Food & Drink

Personal chef creates three sumptuous, stacked dishes

We asked Atlanta personal chef Mark Alba to come up with breakfast recipes that would match the wow factor of a fine dining brunch menu.

Alba's resume includes executive chef positions at Spice, Eno and Paces 88. Nowadays, though, he's doing the cooking in home kitchens all over the Atlanta area. The owner of Remarkble Meals (www.remarkablemeals.com) specializes in customized meal services for busy families, as well as special event cocktail and dinner parties, wine and cheese tastings, and cooking classes.

"I pretty much do anything and everything," Alba said. "When I submit a menu to someone, it's always up for revision, according to their likes and dislikes. I want to make the kind of food they want."

Alba grew up in Louisiana, and he often cooks for his family when he's home in Baton Rouge.

"My mom is my toughest critic, for sure," Alba said with a laugh. "The last time I did a dinner party for my family, my mom was looking over my shoulder the whole time.

"As a chef, when you apply for a job at a restaurant, there's a cooking test and you do a tasting. Being in my mom's kitchen is a much harder test. But then, when she sits down for dinner with her guests, she loves everything, and she's very proud of all my accomplishments."

For a trio of breakfast-meets-brunch recipes, Alba said he tried to break away from the mainstream but still incorporate classic combinations. He also wanted to make sure each dish would be pleasing to the eye.

"The way I cook, things are always composed," Alba said. "It doesn't mean everything needs to be stacked, but there's always a reason behind plating something. There's an artistic mindset. When I write a menu, I'm considering the presentation."

In addition to blueberry buttermilk pancakes and a seafood scramble, Alba created a Southern-style take on eggs Benedict, with fried green tomato, pimento cheese, smoked bacon and chive hollandaise, that's a study in flavors, textures and contemporary presentation.

"All those ingredients go together," Alba said. "They are part of our heritage, and I thought it would be fun to put them all on the same plate."

SOUTHERN-STYLE EGGS BENEDICT WITH FRIED GREEN TOMATO, PIMENTO CHEESE, SMOKED BACON AND CHIVE HOLLANDAISE

Hands on: 40 minutes

Total time: 40 minutes

Serves: 4

A spin on the classic brunch dish, bringing together some of the South's most popular ingredients on one plate. 8 strips applewood smoked bacon For the fried green tomatoes:

Canola oil for frying

8 slices green tomato, sliced 1/4-inch thick

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

½ cup all-purpose flour

2 cups buttermilk

2 cups yellow cornmeal

For the pimento cheese:

3 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

½ cup mayonnaise

3 tablespoons pimentos, finely diced

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

For the eggs:

Water

2 tablespoons white distilled vinegar

4 whole eggs

For the hollandaise: sauce

3 egg yolks

1 teaspoon water

3/4 cup clarified butter, kept warm

½ teaspoon kosher salt

2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon chives, finely minced

In a large skillet, fry bacon until crispy. Set aside.

To make the fried green tomatoes: In a deep fryer or deep saucepan, preheat oil to 350 degrees. Season tomatoes on both sides with salt and pepper. Place all-purpose flour in a shallow dish. In another dish, add the buttermilk. In another dish, add the cornmeal. Dredge tomatoes through the flour, then the buttermilk and then through the cornmeal. Working in batches, add dredged tomato slices to the fryer a few at a time, so they cook evenly, about 2 to 3 minutes. Drain on paper towels and set aside.

To make the pimento cheese: Using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese until smooth and fluffy. Add the cheddar cheese, mayonnaise and pimentos and beat until well blended. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To make the poached eggs: In a 10-inch, nonstick skillet, pour enough water to measure no less than 1½ inches, place over high heat, and bring to 190 degrees. Add the vinegar. Crack each egg into a custard cup and gently lower each egg into the water. Cook for 4½ minutes, adjusting the heat to maintain the temperature. Remove the eggs with a slotted spoon, one at a time, to a tea towel-lined plate.

To make the hollandaise sauce: In a large saucepan, pour 1 inch water into it and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Once simmering, reduce the heat to low. In a medium mixing bowl, add yolks and 1 teaspoon water and whisk until mixture lightens in color, about 1 to 2 minutes. Place the mixing bowl with the yolks over the saucepan of simmering water and whisk constantly for 3 to 5 minutes, or until there is a clear line that is drawn in the mixture when you pull your whisk through, or the mixture coats the back of a spoon.

Gradually add the warm clarified butter while whisking vigorously until all of the butter is incorporated. Add salt, lemon juice, cayenne pepper and chives. Reserve to the side in a warm place.

To serve: On each serving plate, place 2 slices of fried green tomatoes, topped with 2 slices of crispy bacon strips, followed by a spoonful of pimento cheese. Gently place 1 poached egg on top and finish with a spoonful of the chive hollandaise.

