An emergency vet visit, general exhaustion, and a coddled egg

Tired and cranky. Those words best described my mood before I discovered that my dog, Gus, had scratched a couple of sutures out of his face Sunday morning. Stitches that were oh-so-carefully put into place after a biopsy last week. After parting with a gazillion (more) dollars at the emergency veterinary clinic that morning, I returned home pretty much exhausted. I wanted nothing more than to crawl into bed, but it was after noon, my stomach was empty, and I knew I needed to consume something moderately healthy if I had any chance of making it to Monday.

My refrigerator's contents determined the midday meal, though I was interested only in warm, comforting dishes, things that would make the world seem a little less topsy-turvy. Eggs were the only available protein source, but a quick scramble or omelet wasn't special enough. I needed a mood-changer, something outside of my regular routine. Enter the coddled egg.

As the name implies, coddled eggs are cooked very gently, almost indulgently. Cracked into a coffee cup or ramekin that's placed into a larger dish filled with hot water, coddled eggs cook slowly with this  until the whites are firm and yolks straddle the line between set and slightly runny. Plain coddled eggs are nice, but I always tart them up a bit, placing cooked vegetables or a piece of toasted bread and cheese in the bottom of the container. The result? A more interesting, flavorful dish, one that's worth a little bit of effort.

I made creamed spinach to accompany my egg, but any cooked vegetable will do. I've used sauteed mushrooms, quickly cooked tomato tossed with cracked olives,  even a few tablespoons of leftover mashed potatoes sprinkled with fresh herbs. Just spoon a bit of the selected veg (or meat) into the bottom of a buttered ramekin, crack an egg on top, and create a bain marie — breakfast (or lunch, or dinner) will be ready within 30 minutes.

Coddled Egg with Creamed Spinach
Serves 1 (with lots of extra spinach)

1/2 cup cream
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1/2 small onion
1 large bunch of spinach, stems remove, finely chopped
Kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
nutmeg, grated

1 egg
soft butter

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Scald the cream with garlic and onion in a small saucepan (small bubbles will come to the surface  — shut off the heat and set aside).

Cook the spinach in a few teaspoons of butter until the pan is dry. Strain the cream and pour it into the pan with the spinach. Bring to a simmer and allow it to thicken. Season with salt, pepper, and a few gratings of nutmeg.

Place a few tablespoons of creamed spinach in to buttered ramekin. Crack an egg into the ramekin, then place it in a small ovenproof pan (Pyrex is a great choice). Bring water to a boil in a kettle, then pour just enough of it into the pan that contains the ramekin to come 3/4 way up its side. Place the pan into a preheated oven and baked for 20-25 minutes, until the egg is set. The white will be firm, the yolk still runny when broken into. Serve with toast.


Hoppin' John

My friend Caroline saved me from a year of poor luck and bad finances.

I've been making (and enjoying) Hoppin' John on New Year's Day for some time, but this year I zoned out. Hoppin' John, a tasty melange of black-eyed peas and rice, is said to bring good fortune to those who consume it on January 1.  When we spoke on New Year's Day, Caroline asked if I'd eaten the requisite foods, and I realized I'd spaced out. I promptly turned the car around and drove to the grocery. Within 30 minutes I was back home, black-eyed peas and tomatoes in hand, ready to whip up a batch of Hoppin' John.

Recipes for Hoppin' John vary wildly. Some versions call for the tomatoes (and sometimes other vegetables, like peppers) to be cooked with rice; others simply combine black-eyed peas and onion with plain rice. I stick with a slight variation of Bill Neal's version — soft, somewhat mushy, ham-flavored peas served atop white rice to create a joyous starch-on-starch medley punctuated by fresh tomato and green onion. It's a fabulous combination of warm, earthy carbs and bright vegetables that should be eaten throughout the year.

Hoppin' John
Adapted from Bill Neal's Southern Cooking
Serves 4 to 6

2 cooked cooked black-eyed peas
2 cups cooked white rice
1 cup fresh tomato, chopped
1/2 cup scallions, finely sliced
Kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
Cheddar cheese, grated (optional)

Black-eyed peas:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups fresh black-eyed peas
2 ounces country ham or pork sidemeat
2 bay leaves
2 dried red chiles
water to cover

Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium flame. Add the onion and garlic, a pinch of Kosher salt, and cook gently until softened, but not browned. Add the remaining ingredients and cover with water by 2 inches. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, skimming away any scum that initially floats to the surface. Cook until the peas are tender; this will take about 25-30 minutes, depending on the freshness and quality of the peas.

Combine the cooked rice and black-eyed peas in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the tomato and scallion, season with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stir, cover, and allow to heat through. Add grated cheddar cheese if desired.