Side Dishes

The Perfect Poached Egg – plus a little time

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Poached eggs take only a few minutes right?  Why use a 46 minute process?  Repeatability and perfection, that’s why.  You break even the freshest egg into a simmering pot of water and are immediately presented with far reaching wisps of whites clouding up the water.   Give it some time and you have a perfect poached egg every time.

I’ve tried the traditional method for years.  I’ve added vinegar.  I’ve tried the whirlpool.  You can strain your egg to get rid of loose whites before cooking.  Sure it helps, but you still can’t get a well formed egg every time.  Then there’s the timing. Am I over cooking it?  Am I under cooking it enough?  If only I could get a perfect poached egg every time without fuss and worry.

Of course, you can.  The holy grail of the search for the perfect poached egg method is Sous Vide . . . and a little bit of patience . . . okay, maybe a lot of patience.

But can it be that easy?  Of course not.  I’ve seen lots of attempts to poach an egg sous vide.  Frankly, you end up with a lot of the same problems as the traditional method.  I have seen plenty of pictures of poached eggs with perfect yolks and runny, unshaped whites or perfect whites with stiff yolks.  The answer to the perfect poached egg seems elusive even with sous vide.  Enter J. Kenji López-Alt and The Food Lab’s Guide to Slow-Cooked, Sous Vide-Style Egg .  Here is everything you want to know about cooking eggs.  Using the data garnered from Food Labs you can cook perfect yolks and whites every time.  

The poached egg in the photos was cooked sous vide in the shell at 147F for 45 minutes.  This sets up the yoke perfectly, but the white are still a little runny. That is solved by poaching it in water for just 1 min (traditional poaching method: crack the shell and gently drop the egg into simmering water). After the sous vide bath, the whites are firm enough that they hold their shape in the poaching water unlike poaching a raw egg.  The result: a perfectly poached egg.

On service day, you can save yourself some time by cooking the eggs sous vide in advance, chilling them in an ice bath, and refrigeratoring them until needed.  When ready to serve, warm them sous vide at 147F for 15 minutes and then proceed with the poaching.

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Hasselback Potatoes

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It’s all in the cutting: a baked potato with some visual flair and did I mention simple to do? This dramatic presentation of the simple potato was introduced by the Hasselbacken Hotel in Stockholm, Sweden in the 1940’s. (This sort of begs the question of why it’s not called a Hasselbacken Potato, but nobody asked me.) It has caught the recent culinary eye of the US with the increase of food porn on Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook.

The key to the Hasselback is making thin slices of the baking potato without slicing through to the bottom. You want to stop about 1/4 inch before slicing through. To aid me in cutting, I place the potato on the counter between two cutting boards and cut down to the boards. I have heard of people doing the same with chop sticks, but I found them too thin and ended up with sliced potatoes.

Once the potatoes are cut, I run them under cold water to remove some of the starch and pat them dry. From there, your options are open. For the pictured potato, I simply sprayed it which Olive Oil and sprinkled it with Kosher Salt. You can add your favorite herbs, butter and/or maybe some cheese between the slices. Let your imagination run wild.

I bake them at 400 degrees F. for 45-60 minutes or throw them on the grill on indirect heat until done. As they cook, the slices fan out for a impressive presentation.

The potato is crisp on the outside, a little creamy on the inside and elegant on the plate. Don’t tell your guests how simple it was to make and keep them in awe of your great culinary talents.

Artisan Bread Dressing

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You can’t have Turkey without dressing. I think it’s a law or something. However, there is no law that dressing has to be boring. In U.S. v. Bell, the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution allows variations beyond Wonder Bread, celery, onion and Bell’s seasoning. This year’s Thanksgiving Dinner had some strong flavor profiles so I wanted a rich, hearty dressing.

The bulk of dressing is bread so I wanted a hearty artisan bread. I was thinking of an ancient grain bread that Wegman’s makes, but, alas, they have not yet expanded into North Carolina where I was cooking dinner with my daughter at her house. I did, however, find some Omega-3 Seed bread with whole wheat and flax, sunflower and sesame seeds from Ninth Street Bakery in Durham, NC that worked great.

