Tuesday, March 30, 2010

BrunchBATTLE: The Brooklyn Brunch Experiment

Just when you think there are only so many ways and so many time slots in which we can experience brunch, someone throws a curveball at you. In this instance, we couldn't pass up the chance to try our hand at The Brooklyn Brunch Experiment, the fifth installment of The Food Experiments by seasoned food competitors, Nick Suarez and Theo Peck. Not to mention, with a portion of ticket sales going to support Ovarian Cancer research, and  prizes as lavish as 2 JetBlue tickets or a year's supply of Organic Valley products, are tempting enough to make anyone want to throw on an apron and whip up a big batch of brunch.

We decided to call our creation Babe's Bread Pudding in honor of Babes who Brunch. Take a gander at the creation. Looks can be deceptive, since this is no regular bread pudding. Go ahead, guess what's in it.... give up? If you thought "bacon jam", you're one psychic cookie.

Layers of challah bread pudding with real vanilla bean and traces of Jack Daniels hid a secret filling: bacon jam. Homemade bacon jam consists of bits of bacon and caramelized onions. A fairly simple recipe executed in a crockpot, with the addition of some maple syrup and a few spices. [Keep watching BWB, the recipe will be posted here shortly!] Finally, we topped it with a dollop of maple-syrup infused goat cheese and a pecan half for garnish.

So how did we end up with this porky pudding? Here's the story. Emily came up with the original idea after dining on some delicious Brussels sprouts with bacon jam at Village Tart (worth visiting for that side dish alone!). For one of the many giant brunches our friends hosted, she decided to create bacon jam to be served with homemade biscuits. As the brunch went on, people started pairing three loves: bacon jam, goat cheese and honey on crackers. When we heard word of the Brunch Experiment, her brain went straight back to that deliciously addictive combination. Bread pudding isn't something Emily has much experience making, so why not tackle it for a giant food competition?!

During the late A.M. hour baking, testing, and tasting session, we made slight adjustments together (AKA: Melissa insisted on adding more sugar to things. Emily's note: Melissa has an awesome palate, she rocked out on the recipe tweaking.) The final product pictured above was the culmination of the day and night's cooking.

After a necessary powernap, we popped these babes into the oven, tapped our feet impatiently, but still managed to carry the two trays over in time to set up before the crowds arrived. We got too wrapped up in keeping down the fort at our station to take photos or taste everyone else's delicious creations for the most part, but Serious Eats, Metromix, Always Hungry, and The Huffington Post have more general coverage of the event and the winners.

There were some impressive showings that day, and we extend well-deserved congratulations to the winners. The creative minds behind Wanna Spoon? won over the judges with their version of Breakfast Cupcakes, corn cupcakes with bacon buttercream frosting, paired with a Bloody Mary shooter with spicy candied bacon. The bubbly duo, Emily and Linda, were sweet to come up to us afterward and give us such sincere praise for the Babe's Bread Pudding. It was pretty humbling and inspiring for us as food bloggers to go up against professional caterers and seasoned competitors. But the best part about these slams, cookoffs, or throwdowns, is getting to know the passionate creators who we have the pleasure of competing next to.
And look, our mascot, Babe! Guess we didn't eat him after all.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

BrunchOUT: Zazie (San Francisco)

Brunch, as much of a New York staple as we'd like to believe, does exist and can be well represented in other parts of the country. Like other regional food differences that appear in other meals, brunch items also vary according to local preferences. Thankfully, Babes who Brunch are from differing parts of the U.S. and will report back on brunches during our travels.

I (Melissa speaking!) was recently in San Francisco on vacation, and started off the trip right with brunch to cure my jet-lag. At the recommendation of my San Franciscan host, we went to a popular brunch spot in Cole Valley - Zazie's, a cute French bistro with a line out the door to rival those in New York. There was a sign-up sheet on the outside window, with a warning not to ask how long the wait is. Simply multiply the number of patrons before you by 3 minutes, and that's the estimated wait time. The system seemed to be relatively accurate, so I'm curious to see if that would work in New York.

Line outside Zazie's

When our names were finally called, we were led to a bright and cozy back garden area with wooden benches, surrounded by greenery and signature colorful San Franciscan townhouses. On our table was this adorable hand-made "Reserved" sign:


The Food 

Perhaps I'm used to the amount of pre-fixe brunches in New York, but I was surprised not to find that option here. The menu was extensive, covering anything from a French Toast Tahiti, challah stuffed with caramelized bananas and walnuts, to tartines and even a Mediterranean Plate. A few items, such as eggs or pancakes, conveniently came in price tiers according to the number of each that you wanted.

The New Yorker in me found the Scrambled Egg New York with wild smoked salmon, green onions, and cream cheese to be amusing. Instead, my friend and I both chose to go for poached eggs, served on top of an English muffin with homefries on the side.

