Monday, May 12, 2008

Leeks and Eggs

I have the kind of job where I can work from home a day or two a week, as long as I don't have meetings, etc.; I try very hard to work from home on Fridays, on account of the terrible Friday evening traffic in the Bay Area. Unfortunately, that means that I miss the Old Oakland Farmers' Market, which is on...yes, Fridays.

What I like about this market is that it's geared towards the locals. It's a stone's throw from Chinatown and the produce offered matches the neighbors. Lots of greens, daikon, kohlrabi, etc. at this last market on Friday. The prices were all reasonable--for $8 I got two lovely bunches of beets, two beautiful bright fennel bulbs, and three leeks. These were lovely, fresh, and fragrant. Yes, even the beets smelled lovely and dirty.

As you might guess, I had to work on Friday. And I was lucky enough that a fire drill drove me out of my office in the morning and it was a gorgeous day. I bought the produce mentioned above, a $4 loaf of pugliese that was delicious from a french bakery, fougasse with garlic and cheese for my lunch from the same bakery for $2.50--delicious!, and then spent way too much ($12) on boulani and cilantro pesto...but oh, it's good.

I got home with my "trees" as Juiceboy calls the fennel, and didn't really know what I wanted to do with everything. I sliced fennel up into slices, wrapped them in prosciutto and drizzled olive oil on them for a light appetizer. Wonderful! While I munched on that, I soaked the leeks and drained/dried them, to have them to cook tonight.

As it was, I got home late and the guys ate leftover pizza. What would I cook that was quick, easy, and just for me? Leeks and an omelet. I'd read somewhere that braised leeks were a lovely omelet filing. I thought I'd try to perfect the two, separately, yet eat them together. Because honestly, I'm not the best cook. I can easily screw one thing up...and if I serve it *in* something else, I've messed up the whole dish.

I melted a tablespoon of butter in a non-stick pan over medium heat, till it was bubbling, then added about 2.5 cups of the leeks. I had cut them into 1-inch slices before I washed them last night.

Then I added a teaspoon of kosher salt and turned the heat up just a tad. I cooked the leeks, shaking the pan every now and then, for about five minutes, until they were brown, then I stirred them, and cooked for another five minutes. Then, I added about a quarter cup of decent white wine. I turned the heat to medium low and let the wine cook down. Then, I added about 1/4 teaspoon savory and fresh pepper to taste.

I removed the leeks to my dinner plate.

Then, I added another 1/4 tablespoon of butter to the pan, let it melt to bubbling, and added two eggs that I'd salted and peppered, and added two teaspoons of water to, stirring well. I tipped the pan to quickly coat the bottom with egg, then used a spatula to move the eggs to the side, tipping the pan once more. I used light, gentle movements and barely let the eggs touch heat. I have an electric range and used a wide pan...and the eggs spent no longer than two or three minutes in it.

I ate it with a slice of the bread from the market--it was on day three and was a little tough, but a touch of olive oil or red wine fixed any problems.

So how were the leeks and eggs? Delicious! The leeks were remarkably sweet, and the eggs...I've never had such soft, tender eggs. They just simply melted in my mouth. It was an amazingly simple dinner, and fast, and I plan to have more like it.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Butter is Not Always Better

It being Mother's Day today, I was talking to my mother. She mentioned that she'd made some lemon bread that completely fell apart when she de-panned it. She'd swapped butter for the shortening and "sour cream" for the milk, since her milk is skim. What did she do wrong?

Her sour cream was actually whipped cream, that she'd made of cream and whipped--without sugar--that had gone a bit passed its date...and was, therefore, sour. I don't know if this type of sour cream has the same density as regular sour cream, but I'm not certain it would be a good substitute for milk.

Since I didn't know, I needed to figure out if butter is a good substitute for shortening. I read lots of statements that said that butter is always terms of health and flavor, that is. But when it comes down to the science of it, butter is NOT always better. At least, not if you do a one-to-one substitution.

Why is that? Well, shortening is pretty much 100% fat. And butter is fat, water and sometimes salt. If your recipe requires half a cup of shortening and you put in half a cup of won't have enough fat. But you will have extra liquid. So, what I've read is that you need to have 1.2 times the amount of butter as the recipe calls for shortening.

What really crushed her is that she had special butter from Trader Joes that she said is better in baking...but she didn't use it. It likely has less water and salt in it. I never did ask her why she didn't.

So...can you substitute butter for shortening? Yes, but adjust your recipe accordingly.