Foodie Tuesday: Egg Head

The simplest way is almost always the best way, when it comes to my kitchen-witchery. I’m neither skilled nor patient enough to do the kinds of serious culinary magic others can and will do, so what I make best is uncomplicated, straightforward, and dependent upon good ingredients rather than genius ways of making them into fantastical creations. I come back to the wonders of the egg time and time again, as a result. Fresh eggs never let me down, and I am just experienced enough that I rarely let them down, either.

I learned how to make quite reliable creamy scrambled eggs: start with a serious spoonful of butter or ghee even if using a nonstick pan as I do, keep the pan on medium heat, and stir the beaten eggs gently but constantly until they get almost to the desired doneness. I’m closing in on my ideal with fried eggs: nonstick pan, lots of the aforementioned yummy fat, eggs broken gently into its pool and cooked, again, over not more than medium heat, but covered and undisturbed. I like the whites lightly set and the yolks slightly runny, and I’m getting better a gauging how long this takes, but generally know it just takes longer than I really wanted to wait, if I keep the heat low enough not to harden the underside at all. Crispy eggs are a different kind of delicacy.

I can even boil, steam, shirr, or poach an egg reasonably nicely, depending on my mood and whatever I want to do with the eggs in the long run. Speaking of poached eggs, ever done them in milk or cream with a dash of vanilla and a small dusting of nutmeg? Yep, a great way to stave off dreary winter cold with a ‘deconstructed eggnog’—especially if one happened to take out the eggs and melt a couple of dark chocolates into the remaining hot liquid for cocoa with which to wash down the oval goodness. A nice flaky croissant or a scoop of toasted-almond quinoa alongside and you’re ready to chase a Yeti around the block a time or two.

But what good is such heated comfort in the dregs of summer’s heat?

What I want is the comfort and fuel of the delicious egg but in a lighter-brighter mode. So my recent most-repeated version of eggs has been a sunny and easy to concoct little number I will call: Holland-Daisies.Photo: Holland Daisies

Not a recipe, just a quick mashup, literally, of two soft-boiled eggs, a couple teaspoons of melted ghee, a hearty splash of lemon juice, a dash of pink Himalayan salt (why not bow to the Yeti even in his/her off-season?), and a generous sprinkle of dill. Fresh dill, snipped, if you have it, or dried, if not. I chop/mash/stir these together with a fork or the end of my small wire whisk. Eat at any temperature; they’re creamiest if they’ve been heated together before dining, though. Delicious, delicious.

Not bad by itself, when I’m in a hurry, but I rather prefer a more leisurely approach to any meal, if possible. So a side dish or two is a good thought, too. On the pictured occasion, the sides were sautéed mushrooms topped with crispy bacon pieces, and some sweet cantaloupe with a sprinkling of ground cardamom. Glass of cucumber-ginger lemonade to wash it all down coolly. I’d happily make egg salad sandwiches with this sunny egg mix, perhaps on lightly toasted slices of a dense, sweet pumpernickel. It could be very tasty heaped in the middle of a Yorkshire pudding or popover. Room-temp or cold, it would be a nice topper for a green salad. But when I’m hungry for this treat, I’m happy that I can even grab some of the lovely pre-boiled eggs my sweet husband often leaves in the fridge for me when he’s making them for his breakfast as I, an immensely spoiled person, am still sleeping, and whip up a batch of instant sunlight for…brunch.

Foodie Tuesday: Meringue Merengue

Digital illustration from a photo: Egg SeparatorEgg Separation Anxiety never plagued me much, even if there’s no support group dedicated to its eradication. Mom taught me how to break open an egg delicately enough to slip the yolk from one half-shell to another over a cup or bowl while letting the albumen slide away, keeping the yolk intact and the white pristine enough for a good souffle or meringue. But do I think to do so very often? No, hardly ever. I really do love souffles and meringues, so it’s silly not to do a little egg separating and have a little bit of delicious, fluffy fun once in a while.

