Eggs Benny, Two Ways

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Two weeks ago the Pie and I decided to head downtown for a late Saturday breakfast and we ended up at the Bagel Cafe, which is consistently voted as having the best breakfast in town almost every year.  We’d never been before, so it was an interesting experience — the place is pretty cozy so I wouldn’t recommend going in a big group — but the menu was massive and I had the best breakfast I have ever had.  It was eggs Benedict served with a sliver of smoked salmon and a dreamy, creamy Hollandaise, but instead of the standard English muffin, this poached beauty was perched atop a genuine Newfoundland cod fish cake.  It was truly one of the more divine things I have eaten in recent memory.

And I can’t stop thinking about it.  So I had to recreate it.  I mean, who did I think I was?  This, then, is what I did the following weekend.

So first, for the man I married who refuses to eat fish, I whipped up another batch of English muffins.  And then I learned that he has never had eggs Benedict before.  I was shocked.  I order them pretty much every time we go out for breakfast, but it never occurred to me to find out if he had ever done the same.  And then I made the fish cakes, which conveniently store well in the refrigerator.

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For the Hollandaise, you want to get your whisking arm limbered up.  Set a large pot of water to simmer on your stove and find a metal bowl that fits snugly over the opening but that does not touch the water (if you’re poaching eggs you probably have a large pot of water already on the simmer so this makes things easy).  While that’s heating up melt as well 10 tablespoons unsalted butter and set that somewhere convenient.

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Into the metal bowl goes 3 egg yolks and 1 tablespoon lemon juice.  Whisk that until it’s frothy.  

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Set the bowl over the pot and keep whisking.  Lift the bowl away from the heat every once in a while to make sure that it doesn’t get too hot and curdle.

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Keep whisking until you produce a thick creamy substance that forms strings when you lift the whisk away.  This is called a sabayon, and that’s basically the structure of your Hollandaise base right there.

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Away from the heat, and whisking all the while, trickle in your nice hot melted butter and mix until fully incorporated.

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Season with salt and pepper.

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And maybe a little Tabasco sauce.  Taste it and season again accordingly.

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Keep the Hollandaise warm (but not hot) while the rest of your chaotic morning is going on.  I did this by putting it a bowl of hot water.  This is enough sauce for 4-6 eggs, by the way.

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You should also be toasting your English muffins (if you’re using them) and frying up your fish cakes (which you should be eating because they’re awesome).  And if you’re using peameal bacon, fry that up as well.

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Now everything else is a matter of timing.  Everyone has their own methods for poaching eggs, and how long they take will depend on the size of the egg, how many you are cooking, water temperature, blah blah blah.  Gordon Ramsay had a neat tip, though: swirl the water into a vortex before sliding in your egg.  The circular direction of the water will ensure that all those little tendrils of egg will end up stuck to the egg itself, making the finished product nice and round.  I also tried the Julia Child method here, where you poke a small hole in the fat end of the egg with a pin.

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Then you get your water simmering and you dunk each egg for 10-15 seconds and then you haul them out.  This pre-cooks the whites a little bit so the egg stays in shape a bit better.

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THEN you add a bit of vinegar to the water.

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And crack your eggs into the barely simmering stuff, one by one. Let them do their thing for 3-4 minutes, depending on how hard you like ’em poached. When they were done I plopped them in a bowl of hot water to stay warm while I set everything up.  This also washes the vinegar off the eggs. Drain them on a clean towel before you put them on your muffins or they’ll get soggy.

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Smear a dab of Hollandaise on your toasted muffin, layer on a piece of peameal bacon, follow that with the egg and more Hollandaise and a sprinkle of parsley or chives and salt and pepper.

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Alternately, plop a dollop of sauce on your crispy fish cake, ladle on the egg, more sauce, and a flake of smoked salmon.

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Eat it while it’s hot!

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English Muffins: easier to make than you think

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I have a recipe for real, old-fashioned English muffins in my Peter Reinhart.  And some day, I totally plan to make them the way he says to (because he’s a genius).  Until then, I’m too darned lazy.  But I found this version by the Foodess (also a genius) that seems to be more up my alley in terms of ability and time.  It’s nice to finally have a decent English muffin in the morning, full of all those wee holes designed simply to hold melted butter and honey.  The Newfoundland version of the English muffin is just … WRONG.  It’s more like a hamburger bun or something.  It’s not right.

