Monthly Archives: May 2016

PEELING A HARD-BOILED EGG

I have been boiling eggs for 70 years, and I have made all the mistakes. For a long time, I would put the eggs in cold water, turn the heat to high, and let them boil away until I thought they were done – sometimes for as long as a half hour. The results were always the same: rubbery whites, tough yolks and a thick shell of green on the yolks. I just thought that was the way boiled eggs were supposed to be.

Eventually I learned that a well-boiled egg required scrupulous timing and careful temperature control. Those two changes improved my hard-boiled eggs, but I was still plagued by peeling the little gems. Sometimes, the egg would peel perfectly, but the next time with the same cooking conditions – I thought – great chunks of white would come off with the clinging shell. I read all sorts of treatises on eggs that guaranteed a “perfect” method for removing the shell. They all failed. Some talked about freshness of the egg being key. Others talked about chilling or heating. Sometimes the “no fail” method worked. Sometimes it didn’t. Julia Child, in her informative little book, Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2000), cited a method that she got from the State of Georgia Egg Board. The technique was very elaborate. You boiled the eggs, chilled them, brought the boiling water back up to temperature, boiled the eggs for a few seconds, and then chilled them again. I had a hard time remembering the instructions Even when I was sure that I had followed it exactly, the method sometimes worked, sometimes it didn’t.

Recently, I read of a technique, again “no fail”, in which you add baking soda to the boiling liquid. The explanation for the method is that the alkaline baking soda hastens congealing of the white and separates it from the membrane that lines the shell. I confess that I have not tried the method, but I am a bit skeptical that the baking soda penetrates the shell. Still…

The method that I have used at least a dozen times with unfailing success has appeared in the magazine, Cook’s Illustrated and in a report on the internet. The method benefits from ease and reliable guidelines. I wouldn’t presume to write about the science behind the method. For one thing, I wouldn’t understand it; for another, there’s a good chance that the explanation has just been made up.  If you try cooking hard-boiled eggs by this technique, let me know your results.

METHOD

  1. Bring the eggs to room temperature. Set them out of the refrigerator at least 2 hours before you plan to cook them.

    Eggs at room temperature

    Eggs at room temperature

  2. Pierce the large ends of the eggs with an egg piercer. This will let air escape from the air sac within the egg so that the egg will not crack while cooking. If you don’t have one of these handy gadgets, you can buy one at Amazon for $2-10.

    Two styles of egg piercers

    Two styles of egg piercers

  3. In a saucepan that has a tight-fitting lid and is large enough to hold the eggs in a single layer, add about 1 to 2 inches of water and a steamer basket that will hold the eggs above the level of the water.

    Saucepan with steamer basket

    Saucepan with steamer basket

  4. Bring the water to the boil. Place the eggs in a single layer in the steamer basket. Cover. Adjust the heat so that the water continues to boil but not so vigorously. Immediately start the timer.
    Eggs in the steamer basket ready to be cooked

    Eggs in the steamer basket ready to be cooked

    Tightly covered pot steaming away

    Tightly covered pot steaming away

  5. I cook the eggs for exactly 15 minutes, but I live at 7,000 feet above sea-level where water boils at 198°F instead of 212°F at sea-level. There, the cooking should take less time – perhaps as little as 10 minutes. – but you will have to do a little experimentation, depending upon the altitude where you live.

    Cook the eggs for 15 minutes at 7,000 feet above sea-level

    Cook the eggs for 15 minutes at 7,000 feet above sea-level

  6. When the timer goes off, transfer the eggs to a large bowl filled with ice and water. Cool the eggs for the same length of time as the cooking.

    Eggs chilled in ice water for as long as they cooked

    Eggs chilled in ice water for as long as they cooked

  7. Peel the eggs by cracking them all over on a hard surface. Then, under a thin stream of cold running water, peel the eggs, one at a time, beginning at the large end. You should be able to peel the eggs easily and with a smooth surface.
    The shell peels off in large, smooth pieces

    The shell peels off in large, smooth pieces

    The perfect peeled egg ready to be sliced

    The perfect peeled egg ready to be sliced

    Delicate golden yolks with no green ring!

    Delicate golden yolks with no green ring!

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CRAB LOUIE

Crab Louie (or Louis or Louise depending on the reference) is a traditional salad that for many years was synonymous with elegant luncheons. Over the years it has lost some of its glamor and has fallen off many a menu. It has even disappeared from contemporary cookbooks although you can find the recipe in the Joy of Cooking and Craig Claiborne’s New York Times Cookbook as well as on the internet. Especially during Dungeness crab season, Crab Louie is still a favorite in San Francisco. Rich Table has had their version in the past. San Francisco may have a predilection for the dish as some sources say it was invented at either Solari’s restaurant or the fabled St. Francis Hotel a few years after the San Francisco earthquake.  Other sources place its origin in a Seattle country club or Portland or even Spokane. Still, it is considered a West Coast salad (I guess far-inland Spokane still qualifies as West Coast.)

