Saturday, December 30, 2006

A CI Breakfast Bonanza, or Never Too Many Eggs in One Day!

Hey, Gina, what are you doing for your holiday break from school?

<----You're looking at it! Prunelle the PBGV captures the essence of my non-activity here as she snuggles in a sleeping bag. (Remember the tragedy of the broken oven? The next chapter is going to be the tale of the busted propane heating monitor! BRRR!) I haven't even been doing much in the way of exciting cooking either, since we have been mostly subsisting on all of the leftovers and holiday goodies. But one thing that I do enjoy when I have some time off of work is making indulgent breakfasts, as you may have noted from the previous post about Eggs Benedict. Well, today, it was all about making some "f#ckin' FRENCH TOAST!" (Movie reference, anyone?) I consider myself a master of the art of French toast, but I tried a different recipe this morning. I have recently rediscovered a couple of cookbooks on my shelf from the publishers of Cooks Illustrated, and this French toast is from The America's Test Kitchen Cookbook. I don't know about you, but I just love Cooks Illustrated in all its forms--magazine, cookbooks, and their website, especially the message boards where I get lots of good ideas and recipes and foodie fellowship. If you've never read any of their stuff, it's quite fascinating how they take a recipe and test it many different ways before concluding that they have achieved the best version. And the fascinating part is how they describe in lively and humorous detail exactly where each previous version fell short of the ideal and why. So for those of us always searching for the very best version of a dish, this can be a huge shortcut, a big time- and money-saver.

As for the CI French toast, interestingly, their recipe is almost exactly like my own version. I thought I was the first one clever enough to add some flour to the egg dunk to make a more substantive crust, I always add a little sugar and vanilla (and eschew cinnamon), and I am a firm advocate for using some type of sweet, eggy bread like challah, brioche, or today I used a Hawaiian sweet loaf. And besides warm maple syrup, I also like a little powdered sugar sprinkled on for good measure--takes me back to my childhood. This is a superlative French toast, trust me. Sometimes you don't need really fancy things with goat cheese or pine nuts or arugula or shaved truffles all piled up in a tower on your plate. Sometimes you just need a really excellent interpretation of a beloved classic. Sometimes, you just need some f#ckin' French toast! ;-)

French Toast
(Source: The America's Test Kitchen Cookbook)

Makes 4-5 challah slices, 6-8 sandwich slices (I made 6 thick Hawaiian bread slices and I needed to double this recipe!)

1 large egg
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus extra for frying
3/4 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon table salt
4 - 5 slices day-old challah bread (3/4-inch-thick) or 6 to 8 slices day-old sandwich bread

1. Heat 10- to 12-inch skillet (preferably cast-iron) over medium heat for 5 minutes (I used a big electric skillet). Meanwhile, beat egg lightly in shallow pan or pie plate; whisk in butter, then milk and vanilla, and finally sugar, flour, and salt, continuing to whisk until smooth. Soak bread without oversaturating, about 40 seconds per side for challah or 30 seconds per side for sandwich bread. Pick up bread and allow excess batter to drip off; repeat with remaining slices.

2. Swirl 1 tablespoon butter in hot skillet. Transfer prepared bread to skillet; cook until golden brown, about 1 minute 45 seconds on first side and 1 minute on the second. Serve immediately. Continue, adding 1 tablespoon butter to skillet for each new batch.

As you can imagine, with a breakfast like that, there was no need for lunch today. But by dinner time, I felt compelled to continue my breakfast motif, and the Cooks Illustrated breakfast theme in particular. You see, I was rummaging around in the big freezer, looking for something to make for dinner, and I found an orphaned corned beef, leftover from last spring when I bought an extra one at a St. Patrick's Day sale price. I have never in my life made corned beef hash, but I have been hankering for some, so I thought I'd tried my hand at it. Once again, I turned to the good people of CI, this time, to a cookbook called American Classics. Despite the fact that it took an inordinate amount of time to cut and chop everything (though my new Rachael Ray knife made it that much less tiresome!), and I accidentally broke one of my egg's yolks as you can see (ugh!), it was really good! I would definitely make this again, especially as a breakfast-for-dinner meal that I like to do when I'm working and don't have time for a big breakfast in the morning. If you'd like to try it for yourself, here's the recipe:

Corned Beef Hash
(Source: American Classics)

2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 bay leaves
4 slices bacon, diced
1 medium onion, diced
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, minced (dry works nearly as well, but use half as much)
1 pound corned beef, minced (pieces should be 1/4-inch or smaller, thick slices of corned beef from the deli would be fine here)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (or maybe one teaspoon?! chickens!)
4 large eggs (up to 6, I think)
salt and pepper

1. Bring the potatoes, five cups of water, salt and bay leaves to a boil. Once boiling, cook the potatoes for four minutes, then drain and set aside.

2. Cook the bacon in a large, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat for a couple of minutes until the fat starts to render. Add the onion and cook until softened and slightly browned, about eight minutes. Add the garlic and thyme and cook for less than a minute. Add the corned beef and stir to combine. Mix in the potatoes, reduce the heat to medium, then pour the heavy cream and hot sauce over everything. Loosely pack the hash down with a spatula and cook undisturbed for four minutes. Invert the hash, one section at a time, folding the browned parts back into the hash. Continue this process until the potatoes are cooked through and everything is sufficiently browned to your liking.

3. Crack each egg over the top of the hash and sprinkle them all with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and cook until the eggs are set, about six minutes. Serve in wedges with an egg on top of each section. Serve immediately.


Anonymous said...

can I come over and have you cook for me?

Joy Bugaloo said...

Girl, YOU are the caterer! You come cook for ME! ;-)