Eggs Florentine

This post might as well be called “sometimes I like to eat two sticks of butter and five eggs.” I was a little cocky, though. My eggs florentine was just too rich to finish. I’ve been wanting to try making this dish since I first made eggs benedict at the beginning of my restaurant-less adventure, and I finally had the spinach and cream on hand to do so. I don’t think I could have possibly packed any more fat or protein on one plate, but since this is AMERICA, I don’t feel bad. Just look at how beautiful this plate is:

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In an attempt to fill my body with the fat and protein it desperately needs after three hard days of dancing, working, and partying, I figured it was about time, and oh boy does making anything with hollandaise take time and both hands. I started by creaming the spinach — about a big cup of torn and fresh big leaves (not the kind from the bag), 3-4 tbsp heavy cream, 2 tbsp butter, and a pinch each of salt/pepper/nutmeg over medium heat until the leaves were just wilted. Each step in the process takes both hands and I still can’t multitask like I usually do while making these things.

Next, I started in on the hollandaise — my least favorite, most tedious thing so far to cook — and repeated the process I used before. After switching off the low heat to let the sauce thicken, I stuck some tomato slices under the broiler for about ten minutes while I started to boil about an inch and a half of water at the bottom of a saucepan. As it boiled, I turned down the heat to simmer, and buttered the slots of this nifty egg poacher. I cracked the eggs into the slots, and dropped the whole thing in to poach for about five minutes or so until the the whites were firm and the yolks were wobbly and still runny.

I turned the heat up and down over and over attempting to keep the simmer going without boiling, which was tricky and time-consuming. Once the eggs were finished, I ended up dropping them both into the shallow water as I tried to lift the tray from the saucepan, but luckily, neither of the yolks cracked open through the whites. I toasted a gluten-free English muffin, and started assembling. As I started topping the tomatoes with the creamed spinach, I realized I hadn’t made quite enough. Plus, the spinach was now cold and the hollandaise was headed that way. Because both have cream and butter and are very sensitive to heat, I hadn’t left the heat on while I’d cooked the rest. I had to reheat the spinach on the stove, but I still wish I’d doubled or tripled the amount of spinach I’d used, added an extra tablespoon of both butter and cream, and an extra pinch of nutmeg (which turned out to be fantastic with the spinach!).

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Over the top, I chopped green onions and topped with some paprika and pepper. It was absolutely as fabulous as it looks on a really snowy night. I’m stuck at home after being blown off and totally unable to work, and animal crackers and eggs florentine were exactly what I wanted to binge-eat on my recovery day. One pro tip, though? Don’t put your animal crackers near your hollandaise. The flavors don’t mix well.

I’m off to get more animal crackers.

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Party: Iowa sushi

I was invited to a beach party, and yesterday, I unleashed the summer potluck snack of my childhood on an unsuspecting group of acquaintances: pickle roll-ups. My mom used to make these when I was a kid for just about every single potluck-style family gathering, and I loved them. Mostly, I loved the flavor of the cream cheese and the corned beef and only tolerated the pickle, so I tried to get all of the end pieces as she rolled and chopped these.

My parents cooked quite a bit when I was little, but other than a few family recipes, it wasn’t gourmet stuff. I was a meat-and-potatoes, Lunchables, Kraft mac-and-cheese, Spaghettio’s-lovin’, hot-dog-eatin’ true Midwestern child. Save for thick homemade chicken noodle soup, pickle roll-ups, “Spanish” rice (it just had tomato soup in it), deviled eggs, no-bake cookies, and a few other family treasures, my parents just didn’t have many specialties. But these gems, these pickle roll-ups, were special to me growing up. When they were made, I knew that there was something special coming up, like a family picnic or a holiday, and that I’d get to see my extended family.

