Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Three Dishes, Two Components, One Breakfast in Burton Morgan

For what seems like the longest time, I've made a few promises for foodie-sharing experiences à la cuisine for folks throughout campus. Earlier today, I had the fortunate opportunity to get to one of these groups; the only time that would bring everyone together was today for breakfast. There weren't any foreseen limitations I had to work with, but I definitely knew I wanted to use the Vermont maple syrup I had recently received and that I wanted to have a very short grocery list, supporting those items with the basic ingredients I wrote about as needing to be in everyone's kitchens. On this grocery list were: asparagus, goat cheese and grape tomatoes. Planning for at least 10, and having leftovers (and ingredients) to spare, the final menu ended up being a new example of an effective morning workout routine.

With a planned start time of 8.30am, I did the unthinkable and woke up ready to go at 6am. I first began the cooking process by setting the oven to 325 °F and microwaving 1 stick of unsalted butter for 40 seconds. This butter would go into the hollandaise sauce which I would make at the very end of my whirlwind experience; I definitely wanted the butter to be melted but cool. Setting the butter aside, I began to work on the first dish-- a white egg soufflé. I had first learnt about souffléed omelettes through Laura Calder's French Food at Home currently airing on the Cooking Channel and found this breakfast to be a great opportunity to test something like this. Knowing full well I wanted to make a hollandaise to go with my asparagus dish, and to keep things slightly healthy, I wanted to use only the egg whites for this dish. And so, basing a bit of this dish from this recipe and taking cues from this one, I began this dish by making a simple Mornay sauce (which I must admit is the best one I've made so far). In the past, I have suggested making this cheese-laden béchamel with a 1:1, equal parts ratio approach, when it comes to the unsalted butter and flour (tbsp, for the roux), the milk and cheese (cup, for the béchamel, then for the Mornay sauce), followed by a salt and ground black pepper (pinch). However, the ratio was a bit off (a positive thing here) and the approach this morning varied ever so slightly to allow for a smoother consistency and a subtle cheese flavour in the end result of the soufflé. For this Mornay sauce, begin by melting (don't brown) 3 tbsp unsalted butter; once melted add 3 tbsp all-purpose flour. Using a rubber whisk, stir these ingredients together until they start to slightly bubble and form something resembling a paste. To this, add 1 c milk, 1/4 c at a time and mixing thoroughly with each addition. By addition three, the sauce should start coming together with a smooth finish. After your whole cup has been added, add a touch more milk (about another 1/4 c) until the sauce is completely smooth. Next, add and combine until smooth 1/2 c shredded mozzarella. Add your salt and pepper to taste, give this another mix and then set this aside to cool.

As this sauce cools, separate six eggs. For this meal, you will use all six eggs in total. Whisk like no other 1/8 tsp cream of tartar (optional, but definitely helps hold everything together) and all the egg whites (yeah, you could use your hand beater or standing mixer; but again, this is where that morning workout comes in). Continue whisking until you get soft peaks and, in three or four smaller batches, fold in your Mornay sauce. If the sauce has cooled too much that it becomes too thick of a sauce to easily fold in, loosen it up with a touch of milk (and by "touch," I mean a tablespoon or so at a time). It's important to fold in the sauce, as mixing/agitating the egg whites will cause them to deflate (even with the cream of tartar).

Prepare your soufflé dishes by covering the bottoms with a layer of mozzarella cheese; I wanted to make use of my mini muffin pan so I divided 1/2 c shredded mozzarella among the 24 vessels. In heaping tablespoons, divide the soufflé mix and top each with a grape tomato and a very small pinch of Italian seasoning. What I found is that this was more than enough mix for 24 mini soufflés; after the 24, I added some cheese and the rest of the soufflé mix into a small baking dish. Get these carefully into the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Do not open the oven until at least 15 minutes of bake time, at which point the mini soufflés will have risen beautifully; the remaining 5 minutes will slightly brown the tops of them.

While the mini soufflés are in the oven, get into a small pot and onto medium heat 1 c frozen mixed berries (eyeball generously), a small sprinkling sugar (about a teaspoon or so), a small splash water (about a tablespoon or so) and about 1 c maple syrup. After bringing this to a boil, add the zest of half a meyer lemon and reduce the heat, bringing the syrup to a simmer.

 Your mini soufflés should definitely be done by this point. After you take the soufflés out of the oven, it would be ideal if they could be served immediately. Otherwise, they will naturally deflate (especially under the weight of the grape tomato); in either form, they're rather tasty and reminiscent of a toasted marshmallow without all that unnecessary stickiness. Increase your oven temperature now to 400 °F.

