Of all the food-related aromas on my Favorites List, the smell of breakfast is at the top. Perhaps because breakfast, above all other meals, is a nurturing meal. Prepared by someone who must love you very much, indeed, to raise him or herself out of bed to begin the process of cooking for you.
My uncle Reg's energetic pancake production always lured observers into the kitchen on those sleepy, lazy mornings at their country house in Sonoma Valley. He made quite a show of it - and his daughter Bonnie and I made the perfect audience. We giggled and gawked at every act he performed, from the operatic tunes he sang, to the breaking of the eggs (held high and broken swiftly with a single blow from his left hand).
Perhaps being a paratrooper during World War II had given him a sense of the dramatic. Certainly, the tales he told of those days with the 101st Airborn, which centered around the leaping from a plane over Normandy on D-Day, were exciting unto themselves. But it sort of spilled over into his conduct in the kitchen as well. It was fun when Reg was there.
From his post at the stove, while beating the egg whites to an exact stage of firmness, he would direct the troops to the proper setting of the table, the heating of the syrup and the melting of the butter. During the act of folding these perfect egg whites into the batter, he would lecture us all on the importance of perfectly executed egg whites ("You know, it's the egg whites that are the secret to my perfect pancakes.") And maybe they were. After all, his pancakes certainly were a testament to that fact.
The first time he turned the beater over to me and said, "Here, Janet, you finish the egg whites, then fold them into the batter," was a momentous day. I was unsure of how stiff they should be, but with Reggie's educated eye, we had them to the correct stage in no time. I remember how funny they looked once folded in - little fluffy islands adrift in a goopy white lake of batter.
"That's good," he would say. "You don't want an even batter."
Then he let Bonnie and me do the actual plopping of that batter onto the griddle. But first he taught us how to recognize the correct temperature, which was when the little sprinkles of water he flicked from his finger tips skittered feverishly across the surface and then vanished before our eyes.
We learned that the puddles of batter weren't ready to flip before they had developed a mass of blistery bubbles on the top. And he assured us that the first batch weren't fit for family or foe - which they weren't, when you compared them to the golden beauties that followed - but were just dandy for Mac, the family beagle. Which they were.
On many occasions a simple preparation of sauteed apples found its way to the breakfast table alongside the pancakes. Of all the variations I've encountered over the years, James Beard's approach, as set forth in his book, "Delights & Prejudices," seems to be the one most like Reg's. It's very straight forward: butter, apples, and a bit of sugar, sauteed to a golden brown on both sides.
And when it was done correctly - which was all the times I can recall - not a speck of it ended up in Mac's dish.
Reggie's Light As A Cloud Buttermilk Pancakes
2 eggs, separated
2 cups buttermilk (additional buttermilk or regular milk, if needed)
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup melted butter
Beat the egg whites until they will hold firm peaks; set aside. Combine the egg yolks with the buttermilk and blend thoroughly. In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir the mixture into the buttermilk mixture. Stir in the melted butter, and if the batter seems too thick at this point, add a splash of buttermilk or regular milk. Gently fold in the egg whites, making sure to leave the whites quite lumpy.
Spoon the mixture onto a hot, lightly greased, griddle (about 375 degrees F.; water flicked from your finger should skitter across the surface and evaporate quickly) and cook the pancakes until they are nicely browned on both sides. Serve them with melted butter and hot syrup. Yields about 18 5-inch pancakes.
Saute of Autumn Apples
A great topping for pancakes and waffles.
Peel and slice thin 4 cooking apples. Saute them very gently on one side in 4 tablespoons of butter for about 4 minutes, or until golden. Sprinkle them with 1-1/2 tablespoons golden brown sugar, and turn very carefully with a spatula. Cook the apples until they are nice and golden on both sides. Serve alongside freshly cooked pancakes, waffles, or French toast. Also a delicious accompaniment to pork.
Adapted from "Delights and Prejudices," by James Beard.
Broccoli Frittata with Saffron and Lemon
Amazingly easy to prepare, and a wonderful addition to a brunch or a light lunch. The saffron adds a slightly exotic accent and gives the frittata its delightfully sunny look. However, for the uninitiated, know that saffron is an expensive seasoning. So don’t feel at all guilty if you decide to omit it. Just rename the recipe!
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups finely chopped onions
2 cups small broccoli florets
6 ounces provlone or smoked mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup half and half
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon crushed saffron (optional)
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1-1/2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter a 10-inch pie plate or quiche dish (or any low-sided ovenproof casserole dish that will hold 4-3/4 cups liquid.
Heat the oil in a heavy saute pan. Add the onions and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until the onions become transparent. Add the broccoli and saute for 3 minutes longer, stirring the mixture a few times.
Transfer the vegetables to the prepared quiche dish. Scatter the mozzarella over the vegetables.
In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, half and half,salt, saffron, and pepper until smooth. Pour the egg mixture over the vegetables. Sprinkle with the Parmesan, parsley, and lemon peel.
Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the frittata has puffed and is nicely browned. Remove and let it rest for 10 minutes before serving. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
NOTE: This can be made 1 day ahead of time, covered, and stored in the refrigerator. When ready to serve, uncover and reheat for 10 minutes in a preheated 375 degree F. Oven. This is great for a large breakfast crowd. Vegetables such as leeks, red bell pepper, or fresh spinach can be substituted for or used in addition to the broccoli.
Recipe from "Country Weekend Entertaining," by Anna Pump, with Gen LeRoy.