duck egg leche flan for pi day

IMG_5784Of the fowl I coddled recently on a two-week farm stay, I became a duck supporter.  Go Ducks!  I had heard that ducks have a presence that chickens lack, and it’s true. Their soft, smooth heads and facial expressions just charmed the pants off me. And they don’t have roosters who insist on pecking me and they’re not geese, period.  Seriously, a plus.

I was helping out some family farmers who needed livestock coverage in nearby Cottage Grove, a bucolic little rural town of covered bridges, plant nurseries, bookshops, and great breakfasts.  Part of my daily job was to process dozens of eggs from 24 chickens, a single egg a day from the horrible four-goose thug team, and whatever eggs the six ducks saw fit to lay.  I also had to milk two goats, an endeavor I enjoyed quite a bit, and one I’ll write about later.

IMG_5966So I suddenly found myself in the middle of the road of my life, surrounded by eggs.  I’ve been experimenting quite a bit.  I was reminded how delicious a classic béarnaise sauce is with a ribeye steak.  I learned that, despite a promising concept and the heart willing, leftover béarnaise sauce does not a good scrambled egg make.  I’ve made a glorious caramel duck egg bread pudding, a single goose egg chilaquiles (above), frittata, aioli, and Alice B. Toklas’ tricolor omelette with spinach and saffron layers, draped with tomato sauce.

And, my friends, I made this.

IMG_6024Duck egg leche flan with blood orange.  Doesn’t look like much, does it?  But o o o o that simple appearance belies a rich, deep, exquisite flavor of almost savory sweet egg custard, and the whole thing is bathed in caramel.  It’s a Filipino specialty, and traditionally relies on creamy water buffalo milk and a sour lime called a dayap (similar to a calamansi), but now uses pantry ingredients.  I opted for the “traditional” version with evaporated milk and condensed milk, managing to source some organic varieties of both.  For some thoughts on the rich variety of recipes using different kinds of dairy and eggs or whole eggs, click here.  I may still try it with cream and honey, but I present you with my first go, which was absolutely delicious.

The recipe uses 12 duck egg yolks.  If you ever find yourself in duck egg heaven, you won’t regret making it, since duck eggs are noticeably richer than their chicken cousins, but farm-fresh chicken egg yolks would work too.  It just wouldn’t be as rich.  And I hate to be a snob, but I wouldn’t bother making this with grocery store eggs and their pale yellow, tasteless yolks.

The traditional mold, a llanera, can be replaced by a cake or pie dish or ramekin.  A ramekin will give you less caramel on top, so screw that.  I found it much more reliable to bake the flan in a water bath versus steaming it (also more traditional).

What to do with the duck egg whites?  Well, they’re thicker and richer than chicken eggs, so they don’t work the same way in cakes and pastries.  I suggest beating them to soft peaks and making chiles rellenos out of them, which is what we had for dinner the night of the flan.  Yes, it’s decadent, but hey, I’ve got farm work to do.

Duck Egg Leche Flan with Blood Orange

Serves 12, very rich.

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 12 duck eggs, yolks and whites separated
  • 1 blood orange
  • 1 can condensed milk (best quality), 14 oz.
  • 1 can evaporated milk (best quality), 12 oz.

Prepare a waterbath for a 10-inch cake pan or deep pie dish using a roasting pan or similar that will allow you to fit the dish in the pan and add hot water.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Place your cake pan next to the stove.  In a light-colored skillet, melt and caramelize the sugar on low heat.  As it melts, gently push the unmelted sugar into the melted sugar to help keep the heating constant.

Watch the skillet constantly, especially near the end, as burning is quick and fatal.  You want a medium-dark brown color, but dark brown will impart a bitter flavor, so take it off the heat immediately when done, and pour it into your reserved cake pan, tilting the pan for a thin layer and ensuring that the caramel goes on the sides as well as the bottom.

Place the pan in the roasting pan, and add very hot water to about midway up the side of the cake pan.