Saving four yolks for the hollandaise sauce, let's move onto the pancake batter. Based off my adapted pancake recipe, get the other two yolks in a separate bowl and add to those 1 tsp vanilla extract and 2 tbsp canola oil. In another bowl, sift together 1.5 c all-purpose flour, 1.5 tsp brown sugar (light or dark.. whatever you have in stock), 1.5 tsp baking powder and a pinch of salt. To this dry mix, use a fork and stir in 1.5 c milk, breaking up as many clumps as you can. Once thoroughly combined, continue using the fork to incorporate the eggy oil mix you just prepared. Next, crumble about 8 oz goat cheese and add the juice of one meyer lemon. Give this a good stir, again using your fork to break up any clumps; don't worry about an incredibly smooth finish (the mini chunks of goat cheese are delicious and even still will be subtle). Leave this to rest for a moment.

As the (now) pancake batter is resting, wash and chop the ends off your asparagus spears. Then, for each one, wrap half a slice of bacon around it. Prep as many as you wish, given your available ingredients (I made about two dozen). In my attempt to be pseudo-healthy here, I laid the spears on an inverted cooling rack and then rested this on top of a baking dish. In so doing, I would catch some of that bacon grease and have the asparagus and bacon cook without it. With this in mind, get this in the oven for approximately 40 min.

With the asparagus and bacon prepped and cooking away, cook your pancakes on medium heat, adjusting the heat so the pancakes don't turn out completely burned. On a 10-gauge setting, with 10 being the hottest, I found the heat set to about 4 worked very well. Depending on how much else you're doing, and how confident you are, get back to the four reserved egg yolks. [At this point, you'd do well to get a small pot of water simmering for the hollandaise sauce, the following recipe of which is based on Tyler Florence's. Fill up your pot with just enough water so that it does not touch the bottom of your bowl with the egg yolks.] Add to your yolk bowl the juice of one meyer lemon (usually it's just lemon here, but again work with what you have), and whisk these again like no other until they about double in size. Be mindful of your pancakes in the process; alternatively you could do this at the very end, but I happened to have the time to do this.

After doubling the egg yolks, and expecting the dish to be done, I took the bacon-wrapped asparagus out of the oven. The top had mostly browned but the underside had no colour change (it seemed to have cooked at this point, but definitely didn't look that way). With my pancakes completely finished by this point, I transferred all the asparagus into that pan--uncooked-looking side down--and began to finish them off there. Once even more fat had rendered out, I transferred them back to a baking dish and into the lower rack of my oven to finish cooking as I finished the hollandaise. Lesson learned: bake these in a baking dish from the start, knowing full well they'll eventually be cooking in the rendered bacon fat. (So much for being extremely healthy!)

Getting back to the hollandaise sauce, whisk the egg yolks again until they return to their fluid consistency and now put this on top of the pot with water. (If the water is boiling at this point, bring the heat down so it simmers.) The bowl now on the pot, pour in three separate additions the unsalted butter that had been cooling down this entire time, whisking vigorously between each addition. Do not add in the next bit of butter until the butter you just added looks like it's been well incorporated.

After the final addition, whisk everything like crazy to prevent the eggs from scrambling. With the yolks cooking with the steam below and everything having essentially started at room temperature, this whisking action shouldn't take more than five minutes. Once the (now) hollandaise sauce has changed colour from sunflower yellow to more of a canary yellow, the sauce should have again doubled in volume. Give this a taste: it should be buttery and rich with a velvet like texture to it. Add to this a pinch of salt and a pinch of cayenne pepper, give this lot a final whisking and you're good to go. Completely shut off the heat on the (now) berry syrup that's been simmering away this entire time, and make sure your entire stove top is no longer emitting any heat. It's now time for transport! As I packed everything up, I took out the asparagus and bacon, turned off the oven and put the egg white soufflés back in to warm up. When ready, I was on my way to head up the Hill for breakfast.

And so I present first the egg white soufflé with roasted grape tomato, topped with lightly shredded flat parsley. Light and neutral from the egg whites, the flavours from the Italian seasoning and the sweet burst from the tomato are allowed to shine. A nice salty undertone is provided from the cooked mozzarella at the base of the mini soufflés. Arguably, this was the most heart-healthy option of the three dishes I presented and if nothing else is definitely a vegetarian and gluten-free dish.

The other gluten-free dish was the one that was arguably the least heart-healthy option: bacon wrapped asparagus with hollandaise sauce. Anything is truly elevated when bacon is involved, especially given this dish; in actuality, having the bacon present made up for what were borderline overcooked (i.e., completely stringy) asparagus. Drizzled on top of this was of course the hollandaise sauce which added a richness all on its own. If so desired, the sauce goes quite well with the soufflé.

Finally, another vegetarian option were the meyer lemon and goat cheese pancakes served with the
berry maple syrup. Incredibly subtle (either because of the acidity of the meyer lemon or because of the quantity used in this recipe), the goat cheese was in no way overpowering and is a welcoming introduction to those who have never had or those who usually have an aversion to this dairy product. Goat cheese and fruit always go well together and so the addition of the berry syrup was great in complementing those flavours; having the real deal Vermont maple syrup was a great plus, too.

For all the photos from this meal, click here.

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