Warm meals for winter nights

| January 20, 2021 | 0 Comments
Margaret Dickenson's deluxe eggs make a comforting brunch dish or could even serve as a starter for a multi-course meal. (Photo: Larry Dickenson)

Margaret Dickenson’s deluxe eggs make a comforting brunch dish or could even serve as a starter for a multi-course meal. (Photo: Larry Dickenson)

Cold weather has set in, awaking our desire for comfort food and that starts with breakfast. My oven-poached eggs are a perfect choice. In addition to the delicate nature of eggs poached in this manner, the combination and strategic positioning of ingredients will delight palates. But be aware that the eggs will continue to cook when removed from the oven and the hot water bath.
Turning to the main course, mussels simmered in a stick-to-the-shells sauce will have diners experiencing the pleasure of tasty flavour dimensions that go far beyond the mussels themselves.
Thinking of dessert, consider my signature Lemon Phyllo Napoleons. The lemon curd and phyllo squares may be prepared days in advance, ready to be quickly assembled into crispy, creamy stacks.


Deluxe Oven-Poached Eggs with Herbs
Makes 4 servings

This is a quick and easy recipe that is certain to make any breakfast or brunch a special occasion. The delicate texture of cream poached eggs becomes even more delectable with the hints of fresh herbs, cheese and ham. The recipe is delicious regardless of the final (sometimes unanticipated) degree of doneness or serving temperature. (Extra portions taken directly out of the refrigerator a day or two later, rank high as a special breakfast treat for me.)

2 tsp (10 mL) butter
3 tbsp (45 mL) cooked ham, diced
1/3 cup (80 mL) medium cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
1 1/3 tbsp (23 mL) fresh dill, minced
4 eggs (room temperature)
1/4 cup (60 mL) heavy cream (35 per cent)
1 1/3 tbsp (23 mL) chopped fresh chives

Garnish (optional)
Rosemary sprigs adorned with grape tomatoes or fresh herbs of choice

1. Butter 4 ramekin dishes (diameter: 3 inches or 7.5 cm).
2. Sprinkle bottom of ramekin dishes with ham, then cheese and finally fresh dill.
3. Make an indentation in a central area of the ingredients, pushing them to the edge and up the inside of the ramekin dishes.* Carefully crack (i.e., avoid breaking yolk) one egg into each ramekin dish. Add cream and sprinkle with chopped chives.
4. Place filled ramekins in an oven-proof baking dish. Pour boiling water into the dish to reach two thirds up the outside of the ramekins.
5. Carefully place baking dish (uncovered) into middle of a 375 F (190 C) preheated oven. Bake for 18 minutes.** (Caution: The egg whites should be barely set, the yolks soft and running and the eggs still quivering slightly when the ramekin dishes are jiggled. Avoid overcooking, understanding that the eggs will continue to cook to some degree after they are taken out of the oven.)
6. If desired, garnish with fresh herbs. Serve with an artisanal bread or toasted English muffins. (Note: toasted triangles of thin pita bread work very well, but be careful not to burn them.)

* This will help keep the yolk in the middle of the dish and enhance the overall flavour.
** The timing will vary, depending on the temperature of the ingredients, the type of ramekins used and even the individual oven. (The timing indicated here is for 3/4 cup or 180 mL oven-proof porcelain ramekins.)

Fragrantly Simmered Mussels

This mussel recipe is simple. Its thick sauce offers flavours far beyond the tasty mussels themselves. (Photo: Larry Dickenson)

This mussel recipe is simple. Its thick sauce offers flavours far beyond the tasty mussels themselves. (Photo: Larry Dickenson)

Makes 2 main-course or 4 appetizer servings

Fantastic and oh so easy. It is the thick flavourful sauce that makes this mussel recipe memorable. (Feel free to adjust the seasoning to suit your own taste.)

