By Marsha Fottler.
The American breakfast is vastly under appreciated and not enjoyed nearly enough because of the time of day breakfast is usually prepared and served. Who has an hour or more in the morning to truly savor the meal?
Recently, Chef Judi and I decided to celebrate the first meal of the day by making it the last. We organized a Breakfast For Dinner party at Judi’s house and invited eight gal pals to show up at 6:30 wearing pajamas or yoga togs.
We greeted our guests with champagne and one of Judi’s specialties – stuffed squash blossoms. Judi puffed these big and beautiful flowers with a cheese mixture and chopped mint. Then she dipped them into a light
tempura batter and deep fried them to golden. We ate them hot with our fingers while standing in her kitchen in slippers or bare feet catching up on gossip and sipping champagne.
“When I had my restaurant in New England, I used to make stuffed squash blossoms for my staff as a surprise treat once a year,” said Chef Judi. “It’s a labor of love to make these seasonal delicacies, but it was a ritual I happily undertook in admiration and affection for the people who worked with me.” Judi may have started a new tradition with our group of talented eaters. We finished every squash blossom. Another highlight of the meal was stuffed French toast, which is a meal in itself that could also be dessert.
Our menu was put together randomly based on things we and our friends love to eat, about 10 items including bacon, hash browns, quiche, lox and bagels, coffee cake, fruit salad and more. It worked just fine for a diverse group.
For an intimate dinner for two, I’d probably opt for a light berry salad followed by either eggs Benedict or eggs Florentine. The beverage would be champagne. Finish with a chocolate biscotti and coffee. How elegant and flavorful. And if you’re doing a children’s breakfast for dinner, you already know what you’ve got to have at the top of the menu, pancakes.
Stuffed French Toast with Warm Peach Blueberry Compote
(frozen peaches and frozen mixed berries are just as good as fresh)
1 loaf Challah bread, sliced thick
1 pound cream cheese, softened
½ cup Mascarpone cheese (Italian cream cheese)
3 tablespoons plus powdered sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier
3 eggs beaten
½ cup whole milk
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups frozen peaches and mixed berries
Unsalted butter (approximately 6 TBSP. split)
¼ cup brown sugar
Whip softened cream cheese, mascarpone and vanilla extract with powdered sugar. Spread mixture between two slices of Challah Bread. Whip eggs with milk, cinnamon and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract in a large bowl. Preheat electric fry pan or large pan to medium high. Add 1-2 tablespoons butter, (do not brown the butter). Dip stuffed bread into batter mixture and lightly brown on both sides. Remove from pan and repeat. Cut the stuffed French toast into quarters and arrange on a platter. Add remaining butter and melt. Add brown sugar and blend with butter. Deglaze pan with Grand Marnier and add frozen fruit. Continue to stir until a thick compote has blended and the fruit is warm. Pour over french toast and serve immediately.
Fried Zucchini Flowers
(adapted from Jamie Oliver)
7 ounces good-quality crumbly ricotta cheese
1/4 of a nutmeg, finely grated, or a pinch of ground nutmeg
A small handful freshly grated Parmesan
1 lemon, zest finely grated, plus 2 lemons, halved for serving
A small bunch fresh mint, leaves picked and finely chopped
1 to 2 fresh red chiles, halved, seeded and very finely chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 3/4 cups self-rising flour, plus a little extra for dusting
1 1/2 cups decent white wine or sparkling water
8 zucchini flowers, with zucchini still attached
A small piece potato, peeled, optional
A few sprigs fresh parsley, optional
Beat the ricotta in a bowl with the nutmeg, the Parmesan, lemon zest and most of the chopped mint and chiles. Season carefully, with salt and pepper, to taste.
To make a lovely light batter, put the flour into a mixing bowl with a good pinch of salt. Pour in the white wine and whisk until thick and smooth. At this point the consistency of the batter should be like heavy cream or, if you dip your finger in, it should stick to your finger and nicely coat it. If it’s too thin, add a bit more flour; if it’s too thick, add a little more wine.
Open the zucchini flowers up gently, keeping them attached to the zucchini, and snip off the pointed stamen inside because these taste bitter. Give the flowers a gentle rinse if you like.
With a teaspoon, carefully fill each flower with the ricotta mixture. Or, as I prefer to do, spoon the ricotta into the corner of a sandwich bag. Snip 1/2-inch off the corner and use this as a makeshift piping bag to
gently squeeze the filling into each flower, until just full. Carefully press the flowers back together around the mixture to seal it in. Then put the flowers aside. (Any leftover ricotta can be smeared on hot crostini as a snack!)
Now for the deep-frying bit. Get everyone out of the way if you can and make sure there are no kids around. Have tongs or a spider ready for lifting the flowers out of the oil, and a plate with a double layer of paper towels on it for draining. Pour the oil into a deep fat fryer or large deep saucepan so it’s about 4 inches deep. Heat it up to 350 degrees F or, if using a saucepan, put in your piece of potato. As soon as the potato turns golden, floats to the surface and starts to sizzle, the oil is just about the right temperature. Remove the potato from the pan.
One by one, dip the zucchini with their ricotta-stuffed flowers into the batter, making sure they’re completely covered, and gently let any excess drip off. Carefully release them, away from you, into the hot oil. Quickly batter another 1 or 2 flowers and any small zucchini (or parsley) leaves if you have any – but don’t crowd the pan too much otherwise they’ll stick together. Fry until golden and crisp all over, then lift them out of the oil and drain on the paper towels. Remove to a plate or board and sprinkle with a good pinch of salt and the remaining chile and mint. Serve immediately with half a lemon to squeeze over.