Sunday, October 27, 2013

Eggs Benedict: Several Firsts

October 20, 2013

Eggs Benedict


You don't know if you'll like something until you try it, at least that's what my parents told me. I've always had an aversion to runny egg yolks. I order fried eggs "over hard" with the yolks broken and cooked. Diane prefers her fried eggs sunny side up and enjoys runny yolks. She regularly meets a friend for brunch and orders a version of Eggs Benedict which features poached eggs and their runny yolks.  (I think she gets a California Benedict. When you add avocado to a dish you get to add "California" to the name.") While there are many variations to the dish, in its simplest form it is a toasted English muffin with Canadian bacon, a poached egg, and Hollandaise sauce.

I had never poached an egg or made Hollandaise sauce. I had recently watched a video demonstrating an egg poaching technique and this inspired me to prepare a favorite dish of Diane's despite my misgivings about runny yolks. When reading about the sauce there are warnings galore about it "breaking".  Hollandaise sauce is an emulsification of fat and water (the ingredients are egg yolk, butter, lemon juice, and water) and if not handled correctly the fat and water can separate. The sequence and timing of the steps–making the toast, warming the Canadian bacon, making the sauce, cooking the eggs–so everything came together at the right temperature was also a concern.

In the end, everything came out fine. It's a pretty simple and pretty complete meal (well, unless you insist on vegetables) and it took only about 35 minutes to prepare, much of that prep work. The sauce did not break, which was a relief. After cooking it in a double boiler I kept it warm by holding it over the hot water which had been removed from the heat. The sauce was nice and smooth though a little bland. I had omitted the optional cayenne pepper and next time I will include it and add more salt, too. The eggs were slightly overcooked: I checked them after four minutes and the whites still looked a little loose, so I put the cover back on the skillet for another minute. They were still runny but a little thicker than desired.

Overall I was pretty happy with this dinner, especially for a first try. I didn't find the runny yolks as revolting as they were in my memory. I'll have to try a restaurant version of eggs Benedict to see how it compares to what I made, and then prepare it again for dinner.

Not on Sunday
Since there are no leftovers when you fix breakfast for dinner and we had little food in the refrigerator after being out of town the previous week, I cooked up a pot of chili on Monday using the recipe for Quick Beef and Bean Chili that I described in February. I bought fresh chili powder and cumin which improved an already good dish. To go with it I baked sourdough whole wheat bread, replacing the yeast in the Test Kitchen's Almost No-Knead Whole Wheat Bread recipe with ¼ cup of sourdough starter. The starter, which I now feed every other week, keeps getting better and better and this bread developed a real nice tang. Feeding it and letting it sit at room temperature before using it probably helps the flavor and activity.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

A First Attempt at Pork Chops with Orange Gastrique

October 6, 2013

Pan Fried Pork Chops with Orange Gastrique
Steamed White Rice
Homemade Applesauce
Ravens Wood 2011 Old Vine Zinfandel

Professional chefs competing on shows like Top Chef and Iron Chef often make things that I have never made, never seen in a recipe or, frequently, never heard of. While most of the recipes you see on these shows are unique creations there are some preparations that appear frequently. Sometimes its just a fancy name for something familiar; what they call crostini most people would call toast. A common addition to a TV chef's main course is a "gastrique": red curry gastrique, fig gastrique, spicy red wine gastrique, spicy blood orange gastrique, and so on. I'd never heard of a gastrique, never encountered one before seeing them time and again on TV, so what is a gastrique?

I recently updated a recipe for orange-glazed pork chops. In the comments of my blog post about this recipe, Caleb suggested brining the pork overnight in orange juice and serving it with an orange gastrique. Ah ha! An opportunity to learn what a gastrique is. So I went to the universal fount of all knowledge, Wikipedia, and looked up gastrique. Is it complicated? Exotic? Subtle? Strange? Nope,  a gastrique is a sauce made by caramelizing sugar, deglazing it with vinegar, and adding flavors, often citrus. Caleb even provided an orange gastrique recipe, which I followed, but it didn't caramelize the sugar but rather just mixed it with the vinegar and reduced it. Either way, I guess it is a gastrique, a sweet and sour sauce that uses a mixture of vinegar and sugar (or honey) as its base.

So, I came up with a recipe for that used the orange gastrique recipe that Caleb provided and a recipe I found on-line for an orange-juice brine. The pork chops (standard supermarket chops, about 1-inch thick and weighing about one-half pound each) were brined in the refrigerator overnight, then pan fried, browning them on both sides (3 to 4 minutes a side), and served with the gastrique.

My recipe needs more work before I have something to share. The biggest problem was over-salted pork chops. They were nicely cooked, juicy and tender with a little chew, but much too salty and lacking in any flavor from the orange juice. The gastrique was interesting, it was less sweet and more complex than the orange-glaze I have used before thouugh it was too thin and didn't stick well to the meat. I will try this recipe again making changes based on this first attempt: brine for less time and skip the orange juice, omit the orange sections from the gastrique, reduce the gastrique more, perhaps caramelize the sugar or honey used in the gastrique, and maybe add some orange zest to increase the orange flavor.

The side dishes were good, complementing the pork, and pretty simple to make. Steamed rice is good for dishes with flavorful sauces as the sauce soaks into the rice. Applesauce was made from newtown pippin apples we had picked recently; they were so good that I didn't add any sugar or spices to the applesauce.  The wine, however, was a poor choice. We chose zinfandel based on the recommendation of an app that Diane has but this wine was much too bold to pair well with pork and fruit.

