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How I feel about brunch

I’m not sure how to feel about brunch. In my book, it’s really sort of a tease. It’s the meal that I most salivate for, a holy union of sweets and savories, a weekly wonder spot where pancakes, crêpes, toast, eggs, hash browns, sausages, scones, waffles, and maple syrup converge. I entertain grand fantasies of Sunday mornings out somewhere, with plates of pancakes and Brandon nearby, whiling away our bleary eyes over freshly squeezed orange juice. But more often than not, brunch just leaves me sorry, with a heavy stomach and the sour aftertaste of regret. It’s the one-night stand of meals, you could say—the sort of one-night stand that you might experience on a weekend morning, of course, and in broad daylight, with your betrothed.

This feeling has been sneaking up on me for a while now, but it wasn’t until a month or so ago that I was ready to admit it. It was a Sunday morning, and Brandon and I had just come from a brunch of eggs Benedict at Glo’s with Rebecca and Jimmy. It was a clear, crisp April day, the sort of weather that makes my engagement ring really sit up and sparkle. I had my man by my side and an easy day ahead, and I’d just eaten a toasted English muffin topped with two perfectly poached eggs and the most delicate, lemony hollandaise to ever meet my fork. But I had also, unfortunately, fallen prey to the piece of communal coffee cake that landed in the center of our table, as well as a pile of greasy hash browns that happened to be on my plate.

These things can happen, as you know, and especially at brunch. Whether you’re inclined to the sweet or the savory, in the end, the entire menu looks delicious—and it is, sort of, under its snowdrift of whipped butter or its slow-running river of cheese. Inevitably, I wind up wishing that brunch came later in the day—at dinnertime, maybe—when my stomach and psyche are better prepared for such things. Even if I manage to restrain myself to something sensible—say, a bowl of oatmeal—I’m really no safer: it emerges from the kitchen nearly eight times larger than anything I would fix at home. And usually, that’s where I wish I had stayed.

Luckily, I have found a brunch partner who shares my sentiment, and who is happy to have his orange juice in the do-it-yourself comfort of a home kitchen. He also, incidentally, makes a mean eggs Florentine, a less frilly riff on the classic layered dish of eggs, spinach, and white sauce spiked with cheese. Brandon’s version is based on one he once ate at Balthazar, with an artichoke heart as a base. To keep things as simple as possible—as they should be, I think, on a Sunday morning—he does away with the white sauce and instead treats the vegetables to a quick sauté in sweet butter. Its rich, familiar flavor elevates what might otherwise be just a plain pile of artichoke and greens, making for a dish that is lighter and cleaner-tasting than its namesake, but still worthy of a weekend morning.

In fact, with a poached egg on top and a shower of Parmigiano-Reggiano, it’s even worthy of repetition, weekend after weekend. I made it yesterday—sans Brandon—for my mother, who had come to Seattle for 48 hours of early-stage wedding scouting, and if I read her face correctly, I dare say that my betrothed has her blessing. But he knew that already.

Eggs Florentine with Artichoke Hearts, à la Brandon
Inspired by Balthazar

On first glance, the centerpiece of this dish is the timeless duo of eggs and spinach. But to my palate, the crux of the matter is the butter. This recipe does not involve a large quantity of the stuff, but its aroma and flavor infuse the spinach and artichokes, stretching into every bite. Between that and the runny poached egg, a fairly straightforward combination of ingredients becomes something deeply satisfying. And, as Brandon likes to say, “It doesn’t make you want to die afterwards.” It would also be delicious for lunch or dinner.

A scant 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, divided
1 (8 oz.) package frozen artichoke hearts, thawed overnight in the refrigerator, or 8 oz. fresh artichoke hearts, trimmed and blanched
1 medium shallot, peeled, halved, and thinly sliced
A generous ¼ pound baby spinach, washed and spun dry
2 large eggs, poached according to the directions here
1/3 cup finely shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano, divided
Freshly ground black pepper

Place a 12” skillet over low heat, and add 1 tablespoon of the butter. When it has melted and begins to foam, add the artichoke hearts. Cook, covered, until they are softened and fully thawed; then raise the heat to medium and continue to cook, uncovered, stirring and shaking the pan, until they are golden in spots. They should smell wonderfully buttery. Add the remaining butter and the shallots, and cook, stirring frequently, until the shallots are softened and lightly caramelized. Add the spinach and a good pinch of salt, and cook, stirring gently, until just wilted.

Divide the spinach and artichokes between two medium gratin dishes or shallow ramekins. [I used the latter, roughly 4 ½ inches in diameter and 2 inches deep.] Sprinkle half of the cheese over the two dishes. Top each dish with a poached egg; then sprinkle the remaining cheese over the eggs.

Working quickly and carefully, use a blowtorch to melt the cheese on top: it should bubble lightly and turn golden brown in spots. Serve immediately, seasoning with salt and pepper at the table.

