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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Omelets Strike the Right Note at Breakfast

Breakfast is all-important. We need to be energized to take on the world but all too often we have the same meal, day in and day out. Bacon and eggs. Waffles with syrup. Cereal. Toast. A bowl of fruit. Power shakes. What started out as stimulating gets tedious.

Because they're so versatile, omelets are an antidote to breakfast-boredom. Just about any favorite herb, spice, vegetable, meat, or cheese works well with eggs. The only limitations are what you like.

(All the recipes are for 2 omelets.)

Cheese Omelet

The cheese omelet sets the stage for more ambitious fillings.

4 eggs (or 8 egg whites)
1 teaspoon butter
1 tablespoon half and half, whole milk, or low fat milk
2 tablespoons cheese (cheddar, brie, Swiss, Parmesan), grated or finely chopped
2 shallots, peeled, finely chopped
2 tablespoons Italian parsley (or basil, tarragon, oregano), washed, stems removed, leaves whole or roughly chopped
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

There are 2 essentials to making a good omelet: fresh eggs (ideally, Farmers' Market fresh) and a non-stick pan. The risks associated with Teflon are minimized if low heat is used and you avoid scratching the surfaces by using a rubber spatula.

The starting point for an omelet is to sauté the fillings. Too often in restaurants vegetables with high water content aren't cooked with a watery result. Sauté the shallots and parsley with the olive oil over a medium flame until lightly browned. Remove and set aside.

To make 2 individual omelets use an 8"-10" non-stick skillet. Even though I use a non-stick pan, I add a pat of butter for flavor. For an Italian touch drizzle a bit of olive oil. For low cal versions use egg whites, skim milk and low fat cheeses.

Melt the butter over a medium-low flame. Beat the eggs (or egg whites) together with the milk and pour into the pan. Cook a few minutes until the egg has set on the pan side. Spread the shallot-parsley sauté over half of the omelet. Add the cheese. Using a rubber spatula fold the "empty" side of the omelet onto the side with the sauté. Cook another 2 minutes then slide onto a plate. Season with sea salt and pepper to taste.

As they do in all good restaurants, offer yourself a choice of hash browns, fresh fruit, sausages or bacon, toast, or orange juice to go with your omelet.

Preparation Time: 5 minutes. Cooking Time: 10 minutes.

Bacon and Cheese Omelet

Using the basic recipe, start to build up the layers of flavor by adding bacon (or another salty meat like sausage or ham).

4 eggs (or 8 egg whites)
1 teaspoon butter
1 tablespoon half and half, whole milk, or low fat milk
Olive oil
2 tablespoons cheese (cheddar, brie, Swiss, Parmesan)
2 shallots, peeled, finely chopped
2 tablespoons Italian parsley, washed, stems removed, leaves whole or roughly chopped
2 tablespoons cooked bacon (or sausage or ham) crumbled
Sea salt and pepper

Use the Cheese Omelet directions above, adding the cooked meat at the same time as the cheese. Season with sea salt and pepper to taste.

Preparation Time: 10 minutes. Cooking Time: 10 minutes.

Vegetable Omelet

Instead of using meat to add flavor, use vegetables. Just about any vegetable will work: spinach, zucchini, onions, carrots, kale, artichoke hearts, broccoli, asparagus, English peas, potatoes... Walk down the aisles of your local farmers' market and think "omelet" as you pass the row after row of fresh vegetables.

Sauté the vegetables for sweetness and the added flavor of caramelization but they can be steamed. Tomatoes can be used sautéed or fresh, although I prefer fresh.

The amount of vegetables you use depends on their final volume. 1 cup of uncooked spinach will yield 1/4 cup of cooked spinach. 1 cup of zucchini will yield 3/4 cup for the filling. If you like a thin omelet, 1/4 cup of sautéed filling per omelet is probably sufficient. For a plump omelet, 1/2 cup per omelet is probably more to your liking.

Sauté the vegetables with olive oil, garlic, shallots, and parsley until softened or lightly browned then set aside. Follow the Cheese Omelet directions above for technique. Season with sea salt and pepper to taste.

Preparation Time: 10 minutes. Cooking Time: 10 minutes.

Chicken Livers Omelet

I love chicken livers but they aren't everyone's cup of tea (certainly not my wife's). If you do like them, you'll really enjoy this recipe.

4 eggs (or 8 egg whites)
1 teaspoon butter
1 tablespoon half and half, whole milk, or low fat milk
Olive oil
2 tablespoons cheese (cheddar, brie, Swiss, Parmesan)
4 shallots, peeled, finely chopped
2 tablespoons Italian parsley, washed, stems removed, leaves whole or roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled, finely chopped
2 mushrooms (brown or shiitake), washed, julienned
2 chicken livers, washed, cut into nickel-size pieces
Sea salt and pepper
Cayenne (optional)

Sauté the shallots (I doubled the amount of shallots for this recipe because their sweetness goes well with the livers), garlic, parsley, and mushrooms until lightly browned. Add the chicken livers and brown on all sides being careful to keep the insides pink. Season with sea salt, pepper, and cayenne (if you want some heat). Remove from the burner and set aside.

Make the omelet as described above, place the chicken liver sauté on one half and turn the "empty" side onto the side with the sauté. Let cook for 2 minutes and serve.

