Tag Archives: eggs

Embracing the spirit of French cooking

I had my first French meal and I never got over it.
~ Julia Child

I remember only a few things about my first trip to France. Being fascinated and enamoured by the French dish and its name – soupe de poisson (fish soup). Discovering the folly of eating at McDonalds in France (never to be repeated). Trying to enjoy the view from the Eiffel tower while the cold wind whipped my hair into a formidable tangle.

Then, I was a child too young to grasp the notion of romance, or the charm of the French spirit and culture. I was cold, and unaccustomed to eating so much dairy, or indeed, what seemed to be very rich food no matter where we went. I focused on the wrong things, like trying to spot signs in English, or getting my parents to buy me a miniature Eiffel Tower to take home. I ate escargot In Lyon without fuss – thanks to my food-loving family – but without the appreciation for the novelty of eating escargot in France which I would now have.

Years later, the magic of France would once again beckon, this time through a friend asking me to join her at the Alliance Française for evening classes. She had recently fallen for a French man. I rolled my eyes but oui, I went along. And twice, after class, we took the train down to a little French restaurant nestled in Little India in Singapore where we ate – I forget what now, except that our meals were unbelievably delicious. As life will have it, mere weeks later, I encountered a French man who – despite my inhibitions – managed to make me lose my head briefly. Alas! My friend had told me it would happen. She had warned me that I would find a French man “irresistible”. No, that will never happen to me, I had said to her, I will vomit if someone is too romantic. Also, it would be such a cliché.

Never be proud. Never say never. Or you’ll have to eat your words one heavy morsel at a time … c’est la vie

I went back to Paris in 2010 with my friend Annisha, after I spent a few days visiting her in London. We were there for a day. Our brief visit was nice but a little less than what we had hoped it would be. Annisha was feeling quite ill, we were so cold we could hardly think, and we were not successful in getting to the places we had hoped to see. The main redeeming moment for me was us, lost and hungry, stumbling upon a small humble hole-in-the-wall shop that turned out to have the most stunning slice of Tarte Aux Pommes.


From my visit in 2010

Here we are in 2017 and my heart aches for some of the things that have taken place and are taking place in beautiful France (not to mention the rest of the world). Yet as I pen this post I know that there are some things which will endure for as long as the French spirit endures. Her timeless beauty, her rich history, her elegance, her decadence, her soul, her charm, her deep connection with the seasons, her rituals, her ability to celebrate the everyday, to name a few …

For some reason France has been on my mind a lot of late, and yesterday, looking at some leftover wine from our dinner party last week, I decided to try making a version of coq au vin. I can hardly describe how good it smells frying sliced white onions and diced carrots in a pan just recently used to fry tiny strips of bacon and brown a few wine-stained chicken pieces. Sadly the finished dish did not turn out as I had hoped, despite the good smells and presence of good wine and a pretty bouquet garni. I had not followed any one recipe for it in particular, but I have definitely learned now that it is not a dish that deals well with indecision or an attempt to shortcut the process. It is a simple dish, but it is not easy … it is not a dish you can make without presence of mind and attention to detail. I have no doubt a well-made coq au vin would make a memorable meal … some time I will try again.

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After spending the afternoon in the kitchen, I asked my husband if he would come with me to visit the Green Bay Street Food market. We went along, it was delightful, and – still in French mode – I could not resist a crêpe with Nutella from the friendly couple running The Fab Truck. Verdict: C’est délicieux!

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This morning I woke up on the wrong side of the bed, having had a series of unsettling dreams. For some reason or other I found myself looking up Julia Child’s recipe for scrambled eggs online. I then went into the kitchen, placed a saucepan on medium-low heat, and slid a generous chunk of butter into the saucepan. While it melted with a pleasing aroma, I beat two eggs quickly in a bowl with a dash of salt and pepper and slid a slice of frozen bread into the toaster. Swirling the butter in the saucepan until it evenly coated the bottom, I poured the eggs in, and cut up some leftover chives I had in the fridge. I stirred the mix with a wooden spoon, watching as the bottom started to cook – at which I added in a dribble of milk and gave it a slow stir again. The slice of toast popped out nicely brown. I put it on a plate with a sprinkle of grated cheese, and stirred the soft egg mixture again till it looked almost done. I took the saucepan off the heat, ladled the egg on to the toast, added the chopped chives over the lot … and found The Cure for Unsatisfactory Sleep.