Zest the orange and squeeze about a tablespoon of juice.  Add to egg yolks in a medium bowl, and whisk.  Reserve whites for another use.  Whisk in condensed and evaporated milk, then pour batter into caramelized cake pan.  Place pan into water bath prepared earlier, and cook until just set, about 1 hour.  A knife inserted in the middle should come out almost completely clean (the caramel will make the tip wet).  Don’t overcook.

Let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for several hours.  Carefully slide a thin spatula around the sides of the pan, then invert onto a dish quickly.  Be sure the dish is large enough for the liquid caramel on the bottom.

Serve with whipped unsweetened cream, berries, or supremed blood oranges, grapefruit, and limes tossed with a little Grand Marnier.

greening breakfast

IMG_5583I’ve finally found the perfect breakfast for me, and it’s easy being green.  It lends itself well to overwintering hardy greens in the Willamette Valley, although we may have to search for them in the snow today.  It’s a perfect farm meal, since kale lingers in the garden, and leeks can store well for a while.  Until my rosemary unceremoniously gave up the ghost, I could harvest the herbs fresh each day.

Contrary to what a hundred years of breakfast cereal propaganda will have you believe, protein in the morning is a good idea since it doesn’t burn through you like empty carbs and sugar.  After leaving my bagel habit behind, I’ve tried every kind of breakfast imaginable, including hot cereal, poached eggs, yogurt with fruit, and a ham sandwich.

But the Breakfast of Champions — a bowl of kale, ground beef, and leeks — is without doubt the best thing I’ve eaten for breakfast, and I eat it almost every day. It instantly makes me happier, not sleepy, and if I wait long enough in the morning, I can skip lunch.  I’ll often make enough for two days and reheat a serving.

IMG_5587You’ll probably guess that with these ingredients and the paleo/gluten-free/nutritionist slant, I did not come up with this breakfast on my own.  It’s the work of my friend and kayak-builder Brian Schulz, with whom I (mostly goodnaturedly) quarrel almost daily about diet.  He’s often right, but I know how to cook, so it’s a pretty even match.  (Incidentally, if you want to make your own traditional skin-on-frame kayak in one of the most beautiful places on the Oregon Coast, take one of his classes in Manzanita or other locations on the road.)

Anyway, he insisted on making me this breakfast one day when I was visiting his farm, and I got hooked on the flavor combination of coconut oil and kale.  Who knew?  For someone that pretty much follows the if-it-grows-together-it-goes-together principle of food combinations, and eschews fad oils altogether, I believe I have the necessary street cred to say it tastes good; try it.  And yes, they’re paleo-friendly.

Charred chard with an egg is another green breakfast I eat when I’m out of hamburger meat.  I really like the contrast of well browned leaves, crispy on the edges, and the silky softness of sautéed chard with the sunnyside up egg nesting in it.  In early spring, try mixing your chard with another and punchier green mixed in during the last few moments, preferably wild nettles or arugula.  I developed the recipe as I was writing my next column for Eugene Magazine, which will show you how to use the stems in a delicious chard stem pickle.  Stay tuned!

Breakfast of Champions

Serves 2.

  • 6-8 cups torn kale or kale/chard mix
  • one large leek
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mixed herbs: rosemary, sage, and thyme
  • 2/3 lb. lean ground beef (about 7% fat)
  • 2 tablespons of coconut oil
  • salt to taste

Rinse and drain dry kale and chard (if using).  Tear up greens into bite-sized pieces.

Clean leek by removing the tough green tops (save these for soup stock), slitting the leek lenthwise partially through the stalk, then rinse well under cold water, making sure to get any sand trapped in the outer layers.

In a large skillet or wok, melt coconut oil on medium heat, then add leeks and saute until golden.

Add herbs and ground beef, crumbling up the large pieces.  Once no longer pink, allow the beef to sit without stirring to acquire a bit of browning, about 2-3 minutes.  Turn beef over and let sit again for the same amount of time, then add greens.  If your wok or skillet is too small, you may need to add in batches.  Be careful, as the water clinging to the leaves may splatter.  Cook greens down until tender.

Charred Chard with An Egg

Serves 2.

