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Friday, September 21, 2012

*which came first?

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OK, universe, I hear ya! It is not asparagus season any longer.

Unfortunately, I'm stubbornly stubborn, and this was the only dinner idea I had in my head—I don't have the luxury of thousands of post-work hours to be brainstorming and creating, so I did the requisite two trips to grocery stores to track down the elusive stalks.

And you can see the success was only slight—these are some decidedly peaked and sagging asparagus spears. The thicker ones at my Publix were all cracked and dried out, so I went with the pencil-thin variety, hoping they'd stay alive long enough for me to get them roasted. Which they did, but I humbly admit that I have learned my lesson: No more asparagus until spring, scout's honor.

Still I love this Easter-time combo, even when I try to pull it off in September: The secret is to do something I never do with traditional scrambled eggs, which is to add anything at all to them other than a little squirt of sriracha and some boursin (or other soft, herby cheese)—I say no cream, no milk, no salt. (I always add sriracha in lieu of salt, even when I'm serving eggs to toddlers. Just a little bit seasons things without even much discernible heat, but adds a depth of flavor that's more complex than plain old kosher.)

But here I did want the eggs to come out silky and soft and smooth, less "scrambled" than "coddled." That called for a little half-and-half and a naughty knob of butter. You want them to come together slowly, so it's best to employ a technique I learned from my old friend Gordon Ramsay: Put your pan over determined heat, but move it off and onto the heat source as things come together, letting the eggs cook with residual heat when possible. That will keep things smooth and creamy and guarantee that you don't overcook!

The chicken here is no rocket science—just lightly pounded out, sprinkled with your favorite seasoning (I used Tony Chachere's because that's what was in the pantry), seared in a grill pan, and finished off in the oven while the asparagus roasts. Easy peasy.

The quick grits are just that: cooked according to package directions, adequately seasoned (YES plenty of salt, NO butter), and globbed with your favorite cheese. (I used Gruyère here but might not again; it was slightly aggressive and a teensy bit too gluey. Sharp Cheddar is usually my go-to girl, and I probably should not have abandoned her.)

For someone who set out here with something slightly less than a plan, per se, this turned out to be something of a surprise, because everything was on the table in less than 30 minutes. That is what we call serendipity.

One question, though: Serving a meal with both chicken and eggs ... creepy or delicious?

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Roasted Asparagus and Eggs with Grilled Cajun Chicken and Cheesy Grits 

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed and lightly pounded
1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
2 bunches asparagus, trimmed
Olive oil
Kosher salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
1 cup quick grits
½ cup grated Gruyère or sharp Cheddar cheese 
8 eggs
½ teaspoon sriracha
2 tablespoons butter
¼ cup cream cheese, softened
¼ cup half-and-half
Garnish: chopped fresh chives

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Sprinkle chicken breasts evenly with Cajun seasoning on both sides. Place asparagus on a baking sheet; drizzle with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper to taste, tossing to coat. Brush grill pan with olive oil and heat over medium-high until hot. Add chicken; cook 2 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Remove chicken to a separate baking sheet. Roast chicken and asparagus 20 minutes or until asparagus is tender and chicken is cooked through.

2. Meanwhile, cook grits according to package directions. Stir in cheese and kosher salt to taste; cover, and keep warm.

3. Whisk together eggs and sriracha in a medium bowl. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat; add egg mixture, cream cheese, and half-and-half. Cook, stirring constantly, moving pan on and off the heat as necessary, until eggs are just cooked but not set. (Do not overcook.) Serve grits topped with chicken; spoon eggs over asparagus. Garnish, if desired. Makes 4 servings.

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I am a work in progress. I perpetually need a hair cut. I'm totally devoted to my remarkable nieces and nephew. I am an elementary home cook and a magazine worker bee. (Please criticize my syntax and spelling in the comments.) I think my dog is hilarious. I like chicken and spicy things. I have difficulty being a grown-up. Left to my own devices, I will eat enormous amounts of cheese snacks of all kinds.

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