Posts Tagged ‘eggs’


As I’ve said, I’m working on Chapter 2 of my book Domestic Intelligence, a book about changing recipes to fit your life.  Chapter 2 is How To Make a Recipe Bigger or Smaller.  I picture most chapters as having about a dozen recipes treated in detail.  Sometimes I have to search and search for a recipe to illustrate a strategy, but sometimes, blessedly, a recipe finds me.  When we chose our cookbook of the month for May, Sonja Lee’s Sauce, I didn’t realize that one of its recipes would be perfect for chapter 2.  Imagine my delight.

The recipe is for hollandaise, a classic French sauce, lemon-flavored butter custard, perhaps best known as the sauce on Eggs Benedict.  I need to find out what the connection is to the Netherlands; most of the things we call Dutch in English are insults, dating from the great trade rivalries of the 18th and 19th centuries.  And it would also be nice to know why those eggs are called Benedict.

But all that is by the by.  What’s important about the recipe for chapter 2 is that it illustrates the strategy “Make it bigger to make it easier.”

Here are the ingredients for Sonja’s hollandaise:

2/3 cup butter
2 eggyolks
juice of 1/4 lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper

And here’s what she wants you to do (in my words, not hers):

Take two saucepans, A and B.  Melt the butter in saucepan A, warm the eggyolks in saucepan B.  With a whisk, beat the yolks in saucepan B, all the while keeping the eggs from overcooking by moving saucepan B over the burner and then away, over and then away.  Keep an eye on saucepan A to be sure the butter doesn’t burn.

When the yolks have absorbed enough air to change color from eggy yellow to a pale lemon color, remove both saucepan B and saucepan A from the stove.  Quickly, before they have a chance to cool off, pour the melted butter from saucepan A in a steady, thin stream into the yolks in saucepan B, whisking like crazy all the while.

When you’ve used up all the butter, whisk the lemon juice, salt, and white pepper into the sauce.  Voila, hollandaise.

If that way of making hollandaise sounds hard to you, believe me, it is hard.  I used to make hollandaise that way a zillion years ago, before I owned a blender.  As soon as I had a little mechanical friend to help me, I started making hollandaise like this:

Put the yolks in the blender, turn it on high, and beat air into the yolks.  Meanwhile, melt the butter on the stove.  When it has just melted, take the little inner cap off the blender.  With the blender running, either pour in the hot butter in a thin, steady stream or spoon it in a spoonful at a time.

Again, when you’ve used up all the butter, whisk the lemon juice, salt, and white pepper into the sauce.  Again, hollandaise.  Hollandaise that’s just as good, just as authentic, and dead easy.

There’s only one problem about making the hollandaise the easy way with Sonja’s ingredient list:  It won’t work.  Or rather, it won’t work in my kitchen (it might in yours).  It won’t work because my blender won’t beat only two yolks.  They’ll just lie there under the reach of the blades, and when I pour the butter in it will make scrambled eggs.  Delicious scrambled eggs, but not what I’m looking for.

What do I need to do?  Make it bigger to make it easier.

I happen to know that my blender will blend three yolks just fine.  (To check yours, sacrifice a few yolks; then you’ll know for all time how many you need.)  Two yolks plus half of two yolks (one yolk) equals three yolks.  Now do the same thing to the butter.  Two-thirds of a cup plus half of two-thirds of a cup (one third of a cup) equals one cup.

Or, to put it more succinctly, but at the risk of scaring away the mathphobic, multiply each of the main ingredients by 1.5:

2/3 cup butter x 1.5 = 1 cup of butter
2 eggyolks      x 1.5 = 3 eggyolks

The minor ingredients, the lemon juice, salt, and pepper, I’m going to be adding to taste anyway, so I don’t bother to multiply them by anything.

Your blender may be different.  Two yolks might work fine, or you might need four yolks, in which case you’ll need a cup and a third of butter.  (Two times two-thirds of a cup of butter is four-thirds of a cup, or a cup and a third.  A third of a cup of butter is an awkward measurement; call it five Tablespoons.)