Heaven knows that inflated eggwhites are highly trend-friendly these days, anyway. All I have to do is have one little look at any of the menus, Pinterest boards, food blogs, or cookbooks that are current to be instantly engulfed in a vast snowbank of handmade marshmallows, mile-high mousses, and macarons. I think I can safely say that I am so far from being trendy as to have missed out on cutting any edge more exciting than my homely and unvarnished manicure.

Trends are usually overrated, anyway. Beaten eggwhites? Not.

But let’s stop dancing around this and start talking about what separating eggs can do for deliciousness. Less merengue, more meringue!

Kransekake biscuits! The famed Norwegian celebration dessert, a conical construction comprising rings of ground almond meringue that, in my family’s recipe, is made with a fantastic, simple (nuts, egg whites, sugar. Period.) dough to bake up into lovely chewy cookies when broken for eating.

Meringue crusted tarts! Cinnamon crust, apple filling with tawny port. Rose water crust, strawberries in pomegranate curd, topped with candied rose petals and finely chopped pistachios. All sorts of options that imitate but don’t supplant the lovely Pavlova in their magical variety. A lightly sweet, crisp meringue topped or filled with soft fillings of fruit, custards, mousses, and the like makes for a heavenly treat.

And, since it’s holiday time hereabouts, my own variant of île flottante, eggnog with a meringue cap. I kept both very simple this time around: the eggnog being an extremely uncomplicated thin custard made with cream, whole milk, cane sugar, a pinch of salt, a whole vanilla bean, a good grating of fresh nutmeg, and a whole bunch of egg yolks—in this case, the yolks of eight eggs for a combined quart of milk and cream. Warmed to a near-scalding temperature while being whisked continuously, it thickened slightly before going into the refrigerator for further thickening and chilling.

[For those who wish, a nice tot of bourbon, rum, or brandy (or any other liquor or combination of them that you like) can give this dessert-y treat a grownup twist, as long as you’re grownup enough to imbibe intelligently and stay away from dangerous things like cars, cliffs, and ex-spouses*.]

Meanwhile, with the eggnog chilling in the fridge, there’s plenty of time to whip up the eggwhites into sturdy enough peaks to keep their winsome little curlicue tops under the broiler while getting a quick gilding. All I added to the eggwhites while beating them into submission was a big splash of lovely dark maple syrup.

Pour some eggnog into a glass, add liquor if you like, and top with a little party hat of golden-skinned soft meringue, and toast the occasion. And the goodness of eggs, while you’re at it! Cheers!Photo: Eggnog with a Party Hat

* Note: Just in case anyone takes me too seriously, I should mention that I have the privilege of being married to a guy who has two genuinely excellent exes, and I consider them both fabulous human beings, so I only have to avoid the aforementioned cars and cliffs, myself. In fact, I’ll happily tip back some tipple with either of my predecessors anytime without fear of anything but conviviality (and possibly, hilarity) happening. It’s all about how the relationships are managed, just as it’s about how we manage our imbibing.

Foodie Tuesday: Worth Getting Out of Bed

On some rare occasions, it’s actually worth getting out of bed before noon-ish. When the breakfast is that good, you know you’ve accomplished something, because I have no intention of cracking my eyelids open any earlier than I absolutely must. Sleep is the one thing I crave more deeply and often than food, and you all know how much I covet good eating, so it takes the prospect of great culinary splendor to drag me from the comfort of my bed one minute before I am good and ready to do so on my own.Photo: Breakfast in Budapest

Since I’m generally the one responsible for putting breakfast, if any, on my own plate, you can guess how often I’m likely to spring into action to see such a meal prepared and presented. I may have some lovely dreams about breakfast, but I prefer to enjoy them while still firmly ensconced in bed. When I do break my fast, it’s far more likely to be with brunch or even lunch than anything earlier, given my druthers.
Photo: Bulle med Kardemumma

