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The Morning-After: A Sleep-Late Menu

December 29, 1991|SALLY SCHNEIDER | Schneider is a contributing editor at Food & Wine magazine, where this article was originally published

My theory is that anything one does on New Year's Day should revolve around sleeping late. It's a day that demands its own quiet celebration to set the tone for the year ahead. Far in advance, I plan a celebration that accommodates the special realities of the first day of the year.

The ideal menu, in my book, would require a minimum of last-minute preparation and be easy, quick, dramatic and satisfying. And it would not be fattening--to avoid beginning the new year with guilt.

It is my secret belief that one should always eat caviar on New Year's Day, so my menu provides a choice of ways to eat it, either on oversize buckwheat popovers or on crisp corn blini. A low-calorie sour cream is a satisfying complement.

If beluga or sevruga caviar is too much of a splurge, salmon roe and American sturgeon caviar are good, less-expensive substitutes. Smoked fish such as salmon or sturgeon could replace them as well. For a homier approach to the day, try sauteed country ham and rich Pear Hazelnut Butter on the blini.

This is an easily expandable menu; the recipes can be doubled or tripled to create an elegant buffet to feed a small crowd. Or a half-recipe of either the blini or popovers can be whipped up for a casual, special breakfast a deux to be savored while reading the morning paper.

You can buy the few ingredients for the blini and most of the accompaniments, and you can make the Double Sour Cream and the Pear Hazelnut Butter days ahead of time. Buy the smoked fish and country ham one day ahead.

This recipe is a rough adaptation of something called "Bouncing Babies," which were billed as "big, fat popovers" in the 1953 edition of "The Joy of Cooking." (The recipe has disappeared from more recent volumes.) Baked in souffle dishes, they are crisp on the outside, moist and crepe-like on the inside. These popovers, topped with caviar or smoked fish, call for a fruity, frothy sparkling wine.

BUCKWHEAT POPOVERS

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup buckwheat flour

1 tablespoon powdered sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk, at room temperature

3 eggs, at room temperature

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

Sift together all-purpose flour, buckwheat flour, powdered sugar and salt in large bowl. Whisk in milk. Add eggs, 1 at time, whisking well after each addition. Batter will be quite thin.

Arrange 6 oven-proof souffle dishes, 3 1/2 inches wide by 2 inches deep, on baking sheet. Heat dishes at 450 degrees 5 minutes. Remove and quickly brush insides with melted butter.

Fill each dish halfway with batter. Bake at 450 degrees 15 minutes. Do not open oven door. Reduce temperature to 350 degrees. Bake 15 minutes longer, until popovers are puffed and browned. Pierce each popover to let steam escape and bake 5 minutes longer. Let cool briefly, then remove by running knife around rim and inverting dish, or serve in dish. Makes 6 large popovers, 154 calories each.

These are light, slightly puffy corn cakes. If possible, use coarse polenta cornmeal available at Italian markets to give them a crackly texture.

CORN BLINI

1 cup coarse yellow cornmeal

1/4 cup flour

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 cups plus 2 to 3 tablespoons buttermilk

1 egg

2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons unsalted butter, melted

Combine cornmeal, flour, sugar, salt and baking soda in medium bowl. Beat together 1 1/2 cups buttermilk, egg and 2 teaspoons melted butter in separate bowl. Whisk liquids into cornmeal mixture until smooth and consistency of thick cream soup. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons buttermilk, if needed, to thin batter.

Heat large, heavy griddle or skillet over moderate heat until drop of water bounces across surface. Brush surface lightly with some of remaining melted butter. Drop batter, 2 tablespoons at time, onto surface. Adjust heat to keep butter from burning. Cook blini until surface has bubbled and set and underside is golden brown, about 1 1/2 minutes. Turn and cook until second side is brown, about 1 minute longer. Repeat until all batter is used, brushing pan with some of remaining butter before each batch.

Serve blini as they come off griddle or keep warm in 200-degree oven, layered on baking sheet and loosely covered with foil. Makes 6 servings, 191 calories per serving.

This rich but delicate pear spread, perfumed with hazelnut oil, is a wonderful accompaniment to breakfast breads, pancakes, ham or sausage.

PEAR-HAZELNUT BUTTER

4 medium Anjou pears (about 7 ounces each), peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch dice

2 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 cinnamon stick

2 tablespoons water

1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

1/2 teaspoon hazelnut oil

Combine pears, honey, lemon juice, cinnamon and 2 tablespoons water in medium saucepan. Scrape seeds from inside vanilla bean into pan and add pod. Cover and cook over medium heat until pears have released their juices, about 4 minutes.

Reduce heat to low. Uncover and simmer until pears are very tender and liquid is reduced to 2 tablespoons, about 8 minutes. Remove cinnamon stick and vanilla bean and reserve for another use. Puree pears and liquid in food processor until smooth, about 1 minute. Cool. Stir in hazelnut oil.

Serve warm or chilled. (Pear spread will keep 1 week, covered, in refrigerator.) Makes 1 1/2 cups, 25 calories per tablespoon.

Here's a delicious variation with nearly half the calories of the real thing. Like creme fraiche, it thickens overnight.

DOUBLE SOUR CREAM

3/4 cup sour cream

3/4 cup buttermilk

Day before serving, whisk together sour cream and buttermilk in medium bowl until blended. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Makes 1 1/2 cups, 18 calories per tablespoon.

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