How to Cook the Perfect Fried Egg (on Toast, with Coffee)

IMG_1117There are four essential elements to the perfect morning.  The first, obviously, is a cup of good coffee.

The second,  good music.

The third, a fried egg.

It also happens to be, I’ve decided, the best indication of one’s level of cookery.

Something so simply achieved, yet almost even more so easily butchered.  I cringe when I order a breakfast of fried eggs at a cafe, only to be presented with A) a couple of clear, shiny snot-like egg whites and cold liquid yolks or, worse, B) a matte-colored egg white mass surrounding two firm and lifeless powdery yellow globs.  I can only hope that maybe, possibly, an order of “over-medium” will imply that I am hoping for something in between slimy mucus and a yellow brick.  But due to the fact that my egg ordering experiences at various brunch spots has proved to be both inconsistent and unreliable, I’ve taken it upon myself to ensure that when I’m the one cooking, I know how to do it right.

This is something that has taken me quite a long time to master.  My whole life, in fact.

But I do believe I recently broke the code, and like The Sound of Music I want to sing it from the mountain tops with such joy for the world to hear!

There are certain aspects to my surefire recipe for success that are absolutely essential in cooking a fried egg, and these will be noted in bold.  That which isn’t bolded are simply a few personal preferences, little suggestions to kick it up a notch or ten.

You will need:

  • Eggs (2) of very good quality.  Preferably farm eggs, but as always local, organic and cage-free will suffice.  
  • Butter (about one tsp.)
  • A small or medium sauce pan
  • A lid or something that can act as a lid (this can be in the form of a  plate even, anything that will seal the heat into the pan space)
  • Salt, pepper and various other seasonings of your choosing (preferably sea salt, though).  I use fresh cracked pepper, garlic powder and chia seeds.
  • Any other add-ons your would like to include, although absolutely not necessary.  Previously used examples: sliced avocado, sliced tomato, chopped fresh garlic, sauteed onion, sauteed kale, sliced ham, bacon(!)
  • Cheese, again, optional
  • Sliced bread
  • Coffee grinds, preferably of good quality
  • Water
  • A french press
  • Spatula

1.  Turn the oven on to anywhere between 300-350 degrees and place the allotted amount of toast onto the racks (this is, of course, if you don’t have a toaster like myself).

2. Turn the heat of one burner onto a low-medium flame and place the saucepan on top, allowing it to warm up for about 30 seconds.

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3.  Turn another burner onto medium and place a full kettle of water on top, allowing the water to heat while you cook eggs.

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4.  If using a french press, add coffee grinds to your press.

5.  Place butter in the pan and allow it to spread evenly over the pan as it melts.  Note: I use only real, unsalted butter with my eggs, it seems to protect the egg from burring or overcooking on the bottom and it tastes wonderful.  I do not use olive oil (burning or cooking olive oil a)has a lower smoking point and b) denatures the amino acids in the olive oil, negating the nutritional value entirely)

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6.  Exactly at the point the butter has melted, crack two eggs into the pan. IMPORTANT: MAKE SURE THE YOLKS ARE RESTING ON THE PERIMETER OF THE PAN, NOT IN THE CENTER WHERE THE HEAT IS CONCENTRATED.  The whites should immediately start to solidify and whiten upon contact with the pan, but shouldn’t start to sizzle too loudly or bubble.  If the latter occurs, turn the heat down and remove the pan from the heat for about 10 seconds until the eggs calm down.

7.  Season your eggs, minus salt.

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8.  Cover the pan.   Allow to sit for at least one minute, no more than 2 minutes.  If the yolk starts to develop a white film on top, uncover immediately.

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9.  Check the toast.  If only slightly crispy, turn it over and continue cooking.

10.  If kettle water steaming at this point, add your water to the coffee grinds.  Allow to sit while you complete the preparation of your eggs and toast.

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11.  If you would like to add cheese to your egg, this is the time to do so.  Uncover, sprinkle or grate cheese on top, and then re-cover your eggs.  

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12.  Remove from heat but allow eggs to stay covered in the pan until either the yolks are still squishy but white or the cheese has melted.  If yolks are firming up, uncover the pan immediately.

