Occasionally, I like to bake, but I don’t like to have large batches of leftovers sitting around tempting me. A while back, I picked up a cookbook called Small-batch Baking, a collection of recipes for 2 or 3 servings of a variety of baked goods. The recipes I’ve tried have been either hit — very successful — or miss — total failure. Since baking is so precise, I suppose it’s not easy to scale down recipes. Making them is sometimes not easy either; how exactly do you measure 2 teaspoons of cold butter?
Yesterday, I felt like doing a little baking, so I made the Orange Cranberry Oatmeal Scone recipe from Small-batch Baking. This recipe was a hit. It produced two large, crumbly, hearty, tender oatmeal scones dotted with dried cranberries. I think the recipes that don’t need to be so precisely measured definitely work better.
I also felt like having a proper dinner, so I made a chicken stew in the slow cooker. First, I browned cubed chicken with some onion on the stovetop. Then, I added that to the slow cooker along with some whole garlic cloves, a bay leaf and thyme. I finished with 1 part sherry vinegar to 2 parts chicken stock, just enough liquid to almost cover the chicken. I cooked it on low for 4 hours and served the chicken with a little of the sauce over linguine. The chicken was fork-tender and nicely flavored.
To go with it, I made some simple but decadent peas with bacon. I boiled frozen peas for about 2 minutes. In the meantime, I sauteed a little chopped bacon in some butter. When the bacon was starting to crisp, I added some diced onion and continued cooking until the bacon was done. Then I reduced the heat to low and stirred in the peas to warm them. I finished with a little lemon juice. Delish!
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I decided not long ago that I was not a multitasker, and I wasn’t even going to try. This may not sound like such a momentous decision, but since it seemed like multitasking was in my job description, it felt like a big deal. I noticed, though, that when I tried to do more than one thing at a time, I became flustered, unfocused and generally did a poor job of it. Now I concentrate solely on the single task I am doing until I am done, and I have to say that I find most tasks more pleasurable as a result.
A recent study validates my anecdotal evidence, not just for me, but for everyone. Guess what, multitaskers? When you try to do too many things at one time, you don’t do anything well. I think is particularly true when you try to send text messages while eating a meal with me, one of my personal pet peeves.
I bring this up because when it comes to making omelets, multitasking is not an option. Many people think making a proper omelet is beyond them. Actually, an omelet is a very simple thing to make, but it requires focus and singlemindedness. The good news is that it also requires very little time, and at the end of it, you have an elegant dinner that you can eat while surfing the Internet.
Here are some very useful techniques I’ve learned that enable me to turn out a pretty good (if not perfect) omelet every time:
- Select your filling first, if you plan to have one. I suggest keeping the filling to a minimum, no more than one or two ingredients. Good candidates are a small amount of shredded cheese, minced herbs, a little salsa or a bit of leftover cooked vegetables, warmed in some butter. For a sweet breakfast omelet, think berries, sauteed bananas or apples, or a little jam and cream cheese. Prepare your filling and have it ready to go.
- For each omelet, beat 2 eggs with salt, pepper, a teaspoon of fines herbes if you want it and — here is the secret — ½ tbsp. cold, cubed butter. Adding some butter in with the eggs imparts a lovely richness to the omelet.
- Heat an 8- or 9-inch nonstick pan over medium-high heat with a little more butter until it foams. Add the eggs. Leave the pan alone for a few moments, just until the edges of the omelet set.
- Using a rubber spatula, stir the eggs gently in a circular motion until slightly thickened. Lift the edges of the omelet and tilt the pan slightly to allow the uncooked egg to run to the edge of the pan until the top is barely set.
- Remove the pan from the heat. Sprinkle the filling over the bottom third of the omelet. Cover the pan and let it sit just a minute or so, until the top is no longer wet.
- Fold the lower third of the omelet over with a spatula. Loosen the eggs from the pan and fold over again. The bottom of the omelet should not be brown.
Note: If I am making omelets for 2 or 3 people, I usually don’t bother to make them individually. Rather, I switch to a 12-inch pan and make one large omelet, using the same technique. I then cut the folded omelet into halves or thirds to serve.
