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ALMOND SOULONGTANG /KOREAN OXTAIL SOUP

ASIAN SOUTHERN ALMOND MILK,

WITH THAT DISTINCTIVELY FLORAL AROMA AND REMEDIAL RICHNESS THAT WORKS SO FLAWLESSLY WITH THIS TRADITIONAL SOUP, ELEVATING IT TO NEW HEIGHT

I’ve always pondered about almond, well, not specifically about what this word would mean to most of you, which is probably something like American sweet almond, with narrow leaf-drop shape and minimum coolosity inside what is already not-so-exciting trail mixes.

But I’m talking about what is also called “almond” in Asia.  Same name, but entirely different characteristics.  Asian almond is much smaller with flat heart-shaped profile, but most importantly, an immediate, elegant and floral scent separates itself from the American variety.  You could identify that scent/flavour if you are familiar with almond extracts or some marzipans, unique, subjective, and hard to describe.  Why both “almond” and yet so different?  Well, because they aren’t the same thing to begin with.

American almond is the kernel of a fruit in the drupe family (Prunus dulcis) (see comments for extra information), whereas Asian almond is actually the kernel of apricot.  And it’s extremely important to note that in Asia, even the word “almond” comes in two different, and mostly, dangerous distinctions.  Southern almond (Prunus armeniaca L.), sweet, floral and nourishing, is the common ingredient we consume in both dessert or savory dishes.  Whereas another variety called northern almond/bitter almond (Prunus armeniaca Linne var. ansu Maximowicz), smaller with an even stronger, bitter “almond-y” scent, is actually poisonous if ingested in large-enough quantity, and is only used in small amount for medicinal purposes.  The reason why almond extracts taste/smell like Asian almond and not American almond, is because the extracts are mostly made from bitter almonds (but relax, the extracts are treated in order to neutralize the poisonous elements).

So, a bit of some boring, nerdy botany talk.  But how does it all apply?

Deliciousness is what.

Have you heard of soulongtang?  The Korean ox bone soup that is milky white as a result of hours and hours of rolling boil, reaching a state of emulsion between liquid and gelatin, protein and other minerals – very much the same as tonkotsu ramen broth.  Well, that process is interesting to replicate, if you are one such individual with admirable persistence and disposable free time.  But in this rare reality where convenience and optimal result can actually coexist, we can achieve this rich and deeply nourishing soup in a fragment of the time it takes, by adding almond milk.  But not just any other boring, fake-ass, vanilla-falvoured almond milk sold in cartons please.  I’m talking homemade Asian southern almond milk, with that distinctively floral aroma and remedial richness and depth that, exceeding my own expectation, works so flawlessly with this traditional soup, elevating it to new height.

There’s nothing else I want more than the warmth and comfort of this dish, in this dark and uncertain time that is January 2017.  Hope you agree.

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JAPAN + SRIRACHA SENBEI, Japanese gluten-free rice crackers

I’m stalling on this post, about our trip to Japan, or more accurately, Osaka, Kyoto and Kurokawa.  This happens sometimes, either when the trip itself was too brief, or in this case, even with a sufficient duration to ponder, I find the place… difficult to compute.  Truth is, I’ve always had mixed feelings about Japan.  Mixed, but not foreign.  After all, I’m from Taiwan, hardly a stranger.  Since awareness I guess, Japan has been a place with unescapable elements everywhere deep inside its social fabrics that, to me, are both deeply seductive and also repulsive.  It’s a festival of confusions, to say the least, the reason why Lost in Translation was transcribed here, and perhaps the reason why I hesitated to come for years.  I didn’t know if I was more afraid to love it, or hate it, and either way, why did that matter?  I wasn’t sure of the answer either.  It’s a country where people pay for their dinner through vending machines, but spend hours drinking a cup of tea.  The country runs on the most highly efficient and developed system of high-speed rail that few others can compete, but the information kiosk of which, in the Osaka station, is still being organized in old-school filers.  It’s a country that is famed for its obsession in cleanliness and manners, but one of the few still left in the developed world where I have to endure second-hand smokes in restaurants.  A culture that is widely associated with its quiet, distilled form of beauty, that wabi-sabi life, and yet, the major cities within which are wild labyrinths of neon lights and carnivals of giant moving octopuses.

