Lush Life

To be a lush chef, does not mean to drink in excess - this can result in scary fires and bad dishes. A lush chef is one who enjoys gourmet cooking/baking, often with fresh ingredients and the smart use of one's home bar. If there happens to be half a bottle of beer, a glass of wine, or a sip of brandy left over...well, one cannot be wasteful. I give you permission to imbibe.

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The Lush Chef
Twitter: @thelushchef Provenance: Santa Monica Dish: Coq au Vin Spirit: Whiskey Wine: Malbec Beer: Hefeweizen Farmer's Market: Santa Monica on Main Street
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Apr 26, 2012

Braveheart Cocktail

One of the best bars in the country happens to be biking distance from my place and every time I go, I get the Braveheart Cocktail.  My friend and fellow blogger for Get Me Out of LA introduced me to this drink at The Tasting Kitchen on Abbot Kinney in Venice.  She's been telling me I need to make it home and post the recipe so she can make them for herself.  Justin at Tasting Kitchen told me the ingredients and I did some experimenting of my own on the measurements.  Even though I can make this at home, I'll still be plopping down at the bar and having him make me this, because it's just so refreshing and gosh darn good.

The Braveheart
  • 2 oz scotch (I used Glenlivet 12 year, a non-smoky scotch)
  • 1 oz lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ginger juice
  • 1/2 oz honey syrup (see my Gold Rush cocktail recipe)
  • 3 dashes Angostura bitters
- Combine all the ingredients in a shaker and shake!
- Strain into a glass over a large ice cube.

Apr 24, 2012

Sake-Steamed Chicken

Libations used: 1 1/2 cups dry sake, 1 1/2 tsp sweet sherry (double the booze!)
Libations left over: Depends on how much sake you bought, but let's hope you have enough left to serve with dinner...
I've roasted my fair share of chickens and cooked them in my Dutch oven, but I've never steamed a chicken before.  I ran across this recipe for Sake-Steamed Chicken with Ginger and Scallions last spring in the New York Times and I finally decided to pull it out of the files.  I had done a lot of celebrating the night before and was kind of exhausted, so I really needed something easy to whip up.  Salt the chicken and plunk it in a pot with a steam basket and some sake.  Done.  Serve it with rice, snap peas, or I had it alongside arugula and used some of the ginger sauce as a light dressing.

Sake-Steamed Chicken - serves 8
  • 1 3 1/2 lb chicken, rinsed & patted dry (mine was bigger, so I had to steam it longer)
  • 1 1/2 cups dry sake
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • Salt
  • 2 Tbs soy sauce
  • 2 Tbs orange juice
  • 2 tsp rice vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 tsp sweet sherry
  • 1 Tbs chopped ginger root
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 3 scallions, sliced thin
  • Sesame seeds
- Place a steamer basket in the bottom of a large stockpot.
- Pour in the sake and water and bring to a boil—you may need to add more of each so the liquid reaches the bottom of the steamer basket.
- Generously salt the inside and outside of the chicken and place it breast side up in the steamer basket.
- Reduce the heat to low and cover.
- Steam the chicken for 1-1 1/2 hours, or until the juice runs clear when pierced with a knife.
- Turn off the heat and let it cool for 20 minutes.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, orange and lemon juices, rice vinegar, sherry, ginger and garlic.
- Remove the chicken from the pot and carve.
- Spoon some of the sauce over the chicken and garnish with scallions and sesame seeds.
- Serve the extra sauce on the side for dipping.

Apr 19, 2012

Wine Tasting in Paso Robles & Santa Ynez

The Lush Chef's parents came into town over the Easter holidays and we typically hit up Santa Ynez for a day of wine tasting.  This time, we decided to do two days so we could take in more wineries and venture up to Paso Robles, which none of us had been to.  We always start off with Fess Parker because I'm a wine club member and they have that awesome patio for picnic lunches.  They were quite generous (as always) with their pours and selection of wines to try.

