Foodie Travels: Causeway Café, Wrightsville Beach, N.C.

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Tucked into the coastal North Carolina community of Wrightsville Beach, there’s a little diner called the Causeway Café, known for more than 30 years for its delicious breakfast and lunch plates.

The café opened in 1987, not long before my family started visiting Wrightsville and nearby Wilmington each year for our summer vacations.

I can remember going into the Causeway with Mom and Dad and enjoying pancakes and waffles topped with fruits formed in the shapes of smiley faces. And the restaurant still serves up great and creative dishes for all ages.

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Each beach community seems to have its local breakfast/brunch destination. Most such places are home to both locals and tourists, and that’s what you’ll find at the Causeway Café. It’s a relaxed atmosphere where, in the summer, you might see folks riding their bicycles or their convertibles up to the restaurant, and you’re guaranteed to see diners in sandals, swim shorts and comfy T-shirts inside.

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On the menu, you’ll find a wide variety of pancakes, waffles, omelets and eggs, as well as sandwiches, salads, wraps and seafood selections. It’s the kind of place that pleasantly blurs breakfast and lunch to suit your mood for the day. That’s probably one of the many reasons the Causeway’s still going strong after all these years. That and the homey atmosphere.

So when you’re cruising around Wilmington or over to the coast for a day at the beach, remember the Causeway Café for a good breakfast, brunch or lunch to fuel your adventure or relaxation.

Causeway Cafe, 114 Causeway Drive, Wrightsville Beach, N.C.

 

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Nutritious & Flavorful Two-Ingredient Pancakes

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These are the most flavorful pancakes I’ve ever eaten. That includes homemade and restaurant varieties…and I’ve enjoyed more than my share of “flapjacks.”

I’ve been seeing a lot of recipes for simple, flourless pancakes lately. We’re not really the most healthy-recipe conscious household, but I was intrigued by this two-ingredient option.

It’s so simple that there’s not really a recipe. You mash up a banana, and you whisk it well into two eggs. Then you pour it into a skillet and resume the normal pancake-making process.

That’s it.

No flours or oils or other ingredients. Simple pancakes. (Though I will say that I started with a small banana and found I needed an additional small banana to get the right “batter” consistency, so watch for that.)

You might say, “Are these going to taste too much like bananas?” That was my concern, too, but I found they were not overly banana at all. Just enough, and just the right moist texture.

I was also worried this would turn out like some kind of horrible banana scrambled egg, omelet or frittata dish. Not in the least. Wowed by the results, I topped a short stack with a few blueberries and a little syrup, and I had a delicious breakfast. For people on the go, I could see topping a pancake with a little peanut butter, rolling it up and taking care of breakfast on a busy morning.

A lot of recipes sell “simple” and “healthy,” and many don’t deliver. This one does. For their simplicity, their nutrition and their delightful flavor and texture, I highly recommend trying banana pancakes.

Pasta Mama: Creative, Flavorful, Simple

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If I tell you I’m going to make you pasta and scrambled eggs for dinner, what’s your reaction? Does it sound more appetizing if I tell you I’m going to mix the eggs into the pasta? Maybe it further helps if I tell you several Asian pasta dishes include eggs that are scrambled in somehow?

Yeah, I didn’t think so. When I first heard about Pasta Mama seven or eight years ago on one of my favorite Food Network Shows “Best Thing I Ever Ate,” I turned up my nose, too. It didn’t exactly sound like a delicious meal. But I’ve always enjoyed trying new things that involve ingredients I enjoy, so I gave it a whirl, as Kevin McAllister said of a frozen macaroni and cheese dinner while grocery shopping in the 1990 movie Home Alone. And the Pasta Mama blew me away with its simplicity and flavor.

Some people aren’t big fans of marinara sauce, so they prefer an alfredo or other topping for their pasta. This offers another cheap, flavorful option with the eggs and spices, and if you already have spices and dry pasta in your kitchen or pantry, it won’t cost you much at all to make (also considering eggs are pretty cheap). And if you cook the eggs and pasta just right, it’s not too dry or too wet.

Pasta Mama at its best is a very simple and light dish, so don’t plan on feeling extremely full afterward. In fact, it’s a dish you might have as a small meal as part of a plan to eat more than three meals a day, or you might even try it for a simple and quick breakfast. You can use that leftover cooked, plain pasta to get a head start, but even if you have to cook your pasta first, this dish won’t take you more than a half hour to prepare.

