I’m finally telling you about the sweet potato, chard, and black bean recipe I hinted at a few weeks ago. I suppose I should actually say beet greens since that’s what I ended up using instead of chard. We got a week of constant rain at the end of March which sent the garden into a frenzy, meaning mostly that the weeds went crazy, but also that the beets took off. For some reason I just can’t bear to waste beet greens. They are a smaller, more tender version of chard and as a bonus, they come with a yummy root attached! Every time I pick beets I meticulously wash the beets and cut off all the good looking leaves to be cooked in anything I would usually use chard in. I’m not really sure why we even grew chard at all this year…

After making mole enchiladas last week, we found ourselves with about 3 cups of leftover mole sauce and a huge pile of beet greens to consume. Rick Bayless suggests using sweet potato and chard for a vegetarian mole enchilada option, and I decided to try that, with some black beans thrown in.

The enchiladas that resulted were (in my opinion) even better than the chicken mole enchiladas. They were flavorful and satisfying (not to mention colorful!) and made a great dish to take to friends’ house for dinner the other week.

You could also make this with just sweet potatoes and black beans. Similarly, you could use pumpkin or a winter squash instead of sweet potatoes, but sweet potatoes are just so much easier to prepare that I probably wouldn’t bother.

I have to say that it feels good to be amassing so many good vegetarian recipes. I think we’re at the point where we are only eating meat for dinner 2-3 nights a week and I often crave dishes with beans, eggs, or tempeh more than anything with meat. I’m not sure if I could ever make the full transition to being vegetarian, but, for now, eating mostly free range meat and less of it feels pretty good!

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Sweet potato, chard & black bean mole enchiladas
mole sauce from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen

Ingredients
2 medium sweet potatoes, diced
1 15 oz. can black beans, drained (not rinsed)
1 to 2 bunches swiss chard or beet greens, coarsely chopped
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
4 Tbsp olive oil
2 1/2 cups mole sauce (or store-bought mole sauce)
10 8-inch (or 15 6-inch) corn tortillas

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Stir chopped sweet potatoes with 2 Tbsp olive oil, salt and pepper, and spread onto an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet. Roast for 20 minutes and stir at least once to result in more even browning. Sweet potatoes should be soft and browned on at least one side.

2. Heat oil in large non-stick or cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook until translucent. Add greens and cook until wilted, stirring frequently.

3. Add the drained black beans and warm through. Then add the sweet potato and 1 cup of mole sauce. Stir to combine.

4. In Bayless’s cookbook, he has you warm tortillas and fill them with warm filling. Then after rolling them up, you top with more mole sauce and serve on individual plates. Since these had to sit for a while between when they were assembled and when we were eating, I assembled the enchiladas, placed them in a glass pan, spread on the remaining 1 1/2 cup of mole sauce, and then baked them, covered with aluminum foil for 30 minutes at 350 to re-warm them. It worked like a charm.

Mole sauce is probably my favorite Mexican food. Does sauce really count as a food? If not, then anything covered in mole sauce is my favorite Mexican food. If I go to a new Mexican restaurant and mole enchiladas are on the menu then that’s the first thing I try. Part of what makes it so enjoyable to eat at a restaurant is that I know it’s supposed to be complicated to make.

That’s why I was excited to see that my new cookbook by Rick Bayless had what he described as an easy mole recipe. Well, let me just tell you that after assisting Vicken in making this “easy” mole sauce, I now appreciate the mole I get out even more.

I’m not quite sure how it happened, but Vicken ended up taking charge of this dish. I made the poached chicken early in the afternoon and then Vicken started in on the sauce. About 3 hours later, dinner was served. Even though I wasn’t doing a lot of the prep work, I think it was at least an interesting process. It had a step involving grinding spices so Vicken got to use the mortar and pestle, which is pretty much his favorite kitchen tool ever. You also “get to” soak pan-toasted ancho chiles, blend stuff in a food processor, chop up Mexican chocolate, and then simmer even more stuff on the stove for a while! Yipee!

