Sunday, March 22, 2015

Ee is for . . . yes Eggs!

Which came first?

Depends on who you ask.

How many times have we contemplated the question; Which came first, the chicken or the egg?  To be honest, I used to wonder about that.  Now a days, I wonder who’s crepey-crinkly skin is that on my arms and knees while pondering  the question, where did the time go? 
That chicken/egg question appears to never have been a serious consideration during ancient times.  Historic cultures seemed to have unscrambled that mystery with explanations and beliefs that put the question to rest.  According to my research, the early Phoenicians believed a primeval egg split open and formed the Heavens and Earth.  Egyptians taught their God Ptah created the sun and the moon from an egg.  While Native American Indians passed down their truth that the Great Spirit erupted forth from a beautiful golden egg and went on to create the universe.  There was no question their worlds, as they knew them to be, materialized from an Egg. 
I’m not exactly sure when chickens came into the picture.  There is a published article that refers to the Book of Genesis 1:21.  On the fifth day He created “every winged fowl after their kind . . . then He blessed them saying be fruitful and multiply.”  In other words it was the chicken/s that came first, complete with the DNA to reproduce.  I
don’t know. 
What I do know, is that eggs are excellent sources of protein and riboflavin.  Yes, the yolks contain all the fat but are at the core of that protein as well as iron, vitamins A and D and some phosphorus.  The colour of the yolk depends on the hen’s diet.  Was she fed alfalfa, grass, wheat or yellow corn?  The shading of the shells however depends upon the breed of the hen. 
Just a note to those of you who still carefully remove your purchased eggs from the carton and place them in the door of your refrigerator in that designated egg holder.  Eggs are odoriferous, meaning they absorb odors of other foods in close proximity, such as onions, lettuce greens, even left-overs.  It’s best to keep your eggs covered in the carton or placed in another type of egg container with a cover.  Of course this doesn’t apply to those small milk-like cartons of liquid egg products.  What about those cartons?  Are they real eggs you may wonder?  Yes, sort of.  They started out as real eggs.  Here the egg white and yolk are combined together then pasteurized, (heated up until all the bacteria is killed without cooking the eggs themselves).  These pasteurized liquid egg products keep for much longer than regular eggs, an important consideration for those who live alone and don’t eat at home every day. 
So here we are its Spring Time, flowers are burgeoning with blooms, little green leaves are emerging on the once barren trees and bushes and the bunnies are playing in my yard.  Like me many of you will be rummaging through your secured holiday boxes in search of left-over egg dyes and stickers.  I declare Ee is for Eggs.  They are versatile and multi-faceted, eggs are always in season in my book.  They can be baked, boiled, scrambled, poached  or fried.  Eggs function as leaveners in baking, clarifying agents in soups and stocks and not so well-known, except to my artist son and others like him, eggs are a main ingredient in the making of paint.  Andrew Wyeth was a big user of egg tempera paint he mixed himself. 

I have long been a fan of turning those eggs that have survived the transformation from plain white to festooned with colours and patterns.  The more than a few, that are less cracked or bled with so much dye the food would look inedible.  Those eggs that have only minimal signs of being man-child-mom handled and  are fortunate enough to be found behind couches, balancing high on drapery rods, inside shoes or outside nestled in potted plants, under large rocks or along fence rails.  Yes, I’ve taken those hearty, privileged oeufs and used them to prepare a platter or two of deviled eggs.
 I can’t lay claim to the creation of this week’s Blog recipes, but I can share my excitement of these new and inspired uses of the two dozen-or-so eggs most of us will have to use up come Easter Sunday. 
Deep fried deviled eggs and De-constructed egg salad sandwiches!  I LOVE these ideas.  I have never tasted or prepared deep fried deviled eggs but the recipes for them abound on the Internet.   Most of them have you deep frying the entire deviled egg , filling and all.  The deep fired deviled egg I finally did taste was at EAT, a cool local eatery downtown.  They only fried the white and allowed you to actually see the yummy filling inside, with all its inviting creaminess.  Then they top the eggs with teeny bits of real bacon and a flavorful red hot sauce.  While the de-constructed egg salad sandwich offers a more esthetically appealing version of my childhood favourite, which always stunk up my lunchbox.  Mine was an Alvin and the Chipmunks, lunchbox, green vinyl.   None of that sissy Barbie stuff for me.   And I can assure you, when I made prepared and tasted this sandwich there was NO stink.  At least from the sandwich, only when I was peeling the eggs.  

