The cornbread experiment

I’ve never really thought much of cornbread. Mainly because when I eat sugar and wheat, I like it to be something really indulgent. Then I went to Magnolia for a friend’s birthday on the second day of a pre-cleanse and decided to just try a tiny bit since it seemed almost healthy. It was wonderful. Perhaps it was the fact that I’d cut out all sugar and wheat for a few months beforehand, but the sweet richness won me over straight away.

Fast forward a few weeks to my food-fuelled holiday in California where I tried it as an accompaniment to scrambled egg with truffles and asparagus. This particular version was about 3 inches thick, a lovely warm yellow colour, and made with large quantities of honey and butter.

A few days ago I decided to have a go at making a batch. It was quite a struggle to find cornmeal but ended up buying a bag at city’super that was stone ground and organic. I looked up several recipes and settled on one of the easier ones that literally involved chucking everything in a bowl and mixing it just a couple of times.

This didn’t work out so well. I had replaced the plain flour with wholemeal, so it was quite dry even though I added a little extra liquid, plus the cornmeal was incredibly hard, like eating something made from gravel. After braving a couple of mouthfuls, I decided to give it another go. Round 2 was a little bit better – I had bought some millet flour I wanted to try out so I used that instead of wheat flour, I ground up the cornmeal for a couple of minutes in the coffee bean grinder, and also substituted the sugar for agave nectar. It didn’t rise much obviously, but it was much lighter and much softer than the first attempt.

The first attempt, drizzled with agave nectar and topped with lots of butter

My baking techniques could obviously benefit from a more consistent methodology and perhaps my third attempt will be more successful (and less experimental). I think for now I’ll stick to trying other people’s cornbread.

The second attempt - doesn't look as good but tasted much better!

Just out of the oven

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Breakfast 1.4

My last few posts have all been about breakfast. So I thought, why stop the trend. And if you don’t like breakfast then we probably shouldn’t be friends. But seriously, breakfast seems to be the only meal I have time to make (and photograph) these days.

Sunday was one of those days where I woke up famished but realised I hadn’t really bought anything in preparation for cooking. So I decided to see what I could do with what I had in the fridge – which was onions, tomatoes, a lonely green pepper, a few Portobello mushrooms, eggs, strawberries and 4 slices of bread.

(Very) soft boiled eggs on toast with lots of vegetables

The first dish I made was soft boiled eggs on toast. I really struggled with the soft boiled eggs – my last ones were overcooked so this time I cut the cooking time by a minute, only to find that my first attempt was basically raw. Raw but scorching hot when shelled.

Anyway, several eggs later I managed to plate up very very soft boiled eggs on balsamic and sucanat fried onions, grilled tomatoes and peppers and buttery griddled portobello mushrooms over thick cut wholewheat toast from Mermaid Bakery at city’super. I really don’t like soft boiled eggs so that dish was for Simon. As he devoured the huge dish, I made a slice of savoury French toast and topped it with the vegetables and a little shake of nutmeg.

Savoury French toast covered in vegetables

Portobello mushroom

I still had one slice of the bread left (seriously, 4 slices for $24? It is good though…) and a bit of egg leftover, so decided to make a sweet French toast with a bit of vanilla, nutmeg and cinnamon added into the mixture.I added some griddled strawberries on top, a little bit of butter and some organic dark agave syrup that Lee from Graze gave me to try. It was very sweet but a little caramelly – worked quite well but was a little too runny, so I finished off with some maple syrup instead.

French toast with strawberries

French toast

a 3-course breakfast at home

Simon and I woke up at about 5am this morning, so decided to sit on the balcony with a big pot of tea and watch the sun rise. We then realised we can’t see the sun rise from our balcony so I figured I’d go and make something to eat instead! Possibly the only good thing about jet lag is being able to get up early and have time to make a proper breakfast.

We hadn’t had dinner the night before so were starving, so I made a quick citrus salad from oranges and grapefruit. I added some chopped sweet basil and a little bit of brown sugar, put it all into a plastic container and shook it for about 30 seconds, so the juice was released a little and softened everything up.

Orange and grapefruit salad with crushed sweet basil

After this, this I got started on macerated strawberries and pluots with homemade granola and greek yoghurt – a dish inspired by our breakfast at Blue Bottle in San Francisco. I started by cutting up a whole box of organic strawberries  – around 10 or so, as well as a very ripe pluot I found in Threesixty the day before. I put all of this into a bowl filled with a mix of grapefruit and orange juice (squeezed from what I had left over from the citrus salad) and balsamic vinegar. Added a little bit of white sugar into this mix and let it sit for about an hour, though I think overnight would be ideal.

I served it all up with some organic greek yoghurt, organic muesli to which I added some olive oil and maple syrup and popped under the grill til it was really warm and crisp, and a grind of black pepper over the fruit – it was delicious and I’ll definitely be making this dish again!

