Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Somehow, March has shaped up to be like January. Uninspired, that is, at least in terms of this blog. I have to explain to you a few things: I'm not sure how that happened (again!); I'm sorry; and I don't want it to happen in the future. And so, on this last day of the month, I'm going to cram in one more post. Hopefully another one will follow in the next few days, as I already have the topic and a picture. I can't make any promises, though. Thursday (tomorrow) is a D-day of sorts since I will start in the ICU at the county hospital for a month. To call it an intense experience would be an understatement.

Today, I want to tell you about something I made last month. (I literally must write about it this month, or else it will be really, really old news; I'd be telling you in April about something I made in February!) It's one of those gifts that keeps on giving, the sort that are really important for a busy cook who needs to have pantry and freezer staples around for use at a moment's notice.

This recipe also takes advantage of the season. Winter and early spring are a really awesome time for citrus. We have been enjoying so many delicious types of citrus lately! I've had the privilege of eating some very sweet tangerines, and on ambitious mornings I juiced some navel oranges harvested from my grandfather's trees (until I ran out). The novelty of the balanced sweetness and acidity in a really good orange makes you understand why they used to be the only present the Little Women would receive at Christmastime. Good citrus can be revelatory.

In addition to the store-bought citrus, I had the excitement in February of receiving a large harvest of kumquats. My mother-in-law has a dwarf, but quite prolific, kumquat tree; better yet, though, she has friends with a 20 foot tall kumquat tree. I've never seen this impressive specimen, but I've tasted its bounty for the past two seasons. Apparently the deliveries I receive of freshly-harvested kumquats, which seem like large amounts, hardly put a dent in the fruit borne by the tree.

Both last year and this, the kumquats were used up quickly. A came over, and we made two batches of straight up kumquat marmalade. We also had shrimp and kumquat skewers, which were delicious and which I should definitely share with you on this blog sometime. Two batches of marmalade, and skewers for four, and a party favor Ziploc filled with kumquats for A&K only used up half of the fruit we had in the refrigerator.

It was time to make kumquat Earl Grey marmalade.

Making jam of any sort is ever so satisfyingly concrete. Making jam this beautiful (I mean, it's actually glowing, at least in the picture above) also fulfills an inner desire for creating lovely things.

Did I mention that it's tasty? The Earl Grey isn't necessary, but the orange flavor of the bergamot enhances the kumquat and makes for a great marmalade. A great marmalade, by the way, should include the proper proportions of sweet, tart, and bitter; most marmalades, to my taste, are too heavy on the bitter. This marmalade is perfect on a slice of lightly-buttered toast, and I think it would be wonderful as a sophisticated appetizer with a slice of Brie on a water cracker.

To make the marmalade in any decent quantity requires boiling-water canning. As I've written about before, the process sounds much more intimidating than it actually is; any interested locals are encouraged to e-mail me for a private lesson. I've only taught two people (A and C), but they are now both successful independent canners who have branched out on their own and shared their delicious creations with me.

What's harder than the canning (or at least more of a pain) is the preparation of the kumquats. These squirrelly little fruits hide seeds like nobody's business; one big seed if you're lucky, or a number of tiny ones if you're not. While you're slicing the kumquats crosswise into pinwheels, you'll spend a fair amount of time picking out seeds. It's time-consuming, but totally worth it for the beauty of the final jam. Oh, and not to worry if you don't have access to your own personal kumquat supplier like I do; the supermarket ones, as long as they're not soft (and therefore verging on spoiling), are perfectly acceptable.

Certainly during this busy upcoming month in the ICU, I'll need to prepare breakfast on the go. It's a good thing I have plenty of kumquat marmalade to spread on toast. Whether you eat it for breakfast or otherwise, enjoy!

Kumquat Earl Grey Marmalade

Makes: 6-8 half-pints (the first picture above was about 1 3/4 batches)
Time: 1 hour active, 1 hour and 15 minutes total

4 c. sliced kumquats
1 c. strongly brewed Earl Grey tea
1 package Sure-Jell pectin
6 1/2 c. sugar
1 t. unsalted butter (optional)

Slice the kumquats thinly crosswise, removing seeds as you cut; each kumquat should be sliced into about four or five pieces. Add the kumquats, tea, and pectin to a large pot. Heat on medium until mixture reaches a rolling boil. Add the sugar, all at once, and bring mixture back to a rolling boil. Add butter to decrease foaming, if desired. Cook at rolling boil for one minute, then remove from heat.

