Category Archives: eggs

Quick Spring Dinner: Stir-fried Noodles with Ramps & Eggs

and roasted cauliflower and fish cake (aka surimi aka imitation crab)

This is the kind of quick, simple cooking I rarely blog about because it doesn’t involve any advance research and usually happens at the end of a busy day when I’m too hungry to bother with pictures. But I was excited about my first ramps of the season and pleased enough with how the meal turned out that I decided this might be worth sharing.

Ramps are wild onions (or leeks) that grow across North America from South Carolina to Quebec in the early spring. Like morels, they’ve acquired a special status in part because they’re generally perceived as tasty and in part because they aren’t cultivated commercially, and thus can be difficult to come by. Unless, of course, you know how to forage for them, which is especially common in Appalachia and the Great Smoky Mountains. All of which gives ramps a sort of split personality: they’re prized by fancy urban restaurants because they’re the epitome of the “fresh, local, seasonal” aesthetic—they’re only available for a short time every year and too delicate to transport far or store for very long. But they’re wild and free and used extensively in some of the poorest regions of the country, where their short growing season is celebrated at the kinds of middle America heritage festivals whose attractions might include an RV rally or an outhouse race.

two bunches, $4 at Eastern Market in Detroit

If you happen to get your hands on some, you can use them the way you’d use any green/spring onion. Unlike commercially-cultivated leeks, their green tops are tender enough to eat. I decided to  freeze the ones from these bunches for the next time I make stock because I love the flavor of leeks in soup.

As for the rest, I minced the white parts of the ramps to sauté in bacon fat along with some garlic and ginger while boiling a few handfuls of udon noodles. Spaghetti would have worked, too. I left the slender burgundy stalks whole and added them in later, once the garlic and white parts had started to soften.

kind of similar to how I might cook garlic scapes

Then I tossed in some chopped, roasted cauliflower left over from dinner a few nights earlier, and when the noodles were done, I drained them and added them to the frying pan along with a splash of soy sauce. Meanwhile, I threw a couple of eggs in the same pot I cooked the noodles in and let them boil for 5 minutes (so the yolks would still be just a little custardy in the middle) while I stirred the noodles until they were evenly coated. Added a package of fish cake and stirred some more, just until that was heated through—if I wanted to get fancy, I might have used a can of real crab instead. I'm really not sure if this is more Chez Panisse or RV Rally. Maybe somewhere in between?

Garnished with the eggs and some chives from a friend’s garden, as seen above. Kind of like a cross between Vietnamese garlic noodles and udon soup—the noodles were studded with bits of the sautéed ramps & other vegetables, full of funky garlicky flavor, with slightly-sweet bits of fish cake and the creamy semi-hard boiled eggs. In retrospect, some kind of bitter greens would have made a nice addition, but it was pretty delicious as is.

Good Egg Update: Someone’s Keeping Score

I'm curious what the standards for county fair chicken judging are, but that sounds like a recipe for serious wikihole disaster From flickr user BrotherM

The Organic Egg Scorecard

At the beginning of the summer, I wrote about discovering that all my assumptions about “free range” eggs were wrong. I thought they were probably more environmentally-friendly than conventional eggs, but it turns out, they generally have a greater environmental impact, largely because it takes more feed and water to produce the same amount of eggs. I thought they were supposed to be more nutritious than conventional eggs, but it turns out that comparisons of key nutrients are totally inconsistent. I thought they were better-tasting, but it turns out that in blind taste tests, no one can tell the difference in how they taste. Furthermore, eggs sold with “cage free” and “organic” labels are almost all laid by chickens with no access to pasture and sunlight and who use their greater freedom primarily to attack and cannibalize each other (probably because of the stress induced by their crowded quarters), which doesn’t seem like a very meaningful improvement in chicken welfare.

Pastured eggs are a whole different story—they may still be less efficient than battery-cage eggs (although the more the chickens rely on grubs, seeds, and fresh forage instead of grain, the better they should be on that measure) and they’re still indistinguishable in blind taste tests, but they are reliably more nutritious according to multiple measures and they come from chickens with meaningful access to sunlight and room to move around and forage and scratch. Pastured chickens tend to live almost three times as long as factory chickens and they suffer far fewer injuries from fellow chickens, which is good for both efficiency and animal welfare.

So if you want optimally nutritious and humanely-produced eggs, and you have access to pastured eggs, and you can afford them, that’s the way to go. Unfortunately, aside from buying eggs from a farmer’s market, a neighbor, or setting up your own coop, it was virtually impossible to know whether the specialty eggs you were buying came from pastured hens. Until recently: a couple of weeks ago, the Cornucopia Institute, a farm policy think tank based in Wisconsin, published a massive report on Organic-certified egg farms which includes a scorecard. All the producers rated three stars “eggs” or higher provide “meaningful outdoor space” (well, it’s “under construction” at some of the three-egg places but already exists at four and five “egg” producers). Five-egg producers “raise their hens in mobile housing on well-managed and ample pasture or in fixed housing with intensively managed rotated pasture.”

And the Eggcademy Awards go to....(click for full scorecard) The top 5 egg producers in America, according to the Cornucopia Institute

Voter Information for Citizen-Shoppers

As the “5-egg” rating description also notes, most of these producers sell their eggs through farmer’s markets, co-ops, and independent natural foods stores, but eggs from one of the five-egg producers—Vital Farms from Austin, Texas—may be available at Whole Foods Markets nationwide and many of the three-egg producers distribute across large regions. One, Organic Valley, is also available nationwide.

I’m a little disappointed that the Cornucopia Institute included producers who refused to participate in the study in their official rankings. It seems like it would have been more honest to create a separate “N/A” category and let people draw their own conclusions. The only private-label (or store brand) producer they have a rating for is Whole Foods’ 365 Organic, which got the lowest numerical and egg-rating available for being, “produced on industrial farms that house hundreds of thousands of birds and do not grant the birds meaningful outdoor access.” I agree with the institute that it’s probably safe to assume the same is true of Trader Joe’s store brand, Meijer Organics, Costco’s Kirkland Signature, Safeway’s O Organic, and etc. but I still prefer it when people make the limits of their actual research clear.

Nonetheless, the scorecard is a good way to figure out whether there are any pastured eggs available where you live and shop. For people who already make a habit of buying “free range” or “organic” eggs, now you can find out whether those brands really follow the kinds of egg production practices you want to support. Unfortunately, if you’ve been buying Eggland’s Best, Full Circle, or store-brand “cage free” or “organic” eggs, chances are you’re just paying a premium for eggs that are no healthier or tastier (no matter how much darker the yolks are) and come from less-efficient and more-likely-to-cannibalize-each-other chickens.

