Good cooks pride themselves on being able to turn pantry staples into creative dishes. The members of our Taster’s Choice food panel consider themselves to be pretty adept when it comes to whipping up something clever with what they have on hand. So we are beginning our newest endeavor, Taster’s Challenge.
Our panelists will create recipes building on one or two key ingredients issued in the “challenges.”
Fittingly, for the Easter season, we are starting the series with eggs. We asked a few panelists to come up with some interesting ways to cook with eggs, rather than just boiling, scrambling or poaching.
This would have been the 17th year our Taster’s Choice panelists had been meeting to taste a variety of grocery store foods. We set out to help shoppers navigate the many brands on store shelves by sampling the options and sharing the top three of our tasters’ picks for each product. Through the years, we have tasted hot dogs, cheeses, frozen lasagna and more bottled salad dressings than we care to remember. We usually gathered one morning a month to taste a number of food items.
Then the pandemic hit and we could no longer gather. So the panelists have risen to a new monthly challenge.
The first three recipes are from me and two of our original tasters, Julie Overton Newland and Kay Hodnett. I met Julie and Kay in cooking school nearly 20 years ago. Not surprisingly, they were at the top of the class. Fearing his cooking skills wouldn’t stand up to the competition, panelist Jeff Jensen volunteered his mother, Nan Jensen (no relation to our other original panelist, dietitian Nan Jensen), to take on the challenge in his place. She prepared a delicious egg and cheese casserole, which she said is the ideal last-minute dish or perfect casserole to serve guests. Jensen first enjoyed the dish in the 1970s during a pregame brunch before a Notre Dame football game in Indiana. She has modified the recipe through the years.
“It looks like you fussed,” she said. “But it’s easy to make with most of the items already on hand.”
I made an egg and cheese souffle that has a similar wow factor with little effort. It’s always a crowd-pleaser.
Our cooking class stars didn’t disappoint. They prepared showstoppers that would dress up any holiday buffet.
Overton Newland prepared Mediterranean deviled eggs. She served them on a bed or roasted red peppers, pitted black olives, pearl onions, rolled and chopped anchovies, capers, caper berries, scallions, lemon slices and fresh herbs, including dill and parsley. She dressed the platter with olive oil. The presentation is beautiful and the flavors combine for mouthwatering bites. “It’s something a little bit different and a twist on the traditional deviled eggs,” she said.
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That said, I am declaring Hodnett the winner of this challenge with her gorgeous pavlova. She took the egg challenge to a new level, whipping egg whites and sugar into delicate bundles and topping the meringues with fresh berries, raspberry jam and mint leaves. They were as light as Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, for whom the dessert is named, and as crisp and dainty as her tutu, credited for the shape of the willowy bases.
Hodnett started with a basic recipe from chef Ina Garten and modified it a bit with the berries and sauce. She heated raspberry jam with a bit of Chambord and then cooled the mixture in the refrigerator before finishing the pavlova. She added homemade whipped cream to the center of the meringues and added a tablespoon or so of the jam mixture before topping each serving with berries and fresh mint leaves.
Because of the fresh berries, these pavlova treats should be eaten promptly, within a few hours of assembly. Hodnett recommends prepping the ingredients and building the pavlova just prior to serving.
Egg and Cheese Souffle
¼ cup butter, plus extra to coat dish
¼ cup flour
1 ¼ cups milk
¼ teaspoon cayenne
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups shredded sharp cheddar, pepper jack or Gruyere cheese
6 large eggs, separated
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
Generously butter a 2-quart souffle dish. In a saucepan over medium heat, melt ¼ cup butter. Add flour and stir until smooth and bubbling. Add in milk, cayenne and salt, stirring until sauce boils and thickens, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat.
Add cheese and stir until melted. Add egg yolks and stir until blended and smooth.
In a bowl, with mixer on high speed, beat egg whites (use whisk attachment if available) with cream of tartar until short, stiff, moist peaks form. With a flexible spatula, fold a third of the cheese sauce into the whites until well blended. Add remaining sauce and gently fold in just until blended.
Scrape the batter into the prepared dish until it is about three-fourths full. With the tip of a knife, draw a circle on the surface of the batter about 1 inch from the rim to create a crown during baking.
Bake in a 375-degree oven until the top is golden brown and cracks look fairly dry, about 25 or 30 minutes. Scoop portions with large spoon and serve immediately.
Mediterranean Egg Platter With Classic Deviled Eggs
12 large eggs
½ cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon relish
1 to 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
Pinch of paprika
Place 12 eggs in a wide pot and cover with cold water by 1 inch. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes.
Drain the eggs and run under cold water to cool slightly. Peel and halve each egg lengthwise.
Scoop out the yolks and mash them with mayonnaise, relish, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper. Spoon the mixture into the egg whites. Dust with paprika.
To create the platter, place eggs on a bed of jarred, roasted red peppers, add fresh herbs, pitted olives, anchovies, pearl onions, capers, caper berries, scallions and lemon slices. Drizzle dressed platter with olive oil.
Mixed Berry Pavlova
4 extra-large egg whites at room temperature
Pinch of kosher salt
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Fresh berries (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries)
Mint leaves, for garnish
1 cup raspberry jam
A few splashes of Chambord liqueur
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar
Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Place a sheet of parchment paper on a sheet pan and outline circles using plates or cups for desired sizes. Turn paper upside down so that you can still see the circles, but won’t get marks on the meringue.
Make the raspberry sauce: Warm raspberry jam with a few splashes of Chambord liqueur on the stovetop. Cool in the refrigerator before assembling dessert.
Place egg whites and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer with whisk attachment. Beat the egg whites on high speed until firm, about 1 minute. Slowly add the sugar and continue to beat on high speed until it makes firm, shiny peaks, about 2 minutes.
Remove the bowl and sift the cornstarch onto the beaten egg whites, add the vinegar and vanilla and fold lightly with a rubber spatula. Pile or pipe the meringue into the circles drawn on the parchment paper. Bake for 1 ½ hours. Turn off the oven but keep the door closed. Allow the meringue to cool completely in the oven, about an hour. They should be crisp on the outside and soft like a marshmallow inside.
Make the whipped cream: Pour heavy cream into a mixing bowl and beat until stiff peaks form. Add vanilla and confectioners’ sugar and continue to beat until well blended. Do not overbeat.
Place the meringue discs onto plates and fill the centers with whipped cream.
Top each meringue with a tablespoon of the raspberry sauce and fresh berries. Garnish with mint leaves.
Egg and Cheese Casserole
1 tablespoon mustard
1 can cream of chicken soup
½ cup milk
Minced onion to taste
1 package finely shredded Swiss cheese (or favorite cheese)
6 large eggs
French bread cut into thick slices
Combine first five ingredients in a saucepan until melted. Pour into buttered casserole dish. Break raw eggs into the hot sauce. Butter bread and stand slices around the edge of the dish. Bake for 20 minutes in a 350-degree oven. To serve, layer bread slices on a plate and top with eggs and cheese sauce.
Source: Nan Jensen