Slow, fast.  Quiet, loud.  Polite, yet perversive.  Allures, and frustrations.  Which one is true?  Or perhaps all is.

A country that thrives in contradictions.

I didn’t know what to make of it.  I still don’t.

I wanted to, like everyone else, just focus on its beauties, which are nothing but pure pleasures.  The yakitori (skewered/grilled chicken) in Wabiya Korekido in Kyoto comes close to an art form.  The beef heart sashimi from Maru in Osaka could not have been the revelation that it is anywhere else.  The amount of philosophy that goes into making a bowl of ramen cries for admiration.  A dip into the tinglingly warm hot spring, the liquid silk that percolates from deep within earth in the stillness that is Kurokawa, it is hard, real hard, not to fall for it all.

But with every enjoyments, comes with a blinding contradiction that seemed to overturn the previous experience.  Was my experience authentic rituals, or rehearsed theatrics.  Was this a sanctuary, or a theme park?  What the world is infatuated about Japanese’s deeply philosophical way of life, was that even a real part of their lives, or just advertisements?  Or maybe they are two of the same thing, a double-sided mirror.

I’m sure most of you don’t know what I’m talking about, a bunch of mumbo-jumbo.  I have failed to explain it, and for that I’m going to stop.

Maybe Japan was never something to be understood, but to be pondered upon.  Was never a maze, but growth-rings on a black pine trunk.

To get it, I gotta eat more ramen.

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THE PLAIN GENIUS OF MENCHI KATSU SANDO

IT HITS JUST THE RIGHT SPOT, ONE OF THE FEW LEFT IN OUR HYPER-STIMULATED MINDS THESE DAYS, WHERE IT STILL ACCEPTS OR EVEN CRAVES PURITY

As we know that there are plenty for the taking, but this is perhaps – as far as I know and hopefully true – Jason’s most obsessed of all perverse Japanese creations, the menchi katsu.

Menchi, meaning “minced”, and katsu, is anything “breaded and fried”.

It exists in many different forms and spirits, each and one of them equally bizarre to the conventional wisdoms of the west, but one in particular, the menchi katsu sando / fried ground pork patty sandwich, will send many scratching their heads inside a Japanese convenience store.  That is because its pure genius can only be realized upon one fateful encounter – one that reflects truly on its seemly simple but in fact, delicate preparations, and the childish yet complex satisfaction it plays on your tastebuds – which, unfortunately, can be a rare occurrence outside of Japan.  Actually, outside of Japan, this idea sounds more desperate than anything else.  Why do we want to fry a disk of ground pork – by the way, an almost comically massive disk of ground pork – then leave it with nothing else, and I mean absolutely nothing else, but just some tangy brown sauce in between two pieces of flimsy, flappy white breads?  You’ll question its painful simplicity, whether is from desperation, or, by choice.  Why not add something else to it?  Tomato?  Bacon?  Cheese?  Fried egg?  Jalapeno?  Two hotdogs and a jug of Bloody Mary with a mini umbrella?  Come on, anything, anything to satisfy this North American instinct to pile shit up.

But no.

I can’t explain it to you.  You’ll have to experience it.

But I can’t take you to Japan.  I can only bring the recipe home.

This recipe is my very controlled but slightly adapted, and perhaps,, in my opinion, enhanced version of the original.  And when I say that, I’m mostly referring to the katsu sauce.  Slight variations on this sauce are applied to a vast number of different dishes in Japan, like okonomiyaki and takoyaki to name a few.  But most of the recipe in English that I found online is, well, lacking, if not insulting.  Ketchup plus worchestire sauce, basically, with some soy sauce and sugar?  Please.  The sauce is much more complex and deserving of our respect than that, which requires several different angles of acidity and sweetness that adds up to be more than the sum of its parts.  There is a depth that, I feel, cannot be achieve with the conventional balance between vinegar and sugar, which is where “fruitiness” comes in aid.  Prunes.  Blended into the sauce, they built volume and flavours into the back-note, then pounded and added as a thin film in between the sandwich, they added textures and subtle sweetness.  This sauce plays brilliantly with the fatty richness – 35% fat if I failed to mention – of the menchi katsu, and brought both a voluptuous sort of moisture and adhesiveness to all parties.

