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Happy New Year!

January 1, 2009

Every year, Mr. Angst and I have a special New Year’s brunch at home—eggs benedict, mimosas, and cafe au lait. ((That is, every year that I didn’t stupidly take a swig from a bottle of Patrón at a NYE party, after swilling glass after glass of really cheap sparkling wine. That year, we had brunch on the 2nd, and I spent the 1st in bed, eating dry toast and sipping chicken broth. All my own fault. And the last time I willingly drank tequila straight.)) We have our own special way of making the eggs benedict, though. A now-closed restaurant in our old hometown used to make what they called eggs commodore: poached egg and hollandaise, yes, but breakfast sausage instead of canadian bacon, and perched on puff pastry instead of an english muffin. Mr. Angst LOVED that restaurant, and he doesn’t really care for canadian bacon, so when we make eggs benedict, we make it with breakfast sausage and puff pastry.

The only real problem is that I don’t really like sausage all that much. Oh, I’ll eat it, but I burn out on it pretty quickly. (I’m the same way about bacon. One or two strips and that’s it for me.) And my low tolerance for sausage is made even lower when it’s covered with a poached egg and hollandaise, and set atop a buttery puff pastry. This means that I can usually only finish half of my New Year’s brunch, which is very sad. New Year’s Day is one of the few days out of the year when I will willingly consume that many calories!

This year, I decided, therefore, I needed to try something different for brunch. Another restaurant, not defunct, in our old hometown, and known as sort of the successor to the closed restaurant, has a variety of benedicts on the menu and I noticed the last time we were there that they have a florentine benedict—poached eggs nestled in wilted spinach. Hmmm, I thought yesterday. Maybe I could wilt some spinach in lemon and olive oil and use that instead of sausage for my benedicts… And so I did. And folks, it was DELISH. So good, in fact, that I didn’t bother to take any pictures before I devoured it all. EVERY LAST BITE. The spinach, wilted in a little lemon juice, white balsamic vinegar, and olive oil, cut the richness of the egg and hollandaise while also bringing out the lemony goodness of the hollandaise.

With no further ado, then, here’s how I make it all.

I use, and have used for six years now, Emeril’s recipe for hollandaise sauce. One of the reasons I like this recipe is that it uses melted or clarified butter, which is so much easier to manage than trying to emulsify cold butter into just-barely-warm eggs.

3 large egg yolks (save the whites for an omelette or meringues)
2 teaspoons water
1/2 cup clarified butter or 1 stick of butter, melted
1-1/2 teaspoons lemon juice, or more to taste
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

In a double boiler, or in a heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water, whisk the egg yolks and water together until thick and pale yellow. Move the bowl off the pot as needed to prevent the eggs from overcooking. You do not want them to scramble!! Once the yolks are good and thick, pour the butter in gradually, whisking vigorously the whole time. Get a friend or spouse to help if you have trouble with this step. Continue whisking the egg-butter mix until thick and yummy. Whisk in the lemon juice and salt. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Add cayenne last, and DO NOT ADD TOO MUCH. Too much salt in hollandaise is not great but doesn’t ruin the sauce. Too much cayenne, however, will make it really inedible. I honestly usually use about a dash and a half—much more is just bad bad bad.

Since you probably won’t be able to serve the hollandaise immediately, cover the bowl and place in a warm location (you can leave it on top of the original pot if you want, as long as the heat is OFF). If the sauce gets too thick, you can thin it by whisking in a little hot water. I’d start with a teaspoon or so—too much water will also ruin the sauce.

Poach your eggs in about 2-1/2 inches of water, seasoned with about 3 tablespoons of vinegar. (I’ve used champagne vinegar when I wanted a little extra flavor in the eggs. Really, though, the vinegar just helps the eggs stay congealed. Without vinegar, the whites are likely to float off into the water, leaving you with a simmering yolk in what looks like egg-drop soup.) When the water is at a strong simmer—but not at a full boil!—slide the eggs in, one at a time. (I crack my eggs into small measuring cups, and then lower the edge of the measuring cup into the water before tipping the egg in slowly. This also helps the eggs from disintegrating.) You can use those nifty silicone egg poachers if you want. I don’t have any, though, so I do it the old fashioned way. Once all the eggs are in, turn the heat off and cover the pot, 4 minutes or slightly less for really runny yolks, 5 or so for medium, and 6 for hard. Don’t go over 6 or so minutes or the whites and yolks will overcook and you’ll have something resembling a hard-boiled egg without the shell. Remove the eggs carefully with a slotted spoon, turning slightly to allow any water to drain off. Egg water is yucky and makes everything soggy. Ideally, you’ll have everything laid out already so you can take the egg straight from the pot to the plate. If you can’t, though, just place them on a warm plate. Try not to leave the eggs sitting for too long, though, or they’ll get gummy.

Lay out your puff pastry (or english muffin, or other base), top with sausage, wilted spinach, ((I wilt spinach by throwing the leaves into a small pot, adding a couple of teaspoons of lemon juice and a couple of teaspoons of white wine vinegar, a teaspoon or two of olive oil, and a healthy sprinkling of kosher salt. Turn the heat to low and turn the spinach constantly with tongs just until it turns bright green and starts to wilt. Turn the heat off immediately, and get the spinach out of the pot or you’ll have the nasty stuff we all avoided when we were kids.)) or whatever else you want, then perch the egg on top of it all. Spoon the hollandaise over it all and dig in!

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