I tend to make exceptions when I’m traveling. Often, the causes for the expeditions are beyond my hourly control, so if I have to be up before my internal alarm is interested in my arising, I will generally take advantage of any good food being offered by my hosts, whether they’re homeowners hospitably letting me invade their personal space or hotels with in-house breakfast accommodations. These pictures, for example, come from the summer’s travels and represent foods that went a long way toward ameliorating the agony of having to get out of bed before it seemed the rational thing to do. If anyone is to have half a hope of maneuvering me out of a comfy sleep any time before my body would grudgingly agree to that negotiation, it had better be, at the very least, with a magnificent cardamom roll (bottom photo, from Sandhamn, Sweden). Or perhaps the mind-bendingly gorgeous and seemingly endless spread offered in the palatial breakfast room (top photo) of our hotel in Budapest this summer. Otherwise, you can trust me when I tell you that it’s advisable to let sleeping dogs lie.

Foodie Tuesday: Breakfast of Champers

There’s an American breakfast cereal whose manufacturer advertises it as the Breakfast of Champions, inspiring many a skinny little kid over the decades to eat monstrous quantities of it in hopes of becoming an impressive physical specimen. The slogan also inspired things as diverse as a Kurt Vonnegut novel by that name and a wide range of decidedly non-healthful sounding food and drink combinations that mock the very idea, not least of all the hilariously infamous day-starter of Little Chocolate Donuts ‘advertised’ by John Belushi on Saturday Night Live many years ago.Photo: Arabic Choco-PuffsGiven how often and how utterly our concept of what constitutes perfect nutrition, health and fitness practices changes over time, it seems incumbent on any of us who care about our own well-being to figure out what suits our own bodies’ needs and wants and not slavishly follow anyone else’s regimen, no matter how magically ideal it purports to be. At the same time, you know me well enough to guess that I think every so-called prescription in the dietary realm—barring allergies or other potentially life-threatening pains—deserves to be broken on occasion. At the start of a day seems to me the perfect occasion for such hijinks, particularly if the breaking of the fast leads to mood-enhancement and a general tendency toward having a sunnier day. There were excellent reasons for the invention of Bloody Marys and Bellinis and Mimosas. Break out the champers for breakfast!

Photo: Holy Toast!Or, if you feel it necessary to legitimize your breakfast playtime further than you can by acknowledging the fruit and vegetable content of the aforementioned drinks (not least of all, the venerable fermented grape), I’m sure you’re as able as I am to find the good in any dish that cries out to you at the break of day. Little Chocolate Donuts? Why, not only do they contain the marvelous seed of the Theobroma cacao, and if you can’t argue for the food of the gods for breakfast, then I think you need more help than a mere menu tweak can give you, but they also contain sugar, a sure source of [however short-lived] energy. If you take things a step further, choosing a raised donut, you can argue that the live culture of yeast that begins raising its inflatable goodness to a frying-ready state is also bound to be fine feed for your inner biome and all its happy bacterial citizens.

Photo: Raised & Glazed

Cake? Lest we forget, it very often has the proteins and vitamins of eggs, enriched flours, perhaps some buttermilk for further culture. Why restrict it to after-dinner eating, when we have less of the day in which to burn off its calories and possibly, less appreciation for its magnificence when we’re already full from the main meal? Throw in some nuts or dried fruits, some coconut meat, some cinnamon (who knows how true are the speculations on cinnamon’s superfood status)—and you could practically be breakfasting on medicine and having spa treatment before you even leave the house in the morning. There are plenty of people who have busily experimented their way to cakes and quick breads and donuts and all sorts of treats hiding, in their deceptively yummy midst, many clandestine vegetable and other supplemental ingredients to make them Better for You. That’s swell, really it is. But you know, being contented and happy is good for you, too.Photo: Bear Claws

