Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Pasta with Spring Vegetables

Right now the pile of cooking magazines I have received and have yet to read is growing pretty tall.  I'm actually kind of sitting on the magazines right now, and they're sort of cramping my style...

Before I was sitting on the magazines, though, while they were still scattered about, Erik was flipping through our most recent Food and Wine (I'm MONTHS behind on that magazine!), and stumbled upon tonight's recipe: Farfalle with Spring Vegetables.  I was immediately smitten, as it contains many of my favorite veggies, notably broccolini and fennel, plus a host of other yummy things, like scallions, garlic, and peas.  

For our first go-around we followed the recipe to a T (tee?), other than adding an extra clove of garlic, and an extra scallion, (because we had 3, and who wants just 1 leftover scallion sitting around?  Not I.)  Okay, and I only used 3 tablespoons of butter, and I didn't measure my olive oil, or herbs, and I used dried tarragon, and I put cheese on top, because I always put cheese on pasta...  So I lied, I mostly followed the recipe.  And wow, it's good.  But I think my improvisations made it better :)  If you're a garlic fiend (like me), you could easily bump this recipe to 3-4 cloves, not the 1 that the actual recipe calls for, but regardless, use at least 2--1 just doesn't cut it!  Additionally, I think the recipe needs a bit more lemon juice--1 tablespoon doesn't add enough pop to such a large quantity of pasta and vegetables.  I find that lemon juice's acidity helps highlight the butter's richness, plus is tastes fantastic, which is why I suggest adding lemon wedges for serving, so you can juice as you see fit.  As for the herbs, I used fresh parsley and chives, but dried tarragon.  While fresh herbs are always best, I think that dried tarragon is nearly as flavorful as fresh, so I didn't feel bad substituting.  However, I don't find either dried parsley or chives particularly flavorful, so definitely stick with fresh on those.  The one thing that I wouldn't change at all are the herbed breadcrumbs that you sprinkle on top--they really took this recipe to the next level.  I was having trouble not eating those by the spoonful while I was waiting for the rest of the dish to cook!  They add crunch and oily richness, and man oh man, they are so yummy!  This recipe is quick enough for a weeknight (about 45 minutes total), but a big enough and tasty enough to serve to friends.  So you should, and tell me what you think! 

Farfalle with Spring Vegetables (Adapted from Food and Wine, May 2010)
Serves 4-6 

* 2 slices of white sandwich bread, finely chopped (1 cup)
* 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
* 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
* 2 tablespoons snipped chives
* 1 tablespoon chopped tarragon
* Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
* 1 bunch broccolini
* 1 pound farfalle
* 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
* 2 or 3 garlic cloves, minced
* 1 fennel bulb, halved, cored and thinly sliced--a mandolin is great for the slicing, if you have one.
* 3 scallions, thinly sliced
* 1 cup frozen peas, thawed, or 1 pound fresh peas, shelled
* 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, plus lemon wedges for serving
* Parmesan, Pecorino Romano, or your favorite hard cheese, grated, to sprinkle on top (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. On a baking sheet, toss the bread with 1/4 cup of the oil and toast for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring once, until golden. Let cool, then stir in half each of the parsley, chives and tarragon. Season the crumbs with salt and pepper.

2. In a pot of boiling salted water, cook the broccolini until tender, 1 minute.  Using tongs, transfer to a cutting board and coarsely chop. 

3. Add the pasta to the broccolini water and boil until al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water.

4.  While the pasta cooks, melt the butter and the remaining 6 tablespoons of oil in a deep skillet.  Add the garlic, fennel, scallions, peas and broccolini and cook over moderate heat until the fennel is crisp-tender, about 6 minutes. 

4. Add the pasta, lemon juice and cooking water and season with salt and pepper. Cook over moderate heat until the water is nearly absorbed. Stir in the remaining herbs. Sprinkle the pasta with the bread crumbs and cheese (if using) just before serving.

(If you want to make this dish ahead of time, Food and Wine informs me that the pasta can be kept at room temperature for 4 hours, and the crumbs can be stored at room temperature overnight.)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Baker's Dozen Cookbook

No, no, I'm not publishing my own cookbook!  Did you know, though, that there is ALREADY a Baker's Dozen Cookbook?  I had no idea, until just recently.  But it should come as no surprise that a cookbook that shares my (soon to be renamed) blog's name is excellent!  I'm currently cat-sitting for a neighbor who is an avid cook with an extensive cookbook collection, which is how I stumbled upon this volume.  Although I've been here for nearly two weeks, things have been so busy that I haven't had much time to delve into the collection.  However, I immediately picked up The Baker's Dozen Cookbook because of the title, and have enjoyed browsing it while I've been here. 

