How do you like your eggs in the morning?…I like mine with a kiss.
~Dean Martin

I have ever been a morning person. Admittedly, being pert, even ebullient, alertness at daybreak has not always endeared me to bedmates. Yet, somehow with all that solitary sunrise time on my hands, I don’t dine in the morning. Coffee and laptop newspapers are the staples. Not until lunch rolls around do my buds tend to rouse. Despite my dawn start, in the evening I often paradoxically morph into a night owl. Self imposed sleep deprivation, sometimes with a positive bend and occasionally pernicious.   Sort of a lark & owl dyadic discordance, but I tend to play both roles — perhaps to my chagrin though.

The first meal of the day, the English word “breakfast” is a verbal fusion of break + fast. A meal that ends the nightly fast. The benefits of breakfast have been ever heralded by nutritionists. For a warped example, Michael Phelps begins his 12,000 calorie daily quest with three fried egg sandwiches laden with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, fried onions and mayonnaise. He follows that elfin opener with two hefty cups of coffee, a five egg omelet, an ample bowl of grits, and three slices of French toast dusted with powdered sugar. Not to be forgotten is the finish of three large chocolate chip pancakes. One nut up, carbo loaded meal to start a day…that is, if you are a finely honed athlete who ritualistically spends his days performing route compulsion in a pool.

Now, transport your mind across the pond for something more to my morning liking. Le petit déjeuner, translated as “small lunch,” is a light, unhurried affair eaten while seated — not walking, standing, commuting or driving. For the français moyen, breakfast consists of sliced fresh artisanal bread, such as a baguette, with butter and honey or jam* (aka une tartine), and occasionally a croissant or pain au chocolat. Add a cup or two of espresso, dark coffee or black tea, perhaps a small cup of yogurt or fruit and, of course, that everloving sweet kiss. Unlike in the states, hams, eggs, omelets and other savories are reserved for lunch or dinner. So, if you desire a bulky meal or cornucopian brunch to start your day, you’d best head toward Calais and board the Chunnel.

So, suffice it to say, these blissful bottoms have a lunch or dinner post time.

ARTICHOKE HEARTS WITH DUXELLES, POACHED EGGS & BEARNAISE

Artichoke Hearts
2 fresh lemons, halved
4 artichokes
3 T extra virgin olive oil

4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1/3 C fresh lemon juice
1/3 C chicken broth
1/2 t sea salt
Freshly ground black or white pepper

Fill a large bowl about two thirds of the way with cold water. Squeeze the juice of the halved lemons into the water to acidify. Working with one artichoke at a time, cut the stem off the base of the artichoke. Then, peel back and snap off the first 1 or 2 layers of leaves. Cut off the top third of the artichoke. Starting at the base, peel back and snap off the tough outer leaves until you reach the pale green inner leaves.
Cut off the uppermost part again, and trim around the base to make a smooth surface. The choke will be removed after cooking. When done with each, drop into the lemon water. When completed, drain and pat dry.

In a heavy, large sauté pan heat the olive oil over medium high. Add the smashed garlic cloves and saute until lightly golden. Discard the garlic. Then add the artichokes and sauté until just lightly golden. Increase the heat to high, add the lemon juice and deglaze the pan. Add the broth, salt and pepper. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until tender when pierced with a fork, about 20 minutes. Shortly before using them, scoop out the choke with a spoon, so a smooth, curved cup is formed.

Duxelles
5 C mushrooms, cleaned and finely minced
1-2 small shallots, peeled and finely minced
3 T unsalted butter

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

In a large sauté pan over a moderate heat, melt the butter and add the shallots. Sweat the shallots for about 5 minutes in the butter until soft and tender.

Add the finely minced mushrooms, a pinch of salt and several grinds of black pepper. Stirring occasionally, cook over moderate heat until the mushrooms throw off their liquid and then reabsorb it, leaving no liquid in the pan. It may be necessary to add additional butter, and care must be taken that they do not get crisp. They must remain soft. This process can take up to 20 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning.

