Project Sauce: Hollandaise

I’m reasonably certain that most people, when faced with the prospect of serving homemade hollandaise sauce, are immediately overcome with the desire to crawl underneath a table somewhere and stay there, quivering, until their guests agree to go out for brunch.
Food Blog April 2014-3593Hollandaise has a reputation for being fussy – a kind of yolk-based response to the temperamental touchiness a soufflé evokes for the whites crowd. Words like “break” and “emulsify” and “scramble” haunt your vision, and the pale lemon-yellow fluffiness cloaking a restaurant-made eggs benedict feels like an impossibility.
Food Blog April 2014-3584I started this project with flour-thickened sauces almost by accident. Wanting familiarity, I didn’t realize my first three sauces, the béchamel, the mornay, and the velouté, were fairly close cousins: fat, flour, liquid. No huge recipes for disaster there, aside from the possibility of clumping. But this second trimester, the egg exploration, is a little more complex. Fat comes from multiple sources now, and the egg yolks provide the protein and coagulation as well as some measure of fat. Balancing water, and acid, and dribbling in the butter just so, feels like a major project. But so long as you are in possession of arm muscles, just a little bit organized, and not in a huge rush, and, for all that is holy, not performing this for the first time in front of company, you are probably going to be okay.
Food Blog April 2014-3585I used an approximation of Ruhlman’s Ratio recipe for this. Almost more useful than the recipe, though, was his advice: “Do not be afraid of its breaking. Sauces can sense fear and will use it to their mischievous advantage. I have broken many sauces and am still a happy, productive member of society and an advocate of the emulsified butter sauces. If you make them, you can and will break them” (187-88).
Food Blog April 2014-3586An emulsified sauce, of which hollandaise is just one example, means a sauce that is thickened – held together, if you will – by a tenuous relationship. Think salad dressing. Remember those bottles from childhood, packed in on the door of the fridge? Remember how, during the week in between salad courses, they would slowly blurp into separate layers – oil on vinegar on water? An emulsion is when those disparate layers, unfriendly, incompatible, are coaxed together into a homogenous mix. Vinaigrette is an emulsion – perhaps one of the simplest. Fat, acid, harmonious.
Food Blog April 2014-3578Because emulsions can be unstable – leave that vinaigrette too long and you end up with a layer of oil and a layer of vinegar – they need to be treated with some care. A “broken” sauce is when the butter, added too quickly, upsets the mix and causes the fat and the water in the sauce to separate. This is the deep dread of homemade hollandaise. But I’m a survivor now. It can be done.
Food Blog April 2014-3577You would think, as would most reasonable people, that making hollandaise would be daunting enough, and I would choose some sensible preparation to share with you like… steamed asparagus.
I went with eggs benedict.
I’ve never poached an egg before.
Food Blog April 2014-3580As it turns out, no single one of the components of eggs benedict is, so long as you are relaxed and paying attention, particularly tricky. The issue is having everything ready to put together all at once. Fortunately, poached eggs, once they are poached, are forgiving. Doubly fortunately, hollandaise is one of those blessed creations that actually tastes better warm than it does hot. This means, if you’re keeping score, that if it cools off a touch while you are applying that last toaster session to your English muffins, that all is not lost.
Food Blog April 2014-3592This recipe will make enough hollandaise for two plates of eggs benedict. Since I was only serving me (albeit an unreasonably greedy me), I draped it across two eggs and had enough for a dish of the aforementioned steamed asparagus as well. That afternoon was a blur of food coma, but let me tell you, I’d do it again.
Food Blog April 2014-3593Note: if you are making eggs benedict as your vehicle for this sauce, my recommendation is to poach the eggs first (Deb has a good step-by-step recipe which I used pretty much verbatim), then set them aside in a bowl while you make the hollandaise. When the hollandaise is ready and you’ve pulled it off of the pot of water, pop the English muffin into the toaster and slip the poached eggs into the pot of hot water you just vacated. While the muffin toasts, the eggs will heat up and the hollandaise will cool slightly. By the time you’ve draped some smoked salmon or Canadian bacon across your muffins (I’m partial to the salmon, though. It’s like velvet), the poached eggs should be warm enough to serve, and hey presto! Eggs benedict for brunch, just like that.