Granola is not something I ever thought of making for myself, even though I eat it with yogurt almost every morning. It just seemed like something you buy, rather than something you make. But when you think about it, there are several advantages to making your own granola. First, it’s cheaper to buy the basic components of granola in bulk. Second, you can put whatever you like in there. And you can also cut down the amount of sweeteners typically used in processed granola. Finally, it keeps pretty much indefinitely in the refrigerator, or it can be frozen, so you can make up a big batch and snack on it for a while.
For my first attempt, I used Mark Bittman‘s recipe from Food Matters. Making granola is much easier than I thought it would be. Bittman’s recipe does make a huge amount — it calls for 5 cups of rolled oats — but I think you can safely cut down the amounts as long as you maintain the proportions (and it might fit better in your baking pan). I also thought the cooking time of 30 minutes was a bit too long, and resulted in a more toasted granola than I normally like, so I would reduce the cooking time to 20 minutes or so. Keep a good eye on it as it cooks and take it out of the oven when it looks and smells done to you.
Now that I have successfully made a batch of granola, I think I will be experimenting with different grains, nuts and seasonings. I definitely won’t go back to buying my own granola!
Time to make: ~30 minutes
Yields: 9 cups
- 5 cups rolled oats or other rolled grains
- 3 cups mixed chopped nuts and seeds — I used sunflower seeds
- 1 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut
- 1 tsp. cinnamon or baking spices
- Salt to taste
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- ½ cup honey, or to taste
- 1½ cups dried fruit of your choice
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil.
Combine all of the ingredients but the honey and dried fruit in a large bowl and toss well. Spread the mixture over the baking sheet. Drizzle the honey over and toss again. (I found it much easier to mix in the honey this way than in the bowl, as the original recipe calls for.)
Bake 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it is browned and toasted to your liking. The darker it gets, the deeper the toasted flavor and the crunchier the granola.
Remove the pan from the oven and let the pan cool on a rack to room temperature. Put the granola in an airtight container or plastic bag and mix in the dried fruit. Store in the refrigerator or freeze any extra amounts. Snack on it as is or mix with yogurt and fresh fruit for a yummy, healthy breakfast.
Recipe adapted from Food Matters by Mark Bittman.
- Review: Food Matters (simplycooking.wordpress.com)
Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Bacon and Fried Egg
This sandwich makes my husband lose his senses. I only make it for him once a year, on Father’s Day, which I’m sure you’ll understand once you look at the recipe. It’s not exactly the most healthy of breakfasts, but it is delicious!
The recipe comes from Sara Foster’s Casual Cooking, but the recipe is so simple that you’ll probably memorize it after making it once. There are a lot of steps, though, so make as much ahead as you can, and then assemble and grill the sandwiches right before serving.
Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Bacon and Fried Egg
Time to make: ~30 minutes
Yields: 1 sandwich
- 2 slices bacon
- 1 egg
- 2 slices any kind of bread
- cheddar cheese, sliced
Fry the bacon until crispy. Drain on paper towels and set aside. Wipe out the pan.
Fry the egg in the same pan as the bacon to desired doneness. It is best to leave the yolk a little runny, as it makes the sandwich that much more delicious.
Heat a flat griddle over medium-high. Butter one side of each piece of bread. Assemble the sandwich with the cheese, egg and bacon, buttered sides out. Place the sandwich on the hot griddle and cook until well browned. Flip carefully and cook the other side. Serve right away.
Notes: If you are making several sandwiches, you will have to lower the heat between sandwiches or they will start to burn before the cheese gets melty.
The popover pancake coming out of the oven.
I made this for Sunday brunch a couple of weeks ago. It is a large pancake cooked in the style of a popover, so it puffs up quite magnificently. It really does look impressive coming out of the oven, but it collapses quickly, so you have to take it straight to the table. (In the photo, it is already starting to collapse.) We ate it in the traditional style, with butter and syrup, but I think it would be excellent topped with fresh berries and maybe a little confectioner’s sugar or whipped cream.
The recipe comes from The Good Egg, a very useful cookbook if you like to cook eggs several times a week, as I do, since it is full of ideas for new things to do with them. The main change I would make to the recipe is to oil the pan before pre-heating it in the oven. This should keep the pancake from sticking. I didn’t do this the first time I made it, and too much pancake was left behind in the pan.
