Sunday, December 02, 2007


Student Food: Coffee, Eggs and Books

I know it is such a cliché to consume copious amounts of coffee, but what can I say? While it is not necessarily good for one's blood pressure, coffee is mood-enhancing; I, for one, am relaxed in pose and steely-eyed in my concentration after drinking a cupful, and these effects are absolutely necessary when one is hunched over a desk all day at the computer or scribbling on one piece of coffee-ringed paper after another. Truth be known, I don't usually have but two cups per day, but they are loaded by the strength of the coffee - utterly dependent on the type of roast and quality of roasted beans - and the coffee machine itself.

My angelheart Eric is enjoying sole custody of our faithful espresso machine. Since moving back to New Zealand, I have purchased a moka pot, which is the closest fake-espresso one can have at home because it is also functions by creating steam to activate the water that funnels upwards towards to beans, extracting a very strong brew (not to be confused with percolators, in which boiled water seeps downwards through coffee grounds). I am happy with it; in fact, I am in love with it. If it wasn't for this invention, I would probably not be able to work from home but would have to work in the city, where good cafés abound. This is an important consideration for most students, I venture.

One of the main reasons I have not posted of late is because my diet has not greatly varied these past couple of weeks. Lunches consist of a sandwich of some description and fruit; dinner is whatever my parents put on. Occasionally I make linguine with garlic oil and peperoncino. Although I seriously miss taking my time in the kitchen to explore, it is time I cannot afford. On the days that my tastebuds get depressed at the notion of yet another sandwich (no matter how delicious I make them with fresh bread), I turn to my protein superfood: eggs.

From the days of 5th form and 7th form year-end examinations in high school, I make sure to have eggs when I need to be mentally alert. The effects this has seems to wear off if I follow it for too many consecutive days; however, I have learned to harness the power of the mighty egg and ensure that I consume them for lunch at least twice a week. The mental clarity gained is impressive.

Elizabeth David's French Provincial Cooking is my book to go to for recipes on eggs. There is a so much variation in the provinces of France on ways to prepare fried eggs, poached eggs, hard boiled eggs, omelettes, soufflés, tarts...I find never-ending satisfaction from these pages. Ms. David does remark that in most cases, people are very particular about how they prepare their eggs. I clarify that this is not because people are always picky and difficult but that, in most cases, egg dishes feature eggs as the star and if they are not prepared to one's liking, then the entire dish is ruined.

I confess that I generally prefer poached eggs to fried eggs, but every now and then I do crave the combination of nutty butter and tart vinegar, a combination that defines Oeufs Frits au Beurre Noir. I do not prefer my yolks to be set too hard, but this is a call that you can make. Ms. David doesn't specify the vinegar to be used for this quick dish. I have tried the following vinegars for this recipe: tarragon, white wine, and red wine. The latter is my favourite on rainy days, providing both a savoury fruit and tart bite; tarragon vinegar is better on other days. I have yet to try it with champagne vinegar. This very simple recipe provides enough for one in a hurry.

Oeufs Frits au Beurre Noir
(from Elizabeth David's French Provincial Cooking)

1 3/4 tablespoons butter, divided use
2 eggs
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar (see note above)

1) Set oven to low and place inside a heat-safe serving dish.
2) Melt one tablespoon butter (or light, frying oil) over medium heat.
3) Into a plate with sloping sides, crack one egg.
4) Sprinkle egg with salt and pepper.
5) When butter has melted, gently slide in the egg so that the yolk does not break.
6) Tilt the frying pan so that the butter completely surrounds the egg.
7) Cover and fry gently until just before done to your preference. They should cook a little further while hanging out in the oven.
8) In the meantime, crack the other egg into the plate and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
9) Transfer done egg to the waiting warm serving dish and get on with frying the other egg.
10) When both eggs are done, clean the frying pan, then add remaining 3/4-tablespoon of butter. When it is foaming and gently transforming colour, pour over the fried eggs, which are staying warm in the oven.
11) Pour the vinegar into the frying pan and let it boil. Pour over the eggs and pool of nutty butter. Serve immediately.