Great.  Now I have a very easy recipe and more hollandaise than I really wanted.  I guess properly the second half of the story goes in chapter 5, how to make a recipe cheaper, where we talk about never wasting anything, but I don’t expect to be working on that chapter till 2012, so I’ll bring you hollandaise part 2 as soon as I figure it out.

Stay tuned.


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Last Night at MB’s


Last night I followed in the great American tradition of the day-after-Easter-dinner … I made egg salad sandwiches.  Oh so easy, and OH SO delicious.

I peeled some of our beautifully dyed Easter eggs and broke them up with a fork.  I finely diced half an onion and put it into the bowl, then mixed in a couple tablespoons of mayonnaise, about a tablespoon of mustard, and salt and pepper to taste.  I mixed it all up and then served it on whole wheat bread with turkey bacon.

M-C: Here’s a book that every egg-lover will enjoy: Marie Simmons’s The Good Egg: More than 200 Fresh Approaches from Soup to Dessert (Houghton Mifflin, 2000).  Marie is one of those solid cookbook writers who for some reason never make it into the pantheon of Food Network or Bravo fame but who go on producing one dependable book after another for years, winning James Beard awards and loyal readers, among whom I count myself.

Her chapter on egg salad in The Good Egg is typical.  First a run-down on “normal” egg salad, the kind that comes on deli egg salad sandwiches, and all the ways to ring changes on it: slicing the eggs, mashing them, chopping them coarse or fine; home-made or store-bought mayo, and all kinds of flavorings for it; and more than a dozen ingredients to add, like grated onion, chopped dill pickle, and chervil.

But wait.  That’s just the beginning.  Then come 21 full recipes for egg salads unlike deli egg salad.  Potato, bacon, and egg salad with wilted spinach; rice, green bean, and egg salad; chicken and egg salad with curry mayo and toasted hazelnuts.  And that’s just one of fourteen chapters.

What’s the difference between her cookbooks and Ina Garten’s?

Ina would try for the one egg salad that everybody in the whole world will enjoy.  In fact, she gives us that very egg salad in Barefoot Contessa at Home, Clarkson Potter, 2006 pp. 40-41.  Eggs, mayo, grainy mustard, dill, salt, pepper.  And that’s it.  If she finds another egg salad that she likes — and that everyone else in the whole world will like — she’ll tell us about it in another book.  Ina’s like Zoloft for anxious cooks.  Stay calm.  Don’t worry.  Just do exactly as I say and everything will be fine.

Marie, on the other hand, is like caffeine for exuberant cooks.  Wow!  Look at this!  This is great!  Don’t like this?  Then how about that?  Her books are capacious and crowded with ideas and real writing.  Her food is the everyday food I like to cook for myself.  She has done several books for Williams-Sonoma, and those I tend not to like because her personality gets smoothed down beyond recognition.  But by all means check out her website, which is scrappy and funny and chock-full of generous, jolly advice and recipes.  I think you’ll like her.

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Egg-Poaching Kit


Many a cook prefers an absolutely minimalist batterie de cuisine, kitchen tools consisting of a chef’s knife and stropping stone, one 3-quart Windsor pan with perhaps a lid, and an assortment of sheet pans, half and whole.

I am not that cook.

Not only do I have a fabulous and gigantic collection of tools and pots and gadgets and machines, some of them going back for more than 40 years, I am perfectly willing to have implements that serve to make only one dish, as long as it’s a dish I like well.

Take the case of my egg-poaching kit: a pan, its lid, a bunch of glass custard cups, a plastic slotted skimmer, 4 small sieves, and some cloth towels.