The Baker's Dozen is a group of professional (and well known) LA and San Francisco-area bakers who started meeting in the late 80s and have continued to get together to share tips and test recipes; this book contains the collective baking wisdom of these accomplished ladies and gents.  It's an astounding resource for us simple home cooks who don't always have the time or inclination to test a recipe using five different kinds of flours or with egg whites at several different temperatures, as they have done, in pursuit of the best-possible version of every recipe.  The combination of science and expertise is like equal parts Alton Brown and Baker's Illustrated (I imagine--I haven't actually gotten my hands on a copy yet, but it seems like the stuff that BI would talk about, because it's serious like that).  Obviously I love to bake, but I allow myself to skip over steps when they seem extraneous or arbitrary, if no explanation is offered.  For example, I often let cakes or quick breads cool for hours in the pan, even if the recipe says to turn them onto a cooling rack after 15 minutes, because I figured, what's the harm?  But I learned from The Baker's Dozen that the reason you shouldn't do this is because steam gets trapped in bottom of the pan and causes the cake to stick to the pan...and I always thought they stuck because I did a bad job greasing the pan!  And, speaking of greasing, the book notes when pans should be greased, when they shouldn't, when you can use non-stick pans, and when you shouldn't.  And then there's the glass pans, the ceramic pans, steel pans, aluminum pans to consider...I  always thought they were interchangeable, but apparently there are appropriate times to use all of them!  I also found out when to use 60 degree eggs (for soft meringue), when to use 70 degree eggs (the rest of the time), why rack position actually matters, when to mix a lot, when to mix a little, the list just goes on an on and on....

This isn't one of those big, glossy books full of mouth-watering photos but only a few recipes and sub-par instructions.  In fact, only a handful of its 350 pages are dedicated to photos (but those few are mouthwatering--my only wish is that there were more!)  Nor are there tons of trendy recipes and hard-to-find ingredients.  It's just good, wholesome, delicious baking for every occasion.  The book's highlights include its encyclopedic glossaries of both tools and ingredients, its tried-and-true recipe instructions and helpful tips, and of greatest interest to me, the explanations of chemical and physical reactions that occur during baking.  Oh, and of course, there are are the recipes!  135 of them, nearly all of which I would love to try, (if only I had the time and that many occasions....)  Cakes, pies, tarts, cookies, quick breads, yeast breads, custards....it really covers everything! 

I don't usually rave about cookbooks, even though I love reading them.  And I'm not raving about this one just because this cookbook happens to share the name of my blog; as I said before, it is a complete coincidence.  It's just a fantastic and thorough reference book that covers so much--excellent for any home baker who wants to learn more and improve their skills.  Perhaps one day I'll even get my own copy! 

Note: Out of curiosity I checked out the reviews on Amazon.com, which were for the most part as positive as mine, although a few drew my attention to some editing mistakes and typos in the book.  For the most part these are minor, and certainly do not diminish the book's overall value.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Shakshuka: Eggs Poached in Spicy Tomato Sauce

I wish I had something inspirational to say about this next recipe, but truthfully, I don't.  I don't even have a photo to show you, sorry.  But I do have an easy, tasty recipe, so read on.  

I hadn't even heard of Shakshuka, an Israeli dish of eggs poached in a spicy tomato sauce, until it was featured on Smitten Kitchen, an excellent cooking blog that I often read.  Although in Israel Shakshuka is traditionally served as a breakfast dish, for my American palate I thought it was much more well suited to dinner (I usually steer clear of anything more potent than Cheerios at breakfast).  I was enticed by the simple ingredient list and easy prep--the perfect meal for the end of a busy week.  