We are looking forward to the second try of this promising recipe for pork chops.  Look for a blog post in a month or so with a description of the results.

Not on Sunday
We made some interesting snacks this week. Inspired by all the apples we have, Diane has been making cinnamon apple chips.  Our apple peeler-corer-slicer really makes this easy.  The machine cores and slices the apples and they bake for 7 hours at the oven's lowest temperature. They're so good she's had to make three batches so far. I tried a recipe for Fairy Gingerbread Cookies. These cookies are almost like crackers, they are thin and crispy and full of ginger flavor. The dough is spread in a thin layer on the bottom of a backing sheet for baking, and then scored, hot from the oven, with a pizza wheel so the cookies are easily separated when they’ve cooled. Anything that thin has to be calorie free, right?

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Introducing Easy Corn Chowder

September 28, 2013

Corn Chowder
Homemade Whole Wheat Bread
Vella Chardonnay
Apple Pie

Foolproof Pie Crust (just double this recipe)

Like many culinary terms, "chowder" does not have a rigorous definition. The lines between soups and stews and chowders are blurry. Generally, chowders are thick, creamy soups usually including onions and potatoes and often fish or clams. Chowders are often eaten with saltine crackers (or oyster crackers) and frequently employ broken up crackers as a thickener.  It has been so for a long time, a recipe for Clam Chowder from The Every-Day Cook-Book by Miss E. Neil, published in 1891, does so.

My mom's recipe for Corn Chowder has been passed down through my youngest sister, Dena. Mom didn't remember where she got the recipe. Dena has made some changes and it is her version that I used. The recipe uses cream or half-and-half or milk; following Dena's recommendation I used cream. The resulting chowder was not too rich so I would stick with this choice. A full sleeve of saltines, soaked in the cream, thickened the chowder nicely.  The chowder was not too salty from the crackers, if anything it was too bland. It would benefit from more corn flavor than that provided by two cans of cream-style corn, more seasoning, and some added depth of flavor. The potatoes were good as was the consistency of the chowder. Once we're done with the 10 or so servings that we have, some of which we've frozen, I'll try out some of these ideas to add flavor and report on it in a future blog post.

I've been wanting to try the Test Kitchen's recipe for Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread. The bread turned out well and we have been enjoying it. It takes a little planning as a biga is created the night before and some of the whole wheat flour is soaked overnight. These steps serve to enhance the whole wheat flavor in the bread. The bread was good with dinner and has been good for sandwiches and toasted for breakfast.

For my second apple dessert this Fall I made an apple pie. I still need more practice working with pastry but I think I'm improving and this pie came out very well. I used half golden delicious apples and half newtown pippins which were seasoned with just a little powdered cinnamon and allspice. Diane thought the filling needed more cinnamon and I thought it needed tarter apples. We're both remembering pies that our moms made and, consciously or not, comparing this pie to those we remember.

Food plays a central role in many of our memories of home and family. What we ate around the family table as we grew up has a tremendous influence on what foods we enjoy today. Food triggers memories of times long past. Collecting and sharing recipes connects generations.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Summer becomes Autumn with Baltimore Pit Beef and Apple Galette

September 22, 2013

Baltimore Pit Beef Sandwiches
Steamed Local Sweet Corn
Deli Cole Slaw
Boston Lager/Vella Cabernet Sauvignon
Apple Galette

Baltimore Pit Beef from Cook's Country 
Apple Galette from Cook's Illustrated

You don't need to dig a hole in the back yard to make Baltimore Pit Beef,  just a gas or charcoal grill.  A relatively lean, and inexpensive, cut of beef, top sirloin, is cooked relatively quickly, taking just a few hours to prepare. I bought a roast labelled "Beef Loin Top Sirloin Roast Boneless" weighing 3.81 pounds.  I applied the dry rub on Saturday evening and the beef sat in the refrigerator for about 16 hours before cooking. On the grill it took only about 30 minutes to reach 100° and another 15 minutes or so to finish.  Even then it was more done than I had intended, probably medium rather than the target medium rare. Despite this the meat was tender and juicy with a lot of flavor provided by the rub. The sandwiches are garnished with tiger sauce, a combination of horseradish, mayonnaise, lemon juice, and garlic. Being cautious, when we made our sandwiches using thinly sliced beef, we smeared just one side of the buns with the sauce but we both agreed they would be better with more.

We had two summery side dishes to go along with the sandwich. We can still get fresh local sweet corn and so, while the getting is still good, we got some. We also bought cole slaw from the deli at the supermarket rather than making our own and having leftover cabbage.

We celebrated the arrival of Fall by visiting Gizdich Ranch to pick apples: red delicious, golden delicious, newtown pippin, and gala. For the first baked apple dessert of the season I made a great dessert, apple galette. Crispy, flaky, buttery, tender pastry is shingled with a thin layer of caramelized apples. There is no seasoning other than some butter and sugar so the flavor of the apples comes through cleanly. Diane called them apple cookies but I thought they were a little fancier than that.

Our Sunday dinner for this first day of Autumn was something of a transitional meal. The fresh flavors of summer -- grilled beef, fresh corn, and slaw -- combined with an Autumnal apple dessert. We're looking forward now to the heartier meals of the cooler part of the year: stews and soups and roasts and braises. No matter what the season, there is good food to be cooked and eaten and shared.