Food Blog April 2014-3599

Hollandaise for 1 or 2
1 teaspoon cider vinegar (regular white vinegar or white wine vinegar would be fine too)
2 teaspoons water
Pinch of salt
1 egg yolk, at room temperature
3 ounces butter (6 tablespoons), melted
1-2 teaspoons lemon juice, to taste
Black or cayenne pepper, to taste
  • Heat water in a medium pot to a bare simmer. It does not need to be boiling.
  • While the water heats, combine vinegar, water, and salt in a glass bowl. Stir or swish to dissolve the salt.
  • Add the yolk and whisk up a bit.
  • Place the bowl over a pot of hot water, but don’t let it touch the water. Keep the water at a low simmer; we are not looking for a rolling boil, or even a boil at all. This should be a gradual cooking process, so the yolk doesn’t scramble.
  • Bring the water to a simmer, whisking the mixture constantly. First there will be small, fizzy bubbles, but as you keep whisking the yolk will get very pale in color and start to gain volume. It becomes quite fluffy and starts to look like, well, like hollandaise sauce. This may take 3 or 4 minutes, or it may take more like 7 or 8. It depends on the speed and ferocity with which you whisk it.
  • When the sauce volume has at least doubled, turn off the heat and start drizzling in the melted butter, slowly, whisking CONSTANTLY. The sauce will get thick and creamy. If it suddenly looks really shiny or like it’s going to separate, whisk hard, lay off on the butter for a few seconds, and add another teaspoon of water.
  • After you’ve added all the butter, and the sauce is thick, creamy, and rich looking, add the lemon juice and pepper, if using. Season to taste with salt, if needed. To prevent overcooking and unattractive clumpiness, remove it from the pot of water until ready to serve.
  • Serve over poached eggs or steamed asparagus, warm but not piping hot – the flavor intensifies as it cools a bit.

Photo Friday

I’m now feeling secure enough about myself, almost a month later, to share a few shots from my strawberries-and-goat-cheese biscuit disaster… They were pretty, and I love how ethereal the kitchen lighting is, but they were just so. damn. flat. Lesson learned. Jamming a full pint of strawberries into an innocent batch of dough does not fluffy biscuits make.

Food Blog Photo Friday 2014-3371 Food Blog Photo Friday 2014-3375 Food Blog Photo Friday 2014-3424 Food Blog Photo Friday 2014-3429

Lambikopita Burgers

Food Blog April 2014-3562My bachelor habits are unusual. I typically don’t, when I’m making dinner just for my lonesome, go for what’s quick and easy. In fact, I use the rare occasions when I’m dining solo to catch up on cooking and consuming foods N. is not fond of. So when he was out of town last week visiting his parents, I took advantage of the evening alone to rendezvous with one of his major food rivals: lamb.
Food Blog April 2014-3574Most of the time (at least lately) I try to shy away from cute titles – I want to make sure you know what you’re getting – but this one was too clever not to use. This is a riff on a dish my sister made for us for Christmas (hi, R!), a version of spanikopita with crumbles of ground lamb and gooey shreds of mozzarella mixed in. Since my first thought upon tasting it was “more,” and then “more, more,” I thought a burger might be the answer. More of everything!
Food Blog April 2014-3544Food Blog April 2014-3548Food Blog April 2014-3551The delightful thing about spanikopita, to me, is the burst of briny saltiness from the hunks of cheese that muddle reluctantly into softness amid the spinach. I love the dill, and I love the earthy hit of nutmeg. Lately I’ve been adding lemon zest to the mix as well, for sour brightness to contrast the salty tang of the cheese.
Food Blog April 2014-3549Food Blog April 2014-3550All this, then, would have to go into my lamb burger. I’m not a big fan of massive additions to burgers. They seem, too often, fussy and unnecessary. That’s what toppings are for. But here, I think the incorporation works incredibly well for several reasons. First, lamb has a bit of a gamey flavor. Some of us like that, but for those who don’t, the additions of extra ingredients mean it’s a mild gaminess, not overwhelming. Second, it’s very easy for ground lamb to dry out. Here, where I’ve incorporated not just cheese but a sodden handful of sautéed fresh spinach, producing a dry product becomes a challenge. Third, but no less important, the addition of these extra ingredients bulks up the burgers, making the lamb – not nearly as cheap as everyday ground beef – stretch a bit further. This isn’t like a crab cake stretch, though, where your product is so drenched in seasoned bread crumbs you forget what kind of meat is supposed to be in there. All of these flavors dance well with the lamb, enhancing rather than masking it.
Food Blog April 2014-3554Food Blog April 2014-3558Food Blog April 2014-3556Because you’re cooking with a heady amount of cheese in the mix, these burgers will get crusty and deeply bronzed as the cheese seeps down onto the hot pan to toast. Don’t be alarmed. Settled on a bun with some fresh spinach leaves, to contrast the cooked tumble in the burger itself, this is nearly perfect. Slathered with some Greek yogurt whipped with lemon juice and fresh raw garlic, it turns into lamb burger nirvana.
Food Blog April 2014-3560Just because this isn’t, perhaps, a typical bachelor meal, what with the longish ingredient list and the time taken to prepare it from scratch, doesn’t mean I treated it as fancy. There’s no need for ceremony here; it’s too good. Hasty bites. No napkin. Straight over the sink. I don’t mind telling you, just between us, that I didn’t even bother with a plate.

