Read an Excerpt
This year we were very much taken by surprise when one of our most basic assumptions seemed to have a stake driven through its heart. All at once, around Thanksgiving, America decided it didn’t want to cook anymore. From upscale food magazines to newspaper food sections and even news magazines, publications were loaded with bright ideas on how not to cook and get away with it. This 180-degree turnaround goes by several names: faking it, semi-homemade (that’s TV cook Sandra Lee), can-opener gourmet. We shuddered at the very idea of giving up cooking for Thanksgiving, which struck us as positively un-American.
But once we thought about it, we concluded that breaking all the rules and making creative use of what’s available is a completely American thing to doat Thanksgiving or any other time of the year. And then we realized that in making the selections for this series, we ourselves have always been devoted to the smart shortcut recipe, not to mention using high- quality convenience foods to speed things along.
Few recipes in this book delight us as much as Garlicky Potato Chips (doctored commercial chips) or Instant Black Beans, a fast take on the Brazilian classic. Quick-cooking grits turn out to be just great in the right hands, much to our amazement. Bobby Flay’s no-fuss turkey is a winner, as is Nigella Lawson’s nearly instant Bitter Orange Ice Cream (and no, you don’t need an ice cream machine). As long as the results are worth it, we’re all in favor of the quick fix, and we’ve got plenty of quick fixes in this book.
In America, there’s usually a diametrically opposite trend for everything, and food is no exception. If we don’t want Grandma’s Thanksgiving anymore, we do want her recipes. This year we were inundated with great hand-me-downs, from aunts and dads as well as grandmothers. Among our favorites are a terrific French creamy chocolate cake, a fabulous spaghettini with tuna and raisins, and a blueberry cobbler that’s the best we’ve ever tasted. These heirloom recipes fall into the category of dishes we can’t stop making, an occupational hazard of putting this book together.
Instead of keeping these passions to ourselves, we’ve decided to share them. We’re adding a new category to our list of top ten this year: our own favorite recipes from the book. The fact is, though, whether the source is a tag on a gadget, a radio station’s Web site, a chef’s cookbook, a food magazine, or a regional newspaper, we love every recipe in this book and will make them all again, our test of something really good. And we think you too will find dozens of doable recipes that you’ll return to, some of them so insanely simple that you’ll want to share them with your noncooking friends.
FRAN MC CULLOUGH and MOLLY STEVENS
breakfast and brunch
Eggs with Crunchy Bread Crumbs 72 Baked Eggs and Mushrooms in Ham Crisps 74 Creamy Scrambled Eggs for a Crowd 76 George Davis’s Pancakes 78 Amazing Overnight Waffles 80 Buttermilk Scones 82 Never-a-Leftover Breakfast Bread Pudding 84 Sausage and Cheese Grits Casserole 86
SOURCE: The Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers COOK: Judy Rodgers Eggs with Crunchy Bread Crumbs
Just when you think there’s no new way in the world to cook something so simple as a fried egg, along comes this delightful recipe, in which the eggs are cooked right over crisp bread crumbs. The combination of the familiar floppy eggs, the rich yolks, the crunchy crumbs, and a final sizzle of vinegar is amazingly good. Judy Rodgers likes to have these eggs for dinner when she’s eating alone, but the dish also appears on the lunch menu at her San Francisco restaurant, Zuni Cafe, accompanied by bacon or sausage and grilled vegetables or roasted mushrooms.
You’ll need a very large pan or two pans to make this dish for four. This is a terrific breakfast for houseguests.
3 tablespoons packed bread crumbs (see note) Salt About 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil A few fresh thyme or marjoram leaves (optional) 2 large eggs About 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, or sherry vinegar
Sprinkle the bread crumbs with salt to taste in a small bowl and add enough olive oil to just oversaturate them.
Add the crumbs to a 6- or 8-inch French steel omelet pan or nonstick skillet over medium heat. (If you like your eggs over easy, reserve some of the oiled crumbs to sprinkle over the eggs just before you flip them.) Let the crumbs warm through, then swirl the pan as they begin drying outthey’ll make a quiet, staticky sound. Stir once or twice.
The moment you see the crumbs begin to color, quickly add the remaining oil and the thyme or marjoram, if using, then crack the eggs direectly onto the crumbs. Cook the eggs as you like them.
Slide the eggs onto a warm plate. Immediately add the vinegar to the pan, swirling it once. Pour the sizzling vinegar ooooover the eggs and serve.
