Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Ingredient 8 – Duck Eggs

Asking me to name my favorite food is silly.  I can't pick.  And if you do wrangle a decision out of me, don't expect my answer to be the same two weeks later.  However, if you ask me what my favorite meal is, the answer is brunch.  Good Lord, do I love brunch.  Savory and sweet in one meal and champagne cocktails, yes please.  Brunch is not just a meal, it provides a small dose of Zen to my week.  It is a vacation from my weekday breakfasts, typically inhaled in my cubicle or en route to the metro.

Ok, now that you know how much I love brunch, it should come as no surprise that I made Eggs Benedict this week, a brunch staple if there ever was one.  My benedict was no ordinary benedict, it featured the luxe ingredient of duck eggs.  I was considering preparing an ostrich egg, but one ostrich egg is equal to 2 dozen (24) chicken eggs.  Be warned future house guests, there may be ostrich egg in your future.

Duck eggs can be substituted for chicken eggs in nearly any recipe.  However, there are a few things to keep in mind.  Duck eggs are larger and have higher fat content than chicken eggs.  The yoke to white ratio is higher, good if you love yokes.  Duck eggs also have thicker shells which increase their shelf life.  
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Duck Eggs Benedict
Serves 2 to 3
2 English muffins
4 slices Canadian bacon 
4 eggs for poaching
1/2 tbp white wine vinegar

 Hollandaise Sauce  - Recipe adapted from Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook
1/2 cup of butter (room temperature)
3 egg yokes
1 tbp lemon juice
1 tbp water
1/2 tsp white pepper
1/2 tsp salt

Begin by making the Hollandaise sauce.  Separate and beat three egg yokes.  Place water, lemon juice, and yokes in the top pot of a double boiler.  Fill the bottom of the boiler 1/3 full with water and place on low heat.  Note: I don't have a double boiler so I improvise by placing a Pyrex mixing bowl on top of a saucepan.  Mix ingredients in top half of boiler and place on top of lower half of boiler. 

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Slice butter into 4 even pieces.  Place one piece of butter in top half of boiler and gently mix ingredients until the butter has dissolved.  Once dissolved, add a second piece of butter, repeat process until all butter has been incorporated.  When all the butter has been incorporated, stir mixture for an additional 3 minutes.  During this time, the sauce will start to thicken.  Once the 3 minutes are up, remove the top half of the boiler from heat and stir in white pepper and salt.

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I was worried that the Hollandaise sauce would be tricky, but the instructions provided in the cookbook were spot on.  The recipe suggested adding 1 or 2 tablespoon of warm water if your sauce comes out too thick.  The cookbook didn't make any mention of the mini panic attack you might suffer when adding a entire stick of butter to the sauce.  During my mental freak out, I pondered the hours of exercise it would take to burn off a stick of butter.  I am not really sure how long it would take, but trust me, don't go down that path.  Hollandaise sauce is ridiculously delicious, period.    

Once the Hollandaise sauce is complete, start poaching your eggs.  Fill a large skillet with water and place on medium low heat.  While the water is heating, crack eggs into individual small dishes.  Once the water is just below a light simmer, add the white wine vinegar.  Keep the water at this temperature, do not let the water come to a simmer or boil. 

My cookbook instructed me to gently pour the egg into the pan by placing the lip of the egg container as close to the water as possible.  One food blog suggested stirring the water to create whirlpool and pouring the egg into the whirlpool.  I tried both of these techniques with less than picture perfect results.  I had the most success when I used a cookie cutter as a mold for pouring the egg.  Regardless of pouring technique, cook the eggs for 3 to 4 minutes.
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While your eggs are cooking, toast your English muffins and warm the Canadian bacon in a skillet, 2 to 3 minutes on each side (low heat).

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To assemble, place piece of Canadian bacon on an English muffin half, top with poached egg and desired amount of Hollandaise sauce.  I served steamed asparagus with my Eggs Benedict.

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As for taste, the duck eggs didn't disappoint.  They were very rich and flavorful.  Not surprisingly, the Hollandaise sauce was also very rich.  I thought the sauce was good, but could have been improved with a bit more salt and some additional spices.  Together, the eggs and Hollandaise were almost overwhelming.  Overall grade: B+. 

FYI, I have one duck egg left and am looking forward to cooking it this weekend.  I will let you know how it comes out.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Ingredient 7 - Cornish Game Hens

I selected Cornish Game Hen for this week’s ingredient because I find their petite size adorable, well adorable for poultry.  Also, Dave and I elected to celebrate Valentine’s Day over the weekend.  Thus, I thought I would make something a little special.
Cornish hens, also known as poussin, are not actually game birds.  They are small domestic chickens.  Regular chickens are raised for 42 days, Cornish hens are raised for 28 to 30 days.  By definition, Cornish Hens weigh less than 26 ounces.