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… And perhaps gained a little more practical understanding of the spirit of French cooking: taking care and effort, being unafraid, allowing elegance and simplicity to meet in a dish as simple as scrambled eggs.

Bonne journée.

Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.
~ Julia Child

Soft-boiled eggs

Maybe the problem with success is that we don’t take enough time to define it for ourselves.
~ Eric Karjaluto, co-founder of smashLAB

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I find this terribly simple and profound: soft-boiled eggs cracked into a bowl, topped with a mini mountain of toast fragments and too much black pepper.

Sometimes I think I could eat this every day.

Oeuf cocotte

One needs something to believe in, something for which one can have wholehearted enthusiasm.
~ Hannah Senesh

Once upon a time, I thought that making oeuf cocotte was fussy and “much work for little return”. Now, I make them occasionally and each time I am always surprised by how simple they are to prepare, how (deceptively) fancy they look and how comforting they are to eat.

Just chop up some of your favourite veges, herbs, bits of ham or anything you like to eat with eggs (and that will like being in the oven)… sometimes I like to first sear some tomatoes with a splash of balsamic vinegar and a bit of muscovado sugar.

Then dot the bottom of a few ramekins with butter, throw in your veges/ham/whatever, crack an egg on top and crown the lot with some cheese. Place the ramekins in a deep baking dish, and fill the baking dish with hot water till it comes halfway up the side of the ramekins.

Bake them for a few minutes, then serve as breakfast/lunch/a light start to dinner. Easy, huh? I think so too.

The recipe I include below documents the way I made it recently, but you can make delicious variations with ham, bacon, mushrooms… some recipes I have come across also use cream. This is a versatile dish that lends itself well to some experimentation!

    Oeuf cocotte
    Ingredients:
    1/4 onion, diced
    1 clove garlic, smashed and finely chopped
    3 tomatoes, cut into 4-8 small wedges
    Handful of cooking spinach, roughly chopped
    1 large pepper or capsicum
    3 eggs
    1 heaped tbsp feta cheese, diced
    1 tbsp parmesan shreds
    1 tbsp butter
    Olive oil
    1 tsp balsamic vinegar
    1 level tsp brown sugar
    Salt
    Pepper
    Method:
    Preheat oven to 200°C. Boil some water.
    Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil in a skillet set over a medium-high flame. Once the oil is warm, add in the onion – sauté till golden brown and fragrant, then throw in the garlic, capsicum and tomatoes, sugar, and balsamic vinegar. Stir for a minute or two, till you can see the skins on the tomatoes begin to collapse gently.
    Place a pat of butter at the bottom of each ramekin, and add in the spinach, cooked vegetables and feta cubes. Roughly level the surface of the vegetables, then crack an egg into each ramekin. Add a sprinkle of parmesan cheese, and salt and pepper to taste.
    Put the ramekins into a deep baking tray and fill the baking tray with hot water till the water level reaches halfway up the side of the ramekins.
    Place the tray into the oven and bake for 8-10 minutes.
    Yields 3 servings.

Other yummies of late: (1) a particularly delicious chocolate fondue involving, I found out later, mascarpone added to the warm chocolate mix. Mmm! (2) a generous and very tasty chicken sandwich at Willow Glen in Gordonton. (3) my sweet brother’s “brownie cake” (midway between brownie and cake). Cute imagining him in the kitchen, probably looking very serious the whole time. (4) farmers’ market salad leaves. Crunch crunch crunch.

P.S. Happy Waitangi Day!

Photo: eggs and apricots on the bench

The day of the sun is like the day of a king. It is a promenade in the morning, a sitting on the throne at noon, a pageant in the evening.
~ Wallace Stevens

A Spanish omelette, as inspired by Nigel Slater

If you’ve broken the eggs, you should make the omelette.
~ Anthony Eden

In “The Kitchen Diaries” (page 117), Nigel Slater wrote about his version of a Spanish omelette – “lighter and crisper than the traditional one that uses thick slices of potato”, and which incorporates parsley, mint and tarragon.