*By “bread crumbs,” Rodgers doesn’t mean the kind you buy in a container at the supermarket. She’s talking about good chewy peasant bread, such as ciabatta, that’s slightly stale. You can grate the crumbs by hand or in a food processor. If you’re making the eggs for more than four people, it’s easiest to prepare the crumbs ahead in the oven instead of the skillet. Toast them in a 425-degree oven until they are the color of weak tea, then scatter them in the skillet and proceed with the rest of the olive oil and the eggs.
* The herbs are a very nice touch, if you have them available. Rodgers also suggests rosemary, but we found it a little strong for this dish. You can also add a subtle garlic flavor by rubbing the bread with a cut clove of garlic before you grate the crumbs.
* Making this dish is a bit like making a stir-fry: have everything at hand, and you won’t have any trouble. If you’re searching for the vinegar or plucking the herbs at the last minute, things can get tricky.
SOURCE: Gourmet COOK: Lori W. Powell Baked Eggs and Mushrooms in Ham Crisps
We first discovered these little beauties one weekend in the country when we wanted something special but didn’t feel like a trip to the store. Made from ordinary ingredients, eggs and ham, with the added surprise of creamy sautéed mushrooms, this breakfast is elegant enough to serve to fancy company yet simple enough to make just for yourself. The recipe is easily scaled up or down accordingly, as long as you have the right number of muffin tins. Small ramekins work too. The mushrooms can be prepared the night before, so all you need do in the morning is crack the eggs.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter 3/4 pound button mushrooms, finely sliced 1/4 cup finely chopped shallots 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 2 tablespoons crcme fraîche or sour cream 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh tarragon, plus whole leaves for garnish (see note) 12 slices Black Forest or Virginia ham (preferably without holes or tears; about 10 ounces) 12 large eggs Buttered brioche, challah toast, or other toast, for serving
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly oil twelve 1/2-cup muffin cups. Heat the butter in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, shallots, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring, until the mushrooms are tender and the liquid they give off has evaporated, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the crcme fraîche or sour cream and tarragon.
Fit a slice of ham into each of the 12 muffin cups (the ends will stick up and hang over the edges of the cups). Divide the mushrooms among the cups and crack 1 egg into each. Bake in the middle of the oven until the egg whites are cooked but yolks are still runny, about 15 minutes. Season the eggs with salt and pepper. Lift from the muffin cups carefully using 2 spoons or small spatulas. Serve immediately on the brioche or other toast, garnished with tarragon leaves.
* For a quicker version, try the recipe without the mushroomsjust a thin slice of ham cradling a single baked egg. Or play around with other fillings, such as a bit of leftover sautéed spinach or creamed chickenbut nothing too watery.
* If you make the mushrooms ahead, let them come to room temperature or add a few minutes to the baking time.
* If you don’t have fresh tarragon on hand, use a scant teaspoon of dried and skip the garnish.
* If there are holes or tears in the ham slices, overlap or patch them as best you can.
* The eggs come out with runny yolks and just-set whites. If you like your eggs cooked more, just leave them in the oven for a few minutes longer.
If you find that you’re always fishing bits of shell out of the egg after you crack it, you might try this advice from Alton Brown in I’m Just Here for the Food. Instead of cracking an egg on the edge of a bowl, which drives the shell fragments into the egg, try cracking it with a flat blow on the counter. It may take a little practice to get the amount of force right, but you’ll find that the shell breaks cleanly.
SOURCE: Eula Mae’s Cajun Kitchen by Eula Mae Doré and Marcelle R. Bienvenu COOK: Eula Mae Doré Creamy Scrambled Eggs for a Crowd
This method creates some of the fluffiest, softest scrambled eggs we’ve ever tasted.
We were skeptical about making them in the microwave, but faced with a gang of overnight guests, we decided to give it a try. The technique worked like a charm. While this recipe is not lightning fast (you do have to start and stop the microwave a few times), it takes only about 10 minutes and leaves the stove free for bacon, sausage, or whatever else you’re cooking. And if you choose a decent-looking microwave-safe bowl, you can serve the eggs directly from it, meaning less to clean up. Eula Mae is the chef of the McIlhenny empire on Avery Island, the spot where Tabasco sauce is made. Here’s what she has to say about these eggs: “I can tell you that this dish will make your head and tummy feel a lot better after a long night of partying.” Let the bon temps rouler!
serves about 12
16 jumbo eggs (or 20 large) 1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened 1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon Accent seasoning (see note) 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 2 cups milk
Whisk together all the ingredients in a large microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for 2 minutes.