Finally, you add some of the sauce to shredded chicken and fill warmed corn tortillas and then pour more sauce on top. These enchiladas were good, but we agreed that we probably added a little too much sugar to the sauce at the end, so be careful with that. We had a lot of sauce left over, so when we used the rest I added most of a small can of spicy Mexican tomato sauce to the mole to balance out the sweetness. I think that did the trick for the most part. The next round of enchiladas we made with the mole sauce were even better, I think. That story’s coming soon, so stay tuned.

My final verdict on this recipe is that it’s worth making if you have most of an afternoon free and are looking for something adventurous to make. Given that it took 4+ hours to make though, I’m tempted to see how much better it is than something you can buy in a jar in the store. If it’s not much better and you’re going to be putting in a whole afternoon anyway, I might be tempted to try a harder, more authentic recipe, like the Teloloapan red mole recipe in the same Rick Bayless cookbook. Supposedly it takes at least a day to make. Suffice it to say that if I spend an entire day cooking you’ll hear about it here. It just may take a while for me to motivate for that…

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Simple Red Mole Enchiladas with Shredded Chicken
from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen

Ingredients
Poached Chicken
1 medium white onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon salt
4 bone in, skin on chicken breasts
2 bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram

Sweet-and-Spicy Ancho Seasoning Paste
8 garlic cloves, unpeeled
8 medium (about 4 ounces total) dried ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano, preferable Mexican
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
a big pinch cumin, preferably freshly ground
a scant 1/4 teaspoon cloves, preferably freshly ground
6 cups chicken broth (reserved from cooking chicken breasts)

3 tablespoons vegetable oil (or pork lard, if you’ve got it)
2 ounces (about 1/2 cup) whole almonds (with or without skins)
1 medium white onion, sliced 1/8 inch thick
1/4 cup raisins
5 ounces (1 small round or 2-3 plum) ripe tomatoes
a scant 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, preferably freshly ground Mexican canela
1/4 cup (about 1 1/2 ounces roughly chopped Mexican chocolate
2 slices firm white bread (or half a Mexican bolillo), toasted
salt, about 2 1/2 teaspoons, depending on saltiness of broth
1 tablespoon sugar
18 corn tortillas (plus a few extra in case some break)
a spoonful or two of sesame seeds for garnish (*We omitted this)
3 cups cooked, coarsely shredded chicken (from poached chicken recipe)

Directions
1. Poach chicken breasts and save broth.
In a large (6-quart) pot, bring 8 cups of water to a boil. Add the onion, garlic, carrot, salt, bay, marjoram, and chicken. Skim off any foam that rises after a minute or two. Simmer, uncovered, for 13 minutes. remove the pot from the heat and let the chicken cool for a few minutes (I left it for 10 minutes) in the broth.
Remove the breasts from the broth and set aside to cool. Strin the broth, discarding the solids and spon off any fat that rises to the top. (Refrigerate the broth, covered, for up to 5 days or freeze it for up to 3 months.) When the chicken breasts are cool, pull the meat off the bones in coarse shreds. Discard the skin and bones. The meat will keep covered and refrigerated for several days or frozen for a few weeks.

2. Make sweet-and-spicy ancho seasoning paste.
Roast the unpeeled garlic directly on an ungreased griddle or heavy skillet over medium heat until soft (thry’ll blacken in spots), about 15 minutes; cool and peel. While the garlic is roasting, toast the chiles on another side of the griddle or skillet: 1 or 2 at a time, open them flat and press down firly on the hot surface with a spatula; in a few seconds, when they crackle, even send up a wisp of smoke, flip them and press down tot toast the other side. In a small bowl, cover the chiles with hot water and let rehydrate 30 minutes, stirring frequently to ensure even soaking. Drain and discard the water.
Combine the oregano, black pepper, cumin and cloves in a food processor or blender, along with the chiles, garlic and 2/3 cup of the broth. Process to a smooth puree, scraping and sitrring every few seconds. If the mixture won’t go through the blender blades, add a little more liquid. Press through a medium-mesh strainer into a bowl.

