Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Carolina On My Mind.

The following post is from an article I wrote for a local magazine, in Spring 2015.
Hope you enjoy.

 Carolina on my mind.
On the Outer Banks.

While going through a family album, I found this yellowed envelope, addressed to me, from my father.  1971. 
So many memories tumble out.  And a few tears.

It’s amazing what a simple stimulus elicits. 
The fact that it leads me to food is my comforting homecoming and safe harbor.

I lived in London for 2 months during the summer of 1971.  I ate at the University cafeteria during that time.  There was always a tray of oval, dark brown blobs, the size of a large tennis ball.  They were served breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  This was the “Scotch Egg.”   The Scotch Egg was a rock-hard, over-boiled egg, encased in sausage, heavily battered, and deep-fried.  The egg itself had been cooked beyond recognition and edibility.   The sausage was likely from a goat.  It was a horrid concoction.  I detested the Scotch Egg.

I thought I’d put that Scotch Egg out of my head for good; but, no.  It raised its ugly head again when I received an email featuring the Scotch Egg.  Just reading those two words made my stomach lurch a bit, but I opened up the email in spite of that.

 The first thing I see is the chef plating his Scotch Eggs and these eggs are nothing like the eggs I had in London.  These eggs look wonderfully, incredibly, edible. These were soft-boiled eggs with an oozy yolk, marinated in a Teriyaki-like sauce, encased in sausage, lightly fried to a lovely golden brown in panko breadcrumbs, and served on a bed of Napa cabbage salad.

I must give the Scotch Egg another chance.

I’m glad I did.  It was fantastic.  Then I started thinking, which can be a scary thing, about the Scotch Egg.  What if I took the basic Scotch Egg idea and put a Northeastern North Carolina spin on it?  And that, my friends, is how I ended up with a spring breakfast column featuring my Carolina Blue Eggs – Carolina Blue for our Blue Sky and Blue for our Blue Crab, Callinectes sapidus, our “beautiful swimmer.”

 I’ll also be presenting two other eggceptional breakfast dishes for your gustatory pleasure – Eggs Hawthorne and Oeufs Mollet à la Florentine.  Take time, when you can, to prepare a special, leisurely breakfast.  It’s the nicest thing you can do for yourself and your family. 

 Rosie’s Carolina Blue Eggs
Serves 6-8.
8 oz.  crab meat
1 egg, beaten
1 heaping tsp minced celery
1 heaping tsp minced red onion
1 heaping tsp minced red bell pepper
1 heaping TB chopped parsley
1 TB mayonnaise
½ tsp Old Bay seasoning
1 tsp Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce

3 cups Napa cabbage, shredded
2 TB lemon juice
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

4 eggs

1 cup flour
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup panko breadcrumbs

Combine first nine ingredients. Refrigerate.

Mix cabbage with lemon juice.  Season to taste.  Refrigerate.

With a pushpin, prick a small hole in the large end of each egg to keep them from cracking while cooking.  Fill a medium sauce pan with water.  Bring to a boil.   Carefully transfer the eggs to the boiling water.  Cook for 5 minutes and 15 seconds.  Transfer eggs to a bowl of ice water and chill completely.

Carefully peel the eggs.  Using ¼ of the crab mixture, pat it out in a thin layer on your hand.  Place an egg in your crab-covered hand and gently wrap crab mixture around the egg.  Eggs can be prepared ahead of time to this point.  Wrap each egg in plastic wrap and refrigerate until you’re ready to fry.   At fry time, roll each egg in flour, dip in egg wash, then roll in the panko.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes. 

Pour 2 inches of peanut oil into a heavy-bottomed pot.  Heat over medium until temperature reaches 375°.  Working in two batches, fry the eggs until they are golden brown, 2-3 minutes.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain.

Divide cabbage among 4 plates.  Cut each egg lengthwise and place on cabbage.  Drizzle with Hollandaise sauce.

Hollandaise sauce is one of five mother sauces of French cuisine and it’s one of the most finicky.  You need to baby sit it.  The final viscosity of your sauce is determined by how much fat (butter) is emulsified in and the degree to which the yolks are cooked.  The more the egg is cooked, the thicker the Hollandaise, but you also risk the chance of ending up with scrambled eggs instead of sauce.  The more butter whisked in, the more you risk curdling and having your sauce separate.

My first recipe for Hollandaise is for the classic French sauce, made using a double boiler.  My second Hollandaise recipe is made in a blender and it’s much more user friendly than the classic recipe.

