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What would we be without eggs?  I will argue that this simple, elegant food is more versatile and more critical to our cuisine than any other.  The complex and unique protein make-up of eggs allows for tremendous culinary feats.  Eggs can bind, emulsify or thicken and can render dishes fluffy or creamy or chewy.

There are many sophisticated foods that could not be without egg.  Meringue, souffle, mousse, zabaglione, custard, sabayon, mayonnaise and hollandaise sauce are a few fine examples.

But eggs are also critical to more humble dishes.  Most casseroles call for eggs as a binder, and most baked goods call for egg.  Here’s a fun bit of baking trivia for you: when cake mixes were first introduced to the market the egg was already included in the mix in a dehydrated form.  They were a failure, not because the product was inferior to those which now call for the addition of a fresh egg, but because housewives of the ’50s felt inadequate making a “just add water” convenience food.  The directions were changed to require the addition of that one simple, wholesome ingredient, and the women suddenly felt that they were involved in and responsible for the resulting cake.  To this day cake mix is a grocery staple.  Such is the power of the egg.

I haven’t yet touched on the pure egg preparations.  Fried, scrambled, poached, hard-boiled, soft-boiled, coddled, roasted or baked, as an omelette or a plain frittata, a simple egg well prepared is a delight all on its own.  Chef Michael Romano claims that French Chefs will test the mettle of a new cook by asking them to prepare eggs “sur le plat”; a deceptively simple baked egg dish which calls for no more than butter, salt, pepper and shelled eggs with yolks intact.

The ubiquity of eggs helped me very much these last weeks.  My first egg dish in thinking about the blog was a variation of Endives a la Flamande, a tasty combination of braised belgian endives and hard-boiled eggs with a lemon parsley butter sauce.  It wasn’t very pretty, so there aren’t any photos.  But I hope you’ll enjoy these other pics, many of which are of breakfasts my lovely friends prepared during our trip to the Sasquatch music festival this last weekend.

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Finally, I will add that there is a great deal of symbolism attached to eggs in different cultures.  Beyond the birth and fertility and resurrection of Christ and pretty easter eggs and all that, there are some fascinating beliefs attached to eggs.  Have you ever heard of Oomancy; the practice of divining the future by reading the patterns of tendrils of boiled egg whites?  Or the old slavic and german practice of rubbing raw egg on your garden hoes to render your soil more fertile?  foodtimeline.org (http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodeggs.html) has plenty more intriguing examples.  And if you want a really juicy example, just ask Di about the Collectivo driver who likes his wife’s eggs spicy!

‘Til neggst time,

~Sage

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Coq au vin… The name conjures romantic images of checked tablecloths and candles flickering in wine bottles, arrogant waiters, and accordion music playing softly just around cobblestoned corners. The French have a way of turning rustic ingredients into glorious food that makes everyday life deliciously glamorous.

Coq au vin is no exception, especially when eaten for lunch at a long table outside in the Normandy countryside as I had the luck to do a few years ago, crickets chirping and the warm air redolent with sage and lavender.

A lovely alchemy created by simmering chicken in red wine with bacon, onions and mushrooms, coq au vin guest stars in “Kafka’s Soup: A Complete History of World Literature in 14 Recipes” by Mark Crick, who presents recipes in the voices of famous novelists. The recipes, which include Lamb with Dill Sauce à la Raymond Chandler; Tarragon Eggs à la Jane Austen; Tiramisu à la Marcel Proust; Cheese on Toast à la Harold Pinter; and Onion Tart à la Geoffrey Chaucer, present today’s dish as a Columbian, rather than French, favourite.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, in the person of Father Antonio del Sacrament de Altar Castaneda, prepares coq au vin for a condemned prisoner, Fidel Agosto Santiago: “Santiago would eat his last supper the following night, and since the condemned man refused to accept food from his wife, the priest had taken on the responsibility.”

The ancient Romans may have been partial to this homely yet courtly dish, thanks to their traditional rivalry with Asterix and co. Legend has it that Julius Caesar’s cook created the first coq au vin recipe after the Gauls gave Caesar a tough old rooster as tribute for his conquering them; Caesar’s cook made the bird into a meal to serve back to the Gauls. Perhaps revenge is a dish best served hot after all…

But it’s more likely that coq au vin simply evolved as a local recipe in France. In 1864, a similar recipe – poulet au vin blanc – appeared in Cookery for English Households, by A French Lady. In one of the earliest printed recipes, published in 1913, the text claimed the recipe dated to the 16th century.

Delicious, glamorous, rustic, simple, historic, evocative, classic – a literary star; a historical gesture – on top of all of these attributes, the best thing about coq au vin may be that it’s easy to make, and the leftovers just get better in the fridge.

Bon appetit!

