Saturday, March 5, 2011

Berkeley Breakfast For Two In 15 Minutes

Every now and then I love to be reminded that the best meals I’ve ever cooked are the simple fast ones I’ve prepared for people I love: a daughter, a lover, or a cherished friend. They often involve a little serendipity.

Last week my dear friend E set out for Berkeley from the North Coast to continue the celebration of her 75th. As usual, she stopped at the Booneville hotel to break the drive. But the Booneville was booked, so they tucked her in at the Toll House Inn 10 minutes up the hill on the road to Ukiah. She headed south again the following morning, after de-icing car door handles and scooping up the bottle of Alexander Valley chardonnay (Handley 2007) gifted by the hotel. Neither of us would have chosen the chardonnay, but even the persnickety can be tempted by free wine. Good thing.

Be sure the kitchen table is de-cluttered and the Magnolia blossoms plucked from the neighbor’s tree are in a lovely dish in the center. Tulips should already be arranged in the big vase behind the sink with lilies in the opposite corner of the room. (It wouldn’t hurt if the rest of house was de-cluttered as well-but that doesn’t count in my fifteen-minute prep time, nor does the fact that E usually gets up first and makes coffee for both of us well before we contemplate breakfast)

Put a wide skillet of water on the stove to heat. Meanwhile cut four slices from a loaf of Acme levain and put them in a turned off toaster oven. Rinse and peel asparagus stalks and set the kitchen table with flaky sea salt and a pepper grinder. When the skillet water is boiling, add salt and asparagus. Plop a chunk of unsalted butter into a tiny saucepan with a sprig of fresh tarragon over medium heat. Keep an eye on the butter and swirl it in the pot from time to time until it is fragrant and golden brown. When the asparagus is al dente (and still bright green), transfer the spears to a double layer of paper towels. (Check the butter and pour it into a ramekin when it is done).

Bring the asparagus water back to a simmer. Break four very fresh farm eggs into the water, in a clockwise pattern. Turn the burner OFF, cover the pan, and set the toaster oven for 3 minutes. Meanwhile uncork an expensive bottle of champagne and discover that it is not very good. When the toaster oven beeps, divide the toast between two plates and drizzle them with a little of the brown butter. Use a slotted spoon to remove the first egg, draining the excess water by resting the spoon on a folded paper towel before sliding the egg onto a slice of toast. Repeat, scooping each egg from the water in the order it was added. Garnish plates with asparagus and drizzle more brown butter over the eggs and asparagus. Top with tarragon leaves, pinches of flaky salt, and grinds of pepper.

Serve a slightly oaky, buttery, bottle of Alexander Valley Chardonnay (which turns out to be an even better choice than the champagne would have been…) Linger over breakfast as long as possible.

PS Enjoy left over brown butter on toast with salt and tarragon leaves for several mornings thereafter and don't forget to return the champagne to the store.