When done the mushrooms will resemble a dark brown, mealy, almost paste-like texture. The quantity will also have been reduced by about half.

Bearnaise
1/4 C white wine vinegar
1/4 C dry white wine
1 T minced shallots
1 t dried tarragon
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

3 large egg yolks
8-10 T unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons minced fresh tarragon

In a medium heavy saucepan combine wine vinegar, wine, shallots, and dried tarragon and simmer over moderate heat until reduced to 2 tablespoons. Cool and strain through a fine sieve.

In an ovenproof bowl whisk the egg yolks until they become thick and sticky. Whisk in the reduced vinegar mixture, salt and pepper. Place the bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Whisk until mixture is warm, about 2 minutes. The yolk mixture should be thickened enough so you can see the bottom of the pan between strokes.

While whisking the yolk mixture gradually pour in the melted butter, a tablespoon or so at a time whisking thoroughly to incorporate before adding more butter. As the mixture begins to thicken and become creamy, the butter can be added more rapidly.

Season to taste with chopped tarragon, salt and pepper. To keep the sauce warm, set the bowl over lukewarm water.

Poached Eggs
4 large fresh eggs
1 T white wine vinegar

Fill a large, heavy skillet deep enough to cover the eggs with water. Bring to a simmer, and add the white wine vinegar. Crack each egg into a shallow bowl or saucer to assure they are not broken. Then, using a slotted spoon, spin the boiling water into a sort of vortex. Once the water is spinning rapidly, gently drop the egg from the bowl in the center of the whirlpool, where it will spin around and coat the yolk in a ball of egg white. Cook until the eggs are barely set, about 3 minutes. Remove the eggs, draining well with a slotted spoon and dab the bottom with paper towels to dry.

Assembly
Place two artichoke hearts on each plate. Top with a heaping spoonful of duxelles, and place the poached egg or eggs on top (depending on the size of the hearts). Then, drizzle bearnaise over the duxelles, hearts and eggs. Sprinkle freshly chopped tarragon on top to finish.

*Pourboire: speaking of jam (confiture), I cannot resist mentioning mi figue, mi raisin—literally “half fig, half grape” or figuratively “between unpleasant and pleasant.” The combination of these two fruits is not trivial. In France, the fig historically had negative connotations because of their resemblance to animal droppings, while grapes have always been revered. So, the phrase reflects an ambiguous situation or person…being in two different worlds or places, or hovering between two antithetic expressions. A mixed bag. If you find a local source for this luscious mi figue, mi raisin jam, glom on to a jar. It is available online as well. (I have my source).

Probably one of the most private things in the world is an egg until it is broken.
~M.F.K. Fisher

Vice unbound on a plate, again. My openly lascivious affairs with both Egg and Pig reappear. Is it coincidence that I lustily deify these worldly beings both of which irreverently boast three letter names? Egg and Pig are gluttonous, addictive, more than venial sins with no hint of repentant shame…maybe less like the Seven Deadly and more like food as Providence.

Essentials of this dish are handcrafted and dreamily aromatic artisanal bread, preferably a ciabatta loaf, and premium bacon. Think heirloom swine, too. Artisanal bread (or should I say authentic bread) simply means the loaves are traditionally handcrafted, rather than mechanically mass produced. Superior ingredients are blended, slowly fermented, hand shaped, and baked in small batches in masonry ovens with an acute eye on vivid flavors and textures. The core ingredients are fewer (organic flour, water, salt, fermentation agent) than the industrial variety, and the bread is crafted without enhancers or chemical additives—as bread has been artfully baked for centuries. Like finding trusted butchers and fishmongers, discovering a skilled baker is blissful.

Ciabatta is the Italian word for “slipper” which roughly depicts the shape of this loaf. With a light, airy structure this bread is ideal for bruschetta, crostini, and panini.