I had no trouble finding a plethora of appealing recipes for roasting these adorable birds.  I looked at 20 to 30 recopies before deciding on Emeril Lagasse’s Apricot Glazed Cornish Game Hens with Italian sausage Rice Pilaf.  Emeril’s recipe calls for stuffing the hens with the pilaf.  However, stuffing a bird significantly increases the cooking time, and I didn’t want dinner to take over 2 hours to prepare.

2 Cornish game hens (1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds each)
1/2 tbp olive oil
2 tsp salt
2 tsp black pepper
2 tbp Dijon mustard – my addition
2 cups apricot jam
1/2 cup fresh orange juice

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1/4 lb loose Italian sausage
2 tbp olive oil
1/2 cup diced onion
1/4 cup diced carrot
1/4 cup diced celery
2 tsp chopped garlic
1 cup long-grain white rice
1/3 cup raisins
2 tbp toasted almond slivers
1 tbp chopped parsley leaves
1 1/2 tsp chopped thyme leaves
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 cups chicken stock

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Note:  To make this recipe less stressful, get all your ingredients together ahead of time.  Prepare the veggies, herbs, and spices before you start cooking.  The pilaf demands a fair amount of attention.       

Begin by lining a roasting pan with aluminum foil and brushing the foil with olive oil so the hens don’t stick when roasting.  Place oven rack in middle position and pre-heat the oven to 360 degrees.

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Next, prepare the hens and the sauce.  Remove hens from packaging, rinse exterior and cavity with cool water, and pat dry with paper towels.  Season both sides liberally with salt and pepper.  Once seasoned, truss with kitchen twine and place breast side down in the roasting pan.

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To make the sauce, combine apricot jam, mustard, and orange juice in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer, stirring frequently.  The goal is to reduce the sauce by half, this takes roughly 10 minutes.  Once reduced, spoon 1/3 to 1/2 of the sauce on the hens and place in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes.

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To prepare the pilaf, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a 2-quart saucepan (medium heat) and add the sausage.  Cook the sausage for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently.  Next, add the onion, carrot, and celery and cook until the onion is translucent, roughly 3 minutes.  Add the garlic and the rice, stirring continuously for 3 minutes.

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Add the chicken broth, raisins, almonds, parsley, thyme, cinnamon, salt, and pepper and bring to a low boil.  Once boiling, reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and cook for 30 minutes.  Stir the mixture every few minutes to keep it from burning to the bottom of the pot.

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Once you have covered the rice, check your hens.  If the 25 minutes have not elapsed, spoon more sauce on the hens and wait out the timer.  If the 25 minutes have elapsed, turn the hens, breast side up, spoon on more sauce, and return to oven for 20 minutes.

Once the 20 minutes have elapsed, remove the hens from the oven and check the temperature of the breast with a meat thermometer.  The thermometer should read 160 degrees.  Once fully cooked, let the hens rest approximately 10 minutes before serving.

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I served steamed green beans with my hens and rice.  However, steamed broccoli or a simple salad would also complement this meal nicely.

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The chicken and rice both came out really well.  The pilaf had had plenty of flavor and the chicken was not in the least dry.  The only downside to this recipe, messy hands from the delicious sauce.

FYI - I used my leftover hen meat to make chicken salad, it was mighty tasty.           

Overall grade: A-.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Restaurant Week – Blacksalt

Last Sunday afternoon Dave and I went to lunch at Blacksalt for Restaurant Week.  With three course $20 lunches and $35 dinners, I love me some Restaurant Week.  I always try and make reservations at the luxe establishments I am less likely to try on a whim.   FYI, I have been trying to get a Restaurant Week reservation at Rasika for the last three or four Restaurant Weeks.  That place is Fort Knox.     

Blacksalt is a seafood market and restaurant in the Palisades neighborhood of D.C.  The food was really terrific.  I made a point to be picky so I could provide a helpful review but all the dishes were on point.  I will be going back at some point in the future.

Lunch began with fresh fruit salad with mint.  Admittedly, I am not big on fruit salad.  I have some weird fruit phobias.  However, it the spirit of being open, I had some.  The fruit was very fresh, always a treat in February. 

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For the first course, I selected the Rhode Island Calamari with Chipotle Remoulade and Dave chose the House Cured Organic Salmon Gravlax.  Both were great.  Dave and I ended up switching appetizers after a few bites.  He loves calamari and I can’t get enough smoked salmon in my life.
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I selected the grilled Mahi Mahi with Roasted Root Vegetables and Kale for my entree   The fish was light and had a wonderful smoky flavor.  The root vegetables were perfection.  They were cooked with a touch of bacon but weren't too fatty.  I had a half glass of white wine with my entree   The waiter provided a recommended but the variety is escaping me at the moment.
Dave got Addie’s Mussels, Shallot, Garlic, Tomato, and Lemon.  I only tried one, but it was good, very fresh.

