Monday, October 31, 2011

Making Better Eggs

My post on making better eggs debuted last week on The Art of Manliness - quite frankly, it was one of my most popular posts ever - guess there is a lot of interest out there surrounding the world of breakfast - no matter what those publishers say in NYC!  It's got me thinking . . . Enjoy!

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In my opinion, eggs are one of your best resources in the morning.  Full of quality protein, virtually carb-free, and packed with vitamins and minerals, they make the ultimate breakfast food.  Don’t be too swayed by the cholesterol scares of the 1980s; eating the whole egg–not just the whites–has actually been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties and to improve good cholesterol levels. Eggs are a fantastic food for men who are looking to get in shape; they help build your muscles, and they keep you satiated for a long time. A study showed that men who ate eggs instead of carb-rich bagels for breakfast consumed less calories over the course of the day.

And besides their great nutritional profile, eggs are easy to prepare, taste great, and are dirt cheap (less than 15 cents per egg!).

Yet, for all of their greatness and simplicity, I know a lot of guys who mess up even a basic scrambled egg. Their eggs are edible, but not incredible. Since we’ve been focusing our efforts on getting back to the basics in the kitchen, I wanted to share my thoughts and techniques on getting the most out of this versatile food.

Here are tips on preparing eggs in four of the basic, traditional ways: scrambled, fried, poached, and hard-boiled. We’ll cover the wondrous omelet in a separate post.

Let’s get cracking.

Scrambled Eggs

In my opinion, there are two schools of thought when it comes to the perfect scrambled egg.  Low and Slow vs. Hot and Fast.  Whatever your preference, the two methods typically turn out two very unique types of scrambles.  Low and slow yields eggs with small curds that are moist and soft, whereas the hot and fast method turns out eggs with larger, denser curds.  Instead of taking sides, I’m laying out both options.

Non-stick cookware truly comes in handy when scrambling eggs.  The slick non-stick surface allows for easy cleanup, and preparation containing less fat or oil.  Make sure you always use a wooden spoon or rubber spatula on the cookware to prevent damaging the non-stick coating.

One of the more important elements to the perfect scrambled egg, regardless of the method, is air.  That’s right, air.  The more air you can whisk into the mixture, the more full and fluffy your scrambled eggs will turn out.  It’s important to whisk your eggs in a large bowl, using a circular motion that pulls the eggs to the surface, rather than stirring around the perimeter of the bowl.  Utilize a tilted wheel motion with either a fork or whisk to get as much air into the eggs as possible.  With that said, you do not want to overbeat your eggs.  You will know when your eggs are ready when the mixture is evenly colored and frothy.

Many people like to add salt, pepper, cream, and herbs to their eggs prior to scrambling.  I prefer to wait to season the eggs until they have finished cooking.  Regarding cream or herbs, you can utilize these ingredients to enhance moisture and flavor, but they are not necessary.  A properly scrambled egg will not need any additional ingredients to taste excellent.

Scrambled Eggs

1 Tablespoon Unsalted Butter
3 Large Eggs
Kosher Salt
Fresh Cracked Pepper

Low and Slow- Heat an 8 or 10 inch non-stick pan over medium low heat, add butter.  Meanwhile, crack eggs into a bowl and vigorously whisk until combined and frothy.  When butter is completely melted, add eggs to pan.  Wait to stir until eggs have just begun to set.  Using a wooden spoon, begin to push the eggs towards the center while tilting the pan.  This will create small curds and allow the runny portions to reach the hot surface.  Continue in this manner until there is no longer any runny portion remaining.  Remove eggs from heat, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve.

Hot and Fast – Heat an 8 or 10 inch non-stick pan over medium high heat, add butter.  Meanwhile, crack eggs into a bowl and vigorously whisk until combined and frothy.  When butter is completely melted, add eggs to pan.  Wait to stir until eggs have set in the pan, the runny portion should remain on top of the cooked portion.  Quickly use a wooden spoon to scramble and lift off the cooked portions while allowing the uncooked eggs to reach the heat.  Do not over scramble. When there is no longer any runny portion that remains, remove eggs from heat, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve.