I tweaked the recipe just a bit, most notably in the number of servings.  Smitten Kitchen and Saveur, which originally published this recipe, claim that it serves 4-6, but Erik and polished off 2/3 of it on our own (hey, don't judge, it's mostly vegetables!).  However, I reduced the number of eggs accordingly, from the recommended 6 to 3, basically budgeting 1 egg per serving.  The diameter of the pan I used was smaller than the recommended 12 inches, so in my pan 3 eggs fit perfectly--any more would have just created a thick, egg-y layer instead of individually poached eggs.  I suppose that if you had a larger pan and used 2 eggs per person you could stretch the sauce a bit, but I liked mine saucy without too many eggs--healthier that way, right?  I also bumped up the amounts of cumin and garlic, because I simply can't get enough of those delicious flavors.  I wimped out on the jalapenos, however, and used only 2.  Without their seeds, jalapenos actually don't pack too much of a punch, so when I make this again I will use the recommended 3 jalapenos, or add a few seeds, since those are where most of the heat resides.  This is a forgiving and flexible recipe that's easy to prepare, so try it when you're in the mood for something easy, comforting, and full of flavor.

Shakshuka (Adapted from Smitten Kitchen)
Serves 3 to 4 

* 1/4 cup olive oil
* 5 Anaheim chiles or 3 jalapeƱos, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped
* 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
* 6 cloves garlic, crushed then sliced
* 1/2 Tablespoon ground cumin
* 1 Tablespoon paprika
* A 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, undrained
* 1/2 cup water
* Kosher salt, to taste
* 3-4 eggs, or more, if you feel so inclined
* 1/2 cup crumbed feta cheese
* 1 generous Tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
* Warm pitas, for serving

1. Heat oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add chilis and onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden brown, about 6 minutes. Add garlic, cumin, and paprika, and cook, stirring frequently, until garlic is soft, about 2 more minutes.
2. Crush the tomatoes.  You can do this by transferring them to the bowl and crushing them with your hands, or just crushing them as you add them to the skillet.  Either way, crush the tomatoes and add them, along with their liquid and 1/2 cup water to the skillet.  Reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened slightly, about 20 minutes. Season with salt, to taste.

3. Crack eggs over sauce so that eggs are evenly distributed across sauce’s surface. Cover and cook until yolks are barely set, about 5 minutes.  (Obviously you can simmer for less time if you prefer a runny yolk, like Erik does).  Using a spoon, baste the whites of the eggs with tomato mixture, being careful not to disturb the yolk.  Sprinkle shakshuka with feta and parsley and serve with warm pitas, cut into quarters, for dipping.  Enjoy!

Volkswagens, Daffodils, and Some Damn Good Cookies

I love that time in the spring when everything starts to green up, when the hedges and the shrubs and wild growth along the sides of the road begin to bud, so that from afar they look as though they have simply been dusted with the faintest hint of green.  Then, seemingly overnight, plants are covered with actual leaves, and it really feels as though spring has arrived.  The transition from brown to green means two (somewhat related) things.  I am ridiculously busy at work, and Daffodil weekend is approaching.  For my non-Nantucket readers, Daffodil weekend, which occurs in late April, is a festival of sorts for which locals and visitors alike turn out in droves to celebrate the simple daffodil.  (It's also the first time that many seasonal folks come to the back to the island,  hence the busy-ness at work.)  The highlight of the of the weekend is the Antique car parade, which starts in town and then crosses half the island to 'Sconset, where the cars park, their drivers set up tailgates, and then everyone proceeds to blatantly ignores open container laws and gets boozed up while dressed in all manner of ridiculously bright/preppy daffodil-adorned attire.  While I've gone out and spectated for the past two years, this will be my first year participating in the decorating of an antique car and being part of that spectacle.  The Nantucket Historical Association was the lucky recipient of a 1960s VW van, which is undergoing a major decorating effort and will be part of the parade this year.  I'm not going to spill the beans just yet, but it's going to be awesome.  But in order for it to be awesome, we needed to do some work.  And naturally, workers need to be fed, right?  So yesterday we gathered and sawed and drilled and taped and painted, and worked up an appetite, so we ate.

A stock-market-themed tailgate.  They only get more elaborate from here...

I use any gathering of people where food is being served (in this case, lunch), to try out new recipes and make yummy baked goods that I won't make just to have around the house (because that is just asking for trouble!).  Naturally my contribution to this gathering would be sweet in nature, because that's just how I roll.  My limiting factors were: a) ingredients, since I didn't do any shopping beforehand, and b) timing, since I only left myself about an hour to make something, and c) easy to serve and eat.  With that criteria, I figured my best bet would be cookies, since they bake quickly and are finger friendly.  The one catch with cookies, however, is that they often use room temperature butter, which I didn't have on hand (and didn't have time to wait for!)  For inspiration I turned to Brown Eyed Baker, which has a wealth of basic yet fantastic baked-good recipes.  I quickly stumbled across one incredibly indulgent "Thick and Chewy" chocolate chip cookie recipe that called for melted butter instead of room temperature--timing problem solved!  I got to work immediately, and about an hour later I was packing the cookies, still warm from the oven.