Ladle marmalade into jars that have already been boiled for 10 minutes to sterilize them. Top with fresh seals that have been soaked in boiling water, and place rings finger-tight on jars. Process for ten minutes in boiling water canner. Make sure each jar seals; if it doesn't, re-process in boiling water canner with fresh seal.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Breakfast in five minutes or less

A lot of breakfast items can be prepared really quickly. Fast-paced lives demand fast-paced foods, I guess. Cereal, probably the most frequently eaten breakfast food around our house, falls into the "breakfast in one minute or less" category. It's not a very complicated recipe: pour some Honey Bunches of Oats into a bowl, top with fruit, add a splash of milk, et voila! The eating certainly takes longer than the preparing.

However, in the way that I nearly always prefer a hot lunch to a cold one, I'm often in the mood for something hot for breakfast. This can take the form of scones, or popovers, or pancakes, but the first two of that list take about an hour from start to finish. That's OK for the weekend, but that time commitment isn't really practical for the week. (And you know that I'm all about a practical kitchen.)

It was in this hot-breakfast-mindset, then, that I first became intrigued by RK's version of a breakfast egg sandwich. She told us about it a couple of months ago. She cracks an egg into a mug, breaks up the yolk with a fork, puts the mug in the microwave for a minute, and then eases the cooked egg out onto an English muffin.

The egg comes out of the mug, she said, in the perfect shape for an egg sandwich on an English muffin. That it most definitely does.

What RK didn't share with us, though, was that the egg sometimes makes little exploding noises before a full minute has elapsed in the microwave. Those exploding noises are generally accompanied by corresponding exploding bits of egg. All over the microwave. A kitchen explosion (and the subsequent clean-up) doesn't seem like the best way to start the day, especially for a recipe that's supposed to be quick and easy.

I really, really wanted this one-minute technique to work, though, so I've played around with it a few times. I think everyone's microwave is a little bit different, and I can cut down on the exploding significantly by taking my egg mug out after only fifty seconds. Also, the choice of mug seems to make a big difference, which may relate to something about the composition of the ceramic.

A few days ago, still obsessed with minimizing the exploding mess, I thought I had the most brilliant inspiration of all: I would rip off a piece of aluminum foil, and lightly cover the mug with that before placing it in the microwave. Any errant egg bits would be captured by the foil. As I placed the foil on the mug, though, I (thankfully) remembered the small Microfridge fire I'd started sophomore year of college. Back then, I had put a small paper take-out container of leftover Chinese food, complete with a metal handle, straight into the microwave. It didn't take more than 30 seconds for the paper to light on fire where the metal inserted into the sides of the container! Oops. With that memory as my guide, I took the foil off the mug, and resigned myself to a few small explosions.

If you're scared of errant egg bits, and you have a few extra minutes, you can also pan-fry the eggs overeasy to make a really satisfying egg sandwich. That's how B and I used to do it before we heard about the microwave technique (and how we still do it when making more than one sandwich at a time, which is frequently, since B often eats three in a row). Either way, make sure to put some cheddar or Jack cheese on top. With the mug technique, sprinkle slivers of cheese over the egg right after it comes out of the microwave, while it's still hot; for the eggs in the frying pan, put cheese over the eggs right after you flip them. Melty, gooey cheese is the absolute best.

I like my English muffin toasted, which you can do while the eggs are cooking, and I also love avocado on top. You can add a splash of hot sauce if you like, but the sandwiches are also great with any salsa you might have lying around in the fridge.

Quick, easy, and flavorful; just what I like in any meal! I'll admit that these egg sandwiches are a relatively frequent post-call lunch for me, when I arrive home after thirty hours in the hospital. I think you'll like them too, whether for breakfast or for a breakfast-y lunch. Brave the explosions if you dare, or just go for overeasy eggs in the frying pan. The recipe below includes options for both. Let me know if you experiment with the microwave technique and find a way to minimize the exploding egg bits...without causing sparks or fire in the microwave, of course. Enjoy!

Egg Sandwich

Serves: one
Time: 5 minutes active and total

1 English muffin, split
butter (for greasing the skillet, if pan-frying)
1 egg
slivers of Jack or cheddar cheese
salt, to taste
several slices of avocado (optional)
dollop of salsa (optional)
hot sauce, to taste (optional)

First, start toasting the English muffin (if desired). Then, cook the egg.

For the microwaved egg: crack the egg in a mug, break up the yolk with a fork, and place in the microwave for 45 to 60 seconds, until white is not runny. Place cheese slivers over the hot egg in the mug.

For the pan-fried egg: heat a small skillet over medium heat; swirl the butter until melted, and then crack the egg into the pan. Lower the heat to medium-low, and cook the egg until the white is mostly set (approximately two minutes); then flip and cover with cheese. Cook until cheese is melted, approximately one to two minutes more.

Ease the egg onto the English muffin. Top with salt, avocado, salsa, and hot sauce to taste. Serve immediately.