Jul 11, 2010

Build A Better Benedict

Maggie: "Benedict"
Ike: "Arnold?"
Maggie: "I love Eggs Benedict. I hate every other kind...I hate big weddings with everybody staring......"

One of my most favorite movie quotes/scenes. Remember it? (bonus points for naming the movie AND the actors ;) ) It was during the course of this scene that I realized how picky I was about my eggs and that I really only ate them either scrambled (only at home) or over easy (only when dining out). It took some nerve, but I finally broke down and ordered "eggs benedict". Wow, boy was I missing out. "I LOVE EGGS BENEDICT". I have all of my favorite breakfast items married together; A fluffy biscuit, a caramelized piece of thick ham or canadian bacon, topped with a perfectly poached egg with it's firm white and runny yolk, all smothered in a lemony hollandaise sauce and topped off with melted cheese.

I just HAD to attempt this at home. There are only two problems...the construction and the execution. I know what you're thinking, "the construction DD?".  Now it may sound silly to you (too late, right? LOL) but I hate when I have to eat the traditionally built benedict and by using a fork and a knife trying to get a little bit of each thing in every bite. It just doesn't happen, ok, well, it does, but it ain't pretty. Eventually, and inevitably (despite my etiquette and fine dining skills) I end up with my egg flying off the ham, the ham slip sliding off the biscuit and not enough Hollandaise sauce to go around. This is where "building a better benedict" comes into play. Just look at that! Merely by re-arranging the traditional components and using chopped pieces of ham instead of sliced, placing the cheese UNDER the ham (ok, well, there's cheese IN the biscuit also), I find it just as esthetically appealing and I can actually even eat it with just a fork and yet, still, no slippy slide. A perfect bite...every time! ;)

But before I get ahead of myself, I want to cover the actual execution of this dish. Organization is key. The first attempts at making it were almost disastrous. I mean, I had poached eggs before, but man, making hollandaise sauce, poaching the eggs, cooking ham, baking biscuits....really? Eventually, and with a little planning, I found a better way. I've learned to do what I can ahead of time or things that I can do in tandem.  Since I had poached eggs under my belt, the next task was tackling the sauce. I have to give props to my foodie friend Shane over on Culinary Alchemy, for the inspiration and encouragement for me trying this on my own. (thanks buddy and thanks to Julia for inspiring him). Check out Shane's version on his blog for Hollandaise Sauce.

Here's my own version along with the steps and (hopefully) some tips to help things run smoothly:

Hollandaise Sauce 

4 large egg yolks (or 5 medium)
1 tablespoon fresh or bottled lemon juice
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
Pinch salt
Pinch white pepper
Pinch tarragon

I use a medium sized sauce pan filled at least half way up with water. Add in 1 Tbsp of white vinegar to the water and bring to a simmer on the stove. I use the pot of hot water to cook the sauce, then afterwards, to poach the eggs. While the water is heating up, I use a glass bowl that just fits over the pot to separate my egg yolks into for the sauce. I separate the egg yolks from the whites then I put the yolks in the bowl, the egg whites go into an ice cube tray. It's easier if you separate it over a small dish first, then pour it into the ice cube compartment.

That white stringy thing often found attached to the egg yolk is called a "chalaza" [kuh-LEY-zuh] which helps keep the yolk centered in the egg for protection. As an egg ages, it often disappears. It's harmless, and (obviously) can be eaten, however, in a smooth sauce or pudding, it's not so appealing. You can remove it by straining your yolks or strain the whole mixture after it is cooked, or do what I do which is remove it with a piece of the egg shell and call it a day.

As for the egg whites? Well, they'll be used another day...for baking pies or cakes. So I have a system where I'll keep this ice tray in the freezer, fill it up with egg whites (keeping it covered with plastic wrap) then when it gets full, I transfer them into a bag. This way, I can pull out however many egg whites I need at a time for baking. I also have a separate tray that I use for leftover coffee. Comes in handy when I'm craving iced mocha java ;)

On to making the sauce. Place the bowl over the saucepan of hot (not boiling) water. The water should not touch the bottom of the bowl. Pour in the lemon juice and vigorously whisk continuously  Be careful not to let the eggs get too hot or they will scramble. The hardest part is keeping the whisk moving so that you also don't have lumps. Notice how I have the bowl tilted? This is to keep all the egg at one side which helps while whisking.

