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Farmer's Skillet prepared by Crowne Plaza executive chef Richard Long.
By Jeff Stearns | STAFF
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How do you like your eggs?
By Kathleen Ostrander

The versatile egg can be as upscale as filet mignon eggs Benedict on a breakfast tray with a perfect rose or as casual as scrambled eggs on a piece of toast folded in half like a piece of New York pizza and wolfed down on the way out the door.

Eggs are not the easiest thing to cook correctly. Oh, sure, there's that old joke about can't cook, can't even boil an egg - but correctly scrambled eggs are tricky.

There's a fine line between glorious, glistening heaps of soft scrambled eggs and those hard, rubbery yellow bits that look like old elementary-school erasers and taste like clams that have been fried too long.

The secret to avoiding bad scrambled eggs is, according to the Web site How Stuff Works, slow and low. Use low heat and slowly warm the eggs to the point of perfect coagulation while gently turning them off the bottom of the pan, versus a rushed version which leads to burned bottoms and runny tops.

The trick to perfect poached eggs is to forget about all those TV shows that have cooks madly swirling the boiling water into a vortex and smacking the egg in there. According to the Illinois Egg Board, which is headquartered just outside of Chicago, do NOT swirl the water when poaching an egg.

Instead, use fresh eggs, get the water to a slow simmer, crack the egg onto a dish and slide the egg into the gently simmering water. Using the swirling vortex approach merely rips the egg white up. As an added bonus, poach in milk, broth, tomato juice or even wine, and the eggs will pick up some of the color highlights.

Now, imagine poaching eggs times 900, and that's what executive chef Richard Long does at the Crowne Plaza in Springfield. "It's all in the prep work," Long said. He can poach 900 eggs at one time. His secret? Muffin cups in a hot water bath.

"We've done some really elegant egg dishes for big breakfasts, like the governor's prayer breakfast," said George Hewlett, director of operations at the Crowne Plaza.

"You can take a traditional dish like eggs Benedict and put a nice twist on it by using a slice of filet instead of bacon. If you want to go vegetarian, use a Portabella mushroom instead of an English muffin and you've got a substitute for meat," Hewlett said. Long then dresses up the Portabella Benedict with some roasted red pepper relish and a nice balsamic vinegar reduction.

Long's version of a farmer's skillet is also upscale with its presentation. He cuts the preparation into pie shaped wedges. A farmer's skillet or farmer's casserole consists of eggs, hash browns or diced potatoes, onions and a meat - sausage, Canadian bacon or bacon. His egg dish is also high and fluffy. The trick is to bake it just until the center sets, because it's going to continue baking to the perfect firmness after it's removed from the oven.

Eggs pair nicely with delicate seafood. One of Hewlett's and Long's favorite upscale egg creations are mini quiches. Fill individually formed one-serving pie dough rounds with shrimp, scallops and eggs all folded together and top with a soft cheese that will flow and make a top crust as the dish bakes, according to Hewlett.

Here are some egg recipes - go to www.aeb.org for more.

Eggs Benedict

  • 8 eggs, cold    
  • 4 English muffins, split, toasted    
  • 8 slices Canadian-style bacon, warmed    
  • 3⁄4 cup Hollandaise sauce    

Heat 2 to 3 inches of water in large saucepan or deep skillet to boiling. Adjust heat to keep liquid simmering gently. Break eggs, 1 at a time, into custard cup or saucer. Holding dish close to surface, slip egg into water.

Cook eggs until whites are completely set and yolks begin to thicken but are not hard, 3 to 5 minutes. Do not stir. Lift eggs from water with slotted spoon; drain well.

Top each muffin half with 1 bacon slice, 1 egg and about 11⁄2 tablespoons, Hollandaise sauce. Serve immediately.

Garnish with sliced ripe olives, if desired.

Tip: Use fresh eggs for poaching. They hold shape better and form fewer threads in the water.

Do not swirl the water when poaching eggs. This creates a vortex that will ruffle the delicate egg protein. Relatively quiet water that is gently simmering produces the best result.

Do not poach eggs ahead of time and hold them in the refrigerator.

Makes four to eight servings.

Easy baked eggs in puff pastry

  • 1 pkg. (10 oz.) frozen puff pastry shells (6 shells)    
  • 6 eggs    
  • 1⁄2 cup sour cream    
  • 1⁄2 tsp. dried dill weed    
  • Dash salt    

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Bake pastry shells on baking sheet 20 minutes; remove from oven.

Reduce oven setting to 375 degrees. Remove tops from pastry shells; place on baking sheet next to shells. Remove soft dough from centers of pastry shells with a fork; discard.

Break and slip an egg into each shell. Bake in 375 degrees oven until whites are almost set, 14 to 15 minutes.

Mix sour cream, dill weed and salt; spoon evenly over eggs. Bake until hot, about 3 minutes. Serve with baked tops as lids or accompaniments.  

Serve for brunch or as a first course.  Substitute fresh dill for dried dill weed and garnish with fresh dill sprigs, if desired.

Makes six servings.

