Last night I made a dinner that ended up theming itself around the idea of eggs, though it only had one egg in it. It was just Jenny and I, and just a knock-together of using what was in the house. I am really enjoying being at a place in my life where my knowledge is wide enough, and the ingredients I acquire are of an excellence, that new things happen almost effortlessly. I can’t play music, but I wonder if this is something like what it feels like to be an experienced improvisational musician.
I like to start with a cheese course, and then just leave it on the table throughout the meal. These meals I’ve been making lately are all slow-moving, multi-course, small-portioned (well, I’m getting there, a learning curve comes with anything new), and very often the dishes are things that I’ve never made before, so it can be tricky to get the timing right on all of them. Cheese and accoutrement on the table fills the gaps. Plus, it’s cheese.
I put out the last bit of a 10-year-old Cheddar from Hook’s Cheese Company I was given my friend Jim Warner (citizenlitcast.com | @whoismisterjim). Possibly as a thank-you for passing along how much I love Formaticum Cheese Storage Bags (it was delivered in one), but more probably because he’d tasted a bunch of their Cheddars (Cheddi? Mmm, Return of the Cheddi.) in person (they have them aged 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 12, and a 15 years), and liked the 10-year-old version the best. I’d have to ask him to be sure, but, I think we have a mutual 1.000 batting average when recommending food items to each other. That’s less because our tastes are identical than because we don’t recommend things that are merely good, or even great. Top-notch or not at all. The Hook’s went on a marble slab with an on-board wire slicer. The first time we had it I just put it on a plate with a knife, but learned that the texture on this stuff is a tad on the crumbly side. Wire was totally the way to go. If you like Cheddar, and you like sharp, this is a huge cheese that melts on the tongue but whose tang lingers in the mouth like a great chocolate or a great Scotch.
The second cheese I put out was the Blue Bell from Valley Milkhouse, a semi-firm raw milk cheese with Roquefort mold, aged for 2+ months (as required by law, dammit, c’mon people get with the program, many of the world’s best cheeses are made from raw milk and aged for less than 60 days, if they can do it in Europe we should be able to do it here, but I digress). It’s a really lovely cheese that we enjoyed very much. Not crumbly, and without any of the ammonia scent some blues have. A mellow kind of blue that actually worked well against the Cheddar by being its counterpoint rather than standing up to it like I imagined it might.
Along with the cheeses were some sesame seed, poppy seed, and emmer flour crackers I made last week (I’ve got them dialed in now, I’ll write up the recipe next time I make them), the last of the mouse melon pickles I made about three weeks ago (the story on those (and recipe) will be on the Buy Local PA blog after 9/28/15), some dilly beans Jenny bought from a local farmstand about a half a mile from here (Hilltop Produce in Akron, PA), my new current favorite mustard, Roland Organic Extra Strong Dijon, and a refrigerated Gala apple from the stand around the corner (Weaver’s) which I’d cored, sliced and soaked in water with lemon juice to keep it from browning. There was also a hunk of unsalted Plugra, some Maldon salt, and some little slices of smoked beef shortrib (from Dietrich’s Meats) cut from the bone. The dilly beans were too spicy for Jenny, everything else was a hit. Honestly, I could eat from a table like that and call it a meal. And probably should.
No eggs, yet, I know, stick with me.
The first small course was a parboiled broccoli spearlet pressed crown-down into a blorp of lemon garlic mayonnaise, a repeat from the night before, because it was a hit, and because there was still some leftover lemon garlic mayonnaise to use up. And because there was another head of the broccoli at the farmstand. The broccoli they’ve had there the past couple of days (first times I’ve seen any over there all summer) is eye-catching. They don’t look like supermarket broccoli at all. The first one had a couple of spots that were starting to go brown, and the second one was actually starting to flower in places. They also aren’t really dome-shaped, they were closer to flat across the top. And they had longer stems. I cut the stems long, to use as handles. Brought some lightly salted water to a boil, dropped them in, kept them simmering until a cut piece of stem was past the crunch stage but not yet completely soft and then shocked them in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Then I drained them and set them stem-side up, flat-side down, on a towel to drain. Once drained, I refrigerated them. We have these small serving cups that curve sort of like a graceful catcher’s mitt if it were tilted about 70° or so. I spooned in a dollop of lemon garlic mayonnaise and then pressed the crown of the broccoli into the mayonnaise, which held the upside-down tree in place. To eat, you lift it out by the stem, bite the sauced parts, then dip your stem in the sauce that remains until both are gone.
