White Sauce

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A white sauce is just that – a sauce that’s white. It’s white because it’s made with milk, 1/2 & 1/2, or cream.

It was years before I dared make a white sauce; I assumed it was difficult for some reason. I remember calling up my mother and asking her how to make one, but she didn’t have an immediate answer, because cooking came so naturally to her. She simply added a little of this, and a little of that while cooking, and only followed recipes when making something completely new.

But she made a white sauce, just for me, and sent me the recipe. Trust me, after making a white sauce one time, you’ll never need a recipe again.

White Sauce, or Bechamel

4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
2 cups of 1/2 & 1/2, or cream
(this recipe can be doubled)

Have all of your ingredients ready; the sauce will not take long. All you need is a pot and whisk.

I like to use Wondra instead of regular white flour for sauces and gravies.

Place the butter in the pot and heat over medium heat. Add the flour and immediately whisk it into the butter until smooth. This is called a roux. Some people make a roux that is almost like a paste, but I prefer mine slightly thinner.

Let the mixture bubble and cook for about 30 seconds, whisking often. The cooking supposedly keeps the sauce from having a “floury” taste, but I’ve never tested this theory.

With the whisk in one hand, pour in the milk with the other and begin gently whisking. Don’t add the milk gradually; pour it all in.

If the milk/cream is warm, the sauce will form sooner, but cold milk/cream works just as well.

Hold the pot now with one hand and gently whisk; you will notice the mixture thickening. You can even remove the pot from the stove if you think the sauce is cooking too fast.

A few bubbles might form, but don’t let the sauce boil. It’s better to take a little more time to whisk the sauce than allow it to burn and stick to the pot.

Once the sauce has thickened, remove the pot from the stove. You have just made a white sauce.

Now for the fun part. Think of what you can add to your white sauce to make it, well, different! What about adding fresh herbs, or pesto, or tomato paste, or paprika cream, or curry powder!

Today I’m being indulgent and treating myself to a breakfast of goddesses – poached eggs with a white sauce.


A white sauce will work with any milk substitute as well, from soymilk to coconut milk, to hemp milk, to goat milk. However, the color of the sauce will change with the milk color.

It will turn into a cheesy white sauce if you add cheddar, fontina, or Parmesan to it. Any cheese works.

Besides salt and pepper, you can also add white pepper, dried herbs, nutmeg, cayenne, or just about anything you like.

Lastly, a browned butter white sauce is really flavorful, but keep in mind that the white sauce color will be brownish.

For a more scientific approach to making a white sauce, here is a link to Stefan’s white sauce on his blog, Stefan Gourmet.

Pastitsio

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My introduction to Greek cuisine began with the set of cookbooks that introduced me to many International cuisines – the Time-Life series of cookbooks called “Foods of the World.” Included in the set are beautifully photographed hardback books describing the cuisines and cultures, as well as smaller, spiral-bound recipe books.

The set was gifted to me by mother, because she owned and loved hers. They were also my first cookbooks, so as I learned how to cook, I also learned about various cuisines. Had I known better, I might have been intimidated, but I just jumped in and started cooking.

One week I’d make meals from the Ethiopian cookbook, the next week Japan, the next Italy, and so forth. One of the cookbooks was “Middle Eastern Cooking,” which included foods from Greece as well as Turkey, Israel, Egypt, and other countries from that part of the world.

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Over the years I made moussaka, chicken baked in red sauce with cinnamon, grilled pork kabobs smothered in oregano, and many more lovely recipes. But one that I really loved was Pastitsio. To me it was way more fun than moussaka.