3. From ancho seasoning to mole.
In a medium-size (4-qt) pot (preferably a Dutch oven or Mexican cazuela), heat 1 1/2 tablespoons of the oil or lard over medium. Add the almonds and cook, stirring regularly, until lightly toasted, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the almonds to a blender or food processor. Add half of the onion to the pan and cook, stirring frequently, until richly browned, about 10 minutes. Use the slotted spoon to scoop the onions in with the almonds, leaving behind as much oil as possible. (If needed, add a little more oil or lard to the pan, let meat, then continue.) Add the raisins, stir for a minute as they puff, then use the slotted spoon to scoop them in with the almonds.
Roast the tomatoes on a baking sheet 4 inches below a very hot broiler until blackened on one side, about 6 minutes, then flip them over and roast the other side. Cool, peel and add to the almond mixture in the food processor, along with the cinnamon, chocolate and bread. Add 1 cup of the broth and blend to a smooth puree, scraping and stirring every few seconds.
Return the pot to medium-high heat and, if necessary, add a little more oil or lard to coat the bottom lightly. When very hot, add the ancho mixture and cook, stirring almost constantly, until darker and very thick, about 5 minutes. Add the pureed almond mixture and cook, stirring constantly for another few minutes, until very thick once again. Stir in the remaining 4 1/3 cups of the broth, partially cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, over medium-low for 45 minutes. (**Note, you may need to leave the pot uncovered so that the mole reduces enough.) Taste and season with salt and sugar. (If you have never made mole before, season it until it’s slightly sweet–the sugar balances the strong flavors.)

4. Warming the tortillas.
Set up a steamer (with this many tortiallas, you’ll need 2 vegetable steamers set up in saucepans or a big Chinese steamer–either choice with 1/2 inch of water under the steamer basket); heat to a boil. Wrap the tortillas in 2 stacks in havy kitchen towels, lay in the steamer, and cover tightly. Boil 1 minute, turn off the heat and let stand without opening the steamer for 15 minutes.

5. Finishing the enchiladas.
Turn on the oven to the lowest setting and warm 6 to 9 plates in it. Toast the sesame seeds in a small skillet, stirring frequently, over medium heat until golden, 2 to 3 minutes. In a medium-size saucepan, combine the chicken with 1 1/2 cups of the mole and warm over medium heat. Bring the remaining mole to a simmer.
When you’re ready to serve, quickly make the enchiladas by scooping 2 generous tablespoons of chicken onto a tortilla, rolling it up and placing it on a warm dinner plate. Continue making enchiladas, arranging 2 or 3 per plate, then douse them liberally with the hot mole. Strew with the remaining sliced onion and sesame seeds.

*Advanced preparation* The finished mole will keep several days, covered and refrigerated; it also freezes well. Reheat, taste and adjust the seasonings before finishing steps 4 and 5.

I’m always disappointed when I try to stir fry tofu. I can never get it to absorb the flavors of a marinade and it’s never as crisp as I would like. Frustrated by this, I started asking my vegetarian friends for advice and got two useful tips: 1) buy a dense tofu (if you live in Davis, the Sacramento Tofu Company tofu that comes in a vacuum-sealed package works well) and 2) bake–rather than saute–it! This fall/winter Vicken and I took both pieces of advice to heart and found our new favorite way to prepare tofu.

You start by slicing the block of tofu in half and pressing it between paper towels to remove excess water. Then you slice it into bite sized pieces and place those in a baking dish. Next you make a marinade on the stove top and pour it over the tofu.