Yield: 2 servings


Anonymous kayenne said...

i love eggs... and this is a great eggy idea... i don't see lots of artichokes here, but i'll manage with some grilled eggplants or whatever's fresh in te market. YUMMM... i like the title... made me laugh.

12:17 AM, May 16, 2006  
Blogger Tea said...

If Brandon is poaching eggs, then we can be assured that he is indeed the one for you (not that there was any doubt on that point).

Maybe I can arrange for the both of you to be in the Petaluma Butter and Egg Day parade next year—king and queen:-)

12:21 AM, May 16, 2006  
Blogger Robert said...

Glo's is nice; but expect a long wait if you get there before 10am. Mmm ... can I order extra cholesterol with my three-egg omelette?

5:44 AM, May 16, 2006  
Anonymous Luisa said...

That's EXACTLY how I feel about brunch. I'd rather eat toast any day. But Brandon's poached eggs would be perfect for dinner... ;)

6:58 AM, May 16, 2006  
Blogger mger said...

I have to respectfully disagree with you about brunch. While I do think that the best brunches come later in the day, I fully believe that brunch is the best meal ever. Not only does it allow for the amazing combination of savory and sweet that you mentioned but savory and sweet beyond all other meal boundaries. Dessert? Perfectly appropriate at brunch. Eggs? Bring them on. Salads? Absolutely. And on, and on, and on. And beyond all that, brunch is the meal where it’s completely appropriate, nay, encouraged, to consume both coffee and alcohol, in separate but delicious capacities. Café au lait, very brunch-friendly. And mimosa, a brunch staple… and when made with grapefruit juice instead of orange even more refreshing. And while I agree that the best Sundays are spent at home, I’d argue that so are the best brunches. What’s better than having and enormous Sunday brunch with a group of close friends, coffee, mimosas, sweets, savories, and the Sunday paper? I think your recipe looks great, and perfect for solo or duo weekends when socializing or large meals just aren’t on the agenda. But poor brunch shouldn’t be totally brushed off as insupportable. Let’s embrace it for the wonderful gathering opportunity it is, and has been in the past, oh, you of the shortbread waffles.

8:53 AM, May 16, 2006  
Blogger hello jamie: said...

I looooooove brunch too. I've actually been meaning to post about bloody marys. This dish sounds AMAZING and I think I shall have to try it the moment I get home. OR, I might just go to Balthazar and get it. :)

8:53 AM, May 16, 2006  
Blogger Dawna said...

While I, too, have succumbed to the greasy regret of an inappropriate brunch, when it is done right it is an utter delight. There is a lovely French restaurant near me that handles these things with the utmost of delicacy, but since they do not open until 11am (and I am an early riser) it often feels more like a light lunch, even if I do choose a benedict! And now that I will eat only the most excellent of potatoes, I do not find myself tempted by piles of heavy hashbrowns at other places...

9:30 AM, May 16, 2006  
Blogger Dianka said...

Love the addition of the artichokes, sounds like the perfect start to your day!

12:36 PM, May 16, 2006  
Blogger Scorpio said...

I don't do brunches anymore, either. It's the menu or nothing, just because I don't want to be presented with a surfeit.

Your recipe sounds wonderful, though I'd likely microwave the cheese -- no blowtorches before breakfast, thanks.

2:24 PM, May 16, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

Kayenne, this dish is most certainly open to adaptation and market inspiration. It would be hard to go wrong!

Tea, if you really want the nitty-gritties, I poached the eggs, but he did stand there and watch me. I was helping to execute his vision, you see, since I'm so well-versed in egg poachery. But by the time the Petaluma Butter and Egg Day rolls around, I'm sure he'll be a pro too. Sign us UP!

Robert, my dear Pesto, we lucked out, wait-wise: Rebecca and Jimmy were already there when we arrived, and they'd done the waiting for us. We were able to walk right in! And because Rebecca was friendly with Glo - the framed letter on the wall next to the door is from Rebecca - we got our piece of coffee cake free. Whoa. Extra cholesterol indeed.

Luisa, my kindred spirit! I seem to remember discussing this with you, actually, over our dinner at the Spotted Pig! Mmm, dinner...

Point(s) well taken, mger! I know, I know - I do love those shortbread waffles, but as you might recall, I mentioned that I might love them even more as dessert, rather than a morning meal. I think my brunch dilemma, really, is a problem of the time of day: while I love the idea of a relaxed daytime meal with friends where nearly anything is allowed - sweet, savory, alcohol, coffee, etc. - I want it to be later in the day. For me, brunch means a big, decadent meal too early, or at an odd time - 11 am or 2 pm, or something. I wake up hungry most days, so I feel compelled to eat a little something light before, and then brunch gets me all off schedule. I'm worse than an infant, I know - she wakes up hungry, she has a feeding schedule, she gets fussy, etc.! Sigh. So all told, yes, I really do love the concept of brunch, and I am all for supporting a "wonderful gathering opportunity," as you so accurately put it, but in reality, it never quite is what I wish it were.