Classic Hollandaise Sauce
2 egg yolks
1 TB lemon juice
½ stick cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pats
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Vigorously whisk the yolks and lemon juice together in a round-bottomed bowl until mixture thickens and increases in volume.   Hollandaise can be a finicky sauce, so if you’re inexperienced in making it, I’d recommend using a double boiler.  Place your bowl over a pot of simmering water.   You want to gently heat the eggs, not scramble them.  Constantly whisk the yolks over indirect heat until light colored, thickened, and creamy.  With the first wisp of steam, start adding the butter, one pat at a time, whisking until the fat is incorporated.  Keep whisking until your sauce is like thickened cream.  When you get more comfortable doing this, you can hover the pan over your heat source and not bother using the double boiler. 

What can go wrong with hollandaise?  If the heat is too hot, you’ll end up with scrambled eggs and there’s no fixing this.  If you add too much butter or add the butter too fast, the emulsion will break down, causing the sauce to separate.  Not to worry.  You can fix this.  Simply whisk in an ice cube and the sauce becomes smooth once again.

Eggs Hawthorne is my version of Eggs Benedict.  I lightly butter and toast English muffin slices, add a slice of grilled ham,  a nest of sautéed spinach, and a lightly poached egg, and top it off with a luxurious Hollandaise sauce.  This time, I’m making Hollandaise in a blender, not on the stove top, and I’ll be using browned butter to give it extra nutty flavor.

Eggs Hawthorne
Serves 4.
2 English muffins, sliced in half
Unsalted butter
8-oz. package of fresh spinach or a bunch of spring asparagus spears
Freshly grated nutmeg
4 slices grilled ham
4 poached eggs
Blender Hollandaise sauce
Cayenne pepper
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Lightly butter and toast the muffin slices.
In a small saucepan, melt a tablespoon of butter, add spinach, and cook until wilted.  Season to taste with nutmeg, salt, and pepper.  Set aside.

Melt two tablespoons butter in a ribbed iron skillet and sauté, turning the ham slices so that you have criss-cross grill marks.  Set aside.

Blender Hollandaise sauce:
2 egg yolks
1 TB lemon juice
½ stick melted, unsalted butter
Cayenne pepper

Place half a stick of unsalted butter in a small sauce pan and heat over medium low until you start to get little brown specks in the butter.  Remove from heat.
Put the egg yolks and lemon juice in your blender and process for about 30 seconds.
Slowly pour in the browned butter while the blender is running, incorporating it into the yolks.  Leave the brown bits and the foamy milk solids in the pan.

To poach an egg, bring a small sauce pan of water to a boil.  Add in a tablespoon distilled white vinegar.  This helps the whites to coagulate and hold together.  I stir the water to make a vortex, crack the egg, and drop it in.  Cook for 2 minutes 15 seconds for a nice, loose yolk.  Cook a bit longer if you like a tighter yolk.  Remove egg and let drain.

To assemble, place a slice of ham on the toasted muffin, make a nest of spinach, and gently place the egg on the spinach.  Spoon the Hollandaise sauce over top.  Sprinkle with cayenne pepper if desired.

Blanched spring asparagus spears could be substituted for the green here.  Simply bend the end of each spear until it snaps naturally, add the asparagus to a pan of boiling water, and cook for about 2 minutes, until just tender.  Plunge the spears in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking and set the bright green color.

My last breakfast offering for you is Oeufs Mollet à la Florentine, or soft eggs with spinach.  Baby bella mushrooms are sautéed in butter and placed on top of a bed of spinach.  Sautéed mushrooms are spread over the spinach, and then eggs are soft-cooked, peeled, and placed on top.   Mornay sauce, another classic French sauce, is poured over, and the whole is sprinkled with grated Parmesan cheese.  After a quick trip under the broiler to lightly brown the cheese, breakfast is ready.

Oeufs Mollet à la Florentine
Serves 4.

8 eggs
In a large saucepan, bring water to a boil.  Again, pin-prick the large end.  Gently lower the eggs into the water, bring to a simmer, and cook about 6 minutes.  Pour water out and shake the pan to crack the shells.  Cool completely, then shell eggs under cold running water.

