I’m back from a book event in Orlando and plump with the choicest offerings of Major Chain Restaurants! I was just able to button my jeans this morning, though I had to lean all the way back in my chair at work to get comfortable. (Supremely supine like the glorious creature that I am.) But I don’t regret a single calorie.
I like chain restaurants when I visit the suburbs or travel for work. I’m endlessly fascinated by them. Not the fast food ones with the Heinz ketchup packets that never open and the trash cans with the swinging doors that scream THANK YOU, the letters smeared with the diseases of a million children. (Though don’t mistake me: I will do anything for a Wendy’s spicy chicken sandwich.) No, I mean the Outbacks, Olive Gardens, and Applebee’s(es) of this great nation. I went to T.G.I.Friday’s and Margaritaville this weekend, which were so labyrinthine as to trap you within their walls forever. I was amazed by the grand scale of both places, like opera houses gutted and redecorated with whatever was found in the garbage bags outside of a frat house at a state university with a really good football program (Friday’s) and Jimmy Buffet’s yard sale (Margaritaville). These are not restaurants so much as casual dining facilities. They were the worst and the best, with a dash of old bay seasoning and a salted rim.
Speaking of salt, I can’t begin to describe the sodium bomb pretzel breadsticks with cheese and bacon dipping sauce at Friday’s. Those breadsticks will live with me forever. Literally. They defy digestion. And that’s fine with me! Because I went to Bar Boulud by myself for lunch a few Fridays ago and ate a lovely slice of pâté grand-mère with cornichons, a hunk of tomme de savoie cheese, and a glass of beaujolais and thought: this is good, but what I really want are mozzarella sticks and an oreo milkshake from Applebee’s. Sometimes good food is so good that it’s a chore to eat, and nice restaurants demand that you look beautiful and elegant while doing it. Not so with chain restaurant food, which is best eaten hunched over with a self-loathing grin on your face and dead shark eyes that stare straight ahead at nothing.
Now I’m back in NYC, land of salade niçoise lunches and people who tweet about how bad they feel for eating a free cupcake at work (#SoNaughty). I should be more mindful of my diet, but I’ve got two more posts on eggs this week, including this one, and neither are for egg white omelettes.
Today: a recipe with detailed instructions for eggs baked in cream, which I learned to make from Mastering the Art of French Cooking when I needed something simple but inspiring to punch up a weekday dinner. This is my favorite way to eat eggs, though I don’t eat them often because I want to live. They’re quick and serve up beautifully in their cooking vessels. Ramekins are essential here, so if you don’t own any consider buying a set of four. They’re cheap (mine were $2 each from a restaurant supply store) and perform all kinds of tasks: prep containers, servers for olives and nuts, and storage for small office supplies and the matchbooks you compulsively take from nice restaurants.
Pick up a baguette and a clam shell of mixed greens on your way home before you make this. If you’re feeling lazy, toast and slice sandwich bread into fingers to soak up the eggs. It’s a rich dish and requires company.
(For reference, the six pictures in the grid are numbered 1-6, top left to bottom right.)
Eggs Baked in Cream
From: Mastering the Art of French Cooking
1/2 t butter, cut into four small cubes
4 T heavy cream
Salt and pepper
Special equipment: 2 ramekins, 2 1/2″-3″ in diameter
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Place two ramekins in a large pan (I like to use my Dutch oven) and add water to the pot until the height reaches halfway up the outsides of the ramekins (Picture 1.) Remove ramekins. Place pan on stove top and bring water to a simmer.
Butter each ramekin with a small cube. Add 1 T of cream to each so the bottoms of the ramekins are completely covered in a thin layer. Lower ramekins into pot of simmering water and allow the cream to heat through. Little bubbles will form once they’re ready (Picture 2.)
Crack two eggs into each of two small containers (I use teacups, Picture 3.) Gently pour each cup of eggs into ramekins of hot cream. Top each ramekin with an additional 1 T of cream and one small cube of butter (Picture 4.)
Move pot of eggs from stove to oven and bake for 8-9 minutes. (The timing will depend on your particular stove. My oven bakes eggs in 8:30 minutes but it took me 2-3 tries to figure that out. Aim to underbake.)
Once time is up, it might be hard to tell if the eggs are finished. They might look a little raw. Slip a butter knife into a ramekin and gently push against the side of the yolk. You’ll feel resistance but the yolk will wobble a little. Allow ramekins to rest in pan of hot water for additional 5 minutes so whites fully set up.
Remove ramekins from pot (I a spatula and tongs) and put on waiting plates. The ramekins will still be hot but will cool down quickly out of the pot. Add pinch of salt and pepper to each dish.
When ready to eat, yolks should be runny (Picture 5) and whites should sit on your spoon in creamy curds (Picture 6.)
Serve with a green salad and a baguette sliced into fingers (hard ends removed, cut crosswise into fourths, each fourth sliced in half lengthwise down the top, then each half sliced in half again lengthwise.)
And if you’re not sure how to pull together dressing for two on the fly:
Quickie Vinaigrette for Your Greens:
2 T of white wine vinegar
1/2 t mustard
About 1/4 c. of olive oil
Salt and pepper
Add vinegar and mustard to small bowl. Stream in olive oil until consistency looks right and the dressing has an acidic bite but isn’t overwhelming. Salt and pepper to taste.