So I’m going to keep eating chocolate at any and all hours of the day and night, cake with and without secret good-for-me ingredients, raised donuts and cake donuts, sugary cold cereals, popsicles, custards, ice cream, smoothies disguised as Protein Shakes, and any pretend-breakfast cocktails I can get my hands on whenever I feel the need. Whatever gets us through the day, no?Photo: Let Me Eat Cake

Foodie Tuesday: Mixed Grill Girl

I’m married to a person whose fondness for vegetables is, shall we say, somewhat limited. Fruits, yes; starches, yes; seafoods and meats, yes and yes. Veg, not so much. He’ll eat some quite willingly, but he’d make a fairly poor version of a vegetarian. Me, I love many kinds of vegetables, along with all of the other foods, but I am a pescetarian and carnivore as well, so I don’t mind having the occasional festival of meat kind of meal.photo

We had a friend join us for dinner today, a person whose leanings are not far different from my spousal-person’s, so it seemed like a fine time to indulge in a freezer-freeing festival of the mainly meat sort. I had a small but solid hunk of grass-fed beef waiting to be enjoyed, a quartet of all-natural bratwurst all ready for a taste test, and the goofy woven square of bacon lying atop my cheesy potato-mash dish in the freezer drawer in quiescent quiet to prepare for use as well. Now I have a lot of space that I didn’t have in the freezer. Of course, I’ve got quite a bit less space in my innards at the moment than before. Yup.photo

So we had our mixed-grill meal together and had fun. Bratwurst, simmered for a long time in a bottle of Shiner Bock, until the beer was syrupy and the sausages fully cooked. The potato mash was quickly heated through and ready to go to table. The beef got cut up into small steaks and pan-seared in avocado oil, with just a little sea salt. Yes, we did in fact have a vegetable, too: peas. Tiny peas, steamed and served with lemon-mint butter, sweet salted butter mixed with minced fresh mint leaves and grated lemon zest.

All of this certainly sated the hunger for savories. That can, in turn, trigger the sweet tooth response. So there was dessert. Probably the richest version of a chocolate pudding I’ve concocted to date, dressed with honeyed peach slices.photo

Rich Chocolate Pudding & Peaches

Pudding: blend 3/4 to one cup each of whole milk yogurt and coconut milk, about 1/4 cup of raw honey, a pinch of salt, a splash each of orange liqueur (homemade months ago from mandarins, juice and zest both, with toasted coconut and brown sugar and vodka), vanilla and almond extracts, and three large eggs, and cook them gently until thickened. Add a bunch of yummy dark chocolate pieces and melt them down. I used 14 pieces of Dove dark chocolate, and just let the residual heat of the thickened custard melt them as I stirred. The coconut milk left the mixture just a tad less than perfectly smooth, so I used the stick blender to make it all silky. A stint in the fridge before dessert time finished the thickening and glossing and it was all ready to serve.

With topping. I took 2 cups of sliced frozen peaches and cooked them gently with a pinch of salt, 2 tablespoons each of butter and honey, a teaspoon of almond extract, and spices to taste (I used allspice and cardamom). Spooned at room temperature over the chilled pudding, they gave just enough brightness and freshness to jazz up the rich pudding and fool me into thinking I wasn’t overindulging in dessert after overindulging in dinner. My style entirely, and I think you do know what I mean. Sorry? Not the teeniest whit.

Foodie Tuesday: If the Bunny is Coming, Maybe We Should have Some Eggs

Whether you’re on board with the celebration of Easter or not, you probably know that around this time of year lots of people think thoughts in a bunny-related vein. Rabbits have long been popular as symbols of fertility, spring and renewal in a wide range of human cultures and groups. If a cute little long-eared, hopping critter should happen to appear at your door in the near future, why not assume it’s a friendly visitation from the harbinger of true spring, whatever the form, and welcome the visit with great hospitality.

