Friday, November 25, 2011

Poached Egg-u-cation: Cooking Lab #1

I have been thinking about poached eggs for a while now.  I grew up with limited experience with poached eggs.   I remember the old aluminum egg-poaching pan with the 4-egg cups suspended on top that my grandmother would use.  I remember Eggs Benedict - (english muffin, hollandaise sauce, and canadian bacon) being a special brunch menu item.  And maybe more familiar to me was an Egg McMuffin (the non-classy version of Eggs Benedict). I had not thought about them in a long time.

But I have been on an egg kick lately, as I find they are a great meat substitute in my kitchen and they are cheaper, faster and easier to prepare.  And my whole family likes them.

my at-home version of poached egg, toast
and tossed greens
About a year ago I was at Marche´, the lovliest breakfast spot (in my opinion) and saw poached eggs on the menu and then saw them pass by on the plate in the server's hand.  They were served either placed on top of toast or over a bed of tossed greens with vinaigrette. [It took me a minute to conceptualize an egg on a bed of lettuce.  But I've since tried it and it is tasty! ]  After that poached egg encounter, I began to see them different places, on pages of magazines, in cookbooks, on menus.  And they weren't the rounded poached egg pan shaped ones, but were more free-form, naturally shaped eggs.  They were so pretty.  I really wanted to try them.

I began to dig around for the reason of why poached egg?  What's so great about it?
This is my conclusion: they are healthy, like boiled eggs, but with the creamy/more liquid center like a fried egg.

my lovely partners
I was curious and interested but thought I'd like some help to face my poached egg fears. [I would always choose to take risks with a partner, rather than brave it alone.]  So, I found a couple of willing partners:  Blair and Caroline, some scientific-smart-cooking pals.  They made it much more fun and their nursing and chemistry backgrounds made discussing the physical properties and reactions much more official.

So we got a bowl of eggs and a hearty loaf of bread from the bakery and The Cooking Lab began.  I had done some research via the internet, and The Joy of Cooking, and there were some competing pieces of advice, so we decided to give it a try and see what worked for us.  We tried to create independent variables, control groups, etc.  We tried 3 pans at the same time.  We charted out our plan and which variable we would alter for each pot.  We labeled each experiment: B, C, and J– each corresponding with our first initials.  As the eggs were poaching Caroline reminded us of the scene in Julie and Julia about egg poaching.  I had forgotten about it! So, I ran and got my DVD and we watched that scene, which just added a little more fun to the entire experience.  She had a terrible time making them work...much more than we did.  Maybe that scene was buried in my subconscious contributing to my fear of this activity.

Round 1 results
Our first round included different techniques, the use of vinegar and not, and varying times of cooking, and the use of the "vortex"- swirling water technique.  J lost a good amount of egg white, B looked strange, with a volcano looking top to it,  (Dave entered the room and declared that it looked like a SNORK- a cartoon from his childhood, like this -->)  and C was the best overall.

We sat with our eggs and whole grain toast and gobbled them up.  We assessed the situation, evaluated each egg and made our plan for Round 2.  Then we returned to the kitchen. This time we used vinegar in all of the pots and varied times a little, discovering that 5 minutes seems to be the best cooking time.  This time all 3 were winners! Hooray for success!

So, here is our tested and approved method of egg poaching:

1.  Crack an egg into a small prep bowl or ramekin.
      2.  Fill small pot half-full of water and 1 tsp. vinegar.  
           Place on High heat until water begins to ALMOST Boil.  
           If it starts to boil, turn back the heat so that it is not boiling. 

3. Carefully pour egg into the water, 
as close to the water as you can, 
without burning yourself.


4. Using a spoon, moving gently but quickly,
 guide the egg white that is floating, back toward
 the yolk of the egg.

     5. Once the egg is settled, turn off 
the burner, place lid on the pan and gently 
remove it from the burner.  
Set timer for 5 minutes.



6. After 5 minutes, remove lid and 
with a slotted spoon, lift egg out 
of the pan and onto a plate.

7. Sprinkle with kosher salt and 
ground pepper and serve with 
some yummy toast.

And it's amazing! Right there in the pan, free-form, and in just a few minutes! They are so tasty and fresh and beautiful and the yolk is gooey and rich.  
I have been making them for the past few weeks and my crew is loving them.
I am still working on a few things:
multiple eggs at a time in one pot, and not loosing any egg white in the process. 