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When I first made it, my husband loved it. But over the 30-plus years that I’ve been cooking, he’s somehow decided that he hates lamb. It’s just not the same with beef, so I’m using a 50-50 mixture. Who knows, in a future post, I might be writing from my own apartment…

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Pastitsio

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons salt
1 pound ziti
7 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onions
1 1/2 pound lean ground lamb
2 cups chopped, drained, canned tomatoes
1 cup canned tomato purée
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
1 teaspoon oregano crumbled
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Black pepper
1/2 cup soft, fresh bread crumbs
1 egg, lightly beaten
3/4 cup grated Kefalotiri or Parmesan

In a large pot bring 6-8 quarts of water and 1 tablespoon of salt to a boil over high heat and drop in the ziti. Stirring occasionally, cook the pasta for 10-15 minutes, or until soft but still somewhat resistant to the bite. Immediately drain the pasta and set aside.
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Meanwhile, prepare the lamb and the cream sauce. In a heavy 10- to 12-inch skillet, heat 6 tablespoons of the olive oil over moderate heat until a light haze forms above it. Add the onions and, stirring frequently, cook for 5 minutes, or until they are soft and transparent but not brown.

Add the lamb and, mashing it frequently with the back of spoon or fork to break up any lumps, cook until all traces of pink disappear.


Stir in the tomatoes, purée, garlic, oregano, cinnamon, the remaining 2 teaspoons of salt and a few grindings of pepper. Bring to a gentle boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low, cover tightly and simmer for 15 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat, stir in 1/4 cup of the bread crumbs, the beaten egg, and set aside.


Sauce:
4 cups milk
2 tablespoons butter
6 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup flour

To make the cream sauce, combine 3 cups of milk and the butter in a small pan until bubbles appear around the rim of the pan. Remove from the heat. In a heavy 2- to 3- quart saucepan, beat the eggs with a whisk until they are frothy.

Add the remaining 1 cup of milk and 1 teaspoon of salt and, beating constantly, add the flour, a tablespoon at a time.


Stirring constantly, slowly pour in the heated milk and butter mixture in a thin stream and, still stirring, bring to a boil over moderate heat. Continue to boil until the sauce is thick and smooth; set aside.


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Farenheit. With a pastry brush coat the bottom and sides of a 9 x 15 x 2 1/2″ baking dish with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Sprinkle the bottom with the remaining 1/4 cup of bread crumbs and spread half of the reserved pasta on top.


Cover with the meat, smoothing it into the corners with a spatula.
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Then pour 2 cups of the cream sauce evenly on top. Sprinkle with half the grated cheese.
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Make another layer with the remaining ziti, pour over it the rest of the cream sauce, and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.


Bake in the middle of the oven for 45 minutes, or until the top is a delicate golden brown.

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If you love moussaka, you’ll definitely love pastitsio. It’s the love red meat sauce, slightly sweetened with cinnamon, layered on noodles, and topped with a rich, cheesy cream sauce that makes it the ultimate in comfort food, Greek style!
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Cabbage Bundles

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This recipe for a lovely and tasty side dish is less about the cabbage, and way more about the filling. Over the years, I’ve made the bundles so many different ways, but today I’m using a creamy mixture of bacon, onions and mushrooms. I’ve also included leeks and peas before.

So try this out as an easy and pretty side dish, varying the filling ingredients to your liking. You can even make these a day ahead and reheat. That’s a handy thing to do when it’s holiday season.

Cabbage Bundles
inspired by this recipe on Epicurious here

1 large green cabbage
6 thick slices of bacon, diced
2 onions, thinly sliced
12 ounces sliced mushrooms
Garlic pepper
Dried thyme
Salt
White sauce, approximately 1 1/2 cups

Core the cabbage, then place the whole cabbage in a large pot.


Add enough water to cover. Add a little salt, then bring the water to a boil. Cook the cabbage in the water for at least 7 minutes. Remove the cabbage to a colander and let it drain upside down.
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If you feel you’ve overcooked the cabbage, place it in ice water immediately for a minute, then let it drain.

When the cabbage has cooled off, peel off the outer leaves and let them dry; set aside.

Cook the bacon over medium heat until fully cooked, but not crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel-lined plate; set aside.


Pour off some of the bacon grease if there’s too much in the skillet. But save it, of course.

Reduce the heat slightly, then add the onions and sauté them for about 5 minutes. You want them soft and only slightly caramelized.

Remove the onions to a bowl, then add a little more bacon grease or olive oil as needed, and sauté the mushrooms. Towards the end when they’re almost fully sautéed, add salt and seasoning like garlic pepper.