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Dessert didn’t disappoint.  I ordered the house made ice cream, pistachio and chocolate.  It was served with fresh berries and a crispy wafer.  Dave ordered the Chambord Chocolate Torte. It was served with a raspberry sauce and whipped cream. 

Both desserts were fantastic.  The wafer that came with my ice cream was much better than I would have guessed.  It was crispy and had a wonderful caramel flavor.  It was closer to a piece of brittle than a cookie.  The chocolate torte was the perfect dessert to cure a serious chocolate craving.

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If you like seafood and want to celebrate a special event or enjoy a nice meal out, check out Blacksalt.  The food gets an A and the service gets a B+.    

Friday, February 15, 2013

Valentine’s Day Giveaway Winner

 Happy Friday everyone!!!  Thank you to all who entered the drawing yesterday.

Contest 2-14-13 Winner

Congratulations Clarice, you are the winner.  Please send me an email about receiving your prize.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day (Giveaway)

Do you love or hate Valentine’s Day?  I have mixed feelings about the holiday.  While I enjoy showing some love to the people I care about; I have a low threshold for the holiday’s clichés.  I especially hate Kay Jewels advertisements.  They are cringe worthy. 

One thing I can’t get enough of though, holiday treats.  When I was a kid, my mom used to make heart shaped cookies with pink butter cream frosting.  Those babies were magical.   Now that I am an adult, my mom sends me chocolates.  Equally delicious and far less work for her.  

So in honor of Valentine’s Day, I am giving away the chocolate bar pictured below to one lucky reader.  To enter the drawing, leave a comment on this post telling me your name and your favorite Valentine’s Day treat.  Post your comment by Midnight EST. on 2/14/2013.  I will randomly draw a winner and post the winner’s name on Friday.          

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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Ingredient 6 – Broccoli Rabe

This week's ingredient goes by many names: broccoli rabe, rapini, broccoletti, and turnip broccoli.  Broccoli rabe is a green.  It bears little resemblance to the broccoli you find on veggie trays.  However, the association comes from the plant's flowers, which resemble single stocks of broccoli.  Broccoli rabe belongs to the genus brassica and is related to cabbage, kale, cauliflower and mustard.   This green is native to both the Mediterranean and China and is a common ingredient in both regions' cuisines.  When selecting broccoli rabe, look for leaves that are bright green.  Avoid leaves that are wilted, yellowing, or have bits of dark slime. 

Sautéed Broccoli Rabe Skillet
Serves 4
2 bunches broccoli rabe
1 15 oz can Cannellini beans
3 mild Italian chicken sausages
9 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup Asiago cheese
4 tbs olive oil
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
Dash of salt
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Begin by bringing 3 to 4 quarts of salted water to a boil and place a large mixing bowl, half-full of cold water, in the freezer.  While the water is coming to a boil, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a covered skillet (medium heat).  Once hot, add the sausages, cooking them on each side for 4 to 5 minutes.  FYI - I covered the skillet because I wanted to ensure the sausages were fully cooked.

While the sausages are cooking, prep the rabe.  The prep is gloriously simple; rinse the rabe and cut off the bottom inch of the stems.  By the time the rabe is prepped, the sausages will be done cooking.  Place them on a plate to cool.
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When the pot of water has reached a a nice rolling boil, add 1/2 the rabe, cover the pot, and let it cook for 90 seconds.  After 90 seconds, remove the rabe from the pot with kitchen tongs, place it in the bowl of cold water you removed from the freezer, and let it sit in for 1-2 minutes.  Repeat the whole sequence with the other 1/2 of the rabe.
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In case you were curious, quickly cooking the rabe in hot water and then placing it in cold water removes the rabe's bitterness.  This cooking technique is know as blanching.

Once all the rabe had been blanched, gently press out the excess water and chop the rabe into bite sized pieces (1 to 1 and 1/2 inches).

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Next, dice the 9 cloves of garlic, sliced the sausages, and drain and rinse the canned beans.
Again heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a covered skillet (medium heat).  Once hot, add the garlic, cooking it until it is light brown (roughly 2 minutes).  Next, add the sausage and rabe, letting it cook 2 to 3 minutes, turning it occasionally.  Finally, add the beans, and red pepper flakes.  Gently mix the ingredients and cover the pot.  Let the contents cook on medium low heat for 4 to 5 minutes.

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Remove from heat, sprinkle the cheese on top, and serve.

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I was pretty happy with how this dish came out.  There was plenty of rabe and I am always disappointed when greens disappear into a dish.  The main downside to the dish was the number of dishes it created.  As for taste, it was good the first night but even better the next day when I reheated the leftovers for lunch.  Overall grade: B.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Ingredient 5 - Take 2 - Dates

This last Friday night I remade the dates.  I used center cut bacon and a proper pan.  No fires were started.  Because there are only two date eating residents in our home, I made approximately eight dates for hors d'oeuvres hour (the 45 minutes it took me to make chicken wings and fries for dinner).

