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~ La-di-da Breakfast: Lox, Caviar & Frambled Eggs ~

IMG_8503If you are ever lucky enough to have lox and caviar in your refrigerator in the morning, there is no reason under the sun not to make this decadent three-minute breakfast -- it is an exercise in simplicity and tastes as pretty as this picture too.  The classic caviar service I served as an hors d'oeuvres on Thanksgiving Day left me with a package of lox, a container of caviar, and a few small bowls of meticulously chopped accompaniments -- all good stuff. What's a girl to do?  

Turn yesterday's classy appetizer into today's lazy-day la-di-da breakfast!

IMG_8223Besides caviar and buckwheat blini (or toast points), a caviar service includes:  Sour cream (or creme fraiche), chopped hard-cooked egg (whites and yolks served separately), minced red onion and minced chives. Small chunks of  pickled herring and thin slices of smoked salmon are often included too.  Any or all of these items, fresh or leftover, are easily incorporated into a decadent breakfast sandwich or omelette.

So, what the heck is a frambled egg?  A funny typo?

IMG_8450 IMG_8457 IMG_8460 IMG_8463 IMG_8465 IMG_8468"Frambled".  The first time I saw this funny word in print I thought it was a typo.  The definition revealed it is a new-fangled cooking term for something many of us "older" foodies, like myself, have been doing for years:  

Making scrambled eggs without whisking the egg first.  

IMG_8468Making a frambled egg is even easier than making a scrambled egg (you don't even need to get out a bowl or a whisk):  

Break one or two eggs into an 8" skillet over medium-high heat containing 1-1 1/2  teaspoons melted butter (as if you were going to fry an egg).  Using the spatula, break the yolk (on purpose), season with salt and pepper, then, fry until the yolks are just set, less than one minute -- do not overcook.  

IMG_8472The end result is a "marbled" effect: Perfectly cooked egg white with streaks of perfectly cooked yolk running through it.  If you want to add other ingredients (an herb, minced onion, bacon bits, etc.), add them with the salt and pepper. Depending upon how you play this game, if you add some grated cheese near the end, you can even make a frambled omelette!  

"Frambled" is supposed to mean "a cross between a fried egg and a scrambled egg".  For fifty years I've been calling these "lazy scrambled eggs", because it is easier than making scrambled eggs.  For forty years my kids have been calling them "ugly eggs" because they are!

Lightly toast & butter an English muffin -- trust me, butter makes this better: 

IMG_8476Add a couple of really nice slices of lox (smoked salmon):

IMG_8483Add a frambled egg.  Top w/sour cream, chives & caviar (I like mine w/o the roe):  

IMG_8490La-di-da Breakfast: Lox, Caviar and Frambled Eggs:  Recipe yields instructions for making one or two frambled eggs at a time and a darn good open-faced la-di-da breakfast sandwich too.

Special Equipment List:  8" nonstick skillet; nonstick spatula

6a0120a8551282970b017d3eee0d28970cCook's Note:  While I love a fancy la-di-da breakfast as much as the next person, I like another 3-minute breakfast even more -- a perfectly cooked 3-minute egg.  My recipe for ~ A Simply Satisfying Breakfast:  Soft-Cooked Eggs ~ can be found in Categories 3 or 20.

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

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


~It's Not Easy Being 60: The Green Bean Casserole~

IMG_8414Newsflash:  The iconic green bean casserole turns 60 years old this year.  Depending upon who you talk turkey to, the subject of "green bean casserole" will garner one of two responses:  a loving look of childlike glee or a loathsome adult eye roll.  In the event you are talking turkey to me, you'll get a unknowing shoulder shrug because the only thing I have in common with the green bean casserole is we were both born in 1955 -- I in a hospital in Palmerton, PA, and, the casserole in a Campbell's Test Kitchen in New Jersey.  I've never made it or tasted it!

