Egg-cellent

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I’m a little embarrassed to admit that my culinary focus of the last few months has been learning how to fry an egg.

But I’m a lot proud to proclaim this egg-periment a success.

You see, I’d long been bothered by my inability to fry an egg. Or really, to flip an egg. I always accidentally broke the yolk, ending up with a hard egg. My perfect egg is “over medium,” with a yolk liquid enough to dip toast in, but with whites firm. (Read: not runny.)

That’s how my mom fries eggs. And every egg, every flip is nearly perfect. Sure, she’s had enough experience — fried eggs, along with sausage or bacon and pancakes or waffles, have been a staple of  breakfasts at my parents’ cabin in northern Michigan for 40 years. I can still picture her in front of the old narrow white stove, frying sp-egg-tacular egg after egg, which my brothers and I promptly destroyed. Our dad had taught us to dice our eggs, then coat the tiny pieces of whites with the liquid yolk. I can’t tell you how much this irritated my mother.

I’m not sure the sudden obsession with fried eggs last fall, but I became determined. My first challenge was figuring out which oil to use. My mother fries eggs in bacon grease, which she stores in a jar in the refrigerator. As much as I love bacon, this has always grossed me out. Since I’m spoiled, she fries mine in butter before the rest of the family’s. (A total win-win, in my book.) I first experimented with olive oil and coconut oil sprays; both left an off taste that didn’t complement the eggs, especially the coconut oil. Butter browned the eggs too much for my liking. The clear winner was clarified butter. Absent of milk solids, clarified butter (or ghee) turns to oil almost immediately and has a high smoke point — helpful when you keep the flame on your burner a little high like I tend to do.

Cooking in oil also helped me in the successful flipping of an egg. With the spray, the egg didn’t want to budge half the time. But with the oil, the spatula slides right under the egg, and over it goes. Nice and easy.

There was also a learning curve with figuring out how long to cook the egg once it’s been flipped. Like I said, I hate runny whites. I’ll confess that I overcooked a few, although never to the point that the yolk was hard. My mom told me just today that she turns off the burner as soon as she flips the egg. Question: Why in the heck didn’t I talk to her about this months ago?

DSC00037Needless to say, I now have a fried egg for breakfast nearly every day. Some days, it’s an egg with a slice of wheat toast. Lately, it’s been a “California benedict”: an ounce of avocado mashed onto half an English muffin, topped with muenster cheese, and finished with one glorious, perfectly fried egg.

I know what you’re thinking … egg-cellent. And you’re right.

Happiness is a new cookbook

… or three.

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Today, after 11 days of contemplating my culinary goals for 2014, I picked up Better Homes and Gardens’ Ultimate Soups and Stews Book. More details on my resolutions are coming soon, but one — as you may have guessed — is to make more soup. This decision may have been slightly influenced by the Polar Vortex.

For Christmas, my mom and dad gifted me cookbook No. 2, Stephanie Izard’s Girl in the Kitchenwhich had been on my Amazon wish list for two years. I’m a huge fan of her Chicago restaurant, Girl & the Goat, so am really looking forward to cracking this one open.

The third cookbook is Grilling, from the Williams-Sonoma Collection. Now technically, this cookbook isn’t mine. I gave it to Mike as a Christmas present, since he mans the grill in our house. (Not that he needs a cookbook — he has a sixth sense about spices and grilling that drives my OCD, meat thermometer-wielding self crazy.) Whether Mike ever peruses its pages or not, we now have a grilling cookbook on our bookshelf. And that ain’t a bad thing.

For those who like it hot …

After my salsa teacher Jerry read my post about making his tomatillo salsa, he sent the following recipe for the spicy salsa I didn’t commit to memory during our Mexico City trip. For those who like it hot, enjoy! 

For the hot chile and oil, just as easy. Find the long thin small red chilies. They are dried whole and sold loose or in pre-packaged cellophane bags. In Mexico “chiles de arbol” or I’ve seen them in English “Chinese chiles.” You can use any other dried chiles as well for different flavors — chile pasilla, chile guajillo, ancho. Find them in a Mexican grocery.

Heat a pot of good oil (I always used olive) to just shimmering or just before smoking. Take off the heat and let cool a bit. Take as many dried chiles as you want — both in terms of heat and consistency (more is hotter, more concentrated and thicker). Throw them in the oil and stir to get them somewhat submerged into the oil. They should almost fry but not burn. Throw in a clove or two of garlic, and it will brown a bit.

Let it all cool down — either completely or until warm. This finishes the infusion.

Put all into the blender to liquify completely. Depending on your taste, you can leave some seeds “visible” or process until not visible (I usually completely liquified it). Then, into your jar or serving dish and … voilá.

Like the green salsa, this is more of a sauce condiment than a tortilla-dipping salsa. With either the green salsa or the chile oil salsa, blend with sour cream (or crème fraiche) and softened cream cheese for a spicy chip dip.