Spinach Mushroom Mixture
1 pound fresh spinach, stems discarded, and chopped
8 baby bella mushrooms, sliced
4 TB unsalted butter
½ tsp kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
2 TB grated Gruyère cheese

Melt 2 TB butter over medium high heat in saucepan.  Cook spinach until wilted, about 2 minutes.  Add salt, pepper, and nutmeg.  Arrange spinach in ovenproof dish large enough to accommodate 2 eggs.
Melt remaining butter over medium high heat in saucepan.  Sauté mushrooms until nicely browned.  Season to taste with salt.  Spread mushrooms over spinach.

Add two eggs per serving.

Top with Mornay Sauce.

Mornay Sauce
1 TB unsalted butter
1 TB flour
¼ cup skim milk
¾ cup heavy cream
½ tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp freshly ground pepper
2 TB grated Gruyère cheese
1 large egg yolk
2 TB freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Melt butter in saucepan. Add flour.  Stir constantly for about a minute.  Do not brown.  Add milk and cream, whisking constantly, and bring to a boil. Add salt, pepper, and Gruyère and whisk over low heat for one minute.  Remove from heat and whisk egg yolk into the sauce.

Coat eggs with sauce, sprinkle with Parmesan, and place under broiler for about 5 minutes or until nicely browned.  Serve immediately.

With power breakfasts like these, you’re ready to take on the world.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Rosie Makes Smashed Cucumber Salads.

I get lots of food magazines in addition to food website emails that are always clogging up my inbox with recipes.  Apparently, the latest food trend is smashed cucumbers.  Three of my current magazines have recipes for smashed cuke salads, plus there are smashed cuke recipes in my inbox.  Well, you know Rosie.  Being on the cutting edge of all-things-food, she must investigate.

Smashing cucumbers is not a new technique.  It's been standard in many parts of Asia for quite some time, but it's just coming around to the States.

As for the cucumber to use here, I prefer the English cucumbers.  Those are the long skinny ones wrapped in plastic in the produce department.  Generally, English cukes are sweeter and milder than regular cukes. They don't have a layer of wax on them and, also, they have fewer and smaller seeds and thinner skins, the seeds adding to the bitterness of common cukes.  And I have found they tend to last longer than the regular cucumbers.

Now, about that smashing.  The smashing technique is decidedly Chinese.  It cracks the skin, helps release the seeds, and splits the flesh.  All of this augments the cucumber's ability to absorb flavors, enhancing any dressing you might apply, unlike a sliced cucumber, with its smooth, impenetrable surfaces, which would shrug off the dressing.  With a smashed cucumber, you have all those crooks and nannies wide open, just waiting to accept whatever dressing you desire and form a relationship with it.  In addition, a cool cucumber is the perfect foil for hot weather and hot food.

Now, lets go smash cucumbers!

First, I sliced my cuke into 3-inch links.

Then, I took a rolling pin to 'em.

Smash away to break open the cucumbers, then pull them apart into irregular chunks.

Place cucumber chunks in a strainer, lightly season with salt and sugar (just a sprinkling of each), and let sit for about an hour.  
Drain cucumbers and discard liquid.

I have two cucumber preparations for you, both using vermicelli rice noodles.  That's the type of noodle I had on hand, but soba noodles would work well here, if only I could just find some.

Prepare noodles according to package directions.

Smashed Cucumbers #1
1 English cucumber, smashed, lightly salted and sugared, and drained
3/4 cup peanuts, toasted
1 serrano chili, minced
some shredded carrot

For the dressing:
juice of 1 lime
juice of 1-inch cube of ginger*
2 garlic cloves
1 TB brown sugar
1 TB rice vinegar
2 TB Tamari sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1/4 cup neutral olive oil (I use Bertolli extra light for a neutral oil.  It doesn't compete with the other flavors going on.)
Mix first seven ingredients until sugar dissolves.  Whisk in olive oil.  Season with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste.

Combine cucumber pieces, noodles, serrano chili, and peanuts.
Pour dressing over and toss to coat.

*Ginger Note:  Whenever I buy ginger, I cut it into 1-inch cubes and freeze it.  When I need ginger, I simply nuke a piece for about 25 seconds, put it in a garlic press, and I have ginger juice.  One cannot easily get ginger juice from a fresh piece of ginger.

Now, for the how-to's:
I usually fumble my way through whatever I'm making.
At this point, with the dressing made and the ingredients combined,
I decided it needed some color...
... Hence, the shredded carrots.

Add the noodles and toss with the dressing.

And there you have a cool, refreshing smashed cucumber salad.

