Thursday 24 August 2017

A bit of brunch

Simple to make and deliciously indulgent, says Brenda Costigan, these laid-back recipes are not only delicious, they're quite the perfect choice for a lazy, leisurely weekend brunch

Breakfast Salad
Breakfast Salad

I was swimming in a little lagoon at the edge of the beach. "Don't go out beyond that natural barrier into the open sea," a fellow swimmer advised.

"If you do, you'll become number two in the food chain, as there is a possibility of sharks." We were on a short holiday on the island of Maui, one of the Hawaiian islands, some years ago. I survived the swim but, as always, I emerged hungry.

Tucked in among the holiday apartments where we were staying was a little, hut-like wooden building. It was a small restaurant, where they served only pancakes -- American-style, with many different variations. The restaurant was always full at brunch time. Maple syrup is the traditional accompaniment to American-style pancakes, but all manner of berries, such as blueberries and strawberries, were served mixed in with the syrup. The pancakes described below are usually fried in small rounds. They're quick to cook and easy to handle: perfect for a lazy weekend.

As we rush helter-skelter through the weeks, we never get time to dwell on the demands of modern life and wonder how we can simplify our lives. After all, to quote WH Davies, "What is this life if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare." We can, at least, endeavour to make our weekends an oasis of calm. No rushing or fussing: just be easy and laid-back, with food to match.

AMERICAN-STYLE PANCAKES

American-style pancakes are more plump and spongy than our traditional, thin pancakes. Self-raising flour is used in the mix and the egg whites are separated out and whisked until they're stiff, then they are folded through the batter before frying. This recipe makes about 14-15 small, round pancakes, 10cm (4in) in diameter. They're wonderful for a weekend treat.

You will need:

225g (8oz) self-raising flour

2-3 teaspoons caster sugar

2 eggs, separated into yolks and whites

275ml (1/2pt) milk

A few drops vanilla essence

Creme fraiche, to serve

Maple syrup or golden syrup, to serve

Assorted berries, to serve

If you have a food processor, put the self-raising flour, the caster sugar, the egg yolks, the milk and the vanilla essence into it, and buzz everything to a smooth batter.

If you don't have a food processor, then make the batter as follows. Put the self-raising flour and the caster sugar into a bowl. In a separate container, mix together the egg yolks, the milk and the vanilla essence. Make a large hole in the centre of the caster sugar and flour mixture and pour in about half of the liquid. Using a wooden spoon, stir the liquid gently, and, as you stir, the caster sugar and flour mixture that's around the sides will be drawn gradually into the liquid. Do this slowly, as doing it too fast draws in too much flour and the batter will become lumpy.

As you do this, the batter will become thicker, so add more of the measured liquid as it is required. When all the flour has been mixed in, add any liquid that might remain, and whisk the batter for a few minutes. It can be left to stand for an hour, if you wish. If, by any misfortune, the batter is lumpy, press it through a sieve to remove the lumps.

Shortly before you want to fry your pancakes, whisk the egg whites in a separate bowl until they are quite stiff -- though not as stiff as for meringues -- and then mix them gently, but thoroughly, through the batter.

Using a hot pan, which has been greased with butter, spoon about three generous tablespoons of the batter in to it at a time to make three separate pancakes. When the pancakes are golden brown underneath and sufficiently set on top to allow you to turn them, flip them over and cook them on the reverse, re-greasing the pan first if necessary. Eat them while they are still warm. Serve with some creme fraiche, maple syrup or golden syrup, whichever you're using, and some assorted berries.

Variation:

If you prefer a savoury pancake, omit the sugar and vanilla, and use a little salt and freshly ground black pepper instead.

BREAKFAST SALAD

(Pictured)

Why not eat a crisp, fresh salad with a breakfast mixed grill? The two complement each other so well. A full-Irish breakfast is a real weekend treat. There is wonderful room for variation in this recipe. Remember, though, don't put the hot food on top of the crisp, fresh salad until just before you're ready to serve the dish. Serves 1, increase the quantities as required.

You will need:

2 rashers

2 slices black pudding

2-3 cherry tomatoes

1 egg

Generous handful of mixed salad leaves

1-2 spring onions, chopped

Brown or crusty bread, to serve

For the dressing, you will need:

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Grill the rashers, the black pudding and the cherry tomatoes. In a small saucepan, boil some salted water, and then poach the egg until it's cooked to your liking.

