Shakshuka

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This week I’ve been hanging with my dear friend Sara. We met in junior high when we attended different schools but the same youth group. She wasn’t yet my friend when our youth director showed us The Sixth Sense as a treat and I called my parents to take me home (still haven’t seen it). But we became friends in spite of my scaredy-cat tendencies. And we’ve stayed friends for over half our lives. She’s spent the week staying on a nest of sleeping bags in my living room, where we’ve occupied our time taking Buzzfeed quizzes, arguing about movies, and taking long walks around the lakes. And cooking.

Sara, my oldest friend, my penpal for almost 10 years, and owner of a key to my parent’s house, has Celiac’s disease. And so we’ve spent a lot of time in the kitchen together cooking and eating together. We went out for arepas one night and Italian another. There have been occasional impromptu dances to Earth, Wind, and Fire. She organized all the magnetic poetry on the fridge by type of speech. We made these beans and tomato sauce, threw together a lentil soup, and tried out some earl grey macaroons (verdict- delicious, but not very earl grey-y…). And there was shakshuka. Because what better way to celebrate a close friend’s visit than with tomatoes and peppers and onions and eggs?

Shakshuka is a North African dish that’s essentially eggs poached in a sauce of tomato and peppers. As with all straightforward sounding dishes, there’s a world of variations available. I found my recipe in Yotam Ottolenghi’s brilliant (and classic) book Plenty, which may be the first cookbook I ever obsessed over. I know I’m not alone in this. I used to carry Plenty around with me in my purse JUST IN CASE someone hadn’t seen it yet. I was insufferable. I still am.

I’ve heard the mark of friendship isn’t liking each other but understanding each other. I think there’s some truth to that. But when you’re lucky you have people who like and understand you. I’m lucky. I have friends like Sara, who doesn’t laugh or roll her eyes when I decide that the perfect writing outfit is leather leggings and Aaron’s sweater. She drags me bra shopping and makes sure to bring backup sizes. We debate what makes Pride and Prejudice a great novel, the love story or the social commentary, and still swoon together when Elizabeth and Darcy touch hands. We annoy each other with our music choices, and then both belt out Backstreet Boys in the car. There are many gifts of friendship, but one of the best is that it can make you more open to your shared joys and sorrows.

And that makes sharing a meal, breaking the (metaphorical) bread together, that much more sweet.

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Shakshuka

The spice and herbs here are flexible- you could up the cayenne pepper, add hot peppers, and change out the herbs. Cilantro, thyme, and chives would all be excellent. The saffron here is optional- the shakshuka will still be fantastic even if saffron runs a bit too dear.

adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

serves 4

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 cup olive oil
2 onions, sliced
2 red bell peppers, sliced
2 yellow bell peppers, sliced
2 tablespoons chopped oregano
1/4 cup chopped parsley
2 bay leaves
1 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
pinch saffron (optional)
scant 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
salt and black pepper
juice of 1/2 a lemon
8 eggs

In a large pan over medium high heat add the cumin seeds. Toast them, stirring often, until they start to smell fragrant and get dark, about 2 minutes. Add the olive oil and the onions and sauté for 5 minutes, until the onions are soft.  Add both the peppers, the oregano, and the parsley and stir well. Continue to sauté for 10 minutes, until the peppers are soft.

Add the canned tomatoes, saffron, cayenne, and a good pinch of both salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to low and bring the sauce to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes or until the sauce has reached the same consistency as pasta sauce. If you need to cook it a bit further to get it there, or add water to get that result, do what you need to do. Add the lemon juice and taste, then adjust seasonings as necessary. It should taste bold.

This can all be done ahead of time. To serve the shakshuka, place a portion into a skillet and warm it. Make as many nests in the tangle of peppers as you want eggs, then crack an egg into each nest. I find it easiest to crack an egg into a small bowl, then slip it into the nest. Season each egg with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to low, and cover the skillet. Cook the eggs until they are set to your liking, starting to check at about the 6 minute mark and then for every 2 minutes after. Serve with a generous sprinkle of parsley.

