Savory French Toast

breadUnlike French fries (which are said to have originated in Belgium) French toast really is French but it is not exclusively French.

In the United States, we consider French toast to be a breakfast item. (In France they call French toast pain perdu, and it is eaten as a sweet dessert.) French toast can be sweet or savory. In the UK it’s “eggy toast” (or Gypsy Toast)

The concept is simple; it has been around since the Romans: Dip stale bread in a whisked egg mixed with some dairy, let it soak, and cook it. There is evidence of this dish’s dates back to the Middle Ages, and, all over the globe. It probably has many origins, because the dish is so simple, so obvious, is that it may have been “invented” in many places simultaneously. After all, stale bread is a shame to waste, and eggs (for most of the year) plentiful.

There are hundreds and hundreds of variations, and those variations include what is put on top of the French toast. This dish may be the most common egg dish in the world. There are recipes using every variety of bread—from Wonder Bread to sourdough, to all sorts of artisan rustic breads, to challah. There are even recipes for a kind of French toast using unleavened crisp bread, the most notable being the matza brei.

French Toast can be fried in a skillet, or baked in the oven.

Savory Cheesy Eggy Toast
½ cup milk
4 eggs
4 slices stale bread

2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup grated or shredded cheese (your choice of cheese)

ketchup (garnish)

Mix egg and milk. Dip bread slices, and coat both sides evenly. Melt butter in skillet on medium heat, and heat until very hot. Cook until golden on both sides. Move slices of bread to an oven broiler pan, sprinkle with cheese, place under broiler, and heat until cheese melts. Serve with ketchup.

 

 

Cold Weather: Custard Soup

2 old men eating soup

Two Old Men Eating Soup, 1819–23, by Francisco de Goya, currently in the Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain

Custard soup is a mixture of egg and broth or an egg-and-dairy mixture. They are different from poached egg soups in that the eggs are incorporated into the recipe, rather than sitting on the side as in a poached egg soup or being stirred into the soup to form the long ribbons of egg-flower-style soup. The eggs give a creamy thickness to the soup, but they are fragile. Eggs cooked in this way are notoriously unstable: They can cook too fast or too long and become lumpy or granular. Some recipes leave out the egg whites, because without them, the yolks are easier to cook without the risk of granular blobs. But even yolks alone should be carefully tended and not overcooked.

They are easier cooked in a double boiler so that temperature can be controlled better. This is a soup that you should hover over and stir, which is nice on a cold winter day. (For me, any excuse to hang out where it is warm is a plus.)

Custard soup is hearty, and satisfying. It’s perfect to sooth a sore throat. The turmeric not only gives a hint of color, and a pleasant taste, but is a health booster).

Custard Soup

1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour
1 pinch baking soda
¼ teaspoon white pepper
½ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon nutmeg
1 quart milk
6 eggs
¼ cup finely minced onion
1 chicken bouillon cube
ground nutmeg for garnish

In double boiler, melt butter, add flour, and make smooth roux. Add white pepper, turmeric, nutmeg, and pinch of baking soda. In bowl combine eggs and milk, and beat well. Pour into double boiler along with minced onion and bouillon cube. Stir constantly, and heat until smooth and creamy.

Serve in small soup cups, and garnish with small amount of ground nutmeg. Serve immediately.

Variations:
1/2 teaspoon of ground cardamom
or, 1 teaspoon Madras Curry Powder
or, 2 teaspoons lemon zest, and 2 teaspoons lemon juice.

Remembering The Magic Pan

the magic pans The Magic Pan restaurants were a chain that focused on crepes. The first Magic Pan restaurant was opened in San Francisco’Ghirardelli Square in the 1960s by Hungarian immigrants Lazlo and Paulette Fono. Their crepes were interesting, inventive, and modestly priced.

The Magic Pan chain is credited with popularizing crepes in North America. (At the company’s peak, it had 110 restaurants across the United States and Canada.)

Lazlo Fono is credited with the invention of a crepe-making machine that sped up production of the thin, flat pancakes. These machines were used in all of the chain’s restaurants.

The restaurant chain was sold in the 1970s to Quaker Oats, which sold it in the 1980s to an Oakland, California, company called Bay Bottlers (a Royal Crown/Canada Dry affiliate).

The crepe fad waned.

The last Magic Pan restaurant (in McLean, Virginia) closed in 1995. With that closure came the loss of the proprietary recipes for the chain. (Magic Pan had never produced a recipe book, although Paulette Fono did write a book about their crepes in 1969.)

