Monday, March 23, 2009

Blaze of Glory

I may have to apologize to the month of March for my remarks last week.

Was I too mean? I said I hated March. Which is true, at least part of the time. As I was editing that post, I deleted this little gem, after declaring that I hated March: “but I secretly love March.” Is that true? Do I secretly love March? Maybe. I’ve been known to savor secret loves, such as the realization one summer night, after staying up way too late talking on the phone with him, that I loved Matt. Nothing had changed between us that night, but inside me, some switch had been flipped. I walked around for the next few months in a state of dazed wonder, unable to imagine what this meant. I couldn’t say it too loudly for fear of what came next. It was my secret, and I kept it safely stowed away in the depths of my heart.

That was one delicious little secret.

March, however, is harder to love than Matt. March is the gateway to spring, but March is brutal and mean, holding spring hostage while winter runs rampant, spreading cold and misery everywhere it howls. March leaves me exhausted, lacking both energy and any decent clothes to wear. My sweaters sigh with resignation—they are ready for some time off, ready to hibernate for a few months as my fun summer clothes take center stage. I want more t-shirts and fewer turtlenecks, more breezy warmth and less goose-bumpy cold.

But oh, how beautiful March is! I have seen the most spectacular sunsets this month, the sun a blazing orange globe, sinking into the west, the skies streaked with pink and blue. The light is phenomenal. I leave work just in time each day to catch the sunset on my walk home, and it catches me by surprise every time with its shimmering, fiery beauty. I can’t hate anything in those moments, not even March.

Last week I was especially spoiled by the weather. The most glorious day of the week was Tuesday—it was downright balmy outside! I had all sorts of excuses to be outside that day. In the morning, I sauntered across campus to my therapy session, which went splendidly. (As an aside, may I add that I find it amusing that my therapist thinks I don’t cry enough during our sessions? She just doesn’t believe me that I’m practically a fountain of tears on any given day.) In the afternoon, I met my best grad school friend for tea, which we immediately agreed would be better drunk outside in the sunshine. I know I’d rather be drunk in the sunshine. Aaron just finished his PhD, and I couldn’t be happier or prouder of him. Graduations always make me feel elated, but this one is uniquely special. Aaron and I have been buddies since we started this crazy ride to PhDness, and to see someone so close to me finish what has been a hard adventure…it’s just amazing. Kudos to Aaron!

But what amazes me even more about Aaron is how many encouraging words he had for me that day. That’s the kind of person Aaron is: he cares so deeply about other people that he gives out love and affection like they’re water. Aaron’s presence is sunshine—I always feel better when he’s around. Am I gushing? I can’t help it! Aaron is one of my favorite people, and he likes turtles as much as I do. Turtles, and the frosted sugar cookies sold by Al’s Deli, the kind of cookies of which legends are made. Mmm, sugar.

That night, after another amazing sunset, I arrived home tired but happy. I was even happier knowing that I had some leftover Egg and Cheese Muffins, perfect for heating up in the oven and then squishing onto ciabatta bread, the whole thing all gooey and warm and chewy. I’ve been tinkering with my recipe for Egg and Cheese Muffins for a while, ever since I saw these Bouchons au Thon, a rich, French-style egg muffin made with tuna, crème fraiche, and lots of gruyère cheese. I immediately lusted for a vegetarian version. Though they aren’t remotely similar to tuna, my first idea was canned white beans and glory be, I was right! White beans work beautifully in place of tuna. But I didn’t stop there. No, to be honest, I never really made the original recipe; I just used it as a template for my own eggy ambitions. I did make something kinda similar, and it was fine and tasty, but I quickly realized that I was searching for something less French and more American. It was a breeze to run through lots of versions of these little “muffins” because they are so easy to make and even easier to eat.

Today I bring you my current working recipe for Egg and Cheese Muffins, a delectably fast weeknight dinner. They are rich but not heavy and rather wholesome, made almost entirely of whole foods, including a scattering of vegetables in the form of winter squash and onions. The overall flavor is Italian-American, a bit like scrambled eggs crossed with pizza. I really love these things. As they bake, they rise up, soufflé-like and beautiful, but as they cool, they deflate and a lacework of tiny craters forms along their surfaces. It’s a blaze of glory, lasting but a few minutes. The flavor, however, will last until there are no leftovers—that is, assuming you are lucky enough to have any leftovers in the first place!

Happy spring, dear reader.

Egg and Cheese Muffins
Adapted from this recipe for Bouchons au Thon
Makes 7 muffins, enough for 2-3 people as part of a component meal

I invite you to tinker with this recipe, as it is very amenable to new flavors and variations. When I have fresh sage in the fridge, I like to snip up a few leaves and throw them in the batter. Here I use a bit of dried oregano and basil for some herbal flavor. Other savory Mediterranean herbs (thyme, tarragon, rosemary, parsley) could probably be used with good effect. I’d start with just a pinch to see if you like it before scaling up.

I eat these muffins mostly for dinner, but they’re great for any meal. If you have leftovers, I do recommend that you warm them up, either in the microwave or the oven because they aren’t very good cold—you lose that nice melted cheese texture and the soft bounce of warm eggs. I feel deprived when I’m forced to eat them cold.