Next came something with an actual egg in it. We found these really good-sized button mushrooms, almost 4″, and Jenny being a mushroom fiend, they came home with us. She is not really an egg fan, but there are one or two exceptions. Hard-boiled eggs go in her grandmother’s potato salad recipe, and she’ll eat them there. And occasionally, an omelet can happen if there’s plenty of stuff and only one egg. I recently got some mini rarebit dishes that are oven safe and the mushrooms fit exactly in them. I removed the stems, because I wanted to use that hollow. Put a tiny bit of butter in the bottom of each, and in the hollow of each, and sprinkled with some herbs and spices, then put them in to bake at 350° F. They each cooked differently, and needed flipping a couple of times during the almost hour it took to cook them through. Whenever a dish simmered close to dry I’d add about a tablespoon or so of Marsala. When the mushrooms looked cooked I whisked one egg for two mushrooms, added some half and half and whisked a bit more, and then spooned the mixture into the hollow of each cap until they overflowed and almost filled the dish underneath. Back in the oven until the egg had completely set. They fluffed up beautifully. They ended up looking almost like an inside-out omelet, or, what they really were, a half-egg omelet with a volume of mushroom roughly double that of egg. A part of the egg white remained unincorporated, ended up in the hollow of Jenny’s cap, and cooked to a consistency that’s looser than she likes, but otherwise it worked. One I’ll definitely make, and vary, again.
Next up was a dish I knew was too much food for a multi-course meal, but, it used up exactly what I had, and I knew it would reheat great, so I did it anyway. I had a small sack of new red potatoes and a couple of sweet potatoes from the stand around the corner, and as I was thinking through what I might do with them it struck me that without their peels the new potatoes are white, and the sweet potatoes are almost the same bright orange as the yolks of eggs from pastured chickens. Then I thought it’d be a waste to toss the peels, and wondered if I could peel them in such a fashion as to get some red and some white in a way that might pass for the streaky look of bacon. If so, I could make a dish of bacon and eggs that had neither bacon nor eggs. Answer: yep.
I peeled the red potatoes by going once around like you would to boil, butter, parsley them, taking off a belt basically. Then I took another belt by bisecting the remaining skin. Those peels I dropped in a dish of water and figured would probably be trash, but, I saved them, just in case I could think of something else to do with them. I love finding uses for scraps. Now each potato had four little wedges of skin left on them, and by paring those away in a manner that tried to remove irregular bits of the white along with the skin, I was able to get a nice separate dish of peels that had just about the right balance of color to give the idea of bacon. I then boiled and drained the potatoes, mashed them with butter, half and half, and the grated-up last remaining hunk of some semi-firm washed rind stinky cheese whose real name and place of purchase I no longer recall. The true mark of a guy who may be eating too much artisinal cheese.
The sweet potatoes I baked for an hour and then skinned and mashed together with a failure I couldn’t bring myself to throw away even though it hadn’t turned out correctly (my fault). I made a (double) batch of Jessica’s Spiced Pecans and had the pan too hot and the brown sugar too hard. So instead of being nicely coated with a glaze, mine have most of the right flavors but the glaze is in chunks that are largely separate from the pecans. Too tasty to toss, but, instead of a finished product it needed to become an ingredient.
Now, normally, Jenny doesn’t go in for all that fancifying of sweet potatoes, just bake it and leave it be. But I figured these technically qualified as more savory than sweet, so I rolled the dice. I put a solid handful into one of those glass-jar-bottomed spring-loaded two-blades-bent-into-four hand-choppers from the ’70s and slapped away until they were very finely chopped. Then I stirred quantities of into the sweet potato mash until I could taste it, but taste it under the sweet potato, not overpowering it. I lightly greased with butter the inside of a pair of French casserole dishes and then filled each about ⅔ full and level with the mashed new potatoes, and then I placed a rounded ice cream scoop of sweet potatoes in the center of each. It ended up looking very much like a sunny-side up egg.
For the look of bacon, I filled a small pan with a couple of inches of pork lard and fried a couple of slices of Westphalen ham (again from Dietrich’s Meats), sort of a smokier version of prosciutto, just to give the fat a little bit of smoke flavor, and then fried the red potato skins in it until the whites were golden brown, slotted-spooned them out and onto a paper towel to drain, and sprinkled them liberally with Kosher salt and black pepper. They were so good that Jenny opted to postpone dessert until the morning (she is the inventor of breakfast dessert, after all, so I wasn’t going to try to stop her) and have a second helping of them which I was able to make from the discards that I didn’t discard. They didn’t look as much like bacon but they ate just fine.
What I’d planned for dessert was another egg impersonation. I pushed some cottage cheese (from Oasis) through a fine-mesh sieve to smooth it out completely, spread it on a dessert plate, then topped it with a cut-side-down peeled Jersey Gold peach from around the corner. It was plenty good in the morning, where sunny-side up is most at home, anyway.