~Deb
Ingredients
1 x 5 lb (2.25 kg) chicken, cut into 8 joints (I used chicken breasts)
1¼ pints (725 ml) red wine
1 oz (25 g) butter
1 rounded tablespoon softened butter and 1 level tablespoon plain flour, combined to make a paste
1 tablespoon oil
8 oz (225 g) unsmoked streaky bacon, preferably in one piece
16 button onions
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
8 oz (225 g) small dark-gilled mushrooms
Salt and freshly milled black pepper

Method

Melt the butter with the oil in a frying pan, and fry the chicken joints, skin side down, until they are nicely golden; then turn them and colour the other side. You may have to do this in three or four batches – don’t overcrowd the pan. Remove the joints from the pan with a draining spoon, and place them in the cooking pot. This should be large enough for the joints to be arranged in one layer yet deep enough so that they can be completely covered with liquid later.

Now de-rind and cut the bacon into fairly small cubes, brown them also in the frying pan and add them to the chicken, then finally brown the onions a little and add them too. Next place the crushed cloves of garlic and the sprigs of thyme among the chicken pieces, season with freshly milled pepper and just a little salt, and pop in a couple of bay leaves. Pour in the wine, put a lid on the pot and simmer gently for 45-60 minutes or until the chicken is tender. During the last 15 minutes of the cooking, add the mushrooms and stir them into the liquid.

Remove the chicken, bacon, onions and mushrooms and place them on a warmed serving dish and keep warm. (Discard the bay leaves and thyme at this stage.) Now bring the liquid to a fast boil and reduce it by about one third. Next, add the butter and flour paste to the liquid. Bring it to the boil, whisking all the time until the sauce has thickened, then serve the chicken with the sauce poured over.

Like Miss B and her not-baked scallops, I made this delectable treat for Deanna’s birthday dinner last week.

I should actually tell you a little something about that dinner.  Deanna said, “for my birthday, I would like to have some of my close friends over and have a simple dinner”.  Emphasis on the word “SIMPLE”, she reminded us several times over the following weeks.  We were so proud of ourselves for paring down our 5-course extravaganza into only 2.  Well, okay 4 including cheese and dessert, but those don’t really count, do they?

The result was (despite Dea’s increasingly desperate—though gentle—admonishments) decidedly un-simple.  Miss B and I apparently have absolutely no clue how to do simple.  It’s not in our genetic makeup.

The day started beautifully.  It has absolutely no business being that beautifully sunny in Vancouver / Victoria at the beginning of March, but we were not complaining!  We hitched a ride with the beautiful Sarah (and her little dog too.  Sorry, random Wizard of Oz reference) over to Victoria.

Suzie at the wheel

We dropped the slightly suffering (read: hung over) Jim off at Dea’s for a nap, then Dea, Sarah (and Suzie) and I headed straight for Ottavio (do not pass go, do not collect $200), where we ate cheese and drank wine in the sunshine (okay, Deanna drank a beer.  Evs).  Jumpy claps!  Sarah even got to have her brioche, which she mentioned at least 6 times on the ferry over.  While we sat (did I mention?) in the sunshine.

The cheese on the top right was a gooey goat brie called "cabriolet". It didn't come with the plate so we bought it seperately. Le sigh.

Then we drove hither and yon, all over Victoria, assembling ingredients for Dea’s simple birthday dinner.  My contribution was going to be pappardelle with browned butter, sage, black olive paste and pine-nuts.  Except that Dea can’t have eggs, so we were in search of an eggless fresh pasta (in keeping with the “simple” theme I was not to make my own pasta dough).  We finally settled on dried pasta di semola di grano duro, imported straight from rustichella d’abruzzo in Italy.  At least, I think that’s what the package says.

Oh, and the coconut torte.  I could only find one coconut torte recipe on all of the internet.  And I wasn’t making it.  It looked decidedly yucky (no offence, Coco Lopez).  I was trying, actually, to come up with something Dea could eat.  I proposed a crumb crust and then some sort of coconut milk / gelatine filling spiked with toasted coconut.  Dea said, “um, hairy chunky pudding?  No.”  Huh.  Good point.

I settled on this recipe.  Instead of hazelnuts, I toasted 1 cup of unsweetened coconut in the oven.  Then I food processed the coconut until it was a fine toasted coconut crumb.  Then I proceeded with the recipe as directed.  Well, okay I pammed the springform pan instead of buttering/flouring it.  I was feeling lazy 🙂

It was delicious.  We served it with some whipped cream.  Unlike B, I did not whip the cream by hand.

served with my own two hands!

Oh, and the pasta?  An almost-disaster.  I’m a firm believer in salting the hell out of the pasta water.  Well.  Combined with the olive paste, this turned into a salty nightmare.  I almost threw it out, when B came up with a brilliant solution: rinse the sauce off of half of the pasta and then mix it all together again.  In my opinion, it was still too salty.  But everyone at the party was too polite to say so.  It’s pictured under the scallops in B’s post if you want to take a look.

~ Eva

P.S. Sorry about the stove, Dea.  Although I will say I think it was mostly B’s fault 🙂 (ouch! I’m throwing B under a bus even after she rescued the pasta!)