Anytime Meal-in-a-Dish: Baked Eggs

It was on a trip to Ashland decades ago that I first enjoyed these baked eggs. We'd booked a room at the Chanticleer Inn, a charming Craftsman bungalow near downtown and the Shakespeare Festival grounds (yes, it's still there). The night before was a performance of one of the Bard's plays—not the one where some inventive but misguided director thought it would be totally cool if a lunar module descended from the rafters in the middle of the performance—and we'd walked back to the inn in the moonlight, the next morning rising to have coffee and breakfast in the quaint dining room.

Now, a dish can burrow its way into your brain for lots of reasons—a romantic setting, great company, a few too many mimosas—but this one was alluring because of its simplicity. Just butter, eggs, cream and cheese baked to a golden finish, crispy yet creamy, the yolks still oozing.

I'd begged the recipe from the innkeepers and we'd made them often in the years since, but it had been a long time since we'd pulled the stained, yellowed card out of the recipe box. Fortunately Dave was in the mood for making something besides his (perfect) version of Julia Child's cheese omelet, and I was so glad he was. This is one memory that's stood the test of time, and one we'll be enjoying for another umpteen years.

Chanticleer Baked Eggs

Great for brunch for a crowd (baked in individual ramekins) or just for one, the recipe below is an adaptation of the original from the inn. You can also add green onions,  fresh chopped herbs, sautéed greens or potatoes, or chopped, cooked bacon before putting in the eggs…or just keep it simple. Come to think of it, this would be great with a breakfast salad, or for lunch or dinner!

1 Tbsp. melted butter or margarine
1 Tbsp. cream or milk
2 eggs
Cheddar or other cheese(s), grated
Salt and pepper, to taste

Butter a 3 1/2-oz. ramekin or custard dish. Add cream or milk. Gently crack two large, farm-fresh eggs into the ramekin. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle cheese on top. Bake in pre-heated 425° oven for 8-10 minutes or until white is firm and center still wiggles.

Winter Breakfast Warm-Up: Applesauce Bran Muffins from The Bread Lab

Back in my college days in the 1970s, bran muffins were lumped into the category of "hippie food" along with granola, hummus, brown rice and pretty much all whole foods.

Stewed prunes from Joy of Cooking, 1955 edition.

In my grandmother's time, bran and other foods, like prunes, were used as "digestive aids," a euphemism for their laxative properties. I remember my grandmother, a ranch wife in Eastern Oregon, putting up a dozen jars of stewed prunes every winter, the little black fruits doled out in moderation lest they prove too effective at their task.

I, of course, would sneak them out of their hiding place in her fridge whenever I thought she wasn't looking, enjoying their savory sweetness and even sipping the syrup they were preserved in—with no discernible ill effect as far as my grade-school self could tell.

(I was kind of a weird kid, foodwise, preferring having a slice of pie to a frosting-slathered cake, chewing on raw rhubarb to sucking on candy and generally favoring savory to sweet. But I digress.)

Because "it'll help you poop"
isn't all that appetizing.

After my grandmother's day, bran's laxative superpower slid easily into the "health food" arena, synchronizing nicely with the booming weight loss industry of the 1950s and 60s. One television commercial from the era advised that if you consumed bran cereal it would promote "youthful regularity," and an article on the contemporary history of bran stated that "multiple diets emerged on the scene promoting bran as either the foundation of a healthy nutrition plan, or the secret weapon for preserving a rapid weight-loss strategy."

Here at home these days, bran is a fortuitous byproduct of Dave's home-milling, a result of grinding whole wheat for his sourdough bread and then sifting it to remove some (but not all) of the bran to get the result he wants. The recipe below probably uses bran from the same sifting process—the Washington State University (WSU) Breadlab, a group of WSU researchers, are dedicated to developing better tasting, healthier, affordable grains to support small-scale organic farmers while not pricing people out of staple foods. (Read more about The Breadlab's origins.)

As for the dead-simple recipe below, apples of all stripes are available this time of year, so find a nice tart variety—we are currently in love with Ashmead's Kernel from Kiyokawa Family Orchards in Parkdale and Liberty apples from Queener Farm—and make your own applesauce, or simply core and dice one up, sauté it in a knob of butter until it's slightly tender, then mix into your muffin batter.

