Tuesday, 7 October 2008

The Food of Memory

My Dad was one of those wonderful folks who not only loved to cook, but who cooked extremely well. Whether it was a roast dinner or his famous spare ribs on the barbeque, you could always be sure of something good to eat if Joe was cooking. He had a patience when it came to food that was quite staggering. One time at a cottage in Northern Ontario, when after days of fishing I became discouraged after not being able to catch anything I considered worthy of cooking, Dad began to collect all the smaller fish I caught. He then painstakingly filleted and froze them. The last night of our holiday, Dad cooked a fish fry that not only tasted delicious, it taught me that success is sometimes more in how you look at things than in what you actually achieve.

So after all the amazing things he cooked in his lifetime, it would probably surprise my dear old Dad to know that the meal that reminds me most of him is Sunday brunch. I’m not thinking of the multi-layered buffet brunch extravaganzas that seem to proliferate today. Rather, I’m remembering brunch as it used to be, a simple meal served in the late morning consisting of eggs, bacon and toast or maybe pancakes. I can still see my Dad with his apron on most Sunday mornings, gin and orange juice beside him, cooking up the bacon and eggs. And it was the eggs that were the thing. My Dad made the most amazing scrambled eggs. Now scrambled eggs may not seem important enough to warrant an entire blog entry, but trust me, my Dad’s scrambled eggs really do.

Dad didn’t always make scrambled eggs when he made brunch. In fact, he originally made fried eggs every Sunday. His fried eggs were good, but as a child I was not a big fan of fried eggs, and for my mother, fried eggs were verboten, being as they were, fried. My poor mother was almost always on a diet, and had a propensity towards anorexia that made her obsessively careful of what she ate. As it was, she would not eat the bacon that I loved so much, so if she would not eat the fried eggs, that left only the toast for her to eat for brunch, and maybe the fried tomatoes if they were in season. Now, I know I’ve just said fried tomatoes, and Mom wouldn’t eat the eggs because they were fried, but for my Mom, fried tomatoes were acceptable diet food, fried eggs were not. Please just don’t ask.

Anyway, one Sunday Dad made scrambled eggs. But these were not just any scrambled eggs – these were ambrosia even for the scrambled egg devotee. I can remember thinking at the tender age of six they were the best eggs I’d ever eaten. I have not yet changed my mind. So they became a regular part of Sunday brunch for the next several decades. Later in his life, Dad would hear his grandson say that “Grandpa makes the best scrambled eggs in the world”, and I firmly believe he was right.

Dad’s scrambled eggs were velvety, light and beautifully cooked – not too runny, but gently tender – no rubbery eggs ever left his kitchen. And his eggs had flavour, they were not tasteless as scrambled eggs can be. This was thanks to the addition of dehydrated onion and parsley. For those of you who are turning up your nose at this point, I urge you not to scoff until you have tried the addition of these rather unusual ingredients. Somehow the eggs hydrate the dried ingredients until they are quite simply the most flavoursome additions you could make. Once I tried to duplicate Dad’s eggs with fresh flavourings – that is fresh chopped onion and parsley - and the taste was nowhere near the same. The concentration of the dehydrated ingredients makes for a flavour hit their fresh counterparts simply cannot touch.

Dad really loved his microwave, it was a technological miracle he took full advantage of, and a lot of his most delicious meals came out of it. It was in the microwave he always cooked his eggs. In retrospect, I imagine the idea to use the microwave was originally born out of the fact that Mom would have been concerned about her scrambled eggs being cooked in a frying pan, and cooking them in the microwave did not require the addition of any fat (or so both she and I believed).

Brunch was the last meal my Dad cooked for us the Sunday before he moved to a retirement home with my Mom about six months before he died. He wasn’t very well by then, and I helped a great deal, but he still made the eggs. I didn’t realise I was watching him do it for the last time and yet I remember every detail in technicolour, as if somehow what my heart refused to accept the part of my brain responsible for memories knew only too well. Just as the eggs came out of the microwave, Dad asked if I minded if he added a knob of butter at the end of cooking – years of my Mom and I watching our weight had made him cautious of upsetting me. On the contrary, it revealed to me the one ingredient I had never realised was a part of my Dad’s amazing eggs, and I urged him to carry on. Dad took a good tablespoon of butter and stirred it through the eggs. As always, they were delicious.

And so here is my Dad’s recipe. It tastes extremely good when I make it, but not as good as when my Dad did. Despite the fact I now know the secret ingredient, Dad had a knack for cooking those eggs that I can’t seem to emulate. It doesn’t stop me trying.

Although I’ve included measurements, Dad never measured anything, so go according to your own tastes and just use my measurements as a guideline. And remember, scrambled eggs are not just for brunch or breakfast, they make a great snack or light meal. They are delicious and nutritious, and in my experience even the fussiest child will eat them, making them a real saviour for frazzled mums at teatime. You might want to cut back on the flavourings, adding just a small amount of the onion and parsley if you are cooking these for very small children. Don’t leave them out though – I once managed to convince a reluctant eater that they were Dr Zeuss’ green eggs thanks to the flecks of green provided by the parsley. He ate every bite, much to his mum’s amazement.

Joe’s Scrambled Eggs

2 medium to large eggs per person
A dollop of milk (approximately 2 tablespoons milk for every six eggs)
About 1 – 2 teaspoons each of dried onions or chives and dried parsley for every six eggs

Beat the eggs in a large bowl (Dad always used a large Pyrex measuring jug and I do likewise) until light and fluffy. Add the milk and beat a bit more. Stir in the dried onions or chives and the parsley. You can add salt and pepper to taste at this point if you like. Let sit for about five minutes.

To cook in the microwave, place the bowl or jug in the microwave for one minute on high. Then remove the eggs and fluff with a fork. Continue cooking, one minute at a time, fluffing after each minute, until the eggs are light and fluffy but not rubbery. Remember the eggs will continue to cook a bit once removed from the microwave so once they start to look as if the runniness is gone, go carefully. You can always cook them more, but you sure can’t un-cook them! Cooking time will depend on the volume of eggs you have, but usually three minutes does it. At this point, stir in a knob of butter (about one tablespoon depending on how many eggs you are cooking). The butter should melt into the eggs and literally disappear. Once the butter has melted in, serve the eggs either on toast or with toast on the side or as part of a Sunday brunch.

As I am not as dexterous with a microwave as Dad was, I often cook these eggs in a frying pan. I find the resulting eggs taste are closer to Dad’s version, despite the fact I am not cooking them in the same way he did. So if you are deficient in microwaving skills like me, melt a tablespoon of butter over low to medium heat in a frying pan. Add the egg mixture. Stir gently and push round the pan until the eggs are cooked – neither too dry nor too runny. When they are done, add a knob of butter and stir through until melted. Serve and enjoy.

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