Of course, when it all gets a bit much and a break is needed instead of food, there is another sort of food: that contained in the pages of my cookery book collection. Currently at my side are the latest offerings by Diana Henry, Cook Simple: Effortless Cooking Every Day, and Simon Hopkinson, Week In Week Out: 52 Seasonal Stories, the first by Australian chef Skye Gyngell, A Year in My Kitchen, and the Elizabeth David stalwart French Provincial Cooking. Each one is uniquely comforting, but full of insight and imagination.

Bear with me. There are only two more weeks to go, and then I will be free of the ball and chain that is my beloved thesis.

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Are those moka pots any good? I was thinking about getting one but they frighten me ever so slightly. They are good space savers as since I have moved, my normal coffee machine doesn't fit :-(

Those eggs look SO yummy. I have been limited to only having eggs once a week (if I'm lucky) as my partner says they are no good for me (I mean I could try and sneak another portion in, but the greif I would get if I was found out is really not worth the effort!)

But as he is away on a business trip, I think I have found my lunch recipe for tomorrow .. and no one will ever know!

Greetings from a cold and wet London. Hope all is well down in Aotearoa :-)
Dear Eric,
Just two weeks! That's fantastic, you are almost there. My ball and chain comes off at the end of March...

I usually prefer poached eggs to fried eggs too, but this dish looks delicious, esp since the yolk is still runny.

Look at all those books you have, just imagine, you can indulge in those recipes in two weeks time.

All the best!

I just learned something new from your post... I did not know that eggs are such a good "brain food"!
Since you seem to like red wine and tarragon vinegar the best why not combine the two by adding a few sprigs of tarragon to your red wine vinegar bottle. My mom used to do this and the end result is very nice.
Anthony ~ There is nothing to be frightened of. Should you get one, just break in the coffee machine with used coffee beans. This isn't for you to drink, of course, but to put that new rubber seal to work, so your coffee doesn't first taste at all like rubber. Be sure to wash with soapy water every now and then to remove the coffee oils that remain after each use; they turn rancid after a while, which does not amount to perfect cups of coffee. I heeded both of these instructions and have consequently had perfect cups of coffee each time. The only other thing to do is find which setting on the oven you prefer to ensure that the coffee is brewed pretty quickly (ten minutes or less) whilst giving the body you prefer.

I have egg dishes at least twice a week during really stressful periods in which I am required to be pretty alert. I don't want to speak for everyone, but since this post is about the food-life of me as a student, I thought to divulge. Hey, it's better than eating MORE cookies and junk food other students I know seem to prefer.

It is lovely in Auckland at the moment - gray skies but not cold. It should not be too long now before Summer really gets going.

Nora B. ~ Yes, in two weeks I will be able to relax for a bit. While there are other things with which I need to busy myself, I'm definitely looking forward to having the weekends to do whatever I want.

Thanks for the encouragement and support throughout the year. Don't worry, the three months that you have remaining will fly by.

Bruno ~ Thank you very much for the suggestion. Locating tarragon is a bit of mission around here, or so it seems. I will put my eyes to more concentrated use when I really take my time lingering at the markets. Hopefully, it won't be too long now!
Hang on there, Shaun - remember, the feeling you'll have after handing in your thesis is pure heaven :)
I've been tempted to purchase a moka espresso pot too, but been hesitant; this is the impetus I need!

Salty, crunchy, vinegary eggs sound like the perfect quick meal. Oh, yum!
Pille ~ I'll take your word for it since you've already been in my shoes. I should imagine that I will feel relieved more than anything else at first, but I'm sure pride and heavenly feelings will soon follow.

Christina ~ The moka pot works like a dream. It brews good coffee in a really short amount of time and doesn't take up a lot of space. I keep a trivet handy, so I can plant the pot on it once it has started gurgling, but if you have a granite or other hardy counter you probably don't have to bother.