Several Web sites do have some approximations of some of the Magic Pan recipes and some scaled-down restaurant recipes. These are a few that I have collected:

Magic Pan Basic Crepe Batter

4 eggs
6 teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1½ cups milk
1 cup flour
2 tablespoons melted butter

Beat eggs with sugar and vanilla, and add milk. Add in flour, and stir until mixed. Add melted butter, and stir in. Refrigerate for 30 to 60 minutes. Before cooking, take out and whisk (or use electric mixer) until well blended and smooth.

Heat small amount of oil in skillet, and add enough batter to barely coat bottom of pan with a thin layer. Rotate pan to spread batter. Brown one side, and then flip and brown other side. Stack cooked crepes on plate, and if they seem to be sticking together, insert sheets of wax paper between layers.

 

Magic Pan Ham Palascintas Covered In Creamy Mustard Sauce

½ pound honey-baked ham, ground or finely minced
½ cup sour cream

coating:
3 tablespoons flour
2 eggs
2 tablespoons milk or cream
1 cup dry bread crumbs

topping:

2 tablespoons butter; 2 tablespoons flour
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup cream or half-and-half
¼ cup Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons lemon juice
¼ teaspoon white pepper

Make a dozen crepes, using above recipe. Mix ham and sour cream. Place spoonful of ham mixture into center of each crepe, fold tops and bottoms to hold in filling, and roll up. Beat eggs with milk. Roll crepe in flour, then in egg/milk mixture, and then in bread crumbs.

Heat skillet with ample amounts of cooking oil (one inch or more). Fry each coated crepe until puffy and golden-brown on all sides.
To make sauce, melt butter on medium heat in skillet and add flour. Blend until a smooth roux. Add chicken broth, and cook until sauce begins to thicken. Add cream, and reduce heat to low. Stir constantly until sauce begins to thicken and bubble. Remove from heat, and stir in mustard, lemon juice, and pepper.

Spoon generous helpings of sauce over filled fried crepes.

 

Magic Pan Chicken Divan
12 cooked crepes (see recipe above)

filling:
1½ pounds broccoli, cooked, drained, and mashed
2 cups chopped cooked chicken

topping:
¼ cup butter
¼ cup flour
2 cups chicken broth
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
3 cups grated cheddar cheese
2 cups sour cream

In skillet on medium heat, melt butter and add flour to make a smooth roux. Add broth and Worcestershire sauce, and cook until mixture begins to thicken. Reduce heat to low, add 2 cups of cheese, and cook until cheese is melted. Pour this sauce into 2 cups sour cream, adding gradually and stirring constantly. Set aside.

Mix mashed broccoli and cooked chicken together. Place a tablespoon of filling into each crepe. Fold top and bottom of crepe so filling doesn’t leak out, and roll crepe. Place in greased ovenproof pan. Pour sauce over crepes, and add remaining cheese. Put in 350-degree oven for 20 to 30 minutes or until cheese melts.

 

Magic Pan Chicken Crepe Elegante

6 crepes (see recipe above)

filling:
3 tablespoons butter or margarine
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup chicken stock
2 cups diced cooked chicken
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
2 egg yolks
½ cup cream or half-and-half
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Melt butter in a saucepan on medium heat. Add flour, and mix until a smooth roux. Add chicken stock, and bring to boil. Cook until mixture is reduced by about half and is thickened. Remove from heat, and stir in chicken, salt, pepper, parsley, and chives. Beat egg yolks, cream, and two or three tablespoons of filling in mixing bowl. Stir cream/egg mixture into hot filling. Mix until evenly blended.

Put generous amount of mixture into center of crepes. Roll up, and place in greased ovenproof baking dish. Add remainder of mixture over top, and top with grated cheese. Bake 10 to 15 minutes. Serve at once.

 

 

Cold Poached Eggs

I have read a LOT of egg recipes. So when I come across something that makes me raise my eyebrows and say “ahhhh” it’s a thrill.

In this case, I was going through an old cookbook (new to me, but I collect these things). It’s a loeggs in a thousand waysng out-of-print (1917) book entitled Eggs in a thousand ways: A guide for the preparation of eggs for the table, by Adolphe Meyer (published by the Hotel Monthly Press) which I have sought for many years.  It is a small thin book, that  really isn’t all that impressive. was designed to fit into the breast pocket of a chef (before “pocketbooks” were common. An odd size.  Frankly, I was a little taken aback by this diminutive cookbook when it first arrived in my mailbox.

Don’t judge a book by it’s small, worn and dirty cover.

In the chapter entitled “Cold Eggs – Oeufs Froids” which begins with a recipe:

AlexandraCold poached eggs coated with white chaudfroid sauce, slice of truffle on each, coated with aspic jelly, border of caviare around eggs, serve on chopped jelly.