After wolfing down my signature wine country sandwiches—tomato, basil, mozzarella and some sea salt on ciabatta bread—we ventured over to Pali Wine Company in Lompoc.  I had met their winemaker, Aaron Walker, a couple of months ago with a friend in LA and took him up on his offer to visit.  They're located in an airport hanger and have a great boutique operation.  Aaron gave us a tour of the facilities and told us all about their wines.  They're mostly known for their Pinot Noirs, but also make Chardonnay, Grenache Blanc and Rosé.  We got to taste some Chardonnay straight out of the barrel, which I've never done before.  We tried it at 3 different ages, and there was a noticeable difference and cool to see how the wine tasted at different levels of the aging process.  After the tour, Aaron had us try five different wines, and I ended up buying their 2009 Huntington Pinot Noir and the 2008 "Highlands" Red Wine, which is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.  All of their wines are reasonably priced and delicious to boot, so I highly recommend stopping by.

Our dinner reservation wasn't until 7:30 and we needed a little food in us to soak up all the wine.  At Aaron's recommendation, we hit up Avant Tapas & Wine in Buellton.  I never would have found this place if it wasn't for a recommendation.  It's kind of hidden along Industrial Way at the end of the street, but it has beautiful views of the mountains.  They have an excellent selection of hot and cold tapas, as well as entrees and an enomatic wine dispenser.  During happy hour, the wine pours are half off (so much for not having more wine!), so the Lush Chef and her papa each tried a few small tastes to go along with some bacon wrapped dates with goat cheese, a balsamic reduction and basil oil (it's called Yuppie Crack) and a cheese plate.
We then hit the road for dinner at Cold Spring Tavern, which is on Stagecoach Road just off of Highway 154.  I had stumbled across the place with my girl friends the last time we were in the area.  We went into the bar and it was packed with people dancing and eating chili at the bar and a slew of motorcycles outside (it's apparently popular amongst the biker set despite the "romantic" setting).  Unfortunately, the wait for dinner located in another building was going to be a long wait, so we vowed to come back.  Their dinner menu is all steak and wild game and the sides of soup, salad, bread, mashed potatoes and veggies are significant.  I could only eat half of my rabbit medallions because there was so much food on the table.  It was just what we needed after a long day of wine tasting, and the setting was so rustic, relaxing and beautiful.  I'm definitely going back on a weekend when they bust out the outside grills for tri-tip sandwiches.

We spent the night in Solvang at Hadsten House, which is right along the main street by all the shopping.  Rooms go for about $160 a night, but if you show up without a reservation and they have space available, you can get a room for $100.  They recently updated the place, so all the rooms were spiffy, new, comfortable and clean and the hotel includes free internet and a complimentary breakfast.  I didn't get a chance to check out the outdoor whirlpool, indoor heated pool or the spa, but there's always another time for that.  It was the perfect place for us to rest up and get ready for the drive north early the next day.

When I was polling my friends about wineries to try in Paso Robles, everyone said we had to go to Justin Winery.  It's way up northwest on Chimney Rock Road, just off of Vineyard Drive, but the journey was a beautiful one, so we didn't mind.  I would have been happy just walking and driving around through the valleys and amongst the trees all day long, but we had wines to taste!  A vineyard and wine cave tour, plus a tasting is $15 a person, which we all did.

Justin has the distinction of being a winery that is one of the furthest west in the area, and it's situated just so in the valley that the temperature, winds and soil are perfect for growing those grapes.  It gets those hot days and super cold nights so the vines get the right amount of stress to be hearty and produce strong fruit.  Their signature, award-winning wine is the Isosceles, which is a "left bank" Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.  Oh, it was darn good and oh, I wish I could have afforded a bottle.  Their wines are pricey, but maybe someday when I'm rich I'll join their wine club and sit in that special wine club members room outside the cave...