There are as many variations of the salad as there are recipes, but there are only a few essentials. First, naturally, is crab – although you can add or substitute shrimp or you can use ersatz Krab. Second is lettuce, but your choices include iceberg, Bibb, red leaf, and Romaine among others. Finally, there is the sauce which is a close kin to Thousand Islands dressing usually, though not necessarily, without the pickle relish and with chili sauce instead of ketchup. Most, but not all recipes include hardboiled eggs, and asparagus spears are among the most common additions. Beyond that, everything seems to be fair game, including fresh fruit as described in the Commander’s Palace cookbook.

Over time, many renditions of Crab Louie have begun to resemble a Cobb salad or salade Niçoise. Perhaps that’s part of the reason that the salad has lost its appeal. That’s too bad, because it is delicious and easy to make. Here’s one version in which the most challenging step is to make the home-made mayonnaise. Of course, you can just use bottled mayonnaise, and that makes it even easier, but the hand-made stuff improves the taste with only a few minutes of extra effort.

My image of the finished salad shows some sliced hard-boiled eggs with a faint green ring of shame. That’s usually the result of boiling the eggs too hard and/or too long, but it can also occur when the boiled eggs have sat in the refrigerator for seveal days. That’s what happened to the ones in the image. When they were freshly cooked, the yolks were perfectly golden yellow and silky. Sorry about that, but the goof has inspired me to write later about hard boiling eggs. Post to follow.

RECIPES

Mayonnaise

Ingredients

  • 2 egg yolks, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 cup canola oil (or other neutral-flavored vegetable oil)
  • salt and pepper (your choice: black for flavor but black specks, white for color but off-flavor, red for a hint of spiciness. Or use a little of all of them)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh, strained lemon juice

Method

  1. In a medium bowl and using a wire whisk, beat the eggs until well mixed. Add the mustard and continue to whisk until well-combined.
  2. Add the oil very slowly, a few drops at a time, while whisking continuously. Make sure each addition of oil is incorporated before adding more oil. Addition of oil should take several minutes.
  3. After all of the oil has been added, continue to whisk for a minute or two before adding the lemon juice. Whisk until the juice has been completely incorporated and the sauce is smooth and glistening.

Crab Louie Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 batch (a little over 1 cup) mayonnaise (see above)
  • ¼ cup chill sauce
  • ¼ cup scallions, including green tops, finely chopped
  • 3 snacking peppers, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. Combine all of the ingredients in a medium bowl, correcting the seasoning with salt and pepper.
  2. Use immediately or refrigerate for up to 2 days.

 

Crab Louie

Ingredients

  • Romaine lettuce, washed
  • 1 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed, steamed for about 5 minutes, and chilled
  • 1 pound crab, cooked and picked over for cartilage
  • Crab Louie sauce
  • 3 hard-boiled eggs, chilled, peeled, and sliced

Method

  1. Arrange several whole Romaine leaves in a serving bowl. Top with coarsely chopped Romaine.
  2. Arrange chilled asparagus on the chopped lettuce.
  3. Arrange the cooked crab on the asparagus, top with sauce to your preference, and arrange sliced hard-boiled eggs around the edge.
  4. Serves 2 to 4.

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SPRING INTERLUDE

Sometimes even the most dedicated cook – which is not me – feels like doing something out of the kitchen. That’s especially true when the weather has warmed up enough that you can sit outside but not so hot that you can’t. That’s right now around here. What makes it even better is that my dear spouse’s garden is bursting with flowers. My wife is a fan of irises. They are at their full blooming season and there are plenty of those in an amazing breadth of color. Susan also likes clematis and wild flowers. The columbines, primroses, wood roses, paintbrush, and penstemons have yet to hit their peak, so we can enjoy them all for another while. I hope you enjoy these images of the garden.

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NO SOUP FOR YOU – HUNGARIAN MUSHROOM SOUP A LA VITA-MIX

Santa Fe is fortunate to have a great lunch spot named the Backstreet Bistro. It is owned by a transplanted New Yorker, and the specialties of the house are an ever-changing array of delicious and unusual soups. For those reasons, it is not surprising that the owner is likened to the infamous “Soup Nazi” who shouted, “No soup for you!” on the Jerry Seinfeld show of the 1990s. That is a totally unfair comparison, because the owner, Dave, is a very nice man who is loved by his staff and the regulars. He does run a tight ship, and when he is working the floor – which is to say every day – he conveys a friendly but no-nonsense demeanor. One of his rules is no credit cards; cash or check only.