As you readers have probably guessed, I always like to try new recipes.  Sometimes they're good, sometimes they're just so-so (obviously I don't write about those), and sometimes they're so great they're an automatic keeper, and let me tell you, this one is a keeper!  There are about a million chocolate chip cookie recipes out there, but as far as I'm concerned, I've found my winner.  And I'm not the only one.  My first assurance that these cookies were in fact as great as I thought they'd be was when my friend Beth nabbed one before lunch and declared "these cookies are amazing!" (or something like that).  When we all broke for lunch the praise kept rolling in, and it was impossible for people to eat just one (despite their hefty size!).  Here's what makes them so amazing:  the fact that they stay chewy, even after cooling (thanks to the butter plus and extra egg yolk).  Enough vanilla so you could actually taste it.  A perfect sweet-salty balance.  The aforementioned hefty size (and I even down-sized mine a tiny bit!).  The thick-and-chewiness...oh wait, I already said that.  The key to the chewiness is pulling them from the oven when the centers are still soft and puffy looking so you don't run the risk of over-baking them.  Apparently cooling the cookies on the sheets also enhances the texture--as I was a bit crunched for time I didn't have an opportunity to let them cool all the way before packing them, and as far as I can tell, they didn't suffer too much because of it.  We consumed most of these cookies about 2 1/2 hours after they were pulled from the oven, so not only were they soft, but the chocolate chips were still partially melted, which no doubt contributed to the overwhelmingly positive response. Still, 24 hours later they're still awesome (don't worry, I just ate another, just to be sure), so don't delay, makes these cookies today, and you too will be singing their praises. 

Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies (Adapted from Brown Eyed Baker and Baking Illustrated)
Makes 18-22 large cookies

This recipe's original source, Baking Illustrated, gives ingredient measures in weights as well as cups.  Armed with a trusty kitchen scale, I measured the dry ingredients by weight.  To satisfy my own curiosity I compared the weigh and volume measurements, and found that when measuring by volume I always ended up with more flour and sugar.  So, if you have a scale, use it, and if you don't, be sure not to overfill your cup measures.  When you're going for soft and chewy you don't want to dry out your cookies with too much flour, or over-sweeten with too much sugar!

* 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons (10.625 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
* 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled until warm
* 1 cup packed (7 ounces) light or dark brown sugar
* 1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
* 1 large egg plus 1 additional egg yolk
* 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
* About 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1. Adjust the oven racks to the upper- and lower-middle positions and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper, a silicone baking mat, or spray them with nonstick cooking spray.

2. Whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl and set aside.

3. Using an electric mixer or just a wooden spoon or spatula, combine the melted butter and sugars until thoroughly blended. Beat in the egg, yolk, and vanilla until just combined. Add the dry ingredients and beat at low speed just until combined. Stir in the chocolate chips by hand.

4. Roll the dough into ping-pong sized balls--a scant 1/4 cup or so of dough.  Place the formed dough balls on the prepared baking sheets, spacing them 2 1/2 inches apart.

5. Bake until the cookies are light golden grown and the outer edges start to harden yet the centers are still soft and puffy, 14 to 17 minutes, rotating the baking sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through the baking time. Cool the cookies on the sheets before removing with a metal spatula.  Enjoy--I know you will!!!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Apple Spiced Upside-Down Cake

Inspired partly by the previous recipe (Apple Walnut Bread), and partly by the fantastic Plum Upside Down Cake that I posted about last fall, I decided to do a little experimenting this weekend.  I've been desperate to make the upside-down cake again--it's simple to prepare yet rich and buttery, and when topped with caramelized fruit, I can think of few things better.  Since plums are months away from being in season, I thought I would try the cake using a fruit that never seems to go out of season: apples.  I caramelized them in butter and sugar until they were soft and syrupy, and I enhanced the batter with cinnamon and nutmeg, a pair that always complements apples.  The result, I have to say, was fantastic.  I brought it to Armchair Theatre, a monthly potluck/play reading that Erik and I often attend, and then took a page out of my dad's book and enjoyed some of the leftovers for breakfast!  For breakfast or dessert, this cake is a winner! 