 

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Fried Egg and Arugula English Muffin Sandwich

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Breakfast is the most wonderful and vexing of meals. It’s the beginning of the day and a chance to start things right. It’s the time for omelettes and scones and waffles and pastries and parfaits. It’s also a hurried, uncertain time. Breakfast is the meal I’m most likely to almost not eat.

Maybe you do the same. I don’t skip breakfast, but I’ll have just a piece of toast and peanut butter. Or I’ll eat a slice of leftover pizza, still cold. Once in a while breakfast is just an apple. Aaron’s even worse- he’ll survive on coffee until lunch, unless I make him toast. Toast which he will nibble on for an hour, before setting aside the remaining half. Aaron claims to not be hungry in the morning. I don’t understand. I am always hungry. I just have a serious case of morning brain.

But, of course, I love breakfast. It’s full of bread with butter, runny yolks, hot tea, and taking a moment to center myself before the day. I’m trying to get better about eating  breakfast, rather than consuming a meal that slightly resembles breakfast.

These breakfast sandwiches take inspiration from the ones my dad made my mom through my childhood. He would toast an english muffin, fry an egg over medium, and add some ham. My mom ate these on her commute with a thermos of coffee for many years. There’s a good chance she still does. Meanwhile, I was trying to master the perfect butter to eggo ratio (1:1 was my conclusion).

In my adaption of my parent’s standby I sub out the ham for arugula and picked red onions. If I’m going to make a savory breakfast rather than reheat breakfast-approriate foods, I want there to be vegetables. The arugula brings a fresh bite and peppery taste, and the onions provide a crisp bright contrast to the egg.  I also fry my eggs sunny side up. It does make the sandwich a bit less portable than my mom’s, but in the interest of civilized breakfasts the runny yolk is a good thing. It creates a luscious sauce that lingers in between the leaves of the arugula and nestles in the crevices of the the English muffins.

How good are these? I made one for Aaron this morning. Five minutes later it was gone- before he had even finished his coffee.

Wishing you a happy Thursday, full of runny yolks, hot tea, and maybe an election cake or two.

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Fried Egg and Arugula English Muffin Sandwich

I cook my eggs sunny side up, because I think this sandwich needs the richness of a runny yolk. If you’re absolutely opposed to a runny yolk, then I might add a bit of creamy cheese, such as brie, to boost the luxury factor.

Makes 1 sandwich

 

1 egg
Butter
Salt
Pepper
1 English muffin, preferably whole wheat
A handful of arugula
Pickled red onions

Place a small, nonstick skillet (either cast iron or other nonstick) between low and medium-low heat. Melt a small amount of butter in the skillet, enough that it forms a layer on the bottom of the pan but not so much that it’s swimming. Crack an egg and season with salt and pepper. Cook gently, moving the egg as necessary, until the white is set and the yolk is just warm. Remove the egg from the heat as soon as it’s done.

Meanwhile split and toast an English muffin. Once the English muffin is toasted spread both sides with a small smear of butter. On the bottom half of the English muffin place a generous handful of arugula. Top with the fried egg, a flurry of pickled red onions, and the top half of the English muffin. Eat immediately.

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Mushroom, Shallot and Sage Frittata

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I’ve long loved the idea of frittatas, but have never loved an actual frittata. It seems so easy- combine eggs and vegetables, then sauté and broil! But whenever I’ve tried to make frittatas they end up dry and loveless. I eat them, because I don’t like to waste food, but I spend most of the time wishing I had made quiche instead.

That is until yesterday , when I found myself rereading An Everlasting Meal by the brilliant Tamar Adler. Adler gave sparse and urgent directions for making frittata, specifically for using up leftover. About frittatas made from leftover pasta, Adler writes,

“Other than the perfect solitary sybaritic breakfast of pasta eaten directly out of a cold bowl, in bewilderment and utter presence, this is the best use, I believe, of leftover pasta. Glory be.”

I had no leftover pasta to fill my frittata. Pasta tends to fall into the “if it’s on my plate I will eat it” category for me, so there’s unlikely to be leftover pasta frittatas in my future. If there is I will absolutely turn it into a frittata. But for now I wanted a frittata filled with mushrooms and shallots and sage, tasting of a fall walk and brilliant sunsets early in the day.