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13. Remove toast from oven.  If toast consistency has reached desired state, remove from heat and onto a plate, spreading butter immediately on the toast.  Turn off your oven (I always seem to forget that part, and then remember after having left the house).

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14.  Using a spatula, carefully place fried eggs on top of toast (or on a plate). 

15.  Press your coffee, then pour into a mug.  Add milk, sugar, or in my case, a spoonful of Oregon Chai powder and stir.

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16.  Salt your eggs lightly.  

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17. Arrange various add-ons to your egg and toast at this time.

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18. Bask in the deliciousness of a firm (but not chewy) egg white and warm yet still runny yolk on a crunchy piece of toast.  

19.  Take a sip of coffee.

20.  Appreciate the moment. 

(And the fourth?  That one I’m still keeping a secret.)

Raspberry Summer Squash Flax Muffins

This past saturday Tim and I took the puppy to the Oregon coast to splash around in the ocean waves.  We drove up through Astoria and drank some local brews at the Fort George Taproom, then headed south and stopped at a few spots along the way, including a delicious dinner and sunset beach stroll at Cannon.  It was quite the lovely adventure, really.

Bittersweet it was though, as this was one of the very, very few times the two three of us have had a day off together since we moved to Portland.  You see, Tim works a relatively normal work week but I, on the other hand, have a work schedule that is far more out of wack.  Sometimes I work days, other times nights, and almost always on the weekends with the lovely Plate & Pitchfork.  

Being by the ocean never fails to offer a welcomed change of perspective for me.  Its vastness is humbling, and the significance of day to day issues and stresses that normally get me just seem to slip away.  There is an impermanence about the ocean that I also take comfort in: the ebb and flow, the way the tide rolls in and out, the waves crashing in at one moment, and then retreating back the next.  

  Photography and film by my aunt Cheryl.

This week marks a welcomed last several days of a disappointing summer serving gig.  It wasn’t right.  It wasn’t even close to what I needed to be doing and this became apparent as my summer was gluttonously swallowed by my the time spent at work.  Here in my world, when it rains, it pours.  I’ve spent the past three weeks without a full day off, and it’s taken its toll on my soul.

Sometimes you just have to go with your gut, and I did.  I quit without alternative plans except for several remaining events with Plate & Pitchfork, a few suggestions and a hopeful interview for a new restaurant owned by perhaps the most well-respected chef in Portland, Vitaly Paley.

I got the job.  And mostly because I truly meant every word I spoke and wore it all on my sleeve.  It starts at the end of August, and until then I can relax and enjoy the ebb of the final days of my first Portland summer.  But first, to spend a long weekend at one of the most relaxing retreats I could imagine: Tim’s family’s cabin on Like Higgins in Michigan.

But back to our oceanic adventure.

As a sweet end to a beautiful day, we returned home to find this gift bestowed upon our dining room table.  It certainly isn’t a bad thing to have neighbors with a thriving vegetable garden.

So I made some muffins.  Because let’s be honest…who doesn’t love muffins?

Raspberry Summer Squash Flax MuffinsYields 12 muffins

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup sugar (I used the raw Trader Joe’s kind)
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 large organic summer squash
  • 1 cup raspberries (I used organic frozen, but you can certainly use fresh)
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg (freshly grated is best!)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp. flax seeds
  • Non-stick cooking spray for muffin tins (I used vegetable oil to coat the tins, but spray is easier)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grate summer squash using a large cheese grater, and set aside.  Combine sugar, vegetable oil and eggs into a small bowl.  Stir to combine, then set aside.   In a separate bowl, combine all dry ingredients including flax seeds, and stir to combine.  Incorporate the wet ingredients into the dry.  Add grated squash, stir.  Fold in frozen raspberries, being careful not to over-stir at this point (because your batter will become pink and your raspberries will lose their body).  Pour batter to about 3/4 of the way up the tin using a spoon.  Place in the oven and bake for about 45 minutes, or until a toothpick or metal object placed inside one of the muffins comes out dry.  


Lentil Cakes with Cucumber Dill Raita

There are a few reasons why I chose to make this recipe.

1.  Frankly, I’m sick of making popsicles.

2.  I had a whole bunch of plain yogurt in my fridge that needed to get used up.  I bought the dill specifically for this reason: I have been wanting to make raita/something to dip my baby carrots in on a hot day for a while now, so with some leftover raita this recipe is a two-fer.  Two birds, one stone.

