julia child, mastering the art of french cooking, julie powell, french cuisine

The Best Laid Plans

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“Once an egg has been taken out of the breakfast category and put to use as a hot entree or a supper dish, it offers a great variety of presentations and you can draw on practically your whole cooking experience for its saucing and garnishing.” – Julia Child


I woke up yesterday morning to the sound of sleet hitting my bedroom window. A brief glance outside and I could see a white dusting of snow on our lawn. Again. Last week’s ice storm must have scared people off, because the drive to work was pretty lonely – not many people ventured out. Luckily, this storm wasn’t as bad as the last, and the roads were actually clear. But the wind chill was frigid, and I decided that some warm soup and a light entree would be perfect for dinner.

See what a little flour does to sliced onions?

I made Soupe Gratinee des Trois Gourmandes (onion soup gratineed de luxe) and Oeufs a la Fondue de Fromage (poached eggs on canapes with cheese fondue sauce). I sliced a couple of onions and sauteed them slowly in a covered pan of butter over low heat for about 15 minutes, then removed the lid and added a bit of sugar and salt. The onions became translucent and soft, and over the next half hour gradually became lightly brown. They filled the house with a wonderful aroma, which Ben noticed right away when he got home from work. (“It smells like food in here!” he announced happily as he came through the front door.)

Meanwhile, I brought a pot of beef stock and water to a boil and brought a pot of water to the simmer for the poached eggs. For some reason, I always wind up sacrificing the first egg when I try to poach these things – like I need a warm-up first. And it usually takes me at least 6 eggs to wind up with 4 successes. All of this to say, I buy eggs 18 at a time. Poaching eggs isn’t as easy as it looks, although when I get it right, boy are they good.

Four out of six, and that ain't bad.

When the onions had browned, I added a little flour to the pan which caused them to thicken quickly. I poured in the beef stock, then added some vermouth and gave the whole thing a good stir with a wooden spoon. I brought the pot to a simmer and let it sit for another half hour, partially covered. While that was going on, I prepared some canapes from a loaf of French bread (sliced them and put them in the oven for a few minutes to dry them out).

While the soup cooked, I poached four eggs and set them aside. I then made the fondue sauce by pouring vermouth and beef stock into a pan and bringing it to a boil. I mixed cornstarch and whipping cream in a separate bowl, then added it to the pan and watched the liquid begin to thicken. I tossed in about a half-cup of shredded Swiss cheese (which didn’t thicken the sauce like I had expected it to), and stirred it all together until it was a thick creamy texture.

Ready for the oven...

By now the soup was done cooking, so I sprinkled in some slivers of Swiss cheese and added a few of the toasted bread rounds on top of the liquid, where they floated happily. I sprinkled the entire top of the dish with shredded Swiss cheese and put the pan in a 325 degree oven for about 20 minutes. In that time, I made the final addition for the soup. I beat cornstarch together with an egg yolk, Worcestershire sauce and cognac. When the soup was ready to come out, I couldn’t believe how incredible it looked. The top was a beautiful golden brown, and the bread was toasted yet soft in the middle from the soup liquid. The cheese had melted perfectly on top and the whole thing looked like it belonged on the cover of a food magazine.

Man, it looks good!

With the oven available, I set three canapes on a cookie sheet and placed a cooled poached egg on top of each. I topped each egg with a bit of shredded Swiss cheese, then set the cookie sheet under the broiler for a few minutes to brown the tops. While that was happening, I added my Worcestershire mixture to the soup by lifting underneath the bread rounds and scooping a spoonful of soup into the mixture to cook the eggs, then added a couple more spoonfuls. Once it was mixed together, I added everything back into the soup pan and gave it a good stir, careful not to upset the beautiful bread on top.

Didn't turn very brown, but didn't want to overcook them under the broiler.

I pulled the eggs out of the oven, and they looked terrific. Everything was ready, and it all looked and smelled delicious. I spooned soup into a bowl and topped it with one of the crusty bread rounds and melted cheese. On a separate plate I used a spatula to serve a poached egg canape onto my plate, the cheese sauce bubbling on the cookie sheet. We cut into the egg first, and it was AWESOME. The cheese sauce was light and wonderful with a little hint of sweetness; the bread was toasty yet softened from the sauce and not too crunchy to bite into. But the best part was when I cut into the egg itself, and the perfect yolk spilled out onto the plate. The whole thing tasted amazing, and I couldn’t help thinking how perfect it would be for a brunch or breakfast meal. (NOTE TO READERS: Valentine’s Day is coming up. Why not surprise your sweetie with breakfast in bed? This dish is sure to score you some major points!)

I mean, seriously, doesn't this look like something you'd buy at a restaurant?

Next we tried the soup, which I’m extremely disappointed to tell you we couldn’t eat. It smelled incredible, and it looked terrific, but sadly, the flavor of cognac was so strong we couldn’t stand to eat the whole thing. We could barely eat any of it, to be honest, which was a total bummer because A.) that was the part of the meal that was supposed to keep us warm on a frigid night and B.) it probably would have been perfect had we not added that part of the recipe. But rules are rules, and we have to try these things to know whether we like them. And we do not like them. So there. The crusty bread, however, was pretty tasty and had great texture, but again, the overwhelming cognac was too much to bear.

It didn’t matter much in the end. The eggs were so fantastic that we really didn’t mind missing out on the soup. No kidding, you really need to look up Julia’s recipe and give it a try. They weren’t hard to make (once you’ve mastered the poached egg part), and didn’t take long at all. I’d love to hear what you think.

Stay hungry!
– Jessica

Today’s French Lesson:
“Attention, les routes sont verglacées et glissantes.”

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