Sunday, April 4, 2010

Sundays with Sparky - Vegetable-dyed, marbled eggs

One of the advantages to being a food-crazed household is that you're often doing two or three food-related things at the same time.  Today, Sparky was watching his new-found hero, Omar Cantu - mad scientist chef - on Discovery Channel while we waited for our homemade egg dyes to set, slightly-less-mad scientist style.

I'd seen a number of posts around the internet for making your own food-dyed eggs, and in our mac and cheese video, we'd discovered a couple of natural ways to dye our cheese sauce orange.  In the spirit of scientific discovery, I asked Sparky "so, maybe we should use things that stain - what kinds of foods stain your clothes?"  Instantly, he responded:  "Mustard!  Juice!  Beets!"  and off we went.  (I thought long and hard about making Kimchi-dyed eggs; I can't tell you how many shirts I've lost to red kimchi stains)  Just last month, Sparky almost lost a shirt to ballpark mustard, but I'd decided it was better to join it than beat it, and dyed the whole thing yellow with turmeric powder (the natural coloring agent in yellow mustard.)

We collected a number of ingredients from what we had around the kitchen, some that I'd read about and some we decided to experiment with: annatto, turmeric, onion skins, beets, purple cabbage, wasabi powder, and black raspberry puree (sadly, the wasabi powder was a bust; if you come up with a natural green dye, please let me know!) 

First, we prepped each ingredient, chopping or peeling or mixing as needed - Sparky had a lot of fun making the beets "bleed."  We measured how much water it would take to cover a couple eggs in a small container.  We poured the water into a pot, dumped in our coloring ingredient, and simmered it until the water was thoroughly colored, about 15 minutes.  Then we strained each color, poured it into containers, and placed it in the fridge to cool.

I asked Sparky how he thought we should boil the eggs, and he answered logically: "you put some water in a pot, bring it to a boil, and dump in your eggs!"  Of course, it was a trick question - although many people treat their eggs like pasta, I don't - partly to avoid cracking shells, and partly to avoid the dreaded green yolk, which occurs when an egg is overcooked.  We put cold eggs in a pot and covered them with cold water, then brought the water up to a boil.  Once it was at a rolling boil, we covered the pot, turned off the heat, and let it sit for 12 minutes - no more, no less.  After that, you pour off the boiling water and rinse the eggs with cold water until they are completely cooled.  Perfect hardboiled eggs, every time.

To marbelize the eggs, we selected a few and gently cracked them on the table all over until the shells resembled a really, really wrinkly old person ;-)  You really have to be aggressive: don't worry if there are large open gaps in the eggshell, that's what you want.  (This idea is based on Chinese Tea Eggs, which are flavored as well as colored, something to try next year) Then, after rinsing the unbroken eggs with vinegar to etch the shells, we dumped both the cracked eggs and the whole eggs into the containers and left them in the refrigerator overnight.

The colors were really surprising - the yellow egg is, of course, turmeric - but the lovely orange was onion skin, and the blue is purple cabbage!  Beets and raspberries made two shades of pinky-purple, and the annatto was a brownish-yellow.  We had varying degrees of success with the marbled eggs - the beet and cabbage did the best, but turmeric did pretty well as long as the cracks were large enough.  You could dye them two colors if you moved them from one bath to another, but an overnight soak for all the eggs and a post-soak scrubbing of the whole eggshells was crucial to the success of this venture.  Happy Spring!

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