Just for fun, I added a little cognac to the mushrooms and flamed them for a minute. This step adds a little flavor, but it not necessary.
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Drain the mushrooms to get that wonderful mushroom jus, then combine the mushrooms and onions in a large bowl. Add the thyme. Save the jus for when you make the white sauce, if you like.

Add the white sauce and bacon to the cooled-off onions and mushrooms, then stir to combine gently. There’s your filling. It can be refrigerated overnight, if necessary.

To make the bundles, begin by lightly greasing a baking dish. Lay one cabbage leaf flat on your work surface, and top with filling. Don’t go overboard with the filling, or else it will all ooze out. Just a nice amount, that still allows you to comfortably roll and tuck the cabbage leaf around the filling. Also first trim off any really tough leaf ends before rolling.


Place the bundles smooth side up in the baking dish. Repeat.

Just before you want to serve, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Brush a little olive oil over the top of the bundles, and bake just until there’s a little color on the cabbage, or about 20 minutes. If you want more color, you can always slide the baking dish under the broiler for a minute.


Serve immediately.
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Alternatively, these can be baked one day, refrigerated, and then reheated on another day. They stay intact pretty well if you haven’t overfilled them!
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If you want a pretty decadent side dish, toss a little grated Parmesan on the bundles before the browning and heating step.
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These were delicious with pork loin, but would be equally wonderful with grilled white fish or roasted chicken.

Crêpes Fourées

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Crêpes Fourées are savory crêpes filled with sautéed mushrooms in a white sauce. And to make things even more luscious, gruyère is included. They can be served as is, paired simply with a salad of greens, or served as a fabulous side dish to your favorite protein.

I’m not going to write out an exact recipe for these crêpes. There simply are a few components – the crêpe recipe can be found here, the white sauce can be found here, and below I’ll focus more on the mushrooms.

Here’s what you’ll need:

Dried mushrooms
Butter
Fresh mushrooms, sliced
Salt
White pepper
Dried thyme
Butter and Oil
Shallots, diced
Cream, milk, and/or the mushroom liquor
Flour
Crêpes
White Sauce
Gruyere

Firstly, submerge your dried mushrooms in a large bowl, and cover them with hot water.
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Meanwhile, heat the butter in a large pot over medium-high heat. It’s okay to brown the butter if you prefer. Add the mushrooms and sauté them for 5-6 minutes. Season them with salt, a little white pepper to taste, and some thyme.
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Place the mushrooms in a colander over a large bowl in order to collect the mushroom liquor. I wrote about this technique here. The “liquor” is a lovely addition to a white sauce, or to flavor a broth.

Remove the soaked dried mushrooms and place them on some paper towels. Don’t discard the soaking liquid.

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Pat them dry, and then slice or chop them up, removing the tougher stems first.
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Then add them to the sautéed mushrooms.

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Strain the liquid remaining after soaking the dry mushrooms and strain it to remove any debris.
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Place this liquid and the mushroom liquor together in a small pot and reduce the volume by about half. This will provide a deeper flavor when using it in the white sauce, if you choose to use it. Keep in mind, however, that if you use this liquid, your white sauce will not be as “white” as compared to only using cream or milk as your liquid when making it.

The original recipe I have for Crêpes Fourées can be seen here in my adolescent hand.
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In this recipe, the mushrooms were finely chopped. I wasn’t going to bother with doing that, but at the last minute before putting the dish together, I did decide to chop the mushrooms instead of leaving them in the larger pieces. I just felt the crêpes would roll better that way.

I did, however, omit the parsley and chives in this recipe. I did that just because of what my menu was for a dinner I served to friends. Already plenty of green!

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Then I placed the chopped mushrooms in a large bowl. I had the crêpes I’d made that morning on stand-by,
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as well as some Gruyere, which I grated. At least, I think this is Gruyere…
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To make the white sauce, place a combination of olive oil and butter in a pot and heat it over medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté them for about 5 minutes. Add flour to make a roux, then stir in your liquid of choice. After a bit, while whisking the whole time, you end up with a thickened white sauce like this.

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Pour the white sauce into the bowl with the mushrooms. You don’t want the mushrooms too saucey, just enough sauce to bind them.
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Stir the mushrooms and sauce together. The filling should look like this.
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If you’re going to cook the crêpes right away, turn on the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a baking pan.