The following recipe is a modified take on a suggestion from Food.com.

Ingredients

10 ounces dry pasta

3 eggs, beaten

2 minced garlic cloves

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1 tablespoon butter or olive oil

1 tablespoon water

1 tablespoon fresh grated parmesan cheese

1/4 teaspoon oregano

1/4 teaspoon seasoning salt

1/4 teaspoon onion powder

 

Directions

1. Cook your pasta in a pot until it has the softness/firmness you prefer. (If you already have leftover cooked pasta, just heat it enough to knock the chill off before you take the next step in the recipe.)

2. In a skillet on medium heat, saute all of your spices with the butter or oil.

3. After your spices have sauteed, add the pasta and water and stir together.

4. Pour in your already-beaten eggs and combine until the eggs fully cook and mix with the pasta.

5. While your dish is still in the skillet, sprinkle the parmesan cheese on top. You can, of course, add as much cheese as you want.

6. Plate and serve. As with anything, your yield depends on how much pasta you actually use, how much each diner eats and the age of your diners. If you feed this to kids, it will probably go farther with each individual eater.

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Molly’s Take: I wasn’t terribly afraid of the egg and pasta combo here, since I love Asian rice and noodles and those often include eggs of some kind. I also am a person who really can’t stand marinara sauce in most settings, so I was excited about the prospect of an alfredo alternative. The Pasta Mama delivered. Its simple flavor, perfectly seasoned with herbs and spices, was light and tasty. As Matthew said, it isn’t incredibly filling or heavy, but I could easily see adding some type of fish like salmon or shrimp to the dish. However, the Pasta Mama stands alone in its simplicity and flavorful taste. Definitely give it a try.

Matthew’s Take: Of course, I really love this dish, or I wouldn’t be sharing it with you. My favorite way to eat pasta has always been with some kind of tomato-based sauce and beef meatballs or a cheese-based sauce with chicken. This is a completely different dish and one I’ve never had in a restaurant. I’ve never seen it on a menu in a restaurant, despite seeing it recommended on a food show by a professional chef who ate it at a restaurant. Maybe it has a low profile because it would take most people by surprise. I know it did me. Other than not being heavy enough to fill me for a long period of time, Pasta Mama is surprisingly satisfying. The garlic butter and cheese help provide their own deal of flavor, but it’s the eggs that offer the most boost to the texture and taste. You may be skeptical, but I encourage you to give it a try. Creative cooking can be exciting because it can break our normal routine in the kitchen and at the table. And this is a way to be creative and make an economical meal in a half hour or less. I give it an A for taste and an A+ for both cost and ease.

“Eggs in a Nest” – a Simple, Creative Breakfast

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We see eggs cooked in an indeterminate number of ways. There’s scrambled. And there’s sunny side up. There’s poached, and there are omelettes. You can jazz them up Benedict style, cook them into a quiche or simply boil them.

But there’s always a new way to cook almost any type of food. When we visited the 1900 Inn on Montford Avenue in Asheville, N.C., for our honeymoon in January, we discovered “Eggs in a Nest.” Our innkeepers at the 1900 (which includes suites named for major literary figures, ours for F. Scott Fitzgerald) were great conversationalists who shared quite a bit about their backgrounds while we ate our three-course breakfasts. They shared their life’s travels from Minnesota (fitting since the Coen Brothers’ Fargo is one of my favorite movies) to a host of other major cities and then to North Carolina’s mountains and the bed-and-breakfast hospitality experience. They also shared about the interesting dishes they serve up at the inn.

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The “Eggs in a Nest” dish was one of our favorite main courses of our stay. And luckily for us, it’s a breakfast we can make at home and continue to enjoy.

Just as it sounds, you place an egg (whichever style you choose really, we prefer sunny side up) in a nest of potato sticks. That alone accomplishes the title of the dish. The rest is really up to you, your tastes and your desire for presentation.

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Here’s what you’ll need to enjoy your own “Eggs in a Nest.” And I might add that this is a great dish, because of its fun presentation and optional simplicity, for kids who are finicky about what they eat.