Next stop was Tablas Creek, which is on Adelaida Road heading back south on Vineyard Drive.  I had been told by an oenophile that "they make some serious juice," so we were excited to try the place.  They have a nice tasting room set-up with multiple tables and pourers so you don't feel like you're crammed in with everyone.  They specialize in wines made from grapes descending from France's Rhone Valley.  They bring vines directly over from there and our pourer told us how they were waiting on some vines to get out of a three-year quarantine at a nearby university—a process all foreign vines must go through when coming to the US.  Tastings are fairly priced, you keep the glass and you get your fee back if you buy a bottle of wine.  The tasting menu gives one a lot of wines to taste and our pourer was also generous and brought out a couple of wines that weren't on the menu.  She let me try a few for a second time because I just couldn't decide which one to buy!  All of their wines are reasonably priced and I ended up purchasing their 2010 Patalin de Tablas—a blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Counoise.

We continued south and went to Opolo, which has spectacular views and a fun, easy-going tasting room.  They do mostly reds there, which of course the Lush Chef and her papa love.  Again, the tasting fees and wines were all a good price range, and I walked away with their 2010 Mountain Zinfandel.  I also really loved their Tempranillos and Montagna Mares.  After the tasting, we drove to the top of the hill where they have some picnic tables.  We put out a spread of cheese and fruit and soaked in the spectacular vineyard views.

I could have stayed all day on that same road, but we decided to venture east and see what that side of Paso Robles had to offer.  Eberle was our next stop along Highway 46E, and Gary Eberle, the founder, is kind of considered the father of wine out in Paso Robles.  He was one of the first to start making wine in the area and has been instrumental in raising awareness around the world about the wines the Central Coast has to offer.  They also do wine cave tours here, but I preferred Justin's set-up.  Tastings are free at this place, so if you're on a budget, it's a great place to stop by.  I have to be honest, I didn't feel like any wines really stood out, but perhaps my palate was shot after downing a ton of wine all morning.  There's a pretty outdoor deck with nice views and a long tasting menu, so worth a visit if you're on that side of town.

We also made a brief stop to Le Vigne, which is just off of Airport Road along Buena Vista Drive.  It's another great little spot to hit up for some free tastings, and they also do cheese pairings.

I actually ended up preferring the northwestern part of Paso Robles because it just felt more serene at the tasting rooms.  The wineries are a little bit more spread out, so you're not going to get a ton of those big touring buses up to that area and most folks stick to the main road.  I'll definitely be back because there are so many more wineries to explore.

Apr 17, 2012

Sticky Orange Cake with Vodka & Marmalade Glaze

Libations used: 1 Tbs vodka
Libations left over: Shots!
So it was the Lush Chef's birthday last week, and I actually started celebrating it when my parents came to visit during the Easter holidays.  I wanted to make a cake to go with our Easter dinner and also celebrate my day of birth, but it needed to be an easy and fast recipe.  The Kitchn recently posted this vegan (yes, vegan!) recipe for a Sticky Orange Cake with Marmalade Glaze, and my mouth immediately began watering.  I knew this would be a light, perfect pairing with something heavier like the Braised Short Ribs with Red Wine I would be making.  It took no time at all to whip up, and all the ingredients are pretty much ones you'd have around the house anyway.  The Kitchn recommended serving this with pistachio ice cream, and it's an awesome combination with the orange.  Even though we were all full from dinner, I cut us huge slices, and we proceeded to clean our plates.  I also waited for my dad to take a bite and asked him how he liked it before telling him it was vegan—it dispelled all notions of vegan baked goods being dry.  We all agreed we'd make this cake again in a heartbeat, and my parents plan on baking it for some friends that have a vegan daughter.  I actually ended up having this for breakfast the next day.  Happy Birthday to me!

Sticky Orange Cake with Vodka & Marmalade Glaze - serves 8-12
Ingredients for the Cake:
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 orange, zested
  • 2 cups orange juice
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 Tbs apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
Ingredients for the Glaze:
  • 1/4 cup orange marmalade
  • 1 Tbs vodka
To make the cake:
- Preheat the oven to 350.
- Lightly grease two 9-inch round cake pans.
- Line the bottoms with parchment paper and lightly grease the paper.
- In a large mixing bowl, mix the flour, sugars, baking soda, salt and orange zest until thoroughly combined (crumble the brown sugar with your fingers if there are any clumps).
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the orange juice, vegetable oil, vinegar and vanilla.
- Quickly whisk in the wet ingredients into the dry until thoroughly combined.
- Pour the batter in the prepared cake pans and bake for 30-35 minutes.
- Let the cakes cool for 20 minutes in the pans, then remove onto cooling racks.

