A Sunrise and Farmers Benedict

When we owned our home in Oregon, we had a small garden along the side yard of the property.  I had it built into the sloping hill just south of the house and it consisted of four 3’x8’ garden boxes. I planted with strawberries, rhubarb, lettuce, kale, onions, carrots, basil, zucchini, patty pan squash, herbs, and lots of tomatoes. During the months of July and August, every vegetable was at its peak and each weekend I would spend my mornings harvesting the variety of options. From these mornings, I would make brunch for us and whomever happen to be visiting us that weekend. On any given weekend, we would have numerous friends and family either staying with us or just visiting for the day.  

My favorite brunch dishes to make are quiche and eggs benedict, and the flavor of each is completely dependent on what is in the fridge and ripe in the garden. Being on the road makes for the challenge of finding fresh organic ingredients and on a good hunt, a farm stand or even a farmers market can be found.   When we arrived in New England, we quickly discovered that fresh produce was fairly easy to locate.  There are farm stands peppered along the country roads and with some quick research, we could find a farmers market at a nearby small town on any given day.  As it is the end of September, much of the summer’s harvest has already passed, but there are still loads of various squash, potatoes, orchard fruit, and mushrooms at the peak of ripeness.  Recently, I have had an affection for delicata squash.  With its rich, nutty flavor and easily cooked skin, it’s been a staple in most of our meals and I’ve had at least one on hand at any given moment.  Other constants on our grocery list include zucchini, shitaké mushrooms, sweet potatoes, organic spinach, onions, and apples. 

My eggs benedict arguably could be called a hash and call it what you want, the key ingredient is really the hollandaise.  I could drink the stuff and I consider any dish with the sauce synonymous to a benedict, as that is how I discovered my unadulterated obsession with it.  In high school, I was a prep cook at a fine dining restaurant in the small tourist town where I grew up in Northwest Montana.  Every Sunday in season, the restaurant’s dining room was packed with summer vacationers enjoying their mimosas and oohing over the beautiful blueberry coffee cake served with every option.  The most popular of our brunch offerings was the eggs benedict, the standard english muffin, slice of ham, a twist of fresh spinach, and a generous topping of hollandaise.  Everything we made at The Swan River Cafe was from scratch and even our herbs were grown in large wooden barrel planters on the back deck on the restaurant.  I learned how to make the sauce early on in my employment and to this day, I love the science of how it is made and how each ingredient contributes to the perfect rich, buttery, lemony silky sauce.  The temperature of the melted butter must be just hot enough to cook the eggs, but not too hot to burn the butter.  You must whisk in the hot butter to the egg and lemon mixture quickly and carefully enough as to avoid creating just scramble eggs.  If making this by hand, it is a challenging and yet rewarding experiment every time.  At the restaurant, I made hollandaise every 20-30 minutes to keep up with the orders rolling in from the front of the house.  You can’t make a batch that is too big, as it will congeal if it cools without being served.  So, I made just enough to keep the line happy and not too much to anger our head chef over ruined sauce.  Every 5 minutes or so, one of the line chefs would jump over to the bowl of sauce resting atop a pot of hot water, quickly whisk it back to ideal texture before dousing two perfectly poach eggs and tossing it up to the warmer and yelling, “benedict up!”.  

When the brunch rush was coming to a close around two in the afternoon, I would write my ticket for the line chefs to make my half benedict with extra hollandaise,  Every Sunday - it was a ritual.  I would happily eat my favorite dish while methodically mincing all of the herbs needed for Sunday evening’s Prime Rib night.

Flash forward 17 years later and I am still trying to get this sauce right.  Now, however, I completely cheat and use a Vitamix for the tricky step of mixing the melted butter into the eggs and lemon.  I still get the ratios wrong, especially if the number of benedicts needed changes from my usual two.  

The vegetables used in this recipe are completely replaceable and I strongly recommend using those are are suited to your taste, the season, and maybe just what you have on hand.  Hopefully, you’re not a purist, as this recipe is going to break some rules - not only for making hollandaise, but also for poaching eggs.  As my method for poaching is a little unusual, but I feel like after years of weirdly slimy, no egg whites, too well-cooked poached eggs, this finally made it possible for me to quickly and effectively boil the little suckers to perfection.  Even to desired doneness of my guest’s tastes.

Last week, we woke before the sun to journey to the tallest mountain in Acadia National Park, Cadillac Mountain, and watch the sun shine its first rays of light on the United States.  We huddled in our wool blankets aside our friends, Cary and Christy (another full-time rving couple - Story is Our Way Home), and soaked in the glorious light illuminating the brightly colored autumn landscape before us. As we piled back into the truck, we debated over breakfast options and it was decided we would head back to camp and make breakfast there.  I was already thrilled at the concept of experimenting with my recipe for the group and it is the perfect dish to whip up in a hurry.  The attempt taught me two things, don’t cover the vegetables when cooking, as they’ll end up too watery and increase the lemon ratio by half again when doubling the sauce.  

 Sunrise from Cadillac Mountain

Sunrise from Cadillac Mountain

 A beautiful scene that morning on our way back from the sunrise viewing.  Maine was breathtaking!

A beautiful scene that morning on our way back from the sunrise viewing.  Maine was breathtaking!

The recipe I am offering is a recipe for two people, as this ratio has been my most successful and I am confident in sharing.

Hollandaise

Ingredients:
4 Egg Yolks
Juice of 1 Lemon
1/4 Cup of Butter

Directions:
1. Melt butter in a sauce pan, careful not to burn.
2. Add egg yolks and lemon juice together in a blender.  Blend until well mixed.
3. Pour hot melted butter slowly into blender, while on a low mix setting. 
4. When combined, turn setting to high blend until sauce has achieved desired thickness.  You can always add a little water if it gets too thick.

Benedict

Ingredients:
2 cups of cubed assorted vegetables (use your creativity and go crazy!)
Olive oil
2 Tbsp Minced Herbs (I love using rosemary, but feel free to use what suits you.)
Sea Salt and Cracked Pepper to taste
Bacon, Sausage, or salmon are fun options to throw in as well
2 Eggs per Person

Directions:
1. Heat olive oil in large sauté pan.
2. Add vegetables and cook until tender.
3. Add herbs, salt, and pepper.
4. In another sauté pan, add 2" of water and a dash of olive oil.
5. Heat water on high until water begins to boil.
6. Add eggs one at a time to the boiling water.
7. Using a slotted spoon, flip eggs over, and cook each side until desired doneness.  It takes a little skill to flip the eggs without splashing everything, but after a few tries, you'll get it.

Assemble vegetables on a plate, top vegetables with poached eggs, and cover generously with hollandaise.  And if I'm coming over, go ahead and add another side of the sauce to the plate.