Ingredients (for 1 person’s serving)

1 egg, cooked in the style you desire

1/2 cup of potato sticks (any brand works)

Shredded cheese

Dash of salt and pepper, if desired

Other toppings as desired (we like diced tomato and a little bacon or sausage)

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Instructions

  1. Cook your egg. You can scramble it. You can make it small-omelette style. You can make it sunny side up. You can even boil it and chop or dice it however you like.IMG_4353
  2. We suggest using a shallow bowl with nicely tapered sides. A bowl with steep sides will make it hard to form your “nest” of potato sticks.
  3. Place your potato sticks around the outside of your bowl, leaving a spot in the middle for your eggs.
  4. When your egg is done, place it in the middle of your nest of potato sticks.
  5. Complete by sprinkling shredded cheese on top and adding any other desired toppings.IMG_4356

Matthew’s Take: I love dishes that are both creative and involve incredibly simple and inexpensive ingredients. This recipe is right on that target. When you make the eggs sunny side up, the yolk mixes with your potato sticks to create a delicious flavor. Kudos to the 1900 Inn for sharing this with Molly and me. We have already passed it along, and we hope to continue to share it. I give “Eggs in a Nest” an A+ for taste, an A+ for cost-effectiveness and an A+ for ease. If you like the ingredients, you’ve got to try this.

Molly’s Take: This is honestly one of my favorite breakfast meals. It’s cheap and easy, hearty and filling. I love the taste of the eggs mixed with the slightly salty potato sticks. It really is a meal you can make as simple or as fancy as you like – and it’s great for picky eaters, because it’s so adaptable. Definitely give it a try if you want a nice, hearty breakfast sometime!

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Light, Sweet & Creamy Egg Custard Pie

If you search for an egg custard pie recipe on Pinterest, you’ll have a hard time finding a good, old-fashioned recipe that includes a crust. When I first searched for a recipe, years before Pinterest was a thing, online recipes were mostly just egg custards. There was no pie shell – you know, the part that makes it a pie. I had a hard time, but I finally found this recipe.

It’s one I’ve stuck with for years, because it turns out delicious every time. It won’t be cakey and it won’t look bubbly on top; it’ll be a smooth, creamy custard inside a perfectly baked pie shell. And! I’ll also share a few tricks to fix two problems that I’ve ran into with custard pies before. Those are: burnt pie crust on the top, and pie crust getting soggy on the bottom/not staying on the bottom where it should be. (I’ve had an egg custard once where the pie crust melded with the pie, floating up during baking. You don’t want that.) Here we go!

Ingredients:

1 deep dish pie crust

3 eggs, beaten

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla

2 1/2 cups milk

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1 egg white (for brushing the crust)

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400.
  2. Beat the eggs in a small container, then mix eggs, sugar, salt and vanilla well. Slowly blend in milk. If it looks a little frothy, like in the photo below, that’s okay! photo 3
  3. Brush the inside of the pie shell with one egg white – this prevents the pie filling and the shell from melding together and either getting a) soggy or b) mixed together like a messy cobbler.
  4. photo 2Pour into the pie shell. You will definitely want a deep dish shell, because this old-timey recipe makes a lot of pie filling! And those “regular” pie shells have certainly gotten smaller over the years. Sprinkle the top with a little nutmeg.photo 1 (2)
  5. Bake for at least 45 minutes, then cover it with a sheet of tin foil. Then, continue to check the pie at intervals of 15 minutes. The tin foil is the trick to keep the top crust from burning. (As you can see in the photo below, I didn’t do this early enough, but it did stop the crust from getting any darker.)

So when is the pie done? It’s tough to tell with an egg custard. Most people tell you to shake it, but an egg custard will always will be wiggly. Here’s my method: with a towel or oven mitt, pick up the pie on the right side and tilt it slightly to the left. If the entire middle of the pie moves to the edge and looks like it’s going to pour right out of the pie – it’s not done. But – if the middle is holding together and the pie has been cooking for more than an hour, it’s done. Here’s what it should look like. 🙂

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Molly’s take: I hadn’t made an egg custard in a while, so I was nervous about making it as part of an anniversary gift for my husband’s parents. When it came out of the oven (finally!) and we tried a small slice to make sure it tasted right, it was absolutely delightful. My only regret is not making two so we could have eaten the other one! Is this pie easy? Sure, it’s easy to mix up the ingredients and put it in the oven. But it takes a while to make a good egg custard pie. Remember, you’re cooking a lot of eggs and milk into something relatively solid. And you have to put tin foil on the pie to keep it from burning. And you have to check it often. But the end result is absolutely worth it. Now it’s time for me to go make another one…

