Day 6: A Radically Simple Countdown to Christmas

12-21-2013 03;58;28PMWhen we think about main courses, it is generally dinner that comes to mind. But a main course for Christmas morning is fun to consider. A great idea is to make a breakfast strata: Layers of bread, prosciutto, feta, provolone and spinach, that can be assembled the night before and baked while you open presents. The striations of ingredients soak up the egg-and-milk base. Baked for 1 hour, the result is custardy, rich, and quiche-like. Best eaten in your pajamas while sipping winter mimosas -- made with tangerine juice and prosecco topped with pomegranate seeds. Cheese Strata with Prosciutto, Basil & Spinach

3-1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter 16 slices firm white bread, crusts removed 8 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto 8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled 4 ounces provolone cheese, shredded 1/4 cup finely minced scallions, white and green parts 4 ounces fresh baby spinach 1/2 cup finely julienned fresh basil 5 extra-large eggs 2 cups half-and-half 1/2 teaspoon Sriracha or hot sauce

Butter a 12-x-7 inch glass or ceramic dish with 1/2 tablespoon of the butter. Cover the bottom with 6 slices of bread, plus 1 slice cut in half to fill the spaces. Evenly cover the bread with half the prosciutto. Sprinkle with half of the feta, provolone, scallions, spinach, and basil. Repeat to make a second layer. Cut the remaining 2 bread slices into 1/4-inch cubes; scatter over the top. Beat together the eggs, half-and-half, and hot sauce. Pour over the strata; press down firmly with a spatula. Melt the remaining 3 tablespoons butter and drizzle over the top.  Cover; refrigerate 5 hours or overnight. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Uncover and bake 1 hour, until golden. Serves 8

Electric Orange Juice

For years I've been hearing about the big, bountiful, beautiful breakfasts at Norma's:  the hotel dining room at the Parker-Meridien on West 57th Street in New York City.  And while the experience was extremely pleasant and the food very good, the most outstanding part of the story was the orange juice!  At first I thought it was a hustle.  At $9 a glass, what was the deal?   "Who wants juice?" our affable waiter sung out? (He looked a bit like Baryshnikov).  With the grace of a dancer, he began pouring electric-looking orange liquid into three of our four extremely tall glasses.  I declined, and chose instead to have juice for dessert -- more about that later.  After 30 minutes, the glasses were filled again, and 10 minutes later...again.  Quickly I calculated that I was now $54 into the check and we hadn't had anything yet to eat!  Uh-oh, "here he comes again."  I didn't want to seem ungracious (I was treating), but finally said, "Sir, uh, um, do you charge for each glass of juice?"   "Oh no," he said.  "Refills are free."  Instant relief for me, then curiousity.  Why would they do that?  The juice was extraordinary tasting.  It was though a crate of succulent Honeybells was squeezed into each glass.  While it was the hospitality-equivalent of the unlimited "sweet tea" you encounter in the South, this orange elixir had to cost them a fortune.   The food arrived...a PB&C Waffle 'Wich (a chocolate waffle with peanut butter and toffee crunch filling), Artychoked Benedict (with truffle porcini sauce), Super Cheesy French Toast (with caramelized onions and applewood smoked bacon), and Normalita's Huevos Rancheros and...more juice. As I mentioned, I saved mine for dessert.  One of my most memorable desserts in history was experienced in Barcelona.  At a trendy neighborhood restaurant, chic customers order fresh orange juice for dessert, served in a wine glass and accompanied by a spoon.  How simple, yet brilliant, to end a meal in such a vibrant, palate-cleansing way.   It is especially memorable made with Honeybells (just coming up from Florida now) or with blood oranges.  I call their flavor "nature's Kool-Aid."  Either way, it's an inspired, one-ingredient dessert, that's hard to beat.

Although breakfast at Norma's is very expensive (there is even Foie Gras French Toast for $34 and The Zillion Dollar Lobster Frittata for $100), if you do as I did, dessert is free.  I drank the last glass of juice from one of my guests.

A Recipe for Electric Orange Juice

This recipe is one ingredient only.  Each large orange yields about 1/2 cup juice so plan accordingly.  Use navel oranges, Honeybells, or large blood oranges. (At this time of year, it's delicious to add the juice of two tangerines.)