2 lbs (900 g) mussels
1 can diced plum tomatoes* (can size: 14 fl. oz or 398 mL)
2/3 cup (170 mL) dry white wine
1/2 cup (125 mL) tomato sauce of choice
2 tbsp (30 mL) tomato paste
1 1/2 to 2 tsp (8 to 10 mL) finely-chopped fresh garlic
1 tsp (5 mL) fines herbes
1 tsp (5 mL) dried tarragon leaves
1/2 to 2/3 tsp (3 to 4 mL) Chinese five spice
1/2 tsp to 3/4 tsp (3 to 4 mL) peeled and grated fresh gingerroot
1/4 to 1/3 tsp (1 to 2 mL) (Indonesian) hot chili paste**
1/3 cup (80 mL) heavy cream (35 per cent fat)
3 tbsp (45 mL) chopped fresh parsley
2 tbsp (30 mL) chopped fresh dill weed
1/2 tsp (3 mL) granulated sugar
2/3 cup (170 mL) coconut milk
To taste, salt and crushed black pepper

Garnish (optional or as desired)
sprigs of fresh herbs

1. Before cooking, scrub mussels (if necessary) and pull off any beards; rinse and drain well. Place any mussels that are not closed in a bowl of cool water and stir them. Discard all that do not close after a minute.
2. Put tomatoes, but only about 2/3 of the juice,* into a large pot. Add wine, tomato sauce, tomato paste, garlic, fines herbes, tarragon, five spice, ginger and chili paste. Place over medium heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and allow to simmer gently uncovered for about 8 minutes.
3. Shortly before serving, bring contents of pot to a boil over medium-high heat. Add mussels and bring back to a boil, turning mussels frequently into the sauce. Cover, reduce heat to low and cook for 5 minutes.
4. Add cream, parsley and dill; turn mussels into sauce. Finally, add sugar and coconut milk; season with salt and crushed black peppercorns according to taste. Turn mussels thoroughly into sauce to evenly blend flavors. Discard any mussels that do not open.
5. Serve mussels with their sauce in large flat bowls. Garnish with sprigs of fresh herbs as desired. Place an empty bowl on table for discarded shells.
* Avoid using all of the juice as it will make the sauce thinner.
** Option: Sriracha to taste (be cautious with the quantity.)

Tip: I like to serve individual portions of rice in small covered dim sum baskets which have been lined with lettuce leaves. This is always a big hit.

Lemon Phyllo Napoleon
Makes 4 servings

Lemon Napoleons are one of Dickenson's signature recipes that have remained popular over the years, thanks to the tart curd layered between phyllo. (Photo: Larry Dickenson)

Lemon Napoleons are one of Dickenson’s signature recipes that have remained popular over the years, thanks to the tart curd layered between phyllo. (Photo: Larry Dickenson)

Always popular concisely describes this signature dessert recipe of mine. It features a slightly tart lemon curd cream layered between crisp buttery squares of phyllo pastry. It is light with phenomenal flavour, textural and visual appeal. For a quick touch of pizzazz, top the Napoleons with a delicate dusting of icing sugar before drizzling with melted bittersweet chocolate. (The phyllo squares may be prepared days in advance.)

2 sheets phyllo pastry*
2 tbsp (30 mL) unsalted butter, melted
2 tbsp (30 mL) granulated sugar

Lemon Curd Cream Filling**

1 cup (250 mL) heavy cream (35 per cent fat), chilled
2 1/2 tbsp (38 mL) icing sugar (first addition)
1 cup (250 mL) lemon curd (recipe attached or commercial***), chilled

Garnish (optional)
2 tbsp (30 mL) icing sugar (second addition)
1 1/2 oz (45 g) bittersweet chocolate, melted

