A menu for Mother

Eggs en Cocotte. Canal House
Eggs en Cocotte. Canal House

On her day, surprise her with Canal House cooks' Buttermilk Lovecakes and Eggs en Cocotte.

Posted: May 10, 2013

A luxurious breakfast in bed is a long-standing Mother's Day tradition. It rates higher than an orchid corsage, or brunch in a crowded restaurant sipping a flat mimosa.

We prefer home cooking, anyway. Over the years we've each made many breakfasts for our own mothers, and our lovely daughters have paid us back in kind - the beat goes on.

As it always has, going back to ancient Egypt, when spring festivals honored the female deities and maternal goddesses, symbols of rebirth and motherhood. Today's holiday comes down to earth, lauding real, flesh-and-blood mothers.

This modern incarnation is the brainchild of two women: Julie Ward Howe (the Boston poet who wrote "Battle Hymn of the Republic"), who in 1870 conceived the first "Mother's Day" in the United States as a call for peace and a celebration of motherhood after the horror and loss of the Civil War; and Anna Jarvis, who in 1914 created the official holiday we know today as Mother's Day, celebrated on the second Sunday in May, in honor of her own mother.

Now back to breakfast in bed. In a perfect world this meal would arrive on a white wicker bed tray with little legs to keep it steady so the coffee doesn't spill into the saucer; a neatly folded Sunday newspaper; a crisp linen napkin; a bud vase with fresh spring flowers picked from the garden; and a pretty porcelain breakfast set made for such an occasion.

(This, however, is the Hollywood version. We saw it in an old movie with a mother who slept on satin sheets using a lace-trimmed sleep mask, being feted by her perfect, tousle-haired children.)

But this is not life as we know it. No matter who makes the brunch, a spouse or the children, the expectation is that you'll stay in bed - lounging, relaxing, sleeping in.

Yet it's hard to relax when you're wondering what's going on in the kitchen. What's all that noise? Whatever are they doing? But lie there you do, excited by their excitement.

Depending on the age of the young cooks, menus can range from fried eggs (burned crispy on the edges, still raw in the center) cooked in an Easy-Bake Oven, to perfectly prepared eggs Benedict.

May we suggest honoring your mother this year with a breakfast menu out of our book, Canal House Cooks Every Day: light-as-air Buttermilk Love Cakes dripping in butter and syrup, Eggs en Cocotte, and much-appreciated (mother's little helper) Ramos Fizzes.

If tradition prevails in our homes, our breakfast will arrive on makeshift trays with mix-and-match china, rumpled newspapers, and - most important - heartfelt handmade cards.

It will be delicious and made with love. And the best part will be when everyone piles up on the bed - the happiest Mother's Day present of all. And you can't do that in a restaurant.


Neen's Buttermilk Lovecakes

Makes about 18 4-inch Lovecakes

2 large eggs, separated

1 cup buttermilk

2 tablespoons melted butter

1 cup cake flour

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

Vegetable oil

1. Whisk the egg yolks into the buttermilk in a medium mixing bowl. Whisk in the butter. Put the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a sieve and sift into the buttermilk. Lightly whisk until the batter is just mixed (a few lumps won't hurt).

2. Put the egg whites in a clean mixing bowl and beat with a whisk until soft peaks form. Use a rubber spatula to fold them into the batter. Don't overwork the batter, keep it light and fluffy.

3. Pour a little oil onto a nonstick griddle or large skillet. Wipe out the oil with a paper towel, leaving only the thinnest film. Heat the griddle over medium- high heat until hot. Pour about 1/4-cup of batter on the griddle. Cook until little holes appear on the surface; lift the edge to check that the cooked side is golden brown, about 1 minute on each side. Slather on the butter and a few good glugs of real maple syrup.

Per serving (without buttery and syrup toppings and based on 6 servings): 165 calories, 6 grams protein, 20 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams sugar, 7 grams fat, 74 milligrams cholesterol, 295 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber.


