Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Everything Old Is New Again

(My monthly food column for Heartland Women)
April 2008

Easter came a little too early this year to make a blip on my radar screen. Not all is lost though! April is still timely for contemplating rebirth and the newness of spring, especially as we emerge from a long cold winter.

In the world of food, spring is an exhilarating time of year. I look forward to planting my herb garden and waiting for the first-of-the-season goodies at the Farmer’s Market. Invariably, there are a lot of good egg recipes that appear this time of year too, and several have made their way onto my ever-expanding list of seasonal spring recipes.

For those keeping score, eggs are back on the good food list for most of us. Of course, that is not a green light for eating them every morning with bacon, biscuits, gravy and the like! Guess what! Eggs do not have to be fried, they do not require the addition of three or four fats for cooking, and they are not just for breakfast anymore!

Egg dishes are perfect for simple and delicious brunch or dinner meals. A recent email from Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s Weeknight Kitchen, featured a tempting dish from Vegetarian Suppers from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen that comes together quickly when you want real food in a hurry.

Grits and eggs is a revered breakfast staple throughout the southern U.S., but other regions or countries serve variations pairing eggs with polenta, cornbread, mashed potatoes, hash browns, rice, corned beef hash, etc.

No time for breakfast? Hardboiled eggs, deviled eggs or even egg salad are easy to make ahead for grab-and-go breakfast or lunch on the run. Adding eggs to a “good carb” salad is a good way to balance lunch. Omelets, the weekend brunch staple, are also perfect for a weeknight dinner, because they are fast, easy, and an excellent way to use leftovers

In other countries, where eggs are not the stars of breakfast, they are featured more prominently on the dinner table. Frittatas, burritos, and omelettes make a delicious meal when eggs are mixed with roasted or sautéed vegetables. Tapas bars all over Spain offer slices of delicious Piperade with drinks. The French appreciate the simplicity of a well-scrambled or poached egg for a light supper with a salad and bread. In Italy, Pasta alla Carbonara is a comforting version of bacon and eggs mixed with pasta and often served for dinner or late night supper. Of course, breakfast for dinner is a treat for anyone who never has time to enjoy it in the morning – and almost guarantees a good night’s sleep will follow.

Spring, so alive with its refreshing opportunities, is the perfect time to consider new ways to enjoy eggs. Poaching eggs only sounds difficult if you have never tried it and baked eggs may be unfamiliar to some, but both methods are excellent ways to put a fresh face on the same old oval wonders. I have gathered a basket full of my favorite old and new egg dishes to try. Perhaps one will inspire a leisurely weekend brunch, especially if it’s nice enough to open the windows or sit outside in the fresh spring air.

But then again, if you find yourself rushing home to get in a little gardening before dark, why not try something different for dinner? The same old eggs may not be too exciting at breakfast, but they will give new life to a fast and easy weeknight dinner. It is spring after all, and everything old is new again – including eggs!

1 lb. bulk chorizo sausage
4 eggs, beaten
1 8-oz. package tortilla chips
1 8-oz. package finely shredded Mexican blend cheese
1 bunch green onions, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
sour cream
jalapeno peppers, sliced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook the chorizo in a skillet over medium heat until crumbled and evenly browned, about 5 minutes; drain and set aside. Scramble the eggs in the sausage pan, or in a little butter or olive oil, and remove from the heat. Spread a layer of tortilla chips into a large baking dish. Scatter the chorizo and the scrambled egg mixture over the chips. Top with cheese and bake for about 7–10 minutes, or until the cheese is just melted. Remove from oven and sprinkle with chopped onions and tomatoes. Serve with dishes of sour cream, salsa, and jalapenos for garnish. *Try these eggs rolled into tortillas for a hefty breakfast burrito.

1 tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cans of black beans, drained and mashed
1 1/2 tbsp. red chili powder
2 tsp. ground cumin
4 eggs
1 tsp. vinegar
4 c. water – more, if necessary
2 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
salt and black pepper to taste
prepared salsa
1 large avocado, cubed
1 c. shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 c. sour cream
sliced jalapenos

Heat olive oil in a pan and sauté onion. Add garlic, beans, chili powder, and cumin. Cook beans for about 10 minutes on medium low heat, stirring occasionally. Bring water and vinegar to a light boil in a shallow pan. Make sure there is enough water to cover eggs. To poach eggs, crack into a small bowl and slide into water; cook about 5 minutes, just until the white is set and the yolk have filmed over. Remove with a slotted spoon. To serve: Spoon warm beans onto a plate, top with poached egg, and sprinkle with cilantro. Place bowls of salsa, avocado, cheese, sour cream, and jalapenos on the table for garnish.

