Saturday, April 2, 2016

"Egg Cookery" and "Eggs I Have Known" - Ham and Eggs Oven Omelet and Chicken Armagnac (brandy)

Date I made these recipes:  March 27, 2016 – Easter Sunday

Egg Cookery – Omelets, Soufflés, Quiches, Crepes and Other Egg Dishes by Lou Seibert Pappas
Published by:  101 Productions San Francisco
ISBN:  0-912238-80-1; © 1976
Recipe:  Ham and Egg Oven Omelet – p. 69

Eggs I Have Known by Corrine Griffith
Published by:  Farr, Straus and Cudahy
© 1955
Purchased at:  Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks, NYC
Recipe:  Chicken Armagnac – p. 87

It's not that I like to be contrary, but every time a food holiday like Easter rolls around, I eschew ham (or for Thanksgiving, turkey) in favor of something different.  Something...not ham. 

And it's not like I don't like ham but it's difficult to make a ham for two people without generating a ton of leftovers to freeze.  We did that one year and about one year later, we were tossing ice-encrusted bags of ham in the garbage.  I hate wasting food.  (For the record, I have yet to find a refrigerator/freezer combination that doesn't make half the food in it look like it was stored in the North Pole.)

And then there's the age-old issue of having to make sides with the ham and that usually means pulling out several cookbooks (as if the ham recipe hunt isn't challenging enough) and after a few days of that, I just gave up and started looking for that elusive "something different."

"Something different" turned out to be two dishes, each one from a cookbook about eggs.  Easter may be about ham, but it is also about eggs.  I mean you've got your dyed Easter eggs, your chocolate Easter eggs and even your malted milk Easter eggs (my favorite).  So "eggs" it was.

The first cookbook I used, Egg Cookery, is as straight up as you can get.  There's a brief introduction but that's the last we really see of a narrative as all the pages after that are recipes, sans a lot of chit chat.  Instead, you get a wide variety of egg recipes for everything from hors d'Oeufs to entrees.  Me?  I like breakfast and as soon as I saw the recipe for a Ham and Egg Oven Omelet I chuckled because what could be better for Easter than ham and eggs?

[Breaking News:  To my horror, I discovered that I had already cooked from this cookbook for Easter 2012.  Noooooooo! My own self-imposed rule is that I cook only one recipe per book otherwise I'd never get through my collection.  (As if.)  But since I can't store all the cookbooks I've used, it was still on my shelf and so oh well.  Make this anyway because it's easy!]

I might have just stopped with this cookbook but my husband gave me a look suggesting he would not be satisfied with just breakfast, so I kept searching and at long last decided to make something from the cookbook, Eggs I Have Known.  But I tell you what, it wasn't easy because most of the recipes in this book had absolutely nothing to do with eggs.  Go figure.

Still, the title is a crack-up, is it not?  When I first saw this book at Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks in NYC 10 years ago, I just had to have it.  But when I got it home, I was rather disappointed to see traditional egg dishes (omelets, soufflés, etc.) were few and far between.  Instead, this reads like a regular cookbook i.e. with recipes from "soup to nuts" and that was disappointing.

And this is why in the last 10 years, I have done nothing but pick up the book, leaf through it for recipes, and then finding none of interest, put the book back on the shelf.  But this year I was determined to find something, anything, and so I went to the source ("to ask the horse" – Mr. Ed) and made a chicken dish to go with my egg breakfast.  And what do you know, the recipe I selected called for two egg yokes and so just like that, I went full circle on this Easter egg theme and all was well with the world.

So this all seemed like a good idea and so on Easter Saturday, I set off to find the key ingredient to Chicken Armagnac – jarred truffles. (Armagnac is a French brandy.)  And who knew until I set off on this adventure that there is a truffle "season" and unfortunately, Easter wasn't it.  Christmas, yes, Easter no. 

Lucky for me, one of my first stops was to a specialty food store, Golden Fig Fine Foods, located on Grand Ave in St. Paul, MN.  The store's owner, Laurie McCann Crowell, and I met at – of all things – a cookbook book club -  a club that met once a month circa 1998-2000, at the Barnes and Noble bookstore located in the Har Mar Shopping Center in St. Paul.  The store's community events person at the time persuaded local food reporter, Sue Zelickson, to moderate the club and together they brought in budding cookbook authors and chefs like Ina Garten, Lydia Bastianich and even – be still my heart – Alice Waters.

And every month, I plunked myself down to hear the speaker, sample a little something from the featured cookbook made by a local (and usually female) chef, chatted with my fellow cookbook-loving peeps and of course bought the cookbook.  Back then, I think my collection was maybe around 500ish; it now numbers over 2100 books.

The day that Ina Garten, a/k/a The Barefoot Contessa, was our featured speaker was the day I first chatted with Laurie.  Laurie was just getting her own line of foods going and had worked for Ina Garten back in the day when Ina had her own gourmet foods shop, well before she became famous on the Food Network.  Armed with her experience at Ina's, Laurie founded the Golden Fig Fine Foods line and then opened her own shop on Grand Avenue, and when I am in the mood for something different or for a hostess gift, I go to the store.  And I figured if anybody had jarred truffles, it would be her.