Time to make: ~30 minutes
- 8- or 10-inch cast-iron, oven-proof skillet
- vegetable oil for the pan
- 4 lg. eggs
- ¾ cup milk
- ½ tsp. salt
- ¾ cup flour
- 2 tbsp. butter
- syrup, confectioner’s sugar, whipped cream and/or berries or other fresh fruit to serve
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Coat the skillet with a thin film of oil and put it in the oven to heat for 5 minutes while you make the batter.
Whisk together the eggs, milk and salt. Whisk in the flour and mix until smooth.
Remove the skillet from the oven. Add the butter, swirling it to coat the skillet as it melts. Add the batter and return the skillet to the oven. Bake until puffy and browned, about 20 minutes.
Remove to the table and cut into wedges. Top as desired.
After I set a goal of posting a recipe daily, I skip a day, of course! Well, I never claimed I’d meet the goal, just that I would try to. I got too busy yesterday to post, but last night we had a nice “no time to cook” dinner composed of little bits of leftovers from the rest of the meal’s weeks. On Fridays I like to clean out the fridge before the weekend grocery shopping. I had half a can of diced tomatoes, half a jalapeno, a little diced onion, a couple of slices of bacon, half an avocado and some cheese. Mix all that with some eggs, and the result is a hearty and tasty rancheros-style scramble.
While I made this recipe almost exclusively from leftovers, it is a good enough dish to make on purpose for dinner or a hearty brunch dish. I served it with toast, but it would go especially well with warmed tortillas.
Time to make: ~30 minutes
- 4 slices bacon
- 1 sm. onion, diced
- 1 14-oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
- 1 jalapeno or other green chile, diced (remove the seeds for milder flavor)
- 8 eggs, lightly beaten
- salt, pepper and dried oregano to taste
- 4 oz. Monterey Jack or colby-jack cheese, cubed
- 1 avocado, cubed
- toast or tortillas to serve
In a 12-inch nonstick skillet, cook the bacon over medium-high until crispy. Set the bacon aside on paper towels to drain. Pour out most of the grease, leaving a thin film to coat the pan.
Reduce the heat to medium. Add the onion, tomatoes and chile. Cook until the vegetables have softened and most of the liquid has evaporated. Reduce the heat if necessary to prevent the onion from browning.
Reduce the heat to medium-low. Spread the vegetables out in a single layer in the pan and pour in the eggs. Crumbled the bacon over and season with salt, pepper and oregano to taste. Using a rubber spatula, stir and fold the eggs gently until wet curds begin to form. Scatter over the cheese and continue to fold the eggs until the eggs are cooked to the desired doneness and the cheese has begun to melt. Remove from the heat and fold in the avocado. Serve with toast or warmed tortillas.
Usually, when I make frittata, it’s a last-minute dinner designed to minimize cooking while using up the odds and ends in the vegetable crisper. But last night, I decided to make a frittata that celebrates the bounty of fresh herbs returning to my garden, and it was so good, I wanted to share the recipe. This frittata is light, flavorful and definitely spring-like. It would make a nice light supper or brunch dish, or it could even serve as finger food at a party or picnic. Enjoy.
Light Green Frittata
Serves: 2 as an entree
Time to make: ~20 minutes
- handful of fresh herbs, minced (I used mint, thyme, rosemary, sage and parsley)
- several scallions, minced
- 5 eggs
- sea salt, olive oil and grated Parmesan to taste
Preheat the broiler. Lightly beat the eggs with a little salt. Mix in the herbs and scallions.
Heat a thin film of olive oil in a 10-inch nonstick pan with an oven-safe handle over medium. Add the eggs, stir once or twice, then leave it alone while the bottom cooks. When the bottom is set but the top is still runny, scatter the grated Parmesan over the top. Move the skillet to the oven and broil a few minutes, until the top is set and puffy. Cut into wedges to serve.
This frittata can be eaten immediately or served later at room temperature. Recipe adapted from Italian Farmhouse Cookbook.
When I was growing up, corn fritters were one of my favorite comfort foods. They were like miniature pancakes, but we usually ate them as a side dish to a regular meal, so it was like getting an extra treat. Now I prefer to make corn fritters for brunch with sweet toppings like a little jam or maple syrup. But they remain a tried-and-true side, such as for an old-fashioned ham dinner. Or just eat them for a snack — they’re that good.