A bit about the original green bean casserole:  The classic recipe consisted of five pantry-staple ingredients + "a dash of pepper": canned green beans, canned cream of mushroom soup, canned fried onions, milk and soy sauce (which surprises me because I would have guessed Worcestershire sauce).  It is a true representation of 1950's style American 'cooking from cans and boxes' -- open the cans and/or boxes, mix everything together in one casserole and bake it.

"Ho, Ho, Ho!" ~ The Jolly Green Giant

IMG_8407I'm not here to criticize.  Too many people love the tradition of this iconic casserole on their Thanksgiving table for me to do that, and, I am all about tradition -- while I like green beans in general, I've just always been a Brussels sprouts kinda gal on Thanksgiving.  That said, if I'm going to make and taste a green bean casserole for the first time, I'll pass on all the canned stuff and create a version that, who knows, might become a tradition on my own Turkey Day table.  

While the goal is to keep it simple, it goes without saying, I'm starting with fresh green beans -- blanched until crunch-tender.  After that, just enough bacon (pancetta would be nice too) to add a bit of smoky flavor, sauteed with earthy mushrooms and the mandatory onion.  The sauteed mushroom mixture combined with a creamy, nutmeg-kissed Gruyere cheese sauce, made with real cream, replaces the "cream of mushroom soup" -- a nice touch, don't you think? 

IMG_82802  pounds fresh, whole green beans, ends trimmed and discarded, remaining lengths cut in half (Note:  When in comes to green beans, I prefer them cut into user-friendly lengths, as I find shoving 4" long green beans into my mouth most unladylike.)

4  strips thick-sliced bacon, cut into small 1/4" strips, 1/3 pound of bacon

2  cups medium-diced white mushroom caps

1  cup small-diced white yellow or sweet onion

4  tablespoons salted butter

4  tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour

1/4  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1  cup whole milk

2  cups heavy or whipping cream

2  teaspoons sea salt

freshly-ground and coarsely-groun peppercorn blend, to taste (Note:  I use 60 grinds.)

2  cups finely-grated Gruyere cheese

1  cup panko breadcrumbs, for topping casserole

IMG_8283 IMG_8289~ Step 1.  In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan bring 2 quarts of water to a boil.  Add 2  teaspoons sea salt and the green beans.  When water returns to a boil,  adjust heat to a simmer and cook 4 minutes. Remove from heat, drain into a colander and run cold water through beans, tossing them in the colander, until cooled to room temp. Set aside to drain thoroughly.

IMG_8297 IMG_8302 IMG_8303 IMG_8307 IMG_8312~Step 2.  In the same chef's pan, place the bacon pieces over medium heat and cook for 3 minutes.  Add the mushrooms and onions to the pan and continue to saute, using a spatula to keep the mixture moving around in the pan, until the bacon, mushroom and onions are nicely golden around their edges, about 8-9 minutes.  

Remove from heat, transfer mixture to a bowl or a plate and set aside.

IMG_8333~ Step 3.  In the same chef's pan, melt the butter over medium heat.  

IMG_8326Add the flour and the nutmeg to the butter. Using a whisk or a large spoon, cook until all of the flour is thoroughly incorporated, smooth and foamy, about 1 minute.

IMG_8336 IMG_8340 IMG_8344 IMG_8346~Step 4.  Pour the milk into the pan, all at once, and, stir or whisk constantly until thickened, less than 1 minute.  Add the cream, all at once, followed by the salt and freshly-ground peppercorn blend.  Continue to stir or whisk constantly until the cream is ever-so-gently simmering and nicely thickened, about 2 minutes.  Turn the heat off but leave the chef's pan remain on the hot stovetop.  Add the grated cheese and stir until the mixture is thick and smooth.

IMG_8367 IMG_8370 IMG_8375~ Step 5.  Thoroughly stir in the mushroom mixture followed by the green beans.  Lightly spritz a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole with no-stick cooking spray.