Cooking spray
1 cup of cooked white beans (I use canned beans; just drain, rinse, and measure.)
3 large eggs
1/4 cup winter squash purée, such as pumpkin or butternut
2 tbsp. tasty marinara sauce (Use a commercial one you like if you’re lazy like me.)
1/4 tsp. dried basil
1/4 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 cup cubed cheese, such as a sharp cheddar or monterey jack
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
Plenty of salt (to taste)
A few good grinds of black pepper (to taste)

1) Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Spray seven wells of a regular muffin tin with cooking spray. Set aside.
2) Place the white beans in a large mixing bowl. Using a potato masher, mash the beans into a chunky paste.
3) Whisk the eggs into the beans. Add the remaining ingredients, stirring to mix everything thoroughly. If you aren’t terrified of salmonella, taste the batter and if it tastes bland, add a little more salt until it tastes good. Feel free to adjust the other seasonings if you think it’s too bland, but be aware that the cheese will add a lot of flavor once these muffins are baked. My goal with these seasonings is balance so that all the flavors shine through and nothing gets lost in the shuffle.
4) Spoon the batter into the greased muffin wells, filling them almost, but not quite, to the top. Tuck them in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes or until the muffins are set and don’t wiggle wildly when you shake the muffin tin. Remove from the oven and allow them to cool for 5-10 minutes. The muffins are fairly molten when they first come out of the oven, but they become more solid and much easier to handle after they’ve cooled for a bit. After 5-10 minutes, you can remove them from the tin and eat them, or if you want, you can let them cool completely in the tin and then remove them. To get them out of the pan, I run a knife around the edges to loosen them, and then I use the knife to gently lift the muffins out of the pan. These muffins are more delicate than flour-based muffins, so take care and be patient when it comes time to handle them post-baking.

* * *

It seems I receive statements about my stock investments every day, and I just want to scream or cry at the sheer volume of crap that arrives in my mailbox. It’s such a waste of paper, as it goes almost straight from my mailbox to the recycling bag. It would be a part-time job just to keep up with the mailed literature. What I really need is a basic primer in finance: what are the terms? How do these financial systems work? Is my money being properly guarded by goblins in Gringotts Wizarding Bank?

To answer these burning questions and much more, my friend Andy has started a new blog, Grokking Finance. Andy has a knack for taking complicated financial stuff and simplifying it down to its bare bones. He’s a great story-teller, too; his examples feel less like men in suits and more like friends gathered for happy hour. I like that. I’ll be checking in with Andy regularly so that I’ll feel like less of a nincompoop about money. (As an aside, did you know that nincompoopery is a word, according to Fascinating!)


nicole.stewart said...

These sound really good! I have some frozen butternut squash that I've been trying to use up, so this may be a perfect opportunity. I do have a question, though. I've found that I can't eat egg yolks without severe stomach distress. Do you think these would work with just the egg whites or perhaps an egg beater variety (though I admit to feeling terribly senior-citizen for using egg beaters...)? Thoughts?

Andrew S. said...

Thanks for the plug, Rose-Anne! I'm always fighting the good fight against nincompoopery! I think you are too.

Rosiecat said...

My dear Nicole,

First, that line about feeling terribly senior-citizen for using egg-beaters made me laugh! You're hilarious.

Second, I'm sorry to hear about the yolk distress! How upsetting. But I think this recipe would still work with egg whites or egg beaters. The eggs provide structure in baked goods; my understanding is that it's the protein in eggs that does this job. Egg whites are mostly (all?) protein, so I think that your muffins will hold together quite well with egg whites. They might be chewier, which could be just fine, as the original isn't chewy at all--it's very soft and yielding.

Flavor-wise, you might lose a little bit of the richness from the fatty yolks, but you could tinker with adding flavor in other ways. Since you aren't a vegetarian, I'm going to go ahead and say it: bacon or sausage would probably be delicious here; you could even add a bit of bacon grease(!) for some fatty flavor. My mom made the most delicious scrambled eggs cooked in bacon grease, so I feel that I am honoring her by suggesting such a thing. But honestly, there's so much other stuff in these muffins that you might not miss the yolks at all, especially if you use a full 1/2 cup of cheese. The cheese adds a lot of flavor.

Good luck!

You're welcome, Andy! Fighting the good fight indeed! (I toyed with saying, "Nincompoops: it takes one to know one." But then I thought I'd better not!)

ammie said...

Sigh, I wish I liked eggs more...

Rosiecat said...

I'm so sorry, Ammie! You were a such a good sport with the frittata at our equinox lunch the other day.

Laurie said...

I found some forgotten pumpkin puree in my freezer yesterday. I see pumpkin-maple-peanut butter topping and egg and cheese muffins in my future. La la la. Thanks for posting such yummy looking recipes.

Rosiecat said...

Ooh, lucky you, Laurie! And I'm always flattered whenever anyone cooks recipes from this site. I know that I make great use of my blog as a recipe archive, but it feels like a big deal when someone else trusts me with their belly!

Happy cooking, and have a wonderful weekend!

Hillary said...

One of the few things I think I can truly say I hate is the month of February. I guess March is OK ... I guess. For me, March is kind of like mushrooms. I'll eat them if I they're my only option, but if given a choice, I will always choose something else.

The muffins looks scrumptious -- definitely on my weekend kitchen agenda!

I made your roasted broccoli and tofu for my brother a few days ago and we both absolutely loved it. Thanks for sharing!

Rosiecat said...

Oh, goodness, Hillary, I feel the very same way about February and mushrooms! I rally through February, braving the cold and eating chocolate, but by the time March rolls around, I'm totally spent.

Mushrooms...they sure know how to ruin a perfectly good dish!

I'm thrilled to hear you made the roasted broccoli and tofu! So, so thrilled! I'm glad you liked it. It's definitely a keeper--it's too easy and too tasty for its own good!

ttfn300 said...

"a bit like scrambled eggs crossed with pizza" i'm sold. breakfast is my favorite meal of the day, and i'd do it 3x if i could!!

Rosiecat said...

ttfn, it's hard to beat a dinner option disguised as breakfast...or vice versa! If I were more of a savory breakfast person, there's no doubt these muffins would be part of my 7 AM rotation. What is it about cereal that's just so comforting, almost addictive, when I'm still rubbing the sleep out of my eyes?