Eggs Benny

Peppery arugala compliments the mornay sauce and creamy yolks in this version of Eggs Benny.

Weekends are special in our house. Not only do we get to sleep in, usually, we also get to chow on brunch items that are heftier than our usual weekday oatmeal, yogurt, or muesli. We try to keep eggs, bread, milk, cheese, and some meat item on hand for these rich weekend brunches. Lately, we’ve been poaching eggs and serving them with everything from soup to salad to endless variations of Eggs Benedict. In fact, it’s been a while since we’ve had a traditional Eggs Benedict breakfast. The idea of Eggs Benedict may seem a little intimidating but the dish is actually very easy to make and we’ve had great success with it over the years. Making a hollandaise sauce is simple when using our blender. We get that with all the butter and egg yolks the sauce is heavy, even for a large breakfast, so we try to limit our consumption of the sauce to special occasions – mostly.

The typical Eggs Benedict is made with English muffins, Canadian bacon, poached eggs and hollandaise sauce. The origin of the dish seems to be up for debate. The choices are between a New York stock broker, Lemuel Benedict, a New York banker residing in France, Commodore E.C. Benedict, and a New York couple named Mr. and Mrs. Le Grand Benedict. Food historians seem to agree that the dish was created around the late 1800’s to early 1900’s. (source: Wikipedia). Whatever the origin of the Eggs Benedict, it appears that the concoction was inspired by the appetites of wealthy New Yorkers who were bored of their typical breakfast fare.

We’re not wealthy by any means, and while we love New York, we’re San Franciscans who love a good deal. So, for the those bohemians on the west coast who love to eat well, we offer the Eggs Benny, a simpler take on this rich classic. The construction of the dish follows the traditional pattern – bread, meat and/or vegetables, eggs, and sauce, but the ingredients consist of whatever you currently have on hand in your fridge. We prefer a béchamel or mornay sauce with our eggs, meat, and toast. The béchamel is a simple milk, butter, and flour sauce. The mornay sauce is a béchamel with cheese added to it. Steve can whisk up these sauces in just enough time for Jason to toast the bread and poach the eggs. They’re quick and easy.

There are many variations on the traditional Eggs Benedict including Eggs Blackstone, which substitutes ham for the streaky bacon and adds a tomato slice. Eggs Florentine substitutes spinach for the ham. There’s also a Country Benedict, sometimes known as Eggs Beauregard, which replaces the English muffin, ham and hollandaise sauce with a biscuit, sausage patties, and country gravy. The poached eggs are replaced with eggs fried to your liking. There are many other variations of this simple, yet classic, construction. We’ll stick to our own versions of Eggs Benny which for us means having poached eggs, toast of some kind, some sort of meat or sauté of vegetable, and all topped with a creamy sauce – hollandaise, mornay, or béchamel. So, now there is no urgent need to run to the store for English muffins and Canadian bacon. Just use what you have on hand and call it Eggs Benny.

Eggs Benny

Crisp bacon, sauteed chard, and creamy hollandaise sauce in another Eggs Benny brunch.

(serves two)

4 Poached Eggs
4 slices of Toast (your choice)
4 slices meat (cooked bacon, prosciutto, Canadian bacon, crab meat, etc.)
and/or a sauté of leafy green vegetables (chard, kale, spinach, endive, etc.) or fresh greens (arugula, dandelion greens, escarole, etc.)
Hollandaise, mornay, or béchamel (your choice)

For poached eggs: In one sauce pan, boil hot water. In a separate skillet, simmer water. Boil the eggs in the sauce pan, with the shells on for 30 seconds. This will help to keep the whites together when poaching them. Crack each egg into one of four separate ramekins. In the skillet with simmering water, slowly pour the eggs one at a time. Allow to simmer for 3-5 minutes or until the whites are cooked and the yolks are still soft to the touch.

Alternately, you can also add a tablespoon of vinegar to the skillet water to help keep the egg whites together, but the eggs will take on the vinegar flavor.

Bechamel Sauce

1 ½ cups whole milk
1 Bay leaf
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
Sprig of fresh thyme (optional)

Warm milk, bay leaf and thyme, if using, in a saucepan over low heat.

While milk is warming, create a roux by melting the butter in a separate saucepan over medium heat. When completely melted, add flour and whisk constantly, approximately 2 minutes, being careful not to brown the roux. Take out the bay leaf and thyme from the milk. Pour the hot milk into the roux while continuing to whisk until roux and milk are completely incorporated. Season with salt and white pepper and continue to whisk until sauce begins to thicken.

Mornay Sauce
1 Sauce Béchamel
1 cup grated cheese(s) (cheddar, Swiss, Parmesan, Gruyère, etc.)

Sauce béchamel becomes sauce mornay when the cheese is added. If you intend to add the cheese, be sure to remove the sauce from heat before whisking in the cheese. Serve hot.

To assemble: place the toast on the plate, then add the meat and/or vegetables. Place the poached eggs on top and then drizzle with the sauce of your choice. Decorate with a pinch of cayenne pepper or paprika. Serve at once.