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So when I was invited to this party, I tried to figure out what to bring. It occurred to me at the last second that pickle roll-ups would be fast to prepare and require only cheap ingredients, and I needed groceries, anyway. But as I made these, I started to remember. She let the real cream cheese warm up on the counter instead of using Philadelphia’s “whipped-style” and the glue it became held together much better. The cheap Buddig packets of corned beef used to be slightly thicker, and square-shaped, which meant the pickle roll-ups of my childhood didn’t tear quite as easily. She spread the cream cheese on the meat, rolled the pickle, and then let the uncut rolls chill in the fridge, helping the whole thing stick together before she cut them the next morning. I begged her to cut one or two the night before any potluck, and I’d forgotten all about that until I started cutting these rolls and they just started falling apart in my hands.

Needless to say, it was a pickle disaster. I actually gave up on the last half dozen pickles and just threw the unsheathed suckers on the plate because I was ready to be done with the mess! I made two trays of these suckers, and only used up almost two large jars of pickles, one cream cheese tub, and five Buddig packets. I still have to figure out how I’ll use two more tubs of “whipped” cream cheese, one large jar of pickles, and three packets of cheap corned beef sometime in the next hundred years.

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I made the rolls sitting in front of the television for something to do, and forgot to put them up high before I jumped in the shower for a quick rinse. I jumped out of the shower, and it hit me…shit. Sure enough, this little piggy had eaten the cream cheese and corned beef off of about 30-40 pickle slices. My eight-pound dog was so bloated and apologetic after I caught her binge-eating the skins of the finger food, just like when I was a kid. I think I actually hurt her dog feelings when I yelled at her and she crinkled her little forehead.

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The second pan was left untouched, and subsequently made it to the party. I also took three pounds of bacon and spent about an hour cooking it in the hosts’ kitchen — so we could “roast a pig” at the beach party. I had a total blast and danced the night away, drinking and making out with strangers, wearing tiny sunglasses and kicking around tiny beach balls, flipping through a book of pictures gay men drew of vaginas. I learned a new phrase for the potluck dish of my childhood last night from the host: Iowa sushi. It’s perfect.

My one cheat meal

In the beginning of this project, I specified that there was one very special exception to my year of restaurant abstinence. And that’s this pile of creamy, garlicky, vegan, special goodness:

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It’s not a secret that I do eat meat, and I choose to eat high-quality protein at every opportunity and avoid particularly poor choices. I choose wild-caught over farm-raised, antibiotic- and hormone-free when applicable, cage-free, free-range, grass-fed, organic, vegetarian-fed, small-farm-raised, local, wild game, and try not to waste the food I’ve been privileged enough to buy and consume. I choose vegetarian and vegan when the product is just pretty tasty or the protein quality is questionable or low. But this particular macaroni and cheese is served up at a local vegan cafe run by a quirky activist and anarchist and made by he and his staff with love. Really. This pasta always tastes like someone that loves me cooked for me. The cafe even knows my voice on the phone and makes mine gluten-free.

I was thrilled to see this dish on the always-rotating menu at the cafe this week, thinking I’d grab some several times through the week. Tuesday night, I drowned in free shots at a neighborhood bar with a pal I wanted to get to know better, and I woke up Wednesday afternoon with the worst hangover in years. I haven’t been so nauseated and apologetic since I was maybe one day past my ill-spent twenty-third birthday at a Russian bar with homemade horseradish-infused vodka.

Wednesday I just tried to pack in the nutrients: two vitamins instead of one, a supplement, a big glass of water (sipped, slowly), and breakfast on the bathroom floor. Pumpkin soup was the only thing I remotely thought I could choke down, but that sugar really fought me. I won, and was able to get up in time to get to the cafe and grab the macaroni and cheese. Excellent. Comfort food. The supreme, ultimate comfort food in my life.

I picked up my pal after picking up my food, and we shared the special treat. But instead of enjoying the creamy goodness all on its own, I stopped to reheat our portions. Something about this dish just doesn’t reheat in the microwave very well, and I was a little disappointed that I’d sort of sucked all of the creaminess out of the food and was left with a sticky, blander version. Plus, I gave her most of the delicious kale when I split the portions up. Oops.