Meanwhile, toss the mixed salad leaves and the chopped spring onions together.

To make the dressing, put the extra virgin olive oil, the balsamic vinegar, the Dijon mustard, the salt and freshly ground black pepper in a screw-top jar and shake the jar well to mix everything. Add some dressing to the salad, tossing everything well together to coat the salad leaves. Put the dressed salad on the serving plate, top with the grilled rashers, the black pudding and the cherry tomatoes, and put the poached egg on top. Serve with brown or crusty bread, whichever you are using.

EGGS FLORENTINE

If, like me, you have a soft spot for spinach, and you would like to cook something a little more special, then try this classic French dish. Poached eggs are placed on a bed of cooked spinach, then covered with a cheese sauce, and baked or grilled while all of the dish's components are hot. Serve with crusty bread. Serves 4.

You will need:

450g (1lb) spinach, fresh or frozen

15-25g (1/2-1oz) butter

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Generous pinches of ground nutmeg

4 large, good-quality eggs (free range and organic)

Parmesan, freshly grated

Crusty bread, to serve

For the cheese sauce, you will need:

40g (1 1/2oz) butter

40g (1 1/2oz) flour

425ml (3/4pt) milk

25g (1oz) Parmesan, freshly grated

50g (2oz) Gruyere or mature Cheddar

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 small teaspoon mustard, preferably Dijon

For a lazy weekend, use frozen spinach. Thaw it in the microwave, drain off any excess liquid and chop it.

If you're using fresh spinach, wash it well in lots of water, cut off any big stalks, and leave any residual clean water that might be clinging to the leaves. This water is enough to cook the spinach with, so don't add any extra. Cook it with the lid on over a moderate heat, stirring occasionally. When it is tender and wilted right down, drain off any liquid and chop it up.

Put the chopped spinach into a saucepan with the butter. Season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper and a few pinches of ground nutmeg. Cook gently for a few minutes. Transfer the spinach to an ovenproof dish. Now, make the cheese sauce. Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the flour and cook gently for a couple of minutes, stirring to make a loose paste. Take off the heat and stir in a little milk. Add a little at a time until all the milk is mixed in, returning the saucepan to the heat occasionally. Then, bring it to the boil to thicken it, stirring all the time. Add the freshly grated Parmesan, and the Gruyere or the Cheddar, whichever you are using, some salt and freshly ground black pepper and the mustard. Stir over the heat, without boiling, to melt the cheese. Poach the eggs until they are soft or hard, depending on your taste.

Place the poached eggs on to the spinach and spoon the hot cheese sauce over the lot, using a dusting of freshly grated Parmesan to finish the dish off. Place it under the grill to brown the top of the sauce, and serve with crusty bread.

If you prefer, you can bake the dish in a hot, preheated oven -- 200 C, 400 F, Gas 6 -- until the cheese is bubbling and browned on top.

CHOCOLATE BROWNIES WITH HOT CHOCOLATE SAUCE

Inspired by Nigella Lawson's recipe in Nigella Express: Good Food Fast, these brownies are delicious for an indulgent treat!

You will need:

225g (8oz) dark chocolate

225g (8oz) butter

1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence

200g (7oz) caster sugar

3 eggs, beaten

150g (5oz) ground almonds

100g walnuts, chopped

Ice cream (optional), to serve

For the hot chocolate sauce, you will need:

75g (3oz) dark chocolate, broken into pieces

125ml (4fl oz) double cream

2 teaspoons instant espresso coffee dissolved in 2 tablespoons boiling water

1 tablespoon of golden syrup

Preheat the oven to 180 C, 350 F, Gas 4. Line a square, 23-24cm (8?-9in) tin.

In a heavy-based saucepan over a low heat, gently melt the dark chocolate and butter. Take the saucepan off the heat and add in the vanilla essence and the caster sugar and let the mixture cool somewhat. When it has sufficiently cooled, mix in the beaten eggs, the ground almonds and the chopped walnuts. Turn the mixture into the prepared tin and spread it out. Bake it in the oven for about 25 minutes until the top is set but the inside is still gooey. When it cools, cut carefully four down and four across into 16 squidgy squares.

To make the hot chocolate sauce, put the dark-chocolate pieces, the double cream, the instant espresso -- which you have dissolved in boiling water -- and the golden syrup into a saucepan. Gently heat until everything melts together. Stir well and serve in a jug. Serve the brownies with some ice cream too, if you are using it.

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