Macerated strawberries and pluots with museli and greek yoghurt

At around 10 or so, Simon was hungry again. This time I thought I’d tried to recreate (well with a few changes) the egg dish we had at Farm:table – soft-boiled eggs with caramelised onions on pan-griddled bread, with fried cherry tomatoes and rocket. This is fantastic combination and with a big drizzle of truffle oil added just before serving, made a wonderful Sunday breakfast dish to share.

Eggs on caramelised onions with cherry tomatoes and rocket

Top view

Quick orange and grapefruit salad
Serves 2
1 whole large orange
1 whole grapefruit
3-4 sweet basil leaves, washed and cut finely
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Peel the orange and grapefruit and cut into bite sized chunks. Place in a large plastic container and add the chopped basil leaves (if you’re not a fan of basi, you could try mint instead) and sugar. Shake vigorously for about 30 seconds or until everything is all mixed together. Serve in small bowls.
Macerated strawberries and pluots with homemade granola and greek yoghurt
Serves 2
10 strawberries
1 pluot
1/2 cup grapefruit juice (can be 1/4 cup grapefruit, 1/4 cup orange juice)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (or less if you have an aged, heavy vinegar)
1 teaspoon white sugar
1/2 large tub greek yoghurt
1/2 cup muesli
Cut up the strawberries into slices and then cut in half, slice up pluot into thin slices. In a medium bowl, mix together the grapefruit juice, balsamic vinegar and white sugar. Add in the sliced fruit and make sure it’s coated in the mixture. Leave to sit for at least 2 hours.

To serve, place in bowl with toasted muesli and greek yoghurt with a drizzle of honey if you want some added sweetness.

Soft-boiled eggs with caramelised onions, cherry tomatoes and rocket on 5-grain bread
Serves 2
2 free range eggs
6-8 large cherry tomatoes
2 slices of 5-grain bread, cut in half
1 red onion
handful of rocket
olive oil
truffle oil
knob of butter
Bring eggs out in advance so they are room temperature or they may crack when placed in the water. Chop up onions into thin slices. Fry in pan til soft and translucent with olive oil and a knob of butter. Bring water to a rolling boil in a pot and add the eggs. Cook for 2 minutes then turn off heat and leave in pot for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat up a griddle pan and grease with olive oil. Fry tomatoes and season with salt and pepper.  Add bread and cook until warmed through and griddle marks appear on either side. Season rocket with a mixture of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice and salt and pepper. Shell the eggs and cut in half.

Now assemble – place onion on bread and half egg on each slice. Scatter tomatoes and rocket around the dish and then drizzle plate with a little bit of truffle oil.

I hate brunch

Whilst breakfast is my favourite meal of the day, I hate brunch. I’ve always wanted to like it after all, what’s nicer than meeting friends for brunch at the weekends? But the problem is, if you combine breakfast and lunch, you end up missing a meal! This is not a good thing.

Not only that, in reality brunch really is just breakfast or lunch – you either end up with something eggy or just a boring old lunch dish.

Saying that, I’ve had some pretty great weekend brunches (and have made up for it with afternoon tea later in the day) whilst we’ve been travelling and so perhaps brunch is on the road to redemption with me.

The main reason being that I’ve discovered the key to a good brunch is courses. Yes, that’s right, a starter and a main, and possibly even dessert.

On the Saturday morning that Luis and Sergio were leaving LA, we drove over to Brentwood Country Mart, a lovely little collection of shops and restaurants dotted around two large, sun-filled courtyards, and had brunch at Farmshop, a restaurant and as the name suggests, a food shop.

I was very happy to see there were dishes to start with as well as main brunch plates so I ordered us chopped chicken liver with grapes, caper berries and sourdough and a big platter of speck with marinated melon and burrata.

Chicken liver with caper berries, grapes and sourdough

Marinated melon with speck and burratta

The chicken liver was the stand out dish – rich and creamy, with deep livery undertones, topped with fresh herbs.

We then each ordered a main dish – I chose the frittata with cherry tomatoes, goat cheese, squash and crispy squash blossoms – the goat cheese and squash blossoms really made this dish, as did the copious amount of olive oil drizzled over the plate. Luis had homemade pastrami (which was delicious and just melted in your mouth) with heirloom cauliflower, beans, wild mushrooms, eggs sunny side up and green tomato ketchup – great dish. Sergio had the shirred eggs with chorizo, wild (and bitter) greens, chickpeas and yoghurt – basically the eggs were baked with all the ingredients around them, resulting in a lovely heavy, warming dish, with eggs still runny. Simon ordered coddled eggs, which were served in a small bowl and sprinkled with mushrooms, with a side of smoked salmon, and served simply with toast.