Which would need some translating (from old chef talk to modern cookbook) and it sounds rather extravagant with caviar and truffle. But, intriguing.  He offers different “cold eggs” but then there is what he calls “Capucine” (which is a recipe that also shows Auguste Escoffier’s cookbook.

(Escoffier lived from 1846 to 1935. So, I would guess that this wasn’t an uncommon, or unique recipe. Escoffier simply put to paper recipes of the great chefs that came before him).

The recipe has a cold poached egg coated with white chaudfroid sauce, decorated with rounds of peppers, served on a fish salad. 

Hmmm…cold poached egg on a salad.

Chaufroid (also spelled chau-froid, pronounced “show-FRWAH”) is a ridiculously complicated sauce that restaurants used to make by the vat.  It takes a vat to make them. It starts like all of the classic sauces, by oven roasting a huge pile of carcass bones and maybe some spices and vegetables, then simmering in water for a very long time. Then straining out the liquid, and reducing this sauce ridiculously, with the final touch, adding more gelatin (also made from huge amounts of carcass, hooves and hide) to make a very thick, smooth, rich reduction, that turns to a stiff jell when cooled. 

There were veal based chaufroid sauces, as well as versions using beef, or pork, or poultry. Which is where many recipe of today’s books go wrong. They assume that all chaufroid is poultry (chicken) based.  It’s not.

Chaudfroid sauce was chilled, and used to coat cold meats that were to be served cold, usually over a bed of greens (salad).  The recipes are wide and varied: fish, poultry, rabbit, venison, partridge, pheasant, duck and hard-boiled eggs.  

The gelatin in it (animal gelatin, so dissolved connective tissue, aka collagen) gives it a very smooth, thick mouth feel when warm, and with a chill, it becomes like that snack that we always have room for: Jell-O. (Since aspic has gone out of style…its the only thing I can think of to relate it to.)  The sauce will coat anything like frosting on a cake.

However, this is something that I am not going to be creating in my kitchen. (I found a very old recipe that called for the bones of two veal calves.  YIPES!) 

The modern version of chaufroid sauce pales by comparison.   The modern recipes call for adding plain gelatin to a bechamel or veloute sauce  (both are white sauces. Bechamel uses dairy, while veloute uses a light stock — poultry or veal).  The gelatin  adds thickness to any sauce, and a wiggly firmness to the sauce chilled. It lacks the intense flavor of the old recipes, but it’s easy.

(I am certain the classic French master chefs are rolling in their graves at this short cut.)

But, my point:

The idea of poaching an egg, chilling it, and then serving it with a chaufroid sauce is intriguing.  But, so is the idea of simply taking a chilled poached egg, and using it as a garnish for a salad.  The still runny yolk would be delicious with a vinegar based salad dressing.   A cold poached egg nestled in the pit-hollow of an avocado would be a delicious snack too.

I’ve heard of using cold poached eggs, to egg coat and deep fat fry…..

I guess it is time to start experimenting.

Brown v.White Egg

brown white egg no shadow

Chicken eggshells can vary in color, which is determined by the breed. American buyers (except in New England) prefer white-shelled eggs. The most common commercial chicken is a White Leghorn. These are prolific egg layers (easily laying more than 300 eggs a year). They mature fast, are not very large, and lay white eggs.

The next-most-common choice for commercial egg laying is a hybrid Rhode Island Red (crossed with a White Leghorn) which lays a great number of buff-brown eggs. They are also quick-growing, rather small birds.

The goofy thing about chickens and egg color is that the ear lobe color of a chicken indicates

the color of the egg. Breeds with white feathers and ear lobes, such as White Leghorns, lay white eggs. Those with red feathers or ear lobes, such as the Rhode Island Red, New Hampshire, Orpington, and Plymouth Rock varieties, lay brown eggs. But by no means is that the limit of the color choices when it comes to chicken eggs. You can find breeds that lay a snow-white egg, whereas others lay deep-chocolate-brown or light-brown eggs or eggs in shades of pink, green, or blue. The variety is amazing.

In case anyone ever asks: The pigment is deposited on the egg as it moves through the oviduct.

Egg sizes differ by breeds as well. Although an older chicken always will lay a larger egg, “larger” is relative. There are bantam chickens (about half the size of a standard chicken) that produce a dainty small egg, often smaller than the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) peewee size. There are also individual chickens that lay much smaller, or much larger, eggs than what is standard for their breed.

There are hundreds of chicken breeds, each with individual features and egg laying abilities. Some people insist that you can taste the difference between eggs from different breeds. From my experience, there are certain chicken breeds that seem to consistently lay eggs with larger yolks.