Throughout the rest of the week, I had a hard time finding enough time to make it to the cafe, and ended up missing my chance on getting more macaroni. ‘Til next time, love of my life.

Apple compote quinoa breakfast

This breakfast looks pretty ugly, and happened out of an accident and some serious whining, but damn it was delicious. It was like eating dessert for breakfast and not feeling too terrible about it.

My best pal offered to come over this morning and keep me company while I had a Very Bad Day. I’d thrown four sliced and cored apples of two varieties in a tiny, one-setting crockpot last night, thinking I’d wind up with beautiful, gooey, soft, cobbler-like apples to put in my oatmeal in the morning. Instead, I forgot all about them until she said the house smelled wonderful, “like apples.” We were both hungry, I’d just finished a work out, and I’d forgotten all about the apples for at least ten hours. Realizing I was out of oatmeal, I subbed the only other grain I didn’t have to cook: 90-second heat-and-serve quinoa in individual serving packets.

I whipped up five eggs with black pepper, cayenne, garlic powder, and almond milk without much effort and a whole bunch of grumpiness, dumped the apple “compote-like” substance on the quinoa, and ran with it. Fuck it. The apples weren’t burned, just goop-y.

I probably would have thrown the whole plate at the wall had it not worked out. No, seriously. It was a bad morning. Dessert for breakfast was just about right today. Hopefully I can use the rest of those apples on top of some bear-shaped pancakes later this week!

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Kitchen remodel: part one

Well, as of today, the kitchen remodel began. I started with a mess, but my dear papa is helping me. While I’m an excellent painter on my own, it’s because I learned from my dad. He’s been a painter professionally for 43 years. He was the president of his union for something like a decade or more, and I’m a proud union kid on both sides (my mom works in telecommunications designing circuits). I painted the rest of my house beautifully, but I was pretty damn thankful when he saved me the trouble and sprayed my ceilings.

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His birthday is December 31, so like the asshole daughter I am, I celebrate with him a few days later every year and work that night instead. This year, we went to his favorite restaurant on January 3rd — three days after I started my restaurant fast. I had a few drinks (no food!), and we caught up as he ate. He made the offer to help me paint my kitchen, and I enthusiastically agreed. I’m better than the average bear at painting, but I don’t enjoy the long, slow process.

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So off I went to the paint store the night before we were to paint. I was in a rush. A big rush. I had to take my dog to her first day of her new class at school, Agility and Performance Readiness — it’s looking more and more like she might compete in the fall match! Anyway, with the snow and things, my mind was awfully scattered when I went to pick out paint. I knew the counters were brown, and that the trim would be the same color throughout the house (“heavy cream”). I looked, and looked. Not blue; I have that in two rooms already. No shades of white or my appliances and trim will disappear, leaving an ugly counter as a focal point. No pinks or peaches, because it’s the color in the dining room. No red or purple; I’m just not that kind of girl. No green; my last rental house was filled with this horror of an institutional, depressing, olive green color that I barely tolerated for four years. No black, no dark grey, no dark brown on the walls; I didn’t want to make the ugly oak cabinets stand out, either. So I picked a tan color, promising myself I’d find a neat color to paint the cabinets when I had time.

Except…I forgot what color the kitchen was painted at the moment. I hadn’t even considered avoiding the same color that it was painted already. I was in a hurry. I chose this color:

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Note that it looks very similar to the wall color. Very. Similar. Nearly identical. And yet, I brought it home, and I’m stuck with two gallons of very expensive Behr Ultra paint that can’t be returned. I considered telling my dad about the mistake and having him paint it with a fresh coat of the same color. Something just didn’t sit right with it, though, and I headed back to the store the next morning to hurriedly buy new paint before my dad found out I hadn’t thought long and hard about my (arguably poor) color choice.

