Friday, July 8, 2011

Infinite Eating

Nothing says Sunday to me quite like sitting around eating and talking and eating and drinking coffee and eating. The argument could quite easily be made that this is a fair approximation of my life as it currently stands seven days a week, but I will dignifiededly (it's Friday, I'm allowed to make up new words, ok) ignore such jibes and soldier on with my all-inclusive greed. Brunch means second and third helpings of sweet and savoury courses, as well as sides. And somehow, I mysteriously still always manage to always be ready for dinner only a couple of hours later. Anyhow, the crucial thing with Sunday brunch, for me, is that it is low maintenance and fuss-free, in keeping with the chilled-outness of the day that's in it. Another reason I was drawn to Gwyneth Paltrow's new cookbook (*threatening look in the direction of dissenters*) was the chapter on breakfast, which doesn't always get the attention it deserves as a meal in cookbooks. And, joy of joys, Signe Johansen's Scandilicious, another book from my birthday voucher binge on Amazon, has chapters on both breakfast and brunch. I don't look for a Blumenthal-esque tastebud-busting culinary statement in my brunch dishes, just something flavoursome and satisfying and a teeny tiny bit different to my usual efforts and offerings. So, while I'm ordinarily not wild about smoothies (I'm inclined to find them high on sugar and fat and low on anything that I ever feel I need more of in my diet), Signe's recipes are really enticing because they each have a little bit of a twist - the raspberry, vanilla and ginger smoothie caught my attention because I wanted to try out the spicy heat of the ginger with the fruity dairyness of the rest of it. To follow, Gwyneth's slow-roasted tomato, basil and mozzarella frittata and then her french toast, made with brioche. And, not only was this a low-stress operation, but when I did the grocery shopping it all came in under €20, which, for that amount of food for three people, is considerably less than what you would pay if you were eating out.

I cobbled the whole lot together within half an hour of  my lovely brunch guests arriving, with the exception of these slow-roasted tomatoes. Gwyneth extols their virtues as 'a store cupboard essential' and while I was a bit dubious about how this method could produce a flavour so very different from any other way of cooking tomatoes, I am most definitely a convert and in fact I think that I will make time every weekend to pop these in the oven to make weekday salads more tasty. All you do is preheat your oven to 140, cut the tomatoes in half, drizzle them with olive oil and salt and bake for 3 - 5 hours. Perfect for getting a headstart on brunch preparations while still being free to do the housework/go out for a run/go back to bed. The result is full-on flavour in one small vibrant red package, sweet and concentrated. 

The main frittata action begins with some butter and olive oil in the pan, then two large shallots sliced and softened up for about 6 minutes, followed with some seasoning.

After that, in go six eggs beaten along with 125ml milk (the recipe specifies soya milk, but obviously that is a personal preference), pop the tomatoes on there along with a torn-up ball of mozzarella and some basil leaves and leave it on the hob for about five minutes. I should mention that a part of what kept my costs down, which is the case with a lot of what I cook, is that I have some basil growing on my windowsill. It's a pain in the bum to grow - presumably in protest at our lame climate - and when I tried to grow it from seed recently it just refused to budge upwards. Then when my mother brought me a potted supermarket plant I divided it up into three terracotta pots and put it in a position that gets a good blast of sun in the afternoons and it has really bloomed, giving me a steady supply of fragrant juicy leaves without having to fork out two or three euro a pop.

After it has set on the hob, it goes into the oven for eight minutes, and when it comes out it's just a vision of Mediterranean goodness. The handy thing about it is that it doesn't have to be served piping hot, so you can time it to coincide with your guests' ETA without stressing about limp dishes-gone-cold if they are a little late, because it still tastes delicious when warm. 

That eight minute spell in the oven is perfect for whizzing up a smoothie: 75g frozen raspberries, 200ml vanilla yogurt, 2-3 tbsp oats, 1 banana 1-2 tsp grated ginger and the juice of 2 oranges. The recipe also includes 1 tsp peanut butter; I had planned, instead, to make some almond butter from a packet of almonds that were in the press and in need of eating, but I completely forgot, so I'm looking forward to giving this another outing with added nuttiness. 

And so begins the first course - made all the more enjoyable by the fact that the French toast didn't need to go on straight away, so I wasn't hopping up and down to poke at things in the kitchen or sitting there distractedly worrying about things overcooking. 

Gwyneth's recipe for French toast uses challah bread; I had challah bread French toast once at Rachel's Bakery, Fire Island quite a few years ago now and it brought French toast to a whole new level of fluffiness. I have toyed with the idea of making challah bread - a traditional Jewish recipe - but got sidetracked by, well, other types of bread. It occured to me that for the purposes of this recipe I would be able to buy it in the Bretzel bakery, which opens at the Eimear-friendly hour of 9am on a Sunday (I'm an early riser and spend a large portion of my weekend mornings waiting for my friends to wake up and make plans, as well as grouching about there being nowhere decent open where I can stuff my face) but I was too lazy (though still somehow perfectly happy to do a ten mile run) to do that whole five minute cycle down the road and plumped for brioche instead - just under €2 from Lidl. 

In the interests of avoiding antisocial kitchen activity while my guests were here, I made up the French toast concoction before I got stuck into conjuring up the frittata. One vanilla pod, seeds scraped, mixed up with a teaspoon of hot water...
...two eggs...

...250ml milk, a decent whizz-up and a spell in the fridge, while the eating gets underway.

While my guests were digesting the savoury course, I cracked out a few pans (can't be waiting around for things to cook and letting bits get cold), lashed on a load of butter, dipped the brioche in the mixture and got on with serving up the sweetness.

It's a speedy operation - a couple of minutes each side. And I was too busy babysitting three pans full to take pics, but the finished product is the main attraction anyhow. Topped with sliced banana, sprinkled with icing sugar...

...and bathed, drenched, DROWNED in maple syrup.


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