IMG_8388 IMG_8379~ Step 6. Transfer green bean mixture to prepared casserole.  Sprinkle panko breadcrumbs over the top.

Bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven for 28-30 minutes. Casserole will be bubbling around the edges and panko will be golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool about 15-20 minutes, to set up a bit, prior to serving.

It's never easy being a generic green bean casserole.

IMG_8402But, if updated & made with high-quality ingredients...

IMG_8416... it can be a heart-warming reminder of kinder, gentler times!

IMG_8433It's Not Easy Being 60:  The Green Bean Casserole:  Recipe yields 12-16 side-servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; cheese grater; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/deep sides; colander; large spatula; whisk or large spoon; 13" x 9" x 2", 3-quart casserole

6a0120a8551282970b01bb07b1262a970dCook's Note:  In the event you are new to roasting a turkey for a traditional Thanksgiving feast, click into Category 15 or 18 of Kitchen Encounters to learn everything I know, plus all sorts of tips and advice, about ~ Roasting Poultry and Making Gravy Too:  My Own Techniques and Oration (the long and not so short of it) ~.  Gobble, gobble & Happy Thanksgiving!

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

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


~ Pass the Buckwheat Blini: We are Serving Caviar ~

IMG_8223"I'd rather have a hot dog than caviar."  That's how I feel about caviar, so, when I came across that quote by famed Colombian race car driver Juan Pablo Montoya, I had to share it.  Don't get me wrong, caviar is not on my 'foods I hate' list, I just like a long list of other things more, and, I love the humorous comparison.  From a perceived foodie standpoint, caviar vs. a hot dog is the difference between "classy" and "trashy", which makes me feel a bit naughty in a Groucho Marx sort of way.  That said, a lot of people adore caviar and all the ritualistic glitz and glamor associated with it, so, every now and then, on appropriate occasions, I serve it.  Why wouldn't I:

IMG_8230Serving caviar is (almost) as easy as serving hot dogs.

For a hot dog you need a roll to place it on and some condiments to top it with.  For caviar you need some form of bread to place it on and some condiments to accompany it.  That said, hot dogs, one of my favorite foods, usually get served as a meal at super-casual get-togethers and caviar usually gets served as an hors d'oeuvre at super-fancy ones.  While a great majority of people serve caviar for Christmas or New Years, in my house it's been a Thanksgiving tradition. It's festive and it sets the tone for the upcoming evening feast.  Everything can be prepped ahead of time, which frees me up for the "matters at hand" and everyone (sans me) loves it!  

Perfect for one of our busiest food holidays:  Thanksgiving!

IMG_8150A bit about caviar:  The word "caviar", lightly-salted roe (fish eggs), comes from the Turkish word "khavyar" and dates back centuries. There are many types of caviar, but "true caviar" comes from sturgeon, which has been a big part of the Middle Eastern and Eastern European diet for almost all of their history, and, caviar from the Caspian Sea and rivers of Russia has always been considered uber-premium.  Because I am not a lover of caviar, I'll let the aficionados and caviar connoisseurs supply the IMG_8188detailed characteristics concerning size, color, texture and taste.  That said, in order of high-end to low-end pricing, there four types of sturgeon caviar:  beluga, sevruga, oestra and ship.  Even the experts will tell you, when choosing caviar, let your palate, not the price, be your guide.  I am a prime example as I find some of the inexpensive caviar choices (the Japanese black tobiko roe and American Alaskan red salmon roe for example), more to my liking. Once upon a time in the Middle East and Europe, caviar was reserved for royalty and their guests.  Here in 19th century America, when our waters were full of sturgeon, salty caviar was sold cheap or served free in saloons to get customers to drink more beer!

