Monday, April 23, 2012

The Egg Will Always Come First

There are too many mediocre breakfast spots in North America that capitalize on a certain little food with great pun potential. Eggspectations. Break an Egg. Et cetera, et cetera. (Eggs cetera?? Oh dear. This is catching on too quickly.)

Such wordplay is a distraction from what might very well be the perfect food: the humble simplicity of the mighty egg. Especially when cooking for one!

In fact, if I have any piece of advice for someone who wants to cook for themselves elegantly, healthfully, and economically, it generally goes like this: put an egg on it.

Eggs are the perfect food for the singleton living and cooking alone. They are easy to portion out (two to star, one to play a supporting role). They are healthy (protein! and don't you know the whole eggs/cholesterol thing is a bit overblown?). They keep well (indeed fresh eggs are always the tastiest, but since I don't have backyard chickens (yet?), I find that eggs last well beyond their carton's expiration date). They are economical (even $5-$6 for a dozen organic cage-free eggs yields a minimum of 6 meals). They are versatile (poached, fried, scrambled, soft boiled, hard boiled, baked, quiches, fritatas, omelets, whisked into brothy soups).

I recently read Simone "Simca" Beck's (co-author of Mastering the Art of French Cooking with Julia Child) autobiography-cum-cookbook, Food and Friends: Recipes and Memories from Simca's Cuisine. Most of the recipes in the book were a little too butter and heavy cream laden for my tastes (oh France), but I was struck and inspired by the elegant place reserved for omelets in her menus.

So I got to thinking of omelets. And of all the things I like to put in them. I often go for the more rustic approach to omelet making, in which I cook, say, some shredded zucchini in a pan first, and then pour my two beaten eggs right on top and then continue to poke the edges and slide the raw egg around the pan until an omelet is formed. Before I flip it, I may grate in some parmesan cheese. Possibly some chopped fresh herbs I have laying around too.

My favorite way to eat scrambled eggs is to pile them on top of a piece of hearty whole grain toast that has been given a good swipe of dijon mustard and a topping of caramelized onions.

I also really like scrambled eggs that have been swirled with a bit of green salsa just before setting. Sprinkle these with some crumbly cheese, top with scallions if you have them, and then load it all on a corn tortilla.

Successfully poaching eggs has been one of my greatest (and simplest) kitchen accomplishments. My method of choice involves cracking the eggs into a small bowl and then lowering said bowl slowly into simmering water that has been fortified with a bit of vinegar.

Poached eggs are awesome over roasted veggies, this braised cabbage, or buttery polenta with caramelized onions and a few toasted walnuts or pecans.

For cheater's pasta carbonara, toss hot pasta with a poached or fried egg whose yolk is still quite runny (or, if you dare, a raw egg!), a pinch of smoked paprika, and plenty of parmesan cheese and fresh cracked black pepper.

Ditto the carbonara method, except instead of pasta et. al., take rice tossed with a bit of soy sauce and any other Asian-type condiment you have in your fridge (chili-garlic sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, etc.). Throw in lots of veggies for good measure.

For a big hippie grain bowl, take a bowl of quinoa (or bulghur, or farro, or wheat berries, etc.), throw in lots of veggies (roasted would be nice), mix with equal parts soy sauce and balsamic vinegar (sounds weird, but trust me on this one), and guess what... top with a poached egg. Garnish with fresh herbs, slices of garlic (roasted if you have it), and some seeds.

Quiches are great make-ahead and packable lunches. Mine tend to be on the less rich and custardy side, with a scant cup of milk (not cream) mixed with 3 beaten eggs and a tablespoon of flour. I throw in whatever vegetables and cheese I have laying around: leafy greens, zucchini, broccoli, bell peppers, and mushrooms are my favorites. Dried herbs like oregano and basil are also perfectly respectable in a quiche.

