A 1976 graduate of Harvard University, Ann Cashion continued to pursue doctoral work in English literature at Stanford University before devoting herself to culinary work. For the past twenty-three years, Ann has worked in restaurants both here and abroad. She began her career in the San Francisco Bay Area before apprenticing at Francesco Ricchi's trattoria near Florence, Italy. She has opened several restaurants, including Austin Grill, Jaleo, and Cashion's Eat Place in Washington, D.C., where she serves as executive chef. With her partner John Fulchino, Ann opened Johnny's Half Shell on Dupont Circle in 1999.
When I was developing the brunch menu for a new Tex-Mex restaurant here in D.C., my mother came for a visit from our family home in Mississippi. It was a weekend, I was under so much pressure to design this new menu, and I neglected her the whole time. I felt awful about this. She planned to drop by the restaurant on Sunday morning before heading to the airport. And that morning I woke with a completely realized food vision in my head: how I could please my mother and also create the centerpiece for this brunch menu.
When my mother arrived, I served her a quesadilla filled with Canadian bacon, topped with two poached eggs, and covered with a hollandaise enlivened with chopped jalapeño and cilantro. She was the first person ever to eat what came to be the restaurant's signature brunch item. She was just so pleased. It was a moment of resolution and peace, a still moment. And the dish has stayed and stayed on our menu.
When people ask how I created that dish, I tell them, "I dreamed it." But there is more to the story.
When I was in high school, my mother took us to New York City to visit my Uncle Joe. This was a very big deal; I'd never been outside of the South really. And Manhattan was so much to take in. We ate out every night, and I saw a world of cuisine there that was so broad and deep. (I mean Jackson, Mississippi, didn't have ethnic restaurants.) We went to Luchow's, the first German food I'd ever had. Then a Japanese restaurant and an Armenian restaurant and a beautiful Middle Eastern restaurant. I went to the Metropolitan Museum and MOMA, and I was utterly blown away by the artwork; I took Polaroid snapshots of my favorite works of art. (I think I still have them.)
And then one evening I remember sitting in Uncle Joe's apartment and seeing Neil Armstrong hop out of the spaceship and walk on the moon. A man was walking on the moon! That astonishing walk was the symbol of my own voyage to New York: I was walking on a whole new world. Our last meal in Manhattan was at the Edwardian Room in the Plaza Hotel. The room was so grand, we were dressed up, and it felt like a holiday, like Easter. I ordered Eggs Benedict for the first time. I was delirious with pleasure. Even the eggs were so dramatically poached, with a whorl of white at the peak from being lowered into the center of swirling, boiling water.
Back in Jackson, I insisted my mother learn to prepare Eggs Benedict (even without the fancy swirl). And she did just that: she was an accomplished cook, since we had all our meals at home. Hers was basic cooking, and sauces certainly weren't her style. And yet she taught herself to make an excellent hollandaise for this dish. It didn't take her long, and she got such a charge out of mastering the suspension of oil in the yolks. Then, for years after that, she made us Eggs Benedict after Sunday Church.
And so, twenty-five years later, in a quiet moment before opening the restaurant, I was able to return a little of the gift my mother had given me.
1/2 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese
1/4 cup sour cream
8 small flour tortillas
12 slices Canadian bacon
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) clarified butter
8 large eggs
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
Pinch of salt
1 recipe Southwestern Hollandaise
1. Mix the cheese and sour cream together to form a paste. Spread a thin layer of the mixture on each tortilla. Place 3 slices of bacon on 4 of the tortillas and top with the other prepared tortillas.
2. Heat a heavy sauté pan over medium-high heat and add 1 tablespoon clarified butter. Slide 1 quesadilla into the skillet and cook each side for 2 to 3 minutes or until golden brown. Repeat the process with the remaining 3, placing them on a tray and setting in a warm oven.
3. Boil water in a large saucepan. Gently place the eggs (in the shells) in the boiling water for a count of 30 seconds. Remove the eggs from the water (this precooking helps the egg maintain the shape while being poached.
4. Bring 6 cups of water to a boil in a deep 10-inch skillet. Lower the heat and bring to a simmer. Add the vinegar and salt. Crack each egg and gently release it into the pan. Spoon water over the eggs to keep them covered. Cook for 1 to 1-1/2 minutes. (Alternately, cover the pot as soon as the eggs are placed in the simmering water and remove the pan from the heat, allowing the eggs to sit for 4 to 5 minutes before removing them with a slotted spoon.)
*Arrange the quesadillas on warm plates. Place 2 eggs on top. Stir the jalapeño peppers and cilantro into the hollandaise and spoon over the eggs.
Makes about 1 cup
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3 large egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 jalapeño peppers, minced
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
1. To make the sauce, melt the butter in a small saucepan and keep warm.
2. In a small saucepan, reduce the white wine to 1 tablespoon and combine with the lemon juice.
3. Whisk the egg yolks and salt together. Add the wine and lemon juice and combine well.
4. Beat the egg mixture over low heat or in a double broiler until thickened. Gradually whisk in the melted butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, mixing well after each addition. Cover the top of the sauce with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming. Keep the sauce warm over a bath of hot water. Just before serving, add the jalapeño peppers and cilantro.
Cooking from the Heart
100 Great American Chefs Share Recipes They Cherish
A Share Our Strength Book to Fight Hunger
written, with an introduction, by Michael J. Rosen
Foreword by Richard Russo
US $29.95 / $44.95 CAN
Hardcover / 306 pages
Recipe reprinted by permission.
This page created October 2003
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