Food & Drink

Art of the Brunch

by Cass Daubenspeck January 16, 2015
ReadArt of the Brunch

Breakfast is pretty much everything. It’s the intention to start a new day. It’s the body’s first energy, and it’s one of the single defining factors in scientific studies on aging: The subjects who live the longest, aside from never smoking, always eat breakfast. From a bowl of granola to a bowl of noodles, the first meal of the day is a truly hopeful event that links each one of us to everyone else. Because there’s always someone out there, stirring a coffee or dishing up eggs, thinking, “Today will be better than yesterday.”

More than breakfast on a regular weekday, the way a person approaches the weekend brunch really says something about their approach to life. Brunch is a chance to break the workaday routine of eating single-serving yogurt or healthy-yet-lackluster bran muffins – usually quickly, usually in solitude – and indulge in a bit of leisure and decadence. And let it be known: The best brunches never occur standing in line with a crowd of hungover jerks…

The Main Event: EGGS
Early or late, boozy or sober, the brunch menu can be tailor-made to your personal mood. Yet it must include eggs. Composed of 12 percent protein and 12 percent fat, an egg provides the perfect symmetry of nutrients to begin your day with balance. As for preparation, options abound. Some say Eggs Benedict is the best brunch egg dish ever invented. Certainly it could only have been inspired by the hangover. And hangovers make people do desperate things…

For a variation on the default dish, we asked Chef Rachel Lauginiger of Good Eggs for her go-to. The answer: Shakshuka, a Middle Eastern take on the classic egg dish that can be served over fried haloumi cheese, topped with za’atar and/or mixed with merguez then mopped up with pita bread. One note before you get cracking: Do not underappreciate the difference a good egg makes. Buy local, organic eggs with luscious marigold yolks laid by healthy hens in open pastures. You can actually see and taste the difference.

6 eggs
1 can (28 oz) crushed tomatoes
3 tbsps olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp sweet paprika
¼ – ½ dried ground chili (we prefer Aleppo, a slightly tart Turkish variety)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Large handful chopped greens (spinach, kale, Swiss chard)
Chopped parsley or cilantro, to finish
Feta, optional

– Heat oven to 375°F.
– Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat.
– Add onion and bell pepper. Cook gently until very soft, about 20 minutes.
– Add garlic and cook until tender, 1 to 2 minutes; stir in cumin, paprika and chili and cook 1 minute.
– Pour in tomatoes and season with salt and pepper; simmer until tomatoes have thickened, about 10 minutes.
– Stir in chopped greens, such as spinach, kale or Swiss chard.
– Using the back of a spoon, make six indentations in tomato mixture. Gently crack eggs into each space.
– Season with salt and pepper, plus more chili, if desired.
– Transfer skillet to oven and bake until eggs are just set, 7 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle with herbs and feta, if using.

The Starch: POTATOES
There’s something to be said for the comforting power of a perfectly roasted potato. I have tried many variations in my years, being a potato fiend of Austrian descent, and what I’ve found is this: The trick to getting perfectly crisp potatoes is a combination of par-boiling and oven roasting. Here’s my take-away:

– Peel and cut really good organic potatoes into 1-inch pieces. Prep more than you think you need, especially if you’re having friends over, who inevitably finish them off.
– Boil potatoes in sea-salty water until fork-tender but still slightly raw. You should be able to pierce with a fork but not all the way through.
– Throw the potatoes in an ice bath. This keeps the outside from getting mushy when you roast ’em. Leave in the ice bath until they’re cool.
– Drain potatoes and coat with olive oil, salt, pepper, thyme and parsley.
– Roast in the oven at 350°F until golden brown, and nice and crispy, about 30 minutes.
– Season again with olive oil, salt and herbs to taste.

The Sweet Factor: BAKED GOODS
There’s nothing prescriptive about brunch that says it must be sweet or savory. But there should always be a baked good or two that caters to your particular yen (and can sop up any delicious eggy remains). Pastry chef Neale Holaday of Brooklyn’s Marlow & Sons/Diner suggested this recipe, featuring simple ingredients and intuitive mixing (ie: something that can be made when you’re still waking up). Plus, it can be saved for a post-nap afternoon tea, if there’s any leftover.

Zucchini Bread
3 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ salt
2 tsps baking soda
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
⅓ cup water
2 cups grated zucchini
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup toasted walnuts or pecans
1 cup dark chocolate chips

– Sift dry ingredients together, mix wet ingredients and then add wets to dries.
– Fold in nuts and chocolate.
– Scoop mixture into muffin tins lined with paper cups.
– Bake at 325-350°F until cake tester comes out clean, around 20 minutes.
– Serve with butter or dust with powdered sugar.

The Cocktail: BLOODY MARY
Why a Bloody Mary, and why so spicy? The brain releases a flood of endorphins when it senses a burn injury, of course. So aside from the delicious food at your brunch, the cocktail alone delivers a glimmer of genuine euphoria and hangover relief. (Endorphins are natural painkillers.) As my father says, “Never order a Bloody Mary out. It will be less than half as good as this one!” By which he means: Stoli, Tabasco, fresh ground pepper, a little dill. Whatever you do, do not add Worcestershire sauce!

First, fill your cocktail shaker halfway to two-thirds up with ice cubes. Add good vodka to roughly one-third, followed by V-8 with full sodium content (not the “low sodium” variety) to about an inch below the glass rim.

Squeeze in a tablespoon of lemon juice (not lime) from a real lemon (Realemon will do in a pinch). Add around 20 drops of Tabasco sauce, several shakes of salt, and a good 20 twists on the pepper mill, set to medium-fine grind. Mix in a few drops of celery bitters if you can get them. (If you can’t, muddle some cucumbers with fresh parsley and add instead).

Now shake, shake, shake your Mary and strain into an Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with a celery sprig and/or a hot pepper and start sipping. Just don’t drink more than two of these in one morning. Or do, for an extra long nap…

What are your brunch staples? Let us know in the comments below!

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