You can let the tofu hang out in the marinade for a few minutes, but i wouldn’t leave it too long. You want the tofu to take up the flavors of the marinade, but if it sits too long before baking the tofu will take up all the soy sauce and be too salty. Halfway through the baking time, I turn each piece of tofu over, rather than haphazardly stirring it. This is a little bit of a pain, but if you’re anal like me and want the tofu to be evenly browned, it’s worth it.


With this newfound cooking method, I began baking tofu for all kinds of things, including salads. I managed to not get totally sick of the quinoa salads I was making this summer and made a winter version to take on a climbing trip recently. I made it with tofu, broccoli and toasted almonds, but you could get creative and add whatever veggies you have on hand.


As the weather has gotten warmer recently, I have been dreaming about tomatoes and cucumbers and all the summer quinoa salads that are just around the corner! Before I can plant the summer garden I’ve still got quite a lot of beets, beet greens, chard, and carrots to eat. I just don’t know if I can take another week of cooked greens! On the off chance that you aren’t sick of them yet, you’ll be hearing about a good recipe involving greens, sweet potatoes, and black beans in an upcoming post! I’ll do my best not to put it off too long…

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Baked tofu
recipe from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home by The Moosewood Collective

Ingredients
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup dry sherry
1/6 cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 pound tofu
2 tablespoons peanut oil or vegetable oil

Directions
1. In a small saucepan, bring the marinade ingredients to a boil. Simmer for 1 minute and remove from the heat.

2. Cut the blocks of tofu into 1/2 inch slices, then cut the slices into 1 inch squares. Place the squares in a single layer in a nonreactive heatproof pan. Pour the marinade over the tofu squares, sprinkle on 2 tablespoons of oil, and set aside for about 5 minutes.

3. Preheat the broiler. Broil the tofu for 7 to 8 minutes, until lightly browned; then turn it over with a spatula and brown the other side (another 4-5 minutes). Remove from pan and set aside until ready to add to salad.

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Quinoa salad

Ingredients
1 cup quinoa
2 cups water

1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
pinch sugar
pinch salt
pepper

2-3 cups chopped broccoli
1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds
1 pound tofu, cubed and baked (see recipe above)

Directions
1. Combine water and quinoa in a saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Drain any excess liquid from quinoa and set aside to cool to room temperature. (You can make the quinoa ahead of time and refrigerate until you are ready to assemble the rest of the salad.)

2. Meanwhile, steam or blanch broccoli for 3-4 minutes, until it is tender, but retains its bright green color. Remove from heat immediately and put into a strainer. Run cold water over the broccoli for a few seconds to stop the cooking and then shake off excess water.

2. Combine olive oil, vinegar, garlic, sugar, salt and pepper in a jar and shake to combine. Pour the dressing over the quinoa and mix well. Add the broccoli and tofu and stir to combine. Top with the toasted almonds and serve immediately.

Our plot at the Experimental College gardens did really well this winter! I mostly have Mandi and Vicken to thank since they did most of the planting when I was busy in September. I did at least do some watering before the rains came in November. We got a lot of joy choi, chard, and cabbage in the fall. Recently we have been getting broccoli, carrots, beets, and still more chard. I picked these veggies just last week.


As we are harvesting these vegetables, the bees are busy pollinating flowers, some of which will become our summer fruits. I got a few shots of honeybees (and one carpenter bee!) on the flowering vine and rosemary in the front yard.



Check out the pollen load on this bee’s back!

I can’t help but call the bees adorable! Take a look at the flowers blooming where you are and see what you find! So far I have seen mostly honeybees, but this Xylocopa has been around for a few days and there was also a sweat bee here the other day. It’s nice to have a lot of “faces” to associate with the fruit you enjoy later in the summer!

My friend Mandi, who is an awesome baker, let me borrow her Dori Greenspan cookbook last fall and after getting overwhelmed by all the yummy possibilities, I settled on the blondie recipe to try. I love brownies, but there’s something about blondies…maybe it’s the butterscotch? or the coconut?…that makes them really special. Warmed up and topped off with vanilla ice cream–even better!