Because these recipes are not mine I can only encourage you to take the time to look them up.  But you must try them, they are delicious and will really wow your friends and family!!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Stuffed Dates Recipe

Easy Stuffed Dates 

12 pitted Medjool dates                            1/4 cup slivered almonds or crushed pistachios
1/2 cup Mascarpone cheese                      zest of 1 large lemon
1-2 tablespoons honey

In a medium mixing bowl combine Mascarpone cheese and honey until combined.  Taste for desired sweetness, adding more honey if needed, but remember the dates are quite sweet on their own.
Make an incision in each date to create an opening for filling.  Do not cut all the way through the dates.
Using a small spoon, scoop the cheese-honey mixture into the dates.  Top each with one or two almonds or if using the crushed pistachios, sprinkle lightly then generously top with the lemon zest.

You may incorporate the almonds or pistachios right into the cheese mixture if you like, as I did here.

Dressed for Dinner
To Dress your Dates in Bacon

Use the same ingredients listed above but add 4 slices of bacon, and cut each slice into thirds, crosswise.

Wrap one piece of bacon around each date and secure with a toothpick that has been soaking in water for about 15-20 minutes.  This helps to prevent the toothpicks from burning while the bacon cooks.

Arrange the stuffed, dressed dates on a foil lined baking sheet and place in a 400 degree, (preheated) oven.  Place them about one inch apart.  Bake for about 5 minutes.  Using tongs turn the dates onto their other side and bake another 5-7 minutes.  Drain the cooked dates on a plate lined with a paper towel.  Then serve immediately, while still piping hot!

I would use a little less lemon zest for these dressed dates.

Trust me, the sweetness of the date, plump with that cheese stuffing and mixed with the salty, crunch of the bacon . . .  So Good!!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

A Date With Nana

Arroz con Pollo
I’m not sure it’s true that sensory memory is short term as described by some scientist.   Since my own sensory memories tend to be more explicit and long lasting.   

 I’m certain we all experience sensory recollections of some kind or another.  We hear a song and are reminded of a loved one or special event.  Perhaps you’ve driven through some town or have seen a photo of people gathered in a square and before you know it your mind is catapulted back to a time in your personal history when you visited a similar place.  Without even realizing it you conjure up pictures of who was with you and what you were doing.  Have you ever eaten a certain dish or food and some long lost memory  washes across your mind? 

  When I was about six years old, my sister, brother and I had a babysitter who watched us after school.  She had three children of her own, all about our same ages.  On occasion our babysitter used to bake these chocolate cookies with powdered sugar on them.  I loved those cookies! 

But it wasn’t until I was a grown adult participating in a cookie exchange that I remembered that babysitter and those kids.  There they were, those delightful confections with their contrast of colors and their soft, sweet, crackly tops sitting on an over-sized holiday platter.  Then I remembered. 

It had been raining outside, so we were forced to play indoors, all six of us. Pin the tail on the donkey.  The kids spun me around so many times I became extremely dizzy, fell and hit my face on the footboard of the over-sized bed that took up almost the entire room.  My chin split open and the bleeding started.  I cried dramatically of course.   The other kids hurriedly escorted me out of the room and clamored in explanation what happened.  I was immediately tended to by the babysitter who armed herself with a dampened cloth, tape and gauze.  Best of all, I was consoled with one of the Chocolate Crinkle Cookies she had been baking that afternoon.  The other children were awarded cookies too, for thinking on their feet so quickly, (they left out the part about spinning me around too many times).   That entire memory emerged from the depths of my mind just from seeing cookies at a holiday exchange years later.  

But recently I’ve been having a most unique sensory memory, an olfactory memory.  Like a recurring dream, it happens over and over.  The first time I had this particular sensory memory I had disembarked from the airplane at SFO and was making my way towards the large, glass doors to board the Super Shuttle.  I was not yet outside when it hit me. 

 Suddenly the scent of garlic, olive oil and arroz con pollo filled my nostrils.  I was momentarily stunned.  I looked around the myriad of people surrounding me.  No one was walking and eating from a to-go-box nor was I within sight or smell of a food court.  I couldn’t figure out how or from where I was picking up on the smell of my Nana’s chicken and rice, with bits of bacon and small capers.  I shook my head as if to clear my mind, thinking the smell would go away.  But it didn’t.  That aromatic comfort I associate with my grandmother only increased as I exited the building.  I was outside and the scent was as strong as ever.  How can I still be smelling Nana’s cooking when I’m outside, I wondered. 

