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Cracking-good French inspired egg recipes

PARIS -- A friend in Dallas has a theory about Easter eggs. He believes that the whole egg-dyeing business evolved from eggs' natural color variations -- your classic eggshell white, various hues of brownish-khaki or (my favorite) light blue -- and somewhere along the way, when eggs became more white than not, people took matters into their own hands and decided to color them themselves.

But why on Easter? I asked him. Why not on another day?

He wasn't sure, but as someone who raises chickens, he is more than a little egg-centric. I happen to like his story, anyway -- and I love his eggs, no matter what color eggshell they come in.

But this didn't used to be the case. When I lived in Texas, I liked eggs just fine -- but love? Not exactly. I would scramble them up every now and then if I was out of ideas for dinner, or I would fry one or two and make a fried-egg sandwich, or if I was going to a lot of trouble (and needed to use up leftovers), I'd make a frittata.

But that was about as far as eggs and I went. Eggs were a default rather than a destination. Like the guy with the pocket protector sitting in the back of math class, I never gave eggs much of a chance.

Then I moved to Paris and tasted French eggs that I'd buy from a man from Normandy at the twice-weekly market in my neighborhood. Brown, all of them, and often with tiny feathers still stuck to the shell. With thick, orangey -- not yellow, mind you -- yolks. Rich and creamy and with a flavor that I'd never really tasted from the eggs that I used to buy in Dallas at the grocery store. These eggs actually tasted like eggs.

And I fell in love. Hard.

I'd eat them soft-boiled, scrambled, baked, fried, poached ... added to salads, vinaigrettes, sandwiches and anything else I could think of. In France, eggs aren't relegated to breakfast or brunch status; they're served all day -- and night -- long. In quiches. In cocottes. At bistros, as a first course (which is how I first tasted oeufs meurette; recipe on the right). Or at the bigger brasseries, in omelettes, stuffed with fat cèpes (portobello mushrooms) in the fall, or pipérade, the Basque bell pepper-tomato mixture, which I always find when I'm in Bordeaux.

Here, eggs come in cardboard cartons of six and sometimes four or 10. I usually buy two or three six-packs at a time, because whether it's Easter or not, I'm always thinking about eggs. See? I told you. Love.

Ellise Pierce is the Cowgirl Chef. Read her blog and watch her cooking videos on www.cowgirlchef.com. You can also follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/cowgirlchef

Eggs brouillés (French scrambled eggs)

You'll often see these on the menu at Paris restaurants that offer Sunday brunches, which is how I first tasted these very un-American scrambled eggs -- the secret is in the cream and the constant stirring.

4 eggs

1 tablespoon whole milk or cream

Sea salt and pepper

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon crème fraiche or sour cream

2.5 ounces smoked salmon, chopped into small pieces

Fresh chives

1. Whisk eggs with milk or cream and a pinch of salt and pepper.

2. Put the butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat. When the butter has melted, pour in the eggs and stir them constantly until they are just about done -- this will take less than five minutes. You should have soft curdles of eggs. At the very last moment, fold in the crème fraiche or sour cream and serve on two plates. Top with the salmon and chives, and eat right away.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 265 calories, 20 grams fat, 1 gram carbohydrates, 20 grams protein, 455 milligrams cholesterol, 486 milligrams sodium, no dietary fiber, 68 percent of calories from fat.

Oeufs meurette

A French bistro classic from Burgundy. I had this for lunch on my birthday one year in Dijon.

About 12 ounces fruity red wine, such as a pinot noir or burgundy

8 ounces chicken, veal or vegetable stock

1 onion, cut into quarters

1 carrot, cut into thirds

1 stalk celery, cut into thirds

1 garlic clove, smashed

Bouquet garni (a few sprigs of fresh parsley, a few sprigs of fresh thyme and a bay leaf)

1 teaspoon peppercorns

4 pieces of bacon

3 tablespoons butter, divided

1 shallot, sliced

10 button mushrooms, cleaned and quartered

Sea salt and pepper

2 slices of country bread, toasted

2 eggs

2 teaspoons flour

Fresh thyme

1. Make the red wine sauce: Put wine and stock in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Let come to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and toss in onion, carrot, celery, garlic, bouquet garni and peppercorns. Let mixture reduce by half -- it will take about 20 minutes -- then strain the mixture and set aside.

2. While the sauce is reducing, fry bacon and set aside.

3. Place 2 tablespoons of butter and shallots in a large skillet. Cook until the shallots are soft and slightly browned on the edges using medium-low heat. Add the mushrooms and cook until browned, making sure to add salt and pepper as you go.

4. Toast the bread.

5. Add a big pinch of salt to about 4 inches of water in a deep skillet or saucepan; turn the heat on high. When the water boils, turn down to simmer. Crack eggs into two small glass bowls and gently pour each egg from its bowl into the barely bubbling water. Set timer for 2 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove the eggs and put the egg and spoon on a paper towel to absorb the moisture for a few seconds.

6. While the eggs are poaching (the sauce will come together in 2 minutes, I promise), mash 1 tablespoon of butter with the flour with a fork to combine -- this is called a beurre manié. Pour wine mixture into a saucepan over medium heat; add a little of the butter/flour mixture at a time, constantly stirring, until the mixture thickens. Toss in mushrooms and shallots and warm them through.

7. To serve, put a piece of toast in the center of a shallow bowl and top with the poached egg. Pour the sauce and mushrooms around the egg, crumble bacon on top, then add a little fresh pepper and fresh thyme. Serve immediately.

Advance planning: I make the wine sauce ahead of time, and if I can, I will also fry the bacon and cook the mushrooms, keeping them in the fridge until I am ready to put this together.

Cowgirl tip: Double the eggs to make this a main course.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 569 calories, 31 grams fat, 32 grams carbohydrates, 20 grams protein, 270 milligrams cholesterol, 746 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber, 57 percent of calories from fat.

Eggs in cocotte

Cute enough for brunch and easy enough for everyday, you can swap out the spinach and feta with whatever you have on hand.

Butter, for the ramekins

Olive oil

About 1 ounce baby spinach

Pinch of sea salt and pepper

Pinch of nutmeg

2 tablespoons feta cheese, crumbled

4 eggs

2 tablespoons cream

1. Generously butter two ramekins and set them inside a casserole dish. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Cook spinach: In a skillet, drizzle a little bit of olive oil, and turn the heat to medium-low. Add spinach, salt, pepper and nutmeg and let cook, just until the spinach begins to wilt. Divide the spinach between the two ramekins.

3. Sprinkle feta cheese on top of spinach, crack two eggs into each ramekin, and pour cream on top. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper, too. Pour enough water into the casserole dish to rise halfway up the sides of the ramekins, and slide into the oven to bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until set. Serve immediately.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 283 calories, 24 grams fat, 2 grams carbohydrates, 15 grams protein, 461 milligrams cholesterol, 379 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber, 76 percent of calories from fat.

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