It turns out that no, she didn't have jarred truffles as she now tries to focus on Minnesota-made products, but she advised as to where I might look and how I might want to adapt the recipe.  But before we get to that, I have to tell you about what happened before we had that conversation because it was as enlightening as it was amusing.

So Laurie carries a few cookbooks and I started looking through one that I had also glanced briefly (and I mean briefly) at a few days before at Barnes and Noble.  The cookbook, Ina's Kitchen: Memories and Recipes from the Breakfast Queen, was written by Chicagoan Ina Pinkney, not to be confused with Ina Garten.

Just after I started looking at the cookbook, Laurie came up to me and said "That's a great cookbook.  Ina is really fun and the cookbook is great.  She ran a restaurant in Chicago for many years."

"She did?????," said I, somewhat incredulously because I thought she was referring to Ina Garten, not Ida Pinkney.  For the record, until Ina Garten came along, I had never, ever heard of anybody being named "Ina" and now there were two of them?

So Laurie went on chatting about the book and since I had once again barely cracked the thing open, I was most confused.  It was only after the fact that I a) figured out we were not talking about the same "Ina," and b) realized that I had eaten at Ina's Kitchen (now closed) in Chicago.  How do you like that?  My husband and I often visit friends in Chicago 10 years ago (wow, time flies), the four of us went there to eat.  And it was good.  Even better – and you all will love this – was that the restaurant was located near a flea market and it was there that I found one of my Holy Grail cookbooks, one that I had been searching out for years and years:  Vincent and Mary Price's A Treasury of Great Recipes.  Score!  I plunked down a considerable amount of money for the book but honestly, I probably would have paid double, it was that hard to find.  So in a round about way, thank you Ina Pinkney!

Moving on...I told Laurie I would consider the cookbook (and I will, but I had also purchased two new cookbooks that day so the budget was tight) and then I asked her if she carried jarred truffles.

We resume our story, already in progress.

Laurie said no but then suggested a few places to check.  But I had other errands to run and both of them would take me out of my way so instead, we discussed substitutes.  I was thinking of swapping Portobello mushrooms for truffles but Laurie said they weren't the right flavor profile.  Instead, after looking at the photocopy of the recipe I brought with me, she suggested that I use shitake and then suggested that I used dried shitake and then came up with another suggestion that really worked:  grind the dried shitake in a food processor and then add them, as directed, at the last minute.  Worked like a charm.  I need to bring her all my recipes.

As a final note, I bought the dried shitake at Whole Foods but not the Whole Foods closest to her store (and my house) on in St. Paul that we both agreed would be a "zoo" on Saturday, but rather the Whole Foods in downtown Minneapolis.  And although the price sticker on the dried mushroom shelf said $5.99 (as opposed to $18 dollars or more for jarred truffles), they rang up at $3.29.  Awesome!

So now you know and I know (and "Eggs I Have Known" know) that truffles enjoy a very short (and expensive) season and this is good knowledge to have.

You should also know that the Chicken Armagnac is basically chicken + booze +  a mushroom and shallot cream sauce. My guess is that you could leave out the brandy and you would be just fine.

And so it came to pass on Easter Sunday that we got our chicken and egg and ham fix on and it was fabulous.  Enjoy!

Ham and Eggs Oven Omelet – Makes 6 servings
8 eggs
1 cup milk
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ cup julienne-cut cooked ham
2 cups shredded Swiss cheese
¾ cup sourdough French bread cubes
2 tablespoons butter, melted

Beat eggs until blended and mix in milk, salt, nutmeg, ham and cheese.  Pour egg mixture into a buttered ovenproof baking dish about 9-1/2 inches in diameter.  Roll bread crumbs in melted butter to coat and scatter over the top.  Bake in a 350F oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until golden brown and puffed.  Serve at once, cut in wedges.

Chicken Armagnac – serves 4
4 breasts of chicken
Salt and pepper
2 egg yolks
1 small jar truffles
4 ounces butter
6 or 8 peeled shallots, grated
6 ounces cream
3 ounces Armagnac brandy
Use only white meat of 4 chickens.  Put in a skillet with 4 ounces of butter to sauté.  Salt and pepper them and turn frequently.  Just as they have finished cooking, put into a skillet shallots peeled and chopped extremely fine.  Remove chicken and place in chafing dish in which there is a little melted butter.

Keep stirring shallots in skillet with butter and chicken juices.  When shallots are cooked, add slowly the yolks of two eggs and six ounces of cream beaten together.  Add truffles.  (Ann's Note:  or, if using dried mushrooms like the Shitake I used, crumble them in a food processor and the add them to the mixture.)  Stir constantly over low fire to blend butter with sauce.  When sauce is thick, set aside.  Pour three ounces of Armagnac over chicken in hot chafing dish.  Set ablaze.  When Armagnac is almost burned out, pour sauce over chicken.  Serve immediately.

Ann's Note:  I made some rice and some peas to accompany the chicken.

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