2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 slices bread, cut into small cubes
1/3 c. finely diced shallot or onion
6 large mushrooms sliced
1 tbsp. chopped parsley
2 tsp. chopped marjoram or rosemary
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tsp. tomato paste
3/4 c. red wine
2 or 4 eggs

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly butter 2 shallow baking dishes and set them on a sheet pan. Melt 1 tbsp. butter and 1 tbsp. olive oil in a medium skillet, add the cubed bread, and toss it about the pan. Cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until it's golden and crisp, about 8 to 10 minutes, but not hard. Divide the croutons between the baking dishes. Heat the remaining butter and oil in a wide skillet over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes. Raise the heat, then add the mushrooms, most of the herbs, and a few pinches of salt. Sauté until the mushrooms have started to brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, then add the wine and immediately scrape the pan to release the juicy bits. Lower the heat and simmer until a few tablespoons of the liquid remains. Season with salt and pepper and divide the mushrooms between the dishes. Break one or two eggs over the croutons and mushrooms and add a pinch of salt and some pepper. Bake until the whites are set, about 15 minutes, and the yolks are as firm as you like. (Don’t use convection setting – the air movement will cause eggs to cook unevenly.) Remove baking dishes, sprinkle the rest of the herbs over the top, and serve.

4 tablespoons olive oil
2 small onions, peeled and diced fine
1 medium green bell pepper, seeded and sliced into thin strips
1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and sliced into thin strips
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 slice cured ham, cut into strips
2 large tomatoes, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
4 eggs
chopped parsley, to garnish

Heat the oil in a skillet and sauté the onions, bell peppers, and garlic until tender. Fold in the ham and tomatoes, and season with salt and pepper. Continue to heat until the vegetables are almost cooked. Lightly beat the eggs with a fork. Pour the eggs over the vegetables and cook over low heat until the eggs are thick but still soft. Transfer to an earthenware dish, garnish with parsley, and serve warm.

olive oil
1 lb. pancetta or quanciale, diced
6 eggs
1 c. heavy cream
splash of white wine
1/2 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
coarsely ground black pepper
kosher salt
1 lb. spaghetti, penne, or choice of pasta

Sauté pancetta in olive oil until crispy and brown; remove from heat. Add 4 – 6 qts. of water to a large pot and bring to a boil. Add salt to water and cook pasta until al dente. While pasta is cooking, beat together eggs, wine and cream in a bowl; stir in 1/2 c. freshly grated Parmesan; season with salt and pepper. Drain pasta, leaving about 1/2 c. pasta water in pot. Return pasta to pot and toss with pancetta. Quickly add egg mixture and toss to cook eggs from the heat of the pasta. Toss again with the second 1/2 c. Parmesan cheese and more freshly ground black pepper. Serve immediately!

10 large eggs
1⁄4 c. whipping cream
1 1⁄2 cups crumbles feta
1/4 c. oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1/2 c. artichoke hearts, chopped
4 green onions, thinly sliced
1/3 c. fresh basil leaves, chopped
1⁄2 tsp. salt
1⁄4 tsp. pepper
1⁄4 c. butter

Whisk eggs and cream in large bowl. Stir in feta cheese, tomatoes, artichoke hearts, onions, basil, salt and pepper. Melt butter in large ovenproof nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Pour egg mixture into skillet; cook until eggs start to firm and sides and bottom begin to brown, lifting sides occasionally to let uncooked egg run underneath - about 5 minutes. Transfer skillet to broiler and cook until eggs start to puff and brown, (about 2 min.) Using spatula, loosen and slide onto plate. Cut into wedges and serve.

1 tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
1 large (28 oz.) can diced tomatoes
pinch of sugar (optional)
splash of red wine
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
4 slices Italian bread
olive oil
1 clove garlic
4 large eggs
freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a small skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic and crushed red pepper; stir until lightly browned, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes, sugar, and red wine and bring to a boil; season with salt and pepper. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Brush Italian bread with olive oil and rub with garlic clove. Place on a baking sheet and heat in oven until lightly toasted. Remove and place one piece of toast into each of four large, flat bowls. Gently crack eggs into tomato mixture, cover, and let cook 5 minutes, or until whites are set and yolks begin to thicken and get cloudy. Remove skillet from heat, uncover, and let stand 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer each egg to a piece of toast. Spoon sauce over eggs, garnish with cheese, and season with salt and pepper; serve immediately.

6 hard-boiled eggs
1/3 c. mayonnaise
salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp. oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and chopped
1 tbsp. chopped fresh basil (or 1 tsp. dried basil)

Slice hard-boiled eggs in half lengthwise. Place yolks in a small mixing bowl and place egg whites on a plate. Mash egg yolks with a fork until fairly smooth; add mayonnaise and salt and pepper to taste. Blend egg yolks with mayonnaise until smooth. Add chopped sun-dried tomatoes and basil and stir to blend. Spoon egg yolk mixture into egg white and chill before serving.