Preparation Time: 10 minutes. Cooking Time: 10 minutes.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Udon Finds the Perfect Partners: Clams, Mushrooms, and Garlic

These days udon is almost as ubiquitous as ramen. Served in a hot bowl of fragrant soup, udon satisfies as much with its texture as its flavor. Fat and chewy, the soft noodles are as comforting as dumplings.

Recently we visited Musha, a Tokyo style Izakaya restaurant (424 Wilshire Boulevard in downtown Santa Monica, 310/576-6330). Serving drinks and Japanese tapas--meats grilled at the table on charcoal braziers, sushi, noodles, and soups--the restaurant serves a delicious example of fusion cuisine: Udon Vongole. Using a European approach, the salty clam broth is sweetened with slices of garlic and handfuls of mushrooms.

Since Carlsbad Aquafarm had more of their delicious clams at the Santa Monica Farmers' Market, tonight seemed like the perfect time to make the dish at home.

Udon with Clams, Mushrooms, and Garlic


Fresh udon is sold in Asian markets like Nijiya Markets and even some supermarkets. Following Musha's example I used several varieties of mushrooms. The different textures and flavors added to the pleasures of the dish.

Yield: 2 servings

Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

2 packages fresh udon
2 pounds live clams, washed
6 cloves garlic, peeled, sliced thin
2 large shallots, peeled, sliced thin
1 tablespoon sweet butter
1 pound mushrooms (shiitake, brown, King trumpet, oyster mushrooms), washed, dried, cut in half
1 tablespoon cilantro leaves, washed, stems removed
Olive oil
Pepper

Method

Steam the clams in 1/2 cup water in a covered pot for 3 minutes. Set aside to cool. Remove the clams from their shells. Pour the broth into a bowl, being careful to discard any grit. You should have 1 1/2 cups of broth.

Sauté the garlic, shallots, and mushrooms with the olive oil until lightly browned. Add the clam broth and butter. Simmer 15 minutes. Season with pepper but don't add salt since the clam broth is salty.

Boil a quart of water. Add the packages of udon. The boiling water will soften the udon in 2-3 minutes. Drain the udon and add to the mushrooms and garlic and stir.

Taste the broth. If it's too salty, add a bit more butter. Add the clams at the last minute so they don't over cook. Serve in deep bowls and top with the cilantro leaves.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Surprise Surprise, What You Can Find When You Clean Out the Refrigerator

Over the years we've accumulated several refrigerators: 1 in the kitchen, 2 in the garage. But even with 3 refrigerators, there are times when they're so crowded we can't tell what's in there. That's when I have to take the time and give the refrigerators a good spring cleaning. Anything past its expiration date is an easy-throw-away. But what about the half-dozen bbq sauces the boys and I are still experimenting with?

Sometimes there's a pleasant surprise in the back of the refrigerator, like the home cured olives that get better with time. Or a month old paper bag filled with what was two pounds of shiitake mushrooms. Whenever I go to the Vietnamese markets in Little Saigon, I buy 4-5 pounds of shiitakes because they're so inexpensive: $2.79/pound instead of the usual $12-18.00/pound at Whole Foods and Gelson's. For weeks we'll feast on shiitakes: in pastas, grilled on the bbq, in soups, and sautéed with garlic and shallots.

Everyone knows that mushrooms should only be stored in paper bags because in plastic they'll get soggy. An added advantage: the paper bag is a natural dehydrator. In a few weeks the shiitakes dry out perfectly. This technique works with brown mushrooms as well but the shiitakes are the best.

Dehydrating Shiitakes

Put the mushrooms into a paper bag, add a paper towel in the middle to prevent against spoilage and facilitate drying, and close the bag. If any mushrooms develop mold, discard them. Once the shiitakes are completely dried, store in a sealed glass jar. At that point they don't have to be kept in the refrigerator but they seem to taste better if you do.

Reconstituting Dried Shiitakes

Put the dried mushrooms in a heat proof bowl and pour in enough boiling water to cover. Place a smaller bowl on top of the mushrooms to push them under the hot water. Let them sit for 30 minutes until they soften. Just before using, remove the mushrooms, gently squeeze out the water (reserve all the water), cut off the stems and discard. At this point the mushroom caps can be cooked as if they were fresh.

Shiitake Mushroom Soup with Garlic

A simple, satisfying soup. Other ingredients can be added to the basic soup: grilled sausages, roast chicken, raw shrimp, carrot rounds, corn kernels, , ginger, or deveined shrimp. If you have a package of ramen, cook the noodles and add those and a sliced hard boiled egg as well.

2 cups dried shiitake mushrooms, reconstituted, stems removed, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, peeled, finely chopped
4 shallots, peeled, finely chopped
4 cups spinach leaves, washed, stems removed (finely chop the stems, leave the leaves whole)
4 cups chicken stock (preferably homemade)
Soaking water
Sea salt and pepper
Olive oil

In a small pot sauté the mushrooms, garlic, shallots, spinach stems and leaves, and any other vegetables with the olive oil until lightly browned. Add the soaking water and chicken stock. Simmer for 20 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning with the salt and pepper as needed. If you cooked ramen noodles, add them just before serving.

Serves 2. Preparation Time: 10 minutes. Cooking Time: 30 minutes.