Sour Cream Pancakes

Makes 16 4-inch pancakes, 4-6 servings

1 cup sour cream

3 large eggs, separated

2 tablespoons melted butter

7 tablespoons cake flour

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

Vegetable oil

1. Whisk the sour cream and egg yolks together in a medium mixing bowl. Whisk in the melted butter. Put the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt into a sieve and sift it into the sour cream mixture. Lightly whisk until just mixed (a few lumps won't hurt anything).

2. Put the egg whites into a clean mixing bowl and beat with a whisk until soft peaks form. Use a rubber spatula to fold them into the batter. Don't overwork the batter, keep it light and fluffy.

3. Pour a little oil on a nonstick griddle or large skillet. Wipe out the oil with a paper towel, leaving only the thinnest film. Heat the griddle over medium-high heat until hot. Pour about ¼ cup of batter on the griddle. Cook until little holes appear on the surface and the cooked side of the pancake - lift the edge to check - is golden brown, about 1 minute on each side. Slather on the butter and a few good glugs of real maple syrup.

Per serving (based on 6 and without toppings): 200 calories, 5 grams protein, 11 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams sugar, 15 grams fat, 120 milligrams cholesterol, 380 milligrams sodium, no dietary fiber.


Ramos Fizz

Makes 2 cocktails

3/4 cup whole milk

3 ounces dry gin

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon fresh lime juice

1 teaspoon orange-flower water

1 egg white

2 tablespoons powdered sugar

1. Put the milk, gin, lemon and lime juices, orange-flower water, egg white, and powdered sugar into a cocktail shaker filled with ice cubes. Cover and shake vigorously. Pour into 2 tall glasses and serve.

Note: You may need to seek out a source for the orange-flower water, but do so, because it is vital to the drink's distinctive perfumed taste.


Eggs en Cocotte

Makes 4 servings

4 tablespoons butter, softened

3/4 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup poached chicken or lobster chunks, small peeled raw shrimp, cooked spinach, or a few   slices of black truffle

Salt and pepper

4 eggs

Ground nutmeg

Small handful chopped chives, tarragon, parsley, or other tender herbs

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter four 4-ounce custard cups or deep ramekins with 2 tablespoons of the butter. Add a splash of the heavy cream to each cup and set aside.

2. Generously season the chicken or other ingredient of your choosing with salt and pepper, then nestle some of it into the bottom of each cup. Crack an egg into each cup. Season each with a little salt and pepper and a pinch of nutmeg. Divide the remaining cream between the cups, carefully pouring it over each egg. The cream should pretty much cover the eggs. Season with a little more salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Top each with a knob of the remaining 2 tablespoons butter.

3. Set the cups into a deep pan filled halfway with simmering water. Carefully transfer the pan to the oven. Bake the eggs until the cream is bubbling, the tops have browned, and the eggs are barely set (they should tremble when you jiggle the cups), about 10 minutes. The eggs will continue to cook once they've been removed from the water bath.

4. Remove the cups from the water bath and sprinkle the eggs with chopped herbs. Serve the eggs in their cups with slices of hot buttered toast.

Note: The gentle, even cooking of the eggs in their ramekins in the hot water bath keeps them tender and prevents them from cooking too fast. We make this simple egg and cream dish more or less luxurious depending on the occasion. Sometimes we make it with two eggs, or we'll nestle a couple of spoonfuls of cooked spinach, or some sliced black truffles, or poached shrimp or lobster in the bottom of each ramekin. We also make this dish with pieces of poached chicken. There's something particularly satisfying and ironic about eating the chicken and the egg all in one. Who cares which came first - it's delicious.

Per serving (with chicken): 311 calories, 18 grams protein, 3 grams carbohydrates, trace sugar, 26 grams fat, 255 milligrams cholesterol, 294 milligrams sodium, no dietary fiber.


Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton cook and photograph beautiful food in their studio in Lambertville, NJ. See their work at www.thecanalhouse.com

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