Matthew’s take: The egg custard is a pie I’ve rarely seen among others at church and other social gatherings over the years. But the egg custard pie is a long-standing tradition in the Tessnear family. It goes back at least as far as my dad’s grandmother on his mother’s side. I grew up eating my mother’s egg custard pies, and this edition was as creamy and tasty as any egg custard pie I’ve ever eaten. Don’t expect to fill up your stomach with an egg custard pie slice. Egg custard is not about quantity. It’s about consistency and taste. The lightness of it makes it a great dessert option following a heavy and filling meal. I give the egg custard pie an A+ for taste, but I would warn you that it’s not the easiest pie to make if you’re not patient, and it will never be the prettiest pie you’ve ever seen from a bright colors standpoint. But you’ll love this pie if you enjoy light desserts and trying a recipe you rarely find on the table.

Fancy Pecan French Toast for Two

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We’re big fans of the $1 specialty bakery-quality bread loaves you can buy at Walmart. The bread has a short shelf life, but that just encourages you to get creative in how you use the bread to ensure you make the most out of that $1.

On a recent Sunday morning, Matthew used slices of a French bread loaf and just a few ingredients to whip up a quick and fancy breakfast. Here’s how he made his own variation of French toast for two, using the ingredients from a simple Food Network recipe.

Ingredients

four slices of $1 loaf of bread (we used the specialty Walmart bread, but many French toast recipes call for your plain, stale white bread loaf)

two eggs

1/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon sugar

1/3 cup of milk

butter

syrup

powdered sugar

brown sugar

pecans halves

Step one: Preheat your stovetop burner on medium heat.

Step two: Thoroughly mix your eggs, vanilla, cinnamon sugar and milk in a bowl.

Step three: Coat your bread slices in the sweet egg mixture.

Step four: Lightly butter (or oil) your pan and place your first two slices of coated bread into the pan.

Step five: Turn your French toast slices once, then repeat the process for the remainder of your bread.

Step six: Cut each French toast slice of bread in half and arrange as you like on a plate. With the ingredients in this recipe, you will have four half-slices each for two plates.

Step seven: Crush a few pecan halves with your hands and sprinkle on the French toast slices.

Step eight: Sprinkle your desired amount of brown and powdered sugars onto your French toast.

Step nine: Serve with the desired amount of syrup.

Matthew’s Take: When I’m cooking for people, I like to deliver a beautiful presentation when possible. There’s so much you can do to make French toast look beautiful. Powdered sugar and pecans (or any kind of nuts or fruit) can make your dish look like something you would get in a restaurant. This recipe is my take on a Food Network basic French toast formula. I added the pecans and sugar topping, but the original recipe suggests the perfect ratio of eggs, milk, cinnamon sugar and vanilla extract. You can take that basic provision and then top the toast with your favorite ingredients. I give this French toast an A+ for presentation, an A for taste and a B for cost-effectiveness. You can make French toast very cheap, with only bread, milk, eggs and a cinnamon and/or sugar ingredient. The pecans, multiple sugars and vanilla are extras that add taste, while also adding a few more ingredients and dollars to that grocery bill. The only reason I didn’t give this recipe an A+ on taste is that I used a French bread loaf that had “everything” seasoning topping on it and, although I brushed the topping off, a slight hint of flavor remained on a few slices of the bread. I would suggest using plain French bread, but I used the loaf we had in our pantry.

Molly’s Take: How do I love this French toast – let me count the ways! Not only is it fluffy, soft and deliciously moist, this French toast is covered in tasty toppings that enhance its hearty, pancake-y exterior. Now, you have to know me to know how absolutely crazy it is that I like this dish. I have a bad history with French toast (a church camp experience in which I was forced to play dizzy dodgeball in the summer heat after eating a ton of it along with chocolate milk=bad idea), and I generally dislike pancakes. Yes, I dislike – and have even used the term hate – pancakes. But since Matthew and I have been together, I’ve developed a more open mind toward them. On a recent trip, I even ate them twice! This breakfast dish reminded me of pancakes, but was so much more hearty and nowhere near as mushy as pancakes can be. It was like perfectly fluffy pancakes with a soft, yet firm, sugar-dusted exterior. Altogether, if I gave this dish a grade, it would definitely be A+.