Do this for about 5-7 minutes or so or until the mixture is thickened, lighter in color, and doubled in volume. Once it reaches this stage, remove the bowl from the pan and onto a counter. Continue whisking and slowly drizzle in the melted butter and continue to whisk until all of the butter is incorporated. Next, add in the salt, pepper and tarragon to taste. Cover with plastic wrap touching the sauce to prevent a skin forming and place in a warm spot until ready to use. If the sauce thickens too much upon sitting, just add a drizzle of warm water and re-whisk, it will loosen right up.

Ok, so now it's time to poach the eggs. I still have my pan of water that I used to cook the sauce simmering on the stove. I turn up the heat just a notch so that the water is just under a gentle boil. Now some will prefer even a lower temp (simmering) and that's fine, if you want your egg to cook slower or you want your yolk to cook more. I prefer firm whites and runny yolks, so I want the outside of the egg to cook a little faster than the inside. Crack the egg into a small dish first, then, holding the dish close to the surface of the water, let the egg gently slide in.

Also, remember the vinegar? Well I add that so when you drop the egg into the water, the egg actually "holds" together and doesn't spread out everywhere. You can use a slotted spoon to gently move the whites closer to the egg yolk too if need be. Now just let them "float", maybe 3 minutes?

There's really no set time because it's going to vary according to what temperature your water is and also, the size of the egg. The best advice I can give here is to practice. When I think it's just about ready, I use the slotted spoon and lift it up out of the water and gently touch it with my finger. It should have a little give where the yolk is, but will feel firmer on the white. This of course is easier done than said, meaning, do this this every time and you'll get the hang of it and know exactly what the "feel" is for your liking.

Once it "feels" ready, I lay it over a couple of paper towels. I actually fold the top of the paper towels over the egg and gently blot off any excess water. It's now ready for plating! Oh, and just FYI...the poached egg should be the last thing that you cook for this dish. They will cool down very quickly and as you can probably guess, there's no way of keeping them safe and warm. 

If I'm making everything the day of, I usually cook my meat between making the sauce and poaching the egg.  Also, while I'm cooking the meat, I will go ahead and get the plate assembled, laying the biscuit down first, then cheese and finally the chopped up meat. This way, it's ready for the eggs.
Lastly, spoon over the Hollandaise sauce and sprinkle with a touch more tarragon.

Here are a few more time saving tips:
1) Make the Hollandaise sauce ahead of time. Place it in a small container and place plastic wrap touching the whole surface to prevent a skin from forming. Put on a tight lid and store in the fridge for up to 2 days.
2) To Reheat: When you are heating your water for the poached eggs, remove the lid and wrap, place the container in the water as it is heating up. Stir a few times with a spoon until it's loosened back up and heated through. Then, just keep it in a warm place until ready to use.
3) I save some time too by using bottled lemon juice instead of "freshly squeezed". [ducking from Shane] Honestly, I can't tell the difference, that is provided of course you pay attention to the date on the bottle. (there IS an expiration date ya know)
4) Also, you can use any bread you have on hand...toast, english muffin, bagel, baguette slices, even leftover french toast. I used my favorite Garlic Cheddar Biscuits leftover from the last night's supper this go around with the cheese actually being IN the bread layer. This way, you can skip the step of having to add the cheese slices all together. Of course, I ended up adding more cheese anyway LOL
5) You can use any leftover breakfast meat too...ham, Canadian Bacon, sausage or even crumbled bacon. Just warm it up slightly in the microwave, the hot eggs will do the rest.

Now for my favorite part....EATING IT!!!!  Look ma, no MESS! I can actually get through the eating of the whole dish with all of the flavors in every single bite. No knife needed, and best of all...look....I have HAM left (I always run out with the traditional build) May sound silly to you, but hey, if I'm going to go through all this effort for the perfect breakfast I want the PERFECT eating experience too!
(ok, I'm off to my therapist session......)