You’ll realize why you don’t want to do anything else to it.  It hits juuust the right spot, one of the few left within our hyper-stimulated minds these days, where still accepts or even craves purity.

This is not just a slapped-on emergency sustenance.  There are thoughts and wisdoms, upon many generations, that evolved and stripped it down to its now, brilliant plainness.  If you are going to make it into a Big Mac, at least call it something else.

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MY HEAD, PLUS CHRISTMAS SPICE MOCHI BREAD BABKA

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LIFE IS A GREAT ADVENTURE… ACCEPT IT IN SUCH A SPIRIT

Theodore Roosevelt


OK, so I’m bald.

Wait, right, fine.  Technically, not yet.

I just buzzed my hair off.  Why?

Before you say it, this is not a Britney-style meltdown.  Okay?

This is Jarhead.  It’s war, and the enemy must be eliminated.  But the enemy in this case – is myself.  If you’re still interested, read on.

But before I start, I just want to apologize for making such a fuss in the past two weeks, sounding alarmingly distressed and melodramatic.  That was me then.  That is not me right now, as we speak.  Now, in hindsight, even the idea of making a public display of my buzz feels acutely self-absorbed if not stupid, but having said that, I still owe you an explanation.  So please know that whatever you read off of this, that it is in the context about hair, the nerve-less fibers that grow in ways without or without our consent and sometimes utter rudely.  So if I sound like I’m being superficial anywhere in the story, I may have been.  Well, here we go.

 

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CHICKEN CONFIT GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICH

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IF LIKE ME, YOU’RE TURKEY-LESS OR DUCK-LESS, DON’T LET THAT STOP’YA

GRAB YOUR NEAREST LIMBS OF ANY SORTS AND GO TO TOWN!

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Life is going through some dramatic, if not crazy, changes.  And I’m mastering the art of adaptation.  I know I threw a bomb out last post without any proper context, and perhaps have gotten some friends worried.  I thank you all for the comfort, support, and unrelenting kindness that you gave this stranger who talks on the screen.   It is a compassion that I may even lack in comparison, embarrassingly, and such realization has helped pulling myself away from my emotional blackhole in a strange way, shown me perspectives.  If that makes any sense.  Still a bunch of gibberish, I know.

I promise I will explain everything next week.

Meanwhile, holy shit, Thanksgiving was last week?  Where have I been…

Well, this recipe was a whiff of fairy dust springing out of the ashes of post-Thanksgiving conversations.  Being genetically anti-turkey, I was dissing Thanksgiving leftover sandwiches on Instagram when this guy, rightly so, shut me up with these three little words – “turkey legs confit”.  OK, you win, and for the first time in my life, I’ve never felt so empty in my turkey-less habitat.  If you were like me, turkey-less, duck-less, goose-less or any fancy two-legged-less, don’t let it stop’ya.  Grab your nearest limbs of any sorts and go to town!  Chickens, why not!  In fact, any bone-in meats cured in ground bay leaf-salt then melted down slowly inside its own grease, is one of those things that guarantee to not suck .

Keep in mind that recipes of this sort is a vehicle-recipe, meaning it’s more like a tool, and it’s up to you where you want to be taken.  For me, I like to stay pure, especially when it comes to a dish whose glory lies within its singular yet complex, condensed, unadulterated poultry-ness.  Drowning it out with an avalanche of insecurity would mean wasting all those hours to get them to be independently fantastic.  Crisped up real good in some thyme-infused grease, then tossed together with a brightening note of Dijon mustard and white pepper, these chicken-bombs will take nothing more to sing other than some creamy cheese and crispy sourdough breads.  Soaked and pan-fried inside that confit-grease of course I don’t know why you ask.

It’s getting cold.  Keep your lips moistened with that precious grease.  Next week, we talk.