Jamie, do you have a favorite Bloody Mary recipe? Inquiring minds want to know - and want to see it. Please.

Dawna, this French place of yours has the right idea. I too am a (fairly) early riser, so I prefer to treat brunch as lunch instead. That way, I get to wake up my stomach with something that's a little easier going down, and then I am happy to greet an eggs Benedict later. I'm less apt to be starving, too, so I can fend off those inferior hash browns.

Dianka, the artichokes really "make" the dish - and especially with a few golden spots from browning in the butter. Mmm.

2:32 PM, May 16, 2006  
Blogger Natalie said...

You gotta lova a man who can poach eggs. Mmmm. This egg dish sounds delicious.

4:28 PM, May 16, 2006  
Anonymous Tanna said...

A rose by any other name: Call it breakfast, lunch, brunch or dinner, your eggs look perfect for when I'm hungry! Bring um on, ugh, do I have to do them myself. Good post, Thanks.

7:38 PM, May 16, 2006  
Blogger wheresmymind said...

Personally, I'm a big fan of linner :)

7:14 AM, May 17, 2006  
Blogger Zarah Maria said...

Dare I say: Ditto! No brunch for me - at restaurants, that is. I love them at home, when I (or my man) makes it - he does a mean omelette! I'll try to add this one to the repertoire, looks scrumptious!

10:46 AM, May 17, 2006  
Blogger Kristina said...

I'm with you on the "brunch" issue. Besides appreciating sweets, coffee, fruit, bread, butter, jams, cakes, croissants, milk and yogurt in the morning, I find that I help myself to too many things when brunch time rolls around...

Being Italian, we often eat eggs for a light dinner, and I will store this delicious- looking recipe away for that meal!

I love your blog and read often, especially now that I have an impending wedding to read about! I got married under two years ago so the anticipation and excitement that went along with it is still fresh in my mind. Good luck with the planning and best wishes!

11:58 AM, May 17, 2006  
Blogger Trish said...

If I wasn't heading out to dinner here in just moments, I'd be making this dish. Thanks for the inspiration. Best of luck with your wedding plans!

2:31 PM, May 17, 2006  
Anonymous Grant said...

I have to say I love brunch but brunch does not love me. Brunch often makes me want to just go and take a nap until dinner.

3:12 PM, May 17, 2006  
Anonymous Paul said...

Brunch has a great selection of food associated with it, its just the time of day its usually eaten at that i dont like.

7:51 PM, May 17, 2006  
Blogger Natalia said...

I have mixed feelings on brunch. It does always sound like a great idea, Sunday brunch in a fancy restaurant where everything sounds/looks delicious. But that's the problem. Too much food! But I can definitely think of worse problems...

8:58 PM, May 17, 2006  
Blogger astillac said...

Molly - I'm one of the people that Shauna shuffled over from Gluten-Free Girl, and I've spent most of today reading through the backlogs of your blog. ( I had [MADE] a lot of free time, apparently. ) I got all sorts of sucked in. <3

At any rate, I had a question: Can I try to make gluten free versions of your recipes and post them on my own blog? With a link-back to your relevant entry, of course.

And, in topic, I can honestly say that I've only eaten brunch once, and I was in ... 6th? grade... so I can't say either way. I suppose I need to give it a go!

5:08 AM, May 19, 2006  
Blogger Ruth said...

I love your/Brandon's version. It sounds lovely.

Actually I love brunch and who says it has to be between 10-2 anyway?

Thanks for sharing your tale and...I've been neglectful of my favorite bloggers of late...when is the wedding and congrats!

10:58 AM, May 19, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

Scorpio, I hope you'll reconsider the blowtorch idea. It's so much easier, faster, and less fussy than you might think! I promise. But if you're still adamantly opposed, how about the broiler instead? If you go that route, try to undercook your poached egg slightly, so that the sustained heat of the broiler doesn't turn it hard and rubbery. A microwave would be my last resort, since it tends to do such funny things to cheese.

Amen to that, Natalie. Thank you!

Tanna, it does require a couple of pans, but it'll be quick and painless - and pretty delicious.

Ahh, linner! Yup, wheresmymind, that does work better than brunch. But then there are the dreaded 9 pm munchies...

Zarah, you're a lucky woman! A man who makes a mean omelette? Hold onto him tight.

Kristina, my family has always been very pro-egg at dinnertime too. In fact, eggs feel much more like dinner to me than they do like breakfast. And thank you for your very sweet wishes where our wedding is concerned. The plans are slowly taking shape, and I'll be sharing bits of them soon!