IMG_8207A bit about caviar utensils and etiquette:  Just like fish and seafood, all caviar should be very fresh, so, purchase it from a reliable source within 1-3 days of serving it. Because heat and oxygen are caviars worst enemies, it should be kept refrigerated and unopened until just prior to serving it in a non-metallic bowl nestled in a larger bowl of cracked or crushed ice. Since metal affects the taste of caviar, caviar spoons are typically made of mother-of-pearl, bone, tortoise shell, glass, wood or plastic.

IMG_8202Unless it is being used as a garnish, caviar is served as an hors d'oeuvre.  It's meant to be eaten in 1/2 teaspoon portions, and, it's considered bad manners to heap more than that on each appetizer. 

As for what to drink with caviar, while I like fine French champagne as much as the next person, no self-respecting gal of Russian descent would ever serve her caviar with anything other than iced shots of the finest frozen Russian vodka available. "Nasdrovia!" "To health!"

My guidelines for creating a classic caviar service.

IMG_8240Don't get nervous, none of this is etched in stone.

IMG_8217It's all about the caviar baby, it's the star of the show, so, traditionally caviar is accompanied by items that will enhance its flavor, not interfere with it.  When it comes to the foil, meaning the bland, edible, bread vessel it will be placed atop, while toast points or water biscuits are perfectly acceptable, purists all agree that Russian buckwheat blini (small, 2"-2 1/2"-round yeast-risen pancakes) are considered classic.

My recipe ~ Please Pass the Caviar: Russian Buckwheat Blini ~ is in Categories 1, 12, 14 & 21

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d17a3fed970cEstimating how much caviar to buy: There are, give or take, 8-10, 1/2 teaspoon servings of caviar in 1 ounce.  That means, the 2-ounce jar of caviar pictured here should be enough to make 16-20 appetizers -- if everyone plays by the 1/2 teaspoonful rule.  I plan on 2 ounces of caviar serving 4 people.

Tip: Because caviar is best served opened fresh (within the hour) and chilled, I purchase a few smaller containers, rather than one large one, and refresh it as needed.  

IMG_8227What to serve with caviar:  Once you've decided on the foil (which in my case is always buckwheat blini), plan and prep the accompaniments. Sour cream (or creme fraiche if you are French), chopped hard-cooked egg (whites and yolks chopped and served separately), minced red onion and minced chives are mandatory.  I also include, for those not fond of caviar and to stretch the amount of caviar consumed, small chunks of pickled herring and thin slices of smoked salmon.  Other options, but not my favorites, are lemon wedges and capers -- acid and brine in conjunction with caviar is not my ideal cup of tea.

Pick up a linen cocktail napkin, a blini & build an appetizer:


Pass the Buckwheat Blini:  We are Serving Caviar:  Recipe yields instructions for buying and creating a classic/traditional caviar service.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; saucepan for hard-cooking eggs; caviar server; caviar spoon; set of small glass bowls and spoons; serving tray

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d1792626970cCook's Note:  On any Russian table, besides vodka, there will be always be sour cream ("smetana"), and, many times it will be mixed into a fresh salad -- Russians love salad ("salat").  If you chop the ingredients for my ~ Creamy Russian Cucumber & Radish Salad ~ small enough, place it in a small bowl, it's perfect to add to the caviar service. Get the recipe in Categories 4, 10, 12 or 14!

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

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


~ Please Pass the Caviar: Russian Buckwheat Blini ~

IMG_8188For centuries, these small yeast-risen buckwheat pancakes have been traditional fare on the opulent "zakuska table" ("appetizer table") at important Russian gatherings and festive celebrations.  "Zakuska" literally means "little bite".  Stacks of them are served alongside iced bowls of pickled herring, smoked sturgeon, salmon, many types of caviar, aspics and pates. There are plenty of condiments too: tangy sour cream, finely-chopped eggs, onions, briny pickles and sauteed mushroom mixtures.  No one can eat just one blin (singular), so, make plenty, and, don't forget to freeze the Russian vodka as an accompaniment -- it's mandatory.

IMG_8003"Nasdrovia":  "to health" and "thanks for the food"!

