Monday, January 31, 2011

Sweet and Spicy Cornmeal Waffles Florentine

As much as I love brunch, I am no longer a huge fan of going out for brunch.  Yes, I know it's an NYC institution, but I have good reasons.  All too often, there is only one savory and one sweet option on the menu that are vegetarian (seriously, why is that), and since pancakes and french toast always leave me hungry (I have an anti-sweet tooth), that means I'm relegated to ordering the one vegetarian egg dish.  Which is really not my idea of a good time at a restaurant.  I like to have choices.

And even if there are a variety of options, it rather pains me to pay $14 for a pair of poached eggs on a soggy English muffin or a mediocre omelet.  Sure, I still love a good brunch outing on the weekend - particularly to Cookshop or Five Points (ok,  those are basically the same place), and I'm heading to The Farm on Adderley next weekend - but I don't go out for brunch nearly as often as I used to for the reasons mentioned above, not to mention that I'm happy as a clam when I'm in the kitchen.

On a recent snowy day, Matt suggested we go to brunch, but given that I'm often too lazy to leave the house and that I wasn't in the mood to drop $40 on a meal for which I had to wait an hour to eat, I decided to make our own brunch.  I often make pancakes for brunch since they're quick and amenable to any fruit we have lying around (or stashed in the freezer from our summer CSA shares), but this time I wanted to make a mashup of my favorite brunch dishes: cornmeal pancakes, cheddar waffles, and eggs florentine.

The cornmeal waffles were easy enough to make - just swap some cornmeal into a regular waffle recipe and there you go.  The light sweetness and the crunch of the cornmeal takes standard waffles from ok to wow, amd they're not overly sweet; they've got a nice savory edge to them.  I could seriously eat these waffles plain, but wait, there's more.

I had considered putting the cheddar cheese in the waffles, but all too often the cheese flavor gets lost when it's inside waffles, and then you've just loaded your waffles with cheese and have gotten nothing out of it, which, in my book, is a total waste.  So instead of going in the waffles, shredded cheddar cheese went on top of the hot waffles, where it melted and got nice and gooey.

Next up: eggs florentine.  Easy enough.  We had a big bag of baby spinach in the fridge which I quickly sauteed with a touch of garlic and oil, and there are always eggs in our fridge.  I poached mine; Matt's were soft scrambled.  Cook 'em any way you like.

And the final touch?  Chipotle maple syrup.  This, I have to admit, was a stroke of genius and took this dish to another level.  I was thinking about how people often add bacon to brunch dishes, especially those with maple syrup, and, while it annoys me, there's obviously some reason for it - the heady, smoky flavor clearly goes well with the rich sweetness of the maple syrup.  While I was digging through the fridge to grab the eggs, I stumbled upon a container of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce.  Bingo.  Just a half teaspoon of the adobo sauce was all that was needed to add a spicy, smoky edge to the robust, rich maple syrup.  I was a little nervous of how it would work out over the eggs and spinach and waffles, but it worked out better than I could have imagined.  Not at all overwhelming, but just enough to add another dimension of flavor - an unexpected, but welcome one - to this greatest hits brunch dish.

Unfortunately, this dish may have ruined me from ever again going out for brunch (unless it's to Locanda Verde - I can't say no to Karen DeMasco's baked goods - or any of my other favorites that have killer bread baskets).  Not only was it one of my favorite brunch concoctions ever - be it mine or someone else's - but it honestly came together in less than a half hour, which is significantly less time than it takes to take a shower, pick out a cute outfit, walk to or take the subway to a restaurant, and wait in a cold entryway for a table.  Matt, who doesn't heap praise upon my food unless it's really warranted (and believe me, I get some not-so-good reviews from him every now and then), said this should be on the brunch menu at our favorite neighborhood restaurant, Buttermilk Channel.  Did you hear that Doug?  We can talk next time Matt and I come in for cheddar waffles.


Sweet and Spicy Cornmeal Waffles Florentine
serves 2

For the waffles
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour (you can substitute all-purpose)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Heaping 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 egg
2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon canola oil or cooking spray

For the spinach
6 ounces fresh baby spinach
1 large clove garlic
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/4 teaspoon salt

To assemble and serve
2 ounces cheddar or colby cheese
4 eggs
1/2 cup grade B maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon adobo sauce (substitute 1/4 teaspoon chipotle pepper powder)


Make the waffle batter

In a large bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Add the buttermilk, egg, melted butter, and honey to a medium bowl and whisk well to combine.  Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture and pour in the buttermilk mixture, then whisk gently to combine - don't overmix!  Let the batter sit while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.  You should probably turn on your waffle maker at this point.

Make the spinach
Wash and dry the spinach - it's ok if there's a little moisture left, no need to spin the leaves until they're super dry.  Heat the canola oil in a skillet set over medium-high heat.  Peel and crush the clove of garlic, then saute in the hot oil for 30 seconds.  Add half of the spinach and a pinch of salt and and toss with tongs, then add the remaining spinach and a little more salt after the first batch is slightly wilted.  Cook until the spinach is mostly wilted, about 3 minutes.  Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.

Prepare the remaining ingredients

Grate the cheese on the large holes of a grater and set aside.

Cook your eggs - the timing on this depends on how you like them.  My scrambled eggs take about 10 minutes to make, so if that's how long yours take, get them going before you start the spinach.  I love my eggs poached, so get the water to a simmer while the spinach is cooking, then drop the eggs in when you make the waffles.

Pour the maple syrup into a small bowl and heat in a microwave oven for 30 seconds (you can also do this on the stove).  Add the adobo sauce or chipotle powder and set aside.

At this point, the waffle iron should be hot.  Spray the plates of the waffle iron with canola oil spray or brush them with the tablespoon of canola oil.  Evenly distribute the batter among the four wells and cook until golden brown, about 5 minutes.

When the waffles are done, put the spinach back over medium-high heat for about 30 seconds to reheat them  Place the waffles on two plates and top each one with an equal amount of cheese, then top with the spinach.  Top each waffle with one egg and drizzle 1 tablespoon of the chipotle maple syrup over each egg.  Devour immediately.

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