Cobb Salad 2.0 with seared quail breasts & Benton’s bacon

 

This dish came as a refreshing surprise considering the day I’d had leading up to it. I made this last week, on a Monday night, while our kitchen was in the midst of some serious home improvement. It started when our faucet went tits up. Basically the people who owned our house prior to us put in the cheapest possible equipment and the kitchen faucet was hanging on by a thread. This lead to us spending a day roaming around Home Depot, overwhelmed by the massive amounts of options available.

Which then lead to us getting a brand new sink, which lead to the whole kitchen being in complete disarray when dinner time rolled around. There were wrenches and silicone sealing stuff everywhere and, oh god, even a circular saw. I had these lovely quail breasts thawed and ready to be cooked, but my motivation level was at a steady decline as I surveyed the mess around me. It was a serious toss-up on whether I was going to cook or if we were ordering pizza. The pizza was looking like a front-runner, but somehow I resisted its siren call.

And when I managed to whip up this dinner about thirty minutes later, I damn near felt like a miracle worker.

But I can’t take all the credit because I had some amazing ingredients to work with. The first of which was some Benton’s bacon, a gift from my dear friend DB’s parents. They had come into town a month or so ago and I took them to my husband’s restaurant where he showered us with amazing, delicious treats. As a totally unnecessary (but truly awesome!!) thank you, they sent us the gift that keeps on giving — the gift of bacon. If you haven’t had Benton’s bacon yet, you are missing out. I would suggest you immediately click here and order some for yourself. Be prepared to be wait-listed, this stuff is in serious demand, but the four-week delay will be well worth it.

Quail Breasts — bone out, skin on

I also had some Manchester Farms quail breasts. This is a South Carolina-based company that I buy from every week at my job — though we tend to buy mainly whole or semi-boned quail. The breasts were an item we had ordered a few months ago to run as a special and I snatched up a few packs to stash away in my freezer. They cook quickly, are easy to eat (no teeny tiny bones to nibble around) and are way more fun than chicken. If you haven’t eaten quail before, you really should give it a try. Quail has a flavor almost like a cross between chicken and duck, and it’s extremely versatile — I’ve had it grilled, chicken-fried and, most recently, in a preserved plum sauce.

Next, from the depths of my fridge, I brought out hard-boiled eggs, goat cheese, butter lettuce, tomatoes and a few random veggies. I started by tossing some cauliflower and brussels sprouts in olive oil and roasting them in the oven. I looked at the rest of my ingredients and thought — hmmm…Cobb salad!

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Learning to love frittatas…

Frittatas are one of those foods I’ve always felt I should like. I love eggs, I love breakfast foods at any time of the day and I love dishes that allow you to utilize whatever produce you have on hand. And frittatas are all of those things. They are made with eggs. They can be eaten for breakfast, brunch or even, as magazine writers love to recommend, as “a light supper.” And they can be made with just about anything you happen to have hiding in your fridge.

So what’s my problem? It seems like frittatas and I should love each other and yet, I keep my distance. My main issue is that they always seem dry. I like my eggs runny — there is nothing sadder to me than overcooked eggs. My friend Ariel has actually made me the one and only frittata that I’ve enjoyed — it was moist and delicious. All of the others I’ve eaten tasted like disappointment. So I learned my lesson. Whenever I see a frittata recipe, my eyes skip right over it. I avoid them on breakfast menus. And I certainly have never bothered to try to make one.

Until last weekend when I made this beauty…

I was actually hoping to make something entirely different, but I didn’t have all of the ingredients. Then a recipe from Bon Appetit poked out of my binder and caught my eye. I had ripped out the page for a different reason (these ricotta tortelloni) but when I started reading the Onion Frittata recipe, I decided just to go for it. I had all of the ingredients (for the most part) and it seemed easy as well as healthy. And, as an extra bonus, I only needed one pan to make it.

First up, I cooked a cup of sliced onions until they were golden brown and tender. (Next time I might dice them to lessen their stringiness.) Once they were finished, I added in some fresh spinach for some extra oomph. Then I dumped in the whisked eggs which were mixed with grated Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper and herbs.

I was short on some of the herbs, but I did — for once! — have basil so I threw that in along with some red chili flakes to give it some pep. Eggs love pep.

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A delicious exercise in resisting the allure of restaurant brunch

My husband and I had a list of things we needed to get done last Sunday — a fairly long list too. Usually, since it’s our only day off together, our Sundays are full of complete and utter laziness. Many of them start with us deciding to go out to brunch, which, I have finally discovered, is why we never manage to get anything done. People might say breakfast is the most important meal of the day but, believe me, brunch is nothing but a sneaky productivity killer.

First, it always takes forever. This is not an insult to the restaurants we frequent, I’m sure the staff is doing all they can to hurry things up. It just seems that whenever we think brunch will only take a little while, it’s a minimum of three hours before we get back home. Sometimes there is a long wait to get seated or maybe the kitchen staff is in the weeds, but more often than not, the worst time-sucking culprit is the brunch cocktail. You have a couple Bloody Marys while waiting for your eggs to arrive. Then once you’re done eating, wandering aimlessly around Target sounds way better than going home to do chores. I’m beginning to think my husband knows this too. Just as he knows my weakness for a good breakfast-approved cocktail.