Rye toast topped with corned beef hash and a poached egg.

Cornbread topped with fried country ham slice, poached egg and milk gravy.

Polenta topped with sautéed spinach, poached egg, tomato sauce and shaved Parmesan cheese.

Lightly toasted English muffin, crisp apple wood smoked bacon, poached egg, and cheese sauce.

Hash browns with red pepper and onions, poached egg, shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, green onions, salsa.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Welcome Basket for Carolyn

This welcome basket, including my fresh homemade sourdough bread, is for my friend Carolyn, whose blog has found a new home of its own. If you have never visited Tasting Spoons, you must check out the features she has added to her wonderful recipes. I know my North Carolina book club friends will enjoy her books section, since they are always eager to find out what other book clubbers are reading. Carolyn is also an artist and has added some pictures of her work to her new site.

I am so pleased Tasting Spoons has found a roomier new home and I offer this welcome basket with the traditional salt, bread and wine for new homeowners.

Finding someone like Carolyn, who has so many interests to share, is a bit of serendipity! Though I have only known her for a short time, and only through blogging, we share many interests and I know we will be able to sit down for a very long chat, if we ever meet in the real world someday. Until then, I enjoy reading her blog everyday and especially trying her recipes. I've also picked up Pillars of the Earth - finally! - and started to read it on her recommendation.

As I promised a couple of days ago, when I began the revival of my long-neglected sourdough starter, the bread is here for all to see. Due to some circumstances beyond my control, only one loaf made it through an overly long second rise, dictated by unavoidable mid-rise scheduling changes. However, it is a most excellent loaf of bread! Discernable sourdough flavor, nice crust, some good holes, and a lovely crumb. If wild yeast starter can deliver these results at the hands of a whimsical bread-baking novice like me, it is no wonder artisan breads have become so popular. There is something very primal and satisfying about "capturing" something wild and turning it into food! Perhaps it is time for me to investigate some artisan bread workshops and make some serious use of that brick oven in my backyard.

There are myriad blogs about baking in general, and some really good ones about breadmaking. I especially like to read Wild Yeast, which has recently given me the confidence and inspiration to try baking breads with actual weights and measures, and I'll let you know how that goes! Although I have a good collection of bread cookbooks, Susan's recent posts about baker's percentage made much more sense to me than any of those I'd read in books before. And, although I followed my usual "relaxed" method for this loaf, I am building up my starter so that I can experiment with percentage methods. Until then, if you are interested in capturing your own wild yeast, or any other aspect of making sourdough bread, check out Wild Yeast for some easy to follow instructions. I'm off to the market for more breadmaking supplies and then back to my own attempts at artisan breads.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Sourdough Starter Suffers Benign Neglect

A couple of years ago, I read about a class at the Missouri Botanical Garden that captured my culinary imagination. Father Dominic, the bread-baking Benedictine monk, was going to teach a sourdough bread class at MOBOT, using wild yeast captured in the gardens. I needed to know more about something like that!

The class was delightful and Father Dominic is a natural and enthusiastic teacher. Students came forward to participate in the demonstrations, a timer went off at erratic intervals signaling the awarding of bread baker’s door prizes, and everyone went home with his own wild yeast starter to feed and nurture for baking.

Since that class, I have dabbled in sourdough bread baking. My first loaf was perfection – at least to a novice baker. From that time on, I have created my own starter from organic grapes and one from my own Prairie Wood wild yeast. At times, I have had more crocks of sourdough starter in my refrigerator than one could say grace over. Eventually though, my supply dwindled to one lonely container of starter and, during the holidays, it was lost in a dark corner of the garage refrigerator suffering from benign neglect. It resurfaced last week and I decided to see if there was any life left in it, despite research to show it to be a lost cause.

The starter looked like one that had been left for a time, complete with that fine layer of grayish liquid “hooch” on top. I removed the lid and took a sniff – a sourdough delight! Usually, I stir the hooch back into the starter solids, but this time I poured most of it off to further assess the situation. Even benign neglect can have an adverse effect on lactobacilli. After bringing the starter up to room temperature, I scooped off half of it and added some flour, bottled spring water, and a pinch of sugar. Within seconds, I had bubbles forming in the starter. It’s alive!!!! I nursed it along for a couple of days, dividing, discarding, and feeding it back to health. Of course, I could not bring myself to throw out all the divisions of feedings, so I am now back to countless containers of starter in my fridge.

Yesterday I decided it was time to make some dough – or maybe three batches of dough would be better! The first rise was good and I put them into the refrigerator after that to slow things down until today. Two of the batches of dough are now coming up to room temperature for shaping and the final rise. I can’t wait! I am a proud mother watching her children grow and mature. Knowing how kids can act out occasionally, I hesitate to invite you back to see the final results, but what the heck! Stay tuned for the results – good or bad.