eggnog blog (plus granola bars, too)

While eggnog is held in higher regard than say…fruitcake, it’s still not always respected. It’s old-school. It’s quaint. It’s the kind of party drink Clark Griswold enjoys.

Then again, all things “old-school” seem to be enjoying new-found popularity. (Can you say “retro”?) Old-fashioned cocktails are making a comeback and I’m betting eggnog is poised to do the same.

This train of thought led me to my most recent Blog of Funny Names post. Would you please hop over to read about funny eggnog names (bonus comic included)? Then return for a recipe and a snack!

***

Researching the BoFN post made me thirsty for eggnog, though I wanted to try my hand at DIY instead of buying store-bought. An Alton Brown recipe (Anyone else an AB fan? I love this man.) came to mind, so I googled and hit the kitchen.

Brown offers uncooked and cooked versions of this holiday punch. Knowing full well that consuming raw eggs is not recommend, I went with uncooked anyway, mainly to save time. (Pasteurized eggs are an option, though the whites won’t whip as fully.) Without whole milk, I subbed in soymilk and also used rum instead of bourbon. As well, I cut the recipe down to make only one serving.

Though I expected the eggnog to turn out nicely, I had no idea it would be amazing. After just five minutes of prep time, this eggnog poured up light, fluffy, cool, creamy, and refreshing. I would have downed the entire serving (and it was a big mug) in one swallow if I hadn’t had a meeting to run off to. (Though you’d better believe I stored it in the fridge for later consumption.)

freshly grated nutmeg is so worth the effort

freshly grated nutmeg is so worth the effort

The cooked version would have been thicker, I’d imagine, but still creamy and decadent in its own way. What matters most here is how unbelievably easy it is to whip up your own batch of eggnog. Even without the booze, this is a lovely holiday beverage: Think of it as (melted) ice cream for winter.

With a mug of eggnog at the ready, we’ll need a snack. Preferably something healthy to balance out the cream and sugar. How about granola bars?

A few weeks back, food for fun offered a granola bar recipe. Soon after, Shanna of Curls and Carrots surprised me by sharing her AMAZING granola bars and crediting me with helping to inspire her recipe. These granola bars looked better than what I’d made and I looked forward to making a batch.

No surprise–Shanna’s Favorite Granola Bars were phenomenal. With room for all sorts of improv, they can be made repeatedly without ever being the same: I used dried apricots in place of some of the dried cherries and almonds instead of pecans. I also chopped up chocolate bars instead of hunting down chocolate buttons. Shanna had also mentioned trying cinnamon along with the other spices, which sounds lovely to me.

packed with goodness

packed with goodness

Now that we have our food and drink plated and ready to go, I offer you a warming winter beverage and a deliciously healthy snack.

DIY granola bars and eggnog. Cheers!

DIY granola bars and eggnog. Cheers!

pink eggs

Food for fun’s last few posts have gotten a bit lengthy, so we’ll simplify this week with a simple story about a simple recipe.

A recent Dash magazine photo knocked me out.

so. pretty.

Beet Pickled Deviled Eggs. So. Pretty.

Deviled eggs are high on my list of favorite foods; pickling intrigues me. A dislike of canned beets (remember this?) wasn’t enough to dissuade me from giving these deviled eggs a go. It’s not like I was going to consume the canned beets, right? They were there only to add pretty pink and a tinge of sweet.

So, I set out to hard-cook a few eggs. My method? Foolproof and taken from the pros: Bring a covered saucepan of eggs and lots of water to a gentle boil. Turn off heat and let eggs sit 10 minutes. Drain and cool immediately under cold, running water. Works all the time.

Except today when I forgot about the saucepan and let it sit longer than 10 minutes (doh!). This particular batch of hard-cooked eggs sported the dreaded greenish halo around an otherwise yellow yolk. Yet their color didn’t bother me as much as the rubbery whites. These babies were tougher than I’d have liked.

Texture aside, I didn’t love these eggs as much as I’d hoped to. While they were still shockingly pink and pretty, that canned beet flavor was there. Using cooked fresh beets sounds lovely, but wouldn’t provide canning brine for the pickling. Perhaps it’s a recipe that would improve using home-canned beets?

Another note: The eggs had white spots where they had rested against the bottom or side of the bowl. A larger bowl may have helped as would have the occasional stir.

While I wouldn’t consider this as disastrous as my last round of canned beet cooking, I deem them better looking than they taste. Proper cooking would have improved the texture, but there’s no getting around that tinny, canned beet flavor.

That said, the filling was most definitely a win: yolks, a judicious amount of mayo, and sprinkling of celery salt, black pepper, and ground mustard. It’s now my go-to deviled egg filling as it has just the right amount of each ingredient.

overcooked, but still pretty

overcooked, but still pretty

I made these up on a sunny day, so have no excuse for this sad little photo. By the time I noticed my pictures were too dark, it was too late. The four pink-tinged deviled eggs had become my lunch, making them far more edible than my last beet escapade.

pullet–an egg of a different size

Farmers’ markets have long been high on my list of what I love about summer. In recent years, it’s been especially fun to see market offerings expand beyond produce. Even the smallest of farmers’ markets often feature artisan honey, maple syrup, bread, ice cream, chocolate, and the like.