BLUEBERRY BUTTERMILK PANCAKES With Granola and Maple Syrup

Hands on: 30 minutes

Total time: 1 hour, 35 minutes

Serves: 4

This pancake recipe has great textural variation between the fluffy airiness of the pancakes and the crispy crunch of the homemade granola. The kids are sure to love them. The granola can be made in advance and stored in an airtight container to save time. You'll have plenty of leftovers for more breakfast treats.

For the granola:

3 cups rolled oats

1 cup sliced almonds

1 cup cashews, lightly crushed

3/4 cup shaved coconut, unsweetened

1/4 cup dark brown sugar

1/4 cup tupelo honey

1/8 cup vegetable oil

1 cup raisins

1 cup dried cranberries

For the pancakes:

2 whole eggs, separated

2 cups buttermilk

4 tablespoons butter, melted

6 cups all-purpose flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

3 teaspoons baking powder

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

"Quick release" canned pan spray

2 cups blueberries

For the whipped cream:

1 cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons powdered 10x sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Maple syrup

To make the granola: Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine oats, almonds, cashews, coconut and brown sugar.

In a separate small bowl, combine honey and oil. Combine both mixtures and pour onto 2 sheet pans. Bake for 1 hour, 15 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes until granola is a light golden brown.

Remove from oven and transfer to a large bowl. While still warm, add raisins and cranberries and mix thoroughly.

To make the pancakes: Heat an electric griddle or frying pan to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, whisk together egg whites and buttermilk. In another bowl, whisk yolks with the melted butter.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the egg white mixture with the egg yolk mixture and whisk together until thoroughly combined.

In a large mixing bowl, combine and mix thoroughly the flour, baking soda, baking powder, sugar and salt. Pour the liquid ingredients on top of the dry pancake mix. Using a whisk, mix the batter just enough to bring it together. Don't try to work all the lumps out.

Check to see that the griddle is hot by placing a few drops of water on it. The griddle is ready if the water dances across the surface.

Lightly spray the griddle with "quick release" pan coating. Gently ladle the pancake batter onto the griddle and sprinkle on blueberries. When bubbles begin to set around the edges of the pancake and the griddle side of the cake is golden, gently flip the pancakes. Continue to cook 2 to 3 minutes or until the pancake is set.

Remove to a towel-lined baking sheet and cover with a towel. Hold in a warm place.

For the whipped cream: In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the cream. When it starts to thicken, add sugar and vanilla. Continue to whip until it forms stiff peaks.

To serve: On each serving plate, place 3 pancakes in the center. Top with a dollop of whipped cream. Sprinkle granola on top and finish with a drizzle of maple syrup.

SMOKED SALMON AND CRAB SCRAMBLE WITH CRISPY POTATO CAKE, PICO DE GALLO AND DILL CREME FRAICHE

Hands on: 40 minutes

Total time: 40 minutes

Serves: 4

Basic scrambled eggs are set off by seafood on a warm, shredded potato cake. The pico de gallo adds crisp, clean acidity finished with a tangy and velvety smooth cream sauce.

For the pico de gallo:

1 ½ cups tomatoes, seeded and finely diced

1/4 cup red onion, finely diced

1 jalapeno, seeded and finely diced

2 limes, juiced

2 tablespoons cilantro leaves, finely chopped

½ firm avocado, peeled, seeded and diced

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the potato cakes:

2 tablespoons chives, finely chopped

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 whole eggs, beaten

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 pound Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and shredded or julienned

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

For the dill creme fraiche:

½ cup creme fraiche

½ bunch fresh dill, coarsely chopped

For the eggs:

8 whole eggs, beaten

1/4 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1/4 pound smoked salmon, thinly sliced and coarsely chopped

1/4 pound fresh jumbo lump crabmeat

To make the pico de gallo: In a medium bowl, combine tomatoes, red onion, jalapeno, limes, cilantro and avocado. Season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

To make the potato cakes: In a large bowl, add chives, salt, pepper, eggs and flour, and mix thoroughly. Fold the potato into the egg mixture until fully incorporated.

In a small nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon each of butter and oil over medium heat until foam subsides. Add a small pile of the potato mixture to the skillet. Flatten only very slightly to give base for scrambled eggs to sit upon. Cook the potato cake over moderate heat, turning once. Cook until golden and crisp, about 7 minutes per side. Drain on a paper towel.

To make the dill creme fraiche: In a medium mixing bowl, mix creme fraiche and dill until thoroughly combined.

To make the scrambled eggs: Crack eggs into a medium mixing bowl. Whisk and add cream. Add the parsley and season mixture with salt and pepper.

Preheat a large, nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add oil, followed by the eggs. Scramble eggs with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula.

Do not cook eggs dry. When the eggs have come together but remain wet, stir in the chopped salmon and crabmeat and remove from heat.

To serve: On each plate, place a potato cake in the center. Top with a portion of scrambled eggs. Place the pico de gallo around the eggs and finish with the dill creme fraiche.

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