Chicken Breeds

1917henrecruits

There are hundreds of chicken breeds.

Chickens are divided by physical traits: plumage, size, weight, color, comb type, skin color, number of toes, feathering distinctions, earlobe color, egg color, and place of origin.

Different chickens lay eggs with different characteristics too.

In the United States, chickens are also divided by use: egg or meat, ornamental, or dual-purpose; standard size or bantam. There are standards set down by The American Poultry Association (APA) in the U.S. as well as organizations in Europe (most notably Britain).

Heritage Chickens
The APA began to define breeds in 1873 and published the definitions in the Standard of Perfection. The breeds it outlined had certain standards to meet: adapted to outdoor production in various climatic regions, hearty, long-lived, and reproductively vital.

Chickens were an important source of protein until the mid-20th century in America.  Until, the factory cattle farm could provide enough inexpensive cheap beef flooded the market. (At that point we became a “steak and potatoes” society. )

Before that, nearly every household had chickens, and many people depended on the eggs and meat to survive.  The government encouraged home chicken raising (as shown in this 1918 government circular).

In WW2, chickens were encouraged as an integral part of the Victory Garden.  Many homes (rural and in urban centers) in America raised chickens, to help with the war effort.

chickenposterHowever, with the end of WWII, this became seen as old fashioned, and zoning laws changed, to prohibit poultry.

It’s only been in the last decade that there has been a move back to backyard poultry, and a push to loosen the zoning laws to allow chickens and ducks in suburban and urban centers.

Industrialization saw the decline of many chicken breeds, with preference given to a few rapidly growing hybrids. This trend has continued, to the point of insanity.

(Consider that 90 percent of the United States commercial food production now includes only 15 plant and 8 animal species.)

This concentration on mono-breeding is an unwise trend. A mono-breed can be overcome by an illness to which a wider genetic group might have natural resistance. In the most common breed of white (battery caged) chickens, a recent study of genetics showed that half of the ancestral genetics has been lost. One chance pathogen could potentially wipe out the entire chicken industry.

Different breeds keep alive a pool of genetic diversity with wider potential for natural defenses against defects and disease.

The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) is a nonprofit organization founded in 1977 to protect historic breeds and the genetic diversity of farm livestock, including poultry. It lists chicken breeds that are threatened with extinction, categorized by the degree of risk: critical, threatened, watch, and so on. (Sadly, some breeds have already become extinct.) The ALBC lists more than three dozen chicken breeds in danger of extinction. Extinction of a breed would mean the irrevocable loss of the genetic resources and options this diversity embodies.

The ALBC’s Website explains the organization’s concerns:

These breeds are threatened because agriculture has changed. Modern food production now favors the use of a few highly specialized breeds selected for maximum output in a controlled environment. Many traditional livestock breeds have lost popularity and are threatened with extinction. These traditional breeds are an essential part of the American agricultural inheritance. Not only do they evoke our past, they are also an important resource for our future.

Another group, the Society for the Preservation of Poultry Antiquities, also keeps yearly lists of the endangered species. A hot topic in hobby chicken groups is how to protect the variety and diversity of chicken breeds.

If you are giving any thought to having a home flock, you might want to investigate some of the heritage breeds. Beyond the need to keep the breeds alive, these are often the most beautiful and decorative of the chicken breeds. Several breeding groups (hatcheries) are attempting to reinvigorate interest in the rarer breeds.

smaller chicken and laundry

Backyard chickens are the best. They eat bugs. They like scrap food: vegetable trimmings, the half eaten peanut butter sandwich, leftover meals, and food that’s old and stale (just not moldy).  Forget the disposal, and forget compost piles, chickens will eat it all — and then make you some fresh garden fertilizer.  Chickens will lay an egg a day in their youth, and then slow down to an egg every third day. Usually three or four chickens will supply enough eggs for a family of four.

You don’t need a rooster for chickens to lay eggs. (And roosters are a pain to deal with.)

I never realized how many people do keep chickens in an urban area, until I had my first four girls.

It’s Almost Chick Time

chicken print in snow

chicken print in snow

I just received the most recent catalog from McMurray Hatchery If you’ve never received one, it’s a poultry porn magazine. I seriously lust over some of the beautiful bird pictures. (Alas, no centerfold.)

www.mcmurrayhatchery.com

The wish book chock full of glossy pictures of chicks, and chickens, waterfowl, turkeys, game birds, and all sorts of equipment to make life with egg layers easier. I am always fascinated by the variation in the breeds: color, the demeanor, the size and weight. Chickens range from bantams to giants.  The smallest of the small chicken breeds are the  Malaysian Serema (their eggs are the size of marbles, and the chicks are the size of your thumb. As adults, they may weigh about a pound). The largest, the Jersey Giant (roosters can be as tall as 26 inches, and 15 pounds, while hens only slightly smaller).

