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03/30/2015

~ Exquisite Crabmeat Stuffed Omelette a la Benedict w/shallots, truffle cheese, asparagus and bearnaise! ~

IMG_5369"A la Benedict" means "in the style of" eggs Benedict.  For runny-egg lovers, this is the la-tee-da, ooh-la-la, creme-de-la-creme of fancy-schmancy, artery-clogging AM indulgences:  two golden-toasted English muffin halves, each topped with a slice of smoky ham, a perfectly poached egg and a generous drizzle of buttery hollandaise sauce.  This all-American breakfast and brunch specialty has been gracing the tables of high-end restaurants for over a century.  There are three claims to the dish's origin (click on the Related Article link below ~ Mel's Over-the-Top but Very Easy Eggs Benedict ~ to read them all), with one being widely-accepted as the real-deal:

Abc_wabc_bedbugs_101105_wgIn 1942, a wealthy, elderly gentlemen, Lemuel Benedict, a retired Wall Street Stock Broker did an interview which appeared in the "Talk of the Town" column of The New Yorker Magazine.  In it, Benedict confesses to having drunkenly stumbled into NYC's Waldorf Astoria in need of a good fix for a bad hangover.  As the story IMG_4923goes, "back in 1894", he ordered buttered toast, poached eggs, bacon and a "hooker" of hollandaise (slang for a "shot glass).  Oscar Tschirky, the maitre d'Hotel of the Waldorf found the combination to be so delicious, he added it to his menu the same year, substituting ham for the bacon and an English muffin for the toast.  In his 1896 cookbook, the Cookbook of the Waldorf, chef Tschirky writes of a twist on this dish, which he named "Philadelphia eggs", in which poached chicken is served in place of ham -- yummy!

As eggs Benedict gained in popularity, chef's began taking creative license with inventive, palate-pleasing spin-offs, as well they should, because the dish is so user-friendly and adaptable.  My favorite is eggs Oscar: crabmeat with a layer of blanched asparagus.  If I sprinkle the same dish with Old Bay, the name changes to eggs Chesapeake.  Eggs Hemmingway means served with smoked salmon in place of ham, and, eggs Florentine means please add a layer of steamed spinach.  If I order Eggs Blackstone, I'll get bacon and fresh tomato.  Several sauces can be substituted for the hollandaise too:  bearnaise (hollandaise containing shallot and tarragon), mornay (a cheese sauce), and, blanchard (bechamel)!

Prefer an omelette to a poached egg?  Omelette a la Benedict! 

IMG_5298While I like eggs cooked all sorts of ways, poached eggs are my favorite, but, I sometimes find myself in the minority.  My husband is an omelette man.  Because I make one for him 2-3 times a week, I long ago started keeping a two small bags of diced onion and grated cheese in the refrigerator to minimize the AM prep.  Depending upon what I've got on hand (bacon, ham or sausage and/or bell peppers, mushrooms or spinach), he's pretty much happy with whatever meat and/or veggie combo I create. 

IMG_5318Past that, all he requires is a bottle of hot sauce and coffee. Today, however, thanks to my last few blog posts, I have enough of superb leftovers to make two omelettes:

1/3  pound truffle cheese, grated

1+ dozen blanched asparagus spears

1  cup pasteurized crabmeat

1/2  cup bearnaise sauce*

* Note:  Click on the Related Article Link below to get my recipe for ~ The Big Easy:  Making Blender Hollandaise Sauce ~.  The directions for making bearnaise are located there too!

"The Mel Way" to Prepare a French Omelette:

IMG_1174If you've ever eaten an omelette in Europe, more specifically, in France, you know it's different than our American omelette.  It is buttery, delicate and creamy.  On the outside, it is a pretty-yellow color, showing little or light signs of browning, and, on the inside, it is tender and slightly-creamy (perfectly undercooked but perfectly safe to eat).  Just click on the Related Article link below, ~ My E-Z Creamy-Dreamy Folded French Omelette ~ to get all of my photos and a more detailed explanation!

