Favorite Breakfast

Whenever it is my husband’s turn to have his birthday breakfast he always chooses the same thing.

Eggs Benedict.

Of course, I don’t mind one bit because it’s one of my favorite breakfasts, too.

And even though it is just four ingredients (English muffin, ham, poached egg, hollandaise sauce,) I used to dread doing the poached egg part because I didn’t really like the poaching pan I had. It was kind of like this one:

When I was growing up my grandmother poached eggs a lot and she always used one of these pans and an egg timer – you know, the hourglass kind? So when it came time to poach eggs, that’s how I did it. But my non-stick pan was pretty sticky and the little egg cups were too small…so by the end of it there were egg whites overflowing everywhere and the eggs were nearly impossible to get out without breaking the yolks. Not fun.

So I threw the pan away.

This is much easier.


photo from Delia Smith/guardian.co.uk

I didn’t remember to take photos while I was poaching…but this is what it looked like. Doing it this way makes the whole Eggs Benedict process much, much easier.

You want a nice-sized pot of salted, boiling water. Once it is boiling, add a couple of TB of white vinegar. Then reduce the temperature to a very gentle simmer so you can add the eggs. I like to use a large soup ladle, but you can use a bowl or any small container, to gently place the eggs into the water one at a time. Let them float around and cook for 3-4 minutes and then remove with a large slotted spoon.

Let them rest and dry a little before plating them. One of the nice things about poaching is that it is a pretty healthy way to prepare an egg – no butter, no oil, no bacon grease. We’ll have to do something about that, of course…so, let’s talk about Hollandaise sauce!

Easily one of my favorite sauces.

A little bit of work. Yes. Yes. It is.

Now a traditional Hollandaise sauce starts with a reduction of white wine vinegar, shallots and peppercorns and sometimes white wine. However, I’ve seen plenty of recipes for this sauce that skip that reduction process entirely. Including Tyler Florence’s recipe. So feel free to skip that part if you aren’t particular about the sauce having all the authentic flavors…I mean, if it’s OK for Tyler, it’s bound to be OK for the rest of us, right?

This recipe is from one of my favorite kitchen resources, “The Professional Chef” by The Culinary Institute of America. At more than 1000 pages, it easily qualifies as one of my kitchen Bibles. Mine is 7th edition, but I believe there is an 8th edition out now. Good thing the classic stuff doesn’t change too much.

Hollandaise Sauce

1 TB chopped shallots

1/2 tsp cracked peppercorns

2 oz white wine (or cider) vinegar

2 oz water

4 egg yolks

12 oz clarified butter (or just melted will do)

2 tsp lemon juice (if you skip the reduction part of the recipe, do NOT leave out the lemon juice.)


white pepper

pinch of cayenne (optional)

Combine the shallots, peppercorns and vinegar in a small pan and reduce over medium heat until nearly dry. Add the water to the reduction and strain into a stainless steel bowl.

Add the egg yolks and set over gently simmering water. (If you have a double boiler, you can use that…or use a pot of simmering water – just make sure the water doesn’t touch the bottom of your bowl and that the water isn’t really boiling. You just want a lot of steam coming up from the water’s surface.)

Whisk eggs* constantly until they triple in volume and will fall in ribbons from the whisk.

Remove the cooked eggs from the water and gently ladle in the butter (preferably at about 145°) in a thin stream, whisking constantly. The sauce should begin to thicken. (If it gets too stiff you can add a little water to help the eggs absorb all of the butter.)

Add the lemon juice and salt/pepper to taste. Add cayenne if you like. Hollandaise is best used as soon as it is made.

*If I have a bottle of white wine open, I will also add a few tablespoons of wine to the egg yolks before the whisking begins. Which kind of makes it a hybrid between a Hollandaise and a Béarnaise. But, really, no one in my house is paying that much attention.

Hollandaise is considered one of the “mother sauces” and can be easily varied to make countless other sauces. So it’s a handy recipe to have in your repertoire. Here’s a great explanation of all the mother sauces.

If you fold in whipped cream you have a Mousseline Sauce. If you add orange juice and zest you have Maltaise Sauce. Béarnaise Sauce is basically a Hollandaise with tarragon and wine and chervil added to the process. And if you add about an ounce of tomato paste or tomato purée to a Béarnaise, then you have created a Choron Sauce. Goodness that’s a lot of sauces.

When the Hollandaise is finished, I poach the eggs and toast the muffins and warm the Canadian Bacon, assemble on plates, drown in the sauce and sprinkle with paprika or cayenne. Hmmmm, it just occurred to me that this meal is quite an international feast: ENGLISH muffins, CANADIAN bacon and a sauce which is reported to be FRENCH and DUTCH. I, for one, am very happy all these countries combined their efforts. YUM.


Birthdays – I have to share now!

I’m not so good at sharing, really.  I know I should be better at it and I should be modeling it for my boys…but it’s hard for me.

And now I have to share my birthday.