  • 4-5 cups chard leaves, washed, patted dry, and torn into pieces
  • optional: 1 cup of spring nettles (be careful!) or dandelion greens, washed, patted dry, and torn to pieces
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tablespoons butter or coconut oil
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 2 eggs

Preheat a well-seasoned cast iron skillet on medium-high heat.  Add greens and stir until any water on leaves has steamed away.

Add butter or coconut oil and minced garlic, and stir to coat leaves well. Sprinkle on salt and pepper to taste.  Smooth out the greens into one layer, and let cook, without stirring, until the bottom is crispy.  The goal is to mark the chard with little near-burned bits.

When chard is crispy on bottom, separate into two piles in the skillet with a spatula.  Create a divot in the middle of each pie for the raw egg.

Crack an egg into each divot, and add salt and pepper to taste.  Cover the skillet with a lid and let egg cook through until the yolks are done to your liking.

Carefully scoop out the kale and egg servings, and present on a plate with toast.

which came first, the rectangular chicken or the square egg?

Act 1

Our heroine, having left early to have the oil changed, has forgotten to eat breakfast.  She is picking up sugar, flour, and hose fittings at a Chain Superstore when she realizes she’s is starting to feel a bit faint.

Clerk at Chain Superstore Deli Counter: Hi, would you like some breakfast?

Our Heroine, Eugenia: Yes, I forgot to eat this morning…

Clerk: What would you like?

Eugenia: Um…are those square things supposed to represent eggs?

Clerk: Yes, those are eggs.

Eugenia: And that breaded rectangle next to the hash browns is…chicken?

Clerk: No, those are stuffed hash browns. Stuffed with sausage and cheese.

Eugenia: Whoa.  Hmm, I guess one of those egg squares on a biscuit…and…those are sausages, right?

Clerk: Right.

Eugenia: OK, two of those.

Clerk: Would you like some coffee?

Eugenia: Does it come in a triangle?

Clerk: Excuse me?

Act 2

Our heroine is rolling up the long drive to Hentze’s farm.  Chickens are scratching to the right.  As she drives up, one breaks from the pack and crosses in front of her.

Eugenia [hit by an epiphany, yells out the window]:  Why did you cross the road…to get run over?

Act 3

Eating green bean frittata, Eugenia watches mobilized chicken force (thanks to her wonderful neighbors!) scratch up slugs in her lilac bed.

Eugenia: I was going to tell you that I am eating your people…

Agnes and Betty: […]

Eugenia: But then I realized that my breakfast rather looked like what you are eating…

Agnes and Betty: […]

Eugenia:  Suspended in juvenile forms of you…

Agnes and Betty: […]

Eugenia: And started to feel pretty grossed out…

Agnes and Bettty: […]

Eugenia:  So you win this round, chickens.  You win this round.

Agnes and Betty: […]

neighborly eggs

My wonderful neighbor brought over a half-dozen eggs from her new chickens.  Retrogrouch has been on an egg jamboree lately, and he even convinces me to eat a protein breakfast about half the week now.  I’m still not very cooperative — some days I say, “honey, I just can’t face eggs this morning.”  But he mixes them with a vegetable, and they smell and look good.  This is a typical example, eggs à la mode de Bruxelles:

We go through, suddenly, a ton of eggs, and our usual egg source doesn’t have enough eggs because of the season, so we’ve been buying farm eggs wherever we can.  See the difference in the yolks compared to the pale yellow store eggs?*   So I was even more happy that my generous neighbor decided to come by.

I just have to say, too, that I live in the best neighborhood in Eugene.  Friendly Area REPRESENT.

There’s more stuff I have to write — good news in the local food scene, but I’m feeling kind of tapped out with writing lately. I’m sorry.  It’s the winter chill, I guess, plus my schedule, which isn’t as light as I’m making it seem (but still much easier than last fall).  One major milestone:  I did make more progress on my hateful pile of rotting leaves in the sunshine today; perhaps that will give me the impetus to stay inside and write tomorrow.

