Eggs Benedict with Homemade English Muffins: Daring Cooks Challenge

December’s Daring Kitchen challenge marks a series of firsts for me; the first time I have poached an egg and eaten a poached egg, the first time I’ve made English Muffins and the first time I’ve made Hollandaise Sauce, so I managed to cover many firsts in one post.

Jenn and Jill have challenged The Daring Cooks to learn to perfect the technique of poaching an egg. They chose Eggs Benedict recipe from Alton Brown, Oeufs en Meurette from Cooking with Wine by Anne Willan, and Homemade Sundried Tomato & Pine Nut Seitan Sausages (poached) courtesy of Trudy of Veggie num num.


For me, I found poaching an egg more mentally challenging than technically, since I have only recently begun incorporating various forms of eggs into my life. The world of poached eggs was a realm I had yet to delve into and I was also put off by the thought of Hollandaise Sauce… because it seemed too egg-y.  [For better understanding of my egg-centricities check out my post Eggs & Yogurt] Aside from having to talk myself into eating Eggs Benedict, I found that the techniques involved were rather easy.  My first few eggs were a tad undercooked, then I managed to find perfect water temperature and consistency.

The Hollandaise portion of the recipe was a bit intimidating because I had never made it before. I was always worried that my emulsification would either break or fail to coagulate.  Once I had everything prepped, it went fine. One small snafu was that I had the water of my double boiler simmering a little too low, so it took me about 8 minutes, instead of 3 – 5 minutes to whisk the yolk and water mixture, so it coated the back of the spoon properly.  Once I started adding the small pieces of butter it all came together nicely.
To make this recipe perfect, Michael Ruhlman posted a recipe for home made English Muffins, which I think really added to my Eggs Benedict. They were like nothing I have ever tasted.  My only experience with English Muffins were the cardboard-esq Thomas’, which aren’t available in Bulgaria (aww shucks!) I experimented with molded muffins and free-form, but I think a combination of the two worked best. I used the cookie mold as a circular guide, but then remove it, so they cooked free-form.
They were easily fork splitable and had what I consider a good amount of nooks and crannies… oops is that copyrighted?
 
I found the overall taste of the dish really heavy, like a butter explosion in my mouth!  With the eggs, sauce and bacon… I could literally feel my arteries clogging.  This would be a nice lunch or dinner dish rather than breakfast… for me anyway.  The only criticism I received about the dish from my husband was that the bacon “sucked”! I ended up using some crappy bacon-esque crap I found at Fantastico… If I could have cured my own bacon in time for this post that would have been a spectacular treat… oh well!
What are some foods that are a challenge for you to eat? What have you done to overcome eating them?
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CIA Greystone Cooking Demonstration

It had been 5 years since I had been in California, the last time was in Los Angeles, when Angel and I decided to move to Bulgaria. I had added additional days to my visit to incorporate the Foodbuzz Festival and a trip to wine country; Napa and Sonoma.  About a month before my trip, I reserved a space for a cooking demo at The Culinary Institute of America’s Greystone Campus.  I had not previously had the opportunity to visit any of the CIA’s campuses and I was quite excited about being surrounded by culinary greatness; to my surprise, I was about the one of the few who attended the demo that felt that way.

This was the second time in my life that I had crossed over the Golden Gate bridge, the first being with my husband on our honeymoon in 2000. The weather was less than stellar on my most recent crossing, but that didn’t stop me from commemorating the event, which was bittersweet without my hubby! The drive through the Napa Valley towards St. Helena was gorgeous.  Route 29 was lined with vineyards and estates, which I was informed you could visit and taste for anywhere from $10 – 30 USD, which would be put toward a bottle should you happen to purchase one. Being that I was on a budget that portion of the tour would need to be saved for the next trip.