Fried Eggs

Unfortunately, most people typically have a negative connotation with fried eggs.  Perhaps it’s the word “fried” in the description.  Keep in mind, a fried egg is much different than the caloric disaster of chili cheese fries down at the Starlight Diner.  Honestly, fried eggs, when prepared correctly, hold very little of the oil or fat used to prepare them.

On mornings when I’m rushing out the door, my go-to breakfast is a few fried eggs.  I can cook the eggs quickly, and I don’t have to pull out, or clean up, several bowls or utensils.

Butter is traditionally used in the preparation of fried eggs; however, I prefer using olive oil instead.  The health benefits of olive oil are abundant, but I also like the distinctive flavor it adds.  Also, because extra virgin olive oil has a higher smoke point than butter, I find that my pans clean up easier when using oil instead of butter.

Fried Eggs

1 Tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Large Eggs
Kosher Salt
Fresh Cracked Pepper


Heat an 8 or 10 inch non-stick pan over medium heat, add oil.  Carefully crack eggs into the pan, allowing room for each egg to cook separately.  After a minute or so, the egg white will solidify from transparency into a firm white texture.

At this point, you have a few options.

For sunny-side up eggs, continue to cook for another minute until the white portion is firm and just cooked through.  Carefully slide eggs onto a plate, season with kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste, and serve.

For a firmer yolk (over easy, over medium, over well), place a lid over the pan and cook (steam) the yolk for another few minutes until the egg is cooked to your desired consistency.  You can gently use your finger to press on the yolk to determine doneness.  An over-easy yolk will give to slight pressure, whereas an over-medium yolk will be firm to the touch.  Remove lid, season eggs with kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste, and serve.

Another option is to remove the pan from the heat, and using a quick tilted back-and-forth motion with the pan, flip the egg onto its other side.  Of course, a spatula may also be used to flip the egg.  Return the pan to the heat and continue to cook until the yolk is cooked to your desired consistency.  Remove from heat, season with kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper, and serve.

Poached Eggs

Novice cooks typically shudder in fear at the idea of poaching an egg.  Truth be told, it takes some skill to get this technique down.  But, with a little practice and a few tips, you will be able to impress your guests in no time.

Poaching is one of the healthier methods for preparing eggs.  Because the eggs are cooked while immersed in water, there is no need to add extra oil or butter.  A word of caution: it typically takes a bit more time to prepare poached eggs, which may not make for convenient preparation on a busy weekday.

When poaching, it’s important to find the freshest eggs possible.  Ideally, eggs should be no more than a week old.  Remember, fresh eggs lack oxygen, are heavy in weight, and the white will gather completely around the yolk, making a rounder, neater shape.
Adding a tablespoon of white wine vinegar to the simmering water will help the egg hold its shape.  Simply placing the poached egg in a bowl of water will remove any of the vinegar taste after cooking.  I also find that placing the egg on a piece of bread after cooking is a great way to get rid of any excess water.

When entertaining a large crowd, you can poach a batch of eggs in advance, and immerse and hold the eggs in ice water until ready for service.  Before serving, return the eggs to simmering water to heat through.

Poached Eggs

1 Tablespoon White Wine Vinegar
2 Large Eggs
Kosher Salt
Fresh Cracked Pepper

Fill a 12 inch stainless skillet or a large pot with at least three inches of water.  Bring water to a boil over high heat.  When water comes to a boil, reduce heat to low, add vinegar, and allow water to remain at a very slow simmer.  Break eggs into separate small containers.  Next, carefully slip eggs into the simmering water.  If necessary, using a spoon, gently nudge the egg whites closer to the yolk.  Allow eggs to slowly simmer for 3 – 5 minutes, depending on yolk preference.  Carefully remove eggs using a slotted spoon or spatula and immerse in water to remove any vinegar, if desired.  Season eggs with kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper, serve.

Hard-Boiled Eggs

Hard-boiled eggs are a handy “on the go” breakfast staple.  Eating a few hard-boiled eggs in the morning is a convenient way to get your metabolism started without facing a crash later in the day.  The best part about this cooking method is that it creates eggs that you can store for several days to use in salads, sandwiches, or simply as a quick snack.  A touch of kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper can really enhance the flavor of a simple hard-boiled egg.