Remove from the microwave and stir. Microwave for 1 to 2 minutes more, then stir. Repeat the process until the eggs are set but still moist, about 8 minutes total. The cooking time will vary according to the microwave. Serve hot.
* Leave the wrapped cream cheese out overnight so it’s softened in the morning when you’re ready to make these eggs.
* If you don’t keep Accent seasoning in your spice drawer, just use a pinch more salt.
* A heatproof rubber spatula works well for stirring the eggs as they cook.
* This recipe is adaptable and can be made for fewer or more people by adjusting the amount of eggs, cream cheese, and milk.
* Put the salt shaker and pepper grinder on the table, since you may find that some people like their eggs a bit more seasoned.
According to R. W. Apple in the New York Times, the scrambled eggs at Bill’s café in Sydney, Australia, have been described as the best scrambled eggs in the world. The secret to getting them soft, creamy, and amazingly light is in the technique. To serve 1 or 2 people, melt a sliver of butter in a nonstick skillet over high heat. Whisk together 2 eggs, 1/2 cup cream, and a pinch or two of salt. (It’s best if the eggs and cream are at room temperature.) Add the egg mixture to the skillet and do nothing for 20 seconds, then very slowly fold and stir the eggs with a wooden spoon, and pause for 20 seconds more. Repeat the gentle stir-and-fold, then remove the skillet from the heat and let the residual heat finish the cooking. Give one last gentle stir and serve. Make the eggs in batches if you’re feeding a crowd so you don’t overfill the pan.
SOURCE: A Return to Cooking by Eric Ripert and Michael Ruhlman COOK: George Davis George Davis’s Pancakes
How many times are we lured into making a certain dish by a gorgeous photograph only to find that the result looks nothing like the photo? Well, these pancakes are a happy exception to that rule. They come out beautifully browned, with lightly crispy edges and fluffy, soft insidespicture-perfectand they taste as good as they look. The two tricks are vinegar and bacon fat. The bit of vinegar in the batter interacts with the baking soda and gives the cakes their light texture. And frying them in bacon fat gives the exterior a light crunch that you don’t get with butter.
2 cups all-purpose flour 2 teaspoons baking powder 1 teaspoon baking soda 1 teaspoon salt 2 cups milk 3 large eggs 1/4 cup canola oil 2 tablespoons white vinegar 3 tablespoons bacon fat Maple syrup, for serving
Whisk together the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
Whisk together the milk, eggs, and oil in a medium bowl. Add the vinegar and whisk to combine. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry and whisk until the batter is just combined. The batter should still be lumpy.
Heat a large heavy skillet (cast iron works great) over medium heat. Add 2 teaspoons of the bacon fat. Using a 2-ounce ladle (or 1/4-cup measure) for each pancake, pour the batter into the skillet. When bubbles start to form on the tops of the pancakes and the edges look set, flip. Cook until golden brown on the second side. Transfer to a plate or plates, and continue with the remaining bacon fat and batter. Serve hot. Pass the maple syrup at the table.
* If you first cook up enough bacon for 6 people (12 slices), you should have just the right amount of bacon fat for frying the pancakes. Hold the bacon in a warm oven while you make the pancakes.
* Although the pancakes are at their best when served directly from the skillet, you can hold them briefly on a baking sheet in a warm oven.
* Be certain to use pure maple syrup here. These pancakes are too good to waste on the imitation stuff. Eric Ripert prefers syrup from Vermont, and we won’t argue with that.
SOURCE: Mollie Katzen’s Sunlight Café by Mollie Katzen Cook: Mollie Katzen Amazing Overnight Waffles
There’s nothing like some waffles to brighten a morning, especially if they’re homemade. It’s hard to say if these are superb because they’re so easy or because they’re so delicious. Now you have no more excuses not to make the real thing, since you mix the batter the night before and all you have to do in the morning is beat an egg, melt some butter, and stir. At the very most, there’s 15 minutes of work here. Yeast gives the waffles a special subtle quality that sets them apart from the usual baking powder and baking soda kind.
