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Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Simple Brunch Menu: Simmered Mushrooms with Poached Eggs

One of the things I look forward to on the weekend is enjoying brunch with my husband. Our morning starts predictably with the sound of the coffee-maker pulverizing aromatic dark roasted coffee beans, my husband unfurls the weekend newspaper to glance at the front-page headlines then, we set about making brunch together. Some weekends, we want something sweet and fruity like blueberry pancakes topped with Quebec maple syrup. Other times, we prefer something savoury like a traditional English breakfast.

Eggs seem to be a necessary staple of our weekend ritual. I love them because they are utterly versatile and are absolutely delicious in so many ways: hard-boiled, soft-boiled, scrambled, sunny side up, over easy, poached, coddled, baked, salted, pickled, souffled, and meringued. (Although, not sure pickled eggs is something I'd want for breakfast...)

Usually, I have my eggs overeasy with an oozing, dribbling egg yolk that I sop up with a warm crisp multi-grain toast soldier. It is the simplest and quickest way to cook an egg properly. However, truth be known, my favourite egg is one that is gently poached: a rich golden yolk gently cradled by the tender egg white. A thick slice of smoked salmon and a spoonful of hollandaise and I am over the moon. It's a perfect way to start the day. I don't have a poached egg as often as I would like but when I do, I usually resolve myself to having it again soon.

I was flipping through an old issue of Gourmet magazine when inspiration struck me. There in its glossy pages, I saw two quivering poached eggs resting upon a plate full of roasted mushrooms, and I thought, “Now that would make an excellent brunch item.”

I had a small amount of chicken broth leftover, and I thought about slowly simmering the mushrooms. This is what I came up with...

Poached Eggs over Simmered Mushrooms
1 tbsp vegetable oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb assorted mushrooms – cleaned, sliced into thick slices (shitake, button, cremini, oyster, morel)
1/2c chicken broth
¼ tsp chilli flakes
¼ tsp herbes de province

4 eggs
1 tbsp white vinegar

2 tbsp snipped chives
truffle oil

1. Heat vegetable oil in large pan. Add minced garlic and sauté until softened.
2. Add mushrooms and broth and simmer until the mushrooms reduce in size and the broth is thickened. This should take approximately 20-25 minutes.
3. Once mushrooms are almost ready, heat a separate shallow pan with water. Add 1 tbsp of vinegar to the water. (Before you add the eggs to the water, ensure you have a slotted spoon and your serving dish closeby.) When water begins to simmer, crack one eggs into a shallow dish. Carefully and slowly tip the egg into the barely simmering water. Repeat with the remaining eggs.
4. There should be enough water to fully cover the egg. Do not allow the pan to come to a boil. The water should continue to simmer and the whites of the eggs should start to take shape. The yolk will be extremely fragile and wobbly. It should probably take about 2 minutes.
5. Tumble mushrooms into a serving dish, and with the slotted spoon, carefully spoon the poached eggs out of the water and slide onto the mushrooms. Dust with chives and drizzle with truffle oil.
6. Serve immediately.

...Read more

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

What To Do With…. Egg Yolks

I know that I am not the only one who has been in this situation: You've found a great recipe but it only requires part of the egg. You need the yolks but not the whites, or you need the whites but not the yolks. So what becomes of the unwanted half? You could throw them away or you could find a simple recipe to make use of them....

In my survey of one (me), I have found that it is infinitely easier to find a delicious end for those egg whites. One could easily whip them up into a tall fluffy meringue or a 2 minute egg white omelet. But yolks? Hmm... Who has a yolk omelet?

This weekend, I made macaroons from a recipe that required three egg whites but that left me with three orphaned egg yolks. Of course, there are delicious uses for orphaned egg yolks such as a buttery hollandaise or a creamy custard base for a delicious salted caramel ice cream. But neither of those options appealed to me because they created more work rather than solved my immediate culinary dilemma.(Just because I love to cook and enjoy the time I spend in my kitchen doesn't mean I want to spend all weekend there. Hence, the temptation to throw orphaned yolks out.)

To be honest, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with them until I peered into my fridge and I found my answer in the crisper...

This recipe involves juicing the lemon/lime and takes about 10 minutes of whisking and that's it. You don't need to use it immediately, but it should probably be eaten within a week.

Lemon-Lime Curd

1 lemon juiced
1 lime juiced
3 egg yolks (you may need another yolk if you need to have a thicker curd)
6-8 tbsp sugar (separated) or more to taste (if you prefer a sweeter curd, add ½c to ¾c sugar)
4 tbsp butter, separated

1. Over a pot of boiling water, set a metal mixing bowl over top. Pour the juice into the bowl, add yolks and whisk continuously. Add sugar tablespoon by tablespoon, if you like it abit tart. Check for sweetness. Add as much or as little based on your preference.
2. Add butter 1 tbsp at a time. Whisk until well incorporated.
3. Lemon curd should be thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon.
4. Pour into a clean container and refrigerate.