To be continued…

Eggs Benedict

I crave protein and raw fruits and vegetables in the morning. Normally, I’m such a carbs junkie that I can’t stay off the corn and rice long enough to get a solid amount of protein, but first thing in the day, all I want is meat, eggs, cucumbers, and an ocean full of water. This morning, I stayed in bed nearly two hours before I got up for good — at 1:30pm. The one time I did get up was only to let the dogs out and eat a cookie!

Nevertheless, it was my breakfast time when I woke up, and making eggs benedict sounded like a winner. Who doesn’t need five eggs, 4 oz of sliced uncured ham, and a full stick of butter first thing in the morning, anyway? This is the Midwest, lovers. This is America. This is exactly what the rest of the world thinks we eat, all day long. And I, your giggling blogger, did just that.

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Sort of, anyway. The first round of hollandaise sauce was botched. I remembered that it was just a full stick of butter, three egg yolks, and a bit of lemon juice, but forgot the technique. Still too cocky, I threw everything in the pot on low and watched it all clump up. Damn.

I hit the internet again, and found a basic hollandaise recipe before trying again. I’ll save you the trouble, and repeat it here. You don’t need a double boiler, and it doesn’t have to be as hard as some sites claim (what kind of non-chef has a fancy double-boiler anyway?). But you do only have two hands, and you’ll need both of them to slave over the stove for the entire length of cooking the hollandaise — about 15-20 minutes. Put on a good audiobook or some jams and rock out while you stir incessantly. Warm up your wrists in whatever way you see fit.

  1. Chop up an entire stick of butter into about 20 pieces and set within arm’s reach of the stove.
  2. Crack the eggs and retrieve the yolks of three eggs, put those in a saucepan. A big, 3qt saucepan is what I used, and it worked well. You don’t actually need an egg white separator. Here’s a Lifehack if you don’t know how.
  3. Bust the yolks and stir until they’re an even consistency with the heat off.
  4. Turn the heat on the tiniest, lowest possible setting on the stove. Add in each one of the butter slices veeeeeerrryyyyy slowly. V-e-r-y fucking slowly. Like, until the entire slice is melted, don’t add the next one. Stir. Stir. Stir. Stir until your arm feels like it will fall off. Stir until you feel like you’ve given a hundred handjobs. Stir some more. Don’t let the eggs scramble. If they scramble, you’re screwed. Stir some more. I used a rubber spatula, and that worked much better than an unreliable whisk (I don’t even own a whisk). Don’t switch arms, cheater.
  5. Add a little less than a tablespoon of lemon juice. Stir. Taste. Decide if you want more lemon. You can’t undo lemon.
  6. Stir more. When the sauce is thickened enough to stick to whatever you’re stirring it with and feels warm and your arm really hurts, you’re done. While you prepare the rest of the meal, stir it more to avoid getting a gelatinous “crust” over the top. I don’t add seasoning to hollandaise, because I add it on top of my meal to control the amount of salt that finds its way into my food.

The rest of the meal is pretty straightforward. Warm up some English muffins* and some sliced ham by whatever means you deem necessary. I poached my eggs for the first time as I listened to this lovely British man talk, but it was far more complicated than it was worth to boil the water and watch the thing swirl around, worried I was going to lose more eggs to my cooking experiment. I’ve done it. I’ve poached, now. I’m totally giving myself (and you) permission to fry the damn thing over-easy if you don’t have time or inclination to boil your stupid eggs all fancy-like. I assembled the dish: English muffin, ham, egg, hollandaise, and then topped it with salt, pepper, and smoked paprika.

Ta-da. Looks pretty neat, huh? Kind of made it worth slaving over that hollandaise, huh?

On the side: a cara cara orange.

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*Note: I used Kinnikinnick’s English muffins, available here. They were “okay for gluten-free food,” but not amazing. I probably won’t top them with my finest jams, but for soaking up hollandaise, they worked great. Kinnikinnick makes way, way, way better animal cookies than anybody else, for the record.