The pan is a shallow nonstick 4-quart, 3.5″ high and 11″ in diameter.  It was from the very first generation of nonsticks available in the U.S., and the only nonstick pan I kept from that era.  Because the pan never needed to be scraped or scrubbed, the stickproof surface didn’t fail as it did in all my other nonstick pans.  (Margaret has just recently convinced me to give modern nonstick pans a try.  I now have two, and they’re holding up brilliantly.)  The nonstick surface serves an important purpose in poaching an egg, which may want to stick to the bottom of a poaching pan and then split when you try to remove it.

The skimmer is plastic, so it won’t scratch the nonstick, and broad, for lifting a whole poached egg gently.

The poached egg then goes into one of the small sieves, which is resting on a small pile of cloth towels.  The towels wick the excess water away from the egg.  The sieve makes a pattern on the eggwhite, but it’s not unattractive.

I fill the pan with 3 quarts of water and add 2 Tablespoons of salt.  Eight or ten years ago I started adding a teaspoon of white vinegar to the egg-poaching water, and it does seem to help the whites firm up without making the eggs taste vinegary.  I put the lid on the pan to make the water come up to a rolling boil as fast as possible.

Meanwhile, I break 4 eggs, each into its own glass custard cup.  If I mess up and break a yolk, I can set that egg aside and crack another in a different custard cup.

When the water is roiling and boiling, I quickly and gently slide the eggs into the water, one at 12 o’clock, one at 3, one at 6, one at 9.  I don’t let the water boil again, but keep it right below a simmer.  I judge doneness by looking at the egg sac around the yolk of the first egg I put in the water; as soon as it starts to turn white just the tiniest bit, I scoop the whole egg out with my skimmer and place it gently in its sieve.  Numbers 2, 3, and 4 follow in quick succession.

I never make more than four poached eggs at once.  Two for Mark, two for me.  If I need more eggs for company, I make fried eggs.  Or baked eggs.  Or shirred eggs, which are eggs baked on a base such as sour cream.

I also use the pan for making sweet-milk cocoa, and I also use the custard cups for holding prepped ingredients.  But I would hang onto them and treasure them for poaching eggs even if that were the only service they performed.

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Last Night at M-C’s


pan-finished eggs
roasted red bell peppers
roasted zucchini spears
parsley salad

pan-finished eggs

Three times now I have set out to make the Pan-Crisped Deviled Eggs on French Lettuces from How To Eat Supper (p. 93), and three times I have decided to make something similar that I want much, much more.  Here is what it is that I want:

I start by cooking a 9-minute egg.  This is similar to a mollet egg but firmer.  The yolk is still brilliant yellow, but no longer runny.  Here’s pretty much what I wrote about mollet eggs, with the time changed from 6 minutes to 9 minutes:

1. Choose a pot with a lid into which your eggs will fit comfortably.  Take the eggs out of the refrigerator, put them in the pot, and put in enough cold tap water to cover them, but not more.

2. If the eggs float (that means they’re old), switch plans and make scrambled eggs.

Otherwise, set your kitchen timer to 9 minutes but don’t start it, get a good book, and stand over the stove.

3. Bring the water to a full boil. The very second it reaches the boil, turn the flame off, clap the lid on the pot, and start your timer, all in a fraction of a second, one-two-three.

4. Now you don’t need to stand over the pot, but don’t stray far.

5. Instantly when the timer goes off, pour the hot water away and run cold tap water over the eggs till they’re cool to the touch.

OK, now you have your 9-minute eggs.

6. Crack them thoroughly, all over, and then remove the cracked shells underwater, letting the water help you ease the shells off.

7. Cut the eggs in half longwise (as for deviled eggs).

8. Film the bottom of a frying pan with olive oil and heat it quite hot

9. Ease each half egg cut side down into the olive oil, peek to see whether it has browned ever so slightly, ease it cut side up onto a plate.  (For the easing motion I use tongs in my dominant hand and a pancake turner, a.k.a. spatula, in my helper hand.)  It’s OK to do more than one half egg at a time.