A protean dish, this serves well at any meal—day or night. Consider tabling it after that mayhem of unwrapping gifts ceases this month. In lieu of the parmiggiano-reggiano, a ladling of hollandaise or bearnaise or a light drizzle of white truffle oil (with the parmiggiano-reggiano) brings elegant touches. (See Sauces Mères, Hollandaise & Bearnaise, August 16, 2009).

POACHED EGG BRUSCHETTA WITH WILTED SPINACH & BACON

4 T extra virgin olive oil
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 T fresh thyme, chopped
1 t dried crushed red pepper

4 1 1/2″ thick slices of ciabatta, cut on the bias

1 lb thick bacon

3 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T shallot, peeled and finely minced
1 lb fresh baby spinach
Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper

1-2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
8 local, fresh, free range organic eggs,* room temperature

Parmiggiano-reggianno, freshly grated or shaven

For the bacon: cook in large skillet until crisp and transfer to paper towels to drain. Set aside.

For the bread: heat olive oil in heavy large skillet over medium high heat. Add garlic, thyme and crushed pepper and cook until the garlic is light brown. Remove and discard garlics. Add bread slices to the skilled and cook until golden browned and well infused with the garlic oil. Set aside.

For the spinach, add olive oil over heavy skillet and heat over medium heat. Add shallot and sauté 2 minutes, then add spinach and stir until just wilted. Set aside.

Meanwhile, strew spinach over bread slices, top with bacon slices in half to fit. You may wish to place in oven until heated through before you drop the poached egg on top.

For the eggs: fill a large heavy based skillet deep enough to cover the eggs with water; bring it to a boil, and add the white wine vinegar The vinegar helps to strengthen the albumin in the egg white which will help to retain shape. Reduce the heat until the water is at a simmer. If the water is too cool, the egg will separate before cooking; if the water is boiling too rapidly, the whites will be tough and the yolks over cooked.

Crack each egg into a shallow bowl to assure the yolks are not broken.

Then, using a slotted spoon, spin the boiling water into a sort of vortex. Once the water is spinning rapidly, gently drop the egg from the bowl in the center of the whirlpool, where it will spin around and coat the yolk in a ball of egg white. Cook until the eggs are barely set, about 3 minutes. They should goo out with a fork when served. Remove the eggs, draining well with a slotted spoon and dab the bottom with paper towels to dry them off.

To build: strew spinach over bread slices, top with bacon slices. (You may wish to place in oven under low heat) while the eggs are poaching. Place 2 poached egg atop each. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve topped with parmiggiano-reggiano.

Experience, which plays such an important part in culinary work, is nowhere so necessary as in the preparation of sauce for not only must the latter flatter the palate, but they must also vary in savor, consistency and viscosity, in accordance with the dishes they accompany.
~Auguste Escoffier

It is about time to hop on the Julie & Julia bandwagon. Whatever your take on Julie Powell or your perspective on the film, it is a staunch reminder that Julia Child should be accorded the respect and homage she deserves as a revered grande dame of home cuisine. She profoundly changed the fabric of the American kitchen and introduced us to the utter grace and simplicity of French cooking. It seems only fitting to offer a post on sauces mères which includes two of her most adored, Hollandaise and Bernaise.

(One of life’s small, but nagging, regrets: one Monday several years ago, I was reading the Santa Barbara News Press and learned that the day before Julia and Jacques Pépin attended a gathering at the art museum which was appeared to be open to the public. I was staying just down the street, and somehow the event had eluded my radar. Damn.)

A mother sauce or sauce grande serves as a base sauce to use in making other variations on the original theme. There are five classic sauces mères from which all other major sauces derive:

Espagnole or Brown sauce (demi-glace) is brown stock-based, and includes sauces such as Bordelaise, Chasseur, Chateaubriand.

Velouté sauce is based on white stock and roux, and includes sauces such as Allemande, Ravigote, Suprème, and White Bordelaise.

Béchamel sauce is made with milk and pale roux, and includes sauces such as Crème, Mornay and Soubise.

Tomat or red sauce is tomato based, and includes sauces such as Marinara.

