Eggs-actly Perfect

Eggs-actly Perfect Hard Boiled Eggs

Sure, sure hard boiling eggs seems like a fairly simple task. Boil, peel, and eat. Until, that is, you discover they are almost impossible to peel with the shell taking chunks of the white flesh with it. Or the yolk is unappetizingly undercooked or has an unsightly greenish edge.  All equate to big fails when trying to make deviled eggs where the white is a beautiful vessel for luscious filling.

There are hard-boiled eggs in my house at all times. Not only do they make an easy (and transportable) quick breakfast, but they are also a healthy, low-calorie snack full of protein, and tasty addition to salads. (We eat a lot of salad in the summer when I just can’t bear heating up the kitchen.) Plus, whipping up a batch of deviled eggs to bring to a spontaneous picnic or cocktail party is a breeze.

After boiling literally hundreds of eggs over the years, I’ve [finally] found a method that produces eggs with perfectly firm whites, creamy yolks that are a lovely consistent shade of pale yellow and, most importantly, easy to peel.

You’ll need:

  • six to 12 large eggs (older eggs ultimately peer better than fresh ones)
  • a pot – large enough to hold a steamer basket – with a lid
  • afore-mentioned steamer basket
  • a large bowl filled with ice and water
  • a timer

Pour and inch or two of water into the pot, insert the steamer, and add the eggs. Heat over high. When the water begins to boil, reduce to medium, cover, and cook for precisely 15 minutes.

While the eggs are steaming, fill your bowl with ice and add water. Your bowl should be large enough to hold all the eggs and allow them to be fully submerged in the ice water.

When the timer goes off, immediately transfer the eggs from the steamer basket to their ice water bath. Then walk away. Let the eggs soak for at least 15-20 minutes so they cool completely – right to their core. Once cool, drain and either refrigerate for later use or peel.

If you plan to use the eggs immediately, fill your now empty bowl with cool water. Peel the egg while it’s submerged. You can also peel under running water, but results are consistently better with the dunk. The shell should separate from the white of the egg in nice big pieces leaving the egg unblemished – perfect for your deviled eggs.

Deviled Eggs

Whether you choose a pretty platter (best for home use) or a  practical platter with lid (best for transport and storage), choose the number of eggs right to fill your plate. Mine has 12 indentations, so this recipe will be for a half dozen eggs yielding a dozen deviled eggs.

Deviled eggs usually call for a dash of Tabasco sauce, but I prefer the less spicy, but zestier horseradish sauce. The addition of softened butter – thank you Julia Child – adds a wonderful, rich silkiness to the yolky filling.

Traditional garnishes include a sprinkle of paprika, a slice of pimento-stuffed olive, chopped chives, or a sprig of dill, but you can kick your garnishes up to a whole new level by adding a small piece (about one inch or so) of crispy bacon, crisped prosciutto, or crisped chicken skin (pictured). These crispy bits add a lot of textural interest, flavor, and visual appeal to your eggs.

The Parts

The Procedure

Cut the eggs in half length-wise and gently scoop the yolks into a bowl or a mini food processor. Place the whites on your platter. Blend the yolks with the remaining ingredients either in a small food processor, or mash together with a fork.

For a fancy finish, use a piping bag or a zip-lock bag with the corner cut out to pipe the yolk mixture into the whites. For a homemade look, simply spoon the filling into the egg whites. Garnish.

Don’t you just love it when things turn out eggs-actly perfect? And you can enjoy your hard-boiled ot deviled eggs without egg on your face.

 

Go Bananas For Banana Bread

My fella loves bananas. But they have to be just so. Not too firm, but not soft or squishy. They must be just this side of green, and definitely without any black spots that inevitably appear as the fruit ripens. Tired of tossing that last one of the bunch that ripened a day too soon, and not wanting to attract fruit flies (read what do if those pests appear here), I started freezing them. And what a difference that made in my banana bread.

Like so many people, I turned to the kitchen to stay busy during the COVID lockdown. With plenty of bananas in the freezer, my mission was to find the BEST recipe for banana bread. I tried eight or nine different recipes, then honed in on the one we liked best, tweaking until it was (modestly speaking LOL) perfect. The winning recipe is based on a recipe for Smashed Banana Bread from Food & Wine. As you can imagine, we ate a lot of bananas and a lot of banana bread in 2020. (Really, we ate a lot of everything during COVID to avoid going stir crazy.) So here is our favorite. Here’s hoping you enjoy it as much as we do.

