Exploding Egg & Veggie Breakfast Sandwich on Homemade Rosemary Focaccia

I’ve only been eating eggs for about two years and I’m still super picky about them. Growing up, eggs didn’t appeal to me, although neither did breakfast in general. I still can’t eat when I first get up and have to consciously remind myself to eat when I get to work or I’ll be hangry by 10:30.

Anyways, one of my recent favorite egg dishes is an egg sandwich on focaccia bread that I sometimes buy at the farmers’ market. It’s hot, fresh, and made using veggies and eggs found at the market that morning.

Flash forward to yesterday afternoon and another Chicago rainstorm. I decided to bake bread to pass the time and settled on rosemary focaccia bread using the olive oil dough recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, and it was delicious (all you have to do is add fresh minced rosemary to the dough and bake on a cookie sheet at 425°F for 25 minutes). I’d already eaten about half of a loaf straight-up when I started thinking, I have got to find something else to do with this delicious bread. That was when I remembered the egg sandwich and got to work.

Between my CSA and a Saturday morning visit to Green City Market, I had a ton of veggies to choose from. I really just wanted a little bit of this and a little bit of that without it turning into something I’d have to eat everyday for the next week (you other single cooks out there know what I’m talking about), so that’s what I did! I used one piece of bacon, one fingerling potato, two mini bell peppers, two crimini mushrooms, 1 large leaf bok choy, and about half of a very small yellow squash.

I cooked up all those veggies in the bacon fat (I’m going through a bacon phase) and added a little salt and lemon juice, then removed half of the veggies to save for later – this recipe really made two servings.  All that was left was to add two eggs to the pan with the remaining veggies, scramble it all together until the eggs were cooked, and pile the mixture onto a piece of fresh rosemary focaccia sliced in half.

Simple. Delicious. No recipe required. Happy Sunday morning!

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Cooking from My CSA: 3 1/2 Zucchini Recipes

I’ve been receiving my CSA weekly for about a month now and it’s finally starting to contain more of a variety of ingredients. There are still a lot of greens (chard, kale, collard), but this week we got a few new items – leeks (so small they look like scallions), tomato (one), and a whole lot of zucchini.

I enjoy zucchini, we have a good history. When I started cooking for myself my senior year of college, zucchini was one of the first vegetables I took on – I’d cook it on the George Foreman Grill with chicken marinated in Italian dressing. The George has long been out of commission, but my fondness for this summer squash remains.

Seeing as I’ll probably get even more zucchini next week, today I decided to look at it as a challenge to see what I could do to use it all. If I’d had more time (and if I hadn’t run out of flour), I would have made another batch of zucchini muffins, so that will have to wait. But I did make Zucchini-Walnut Bread, Chocolate Chip Zucchini-Walnut Muffins, a Zucchini Frittata, and Stewed Zucchini with Tomatoes.

Many of the ideas came from the CSA newsletter, which I think is one of my favorite features (thanks Harvest Moon Farms). The Zucchini Bread recipe was a combination of the one from the newsletter and one my friend shared. They were so similar that I took the best of each and made it my own, including reserving 1/4 of the batter for the muffins with chocolate chips. And same with the Stewed Zucchini – the inspiration was from the newsletter, I just tweaked it based on what I had available. Finally, I made the Frittata because I had leftover shredded zucchini from the bread/muffins to use up; it was the perfect thing to make.

Here are the recipes I made today. If you have a great zucchini recipe, please share it – I know there’s more zucchini coming!

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Blueberry Oat Muffins

Blueberry Oat Muffins

Blueberry Oat Muffins

In my quest to eat healthier I’ve temporarily given up so many sweet foods that I love (read: chocolate cake). While muffins weren’t among my sacrifices, I’ve found myself craving a healthy, slightly sweet muffin that I could grab for breakfast or quick snack without feeling guilty about overloading on sugar and fat.