We arrived at the Greystone campus early.  My friend Ross Cobb winemaker from Cobb Wines ended up joining me demo, which was nice.  I had originally anticipated going it alone.  The demo was supposed to start at 1:30, but because 44 of the 48 seats were reserved by a team building retreat for Bank of America, they changed the time till 2:00 and we still needed to wait for the tour bus to arrive.  
While waiting, I had an opportunity to speak with the chef, Harold Imbrunetti.  I asked him the most important question, which was where was the best spot to sit and he suggested second row center.  You don’t get to have the first taste, but the best vantage point for the action.  When I told him that I was a blogger, he had asked if I had written to him about getting some gourmet organic rubs and marinades from his company Wine Country Chef for a giveaway.  Maybe he will provide me with some after this post.

Our recipe for the day was Frittata with Crispy Potatoes, Spinach and Truffle Essence.  Chef Imbrunetti provided us with a recipe, but he said that he has never made the same one twice and then proceeded to make changes to the printed recipe we were given.

Frittata with Crispy Potatoes, Spinach and Truffle Essence: 
by CIA Chef Harold Imbrunetti

2 sm russet potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/4″(.63cm) thick
3 tbsp olive oil (he used a hot/spicy Spanish variety)
1 white onion (sweeter in contrast to the leek)
1 lg leek, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
20 eggs
2 oz (59ml) water
1 sm bunch of spinach leaves, washed and stemmed
1/4 cup finely grated Vella Dry Jack & parmesan reggiano (any hard cheese)
3 – 4 tbsp (60g) unsalted butter, cold (I think he used more… a lot more)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 oz (29ml) white truffle oil

Method:

  1. Preheat an oven to 350F (180C)
  2. Place potatoes in a pot with 1 qt (950ml) cold water and 1 tbsp kosher salt.Bring the pot to a simmer and cook for 3 minutes, or until the potatoes are just done through, fork tender.  Drain the potatoes carefully, towel dry excess water and set aside.
  3. Heat 1 tbsp of the olive oil in a sauté pan over a medium burner, make sure the pan is hot before adding the oil.  Add the onion and leek, and sauté for two minutes, or until the onion is translucent. Remove from the pan from heat and allow it to cool to room temperature.
  4. Beat the eggs and water together in a bowl.  Add the cooled onion and leek, and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  5. Heat a 9-inch nonstick skillet with an oven-safe handle over a medium burner. Add the remaining two tablespoons of olive oil and arrange the potato slices in the pan in a single layer.  Season the potatoes with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and cook for three minutes, or until golden brown at the edges.
  6. Add chunks of cold butter to the egg mixture, then carefully pour half it over the potatoes.  Arrange the spinach leaves over the eggs.  Cover the spinach with the remaining egg mixture, and sprinkle the surface with the grated cheese.
  7. Transfer the pant to the oven, and bake for 35 – 45 minutes, or until the eggs have set completely.  Remove the pan from the oven, and turn the frittata out onto a large plate.
  8. Cut the frittata into eighths, and drizzle with white truffle oil just before serving. Serve either hot or at room temperature.

The tour bus arrived and our missing audience filled into their seats… only problem, this was the 4th stop on their wine tasting tour and some of them were a little past tipsy.  I knew this was going to be an interesting demo when someone in the back of the room yelled “Bam” as Chef Imbrunetti seasoned the potatoes with salt, to which Chef Imbrunetti replied, even Emeril doesn’t even use that anymore! The lively audience didn’t stop there.
This was a difficult post for me to write because I feel like a bit of a food snob.  Now I understand that not everyone shares the same passion for food and cooking as I do, but I think people should be respectful of the craft.  I happened to be sitting next to one of the most infuriating people in the audience.  She was aghast at the number of eggs in the dish, the amount of butter and cheese and she was quite vocal about it…  “How many calories is in that?” “How healthy is that for you?””I’m not eating that?” and then the icing on the cake… when the chef was layering the spinach into the dish she shouts “That a lot of spinach!”  Needless to say, she and her friends refused to try the dish.  This gave her more time to finish her game of hangman, the answer was GET CRUNK!