Hungarian mushroom soup never seems to leave the menu. I am sure the reason for that is that customers insist on it being there. It is that delicious. I’m not sure where Dave got his recipe, but there is a very good one in the Moosewood Cookbook (Mollie Katzen, Ten Speed Press, Berkeley). That  and the Vita-Mix recipe book served as the sources for a version of the soup that I whipped up with my new Vita-Mix. My soup is not vegetarian like Katzen’s, and it is not as good as Dave’s, but it is still pretty tasty. Be warned, though, the recipe makes a lot of soup.

RECIPE

Hungarian Mushroom Soup a la Vita-Mix

Ingredients

  • 1 pound cremini mushrooms
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 cups carrots, cut into 1 inch chunks
  • 2 cups celery, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 2 cups yellow onions, cut into 1 inch chunks
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 8 cups beef stock
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • bouquet garni (3 sprigs parsley, 3 sprigs fresh thyme, 1 bay leaf tied in cheesecloth)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon dried dill + more for garnish (fresh is better if you have it, just triple the amount)
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • 2 tablespoons Hungarian paprika
  • ¾ cup sour cream + more for garnish

Method

  1. Set aside 1 cup of mushrooms to be sliced and added later.  Quarter the remaining mushrooms to be chopped.
  2. By cupfuls, chop the quartered mushrooms in the Vita-Mix with speed set at Variable, 3, pulsing 10 times.
  3. In a soup pot  sauté  the chopped mushrooms in 4 tablespoons of the butter.
  4. Processing 1 cup at a time, chop the carrots, celery, onions, and garlic with Vita-Mix settings on Variable, 3. Chop each batch for 10 seconds.
  5. Add the carrots, celery, onions and garlic to the mushrooms and sauté 5 minutes longer.
  6. Stir in the beef stock, tomato paste, and bouquet garni. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Simmer, partially covered, for 45 minutes.
  7. Meanwhile, sauté the remaining cup of sliced mushrooms in the remaining butter. Set aside for final assembly.
  8. Remove the bouquet garni and stir in the sautéed mushrooms, dill, lemon juice, paprika, and sour cream. Heat gently. Do not boil or the sour cream may curdle.
  9. Serve while warm, garnished with more sour cream and dill.

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PARTS IS PARTS: HOW TO SAVE THE WISHBONE

During our daughter’s recent visit we made one of her favorite meals going back to when she was a toddler: fried chicken, mashed potatoes, cream gravy, green beans, and homemade biscuits. Carol was pleased with the menu, but she also had a special request. She loves the wishbone and the ritual of making a wish. The problem is that these days chicken is mostly sold already cut up, and the breast is simply split down the middle so that the wishbone is destroyed.  For fried chicken, I almost always buy a whole chicken and cut it up. I think that it tastes fresher and crispier. (although I know that is just my food snobbery showing through) That way, the wishbone is preserved.

Carol asked the friendly and helpful butcher at her local grocery store if he could cut up a chicken so that she could save the wishbone. He allowed that he didn’t know how to do that. Carol wanted me to make a video to show him the process. That seemed a little extreme, but I agreed to let her take some still shots of the process to show her butcher the next time she visited his shop.

During our “shoot”, Carol suggested that I should include the demonstration in my blog.  My initial reactions was, “What!!!???” Then it occurred to me that if a butcher at a full-service shop doesn’t know how to do it, there are probably a lot of other folks who also don’t know how to do it. Breaking down a chicken is not a lost art like writing in Sanskrit. On the other hand, it is a fading kitchen skill that is disappearing because of plastic wrap and mass marketing. So here is my version of cutting up a chicken to preserve the wishbone.  ALERT!!  There are some very graphic images in the demonstration. If you are squeamish, my advice is to forego the rest of the blog and just buy chicken in shrink-wrapped packages. The bonus for reading on is that you will wind up with nine pieces of chicken while still having the back for chicken soup.