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CHICKEN CONFIT GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICH

Yield: approx 6 sandwiches

Ingredients

    CHICKEN CONFIT:
  • 4 whole chicken legs (hopefully from good flavorful chickens)
  • 5 tbsp (71 grams) coarse sea salt
  • 5 fresh bay leaves
  • 5 cloves garlic, smashed
  • enough chicken fat or olive oil to cover
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp ground white pepper
  • SANDWICH:
  • slices of sourdough bread
  • soft/mild cheeses such as brillat savarin, or brie
  • finely diced scallion

Instructions

  1. MAKE CHICKEN CONFIT: Place coarse sea salt and fresh bay leaves in a food-processor, and run util evenly ground together into "green salt". Rub the salt evenly over the chicken legs, with just enough to generously cover the surface, then let cure for 2 hours.
  2. Preheat the oven on 285 F/140 C. Rinse the chicken legs to remove the green salt then pat dry with a clean towel. Place them inside a baking container that will fit the legs snuggly and tightly (the less empty space there is, the less oil you'll need), then fill with enough chicken fat or olive oil to cover the legs. Scatter the garlics around, cover, then place on a sheet-pan and bake for 3:30 hours. Let cool completely inside the fridge. Can be made a few days ahead.
  3. To serve, carefully remove the legs from the oil, then place them skin-side down first in a large non-stick skillet. Heat over medium-high heat and cook until the skin-sides are golden browned, then turn and scatter the fresh thyme inside the skillet to infuse the oil, and slightly brown the meat-sides as well. Transfer the legs into a large plate (keep the oil inside the skillet). Remove all the skins and meats, and discard the bones. Toss the meats with Dijon mustard, ground white pepper, and 1 tbsp of the fat. Set aside.
  4. MAKE SANDWICH: Generously smear both sides of the breads with brillat savarin (or brie), scatter the scallions around, then a good pile of chicken confit. Inside the same skillet, leave enough confit-fat to generously coat both sides of the sandwiches, add the sandwich, and toast over medium-high heat until golden browned and crispy on both sides. Serve immediately.
http://ladyandpups.com/2016/11/30/chicken-confit-grilled-cheese-sandwich/
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Sichuan/Chongqing Little Slurp w meat sauce and chickpeas

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COULD THIS WORK?

THAT WOULD BE YOUR LAST THOUGHT, BEFORE THIS BOWL OF MAGIC POTION SUCKS YOU INTO AN UNSTOPPABLE WHIRLPOOL OF HAPPINESS.

Sorry I have been absent.

Boy, do I have a good reason.

Recently, I believe, we’ve all been experiencing a kind of peculiar surrealism in life.  I don’t know about you, but for multiples times during the span of my day, I found myself staring at the mundane occurrences of my perceived reality – the sound of cars brushing through the street… radios in the background… my farts – like Neo, wondering if this was all just an elaborate Matrix.  Am I going to be unplugged and wake up?  Or am I trapped here forever?  For one, Donald Trump is going to be the president of the United States.  And for two, which is completely unrelated and sinks even deeper on a much more personal level, my body and wellness has taken an unexpected turn to a place where my mind is scrambling to cope.

Actually, unexpected may sound understated.  Unfathomable, comes to mind.

I was diagnosed with a “condition” so to speak.  I want to share everything with you.  But the trouble is, I don’t know everything yet.  Something along the line of cicatricial alopecia, but let me urge you to think twice before Googling it, and the truth is, there are still a lot more to find out before arriving at a conclusion, so there’s nothing too informative I could tell you at this point.  It may come across as unnecessary and self-absorbed to talk about something without any provided informations, I get that, but I simply lack the talent to conduct business as usual, to roast a turkey, to make a pie, when my mind is in disarray.  In two weeks time, I hope, I will be able to tell you everything.  But before you frantically light up a cigarette, let’s just find comfort in the fact that it isn’t life-threatening, I hope, but let’s face it, not much more fantastic than that.

Meanwhile, on the other hand, something very fantastic.