1. Place one sheet of phyllo pastry on a clean work surface with long side in horizontal position; brush with melted butter. Lay another sheet on top of first and brush with butter. Cut phyllo horizontally into 3 equal strips and then vertically into 4 equal portions to produce 12 squares.  (Note: Each square is made up of a double thickness of phyllo pastry and is almost square in shape.) Sprinkle top of phyllo squares evenly with granulated sugar.
2. Transfer phyllo squares (sugar side up) to parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Bake in a preheated 400 F (200 C) oven until golden and crisp (about 2 1/2 to 4 minutes). Remove from oven; carefully transfer phyllo squares to wire cooling racks.
3. Beat cream in a medium-sized chilled bowl with chilled beaters until cream begins to thicken. Add icing sugar; continue beating until firm peaks form.
4. Place lemon curd in a second medium-sized bowl. With a rubber spatula, carefully fold whipped cream into lemon curd and combine thoroughly to produce a Lemon Curd Cream Filling. (Makes about 3 cups or 750 mL.) If not using immediately, refrigerate.**
5. In advance of serving, dust 4 of the phyllo squares with icing sugar (shaken through a fine sieve) and then decorate with piped lines of melted chocolate.
6. Just before serving, dust 4 individual oversized plates with icing sugar. Drop 1 tsp (5 mL) of Lemon Curd Cream Filling to the centre of each plate to hold the Napoleon in position. Add one of the undecorated phyllo squares (sugar side up), and then top with 1/4 cup (60 mL) of Lemon Curd Cream Filling and spread evenly to about 1/3 inch (0.8 cm) from edges of square. Repeat the process, adding a second undecorated phyllo square and 1/4 cup (60 mL) of Lemon Curd Cream Filling. Finally, crown each portion with a chocolate-decorated phyllo square. (For smaller appetites, use only a total of 2 phyllo squares (i.e., omitting the second undecorated phyllo square) and adding 1/3 cup or 80 mL of filling per serving.)
7. For best results, serve as soon as possible so the phyllo pastry remains crisp.

* Size: About 16 1/2 x 12 1/4 inches (41 x 30.5 cm)
** The Lemon Curd Cream Filling is firmest the first day, once it has been chilled; however, leftover quantities usually retain their quality for several days. (If the filling softens, re-beat it in a chilled bowl with chilled beaters until firm. This may take several minutes.)
*** Commercial lemon curd tends to be stiff and gummy. Therefore, if using a commercial product, press it through a very fine-meshed sieve so that it is smoother.

Velvety Lemon Curd
Makes about 1 1/4 cups or 300 mL

My Velvety Lemon Curd takes minutes to prepare, can be refrigerated for a week or longer and may even be frozen. Lemon curd, however, can be tricky to make and may be too aggressive in flavour. I have developed a technique that is easy and fail-proof,* and by using equal portions of lemon and orange juice along with a touch of grated lemon zest, the resulting lemon curd excites and doesn’t assault the palate.

2 eggs**
2 egg yolks**
1/2 cup (125 mL) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (60 mL) fresh lemon juice, strained
1/4 cup (60 mL) orange juice, strained
1 tsp (5 mL) grated lemon zest
1 tbsp (15 mL) butter (unsalted), soft

1. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together eggs and egg yolks until smooth.
2. In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, combine lemon and orange juices, sugar and lemon zest. Stir until sugar is dissolved and mixture comes to a boil.
3. Gradually, and in a steady stream, whisk hot juice mixture into beaten egg mixture. Pour this mixture into saucepan.
4. Place saucepan over medium-low heat, add butter and whisk constantly until mixture is thick and bubbling (about 4 to 5 minutes).**
5. Remove lemon curd from heat and immediately transfer to a bowl (to avoid overcooking).
6. If not using until later, place cooled lemon curd in an airtight plastic container and store refrigerated for up to a week.***

* Cooking tip: During the final minutes of cooking, I prefer to stir the mixture with a heat-proof rubber spatula, moving it more effectively away from the sides and bottom of the saucepan. As well, I can more accurately judge the thickness of the mixture and avoid overcooking.

** Note: If a slightly thicker lemon curd is desired, use 3 eggs and 1 yolk; but note that the final product will be less velvety.

*** Tip: I often freeze leftovers. (Previously frozen lemon curd may not be as firm; so, if necessary, reheat it over medium-low heat, stirring until it thickens. Transfer to a bowl to avoid overcooking.)

Margaret Dickenson is a cookbook author, menu/recipe developer and a protocol, business and etiquette instructor.

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Category: Delights

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Margaret Dickenson wrote the awardwinning cookbook, Margaret’s Table — Easy Cooking & Inspiring Entertaining (www.margaretstable.ca).

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