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Anyway.  Start with 1 1/2 cups milk, and plop that in a microwave-safe bowl or measuring cup, and microwave for 2 1/2 – 3 1/2 minutes, until the milk begins to simmer around the edges.

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While that’s on the go, cube up 1/4 cup cold butter.  The coldness of the butter will help to cool your milk down.

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Stir the butter into the milk and swirl it around until it’s all melted.  Leave the milk aside for a bit to cool down.

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Beat up 1 large egg and add to it 1/4 cup plain yogurt (I used Balkan style).

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When the milk mixture has cooled to just warm, you can mix the egg/yogurt in.

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In the bowl of a stand mixer, add 4 cups flour to 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons fine salt, and 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast.

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Put that sucker on low (use a shield around the top if you’ve got one), and slowly pour in your dairy mixture.  Keep going until it’s all in there, and then beat (again, on low) for another full minute.

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You can see that although the dough is still really sticky it’s starting to become stringy as well.  Gluten in action, folks.  SCIENCE.

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Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula, cover the top with plastic wrap, and put it in a warm place for an hour to rise.

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When it’s ready to go, lightly flour a clean work surface.  Find yourself a 3″ biscuit cutter or use the opening to a large drinking glass (mine was about 2 1/2″).

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Scrape the dough out of the bowl onto the floured surface and sprinkle the top of it with flour as well.  Use your floured hands to pat the dough down until it’s about 1/2″ thick.

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Using your cutter or glass, get busy cutting out little disks of dough.  Fold all your scraps together and repeat the process until you’ve used all your dough.  I ended up with 19 muffins in my batch.

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Use a floured spatula to transfer them onto a baking sheet lined with parchment and set those somewhere warm to rise for another 20 minutes.

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Now, preheat your oven to 400°F and plop a large cast iron skillet (or two) on your elements.  Heat those up to medium heat and dust them lightly with corn flour.  Do not use a non-stick pan for this; it will not work.  If you don’t have an iron skillet, use a steel, non-non-stick pan instead.

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Plop some of your dough disks into the dusted, heated pan and let them cook on one side for about 3-4 minutes, or until the bottoms start to brown.

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Flip them over and do it again to the other side.  Keep dusting the pan with more flour as needed, and keep in mind that the flour may start to smoke after a while.  As your pan heats up you will find it takes a shorter amount of time for your muffins to brown so keep an eye on them.

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You can see how they are starting to rise up with the cooking and look more like real English muffins.  The reason you cook the tops and the bottoms is so that when the muffins are baking in the oven they don’t get all round and puffy like a dinner roll.

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Transfer the browned muffins back to the parchment-lined baking sheets.

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When you’re all ready to go and they’re all browned, pop them in the oven for 7-10 minutes, until the muffins sound hollow when you tap on them.

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When you are ready to eat them, pierce the middle with a fork several times to break the muffin open.  If you cut them with a knife you won’t get the benefit of all the perfect little bubbles.

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Look at those perfect little bubbles.

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Then you can do whatever you’re going to do with them.  Toast them, use them as sandwich material (the Pie loves making his own version of the Egg McMuffin), eat them as a base for Eggs Benedict … whatever floats your boat.  They freeze well, too — just make sure to wrap them up really tightly.

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Poached Eggs

Today my dad taught me how to poach eggs.  Turns out it’s ridiculously easy.  I mean they’ll never be Julia Child quality or anything but they are tasty.

Set a pot of water to boiling and add a dash or two of vinegar.  This keeps the egg whites from going absolutely everywhere.  Dad says he probably put too much water in the pot but whatever.

Once the water is boiling just gently crack the eggs into it. 

There will be some weird feathery things but don’t fret.

Use a slotted spoon to scoop out an egg to check it for firmness.  Give it a poke to see if it’s as firm as you like.

When you’ve reached desired firmness, scoop ’em out and serve. 

We had ours with English muffins, sausage, and fresh tomatoes from our own garden.  Mmm …