Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Behind the scenes with breakfast

I didn't intend to mislead anyone. When I said *Recipes in an upcoming post. I meant I would tell you how I made the items on my Christmas Eve breakfast menu - not that there would be exact measurements involved.

This is the kind of Mediterranean-style cooking which defies recipes. If you go to the Mediterranean coast of, say, Spain, you'll find that people are better at telling stories than measuring precisely, but the food is good anyway.

So, in lieu of precise recipes, I'm going to tell you some stories and trust that it'll still all come out good. We'll start with this...

A Word about Spanish Tortilla

The world is not flat, and neither is Spanish tortilla (tortilla de patata). So get that image out of your head. Instead, think of a fluffy and delicious concoction of eggs and potatoes.

When I describe it to people here in the U.S. they usually go "oh! Like a frittata?"

I'm not really sure what defines a frittata, but the response is so consistent that now I just say "yes."

The preparation of tortilla de patata (as I learned it in Spain), involves a deep pan, lots of olive oil, a ceramic plate-like contraption with a handle on the back and one death-defying Flip, which is designed to transfer the tortilla from pan to plate-thing, so you can slide it back into the pan and cook the other side.

I didn't purchase the ceramic contraption when I had the opportunity, because I naively thought a plate would work just as well. An assumption that was - shall we say - flipping stupid.

The Breakthroughs

Nearly 10 years after learning to make Spanish tortilla, I figured out a couple new tricks:

  1. You can avoid a nerve-wracking Flip with an inadequate dinner plate by simply covering the tortilla during the last half of cooking. The result won't be exactly the same. But you lose very little (evenly-distributed potatoes - and maybe some of your Spanish cooking cred) compared to what you gain (freedom from Flip fail anxiety).
  2. Sweet potatoes are a delightful substitute, even if they are a bit...well...sweet for the dinner table. They're perfect, however, for breakfast or brunch.
Given #1, I didn't know if I could really still call my concoction tortilla de patata. So I started referring to it as a frittata. Plus, that requires less explanation.

And, when I realized #2, Christmas Eve breakfast started to fall into place.

What Happened That Morning

I got up on Christmas Eve, got the coffee brewing, set out my ingredients, and started cooking.

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, E was waking up Christine's brother by singing "Hakuna Frittata."

• One potato: Sweet Potato Frittata

I started by putting a generous amount of olive oil (this is key! Keep that bottle handy!) in the bottom of a deep frying pan, and let it heat up. Then I poured in the sweet potato chunks the Hubs had cut up the night before. Once they were close to being done, I added chopped onion. After a minute or two, I dumped in a bag of frozen spinach and stirred it all together until things were well mixed. I cracked at least 8 eggs into one of those big Pyrex measuring cups with the pour spout, beat them a bit, then poured over the top. I should have put a generous amount of salt and maybe pepper on top at this point, but I'm pretty sure I forgot. I put a lid over it and let it cook until it was set.

When it was all done, I put it on a large plate and stuck it in the oven to keep it warm.

• Two potato: Red Potato Frittata

If you hate chopping like I do, you might be tempted to cut potatoes (of any kind) into big pieces. The problem with that is cooking them will take for-ev-er. So you have three options:
  1. Suck it up and think about how the reduced cooking time will be worth it. Really it will.
  2. Find someone to chop them for you. (Marrying a man who loves to chop helps with this item.)
  3. Buy the already chopped up kind.
I don't usually go for #3, since I'm such a bargain hunter (and because I lucked out on #2). However, I happened to find a smokin' deal on chopped red potatoes with herbs. (Woohoo!)

I followed basically the same procedure as above (starting with the olive oil - hey, it's good for you!), only instead of adding onions and then spinach, I just added organic shiitake mushrooms.

• Cinnamon Oranges

I thought some fruit would be a good counterpoint to the heavy, protein-packed frittatas. In addition to honeydew, I served cinnamon oranges, a side dish my mom puts with dinner. It worked great in the morning, though.

All you do is peel the oranges (thanks to Dad and the Hubs for your help with that!), section them up, coarsely chop them and throw them in a bowl. Mix in some cinnamon and voila! Simple deliciousness!

• The Moment of Truth

Once everyone was there and coffeed, we served it all up.

The reaction?

"Hakuna frittatta indeed!"


Photos by me.

Thanks to the Hubs, Dad, E, Christine, Rebecca and Josh for a lovely morning!


  1. this. was. hilarious.

    awesome write up, steph!!!! smarty pants. :)

  2. tortilla de patata... yum................ I actually bought a plate when we were over there, but I think it is somewhere at my parents. I'm going to have to dig this up now.

  3. Heather: That was smart. I should've done the same. Also, I wasn't trying to leave you out of the whole Spain story - I just had to do some simplifying 'cuz my post was so long! I decided to leave that for another day!

  4. that thought hadn't even crossed my mind, friend... :)


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