One of the key ingredients across the menu was roasted butternut squash, so it went into the dressing as well. To add to the richness, I added nice earthy porcini mushrooms. Never throw away the water in which you rehydrate dried mushrooms. If discarded, you are throwing away flavor. Carefully, filter out any sand and use the liquid in the recipe.

Since the dressing was by obligation accompanying a turkey, I wanted to use some of the same spices used on the bird. This year’s I was cooking my Mediterranean Turkey with za’atar. So I used za’atar in the dressing, as well. Za’atar is a Middle Eastern blend of herbs, sesame and salt. The blend varies from region to region, but is widely used. One of the main ingredients is Sumac. No, no, not the poison stuff we know in the Northeastern US. Sumac spice is the dried, ground fruit of the Elm-Leaved Sumach or Tanner’s Sumach shrub. The za’atar I used is thyme based. Za’atar can be purchased in any Mediterranean Grocery or the international section of most chain groceries.

Normally for Thanksgiving recipes, I would use homemade turkey stock; however, my stock was at home and, in what has always been a mystery to me, you can’t seem to find turkey stock at the normal grocery. I can buy it at Wegman’s, but it always sells out rapidly. This year, I had to substitute store-bought low sodium chicken stock.

I made the dressing the day before Thanksgiving and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight. On Turkey-day, I took it out of the frig. an hour prior to cooking to bring it to room temperature.

Even with store-bought stock of a different fowl, the flavors really worked well together and, most importantly, we were in full compliance with the Turkey Accompaniment Act of 1621.

Ingredients:

Roasted Butternut Squash:
1 Butternut Squash, peeled, seeded and cubed
Olive Oil Spray
1/2 tsp. Cinnamon, ground
1/4 tsp. Cumin, ground

Artisan Bread Dressing:
1 1/2 Loaf of Artisan Bread, cubed
Olive Oil Spray
2 Tbsp. Unsalted Butter
6 Green Onions (Scallions), chopped including the green parts
4 cloves Garlic, minsed
1 oz. Dried Porcini Mushrooms, rehydrated and chopped (filter and reserve the water)
2 cup Roasted Butternut Squash
4 Tbsp. Za’atar
Salt and Pepper, to taste
Poultry Stock, as needed

Directions:

Roasted Butternut Squash:
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2) Cut squash into 3/4 inch cubes.
3) Line cookie sheet with parchment paper and place squash in a single layer on the pan.
4) Spray bread cubes lightly with Olive Oil on all sides and sprinkle lightly with Cinnamon and Cumin.
5) Bake until lightly browned and cooked through, but still firm, about 30 minutes, turning 1/2 way through.

Artisan Bread Dressing:
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2) Cut bread into 3/4-1 inch cubes.
3) Line cookie sheet with parchment paper and place bread cubes in a single layer on the pan.
4) Bake until bread is dried, about 10 minutes.
5) Remove from oven and put dried bread into a large bowl.
6) In a large skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat.
7) Add Green Onions and sauté until soft, about 10 minutes.
8) Add Garlic and sauté an additional minute.
9) Remove Onions and Garlic and add to bowl with bread.
10) Add mushrooms to skillet and sauté until cooked through, about 10 minutes. Remove from skillet and add to bowl with bread.
11) Add squash, za’atar, salt and pepper to bowl with bread.
12) Starting with the mushroom rehydration liquid and moving to the poultry stock when it is gone, add liquid to the bread and mix until moist. The dressing should hold its shape when gently squeezed without being mushy.
13) Spray the bottom and all sides of a 13″ x 9″ cake pan with an Olive Oil spray and move dressing to the pan.
14) Bake until cooked through and brown on top, about 30 minutes.

Kale Salad with Roasted Pumpkin Seed Vinaigrette

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This is my version of a Kale Salad that I recently had at Agricola Eatery in Princeton, NJ. I don’t normally build a menu around a salad, but this was the foundation of a Thanksgiving Dinner that I cooked with my daughter at her house. The salad at Agricola had roasted cauliflower, pickled pumpkin, shaved radish and pumpkin seed vinaigrette. I would have liked to include pickled pumpkin, but since mine were at home I opted for roasted butternut squash. In place of cauliflower and radish, I used apples and dried cranberries and topped the salad with croutons and roasted pumpkin seeds.

