Cauliflower and Ham Gratin with Sourdough Rye Breadcrumbs


A few days ago at the CSA pick-up, a member came in and said, “It’s snowing! It’s snowing!”

Was it finally winter finally? By the time I got outside, the scant millimeter of snow that we got had melted and the skies were clear. And it was warming up again.

I think that the season has been toying with me, bringing week after week of warm spring-like days alternating with gusty arctic ones. For someone who likes matching my meals to the season, this has all made for some pretty schizophrenic eating. I have found myself wanting to nibble on mâche and radishes, and then wanting to bury myself under cheese and carbs the next day.

As it is currently quite chilly, I feel like I need to hurry up and cook some cold-weather food before the temps climb back up to 60°. This cauliflower gratin fits the bill quite well. It is basically a macaroni and cheese, with the cauliflower filling in for the mac — which makes it feel somewhat healthier!

Ingredients:

1 head of cauliflower, cut into small florets

1 1/2 cups of ham, diced

1 clove of garlic, lightly smashed

1 1/2 cups of aged cheese (I used an aged farmstead cheese from Snow Farm Creamery, but you could use an aged Gruyère, or another good, firm earthy cheese)

1/4 cup of flour

4 tablespoons of butter, plus 1 tablespoon

4 cups of milk

1/4 teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg

Salt and pepper

1 cup of sourdough rye breadcrumbs (or any other bread you might have one hand: sourdough, rye, brown . . .)

How to prepare:

1. Preheat the over to 350°. Rub a large ceramic or clay baking dish with the smashed clove of garlic.

2. Combine the cauliflower florets with the ham in a large bowl.

3. In a medium-sized sauce pan, melt the 4 tablespoons of butter over medium-low heat. Once the butter has melted, stir in the flour. Cook the flour for about a two or three minutes (you want to get rid of that raw, floury taste). Once the flour has toasted a little, add the milk all at once and whisk everything together. Add the nutmeg. Raise the heat to medium, and continue to whisk the sauce as it thickens. Once the sauce has thickened, turn off the heat and stir in the cheese. Continue stirring until all the cheese has melted. Adjust the seasoning.

4. Pour the sauce over the cauliflower and the ham. Stir everything together until the cauliflower is evenly coated. Tip everything into the baking dish.

5. Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter. Toss the breadcrumbs in the melted butter, and then spread them evenly over the top of the cauliflower.

6. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the gratin top is browned. The sides should be nice and bubbly too. Let rest for about ten minutes before serving.

Horseradish Cheddar and Irish Bacon Mac & Cheese


Already I can see that the beginning of the new year is going to be a tug-of-war between the wanting-to-detox me, and the part of me that thinks that butter and cheese are inalienable rights to be defended Minutemen-style with muskets and bayonets.

I know that I swore to lighten things up after the holidays, but after about a day of that, I was starving. And when you’re starving, you need carbs. You need fat. You ideally need carbs and fat baked together with bacon.

I suppose that if you wanted to make this slightly healthier, you could substitute whole wheat pasta for the regular pasta, but I have never been the biggest fan of whole wheat pasta. Maybe it’s a texture thing.

I used the horseradish cheddar cheese (what was left of it after New Year’s), and the Irish bacon from my farmer to pull this together. Two, count ’em, two CSA products in one dish! Whoo hoo!

Ingredients:

1 pound of pasta (I used casarecce)

1/2 pound of Irish or Canadian bacon, cut into 1/2-inch strips

6.5 ounces of horseradish cheddar cheese, coarsely grated

4 tablespoons of butter, plus one tablespoon

1/4 cup of flour

1 quart of whole milk

Salt and pepper

About 1/2 cup of panko, or breadcrumbs

Fresh chives

How to prepare:

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the pasta and cook it until it is slightly under al dente. Drain it, and set it aside as you prepare the rest of the dish.

2. While the pasta is cooking, brown the Irish bacon in a large skillet. As Irish bacon is leaner than regular bacon, it will not be as crispy when cooked. Once the strips are browned and most the fat has rendered, transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.

3. In a medium-sized sauce pan, melt 4 tablespoons of butter over medium-low heat. Once the butter has melted, stir in the flour. Cook the flour for about a minute or two (you want to get rid of that raw, floury taste). Once the flour has toasted a little, add the milk all at once and whisk everything together. Raise the heat to medium, and continue to whisk the sauce occasionally as it thickens.

4. Once the sauce has thickened, turn off the heat and stir in the cheese. Continue stirring until all the cheese has melted. Adjust the seasoning.

5. In a large bowl, combine the pasta, the bacon, and the cheese sauce. Spoon the mixture into a large buttered baking dish.

6. In a small sauce pan, melt the remaining tablespoon of butter over low heat. Toss the panko or breadcrumbs in the butter, and then spread them evenly over the top of the pasta. Bake the mac & cheese for about 30 minutes. The top should be golden brown, and the cheese sauce should be bubbly. If the cheese sauce is bubbling, but the top has yet to brown, you can pop the dish under the broiler for a minute or two to toast the breadcrumbs.

Let the dish rest for about 10 to 15 minutes before topping it with freshly snipped chives and serving.