Happy poaching! 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Cheesy Potatoes & Thankfulness

Thanksgiving menus are being planned, emails and phone calls this week are filled with discussions about "What should be on the Thanksgiving table?" and "Who's bringing what?". Our family loves to eat and Thanksgiving is our chance to make a lot of tasty dishes.  There are times in life that the saying "less is more" is an appropriate principle, however, the philosophy of Thanksgiving Dinner with my family, is that "more is more".  We are thankful that we have a full house coming to the Dinner this year, so that we can justify having multiple starches and salads and a couple of meats and a buffet filled with desserts!

Dave suggested that I post this recipe, to pitch it for your consideration as you are planning your Thanksgiving meal.  These are certainly special occasion potatoes (since the main ingredients, other than potatoes, are lots of cheese and heavy cream). We have been making them for Easter dinner for the past few years, but today I share them with you in case you want to make them for your Thanksgiving meal.

These Cheesy Potatoes  have just a few ingredients and are simple to layer and put together.
You can slice the potatoes ahead of time and keep them in water until the time of assembly.
You can choose which cheese you want to use, though we have stuck with Havarti because the flavor is so amazing and it melts so nicely.

3 ½ pounds baking potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
3 cups shredded Havarti cheese, divided
6 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
3 cups heavy whipping cream
6 tsp. chicken bouillon granules or chicken base, divided

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Spray large baking dish with cooking spray. 
Arrange 1/3 of the potatoes in the dish. 
Sprinkle with 1 tsp. bouillon and season to taste with freshly ground pepper. 
Add 1/3 of the cheese (about 1 cup) and 2 Tbsp. flour.
Continue adding 2 more layers of potatoes, bouillon, pepper, flour and cheese.

In a bowl, combine whipping cream and remaining 2 tsp. of bouillon. 

Pour mixture over the potatoes.  Bake for 55-60 minutes or until top is golden brown and the potatoes are tender.

Slice thinly with a good knife
Or slice with a food processor

layer potatoes, cheese & dry ingredients

bake until golden and bubbly
Photos do not do this justice...I wish this was a
"scratch and taste" blog!

However, If you already have plans for the potato dish at your table, or if you think that dressing and rolls and sweet potatoes are enough starches for the menu,  then you might want to consider one of these favorites:

This cranberry salad is delicious and holiday-worthy. I have been craving it for weeks now! It's sweet and tart and chock full of yumminess.  It is a perennial favorite!

[Since my post about this salad last fall,  I learned the history of this dish in our family. In 1964, my parents were celebrating their first Thanksgiving as a married couple and were living in Texas, 750 miles from home.  My mom was excited to make her first Thanksgiving feast and was determined to do it right.  She invited a couple, the Smiths, friends of the family, who didn't have plans for the holiday, to join them for the meal.  
This is a copy of mom's recipe,
which she wrote while Mrs. Smith
dictated it over the phone!
Mom committed to make her first turkey and asked Mrs. Smith, a more seasoned cook, to share a good cranberry recipe that Mom might fix. This was the recipe she gave her.  And 47 years later, with just a little tweaking over time, it has remained a favorite at our family table.]

And this sweet potato apple scallop is simple and lovely and very verstile.

And in the midst of it all, let us not forget to be thankful.  We have a day set aside for Thankfulness!  Let's Seize this Day of Gratitude.  And though busyness, and football, and cooking, and cleaning (and sometimes complex family dynamics) may dominate this day, hopefully we can practice and pursue gratitude.

At our house we have gathered the branches from the yard and set up our Thankful Tree as a focal point for our thankfulness this week.  What are you doing to pursue gratitude?  There are so many simple things you can do. Start a list on the fridge of things for which you are thankful and add to it when the thought strikes you, make a thankful tree, write notes of gratitude to people in your life, spend some time in prayers of thanksgiving...and give thanks as you enjoy a tasty feast!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Kitchen Wish List

This week the Target Holiday Gift catalog came in the mail.  You know what that means...the kids started taking turns with pens and post-its to mark their "wishes" in the catalog.  I told them, "dream on"!  It reminds me of the years in my childhood when my grandmother would pull out the Sears Catalog and would ask us to create our wish lists to offer her. As adults, in our family, we tend to keep running lists of wishes, in the event that someone asks!

I am a kitchen tool junkie.  I love them.  I have drawers and cabinets full of them.  My list of wishes most always includes a new kitchen tool.  My mom, sister and I often give each other new kitchen gadgets for Christmas.  Some of my tools are used daily, like my kitchen scissors and my 4 Tbsp. measuring cup; while others I use only once in a while.  But when I need it, it is extremely my cherry pitter.