IMG_1026~ Step 1.  For each omelette, in a 1-cup measuring container, using a fork, whisk together:

1  jumbo egg (or 2 large eggs), at room temperature

1  tablespoon heavy or whipping cream

2  grinds freshly-ground sea salt

4  grinds freshly-ground peppercorn blend

IMG_1038 IMG_1036~ Step 2.  In an 8" omelette pan over low heat, melt:

2  teaspoons salted butter 

Increase heat to medium (no higher), wait about 10-15 seconds, briefly rewhisk the egg mixture and pour it into the pan.  Sprinkle in:

2-3 tablespoons diced shallot or onion, one is as good as the other

IMG_1045~ Step 3.  Working quickly,  using a thin spatula, begin pushing egg solids to center of pan, as they form, in combination w/lifting, tilting and swirling the pan, then returning it to the heat for about 4-5 second intervals.  Do this 5-6 times, for 25-30 seconds.  The object of this is to get the omelette to start to set up using just enough heat to keep the bottom from over-browning.  

When the surface is almost set, slightly-creamy and shiny, sprinkle:

IMG_5325 IMG_5326 IMG_53312-3  tablespoons truffle cheese over the surface, mounding some in a 2" strip across the center.

Over the top of the mounded strip of truffle cheese, arrange 1/2 cup pasteurized crabmeat, followed by 6 blanched asparagus spears, allowing their tips to hang out a bit over the sides.  Ready, set, go:

IMG_5336~ Step 4.  Turn heat off.  Using a wide spatula and your fingertips, lift and fold 1/3 of the unfilled side over the asparagus spears. To fold the omelette into thirds:  Pick the pan up with your dominant hand.  Tilt the pan downward at an angle over the center of a plate, allowing the unfolded side of the omelette to gently slide from the pan to plate, then, using the pan, give the omelette a quick "third of a roll", by inverting the pan at the end.  Allow omelette to rest about 1 minute.

Slice in half, place each half on a toasted English muffin half, drizzle w/half of the bearnaise, and, indulge in elegance w/your "better half"!!!

IMG_5375There are two sides to every story & this one deserves to be told:

IMG_5399Exquisite Crabmeat Stuffed Omelette a la Benedict w/shallots, truffle cheese, asparagus and bearnaise!:  Recipe yields ingredients list to make two omelettes.  Each omelette, sliced in half, yields 1-2 servings.

Special Equipment List: hand-held cheese grater; cutting board; chef's knife; 1-cup measuring container; fork; 8" omelette pan, preferably nonstick, thin spatula; wide spatula

6a0120a8551282970b0162fd6850c1970dCook's Note:  If you love crabmeat served at a lovely, festive breakfast or brunch, my recipe for ~ Creamy Crabmeat Quiche or Crabmeat Croissant ~, can be found in Categories 2, 9, 11, 14 or 17!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2015)

03/27/2015

~ Mel's Over-the-Top but Very Easy Eggs Benedict: A Rich Dish w/a Great Story -- HISstory vs HERstory! ~

IMG_4924Eggs Benedict.  For us runny-egg lovers, this is the la-tee-da, ooh-la-la, creme-de-la-creme of fancy-schmancy, American AM indulgences.  American?  Really?  I, an all-American girl, did not grow up eating this.  Heck, I never even heard of it until I found myself eating breakfast and brunch in some high-end restaurants in Philadelphia during the mid-1970's, and, I always assumed it was French -- until I started to do a bit of research.  It seems this rich, artery-clogging delight has a fascinating story (HISstory vs. HERstory).  This is a tale just begging to be told:

Culinary Fisticuffs?  The Battle Between the Benedicts!!!  

HISstory vs. HERstory:  

IMG_5285Thanks to a food article appearing in the New York Times Magazine in 1967, written by the late, great NYT Food Editor Craig Claiborne, American foodies were led to believe this dish was French in origin, invented by the mother of French Commodore E.C. Benedict. Mr. Claiborne reported this to us shortly after receiving a letter from Edward P. Montgomery, an American living in France, who claims to have gotten the recipe via his uncle who was a friend of the Commodore.  Edward, it seems, had just forgotten about it for forty-some odd years.  HISstory.

DelmonicosIn a rather immediate, scathing response to Mr. Claiborne's article, a woman named Mabel Butler sent her own letter to the New York Times Magazine, basically calling Mr. Montgomery a fraud and a liar, because she knew EXACTLY who invented the now famous dish.  Ms. Butler, a relative of Mrs. LeGrand Benedict went on to say:  It was invented in the kitchen of Manhattan's famous Delmonico's Restaurant when Mr. and Mrs. Benedict (two wealthy, influential patrons who dined weekly at Delmonico's) complained to the maitre d'Hotel that the chef never added anything new to the brunch menu.  Upon their next visit, the chef responded to them in a very LeGrand way:  two golden-toasted English muffin halves, each topped with a slice of smoky ham, a perfectly poached egg, a drizzle of buttery hollandaise and topped with a shaving of musky truffle.

