Monday, August 26, 2013

We played these Ham Timbales for breakfast!

At first glance, one might not associate “ham” and “timbales” as being related. Timbales are a type of percussion instrument that originated in Cuba and resemble small drums, and ham is, well, ham. But this is the name given to the recipe way back when (I’ve seen them date from the late 1940s and early 1950s). If I were asked to give them a name, I might choose “Heavenly Ham and Egg Fluffs of Deliciousness,” but we will just stick with “timbales” for now. I’m guessing the name came from the shape.

These are basically a very light egg custard, filled with diced ham, that are served with a sauce (optional, but highly recommended) over toast. They are an easy and elegant addition to breakfast or perfect for a brunch menu. Ham timbales serve as a fine stand-in for Eggs Benedict and can be varied endlessly (try them with sautéed mushrooms and onions, cheese, cooked sausage or bacon, veggies, etc.). They must be baked using a water bath, but this extra step will insure that they remain light, delicate and oh-so good.

Ham Timbales

1 – 1 ½ cups diced ham
4 eggs
1 ¼ cups milk
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. dehydrated onion flakes
¼ tsp. pepper
¼ tsp. paprika

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs well. Add milk and beat to combine. Add salt, onion powder and flakes, pepper and paprika. Beat again and stir in ham.

Butter the inside of six custard cups. Place cups in large baking dish (a 9x13 works fine) and fill each cup about 2/3 full with egg mixture. Add HOT WATER to the baking dish until it comes up about 1 inch from the bottom. Carefully transfer baking dish to oven and bake for about 30 minutes. A knife inserted into the center of each cup should come out clean.

While the timbales are baking, make the sauce.

2 TBSP butter
2 TBSP flour
1 cup of hot chicken stock/broth (can also use vegetable stock)
½ cup milk or cream
Fresh herbs (optional – chives, parsley, tarragon all can work well with the sauce)

In a sauce pan over medium heat, melt butter. Add flour and stir in with a whisk until the flour is completely absorbed into the butter and it takes on a light brown color. Add stock or broth and whisk continuously until mixture begins to thicken. When it starts to boil, remove from heat. Add milk or cream and fresh herbs or seasoning.

Keep sauce warm until timbales are ready to serve.

Toast up some bread, bagels or English muffins.

When timbales have baked, remove from oven and carefully remove custard cups from water bath and transfer to a dish towel. Be careful, everything will be very hot. 

Using a small thin knife, gently go around the edge of the custard cups to release the timbales.  Invert the cups on top of the toast and remove. Top with sauce and garnish with fresh herbs. Serve immediately.

Monday, August 19, 2013

I know it's only Mac & Cheese but I like it!

Here’s a dish that almost everyone loves to eat, and most people have some favorite version of that they tell stories about. Maybe a recipe that belongs to a mother, aunt or grandma, or a restaurant that serves up a unique rendition. There is no doubt that macaroni and cheese is a quintessential comfort food, and when I spot a creative take on this classic dish on a menu, I usually can’t help myself from putting in an order. 

When it comes to making macaroni and cheese at home, many people reach for the familiar “blue box” and don’t venture much further. I don’t criticize what other people like to eat – to each his or her own. But for me, I don’t think it takes too much effort to make a really creamy, rich and flavorful macaroni and cheese from scratch.  You just need the right ingredients and a little extra time. 

This is my “standard” recipe. From this recipe I vary it based on what I have on-hand and my mood. On this day, I wanted something a little spicy, so I added jalapeno peppers. Other times, I have added crumbled cooked bacon or diced ham, frozen peas or lima beans, crab or lobster meat, or just more cheeses.  That’s part of the adventure and fun of cooking!

Macaroni and Cheese

3 TBSP butter
3 TBSP flour
2 ½ cups milk
2-3 bay leaves
1 pound of pasta (use something with a ridge, curl or opening for the cheese sauce to cling to)
1 ½ - 2 cups grated cheddar cheese
½ cup grated mozzarella cheese
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ tsp. dry mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh bread crumbs (optional)
2-3 TBSP diced jalapeno peppers (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Cook pasta as directed and drain.

Place milk and bay leaves in a medium sauce pan over low heat and gradually bring the milk up to “scalding” – this is when little bubbles will form around the edge of the pan and you will see steam come off the top of the milk. At this point take milk off heat.

In a large sauce pan over medium heat, melt butter and then add the flour. Using a whisk, stir flour continuously until the mixture (called a “roux”) becomes brownish in color and will start to smell nutty. Gradually add the warm milk (removing the bay leaves) to the roux and continue to stir with whisk making sure that the mixture stays smooth. 

After all the milk is added, continue to stir until the mixture shows signs of boiling – it should have thickened up at this point. Remove from heat. Add dry mustard, cheeses and jalapeno peppers and gently stir until all the cheeses are melted and well combined. 

Place cooked pasta in a large bowl – or if you don’t have one, add the pasta to the large sauce pan containing the cheese sauce. Either way, put the pasta and the sauce together and gently mix (I use a rubber spatula) until all the pasta is coated. Place mixture into a 9x13 baking dish that has been coated with non-stick spray.

Top with bread crumbs (if using) and place in oven until the bread crumbs are nicely browned and mixture is bubbly, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven and give it a few minutes to cool down. Serve and enjoy!