Note: Leftover béchamel or mornay can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for three or four days. Refrigerated, béchamel becomes very thick. Add it to scrambled eggs or sautéed greens for added creaminess. Or, spread it over rustic bread and toast under the broiler for a delicious open-faced croque.

More pumpkin, less politics

Our boycott of the radio lasted less than a week. It was the first week of November and we were getting so tired of hearing about politics we just had to shut off the radio. We could not hear one more Meg Whitman ad without going postal, and we didn’t need to be reminded everyday that the Republicans were going to be in control again only to get us further into a grid lock where nothing in the Senate will ever get done.  And let’s pretend we didn’t even write Sarah Palin’s name here (will her 15 minutes ever be up?) We were in political burnout and needed a change from the day-by-day plays in Washington D.C. and Sacramento, along with all the other states. So for four days we stopped listening to the radio and only listened to music on iTunes.

On Friday, November 5, that all changed and all I can say is “Thank you” Michele Norris. Your interview with/story of Dori Greenspan on November 5, made me hungry and I haven’t stopped thinking about stuffed pumpkins since. If I hadn’t already had plans that Friday night, I would have gone to the nearest grocery store and picked up a pumpkin at that moment, headed home, and made the dish. But Steve was waiting for me to pick him up for drinks and dinner with a friend. The pumpkin would have to wait.

The first version I made was almost exactly like Dori’s with a few minor changes. I loved Dori’s recipe but these sorts of dishes are less about following a recipe to the T and more about playing with a technique – in this case, how to cook stuffed pumpkin. As the title of the recipe suggests, the pumpkin is stuffed with “everything good,” but it should read ‘anything good’ since she gives so many suggestions and alternatives for things to add. So with my substitutions on hand, I sautéed a leek in bacon fat rendered from two bacon slices, then tossed the leeks with bread cubes, and made a mornay sauce (béchamel sauce plus grated cheese) in the same pan I used to cook the bacon instead of adding the cream Dori calls for in her version of the recipe. I probably overstuffed the pumpkin but I didn’t want to waste one piece of cheese or cube of bread. The pumpkin, stuffed with savory bread pudding, was amazing!

Our second version was just as delicious but took all too long to bake. We stuffed it with a small sweet potato and a few small turnips along with a half dozen shredded Brussels sprouts. We used the mornay sauce again with the additions of cinnamon and thyme. We didn’t realize the tubers would take so bloody long to cook. We ended up ordering Chinese food that night while the stuffed pumpkin was left to bake for almost three hours. We left it out to cool overnight and then refrigerated it the next morning.

On day two, I cut it in half and baked one half in the toaster oven until it was warm on the inside then topped it off with some bread crumbs and butter and finished by toasting it under the broiler. The pumpkin was sweet and roasted while the sweet potato and turnip were just soft and covered with a wonderfully creamy cheese sauce. The bread crumbs gave it a nice crunch. Sweet, savory, soft and crunchy all in one dish!

We’re back to listening to the radio now that the election is over. We try not to listen to too much NPR but since we’re both news junkies we can’t help our love/hate relationship with serious radio programming. With Thanksgiving just around the corner we just want to give thanks to NPR and all that they do for us. We may not agree with everything they say but if they want to bring more pumpkin reports we’d be much happier than listening to all the political analysis.

The recipes below include the goodies we added to the pumpkins, but as Dori suggests, you can add almost anything you want.

Stuffing squash.

Vegetable Stuffed Pumpkin

1 small sugar pumpkin

1 small yam, diced

3 small turnips, diced

6 Brussels sprouts, shredded

1 recipe Mornay sauce

salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut the top of the pumpkin off, as you would a jack-o-lantern, and remove the seeds (you can save the seeds and roast them too). Sprinkle the inside of the pumpkin with salt and pepper. Add the diced yam and turnips in a medium bowl with the shredded Brussels sprouts, toss to combine. Add mornay sauce to the mixed vegetables and stuff the sugar pumpkin. Bake the pumpkin in a pot until the yams are tender, approximately 2-3 hours. Allow to cool to touch, (can be prepared day before, refrigerated).

Once the pumpkin is cool, cut in half and top with bread crumbs. If the pumpkin half is cold bake in a 400 degree oven until warm, 20-30 minutes. Finish by toasting the bread crumbs under the broiler for a few minutes until nice and golden brown.

Mornay Sauce

1 ½ cups whole milk

2 tbsp unsalted butter

2 tbsp unbleached, all-purpose flour

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

½ onion

1 bay leaf (dry)

Salt and white pepper to taste

Freshly grated nutmeg (optional)

Heat milk, onion and bay leaf in a small saucepan on medium until steaming but not yet at a boil then reduce the heat to low to keep the milk hot while preparing the rest of the ingredients.

In a medium saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat until melted and starting to bubble. Whisk in flour and cook, whisking constantly, until the flour is just golden and lightly toasted, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Strain the milk into the butter and flour mixture. Add the salt, pepper and nutmeg (if using) and continue to whisk until smooth making sure no lumps form. As the sauce heats it will begin to thicken. When the sauce is just thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the grated cheese. Use immediately.