*If you want to check them out, visit the winter market at Hideaway Bakery — River Bend Farm has fresh eggs with beautiful, deep gold yolks.  I was talking to Dick there on Saturday, and he told me that someone once returned their eggs because they thought something was wrong with them!  Nope, that’s just the way eggs should look if the chickens are allowed to be chickens.

culinaria eugenius in london: facing heaven

My trip to London was all about Sichuan food.  Odd, I know, but I found not one but TWO Sichuan restaurants near the British Library, where I was locked to the desk for the week, and so I ate Sichuan no less than half a dozen times during the week.  Have you ever done that?  It’s incredibly self-indulgent to be able to try every single thing you wanted to try at a restaurant, knowing you’ll likely not be back to visit in a very long time, if ever.  So I did it.

Of course, I did sample some of the new British cuisine.  British food has undergone a SPECTACULAR renaissance.  This makes me have hope for Eugene.  I’ve been to the UK a handful of times in the past 15 years, and each time it gets better.  Still, I was dreading the week.  But the local food movement has swept London like The Great Fire of 1666, both originating in Pudding Lane.

Even train station dining has been infused with local goodness.  I bought my morning bread and delicious luncheon salad combos –minted pea and feta was the best — at Sourced Market at St. Pancras station.  Topped it off with a Scrumpy scotch egg (“Free-range SADDLEBACK pork, apple & sage – a timeless combination, Herefordshire in a handfull! …we dare you to resist!”) from the wildly successful Handmade Scotch Egg Company.  I took the dare and lost.

Best of all, London, still under the thrall of Fuchsia Dunlop’s wonderful Sichuan cookbook, Sichuan Cookery, has exploded with Sichuan restaurants.

The place at which I ate most often, Chilli Cool, is reviewed in the London Observer today.  Who says you need to turn to world-class urban centers to get your breaking cooking news, Eugeniuses?  (That’s a very flattering picture of the restaurant, by the way.  The window seat is mine!  I would look across the street at the pub serving jugs of Pimm’s.  The British Library is just a couple of blocks up the street, as the crow flies, in the middle of the photo.)  I’d recommend the place, as long as you don’t have your hopes up too high that you’ll be eating in a fancy place.  It’s small and humble.  The service is pointedly inattentive, and I found at least one “mistake” on the bill, but the prices are fantastic for London and food respectably good.

Without question, the best dish I had was a variation of the fried chicken with chiles dish I’ve blogged about before.  In fact, my blog may now feature the most pictures of this particular dish; that’s a claim to fame!  The Chilli Cool version verges from the Portland (and Dunlop) versions, as it adds cumin and a little sugar, both providing a slight graininess to the finished dish, and peanuts.   It’s an adaptation of a Mongol-influenced dish, lamb with cumin, that you’ll often see on other Chinese menus.  But with chiles.  They use real “facing heaven” chiles, too!

Facing heaven chiles (right) differ from our standard dried Chinese chiles (left) in just about every way.  The color is a deeper rust, and the flavor is deeper and slightly less spicy, too.  It tastes more like a gualillo than the bright, fruity iconic flavor of our dried Chinese chiles.

I’ve been looking for facing heaven chiles and real Sichuan broad bean paste for years now.  Greatly assisted by Kitchen Chick’s helpful guide to Sichuan ingredients, I have scoured Chinatowns in several cities to no avail.  My frustration seems widespread.  But finally, success!

Yes, that’s an authentic webcam shot of me in my hotel room, gloating dorkily.

I managed to find the chiles, as well as several varieties of Pixian spicy broad bean paste and other Sichuan ingredients, in a single supermarket in Chinatown, New Loon Moon on Gerrard Street, not to be confused with Loon Fung down the way.  I bought two of the last four packages available, so caveat emptor…move quickly or you might have to wait a while for the stock to be replenished.

As soon as I get my schedule under control and some canning done, I’ll start cooking again.  This has been a non-recipe food blog all summer.  This pains me, as you might imagine.  But when the cook can’t cook, the cook can’t develop recipes!  I hope to amend this very soon.

culinaria eugenius in zurich: gothic swiss

Here at Culinaria Eugenius, we believe in bringing you foods from the darker side of eating.  That doesn’t necessarily mean cooking with relish the inner organs of foul beasts, but the thought does cross our mind, when pondering a Swiss garden snail, that whomever invented escargot must not have gazed upon the French variety first to stimulate his appetite.