Jul 10, 2010

Quick and Easy Garlic Cheddar Biscuits

If you've ever eaten at a Red Lobster or other seafood restaurant (at least here in the Midwest) you're probably familiar with their savory garlic cheddar biscuits. Brushed with an herb garlic butter, fluffy and light, with every bite melting in your mouth. The perfect accompaniment to any meal. While dining out, I have to fight for my share when they bring the basket to the table, as they are a FAV of my beloved hubby. I usually "let" him have the last one, only because I'm smarter and know that I'll be filling up on my main seafood course. (sneaky sneaky) Through trial and error I was able to finally come up with (what I think is) an exact replica. These have been a family favorite for years now. Best of all, this recipe makes plenty, so we don't have to fight over the last one. ;) 

Now, I take pride in the fact that I'm a baker and do both yeast and quick breads from scratch. However, there are exceptions to my own "rules", and this recipe is one of them. Although I don't usually rely on Bisquick, it does have a place in my pantry and is my "go to" box when I'm in a hurry and need to whip up a "really quick"-quick bread. Even still, I can't leave well enough alone and I HAVE to tweak even the simplest recipe on the box: the biscuits. 

Normally, I would just give you the recipe with a couple of pics for something so (seemingly) simple. However, I have daughters and nieces that are on their own now and learning how to cook and bake. It is great though, and I'm honored that I'm becoming the "go-to" person for the fam. Not long ago, I was depressed and blogged about none of my go-to people being around anymore. But ya know what? I kinda like this side of the fence kitchen. It keeps me on my toes and helps me to NOT take the simple things/methods for granted. Right? So I've decided to share the whole nine yards of the biscuit making process. 

Easy Garlic Cheddar Biscuits

3 C Bisquick baking mix (plus more for kneading)
1 C milk (may need a few tablespoons more)
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 C shredded cheddar cheese (I use Mexican Blend)
½ stick salted butter
½ tsp minced garlic
½ tsp dried parsley

First and foremost, position a rack in the middle of the oven. (one notch up is ok, but NOT on the top rack) Preheat oven to 425F. The oven should be very hot, this helps the biscuits to rise fast, get fluffy and stay more moist on the inside. Next, assemble the ingredients and spray a baking sheet with a non-stick cooking spray or lightly grease with shortening. 
In a small cup or bowl, cube the butter, add the minced garlic and parsley. Melt in microwave only for about 30 seconds, and stir. Heat more if needed, but only until butter is just barely melted. Set aside in a warm place. 

In a large bowl, add the baking mix then add the shredded cheese and stir with a large rubber spatula until all the cheese is coated. Sprinkle in the garlic powder and stir again. Make a "well" in the middle of the dry mix and pour in 1 C milk. Starting in the middle and taking dry mix from the sides as you go, quickly stir until all of the dry mix is just moistened and everything is incorporated. You don't want to stir too much or your dough will be too tough. 

 The dough ball will quickly come together. At this point, and while it's in the bowl, if it still feels too dry you can add in a couple more tablespoons of milk. In the picture below, it's still looks just just a tad bit too sticky. If this is the case, let it rest for a few minutes in the bowl while you prepare the working surface.  

Liberally sprinkle on some more of the Bisquick mix onto a wooden cutting board or a counter top. Leave some mix in a measuring cup in case you need more. "Dust" the cutter by swirling it around on the board. This will help keep the biscuits from sticking to the cutter. Alternately, use a drinking cup or glass to cut them.  Next, begin lightly kneading the dough with your hands (closed fingers). Unlike kneading bread with your palms of your hands and being all aggressive, you only need to gently fold in and knead some of the mix into the dough. Knead a few times (maybe 3 or 4 folds?) and add in only enough mix until it is easy to touch on the top without sticking to your finger. If you knead too much, your biscuits will be dry and tough.

If your dough sticks to the surface you can use a bench scraper to scrape it up and move it over, then sprinkle down more dry mix so that when you cut the biscuits don't stick. Pat out to about ¾- 1” thick. I "pat" out the dough as opposed to "rolling out with a rolling pin" because it helps prevent getting the dough too overworked and tough, or sticking to the board, or for the simple fact it's quicker and easier. 