Several manufacturers now sell hard-boiled eggs alongside fresh eggs at the store.  For a premium, they offer the convenience of precooked and peeled eggs.  If you don’t have the time to prepare hard-boiled eggs on your own, this is a great time saver.

However, if you want to save a few bucks, these are really quite simple to prepare at home.  My best advice after cooking the eggs is to allow them to come back up to room temperature before peeling.  You will encounter trouble if you try to peel the eggs while they are either too hot or cold.  Store your hard-boiled eggs in an airtight container and refrigerate, keeping up to 3 – 5 days.

Hard-Boiled Eggs

6 Large Eggs
Place eggs into a large pot or skillet and cover with water by one inch.  Over medium high heat, bring water to a slow boil and allow eggs to simmer for 1 minute.  Remove from heat, cover, and allow the eggs to sit for 10 – 12 minutes.  Carefully transfer eggs into a colander and rinse under cold running water until they are no longer warm to the touch.  Allow the eggs to sit at room temperature for 15 – 20 minutes before peeling.  Serve immediately or store in an airtight container and keep refrigerated for later use.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Cast Iron Cooking













 
For those who read my blog on a regular basis, you know two things are almost inevitably certain with everyone of my posts - 1) I'm enjoying a cocktail while cooking.  2)  I'm cooking with Cast Iron.

Cast Iron cookware is my favorite type of cooking equipment on the market - it's heavy duty, lasts a lifetime, cheap, versatile, and it also keeps you healthy by supplying a low-dose of iron to your diet along the way.  What's not to love?

It gets better.  Lodge Cast Iron has always been a great partner of mine - sending cookware for festivals, tv appearances, etc - all over the country.  It's nice to arrive in NYC with a big box of great Lodge cookware waiting for me - Mark and the team at Lodge are the best.

So I was so happy to see their latest endeavor - The new Lodge Seasoned Steel (pictured) - it's super light weight, yet still has the same great cooking performance of traditional cast iron.  Trust me - I get a workout lifting those heavy pans - so it's nice to have a lighter option that works great for travel, home, or even TV!

For those of you unfamiliar with the cooking/cleaning process for cast iron, I've taken this directly from Lodge's website - check it out, and order your cookware today!

Best,

MM

Using Your Lodge Cast Iron
 
Rinse with hot water (do not use soap), and dry thoroughly.

Before cooking, apply vegetable oil to the cooking surface of your pan and pre-heat the pan slowly (always start on low heat, increasing the temperature slowly).

Once the utensil is properly pre-heated, you are ready to cook. 

TIP: Avoid cooking very cold food in the pan, as this can promote sticking. 

PLEASE REMEMBER: Handles will become very hot in the oven, and on the stovetop. Always use an oven mitt to prevent burns when removing pans from oven or stovetop.


Cleaning your Lodge Cast Iron

After cooking, clean utensil with a stiff nylon brush and hot water. Using soap is not recommended, and harsh detergents should never be used. (Avoid putting a hot utensil into cold water. Thermal shock can occur causing the metal to warp or crack). 

TIP: If you are having trouble removing stuck-on food, boil some water in your pan for a few minutes to loosen residue, making it easier to remove.

Towel dry immediately and apply a light coating of oil to the utensil while it is still warm. 

TIP: Do not let your cast iron air dry, as this can promote rust.

Store in a cool, dry place. If you have a cover, or lid, for your utensil, place a folded paper towel in between lid and utensil allowing air to circulate. This prevents moisture from collecting inside the utensil, which can cause rust.

TIP: The oven is a great place to store your cast iron; just remember to remove it before turning on the oven.

NEVER wash in dishwasher.

If for some reason your utensil develops a metallic smell or taste, or perhaps rust spots (maybe a well-meaning relative washed your utensil in the dishwasher or with soap thinking they were being helpful), never fear. Simply scour off the rust using a very fine grade of sandpaper or steel wool and refer to our section Re-seasoning Your Lodge Cookware.