In addition to the bunny business, there’s the widespread recognition of the symbolism of eggs to express similar ideas. So whether or not you’re planning to celebrate a visit from the Easter Bunny with Easter Eggs, a rabbit’s presence could very happily be marked by a feast of eggs. Brunch, or otherwise.

I love eggs in so many, many preparations, but I am surely not alone in forgetting, that along with all of those familiar favorites, the egg represents not only a great symbolic entity but also an astoundingly versatile ingredient, capable of being prepared and enjoyed in innumerable ways. Go ahead and celebrate your spring rabbit revels with a great Benedict or soufflé or custard or omelette or eggnog, if you like; I will continue to delight in eating and drinking all of those and many more lifelong loves.photo

But I might also fiddle around with those tasty little packages of refreshing nourishment in some less expected ways. Like, perhaps, a simple anytime meal of fried eggs on mashed potatoes, with a drizzle of rich gravy (my little trick for making it with meat juices is yummy for this, but I’d leave out the wine when making it for eggs; cream or yogurt would be nicer here; add sausage or leave it plain, as you wish) and a nice scattering of crispy potato crumbs made by pan-frying instant potato flakes in butter. Or enjoy the eggs as an accent in the meal, making Mexican-inspired deviled eggs—my own version of Huevos Diablos, if you will—a very simple item to prepare by mashing the yolks of hard boiled eggs with spicy salsa and crema to taste. Guacamole, by the way, makes the perfect egg-stabilizing perch on the plate, as well as a fitting accompaniment. Mmm, eggs. Hop on over and eat some.photo

Foodie Tuesday: You Eat What You Like, and I’ll Eat What I Like

Besides being a wise quote from my perennial hero, Yukon Cornelius, the title of today’s post is pretty great advice for eaters at all times, most particularly so during the holidays. If I’m going to go to the expense and effort to do anything special for a Special Occasion, it matters far more to me that I want to eat the results than that they meet anybody else’s standard for tradition, impressiveness, or perfection. You won’t find me dining on dainties of glorious extravagance and beauty on a holiday or birthday or any other notable date if I’m the designated cook, because spending exhausting and exacting hours in the scullery before the blessed event is not my idea of a great way to arrive at it rested and ready to enjoy its importance in my life with good cheer and an even temperament.

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Appetizer parfait: hash browns (I made these with Gouda and smoked paprika), sour cream, hot smoked wild Pacific salmon and capers. Or, in the alternative version I offered on the same day–another easy to prepare ahead topping for the hash browns–smoked sausage pieces simmered in Pinot Noir BBQ sauce. The sauce was a sticky reduction of equal amounts of red wine and homemade bone broth with brown sugar, tomato passata, chili powder, cinnamon, cloves and cayenne to taste. Guests could assemble the tiny dishes with any combination they liked, and I didn’t have to wrestle with the hors-d’oeuvres at all on the day of the party.

So while I adore Dungeness crab, I will not likely be preparing one fresh and mucking about with the tedious chore of meticulously picking the meat out of the shell–if I can find fresh Dungeness already picked and packed in a neat little carton, it’ll be on the menu; otherwise, not. My fondness for elaborate baked goods will likely be fed by an outstanding bakery, not by my slavish efforts right before a party. I’ll happily dine on a perfectly frenched rack of lamb or a miraculously flaky and tender kulebiaka or bistilla, but only if someone else is going to all of the effort it takes to prepare it.

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Homemade macaroni and cheese can be just as easy to fix as pre-packaged. Here, I blended shredded Gouda, cheddar and Parmesan cheeses in about equal amounts and added melted butter, eggs, smoked paprika, powdered mustard, a little grated nutmeg, and a tiny dash of liquid smoke (no additives, please) before stirring the cooked pasta in with a bit of cream and baking it to melt and meld it all together.