But no, I meant foods that are generally odd, or out of place, or bathetic, or wistful, or mean, or eyebrow-raising.  I’m now in London, and after a week of musing on Victorian food adulteration and colonial food distribution networks, I feared I wouldn’t be able to eat a thing.  But one scrumptious tarragon chicken pie and a rousing round of “Worst Pies in London” later, I was feeling rather peckish again.

So I thought I’d bring you some of the more gothic Zurich food finds.  Sure, I could rhapsodize about the delicious cheeses or the spirits or the chocolate or the bread (o dear lord, the bread!), but that would be no fun.  Instead, I’ll show you what I found morbidly delicious in this hybrid German-Italia-French land with precision clock innards.

The Blindekuh (Blind Cow) restaurant, just around the corner from the wonderful flat where I stayed, raises awareness for the bourgeoisie of the experiences of non-sighted people.  The restaurant is staffed by blind or otherwise disabled folks who serve meals to patrons completely in the dark.  The cow outside is the only one who can see. I remember when these restaurants became a fad in New York — maybe 10 years ago? — and wanted to try them out.  But oddly, the menu at Blindekuh didn’t excite me that much, and it was as pricey as any Zurich restaurant, with entrées around 30-40 dollars apiece.  Plus, the thought of eating blind AND alone didn’t seem all that great.  Sorry, cow.

I did partake in the tartare specialties at a lovely restaurant called Mère Catherine in the Niederhof district of Old Town.  We tried some unusual ones — vegetable and salmon with blini — and a more standard raw beef preparation, below.  This one was seared on both sides, lending a nice contrast in texture.  Sorry, cow.

Tartare wasn’t the only hamburger-shaped specialty of the city.  I found the jewel box of Confiserie Sprüngli a bit of a zoo with all the tourists, but who can’t fail to love the tiny hamburgerli macaroons called Luxemburgerli?  They come in a variety of flavors, including raspberry, salted caramel, champagne, you name it.  The Swiss sometimes gild the lily by serving them with a scoop of whipped cream.  I didn’t see any French fries, though.

All right, back to the meat.  Meat in Zurich is excellent.  Any place with a tradition of sausage AND thinly sliced cured meats is the place for me.  The Swiss seem to favor beef and veal over pig, but that’s ok.  I took advantage of holiday sales at the Migros supermarket to buy my very own pack of mixed meats for breakfast.  The one in the middle was particularly good — a smoked, cured, deep red beef that was better than the most delicious bresaola ever.  Sorry, cow!

That’s not to say eggs weren’t represented in our flesh eating.  Also part of the national holiday celebration, cute little red hard-boiled eggs sported a Swiss cross.

I had to share the American tradition of forcing high school students to “parent” eggs for a week as a part of an anti-teen-pregnancy campaign.  This, of course, raised all kinds of jokes about eating one’s young.  Sorry, Heidi.

And if you aren’t queasy enough yet, the Swiss egg babies, plus a passage in Ulysses about preserved Chinese eggs, inspired the purchase of said eggs by our Taiwanese participant.  I promised you a longer post about Joycean conference joys, so I’ll just show you the preparation.

The eggs look blue in certain light, and amber-clear in others.  They were actually quite good finely chopped with tofu, sprinked with soy sauce.  We ate them mixed by the deft hand of Yvonne, here pictured by the grave of James Joyce, our patron…um, saint?

And surely he would have approved, with his interest in fermented and preserved foods.

I think he would have liked the story I heard last week, as well, about another grave in Zurich.  One of our local Oregon farmers told me that his Swiss father would visit the family grave site each year in spring, and prepare a “salat du grave” from the dandelion greens growing there.  I think this is as fine a tradition as any.

eggscellent lunch: tamago donburi

One of my favorite comfort foods isn’t remotely from childhood.  It’s an adult dish, and one that evokes long days, lonely nights, and a cold, tiny studio apartment far away in Tokyo, long ago in the days before internet.

Living in Ayase, a small outpost at the end of the Chiyoda line, northeast of everything fashionable in Tokyo, was gloomy.  My short walk to the station in the morning was an obstacle course of ramen vomit, pachinko parlor neon, and depressing little shops trying to hold their own.  Across the tracks, I could see advertising posters of Korean and Thai girls and boy-girls pasted on the exterior walls of places that would advertise such things.  It was like Lost in Translation without the luxury hotel or falling in love.