To make the glaze:
- In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, stir together the marmalade and vodka for about 5 minutes, or until the glaze is bubbling and hot.
- Using a slotted spoon, lift out the solid orange peels from the marmalade and set them aside in a small bowl.
- Place one cake layer on a cake plate and pierce the top with a toothpick several times.
- Pour half of the glaze onto the cake and spread evenly.
- Place the second layer of cake on top and spread the remainder of the glaze.
- Spoon the orange peel on top of the cake and serve warm.

Apr 12, 2012

Spring Cocktails

Spring may have started a few weeks ago, but it didn't feel like it until just recently.  We're getting those April showers mixed in with pleasant warm days.  It's now been over a year since I've been writing this blog, and I'd like to revisit some tasty cocktails that are perfect for the spring.

As we're catching the end of the season for blood oranges, this Blood Orange, Ginger Beer & Tequila Cocktail is incredibly refreshing and looks pretty too!  Make up a pitcher of these and serve poolside on those occasional hot days we get.

I first served this DeMille Cocktail at a Golden Globes party in the winter, but the ingredients are reminiscent of spring to me.  Mix gin or vodka with fresh squeezed lime juice, a few blackberries and a sprig of rosemary.  If I had a bottle of gin in a berry patch, you'd probably find me in a corner sipping on this...

One of my favorite libations, the Apricot Bourbon Fizz, is actually great to serve year-round, but I'm adding it to this list.  I tend to host more brunches in the spring and summer because I live by the beach, so folks want to start their mornings on the westside.  I plan on serving this at my next brunch.  After all, there are eggs and jam in it!  Shake up some bourbon, fresh squeezed lemon juice, simple syrup, apricot preserves and egg whites, and I guarantee your guests will be asking for more.

I first fell in love with The Kentucky Bubble Bath Cocktail at the Roosevelt's Library Bar in Hollywood.  Head mixologist Matthew Biancaniello shared this recipe, and it has bourbon, Cynar, lavender simple syrup, some lemon juice and a lavender sprig for garnish.  It's delish and smacks of spring.

The Kentucky Derby will be coming up in May, and if you happen to be throwing a party, then you must make a Mint Julep.  It would be sacrilege if you didn't.  Bonus points for wearing a big hat with flowers while you play bartender.

Having a garden party, or feeling particularly English?  This Kew Garden Cocktail will do the trick, and it's also insanely refreshing.  Muddle some mint leaves and cucumber slices, add white rum, fresh lime juice, simple syrup and St. Germain, then top with club soda.  You'll want to stroll through the gardens every afternoon...

Apr 10, 2012

Braised Short Ribs with Red Wine

Libations used: 2 cups red wine
Libations left over: 1/2 bottle of wine, so pour some glasses for the family while you're waiting for the short ribs to braise, or serve with dinner...
The Lush Chef's parents were in town for Easter and it's become a new tradition for me to cook for them.  I let them take a load off their feet, relax and sip some wine while I cook.  After all, it's their vacation, right?  Even though it was a beautiful hot day, I flung open all the windows and left the door open while I braised these short ribs.  I've made short ribs once before and used Guinness, but this recipe from John Besh calls for a dry red wine.  The driest I had on hand was a cabernet sauvignon, so I popped that open and poured my mom and dad a glass to enjoy while they took in all the smells.  I served the short ribs with rounds of sourdough to sop up all the juices and broth since we had been eating potatoes in various forms all week.  These would taste marvelous served over a generous helping of mashed potatoes, with the broth making a delicious, boozy gravy.  I braised these for a little over 2 hours, which was all I needed for them to fall right off the bone.  You'll need the full 5 lbs - between the three of us, we barely had any left!