IMPORTANT PRODUCT NOTE: If you have a Lodge Grid Iron or Pro Grid Iron Griddle, make sure to place it over two burners, allowing the griddle to heat evenly and avoid a stress break or warping. It is also a good to preheat the griddle in the oven before placing over burners on top of stove.


Re-Seasoning your Lodge Cast Iron

While maintaining the seasoning (as in Step 5 above) should keep your Cast Iron in good condition, at some point you may need to repeat the seasoning process. If food sticks to the surface, or you notice a dull, gray color, repeat the seasoning process:
Wash the cookware with hot, soapy water and a stiff brush. (It is okay to use soap this time because you are preparing to re-season the cookware). 

Rinse and dry completely.

Apply a thin, even coating of MELTED solid vegetable shortening (or cooking oil of your choice) to the cookware (inside and out).

Place aluminum foil on the bottom rack of the oven to catch any dripping.

Set oven temperature to 350 – 400 degrees F.

Place cookware upside down on the top rack of the oven.

Bake the cookware for at least one hour. After the hour, turn the oven off and let the cookware cool in the oven.

Store the cookware uncovered, in a dry place when cooled.

For any questions on the use and care of Lodge Seasoned Cast Iron, e-mail lodgemfginfo@gmail.com, or call our Customer Service Department at 423-837-7181

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Gameday


Today UGA plays Vandy in Nashville.

I woke up at 9 a.m., knocked out a 10 mi run on the river, and now I'm sitting here writing to you before I take off for a day of tailgating and drinking beer.  It's sunny, cool, the leaves are changing . . . and I'm in a great mood - life is good.

Of course, life is even better when you start your day off with a breakfast like this.

Not too much writing today for me - but I will say that I've got some new projects in the works that I'm super excited about.  I've been keeping my nose to the grindstone as of late, well - sorta . . . but today I'm gonna go cheer on my Dawgs, drink beer, and dance with women.

All the best,

MM

Parmesan Basil Scramble + Cajun Shrimp

1 Tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 lb Large Shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 Teaspoon Cajun Seasoning
4 Eggs, beaten
1 Tablespoon Fresh Basil, chopped
1 Tablespoon Parmigiano Reggianno Cheese, grated

Add oil to a non-stick skillet over medium high heat.  Add shrimp, season with Cajun seasoning, and saute until pink and firm, 2 - 3 minutes.  Remove from pan and set aside on a plate; keep warm.  Add eggs, waiting for one minute to allow them to set in the pan.  Using a wooden spoon, carefully lift the cooked portions off the pan, tilting the pan to allow the runny portion to reach the heat.  Scramble for another 1 - 2 minutes, or until eggs are still moist and firm.  As you finish, add chopped basil and remove from heat.  Plate eggs, top with cheese, and top with a generous serving of shrimp.  Serve.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Out on the Weekend


A few weeks back, I put up a note about my annual Nor'Easter trip with the guys. 

Fortunately, I was able to take the weekend off from taking pictures and documenting the various events.  Chris Griffith, a fellow Nor'Easter attendee, friend, and blogger was kind enough to put up a great post regarding our activities on his own blog, out on the weekend.

Go give it a look - and pay close attention to the video!  Thanks Chris!

- Just got back from Mexico - 4 days of binge eating and drinking, so expect some healthy posts in the next few days.

Cheers!

MM

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Food Blogging + iPhone

These days, it seems that everyone is an expert on food.  After all, a quick "Google" search of food blogs will likely yield millions of results.  From the mommie bloggers, to the foodies, to the gluten free, to the vegans - there's pretty much something out there for everyone - including those guys who are looking to "Have Her Over for Dinner"!

Nevertheless, not all food blogs are created equal.  Quite honestly - many are pretty bad.  Recipes are not accurate, photos are lacking, and the overall writing can be quite poor.  With that said, there are many incredible blogs out there.  So incredible, I often wonder - what do these people do for a living?  Blogging full time - no way.  Yes way - for those clever enough to attract a large following, capitalize on advertising, and secure outside revenue streams based on their blogging profiles (books, shows, appearances, etc.) - it's definitely do-able.

So, I thought it would be interesting to share my 'process' when it comes to blogging about food - and also pass along some thoughts on the 'future' of this phenomenon.