I ended up making these for a Halloween party–mostly for sustenance at the end of a long night of dance partying. Since it’s been so long since I made them I will let my photos entice you instead of my words.

It honestly took all the strength I could muster to not devour the dough at this point.

Honestly, it’s hard to see how you could go wrong with walnuts, coconut, butterscotch AND chocolate! I know a lot of us are in swim suit preparation/ climbing training mode, so this may not be the ideal time to try this recipe. HOWEVER, if you don’t try it soon, you should at least store the recipe away in your memory bank for next winter!

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Chewy, chunky blondies
from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dori Greenspan

Ingredients
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups (packed) light brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped into chips, or 1 cup store bought chocolate chips
1 cup butterscotch chips or Heath Toffee Bits
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut

Directions
1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F. Butter a 9×13 inch baking pan and put it on a baing sheet.

2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

3. Working with a stand mixer, preferrably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Add both sugars and beat for another 3 minutes, or until well incorporated.

4. Add the eggs one by one, beating for 1 minute after each addition, then beat in the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients, mixing just until the disappear into the batter. Using a runner spatula, stir in the chips, nuts and coconut. Scrape the batter into the buttered pan and use the spatula to even the top as best as you can.

5. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center of the blondies comes out clean. The blondies should pull away from the sides of the pan a little and the top should be a nice honey brown. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for about 15 minutes before turning the blondies out onto another rack. Invert on a rack and cool the blondies to room temperature right side up. (I kept them in the pan to keep them from drying out).

6. Cut into 32 bars, each roughly 2 1/2 x 1 1/2 inches.

In early February I made a short trip down to Todos Santos, Baja California, MX, to visit my friend Donna who is the artist who works with the art-science fusion entomology course I teach in the fall. Donna has made quite a career out of doing ceramic public art in California and all over the world. A few years ago she bought property in Todos Santos and has built an artist commune of sorts where she has had an artist retreat for two years called Heaven on Earth. This is one side of the little apartment we stayed in and some other photos.



It was one of the most relaxing vacations I’ve ever had. We spent a lot of time doing art in the studio–I painted and Donna worked on ceramic pieces for a fountain she is building. I did a painting from start to finish in just 5 days! I don’t think I’ve done that since high school. It definitely makes me want to do it more often. (Below: my painting and Donna and me in front of a whale statue her son made.)


Besides art, we did yoga, ran a local 5K race, went dancing, drank coffee, and ate lots of tacos, huevos rancheros, and other things involving tortillas. One night we got tacos from the “restaurant” next door to her house and I made salsa verde for them. Ideally I would have used roasted tomatillos, but the oven wasn’t working, so I opted for a fresh tomatillo recipe. Honestly, the fresh version wasn’t as good as the green salsas I had down there, but it was nice and zesty and super simple to make. I’m looking forward to trying the roasted version whenever tomatillos are around this summer!

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Salsa verde
from Mexican Everyday by Rick Bayless

I wanted to make the roasted version of this salsa, but the oven wasn’t working, so I opted for the fresh version instead. I included both recipes here.

Ingredients
8 ounces (5 to 6 medium) tomatillos, husked and rinsed
fresh hot green chiles, to taste (roughly 2 serranos or 1 jalapeno), stemmed
5 or 6 sprigs fresh cilantro (thick stems removed), roughly chopped
scant 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
salt

Directions
Whether you choose the verdant, slushy, herby freshness of the all-raw tomatillo salsa or the oil-colored, voluptuous, sweet-sour richness of the roasted version, tomatillos are about brightening tang. The buzz of the fresh hot green chile adds thrill, all of which adds up to a condiment most of us simply don’t want to live without.

For the All-Raw version:
Roughly chop the tomatillos and the chiles. In a blender or food processor, combine the tomatillos, chiles, cilantro and 1/4 cup water. Process to a coarse puree, then scrape into a serving dish. Rinse the onion under cold water, then shake to remove excess moisture. Stir into the salsa and season with salt, usually a generous 1/4 teaspoon.