Apple Spiced Upside Down Cake, (Inspired by Real Simple Magazine, August 2009)
Serves 8-10

* 3 apples, each peeled, cored, and cut into 8 wedges 
* 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature, plus an additional tablespoon
* 1/4 cup brown sugar 

* 2/3 cup white sugar
* 1 cup all-purpose flour
* 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
* 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
* 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
* 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
* 2/3 cup sour cream (lowfat is fine)
* 1 large egg
* 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter an 8 inch cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper

2. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the brown sugar and the apple wedges. Cook, tossing occasionally, until the sugar dissolves and the apples begin to soften, 5 to 6 minutes. Arrange the apples in the cake pan in slightly overlapping concentric circles, starting from the outside. Spoon any remaining syrup over the top.

3. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.

4. With an electric mixer, beat the 1/2 cup of butter and 2/3 cup of sugar until fluffy. Beat in the egg, sour cream, and vanilla. Gradually add the flour mixture, mixing just until incorporated.

5. Pour the batter over the apples (you'll have to use a spatula to spread it around, it's thick).  Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 50 to 55 minutes.  Let cool in the pan for 1 hour. Place a large plate over the cake pan and invert the cake onto the plate.  Slice and enjoy!!!

 Pardon the glare.  It doesn't quite do it justice, but this is one darn tasty cake!

Apple Walnut Bread

This recipe begins with one kind of past-its-prime apple sitting in my fridge.  Most people would just chuck it out in the woods for the deer (if your house is surrounded with them, like mine is), or in the garbage.  However, I used it as an excuse to make a loaf of apple walnut bread that I'd been eyeing on a great baking site, Joy The Baker.  And I am so glad I did!

In addition to the apples (you'll need 2 for this recipe), this bread is loaded with healthy and delicious walnuts, flax seeds, wheat flour, and flavorful brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Oh, and butter.  Yum :)  However, if you're weary of butter, I imagine that it could be replaced by canola oil, which is much lower in saturated fat and a tiny bit higher in unsaturated fat.  Also, if you don't want to invest in flax seeds (they run about $5 a bag, kind of steep, although extremely healthy!) you can definitely leave them out.  So whether you've got a couple of apples you need to get rid of, or you're just looking for a delicious and easy bread suitable for breakfast, snacking, or dessert, bake this bread!

Apple Walnut Flax Seed Bread (From Joy the Baker)
Makes one 9×5-inch loaf

* 1 cup all-purpose flour
* 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
* 3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
* 2 teaspoons baking powder
* 1 teaspoon baking soda
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
* 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
* 2/3 cup buttermilk (if you don't have buttermilk, see substitution note below)
* 1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
* 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
* 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
* 1 cup grated apples
* 1/2 cup coarsely chopped apples
* 1 tablespoon flax seeds
* 3/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts, divided
* About 1/2 tablespoon cinnamon and 1 tablespoon sugar, mixed, for sprinkling

Note: If you don't have buttermilk (I won't lie: I never buy it), here's what you do:  Measure 2/3 tablespoon lemon juice or white vinegar, and put in a measuring cup.  Add milk until it makes 2/3 of a cup.  Stir, then let sit for about 5 minutes, and voila, buttermilk substitute!

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease a 9×5x3-inch loaf pan.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together dry ingredients (flours through spices)

3.  In a small bowl, whisk together buttermilk, eggs, melted butter and vanilla extract.

4.  Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.  Add the chopped and grated apple, flax seeds and half of the walnuts and fold them into the batter.

5.  Spoon batter into prepared pan and top with granulated sugar, cinnamon and the rest of the walnuts.  Bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean.

Do not fill your pan this much!  Spillage will occur!  (My pan was too small, and I was greedy and 
tried to fit all the batter in.  It didn't work.  Guess I should have used the right size pan...)

6.  Let cool in the pan for at least 15 minutes.  Cool completely before wrapping and storing.  Enjoy!

Monday, April 5, 2010

A Monstrously Good Salad

I may have created a monster.  This is what happened: 