Sliced Egg and Black Truffle Mayonnaise on Toast


My first year of graduate school, I lived down the street from an appallingly awkward airline-themed café. The space was pleasant with floor-to-ceiling windows. It had those lovely columns that fewer and fewer downtown places seem to want to retain. Apart from the odd collection of 1960’s memorabilia (Braniff, Pan-Am, and TWA), there were these nice, fat couches strewn about a lofted area — perfect for passing out after too much coursework.

There was also the food, which thankfully was nothing like what was served on airlines. The coffee was strong, good, and Italian. They never burned my espresso. They served little panini, cut into neat quarters that you could eat while burying your nose in a book. My favorite was simple: sliced egg on toast with truffled mayonnaise.

Laura gifted me with a little tub of black truffle salt a while ago. Admittedly, I have parked myself on it for too long. When I finally decided to put it to some good use, the smell took me back to those early years when my worries were fewer.

As I have expounded on how to hard boil eggs, and how to make mayonnaise on this blog before, I will refrain from further exposition. I will just say that you should use a neutral oil, like grapeseed or canola. Add about half a teaspoon of truffle salt to the mayonnaise at first, and then build up from there. I tend to make a saltier mayonnaise to compensate for the unsalted eggs. Slather each slice with the mayonnaise, and layer the sliced egg on top. Factor in about one egg per slice of toast.

Truffles, mayonnaise, and eggs. I do the sandwich open-faced these days. It is wonderful. I was in such a hurry to eat it that I hastily, and sloppily sliced up the egg. I had crammed half of it greedily down my gullet before it occurred to me that I should take a photo. So please excuse the photographic evidence of my gastronomic enthusiasm!

Egg Salad with Basil on Toast


When people say that so-and-so “can’t boil an egg,” they generally mean to say that the person in question can’t cook.

Insofar as idioms go, it’s a pretty silly one; there are a lot of people out there who cook all the time, who cook all kinds of things that people like to eat, who can’t boil an egg at all.

Because boiling an egg is both ridiculously easy, and easy to mess up at the same time. It’s really kind of tricky. I see badly boiled eggs all the time. Overcooked, horrible things with sulfurous dun-colored yolks, ringed with a nasty grayish-green penumbra.

So gross. They taste awful too, chalky and rank. No wonder there are so many people out there who don’t like their eggs hard-boiled: they have only ever had bad ones.

But a good, really good hard-boiled egg is delicious. It has a soft, silky white that cushions a rich and velvety yolk. A egg salad made with properly boiled eggs is creamy, full, and wonderfully fatty. It is very very satisfying.

Here are some ways to properly hard boil an egg:

Technique #1:

1. Carefully prick the bottom of the egg (the widest end) with a needle, or a pin (I use a push pin). You want to pierce the shell, but not the membrane separating the air pocket in the base of the egg from the egg itself. Don’t worry: you won’t “ruin” the egg, it won’t “go everywhere,” it will not leak, it will not explode. It will be okay.

2. Place the eggs in a medium saucepan filled with cold water. The eggs should be covered with about an inch of water. The eggs might bob around, pricked end-up. Don’t worry. If it bothers you, you can just hold them down a little bit until the air in the bottom-end of the egg escapes, and they sink to the bottom of the pan.

3. Bring the water to a boil. When the water starts boiling, turn off the heat and put the lid on the saucepan. Set the timer for 10 minutes. 10 minutes. No more, no less.

4. Meanwhile, set up a nice ice bath. After ten minutes, lift the eggs out of the hot water and plunge them in the ice water. Leave them there for 5 minutes. 5 minutes.

5. Now your eggs are perfectly boiled, and ready to peel.

Why is it important that you prick the bottom of the egg’s shell?

Each egg has a small pocket of air at its base. Hot air expands, and by pricking the bottom of the egg, the small hole allows this air to escape. This will relieve any pressure caused by the expanding air, instead of cracking the egg while it is still cooking and making a mess. You can just boil the egg without doing this (see Technique #2), but why risk being sorry when you can be safe?

Technique #2:

1. Place the eggs in a medium saucepan filled with cold water. The eggs should be covered with about an inch of water.

2. Bring the water to a boil. When the water starts boiling, turn off the heat and put the lid on the saucepan. Set the timer for 10 minutes. 10 minutes. No more, no less.

3. Meanwhile, set up a nice ice bath. After ten minutes, lift the eggs out of the hot water with tongs. Right before submerging them in the ice water, bang the widest end of each egg against the countertop. You want to crack the shell at the base. Leave the eggs in the ice water for 5 minutes. 5 minutes.

4. Now your eggs are perfectly boiled and ready to peel.

Technique #3:

1. Carefully prick the bottom of the egg (the widest end) with a needle, or a pin. You want to pierce the shell, but not the membrane separating the the air pocket in the base of the egg from the egg itself.

2. Place the eggs in a medium saucepan filled with cold water. The eggs should be covered with about an inch of water.

3. Bring the water to a boil. When the water starts boiling, turn off the heat and put the lid on the saucepan. Set the timer for 10 minutes. 10 minutes. No more, no less.