Up next, another smashed cucumber salad, a variation on the last.  
Dressing is basically the same, but it has a few extra additions.

Smashed Cucumber Salad #2

juice of 1 lime
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 TB sugar
2 TB rice vinegar
2 TB tamari sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
2 garlic cloves, pressed
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper 
2 TB vegetable oil
Combine all ingredients. 
Pour over salad ingredients and toss to coat.

1 English cucumber, smashed, salted and sugared, drained
prepared noodles
2 TB toasted sesame seeds
1/4 cup sliced black olives
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 TB chopped mint
1 TB chopped parsley
1 TB chopped basil


Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Hawthornes Attend Cooking Class At The NC Aquarium.

 The Hawthornes attended another cooking class
at the NC Aquarium in Manteo this week.
Sadly, it was the last one of the season. 
Happily, it was presented by Chef Randolph Sprinkle
And you know Rosie loves her some Saltbox!

 Our first delight was a quick summer crab salad.
At The Saltbox,
Chef Randolph serves this in a delicate tomato "bowl-"
A tomato is sliced paper-thin, then the slices are curled and overlapped
to make a bowl. 
Mixed greens are tossed in a vinaigrette,
 nestled inside the tomato bowl,
and topped with the crab meat salad.

In fact, this appetizer
graced the cover of the spring issue of North Beach Sun Magazine.
 (Photo by NOT Rosie.)
Chefs Sprinkles at The Saltbox Café,
displaying cover of NB Sun Magazine
with crab salad in tomato bowl.

In this particular dish, the crab meat shines.
Too often I have found,
 delicate, fragile crab meat is overpowered
by whatever additives are used to bind.
Here, Chef Randolph uses a deft hand
to lightly dress the meat,
letting the crab be the main attraction.

For the dressing, 
Chef Randolph blended 1 cup mayo
 with 1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar
and 1/4 cup fresh basil.
A pound of crab meat was gently mixed
with the dressing and the whole was chilled for about 20 minutes,
just enough time for the flavors to marry and develop.

Chef Randolph and his capable assistant, Nohea,
preparing our offerings.
 'tis the season for soft shells!
And here we have a short-smoked soft shell crab sandwich.

Directions:  In a metal baking pan, add wood chips.
(I believe Chef Randolph used mesquite.)
In a perforated pan, place seasoned soft shell crabs.
Cover with heavy duty foil wrap.
Take wood chip baking pan
and place over stove.
Heat pan until lightly smoky.
Take perforated pan and place over smoking baking pan.
Turn off heat and let sit 3-4 minutes.
Dust crabs in seasoned flour.
In a medium pan, add vegetable oil
Sauté crabs each side 3 minutes (until cooked through).
Serve on hamburger bun with toppings and enjoy.


However, Rosie is a soft shell purist.
(Though she might just try the suggested smoked black pepper treatment.)

When I have soft shells,
I don't want anything between me and my soft shells.
I just want the crab - and pure crab flavor.

And I'm not a fan of the po' boy treatment either.
So no bread for me.
Just gimme crab.
Just crab.

That said, I still liked this,
although I'd prefer Chef Randolph's traditional treatment
of a fried soft shell.

Different strokes for different folks,
so don't hate me.

  Our theme this season at the aquarium
has focused on the lionfish.
(For information about this invasive species,
please see here.)

So our third offering was battered and deep-fried lionfish fillet.

 Lightly battered and fried,
served with a capered aioli,
this was delicious.
Thank you, NC Aquarium and Chef Randolph
for another winning presentation!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Marcela's Magic Cake.

 Pretty, isn't it?
And it tastes even better.
It was a rainy Sunday afternoon.  On such a day, I like nothing better than to cook something.  I have a very thick file of "to-do" recipes - clippings from the assorted magazines I subscribe to - Bon Appétit, Food and Wine, Cooks Illustrated (my favorite), Cooks Country, Milk Street, and even Food Network magazine (Don't judge me.  I got a deal for $1 an issue) plus I get food-related emails all the time and I print out selected recipes from those too.  My magazines all have post-it notes stuck in strategic places.  At any time, I have a ton of recipes I can wander through and pull something out that whets my appetite.  So that's exactly what I did.