Hollandaise sauce is emulsified, and includes sauces such as Mayonnaise and Bearnaise.

Sauce is a French term which descends from the Latin word salsus, meaning “salted.” In ancient Rome, sauces were used to disguise flavors—possibly to conceal doubtful freshness. A defining characteristic of classic cuisine, French sauces date back to the Middle Ages.

Originally four in number, the basic mother sauces were initially classified in the 19th century by the father of French “grande cuisine,” Antonin Carême: Sauce Tomat, Béchamel, Velouté, and Espagnole. Then in the 20th century, master chef Auguste Escoffier added the fifth and final mother sauce, Hollandaise, with its derivatives covering almost all forms of classical emulsion sauces including Mayonnaise (see Mayonaisse, 03.03.09).

Warmed egg yolks with the tang of lemon juice whisked with butter to make a thick, yellow cream. The classic sauce that dresses eggs Benedict, tangy and velvety Hollandaise is equally delectable spooned over asparagus, brussels sprouts, green beans, potatoes, poultry or even with sandwiches. Bearnaise, with its characteristic piquant flavors of wine vinegar and tarragon, pairs well with steak, flatfish, shellfish, artichokes, and poached eggs too.

HOLLANDAISE SAUCE

10 T unsalted butter, cut into pieces, melted and clarified

3 large egg yolks
1 1/2 T fresh lemon juice
Pinch of sea salt
2 T unsalted butter, chilled, divided equally and cut into small pieces

Sea salt and white pepper

Clarify the butter. Place butter pieces into a saucepan over moderate heat. When the butter has melted, skim off the foam and strain the clear yellowish liquid into a bowl, leaving the milky residue in the bottom of the pan. (The residue can be used for soups or sauces later.)

In a heavy saucepan, vigorously whisk egg yolks for a minute or so until they are slightly thickened and pale yellow. Beat the lemon juice and salt into the eggs and then add 1 tablespoon of the chilled butter and pinch of salt.

Place the pan over low heat or simmering water and whisk further until the egg mixture becomes smooth, creamy, and even thicker. This should take 1-2 minutes and you should see the bottom of the pan between strokes. Promptly remove from heat and beat in the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter which should cause the eggs to cease cooking.

Slowly dribble in the melted butter, rapidly beating in each addition before you add the next. Make sure you scrape the mixture from the sides and bottom of the pan. When the sauce is as thick as heavy cream, you may beat in the butter in larger driblets. It takes about 5 minutes to create the final emulsion.

Serve at once or keep the sauce warm by setting it over a pan of lukewarm water. Take care, because if kept too warm, the sauce will turn—the egg yolks will begin to curdle and the butter will separate.

Pourboire: Should the sauce turn or fail to thicken, spoon out a tablespoon or so into a mixing bowl. Whisk with a tablespoon of lemon juice until it thickens, then gradually whisk in small spoonfuls of sauce, allowing the mixture to cream and thicken before adding the next.

BEARNAISE SAUCE

1/4 C white wine vinegar
1/4 C dry white wine
1 T minced shallots
1 t dried tarragon
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

3 large egg yolks
8-10 T unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons minced fresh tarragon

In a small saucepan combine wine vinegar, wine, shallots, and dried tarragon and simmer over moderate heat until reduced to 2 tablespoons. Cool and strain through a fine sieve.

In an ovenproof bowl whisk the egg yolks until they become thick and sticky. Whisk in the reduced vinegar mixture, salt and pepper. Place the bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Whisk until mixture is warm, about 2 minutes. The yolk mixture should be thickened enough so you can see the bottom of the pan between strokes.

While whisking the yolk mixture gradually pour in the melted butter, a tablespoon or so at a time whisking thoroughly to incorporate before adding more butter. As the mixture begins to thicken and become creamy, the butter can be added more rapidly.

Season to taste with chopped tarragon, salt and pepper. To keep the sauce warm, set the bowl over lukewarm water.