"cage free" hens from Maine, "organic" if their feed isPhoto by John Patriquin, Portland Press Herald via USATODAY.com

In fact, the report’s major finding is that most eggs bearing the USDA Organic logo don’t meet the minimum standards for “Organic” egg production or most consumer’s expectations.“Organic” eggs are supposed to come from chickens who have access to the outdoors, but the vast majority of them (80% or more) come from huge producers who just build a tiny porch adjacent to their massive chicken warehouses, often measuring just 3 to 5 percent of the square footage of the main building. A couple of those producers are quoted in the Cornucopia Institute press release about the report:

“We are strongly opposed to any requirement for hens to have access to the soil,” said Kurt Kreher of Kreher’s Sunrise Farms in Clarence, N.Y. And Bart Slaugh, director of quality assurance at Eggland’s Best, a marketer of both conventional and organic eggs based in Jeffersonville, Pa., noted that, “The push for continually expanding outdoor access … needs to stop.”

So if outdoor access for chickens is important to you and you’re a believer in “voting with your fork,” this scorecard is like your egg election-day cheat sheet.

P.S. The Cornucopia Institute has also published reports on organic dairy and organic soy.

This Is What Food Reform Looks Like

However, the Cornucopia Institute isn’t mounting a big publicity campaign to get consumers to go out and shop differently, probably because even if they could convince everyone to seek out pastured eggs, they’d run into a big problem immediately: there just aren’t enough pastured eggs to go around. Furthermore, trying to reform the food system by reforming consumer demand is an expensive, slow, and uncertain process. How many people have to stop buying the bad “Organic certified” eggs before producers become willing to invest in the USDA-organicinfrastructure required to give chickens meaningful outdoor access? In the meantime, if there aren’t enough pastured eggs to go around, should people just stop eating eggs entirely or default to conventional eggs? What kind of price premium are people really willing to pay for pastured eggs? How many consumers will just say “screw it, I’ll just take the cheap, efficient eggs” which are still totally delicious and, if not optimally healthy, still probably not going to kill them? The relationship between consumer demand and supply is not as simple as “build it and they will come.”

What the Cornucopia Institute is actually doing instead sounds like a much better plan: they’ve filed legal complaints against producers that offer chickens no access to the outdoors or only have very small enclosed porches but still sell their eggs under the UDSA Organic label. They used the same strategy to persuade the USDA to to create better standards for Organic-certified dairy, which are being phased in gradually through June 2011 (and basically require ruminants like cows, sheep and goats to obtain a significant amount of their feed intake from grazing on pasture). In other words, they’re asking the USDA to make the “Organic” label mean what consumers think it means, and what the USDA’s own language makes it sound like it means. They’re trying to make the USDA hold egg producers to a higher standard.

Of course, none of this has anything to do with the vast majority of the eggs produced, sold, and consumed in the U.S., which don’t bear any kind of specialty label. Also, even if the Cornucopia Institute and allied groups actually succeed in getting the USDA to beef up and enforce their standards for “organic” eggs, the immediate effect will probably be a reduction in the amount of “organic” eggs available and an increase in the price of eggs that retain the “organic” label. More people will probably be priced out of the specialty egg market. But it might actually have a small but meaningful effect on the quality of specialty eggs and the welfare of a small minority of egg-laying hens. And it would give wealthier consumers a more meaningful choice at the supermarket. Um, yay?

Deviled Eggs with Saffron Aioli: A waste of a very expensive spice

they're prettier if you pipe the yolks back in with an icing tip, but I usually just can't be bothered

The Emperor’s New Spice

Saffron is well-known for being the most expensive spice in the world. In 2009, the average U.S. retail price was nearly  $3000/lb. For comparison, vanilla beans, the second most expensive spice, retail around $150/lb and even if the cheapest you can get them is $5/piece, they’re only about $450/lb. Although saffron is prized for its aroma, its subtle flavor, and its ability to dye dishes a rich golden hue, the cost is primarily due to how resource and labor-intensive it is to produce.

the saffron crocus, from WikipediaEach thread of saffron is a pistil from a particular species of crocus, and each flower only produces three of them. It takes 170,000 flowers to produce a single kilogram of dried saffron. Furthermore, the pistils have to be harvested by hand during the short window of time when they bloom in October, and the harvesting must happen before sunrise because the flowers are so delicate that they wilt in the sun.

As my friend Kevin recently pointed out, saffron is a great example of something priced at its economic or exchange value rather than at its intrinsic (or use) value. As lovely as it smells, its aromatic compounds are extremely volatile and especially vulnerable to light and oxidizing agents. It’s somewhat more resistant to heat, but I generally find the flavor all but impossible to discern in most dishes, including some of the classic applications like paella and bouillabaisse. Given that, I probably should have known better than to put it in deviled eggs, which get their name from the pungent spices combined with the yolks. I could barely even discern it in the aioli on its own.

However, it sure does make things sound fancier. Kevin also recalled a recipe he’d seen for a bean dish involving saffron that noted, “adding saffron to beans is a good way to tell your guests that you’re not just being cheap by serving them beans.” And this, I think, is the true function of saffron at least most of the time: it’s something you put in food to prove you know what it is and can afford it, and then everyone feels compelled to say they can taste it and maybe they even think they do. But really, you could get the same effect by just telling people you put saffron in the dish.

A Classic for a Reason

In the future, I’ll probably skip the saffron-soaking. And I’ll probably just use Hellman’s/Best Foods mayonnaise with a little garlic and lemon juice mixed in instead of making my aioli from scratch. If, for some reason, you really want the aioli to be a vibrant yellow (not that you can tell anyway if you’re mixing it with egg yolks), you could always add some turmeric. Of course, then what you’ve got is just plain old deviled eggs. But there’s probably a reason the same basic preparation has been around for possibly as long as eggs and spices have been consumed.

I should have done half saffron aioli and half Hellmann's and seen if anyone could tell the difference.

According to The Food Timeline, recipes for boiled eggs topped with spicy sauces appear shortly after the Ancient Greeks and Romans domesticated egg-laying birds. There are recipes for spicy stuffed eggs in a 13th C. Andalusian cookbook, 15th C. Italian cookbooks, and 16th and 17th C. British cookbooks. Sometimes the recipes call for the yolks to be pounded with raisins, cheese, and spices like cinnamon and cloves, which might have produced something similar to mincemeat. However, mustard, onion, parsley, and cayenne are also common flavorings, and would probably have produced something virtually indistinguishable from the way most people “devil” their eggs today.