It sounded delicious, and through some unplanned, beautiful coincidence, I had exactly those herbs in my fridge right as I read this page and found myself hungry. The tarragon was a complimentary gift from the kind man at the farmers’ market, and I had some mint and parsley left over from a dinner last week. I also had potatoes and eggs – whee!

I skipped the flour and broiling my omelette, and replaced six chopped scallions with a clove of garlic, some diced onion and a sprinkle of paprika (to suit what was in my pantry), and had myself a lovely late lunch while it poured outside.

And on that wet note, the lovely summer sun has departed, leaving crazy rain in its place. But not all is dismal: I attended my first rainy barbeque last night, at my friend Cam’s place. The meat was excellent, as was the company, and there was dancing and crazy conversations… the rain shall not take away the joy of summer.

    Spanish omelette
    Inspired by Nigel Slater
    Ingredients:
    2 eggs, beaten
    1 potato
    1 clove garlic, finely chopped
    2 tbsp diced red onion
    paprika
    salt
    pepper
    olive oil
    parsley leaves, chopped
    tarragon leaves, chopped
    mint leaves, chopped
    Method:
    Grate or chop the potato into matchsticks. Heat a splash of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat, then add in the diced onion and fry till fragrant and lightly golden.
    Stir in the garlic, paprika and potato, and sauté for approximately two minutes. Then add in the eggs and scatter the herbs in a single layer over the omelette. Swirl the pan gently so you don’t trap puddles of uncooked egg in the omelette.
    Leave to cook for a few minutes, adjusting the heat if necessary, and flip the omelette if you can manage it (I haven’t quite mastered this). When the eggs are cooked nicely on both sides and the potato pieces are tender, move the omelette carefully on to a plate, add salt and pepper to taste and tuck in.
    Yields one serving.

The pleasures of cooking for one

It’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s de-lovely.
~ Cole Porter

Tonight, I came home rather hungry and with no grand visions of dinner. I found 1/3 of a capsicum in the fridge, and half a box of eggs in the cupboard – so dinner took the form of an experiment: spiced eggs with capsicum, dill & parmesan on toast. A seemingly odd combination of flavours perhaps, but it was yummy and just the thing I needed!

    Ingredients:
    1 tbsp olive oil
    2 eggs
    1/3 capsicum, diced
    1/2 tsp paprika
    1/2 tsp curry powder
    1/2 tsp ground chilli
    sprinkle of dill
    sprinkle of parmesan
    pepper to taste
    2 slices of toast
    Method:
    Heat the olive oil, paprika, curry powder and ground chilli in a non-stick pan over medium heat. Swirl the pan such that the mixture spreads evenly across the base of the pan.
    When the oil is hot, crack the eggs into the pan, and add in the capsicum. Leave it to cook while you prepare the slices of toast.
    Using a spatula, scoop the eggs carefully and arrange them on the slices of toast, adding sprinkles of parmesan, dill and pepper. Eat immediately, preferably with knife and fork, while sitting/standing in your favourite corner of the house.

Mini crêpe bundles

Winter is nature’s way of saying, “Up yours.”
~ Robert Byrne

Inspired by La Tartine Gourmande – recipe adapted and modified (without much success where the crêpes are concerned, unfortunately) to lessen the quantity of batter produced and to suit what was in my kitchen cupboards. Dried coriander and parsley does work. Using only all-purpose flour and skipping the buckwheat flour, and scaling the amount of ingredients directly: not too good.

For the filling, I used broccoli, cauliflower, red capsicum, normal cheese, parmesan, dried tarragon, egg, salt and pepper.

Again, ramekins came to the rescue.

The morning is long when you can’t sit up or lie down without coughing. It makes me want to throw plates! Only half a day of work though to get through today, and then I fly up to Auckland tonight for the long weekend… Have a super Thursday!