 I had flown in from Vegas to visit my brother who was in the midst of his battle with cancer, so I reasoned perhaps Nana was with me.  Kind of hitchhiking along to see how Lawrence was doing for herself.  You know how you come up with crazy, esoteric  explanations during moments such as these.  I was sure that’s what was happening.   As I stood on the curb waiting for my blue limo I continued breathing deeply, trying to discern where the scent was coming from.  I intently watched the passers-by but could see I was the only one who detected the scent.  Trust me if anyone else had been inhaling the aroma of that delectable dish, they would’ve exhibited obvious signs of salivation. 

Finally I boarded the van and then it was gone.  I rode in silence to my mother’s house never mentioning the strange event when I arrived.  Two weeks later, when I flew into SFO it happened again.  I strolled past airport security on my way to passenger pick-up, and there was Nana’s chicken and rice, in vaporous form.  Floating under my nose and tickling my taste buds.  Now, for some magical reason, every time I fly home, and meander my way through SFO airport, towards the curb outside to await my ride, there’s Nana’s chicken and rice.  Strange though it is, it makes me smile. 

Nana has been gone for over 40 years.  But my memory of her cooking, her style of preparation and her love of watching us eat, remains prominent.  I am fortunate enough to  have her wooden mortar and pestle in my own kitchen.  Whenever I’m cooking up something of great importance, I make sure I pound that fresh garlic, olive oil and salt in her well-seasoned vessel.  As a child I licked the pestle now I only hold it up to my nose, inhale deeply and the memories come flooding back.  It’s wonderful.  I miss her.  I miss her cooking.

But if Nana were still here with us and I was to prepare a meal for her, what would I make?  My pumpkin bouillabaisse?  My French cassoulet?  Would I dare cook up her chicken and rice in hopes it would measure up?  Maybe.  I do remember she had a sweet-tooth. 

It’s just a fantasy, but if “Nana in San Francisco,” unexpectedly took a seat at my table for dinner I think I would start the meal off with an appetizer of home-made guacamole and tortilla chips.  My guacamole would have plenty of chunky avocado, fresh lime and cumin seed.  The chips I would make from corn tortillas, cut into sharp triangles, drizzle them with olive oil and season them with kosher salt and herbs de Provence.  Then I’d crisp them up to perfection in the oven.

 For our entrĂ©e, my chicken and cheese enchiladas might serve to impress her.  Soft Gordita-flour tortillas stuffed with a freshly roasted, shredded chicken and a blend of cheeses.  One batch prepared with a white sauce, bubbling hot with a chili verde salsa to accentuate the dish and offer a pleasant high note.  The other batch would be smothered in a smoky red sauce so dark and lusty Nana would ask if it was adobo.  Black olives, dollops of more guacamole and streaks of crema Mexicana would enhance the taste and visual appeal.   

Since my enchiladas are somewhat heavy, I would stick to her simple salad of iceberg lettuce, quartered, diced tomatoes and snips of green onions.  A simple dressing of olive oil and vinegar with a pinch of salt is all she would need.

To “fill in the cracks” as she used to say, and satisfy her sweet tooth, a small plate of fresh fruit, shortbread biscuits and stuffed dates.  She loved dates.  Soft and chewy, with a rich history of culinary uses going as far back as Pre-historic Egypt and Mesopotamia.  The ancient Egyptians enjoyed the date for its sweet flavor and even used it to manufacture wine.  Harvested from the date palm tree, dates can be used as a digestive aide, are rich in potassium and are reported to be a super-food for the development of healthy bones. 

While Nana and I sip our espresso and enjoy our sweets, I would explain what a Blog site is.  And that I’m on the letter “D” this week, hence the Dates.  Nana would nod her head and widen her eyes in interest.  She would tell me how she had never had dates split in half and stuffed with a blend of mascarpone cheese, honey and fresh orange zest topped with a slivered almond.  Small, simple and sweet ~  Yes, I believe Nana would approve.   Wait until she tastes my dates wrapped in bacon!!  * Recipes for Dates to follow later this week.  

Hmmm, Stuffed Dates?

Horn-rimmed glasses - always in style!