Have your crêpes, filling, grated Gruyere and the pan handy.

Begin by placing some filling on a crêpes, and top it with a little Gruyere.
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The little bit of cheese will help hold everything together. Then roll up the crêpes and place them in the pan as you make them. Top them all with some more Gruyere.
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I didn’t use too much cheese because I really want the mushroom filling to shine, but it’s up to you. But if you want these super cheesey, I’d use a milder cheese.

If you’re not baking these on the same day, cover the pan with foil and refrigerate overnight. Bring the crêpes to room temperature, or close to it, and bake until the tops of the crêpes are bubbly and golden, at 375 degrees. Serve hot or warm. Who am I kidding. They’re fabulous at room temperature as well.

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Trust me, if you love mushrooms, you will love these crêpes.

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They are the best kind of comfort food.
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They are full of flavor.
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They are culinary perfection.

Eggs Chartres

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Normally I don’t look anything food-related up on the internet because my blog is all about what I already know after all my years of cooking professionally and otherwise. But when I came across this recipe that I had made once a long time ago, the name of it really intrigued me. So I googled.

And, I got nothing. Besides all kinds of info regarding the cathedral in Chartres, there was no insight into why this dish is called eggs Chartres. It does seem to be unanimously Creole in nature, which is exactly where this recipe lives, in the American Cooking: Cajun and Creole recipe booklet, part of the extensive Time Life Series Foods of the World.

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It’s a very easy recipe – the hardest part is peeling the hard-boiled eggs!

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So, without any further ado, I give you this fabulous and a little spicy egg dish. It would be great for breakfast, but also fabulous for lunch or brunch.

I’m copying the recipe exactly as it is in the cookbook. However, I made a half recipe since I am only feeding two people, including myself, these days.

Creamed Egg Chartres
To serve 8

1 tablespoon butter, softened, plus 8 tablespoons butter, cut into 1/2-inch bits
5 medium-sized onions, peeled and cut crosswise into 1/8-inch-thick rounds
3/4 cup flour
3 egg yolks, plus 12 hard-cooked eggs*, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices
6 cups milk
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground hot red pepper (cayenne)
1 cup freshly grated imported Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons paprika

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. With a pastry brush, spread the tablespoon of softened butter evenly over the bottom and sides of a 14-by-9-by-2-inch baking-serving dish. Set the dish aside.

In a heavy 12-inch skillet, melt the 8 tablespoons of butter bits over moderate heat. When the foam begins to subside, add the onions and, stirring frequently, cook for about 8 minutes, or until they are soft and translucent but not brown.

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Add the flour and mix well, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 3 or 4 minutes to remove the raw taste of the flour.

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Meanwhile, in a deep bowl, beat the egg yolks with a wire whisk or a rotary or electric beater until they are smooth. Beat in the milk, salt, and red pepper, and set aside.

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Stirring the onion mixture constantly with a wire whisk, pour in the egg yolks and milk in a slow, thin stream and cook over high heat until the sauce comes to a boil, thickens heavily and is smooth.

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Taste the sauce for seasoning, remove the skillet from the heat and gently stir in 9 of the hard-cooked eggs.

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Pour the eggs and sauce into the buttered dish and scatter the Parmesan over the top, followed by the paprika.

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Bake in the middle of the oven for about 15 minutes, or until the top is browned and the sauce begins to bubble.

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Garnish the top with the remaining hard-cooked egg slices and serve at once, directly from the baking dish.

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* Don’t do what I did. I cooked a dozen eggs for this recipe, and to have some hard-boiled eggs extra for salads. When they were done, I poured off a lot of the hot water, then added ice. But then I forgot about them, and when I got back to them, the water was still warm. Normally I would have changed out the water within minutes of the ice melting, and added more ice, eventually refrigerating the eggs. If you have an eagle eye, you’ll notice that there is a green ring around the yolks of my eggs. This is from letting the eggs sit in warm water, without forcing a freeze on them with icy water. I even used to do this little trick when I taught girls’ cooking classes. By the end of the two hours, the “properly” cooled egg would be perfect, with a nice uniformly yellow yolk, and the improperly cooled egg would have that dreaded green ring. Horrors. Fortunately no one in my house cares. But the green definitely isn’t pretty!

note: Eggs Chartres is delicious as is, but is also good with sausage or bacon. I could enjoy it with a green or a tomato salad. But it is very rich.

