Saturday, February 13, 2010

I'm easy like Sunday morning..........

Without a doubt, there are days around here when I wake up ready to tackle some new challenge in the Tricky Food arena: my first souffle (not so tricky, as it turns out), a complicated curry, a brand new cake with three kinds of flour, a page from Mastering the Art of French Cooking........there are days when this all seems like a great adventure and nothing could possibly go wrong! There are days, chez Orange & Salt, when we are just positively rarin' to go.

And then. Well. There are days when the morning alarm fails to go off, the dog needs to be walked, the deadlines need to be met, and the people need to be fed, period. Days like this call for recipes that can be eased into gently and fit as perfectly as an old, washing-softened pair of favorite blue jeans. Comforting, maybe even slightly forgiving, and ready to go in almost no time at all. Welcome to comfort cooking, Orange & Salt style.

It's not all soufflés and mousses around here, people! In fact, since we're both actively trying not to gain any weight (everyone's favorite New Year's resolution), Mike and I tend to fall back on the same marginally healthy meals quite often. Things on Bread is a popular category around here (broiled tomato bruschetta with mozzarella slices and fresh basil is our staple summer meal), as are Things Scrambled with Eggs, Things in a Bowl with Homemade Vinaigrette (otherwise known as 'salad,' although it looks different every single time), or Things Blended into Some Kind of Soup. Oh, I know you've been fooled lately by my fancy photos of pastries and homemade delicacies, but we certainly don't eat this way every day; the true fact is we're lazy folks just like everyone else who just want something good that hopefully isn't going to bloat us up to orca- or Macy's-parade-balloon-sized proportions over the long run! This is where our comfort recipes come very much in handy.

.........behold an entry from my personal favorite category, Things Scrambled with Eggs. Shown in this photo, 2 eggs scrambled with sauteed kale, garlic and red onion, dressed with a dollop of fire-roasted salsa and a sprinkling of white cheddar. Fold this charming mess into a whole wheat tortilla (hunt around at your supermarket for the kind without preservatives and extra flour have to eat them all within a few days, but they're so tasty that you'll want to!), and it's good, in my opinion, for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Done in five minutes.

There are about a million interesting way in which this could be modified, as well, which is what makes Things Scrambled with Eggs such an enjoyable category. Spinach substituted for kale would be great, of course. You could add a sprinkling of cilantro or parsley, a plop of yogurt and harissa, or swap the cheddar for crumbled feta or ricotta salata. This meal kind of begs to be taken in different directions: Mexican, Middle Eastern, Asian. It's a no-brainer, so play with your food.

Next is an important entry in the Things on Bread category! Shown above is an example of the instant flatbread we learned to make from none other than Jacques Pépin himself. It's nothing more than flour, water, baking soda, a pinch of salt and a drizzle of olive oil, but it's absolutely sublime. It's also a lifesaver when you're hungry and having nothing in the house but random ingredients that might be candidates for Things on Bread. Instant bread! Better than pizza! What could be better?

To make Jacques's flatbread, heat a 12" skillet to medium high with enough olive oil to generously coat the bottom. In a bowl, combine the following:

2 C. flour (I have used every kind of flour known to man for this, including wheat and soy flour. While they give perfectly respectable results, you might want to use regular all-purpose flour, at least the first time around)
1 T. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 C. water

Stir until everything is combined, the result should be something like a thick batter or very, very loose dough. Pour into hot pan and spread with the back of your spoon until bread more or less reaches the sides of the pan and could be called, you know, 'flat.' Continue cooking on one side until bread starts to form attractive little brown blisters on the side facing down (see photo), 5-7 minutes. Drizzle the side facing up with a little extra olive oil. Flip it. If the thought of flipping it in one smooth motion like Jacques or Julia fills you with unholy terror (and who can blame you?), use a spatula, but be warned: This bread is fragile! Think of it as more like a giant pancake or biscuit which, at its essence, it is. It's liable to crack apart on you if you hesitate, so whatever your method, be quick with the flipping.

This recipe in its above incarnation is actually a Frankensteined version of two Jacques recipes wedged into one (in case it hasn't become obvious by this point, we are big Jacques disciples around here, in fact, my husband even credits the man with having taught his adolescent self to cook in the first place! Through the power of television, that is, alas, not in person. Jacques, call us!). His original recipe for 'Smoked Salmon Pizza' used storebought lavash bread as a base, which is also quite tasty but not as sturdy as you might hope. We knew when we
found his flatbread recipe that we had a winner!
To make this 'pizza,' layer one finished flatbread with a thin smear of sour cream (Greek yogurt might also be nice), thinly sliced red onions (raw or pre-marinated in a little red wine vinegar), smoked salmon pieces, capers (it's obvious the grocery budget was running a little low this particular week, because in the photos we actually have finely chopped green olives standing in for pricey capers. Both are good, the main point is the hint of salt.) and plenty of freshly ground black pepper.

As with all of our comfort recipes, this one has appeared on our table with endless variations. The same way you can pair a different top every day with those favorite old blue jeans and come up with a thousand 'new' outfits, comfort foods are by their very design easy to fool around with and recombine in subtle new ways. The above entry in the Things on Bread category is also especially good under a thick green blanket of chopped baby arugula, or with a sprinkling of fresh dill. One ambitious evening, faced with a little leftover roast chicken, a tomato, and half a ball of mozzarella, we even made something more closely resembling a traditional pizza. It was delicious, and best of all, it was easy. Just like Sunday morning. Or any time at all.

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