Crab and asparagus frittata

  • 1 cup small fresh asparagus pieces     
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms    
  • 1⁄2 cup sliced green onions
  • 1⁄2 cup thin red bell pepper strips
  • 1⁄2 cup flaked crab meat (2 oz.)
  • 8 eggs
  • 1⁄4 cup water
  • 1 tsp. dried Italian seasoning    
  • 1⁄2 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese (2 oz.)    
  • 1 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese    

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Coat 10-inch nonstick skillet with ovenproof handle with cooking spray; heat over medium-high heat until hot.

Add asparagus, mushrooms, onions and bell pepper; sauté until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes.

Remove from heat. Add crab; mix well.

Beat eggs, water and Italian seasoning in medium bowl until blended. Stir in mozzarella cheese; pour over crab mixture in skillet.

Cook over medium heat until eggs are set at edges, 5 to 8 minutes. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Bake in 375-degree oven until top is lightly browned, eggs are completely set and no visible liquid egg remains, 8 to 10 minutes.

Cut into wedges.

This frittata is special enough for brunch guests and hearty enough for a light family supper.

To serve, slide frittata topside-up onto platter before cutting, or invert it onto platter to show its nicely browned bottom.

Frittatas taste good cold and travel well - perfect for picnic fare or a take-along lunch.

Tip: To make handle ovenproof, wrap it completely in aluminum foil.

Chopped cooked shrimp can be substituted for the crab.

Makes four to eight servings.

Plum upside-down baked french toast

  • 6 eggs    
  • 1⁄4 cup milk    
  • 1⁄2 tsp. almond extract    
  • 1⁄2 tsp. vanilla    
  • 6 slices French bread (1 inch thick, 4 inch diameter)    
  • 2 cups chopped ripe fresh plums    
  • 2 Tbsp. water    
  • 1⁄3 cup packed brown sugar    
  • 1⁄2 tsp. freshly grated lemon peel    

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Beat eggs, milk, almond extract and vanilla in medium bowl until blended. Pour 1⁄2 of the egg mixture into 9-inch square baking dish. Place bread slices in mixture; pour remaining egg mixture over bread. Let stand, turning occasionally, until liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes.  

Meanwhile combine plums and water in medium saucepan; cook, covered, over medium heat until tender. Add sugar and lemon peel; mix. Spread in 8-inch square baking dish.

Place soaked bread on top of plums. Bake in 375 degrees oven until lightly browned and no visible liquid egg remains, 20 to 30 minutes.  

Insider information:

Bread may be soaked in egg mixture, covered and refrigerated, several hours or overnight. Handle gently when arranging on top of plums.

Makes four servings.

Seafood souffle

  • Fine dry bread crumbs, grated Parmesan cheese or cornmeal    
  • 1⁄3 cup all-purpose flour    
  • 1 tsp. dry mustard    
  • 1⁄2 tsp. salt    
  • 11⁄2 cups milk    
  • 6 egg whites, room temperature    
  • 3⁄4 tsp. cream of tartar    
  • 6 egg yolks    
  • 1 can (6.5 oz.) minced clams, drained well    
  • 1 pkg. (4 oz.) tiny frozen cooked shrimp, defrosted, drained well    
  • 1⁄2 cup chopped green onions    
  • 2 Tbsp. lemon juice    

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a lightly greased 2 to 21⁄2-quart soufflé dish evenly and completely with bread crumbs. Make a triple thick 4-inch wide band of aluminum foil, long enough to go around the dish and overlap by 2 inches. Lightly grease one side of the band and coat with crumbs. Wrap around outside of dish, coated side facing in and extending at least 2 inches above the top. Fasten with string or strong masking tape. Set aside.

Mix flour, mustard and salt in medium saucepan; gradually whisk in milk until smooth. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and boils. Remove from heat.

Beat egg whites and cream of tartar in mixer bowl with whisk attachment on high speed until stiff but not dry, just until whites no longer slip when bowl is tilted.

Stir egg yolks into reserved sauce until blended. Add clams, shrimp, green onions and lemon juice; mix well. Gently but thoroughly fold yolk mixture into whites until no streaks of white remain. Carefully pour into prepared soufflé dish.  For a "top hat," hold metal spatula upright and make a ring in top of soufflé mixture, 1 inch from side of dish and 1 inch deep, if desired.

Bake at 350 degrees until soufflé is puffy, delicately browned and shakes slightly when oven rack is moved gently back and forth, 50 to 60 minutes. Quickly but gently remove foil collar. Serve immediately.

Tip: Substitute: An equal amount of other cooked seafood, such as scallops, crab or oysters, can be substituted for the clams and shrimp. Be sure the pieces are small and drained well.

Makes six servings.

Tyler Florence'sHollandaise sauce

  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1⁄2 cup unsalted butter, melted (1 stick)
  • Pinch cayenne
  • Pinch salt

Vigorously whisk the egg yolks and lemon juice together in a stainless steel bowl and until the mixture is thickened and doubled in volume. Place the bowl over a saucepan containing barely simmering water (or use a double boiler,) the water should not touch the bottom of the bowl.

Continue to whisk rapidly. Be careful not to let the eggs get too hot or they will scramble. Slowly drizzle in the melted butter and continue to whisk until the sauce is thickened and doubled in volume. Remove from heat, whisk in cayenne and salt.

Cover and place in a warm spot until ready to use for the eggs Benedict. If the sauce gets too thick, whisk in a few drops of warm water before serving.

Makes one cup.

 

Story published Friday, July 3, 2009 ( Volume 4, Number 4 )

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