This is a recipe that I have been developing for awhile.  In Chinese, it is called wan-za-mian, meaning peas mixed noodles.  It was one of my most missed and pondered upon, single food item that I’ve tasted in Beijing, even though it originates from Chongqing (a city next to Sichuan).  It may look alarmingly laborious, that a bowl of noodle consists of 3~4 components, but oh gosh, nothing is more worthy of your time.  The amount of liquid in proportion to noodles lurks in between two categories, too little to be called a “soup” but a bit more than just “sauce”, and therefore may I say, just perfect.  It comes waddling towards your table in seemingly distinctive parts: the noodles half-submerged in soup, the soft and mushy stewed peas (which I’ve substituted with chickpeas) on top, the dark brown minced pork sauce made with sweet and spicy chili bean paste, and everything, I mean everything, glossed and covered under a layer of flaming rouge chili oil.  Could this work?  That would your very last thought before this mixture, under your anxious chopsticks, churns and folds into a spicy, oily, savory and deeply complex bowl of magic potion that sucks you, and your thoughts, into an unstoppable whirlpool of happiness.

Believe me.  I felt like shit, and this thing still made me happy.  Imagine what it could do to you.

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A BETTER POPOVER/YORKSHIRE PUDDING RECIPE

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WE CAN ALL USE A LITTLE BETTER

It can be depressing today, either for political or personal reasons (for me, both).  So let’s not talk.  Let’s just all, perhaps, realize something about ourselves and others today with, if you can, kindness and faith.

I saw this recipe on a Bon Appetite’s special baking issue, and it has proven to be much superior than my previous Yorkshire pudding recipes.  Mainly, because it allows me to completely forgo the “resting stage” that I had emphasized so strongly before, and that is because this batter is mixed with simmering milk which has prevented the gluten from forming by partially cooking the flour.  No more resting.  This batter can go straight from being mixed to being baked, into the glorious, optimistic, better puffs that they are.

I can we can all use a little better today.

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A BETTER POPOVER/YORKSHIRE PUDDING RECIPE

Yield: 5~7 depending on size

Adapted from Bon Appetite Magazine. I've made several small changes to the recipe because it worked better for me, and I listed the grated cheese as optional because I want the flavour of these to stay neutral, that it can go with sweet or savoury. But if you really like the idea of it, then do it :)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (242 grams) half-half, or whole milk
  • 1 tbsp light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup +1 tbsp (103 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 3 tbsp (22 grams) cornstarch, or potato starch
  • 1/4 cup (17 grams) grated cheddar cheese (optional)

Instructions

  1. Depending on whether your oven comes with the fan-on option or not, preheat the oven on 375 F/190 C fan-on, or 400 F/200 C no-fan. Meanwhile, whisk together half-half (or whole milk), light brown sugar and sea salt in a small pot, and heat over medium heat until it just starts to simmer. While the milk is heating, beat large eggs inside a large, easy-to-pour jar or container. Once the milk's ready, slowly pour it into the eggs while whisking vigorously (must be slow and keep whisking otherwise the eggs may get cooked). Then add the flour and cornstarch, and whisk until just combined (tiny lumps here and there is fine). If you're using grated cheddar, add now and whisk until combined.
  2. Generously butter each popover pan, or muffin pan, or individual tin cups with about 1 1/2 tsp of butter, then bake in the oven for about 3~5 min when the butter is starting to brown slightly. Pour the batter into the mold until about 50% full, then bake in the oven for 15 min. Then turn the heat down to 350 F/175 F FAN OFF, and bake for another 20~25 min. During this whole time, do not open the oven door. If the color of the popovers are getting too dark in the last few min, turn the heat down a bit. The popovers must be baked for at least 35~45 min in total depending on their sizes, otherwise they might deflate afterwards.
  3. Remove the popovers/yorkshire puddings from the molds. They can be eaten as is, or "stuffed" with sweet fillings (such as chocolate mouse, custard, buttercream etc).
http://ladyandpups.com/2016/11/10/a-better-popoveryorkshire-pudding-recipe/
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EGG FLORENTINE IN PULLMAN “BOWLS”, FOR CYNTHIA

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WE ARE GOING TO DISCREETLY PAN-FRY THESE IN AN INDECENT AMOUNT OF BUTTER, UNTIL THEY ARE PRACTICALLY SOAKED ON THE INSIDES, AND DELICIOUSLY CRISPY AND GOLDEN ON THE OUTSIDES.

YOU KNOW, THE BUTTER-EXUDING CRUNCH?