My station was not too far from my work downtown, but I was working very long hours, and without a Japanese wife at home to cook me dinner, I could never make it to the market to buy food before it closed.  My miniature refrigerator-cum-freezer tended to thaw frozen things and freeze fresh ones, so I couldn’t shop for more than a couple of days.  The restaurants were too expensive, lackluster, and depressing for regular single dining. And because I was working at an American firm, I wasn’t regularly coerced into the ramen-vomit-inducing social requirement of after-work drinking with my colleagues and clients.

So I often found myself in the only shopping venue that was open when I’d get home around 9 p.m., the only place that could mete out a little alimentary comfort via a plastic dish and a microwave.  The corner convenience store.

More often than not, comfort came to me in the form of a loose, saucy omelette over rice, offered for sale in the refrigerated case alongside other slim pickin’s available that late.  I liked the idea of donburi, because it would give me both main dish and rice in a casserole-ish form, but I didn’t find the more popular version of this dish, oyako donburi, appetizing because I didn’t trust the chicken in it.  So I often ate plain tamago donburi, egg-and-rice bowl, relishing the little kick the artificially dyed red strands of pickled ginger on the side provided to the sweet, salty omelette.

When I came back to the States, I found that I actually missed tamago donburi, and quickly settled into a routine of making it whenever I felt exhausted or blue.  I still make it for lunch on grey, rainy days in Oregon when I need a little kick.  Perhaps it can help you as it has helped me.

Tamago donburi is not a pretty dish.  It’s rather monochromatic, actually, since the onions soak up the brown stock, and the eggs darken from the sauce.  Therefore, it’s essential to sprinkle some jaunty green onions, or fresh spring garden chives (as you see above) on top.  I like a soupy sauce for my donburi, so you might want to reduce the volume of dashi stock.  I never make my own dashi, using no more than a quarter teaspoon of powdered dashi bouillon for just under 2 cups of water, but you should make your own with katsuo flakes and kelp.  It would be tastier.  The only necessity is to make the stock relatively weak, so as not to overpower the egg.  One can also add mushrooms, cabbage, or myriad vegetable fillers to the omelette, as restaurants do, to make it prettier.  I don’t bother.

Tamago Donburi

Serves 1

2 cups cooked Japanese short-grain rice
1.5 cups dashi (made with a healthy sprinkle of dashi-no-moto powder and water; substitute chicken or vegetable stock)
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons sake
2 teaspoons sugar
a small piece of very thinly sliced white or yellow onion (maybe 1/4 cup?)
1 tablespoon chopped pickled ginger or 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
3 eggs
1 green onion or an equivalent amount of chives, thinly sliced, for garnish

Cook your rice ahead of time.  When rice is finished, proceed with the donburi.  Slice onion and chop ginger.  In a small saucepan, combine dashi, soy sauce, sake, and sugar, and bring to a boil over medium heat.  Add onion slices and ginger and reduce heat to a simmer.  Let simmer for 5 minutes.  As the sauce is simmering, break and lightly beat three eggs in a small bowl.  Finely slice the green onion or chive garnish and set aside.  Scoop out rice in a nice mound in a medium-sized bowl (a Japanese donburi bowl is perfect, of course, but one can use a deep vegetable serving bowl or pasta bowl).

Add eggs to saucepan.  Do not mix.  They will set in about 1 minute. When they look cooked through, and they have formed an omelette-like mass in the center of the pot, carefully pour the contents of the pot atop the bowl of rice you have prepared.  Sprinkle with reserved green onions and serve immediately.

Repeat for multiple servings.

in the buff: sunny side up


Ah, I hope I never get tired of saying “in the buff.”  I’ve survived a week in Buffalo, and it’s been quite pleasant, actually.  We went from 60 degrees/sunny to snow to rain and back again.  I’ve been focused on archival research in the Joyce collection here, a marvelous trove of all kinds of fascinating primary source materials.  When they kick me out at 5 pm, I go to the regular library to look up books there in the gloomy stacks.  I’ve been living pretty much without a library for the past three years, so it’s so incredibly wonderful to be able to do real research, so galvanizing.