A couple of notes first:

  • Thaw the bananas in a bowl in the fridge overnight, or for about an hour on the counter. Reserve the liquid they release.
  • If you can find it, get the banana liqueur. It really adds to the banana-y flavor, and also tastes great poured over a bowl of good vanilla bean ice cream. I like Bols for the flavor and pretty bottle, but the Dekuyper is about half the price.
  • Sour cream or full fat Greek yogurt work equally well.
  • The bread tastes the most amazing after it cools when the edges are still a bit crispy.
  • You’ll need a baking sheet, metal loaf pan, parchment paper, nonstick cooking spray, and a cooling rack.

Pieces & Parts

½ cup pecans, chopped

1½ cups flour
¾ tsp baking powder
¾ tsp baking soda
¾ tsp fine sea salt

2 large eggs
4 frozen bananas, thawed, and their liquid
¼ cup + 2 tbsp sour cream or full fat Greek yogurt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp banana liqueur or dark rum

5 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar

Confectioner’s sugar for dusting (if desired)

Process

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
  2. Grease the loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray
  3. Line the pan with parchment paper, allowing two inches of overhang on the long sides
  4. Toast the pecans on a baking sheet in the preheated oven for about seven minutes until fragrant. Cool.
  5. Whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl. Set aside.
  6. In a large bowl, beat the eggs with the bananas, the banana liquid, sour cream, vanilla, and banana liqueur until combined.
  7. Using a stand or hand mixer, beat the butter and sugar at medium speed until fluffy, about two minutes.
  8. At low speed, gradually beat in the wet ingredients until just incorporated, then beat in the dry ingredients until just combined. Do not over mix. Fold in the pecans.
  9. Scrape the mixture into your prepared pan, and bake in the center of the oven for about an hour and 30 minutes. Because some ovens can bake more quickly than others, check the bake at 60 minutes and again at 75 minutes by inserting a toothpick into the center of the loaf. The bread is done when the toothpick comes out clean.
  10. Set the pan on a cooling rack and rest for 45 minutes.
  11. Turn the bread out of the pan and cool for 30 minutes more.
  12. Dust with confectioner’s sugar if you like.

Store

Wrap in cling wrap and store at room temperature.

More

We always fight for the end piece as soon as it’s ready to eat (those crusty edges!), but wind up sharing that slice ’cause we like each other. My guy loves to slather the bread with softened butter; it’s also great toasted (and buttered).

I recently brought this banana bread to a friend’s breakfast party. She served eggs, bacon, sausage, fruit, and toast – a bounty! But the six of us still managed to devour an entire loaf of my banana bread on top of everything else in that one sitting. Just sayin’.

I hope that now you look at overripe bananas as a bonus instead of a waste, and go as bananas for this bread as we do.

 

 

Naturally Dyed Easter Eggs

Dyeing Easter Eggs The Natural Way

It’s An Easter Eggstravaganza!

Easter is on April 17 this year – late enough that spring bulbs will be in full bloom, flowering trees will be in bud, grass will have turned a vibrant green, and perennials will be pushing their way through the soil. Days will be milder, and hopefully we’ll see much more of the sun. Spring is surely a time of year to appreciate nature and natural things. So why not invite the beauty of nature into your kitchen and make natural dyes for your Easter eggs? It can be a great science experiment for your kids (and the kid in you), and a wonderful afternoon project on those inevitable April showers days.

Eggs are colored with items you probably already have in your home, and you can adjust the brilliance of the color by lengthening the time of the soak. And the result will be a satisfying basket of richly hued eggs instead of a bowl of artificially colored ones. Are you game?

You’ll need perfectly hard boiled eggs, white vinegar, water, and materials from the below chart depending on the colors you seek.

Beet, Cabbage & Onion Dyes

Place prepared ingredient in bottom of large pot. Cover with one inch of water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cover; reduce to a simmer; and cook for 30 minutes, or until you’ve achieved the desired color.

Turmeric Dye

Add four cups of water and 4 tablespoons of ground turmeric to a pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cover; reduce to a simmer; and cook for 30 minutes. Not familiar with turmeric? Click here to discover the benefits.

Coffee Dye

Brew four cups of strong coffee.

Red Wine Dye

Use an inexpensive bottle of red. No vinegar needed. Soak until the eggs are the desired color, but do not use the oil to finish as per below.