The association with the devil is apparently an 18th C. invention. As a culinary verb it was used for other hot & pungent preparations too— “devilled biscuits” referring to shortbreads spread with anchovy paste, mustard, and cayenne and then grilled (doesn’t that sound fantastic?) and seafood preparations that usually sound something like a curry. At least one cookbook suggested “devilling” or broiling meat with cayenne as a way of dealing with “relics of poultry or game.” None of them, I should note, involve saffron, and in retrospect if there’s anywhere you could expect saffron to shine, a dish specifically noted for being devilishly spicy is probably not it. So here’s a very foolish recipe if you want to waste some saffron, too. Or just skip to the egg part:

Recipe: Deviled Eggs with Saffron Aioli (makes enough aioli for about 2 dozen eggs)

Ingredients:

For the aioli:the water-solubility of the pigments is one of the reasons it's traditionally used to color/flavor grain dishes, becasue if you diffuse it in the liquid first it dramatically changes the appearance of the dish

  • a large pinch of saffron (about 20 threads)
  • 1 1/2 T. warm water
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 t. white wine vinegar
  • 2 t. lemon juice (plus more if needed)
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 t. mustard powder
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of white pepper
  • 1/2 c. canola
  • 1/4 c. olive oil

For the deviled eggs:saffron tea

  • 1 dozen eggs
  • 1/2 cup saffron aioli
  • 1 T. Dijon mustard
  • 1 t. celery salt (or celery seed + salt)
  • 1/2 t. ground white pepper (or black pepper)
  • pinch of cayenne (optional)
  • paprika to garnish (optional)
  • pimento slices to garnish (optional)

Method

For the aioli:

1. Place the saffron and warm water in a small bowl and let soak for about 20 minutes

2. Immersion blender method: Put the saffron tea, and all of the other ingredients except for the oils in a 2 cup measure or the beaker that came with the blender and then place the blender flush against the bottom. Carefully pour the canola oil into the container so that it sits on top of the other ingredients and let the contents settle for a minute. Without lifting or moving the blender at all, begin pulsing it. A cloud of emulsified dressing should begin to bloom up from the bottom. Keep pulsing for about a minute, until at least half of the mixture is emulsified. Then, begin to slowly rock or rotate the blender to incorporate more of the oil. Once almost all of the mixture is emulsified, plunge the blender vertically through the mixture once or twice until the texture is homogenous. Then, whisk in the olive oil by hand. Do Not use a blender to combine the olive oil or substitute olive oil for the canola—blending olive oil releases bitter-tasting compounds that will ruin the aioli.

everything but the oil goes in the measuring cup immersion blender flush against the bottom of the measure pour the oil in after putting the blender in so it sits on top of the other ingredients pulse to gradually incorporate and emuslify the oil

Food processor method: Put the saffron tea and all the other ingredients except for the oils in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. With the processor running, add the oil slowly—start with just a few drops at a time, gradually working up to a thin stream. Once the emulsification has formed you can add the oil more quickly. After all the canola has been emulsified, stop the processor and whisk in the olive oil by hand.

Whisk method: Combine the egg yolk, vinegar, lemon juice, and spices and whisk together until the yolk begins to lighten in color. Whisking constantly and furiously, begin to add the oil one or two droplets at a time. Once the emulsification begins to form, you can add the oil a thin, steady stream. After all the canola has been added in and emulsified, whisk in the olive oil and the saffron tea.

3. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired. Let sit at room temperature for 4-6 hrs to help kill any unwanted bacteria. Then, refrigerate and use within a week.

this was slightly more liquid than the mayonnaise I've made before, I assume because of the 1.5 T. water required to soak the saffron

For the deviled eggs:

1. Place the eggs in a pot with enough cold water to cover by at least 1”.

2. Bring to a rapid boil and set a timer for 6 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, prepare an ice-water bath. As soon as the six minutes is up, drain the eggs and plunge them into the cold water.

4. When the eggs are cool enough to handle, peel them and cut them in half. Squeeze gently to remove the yolks.yolks out the aioli was actually almost exactly the same color as the yolks, so it's hard to discern here

5. Combine the yolks with the aioli (or 1/2 cup prepared mayonnaise combined with a clove of minced garlic and 2 t. lemon juice), mustard, and spices and stir until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.

6. Fill the whites with a rounded scoop of the yolk mixture. Or, if you’re feeling fancy, pipe the mixture back into the whites with an icing bag and tip.

7. Garnish with a sprinkle of paprika and slice of pimento, if desired.

early 20th C. American cookbooks often suggest serving them on a bed of chopped cresses or cabbage, so that's always an option for presentation as well

Baked Eggs in Tomato Sauce: Good, cheap, and fast (yes you can have all three)

if you have bigger ramekins, you can bake 2 or even 4 per dish, though you may have to increase the cooking time  

Just another variation on baked eggs, which turns basic pantry staples into a main dish that works well for brunch and also makes for an easy weeknight meal. Perfect for the kind of day when you’re just too busy to make anything very elaborate (or write much of anything on your blog—although if you really want to read more about eggs, I got your eggs right here).

they were soft but not quite runny. also: no flash and forgot to correct for tungsten light.The key to getting the whites to set softly while the yolks stay runny is to let the eggs come to room temperature before baking them and then take them out of the oven a minute or two before they look “done” because they will continue to cook for a couple of minutes from the residual heat.

Of course, if you’re completely preoccupied or in a rush and forget to take the eggs out of the refrigerator before you make the tomato sauce and then forget to set an oven timer, both of which I did, the worst that can happen is you end up with cooked yolks. They’re still tasty, and the tomato sauce is almost as good for sopping up with bread alone as it would be muddled with warm, runny yolks.

Like most egg-based dishes, the possibilities are basically endless—you can certainly bake eggs without tomato sauce, which is often called “coddled” or “shirred” eggs, usually dotted with butter or cream and sprinkled with herbs before they go in the oven. I added some leftover spinach-artichoke dip to the tomato sauce, and that could have been a base for the eggs on its own if I’d had more of it. You can add some chopped up cooked meat (especially bacon or prosciutto), a smear of soft cheese, some cooked greens or pesto, or any kind of herbs you think sound tasty. I suspect that tarragon and gruyere would be a nice combination.

Toasted bread is almost compulsory, especially if you get the yolks right. If you have the time and ingredients, a green salad would be a nice accompaniment. But perhaps the best thing about baked eggs is that they basically feel like a complete meal all on their own. roughly 20 minutes after starting, all prepped and ready to go in the oven

Recipe: Baked Eggs in Tomato Sauce (adapted from Martha Stewart)

  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • 1-2 T. oil or butter (plus a little more or some cream for dotting eggs before baking, if desired)
  • 15 oz. can diced or crushed tomato
  • 1 t. fresh thyme, rosemary, chives, parsley, and/or oregano
  • 4 eggs
  • a few pinches of salt
  • a few grinds of black pepper
  • 3-4 T. grated hard cheese like parmeggiano reggiano, romano or asiago
  • 1 shallot or ~1 T. minced onion (optional)
  • 1/4 cup leftover spinach artichoke dip or cooked greens or 1 T. tapenade or pesto (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 325 F.