Poached Eggs Monaco  
Light Hollandaise sauce, Zoe’s proscuitto and tomatoes provencales ($12)

Poached Eggs Monaco

Poached Eggs Valence 
Roasted eggplant and spicy tomato-chevre sauce ($11)

Poached Eggs Valence

Another tempting, Californian-sounding dish was the Poached Eggs La Mer, with fresh hand picked dungeness crab, green onions, and Haas avocados ($17). Perhaps another time, but I planned to get my fill of avocados throughout the week anyways.

The poached eggs were the highlight of the dishes, evident of really fresh free-range eggs. This first taste of San Francisco gave a sneak peak at the difference between New York that so many people have pointed out already. The primary focus is on fine, fresh ingredients that treat the body well, not about reinventing the concept of a Eggs Florentine.

The Bottom Dollar

The humanistic view even extends to the additional SF Health Care Ordinance charge of $1 per person added to all checks. As taken aback as I was to see this involuntary surcharge, there's not too much to argue against providing better work benefits for employees.

SF Health Ordinance

The Bottom Line

Overall, not a bad start to a week of eating indulgence in San Francisco. Time flies by with a cup of coffee, puppies all around, and best of all, a personal sunbath in the back garden. 

Back Garden

941 Cole Street 
San Francisco, CA 94117

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

BrunchOUT: Egg in Williamsburg

No, the rumors aren't true, we babes haven't been kidnapped, disappeared or quit. It's a busy time in our world, as is true for most New Yorkers. But there has been lots of brunching, both in and out. This adventure was a bit of a last minute holiday get-together between Emily and friends and previous brunching babes, Molly and Anna, at Egg in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Egg is a small restaurant that is as well known for its farm fresh, Southern-inspired food as it is for the wait. Like many brunch spots, Egg is a small place that is almost always packed. For the three of us, on President's Day, our wait ended up taking forty-five minutes. We were sat at the end of a four person table. Obviously, Egg is very good at fitting as many diners in their space. One cute factor happening in the place is white paper covering the table with a cup of crayons sitting out. This turned into a great way to pass the time as we waited for our food.

The Food

One of the main items I knew I had to order at Egg are the biscuits. The main photograph on the Egg website is a tray of biscuits, and really, how can you turn these down?

photo from the Egg front page

Personally, I found the biscuit a bit too doughy in the center, but the edges were deliciously browned and cooked properly. Served with some nice raspberry jam, these biscuits were a nice side to all three of our dishes. Anna ordered two fried eggs, bacon and hashbrowns, Molly got the eggs Rothko, and I ordered cheese grits and bacon.

Eggs Rothko $8.50

Photo via Pabo76 on Flickr

Served with a nice tomato sauce and green veggies, this is one of those meals that fools the eyes. It's a classic egg-in-the-hole done Williamsburg style. (Really, how many restaurants could get away with naming a breakfast dish after an artist?) The egg (hiding under all that cheese), Amy's brioche bread, and lots of Grafton cheddar cheese make for one dense breakfast.

Two Eggs, Any Style $7

Photo via Yelper Alex S

Egg seems to know their namesake - they're quite talented at cooking eggs perfectly, and as requested. Anna's dish intrigued me because the hashbrowns are sort of a big patty, crisp and crunchy on the outside, and softer inside. The bacon is also quite delicious, and this seemed to satisfy Anna's brunch cravings.

Organic Grits and Eggs with Grafton Cheddar $9.75

These stone-ground grits from South Carolina's Anson Mills are served with two eggs cooked any style, and a side of bacon (my choice). Placing my two over easy eggs on top of the bowl of grits, mixing the yolk in with the cheesy grits, this made a very comforting dish. It definitely needed black pepper, which I did add, for a perfect balance of flavors. A great size bowl of grits, two eggs and the side of bacon made a really great meal, along with my biscuit on the side. Whether fortunate or not,  I was unable to find a photograph of Egg's breakfast grits online, but in reality, grits just don't photograph beautifully.

The Bottom Dollar

Egg owns their own small farm, and I feel that the prices reflect an ability to get homegrown produce without the middlemen. Many of the breakfast meats are housemade or very local, along with the breads and cheeses. The most expensive item on the breakfast menu is an $11 duck hash, which is very very reasonable. The portions aren't Cracker Barrel huge, but they are quite filling.

The Bottom Line

Egg has me wavering between fantastic and so not worth it. The food was beyond solid, yet a 45 minute wait on a holiday Monday? Between the crying baby at the next table over and the line that had tripled over the course of our meal, we felt rushed to finish eating and handle our check as soon as possible. Egg serves breakfast all day, and begins lunch at noon. My best recommendation is to check this restaurant out on a weekday, if you have a holiday or a more relaxed work schedule. But on a normal Saturday or Sunday? I won't even try it!