Before You Use Your Natural Dyes

  • Strain out the solids. Add one tablespoon white vinegar to every cup of strained dye liquid. Allow the dyes to cool before using.
  • For every dozen eggs, plan on using at least four cups of dye liquid.
  • Add the room-temperature eggs in single layer in a baking dish or bowl or coffee mug and carefully pour the cooled dye over them. Make sure the eggs are completely submerged.
  • Experiment with dying white and brown eggs. Soak for 30 minutes to three hours for lighter colors; overnight for brighter colors.
  • Transfer the eggs in the dye to the refrigerator and chill until the desired color is reached.
  • Carefully dry the eggs, and then massage in a little oil to each one. Polish with a paper towel. Store the eggs in the refrigerator until it is time to eat (or hide) them. NOTE: hard-boiled eggs outside of the refrigerator won’t last for more than two hours, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), so plan accordingly,

Keep in mind that results will vary depending on the number of eggs, the color of the eggs, and the length of time the eggs soak. Typically, you’ll soak for a shorter time for lighter colors like pale pinks and blues and longer for darker, richer shades like royal blue and gold. Start with a soak of 30 minutes and leave as long as overnight. If you’re soaking overnight, soak in the refrigerator. For richer color, you can also give the eggs multiple soaks in the dye, being sure to dry them between soaks.

If the thought of doing all this makes your head feel like it is about to explode – like an overcooked cracked hardboiled egg – there are always the traditional egg dye kits like the grocery store PAAS kit (reminiscent of my youth) or the inexpensive Spritz kits from Target. For something greener and organic, Eco Kids has a kit that even grows grass. However you decide to dye your eggs, we here at Fath Properties wish you an Easter Eggstravaganza worth remembering.

 

RESOURCES: TheKitchn, Good Housekeeping, Martha Stewart, Rocking Point Wines, Wide Open Eats, Simply Recipes

 

A Christmas Tradition

breakfast casserole

I’m half Italian. My dad’s father was born in Calabria, Italy. He arrived as a boy in the United States in 1900 through Ellis Island. He was travelling with his father, his pregnant mother and three siblings. The family settled in a duplex in a small town in New Jersey. My great grandfather and great grandmother lived on one side of the duplex, and when my grandfather married, he and his wife raised three children on the other side. My dad and his two sisters were actually born in the house. My father’s sister lived her entire life in the house (she lived to see 100) and her daughter now lives in the home. So you could say our family is steeped in tradition.

The Feast of the Seven Fishes was/is our Christmas Eve tradition. Although the venue changed over the years, the tradition remained. In recent years (like the last two decades), Christmas morning breakfast was added as a tradition with responsibility for the morning’s feast in my hands. Over the years, I experimented with a variety of breakfast foods; everything from frittatas made with leftovers from the night before to labor-intensive giant ravioli stuffed with ricotta and egg yolk. But one of our favorite Christmas morning breakfasts is also one of the easiest and most delicious. This is a dish you can make the night before and pop in the oven in the morning so you have plenty of time to languish with coffee and family while opening presents.

Christmas Morning Strata

8-10 servings

Takes about a half hour to prep, then an hour to bake.

Ingredients

  • 6 large eggs
  • 2 ½ cups whole milk
  • 2 cups of sliced scallions (green onions)
  • ½ cup whipping cream
  • ½ cup grated Romano cheese (can substitute Parmesan)
  • 2 tbsp. fresh oregano or 2 tsp. dried, crumbled
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • Ground black pepper, ideally freshly ground
  • 1 pound Italian sausages (hot or mild) with casings removed
  • 1 large red bell pepper, halved, seeded, sliced into ½” wide strips
  • 1 one-pound rustic loaf of French or Italian bread cut into ½” thick slices
  • 2 cups (loosely packed) grated Fontina cheese (or other cheese that melts nicely)
  • Butter for coating the casserole dish

Preparation

Whisk first seven ingredients together in a large bowl. Add ground black pepper to taste. Set aside.

In a large non-stick skillet, place sausage on one side and red pepper on the other. Sautee over high heat breaking up sausage with a fork until sausage is cooked through and peppers are brown in spots; about 7 minutes.

Arrange half the bread slices in a buttered 13” x  9” x  2” casserole. Pour half of the egg mixture on top. Sprinkle with half the cheese and half of the sausage/red pepper mixture. Repeat layering. Let stand 20 minutes if cooking shortly; or can cover and refrigerate overnight. Press down on the bread at least once to make sure everything is submerged.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake uncovered for about an hour until the Strada is puffed and brown. Cool slightly. Eat!

Very nice served with fresh fruit or a simple green salad. Let’s not forget the mimosas, bloody Mary’s, screwdrivers, and/or salty dogs. And coffee.

Hope you try this strata and, perhaps, it can become a tradition for your family too. Even if you’re not Italian.

Based on an Epicurious.com recipe.