2. Mince the garlic and shallot or onion, if using, and cook in the oil or butter until golden.   

3. Add the canned tomato and cook about 10 minutes until the liquid has reduced, breaking up the tomatoes a bit. Add the herbs and cooked greens and any other additions, if using.

just tomatoes and garlicplus the spinach artichoke dip and some herbs

4. Place the dishes on a baking sheet and divide the tomato sauce between them. For four 4-oz dishes: break one egg into each dish. 8-12 oz. dishes can hold 2 eggs each. Top with a sprinkle of salt, a little black pepper, more chopped herbs, and some grated cheese. Add a few dots of butter or dribble of cream, if desired.

a bed of savory, richly umami sauce and of course, while they're in the oven, you can tend to all the other things in your life that need tending

5. Bake for 14-18 minutes or until whites are just set. If doing 2 eggs/dish, they may take a few minutes longer.

almost like little individual savory custards, but without fussing with tempering or water baths or anything of that

You’re All Good Eggs: New research shows that specialty eggs aren’t any better for the environment or more delicious

Next year, I will decorate Easter eggs and they will have faces. See 39 other pictures of egg face dioramas at The Design Inspiration by clicking on image

Two articles about eggs published last week have rocked my commitment to paying the specialty egg surcharge. I’m still tentatively on the organic, cage-free, local egg bandwagon for animal welfare and health concerns, but I have to admit that even those reasons may be a little flimsy. The four main reasons given for the superiority of specialty eggs are:

1. They’re better for the environment
2. They taste better
3. They’re produced in a more humane way
4. They’re healthier

There may also be an argument for supporting local producers who might employ less exploitative or abusive labor practices, although that’s not guaranteed. In order to help offset the increased labor requirements of non-conventional practices, small and local farms often rely on unpaid interns and family members, including children. Not that I think it’s a major ethical abuse to have your kids gather eggs, but I often feel at least a little pang of sympathy for the kids—often Amish, sometimes very young-looking—manning farmer’s market booths alone. So I’m deliberately tabling the labor issue because 1) I suspect that the issue of labor conditions at small, local farms vs. big, industrial ones is, like so many things related to the food industry, complicated and 2) it’s nowhere near the top of the list of most consumers’ concerns about eggs.

1. Green Eggs vs. Ham

On June 1, Slate’s Green Lantern reported that specialty eggs (cage-free, free range, and organic) have a greater environmental impact than conventional based on land use, greenhouse gas emissions, and feed efficiency (measured by kg eggs laid/kg feed). The article also noted that according to life-cycle analysis, a recent review article by two Dutch researchers found no consistent or conclusive difference between the environmental impact of pork, chicken, milk, and eggs. Beef requires more land, water, and feed, but pound for pound (or kilogram for kilogram—most life-cycle analyses are European), the review, “did not show consistent differences in environmental impact per kg protein in milk, pork, chicken and eggs.”

The Lantern didn’t evaluate the transportation costs “since the majority of the impacts associated with chicken-rearing comes from producing their feed.” For local eggs, the reduced transportation costs might help balance out the increased feed requirement, but that’s just speculation. For cage-free, free-range, organic, or vegetarian eggs, transportation costs probably further increase the relative impact because not only do they travel just as far or farther than conventional eggs to get to the market, there are probably costs associated with transporting the additional feed they require.

I don't remember where I first heard the story about the egg yolk-inspired label, but it's documented in multiple places, including Red, White, and Drunk All Over and the biography of The Widow Cliquot by Tilar MazzeoMy initial response was basically:

Well, that’s too bad, but efficiency be damned, if it takes more feed and produces higher ammonia emissions to treat chickens humanely and produce healthy eggs with yolks the vibrant orange-yellow of a Veuve Cliquot label, so be it. I know specialty eggs are better, I can see and taste the difference.

2. Golden Eggs

Not so much, apparently. The very next day, The Washington Post published the results of a blind taste test of “ordinary supermarket-brand eggs, organic supermarket eggs, high-end organic Country Hen brand eggs and [eggs from the author’s own backyard chickens].” Blindfolded and spoon-fed, the tasters—two food professionals and six “avocationally culinary” folks with “highly critical palates”—struggled to find differences between the eggs, which were soft cooked to ensure firm whites and runny yolks.

And apparently, this isn’t a new finding. It replicates the results of years of research by food scientists:

Had Pat Curtis, a poultry scientist at Auburn University, been at the tasting, she wouldn’t have been at all surprised. "People’s perception of egg flavor is mostly psychological," she told me in a phone interview. "If you ask them what tastes best, they’ll choose whatever they grew up with, whatever they buy at the market. When you have them actually taste, there’s not enough difference to tell."

The egg industry has been conducting blind tastings for years. The only difference is that they don’t use dish-towel blindfolds; they have special lights that mask the color of the yolks. "If people can see the difference in the eggs, they also find flavor differences," Curtis says. "But if they have no visual cues, they don’t."

Freshness can affect the moisture content, and thus the performance of eggs for some applications, especially recipes that rely heavily on beaten egg whites like meringues or angel food cake. But probably not enough for most people to notice. The author also tested a simple spice cake with super-fresh eggs from her backyard versus regular supermarket eggs. The batters looked different, but once the cakes were baked and cooled, they were indistinguishable.

3. Do They Suffer?

Given how self-evidently cruel battery cage poultry production seems, I’m not entirely sure that “free-range” is as meaningless as people like Jonathan Safran Foer have argued. Sure, “cage free” chickens might never see daylight, and the range available to “free range” chickens might be a dubious privilege at best—a crowded concrete lot exposed to some minimal sunlight would fulfill the USDA requirements. But I don’t think it’s entirely marketing gimmickry, either. For one thing, if there were really no difference, the specialty eggs wouldn’t have a larger carbon footprint.

The animal welfare argument relies on the assumption that either chickens have a right not to experience pain or discomfort or that humans have a moral obligation not to cause them pain, or at least wanton, unnecessary or excessive pain. The debate about animal rights/humans’ moral obligations to animals is too big and complicated for me to cover in any real depth here, but I tend to believe that we ought to try to minimize the pain and discomfort of anything that seems capable of suffering. I used to draw the line at the limbic system—i.e. fish and invertebrates might respond to pain but don’t process it in a way that rises to the level of suffering, whereas birds and mammals can suffer and it’s often pretty apparent when they do. However, as it turns out, the boundaries of the limbic system are “grounded more in tradition than in facts,” and there are unsettled questions in my mind about what constitutes suffering and how to evaluate it. 

Even renowned animal rights theorist Peter Singer has gone back and forth about oysters over the years. I suspect that David Foster Wallace was right when he concluded that what guides our behavior in these matters has more to do with historically and culturally-variable forms of moral intuition than any objective criterion for “suffering”:

The scientific and philosophical arguments on either side of the animal-suffering issue are involved, abstruse, technical, often informed by self-interest or ideology, and in the end so totally inconclusive that as a practical matter, in the kitchen or restaurant, it all still seems to come down to individual conscience, going with (no pun) your gut” ("Consider the Lobster” footnote 19).