At last year’s St. Paul farmers’ market, I happened upon a sign advertising an entire flat of eggs (30 of them!) for $1. Wow. Considering I pay more than that for a dozen conventional eggs, this seemed a bargain. Looking more closely, I noticed that these eggs were much smaller than the standard large egg. An accompanying sign named them as pullet eggs. Ah ha. I bought two flats and returned as often as they were available for the same purchase. Yes, these eggs were small, but their flavor was fresh and lovely. As well,  pullets are reputed to have higher amounts of omega-3 fatty acids than eggs laid by full-grown chickens. But their biggest sell was their cute factor–how could I not buy them?

in the carton

pullet vs large

I’ve learned since that pullets are eggs laid by hens under 1-year of age. Thekitchn website describes these eggs as coming “from chickens who are just getting the hang of laying eggs. They are noticeably smaller than regular eggs and can even occasionally be quite tiny as the hens work out their learning curve.”

My mom gets a kick out of my searching pullet eggs out and notes that when she was growing up, pullet eggs were second-rate because of their size. If you had enough money, you’d always go for the larger eggs. And here I am seeking them out as “specialty” foods.

Callister Farms, where I found last year’s egg bargain, had run out of pullet layers by the time I made it to the market this year. Another vendor, Gilbertson Farms, offered them for $4 a dozen and though this was steeper than I’d paid, I jumped at the chance to bring them home. The vendor said she had only had two dozen pullet eggs to bring to the market that day and my purchase, made an hour before the market’s close, finally cleaned her out. “I’d like to sell more,” she lamented, “but people just don’t know what they are.” I see this changing as these tiny eggs are gems.

frying up

looks like sunshine

backyard chickens and a scrambled egg

My youngest and I took a most excellent field trip this morning. Janice, a friend and colleague, invited us over to see her backyard chickens. As a talented recipe developer and food writer, Janice blogs about her chickens (and other food-related topics) and also has written a cookbook about her experiences–Chicken and Egg: A Memoir of Suburban Homesteading with 125 Recipes.

Janice’s chickens are gorgeous. The three older ones ran about her beautifully landscaped backyard, pecking at grains and hiding behind trees. The two baby silkies are kept in a large pen until they’re old enough to frolic with the others, though they did come out to be held. They all have names (Cleo, Ruby, Roxanne, Isabelle, and Jasmine) and looked like they were having the time of their lives. Janice said she started keeping chickens for their eggs, but soon came to appreciate and love them for their distinct personalities.

I loved that my daughter could see a piece of urban farming. As well, she was seeing a woman following a personal passion to the extent that she brought it into her professional life. Janice was kind enough to send a freshly laid egg home with my daughter (padded well in paper towels and a plastic bag for safe transport), so we scrambled it up for her lunch.

Even in its shell, the egg was gorgeous. A very pale brown, it made conventional supermarket eggs look ho-hum.

pretty pretty

Cracked into a bowl, the egg was still a stunner: A perfectly round sunny and golden yolk surrounded by a crystal clear white.

cracked open–beautiful

On the plate, the egg was fresh and rich and it tasted real. I only got a bite as it was my daughter’s lunch, but the bite I had confirmed that fresh eggs taste far better than what you buy in the mainstream stores.

scrambled

Buying organic eggs exclusively isn’t in my budget, but I treat myself during farmers’ market season. I will add Janice’s book to my collection, though, as it promises to be a good read containing creative and solid recipes. And my 6-year-old now has memories of holding a chicken (two, actually) in her lap, finding an egg not too long after it’s been laid, and taking said egg home for lunch. It was indeed an excellent field trip.

smokin’ eggs

Our Easter ham was amazing this year, and it’s because my husband has taken up smoking. It started with his finding a Brinkmann vertical water smoker in his parents’ garage a year or so ago. They’d collected it somehow, but had no use for it so he took it off their hands. He researched smoking online, found a website he liked, and a hobby was born.

This year’s holiday ham–bone-in and spiral-cut per website instructions–was first basted generously with a locally sourced maple syrup. Next step was a light coating of a cranberry maple rub I had picked up on a recent trip to Colorado. The ham then smoked over boubon-soaked barrel chips for three-ish hours. The final result was beyond amazing and I’m thrilled to have leftovers for sandwiches and the like.

Crazy-good ham aside, this post is really about everything else that was smoked that day. My girls and I joked that if we stayed in one place too long, my husband would have put us on the smoker. He threw all of the following (though not all at once) on the smoker that day: a handful of carrots and leeks (part of the roasted veggie side dish I was making), hazelnuts, peanuts, almonds, pork chops, corn-on-the-cob, and eggs.

My husband had read somewhere that peeled hard-cooked eggs could be smoked. Being the day before Easter, we had plenty of hard-cooked eggs around. We peeled a dozen and he put them directly on the smoking rack. They smoked for about 45 minutes, then came off the rack a mustard yellow with gorgeous grill marks. Cut in half, the inner whites were brilliantly white and the yolks golden. The layers of color were dramatic. Sprinkled with freshly ground pepper, the eggs made a great hors d’oeuvre while we waited for the ham to finish. The slight smokiness went well with the neutral, savory flavor of an egg. They’ll make fantastic deviled eggs and egg salad for sure.

Eggs are known for their versatility, and this discovery only adds to their repertoire. We’ll be playing this one again soon. And who knows what my husband will find to throw on the rack when he starts up the smoker again.

bowl of smoked eggs

ready to eat