3.  I also had this huge bag of lentils from when we first moved in that we haven’t used and was starting to feel guilty about it, oddly enough.  Is there such a thing as chef’s guilt?  For not using what you’ve got before it starts to go bad (like the chard and beets sitting in my veggie drawer as I type)?  Even with non-perishables?  Because if so, I have it.

4. For the first time in almost two months of living in my new spot, it was the first night that I had the entire place to myself.  The boyfriend, roommate and puppy went camping for Ryan’s birthday, and since I had a Plate & Pitchfork event the next day, I couldn’t go.  I enjoy cooking no matter who’s home, but the fact that I had the place to myself that night meant that I could go on a cooking spree uninhibited and uninterrupted.  What’s further, I could cook whatever I wanted because I would be the only one eating it.  I’d be surprised to find myself in the majority opinion of the household when it comes to lentils normally, but this night was different.

5.  Look at the size of these spinach leaves from our neighbor’s veggie garden! How could I not include these in the recipe?!  They are so awesome.

Lentil Cakes with Cucumber Dill Raita 

Yields: 8-10 small to medium sized lentil cakes

Ingredients

Raita:

  • 1-2 cups of yogurt, must be PLAIN
  • 2 Tbsp. Vegannaise, or plain mayo (I prefer the taste of Vegannaise and it’s much healthier)
  • Half a cucumber, skin-on and thinly sliced and julienned (with a mandolin if you have one.  If not, try to mince the cucumber as thinly as possible)
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup of fresh dill, chopped
  • a handful of capers, chopped
  • juice from 1/2 a lemon
  • Optional: a few splashes of hot sauce of your choosing (I added Secret Aardvark Habanero hot sauce and it worked perfectly to add a hint of residual spiciness)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Lentil Cakes:

  • 1 cup organic lentils
  • 1 cup brown rice
  • Half an onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup fresh spinach, chopped
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp curry powder
  • a nice sprinkle of chili flakes
  • 1 cap-full of apple cider vinegar, for lentils
  • olive oil for sauteing
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Oil for cooking, preferably a higher smoking point oil.  I used a few tablespoons of pork lard that I rendered in a slow-cooker a while back and have kept stored in the freezer.  It works amazingly well for cooking pancakes, grilled cheeses, and in baking for pie crusts, etc.  It makes it much easier to avoid burning what you’re cooking, and as an added bonus you add a very slight bacon-y flavor to whatever you’re cooking.  I don’t expect you to have lard on hand, however I do recommend looking into it for future recipes)
  • optional: a handful of golden raisins or dried apricots, chopped.  (I actually used about a tablespoon of homemade apricot preserves I had made a few weeks ago that worked very well in this recipe)

Start by soaking the lentils on very low heat in salted water for an hour or two.  During this time you can prepare the Raita.  Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, stir well to combine and throw back in the refrigerator.  Drain the lentils, add fresh (salt added) water and cook according to package directions.  At the same time, cook rice according to package directions on a separate burner.  When the lentils are firm and starting to “pop”, remove from heat, add a splash of apple cider vinegar and stir to incorporate fully (don’t add too much, just maybe a cap-full, because any more than that is overpowering).  Allow the lentils and rice to cool down while you saute the sliced onion in olive oil, and when translucent add the chopped fresh spinach, curry powder, salt and pepper and stir until well incorporated and nicely wilted.  

In a large bowl, combine the lentils, brown rice, onion/spinach mix (and raisins, dried apricots, or apricot preserves if you’d like).  Add the eggs as well (it would have been smarter of me to combine the eggs in a small bowl and whip before adding them to the mix beforehand) and stir to incorporate fully.

In a saute pan, heat the oil or lard until sizzling hot (my trick is to soak my hand with water from the sink and “throw” the residual water into the pan to see if it sizzles.  If not, be patient for a few minutes then try again, and if so then it’s ready to go).  Add the lentil “batter” to the pan, forming small palm-sized circular patties.  It’s important to keep in mind that they are fragile and prone to break or split easily.  Do not to mess with them too early or else they will break, but also keep a patient yet diligent eye on them so as to prevent burning.  This can be tricky, but I suggest letting them sit on each side for 4-5 minutes and then flipping them very carefully in between.  As with pancakes, once each batch is finished, place them carefully on a plate and keep them in a warmed oven until completely finished.

