There were five years in my life when I cooked only for myself, and never gave a thought to what anyone else would enjoy, request, refuse to eat, or reject on the grounds that it was not macrobiotic, contained too many onions, or was otherwise flawed. Before that time , I ate with my parents and my brother, and then in a series of college dining halls. In both situations, I was generally served something based more on “the will of the people” than on my particular cravings. For the past eleven years, I have been cooking for my husband and kids (as well as assorted other people), and my menu choices are almost never based on my personal preferences. If they were, there would be much less meat and much more funky experimentation.
The first three years of my solo cooking were during law school. I lived in a third-floor apartment in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, with three roommates. My meal planning was heavily circumscribed by the combined effects of poverty and lack of a car. Whatever I ate for dinner had to be cheap, and had to be something I could buy at the Star Market and haul home on the bus and/or subway along with my big bag of law books. Although I occasionally got to eat splendidly in a good restaurant in Boston or Cambridge when my parents were in town or my (employed) friend Jeff was buying, I mostly ate cream of tomato soup with Saltine crackers, meatless spaghetti, or something involving eggs. I may have bought a piece of meat during the Law School Years, but I honestly don’t remember doing it.
During this time, I invented “Egg Mess,” an ersatz frittata which I eat to this day because its cheap, delicious and requires ingredients that are always in the house. There is great flexibility in the preparation of this inelegant dish, so play around with it and make it your own “mess.”
- 1 baking potato or 2-3 smaller potatoes, peeled, cooked, and diced (you can microwave the potato on the day you make your Mess, or you can use previously cooked potatoes from a previous meal. Its all good).
- 1 big onion or 2 small onions, thinly sliced (can be sweet onion or yelow cooking onion depending on how much you like the taste of onion. I like it a lot).
- 3 eggs,beaten
- Grated cheese (pick your favorite kind; cheddar is always solid, pepper jack is pretty amazing, and Swiss or Emmentaler gives a nice, mellow flavor).
- 1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped (optional, although I wouldn’t be without it)
- Butter, oil or cooking spray for pan
- Salt and Pepper
Heat a skillet or saute pan over medium heat, and add butter and/or oil if you’re using them. I usually use a little butter for flavor, but add a little Canola to make the potatoes crisp up nicely.
Add the onions, garlic, and potatoes to pan. Cook until potatoes are getting crispy brown spots, like a good hash brown. Do not be tempted to raise the heat to move things along, or you’ll burn your onions and/or garlic and ruin everything. Depending on your pan, how the potatoes were cooked, and a variety of other factors, you may need to add a little more butter or oil if things are sticking to the pan.
When the majority of the potatoes have some brown crisp parts, smooth the potatoes, onions and garlic evenly across the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, if you like, then pour the beaten egg over the potato layer, and cook until eggs appear cooked and firm (no stirring). Its okay to poke them a little, to make sure.
The minute the eggs are done, sprinkle on the shredded cheese to cover everything. When the cheese is melted, you’re ready to eat!
I believe that a frittata is traditionally served cut into wedges. Egg Mess is traditionally served scooped unceremoniously from the pan and onto a waiting plate. If it were pretty, I would have called it something else.