8 large oranges

Cut oranges in half and juice.  Pour into wine glasses and serve with a spoon.  Serves 4

Odds and Ends

Hope you all had a wonderful New Year's Day.  Aside from birthdays, and hangovers, and new years wishes, January 1st marks the day in 1943 that my devastatingly handsome father scored the winning touchdown at the Sugar Bowl for the University of Tennessee!  From there he was drafted by the Washington Redskins.  I have the signed football from the Sugar Bowl and the Redskins contract.  My dad was a fullback...and the deal was $5000.00. He didn't play long however, injuries from the war got the better of him.  But we commemorated New Year's day with "Tennessee doughnuts" anyway. My dad would buy the biggest yeast-glazed doughnuts he could find and fry them up in a bit of butter in a frying pan, flattening them with a spatula as he went along.  You ate them like pancakes, with a fork and a knife, and let the sugar, and disappointments, melt away. Yesterday, two requests appeared on my blog for the recipe for the "double-boiler"scrambled eggs that my husband makes me for on New Year's morning. He wrote it down last night and named it "Voluptuous Scrambled Eggs."  The recipe is below, along with a photo of the dish just before I devoured it. As you can see, a tiny jar of caviar goes a long way.   The day unfolded with more delicious things to eat:  Jasmine tea and Christmas cookies at the home of close friends who wanted us to see their sparkling Christmas tree before it was disassembled, and then a late afternoon party at the home of "wedding planner to the stars," Marcy Blum, whose generosity can seriously damage any New Year's resolutions for moderation.  Quarter-pounder crab cakes, prime rib, and champagne for 80!

Today, my best friend (since we were 13) and her daughter (now a rabbi) are coming to town (from Philadelphia and Durham, NC respectively.)  We are celebrating the end of the holiday with one last feast at Norma's -- the restaurant in the Parker-Meridien Hotel famous for its sumptuous breakfasts.

For tonight we'll nibble on lettuce.  May this year be a healthy one for all.


9 extra-large eggs 1 Tbsp water 2 Tbsp unsalted butter, one of which is cut into small pieces 1 heaping Tbsp goat cheese, cut into small pieces

Put several inches of water into a smallish pot.  Fit a non-stick frying pan to cover the pot.  Or use a proper double-boiler.  Get the water simmering. Beat the eggs and the water together vigorously.

Put one Tbsp butter into the pan and let it melt completely.  Swirl to make sure entire pan is coated.  Add the eggs.  Keep the water at a slow simmer and have patience.  Eventually the eggs will begin to set.  Stir them slowly and gently with a rubber spatula.  As the eggs begin to firm up, add all the pieces of goat cheese and a few small pieces of butter.  Continue stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan.  Add more butter as the eggs get firmer.  Here’s where you need the most patience: The eggs should firm up as slowly as possible, so you may need to turn the flame down – or even remove the pan from the heat of the water for a moment.  When the eggs are just about set – they will be soft and there will be a bit of liquid eggs in the pan -- add a pinch of salt and stir until the eggs set to your taste.  To my taste, they should be very soft with a small amount of runny eggs.  Spoon them onto a warm plate.  Serves 2 or 3

Christmas at IHOP

True story:  Late Christmas morning, we left the Marriott hotel in Palm Beach Gardens and looked for somewhere to have breakfast before going to our cousins for an afternoon swim.  For over an hour we passed closed cafes, drive-ins, drive-throughs, dives and diners -- even Denny's disappointed.  Dashed were our dreams of fluffy pancakes, hot chocolate, french pastries, and endless cups of strong coffee.  At this point, even a bagel with a smear would do.  Quite unlike New York, where many restaurants rock on Christmas Day, in south Florida, people are where they should be:  At home, eating fluffy pancakes, hot chocolate, french pastry and coffee.  A voice from the back seat of our rented car stopped us short.  "IHOP," it said.  "IHOP?" we chortled.  "Yes," said the earnest voice.  Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez were there not long ago.  In Florida.  They had pancakes."  Our daughter programmed our rented GPS and in no more than ten minutes we were in front of an IHOP.  It was OPEN. I tell you this story to let you know that a new dish was born on Christmas Day.  Now, past lunchtime, I noticed a weathered man next to me eating what looked like fish.  A lot of it.  Broccoli and roasted potatoes, too.   The nice waitress told us it was tilapia.  Something made me try it.  But I wanted it with scrambled eggs instead (no broccoli or potato chunks) and shredded hash browns.  Yes, I would even try the Hollandaise that came with the fish. My husband and daughter ordered fluffy pancakes (eggs, bacon, sausage, toast, too) but it took awhile to get our food.  My tilapia was being cooked-to-order. And there it was!  Perfectly moist and flaky, subtly seasoned with a bit of Cajun magic, crisp around the edges and golden brown. And there was a lot of it. Soft-scrambled eggs and lovely hash browns.  Even the Hollandaise was credible, made more so with a squeeze of fresh lemon.  Truly, it was terrific.  My husband, the globe-trotting restaurant consultant, always said that the best way to cook fish was on a griddle.

