Friday, January 20, 2012

The Egg and the Chicken, a story in two parts

First a confession, I am insanely addicted to chickens. I got some chickens to raise a number of years ago and I was hooked. The first show I went to, yes, chicken show, was a revelation. The variety and colors of the chickens just took my breath away. I wanted them all.

Secondly, I had no idea how therapeutic raising chicken would be. (I could have saved thousands in therapy bills.) They have such personality and watching them race around playing catch the blueberry, or who can eat the most worms is just flat fun. I don't care who you are. Finding out each breeds particular characteristics, what color eggs each breed produces....I could go on all week...Sadly, I am not allowed chickens where I am residing but rest assured.....there will be chickens again one day.

I did also learn quite a bit about eggs along the way. So, I guess in my case, the chicken was first...then the egg. My first egg was one of the top highlights of my year. It was a wonder. Then, having a whole range of, I started to see what Martha Stewart was talking about with the graceful, soft blues and greens. I loved serving eggs to kids at the bistro,  putting a clean, half-shell of the green egg on the plate and telling them that they were really eating "green eggs" and ham.

So here it the question everyone wants to know...."Is there really a difference between free-range, all natural and grocery store (factory) eggs? The answer is yes. To illustrate, here is a photo that I took of one organic, free-range local egg, one grocery, factory-farmed egg and one of those Born-free eggs from the grocery as well. Can you tell the difference? The bottom left is the local organic, the top one is the born-free from the grocery and the bottom right is the factory farmed grocery egg. The yolk color is the most striking difference. The rich color comes from a rich varied diet that a free range chicken gets. The pale more buttery  color of the factory farmed egg is from the diet of single source feed.

The second thing to notice is the egg white. See how contained and firm the local egg is? That indicates how fresh the egg is, the more runny the white, the older the egg. Which also leads me to our recipe today and the reason I don't use fresh eggs for deviled eggs. Shocked? Don't be....I just hate peeling eggs. The third difference between the eggs is that the older eggs have a thinner membrane between the shell and the egg white. In the picture to the left, you see the membrane I am talking about. It causes me no end of grief when peeling hard-boiled eggs, and I do love hard boiled eggs. So when I have to make a lot of hard-boiled eggs, I do use the old grocery eggs which are guaranteed to be "old." Think about it, it have to travel from the farm to a egg distributor, to a grocery distributor and then to your shelf. It takes weeks...

To make a perfect hard-boiled egg, place the eggs in a saucepan and  cover them with water. Bring them to a boil and then cut off the heat and place a cover on the pot. In a pinch, I just use a plate for a cover....wait 10 minutes and pour out the water and replace with cold water. The eggs will be perfect with none of that grey-green cast that over-cooked eggs get. I could go on about deviled egg recipes but there are thousands so I am just going to let you choose one. I will give you this recipe to use with the eggs that is wonderful and a crowd pleaser. It is from a great cookbook that my Mother edited with the Junior League of Albany, GA called "Quail Country." If you can get your hands on a copy, treasure it.

You will need:
8 hard-boiled eggs
1/4c of melted butter
1/2 tsp of Worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp mustard (I like Dijon)
1 tsp chives and 1 tsp chopped parsley
1/3 cup ham or chicken and/or asparagus
3 tbs of butter
3tbs of flour
1 cup chicken broth
3/4 c of milk
1 cup of cheddar cheese

Cut the hard-boiled eggs and scoop the yolks out into a small bowl. Take the next 4 ingredients and mash them all up together and then fill up the egg whites with the mixture just like a deviled egg. Take a greased casserole dish and layer the egg halves in the bottom. Layer the ham, chicken and/or asparagus over the eggs. In a separate sauce pan, melt the 3 tbs of butter and whisk in the flour, add a little of the mild until the flour mixture starts to "clump" together. Add the rest of the milk slowly and keep stirring until you have a smooth white sauce, add the broth and the cheese and stir until it is all melted into a cheese sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste and pour over the eggs. Bake together for 20 minutes at 350. Yummy!

Part two of the egg and the chicken will feature a "no-fail" less than two minute hollandaise sauce...stay tuned!.

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