Have you seen Ben Stiller’s movie, While We’re Young?  Well, if you haven’t, there’s no need to really.  Given that it has its moments here and there, all in all, it’s not entirely spectacular.  But the reason that I’m bringing it up is because – well, equally as unspectacular and unrelating to the majority demographic – I’m kind of in the same pickle.

I’m 36 years old, and very early on in life, I have made a very conscious decision not to have children.  I’m happy married, stable, as far as I know, reproductively unchallenged and relatively speaking, mentally healthy, and I consider myself an affectionate if not responsible dog-parent.  So as I said, the decision is a very deliberate one and the reasons for which, well lets just say, don’t quite belong in this post.  Uh, ok whatever, might you add, but where’s my fucking pickle?  Well, this is where the movie might be more articulate, not to say much more entertaining, in illustrating my quandary.  Thing is, most of our friends, with all due respect and our best wishes, have buckled together on the baby-train and exited through the other side of the crossroad in life in sort of a Groupon strategy, leaving us, a bit unprepared, in a social limbo.

That’s correct.  We are them, the friends without children.  The awkward pre-middle-aged couple who didn’t get the memo that, at this point in life, a dinner party that ends at 10 pm on a Saturday night, however frisky with all the right signals to assume more, is the end of the program.  Where to next?  Theirs kids’ swimming lesson at 8 am the next morning, and our party equivalent of blue balls that night iced with yet another Netflix binging.  But listen, I get it.  People’s priorities change as life evolves, and as their friends, we shall respect that.  Which is exactly why it’s ok that the number of friends to call for a drink and their level of energy to participate is together in a fierce race to hit the bottom.  And the rule that there are things that just shouldn’t be placed in close proximity, such as fire and curtains, me and donuts, and in this instance, conversations and this thing called the baby monitors, are more frequently being broken.  Which is why, I’m not filing a complaint, but to simply say, oops.

But why now?

It may seem totally self-absorbed and obnoxious to bring this up at a baby shower.  Yes, this is a baby shower!, for my friend Cynthia who just gave birth to their baby boy Luke!  And seriously, earnestly, for Cynthia who has been one of the most amazing human beings I know of (She’s a full-time lawyer/woman/wife/daughter-in-law/blogger/then pregnant/now mother, I mean do you feel me!), I wish them all the exuberating enthusiasms and my best positivism at this special moment in their lives.  Reading her unpackaged words of tenderness and content, as a dog-mom, whether anybody disputes it or not, I can relate.  So I am happy, for her.  Even though it means that soon after, I will have to hang outside a 24/7 convenience store, asking strangers if they want to break a donut with me.

To celebrate Two Red Bowl’s baby birthday and our social demise, I have prepared, in the theme of bowls, egg florentine in pullman “bowls” with burnt butter hollandaise.  Well, more box than bowl but you know what I mean, and let’s not forget that this is a very cute and kid-friendly idea, no?… (or that I’m more out of sync with the other side of the world than I realize).  The original inspiration comes from a Taiwanese street-food where they deep-fry a cutout box of pullman bread then fill it with seafood chowder.  But that’d be just wrong for moms and kids, right?, totally irresponsible.  So for the sake of the health of our next generation of pillars of the world, we are only going to discreetly pan-fry these in an indecent amount of butter until they are practically soaked inside and deliciously crispy and golden on the outside.  You know, the butter-exuding crunch?  And with the next point, don’t say that I don’t understand raising children, because we are going to cut out a hole on top, and hide a healthy pile of garlic spinach with a bed of creamy Laughing Cow’s spreadable cheese.  Bribery.  Yeah.  I know all about that.  Then finally, we top each bowls – or what I would like to imagine as little boxed presents from Yummy Town – with bursting soft-boiled eggs and a lava-waterfall of my foolproof, burnt butter hollandaise sauce.

Each bite is a fluent, harmonic dance of crispy and runny, crunchy and creamy, buttery and buttery yet there’s spinach.  Big “bowls” for parents, small bowls for children, and baby Luke gets to suck the runny yolks.  I’ve got all grounds covered.  So.  Next weekend.  Can we exploit the only benefit of the in-laws, and let’s hit bar?

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