HOW TO CUT UP A CHICKEN TO PRESERVE THE WISHBONE

  1. Remove the chicken from the wrapping. There is disagreement about whether you should rinse the chicken or not. Do whatever you feel more comfortable about. Just make sure that you have removed the neck and and organ parts from the body cavity. Place the chicken on a cutting board that can be easily and thoroughly cleaned afterwards.image
  2. Have available a sharp chef’s knife and poultry shears. A paring knife and/or boning knife are also useful.
  3. First cut: With chef’s knife, make a cut in the crease between one of the thighs and the body of the chicken. Cut down smoothly as you pull the leg away from the body. You will cut down to the bone and expose the joint between the body and thigh. Pull the thigh down and cut through the joint, continuing until the thigh has separated from the body.
  4. Locate the joint between the thigh and drumstick on the separated leg. With your index finger you will feel a slight indentation between the thigh and drumstick. That indicates the joint inside. With the chef’s knife, cut through the joint until you have separated the thigh and drumstick.
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 on the other leg.
  6. Separate one of the wings by using the chef’s knife to cut into the breast about 1 inch away from the joint between the wing and breast. Cut through the joint, and the wing should separate from the rest of the chicken. Cut off the wing tip at the joint.
  7. Repeat step 6 on the other wing.
  8. To separate the breast from the back, use the chef’s knife or poultry shears to cut horizontally between the openings made by removing the wings and the opening at the tail. Cut on both sides, and then spread the two pieces apart and cut any bones or skin that are holding the two halves together. Set aside the back to make chicken stock and/or chicken soup. The meat on the back will be ample for a rich chicken soup.IMG_4130.JPG [507492] Separating back
  9. You will now have the whole chicken breast on the cutting board. In the next steps you will cut it into three pieces, one with the intact wishbone.
  10. Run your index finger up and down the center of the chicken breast. You should feel the keel bone. As your finger moves in the direction of where the neck was, you will feel the keel bone disappear and only soft tissue will remain. That spot is where you want to make a horizontal cut. On a younger, smaller bird, you will be able to cut completely through the breast with your chef’s knife. With a larger bird, you will need to use your poultry shears. Cut through completely and you will have a U-shaped piece with the wishbone intact. Set aside.
  11. Turn the remaining piece of the breast over. Slice through the thin membrane overlying the keel bone and with your fingers or a boning knife, scrape the breast meat free of the keel bone on both sides until you reach the level where the keel bone is joined to the overlying skin. Cut the keel bone away from the skin, and you will have two equal-sized portions of breast meat. Divide them with the chef’s knife along the seam made by the removed keel bone.
  12. With your fingers or a paring knife or boning knife, remove any bones remaining on the two equal-sized portions of breast meat. IMG_4133.JPG [509981] Removing bones from breast
  13. You will now have 9 pieces of chicken for frying: 2 drumsticks, 2 thighs, 2 wings, and 3 pieces of breast meat. In addition, you will have the back for stock or soup along with the liver, heart, gizzard, and neck to use as you wish.

P.S.: A special thanks to Carol for suggesting this topic.

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NEW ORLEANS STYLE BREAD PUDDING WITH WHISKEY SAUCE

Our daughter who lives in Los Angeles paid us a short but welcome visit last week. My wife asked her if she had any food requests.  Without hesitation, Carol said, “Bread pudding.” She grew up in Louisiana and so she loves Southern, Cajun and Creole cooking. Bread pudding is one of the classics. Other cuisines and cultures have other versions of bread pudding. Mexican capirotada comes to mind. But New Orleans style bread pudding with whiskey sauce may be in a class on its own.

The best restaurant version of the dessert I have ever eaten was served at Stephen & Martin, a New Orleans neighborhood restaurant on Saint Charles Avenue in Uptown. It was hidden in the back of a building that faced the street. The place was popular with locals but not greatly frequented by tourists because it was a bit out of the way and somewhat hard to find. They served everything from po’boys to fancy Creole specialties, but I believe that the best dish on the menu was the bread pudding with whiskey sauce. Unfortunately the restaurant has been closed for many years, so the bread pudding is a thing of the past.  My wife took all of that as a challenge to create her own version of Stephen & Martin’s masterpiece. The whole family enjoyed participating in her experiments, and that’s the bread pudding that our daughter remembers and requested.

This is not Sue’s Bread Pudding. I would be out on the street if I shared her hard-earned recipe. My version is, however, a fairly close resemblance of the real thing. Enough so that I think you might enjoy giving it a try. You should use the very best French bread you can find. That is not hard in New Orleans, but it may be a challenge elsewhere.  The usual supermarket version is not a good substitute. When you serve the bread pudding, it should be warm. Ladle over a generous amount of whiskey sauce. If you are averse to whiskey, you can substitute lemon sauce. A generous dollop of slightly sweetened whipped cream is the perfect finishing touch.