These delicious blueberry oat muffins definitely fit the bill. Not too sweet or too dry, these muffins really are just right. They taste healthy, which was important for the mental guilt factor, but not in a cardboard way. They’re a bit on the dryer side but not at all crumbly, and have a nice crunch from pecans that had been folded in the batter.

Each muffin contains 184 calories with 5 grams protein and 3 grams dietary fiber (see below for complete nutrition breakdown), making them a smart choice for a filling treat. Plus, the muffins are chock full of antioxidants!

Blueberry Oat Muffins

Blueberry Oat Muffins

Here’s the recipe:

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Happy Holiday (Eating)!

Latkes

Latkes (aka Potato Pancakes)

Wow, I just can’t believe how quickly these last few weeks have flown by. In fact, this whole year has been a bit of a blur. I hope it’s been a good year for you. As for me, let’s just say I’m ending the year in a better place than where I started it and am looking forward to seeing what 2010 will bring.

However, with all the recent activity I’ve sadly neglected my beloved blog. The sad truth remains that it’s been ten days since my last blog post, the longest I’ve ever gone between posts since launching this site more than a year and a half ago. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been cooking. I have, just not quite as much as usual.

English Toffee and Tornado Cookies

English Toffee and Tornado Cookies

To recap some of my holiday cooking, let’s start with Hanukkah at my parent’s house. I brought the dessert: English toffee and tornado cookies, my family’s holiday favorite. At the house, I helped my mom make latkes from scratch. There’s no recipe here because we adjusted constantly as we went along, using up a small bag of russet potatoes, an onion, two eggs, a little matzo meal, and a large bottle of vegetable oil. Basically, grate the potatoes and onion (and then pulse a few times in a food processor), add the other ingredients, season with salt and pepper, and fry.

Latkes Latkes Latkes

I have wonderful memories of my mom making latkes when I was younger. Back then we hosted the family Hanukkah party and she would make latkes from scratch and making enough for everyone was practically a day-long project (for those of you not familiar, latkes are fried potato pancakes that can be made from shredded potatoes or from a box mix). The problem was that my dad, sister and I would eat the latkes almost as fast as my mom could make them, sneaking latkes every time she turned away. Eventually, my mom would get fed up and send us to go see a movie so she could finish frying in peace.

Latkes - pan frying Latkes

It’s been a long time since we made latkes, and my mom had the “brilliant” idea of deep-frying them, a technique she saw on the Today Show. Despite her good intentions, it turned out not to be the best idea. For starters, she forgot to tell me advance so I could bring my candy thermometer and/or mini deep fryer, so we had a difficult time regulating the temperature of the oil. Secondly, the few latkes we made were too fluffy and lacked the coveted crispy edge. After a few not-so-good attempts, I finally convinced my mom to return to our traditional method of shallow frying the latkes in a skillet, a job my sister happily took over.

Another big event I cooked for was my sister’s annual holiday brunch where she gets together with her high school friends for their traditional Hanukkah gift exchange. I cooked for them last year and apparently the girls liked the food so much that my sister volunteered me to cook for them again. It’s fun for me, I’ve known these girls almost my entire life and I enjoy the opportunity to catch up with them.

While I was thrilled they enjoyed last year’s meal of baked challah French toast and savory frittata so much (a few of them even made the French toast on their own), I was worried I wouldn’t find a way top it. These girls love brunch food, which is a meal I don’t often cook, so I stuck with the general concept of an egg and vegetable dish, along with something starchy, and instructed my sister to provide fresh fruit.

Sticky Pecan Caramel Rolls

Sticky Pecan Caramel Rolls

The starch was the easiest decision: Sticky Pecan Caramel Rolls from my new favorite cookbook, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day (see Caramelized Onion and Herb Dinner Rolls). I’m not going to post another recipe from the book because I think everyone should buy it, but I will say that these rolls were amazing with just the right proportion of dough to the sugary sweet topping that seeped its way all around the rolls.