(I’ve learned a few things over the years. When a bird is described as “lively” or “good forager” they are hyperactive. I prefer breeds with traits of “calm“, “quiet“, “easy“. )

Egg colors are great. In the past I’ve had both Cockoo and Black Copper Marans, which lay the darkest eggs of all. Eggs, depending on the breed, range from light green, shades of brown, pink, blue, as well as, colors that range from pure white, to a slight yellow cream tint.

oeuf20

Marans Egg

To me, for beauty, you can’t beat a yard full of Buff Orpingtons for their golden feather

Walking Hen

Buff Orptington

color and big, wide, squat beauty. Of course, I’m bias, my favorite chicken (ever) was Buffy, the Buff Orpington. She was my gardening buddy and would escape the chicken pen flock, to hang out with me in the yard.  Buffy really liked it when I was digging in the dirt. With each shovelful she would examine the contents for the hapless worm. For a chicken she had a lot of personality. I still miss her.

There is something tempting in the idea of an assorted box-full of new, tiny, peeping chicks showing up at the post office early one morning.

The downside is that the minimum order is 25.

I think it’s just human nature to want pets with a purpose:  eggs.

After all, humans domesticated these birds about 8,000 years ago, specifically to collect their eggs, consume their meat, and also use their feathers for decoration or bedding.

A Little Chicken History

Chickens are classified as members of the super-order Gallaonaserae (fowl), most commonly Galliformes (chickens, quail, and turkeys) and Anatidae (in the order Anseriformes), that we call waterfowl (domestic ducks and geese). Poultry also includes other birds, also killed for their meat, such as pigeons, quail and doves, and domesticated (or quasi-domesticated) birds such as pheasants.The word poultry comes from the French/Norman word poule, which comes from the Latin word pullus, which means a small animal. The Romans also considered rabbits to be in this category, but they didn’t lay eggs.

(Every child knows that the Easter bunny hides Easter eggs, though. Maybe the Romans were onto something?).

It is debated, but most poultry historians agree that the source of the domesticated chicken (Gallus domesticus) was the red junglefowl (Gallus gallus). Red junglefowl are wild chickens still found in parts of Southeast Asia. They are a tropical member of the pheasant family. Junglefowl are spectacularly colored, with reds, blues, golden, and bright orange mixed into their plumage. The male birds are more upright and thinner than what we have come to associate with chickens—the former have skinny drumsticks and not much white meat.

red_junglefowl_-_thailand

Red Junglefowl

It is thought the red junglefowl was hybridized with the grey junglefowl (Gallus sonneratii) to create a more docile domesticated bird

Domesticated chickens are calmer, less aggressive, and less likely to forage (go off looking for food). They are larger and heavier and lay more eggs (larger and sooner) than their wild cousins.

Austronesian populations are thought to have hauled chickens along on their trek across Asia and Oceania, dropping off chickens along the way. Certainly the Polynesians brought chickens to Easter Island (where they were housed in chicken coops made of stone).

Some have speculated that there were multiple, separate domestications. There are genetic differences between certain breeds of chickens. It has been posited that another fowl similar, or related, to the jungle-fowl may have been native in other areas of the world. The reasoning is that there are far-flung regions where domestication occurred, in areas isolated by mountains and other barriers. Is it reasonable to assert that the Southeast Asian fowl were the same ones domesticated in China (around 5400 BC) and in the Indus Valley (2000 BC), or was there another progenitor of our modern domesticated chickens?

Archaeologists have found chicken bones in many parts of the world. Domestic chicken bones have been found (dating back to 6000–4000 BC) in China (Yangshao and Peiligan), Pakistan (3000–2000 BC), Europe (3000 BC), and the Indus Valley (2500 BC). The chicken is spoken of in written texts of China, Egypt (18th dynasty), and the Persian Kingdom of Lydia (in Asia Minor) and Greece (500 BC).

Domesticated chickens spread along the spice routes into Central Asia (to what is modern-day Iran), to all the Mediterranean coasts, to every corner of the Roman Empire, and into Africa and elsewhere. The Polynesians carried chickens (and pigs) wherever they went. The strength of the chicken migration was further advanced because, unlike many other domesticated animals, chickens traveled well.

The Roman army used chickens as oracles that determined fate by how they flew, how they fed, and which direction they walked. Chicken fortune-telling was a complex process. There were volumes of information outlining the way to read the omens.

And what better oracle than one you can eat?