You're welcome, Trish, and thank you.

I hear you on that, Grant. A nap sounds pretty good, though - right now, actually.

My thoughts exactly, Paul.

From our Kitchen, I know just what you mean. It sounds so good, and like such a good way to start a Saturday or Sunday...but then again, maybe not.

Astillac, now that is a lot of free time! I'm honored that you chose to spend it here. And as for trying to make gluten-free versions of the recipes here, by all means! I'd love to read about what you might produce. How about a gluten-free brunch first? It's high time, I think!

Ruth, I like your spirit about brunch - maybe 10-2 can be more flexible than I'd thought! And as for the wedding and whathaveyou, I'll slowly be writing more about it as time goes by. We are about 99% sure of the date - July 29, 2007 - and the fourteen months between now and then means that you can expect a fair amount of wedding wedding wedding talk around here...

2:06 PM, May 19, 2006  
Blogger T said...

I agree completely- brunch IS a tease. I usually end up spending the rest of the day in regret, and avoiding food. I am a proponent of of making a big breakfast meal for dinnertime, when it feels more appropriate to eat more. I just cant stomache too much in the beginning of the day (though I think its better for you to eat more midday...alas, I'm a hopeless case)

3:40 PM, May 19, 2006  
Blogger kishko said...

brunch is definitely best prepared at home, as least here in italy!! they do try, but it just never works! did you see the flavor of the month over at "cream puffs in venice"? it's "out to brunch".....

9:04 AM, May 20, 2006  
Blogger bcinfrance said...

Brunch seems oh-so-fashionable here in France, but I have rarely been confronted with it. I think it makes a good food magazine article subject, but the reality is different...

11:31 AM, May 20, 2006  
Blogger Megan said...

This recipe looks great. I agree that brunch is something I usually end up regretting, although it's my favorite meal to dream up and plan. There are just so many possibilities! I seem to do better if I stick to eating either sweet or savory and not mix. It's a tough choice, though! Thanks for the entertaining post. I enjoy your blog.

6:28 AM, May 22, 2006  
Blogger Anali said...

Wow, I found your blog because I did a search for "brunch" - my favorite meal of the week. I feel like I just stumbled upon the Holy Grail. Sorry, Da Vinci Code flashback... Anyway, love your blog. I'm not a big poached egg fan, but I'm going to do some digging for some more recipes here. Thanks!

2:10 PM, May 22, 2006  
Anonymous bea at La tartine gourmande said...

I would dive in for this egg!!! I am like you, I do not know how to feel about brunch, more particularly since I never grew up with it. It is the time that seems wrong to me!

8:08 AM, May 23, 2006  
Blogger astillac said...

I did it!

Well, sort of. More like an elaborate breakfast that took place and one in the afternoon. It was a lot of food, at any rate.

2:54 PM, May 23, 2006  
Blogger Tokyoastrogirl said...

I, too, have felt, too many times, the regret after a hefty brunch. Although I love a brunch menu more than any other, it is difficult to resist the basket of muffins, side of potatoes and mountains of pancakes that inevitably arrives at the brunch table. This recipe might actually convince us to stay home as well. Thanks for the insight.

12:53 PM, May 26, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

Tanvi, those are my sentiments exactly. I'm a huge proponent of what my family used to call "breakfast-for-dinner."

Kishko, an Italian brunch sounds awfully tempting. And thanks for the tip, re: Cream Puffs in Venice! I'll hop over there right now. [Oh, and P.S. I just saw the review of Perche' No on your site! I love that place. Mmm.]

bcinfrance, I do seem to recall hearing a lot about le brunch when I was last over there! It was all over Elle a Table, as I remember...

Thank you, Megan. And happy brunch dreaming to you.

Thank you, Anali, for finding your way over here. Lovely to meet you!

I hear you, Bea. How about eggs Florentine for lunch or dinner? Forget the whole brunch business!

Astillac, I'm SO impressed! Hot damn! Way to rise to the challenge! Those are some pretty pancakes, by the way.

You're most certainly welcome, Tokyoastrogirl. And here's to standing firm against the mountains of pancakes! Mmmm, mountains of pancakes...

1:20 PM, May 26, 2006  
Blogger Ange said...

Wow, that eggs looks scrumptious & so perfectly done - love a gooey yolk

10:13 PM, May 29, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree! I always feel way too full after brunch out.. I always forget that smoked salmon on eggs and hollandaise sauce it too rich..
But this is New Zealand proportions, I was totally amazed by the sheer volume of food you get in America. The cheaper the meal the more you get!


5:32 PM, September 20, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The addition of artichokes coupled with the spinach is Eggs Sardou. The torched cheese is nice and a great effect table side..Pecorino Romano or Gruyere would work as well.

2:40 PM, February 17, 2013  

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