That’s how, when Christmas dining is at home, it may go so far as to be a roast beef that can be cooked sous vide and requires only a quick browning in the oven before carving, but it might also be a made-ahead, very down-to-earth macaroni and cheese. Or even a tuna salad sandwich, a perpetual favorite that, while it’s hardly what anyone I know would consider Fancy, is gladly eaten with a handful of good potato chips and a juicy apple on nearly any occasion chez nous. I want to eat delicious food on Christmas, but it doesn’t have to be unusual or expensive or showy in any way to be delicious, and if its simplicity of preparation means that it’s eaten in a very comfortably relaxed state, that makes it all the more appealing and enhances its flavor remarkably.

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Homemade mac-&-cheese is, in fact, also easy to customize for any number of tastes and occasions, as when I change out the elbow macaroni with some fresh fettuccine and toss in a batch of Langostino tails. Voila! ‘Poor man’s’ lobster fettuccine.

I hope that everyone who is celebrating around now–whether it’s Christmas, the Dongzhi festival, Hanukkah, the Winter Solstice, the New Year, Kwanzaa, a birthday, or something entirely different–has the wealth and freedom to take the same approach. It’s satisfying to arrive at happy events relaxed and, well, happy. And eating what you love to eat is always better than eating what you think you should eat, only because you think you should. I wish you all great food, simply prepared, great company when you want it and quiet time away when you need it. That’ll make the food taste all the better when it comes. Cheers! Bon appetit! Joy!

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Who says plain salt-and-pepper roasted chicken isn’t fancy enough for a special occasion? If you enjoy it, indulge. Even with the most common of accompaniments, it can be satisfying and tasteful (clockwise from the ruby-colored jellied cranberry sauce at left): pickles (here, okra, green tomatoes and green beans); sweet corn; coleslaw; apple sauce (freshly made brandied maple sauce); mashed baked potatoes with beurre noisette, fried sage leaves and optional red wine/broth reduction sauce; and a spoonful of tiny, tasty green peas. And if you’re a vegetarian, you can always eat the whole rest of the meal and be content. Peas to all the earth, I say!

Even desserts–maybe especially desserts, come to think of it–can get treated like such elaborate Fabergé egg-like constructions that they are too precious for ordinary mortals to eat and far too tiring for me to slave over preparing. I’ve hardly ever seen anyone turn up his nose at store-bought ice cream or refuse if I offered her a nice piece of chocolate straight out of the wrapper. A bowl of perfect fresh strawberries, a moist pound cake made the other day, and a quick batch of whipped cream with vanilla give instant summer cachet to the end of a meal. Banana pudding needn’t even be a fuss, and doesn’t look really like much (hence the lack of a photo), but it’s unpretentious and tasty enough that everyone right down to the toddlers will happily eat that old comfort favorite.

Banana Pudding to Make You Go Ape

Don’t bother with cheap, phony tasting artificially flavored instant banana pudding, either, despite a short timeline for the treat (unless you get all nostalgic over it for some reason). All you actually need is some really ripe bananas and a handful of other ingredients, and away you go…

Blend together until smooth (I use the stick blender for this): 5 overripe bananas (too mushy for eating plain), a pinch of salt, the juice and grated rind of 1 large lemon, a generous teaspoon of vanilla, a couple of tablespoons each of raw honey and butter, and about a cup of heavy cream. Chill until thickened. What do you taste? Bananas. What will you do? Go bananas over it. Why work harder than that for your food and fun? Enjoy your holidays and happy days instead!

Oh, and I must add (since what goes without saying may not entirely go without saying for everybody!) that this kind of banana pudding will, of course, oxidize–unlike the aforementioned imitation stuff–so it’s best eaten right when you’ve made it unless you’re like me and don’t care if it’s a little beige in color. And it’s not super thick, so if you like it thicker, I recommend whipping the cream separately and then folding it into the blended banana mash, to which you’ve already added the other ingredients. No matter how you choose to make it, it’s still pretty tasty. And, as Marie has suggested in the comments and I’ve already tested, it makes a dandy breakfast!

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Happy New Year!