Be sure to read all the way through to the bottom. We’re doing another $50 gift card giveaway and the details are after the recipes…
Val and I were discussing food I know, what’s new, right? over the phone the other day. We were talking about some of the requests we had during our last gift certificate giveaway. Most folks wanted recipes for quick, budget-friendly, family-friendly, gourmet items. Well, shucks. Can you say softball? That’s our raison d’etre in the kitchen. With the economy in a bit of unrest, who doesn’t want budget-friendly besides Warren Buffet or the Hiltons? Inexpensive doesn’t need to mean hard to swallow, though. With a bit of planning you can turn out fabulous meals for a very low price tag. We did rock, scissors, paper over the phone and I ended up with the first opportunity to share a favorite recipe that fits all of our criteria.
My first thought was Oeufs en Cocotte…
B.C., before children that is, and way back in the day, I was an exchange student in La Belle France for my senior year of high school. And may God smile gently on those poor folks who generously shared their home with the rebellious punk twit that I was in those years. They gave me a bed. They ferried me all over the countryside, proudly showing me many sites of France, Switzerland and Germany. They made sure I got to and from school daily. But above all else, they sat me at their table and fed me the most amazing food. Did I mention that when I went to France I was a vegetarian? Mmmm hmmm. Yep. I was in the province of Alsace and I was a vegetarian. There were some notable lapses -choucroute, roasted marrow bones and a few others- but for the most part it was all veggies all the time. If someone could please invent a time machine and lend it to me I’d like to go back and kick my own butt across the border for having missed out on all those amazing roasts and stews that were served. Le Sigh.
My host mother was very accomodating and often served me Oeufs en Cocotte whilst they had a roast or some other fabulous carnivorous specialty of L’Alsace. It was explained to me, quite patiently I might add, that while the given name of the dish was indeed oeufs en cocotte (eggs in casserole) that I should be careful to always say ‘oeufs en cocotte’ and not guillotine it to ‘cocotte’ because cocotte was also the slang name for, er, ladies of the night. Now if you think about the translation of oeufs en cocotte that was it becomes much less appetizing… Just think eggs in casserole and you’ll be alright.
The version she prepared for me is similar to the one I prepare now, except that I am making up for lost time by adding indecent amounts of all parts of bacon -both meat and grease- to this dish. You could healthy it up, if you insist, by omitting the bacon and the bacon grease and using olive oil entirely, but why?
This hits our table regularly for any of our three daily meals. We sometimes have it twice or so per week. Once you’ve tucked into a steamy ramekin of this on a early winter’s eve you’ll understand why. When you plunge your spoon into the creamy yolk and it pours into the lentils below you’ll think you’ve died and gone to Alsace. …And believe me, that’s a good thing!
Thank you Mme. Nusbaumer, wherever you are!
Baked Eggs on Lentils with Onions, Mushrooms, and Bacon (Oeufs en Cocotte)
My version of this classic French dish is quite simple to prepare. When you cook up the bacon, simply use what you need for the Eggs and Hens and put the rest aside for another use. Like simply putting a pinch between the cheek and gums to improve your outlook on life.
- Saucy lentils (1/4 cup per serving), recipe below
- 1 lb. bacon (1 Tablespoon crispy cooked per serving)
- 2 medium onions, diced
- 1 lb. mushrooms, sliced thin
- fresh eggs (1 per serving)
- 4 thick slices day-old bread, homemade preferably, cut into 1/2″ cubes
- 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Cream -heavy or light- or Half and Half (1 Tablespoon per serving)
- butter for the ramekins or mini augratin pans
- Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
Slice bacon into 1/2″ strips and fry in a large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat until crispy. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon to a paper towel lined plate to drain.
Pour all but 3 Tablespoons of the bacon fat into a clean bowl and reserve for later.
Return the skillet to the burner and increase heat to medium-high. Add onions and mushrooms and leave them alone in the pan for at least 1 minute. Sprinkle Kosher salt, to taste, over the onions and mushrooms and stir to evenly distribute. Continue cooking until the onions and mushrooms are softened and are touched by golden brown. Take care not to burn the onions. Scorched onions would overpower the eggs. Remove onions and mushrooms to a clean bowl and return pan to the burner once again over medium high heat.