Food Blog April 2014-3570

Lambikopita burgers
Makes 2
⅓ pound ground lamb
1 clove garlic, finely minced
2 green onions, finely sliced
2 teaspoons finely chopped dill
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese
¼ cup shredded or cubed mozzarella
½ cup fresh spinach leaves, plus more, to serve
⅛ teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated, if possible
Salt and pepper to taste (I suggest ¼ teaspoon salt and ⅛ teaspoon black pepper)
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided


  • In a medium skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat. When it shimmers, add the ½ cup spinach leaves and sauté gently until they are wilted: 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.
  • In a medium bowl, combine the lamb, garlic, onions, dill, lemon zest, and cheeses. Add the nutmeg, salt and pepper. The best way to do this is to get in there and use your hands, gently kneading with your fingertips to mix thoroughly.
  • When the spinach is cool, transfer it to a cutting board and chop finely. Don’t squeeze it out – we want that wetness to keep the burgers moist.
  • Add the chopped spinach to the lamb mixture and mix again to integrate it.
  • Divide the mixture in two and form patties of your desired diameter. Mine were probably 3 inches around. Keep in mind that the thicker your patties are, the longer they will take to cook.
  • In the same skillet you used for the spinach, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium high heat. When it shimmers, add the lamb burgers, clamp on a lid, and turn the heat down to medium.
  • Cook for 4-5 minutes undisturbed, then cautiously lift with a spatula to check the bottom. When they are deeply bronzed and have a dark crust from the melting and toasting cheese, flip, recover, and cook for another 3-4 minutes, or until your desired doneness is reached.
  • Remove from heat, transfer to a bun of your choice dressed with condiments to your liking (I recommend the Greek yogurt spread below), top with fresh spinach, and serve.
Greek yogurt spread
2 tablespoons Greek yogurt
Squeeze of fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove, chopped fine and pasted with salt


  • Combine ingredients in a small bowl, mix with a fork, spoon, or small whisk.

Pot Pie Empanadas with Cheddar Crust

Food Blog March 2014-3536Unless you are feeding a large family, or your small family is a bunch of sauce junkies, chances are if you make something like the velouté I shared last week, you are going to have some leftovers. Mine worked out to just under a cup of sauce (you will probably have a touch more – I oversauced my chicken a bit because I was taking photos of the stream of velvet I was pouring), which was clearly too much to trash but, it seemed, not enough to do much with. True, I could have just warmed it up again and scarfed another cutlet, but that didn’t seem very original. Additionally, this sort of flour-thickened sauce doesn’t always reheat particularly well – think about the resolute globs of leftover Thanksgiving gravy. It was going to need some help.
Food Blog March 2014-3537Food Blog March 2014-3543When I thought velouté, I thought pot-pie. However, a mere cup of sauce didn’t seem like enough. Smaller quantities of sauce would require smaller packages. I’ve been tossing around the idea of hand-pies for a while (see what I did there? Yeah.), and suddenly it became clear that this final bit of sauce would become the base for the filling of pot pie empanadas, spiced up with chunks of cheddar cheese in the crust.
Food Blog March 2014-3513Food Blog March 2014-3515Yes. This was happening.

I think every culture has a snack food created by enclosing a savory little morsel in a puff of dough. Samosas, gyoza or pot-stickers, pierogies, Cornish pasties, think about it. For Spain, and for Central and South American cuisines, empanadas are that snack. A tumble of meat, cheese, and spices (with the occasional vegetable – a few summers ago I had a spectacular one filled with cheese and fresh spinach) wrapped up in a lovely soft dough that is sometimes baked but more often lovingly tipped into the deep fryer: it’s quite possibly my dream food.
Food Blog March 2014-3524Food Blog March 2014-3526Food Blog March 2014-3528And here I was about to Americanize it beyond belief. The leftovers of my grad school training screamed things at me about colonization and cultural appropriation, but I swatted them down. It’s improving the classic by acknowledging and incorporating a new angle. Yeah.

And it was so worth it.

The dough here is baked, not fried. I don’t have a deep fryer, and to be honest, crammed with cheddar as it was, the crust did not provide the most airtight of seals. I would have been nervous about dropping these into hot oil.
Food Blog March 2014-3519Food Blog March 2014-3522There’s nothing to be nervous about when it comes to the taste, though. You can stuff these with whatever you’d like in a pot pie, meats or vegetables. I opted for potatoes, carrots, a few mushrooms, green onions, a breath of garlic, and some green beans that had been in my fridge for a touch longer than they should have. A bit of shredded up chicken breast completed the pot. These get cooked in the leftover velouté with a splash of white wine (and a bit of water, if you feel there isn’t enough liquid) until they are tender, then, once they are cool, jammed a mere tablespoon at a time into circles of sticky but pliable dough. A quick fold, a squeeze, and a crimp with the tines of a fork, and they are ready to bake.
Food Blog March 2014-3529Food Blog March 2014-3532I had designs on serving these alongside a salad for a balanced meal, but we never made it to the salad. We just ate these, burning our fingers and our tongues as we picked up one and another and another. These are pot pies for crust lovers. The dough becomes rich and crisp and flaky, and the cheddar cheese is, I have to admit, a bit of a stroke of genius. It’s a perfect little package, and writing about it now, I desperately want another.