They make a great birthday breakfast. Although you could certainly offer some fancy toppings, we’re partial to the classic butter and maple syrup.
makes 6 to 8 waffles
2 cups all-purpose flour 1 tablespoon sugar 1 teaspoon active dry yeast (about 1/2 packet) 1/2 teaspoon salt 2 cups milk 1 large egg, lightly beaten 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus more for the waffle iron Nonstick spray
Combine the flour, sugar, yeast, and salt in a large bowl. Whisk in the milk until blended. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let stand overnight at room temperature. (If it’s warmer than 70 degrees, refrigerate the batter.)
The next morning, heat the waffle iron. Beat the egg and the 6 tablespoons melted butter into the batter, which will be quite thin.
Spray the hot waffle iron with nonstick spray, and rub on a little butter with a paper towel or a piece of bread. Add just enough batter to cover the cooking surface, about 1 1/3 cups for a Belgian waffle, 2/3 cup for a standard.
Cook the waffles until crisp and brown but not too dark, 2 to 3 minutes each. Serve hot.
* Use all the batter and freeze any leftover waffles individually. Reheat them in a toaster oven.
Yeast comes in several different forms. One envelope contains 2 1/4 teaspoons of active dry or instant yeast. Fresh compressed yeast, which is sold in the refrigerator section of the supermarket, comes in 1-ounce foil- wrapped squares. Although some sources say you should use 25 percent less instant yeast than other types, The Baker’s Catalogue from King Arthur Flour says there’s not enough difference to make measuring worthwhile.
SOURCE: The Foster’s Market Cookbook by Sara Foster with Sarah Belk King COOK: Sara Foster Buttermilk Scones
Foster’s Markets, in Durham and Chapel Hill, North Carolina, are just the kind of jazzy take-out markets we all wish we had right around the corner, with cases jammed with gorgeous prepared foods and counters loaded with tempting baked goodies. When we learned that this scone recipe is the most requested one at the market, we took note. Made with buttermilk and more butter than we’ve ever seen in a batch of scones, these magnificent pastries are light and flaky, with great flavor and just the right amount of crunch around the edges. While we were tempted by many of the variationsespecially pecan-praline and lemon-almondin the end the plain ones prevailed. Some things are just too good to mess with.
makes 12 scones
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (see note) 1/2 cup sugar 2 teaspoons baking powder 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon salt 24 tablespoons (3 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces 1 1/4 cups buttermilk, plus more as needed 1 large egg beaten with 2 tablespoons milk, for the egg wash
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease two baking sheets.
Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter and cut it into the flour using a pastry blender or two knives until the mixture resembles cornmeal. (Or use a food processor fitted with the metal blade to cut the butter into the flour mixture by pulsing 10 to 12 times. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl to continue.) Do not overwork the dough.
Add the 1 1/4 cups buttermilk and mix until just combined and the dough begins to stick together. Add additional buttermilk, 1 tablespoon at a time, if the dough seems too dry. It should just hang together but not be at all wet or sticky.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll or pat it into two 6- inch rounds about 1 1/2 inches thick. Cut each round in half, then cut each half into 3 triangles (pie-shaped wedges) and place them on the baking sheets. Brush the tops with the egg wash.
Bake until golden brown and firm to the touch, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve immediately.
* For best results, measure the flour carefully using the spoon-and-sweep method: spoon the flour into a dry measuring cup until it’s piled above the rim, then level the measure by sweeping the back side of a knife across the top. Never pack or tamp down the flour.
* If you want to add a little something to the basic recipe, toss 11/4 cups toasted, chopped pecans into the dry ingredients before adding the buttermilk.
* We generally end up needing an additional 2 to 6 tablespoons buttermilk. Just go easy so you don’t end up with a soggy dough.
If you’ve already taken advantage of powdered buttermilk, you know that you sift it first, mix it into the dry ingredients, and then add plain water in place of buttermilk. A reader of Fine Cooking has a good tip: keep powdered buttermilk in the refrigerator to extend its shelf life.
SOURCE: Everything Tastes Better with Bacon by Sara Perry COOK: Sara Perry Never-a-Leftover Breakfast Bread Pudding
This savory bread pudding is full of exciting flavors: olives, smoked Gouda, roasted red peppers, and applewood-smoked bacon. Sara Perry is right on two counts: everything does taste better with bacon, and you probably won’t have any leftovers.
