Monthly Archives: March 2012

Eggs Benedict with Ham and Polenta Cakes

  

Brunch.  Ahhhhhhh, brunch!  It’s the little things in life that make my stomach smile and brunch makes that smile stretch just a little bit wider.  Like perfectly poached eggs on a sunny afternoon or a hot, strong cup of coffee…well, anytime of the day.  This is my idea of heaven. Heaven I tell you!

Springtime is filled with lots of celebratory occasions from Easter to Mother’s Day to Memorial Day and I like to take full advantage of these opportunities to break out the fine china and snazzy linens and start cracking open the eggs.

Since eggs benedict is the epitome of all breakfast dishes – and one of my favorites – I thought I’d share with you a slight spin on the classic. Traditionally, the poached egg tops Canadian bacon and an English muffin before getting drizzled with a creamy hollandaise sauce.  Here I have substituted shaved ham for the bacon and a crispy polenta cake for the muffin.  And, I will have to say — it is nothing short of sunny perfection. 

 Happy Spring y’all!

Eggs Benedict with Ham and Polenta Cakes

(serves 6)

  1. Polenta Cakes
  2. Poached Eggs
  3. Ham
  4. Hollandaise Sauce

Polenta Cakes

(*Make this ahead. It needs at least 2 hours to set, or you can make it the day before and let cool overnight).

  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup milk
  • salt
  • 2 tbs butter

In medium saucepan combine cornmeal, water and milk.  Whisk together continuously while bringing to a simmer.  Add a generous amount of salt, cover and let cook for about 15-20 minutes or until the cornmeal becomes thick, the liquid is all absorbed and the cornmeal is tender, whisking occasionally.  Once cooked stir in the butter, check for seasoning and add more salt if needed.  Pour into a buttered 8×8 pan and cover with plastic wrap (to avoid a crust from forming on top).   Cool completely and refridgerate for at least 2 hours, or up to 24.

Once the polenta has set, slice the polenta into six squares (or if you have circle cutters, whatever shape you desire).  Heat a little vegetable oil in a non-stick skillet and sear the polenta cakes for about 5 minutes on each side, OR until they become nice and brown on each side. Serve warm.

Poached Eggs

  • 6 eggs
  • 1 tbs vinegar

First begin by heating up a medium-sized pot full of water to a simmer.  You want the water to be hot and bubbles starting to form, but NOT boiling. 

Next crack your eggs into an individual bowl or cup, so you are not cracking the egg directly into the water.

Once your water is hot enough, add the vinegar and with a large wooden or slotted spoon swirl the water in a circle making a circular whirlpool like effect.  Slowly drop your egg into the water and cook for about 3 minutes.  Remove with slotted spoon.  Repeat with remaining eggs.

Hollandaise Sauce

  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • 1 tbs lemon juice  
  • salt and pepper
  • water

Place a metal bowl over top of a medium sauce pan filled with about an inch of water, creating a double boiler. Bring the water to just a simmer.  Put the egg yolks in the bowl and whisk continuously until the yolks begin to thicken and they double in size (be careful not to get the yolks too hot or else they will curdle).  Once the eggs have thickened, add the lemon juice and combine and then slowly drizzle the melted butter into the eggs while continuing to whisk.  Whisk until the butter is completely incorporated and you have a thick, sauce-like consistancy.  Add salt and pepper and remove from heat.  If the sauce thickens up before you are ready to serve add a little water to thin it out.

When you are ready to serve, place the egg on top of the ham and polenta cake on the bottom.  Top with hollandaise sauce and garnish with chopped parsley, if desired.

 

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Filed under All Posts, Breakfast; the most important meal of the day, France, Holidays - Easter, Recipes, Seasonal - Spring

How to Cook Like a Pro

There are very few things in life that are more disheartening than finding an amazing sounding recipe, making the time to seek out and buy the ingredients, spending your entire afternoon cooking it for your family, and then you end up feeding it to the dog.  Who is probably only eating it out of sympathy.  Huge disappointment (not to mention a waste of your time and money). Sometimes it’s not even that bad, but doesn’t nearly live up to the expectations you had for it. I can see why this would make people want to throw in the kitchen towel. 

The joy of cooking is to be able to produce food that moves you.  That makes you eager to cook it again and again so that each time you put it in your mouth you say Wow all over again. You want to be rewarded for your work and to be proud to share it with others.  This is how cooking should be.

I know that I often times take for granted a lot of little things while in the kitchen and what seems obvious to me may be easily overlooked by the home cook. For this, I wanted to compile a list of the most important tips that I believe separate the professionals from the home cooks. These are always a given for the pros and if you stick to these guidelines you will easily be getting professional results at home.

 1.Keepin’ it Real – Good food begins way before you start cooking.  Sourcing out the freshest ingredients will always yield better results.  I know many of you will curse me for saying it, but you won’t get the same flavor from garlic in a jar that you will get from freshly grated garlic.  It is really worth the extra step!

As a general rule, stay real and keep it fresh.