This little guy came along last year only 2 days before my birthday. So this year on my birthday I was in the kitchen cooking and baking and getting everything ready for his first birthday party (lucky for me I love that kind of thing, huh?) I’ve decided that I’m just going to take a break from my birthday for oh, about 17 years, and then I’ll pick back up where I left off. I think it is a great aging prevention plan. And then I don’t have to share.

We have a couple of birthday traditions in our family. The birthday breakfast, of course, which was quite cute with this little munchkin and his fiery pancake that he wasn’t too sure about.

Big brother had to help blow out the candle, but the birthday boy didn’t have any trouble polishing off that pancake. The kid can eat.

The other tradition is the birthday letter. They each have a journal and every year on their birthday I write a letter to them.

The Birthday Books

I got this idea from a photo album and a letter box made by Once Upon A Family. I loved both ideas and combined them in these journals.

Lincoln's First Birthday Book Entry

I don’t think I’ll be handing them over when the boys turn 21 as suggested on the website, but maybe when they are in their 30s…or 40s…however old they will have to be to appreciate something like this. Probably if/when they have children themselves?

Whitman's First Birthday Book Entry

And for Lincoln’s second birthday I asked everyone to please include a letter for him, too.  My grandmother is in her late 80s and she adores these boys in a way only a great-grandmother can. My youngest probably won’t be able to remember much about her when he’s older and the idea of having something from her, in her handwriting, seems really special to me. (I know, I know, boys generally don’t care about this kind of thing…but maybe someday when they are old like me!)

The other must-have for birthdays in our house is red velvet cake. It’s the only cake that will do. (The recipe is in this post, along with a bunch of cake stands I still don’t have.) It was a cowboy theme this year so the cupcakes were decked out in the appropriate western wear.

As regular readers know, I can’t bring myself to put anything but cream cheese frosting on a red velvet cake. And unfortunately cream cheese frosting is pretty horrible for decorating with…so, I try to keep it simple. Slap on the frosting, top it with a hat and be done with it.

Whitman was more interested in playing with the cowboy boots than eating his cake anyway! I think he took two bites and didn’t make nearly the mess the grandparents were hoping for. Oh well, maybe next year!

Still to come…the birthday food, my birthday celebrations – there were two! And a birthday gift which will be featured here regularly in the future. I know, I know, you just can’t wait. 😉


It is safe to say that birthdays are a “gather around the table” event. They are honored with gifts and hoopla, cemented in our memories with photos and, these days, if the parents are really irresponsible, they can even make a TV show about your birthday.

We haven’t gotten crazy with birthday parties in our house…but I do make birthday snacks to send to school.

A little muffin with your monster truck?

This year was all about monster trucks, including the red velvet cake and most of the gifts. These monster-topped snacks were actually applesauce muffins with a thick glaze instead of cakes with icing.  The chocolate sprinkles helped make them look a little more like regular cupcakes.

And, let’s see,  last year I sent little mice. These were really fun to make.

Mini chocolate cakes with white icing piped on…mini ‘Nilla Wafers for ears, M&Ms for eyes, a mini kiss for a nose and long chocolate sprinkles for whiskers.

Let’s talk about birthdays…not the food part, but the other part. The tradition and celebration part.

The older our boys get the more I think about how much we, as parents, are in control of their experiences and memories…that the traditions we create will be the background for their childhood memories and the launching pad for their own adult perspective. Several years ago I was taking a class at our church and the instructor told us about the birthday breakfast tradition in her family. After hearing her explanation, I realized it was genius and promptly stole it as my own.

Our first Birthday Breakfast in '08

Her reasoning for the family celebration happening at breakfast was that it becomes nearly untouchable. I mean, even when the kids are 16 and 18 and wanting to have parties with their pals and take trips…are you ever going to have to give up the family birthday breakfast? Probably not. Chances are good that’s a meal they’ll still have at home.

Birthday Breakfast in '09...getting fancier with the pancakes.

Breakfast is one of the easiest meals of the day, too…and it’s not a stretch to get most breakfast staples to feel like dessert.  Hello? Belgium waffles. French toast…  a la mode.   See?

Also, decorating is a snap because you can do it the night before and have it be a fun still-groggy-stumbling-into-the-kitchen surprise.

Birthday Breakfast '10 with monster truck pancakes, chocolate chip hubcaps.

And then really fast-forward to the years where there are girl/boyfriends involved, wives/husbands and kids of their own – chances are still good that the birthday breakfast tradition will continue, if they live close enough.  The instructor of that class was telling us about it because she had just had a birthday breakfast that morning with her oldest son and his wife and their three kids and she was so delighted the tradition was holding up.

A mom can hope, right??

Not so sure about this whole party thing...

We’ve extended the breakfast celebrations in our house to the adults, too. (Confession: I’m a more savory breakfast kind of girl, so I usually request eggs benedict instead of monster truck pancakes…but really as long as there is caffeine, I’m happy.)

So, I’d love to hear about other family birthday traditions…really, do tell. I’m not above stealing ideas from you, too.