I hate relying on “I know it when I see it” standards, because I suspect we’re all inclined to see what we want to, but I don’t have a better answer. My gut says that chickens can suffer and that being able to flap around a concrete lot is better than never getting to move at all. However, my gut also says that chickens are pretty stupid creatures, and it might be an entirely reasonable thing to care more about the environmental impact of egg production than the happiness and well-being of the chickens.

4. Eggs Good For You This Week

Health is the issue that matters most to most consumers (see: The Jungle), and unfortunately, the available research on conventional vs. specialty eggs is frustratingly inconclusive. The most common assertion re: the health of specialty eggs concerns omega-3 fatty acids. I’ve mentioned this in passing and will try to devote some more time to it soon, but for now, I’m tentatively convinced that omega-3s are healthful and low ratios of omega-6:omega-3 are optimal.

Some studies have suggested that chickens raised on pasture—i.e. who get at least some of their nutrients from plants, especially clover or alfalfa—produce eggs with more omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins A and E (and less cholesterol and saturated fat, not that that probably matters). However, specialty labels like “cage free,” “free range,” and “organic” don’t mean pastured and the results of the nutritional analysis of eggs bearing those labels don’t provide very clear guidelines about what to purchase.

A 2002 comparison between five different kinds of specialty eggs and conventional eggs found differences between them, but none that lead to a simple characterization of specialty eggs as healthier:

From Cherian et al in Poultry Science 81: 30-33 (2002)

The "animal fat free and high in omega-3” eggs (SP1) had the highest percentage of omega-3 fatty acids and lowest ratio of omega 6: omega 3, and the cage-free, unmedicated brown eggs were also significantly better by that measure. However, the Organic-certified free-range (SP2) and cage-free all-vegetarian-feed eggs (SP4) had similar omega-3 content to the regular eggs. While some of the differences might be due to the feed, the authors note that the age, size, and breed of the hen can also affect the composition of fats and nutrients.

The study also showed that the shells of some of the specialty eggs were weaker, which supports other research showing more breakage and leaking in specialty eggs than conventional and my anecdotal experience of typically having to set aside the first few cartons I pick up because they contain cracked eggs.

Additionally, a 2010 USDA survey of traditional, cage-free, free-range, pasteurized, nutritionally enhanced (omega-3), and fertile eggs also concluded that:

Although significant differences were found between white and brown shell eggs and production methods, average values for quality attributes varied without one egg type consistently maintaining the highest or lowest values. (Abstract here, no free full text available)

In sum, if you can get pastured eggs (either from your own backyard or a farmer whose practices you can interrogate or even observe), they might be a little better for you than conventional. But after reading all this, I still found myself thinking: But what about the color difference? Doesn’t a darker yellow yolk mean the egg itself is healthier? Apparently not:

Yolk colour varies. It is almost completely dependent upon the feed the hen eats. Birds that have access to green plants or have yellow corn or alfalfa in their feed tend to produce dark yolks, due to the higher concentration of yellow pigments (mainly carotenoids) in their diet. Since commercial laying hens are confined, lighter and more uniformly coloured yolks are being produced. Yolk colour does not affect nutritive value or cooking characteristics. Egg yolks are a rich source of vitamin A regardless of colour. (from Wageningen University)

The record on other health concerns like salmonella and dioxin and PCB content is mixed:

4A: Can you eat raw cookie dough if it’s organic?

The salmonella thing is reminiscent of the e coli in grass-fed beef thing: some people actually claim organic chickens have no risk of salmonella. One UK study allegedly found salmonella levels over five times higher in conventional caged hens than in birds raised according to Soil Association organic standards (which are comparable to USDA Organic certification). 23.4% of farms with caged hens tested positive for salmonella compared to 4.4% of farms with organic flocks and 6.5% with free-range flocks. The explanation proffered is that the spread of the disease is inversely related to flock size and density. No link or citation for the study itself.

A 2007 UK study that tested 74 flocks (59 caged and 15 free range) from 8 farms, all of which had been vaccinated against salmonella, found a smaller but still significant difference: 19.4% of cage chicken house samples and 10.2% of free-range chicken house samples taken over a 12-month period tested positive for salmonella. However, they also noted a high degree of variation between flocks, and that the longest continuously-occupied houses were typically the most heavily contaminated. It’s possible that some of the results of other studies can be attributed to the fact that free-range or organic hen operations are likely to be newer and differences between them and conventional may diminish as time goes on.

On this side of the Atlantic, the results seem to show the opposite. A 2005 USDA study that tested free-range, all-natural antibiotic-free, and organic chicken meat (and contamination in chickens themselves has been linked to salmonella in eggs) found salmonella in all three groups at higher rates than in past years’ surveys of commercial chicken meat:

A total of 135 processed free-range chickens from four different commercial free-range chicken producers were sampled in 14 different lots for the presence of Salmonella. Overall, 9 (64%) of 14 lots and 42 (31%) of 135 of the carcasses were positive for Salmonella. No Salmonella were detected in 5 of the 14 lots, and in one lot 100% of the chickens were positive for Salmonella. An additional 53 all-natural (no meat or poultry meal or antibiotics in the feed) processed chickens from eight lots were tested; 25% of the individual chickens from 37% of these lots tested positive for Salmonella. Three lots of chickens from a single organic free-range producer were tested, and all three of the lots and 60% of the individual chickens were positive for Salmonella. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service reported that commercial chickens processed from 2000 to 2003 had a Salmonella prevalence rate of 9.1 to 12.8%. Consumers should not assume that free-range or organic conditions will have anything to do with the Salmonella status of the chicken.

Additionally, a 2007 analysis of fresh, whole broiler chickens by Consumer Reports found that 83% tested positive for campylobacter or salmonella, and that chickens labeled organic or raised without antibiotics were more likely to harbor salmonella than conventionally-produced broilers:

We tested 525 fresh, whole broilers bought at supermarkets, mass merchandisers, gourmet shops, and ­natural-food stores in 23 states last spring. Represented in our tests were four leading brands (Foster Farms, Perdue, Pilgrim’s Pride, and Tyson) and 10 organic and 12 nonorganic no-antibiotics brands, including three that are “air chilled” in a newer slaughterhouse process designed to re­duce contamination. Among our findings:

  • Campylobacter was present in 81 percent of the chickens, salmonella in 15 percent; both bacteria in 13 percent. Only 17 percent had neither pathogen. That’s the lowest percentage of clean birds in all four of our tests since 1998, and far less than the 51 percent of clean birds we found for our 2003 report.
  • No major brand fared better than others overall. Foster Farms, Pilgrim’s Pride, and Tyson chickens were lower in salmonella incidence than Perdue, but they were higher in campylobacter.

Ultimately, salmonella is a always a risk when dealing with chicken or eggs and it’s not clear that specialty eggs are any better than conventional. If you’re concerned about salmonella, cook your food to 165F or stick to vegan options. You know, like peanut butter.

