I wasn't sure it would happen.
What with rolling cold snowmen outside and pasting soft fuzzy ones inside. What with sunny, slow gift-making mornings and darn-it-all, last-minute errand running. What with spreading sweet cheer to friends near and far and dusting Columbus in snow, several times over. (Somehow, I'd missed the snowflake management part of my job description. And frankly, I don't remember performing the work, period. But every morning last week, Zoë surveyed the fresh powder and sing-songed all the way to school, "Mama did it. MAMA did it!")
I wasn't sure it should happen. Between wrapping up school for the year and wrapping up boxes for the post. (If you find a little extra something in yours? Just, you know, return to sender.) Between the pack or wrap? wrap or pack? pack or oh, HANG it all, how about popcorn and Rudolph?, and the hard and fast deadline of a flight home, eight o'clock, Christmas morning. Between the dependable tedium of day-in, day-out chores and the spectacular seasonal mess that is sprinkles.
(And the spectacular surprise of this nomination, for Apartment Therapy's Best in Home Cooking Blog. I'm a distant, dark horse in a deep, crowded field, but what an honor it is for this little upstart to be in such fine company. Votes are being tallied here, Dec. 30-Jan. 6, if you'd like to chime in.)
But there it was happening, last Saturday, a quick spot of cooking. Because there comes a point, when my fingers know the precise firm-ish give of shortbread ready for rolling, and my heart beats to the nudge-pat-turn, nudge-pat-turn of a coming-together dough, and my mind thinks only: warm savory something. NOW. Woulds and shoulds notwithstanding.
So I made what I often make when I'm deeply in need of restorative fare, fast as can be: eggs. Except these are Eggs. Or, maybe, Eggs! Technically, the name is Shakshuka, which I'm assuming is Arabic for Eggs Over Wonderful. They look like a mess, but they taste like the Mediterranean, the South and East edges that lap along North Africa, all the way over to Israel. These are eggs softly poached in a thick, brick-red sauce of tomatoes, brightly spiced. It's a universal idea, spiced tomatoes and eggs, like huevos rancheros or Italy's eggs in purgatory or really, come to think of it, the Tabasco-stained scramble my father adored. Without the tongue scarring. And with a strong showing of snowy white feta and fresh parsley spunk. Which you could call a garnish, I guess, but crowning glory is probably more accurate.
It's the work of half an hour, of chopping one onion and a small pile of garlic, of spooning up thrilling heaps of cumin and sweet paprika, of waiting impatiently for the whole jolly mess to mellow, of sighing, repeatedly, as you scoop bite after bite onto warm buttered flatbread. It's rich and hearty and fresh and light and the answer to everything.
I'll return to this space in two weeks, a little damp, a lot happy. Until then, a very happy New Year to you, friends.
Shakshuka (poached eggs with tomato, feta, parsley)
Adapted from Saveur, November 2009
Eight eggs may sound like a lot (and this recipe could easily be halved, if you're cooking for one), but each adult tucked away two eggs easily the morning we made these, and I was tickled pink to heat leftovers for breakfast two days running.
The original recipe called for fresh chilis, but I had only dried guajillos, which I substituted and found quite lovely. I imagine even a good squirt of chili sauce -- harissa, say, or sriracha -- would do fine in a pinch.
1/4 cup olive oil
some chiles: 3 dried guajillos (whole), 5 Anaheims or 3 jalapeños, stemmed,
seeded, and finely chopped
1 onion, chopped
8 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tbsp. sweet paprika
1 28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes, with juices, roughly chopped (in can, with scissors), or 28-oz can chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup water
3/4 tsp. Kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/2 - 3/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
3 tbsp. parsley, chopped
warm buttered pita or naan, for serving
Heat oil in large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When shimmering, add chopped onions and chilis. Cook 6-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onions are soft, golden and browning at edges. Add garlic, cumin and paprika and cook until aromatic, 1-2 minutes more.
Add chopped tomatoes with their juices and 1/2 cup water, reduce heat to medium, and simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until flavors have melded and sauce has thickened slightly. Add salt, check for seasoning, and adjust if needed.
With a large tablespoon, make a few shallow wells in the tomato sauce, knowing you will add 8 eggs in all. Crack one egg at a time into wells, then make a few more, and repeat, until all 8 eggs are in. Give each a little elbow room, but know it will be rough and uneven. Cover skillet, and check after 5 minutes. Baste whites with some sauce to encourage tops to cook. The original recipe suggested whites would be firm after 5 minutes, though I found mine took closer to 10. Just watch and decide after 5 minutes how soft or firm you prefer your eggs, and take off the heat when they are to your liking.
Serve with a stack of warm, buttered pita or naan and a side of snow.