4. Meanwhile, set up a nice ice bath. After ten minutes, pour off the hot water. With the lid on the pan, shake the eggs enough so that their shells crackle. Submerge them in the ice water. Leave the eggs in the ice water for 5 minutes. 5 minutes.

Why is cracking the shell after cooking important?

You want to crack the shell so that any sulfurous smells inside of the egg can escape and dissipate into the ice water bath. Or so says Jacques Pépin.

Oh no, my eggs are hard to peel! What happened?

Your eggs are hard to peel, my friend, because you have very fresh eggs. The fresher the egg, the harder it is to peel it. The older the egg, the easier it is to peel.

So it’s okay if some of the egg white comes away while you are peeling the egg. Sometimes, peeling them under running water helps.

This all might seem like a fussy way to boil eggs, but believe me, once you do it right, you’ll never want to do it badly again.

Now back to the recipe . . .

Ingredients for Egg Salad with Basil on Toast:

6 hard-boiled eggs, lightly chopped

2/3 cup of mayonnaise*

Salt to taste

One good handful of basil leaves, chopped (but I did a chiffonade, ’cause I’m all fancy like that)

Juice of 1 lemon

4 slices of toasted multigrain bread

How to prepare:

1. In a large bowl, combine the eggs, the mayonnaise, the basil, and a good sprinkling of salt. Add the lemon juice, a little bit at a time, until the salad is nice and creamy. Adjust the seasoning if needed.

2. Heap a large spoonful or two on top of each piece of toast. Serve immediately.

For the mayonnaise:

2 teaspoons of freshly-squeezed lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon of sea salt

1/2 tablespoon of Dijon mustard

1 large egg yolk at room temperature

1/2 cup of olive oil (I like a good, vibrant olive oil with eggs)

How to prepare:

1. Whisk the lemon juice, salt, and Dijon mustard together in a medium-sized bowl.

2. Measure out the olive oil into a cup with a pouring spout.

3. Whisk the egg yolk into the mustard mixture until it is well-incorporated and creamy. Continue whisking while you add a few drops of oil to the mixture. Whisk until completely incorporated before adding a few more drops. Try not to add too much oil, too quickly in the beginning, or the mixture will not emulsify. As the mixture begins to thicken, begin to add the rest of the oil in a thin and steady stream while whisking constantly.

If using a hand-blender, hand-mixer, or food processor, just start slowly adding the oil in the beginning, before adding the rest in a steady stream.

To help you visualize how mayonnaise comes together, here is a really good video clip.

Chicken Salad with Tarragon

It’s hot out. It’s over 90°. The heat just saps my energy and makes me want to laze around the house until nightfall. I was eating celery sticks all afternoon, thinking that this was a healthy lunch. It probably wasn’t.

Maybe for rabbits, but not for me!

So I decided to do something with the extra roasted chicken that I had in my fridge, and make chicken salad.

You could use store-bought mayonnaise, but I prefer to make my own. It’s really easy once you get the hang of it. I’ve whipped mayonnaise together with a fork, with a whisk, with a hand mixer, with a food processor, and with a blender.

I used a hand-held immersion blender this time. The most important thing is to make sure that your egg yolk is fresh, and it is at a cool-ish room temperature — not ice cold, and not too warm either. Be sure to add the oil very slowly in the beginning. Don’t worry if your sauce separates, or breaks. If this is the first time you are making it (or even if it’s the hundreth time) there are things you can do; you can easily save it multiple ways.

Properly made mayonnaise takes practice, but it’s not rocket science. I’m not Harold McGee, so I won’t expound on why the egg yolk emulsifies. However, I will say that when it does, it feels like magic.

Ingredients:

1 cup of roasted chicken, chopped

1 stalk of celery, chopped

1 small shallot, minced

1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, finely chopped

1/2 cup of mayonnaise*

The juice of one lemon

Salt and pepper to taste

How to prepare:

1. Combine all the ingredients, except for the lemon juice, in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Add the lemon juice a little bit at a time until the chicken salad is loose enough to be spread out easily, but not so loose that it is watery.

2. Spoon the salad on top of toasted bread and enjoy.

For the mayonnaise:

2 teaspoons of freshly-squeezed lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon of sea salt

1/2 tablespoon of Dijon mustard

1 large egg yolk at room temperature

1/2 cup of grapeseed oil, or any neutral oil

How to prepare:

1. Whisk the lemon juice, salt, and Dijon mustard together in a medium-sized bowl.

2. Measure out the grapeseed oil into a cup with a pouring spout.

3. Whisk the egg yolk into the mustard mixture until it is well-incorporated and creamy. Continue whisking while you add a few drops of oil to the mixture. Whisk until completely incorporated before adding a few more drops. Try not to add too much oil, too quickly in the beginning, or the mixture will not emulsify. As the mixture begins to thicken, begin to add the rest of the oil in a thin and steady stream while whisking constantly.

If using a hand-blender, hand-mixer, or food processor, just start slowly adding the oil in the beginning, before adding the rest in a steady stream.

To help you visualize how mayonnaise comes together, here is a really good video clip.