4B: What’s in the grass?

One final concern: a 2006 Dutch study found that free-range eggs in Europe have increased levels of dioxins and PCBs (which fall under the category of dioxin-like compounds), apparently because they are present in the soil in both residential and agricultural areas. “Dioxins” refer to a wide variety of compounds and they vary in toxicity; the term is basically just shorthand for environmental pollutants. On the one hand, they’re everywhere and we probably can’t avoid them so who cares? On the other, many are fat soluble so eggs are of greater concern than, say, apples.

There’s not really enough research on this to draw any conclusions. Which just pains me to type for what feels like the umpteenth time, because, seriously, is there ever conclusive research? Can we ever really know anything about anything? I like to think we can, but I’ll be damned if I don’t feel like every time I try to find more information about any kind of nutritional claim, the answer turns out to be “well, that’s complicated” or “well, the research on that isn’t conclusive.” Sometimes I really just want to see a chart that says YES! THIS IS THE RIGHT ANSWER! IT IS RELIABLE AND ACCURATE AND CONTROLLED FOR ALL POSSIBLE VARIABLES.

So just in case you might be wondering if I’m trying to be deliberately indecisive or vague in service of whatever ideological position that would even promote: I’m not. When I find conclusive results, I will share them with you in very excited caps lock. 

So Here’s The Deal

If you care more about climate change and efficient resource allocation than chicken welfare, buy conventional eggs; if you care more about chicken welfare, buy cage-free, free-range, Organic, or perhaps ideally, local. Taste and health-wise, there’s no clear difference, although I know that won’t prevent some of you from believing there is (remember the chocolate yogurt with “good strawberry flavor”?) Perhaps the biggest lesson is that, once again, the foods some people think are objectively superior for all kinds of reasons  may not be, and attempting to eat “better” is way more complicated than simply choosing the “green” alternative.

Apple-Berry Crumble with Pouring Custard: Baking with neglected, non-baking apples

for reasons that may suggest themselves to you, in the U.S. pouring custard is more commonly known by the French name "Creme Anglaise" even though that just means "English cream," which, as you'd expect, the English have a perfectly good English name for

I’m apparently sort of an expert at letting fruit go bad—not meaning rotten, just completely unappetizing when raw. With pears, that’s easy to do because they’re usually harvested when they’re mature but still green and you have to babysit their ripening. Not all fruits are like that—citrus fruits and most melons and berries are as sweet as they’re ever going to be when they’re harvested. But pears are climacteric ripeners, which means they store some of their sugars as starch and even after you pick them and they can’t suck any more sugar out of the tree, they will get sweeter as their enzymes will break some of those starches into sugars. However, they also contain enzymes that weaken their cell walls, so you have to catch them at just the perfect moment when they’re optimally sweet but haven’t yet turned to mush. Depending on when they were picked and how fast the different enzymes are working, there might not even be a perfect moment—they might dissolve structurally before getting very sweet.

You can sort of control the ripening of climacteric fruits a little by storing them in paper bags with something that emits ethylene gas, like a banana. That’s basically a DIY version of the synthetic industrial process used to ripen almost all tomatoes destined for grocery stores and lots of bananas and pears too. And according to the wikipedia article on ethylene, the ancient Chinese used to ripen pears by storing them in closed rooms and burning incense, presumably containing ethylene or something like it. But this is what I’m talking about with the babysitting—they demand attention and inspire elaborate ritual.

I’m working on ways to turn this into a superhero costume for next Halloween.Apples are significantly less fussy even though they’re also technically climacteric ripeners. They’re usually sweet enough to eat when they’re harvested and best when crisp and they’ll stay that way for weeks in cold storage. It takes a special dedication to fruit neglect to let perfectly lovely apples get so mealy and bruised and wrinkled that they can’t be enjoyed raw. Given how many great uses there are for cooked apples, that wouldn’t seem like much of a problem, but the kinds of apples I like to eat are not the kind of apples I’d normally choose to cook with. So over the last few months, I had gradually relegated nearly 3 lbs of Galas, Honeycrisps, and Red Delicious apples to what I began to think of as the Forgotten Apple Drawer, all of them totally unsuited to either eating or baking.

I could have made a sort of lackluster applesauce and just hidden it in some muffins or a quick bread, but I got to thinking that the main difference between tart baking apples and sweeter eating apples is acid. Perhaps, I thought, I could make something tasty and apple-centric even with suboptimal apples just by adding a little extra lemon juice. And perhaps some tart berries. And then, in the spirit of the kind of laziness and inattention that leads to having a refrigerator drawer full of 3 lbs of neglected apples, I decided to make the simplest of apple desserts: a crumble. Crumbles are in the same baked-fruit-with-topping genus as cobblers and crisps, but is its own species…I guess meaning it can’t reproduce with any of the others.

I know the terms vary by region and tradition, but as I understand them, a cobbler is topped with a layer of biscuit dough dropped on by spoonfuls that bake into something that might resemble a cobblestone road, a crisp is topped with a thin layer of a rich streusel or butter crumb topping, and a crumble is has a thicker crumb topping that usually includes oatmeal. Put a rolled pastry crust on top either in pieces or with some holes poked in it so the juices can seep through and it’s a pandowdy; use buttered bread crumbs and brown sugar and it’s a brown betty. I’m sure there are others, too. The beautiful thing about all of them is that you don’t really need a recipe—you just fill a baking dish most of the way with fruit, top it with whatever combination of sugar and fat you can throw together—starch optional—and bake it until the fruit is done and the topping is brown. 

April 2010 Part I 008I actually had too many neglected apples for the large souffle dish I decided to use, so I threw about 1 lb of the cut pieces in a saucepan pot with a cinnamon stick, 1 T. brown sugar, and some water and simmered them until they were tender, adding more water now and then to prevent them from burning. I’ll probably use them sometime soon as a filling for buckwheat crepes, possibly with some homemade ricotta, as I’ve been meaning to try that.

For the crumble, since it’s not quite berry season, I used a dried berry mix I had picked up at Trader Joe’s with the intent of using it for polenta porridge. Normally when I bake with dried berries, I soak them in some juice or liquor first, but this time I didn’t bother. I just threw them in the dish with the peeled and diced apples, sprinkled them with a few tablespoons of sugar and the juice and zest of a lemon. And then I looked up a few recipes for crisps and crumbles and used those as general guidelines for the topping.

While it was in the oven, smelling lovely, I decided it what would truly compensate for any deficiencies on the part of the apples was something like ice cream. You can make ice cream without an ice cream maker if you break up the ice crystals by hand periodically, but that is kind of a pain. Given that what I wanted was a sweet, creamy substance to pool all around the hot apple crumble the way ice cream does as it melts, the freezing seemed like an unnecessary intermediary stop. If what you want is melted ice cream, why freeze it in the first place, right? So I made a simple pouring custard, which is the sort of thing you can turn into ice cream if you want to, but is a great dessert sauce on its own.