Lastly, if you are serving eggs to company, try this elegant approach: take a large pan with a lid, fill it with either green peas (if frozen, avoid the cheap kind), chopped spinach or kale, or shredded zucchini. A few cloves of minced garlic too. Get enough veg in there so that it fills the pan about halfway up (really, don't skimp here). Cook until everything's slightly greener/more wilted/etc., then mix in a pat of butter and a pinch of smoked paprika. Make a few wells/indentations in the greenery, and then crack an egg directly into each of these wells. Cover the pan and let the eggs steam from the moisture of the vegetables until the whites are set, about 3-5 minutes. Carefully scoop each egg with its surrounding veg onto a plate, season with salt and pepper, and serve to your highly impressed dinner guests.

... Well. That was fairly comprehensive. I could, actually, go on. But I won't; instead, I'll save you the joy of figuring out your own your favorite new way to eat an egg. There will probably be many.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Bon Apetite and Bon Voyage

A precursory moral: When life moves forward, it's important that your appetite keep up.

Last week I found myself traipsing about in Boston and Philadelphia with my dear friend L and my dad. The purpose of the trip centered on visiting open houses, sitting in on classes, and meeting with program chairs for a few graduate schools that had the good sense to accept me. That's right, this gal is getting her masters on.*
*This September, I will be starting a 3-year dual degree program at Tufts University: an MA in Urban and Environmental Policy/Planning and an MS in Food Policy and Applied Nutrition!

I had been to Boston and Philly before in the capacity of tourist, but this visit had a bit more gravitas to it considering that I was evaluating these cities as potential places to live. Some Very Serious Decisions were in order, but so also was a heck of a lot of good eating.

I'll get excited about a new place if I can get excited about its food. A few years ago, for example, when I was living in Amsterdam, I felt rather ambivalent about visiting Paris (an overly obvious place to be a tourist, I had thought). That is, until I had my first taste of a perfect Parisian bistro omelet and a sampling of those dainty coins of French macarons. I was then sold. Gay Paree, mais oui sil vous plait!

And so, the official Things-We-Ate list!

In Boston (and surrounding areas)...
  • Chaufa (aka Peruvian fried rice) from Alpamayo, an inviting little place in Lee
  • Huge cornbread pancakes at Soundbites, a popular Somerville brunch spot
  • Corn pudding (plus amazing BBQ and beer selection) at Redbones in Somerville
  • Lobster roll and a Sam Adams (yeah New England!) from tourist trap in Gloucester
  • Toscanini's ice cream, brown butter brownie and kulfi flavors
  • Sfogliatelle, a clam shaped Italian pasty filled with ricotta and semolina, from Maria's Bakery in the North End
  • Venezuelan empanadas from Orinoco in Brookline
  • Cocktails, lamb belly, lemon-shrimp dumplings, brussel sprouts, charred udon noodles from Myers + Chang
  • Deeply roasted cauliflower with cojita and smoky sauce, grilled romaine with oxtail ragout and a poached egg, salty mushrooms, butternut squash-based fish stew from Strip T's in Watertown (this was by far the best meal we had)
  • A surprisingly good Indian lunch buffet (dry-fried okra, anyone?) in Wellesley
  • Coffees from George Howell, Diesel Cafe

Somewhere along the road from Boston to Philly... (decidedly not a highlight)
  • Sodium o'clock! Baked beans and a soft pretzel from a rest stop, with wan slices of iceberg lettuce and tomato surreptitiously stuffed into napkins from the Roy Rogers hamburger fixins' bar. This was very unfortunately my best dinner option.

In Philadelphia... (there wasn't less good food in Philadelphia, we were just there for less time)
  • A wonderfully caramelized and custardy canelle from Metropolitan Bakery in Reading Market
  • Gigante beans with greens, zucchini, and a poached egg; Greek wine; mussels in saffron broth from Opa
  • Gelato from Capogiro: chai and unbelievably dark and rich chocolate
Yours truly with sfogliatelle, my expression less about the amazingness of this pastry and more about the sun being in my eyes

After too many years wistfully and woefully thinking about where my life is headed (as my twenty-something peers are wont to do), I'm obviously very excited to be starting on this new chapter. Leaving the city I've called home for the past six years will be difficult, certainly, but such a move affords me the invaluable feelings of promise and new beginnings. In the very least, in moments of upheaval, I have the joy of cooking and feeding myself to ground me. I'm ready, eager, and probably just a little bit hungry.