Bon appétit.

Mashed potatoes repurposed

Gnocchi

I blame my mother for having recently made twice as many mashed potatoes as two people could possibly eat.

We were on the phone as I was peeling potatoes, and she convinced me that four potatoes probably wasn’t enough. So I threw in another one, bringing the total to five. Again, for two people. Ridiculous even when you consider how much Mike likes (make that loves) mashed potatoes.

Even though he could’ve fashioned himself a Devil’s Tower to rival Richard Dreyfuss’ with the mound on his plate, there were plenty left over. (“Enough for thrashers,” as Mom would say.)

Growing up, second day mashed potatoes meant hamburger pie, otherwise known as my least favorite meal ever. Imagine ground beef mixed with tomato soup mixed with green beans and topped with mashed potatoes then baked in a Pyrex bowl. I know, gross.

But Googling “leftover mashed potatoes” yielded a super fast and easy — and far less disgusting — solution: gnocchi.

After reviewing a few recipes, I surmised that I simply needed to mix the leftover mashed potatoes with about half the amount of flour and one egg. I eyed instead of measured the mashed potatoes, estimating there to be just over two cups, so added the egg and a little over a cup of flour. After I mixed it with a fork, I kneaded the dough by hand until I had a non-sticky ball. I divided it into three equal portions, then rolled each into a rope the thickness I wanted for my gnocchi and cut it into 1-inch pieces.

The cooking was even easier. I simply added the gnocchi to a pot of salted, boiling water and waited for the gnocchi to float to the surface. I topped the cooked gnocchi with a jar of sauce stashed in the pantry, and added a side of steamed broccoli.

Quite possibly the easiest dinner I’ve made in eons.

Next time, and there will be a next time, I’ll experiment with adding a spice to the dough — Mike thought it was delicious but “missing something.” Still, an impressive first effort.

CSA, hooray! Chapter 20

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A week ago, we picked up our final CSA share of the season:

  • Brussels sprouts
  • tomatoes
  • peppers
  • greens
  • beets
  • turnips
  • potatoes
  • onions
  • winter squash
  • arugula
  • kale

As much as I believe community supported agriculture is important, I can’t say that I’m sad to see another CSA season come to end. I’d compare the experience to Christmas — come Thanksgiving, I can’t wait to put the tree up, but as soon as the holiday passes, I don’t even bother plugging in the lights every night. When fall hit, and we entered kale season, our enthusiasm waned. Thankfully, most of these veggies are ones that will keep for a bit in the crisper. Because honestly, that’s where most of them still are.

Tomatillo salsa

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I’ll admit it: I’m a recipe follower.

But when Mike and I visited our friend Jerry in Mexico City last Christmas through New Year’s, we whipped up a batch of tomatillo salsa. (I was intrigued that the salsas served there were completely different than our standard tomato-jalapeno-onion-cilantro varieties.) Since making salsa was one of many things on our docket one day, I wasn’t able to take the time to write down each step of the process. Instead, I “helped” — OK, mostly watched — as Jerry raced through at breakneck speed. Without a recipe. Eek.

Side note: Jerry and I actually made two salsas: the less spicy tomatillo one for me, and a much spicier red pepper and oil variety for Mike. Since anyone who knows me well knows that I tend to shy away from all things spicy, it should come as no surprise that I didn’t commit that second recipe to memory. Sorry, Mike.

I eagerly awaited the appearance of tomatillos at the farmer’s market this year, and after spotting them a few weeks in a row, finally got my nerve up to attempt making the green salsa at home.

Easy. Peasy.

Seriously. All that was required were tomatillos, hot pepper, garlic and onion. And a blender.

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First, take the tomatillos out of their little cocoons and rinse them in a colander. They’re kind of sticky, surprisingly. Then, put them in a pot of boiling water with a pepper or two, depending on how much heat you want your salsa to have. (I used one pepper, and felt very brave.) Boil until the tomatillos turn a bright vibrant green, but don’t cook them.

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Place the tomatillos and pepper(s) in a blender, and add the onion (I used a medium white onion, cut into chunks) and garlic (one large clove, cut in half, for this batch).

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The key, according to my salsa master Jerry, is to also blend in some of the water from the pot. Seems this salsa gets very thick, and the water keeps it from becoming cement-like. I put in a couple of ladles, an estimated half a cup to a cup. The amount was spot on, as the mixture fit perfectly in a canning jar, and wasn’t too thick or thin after setting.

The end result: Salsa spicy enough to truly qualify as salsa, but not so spicy that I couldn’t enjoy it. I was so proud of my effort that I brought it to my family’s annual campout, where cousins enjoyed it with homemade chicken quesadillas.

Sorry, no photo of me patting myself on the back.

CSA, hooray! Chapter 19

Week 19

And we’re back! Huge thanks to Dana for picking up our CSA share for two weeks and blogging about it, even with spotty internet — AND a newish baby in the house.