I left the skin on the apples. That is where much of the taste and vitamins are. You can peel them, if you wish. I used Honey Crisps, but any tart apple will work.

For the croutons, I used a hearty artisan bread. I was thinking of an ancient grain bread that Wegman’s makes, but, alas, they have not yet expanded into North Carolina. I did find some Omega-3 Seed bread with whole wheat and flax, sunflower and sesame seeds from Ninth Street Bakery in Durham, NC that worked great. I made the croutons the day before Thanksgiving. I reserved the crusts from the bread for the artisan bread dressing I was making.

I used a Pumpkin Seed Vinaigrette recipe from the New York Times. I am not replicating the recipe here. Just follow the link. I did find that I needed to add significantly more Olive Oil than called for in the recipe to achieve the proper consistency. I also made the vinaigrette a day in advance and then reheated it. When doing so, I had to work hard to restore the emulsification. I would suggest making it as needed.

The amounts below are approximate. It is a salad, after all. Adjust amounts to taste.

Ingredients:

Artisan Bread Croutons:
1/2 Loaf of Artisan Bread, cubed
Olive Oil Spray
Garlic Powder

Roasted Butternut Squash:
1/2 Butternut Squash, peeled, seeded and cubed
Olive Oil Spray
1/2 tsp. Cinnamon, ground
1/4 tsp. Cumin, ground

Kale Salad:
Two bunches of Kale, washed and shredded into fork size pieces
2 Honey Crisp Apples, cored and cubed
3/4 cup Dried Cranberries
1 cup Roasted Butternut Squash
Roasted Pumpkin Seed Vinaigrette
Salt and Pepper, to taste
1 cup Artisan Bread Croutons
1/2 cup Roasted Pumkin Seeds

Directions:

Artisan Bread Croutons:
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2) Remove crust from slices of Artisan Bread. Cut remaining bread into 3/4 inch cubes.
3) Line cookie sheet with parchment paper and place bread cubes in a single layer on the pan.
4) Spray bread cubes lightly with Olive Oil on all sides and sprinkle lightly with Garlic Powder.
5) Bake until browned, 10-15 minutes, turning 1/2 way through.

Roasted Butternut Squash:
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2) Cut squash into 1/2 inch cubes.
3) Line cookie sheet with parchment paper and place squash in a single layer on the pan.
4) Spray bread cubes lightly with Olive Oil on all sides and sprinkle lightly with Cinnamon and Cumin.
5) Bake until lightly browned and cooked through, but still firm, about 30 minutes, turning 1/2 way through.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds:
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2) Line cookie sheet with parchment paper and place Pumpkin Seeds in a single layer on the pan.
3) Bake until lightly browned, about 10 minutes, turning 1/2 way through.

Kale Salad:
1) In a large bowl, toss Kale, Apples, Cranberries and Squash
2) Add Vinaigrette, Salt and Pepper. Toss, coating salad well.
3) Top with Croutons and Pumpkin Seeds and serve.

Farrotto with Butternut and Porcinis

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This farro risotto is adapted from a Saveur recipe by Yewande Komolafe. I started my research after reading an autumn farrotto with butternut squash recipe in the New York Times. I have done mushroom farrottos and thought about combining the two. Some quick research revealed no such combination until, by chance, I stumbled on the Saveur recipe.

I was going to make it and abandon by own creation, but, as presented, is volume were off and fat was too high. 2 1/2 cups of squash, 1 cup of farro and 2 cups of mushroom seems heavy on the veggies, over-powering the inherent goodness of the farro. 3 tbsp of oil, 3 tbsp of butter 1 1/2 cups of parmesan and 1 tbsp of crème fraiche is much heavier than I like to cook. I decreased volumes and lightened the recipe: less oil, less butter, less cheese and non-fat Greek yogurt in place of the crème fraiche.