Place 2 to 3 on a each plate, and top with the chilled Raita.  Serve with a lemon wedge and maybe some extra fresh dill if you have left over, which you should.

What I love about this recipe is that there’s so much room for playfulness here.  You can add almost anything you’d like to the cakes, whether it’s broccoli, kale, cilantro, zucchini, chopped apples, flax seeds, nutritional yeast, etc.  Its a great canvas for exploration, and I suggest, if you are interested in making a similar recipe, that you do add your own twist to it.  I’d love to hear your ideas or suggestions.

Ingredient of the Week: Fresh Turmeric

In an attempt to expand my mental pantry, I’m going to be selecting an ingredient each week to highlight right here on this blog.  These explorations will likely feature something I’ve never or hardly ever used in my cooking that I may come across at the market or read about on a food blog or book.

To start this project I’d like to introduce you all to fresh turmeric.  I found this root ingredient at the Aspen Emporium and Flying Circus the other day while I was picking up some produce.  At first glance I thought it was ginger root because of the similarity in skin and appearance.  Upon closer look though, I was able to distinguished turmeric by its deep orange color underneath the skin as well as it’s smaller size and less nobby shape in comparison to ginger.   I’ve seen ground turmeric among spice selections at most markets, and in fact have some in the spice cupboard here at home, but fresh turmeric root is something new and entirely different from it’s dried and ground counterpart.  You can find ground turmeric in the spice aisle of most supermarkets, but fresh turmeric can be more difficult to find.  Believe me, it’s worth the hunt.

If you know the difference in flavor between ground ginger and fresh ginger or garlic powder and fresh garlic, then you can understand why fresh turmeric was an exciting find for me.  The freshly grated adds a mild, earthy and almost refreshing flavor to dishes that the dried version absolutely lacks, without being overpowering.  I was warned before purchasing that it is commonly used as a coloring agent in cooking, acting as a naturally yellow dye to many of the products we see in the grocery store today: mustards, curry powders, etc.  After having cooked with it rather carelessly, I now know what they were talking about: the dye is so powerful that it actually stains your skin yellow when you handle it.  For both color and flavor it is an essential component in curries and thus a staple ingredient many Indian, Moroccan and Middle Eastern dishes.

Parsnips, brussel sprouts and red jalapeno with fresh turmeric (check out that color!) served over brown rice with a farm greens salad (these greens were brought home from CRMPI)

Aside from color and flavor, (fresh) turmeric contains the active ingredient curcumin which boasts some incredible health benefits.  Research suggests that in addition to it’s  high antioxidant content, it is also purported to aid in anti-inflammation, lower both blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and may even prevent certain types of cancers.  Other benefits of turmeric (curcumin) include stomach-soothing, antibacterial and liver detoxifying properties.  For these reasons, curcumin can now be found in many health food and alternative medicine stores in powder and pill forms for supplemental use.

Below are two simple recipes featuring fresh turmeric:

Turmeric Kale Chips

Ingredients:

  • 3 or 4 leaves of kale, rinsed, stems removed and roughly chopped (I brought these home from CRMPI)
  • drizzle of olive oil
  • generous grating of fresh turmeric
  • kosher salt and pepper to taste
  • dried chili flakes (optional)

Preheat oven to 425.  In a large bowl, combine all ingredients and mix well to incorporate the oil and spices evenly onto the kale pieces.  

Spread kale on baking sheet and spread out so that the leaves are overlapping as little as possible.  

Bake for 45 to an hour, until the leaves are dried and crispy without any sogginess.  They should not be brown or burnt but rather take on a darker green hue.  Remove from oven, allow to cool for five minutes, and enjoy.

Deviled Farm Eggs with Fresh Turmeric 

I was reminded of my love for deviled eggs at The Cheese Shop’s Farm-to-Table Dinner (they used duck eggs) a few weeks ago, and going by the fairly traditional recipe of curried deviled eggs I was inspired to create my own version using freshly grated turmeric.