Because I’ve always had bad luck with my frittatas I did some research. (I consulted here and here in addition to Adler.) It took a bit of reading, a bit of cobbling, and thirty minutes for a gorgeous golden frittata has emerged from the oven.

The two tricks that I’ve never used before and now will never foresake are to add a bit of heavy cream, and to let the eggs just start to form an edge with the pan before transferring the frittata to the oven. Before I was trying to cook the eggs through on the stovetop, and then would broil the top. This ended up with an inferior product, dry and rubbery. There’s no dry spots here. Instead it’s soft and luscious, a happy melding of egg and vegetable and cream.

I chose crimini mushrooms, shallots, and sage for my filling because I couldn’t think of a better counterpart to a fall day than earthy mushrooms, woodsy sage, and sweet shallots. If you don’t have the urge to recreate feeling through food as I do, one of the beauties of frittatas is that they are not so much a recipe as a technique. There may be fillings for frittatas that aren’t delicious, but I cannot think of any.

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Mushroom, Shallot and Sage Frittata

Serves 2-4

I used an 8 inch cast iron skillet for this, and it turned out perfect. If you have another oven safe skillet of the same size it work just fine, but you may need more butter.

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon unsalted butter, divided
8 ounces crimini mushrooms, stems removed, cleaned, and thinly sliced
2 shallots, halved and thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon pepper, divided
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons minced fresh sage
6 large eggs
1/4 cup heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Warm a large skillet over medium-low heat. Melt the two tablespoons of butter in the large skillet. Once the butter is melted, add the mushrooms and shallots. Stir well so that it’s all coated in the melted butter, then add 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and the ground nutmeg. Let it cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are softened and the shallots have all separated into long, loose strings, about 6 minutes. Add the sage and cook for another minute, until the whole mess smells woodsy and fragrant. Remove the mushrooms from the heat, and spread around the pan to let it cool quickly.

While the mushrooms are cooling whisk together in a large bowl the eggs, the heavy cream, and the remainder of the salt and pepper. Once the mushrooms are cool enough to touch set an 8-inch cast iron skillet over low heat and allow it to warm. If your mushrooms are taking longer to cool than you’d like stir them often and spread them as thinly as possible. It should only take about 5 minutes for the mushrooms to cool.

Melt the remaining 1 teaspoon of butter in your cast iron skillet. Add the mushrooms to the eggs, and stir well. Pour the mushroom-egg mixture into the preheated cast iron skillet. Allow the eggs to sit in the skillet just until edges where the egg and skillet meet start to develop. This should only take two or so minutes. Once that happens, kill the heat and place the skillet into the preheated oven.

Set a timer for 15 minutes. Bake your frittata until the center is just set and doesn’t jiggle if you shake it. If your frittata is not there at 15 minutes, check every 5 minutes until it is ready. Remove from the oven, and allow it to cool in the skillet for 5 minutes.

Place a plate over the skillet and invert the skillet so the frittata removes cleanly. If it sticks to the side, use an offset spatula or a butter knife to run around the rim.

Serve in fat wedges at room temperature.

 

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Leek and Spinach Quiche


I spent a long time thinking about what I wanted to make to officially mark the beginning of spring. Eggs always represent spring to me, with their promise of life and their thick, vivid yellow yolks. Sweet leeks and crisp spinach, which both grow nicely here for most of the year, would round out the eggs. And because spring is not summer, it calls for some baking and a bit more fat. A quiche, then,  with a butter crust and nutty gruyere and sips of heavy cream. And the day that I baked this quiche, this celebration of spring, I was rewarded with a fat flurry of snowflakes. As Anne Lamott says, if you want to make God laugh, tell her your plans.

The beginnings of spring in Minnesota resembles playing tug of war. You step forward into the sun, and then are pushed backwards towards the snow. It keeps going like this, inching forward a bit more every time, until finally with an almighty shove you topple into the season. I’m looking forward for this game to end. I have a fat bunch of seed packets to plant in my garden and a closet full of skirts and sandals to wear. In the meantime, restaurants all around are starting to clean off their patio furniture. Aaron and I have been taking long walks around Lake of the Isles in the brilliant sunlight and changed out the flannel sheets from our bed. Spring, we’re ready for you. Please be ready for us.