Braised Short Ribs - serves 6
  • 5 lbs beef short ribs
  • Salt & freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 medium yellow onions, chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 Tbs tomato paste
  • 2 cups dry red wine
  • 6 cups beef broth
  • 1/2 lb pearl onions, peeled and left whole
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • 1 bay leaf
- Season the short ribs with salt, pepper and thyme.
- In a large Dutch Oven, set over high heat and add the olive oil.
- Add the ribs in batches and cook until each is browned (about 2-3 minutes).
- Turn the ribs over and brown for an additional 2-3 minutes.
- Remove the ribs to a platter and set aside.
- Lower the heat to medium-high and add the onions and carrots and cook until soft (about 7-10 minutes).
- Add the celery and garlic and cook, stirring frequently until the vegetables have turned deep brown (about 5 minutes).
- Add the tomato paste and keep stirring frequently for another 3 minutes.
- Return the ribs to the pot and add the wine, beef broth, pearl onions, rosemary and bay leaf.
- Raise the heat and bring to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer.
- Cover the pot and cook until the meat is tender and falls off the bone easily (about 2-3 hours).
- Discard the rosemary sprig and bay leaf before serving.

Apr 5, 2012

Whiskey Tasting & Old Fashioneds

Over the past few months, I've been hitting up a bunch of free whiskey tastings with a friend of mine.  Let's call her Lady Whiskey, since I already nicknamed another friend of mine Whiskey.  We started to think that maybe we should host our own little whiskey tasting soiree for our friends.  Some of them are fans of the lovely brown liquors like we are, and some are just scared to try it.  Lady Whiskey and I decided that the best approach would be to serve a white whiskey, bourbon, rye whiskey, scotch and then a blended whiskey so people could discern the differences.  We did a casual presentation going over some of the basic knowledge on whiskey, and then explained each libation we were serving, the grain mash, why it had certain flavors, etc.  It was fun listening to all the different flavor notes people tasted and what they liked best.  Lady Whiskey put together a lovely and large plate of different cured meats, paté, bread, pickles, caper berries and mustards, and also baked some killer oatmeal cookies.  I brought my Spiced Bitter Bar Nuts and Guinness White Cheddar Spread.

Here's what we served:
Death's Door White Whisky - This is an un-aged whiskey, thus the white color, and it's reminiscent of tequila.  

Maker's 46 - Lady Whiskey had this bottle on hand, and figured most people had tried regular Maker's, so why not have something a little nicer?  It's aged longer than regular Maker's and has a richer caramel flavor.  

Bulleit Rye - This is my go-to whiskey for sipping on the rocks or making cocktails with.  Bulleit has only been making this rye for a year, and it's delicious, with a good price to boot.

Glenlivet 12 Year - We tried to pull a fast one on our guests by hiding the label when we poured.  There's a common misconception that all scotch is smoky, but not all distilleries dry their barley over peat fires.  Glenlivet doesn't have the smoky taste, but we had a whiskey afficionado in the room and he guessed it right away.  

High West Double Rye - I hauled this all the way back from the distillery in Park City, Utah and we served this last because it's a blended whiskey.  The 2 year-old rye has this spicy kick, while the 16 year-old rye has a mellow, caramel like flavor.  Together, it's like a whiskey party in a bottle.  

After the tasting, I did a cocktail demonstration.  Everyone should have a couple cocktail recipes in their arsenal and the two I selected have minimal ingredients and are just so delicious.  First, we made the Gold Rush, which has just 3 ingredients—bourbon, lemon juice and honey syrup.  Next, I showed everyone how to make a proper Old Fashioned.

Old Fashioned
  • 1 white sugar cube (sometimes, I use brown sugar cubes to mix things up a bit)
  • 1 tsp water
  • 3 dashes of Angostura bitters (you can also use other bitters flavors)
  • 3 oz bourbon or whiskey (I like making mine with the Bulleit Rye)
  • Orange peel for garnish
- Put the sugar cube in a glass, add the water and bitters and muddle that cube down.
- Add ice (I like to use my King Ice Cubes)
- Add the bourbon or whiskey and stir for about 30 seconds.
- Squeeze the orange peel over the drink and rub the outside part of the rind along the rim of the glass.
- Drop that orange peel in and enjoy!