 

2. Salt is a man’s best friend – Many home cooks underestimate the power of salt. It is absolutely the important ingredient you will ever use in your kitchen. Salt is what brings out the flavor in your food and makes it come to life.  It is that one crucial ingredient that could possibly be keeping your food from going to new heights.  If you’ve prepared a dish from a recipe and it tastes good, but it’s just missing that “something,” often times you need to add a little more salt to take it from being good to being GREAT.

Also, it is important that you start salting your dish from the beginning and continue slowly salting throughout the cooking process. 

A brief example of this is to begin by salting your water when cooking pasta to help boost the flavor of the pasta.  Then continue by salting your sauce (a little at a time – be careful not to over salt, you can always add more, but can’t take away).  Once the pasta and sauce are cooked and combined you check it one last time for seasoning and add a little more salt, if needed. 

Start practicing with salt and you will begin to notice a world of difference.

3. Embrace fat- Don’t be afraid of fat. Using just the right amount — whether it be vegetable fat or animal fat — adds an unparalleled flavor and texture to your food that you won’t find with any other ingredient.  I know that many of us associate the word fat with negative connotations (it’s hard not to in our stick figure-crazed, yet overweight society), but it’s all about being balanced and remembering that our bodies actually need fat. Everything in moderation.  Just remember that being healthy means being balanced.

4. It’s all about the Technique – This is the one that really sets the experts apart from the rest.  It is what pros have spent tons of time in culinary school learning or hours in professional kitchens doing over and over again. It does take some practice, but if you’re willing to learn, you will be able to pick up on the important techniques that help produce stellar results. Start paying close attention to the directions when you read recipes and you’ll notice patterns.

For example, the first step in making Beef Bourguignon is to get the pot very hot with your oil or butter and then add the beef and brown on all sides.  The first step to making a roasted Pork Tenderloin is to get the pot very hot with your oil or butter and then add the pork and brown on all sides.  The first step to making a Rack of Lamb is to get the pot very hot with your oil or butter and then add the lamb and brown on all sides. You notice a pattern? Get a few solid techniques under your belt, and then it doesn’t matter what you are making you can follow the technique and you know your results will be delicious each time.

A great cookbook that I highly recommend is a book by Michael Ruhlman, called Ruhlman’s Twenty.  It has 100 recipes categorized by 20 different techniques and complete with step by step pictures.  It’s a great way to get the essentials down pat.

5. Layer the flavor – There are many, many powerful ingredients in the kitchen that allow you to build flavor and add dimension to your dish (think acidity, spices, garlic, onions, etc). I’ve spoken with many people who omit these types of ingredients from recipes because they dislike their strong flavors.  Let’s take onions for an example.  There is a distinct difference between making a dish that has onions in it and using onions as a flavor base for your dish.  If you dislike onions, you are probably not going to go for an onion soup, but if you use those onions as the foundation to your vegetable soup, it will help give that soup a deeper flavor and extra dimension.  And it won’t taste like onions –  I promise! 

So, lastly learn the difference between using an ingredient in your dish or using it as a flavor additive.  Don’t be afraid to use those powerful flavors!

 

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Filed under All Posts, Tips and Tools, Uncategorized

Balsamic Asparagus with Feta Cheese, Sundried Tomatoes, and Toasted Walnuts

I am seriously in love with asparagus.  In love.  So much, in fact, that I almost have a little Asparagus Envy.  

It is truly everything I strive to be in life — tall, thin, sleek, versatile, luxurious yet balanced, full of life and flavor, wholesome, tall, thin, sleek.  Did I say tall and thin?  But seriously, it is the WHOLE package — inside and out.

 

The possibilities with asparagus really are endless.  A while back I shared an Asian Style Asparagus recipe with shiitake mushrooms and sesame seeds for The Magazine of Yoga that was a terrific combination as well.   This is the type of vegetable that all you need to know is how to cook it and then you can run wild with your imagination.  It really couldn’t be any easier.

For this recipe, I didn’t measure out the ingredients exactly, so it is an approximation — feel free add as much or as little as you’d like of the ingredients.  

  • One bunch Asparagus
  • 3/4 cup of Feta Cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped, marinated Sundried Tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup toasted Walnuts
  • 2-3 tbs good quality Balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper

Trim the bottoms of your asparagus and then bring a medium pot of water to a boil.   While the water is coming to a boil prepare an ice bath for after the asparagus cooks.  (An ice bath is just a large bowl filled with cold water and ice – this will stop the asparagus from cooking as well as help it to keep the vibrant green color).

Once your water comes to a boil add the asparagus and cook just until the water comes back up to a boil (also known as blanching).  If you want your asparagus a little more on the tender side, leave it in for just a minute or two longer.  Once cooked, drain and place the asparagus immediately in the ice bath.

To finish, remove from water, drizzle with balsamic and other ingredients, season with salt and pepper as desired and serve.

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Filed under All Posts, Appetizers and the likes, Great for a barbeque, Healthy Options, Recipes, Seasonal - Spring, Side Dishes, Vegetables