Add about 2 Tablespoons of remaining bacon fat and the extra virgin olive oil to the skillet. Add bread cubes and toss to coat evenly. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste and toss again to coat. Fry bread cubes until golden brown and delicious, stirring frequently to prevent scorching. Remove pan from the burner and proceed to the eggs.
Preheat oven to 375°F with a rack positioned in the center of the oven.
Generously butter ramekins equal to the number of servings you desire. Spread 1/4 cup of saucy lentils in the bottom of each ramekin. Sprinkle each bed of lentils with a generous tablespoon of crispy bacon. Gently crack an egg on top of lentils and bacon. Be careful here. The idea is to keep the yolk intact. If you crack the yolk just give that serving to the kids who like the hard yolks. Splash a tablespoon of cream or half and half over the egg to prevent it drying out in the oven.
Place ramekins on a baking sheet and place as close to the center of the oven as possible. Bake until eggs are set. If you like your egg whites just barely set you’ll want to pull them close to 12 minutes or so into cooking. If you like the whites set completely and the yolks slightly runny you’ll want to go closer to 15 minutes. If you have those dining amongst you who prefer fully cooked yolks then leave them in close to 18 minutes.
When eggs are done to your liking, remove ramekins to serving plates. You can place each ramekin on top of a slightly damp piece of paper towel to prevent it’s sliding around if you wish. Top each serving with a generous helping of the sauteed onions and mushrooms and sprinkle croutons over the top. Serve and eat while still very warm but take care not to steady the ramekin with your hand. They retain the heat for quite a while.
Soup-er Saucy Lentils
These lentils aren’t just for the base layer of Oeufs En Cocotte. They make a killer winter dinner when served in a bowl with cornbread or crusty peasant bread with a salad. A pot of this lasts beautifully in the fridge for up to a week.
- 1 lb. lentils, rinsed, drained and picked over.
- 1 large carrot, peeled and diced
- 2 medium onions, peeled and diced
- 1 stalk of celery, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 plum tomatoes, diced (or 1 can diced tomatoes)
- 5 cups broth (chicken, beef or vegetable)
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme (or 1 Tablespoon fresh thyme, minced)
- 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed (or 1 sprig fresh rosemary)
- 1 Bay leaf
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the vegetables and sprinkle lightly with salt, stir, and sautee until vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil.
Drop heat to low and simmer, uncovered for an hour. (Alternately, put all the ingredients in a slow cooker, cover and cook on low all day long. After about 8 hours, it’s soup! It’ll be a much less thick version than that on the stovetop, but delicious nonetheless!)
…And now for something completely different…
It’s almost Thanksgiving! Woot, woot! Ah, the turkey, the cranberry sauce, the cornbread stuffing. And not only is the food fabulous, but the company’s not half bad either! I may be just imagining it, but it seems that most folks are willing to give patience a little extra effort starting right around Thanksgiving. What’sn ot to love?
Since we love the food, family time and attitude that come with Thanksgiving, Val and I decided to give a little early Thanksgiving gift by doing another gift card giveaway. We’re going to give away another $50 gift certificate to the winner’s choice of Amazon.com, Williams-Sonoma, King Arthur’s Baker’s Catalogue or Cooking.com. I think that’s a cause for giving thanks…
Here are three ways to play along:
- Leave us a comment telling us the things for which you’re thankful. Make it short and sweet or make it long winded. We’ll take it all! That’s worth one entry.
- Leave an announcement about our giveaway on your blog. That’s worth another entry.
- Do something kind and unexpected for someone. It doesn’t have to be a big deal, just hold a door for someone, make your kids’ favorite dessert, or return your library books on time. Whatever it is just try to make someone’s day a little better. You don’t have to tell us your good deed unless you want to, all you have to do is tell us you did one in the comments section below. That’s worth two extra entries.