About a year ago a friend asked me for recommendations of kitchen tools that she might collect to better equip her kitchen.  What a fun task it was to make a wish list for her.  I thought I would share with you, a further expanded list of some of my favorite kitchen tools.

Just in case anyone asks!

I have divided them into categories by cost, and of course, this is not an exhaustive list, but rather one that includes some of my favorites!

Small: ($25 or less)

Cherry Pitter

Cherry Pitter - Check out my story about this gadget.
It is only used for a couple of months
each year when cherries are in season but,
if you love fresh cherries, it will
change your cherry-eating-world!
(I call it a cheap thrill.)

Kitchen Scissors

Kitchen Scissors -
These come in handy when
trimming raw chicken
and cutting parchment paper
and chopping fresh herbs.
They are dishwasher safe
and they come apart for easy

Pampered Chef Spatula

this is the perfect
spatula with the sharp thin edge
and nice large surface

scoops - various sizes
Scoops - We use scoops all the time when baking cookies and muffins. There are several sizes which are all useful. It decreases the mess and creates more consistent-sized baked goods.

Solid Measure
Solid Measure- This is very helpful in
measuring Crisco, peanut butter,
Coconut oil... any solid, gooey substance.
You simply adjust to your measurement,
spoon in the ingredient, level across the
top, and push out. It all pops out and
none goes to waste.

Mini Spatulas
Just Lucy's Size

Mini Rubber Spatula-
We are super-romantic at our house. For my birthday a couple of years ago, Dave gave me a couple of these spatulas from Williams Sonoma. They are a great little size for cleaning out a measuring cup, and a perfect size to fit in your mouth when scraping batter or cookie dough
out of the bowl.

BBQ Turner

This was a gift from my
sister to Dave from Pampered Chef
and it is the best grill tool
we've ever had.
Dave swears by it - for it's size, 
and long handle, sharp edge on 
one side and its ability to easily
get under your burger to flip it.

Cake Lifter

Cake/Pizza Lifter- This is one of those
"when you need it, you need it, but you don't need it every day"
kind of a tool.  You can lift your
entire cake and move it from a
cooling rack to the serving dish.
It can also lift a Pizza right off the pan.

Favorite Cookbooks
Favorite cookbooks:
Everyday Food magazine (by Martha Stewart)- It is so practical, user-friendly and a great way to inspire new recipes in your kitchen.  I've had a subscription for years and some of the "staples" in our kitchen have come from it.  I have given it as a gift a few times too.  It's only $12 and it's the gift that keeps on giving.

Barefoot Contessa cookbooks- You can't go wrong with these beauties. There are several to choose from and I love all the ones I have.  There are beautiful photos of each recipe and great tips.  She is a fabulous teacher through her cookbooks.

The Joy of Cooking cookbook- If I were to recommend ONE cookbook for your kitchen, this would be the one! It's my favorite Primer.  I call it my kitchen encyclopedia.  It has so much information including: varieties of lettuce, to cuts of beef, to temperatures for doneness of meat, to "what is salad nicoise?", to how to make a good graham cracker crust, and 1,000 plus pages of other instructions!

The Chopper

The Chopper- This is loud 
and requires some aggression 
to use, but it can chop an onion, 
or pecans or chocolate like 
nobody's business! 
(And it can be washed in the 
dishwasher, which is a bonus.)

Travel knife- I found these at the check-out at Williams Sonoma (in those glass jars by the register) and thought they were cute. When I got to looking at them, I realized they are more than cute, they are really useful. The knife has a good, sharp blade, but with a sturdy plastic cover.
Kuhn Rikon Paring Knife
the same knife in orange
I bought a couple, one to keep, another to gift, and I have ended up keeping mine at my desk at school to use for lunchtime to slice my apple.  I then bring it home for the summer, to put with our picnic gear for our meals at the pool and park.  It's a great knife and safe and easy to tote.

4 Tbsp Measuring Cup
4 Tbsp measuring cup- it's adorable and so useful!  Do you ever try to measure Tablespoons of vanilla or oil and end up pouring it everywhere when it overflows the measuring spoon? No longer does this happen with this!  And the curved design makes it so easy to properly see the measurement.  My mom found it and gave one to my sister and me.  I have since gifted it to a couple of people because I think it is so useful!