I used a homemade vegetable stock. I make my stocks, if I have the time, and only rely on store-bought in a pinch. Not only can I control the ingredients and thus the taste, but I can control the sodium. Even low sodium store-bought stock has way too much sodium. My homemade stock: zero added sodium. Today’s stock was made from veggies ready to find their way to the garbage disposer. I had leeks starting to age, celery that was getting limp, green onions that would only last a day or two more and left over Swiss chard from last night’s dinner. I add to that some carrots, peppercorns, and some frozen thyme and rosemary. 30 minutes later, I had enough stock for the farrotto plus plenty to freeze for future use.

Farro is tougher than arborio rice. You need to pre-cook it. Without the pre-cooking, you will be sautéing your farrotto forever. Cooking your farro, rehydrating your mushrooms and making your stock in advance will speed up preparation when guests are heading for your door.

Ingredients:
2 cups butternut squash, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 cup farro
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
3 shallots, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 sprig thyme, chopped
½ cup white wine
1 cup vegetable stock
1 oz. dried porcini mushrooms, rehydrated and chopped
2 tbsp. shredded or grated parmesan
1 tbsp. non-fat, plain Greek yogurt
1 tbsp. fresh sage, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:
1. Heat the oven to 400°F. Place squash on a parchment lined baking sheet, lightly spray with an olive oil mister and season with fresh ground pepper. Roast for 30-35 minutes until slightly brown. Remove from oven and reserve.

2. Meanwhile, add dried porcinis to a bowl with 2 cups of boiling water. Let rehydrate for 30 minutes. Remove mushrooms, chop and reserve. Reserve 1 cup of the liquid straining carefully to remove sand and dirt.

3. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a 3 quart saucepan. Stir in farro and sauté until lightly toasted, about 5 minutes. Add 3 cups of water and bring to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer and cover. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain farro and reserve.

4. In a large skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of butter over medium heat. Add in the chopped porcinis and sauté about 3 minutes, remove from pan and reserve.

5. Melt additional 1 tbsp of butter in the skillet over medium heat. Add in the shallots and cook until the shallots are slightly translucent, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and thyme and cook an additional 30 seconds. Add the farro and stir, coating each kernel.

6. Add in the white wine, reduce heat to a simmer and let liquid simmer off, stirring occasionally.

7. Alternately between the vegetable stock and the mushroom rehydrating liquid, adding a 1/2 cup of liquid at a time and stirring occasionally until the farro has absorbed all the liquid, cook the farro for 25-30 minutes. After adding the last liquid, add salt and pepper to taste and add the mushrooms and roasted squash.

8. Fold in the cheese and stir until just melted. Fold in the Greek yogurt. Garnish with fresh sage.

Grilled Cod Lettuce Wraps with a Corn and Farro Salad and Pickled Cumcumbers

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Tonight was a home version of Dinner Impossible: veggies and a grain searching for a meal. I had tomatillos that I bought at the farmers’ market this weekend. I knew that I was going to make Salsa Verde, but not on what I would put it. I had Farro in the frig from the last Farro salad I made. When cooking grains, I always cook twice as much as I need so I have some in the frig that I can quickly grab. I had an ear of grilled corn left over from Sunday dinner. I had a store bought cucumber which I want to get rid of since the ones in my garden are ready to pick. My mission: what to make for dinner? Or maybe it was a home version of Chopped. One bad meal and you,re cut from the kitchen. Luckily, I also have a Wegmans as my pantry.

The winning answer tonight was Grilled Cod Lettuce Wraps with a Corn and Farro Salad and Pickled Cucumbers. There is a little prep work to do on this one, but beyond that, the meal is quick and easy. I spiced my Cod with Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Seafood Magic before grilling. You can add whatever spices you prefer. I find it hard to beat Chef Paul’s spice blends for Seafood or Steak.

You might note that there is no oil in this recipe. The only oil used was on the grill grates to prevent sticking. I also used lime throughout. You could use lemon. My wife is allergic to lemon so lime is used consistently.

Dinner Tonight

Grilled Cod Lettuce Wraps

INGREDIENTS:
1 Head Boston Bib lettuce
2 Cod Fillets
Red Cabbage Slaw, see below
Salsa Verde, see below

PREPARATION:
1) Prepare grill for indirect cooking.
2) Grill Cod for 15 minutes or until translucent.
3) Place some grilled Cod on top of a piece of Lettuce, top with Red Cabbage Slaw and Salsa Verde. Roll and eat.