Enter the Party-of-the-Third-Part & voila:  the REALastoria!!!

Abc_wabc_bedbugs_101105_wgIt seems that a wealthy, elderly gentleman, Lemual Benedict, a retired Wall Street Stock Broker, had done an earlier interview with the New Yorker Magazine, in 1942, which appeared in their "Talk of the Town" column.  In it, he confesses to having drunkenly stumbled into NYC's Waldorf Astoria in need of a good fix for a bad hangover.  As Benedict explains,  "back in 1894", he ordered buttered toast, poached eggs, bacon and a "hooker" of hollandaise (slang for a "shot glass").  Oscar Tschirky, the maitre d'Hotel of the Waldorf found the combination to be so delicious, he added it to his menu the same year, substituting ham for the bacon and an English muffin for the toast.  In his 1896 cookbook, the Cookbook of the Waldorf, chef Tschirky writes of a twist on the dish, which he named "Philadelphia Eggs", in which poached chicken is served in place of the ham.

As eggs Benedict gained in popularity, chef's began taking creative license with inventive, palate-pleasing spin-offs, as well they should, because the dish is so user-friendly and adaptable.  My favorite is eggs Oscar: crabmeat with a layer of blanched asparagus.  If I sprinkle the same dish with Old Bay, the name changes to eggs Chesapeake.  Eggs Hemmingway means served with smoked salmon in place of ham, and, eggs Florentine means please add a layer of steamed spinach.  If I order Eggs Blackstone, I'll get bacon and fresh tomato.  Several sauces can be substituted for the hollandaise too:  bearnaise (hollandaise containing shallot and tarragon), mornay (a cheese sauce), and, blanchard (bechamel)! 

An all-American eggs Benedict is easier to make than you think! 

IMG_4926I don't know anyone who can't successfully toast an English muffin or heat a small slab of ham, but, the latter two components of this dish require learned techniques that require hands-on practice to master.  For restaurant chef's who repetitively make both, the process is second nature. For home cooks, even some well-seasoned ones, poaching eggs and whisking hollandaise strikes fear in their hearts.  Sadly, this is why this classy specialty dish is all-too-often reserved for those "honey, let's go out for breakfast" occasions.  "A la Claiborne", who dedicated the better part of his life to encouraging home-cooking in America, I'm going to attempt to entice you into making eggs Benedict for your family.

IMG_4874Part One:

Making the hollandaise is the most finicky part of this recipe. Like the other French mother sauces, it is a liquid combined with a thickening agent and some flavoring (liquid + thickener + flavoring = sauce), but, unlike the others, it is made by vigorously whisking clarified butter (a fat) into warmed egg yolks in the top of a double boiler. Voila:  The perfect emulsification -- the perfect butter sauce.  Voila in reverse:  One wrong move or momentary lapse in judgement and you're screwed -- you've got scrambled eggs or a broken, greasy mess.  I'm not perfect.  I've done it.  I know.

IMG_4848I stopped being a martyr over hollandaise over a decade ago!

The past is the past -- let bygones be bygones.  Change comes slow to some -- I am one such person.  It took one of my chef friends to pull me out of the dark ages on this one. He laughingly explained that no busy restaurant can afford to waste time having someone standing around hand-whisking hollandaise all day -- it's what blenders, stick-blenders and food processors are for.  As a gal who's been making her mayo in a food processor for over two decades, this should have occurred to me own my own -- a no-brainer, an ah-ha moment.  The IMG_4880plain-as-day truth is: mayonnaise and hollandaise are nearly identical in structure -- they're cousins!

The day I started making hollandaise in a blender or a food processor I never looked back. With the motor running on either appliance, it vigorously whisks the eggs while you dribble in the melted butter.  This foolproof, never fail method for hollandaise has made my food world a kinder, gentler place.  Just click on the Related Article link below, ~ The Big Easy, Making Blender Hollandaise ~, to get the details.

