I've got a bad case of the January blues. A very bad case indeed.
I do try, but I just can't get enthusiastic about the month of January. It's my bleuch month, something to be endured, rather than enjoyed. And that's coming from someone who's hardwired to be positive and look on the bright side, but January defeats me. I hate her cold, grey skies and hard, unforgiving weather. I hate all those New Year resolutions that only serve to suck the joy out of life and leave us all feeling slightly inadequate. And I hate the fact that she doesn't even offer us an excuse for one good party. Heck I've been reduced to pulling out my Scottish ancestry - that's about three hundred years' removed from the present day - and rolling in my friends for a Burn's Night party. And, to be very honest, I don't even like the great man's poems. Promise you won't tell.
So what to do? Well my answer for today is ... comfort food, and it doesn't get any more comforting than this:
I give you oeufs with a side order of soldiers. It's got to be the ultimate fusion food, combining a great British food idea (soldiers to dip in your egg and mop up the runny yolk) with a lovely French one (pseudo steamed/ baked eggs in a cup).
I'm a great fan of scruffy old second hand book shops, and the other day I happened upon a lovely volume of Elizabeth David's French Provincial Cooking. Of course it had to come home.
It's a real classic. Elizabeth David was one of the greats. Her books are wonderfully wordy, written in a light conversational tone that frequently wanders away from the recipe to tell anecdotes and sound forth on issues that mattered to her. They give you a window onto what it must have been like to live here after the War. From their tone I'm guessing that her readership at the time were respectable ladies in twin-sets and pearls who subscribed to improving publications like Reader's Digest and were Ottolenghi-ed by her wonderful Mediterranean-inspired offerings.
Now, to get back to the point in hand, what surprised me about Elizabeth David's account of how to make oeufs en cocotte was that she suggested the à la crème was an add-on. In our house a big dollop of double cream always came as standard. And, in my considered view, there's no way this baby could pass for proper comfort food without it.
If you'd like to make some you'll need some eggs (duck eggs with their great, big, orange yolks are really, really good, but hen eggs will do too), some double cream (or, if you prefer, you could use crème fraîche) and a knob of butter.
The first thing to do is turn your oven on to about 200 º C/ 390º F/ Gas Mark 6, and allow it to heat up.
Next boil the kettle, and pour the boiling water into a heavy-bottomed sauté pan. I use a cast iron oven-to-table casserole dish because its dimensions are just right and it fits easily into the oven. The water should be to a depth that will not flood your ramekins when you place them in the pan.
Place the ramekins in the pan of boiling water with a knob of butter in each. When the butter melts brush it around the ramekins and add a big dollop of fresh cream or crème fraîche. Then crack an egg into each ramekin. Season your eggs and put the pan with the ramekins into the preheated oven.
Leave in the oven for about 10 to 12 minutes (15 to 18 minutes if you've got great, big, gorgeous duck eggs) or until the eggs are cooked to your liking.
The eggs are ready for most people when the white has set and the yolk is still nice and runny, but if you don't like them that way you can always leave them to cook for longer.
Enjoy with some nice crusty bread toast, lashings of butter and a good cup of tea. As you can see my New Year/ New Me diet has been postponed until ... February!
All the best for now,
As shared on Friday Finds