As for the eggs, yes, to all...each mouthful a rich delight. Very simple, obviously, but it's what I'm eating right now. I look forward to spending more serious time in the kitchen.
Well Shaun, I am not a coffee drinker unless it has copious amounts of liquer in it! I am a tea drinker, besides my wine. I start with my morning cup of black tea and then head to green tea, iced, for the rest of the day until wine time.
2 Weeks! Oh my gosh! That time will go fast for you! Just look at what you have accomplished!
Eggs, my favorite "fast food". And you could have not picked a more perfect lady to lead you around the egg kingdom! I have most of Elizabeth's books and treasure them. I either like my eggs loaded with veggies, cheese, hot peppers or very plain. No inbetween for me! I also like to make egg sandwiches. Yesterday I made an egg and cheese mixture and plopped it on a toasted Whole Wheat English Muffin with butter. Oh yum!
I like your list of books that you have included in your post. Some of them I have not seen so I definately will be checking on those.
Bunches of luck to you with the rest of your thesis!
Yay for student food, Shaun! Can't forget instant cup-o-nooodles or packs of ramen!
Not so sure about eggs and vinegar, but I'll give it a try. ;)

Hope all is well over in the N.Z.
As you know, Shaun, I love my Moka, too...and David's stylishly simple egg dishes. There are far worse things you could succumb to on the fly than tucking into a plate of quickly fried sunshine.

I've seen Gyngell's cover art (sucker as I am for such things), and have added it to my list for tracking down once I come up for air. I've a feeling, as is the case w/ Henry's books, that looks are not deceiving.
Deb ~ You're an angel, and you sound like my kind of gal. I would love to be more of a tea drinker (my friend Susan is, and she has given me some good advice for when I finally get into the spirit of tea drinking), for I do enjoy the taste of both black and green teas, love for coffee is strong. And those two cups that I have daily provide enough caffeine for one day.

I don't have "wine o'clock" so often these days, but I'm looking forward to building up a cellar and getting into tastings again. Eric and I used to host regular blind tastings, and not only were they a hoot, they were always quite informative.

I have but three Elizabeth David books, but next on my list is Spices, Salt and Aromatics in the English Kitchen. I'm intrigued by what she has to say. Her recipes are perfectly evoked in her language. Probably one of the best ever food writers.

The thesis is almost done. I am glad because I've almost reached the point at which I'm tired of it, though I have enjoyed the process of writing it.

Garrett ~ Darling, thanks for dropping by...I know I don't often enough, but that will soon change after the end of next week...I have not had ramen for years, but my angelheart does purchase a couple every week to eat at work. Naughty, he is.

Things would be better in NZ were Eric here, but we make the best of it. I'm looking forward to Christmas, not so much for the family stuff but to enjoy the pohutakawa trees (my favourite) in bloom.

Susan, lovie ~ I know it's a fraud of a post, but I found it quite amusing when I really thought about my student/I'm-in-a-crunch diet. Eggs are the way to go, and Elizabeth David offers so many variations. I should experiment more. I should imagine there are loads in that text you have, Italian Foods.

What I most love about Skye Gyngell's book A Year In My Kitchen, which was recommended to me by Pille at Nami-Nami, is that she tells you her "toolbox", ingredients she uses to round out a meal and then she shows in her recipes how they are used. I'm sure she comes up with different elements to her toolbox regularly, but this is a very good (and beautifully rendered) introduction to balance.
Now you are back in NZ you should try the Allpress Espresso coffee. I like the R'toto blend. I'm leaving NZ next week.
Good luck with your last two weeks.

I've been pottering about with Cook Simple since it came out, I'm planning a post. Though the way it's going it'll be next year before I get round to it!
It's awful but I can't drink coffee anymore, much as I adore it. It makes me feel edgy and funny. Not in a good way.
Fortunately though, I can still manage fried eggs!
Hi Shaun,
Are the shackles almost off? All the best for your final sprint.

x nora
Barbara ~ Yes, Allpress and Millers were the best before I left NZ over half a decade ago. I have noticed that they serve Allpress at Sheinkin, which is the best place in Auckland Central for coffee, or at least to my mind. Thanks for the recommendation. I'm sure you'll be very happy back in Australia.

Kelly-Jane ~ I'm thoroughly enjoying Diana Henry's Cook Simple. I wish there was more prose as there are in her other books, but I suppose the objective here is to just get people into the kitchen to make quick and interesting things. Her experience really shows though, and I love how she pulls from all corners of Earth.

Freya ~ I don't know if I could ever give coffee up, but I have drastically reduced the amount I drink on a daily basis. Besides, I tend to drink it first thing in the morning as part of a ritual and once again in the afternoon only if I am feeling relaxed. I don't drink it if I'm tense.

Nora B. ~ The shackles have been removed. I don't know long it will be before the imprint disappears from my ankles.





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