Sometimes leftovers are better than the original. This, friends, is one of those times.

Food Blog March 2014-3534Cheddar dough
Makes enough for 18-20 empanadas, if re-rolled once or twice
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt (this doesn’t seem like much, but the cheese is salty and the filling will be seasoned)
8 tablespoons very cold butter (1 stick), cut into cubes
½ cup extra sharp cheddar cheese, cut into cubes
1 egg
⅓ cup ice water
1 tablespoon vinegar

  • Dump the flour and salt into a food processor and pulse once or twice to mix them.
  • Add the cubes of butter and cheese and pulse 4 times for 3 seconds each. This seems fussily precise, but it worked very well.
  • In a small bowl, beat the egg lightly with the water and vinegar. Add to the food processor and pulse once or twice until the mixture comes together in large clumps. You’ll know it’s ready when it stodgily mashes against the side of the processor bowl, reluctant to whiz in circles anymore.
  • Turn this mixture out onto a large square of plastic wrap. Using the plastic wrap to help you, form it into a disc 5 or 6 inches in diameter, then wrap up and refrigerate for at least 60 minutes. This will allow the flour granules to absorb some of the liquid and fat, which makes for easier rolling, and the butter (and cheese) to firm up again, which makes for better texture.
  • While the dough chills, make the filling.

Pot pie filling
These quantities may not seem like enough, but remember, you are using only minute quantities of filling for each empanada. Overfilling dumplings is somewhere in the top ten of my frequent cooking mistakes, so trust me. You will have plenty.
2 tablespoons butter
1-2 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 green onions, thinly sliced in little moons
3-4 mushrooms, diced
2 small carrots (or one large), diced
1 small Yukon gold potato, diced
6 green beans, stems removed, sliced into ½ inch pieces
½ cup cooked shredded chicken
¼ cup white wine
1 cup velouté
Salt and pepper, and herbs of your choosing, to taste

  • In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat, then add the garlic, onions, and mushrooms. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms begin to brown, 5-8 minutes.
  • Add the potatoes and carrots, stir to combine.
  • Add the wine and velouté. Season with salt and pepper, if needed, and any herbs you feel inclined to add. Simon and Garfunkel’s usual suspects would certainly be welcome.
  • Cook over a healthy simmer until the carrots, which will likely take the longest, are almost tender. If the pan looks dry, add a little water or chicken broth. Depending on how small you have cut the vegetables, this could take anywhere from 10-20 minutes. Mine took about 15.
  • When the carrots are almost tender, add the green beans and simmer until they are just losing their raw crunch.
  • Kill the heat and add the shredded chicken, then let the whole mess cool to room temperature.

To assemble and bake:

  • Preheat the oven to 425F and spray two baking sheets with non-stick spray or line them with parchment paper.
  • Remove the dough from the refrigerator and unwrap it on a floured board. Using a rolling pin or a straight-sided wine bottle (it totally works!), roll it out into a rectangle or oval about ¼ inch thick. With the floured lip of a glass, a jar mouth, or a biscuit cutter, cut out into 4-inch rounds. When you cut, to avoid extra stickiness or tearing the dough, press straight down without twisting all the way through the dough. Once you have cut all the way through the dough, then you can twist the cutter a bit to loosen the round from the board.
  • Once you have made all the circles you can with the dough, gather up the scraps and roll them out again. One or two re-rollings should produce 18-20 dough circles.
  • Add about 1 tablespoon of the cooled filling to each round of dough. You will be tempted to add more. Don’t do it! A solid 1 tablespoon is about all that can fit without making a tremendous mess.
  • As you place each tablespoon of filling in the middle of the dough round, fold it in half and press the edges together with your forefinger and thumb. To seal each little half-moon package, set it down on the floured board again and press down on the edges all the way around with the back of the tines of a fork. This really crimps it closed, but it also looks pretty, which I’m a fan of.
  • Settle each empanada on your prepared baking sheet. They aren’t going to spread, so they don’t need too much room in between them, but you don’t want them touching each other. Each needs to get the full oven experience without its neighbors interfering.
  • Bake in your preheated 425F oven for about 20 minutes, until the crust is golden and crisp to the touch, and any filling that has had the misfortune of leaking out is bubbling assertively.
  • You will probably need to let these cool for 5-10 minutes before eating. Just enough time to, if you’re feeling virtuous, toss together a quick salad. Or, you know, not.