Brunch. The dine-in restaurant occasion I miss most during this pandemic.
I’m not really thinking of those all-you-can-eat grand buffets (although that sounds decadently delightful). Rather, those leisurely outings with good friends that involve waitstaff, luxurious food and a way-early-for-me cocktail or two. A stroll might follow to aid digestion and keep the conversation flowing, before the need to nap pulls me to the couch.
These days, working at home means the couch often doubles as desk. The cocktail hour creeps into consciousness at dusk. The snack drawer beckons all day.
This January, I declare time to cook our own restaurant-worthy brunch dishes. Eggs covered in a creamy sauce, bacon-y potatoes, seed and nut pancakes sweetened with jam. It makes no matter to the cook when you enjoy them — Sunday morning, Tuesday evening or Friday lunch.
I never have enough pancake recipes. Whole-grain, buttermilk, potato, lemon ricotta — we love them all in our family. My pet peeve is the metallic taste of excess leavening found in boxed mixes and some recipes, so I nearly always make my own dry mix. Ingredients on hand inspire the use of various flours, seeds, nut and fruit additions. A love of muesli cereal translated into the version below, chock full of oats, almonds and dried currants.
I stock bags of frozen cranberries for this speedy cranberry, fig and ginger jam. Make a double batch, and package in small refrigerator containers to gift to your former brunch buddies with the dry pancake mix and instructions for cooking.
Bacon and potatoes are a match made in heaven — especially when indulging in breakfast-for-dinner. The hash that follows can be served in individual skillets topped with an egg — reminiscent of pancake house skillet meals.
Like many, I struggle to poach eggs so they look beautiful and stay soft-set. The best technique I’ve found is simply to keep the barely simmering pan of water swirling when you add the egg. The movement of the water helps coat the yolk with the white. Once done, after about 3 minutes, use a slotted spoon to transfer the egg to a bowl of lukewarm water. The eggs hold in this manner nicely while you reheat the potato mixture to piping hot. Top everything with a lemony, mayonnaise-based sauce — easier than making hollandaise.
I always enlist help while cooking brunch — someone to act as the barista and bartender while I concentrate on the stove. Serve mimosas with the pancakes and bloody marys with the bacon potato skillet.
Fortified, we reminisce and marvel at the skills of the staff at our favorite brunch spots. Let’s support them in these difficult times by ordering takeout meals, tipping generously and sending donations. New memories are on the horizon.
CINNAMON MUESLI PANCAKES WITH CRANBERRY, FIG AND GINGER JAM
Any good-quality thick, not-too-sweet jam can stand in for the homemade version. I like lingonberry when it’s available. Gluten-free 1-to-1 baking flour (such as Bob’s Red Mill) can be substituted for the flours. Use more oats if you wish to replace the nuts.
Start to finish: 40 minutes
Makes: 16 four-inch pancakes
1 cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup whole-wheat flour
½ cup old-fashioned oats
¼ cup quinoa flakes or bran flakes (or crushed bran flake cereal)
¼ cup sliced almonds or pecan pieces, chopped
¼ cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons roasted or raw sunflower seeds
3 or 4 tablespoons dried currants or chopped golden raisins or dried cranberries
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 large eggs
1½ cups milk (whole, low-fat or skim all are fine here)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons melted butter
Vegetable oil for high-heat cooking, such as sunflower, safflower or expeller-pressed canola oil
Plain or vanilla yogurt
Cranberry, fig and ginger jam (see recipe below), warmed
Cranberry or maple syrup
Mix the flours, oats, quinoa flakes, almonds, brown sugar, sunflower seeds, currants, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in a medium bowl. (Or store in a covered container up to several weeks.)
To make pancake batter, whisk the eggs together in a large bowl. Whisk in the milk, 3 tablespoons oil and melted butter. Whisk the flour mixture into the egg mixture just until everything is moistened. Do not overmix. Let stand about 5 minutes.
To cook pancakes, heat 1 or 2 large nonstick skillets or a griddle over medium heat until a drop of water sizzles on contact. Lightly brush the surface with a little oil. Use a ¼ cup measure or ladle to dollop batter in several places over hot surface, allowing 2 or 3 inches between pancakes for spread. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook until bubbles form on the surface and the bottom is golden brown, about 3 minutes. Flip and brown the other side, about 1 minute more.