And it worked. Utterly redeemed. Tart and applicious with the occasional pop of berry and the rich perfume of the vanilla bean custard. You’d never know it started off as a drawer full of wrinkled, bruised Galas and Honeycrisps.

any ideas for turning my fruit neglecting powers into a superpower costume for next Halloween?

Recipe: Apple-Berry Crumblethey call it the "golden berry blend" as it also contains golden raisins (adapted from Joy of Baking)

Filling:

  • 4-7 apples or enough to fill a large baking dish (I used ~1 1/2 lbs, peeled and cored)
  • 1/2 cup dried tart berries (cherries, cranberries, blueberries, raspberries, or a combination)
  • 3 T. sugar
  • zest and juice of one medium lemon

Topping:

  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 t. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 t. ground nutmeg
  • pinch of salt
  • 7 T. butter, cut into 1/4” pieces
  • 1/3 cup rolled oats

1. Butter the baking dish and preheat the oven to 375F.

2. Peel and core the apples and cut into 1/2”-1” pieces. Toss in baking dish with sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest.

3. Throw all the topping ingredients in a food processor and give it a few pulses to just combine. Or, whisk everything but the butter together and then cut in the butter with a pastry cutter or two crisscrossing knives until the it’s crumbly and the largest pieces of butter are the size of small peas.

 topping mixture a few pulses later

4. Sprinkle topping over fruit evenly.

5. Bake for 30 minutes to an hour, or until you can see the juices bubbling under the topping and the top is golden brown.

ready to go in the oven just out of the oven--juices bubbling at the edges, topping golden brown

Recipe: Pouring Custard (adapted from Food & Wine and Joy of Baking)

  • 4 or 5 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 cups milk, half and half, or whipping cream
  • 1 vanilla bean or 2 t. vanilla extract

1. Place a mesh strainer in metal bowl set inside another bowl filled with ice water. When the custard is ready, you will want to stop the cooking process immediately and strain out any clumps, so it’s good to have this ready before you even start.

the second bowl doesn't need to be metal. doesn't even need to be a bowl--a stock pot or 9x13 baking pan would work just as well for the icewater Curdling Stops Here!

2. Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until they begin to aerate—they should become a pale, lemony color (I know some sad battery hen eggs start that way but even those should lighten a little) and will increase slightly in volume.

I separate the whites directly into freezer-safe storage, always forget how many whites there are, and eventually have a vaguely nerve-wreaking meringue or angel-food cake experiment where I don't really know if I'm following the recipe. a smarter person would label the tupperware to tell her future self how many egg whites there are. paler an increased in volume

3. Put the milk in a saucepan, scrape the vanilla bean seeds into the milk, and heat just until steaming and there are little bubbles around the edges of the pan (about 5 min over medium heat). Turn off the burner—you don’t have to immediately remove it from the heat, you just don’t want it to get any hotter for the moment.

4. Temper the yolks by adding about half of the hot milk to them in a thin stream while whisking constantly. Another pair of hands or a stand mixer might be useful for this part. I managed by whisking with one hand while using the other to slowly adding milk with a soup ladle and focusing very, very intently on being ambidextrous. Basically what you’re doing in this step is warming the eggs gently so they cook without scrambling, so the key is to keep them moving as they come into contact with the hot milk.For obvious reasons, I have no pictures of this process in action. 

here's the set up after I've added about half of the milk

4. Pour the tempered egg mixture into the pot with the remaining milk, whisking constantly.

5. Turn the heat back on low or medium and cook for 5-7 minutes, whisking constantly, until the mixture just begins to thicken. You want it to be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon—but that’s not very thick, it will not be like a starch-thickened pudding or baked custard. As soon as it begins to thicken, pull it off the heat, still whisking constantly and immediately strain into the cold bowl to stop it from cooking any more. If using vanilla extract (or another extract or liqueur), add it now.

If it starts to look curdled you still have a minute to save it. Pull it from the heat immediately, whisking vigorously and immediately strain it into the cold bowl.

 no matter how vigorous your whisking, there will always be a few clumps it will thicken a little more as it cools, but will definitely still be a sauce, not something like a starch-thickened pudding

Battle Tomato Course 1/5: Tomato Toad in the Hole, Sundried Tomato and Asiago rolls, Fresh Ruddy Mary

you can see the hole where the toothpick held the prosciutto in place

My friend Raffi’s family has a summer house on Lake Erie in Ontario, and a group of us who meet there every year stage an Iron Chef-style battle. The battles actually  started in college when Kit’s dad gave him a 7-lb can of refried beans for Christmas, which doesn’t make any more sense if you know Kit, except that he’s the kind of person who appreciates that kind of absurdity.

Obviously, unlike on the show, the ingredient for Battle Refried Beans wasn’t a secret, and we’ve continued to choose the primary ingredient in advance because 1) none of us is Morimoto (who I’m shocked to discover has the lowest winning percentage on Iron Chef America, which apparently includes his record in Battle of the Masters, but still, lower than Cat Cora!?) and 2) although Kitchen Stadium Canada is pretty well-stocked, especially given that it’s not a primary residence, we still have to bring some tools and spices. And by "some," I mean basically half the contents of our kitchen, including the stand mixer and rice cooker and food processor and three chef’s knives and a third of the spice rack and more than eight pounds of tomatoes from our garden and farmer’s market, and I’m sure we would have had a great time trying convince the border patrol we were only in Canada for the weekend if they’d opened our trunk.

In our battles, chefs get two hours to cook instead of one, and they can plate their dishes and even do last-minute cooking right before serving so nothing suffers from having to sit for hours while other dishes are judged. Judges can award up to 10 points for taste, 5 points for presentation, and 5 points for creativity, and they also double as sous chefs. Especially talented cooks get traded off between the competitors to try to keep things even. Beyond that, it’s all delicious chaos.

The main ingredient this year paid homage late summer’s bounty and Leamington, Ontario’s reputation for being "The Tomato Capital of Canada." I knew as soon as the ingredient was chosen that I wanted to make ice cream, but the rest of the dishes were up in the air until I stumbled across an old post on Smitten Kitchen with a recipe for eggs in tomato sauce. The runny yolk in the last photo sold me on the idea of a brunch plate, but I decided I needed to do something with a slightly more sophisticated presentation. About the same time, my friend Laurel posted about making oeufs en cocotte to sate an appetite awakened by Julie and Julia, which made me think perhaps instead of poaching the eggs in a tomato sauce, I could bake them in hollowed out tomato cups.

Naturally, I’m not the first person to think of this. So from the mash-up of those recipes and their reviews, I ended up with this:

Recipe: Tomato Toad in the Hole*

For each serving:

  • 1 medium tomato
  • 1 t. prepared pesto
  • 2 t. finely grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 medium egg at room temperature
  • 1 slice prosciutto (optional but highly recommended)
  • a dab of butter or bit of heavy cream
  • salt and black pepper
  • oil or cooking spray
  • fresh basil to garnish

First, take the eggs out of the refrigerator if you haven’t already. If you attempt this with cold eggs, the yolks will harden before the whites are even close to done.