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8-10 pitted dates
4 strips center cut bacon
Blue cheese

I tried cutting the bacon in half lengthwise like all the recipes suggested, but the bacon fell apart.  I ended up cutting each strip of bacon in half or in thirds; bigger dates got longer pieces of bacon.  I stuffed most of the dates because I wanted to use up the blue cheese I purchased for the previous attempt. 

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I used toothpicks to help secure the bacon to the dates.  You don't have to use toothpicks but I thought it keep everything together better when turning.

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I baked the dates at 400 degrees for 10 minutes before turning them and baking them another 3 to 4 minutes.  I thought I might have to cook them cook them 8 to 10 minutes after turning.  However, I kept a close eye on these after last week's fiasco.

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I would recommend baking the dates for about 14 minutes, turning halfway through.  Watch them closely because bacon is a fickle friend.  It can turn from wonderfully crispy to burnt all too quickly.

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Let the dates cool for 5 to 10 minutes before consumption.

Not surprisingly, Dave and I thought these dates were much better than the first batch.  The bacon was crispy and the dates and cheese melted in the mouth.  Overall grade: B. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Ingredient 5 – Dates

I selected dates for this week so I could make bacon wrapped dates for the Superbowl.  Honestly, I really don't give two hoots about the Superbowl or professional football.  But, the Superbowl has become a food event in American culture and I never turn down an opportunity to make an appetizer.

Dates are the fruit of the date palm tree.  They have been cultivated for thousands of years, originally in and around Iraq.  The date fruit is oval shaped and ranges from bright red to bright yellow when ripe.  There are three main types of dates: soft (e.g. Medjool), semi-dry, and dry.  Dates have a cylindrical pit, but you can buy them pitted.  Dried should be stored in an airtight container in a cool dry place (up to 6 months) or the refrigerator (up to a year).

When searching Google for instructions on how to prepare the dates, I came across recipes with a range of cooking temperatures, 350 to 450 degrees.  I decided to go with 400 degrees.
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Bacon Wrapped Dates   
3/4 lb thin sliced bacon
1 8oz package pitted dates
Blue cheese or almonds for stuffing - optional

Begin by pre-heating the oven and lining a baking sheet with aluminum foil.  Before assembling, pre-slice some cheese so you don't risk food contamination with your bacon covered hands.  If you are stuffing the dates, you will need to open them up by sticking your finger in the end of the date.  They open easily. 
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I saw varying directions on how to prepare the bacon for wrapping.  But most of the recipes suggested cutting the bacon in half lengthwise.  I tried a few different wrapping styles in an attempt to see which worked best.  Some dates got more bacon wrapped around them then others.   
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After I prepared the dates, I put the baking sheet in the oven (oven rack set to middle position) and set a timer for 10 minutes.

When I came back 10 minutes later, everything started to fall apart quickly.  I checked the dates and decided they needed another minute or two before turning.  However, I never got the chance to turn them.  About 1 minute after I closed the oven door, the delicious bacon smell that was filling my kitchen turned to a burning smell.  I called Dave into the kitchen to consult.  A few seconds after he arrived, we discovered why the smell changed when I looked through the oven door to see a small grease fire.  Needless to say, I freaked out a bit and demanded that Dave fix the problem.  He extinguished the fire with baking powder, what a resourceful chemist.  Once the fire was out, we went about airing out the kitchen.

Not one to give up on a project, I decided to secure the dates with toothpicks and finish the dates stove top in a large sauté pan.  Dave removed the pan from the oven before extinguishing the fire.  It took about 5 to 10 minutes to finish the dates this way.  Even half cooked, the bacon dripped so much grease.  I had to drain the fat halfway through.  Once the bacon appeared done, I removed the dates from the pan and let them cool for 10 minutes on a paper towel lined plate.
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Dave and I ate a few of the dates and they were okay, but not great.  The bacon I purchased was too thick.  I thought it looked a bit thick when I was at the meat counter, but figured things would be ok.  Next time, I will listen to my gut feelings.

The most important lesson from the night, use the right tool for the job.  If I would have used a baking dish or a proper baking sheet, not a cookie sheet, I wouldn’t have started a grease fire in my oven.  Let my stupidity serve as a fire safety reminder to all.  Do you know where your fire extinguisher is?  Mine is under my sink.  Grease fires can be extinguished by smothering them with a pot lid, a fire extinguisher, or with baking soda.  Never pour water on a grease fire.

Overall grade: C-.  Do not let my mistakes dissuade you from making bacon wrapped dates.  I will be making them later this week and documenting the results.  I will not be bested by my own stupidity.