 

Let’s Get Spicy

 

The Spices of Life

Perhaps you’ve just moved into your first apartment (congrats!). Or maybe you’re sick of eating carry out and frozen dinners (I feel ya!). Or, maybe you want to add a little spice to your culinary life by creatively seasoning your food (now we’re talkin’). These are all great reasons to invest a bit of time, energy, and money into adding spices to your pantry, or your kitchen cabinet, or wherever. Let’s chat about which basic spices to purchase, where to buy, how to store, and shelf life. In other words, let’s get spicy!

 “Spices are the friend of physicians and pride of cooks.”
—  Charlemagne, first emperor (800–814) of what was later called the Holy Roman Empire

Basic Herbs & Spices

Online searches for a list of basics does not provide a definitive list as taste is deeply personal based on your preferences – do you like spicy? Herbal? Heat? So this list is also personal – my preferences. I am admittedly a spice junkie with some 75 containers on stepped racks filling an entire three-shelf cabinet, so the list below is what I’d consider necessary if stranded on a desert island (with a full kitchen LOL).

My spice obsession certainly did not come from my mother-in-law, who only had seldom-used salt, pepper, and paprika in her kitchen. We never looked forward to eating at her place because the food was so bland and so boring. My mom has a decent selection of spices, but she still has containers she got when she first married in 1952. Some of her are so old, it’s like adding dust to food. No, my passion is self-curated.

Salt

A must have. Kosher salt is less salty than the iodized version, so it’s easier to control the salty taste. It does not, however, contain iodine, which is essential for good health (in moderation). Iodine does not taste great, so get it from something other than your salt. Sea salt comes in many varieties and can be very nice for finishing. Think chocolate chip cookies dusted with sea salt. YUM.

Pepper

There’s a huge difference in taste and freshness between the pre-ground stuff you find in pepper shakers everywhere and freshly ground pepper. Invest in a pepper grinder and never look back. There are many varieties of peppercorns; start with black peppercorns, preferably Indian Black Tellicherry. Some black peppercorn jars include their own grinder, perfect when you’re just starting out, and until you decide to go big. Try freshly-cracked pepper crusted steak for a restaurant experience at home.

Crushed Red Pepper Flakes

Oh, how I love the punch red pepper flakes add to just about everything. I once brought a large bag home from an adorable little market in Siena, Italy (pictured above) and made little gift pouches for my favorite cooks. All it takes is a pinch. Crushed red pepper flakes will lose their heat over time, so add just a bit and then add more if you’d like more heat.

Cumin

Can’t make a pot of chili without it! But there’s so much more you can do with cumin. Toss some wedges of sweet potato with salt, pepper, cumin, and olive oil and roast until crispy for an excellent, healthy side.

Cayenne Pepper

Use the tiniest bit when making buffalo chicken wings and chili to add a different kind of peppery kick.

Chili Powder

Also a must have for chili. Smokey and spicy, Chili powder is commonly used in traditional Latin American dishes like enchiladas and tacos. But a spoonful also adds a welcome kick to grilled meats, stew, soup, a pot of beans, and vegetables.

Paprika

While fairly tame compared to other pepper-based spices, paprika adds warmth and earthiness to a dish. You’ll find that there are many different versions, some with a smokier or “hotter” flavor than others. This spice adds vibrant color to any dish. It can be sprinkled as a garnish over deviled eggs or potato salad, or used as a flavoring for meat rubs. It has a sweet pepper flavor, without any heat. Smoked paprika is delicious.

Cinnamon

Cinnamon mixed with sugar on buttered toast (heaven!) is not the only use for this spice. It’s great sprinkled on your latte, and an excellent addition to certain savory dishes such as chili, tomato sauces, and other savory dishes as well as in sweet treats like gingersnap cookies or banana bread.

Ground Ginger

If you like to bake or enjoy Asian or Indian foods, ground ginger is great to have on hand. It’s the predominant spice in gingerbread and gingersnap cookies and is also used in many sweet spice mixes like pumpkin pie spice. Ground ginger is also used in savory applications like spice rubs, tagines, and marinades, and is part of the Japanese spice blend shichimi togarashi. A note here: for use in savory dishes, buy a knob of fresh ginger and finely mince it or grate it on your microplane. (TIP: peeling fresh ginger is a snap using a spoon.) It’s hot and spicy in every good way.

Garlic Powder

Garlic powder is a recent addition to my spice larder. I absolutely prefer fresh garlic, but the powdered version can quickly add a garlicky flavor without the harsh bite of fresh.

Thyme

Thyme may be my favorite herb. It’s woodsy, lemony, and can be used in so many dishes. It’s wonderful to use either fresh or dried. And paired with chicken? Sublime.