Times have changed, and, even though the splendor and opulence of Czarist Russia is past, the zakuska table is still alive and well in Russian life.  Even in the poorest of households, the Russians are known for their hospitality and generosity to guests, even if you drop in unexpectedly.  The moment you enter a Russian home, small plates of food will be placed on the table and vodka will be poured.  As a guest, you are expected to take a taste of everything, and, even if you don't drink, be sure to take a sip. "Nasdrovia", meaning "to health", is not as much a Russian toast as it is a thank-you to the host and hostess for the food, drink and hospitality.

IMG_9045blin is a small 2 1/4"-2 1/2"-round, 1/4"-thick, 100% yeast-leavened griddlecake (resemblant of a small American pancake) made from a thick, spoonable batter of buckwheat flour, warm milk, melted butter, egg yolks and egg whites. Russian buckwheat blini are the classic foil for the classic caviar service with minced onions, sauteed mushroom mixtures and sour cream. Russian cuisine, no one else's, gets full credit for blini. You other Eastern Europeans can argue this point amongst yourselves all you want.  I won't.   That said, while blini resemble small, American "silver dollar" pancakes, they are not made like American pancakes.

If you aren't making blini with yeast (they are NEVER EVER made with baking powder or baking soda) and you are not using buckwheat flour: You ain't makin' real-deal Russian blini baby!

IMG_8006A bit about buckwheat flour:  Native to Russia, buckwheat is thought of more as a cereal, but, it's actually an herb that provides a rich source of vitamins and minerals to a poor population.  Buckwheat porridge, made from roasted groats* cooked in broth or water similarly to rice or bulgur, is the definitive peasant dish.  The seeds are milled to make buckwheat flour and its assertive, pungent flavor makes it a favorite addition to Russian baked goods.  

*Buckwheat groats, "kasha", are the hulled, crushed buckwheat kernels. Available in coarse, medium and fine grinds, both the flour and the groats are available in American specialty and health food shops.

Buckwheat flour + yeast = real-deal Russian blini. 

IMG_80212  cups milk, scalded*

2  packets dry yeast granules, not rapid-rise

1 1/2  cups buckwheat flour

1  tablespoon sugar

1  tablespoon salted butter, melted

3  jumbo egg yolks, at room temperature

3  jumbo egg whites, at room temperature

1/2  cup unbleached, all-purpose flour 

1  teaspoon sea salt

IMG_8025* A bit about scalding milk:  In many "old" recipes (recipes passed down from generation to generation), especially recipes for yeast doughs, milk is "scalded" prior to using it. Scalded milk is milk that has been gently heated to 182 degrees -- the temperature at which bacteria are killed, enzymes are destroyed and proteins are denatured.  These are recipes that were written for food safety prior to pasteurization (which accomplishes the first two but not the third -- denaturing the proteins). In the case of yeast doughs, it is wise to carry on the tradition of scalding milk because denatured milk proteins promote a better rise. Fast forward to present times.  Milk can successfully be scalded in the the microwave by heating it slowly.

IMG_8039~ Step 1.  To "scald" milk the old-fashioned way, in a 1-quart saucepan, place the milk.  Over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally and checking the temperature often, heat to 182 degrees.  This will take about 10-12 minutes.  Tiny bubbles will have formed around the perimeter but the mixture will not be simmering or boiling.  Remove from heat allow to cool to 80-85 degrees -- this cool down will take about 20-30 minutes.  Pour the 80-85 degree milk into a large bowl.

IMG_8051 IMG_8054~ Step 2. Stir the yeast into the warm milk.  Using a large rubber spatula, gradually stir in the buckwheat flour and sugar until just blended.  Do not over mix -- small lumps in the batter are desirable.  I know, it's disagreeable looking.

IMG_8067 IMG_8069 IMG_8071Cover bowl with plastic wrap and rise for 30-45 minutes.  Mixture will be doubled with large bubbles on the surface.