10. Salt, cayenne pepper, a squeeze of lemon juice.

Kasper & Swift say they got the idea for the Pan-Crisped Deviled Eggs from Jacques Pépin’s The Apprentice; it’s probably delicious, but I probably will never know.

And see, I don’t always eat noodles when I’m home alone.


MB:  The large white hat that a chef wears is called a toque and has 100 pleats in it to represent the 100 ways that an egg is traditionally cooked.  If I had a toque it would immediately be stolen by my son, worn until he was tired of it, and then left on the floor until it was trampled to death.

That’s actually a pretty good analogy for how I deal with eggs.  See, I know there are 100 ways to prepare a perfect, beautiful, interesting egg, but inevitably I always end up making scrambled eggs with cheddar cheese and broccoli.  It’s like the ultimate happy-making comfort food and I will never get tired of it.

So really, you can have your toque.  I’ll take my eggs scrambled.

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Last Night at MB’s


In my search for something quick and easy to make for dinner last night I came across How To Eat Supper‘s recipe for luxury eggs, which I couldn’t resist.  I had almost all the ingredients in the kitchen already, so it seemed like a perfect fit.

Luxury eggs, in this recipe, are eggs mixed with cream and cream cheese, so that the final product is super luxuriously, ultra-creamy scrambled eggs.  The recipe also called for scallions and some fresh herbs to be mixed in, but I didn’t have those on hand so didn’t worry about adding them.

This recipe was obviously easy to make.  I mean, it’s scrambled eggs … I’ve been cooking scrambled eggs since I was four or something.  There was nothing complicated about it, nothing new-fangled or ground-breaking, no incredible techniques I didn’t know how to do.  Really, it was just scrambled eggs.

And the result was quite good, though I’m pretty sure it won’t be replacing my regular scrambled eggs (which involve massive quantities of sharp cheddar or gruyere or both).  I thought the most interesting part was that for all that these eggs were as heavy as gold calorically, they had a surprisingly light texture.  I like my eggs to be runny, so the texture of them worked for me quite well.  But J, who likes his eggs cooked harder than I do, thought that the texture of these eggs was too much like egg salad for him.  Maybe if I had the herbs to add he would have thought differently, but he says he doesn’t think so.

So I guess all in all this was a worthwhile scrambled eggs experiment.  At the very least now I know how much I like the way I normally make eggs!

M-C: I love eggs, and I’ve been very impressed by the egg recipes in HTES.  A sweet little book about eggs is Gayle Pirie and John Clark’s Country Egg, City Egg (Artisan, 2000).  Pirie & Clark were for many years responsible for brunch at San Francisco’s Zuni Cafe, a favorite restaurant of Margaret’s and mine.  After general words of wisdom on omelets, poached eggs, scrambled eggs, and hard-cooked eggs, they begin the specific recipes with a jam omelet — yes!  Let us not forget, in all our sophistication, the pleasures of a simple jam omelet.

Some of their recipes are classics, freshly thought out and well explained.  Take for instance their rendering of the Basque dish called pipérade, a mixture of cooked onions and sweet peppers and tomatoes with eggs swirled into them and lightly cooked.  It’s a dish I’ve probably made a hundred times (starting from Elizabeth David’s version in French Country Cooking, Penguin, 1959, pp. 76-77).  But it’s never occurred to me to mix sweet red and sweet green peppers — David has us using all one or all the other.  Pirie & Clark omit the onions.  They omit the onions!  I’ve got to try this.

Other recipes are their own inventions, like a watercress and hard-cooked egg “salsa” to serve with fish or meat or vegetables; eggs baked in mashed potatoes; or a recipe for eggs first poached, then coated with crumbs and deep-fried.  Heady stuff.  Remember these guys are restaurant cooks.  Some of their recipes are for execution; others are to read and admire.

Rollin McGrail’s illustrations are silly and dear.  Nine out of ten of all egg recipes are fast; six out of ten are easy; many serve one or two; this is a good collection to have on hand.

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