For the Roasted version:

Preheat a broiler.

Roast the tomatillos and chiles on a baking sheet 4 inches below a very hot broiler until darkly roasted, even blackened in spots, about 5 minutes. Flip them over and roast the other side, 4 to 5 minutes more will give you splotchy-black and blistered tomatillos and chiles. In a blender or food processor, combine the tomatillos and chiles, including all the delicious juice that has run onto the baking sheet. Add the cilantro and 1/4 cup water, blend to a coarse puree, and scrape into a serving dish. Rinse the onion under cold water, then shake to remove the excess moisture. Stir into the salsa and season with salt, usually a generous 1/4 teaspoon.


After years of observations and careful analysis I have pin-pointed the major causes of my unproductiveness in grad school: perfectionism and its close relative, the fear of failure. And after a couple of days of wondering why I never write on this blog I realized it’s for the SAME REASONS! Namely, I want every picture of every step of the cooking process to be perfect and for each entry to be clever, poetic, or some other adjective to describe good writing. Well, the real kicker is that, although I’ve been really proud of some of my photographs, it’s really hard to get a nice picture when you don’t have great natural light, aka when it’s dark outside aka when most of us cook. So the only times I get “successful” photos is when I play hookie from school and cook in the afternoon or when I cook on the weekends.

Secondly, I rarely get a photo of the final product when I make something I’ve worked hard on or am really proud of because it’s either for a dinner party or it just disappears too fast. I always feel ridiculous pulling out my big camera in front of people to take pictures of food. I’m even shy about doing this around my roommates. Finally, while I’m a decent writer, I’m not particularly funny in writing. And I desperately wish I was. I mean, why else would anyone want to read this? It’s not like I’m a cooking expert with anything genius to say…

Well, I’ve decided to just get over all of this. I’m going to start writing posts with imperfect pictures and sometimes with very little text if I don’t have that much to say. My main goal over the next few weeks is to get out all of the back-logged posts (imperfections and all!) and share food that I like with whatever people read this. Hopefully there are a few of you…

Today for lunch I made these eggs poached in tomato sauce topped with grated pecorino romano cheese and served on toasted bread. I’ve been making this all the time ever since I found it on smittenkitchen.com about a month ago. It is my new favorite quick meal. It’s so wonderful because pretty much any tomato sauce will work. So you can follow the tomato sauce recipe below or use the leftover homemade mushroom pasta sauce like I did. It’s genius!!!

You’ll notice with this post that I didn’t take any pictures of the process of cooking this. If you want that, check it out here. In the meantime, I’m gonna keep gorging myself with tomatoes and eggs and relish in the flexible grad student lifestyle that allows me to do this on a Tuesday afternoon…

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Poached Eggs in Tomato Sauce
from the smitten kitchen, inspired there by Martha Stewart

This tomato sauce is pretty good, but if you have another tomato sauce (in a jar, or leftover from another meal) on hand, that will also work. Just reheat it in a sauce pan/ dutch oven and start at step 2.

Ingredients
1 can (14 ounces) tomato puree
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
Big pinch of sugar
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
Glug of red wine (optional)
4 large eggs
4 slices toasted country bread, for serving
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

Directions
1. In a small skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic and crushed red pepper; cook, stirring, until lightly browned, about 1 minute. Add tomato sauce and bring to a boil; season with sugar, salt and pepper. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 10 to 20 minutes minutes. A few minutes before it’s done, I like to add a glug of red wine and let it simmer for a moment.

2. Gently crack eggs into tomato mixture, cover, and let cook 4 minutes. Remove skillet from heat, uncover, and let stand 2 to 3 minutes.

3. Transfer each egg to a piece of toast. Spoon over sauce, garnish with cheese, and season with salt and pepper; serve immediately.