The egg dish was a bit more challenging. I wanted something that could be prepared in advance so I wasn’t cooking to order, and had a nice presentation. Somehow, while searching the Internet for ideas, I came across a number of blogs with posts about Gale Gand’s torta rustica (here’s the post at Pastry Heaven that I based my torta off of), essentially an egg and vegetable layered casserole baked inside puff pastry.

Torta Rustica

Torta Rustica

I didn’t follow the recipe precisely, but did use it as a guide. The most significant changes were adding a layer of halved cherry tomatoes, sauteing shallots with fresh spinach, omitting the ham, and using fontina cheese in place on mozzarella. Although it was a little fussy, the torta succeeded as a delicious showstopper, and you can see that I had some fun decorating the top with a star using pastry scraps (it was a Hanukkah party, after all) but you could easily add whatever decoration you liked.

Marci's Brunch - sticky roll and torta rustica

Marci's Brunch: Sticky Pecan Caramel Rolls and Torta Rustica

Those are just a few of the things I’ve been busy cooking these past two weeks and I promise to bring you new recipes soon.

Also, in January I’ll be taking part in the Ten in ’10 Challenge as a way to start eating and living a bit healthier. Not that I’ll be giving up sweets or obsessing about weight loss, but I do want to make more of an effort to eat better and get my butt moving, both challenges for me to do in the winter months. It’s not a New Years resolution (I don’t make those), but rather an idle thoughts whose time has come.

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Afraid of Baking Bread? “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day” to the Rescue

Caramelized Onion and Herb Dinner Rolls

Caramelized Onion and Herb Dinner Rolls

The time has come to be brutally honest with you, my dear readers. The fact remains that even though I’m a chef, there are still recipes or cooking methods that intimidate me. The obvious is anything that has to do with molecular gastronomy. I’m completely befuzzled by those techniques. Another is less obvious: baking bread.

Shocking but true. And this is after I spent half a session in culinary school baking bread in a very controlled environment, which I think gave me a false sense of bread security so that when I attempted it on my own I failed miserably. I’ve been to embarrassed to share most of these sobs stories with you.

European Peasant Bread01 European Peasant Bread02 European Peasant Bread03 European Peasant Bread04

It took a while, but I finally mustered the courage to try again. The saga started at BlogHer Food in September when during a photography session the woman sitting next to me stood up to ask a question. She said her name and the whole room gasped; I felt like I’d been sitting next to a celebrity for the past 45 minutes and had no idea.

It turned out this “celebrity” was Zoë Francois, and I quickly learned that she had co-authored an amazing book titled Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Throughout the weekend people kept telling me I just had to check out this book and that it could cure my Achilles heel.

European Peasant Bread before rise European Peasant Bread after rise European Peasant Bread09 European Peasant Bread11

Back at home I purchased the book but was still afraid to cook from it. If this book couldn’t cure me then I would be a seriously hopeless case. It was a lot of pressure to put on one book, and on me. And then, when I finally did decide to cook from it, I realized that nearly every recipe required a steam tray set on a lower oven rack.

PROBLEM! Sadly, I only have one oven rack in an oven that is probably older than me, thus impossible to find a replacement part. Aside from this one major flaw, it’s actually a pretty good oven: heats quickly, keeps accurate temperature, and has an old-school rotating clock that kept my young cousins entertained for a good five minutes. But, there was nowhere for me to place that essential steaming tray.

European Peasant Bread12 European Peasant Bread13

Luckily, Zoë is an active tweeter and sent me a link with tips on baking without steam. Now, there was nothing stopping me.

I chose a recipe – Caramelized Onion and Herb Dinner Rolls – which required the dough from a different recipe – European Peasant Bread. And I have to say the bread turned out great! I made six dinner rolls and one loaf of bread from half a recipe of dough. And it was easy.

European Peasant Bread

European Peasant Bread

Turns out word on the street – or blogosphere – was right, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day simplified bread baking so that even I was successful. If you’re in any way inclined to bake your own bread, this book is a must-have!

European Peasant Bread

European Peasant Bread

Here are the recipes, which have not been adapted:

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