Red Cabbage Slaw:

INGREDIENTS:
2 cups Red Cabbage, shredded thinly
3 Tbs Red Wine Vinegar
2 Tsb Kosher Salt
Fresh ground Pepper, to taste

PREPARATION:
1) Combine first three ingredients.
2) Add fresh ground pepper, to taste
3) Refrigerate until use.

Salsa Verde

INGREDIENTS:
4 Medium Tomatillos, chopped
2 Cloves Garlic
1/2 cup of Red onion, chopped
2 Tbs Cilantro
2 Serrano Peppers
Zest and Juice of one Lime
Salt and Pepper, to taste

PREPARATION:
1) Place first six ingredients into a food processor and process until smooth.
2) Add Salt and Pepper, to taste.
3) Refrigerate until use.

My Sides, Corn and Farro Salad and Pickled Cucumbers

Farro Salad

Corn and Farro Salad

INGREDIENTS:
1/2 cup of cooked Farro
1 ear of grilled corn, stripped
2 Tbs Red Onions, chopped
2 tsps Cilantro, finely chopped
Juice of 1/2 Lime
Salt and Pepper, to taste

PREPARATION:
1) Combine first five ingredients.
2) Add Salt and Pepper, to taste.
3) Refrigerate until use.

Cumcumber Salad

Pickled Cucumbers

INGREDIENTS:
1 Cucumber, sliced
1 Tbs Kosher Salt
2 Tbs Red Wine Vinegar
1 Tbs Cracked Black Pepper

PREPARATION:
1) Place slices of Cucumber on serving place.
2) Sprinkle with Kosher Salt and Cracked Pepper.
3) Sprinkle with Red Wine Vinegar.
4) Refrigerate until use.

Most of the prep can be done in advance and all you will have left to do before servings is grill the Cod and set the table. Simple. healthy and delicious. Enjoy!

Farro and Herb Stuffed Mushrooms

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Farro and Herb Stuffed Mushrooms

This is an easy, healthy and tasty accompaniment to any entrée. The Farro is toasty and crunchy. The Black Truffle Oil ties the Farro mixture well with the mushrooms. The Mushrooms are moist and earthy.

You can substitute any herbs or cheeses in the below. I used mint, because I served it as a sidedish to grilled lamb chops with a mint/za’atar aioli. I used the four cheese blend, because I happened to have it in the frig.

Brush your mushrooms with some EVOO or marinate them in your favorite marinade before cooking. I marinated mine in Chiavetta’s Barbecue Marinade, a Buffalo NY product. It’s amazing. I use it all the time. If you cannot buy it locally, it is available on Amazon or directly from Chiavetta’s Catering. I highly recommend it.

A word on salting your Farro water: Michael Ruhlman points out in his book “Ruhlman’s Twenty” that adding salt to your boiling water is not done to enhance the boiling process. It is done to flavor whatever is being cooked in the water; in this case, the Farro. Most cooks add a scant pinch of salt to the water and that seasons nothing. Add generous salt to your boiling water. You will be amazed at the difference it makes in the finished product.

Ingredients:
1 cup Farro
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
3 cups water
Salt
2 tsp Black Truffle Oil
1/2 tsp fresh Rosemary, chopped
1/2 tsp fresh Chives, chopped
1/2 tsp fresh Mint leaves, chopped
Salt and Pepper, to taste
4 Portobello Mushroom caps
Blend of shredded Mozzarella, Parmesan, Romano and Asiago Cheeses

Directions:
1. In a medium sauce pan, heat Olive Oil over medium-high heat.
2. Add Farro and sauté until the Farro is fragrant and starts to brown.
3. Add water and salt to the sauce pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes or until Farro is al dente.
4. Strain Farro and add to mixing bowl.
5. Add Truffle Oil, Rosemary, Chives and Mint to bowl with Farro and mix.
6. Salt and Pepper, to taste.
7. Grill Portobello Mushrooms over high heat for 7-10 minutes.
8. Move Mushrooms to indirect heat with the gill side up. Spoon in Farro/Herb mixture. Top with shredded cheese and continue to cook until the cheese melts and slightly browns.
9. Serve immediately.