Basil

Dried basil is delicious in sauces, like tomato sauce or pizza sauce, and as seasoning on chicken or other meats. Basil is an herb that tastes best fresh if using in uncooked dishes like caprese salad.

Rosemary

Dried Rosemary is a must for French and Mediterranean cooking. It is earthy, woodsy and piney. Rosemary can be an acquired taste for some, but it does give your dishes a one-of-a-kind flavor that helps them stand out from the crowd.

Oregano

Nothing says Italian quite like Oregano does! A little dried oregano will give your tomato sauce a real Italian vibe, and it’s great sprinkled on pizza. It can also be a pungent add in for Greek and Mexican dishes. Oregano is one herb I prefer dried over fresh.

Nutmeg

Just a dash adds so much flavor in both sweet and savory dishes. It is a must for bechamel sauces and other cheese dishes. However, you’ll probably use it most often in sweet treats that contain cinnamon. Buy the seeds whole as they last forever; but you’ll need a little grater. If you’d rather not stock your kitchen with specialty tools, you can use your microplane grater instead (a kitchen essential!).

Okay, this is a good start! While these herbs and spices will be a nice start for your spice cabinet, base your selections on the flavors and foods you most enjoy. No sense buying something you’ll never use. Then slowly expand your spice collection and add more flavors so you can enhance the overall taste and profile of everything you cook.

Spice Library

When you’re just getting started, it won’t matter so much how you organize. Once you have a larger collection, however, think about the best way to organize so it’s easy to find what you seek. My cabinet is currently organized by type – herbs, spices, seeds, specialty blends, baking and, quite frankly, it’s a hot mess. Perhaps alpha order would be a smart rainy-day project.

SMART STORAGE

There are almost as many ways to store your spices as there are spices! Stepped spice racks, pull-out units, and lazy susans work great for in-cabinet storage. If you have an extra drawer (is that an oxymoron?!?), jars can be laid down or – if you label the lid tops – lined up inside. There are wall shelves, fridge magnet storage, and wheeled storage. Figure out where you have room and how much storage space you’ll need, then organize away!

SAFE STORAGE

Jars of spices over the stove might sound convenient, but because herbs and spices deteriorate when exposed to heat, light and moisture, it’s not the most ideal place to keep them.

The best storage temperature for herbs and spices is one that is fairly constant and below 70 degrees Fahrenheit. This means your herbs and spices must be kept away from the furnace, stove, and the heat of the sun. Temperature fluctuations can cause condensation and eventually mold. If you store spices in the freezer or refrigerator, return them there promptly after use.

A good storage system keeps herbs and spices dry and in the dark as well. Amber glass jars with airtight lids are ideal. You might also keep them in a cupboard or drawer. Cover the jars with large opaque labels or use a cloth to cover them when not in use.

In summary, store your herbs and spices in clean, airtight containers, away from heat and light and handle them thoughtfully.

SHELF LIFE

Be Proactive

Write the month and year on the label every time you add an herb or spice to your collections. Some spices in particular have a tendency to outlive others. Frequently used spices are exposed to air more frequently and will need to be replaced sooner.

Use Your Sniffer

Don’t just look at ‘Sell By’ dates. Take the cap off and smell it. Since some expiration dates can be arbitrary or confusing, it’s OK to use your best judgement by using your senses: sight, smell and touch. The spice itself should be bright and fragrant. If it doesn’t have any smell, it likely isn’t strong enough to flavor your food. If stored in a cool, dark place, a spice should be OK to use as long as it holds its vibrant color, too. However, a spice stored in an area that gets a lot of light will show discoloration much more quickly and lose its flavoring power.

Ground or Whole?

Pre-ground spices might be more convenient but whole spices last the longest because the essential oils are kept inside and that’s where the majority of the flavor is. Whole spices can last three to four years, which will ultimately save you money. Once spices are ground, however, there is more surface area and they will quickly lose their “chemical compounds” that make them such great flavoring agents. In general, ground spices may last one to two years maximum, while dried herbs can last up to three years. But how does one grind spices you ask? You can purchase a small spice grinder, or get a mortar and pestle.

WHERE TO BUY

Thankfully, herbs and spices are readily available in grocery stores, big box stores, on line, and in specialty stores. When buying new additions for your cabinet, consider the container size. When I’m trying something new, or something that I may use only occasionally, I rely on Penzy’s Spices online store. They offer little jars and have an amazing variety. They also offer big bags of items you may use a lot of, like salt and pepper.

 

“He who controls the spice controls the universe.”
Frank Herbert, Dune

Now go add some spice to your life and enjoy every moment.