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Corby's Table
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Comfort Food
Mashed Soft-Cooked Eggs
Torta Murcia
Fresh Corn and Bacon Pudding

April 8, 1998

Breakfast in Bed "Quite simply, bed is my favorite place to be," Jesse Cool writes in the introduction to Breakfast in Bed, a very appealing small book published last fall. I greatly admire Cool -- who is the overseeing chef and owner of the Flea St. Café, in Menlo Park, California -- for what has always looked to me like her limitless energy. She is a mainspring of Chefs Collaborative 2000, a group of activist cooks who support sustainable and organic agriculture, and who try to teach themselves and their customers about the connections between earth and pot and table. On the food trips I've been lucky enough to share with Cool, she has been a sunny presence who brings together cooks from all countries with a spirit of easy fun. A surprise, then, to find that she pays her bills and writes in bed, surrounded by "six or eight pillows, a down quilt, and cotton sheets," as often and at as many times during the day as she can.
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Previously in Corby's Table:

  • Survival Cooking -- February 1998
    In Ruth Reichl's new memoir, Tender at the Bone, food is about more than eating.

  • A Moveable Fiesta -- January 1998
    South America's well-traveled cuisine.

  • The Joy of Cookbooks -- December 1997
    Just in time for the holidays, a look back over the year's best.

  • Culinary Arts & Sciences -- November 1997
    A book to help one get wise to the whys of cooking.

  • Paradise Found -- October 1997
    Fred Plotkin shows why Liguria's is "the great undiscovered cuisine of Italy."

  • The Perfect Oil -- September 1997
    Olive Oil: From Tree to Table explains what makes an olive oil great -- and then how to cook with it.

    More by Corby Kummer in Atlantic Unbound
  • Cool loved being served in bed by her mother, and, as a mother herself, she knows that nothing is as comforting or caring as bringing food to someone you love who is at utter repose. For those who like to eat breakfast in bed but don't have someone willing to cook it for them, Cool is careful to give tips for preparing foods in advance, so that in-the-morning steps require an average of only ten or fifteen minutes.

    coolpic picture
    Jesse Cool

    But the reason I like this book, aside from the lovely idea at its core, is the recipes themselves, which show Cool's good taste in food and her tendency always to let simplicity speak. Here are completely comforting soft-cooked eggs, to be served over bread and then mashed -- the ideal bed dish, I think, since it is contained in one bowl and offers childlike activity before being eaten. Torta Murcia is a big thick frittata filled with chicken, pork sausage, and rice -- a one-dish meal that can be a breakfast or dinner entrée. Another of Cool's recipes, for fresh corn and bacon pudding, involves a combination I lunge for when I find it on menus. (It was very much in fashion two years ago, but its popularity now seems to have declined, for incomprehensible reasons.) Corn kernels, bacon, and cheddar cheese in a custard are a marvelously rich and satisfying combination, as any quiche lover can attest.

    In my selections here I've stuck to egg dishes -- although Cool includes plenty of fruit, pancakes, and waffles -- because they seem the most inspired of her recipes. Cool is an obvious, unrepentant egg fan, and so am I. I haven't gone as far as she, though -- she has managed to obtain a permit to keep six chickens in Palo Alto, one of the poshest places to live not only in California but the country. Zoning is very strict in that manicured town. I'm glad they still allow a devoted cook to have the freshest eggs possible.

        -- Corby Kummer

    Excerpts from Breakfast in Bed, by Jesse Ziff Cool (HarperCollins)

    My Mom's Nurturing Mashed Soft-Cooked Eggs

    My mom was a wonderful nurturer and home nurse. I was home sick a lot with tonsillitis, and she would bring my meals on a bed tray -- gentle food like this dish that seemed to work as well as the penicillin. These eggs are like many childhood memories, personal, warming, and full of love. They may not have the eye appeal of haute cuisine, but they sure taste good especially when you're sick. It is important that some of the yolk be soft so you can mash it with the buttered bread.

    2 servings
    4 to 6 eggs, at room temperature
    4 slices of white bread
    3 tablespoons butter, softened
    Lots of salt and freshly ground pepper
    Put the eggs in a saucepan. Add water to cover and bring it to a gentle boil over medium heat. Immediately reduce the heat to a simmer.