I enjoy eating quiche all year round, but I love it best in Spring. It’s an elegant meal (I included a quiche in 2 of the 3 Easter dinners I’ve cooked), but it’s also a simple one. It’s perfect for both Spring and psedu-Spring. You make a crust, bake it, fill it it, then bake it again. And while it’s not a 30 minute meal, most of the time is inactive time. I like to make the crust the day before I plan on baking quiche. The day of it’s as easy as assembling the filling, baking, and eating.  I eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, until I’m left quicheless. It’s a sad state to be quicheless, to face a breakfast routine of toast and peanut butter over one of flakey crust and airy custard. I’m planning on making this again just for breakfast leftovers.

Leek and Spinach Quiche

If you have a preferred pie crust recipe, then you could easily substitute it in for this one here. I would just decrease the sugar and make sure you only make enough for a single crust. Or you could just make a double crust recipe and save one crust for a future quiche. On second thought, do that. This recipe stands up well to improvisation, so please make this your own.

Crust:

1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling dough
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons cold butter, cut into fine chunks
ice water

Filling:

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium leeks, thinly sliced
6 cups (8 ounces) packed baby spinach, roughly chopped
salt
4 eggs
1 cup cream
1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated gruyere cheese
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and sugar until well combined. Add in the butter, and using a pastry knife or your fingers, cut the butter into the flour mixture. If you’re using the pastry knife cut and move the knife until the butter is about the size of peas. If you’re using your fingers (my preferred method), rub the butter into the flour until the butter is well distributed and about the size of a pea.

Use a fork to mix the flour and butter together. Slowly, slowly, slowly add the ice water, a tablespoon at a time, mixing with the fork the whole time. You want the dough to be just moistened enough to hold together, but not so much that it feels wet. The amount of water you’ll need depends on your flour, the water content of your butter, the air in your kitchen, and your confidence, but it should sit somewhere between 1/4 cup and 1/2 cup (4 to 8 tablespoons). If there are patches that are drier than others pour the water over those dry patches. The dough is ready when it just holds together. If you think you’re almost there, give it a squeeze. If it holds together on its own it’s ready. If it doesn’t, add another tablespoon.

Gather your dough into a ball and then flatten into a disk. Wrap this disk well and refrigerate for at least an hour. You can refrigerate the dough for a few days, or freeze for a few months, as long as it’s wrapped well.

When you’re ready to roll out your dough dust a clean surface with flour. Unwrap your dough and place on the surface. Use smooth, long strokes of a rolling pin to roll the dough out onto the surface. Every few strokes, turn the dough a quarter turn to make sure it’s rolling out evenly, and not sticking to the surface. If you’re having trouble with sticking, add a bit more flour.The dough is ready when you have a smooth, even expanse of dough about 12 inches in diameter.

Fold your dough into quarters and place in a 9 inch pie pan, then unfold. Center the dough, and trim off the overhang to about 1 inch. If you have any holes, now is the time to patch them with the extra dough. Crimp the ends of the dough to an even pattern, and poke the bottom with a fork half a dozen or so times. Return the dough to the fridge for 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400.

Place a sheet of parchment paper over the dough, and cover with a weight such as dried beans. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove beans and parchment paper and return to oven for 8 minutes, until the crust is golden and smells of butter. Remove from oven, and reduce the heat to 350.

While the crust is baking, wash the leeks in several changes of clean water. When the leeks are clean and drained, warm the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the leeks to the olive oil with a pinch of salt, and stir well. Let the leeks cook for a few minutes, until they’re starting to wilt and smell sweet and onion-y. Add the spinach, and cook for another few minutes, until the spinach is wilted. Set aside, and let cool. Drain any liquid you can easily drain.

In a medium bowl whisk together the eggs. Add the cream, cheese, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooled vegetables, and mix well. Pour into the pie crust and return to the oven.

Bake until the crust smells toasty and the filling is set, about 45 minutes. Serve warm or room temperature.

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