Small Metal Spatula

Small metal spatula- the pampered chef "petite spatula" is the perfect size (though I have had two, and the handle broke off both of them eventually), and now this one (that my sister gave me recently) has been a great substitute. Having a small, metal spatula makes serving gooey bars, brownies, sheet cake, etc. a much easier and prettier task

Lemon Zester

Lemon Zester - You have to have a zester! There are many varieties and styles. I have a little one that creates long strips of zest, but this one, that is more of a zesting plane, makes a finer zest. Mom gave it to me last year and I have loved it.  This one fits nicely over a bowl and steadies the tool for the zesting. (Your muffins will thank you!)

Pitcher with plunger

Pampered chef pitcher with plunger- This is great for serving lemonade and fruit tea, especially because the plunger allows you to "stir it up" before each serving.  Before I had this, I served my fruit tea with a large, awkward wooden spoon in the pitcher.  Though it is plastic, the design is classy enough to serve at a party and not look tacky.

Medium: ($25-50ish)

Kitchen Scale
Kitchen scale- My friend, Gretchen, and I took a cookie-making class last year and learned about the value of this tool.  I wrote about it HERE.  For Christmas, she gave me one!!  It has been so fun to find uses for it.  My mom saw it at my house (and since it was the only tool she didn't own) she asked for one and I gave it to her for her birthday! Now she has every tool in the world.  This measures in ounces and pounds and is helpful in weighing meat, determining the size of a ball of cookie dough
(and Dave uses it to weigh his CD packages to determine postage when mailing them to people...I recently discovered!)

Baking Stone
Baking stone- I had a pampered chef baking stone in my cabinet for years, un-used, until a friend in my Bible study asked if I had a stone on which we could bake her cranberry crescent rolls.  I pulled it out and we put 1/2 of them on it and 1/2 on a cookie sheet. The difference in the baking consistency was remarkable. The rolls cooked on the stone much more evenly and without being overdone on the bottom. It made me a fan.  I now use it especially when I am baking scones shortbread and biscuits.

Cutco knives
Cutco knives- These knives are my VERY FAVORITE. They are expensive, but so worth it. They have a lifetime guarantee and they make food prep much easier.  Do you ever find cutting an apple or slicing a cucumber difficult? It's because of the knife you are using.  My mom converted us years ago and any time I am able to buy one for someone, I do so.  If you only have one, I would purchase the trimmer.  Everyone I know that has one, says that it is in constant use in their kitchen.

Large: ($50-100ish)

Waring double waffle iron

Waring double waffle iron -Read Here for the story behind this waffle maker.  Basically, if you love a deep-grooved belgium waffle and you like to make a bunch quickly, this appliance should be added to your list.  It is cool! You will feel like you are at a Hilton hotel breakfast bar. (And use the Oh Boy Waffle Recipe that won our taste test).

Ice Cream Maker

Ice Cream Maker -  This is our newest appliance. I have long loved making homemade ice cream but this is our first indoors-without-rock-salt-and-ice maker. It is a nice 2 quart size, so you can experiment with different creative flavors without investing in a giant batch.  It is easy, fast and we have been making some tasty treats in this beauty!

Extravagant: (over $100)

Bunn Coffee Maker

Bunn Coffee Maker - I will be posting soon about making a good cup of coffee, and I must say, when it comes to a cup of brewed drip coffee, nothing compares with a BUNN.  The technology is fascinating.  There is a reservoir of hot water stored in the tank behind the pot.  When you pour water into the coffee maker, DISPLACEMENT occurs as the new cool water pushes out the hot and it SPRAYS over the coffee grounds to produce immediate, hot, fresh, delicious coffee. When our friend Amy lived with us, and our coffee pot died, she encouraged us to buy a BUNN and we have been fans ever since.  We gave one to my dad a few years ago and he's become a fan too (as much as he would claim be a "fan" of any inanimate object).

Kitchen Aid Mixer - Many of you have a Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer in your kitchen and you might be able to vouch for the fact that it is a tremendous asset in the kitchen.  It is costly, but it is a work-horse.  I love mine.  It has served me well.  There are several varieties of them and they each come with accessories.  I love the dough hook as well as the flat beater.  It is stately and beautiful and used at least once a  week in my kitchen!

Food Processor- this is worth having, if only to make THIS  homemade salsa recipe!  It is so great. I don't use it as much as I use my stand mixer, but I use it often enough to justify owning it.  For chopping, pureeing and slicing, it is fast and powerful.

Happy Shopping and Wish List Making!