Out here in the wilds of New England, we get our fair share of weekend visitors, citified escapees who want to "see nature" and then head back to their apartments. Nature sometimes complies. A bear will roam through the yard; a hawk will scoop up a chipmunk.
Even if the show doesn't go on, breakfast does. Urban dwellers, country air--they add up to hearty appetites. So we've started making this barley grits casserole for breakfast, a great way to jump-start the day, to get a leg up on all that nature-viewing from our deck (not too far from the cocktails). It's a whole-grain meal that keeps our guests from scrounging in the bar or the fridge until past noon.
Here's how to do it:
First, mix 2 1/2 cups (600 ml) water and 1 cup (160 grams) barley grits in a medium saucepan. Barley grits are simply barley ground down until it's like coarse polenta. Look for barley grits in health-food stores and from online suppliers.
Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low and cook at a low simmer until the water has been almost completely absorbed, about 5 minutes, stirring often. Cover the saucepan and set it off the heat to cool for 5 minutes, then scrape the grits into a large bowl and cool for at least 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 475F (250C). Lightly butter the inside of a 6-cup (1.425-liter) oval baking pan or oven-safe au gratin dish.
Melt 1 1/2 tablespoons (20 grams) unsalted butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add 3 medium tart apples, cored, seeded, and diced; and 6 scallions, very thinly sliced. Cook, stirring almost constantly, until the apples begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon (15 ml) Worcestershire sauce and 1 tablespoon stemmed thyme leaves (or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme). Stir over the heat just a few seconds, until aromatic; then scrape the entire contents of the skillet into the bowl with the barley grits. Stir well to combine. Set aside to continue cooling.
Separate 2 large, room-temperature eggs, placing the whites in a large bowl and saving back the yolks. Beat those whites with an electric mixer at high speed until soft peaks can be formed from the whites when the beaters are turned off, lifted out of the bowl, and dipped back in.
Remove the rind from 5 ounces (140 grams) Brie; dice the remaining cheese. One trick to dicing soft cheese like this is to put it in the freezer for an hour or two (or even overnight) so that the cheese is firmer and easier to cut.
Stir these Brie cubes into the grits mixture along with the two egg yolks. Once well combined, fold in half the beaten whites until smooth, then fold in the second half just until any white streaks disappear. It's important to work slowly and gently with the second half of those whites so as not to deflate them. They'll add all the loft to the heavier barley.
Spoon and spread the mixture into the prepared baking pan, then slip it into the oven. Bake until lightly browned, puffed, and a bit firm to the touch, about 40 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes before scooping up servings with a big spoon. Now that's breakfast!