Slice off the tops off the tomatoes and then scoop out the insides (which you can either discard or reserve and strain for juice or cook down into a sauce or paste). Salt the insides lightly and invert them on paper towels to drain for at least 30 minutes. (People seem to have had more issues with the whites setting with recipes that didn’t include this step)

Preheat the oven to 425F, and coat a baking dish large enough to accommodate all your tomatoes with oil or cooking spray

For the assembly, smear the inside of each tomato with some pesto—I used a traditional basil pesto out of a jar because of the whole frantic two hours business, but the romaine pesto here sounds intriguing and I bet a sharp arugula pesto would be excellent. Sprinkle the insides with parmesan cheese. Then, wrap a slice of prosciutto around each tomato and secure the ends with a wooden toothpick and set in the baking dish. The prosciutto should help the tomatoes stand up straight, but you could probably cut a thin slice off the bottom to create a flat surface as long as the cup remained intact. Break the eggs into a small dish, and gently tip one into each cavity (if using "large" eggs instead of medium, you may wish to reserve some of the whites. Top with salt and pepper, a dot of butter or a tiny bit of cream, and another teaspoon or so of parmesan cheese.

Bake for 20 min, or until the eggs are softly set.

Garnish with torn basil leaves, or basil chiffonade, which is super easy: just stack the leaves flat on top of each other, roll them up, and then cut the roll into thin slices, as seen here.

Mine clearly weren’t done at 20 min, and I got a little paranoid about the possibility of serving undercooked whites, so I left them in the oven for another 4 minutes and that turned out to be about 1 min too long. If the yolks had been just a bit softer, they would have been sublime. Even so, with the prosciutto crisped from the oven and the tomato soft and warm and all the savory herbs and parmesan, they were pretty wonderful.

I served them with a freshly-baked roll studded with chopped sundried tomatoes and asiago cheese based on the Kitchen Aid 60-Min Dinner Roll recipe That Winsome Girl made BLT sliders out of, which was part of my original plan for a lunch plate until I decided that BLTs would be too repetitive given the prosciutto in this dish. I made the rolls anyway, thinking there’d be slightly more runny egg yolk to mop up. The rolls turned out to be as fast to throw together as promised (largely because there’s so much yeast in them):

Recipe: Quick Sundried Tomato and Asiago Rolls

Yield: 12 rolls

  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 T. sugar
  • 1 t. salt
  • 3 T. melted butter, divided
  • 3.5 t. instant yeast (a little less than 2 pkgs)
  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup chopped sundried tomatoes (drained if oil-packed, soaked in hot water and then drained if dried)
  • 3/4 cup grated asiago cheese
  • vegetable oil or cooking spray

Melt 2 T. butter and set aside to cool for a few minutes. Meanwhile, heat the water to 105-115F combine it with the yeast and a pinch of sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add the milk, butter, sugar, salt, and 2 cups of flour and mix on low for 1-2 min. Add remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time, mixing 1-2 min after each addition. Dough should begin to form a ball and clean the sides of the bowl. Mix on low for another 2 min.

Knead by hand briefly, either in the bowl or on a lightly floured surface, if necessary to bring it together, and then wipe the mixer bowl clean (it needn’t be perfect) and coat with vegetable oil. Return dough to bowl and turn to coat, cover with a towel and let rise 15 min.

Grease a 9"x13" pan and preheat the oven to 425F.

Once the first rise is done, knead in the sundried tomatoes and 1/2 cup of the asiago (or whatever else you want, or nothing at all for plain rolls) and then it divide into 12 balls. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/3 cup of asiago. Cover and let rise another 15 min.

Bake for 12 min, or until golden brown. Melt the remaining 1 T. butter, and brush the tops of the rolls (or just rub with a stick of butter if you’re running around and can’t be bothered). Return to the oven for 1 min. Cool on a rack—or don’t, if you forget, like I did. The bottoms might get a little moist but it’s not mean to be a crusty bread anyway

To complete the brunch course, I served a fresh tomato Ruddy Mary, which is differentiated from its better-known Bloody cousin by the use of gin instead of vodka. goodbye, garnishes

Recipe: Fresh Tomato Ruddy Mary (adapted from Martha Stewart’s recipe)

Yield: 4 servings, about 3 cups

  • 1 lb fresh tomatoes (about 4)
  • 1/3 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1 t. Worcestershire (could use diluted vegetable bouillon for a vegetarian version)
  • 20 dashes Tabasco sauce
  • 1 1/2 t. freshly grated horseradish
  • 1 t. celery salt
  • 1/2 t. pepper
  • 6 oz. gin
  • more celery salt and paprika for rims
  • celery stalks ( hearts would have been prettier) and cherry tomatoes to garnish

Core the tomatoes and pulverize them in a blender or food processor. Force the mush through a medium wire sieve about a cup at a time (you can use a fine one if that’s all you’ve got but it’ll take longer) and discard the solids. Combine the strained tomato juice with everything but the garnishes in a pitcher, taste and adjust seasoning as desired, and chill until read to serve. You can leave out the gin if you want to serve virgin versions or give people the option of having a traditional Bloody Mary, just top each glass off with 1.5 oz of liquor.

To rim the glasses, combine enough celery salt and paprika (about equal parts) in a thin layer on a small plate, moisten the rim of each glass with a wedge of lime, and invert the glass onto the plate and give it a little twist. Then, fill each glass with ice, add a celery heart, top with the cocktail mixture, and garnish with a cherry tomato.

I’m not usually a big fan of bloody marys, but I enjoyed this recipe a lot. The fresh horseradish is a lot milder than prepared horseradish and obviously fresh tomato tastes entirely different than canned tomato juice. I wouldn’t bother with a high-quality gin in a traditional recipe, because the other flavors will overwhelm any subtleties, but Boodles or something would probably be great in this.

Four more courses to go: To Be Continued…

*Re: the name, my personal memory of this is fuzzy, but I have the vaguest idea that either my mother or grandmother, or maybe both, once upon a time cut a circle out of a piece of toast, cracked an egg into the hole, and either baked or griddled it, and called this a "toad in the hole." I may have imagined this entirely. But according to wikipedia, that is one of the names for that basic egg preparation, along with "eggs in the basket," "frog in a log," "hen in a nest," "Rocky Mountain toast," "Soldier in a Boat," "moon egg," "cowboy egg," "one-eyed monster breakfast" (!!!), "One-eyed Jack," and "Guy Kibbee eggs." Apparently in England, "toad in the hole" usually refers to sausages baked in a yorkshire pudding. So you have your choice of names, or, if you want to go upscale, call it Oeufs en Tomates.