Serve pancakes hot off the griddle topped with yogurt, warm cranberry jam and a drizzle of syrup.
Note: Pancakes can be transferred to a wire rack set over a baking sheet in a 200-degree oven to stay warm while you cook all the batter.
Nutrition information per serving: 164.4 calories, 7.9 g fat, 2.4 g saturated fat, 41.8 mg cholesterol, 19.6 g carbohydrates, 6 g sugar, 4.7 g protein, 206.3 mg sodium, 1.7 g fiber.
CRANBERRY, FIG AND GINGER JAM
Start to finish: 25 minutes
Makes about 2½ cups
1 bag (12 ounces) fresh or frozen cranberries
1 small tart apple or Bartlett pear, peeled, cored, cut into ½-inch pieces
7 or 8 dried Turkish figs, chopped, about ¾ cup (4 ounces)
½ cup sugar
Grated zest and juice of half an orange
1-2 tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger
Put the cranberries, apples, figs, sugar, and orange zest and juice into a medium saucepan. Add ½ cup water. Heat to a simmer over medium heat. Cook, covered, to completely dissolve the sugar, 3 minutes. Uncover and simmer on low, stirring often, until most of the cranberries pop, about 10 minutes.
Stir in the ginger. Cool. Refrigerate covered up to 4 days. Serve warm.
Nutrition information per serving: 24.2 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 6.3 g carbohydrates, 5 g sugar, 0.2 g protein, 0.5 mg sodium, 0.7 g fiber.
BACON AND POTATO SKILLET WITH POACHED EGGS AND LEMON THYME MAYONNAISE
To save time, skip step 1 and substitute 4 or 5 cups thawed, shredded frozen potatoes or hash browns. You can opt to pan-fry the eggs if poached eggs are not your thing.
Start to finish: 55 minutes
4-5 medium yellow potatoes, about 1½ pounds, scrubbed
1 tablespoon butter
2 or 3 thick slabs bacon, finely chopped (3 ounces)
1 small onion, finely chopped (4 ounces)
½ Golden Delicious or 1 small tart apple, peeled, cored, finely chopped
3 green onions, thinly sliced
½ teaspoon dried thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon white distilled vinegar
For the lemon thyme mayonnaise:
½ cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
¼ teaspoon dried thyme leaves or ½ teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
Several dashes red pepper hot sauce, plus more for serving
Sliced green onions, parsley sprigs
Put the whole potatoes and ½ teaspoon salt into a large saucepan. Add water to cover them by 1 inch. Heat to a boil, and cook, partly covered, until potatoes are not quite fork-tender in the center, about 10 minutes. Drain. Let potatoes cool until you can handle them. Set a four-sided grater into a large bowl. Use the largest holes to shred the potatoes (including the skins) into the bowl.
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon, onion and apple. Cook until onion is golden and tender, about 10 minutes.
Stir the shredded potatoes, green onions, thyme, 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper into the skillet containing the onion mixture. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are beautifully bronzed, about 10 minutes. Set aside to stay warm. (Or, divide mixture among 4 small skillets or ovenproof bowls and pop into a 200-degree oven to stay warm.)
Poach eggs as follows: Fill a large saucepan half full with water. Add the vinegar and ½ teaspoon salt; heat to a boil. Reduce heat so water is barely at a simmer. Crack 1 egg into a small cup. Use a spoon to swirl the water in the saucepan; slip the egg into the swirling water. Repeat to add remaining eggs to water. Let eggs simmer until whites are nearly set but yolks are still runny, about 3 minutes. Transfer the eggs with a slotted spoon to a bowl of warm water.
Mix the mayonnaise, lemon juice, thyme and hot sauce to taste in a small bowl.
If necessary, reheat the potato hash until it’s very hot. Top with poached eggs and dollops of the lemon thyme mayonnaise. Garnish with more hot sauce, green onions and parsley.
Nutrition information per serving: 563.6 calories; 36.6 g fat; 9.3 g saturated fat; 226.8 mg cholesterol; 42.1 g carbohydrates; 6.6 g sugar; 17.2 g protein; 1,010.1 mg sodium; 4.2 g fiber.