I picked up our veggies around noon yesterday and, since I had a slew of post-vacation errands to run, immediately came home and stuck them in the fridge. Unpacking the bag a day later may not have been the best idea, as a bundle of greens was way wilted. The bok choy is also less than crisp, so I’ll sauté that tonight in some oyster sauce.

Everything else fared OK:

  • cabbage
  • tomatoes
  • sweet peppers
  • kale
  • bok choy
  • small melons
  • Russet potatoes
  • cilantro
  • lettuce

The kale will be this week’s biggest challenge. Kale was more than plentiful in last year’s CSA, and I never mastered cooking it — and Mike never mastered eating it. I’ve been dreading its appearance this season. Oh, well. Here we go.

CSA, hooray! Chapter 18

Still, Dana!

This week’s CSA is a lot like last week:veggies2

  • mixed chard
  • assorted tomatoes
  • kale
  • broccoli
  • garlic
  • red norland potatoes
  • sweet peppers (and one hot)
  • radishes
  • bok choy

 

Another thing that’s a lot like last week is that my Internet access is again coming and going, with it going most of the day. Argh. Although, I can’t complain about the delicious stir-fry these vegetables yield, and I’m excited to add bok choy and broccoli to it.

Once again, big thanks to Darci for sharing her CSA and allowing me to guest post here!

 

CSA, hooray! Chapter 17

My friend Dana is taking over the blog while Mike and I are in the UK. Take it away, Dana!

Thanks, Darci! As you have probably already noticed this was last week’s CSA that I’m posting this morning. I apologize for the delay, but my Internet access was on the fritz all week due to some faulty wiring on the pole outside (or so says the nice man from Comcast that came to fix it). I had about five minutes a day of access. Not only did this mean posting here was problematic, but since I garner all my recipes online I had to go old school for this CSA.

Here’s what we received last week:

  • mixed chard
  • tomatoes
  • hot and red peppers
  • kale
  • ice box melon
  • cilantro
  • green beans
  • pumpkin
  • radishes (and lots of ’em!)

Being disconnected from the Internet has its advantages. I realized that I didn’t need to necessarily whip up something extraordinary because Darci had generously gifted me her CSA. We shop our local farmer’s market every week as locally grown produce is an important part of my family’s diet. So I  did what I normally do: I incorporated the CSA into our every day meals. Several salads were made utilizing the tomatoes, red peppers and radishes. The kale has been a staple of my daily morning smoothie (which is nothing more than the greens, some strawberries, bananas and almond milk). The green beans were a side dish for a purchased rotisserie chicken. The melon was a delightful breakfast treat for my kids. A stir-fry utilizing the remaining red paper and mixed chard was delicious and, again, simply prepared by sautéing with soy sauce. Finally, I roasted the pumpkin and baked some pumpkin spice muffins (the recipe for which I’m having trouble finding at the moment).

This week, I remembered that having a CSA doesn’t have to be a stressful, “How will I use all those vegetables?” prospect. Too often with my prior CSA, I felt like I needed to get really creative because I had this special box of vegetables. This resulted in my spending a lot of time planning big cooking/baking projects and then wasting produce as time got away from me. I suffered from CSA anxiety. However, as I looked upon our bounty this past week I realized that I often buy most of these very same things at our market to do just what I did–eat a little bit local every day. Whew, anxiety alleviated. CSA, Hooray!

Giving okra the deep freeze

Okra takes an ice bath.

Okra in a refreshing ice bath.

So, gumbo didn’t happen.

I couldn’t find a recipe that I loved, which was OK because I didn’t feel like going to the market twice in two days. So I used the mild Italian sausage from yesterday’s trip with the second head of cabbage from the CSA for this Fettuccine with Sausage and Cabbage recipe I found on the website for Real Simple magazine. I used rigatoni noodles instead of fettuccine because, again, I didn’t feel like going to the market; tossed in two pressed cloves of garlic because I only had two shallots; and skipped the chives, because the ones in our patio container garden died during an extended porch railing repair project a couple of weeks ago. (Yet survived last winter. Sad.) Still, the dish was delicious. Mike is finishing it off — cold and directly from the pot — as I type.

Of course, the okra remained. And not just the okra from this week’s share, but what was in last week’s, too. I had to face facts: I wasn’t going to use it all — er, any of it — and the okra was doomed to suffer a slow death in the crisper.

Thankfully, this English woman on YouTube, who pronounces “okra” so adorably, made freezing okra seem super simple. I sorted through the two bags, tossing out a handful that seemed sketchy, and went to work.

Ms. Brit was right. Boiling okra for three minutes, immediately placing it in an ice bath for three minutes, then drying it on the counter before sticking it in a plastic bag could not have been easier. Our okra is now stashed safely in the freezer.

Here’s hoping I remember to use it.