Brian's Photo Blog — Article 458
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Gourmet Chef Wannabe Not Ready For Prime Time
Saturday 8 August 2015   —   Category: Cooking & Food
Last month I mentioned a pretzel cookbook I had just bought. While researching that article, I had discovered that the Port­land author Andrea Slonecker, has another cookbook called Eggs on Top: Recipes Elevated by an Egg.

When I looked through images from the egg book on her Web site, I was intrigued and excited, so I decided to order it as well, even though I had not yet made even one recipe from her pretzel book.

Armed and dangerous with these two cookbooks, and with my wife and daughter visiting family in Switzerland for a month, it was time to eggs-periment and gain some eggs-perience with mustard, eggs and pretzels.

Right before the family females flew the coop, I made a batch of Ms. Slonecker’s spicy whole-grain pub mustard. According to the author, it takes three weeks for the mustard to reach its peak flavor — about a week before I pick up my family at the Portland airport. The egg recipes looked quite enticing, so I decided to try some of those even before the pretzels. In her book, Andrea says that for some methods of cooking eggs, like poaching, it is essential that they are very fresh. So I searched on Google to find any farms around Albany which sell eggs. I was disappointed to discover that it was slim pickin’s.

Pretty much the only option was Midway Farms, about halfway between Albany and Corvallis on U.S. Route 20. So I made the 20-minute drive, bought a dozen eggs for $6, and then drove another 20 minutes back home.

My plan for the morning was to make two eggs for lunch, with each egg being cooked in a different manner. One recipe was called Quintessential Poached Eggs while the other was Crunchy Deep-Fried Eggs. It was going to be tricky to have both eggs done at the same time, but with proper planning, good timing, and tons of luck, I was hopeful that it just might work out.

For the fried egg, I put one cup of oil into a 15-ounce cast-iron melting pot, and stuck a 12-inch deep-fry tur­key thermometer into the oil to monitor the temperature. Luckily the thermometer has a clip to hold it, because it was way too long, as you can see in the photo to the right. The mini silicone handle holder helped my fingers to not turn crunchy with the egg!

While the oil was slowly heating up in that pan, I turned my attention to the poached egg. I put a quart or so of water into another pan and started to bring it to a boil. When I opened the carton of “farm fresh” eggs I had bought the day before, I was disappointed by how small most of the eggs were. About half were around 45g, which puts them in the “small” category — not even medium, and a long ways away from large or extra-large. But that was just the first of a number of disappointments to plague my morning in the kitchen.

According to what Andrea wrote in her cookbook, you can tell how fresh an egg is by the whites. The runnier they are, the older the egg. In light of this, I was very shocked and disappointed when I cracked the first Midway Farms egg into a small bowl — the egg white was very runny. For the poached egg I was about to cook, Andrea says that you should strain all the runny whites away, so you are left with only thick whites. But in the case of this egg, I think that would have left me with no whites at all!

I suppose I could have used that egg for the oil, and cracked another one for poaching. But between my linear thinking and the mounting time pressure, I didn’t have a lot of time or wits to think it through. Therefore, gourmet chef that I am, I decided to ignore her advice and use the egg anyway.

I followed the rest of her Quintessential Poached Eggs recipe very carefully. But because I had ignored her instructions, I was on the road to failure. As she wrote, “To achieve a perfectly oval, pillowy poached egg [see photo to the right], it’s essential that the eggs be extremely fresh.”

Once the water was hot enough, I stirred it vigorously to create a whirlpool in the center. Then I gently lowered the egg innards into the whirlpool. Did the egg congeal into the beautiful, fluffy “pil­low” shown above? No way, José!

Actually, it did exactly the opposite. As you can see from the photo to the right, it disintegrated into a stringy mess — just as Andrea had warned! I was so dis­gust­ed with my failure that it im­me­di­ately went down the garbage disposal! Strike one! Meanwhile, the oil was rapidly ap­proach­ing its 350°F target temperature, and I was now missing a major component of my meal. Scrambling for inspiration, I reduced the heat under the pot of oil, put on another pan of water to boil, and quickly flipped the pages of the cookbook to Foolproof Poached Eggs. The title indicated that it was fool-proof, so even I ought to be able to handle it, right?

The instructions said to place two six-inch-square pieces of plastic wrap on top of each other, coat the upper side with oil or butter, push the plastic sheets down into a small bowl, and crack an egg onto the sheets. Then I was to bring the four corners together and twist them together to seal the pouch, and then tie string around that to hold it while boiling. Simple!

I used a tape measure to make sure my sheets of plastic wrap were exactly six inches square. But when I tried to twist the four corners together, I discovered that the sheets of plastic were not big enough, and that even my small egg was not going to fit.

I quickly tore off two bigger pieces of plastic wrap, put the partially-closed bundle inside them, and then proceeded to twist the corners of the larger sheets together. It seemed like that was going to work, so I tied it off with some string and, after taking the photo to the right, put the egg bundle into the boiling water.

