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: Salmon Champagne Evening

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Shake it up a little even when you’re hungry for a favorite: this time I made my staple smoked salmon pasta in lemon cream sauce with a half-and-half combination of hot-smoked and cold cured salmon. It was a hit, and we demolished the dish in double time.

Salmon is calling me once again. Steamed, poached, roasted, smoked; cold, room temp or hot. I love it as a broiled filet and I love it as freshly made sushi. It is the perfect fat and tender foil for lemon cream sauce with pasta, the ideal topping for a chewy cream cheese-schmeared bagel, and the cedar planked heart of a gorgeous summer supper.

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Salmon, simply cooked in a covered stove-top pan with ginger juice and lime juice, makes a quick and tasty main dish for a simple meal. And can you tell I love dill with salmon? Must be my Norsk roots showing. Of course, I could also make a Champagne beurre blanc or a Champagne version of Hollandaise, and wouldn’t that be nice, too?

So I thought it was time to make some nice salmon cakes to cheer my salmon-loving heart and fill my seafood-hungry innards. What else is a landlocked mermaid to do?photo

Sweet Salmon Cakes

2 hand-sized boneless, skinless wild salmon filets

1 small tin of tiny, briny sweet shrimp (drained) [when minced, these combine with the potato flour and egg as great binders for the cakes]

Juice and zest of 1 small lemon

1 teaspoon of Tamari

1 teaspoon of vanilla

1 Tablespoon of sushi gari (pickled ginger)

1 Tablespoon of potato flour

1/4-1/2 teaspoon lemon pepper

1 egg

Combine all of these ingredients in a food processor and pulse them together until they’re as coarse or fine as you like for fish cakes. [In lieu of a food processor, you can of course hand mince the fish and shrimp and mix together lightly with the other ingredients.] Don’t overwork the blend. Form the mix quickly into 4 cakes and coat them generously with no-additive dehydrated ‘mashed’ potato flakes. Fry the cakes over medium-high heat in butter (use a nonstick pan) until golden brown. Turn off the burner before the cakes are fully cooked, and just let them finish cooking as they set up while the heat’s dissipating from the burner. These, too, would of course be swell with Hollandaise or beurre blanc, but worked nicely on this occasion with lemony avocado puree, and were happy companions with a cup of Southern style tomatoes, okra, corn and green beans, plus  butter-steamed carrots bathed in maple syrup.photo

Foodie Tuesday: Must be the Mermaid in Me

 

photoWhen I was growing up, I didn’t really have a sense of what a treat it was to eat fish. Mom prepared it beautifully, and it was special that most of our trout and salmon dinners were thanks to her father’s fishing skill and generosity, but the very fact that we got it for free must have seemed to my childish way of thinking simply an indicator that some money was being saved in the household grocery budget, surely a good thing but not a culinary indicator of quality per se. It didn’t take me awfully long, however, to realize that fish, especially salmon, was actually extremely tasty, versatile as an ingredient, and so enjoyable that its flavor significantly outweighed its (still unknown to me) mighty nutritional profile in making me seek it out for dinner, lunch, breakfast, snacks and more. Before I was in school I was a confirmed fan of salmon, that beautiful blushing fish, and had discovered a little something of how bountiful and lovely in general the larder of the sea really was.photoNowadays, I happily eat vast quantities of many kinds of seafood whenever I can lay hands and teeth on a fresh supply. Grilled salmon with (of course!) lashings of rich Hollandaise, salmon burgers, smoked salmon and cream cheese on thinly sliced pumpernickel, kulebiaka, hearty yet delicate salmon bouillabaisse, salmon and avocado salad: heaven. Crab quiche, grilled Tillamook cheddar sandwiches crammed with Dungeness crab, crab Louis, crab tacos, crab fried rice, fried soft-shell crabs? Divine. I moved up; I moved on. I never moved away again from loving rivers full, lakes full, an ocean-full, of good food. Calamari and 42nd Street Cafe’s clam chowder and chilled giant prawns with simple horseradish sauce (or just a squeeze of lemon). Slabs of roasted halibut, exquisitely artful sushi, sole Amandine, trout in browned butter, seared rare tuna, shrimp Toast Skagen, simple yet elegant sushi, and lobster bisque with cream and cognac.photoYou may think there’s something fishy about my obsession with all of this, but the truth is I just love good seafood. It doesn’t take a whale of an imagination to understand why.photo

Foodie Tuesday: Bechamel Mucho (Songs for a Saucy Character)

photocollage + textI love sauce. Saucing a great dish properly is a little bit like creating the right music to shape a fine piece of text: suddenly this new dimension brings out a whole range of new and beautiful textures and nuances that were lying there in wait all along but are awakened by the new partnership into something even deeper and lovelier. Words and music. Food and sauce.