IMG_7534Part Two:

Poaching the eggs.  My method is my method, and, it came about after a series of egg-poaching disasters I encountered back in the latter 1970's. My mother never poached eggs, so I was never witness to a strategy, plan of attack or technique. She did make lots of eggs, with soft-cooked ones being my favorite, so, when I had my first eggs Benedict for brunch at the Lehigh Valley Country Club with my soon-to-be mother- and father-in-law in 1974, 6a0120a8551282970b019b02141395970banyone could have guessed I was going to love them. After getting married and settled into our first apartment, I wanted to recreate that wonderful brunch, and, it failed horribly on two counts:  the poached eggs and the hollandaise. The English muffins and ham, however, were very good.  I admit, it was a high-risk undertaking with my culinary expertise at the time, but, I've always been fearless in the kitchen.  In my own defense, there was no food TV or internet back 6a0120a8551282970b019b0215ba4d970cthen.  Cookbooks didn't include step-by-step photos and their directions were vague at best.  One often had to rely on the "practice makes perfect" approach to achieve success, and, so it was for me and poached eggs.  That said, even an ugly-duckling of a poached egg still tastes good, so, you get to take pleasure in your mistakes.  Once again, click on the Related Article link below and read, ~ It's Monday Morning!  Wake Up and Poach an Egg! ~.  I've included the necessary step-by-step photos for you too!

If you can toast an English muffin & heat a piece of ham, you've got an over-the-top, real-deal, stress free eggs Benedict!

IMG_4923Mel's Over-the-Top but Very Easy Eggs Benedict:  A Rich Dish w/a Great Story -- HISstory vs HERstory!:  Recipe yields instructions to make as many eggs Benedict as you want to.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; paring knife; small saucepan or butter warmer; blender or mini-food processor; small spatula; 1-cup food storage container w/lid or plastic wrap; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; 1-cup measuring container or ramekin; spoon; slotted spoon; rubber spatula; paper towels

IMG_5048Cook's Note:  For another one of my favorite dishes, also a retro classic with a hollandaise heritage, click into Categories 3, 11, 19, 21 or 26 to get my recipe for ~ All that Jazz Chicken Oscar w/Blender Bernaise ~.  I should mention it is REALLY easy too!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2015)

03/24/2015

~ Tender Chicken Paillards with Mushroom Sauce, or: Southern Smothered Chicken with Mushroom Gravy~

IMG_5249Pick a name, they're both the same, and, whichever  you choose, a quick, delicious, chicken dish with a tangy, creamy sauce should be in every cook's recipe box.  What amuses me about a great recipe like this is:  I can creatively "sell it" to my family and friends in one of two ways -- fancy French restaurant-style or down home country-style.  Any recipe that can be served two ways is worth its weight in gold.  I can serve this on china with asparagus and a buttery croissant, or, on stoneware with peas and a buttermilk biscuit.  Potatoes?  Rice?  Noodles?

IMG_5285No cookbook library is complete without a stack of these.  My recipe is a spinoff of the late, great Craig Claiborne's Smothered Chicken recipe.  Craig, a Mississippi boy, became the food editor of The NY Times in 1957, and, for decades, did everything in his power to help and encourage home cooking in America.  About smothered chicken, in 1983 he wrote, "this dish belongs in the comfort category.  It's a dish that gives solace to the spirit when you dine on it."  He suggested giving it an earthy, European twist by adding mushrooms and onions, as well as tomatoes, to the gravy.  

In true Southern smothered chicken style, his dish was cooked on the stovetop in a cast iron skillet and made with a spatchcocked chicken (a chicken with its backbone removed so you can lat it out flat in the skillet and cook the whole thing), and, he served his on white rice with green beans.  Instead of spatchcocking, I decided to take an easier approach to flattened chicken!

IMG_5094A bit about paillard (PI-yahrd):  This French word means "to pound", and, references a lightly-pounded portion-sized slice or medallion of meat, poultry or seafood that gets quickly sauteed.  A paillard is not smashed to smithereens.  Pounding should make it wider and thinner, with the point being to pound it in a manner that makes it even in thickness --  to break down the fibers, to tenderize it, and, to make it cook evenly.  It's usually done with a flat-sided meat mallet, not a sharp, pyramid-toothed gadget guaranteed to pulverize the subject-at-hand.  To those who smack away using the back of a heavy skillet, while your bravado is amusing, you can't concentrate the necessary force directly on the places that need it to do a truly expert job.