Applesauce Bran Muffins

From the WSU Breadlab: These apple sauce bran muffins are made with 100% unsifted Climate Blend, with a ton of extra bran added. We say it every few months, but we do not understand bran muffins that call for white flour. Our lab, along with soil scientists, plant breeders, food scientists and medical professionals, is participating in a USDA-funded Soil to Society grant to create more nutritious, affordable and accessible whole grain-based foods. From the soil to your table, we think a muffin is a good start.

1 1/2 c. any whole wheat flour
2 c. bran and germ (if you sift use that) or a good all-bran cereal
3/4 c. tart apple sauce [or sauté 1 medium-sized chopped apple in 1 Tbsp. butter until tender]
Scant 1/2 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 c. milk
1 egg
1/4 c. oil

Soak bran in milk for a few minutes. Add all other ingredients. Mix by hand. Adjust moisture as needed. [We didn't need to add any more milk.] Line a muffin tin with parchment baking cups and fill with batter. Bake for 20 minutes at 400°. If needed, you can broil for last 30 seconds or so to brown the tops. [We've never needed to broil them.]

Holiday Breakfast Tradition: Strata!

It's a Sunday morning tradition around here. After we have both been humbled by the word puzzles on the New York Times website—me moreso than Dave—he starts puttering around the kitchen making breakfast. Sometimes it's as simple as his famous cheese omelets,  other times he's got some sourdough left over from bread baking to use for scones, biscuits or even waffles. I know that whatever it is, it's going to be delicious and I try to be appropriately appreciative.

My recipe box, broken cover and all.

But on holidays, I like to let him off the hook regarding breakfast. There are the tried-and-true, go-to selections—a hearty frittata, fluffy pancakes and real maple syrup from New England, a buttery, crumble-topped coffee cake—but this past Christmas Sunday I chose another standby, strata, which I hadn't made in a dog's age. I pulled out my trusty old recipe box and found the stained index card right there in the "Eggs and Cheese" section.

Dead easy, whether you call it a savory bread pudding or cheater's soufflé, strata consists of bread, eggs, milk and cheese, plus whatever other ingredients you want to add. Usually, in our case, this means mushrooms and bacon, but can include seasonal herbs, kale, tomatoes, asparagus, ham or other meat or seafood.

Call it savory bread pudding or cheater's soufflé, it's delicious!

But note that this cogitating on the possibilities needs to happen a day ahead, since strata really needs to be assembled the night before, with the bread spending all night absorbing the custardy goodness of the eggs and milk in order to achieve its utmost lusciousness. So the evening before I hauled out a half pound of the chanterelle mushrooms that I'd roasted and frozen a couple of weeks ago, plus some of Dave's fabulous bacon and the leeks that we'd received in our CSA share from Cully Neighborhood Farm.

The next morning, after pulling it out of the fridge and popping it in the oven, it bubbled away for ninety minutes while we sipped coffee and dug into our stockings. (And yes, we still do stockings around here…how else can you surprise someone with that probe thermomenter they've been drooling over online?) And I think Dave was pleased that Santa had thought to make breakfast for him for a change. 

Bacon, Cheese and Chanterelle Strata

3-4 c. bread, cut in 1/2" cubes (remove crusts only if you want)
1/2 lb. sharp cheddar or other cheese, grated
1/2 lb. bacon, cut in 1/4" strips
1/4 c. butter or margarine, melted
1/2 lb. mushrooms, chopped (I used chanterelles, but any kind will do)
1 med. or 2 small leeks, quartered lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1/2" slices
3 eggs
2-2 1/2 c. milk (see note)
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. salt

The day before baking, sauté bacon until fat begins to render. Add chopped mushrooms and sauté till mushrooms start to get limp, then add the leeks and sauté until tender. Remove from heat and cool. Beat eggs, milk, mustard and salt in a small mixing bowl. In a medium casserole dish (I used my 2 1/2-qt. Le Creuset casserole but it can be made in a 9" by 12" Pyrex baking dish), place half the bread cubes, topped with half the bacon mixture, half the cheese and drizzle half the melted butter over it. Repeat with another layer of the remaining bread cubes, meat mixture, cheese and butter. Pour the egg mixture over the top. (Note: You can add a little more milk the next morning if it seems too dry, but go easy—the bread shouldn't be swimming in liquid.) Cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator overnight to soak.

The next morning, preheat the oven to 300°. Place the casserole in a larger pan with about 3/4" of hot water and place those in the oven. Bake for 90 minutes.