Now begin cutting out the biscuits. As you can see in the pic below, there is a little dry mix where the cut out biscuit was, and yet, on the sides of the cut biscuit, it's just a tad bit sticky. This is a good thing. It means that the middle isn't too dry! Once you have them all cut out, gather up the scraps and gently press together (no need to knead again) Pat and cut out the last biscuit or two. You should have 10-12 biscuits (ok, I get 12 exactly every time  LOL)

Place the biscuits on the baking sheet, so that they are about 1/2-1" apart. Using a pastry brush, brush biscuits generously with the garlic butter and bake (you did preheat the oven , right?) for about 12-15 minutes, or until light golden brown. Do not open the oven to check on them for at least 12 minutes. The biscuits need extreme heat especially in the first ten minutes to rise fast and quick. (something called "bursting") Every time you open the oven door, the temperature of the oven can drop a good 10-15 degrees, which doesn't seem like a lot, but in bread making it can make a huge difference.

Once they are golden brown remove from oven and brush with remaining butter. Cover with a towel to keep moist. [drum roll] Waaah-la! Oh how I wish the shot of me opening the biscuit with the hot melted cheddar cheese stringing along would have turned out. But hey, I'm NOT Houdini....and I only have two hands (sigh) Next time I'm dragging out the tripod!

Oh, one more thing.....I know this recipe makes a LOT and you might not be cooking for a family of 5 like I've had to. But go ahead and make the whole batch, you can wrap the leftovers in plastic wrap then place in a zip lock bag and freeze. Just take out what you need for a meal, place them on a baking sheet and cover with a towel until they are thawed. (about an hour) Then pop into a hot (375F) oven for a couple of minutes just until heated. 

Now for my next trick.......
Oh, you'll have to stay tuned, because in addition to having these for supper....I'm making something special with them for breakfast in the morning! Wooohoooo!

Jul 8, 2010

Ghiradelli Turtle Brownie Bites with Nutella

Well I haven't been doing too much baking or cooking lately, but I did do a little a couple of weeks ago when I had an all girl pool party. I wanted to do a little something special for dessert, but yet, something that was simple, quick and "cute", after all, it WAS a total "chick" party (seriously, no boys were allowed hehehe) Nothing says "chick" better than chocolate...right?  I had something like this in mind and was totally prepared to do them from scratch...however, while grocery shopping for the party I came across a box of Ghiradelli Turtle Brownie Mix...SCORE....so now all I had to do was make them "cute".

As for the recipe, I ended up using the directions for cookies on the back of the box (minus the pecan halves)...with a few minor adjustments and additions. I decided to make them in mini muffin tins (again, for the mere cute factor), besides, there would be ample amounts of alcohol flowing so I thought I better keep the desserts to a minimum.  Turns out, that was a good plan, but that didn't stop anyone from devouring them. Ah yes, they were soooooo good. The perfect "chick" food. ;)

Ghiradelli Turtle Brownie Bits

1- 18.5 oz Ghiradelli Turtle Brownie Mix (you'll need the mix AND the caramel package)
6 Tbsp softened butter
2 large egg whites (or use 1 whole egg as the package suggests)
about 1/4 jar of Nutella (or more, if that's how you roll)

Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly spray a mini muffin tin with cooking spray (or line with paper cups)
In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter to soften and then add the egg whites one at a time and beating on high until well mixed.
Add in the package of brownie mix and mix on a slow speed, then medium speed until it is just incorporated. (the mixture will be stiff)
Use a cookie scoop or drop by tablespoonfuls into the muffin tins. (one measuring tablespoon is perfect) You may not have quite enough to fill every muffin tin, but close.
Next, place a deep thumb print into each brownie.
Next, cut off a small corner of the caramel package and squeeze in caramel into each brownie bite.
Bake for about 10 minutes. (not much longer, you want them "gooey")
Remove from oven and allow to cool completely in the tins. Gently remove the brownie bites.
Next, cover the caramel with a dollop of Nutella and spread just over the caramel area. (they look prettier that way LOL) The addition of the Nutella helps keep the caramel soft and gooey and prevents it from drying out.
Store in an airtight container, or they can be frozen if wrapped well in saran wrap.

That's it! easy peasy!

Lower in calories too, right? I mean, unless of course you eat 10 mini ones as opposed to 1 regular sized brownie LOL