My family came to visit this weekend, and brought with them several bags of Trader Joe's goodies.  Happiness!  Among those things was a bag of haricots verts, yummy skinny green beans (pre-trimmed!), and a box of cherry tomatoes.  On Saturday, after a long walk around town and on the beach, and a quick visit to the Whaling Museum, we were hungry for lunch, but it was already 2 o'clock, and I didn't want to eat anything that would spoil my appetite for what I knew would be a delicious dinner at Centre Street Bistro, where we had 7 o'clock reservations. (Dinner was fantastic, by the way.)  My dad suggested we use the green beans, so working with what we had in the house, I boiled the green beans, sliced some of the cherry tomatoes, and tossed them with a simple mustard-y dressing with just a hint of balsamic vinegar and olive oil.  Meanwhile my mother soft(ish) boiled two eggs, which she peeled and sliced, and tossed on top of the green beans and tomatoes.  Instant success!  My dad loved the salad so much that he insisted we make it again for Easter breakfast/brunch, so we did, and had it alongside scrambled eggs and bacon, and chocolate cake (another post for another time).  Unconventional, but delicious.  Erik had the green bean salad for the first time on Easter, and liked it so much that today he called me at work, and asked if it would be okay if he made it again for dinner!  I said yes, and so tonight we had it again alongside delicious spicy turkey burgers with grilled red onion, avocado slices, and pepperjack cheese.  Slightly unconventional yet again, but you see, this simple combo is so yummy that we'll eat it with just about anything!  Erik hadn't seen me make the salad the first two time, so his take was slightly different : he used apple cider vinegar instead of balsamic and tossed in a minced shallot.  These little changes were delicious, and I couldn't say which version I like better.  But either way, this quick salad is a winner, on its own or alongside any unconventional thing you can think of.

UPDATE:  I have received several questions about the egg issue: what constitutes soft boiled, and if it's soft, does the yolk mix into the dressing?  For the past three days when we've made this salad, the egg topping has been slightly different.  When my mom made the eggs, the yolks were not completely set, but were not runny, either.  The yolks mixed in a bit, but I wouldn't say they coated the beans.  On Easter I lost track of time and ended up hard boiling the egg, so when the egg was sliced and tossed into the salad the yolk chunks sort of distributed themselves.  Erik's egg was somewhere between those two.  If I make this salad once or twice more I will probably cover all points along the egg-boiling spectrum!  Personally, I hate runny yolks, so I always want them to set up at least a bit.  However, if you like runny yolks, by all means, just cook your egg until your whites are set and the yolks are still liquid-y enough to coat the beans along with the dressing.  I'm pretty sure there is no wrong way to do this, and I'd love to hear from anyone who tries the runny yolk method to hear how it is!

Although I didn't take pictures, my mom captured this image on her iPhone.  
The huge hand belongs to my dad.

Impromptu Green Bean Salad
Serves as many as you like, just scale accordingly

* Haricot Verts or regular green beans, ends trimmed
* Grape or Cherry tomatoes, halved
* Minced shallot (optional)
* Good Dijon mustard
* Balsamic or Apple Cider vinegar
* 1 or 2 soft or hard boiled eggs

1. Prepare your eggs:  I like the Julia Child method, which is to cover the eggs with water, bring to a boil, then remove from the heat, cover the pan, and let sit 17 minutes (for a hard boiled egg), then transfer to an ice bath until the eggs are cool enough to peel and slice.  I haven't experimented with the perfect length of time for a soft-er boiled egg, and I'm simply too lazy right now to go downstairs and find out if the cookbook says what it is, so let's guess that it's maybe 10 minutes? 12 minutes?  Who knows?  I ended up overcooking the egg the second time around, and the salad was still delish.

2. Bring a larger pot of water to a boil, add salt, and then boil the green beans until they are about 90% cooked.  Drain and refill the pan with very cold water and a handful of ice cubes to stop the cooking process.  (It's always best to pull the beans off the stove just before they're finished, because they always cook just a tiny bit more before you get them in the ice bath.)

3.  In the bottom of your serving dish of choice, mix together equal parts mustard and vinegar.  When they are combined, slowly add about the same amount of EVOO.  The dressing here should be a bit thicker than regular salad dressing.  Taste, adjust components if necessary, and season liberally with freshly ground black pepper, and salt, if desired.

4.  Wash and halve cherry tomatoes and add to the serving bowl. 

5. When green beans have cooled, pat them dry(ish), cut them in half, and toss in with the tomatoes.  Add minced shallot, if using, and toss all together.

6.  Slice eggs and add to the salad, and toss once more just to incorporate the eggs.  Serve and enjoy!

Luckily for me, tonight's salad used the last of the green beans, and Erik promises that we won't make it tomorrow (but then added a moment later that haricot verts are on sale at the Stop n Shop right now :)  While three days in a row might be my limit, I know this is one simple salad I will return to again and again (and again and again...)