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Salt Cod for Lunch

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I’m calling this post “salt cod for lunch” because it is perfect as a lunch or a light meal. It’s salt cod cooked with potatoes, smothered in a white sauce, sprinkled with a little Parmesan, and then baked. It’s like the inside of a fish pie, with no crust. It’s hearty, but it’s not too rich, in my book. I hope you like it:

Salt Cod and Potato Gratin
to serve 4

fish:
1/2 stick butter
1 onion, sliced
3 small red or white potatoes, cut into 3/4″ cubes
12 ounces rehydrated salt cod, see about salt cod, cut into smaller pieces
1/4 cup half and half

white sauce:
1/2 stick butter
4 tablespoons flour
1 3/4 cup half and half
Pinch of white pepper

Grated Parmesan

Heat the butter in a large skillet or work over medium-high heat. Add the onion and potatoes and sauté them for about ten minutes; they should be nice caramelized. Tuck the pieces of cod into the potatoes, and then pour the half and half over the top. It should bubble. Cover the skillet with a lid, then lower the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes.

Turn the oven on to 400 degrees.

Meanwhile, make the white sauce. Heat the butter in a pan over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until smooth. Let this paste cook for about a minute, whisking often, then pour in the half and half. Continue whisking until the sauce thickens. Remove the pan from the heat, but leave the whisk in the pan.

To prepare the gratin, use an 8″ square baking dish, or four individual gratin dishes. Place the fish and potato mixture on the bottom of the dish. Then give the white sauce a whisk, and pour it over the potatoes and fish. (If using gratin dishes, simply divide the fish-potato mixture by fourths, and divide the white sauce into fourths.)

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Add some grated Parmesan, then bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes, or until the sauce is golden brown in spots.

Remove from the oven, let cool slightly, then serve with a green salad, if desired.

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Salt Cod for Breakfast

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As you might remember from my post, salt cod, I’ve been on a mission to find this fish for years. I have spotted it on a few websites, but the shipping was always horrendous, so I never followed through with an online order.

My daughter who lives in London assured me that she could purchase salt cod at a Portuguese Market. So just before coming home for a summer visit a couple years ago, she did just that. I repeat the word, SUMMER. I picked her up at the airport in the city. Then we went out to lunch and did some shopping…. all the while forgetting about the salt cod in her suitcase. Well, that was a lesson learned. Do not ever leave salt cod in a hot car!

But now I finally have my hands on some salt cod after years of searching, thanks to Whole Foods. This recipe is an attempt to duplicate a dish my mother made years ago. I’m not sure about the specifics of it, but I think I remembered all of the major components. So here’s my version:

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Salt Cod and a Poached Egg with White Sauce and Capers
to serve 4

1/2 stick butter
1 onion, sliced
3 small red potatoes, cut into 3/4″ cubes
10 – 12 ounces pre-soaked salt cod, cut into pieces
1/4 cup half and half
4 poached eggs
White sauce:
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
1 3/4 cups half and half, see white sauce on how to make it
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Heat the butter in a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add the onion and potatoes, and sauté them for about 10 minutes. They should be nicely caramelized.

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Push the pieces of cod under the potatoes and onions, then pour the half and half over the top. Make sure the mixture is boiling, then cover the skillet and turn down the heat to the lowest position. Cook for 20 minutes without disturbing it.

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After cooking, the mixture will look like this:

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To make the white sauce, melt 1/2 stick butter in a pan over medium heat. When it has completely melted, add the flour and whisk them both together well. Then pour in the half and half, whisking all the while, and continue mixing until it thickens. If you like, season the sauce with black or white pepper, but don’t add salt. Remove from the stove but leave the whisk in the white sauce.

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To prepare the individual servings, divide the salt cod and potato mixture between four bowls and gently add the poached egg. Give the white sauce a whisk, add a generous amount, then top with some capers.