There you have it.  The Gold Special:  Griddled golden tilapia with lemony Hollandaise, soft-scrambled eggs, and shredded hash browns.  $9.99.  And endless cups of good, strong coffee.   Hope your Christmas was special, too.

Another Gold special:  A recipe for Scrambled Eggs with Leeks & Sable from Radically Simple.

Scrambled Eggs with Leeks & Sable A more distinctive version of the classic lox, eggs, and onions, these eggs rest on slices of sable, gently warming them.  Sable, or smoked black cod, is available in upscale food stores.

8 thin slices smoked sable 2 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts only 4 tablespoons unsalted butter 10 extra-large eggs

Overlap 2 slices of sable in the centers of four very large plates.  Wash the leeks; dry well.  Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a very large frying pan.  Add the leeks; cook, stirring, until soft and golden, 10 minutes.  Beat the eggs well with an electric mixer on whisk, adding salt and pepper.  Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in the pan with the leeks; add the eggs and continue to cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until just set, 2 minutes.  Spoon the eggs atop the sable. Serves 4

The Best "Overnight" Pancakes

Thick and fluffy as bath towels, my new formulation for making pancakes allows both you, and the batter, to rise slowly in the morning.  Self-rising flour and extra baking powder provide the levitation; buttermilk, vanilla and olive oil provide the flavor.  The batter should be used within 15 hours of making and so the optimal timing would be to prepare the batter just before you go to bed.  Make it at 10:00 p.m. and presto, the voluminous batter will be perfect for your oil-slicked frying pan anytime before noon the next day.  A big diner-size griddle would be the best way to cook these but I don't happen to have one.  Instead I just add a sheen of olive oil (yes! -- I use it in the batter, too) to my largest nonstick frying pan and make them three at a time.  I'm a one-handed flapjack flipper.  The other hand is reserved for a large mug of very strong coffee, tightly held, until the last drop of batter is used.   This recipe yields about 14 pancakes making it possible to invite 4 to 6 hungry guests to linger around your breakfast table.  Given the timing of the operation, these would best be served on weekends. Drizzle on your best maple syrup (at our house we use Grade B syrup because it has the best flavor) or top with fresh blueberries, briefly cooked in simple syrup (sugar boiled in water until dissolved). In winter, when bananas and strawberries-from-somewhere are available, I dice both fruits into grade A maple syrup, add chopped roasted almonds, and cook it until the fruit gently perfumes the syrup.  It, too, is radically simple to prepare. Double-Rise Pancakes with Strawberries, Bananas & Almonds 2 extra-large eggs 1 cup buttermilk 3 tablespoons sugar 1 tablespoon baking powder 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for the pan 1-1/2 cups self-rising cake flour

1 cup real maple syrup 1 cup finely diced bananas 1 cup finely diced strawberries 1/2 cup chopped roasted almonds

In a blender, combine the eggs, buttermilk, sugar, baking powder, vanilla, 2 tablespoons oil, flour, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Blend until smooth.  Place the covered blender in the refrigerator overnight.  Whirl the batter in the blender before using.  Combine the syrup, bananas, and strawberries in medium saucepan.  Cook 5 minutes over high heat, stirring often.  Stir in 1/4 cup of the almonds.  Heat a griddle (or very large frying pan); brush with oil.  Stir the batter; ladle by 1/4 cups onto the griddle, leaving space between the pancakes.  Cook until browned, 3 minutes; turn, cook until golden, 2 minutes longer.  Serve with the topping and remaining almonds.  Serves 4 to 6