Sing along with me, if you will. Bésame Mucho! Glorious things happen in the kitchen, love is brought to light, when the sauce is a-simmer. It’s enough to make a clodhopper like me sing and dance. (Sensitive readers, please avert your eyes, or you’ll end up wanting to evert them.)

One of the best things about saucing is that it doesn’t have to be complicated or difficult to have a great impact on a dish. The prime example of this, natürlich, is a simple deglaze–one additional ingredient that brings a lot of happiness to the dinner party. It’s nothing more than a way to rinse the pan with any fitting liquid that will loosen all of the good fond, or browned goodies and drippings, left in the pan in which the dish’s main ingredients were cooked. It can be kept nice and thin and loose or further reduced to thicken, either easy without adding a single other ingredient, or it can form the friendly base for yet more monkeying around. All good!

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Sometimes all it takes is a nice loose juice to deglaze the pan . . .

Which brings me to another great and lovable thing about sauces. There are such an enormous number of possible combinations of ingredients, proportions, and techniques that I’d bet any cook worth her salt (never mind all of the other ingredients) could cook her way through a long and delicious life without ever repeating a single sauce precisely. Almost frightening, that, but really quite exciting and encouraging in its way. A restaurant chef’s career depends on just the opposite, that she be able to reproduce to a virtually molecular level the same sauce over and over, meal by meal, dish by dish, once it’s on the menu. Patrons will rebel if given any surprises or disappointments. But the home cook, if his family is the least bit adventuresome or just plain ravenous, has the possibility of playing with his food and, if he’s lucky, discovering in the process the next world’s favorite. Or at least his wife’s.

Even the classic sauces offer incredible opportunity for invention, if you can master the basic form. Bechamel, salsa verde, Bolognese, hoisin, barbecue sauce, mole, tartar sauce. Me, I’m not such a master of basics. But I eventually figure my way around things, with enough expert guidance from my various kitchen muses in person or through recipes and other forms of fabulous foodie folklore. I try a whole bunch of different versions and variations and mess around, I read up, I lick the spoon, I experiment on all of my friends and loved ones (and I sincerely apologize for whatever culinary atrocities I may have perpetrated over the years against any undeserving parties), and I work my way around to sauces that I’m willing to try repeating, or that I even get asked for again. Sometimes it’s a long, puzzling path of kitchen adventure that leads to a complex and subtle sauce. Sometimes it’s just the joyful re-creation of a straightforward childhood favorite, and no less welcome on the plate or on the tongue.

So in closing today, I commend to you my very favorite variation on perhaps my very favorite sauce. I am mad for Hollandaise. In particular, my lifelong love is the Hollandaise version I learned from my mother, who learned it long ago from Queen Betty Crocker. It’s not an old-school French version with vinegar or white wine, it’s purely eggs, lemon juice and butter. I’m such a down-home bumpkin that I like it best made with [really top quality] butter that is <horrors!> salted. I’ve even learned that I like it quite well if I just hot up a cup of butter with two tablespoons of lemon juice until nice and sizzly, pour it into a blender, and spin it while I drop a couple of pretty whole farm fresh eggs right in, and watch it whiz while it quickly cooks the eggs just enough to thicken into a ridiculously delicious “instant” whole-egg Hollandaise that I will happily eat on fish, on pasta, on pork, on sautéed greens, on (sure!) Eggs Benedict, on sweet fresh fruit, on a shortbread, on a spoon. What can I say, I have a lemony Hollandaise <ahem!> problem. Thankfully, there’s not yet a twelve-step program to cure me, so I can keep on indulging my addiction as long as I like.

That, my friends, is sweet music to my ears.

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Sing along with me again . . . shall we have a little Monteverdi this time?