After the cocktail demo, everyone was eager to whip up their own drink.  There was muddling, there was shaking, great conversation and plenty of laughter.  Everyone left feeling more empowered and knowledgeable about whiskey, and also made new friends.  And all five bottles were empty, so I'm pretty sure our first whiskey tasting was a smashing success.  

Apr 3, 2012

Beer-Braised Spring Onion, Asparagus & Herbed Goat Cheese Pizza

Libations used: 1/2 cup of beer
Libations left over: 1/2 bottle of beer, so polish it off while the onions are braising...
Last month's issue of Bon Appetit was all about a pizza, and it was perfectly timed to Jim Leahy's new book My Pizza: The Easy No-Knead Way to Make Spectacular Pizza at Home.  While I don't have the book, I do have his no-knead dough recipe, which is incredibly easy to make and calls for ingredients that one almost always has on hand (I bake a lot, so I always have yeast).  I had this recipe for Beer-Braised Spring Onion & Herbed Goat Cheese Focaccia Pizza on file for a while, so I decided to take a few ideas and make my own spring pizza using Jim's dough.  I added asparagus because it's in season and I need my veggies, and I also put a few birds...err, eggs on it!  I don't have a pizza stone, so I just put some parchment paper onto a baking sheet.

While I made this pizza allll for myself, I'll definitely bust this out for a Lush Chef brunch or easy-going dinner party.  The great thing about Jim's dough recipe is that it makes enough for 4 pizzas, so you can roll the leftover dough into balls, wrap in saran wrap and foil and store in the freezer.

Beer-Braised Spring Onion, Asparagus & Herbed Goat Cheese Pizza - serves 2-3

Ingredients for the dough:
  • 3 3/4 cups flour, plus a little extra for shaping
  • 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
  • 2 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • Cornmeal, for dusting
Ingredients for the pizza toppings:
  • 3-4 large spring onions, skins removed, cut in half and sliced thinly
  • 2 Tbs butter
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 1/2 cup lager beer (I used Stella Artois)
  • Salt & freshly ground pepper
  • 6 oz plain goat cheese
  • 2 Tbs fresh herbs (I used thyme, but you can use rosemary, basil or a combination)
To make the dough:
- Combine the flour, yeast and sea salt in a large bowl and mix with a wooden spoon.
- Pour the water over the mixture and combine thoroughly, using your hands to shape the dough into a ball.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it rise at room temperature for at least 18 hours, or until the dough has doubled in size.

To make the pizza:
- In a large pan, melt the butter and oil over medium heat.
- Add the onions and stir to coat, then turn heat down to low.
- Cover with a lid and cook for 1 hour, stirring halfway through.
- While the onions are cooking, finely chop the herbs.
- Crumble up the goat cheese and add to a bowl with the herbs, mashing with the bottom of a fork until well-combined.
- After 1 hour, remove the lid and turn the heat up to medium to cook off all the liquid.
- Once the liquid is gone and the onions start to get a caramel color, add the beer.
- Stir until the beer is gone, making sure you get all the brown bits off the bottom of the pan.
- Divide the dough into quarters.
- With one of the quarters, on a heavily-floured work surface, fold the right side toward the center, then the left, top and bottom.
- Turn the ball seam-side down on the work surface.
- Cup your hands around the sides of the dough and press it down towards the work surface and in a circular motion to shape it into a mound.
- Press down on the dough and gently stretch it to a 6-8 inch wide disk (I actually made mine a rectangle).  Continue to massage and stretch it out to 10-12 inches (don't smooth out the bubbles or blisters).
- Transfer your dough onto a pizza peel or if you don't have one, I just moved directly onto my baking sheet, lined with cornmeal-dusted parchment paper.
- Crumble the goat cheese on the dough and add the asparagus spears.
- Pop in the oven for 2 1/2 minutes (I actually needed to cook mine longer).
- Remove from oven and spread the onions on.
- Gently crack 3 eggs onto the pizza.
- Place in the oven for a minute or two, or until the eggs are cooked.
- Season with some salt and pepper.
- Slice it up and make sure you cut through the eggs when serving so everyone gets some of that delicious, runny yolk.