    From the time the water first boils, simmer 2 to 4 minutes for soft-cooked eggs (very loose whites, soft yolks) and 4 to 6 minutes for medium soft-cooked eggs (harder whites, soft yolks). Smaller and/or room-temperature eggs will take less time; larger and/or cold ones more time.

    While the eggs are cooking, remove the crusts from the bread and spread the slices with butter. Tear them into pieces and put them in two bowls.

    Drain the eggs, and holding them with a towel, crack them in half over the bread, and scoop the yolks and whites with a spoon. Stir gently with a fork, mashing the bread with the eggs. Season with salt and pepper, and serve immediately.

    In the morning: This dish is so simple you can prepare it in 10 minutes.

    Torta Murcia

    Murcia is a city in Spain where I once spent a glorious vacation. Hearty and flavorful, this Spanish-style torta would be wonderful served as breakfast in bed for dinner. When it's ready, light candles, crawl into bed with your partner, and end the day on a soft, intimate note.

    4 to 6 servings
    2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
    1 medium onion, chopped
    1/2 sweet red pepper, chopped
    6 ounces chicken breast meat, cut into bite-sized pieces
    8 ounces spicy pork sausage, cut into bite-sized pieces
    1 to 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
    Pinch of saffron
    2 tablespoons dry red wine, chicken stock, or water
    10 large eggs
    1 1/2 cups cooked rice
    1 teaspoon salt
    1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
    1/2 cup finely chopped ground basil
    Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

    Heat an ovenproof, 10-inch skillet over medium heat, and add the oil. When it's hot, sauté the onion, red pepper, chicken, and sausage until the vegetables are soft and the meat is completely cooked, about 10 minutes. Stir in the rosemary, saffron, and red wine, and sauté for 2 minutes more.

    Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs, rice, salt, pepper, and basil.

    Turn the heat under the skillet to high. When the oil just begins to smoke, pour in the egg mixture. Remove the pan from the heat and stir slightly to disperse the ingredients evenly.

    Bake until firm in the center, about 45 minutes. Cool for at least 15 minutes. If the pan is well seasoned, you can invert the torta onto a platter. If not, cut into wedges and serve it directly from the pan.

    Serve leftovers for breakfast or lunch. They will keep in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days.

    Do Ahead: Cook the vegetable-meat mixture. Whisk together the egg mixture. Refrigerate both, covered, overnight.

    In the Morning (about 1 hour): Warm the vegetable-meat mixture in the skillet, and complete the torta.

    Fresh Corn and Bacon Pudding

    This corn custard was one of the first dishes my son Jonah ever made for me. He made so much that we ended up having leftovers for breakfast the next day, and decided it was fantastic with a drizzle of maple syrup.

    2 servings
    2 cups fresh corn kernels
    1 1/2 cups milk
    2 tablespoons unsalted butter plus more for the pan
    2 tablespoons unbleached white flour
    2 eggs, beaten
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
    3 slices thick bacon, fried crisp and crumbled
    1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese (optional)
    Chopped green onions for garnish

    Soak the corn in the milk for 15 minutes.

    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter a 1-quart baking dish.

    Melt the 2 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour, and cook it for 2 or 3 minutes, stirring.

    Drain the corn, and whisk the milk into the flour mixture. Simmer it until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.

    Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the eggs. Stir in the corn, salt, pepper, and bacon.

    Pour the corn mixture into the prepared pan, and sprinkle cheese on top. Bake it until brown on top and firm to the touch, about 45 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before spooning it into bowls and topping it with green onions.

    Do Ahead: Make the corn pudding and refrigerate it. It loses some of its lightness and velvety texture, but my son maintains that the flavor improves. Chop the green onions.

    In the Morning (about 25 minutes): Warm the pudding in a 375-degree oven for about 20 minutes. Spoon into shallow bowls or small plates, garnish, and serve.

  • More by Corby Kummer in Atlantic Unbound

    Copyright © 1998 by Corby Kummer.
    Recipes from Breakfast in Bed by Jesse Ziff Cool. HarperCollins: New York 1997. Hardcover, 118 pages. ISBN: 0002250985. $19.95. Copyright © by Jesse Ziff Cool. Author photograph by Elizabeth Fenwick.
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