So what does this have to do with food?  And more importantly, what am I cooking?

Well, I’m not cooking much, just things like a simple pasta with mounds of roasted peppers, a bit of zucchini, and a good French goat cheese, and couscous with fresh Polish sausage and root vegetables.  Both last for days.  I’ve been eating lunches at the international food court on campus, with mixed success (mostly unsuccessful).  After my initial pierogi binge, I managed to get out and have a bowl of Polish Easter soup, zhurek, one of my favorite things.

And when I’m not thinking about feeding myself, I’m keeping my eye on food in modern literature — one of the projects on which I’m working.  Who knew modernism had so, so much food in it?  I’ve been chuckling over futurism recipes and salivating over the creative vegetable recipes American exiles in France devised with wartime rations.

One of the major food themes of modernism is breakfast.  Everyone seems to be eating breakfast, and it’s all about eggs.  Make it new, yanno?  So with that, Easter tomorrow, and my upcoming article including urban chicken keeping, I’m all about the eggs.

Retrogrouch and I get our eggs from Sweetwater Farm, our CSA, when we can, and let me tell you, Lynn’s hens lay the best eggs.  I was talking to someone the other day about farm-fresh eggs and he said he couldn’t taste the difference, so I thought I’d illustrate the matter.

Take a look at the photo.  The egg on the bottom is a farm egg, and the one on top is a regular egg from Safeway.  I’m not sure my crummy camera does it justice.  Notice the dark — almost orange — color of the farm yolk compared to the pale yellow of the Safeway egg.  The flavor of the farm egg is more robust and creamy, less runny.  You can see the farm yolk is also bigger, less flat, and plumper than the Safeway yolk.  I’m not a big fan of eating eggs plain, but farm eggs are so delicious I can’t help myself.

The big difference with farm eggs is the cost.  If you buy eggs at an organic market from a local farm, you’ll find they are much more expensive.  For me, it’s worth it, since I don’t use them that much and they are worlds apart.  Keeping chickens and becoming friends with your chicken-keeping neighbors are more cost-effective alternatives, especially if you can figure out an exchange or barter system.

I’m sure there are trials out there somewhere that demonstrates a marked difference in baking with farm eggs.  Perhaps you’ve done your own testing?

ab ovo: tonight we’re gonna party like it’s 400 AD with eggs and lovage

We’re still struggling through over temperatures well into the 90s, and the last thing I feel like doing is cooking; even starting up the grill is fatiguing.  So I’ve been thinking about summer appetizers, those light, fresh, simple nibbles that highlight one or two ingredients and delight the eye and tongue with something unusual, and thought I’d feature a few of these beauties in the upcoming weeks.

These recipes will contain some ingredients which aren’t available widely, but they are fun to play with if you can get your hands on them.  I’ll suggest substitutes when I can.  What’s most important is to experiment consciously and purposefully with just one or two flavor combinations.

The first in my series of summer appetizers is an adaptation from the Culinaria Italy cookbook. Inspired by the fabled gourmand of ancient Rome, Apicius, who was likely a composite figure that is credited with creating the world’s first cookbook, this recipe takes what was originally a sauce for soft-boiled eggs and returns it to the egg — in a deviled-egg-type sweet and sour stuffing of pinenuts and lovage.

I love the idea of lounging about in white togas with broad purple edging, and eating beautifully prepared, local stuffed eggs, with, say, peacocks strutting to and fro and slaves to refresh your gin-n-tonics (which were not Roman, but the British have Roman blood, and well, it’s *my* fantasy, ok?).

The fish sauce might be the strangest item in this recipe, but it approximates the popular Roman fermented fish condiment, garum or liquamen.  If it wigs you out, just use salt, and in all cases, use it sparingly.

Lovage is one of those perennial herbs that takes a while to get started but then stubbornly persists on little water and filtered light, year after year.  It has the taste of strong, sweet, lemony celery. It can easily overwhelm a dish with its perfumey, vegetal bitterness.  In short, we don’t see it much in American recipes except for the occasional soup.  But as a main attraction in a simple small dish, it can be refreshing.  You might choose to substitute celery leaves, or even tarragon, which would work well but change the character of the dish.