IMG_8081 IMG_8079~ Step 3.  In each of two medium bowls, separate the eggs, placing the yolks in one and the whites in the other. Set the egg whites aside.

~ Step 4.  On stovetop or in microwave, melt the butter and set aside.  On low speed of hand-held electric mixer, beat the egg yolks, gradually drizzling in the melted IMG_8088butter as you work.  When butter is thoroughly incorporated, gradually add and beat in the all-purpose flour and the salt.  The mixture, while sticky and wet, should look light and dry and resemble tiny, irregular flakes and crumbs.

~ Step 5.  Using the rubber spatula, fold the yolk mixture into the buckwheat batter mixture.  On medium IMG_8093speed of mixer, beat until well IMG_8090blended, about 1 minute, once again, ignoring any small lumps.  Do not over mix

Recover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the batter rise a second time until almost doubled in bulk, about 45 more minutes.

IMG_8099~ Step 6.  Clean the mixer blades and dry them thoroughly.  When the buckwheat batter mixture is looking like it is just about doubled in bulk, on high speed of mixer, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form.  

IMG_8104Using the spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the buckwheat batter, using smooth but quick strokes.  Do not over mix.  Set aside about 5-10 minutes. 

IMG_8109~ Step 7.  Spray an electric skillet with no-stick and heat to 325 degrees.  Test heat by allowing a few drops of water to fall onto it.  If water bounces and sputters, heat is hot enough.  If water sits and boils, skillet is not hot enough.  Adjust heat accordingly.

IMG_8111~ Step 8.  To assure well-rounded blini, do not drop the batter onto the skillet from high.  Using a round-shaped tablespoon held close to the skillet's surface, roll a generous tablespoon of batter off the end of the tablespoon using your index finger to guide it.  The blini will be about 2 1/4"-2 1/2" in diameter. Cook one or two blini, as a test, before filling the entire skillet. Note: Don't overcrowd skillet -- I cook 12 at a time in my 16" electric skillet.

IMG_8125 IMG_8128~ Step 9. Once the blini are in the skillet, cook them for about 45-60 seconds, or until broken bubbles appear on their surface.  Using a thin spatula, gently check one or two to see how browned the first sides are.  If they are nicely golden, gently flip the blini and cook them an additional 20-30 seconds.  The second side will take about IMG_8134half as long as the first side to cook and will will not be evenly browned.  Using the spatula, transfer blini from griddle to cooling rack to coolcompletely.  Do not stack blini during cooling process as steam will make them soggy.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Note:  To freeze blini, place completely cooled blini in an airtight container, interleaving each layer with wax paper.  Tightly seal container and freeze.  To reheat, place frozen blini, in a single layer  IMG_8119on a large baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper. Loosely cover with aluminum foil. Place in a preheated 350 degree oven until thawed and heated through, about 8-10 minutes.  Do not use a microwave to thaw or reheat blini as it will toughen their light, airy, delicate texture.

Meet 5 1/2-6 dozen Russian buckwheat blini...

IMG_8135... up close and personal!

IMG_8178Please Pass the Caviar:  Russian Buckwheat Blini:  Recipe yields 5 1/2-6 dozen, 2 1/4"-2 1/2"-round appetizer-sized blini 

Special Equipment List:  1-quart saucepan; instant read thermometer; large rubber spatula; plastic wrap; hand-held electric mixer; nonstick electric skillet; round tablespoon; thin spatula; large cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b019104c636ac970cCook's Note:  Somewhere on the Russian table, besides vodka, there will be always be a bowl of sour cream ("smetana"), and, many times it will be mixed into a fresh salad too -- Russians love salad ("salat"), and, if thay have fresh vegetables, there will be a salad served with the meal.  You can find my recipe for ~ Creamy Russian Cucumber & Radish Salad ~ can be found in Categories 4, 10, 12 or 14!

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

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