Yields: 12 (2 per serving)
- 2 cups corn kernels, thawed
- 1 egg, beaten
- 3 tbsp. flour
- 3 tbsp. cornmeal
- 2 tbsp. heavy cream
- 3 tbsp. onion, minced
- Salt and cayenne to taste
- Oil for pan-frying
Combine all of the ingredients in a food processor. Pulse to form a thick batter. The batter can be refrigerated up to 4 hours before cooking.
Heat the oil over medium-high. Drop in the batter by the tablespoonful. Fry until browned, then flip and brown the other side. Drain on paper towels.
What is better on Sunday morning than French toast? It takes advantage of leftover bread from Saturday night’s dinner, and everybody loves it. It is also probably the easiest breakfast to make, next to cereal and milk.
Do you really need a recipe for French toast? Maybe the first time you make it. After that, you’ll probably have the recipe memorized, and you can play with flavor variations. I like to add vanilla extract and spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. A little orange juice is also tasty.
Yields: 2 servings
- 2 eggs
- ½ cup milk or half-and-half
- ½ tsp. vanilla extract (optional)
- Cinnamon or nutmeg to taste (optional)
- 4 thick slices of day-old bread — French and Italian bread work well
- 1 tbsp. butter
Beat together the eggs and milk. Whisk in the vanilla and seasonings. Melt the butter in a skillet or griddle over medium heat. Dip the bread slices in the batter. Fry the bread in the butter until browned on each side. Serve with syrup or powdered sugar.
For a fancier breakfast, make a French toast sandwich. Put cream cheese and jam, broiled banana slices or sauteed apple slices between 2 slices of battered bread. Cook like a grilled cheese sandwich.
Baked Eggs and Bacon in Toast Cups
‘Tis the season for brunch. I prefer having a crowd over for brunch rather than dinner. It always seems easier to prepare, because I have more energy in the mornings, and if I’m really thinking ahead, I can do some cooking the day before. And if I’m not thinking ahead, store-bought pastries still work just fine. Put on a big pot of coffee, mix up some mimosas, and everybody is happy.
Whether I’m having a crowd over for brunch or it’s just my hubby and me, baked eggs is one of my favorite dishes to make. It is as easy to make baked eggs for 12 as for 2, and everyone seems to love eggs cooked this way. But since most people don’t eat eggs this way, it seems special, and they don’t realize how simple it is to prepare, so you get points for being a great cook. It’s not at all a fussy dish to make, which is helpful if you’re trying to put together several things for the brunch table. And you can vary it lots of ways, depending on what you have on hand.
For our latest brunch adventure, I baked the eggs in bread cups on top of a little bacon. I got the recipe from My Cooking Quest, only I omitted the cheese. This version wins points for being very easy to cook and serve in quantities. On other occasions, I have baked eggs on top of sauteed onions, sauteed spinach and tomato slices. They are also yummy plain, baked in individual ramekins and served with toast points.
How to Bake Eggs
Plan on 1-2 eggs per person depending on how many other things you are serving.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Butter a baking dish or ramekins, or make bread cups in a muffin tin (see the link above for the recipe).
- If desired, add something to the bottom of the dish. You might choose sauteed onions, mushrooms or spinach, fresh chopped tomato and/or slices of cooked bacon.
- Break an egg into each dish, or make little wells in the vegetables and break the eggs into the wells.
- Spoon 1 tablespoon of cream over each egg.
- Season the eggs with salt and pepper.
- If you like, top the eggs with some grated cheese, such as Parmesan or cheddar (totally optional).
- Place in the oven and bake for up to 15-20 minutes, checking frequently at the end of the cooking time. You want to remove the eggs when the whites are solidified (opaque) but the yolks are just set.
- Serve with toast or on top of English muffins.
You can either bake the eggs on top of slices of cooked bacon, as I did, or serve the bacon alongside. My favorite method for cooking bacon is roasting it in the oven. Although it takes longer than pan-frying, this technique contains the mess and results in perfectly straight, crisp slices of bacon.
How to Roast Bacon
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Line the bottom of a broiler pan with aluminum foil.
- Add the boiler pan insert and arrange the bacon in a single layer on top. The fat will drip into the bottom for easy cleanup.
- Start checking the bacon at 12 minutes for doneness. Let cook until browned and crisp. This may take 20 minutes or more.
- Drain the bacon on paper towels.