To make the perfect hardboiled eggs, follow my recipe below.  You won’t get the hard, dry yolks or the greenish cast that comes from overcooking the eggs.

Pinenut and Lovage-Stuffed Eggs

In ovis hapalis: piper, ligusticum, nucleos infusos. Suffundes mel, acetum, liquamine temperabis. (Original recipe in Latin)

  • 12 hard boiled eggs
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts, soaked in verjus, or a sweet wine such as Riesling, for 15-20 minutes
  • 2 tablespoon finely chopped lovage, or substitute equal amounts celery and parsley leaves
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 2 teaspoon cider vinegar
  • Several dashes Thai fish sauce or salt to taste

Prepare hard boiled eggs by placing eggs in cold water and turn heat on medium high.  When water starts to boil vigorously, remove eggs from heat and place in bowl of cool water to stop cooking.  Cool eggs and peel.

Slice eggs in half lengthwise and carefully remove egg yolks to bowl, reserving egg whites for stuffing.  Combine pine nuts, lovage, honey and egg yolks.  Using a mortar and pestle (or, less satisfactorily, a food processor), crush the mixture until pine nuts are mostly smashed and have released their oils into the yolks.  Add pepper, vinegar and fish sauce or salt to taste, mix well, and stuff the eggs.  Garnish each egg with a lovage leaf or a few reserved pinenuts that you have roasted until light brown.  Refrigerate eggs until serving.

AND…for your picnicking pleasure…

Bonus Potato Salad with Eggs, Pinenuts and Lovage

This preparation also makes a great potato salad, according to Retrogrouch, who ate it all as I was cleaning up the kitchen.

Boil 2-3 medium waxy potatoes. Cool potatoes and slice or cube while still warm.   Combine potatoes with the crushed pinenut and herb preparation above, then add 3-4 chopped hardboiled eggs.  Add a handful of parsley and more lovage, if you have it.  Blend with 1/4 cup mayonnaise, or to taste, and salt and pepper.  Chill for a couple of hours before serving and keep cold in cooler if you plan to serve it outdoors or after a Roman orgy, since it is highly perishable.

dandelion dyed eggs

Retrogrouch is away at a conference and I’m enjoying the quiet house.  Didn’t do a thing for Easter, even make my grandma’s Easter soup with kielbasa (though I may still do it, having the ingredients in the refrigerator).  I just don’t feel like cooking for myself.  I did take one for the team and attempt to eat at Kowloon in North Eugene this afternoon.  Now I’m so sick to my stomach I can’t even fathom dinner.  Ugh.  That is NOT a good restaurant.  I should have known it wouldn’t be good when I saw that all of the lunch specials were either chow mein, fried rice, fried things, or a combination of the three.

dscf4015.jpgSo, I’ll give you a Easter Monday story and a recipe for next year.  First, the story.  In Hungary, on Easter Monday, the boys sprinkle perfume on the girls and sometimes douse them with water, chanting a little rhyme that claims the girls are flowers and they need water so they’ll bloom and not wilt.  A reminder to drink your 8 glasses a day, if you don’t live in Hungary.

Second, a recipe.  Easter was too early this year to take full advantage of an old way to dye Easter eggs.  Apparently, the old-timers used dandelions to dye their eggs. After my sister told me last year that her husband’s grandfather’s favorite eggs were the dandelion-yellow ones, I went out and did a U-pick on my garden in the rain. It solved two problems: getting rid of the seed heads from those lawn-gobbling dinner plate-sized weeds, which grow monstrous in Eugene, and it gave me purty pale yellow Easter eggs. I boiled about two cups of the flower tops for about 15 minutes, then added the cooked eggs and let them soak for about 6 hours. The picture doesn’t really show the color well, but they were a lovely pale yellowy green with slight mottling from contact with the dandelion heads. The granola sites say that if you boil the root of the dandelion plant, you’ll get magenta dye, by the way. Maybe next year.