Saturday, September 5, 2009

- Eggs Redux

Did I say I couldn’t tell the difference between mega-mart eggs and free-range eggs earlier today? Please allow me to recant. But first, a picture:

This is a popover. One of the best popovers I have ever put in my mouth. It didn’t hurt that it was accompanied by some Texas free-range loin lamb chops that we scored at the Dripping Springs Farmers Market. The chops had a healthy layer of fat, unlike the mercilessly butchered lamb that appears in the meat cases at most food stores. Fat that carried the essence of lamb to the tongue with a grace that …

Wait, this is supposed to be about the eggs. And the popovers, which were like perfectly toasted marshmallows … crunchy brown on the outside and utterly hollow on the inside. When broken open, each popover released a fragrant puff of steam as it revealed its golden center. They would have been great as leftovers for breakfast, with a dab of butter and seedless raspberry jam, but there were no leftovers tonight. Tant pis.

It’s time for a recipe. And it appears that I’m going to have to find another free-range egg supplier, because the twelve eggs I bought today are now six, which will never last until the next Dripping Springs Farmers Market two weeks hence. Next time I’ll have to buy two dozen ... or three.

Popovers (serves only two when they taste this good)

2 eggs (need I say free-range?)
A generous ½ cup of milk (I use 2%, whole milk would be even better)
1 Tbs. melted butter
A scant ½ cup of flour

Pre-heat oven to 425
Grease a 12-cup mini-muffin tin with Baker’s Joy spray (I know it’s chemical, but it works so well)
Whisk the eggs and milk to a froth, then whisk in the melted butter
Add almost all of the flour and gently whisk
The batter should be like a very heavy cream, but take care not to overbeat it
Add a bit more flour if the batter looks too thin (this takes experience … just keep trying)
Fill each mini-muffin cup to the rim and bake for 15 minutes, or until the popovers are rich brown puffs
They can be held in a warm oven for up to half an hour if need be

- Once a New Yorker … On bagels

There are certain foods that only attain perfection in New York. This is true. Ask any New Yorker. Only in New York can you find the perfect pizza, bagel, or Kaiser roll. Ex-pats commiserate about their never-ending frustration as they try out the newest restaurant or food store. Ever in search of their bliss, never succeeding, they ponder the reasons why. Is it the water? The salt air? Being at sea level? What is it about New York and bread?

So I was worried, very worried, when I learned about the new recipe my son-in-law was concocting. There was no way it could ever hit the mark, but how was I going to tell him the bitter truth? What was he thinking, trying out his bagels on a native New Yorker?

I tried not to worry too much. Paul is nothing if not thorough. He researched everything you would ever need to know about bagel-making. He told me stuff I never knew. Did you know that proper bagels are boiled in a lye solution before being baked? I didn’t. Besides, Paul has made some amazing food for us in the few short years that we’ve known him: fried ice cream, grilled prosciutto pizza with arugula and truffle oil, smoked brisket with his own dry rub, sea scallops perfectly seared with asparagus on the side, fried chicken and waffles … together. Maybe he could pull it off. Maybe I wouldn’t have to be … polite.

On the appointed day, I volunteered to bring some contributions to the brunch, as I am wont to do: granola, yogurt, strawberries, and a freshly baked blueberry coffee cake. I needn’t have bothered as they went virtually untouched by the assembled noshers. Because the bagels were amazingly good: the surface glazed to a crackle, the texture just chewy enough, the flavor … perfect. As were the honey almond and bacon scallion cream cheese blends that Meg had whipped up. I was … wrong.

Sorry, no recipes to share here. Just this: anything is possible. Even New York bagels … in Austin.

- The Great Egg Debate

I was taken to task for my promotion of “fake eggs” in the “Cookie Dough Conundrum” posting the other day. Guilty as charged, although in my defense, I did read labels and chose the Better’n Eggs brand because it was 98% egg whites, didn’t have too many unpronounceable chemicals, and tasted as close to mega-mart eggs as I could find. So it's only 2% fake. Which is, I guess, about as indefensible as being 2% guilty or as impossible as being 2% pregnant. Fake is fake. (2018 update: So now I use pasturized egg whites from the dairy case ... unadulterated).

Duly chastised, my mission today was to find real eggs laid by real chickens on a real farm. To that end, Don and I headed out early to case the Dripping Springs Farmers Market. The first booth yielded tomatoes, potatoes, and delightfully small onions. (Which merits a parenthetical observation: why do food stores only carry monster-sized onions? Don’t they know you only need a little bit of onion if you’re cooking for one or two?)

The second booth yielded pay dirt: fresh eggs from free-range, pastured, bug and grass eating local chickens for only $4.00 a dozen.  Opening the carton of eggs was like opening a jewel box. I must confess, though I knew intellectually that they existed in more than two colors, I was rocked back on my heels at the sight of the multi-hued eggs. Betraying my total ignorance, I asked if the eggs got that way because of what the hens ate. No, the farmer patiently explained, egg color was determined by the variety of chicken. What kind of chickens? Heinz 57s, production reds, golden sexlinks, leggers, and one other that I can’t quite recall. Really. I looked ‘em up when I got home. And found a bit more on Google than I bargained for. Who knew?

In any case, there was no question that we were going to have eggs for lunch. I took out some leftover sausage (pork with poblano chile peppers made by Norman at the local grocery store ... but that’s another story), fried up some potato and onion cakes (the first batch of which I over-seasoned and had to trash), and sliced some fresh tomato (which looked way too much like a mega-mart variety and tasted much the same … you can’t trust everything you find at a farmers’ market).

The eggs I did last, knowing they would cook in a hurry. Melting butter in the skillet and then scrambling the eggs with my trusty bamboo spoon, I was caught off-guard by just how quickly they set into soft golden curds. Light and delicious, the eggs were a perfect foil to the spicy sausage and crispy potatoes. Lunch was a success and I was converted.

But I do have another confession to make. I can’t honestly say that the eggs tasted significantly different from store-bought eggs, which I’m sure will infuriate true egg aficionados. Perhaps it’s because my taste buds are not yet attuned to the subtleties of true egg flavor. Perhaps I need to sample another farmer’s wares. Perhaps I need to make some custard ice cream to better ascertain the flavor potential of the little jewels.

This much I do know: I love the idea of bug and grass eating chickens running around in a pasture much more than the idea of antibiotic-infused warehouse chickens that surely lead miserable lives. That idea alone is worth spending an extra three bucks per dozen to me. And I’ll happily keep working on further educating my taste buds.  No doubt it will be a pleasure.