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Friday, August 28, 2015

Kay’s Eggceptional Eggs: 18 months, two dozen eggs and three homegrown herbs

Homegrown rosemary, oregano and sage
       The Christmas before last, my daughter, Kay, surprised me one morning when she volunteered to make eggs for me.  It was one of the first times I could recall that, in her 23-years, she had offered to serve me eggs..  At the time, I lived in a condo with an open floor between the living room and the kitchen. From where I was ensconced on the sofa, I couldn’t see what magic was wrought. I heard the refrigerator door open many more times than I thought necessary if she planned to scramble up four eggs for us to share.  Finally, unable to contain myself, I got up to see what all the commotion was about.  Kay had buttered two small ramekins. The oven was preheating to 350 degrees.  She was furiously chopping herbs.
“What have you got here?” I asked her.
“Baked eggs.  Go away, they will be ready in fifteen minutes.”
When I saw the container of cream open on the counter, I reminded her I avoided dairy products.
“Not today,” she said. “It’s not enough to worry about. Now go SIT DOWN.”
I went back to my resting position. Then I heard aggressive chopping resume.
“What are you chopping?”
“Food.” She has a knack of boiling things down to their essence.
         The only time she asked for my assistance was in finding a pan the dimension of which she could submerge the ramekins half-way in a water bath. Shortly thereafter, I heard the stove door open, then shut.  The electronic beep of the timer informed me that the baked eggs were underway.  Fourteen minutes passed more rapidly than I expected.  To my pleasure, Kay had the kitchen Spic and Span clean just as the timer dinged.
         I came in for the unveiling. As I watched her gloved hand reach into the hot oven and withdraw the eggs, my mouth began to water. She was careful not to jostle the water bath into the ramekins.  I pulled out a cooling rack from under the counter. Kay gently placed the perfectly cooked eggs on the rack. She had toast already browning.  Ever so tenderly, she slid the eggs onto our plates. I buttered the toast.  I told her, “I can’t wait.” I broke into the just slightly runny eggs on my plate. Some of the yolk had thickened and some hadn’t quite. The tops were brown as if someone had torched them to get a look suitable for magazine perfection.  The first bite was simply sublime.  How can I call an egg sublime? When the egg white tastes salty but savory. When the white of the egg is melded to the yoke by a hard-to-define substrate, a carrier that unifies the egg and the yoke so they are rich and smooth on the palette.  I was so enraptured by the eggs Kay made, that I never sat down. I ate my breakfast hovering by the stove – all the while demanding she give me a complete rundown of what she did that made her eggs so exceptional.  She shrugged her shoulders forward in a very je ne said quoi French expression of dismissal.
“I just used whatever you had in the refrigerator, ” she said.  Over the last two days of her visit, I finally teased out of her that she used some ½ and ½, salt, pepper, rosemary, sage and oregano – all fresh.
           I listened carefully and felt assured I would be able to replicate her eggs.  I made it my mission to replicate baked eggs that were as dreamy, as tasty, as – shall I say EPHEMERAL as Kay’s had been.  The truth is that I tried at least five times in the oven and they never met the standards I held trapped in my memory.  Initially, I used a water bath.  I didn’t notice a significant difference with it.  I have  had pronounced success with water baths when making baked puddings or  Grapenut puddings.  While the water kept the outside of the eggs from browning, and it slightly changed the consistency of the cooked eggs, the effects didn’t justify the labor.  After   numerous attempts of making the eggs in my oven with the bath and without the bath, the eggs cooked nicely and evenly through either way. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I was forced to continue experimenting using my toaster oven because the oven was not available.  I felt it rational to dispense with the water bath. Perhaps in larger volume, the bath would make sense. Despite following her recipe, I could not replicate the sumptuous flavors that Kay managed to seduce from the lowly egg.
     In June, I had an AhHa moment. It took about two dozen eggs, a dozen trials and and 18 months, but I knew exactly what I had to do; I had to up my game. I assembled a planter outside the kitchen door. Inside, I gently dug three holes, inserted rosemary, sage and oregano, and fed them aggressively with Miracle Gro.  
        This morning was the herbs appointment with destiny. They have had all summer to grow in preparation for the sacrifice they would make on behalf of Kay’s Baked Eggs.  If successful, there were likely going to be many more herbaceous sacrifices in the name of Kay’s Baked Eggs before the first frost settles. Today was the Golden Moment. I greased and preheated. I broke shells and drizzled cream. I scattered salt and tweaked pepper. I minced oregano and rosemary, I rolled and diced sage.  I distributed herbs generously.  Into the preheated oven, the ramekins sat for a mere thirteen minutes.  Using an oven mitt, I retrieved the four dishes. The eggs slid from the ramekins onto two plates.  I didn’t, couldn’t, wait for toast. The eggs had the exact shade of golden brown that I remembered from Kay’s Holiday baked eggs.  Using my fork, I cut one egg in quarter.  Each bite delighted my palette with its perfection of flavors including the verboten creamy richness of heavy cream and the smooth fattiness of yolk that was slick upon my palate. I was delighted with the exploding flavors of fresh farm to table robustness of rosemary, thyme and sage accentuated by the most common of cohorts, salt and pepper.  Kay’s Eggcellent Eggs required unexpected effort and were a long-time coming, but perhaps the waiting made them all the more pleasurable.
Kay’s Baked Eggs serve two.  You will need coconut oil spray, 4 eggs, 1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper, 3 leaves sage extra for garnish, 1 sprig rosemary extra for garnish
2 sprigs thyme extra for garnish, 4 tsp. heavy cream.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease four small ramekins with coconut
spray.  Break one egg into each ramekin.  Salt and pepper each
egg. Pour 1 teaspoon of heavy cream over each egg.  Finely mince the
herbs together. For best results, roll the sage leaves, slice, then dice.
Distribute the minced herbs equally over each egg.
*Pop the ramekins into the oven (or toaster oven) for 12-14 minutes. Just as the tops begin to bubble and turn golden, remove from oven.  You may serve the
eggs from individual ramekins or slide them onto two serving plates adorned with fresh herbs and buttered toast.  Kay’s breakfast would always include a breakfast
meat such as linguiça (true to her Portuguese heritage), bacon, ham or sausage.
Kay’s Eggceptional Eggs
*If so desired, you may use a water bath by submerging the ramekins in
a glass or metal dish that will hold volume of water that is equal to half
the height of the ramekin.  Be exceptionally careful to avoid burns.

A final note: having mastered this technique, there is no end to the
creative adventures the adventuresome chef might pursue. Use a bed of
spinach and diced tomatoes.  Layer salsa in the ramekin, then the eggs, then
sprinkle with parmesan cheese.  Kay’s breakfast meats might as easily be

served in the baked eggs as next to them.  The fun is there for the making.

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