried pitted dates, dried apricot, and Adams crunchy peanut butter.  I got the dried fruits from Parthenon in Kitsilano.  I have to say, the bar was totally delicious and so easy to make!  All the ingredients are natural, with no added sugar or preservatives.  Joshua loved it!  I think I’ll just make these from now on, rather than paying an arm and a leg for the Larabar.

I didn’t have anything all that exciting planned for dinner.  Cliff said he felt like having osso buco, so I just gladly complied.  A while ago my brother made us osso buco and it was the first time we had it, and we’ve been hooked since.  Joshua loves osso buco too, so that’s always a bonus when he is willing to eat some iron-rich food.

Food is such a big part of our lives, and bonds us together with great memories.

Garlic confit

For this week’s cooking challenge, I haven’t been able to find an inspiring recipe to test out this weekend, so I cheated.  I didn’t “really” cook anything new, but sort of.

When I was scouring the internet for duck confit recipes a few weeks ago, I read in one of the recipes that you can put an entire bulb of garlic in with the duck while making the confit, and the garlic becomes garlic confit.  That was an interesting concept.  So in this last batch of duck confit I made, I threw in a bulb of garlic (with the top sliced off).

The recipe didn’t say anything about how to use this garlic confit.  I figured we’ll just try eating it with the duck.  I fished the bulb out of the duck fat, fried it a bit in a pan to heat it through, and just served it with the duck confit for lunch yesterday, along with some sauteed okra.

The garlic confit was a hit with both Cliff and I.  Joshua enjoyed it too.  Unfortunately we only had one bulb to share, leaving all of us craving for more.  The cloves have turned brown from the cooking process.  It has lost the pungent-ness, and become mild and sweet and fragrant.  Using a fork, you can easily squish the flesh out of the paper.  It’s almost like a spread.  You can mash it a little and eat it with the duck.  I’m sure it would have been a good side with pretty much anything.  I’m sure it’ll be an awesome addition to a pasta sauce, roasted vegetables, maybe a steak sauce, or anything you can use mashed garlic with.

 

Gruyere and parmesan cheese souffle

I’ve been thinking about attempting a souffle dish for a while.  For no particular reason, I’ve never had souffle before.  The only time I’ve heard of it is when food related TV shows talk about how difficult it is for a souffle to rise properly.

I found a classic souffle dish recipe on Epicurious, and tried it out tonight.  It’s an interesting concept to make a roux first, add egg yolks, add cheese, and fold in whipped egg whites.  It’s almost like making a savoury cake, but without baking powder.  The souffle dish was buttered and coated with parmesen cheese first before the batter is poured in.

The whole time the souffle was baking, I was as nervous as waiting for a first date to show up.  When the time was finally up, I took out the souffle with joy in my heart.  It rose beautifully and browned nicely on top.

We had the souffle, New York steak, and sauteed kale for dinner tonight.  Joshua really liked the souffle and ate quite a bit of it.  It’s a very baby-friendly dish.  It was certainly not complicated, and the prep time was about 15’ish minutes.  So what do I think of the souffle?  Well, I thought it was decent.  It was very light and airy, just about the right amount of seasoning and flavor.  The reason why I didn’t give it a two-thumbs-up is because I find that it lacks interest.  It would have been so much more interesting if there was some chives, or jalapeno, or sundried tomato, or green onion, or bacon, or something.  I think this recipe on its own is a very good base, but you would certainly want to liven it up a bit with something more interesting.

 

 

過年

Ok, so I didn’t get around to making souffle this past week as a part of my weekly cooking challenge of trying something new.  But I feel that I have a decent excuse.  It’s Chinese New Year tomorrow, and traditionally you gather all your family members and cook up a big feast on New Years Eve.  So I cooked up some Chinese food and had some family members over for dinner tonight.  It is my first time making two of the dishes, so I consider that fulfilling my weekly cooking challenge.  The steamed whole fish and the preserved greens sauteed with ground pork are new to me.

These are all dishes my parents taught me.  I think my parents tend to skip steps when they teach me how to make something.  Because for some reason, my food never tastes the same as theirs.  Tonight was no exception.  It always feels like a flavor is missing when I make something.  Luckily, we had Cliff’s side of the family over tonight, and they never had my parents’ cooking, so it’s not like they’ll know mine is no even close to the real thing.  Everyone seemed to have enjoyed the food.

And you’re right, I didn’t make a proper 10 course meal.  Here in Canada, we don’t get Chinese New Year’s Day off, so I do have to work tomorrow.  Spending 12 hours cooking a 10 course meal today would not have been ideal.

新年快樂!!

Duck confit with spicy candied kumquat sauce and sauteed kale

Last weekend, I made duck confit for the first time.  By the time I finished cooking it, I read the last step of the instructions–wait a week before you eat it.  Doh!

So our guinea  pig friends, Ray and Sally, came over to test out the duck confit with us tonight.  I pan seared the confit and put the whole pan in the oven to heat through, sauteed some kale with garlic and grapeseed oil, and made a spicy candied kumquat sauce to go on top of the confit.

The much anticipated duck confit was, well, decent.  I wouldn’t say it was the best confit I’ve ever had.  In the process of pan searing it, the skin stuck to the pan and tore off, taking a piece of my heart with it.  That was supposed to be the best part!  The flavor was pretty good and salty, the way I like it.  I think next time I’ll cook the confit in a lower temperature for a longer period of time and see if the meat can get more tender.  The spicy kumquat sauce was quite good, and I thought the kale was a good pairing with the confit.

We had the Sterling cabernet sauvignon and an endive grapefruit salad to go with dinner, and a blueberry lemon crumble for dessert.  Oh, and Ray made tuna tartar with endives.

I felt very richly blessed to have people to test my food on and enjoy a meal with.

Next week, I’m going to attempt making soufflé!  That’s right, the cooking challenge continues!  Anyone want to come and be my guinea pig next week?