RECIPES

New Orleans Style Bread Pudding

Ingredients

  • 1 medium loaf good quality French bread
  • 2/3 cup raisins
  • 2/3 cup coarsely chopped pecans
  • 4 eggs
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ¾ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1½ teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup melted unsalted butter
  • 2 cups half and half

Method

  1. Cut bread into ½ inch cubes and spread out in a baking pan to dry overnight. Stir occasionally. You should have about 8 cups.
  2. Mix dried bread cubes with raisins and chopped nuts. Transfer to a well-buttered  8 x 11½ inch glass baking dish. The pan should be about half full.
  3. In a large bowl and using an electric beater, beat the eggs until foamy. Then add the sugar and continue to beat until completely mixed. Add the vanilla, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Beat in the melted butter and half-and-half.
  4. Pour the milk and egg mixture over the bread cube mixture and let soak for at least ½ hour, pressing down occasionally to make sure the bread absorbs the milk.
  5. Place the pan in the middle of an oven that has been preheated to 350°F. Immediately turn the temperature down to 300°F and bake for 40 minutes. Then increase the temperature to 425°F and bake for 10 more minutes or until the pudding is well browned on top. Be sure to watch closely so that it does not burn.
  6. Remove from the oven, cool for 5 minutes and then serve while still warm. Top with whiskey sauce and, if desired, whipped cream.

Whiskey Sauce

Ingredients

  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup whiskey
  • whipped cream (optional)

Method

  1. In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the butter and sugar together until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is smooth (note: the sugar may not melt completely until the whiskey is added)
  2. Add the whiskey and stir until completely combined. The sauce should become translucent.
  3. Serve immediately. A perfect topping for bread pudding. You can gild the lily with a dollop of whipped cream.  If the sauce cools, the butter may set up and the sauce will lose its translucency. To correct that, just reheat gently.

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OLIVE OIL POACHED TUNA SALAD WITH FENNEL

Our local wine shop hosts weekly wine tastings as well as periodic wine classes that emphasize wine and food pairings. So, of course, with the wine classes there is food. One of the featured dishes at the most recent class was oil-poached tuna salad. It was delicious and refreshing. I thought I would try to copy it. I found that there were lots of recipes for oil-poached fish to be found on the internet. They all sounded good although there was a lot of variation in the instructions on how to cook the fish. There were also ingredients that didn’t appeal to me. The wine class version included cooked fennel. I thought I would opt for the refreshing crunch of raw fennel.  Otherwise, I decided to wing it with my own recipe. In any event, I was determined not to replicate the tuna salad of sandwich fame that is made with canned tuna. Probably everyone has had one of those in a brown bag lunch. There is no worry: olive oil poached tuna tastes nothing like the canned variety.

RECIPE

Olive Oil Poached Tuna Salad with Fennel

Ingredients

  • fennel bulb with stems and fronds still attached
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled but left whole
  • about 3 cups olive oil (no need to use extra virgin)
  • 10 ounces ahi tuna
  • 4 tablespoons champagne vinegar, divided
  • 6 small cremini mushrooms, quartered
  • ½ teaspoon dry mustard
  • 2 ribs celery, sliced thinly
  • 5 scallions including green tops, sliced thinly on the bias
  • 1 tablespoon chopped pimento
  • ½ cup small pitted black olives drained and cut in half
  • 1 ripe avocado, ½ inch dice
  • salt and pepper
  • Romaine lettuce leaves

Method

  1. Trim the stems and fronds from the fennel bulb. Cut the stems into 1-3 inch pieces. Chop 3 tablespoons of the fronds and set aside to add to the finished salad. Slice the fennel bulb horizontally using a mandoline. Set aside the sliced fennel bulb.
  2. In a saucepan that is just large enough to hold the tuna in a single layer, combine the chopped fennel stems and fronds, garlic, and olive oil. Bring to the boil for about 5 minutes, reduce the heat to low, and add the tuna. The hot oil should cover the tuna. Turn off the heat and poach the tuna, uncovered, basting from time to time with the hot oil and turning once during the poaching. Poach for 20 minutes. Remove the tuna to a plate. Strain the oil into a small bowl.
  3. Place the quartered mushrooms in a small container that can be firmly sealed. Add 2 tablespoons of the vinegar and 6 tablespoons of the poaching oil. Cover tightly, and turn from time to time to make sure the mushrooms are well-marinated.
  4. Prepare a vinaigrette by combining the remaining vinegar and dry mustard in a small bowl or measuring cup. Slowly whisk in by drizzles 7 tablespoons of the poaching oil. Set aside for final assembly of the salad.
  5. With a sharp knife. cut the tuna into bite-sized pieces. Place in a large bowl. Add the marinated mushrooms, celery, scallions, pimento,  olives, avocado, and reserved chopped fennel fronds. Gently stir in the vinaigrette, making sure that the salad is well mixed.  Serve on Romaine lettuce leaves.

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