Ingredients

  • However many farm eggs you’d like (For a snack portion, I used two of the farm eggs I took home from CRMPI)
  • Mayonnaise, aioli, or anything similar (Vegannaise is also a great healthier option)
  • Dijon mustard
  • Generous grating of fresh turmeric
  • half a scallion, minced (can also use garlic, onion or shallot), also a few more slices for a nice garnish
  • dash of dried chili flakes to taste (you can also use a hot sauce like Tabasco or Cholula if you like the heat)
  • kosher salt and pepper to taste
  • paprika, for garnish

First you must hard boil the eggs.  To do this place the eggs in a saucepan and fill with water so as to immerse the eggs entirely in the water.  Bring the water to a boil on high heat, simmer at a boil for a minute and then turn the heat down low and let simmer for fifteen or so minutes.  My eggs actually took over a half hour simmering, because I live at 8500 feet and they still were just barely cooked through at the fifteen minute mark.  I personally would recommend allowing the eggs to simmer for longer than instructed, but the only way to know is to sacrifice an egg, peel it open and if it’s ready, great; if not, keep them simmering and, alas, savor that soft-boiled deliciousness.  Once the eggs have been cooking for as long as your patience can handle, drain the hot water and re-fill the saucepan with cold water (a few ice cubes speed up the cooling proces) and allow to sit for about 10 minutes as this will ease the already difficult task of peeling the eggs.

Once peeled, slice eggs in half and separate the yolks from the whites.  In a bowl, combine yolks with mayo, mustard, fresh turmeric, scallion, chili flakes, salt and pepper, using a fork to mix and incorporate all ingredients.  The mixture should become silky and soft, rather than chunky, after a few minutes of mixing.  Spoon or pipe the mix back into the whites and top with some sliced scallions and a sprinkle of paprika.

I encourage you all to get out there and give fresh turmeric a try for yourself.  Besides these recipes, I would suggest adding freshly grated turmeric to simply sauteed veggies, or incorporating it into traditional recipes for those extra little kicks of flavor, color, and sheer nutritional value.

Bacon Wrapped Asparagus with a Duck’s Egg

Ever since I have discovered a few markets where I can easily find organic produce and quality meat, dairy and grain products (namely, Vitamin Cottage in Glenwood Springs and The Aspen Emporium & Flying Circus) in and around the relatively isolated Aspen/Snowmass area, I have had this new obsession with creating simple recipes with quality ingredients and only a few easy steps.  The great thing about cooking simply, or cooking in general for that matter, is that ingredients used in the recipes can be substituted to suit your tastes.  Despite the simplicity, I still want to post my recipes in hopes that you might find some inspiration to create your own.  Please feel free to use my posts as models, rather than recipes, in order to cook a dish that suites your taste.

Bacon Wrapped Asparagus with a Duck’s Egg

wrap a small bundle of organic (smaller and thinner than non-organic) asparagus in two to three pieces of bacon (I used all-natural uncured which gave it an amazing flavor)

I will use my sister Kyle as an example.  With this recipeI know how much she despises asparagus so if I were to cook it for her I would substitute, say, brussel sprouts or something of the like.

pan saute the bacon-wrapped bundle on medium heat until it is cooked thoroughly by rotating ninety degrees every minute or so (the thin asparagus needs hardly any cooking at all to achieve a soft yet crispy texture, so focus here on the doneness of the bacon, which should be crispy and caramelized all around rather than chewy)

Brussel sprouts, however, don’t have a shape that is conducive to wrapping whole slices of bacon around it.  Therefore, I suggest chopping the bacon into small pieces and pan saute it with the brussel sprout halves so that they cook in the yummy bacon grease to get that great flavor and caramelized color.

on a non-stick pre-heated pan, fry a duck's egg over easy by cooking it sunny side up until most of the white is cooked, then flip over for a quick sear on the other side and remove from heat. Serve on top of the asparagus with a runny yolk, and alongside a small salad or any other side of your choosing.

Once the brussel sprout/bacon mixture is done, remove from the pan and cook the duck’s egg in the same pan (that is still hopefully coated in bacon grease) for two reasons: the grease helps to ensure the egg does not stick to the pan, and also to get that great bacon flavor into the egg.

As a substitute for bacon, you could use prosciutto or turkey bacon.  For the duck’s egg, any type of egg is fine but it’s best to use free-range organic eggs as always.