Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Time Management

It was a dark and foggy Wednesday morning, and I was up, really up and out of bed and in the kitchen, making breakfast. Actually, I should take you back to the beginning.

It all started with this post in a blog I just began reading. It featured a recipe entitled Spanakopita Scones. I had spinach that was threatening to give me a bad day, so I knew that if I was going to try this recipe, it would have to be soon. I thought the scones would be really great for breakfast. The problem, however, was simple: I’m not a morning person. The spinach was poised to give up its ghost before the weekend, and if I wanted these scones fresh and hot for breakfast, it would have to be on a weekday morning.

It wouldn’t take a master of deduction to figure out that there was no way I was going to make it out of bed at 5:30 am, not even for the cause of that pink and green lady known as The Messy Apron. But then it began to dawn on me that I could make up the various stages of the recipe the night before, chill them, and then put them together and bake the scones the next morning. As long as the liquid ingredients didn’t mingle with the baking powder too long before going into the oven, it should be okay. (The liquids would cause the leavening reaction to begin and the power of the baking powder would be spent before the scones could get into the oven.)

Since, as they always say, scones are best the day they’re made, I cut down the original recipe by half. We weren’t going to be able to eat a huge batch before they became mere shadows of their former selves. It also occurred to me that I could save even more time in the morning by using the food processor to do the hard labor (and the smaller batch would fit in the processor bowl.) I pulsed the mixture of dry ingredients with cold butter, then covered the processor bowl and refrigerated it. The early morning work would be a breeze.

And that’s how I found myself on a weekday morning, making savory scones lickety-split before the fog lifted. All I had to do was add the wet ingredients (half and half and eggs) and the spinach-dill-feta cheese mixture, which I had also prepared the night before and chilled. I pulsed it all together, patted it out on the counter (gently, gently…I didn’t want to overwork the dough), and cut it into pretty fluted circles. I baked the scones, and then whipped up a batch scrambled eggs and a pan of fried kielbasa for the rest of a hearty breakfast.

I was guardedly optimistic about my time management skills, but the true test was in the taste. These scones were delicious: tender and moist with lots of dill on the forward edge, an earthy background of spinach, and plenty of soft pockets of feta cheese. All was right with the Wednesday morning.* The sun would come up and the fog would lift. The pink and green lady would get her due. And I had messed up the kitchen more before 9:00 am than most people do all day.

*Actually, in all the excitement, I forgot to make Harry’s lunch and had to throw something together as he was heading out the door.

Spinach and Feta Scones with Dill
Adapted from this recipe from Simmer Till Done

1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ cup finely-chopped onion
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon finely-minced garlic
2 ounces chopped spinach (about 1 ½ cups loosely packed)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
3 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
¼ teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg, preferably freshly-grated

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
3 ounces (6 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

2 large eggs
½ cup half and half
egg wash (1 beaten egg mixed with 1 tablespoon water, milk, or cream), optional

1. Heat the olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and ¼ teaspoon salt. Saute 2-3 minutes or until the onions begin to brown, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and cook 30 seconds more. Add the spinach and cook, stirring frequently, 1-2 minutes or until the spinach is wilted and tender.

2. Place the spinach mixture in a sieve over the sink or a bowl and allow to drain and cool.

3. Combine the cooled spinach mixture, dill, feta cheese, pepper and nutmeg in a small bowl. Mix well. Set aside. (Or this can be made ahead. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.)

4. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar and Parmesan cheese in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse once or twice to mix together. Add the butter. Pulse until the butter is well-distributed in small, irregular pieces. (This can be made ahead. Cover the processor bowl and refrigerate until ready to use.)

5. (You can begin here on a second day, if desired.) Preheat oven to 400 F. Beat the eggs and half and half together in a bowl. Add to the processor bowl with the flour mixture. Pulse until only a few dry spots remain. Add the spinach mixture. Pulse just until evenly distributed. If the dough is bunching up too much to distribute evenly, distribute with your hands in the next step.

6. Turn out the wet dough onto a well-floured surface. Gently mix further if the spinach mixture needs to be distributed more evenly. Pat out to a 1-inch thickness. Cut with biscuit cutters or a knife into desired shapes (I used a 3-inch round biscuit cutter). Place the cut out dough on a lined or greased baking sheet. Brush the tops of each scone with egg wash if desired. (It will help make them golden brown.)

7. Bake at 400 F for 15 minutes or until the outsides of the scones are set into a delicate crust and they are golden brown on top. Cool on the pan about 2 minutes. Remove to a wire rack to continue cooling. Serve completely cooled or slightly warm.

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