Fortunately, this bread pudding has to be put together the night before, because it needs at least 6 hours for the bread to absorb the liquid and let the flavors develop. Then it’s just a little over an hourno actual morning workbefore breakfast is ready.
serves 4 to 6
8 thick slices artisan-style applewood-smoked bacon (about 8 ounces), cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces (see note) 2 cups half-and-half 6 large eggs 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard 1/4 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 1 loaf (about 15 ounces) olive ciabatta, cut into 1215 slices, slightly stale (see note) 1 1/4 cups grated smoked Gouda cheese (about 5 ounces) 1/2 cup julienned jarred roasted red bell peppers
Grease a 9-inch square baking pan.
In a medium heavy skillet, cook the bacon pieces over low to medium-low heat, turning as needed, until brown but not crisp. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain.
Whisk together the half-and-half, eggs, mustard, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl until blended.
Arrange half the bread slices in the bottom of the prepared pan and top with half of the cheese, three fourths of the bacon, and three fourths of the roasted peppers. Arrange the remaining bread slices over the first layer. Top with the remaining cheese, bacon, and peppers.
Carefully pour the egg mixture over the bread. With the back of a spatula, lightly press the assembled pudding. Cover loosely with aluminum foil and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake the pudding, covered, for 35 minutes. Remove the foil, reduce the oven temperature to 275 degrees, and bake until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes more. Let stand for 15 minutes before serving.
* The quality of the bacon is important. If you can’t find Nueske’s, the brand Sara Perry recommends, look for Niman Ranch bacon or a good local dry- cured bacon. Jones thick-sliced smoked bacon is available almost everywhere.
* We can’t usually find olive ciabatta. If you can’t either, just use regular ciabatta and toss a few pitted chopped olives over each bread layer. For stale bread slices, dry them in the oven at 200 degrees for 20 minutes or leave them on a wire rack at room temperature overnight.
* If you can’t find or don’t like smoked Gouda, use good Swiss cheese instead.
SOURCE: A Real American Breakfast by Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison COOK: Ellen Stelling Sausage and Cheese Grits Casserole
There’s no reason Southerners should get to keep this splendid soufflé-like casserole to themselves. This version comes from South Carolina, and it’s as great for supper as it is for breakfast. It’s also surprisingly light.
If you’re in a rush, you can use quick-cooking grits to eliminate about 20 minutes of prep time (see note). The casserole won’t be quite as spiffy as the classic version, but it will be really good.
You can put the casserole together the night before and just bake it in the morning.
3/4 teaspoon salt, or more to taste 1 cup stone-ground grits (see note) 1 pound breakfast sausage, crumbled and fried until well browned 1/4 pound mild or smoked cheddar cheese, grated (about 1 cup) 3 tablespoons unsalted butter 1/4 teaspoon Tabasco, Texas Pete, or other hot pepper sauce 3 large eggs, lightly beaten 12 scallions
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a medium baking dish. Bring 4 cups water and 3/4 teaspoon salt to a boil in a large heavy saucepan over high heat. Whisk in the grits, a handful at a time. Reduce the heat to a bare simmer and cook the grits until thick and soft, 30 to 40 minutes. Stir the grits occasionally as they cook, more frequently as they thicken, scraping them off the bottom to prevent scorching. If the grits become too stiff to stir easily before they are cooked through, add a bit more hot water.
Remove the grits from the heat and stir in the sausage, cheese, butter, and hot sauce. Check the seasoning, adding more salt and hot pepper sauce if you wish. Mix in the eggs, stirring briskly. Spoon into the prepared baking dish. (The casserole can be made to this point, covered, and refrigerated overnight. In the morning let it sit at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes before baking.)
Bake until puffed and lightly set, 35 to 40 minutes.
Meanwhile, slice the scallions, both white and green parts, into sections about 2 inches long. Cut each section into long, thin strips.
When the casserole is ready, spoon it onto plates immediately or let it cool for about 10 minutes and then cut it into soft-textured squares. Garnish each portion with a little shower of scallion strips, and serve.
* To use quick-cooking grits instead, reduce the amount of cooking water to the amount listed on the package. Be sure not to use instant grits.
* The casserole is only as good as the sausage you use. If you don’t have a good local country sausage, look for nationally distributed brands like Jones or Jimmy Dean.
Copyright © 2003 by Houghton Mifﬂin Company. Introduction copyright © 2003 by Fran McCullough and Molly Stevens. Foreword copyright © 2003 by Alan Richman. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.