I was in a sweet mood, so I pulled out two recipes in the dessert genre:  a chocolate popsicle recipe (to be blogged about soon) and this "Chocoflan" recipe from Marcela Valladolid.  Marcela is the Hispanic chickie on Food Network and I've always liked her, in spite of the fact that she drank the koolaid and ended up on The Kitchen program on Food Network which is nothing less than ghastly.  The Kitchen features former The Next Food Network "Star," the "Sandwich King" Jeff Mauro, former DJ, Sunny Anderson, former Billy Joel's wife, Katie Lee (What was Billy drinking?), and former has-been Geoffrey Zakarian, who's referred to as GZ like he's hip and cool, but he's anything but. 
Anyhoos, back to the chocoflan.  I am convinced that this cake is magic and you'll see why later.
The chocoflan is a two-layered bundt cake, with a dense, fudgy chocolate layer on the bottom and a lighter vanilla flan layer on top.  Plus, plus caramel is involved, so you know Rosie's on that like white on rice.

For this recipe, you will need a Bundt pan coated with softened butter and a larger pan with an inch or so of hot water in which to place the Bundt pan while cooking.  (This is called a bain Marie. It's simply a hot water bath used for custards and terrines to create gentle heat around delicate dishes resulting in uniform cooking.)  For the cake, you need 1/4 cup (or more) of caramel sauce, a chocolate cake layer, a flan layer, and pecans to sprinkle on top.  I would not be averse to more caramel sauce drizzled over top either.

The Caramel
 Most caramels require diligence while making.  One must stand over the melting sugar and patiently watch it until it turns the perfect amber color.  Not so this caramel.  This is a quick, mix-and-go caramel and no flavor is lost in the process.  Actually, I made this caramel over a month ago, used some of it in an orange pound cake, then poured the rest in a container and kept it refrigerated so I'd have caramel on hand, which is a wonderful thing to have on hand.
The chocoflan recipe called for only 1/4 cup of caramel, poured in the bottom of the Bundt pan, but I could see putting more caramel in with no harmful effects.

Rosie's Quick, No-Fuss Caramel Sauce 
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tsp vanilla
Melt butter and brown sugar over medium low heat.
Whisk in cream and vanilla until smooth.

Pour  1/4 cup of the caramel in bottom of the prepared Bundt pan.
I'd go with more caramel.  Couldn't hurt.

Heat oven to 350°.

Rosie Note:  In my experience, I have found that in baking cakes and/or cookies, it helps to have a mise-en-place, which means having all ingredients put in place, measured, and ready to roll.  That way, when you're in the middle of preparing something, you don't go, "OOOPS, I forgot the eye of newt!"

For the chocolate cake layer:

 My mise-en-place.  All ingredients are ready.

More mise-en-place.  Dry ingredients are sifted.

Chocolate Cake Layer
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 egg, room temperature
1 3/4 cups flour
3.4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 1/4 cups buttermilk

For the cake:  In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter, then gradually beat in sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in the egg.  Sift flour, baking powder and soda, and cocoa powder.  Beat in 1/3 of the flour mixture, then 1/2 the buttermilk.  Repeat with 1/2 the remaining flour mixture and rest of buttermilk, and ending with the last of the flour mixture.  Blend until combined well.

 Prepare the flan layer:

Flan Layer
1 12-oz can evaporated milk
1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
4 ounces cream cheese, softened 
3 eggs
1 TB vanilla extract

In a blender, combine all ingredients.  Blend for 30 seconds or so, until well incorporated.

  For the assembly: 

 Ladle the chocolate batter into the prepared Bundt pan and spread evenly over the top.

 Gently and slowly, pour the flan layer over top of the chocolate layer. 
Place the Bundt pan in a larger roasting pan.
Cover the Bundt pan with foil and pour an inch of water in the roasting pan.
Carefully slide the pan into a 350° oven and bake for about 1 hour, until the surface of the cake is firm to the touch or a toothpick comes out clean.
Remove from water bath and let cool for an hour.

Place a large serving platter over the Bundt pan and flip over.  Jiggle a bit and let the cake release itself onto the platter.

Sprinkle pecans over top.
And I'd pour some more caramel sauce over individual servings.


 Sprinkle pecans.

Now here's where Rosie is stymied - the magic of the layers.
Notice that the layers switched themselves.
Apparently, the flan layer, being denser, sank to the bottom, and the chocolate layer, which I would have thought was the denser, heavier layer, rose to the top of the Bundt pan.  And the layers were perfectly delineated.  No cross-contamination of layers.
Now, that's magic!

 A winner!

A little more caramel never hurts.