Lemon curd may be smeared on scones, or toast. Alternatively, lemon curd may be used in desserts.

...Read more

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Thai Seafood Soup

I never liked Thai food until I went to Thailand. The Thai food I had eaten before my travels was a transgression against the cuisine: insipid oily noodles stirred with ketchup and finished with a dusting of crushed peanuts. Backpacking throughout Asia, however, changed the definition of Thai food for me. During my soujourn, I ate a lot of street food, the ground zero of authentic cuisine in Asia.

I remember my first night in Bangkok in the backpack mecca, Khao San. It’s a small steamy neighbourhood that attracts the budget traveler and the curious. The streets pulse into the night with hypnotic beats of trance music, and burst with locals and weary travellers who descend upon Khao San for a little excitement and if time permits, for a little down time. I was mesmerized by the sights, sounds, and smells of the neighbourhood including the street vendors who serve pad thai fresh from their carts.

Through my travels, I have found that the best authentic foods may be found amongst the locals. Food created on the streets, away from the tourist-friendly restaurants, that cater to local preferences and not adapted or muted for Western palates. Thailand is no exception. Imagine the street chef throwing lashings of oil that sizzle in the hot wok and crescendo into a fragrant smoky cloud. He tosses in a ladleful of wet rice noodles, then add a dash of nam pla (fish sauce), tamarind, and a spoonful each of chilli and sugar for good measure. He tosses it about until the flavours come together in harmony. Then the adept street chef reaches for an egg and with a quick flick of the wrist, the noodles have been pushed aside and the egg sizzles and sputters at the bottom of the wok. Chop, chop and he mixes bits of scrambled egg with the rice noodles. Now the dish is finished with a handful of bean sprouts and cilantro. The vendor scoops out the noodles into a small paper dish with a sprinkle of crushed peanuts and a little nub of lime on the side. That’s pad thai in Thailand. It is neither heavy nor red. Authentic pad thai is light, tangy, crunchy, and chewy.

Several years ago, I had an opportunity to go back to Thailand and this time visiting Chiang Mai was my number one priority. I had read about the abundance of artisans, the beautiful architecture of the inner city and the wide selection of cooking schools. Located in the northern part of the country, it is far from the conjested swollen streets of Bangkok. Chiang Mai is a temperate, lush and friendly city with a robust night market scene. On a nightly basis, families and friends gather in the city’s various markets for a little dinner, a little shopping and a lot of laughter. Most night markets have an area dedicated to food, like an open-air food court. Individually, they don’t have an extensive menu, and you often have to source your meal from several vendors. Some vendors only sell drinks, while others specialize in seafood, and others in dessert. This gives you an opportunity to walk around, see what’s fresh and try something new. With an open mind, eating in Chiang Mai or Thailand for that matter, is a very rewarding experience.

One of my favourite selections from the night market is Tom Yum soup. Just one taste reminds me of those long breezy nights in Chiang Mai. Tom Yum is not shy or delicate. It’s bold and complex: fiery heat from the chilis, tangy sweetness from the tamarind, and a broth that is deeply infused with the exotic fragrances of lime leaves and lemongrass. In my version of this Thai soup, I toned down the heat a smidge and added slippery vermicelli noodles to make this into a belly warming supper that is highly slurpable and suitable for all.

Thai Seafood Soup
Serves 4

To slice the chicken thinly, I use a frozen chicken breast. Let it partially defrost so that it is firm but easy to slice through with a sharp knife

1 l of chicken stock + 2 c of water
1 lemongrass stalk, cut into 3” segments, bruised
2 lime leaves
1 inch slice of ginger, bruised
2 tbsp nam pla (fish sauce)
8 mushrooms (straw mushrooms, white button, shitake, enoki)
handful of cilantro (cut away stems from the leaves, reserve stems)

1 chicken breast, partially frozen
16 large shrimp (peeled, shells reserved)
½ package of rice noodles, softened in warm water

to garnish:
8 cherry tomatoes, quartered
lime slice
fried shallots*

1. To make the soup, simmer chicken broth, water, lemongrass, lime leaves, ginger, fish sauce, shrimp shells, and cilantro stems for approximately 20 minutes. Strain away solids.
2. Bring stock to a boil again.
3. Meanwhile, heat noodles in a separate pot. Heat the noodles until they are soft and slippery.
4. Add chicken pieces. Stir around to ensure it doesn’t stick to the bottom and pieces stay separate. Once the chicken changes from pink to white, add shrimp. Allow it to come up to a simmer again, and the shrimp tails curl. Turn off heat.
5. Strain the noodles and add to a soup bowl.
6. Pour broth, chicken pieces and shrimp over the noodles.
7. Garnish with cherry tomatoes, lime and fried shallots*

*Fried shallots or onions can be found at any Asian grocery store. Absolutely optional but creates an interesting contrast in texture from the soup.

...Read more
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