6a0120a8551282970b017c359a7380970bBecause of the 'state-of-affairs' of boneless, skinless, chicken breasts nowadays ("they just don't make 'em like they used to" -- I find them to be tough, tasteless and odd-textured), I use them for almost nothing anymore.  I choose to use chicken tenders almost exclusively. They are a bit more expensive, but, you do get what you pay for.  That is 6a0120a8551282970b017d3fcacd1f970cwhy manufacturer's remove them from the breasts and sell them separately -- they're the tender and tasty part of the breast.  It's similar to buying a beef round roast vs. a beef tenderloin.  If tenderness is what you desire, the decision is easy. For more details, go to Category 16 and read:  ~ Love Me Tenders:  Is there a difference between a boneless chicken finger and a chicken tender?  Yes! ~.  Let's cook:

IMG_4971For the chicken:

8  boneless, skinless chicken breast tenders, placed between two pieces of plastic wrap, lightly-pounded with the flat side of a meat mallet then trimmed of any visible fat and/or tendon (I use kitchen shears to trim them.)

Lightly season tops of tenders with:

Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for IMG_4975Sauce and Gravy

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

Set aside for 5 - 10 minutes.  In an electric skillet* over low heat, melt:

IMG_49821/2  stick salted butter into 1/4 cup EVOO

IMG_4955Note:  I use my 16" x 12" x 3" electric skillet to make this dish. It's got the surface area to cook eight paillards at once and regulates the heat so they saute properly. Once the mushroom sauce is prepared and paillards are returned to the pan, it will keep the dish warm until serving time too.  Feel free to use a large (12") nonstick skillet.

IMG_4994 IMG_4988Add paillards to skillet, seasoned sides down.  Sprinkle flour, salt and pepper over second sides.  Adjust heat to gently saute, 230-250 degrees, until barely-browned and just cooked through, turning only once, 2 1/2-3 minutes per side.

Turn heat off.  Transfer paillards to a plate (allowing all of the flavorful juices to remain in skillet), cover with aluminum foil, to keep warm, and set aside while preparing the mushroom sauce.

IMG_5124For my creamy, dreamy, tangy, smothery, mushroom sauce:

IMG_5132~ Step 1.  Heat the drippings in the skillet to 275 degrees, add:

1/2  cup white wine

IMG_5135There will be a lot of steam. Using a spatula, deglaze pan by loosening all of the browned bits from the bottom of pan. ~ Step 2.  Immediately, add:

IMG_51418-12  ounces thinly-sliced white button or cremini mushroom caps, 8-12 ounces after removing the stems from the mushrooms, about 4-6 cups

along with

1-1 1/2 cups diced shallots or yellow onion, one is not better than the other, your choice

IMG_5162 IMG_5155Saute until shallots are translucent, mushrooms have lost their moisture and almost no liquid remains in skillet, 3-4 minutes.  

~ Step 3.  Without hesitation, add,

IMG_5175 IMG_5182 IMG_5187 IMG_5192

 

 

 

and thoroughly stir in, 1  cup chicken stock, followed by 2 cups heavy or whipping cream, 1/4 cup large-sized capers, and, 1/4 cup Dijon mustard.  Return to a gentle, steady simmer.  Note: Don't add salt or pepper.  The drippings are seasoned -- Dijon and capers will add a salty tang!

6a0120a8551282970b01bb07cad79b970d IMG_5208Increase heat a bit, to simmer rapidly, stirring almost constantly, until mixture has thickened enough so that when the spoon is pulled from the pan, you can draw a line through the sauce with your finger. Depending upon how rapidly the mixture is simmering, this can and will take 6-9 minutes.  Be patient. Don't rush.  Go ahead, take a taste!

IMG_5228Now you have a choice to make. Either add the chicken tenders to this decadent sauce and smother them in it, or, plate them and drizzle them with this addictive, almost drinkable, tangy mushroom sauce. Today, I'm serving them over nutty-flavored basmati rice (You might think I added saffron for the pretty yellow color, but I did not.  I prefer the earthy taste of turmeric with mushrooms.), with blanched, fresh asparagus, and, I'm drizzling the sauce over each portion!

When one is day-dreaming of a heavenly, easy-to-make meal...

IMG_5250... it should be easy to imagine the taste of this one!

IMG_5268Tender Chicken Paillards with Mushroom Sauce, or:  Southern Smothered Chicken with Mushroom Gravy :  Recipe yields 4 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; plastic wrap; flat-sided meat mallet; kitchen shears; 16" x 12" x 3" electric skillet or 12" skillet; long-handled fork; aluminum foil; spatula

IMG_3587Cook's Note:  If you are like me and truly love a creamy sauce or a great gravy on all sorts of poultry or pork, this is a photo of a recipe you are going to adore.  Click into Categories 3 or 19 to get my recipe for this well-known Southern favorite: ~ Smothered with Love: Pork Chops w/Onion Gravy ~!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014)