Frittata with goat cheese, tomatoes, squash and blossoms

Homemade pastrami

Shirred eggs with bitter greens, chorizo and chickpeas

Coddled eggs with mushroom and house-smoked salmon

We also tried a big bowl of greek yoghurt with homemade granola and a big bowl of fresh berries – also incredibly fresh and amazing. Really love these farm to table concepts and wish we had them in HK!

Farmshop
Brentwood Country Mall
225 26th Street Santa Monica, CA 90402
www.farmshopla.com

Loved the salt on the slab of butter that came with my sourdough!

Inside Farmshop

Counter display at Farmshop

The best meal of the day

Breakfast is my favourite meal of the day. There’s something incredibly satisfying about a big hearty meal in the morning, accompanied by lots of tea. I can’t understand why so many people just skip it.

Now, shrimp tacos were my breakfast of choice in Mexico, but now that we’re travelling around California, I’ve found a few more dishes that make my mornings so much better.

On our first morning in San Francisco, we walked 40 minutes across the city to a little cafe called Bar Tartine – their sister establishment is a block away and is a hugely popular bakery, so we knew that all the bread would be good!

We shared an incredible dish of french toast, eggy brioche, strawberries with candied almonds. The bread didn’t disappoint – it was light and fluffy and beautifully buttery. Perfection.

French toast and brioche at Bar Tartine

The next morning, we discovered a cafe around the corner from our hotel called Blue Bottle Coffee – there are a few around San Francisco but this was their very first shop. There was a queue snaking around the block even on a Monday morning (who has time to queue for coffee on a Monday?) and being from HK, we had to of course join it to find out what it was all about.

I guess most people were there for the coffee, which was meant to be outstanding (I had a sip of one and it was smooth and mellow) but not being a coffee drinker, I ordered a herbal tea. I was pleasantly surprised when it arrived in a lovely glass pot full of fresh lemon verbena leaves. The tea itself was amazing so I’m on a mission to find these leaves fresh in HK now!

Pot of fresh lemon verbena tea

Simon ordered me Pecan Granola, which came with natural yoghurt, macerated strawberries and peaches, grapefruit juice and blueberries. The juice was poured over the top of the fruit and could probably have been used a bit more sparingly as I really dislike soggy cereal, but despite this, it was a great combination. The granola was home-made and lovely and crunchy, not too sweet, and packed with pecans.

We shared an order of Belgian style waffles which came with the same macerated fruit, whipped butter and maple syrup. The waffles were perfectly crisp yet soft and spongy on the inside and the fruit was a great accompaniment until it started to seep in and make everything a bit too soft. Also not crazy about soggy waffles.

Simon also had poached eggs with a catalan style tomato sauce, braised greens and shaved cheese  – I had a bite and it was a really unusual combination, especially for a breakfast dish. The toast was especially good, how I miss having decent bread!

Homemade granola at Blue Bottle

Waffles with macerated fruit at Blue Bottle

Poached eggs at Blue Bottle

So the next day we considered lining up again at Blue Bottle (the wait by the way, was around 20 minutes), but I found another place through Foursquare (yes it has its uses!) that was actually started by two ex-Blue Bottlers that was on the same street as our hotel.

It was a tiny little place with just one square table that wasn’t even that big. Luckily there was only two other people there so we got a seat. They only offered 4 dishes for breakfast and we decided to order 3 of them, cos that’s how we roll (literally roll, must go on serious diet once we get back home).

I ordered the cereal of the day with organic yoghurt, blackberries and blueberries. The cereal was a mix of bran flakes, puffed rice and something else equally brown and cardboard. The yoghurt was amazing, thick, incredibly creamy and heavy.

Cereal of the day at farm:table

Simon had hard-boiled eggs on toasted baguette with teeny tiny sungold tomatoes, padrone peppers and caramelised red onions. He was a bit wary about ordering it at first but once he took a bite, it was a different story altogether. I think he may have eaten it with his eyes shut as he enjoyed it so much. I had a bite too – the bread was super thick and liberally coated in olive oil, but the combination of the all the flavors worked incredibly well. And in such a small space too, with limited cooking tools, it was a brilliant concoction.

Hard-boiled eggs on baguette at farm:table

After this we had toast covered in goats cheese and strawberries marinated in beet syrup. Seriously I think this was a stroke of genius, the goats cheese was the perfect companion to the lovely sweet, perfectly ripe strawberries and the beet syrup added just a slight bit of tartness. The bread was a little bit sweet too, and quite buttery. A relatively simple dish but amazing. Going to try to try to recreate this once I’m home. I’m going to be busy.

Goats cheese. Strawberries marinated in beet syrup. Toast.

Bar Tartine
561 Valencia Street
San Francisco
www.bartartine.com

Blue Bottle Coffee – Mint Plaza
66 Mint Street
San Francisco
www.bluebottlecoffee.net

farm:table
754 Post St
San Francisco
www.farmtablesf.com