Some other choice audience quotes: “Is that frozen?”, “What’s leek?”,”Not a green onion?”, “Is their a secret to cracking and egg?” Chef: “In half.”
Overall the demo was good.  My only grievance was the camera work.  There were two television monitors on either side of the kitchen to give close up details of the action. There were two people controlling the cameras and they were awful.  Their timing was off and they were unable to capture the action on screen.  If the Chef was chopping something the camera was stuck on a potato or an empty dish. Good thing we had good seats! I did however learn some new tricks like:
  • drying to potatoes to help with the browning
  • add the butter cold to the egg mixture, so it slowly dispersers through out the dish and helps give the eggs a better texture
  • don’t add the potatoes raw because then you have no control over them
  • kosher salt helps to bring out the brightness in a dish not saltiness
  • when the oil becomes wavy, before it starts smoking, that is the right temperature to crisp the potatoes.
Thank you Chef Imbrunetti! If you are going to be in the Napa area and would like to schedule a demo please call (707) 967-2320 or visit www.ciachef.edu/california
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2009: Eggs & Yogurt

For those of you who are not familiar with my past, I would like to share a few tidbits.  1.) I had my first salad when I was 19 and it was only because I was working at Tossed. They gave you a free salad after your shift. As a poor college student, a free meal is a free meal. 2.) When I eat scrambled eggs (rarely), the ketchup to egg ratio is greatly out of balance.  It basically looks like a bloody massacre on a plate, with a sprinkle of very well done eggs. 3.) I don’t do fish or any sort of sea creatures.

Since meeting my husband in 1999, I have branched out culinary.  He literally taunted me till I tried something new.  The first month that we were together, I was at his apartment and he offered me some Bulgarian feta cheese (сирене).  At that time, my cheese consisted of 2 sorts, “white american” and “yellow american”.  Reluctantly, I tried it and immediately thought it was gross.  The texture was crumbly and the taste was salty.

In August 2001, Angel and I spent a month in Bulgaria.  This was my first trip to his homeland and every meal included feta, it was an ingredient in almost half of the dishes prepared or just placed on the table cut into cubes and sprinkled with a little bit of red pepper.

Having no choice but to eat what was prepared, I learned to love feta… especially on a Shopska (шопска салата).  The love was so strong, that we named our Jack Russell “Feta”.

Feta taking a shower!

Over the last 10 year, I have slowly begun to conquer my own culinary frontiers, which brings me to reflect on 2009. Here are some of the barriers that have been broken:

I ate plain yogurt for the first time.  Sally and I were in Greece and she was looking for some Total Yogurt and Honey pots, which are known as Fage in the US.  I bought some to try and thought they were ridiculously delicious.  After they ran out, I tried to recreate the experience with plain yogurt and jam, which then lead me to adding muesli/ granola and now, my favorite breakfast food.

Eggs are a huge taboo in my family.  My father detests eggs and anything that he consciously knows to contain eggs. This stems from his father, but the egg-phobia is pretty well ingrained into my father and my uncle.  As I mentioned earlier, I have eaten ketchup and eggs, but that was the extent of my egg experience.  This year at the Slow Food dinner, they served a salad with quail eggs.  I didn’t want to seem different because I wasn’t eating my eggs or give the impression that I didn’t like my salad, so I tried them.  The result: Eeh!  They didn’t taste egg-y, but they didn’t really taste like anything either.

Working at the Hilton, has also forced me to try new things, not because they hold a gun to my head, but if you want to be a good cook, you need to know how the food you’re preparing tastes.  Common sense really. Last week, I had to prepare deviled eggs with tuna as a hors d’oeuvre. I made the mixture as instructed, but when it came time to season it, I struggled with myself internally and then decided to not be a “wussy” and taste the yolk-tuna mixture.  Again: Eeh!  The taste was really nothing special, but it wasn’t gross.  I continued to taste till I felt satisfied with my creation.  I then offered some to one of the other chef’s in the kitchen, just to make sure I was on the right track.  She replied that she doesn’t eat fish.  I just chuckled to myself for a moment.

Next year, my husband wants me to try his favorite soup… tripe.  Here is an excerpt of our last conversation about the subject.

Angel: Have you ever been in a barn, where they keep animals.
Casey: Yeah?
Angel:  Well, tripe soup taste likes that smells!

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