So this Sunday when he looked at our to-do list and suggested we start by going out to brunch, I was wise to his tricks. Luckily I had a recipe for Baked Eggs with Bacon and Spinach picked out and ready to go. While it looks pretty enough to make up for staying home instead of going out, I made sure it was simple enough that my lazy Sunday morning was not totally ruined by ambition.

Now right off the bat I had to change things up. I didn’t really mean to, but I realized belatedly that we were out of spinach. We did, however, have a bunch of kale looking for a good home. So the night before I blanched it until it was just tender, then gave it a quick sauté with onions and garlic for added flavor.

The next morning, I started by cooking the meat. I had some lovely pepper bacon from Nueskes in Wisconsin. But, of course, I didn’t quite have enough for both of us, so I threw in a couple of breakfast sausages too. Lately I have been dreaming about breakfast sausages. This seemed like a great time to make my dreams come true.

While the meat was cooking, I toasted some bread for the base layer. The recipe calls for a whole wheat English muffin but (are you sensing a trend here?) I didn’t have any. However I did have some scraps of brioche left over from an event my husband did earlier in the week. It worked perfectly since they were already cut into strips, and brioche is way more fun than an English muffin.

Next I went searching for a couple of nice-sized ramekins for us to use. Most of ours are fairly small and I wanted this breakfast to be filling enough to keep us satiated through our chores. I remembered my little Le Creuset French onion soup bowls that don’t get used as much as I wish they would. They were the perfect size and added a little flair to the presentation.

The final step was layering — first the bread, then the roughly chopped meat (with a small tab of butter too, just because) and then the kale. Make a small well in the greens and drop in one egg and a dash of cream. It also worked just fine with milk if you forgot to buy cream. Ahem.

Top the eggs with a sprinkling of salt and pepper, then pop the whole shebang in the oven. Wait about ten minutes or so, but be careful not to overcook the eggs. The liquidy yolk is basically the sauce for this dish. Without that moisture, it might be a little dry.

While the eggs bake, your time is best spent making a cocktail. Sure, you’re not out on the town at some fancy brunch spot, but dammit, it’s the weekend and you deserve a pre-noon drink. I won’t tell anyone. I promise.

Then, after a bit, check the oven. Your egg should go from this…

…to this…

A little Parmesan cheese grated on top and a smattering of brioche bread crumbs makes this an easy dish worth staying home for. And our chore day was successful! We were so productive I even got to take a nap — which is a serious accomplishment in my book.

The midnight torta comes home for brunch…

I’d like to introduce you to a friend of mine.

If your mouth didn’t immediately water upon seeing that picture, I’m not so sure we can ever be friends…

That was harsh I know, but it’s how I feel. It’s been more than a year since I was eating this delicious sandwich and honestly, I can’t believe it’s been 12 months since it was in my mouth. It kind of makes me want to cry, because simply put, this is one of the best (and easiest) brunch dishes I have ever eaten.

Here’s the back story to my love affair: I spotted the ‘Midnight Torta’ in an issue of Food & Wine and was immediately obsessed with it. It was constantly at the front of my “must make” stack of recipes, yet it kept being pushed aside because I never seemed to have all of the ingredients, particularly the main one — the torta rolls. And yet I couldn’t let go. I was determined to one day make this glorious-looking sandwich, especially since it is so named because it’s the perfect thing to eat after a night out drinking.

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The wonderful world of ramen…

Around three years ago, I rediscovered ramen. Before that my go-to soup when I wanted something easy and comforting was either cream of tomato or pho with fatty brisket and lots of lime. Ramen, in my mind, was still classified as a cheap college food, one that I hadn’t contemplated since graduation. Then one day, either sick or hungover, I was at Safeway when these intriguing “fresh” ramen bowls caught my eye. That was when I had my first Annie Chun Soup Bowl (Chinese Chicken flavor) and my whole world changed.

I won’t delve too much into the company, you can read about it yourself if you’re curious, but I will say what interested me from the beginning was that they are natural (no MSG), fresh (no fried noodles) and low in fat (only 2 grams of fat per pack). My first soup bowl was actually only a minor success. I liked the noodles, especially their texture, but it was bland. There was no love in that bowl. Then I read the recommendation for throwing in whatever veggies/protein you have around, which strangely hadn’t occurred to me before then. So I bought a second package and gave it another chance.

This time I was hooked.

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Breakfast of Champions

I love breakfast. I love everything to do with breakfast — except for the waking up early to eat it part, which is why brunch is really quite ideal for me. Plus at brunch it’s acceptable to drink, whereas at breakfast you might get a judgmental side-eye for your Kir Royale. But at brunch, it’s never the lunch part that I go for. I am never even swayed or tempted, it’s always breakfast that catches my attention. Give me a nice strata or just some soft-scrambled eggs. I love hollandaise, hash browns and sausage drizzled with maple syrup. I love pancakes, waffles and French toast. I even like oatmeal and cream of wheat. Heck, simple buttered toast with raspberry jam can thrill me.

So when I saw this recipe in Cooking Light for a rosti casserole with baked eggs, I knew I had to try it. Now right from the get-go, I was a little skeptical. To someone who doesn’t know better, a rosti may appear to just be baked hash browns. But I used to cook professionally at a high-end restaurant and during one menu cycle, I had to make rostis to go with the steak. For several months, I actually had rosti nightmares and for very good reason — they are a huge pain the ass, especially when making them in large quantities.

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