For me, I typically blog about my subject matter, or niche.  If the name of my blog doesn't make it clear enough for you, my overall mission is to teach the every day guy (or girl!) that creating simple, impressive, and health conscious meals at home is not only realistic, but also fun!  Of course, my blog has also been a place for me to share in my journey . . . and what a wild ride it has been!

My blog is also a place for me to test possible recipes to use in future books, articles, television appearances, etc.  By test, I don't mean to say that my internet audience is my guinea pig - rather, not everything that I create makes the final cut for my other projects, so often times this is my 'creative space' to display things that I'm working on.

I'd love to make it sound glamorous, but my process is anything but that.  In all honesty, I am typically inspired to create recipes based on what's around me - maybe by what's on sale at the grocery store, or taking a creative spin on a restaurant meal, or simply by trying to emulate a mood or, most often - a season.

After shopping for ingredients, I go through the process of creating my meal - prepping, cooking, plating, serving.  After that, it's picture time.  I think taking pictures of food is extremely important - not only for just blogs, but also for books . . . And I'm talking about great pictures!  I don't claim to be the best food photographer in the world, however I do like to supply photos that are similar to my recipes - realistic.  I'm not one to overly stage or falsify my photos - I want my food to look real, delectable, and inspiring.

After that - it's time for the best part - I get to eat.

Then the work begins.   From my notes, I put together my recipes - often testing the dish over and over before it reaches my blog, and certainly a few more times before it ever reaches print.  As a food writer, I have accountability to make sure my recipes are tested, and correct.  I'm not always perfect - and neither are you!  It's hard to write recipes that EVERYONE will understand - as there are so many variables that can affect the outcome (altitude, equipment, ingredients, etc).  But, practice makes perfect.

So that begs the question - this 'process' requires me to often be 'in my element', i.e. my own kitchen, armed with a notepad, my kick-ass Cannon camera, and my computer.  I take pride in posting great material - after all, you guys deserve it - especially those who have bought my book or taken an interest in reading this blog regularly.

Rest assured, I will continue this traditional practice as much as possible.  I'm hoping to spend some more time at home at the end of the year, which will allow me to create more regular posts.

Apple announced it's new iPhone yesterday, and a major improvement will be the phone's camera.  So, I want to know from the audience - what are your thoughts?  Would you like more posts, with less sophisticated photos (taken on the iPhone), or do you appreciate the more traditional approach?  I suppose I'm asking is too much information, haste, and postings 'on the go' a good thing - or do you prefer the slower, more cautious process?  I'm not really sure - maybe a mix of both?

Leave me some comments - and for you other food bloggers - what is your routine?

Of course, I can't let you go that easily!  Here are some of my favorite shots from the past year, through my iPhone.

Enjoy!

MM

Pat's Cheesesteaks, Philly, PA
Charcuterie - picked up at Redding Terminal Market, Philly, PA.
Pan Seared Beef Filets with a saute of Red Onion, Mushrooms, and Pancetta.  (East Nashville)

Beef Bourguignon over Egg Noodles (at home, Nashville, TN)
Butchering a freshly killed doe (thanks Miller Gunn).  At home in Nashville, TN.


Random, I know - but I wanted to tell you "Go Dawgs, Sick 'em".  Athens, GA
Date Night at Home - Grilled Coho Salmon, Brown Rice Risotto, Roasted Asparagus.  Nashville, TN
Grilled Tri-Tip on Lodge Cast Iron Grill Pan.  At home, Nashville, TN.
On set at WGN Chicago - Grilled Strip Steak, Roasted Potatoes, Arugula Salad.
La Scarola Spaghetti and Meatballs - Chicago, IL
$18 Margarita - worth it.  Ritz Carlton Lodge, Lake Oconee, GA.
Nachos - Panama City Beach, FL
Pickle Shots (Patron, Bloody Mary Mix, Crisp Dill Pickle).  The Red Door, Nashville, TN.
Sunday Lasagna - PJ Clarkes, NYC
Portillo's Famous Chicago Dog - Chicago, IL
Traditional Southern Meat + 3.  Vittles Restaurant, Brentwood, TN.