The recipe said to boil the egg for five minutes, but since I was going to put the egg in a salad, I wanted the yolk pretty well-done. Perhaps eight or so minutes? It was going to be hard to tell how cooked it was, with the egg hidden behind four layers of plastic wrap. I also needed to get going with my other egg. By now the temperature of the oil was way too low, so I cranked up the heat until it reached 350°F. I pulled out the thermometer and poured in the egg innards. Andrea warned that it would splatter, and boy was she right! For that size pot, three-quarter or even two-thirds of a cup of oil probably would have been enough.

Unfortunately, other aspects of the recipe did not match reality. The instructions read:

Wait 5 to 10 seconds for the egg whites to just begin to set, then use two heat-proof spoons to carefully fold up the edges of the whites over the yolks to encase them.
However, as soon as I put the egg into the oil, the yolk sunk to the bottom! Therefore, I could not fold the whites over the yolk, because the yolk was nowhere to be seen! Aye-yi-yi-yi-yi — strike two! After about 30 seconds I turned the egg over, and there was the yolk, hiding underneath the whites, as you can see in the above photo. At that temperature the fried egg did not take long. As soon as it was sitting safe­ly on a paper towel, I turned my at­ten­tion back to the poached egg. After near­ly ten minutes in the boiling water, I figured it must be done. So I fished it out and cut open the top of the plastic sack. To my dismay, not only was the yolk still very runny, but even much of the whites were still runny as well! Oy vey ist mir — strike three!

I didn’t have time to ponder the sig­nif­i­cance of failing with a fool-proof recipe, because my fried egg was getting colder by the second. I quickly flipped over to Sage-Brown Butter Eggs (the photo on the cookbook cover, above) for yet another dose of inspiration.

I put some oil in a small frying pan, cranked up the heat, and fried a few fresh basil leaves I had bought recently. Once they were a bit cooked, I removed them and then scooped the partially poached egg out of the plastic wrap and plopped it all into the pan. I fried the egg for a few minutes until things were fairly solid, with the basil leaves on top. Fi­nal­ly, I was ready to eat! I had already prepared a large plate with a bed of fresh baby spinach, generously sprinkled with diced red onion, crumbled bleu cheese and roasted pumpkin seeds. I put the two eggs on top, and garnished them with some fresh-ground pepper, as you can see in the photo to the right. After the photography, I poured on some Newman’s Own Lite Balsamic Vin­ai­grette dressing, added a handful of crou­tons, and sat down to enjoy the meal I had worked so hard to prepare. Today’s article is the first in a new cat­e­go­ry I have just created — Cooking & Food. I already have quite a number of articles lined up to add to this category, with accompanying photos, but just have not had the time to make much progress. Lately I’ve been having new culinary adventures faster than I can crank out the articles!

Food photos have been popping up like mushrooms as well! I have now come to the point where I have enough pictures of food that they deserve their own album. Therefore, I have just assembled the new Food & Cooking 2015 album, starting off with 24 food photos taken this year (so far). Pictures of food from all years can be seen in the equally-new Food & Cooking (All Years) album.

Many of the photos of food which I have cooked have already appeared in the Homemade Images 2015 album. Other food pictures have been in­clud­ed in the various Portland-outing albums I have been creating. These food photos still ap­pear in those albums, but they are also collected in the Food & Cooking 2015 album so that they can all be found in one location.

As a photographer, I like capturing and showing off the good food I am enjoying, whether it was made by myself or someone else. Food pho­to­graphed well is a work of art in itself. I don’t claim to be an expert at it, but I’ve been having fun experimenting with food photography over the past months.

Even though I am not ready for prime time as a gourmet cook, I plan on sharing with you my further eggs-capades as I attempt to duplicate more recipes from Eggs On Top.
UPDATE — 14 September 2015

With all of the cooking I’ve been doing recently, the Food & Cooking 2015 album I created last month is already getting crowded! Therefore, I have grouped some of those photos into two new, more specific albums in an effort to organize them a bit better:
Brian's Photo Blog — Article 458
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Reader Comments
On August 8, 2015, Gloria wrote:
My mom wrote: Excellent article! I laughed as hard as when you first told me your story. Keep up the good job and I can't wait for the next one.
On August 9, 2015, Cindi wrote:
Great blog Brian I will be checking back in on more of your eggscapades and other cooking adventures! Can't wait to cook with you in October!
On August 9, 2015, Sandra wrote:
That was so funny Brian...but you never said if you enjoyed it or not? It looked really good...never thought to put an egg on top of a salad...I love eggs!
On August 9, 2015, Jeff wrote:
Well Brian, Even though you claim 3 strikes. I actually think your presentation on the makes me think "Would I eat that?"...and I can't help but think...SURE, I bet it tasted great.

Keep up the cooking,
Brian's Photo Blog — Article 458
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