An integral part of the Passover meal, and part of Easter's promise, the egg is a constant fascination to me. It is impossible to crack by just squeezing it in one's fist, strong enough to balance a car on it for a publicity stunt, but its shell can smash while carried home in an egg carton, and woe to anyone who has to clean up a broken egg from the floor - it is recalcitrant and takes several paper towels.

How to hard cook and peel an egg is an endless discussion with cooks, particularly when they all don't peel perfectly.

It's important to remember that commercial eggs haven't seen each other before they got in the carton together; no doubt they met rolling down a conveyor belt of thousands of eggs, were fed differently, and from many different hens. So don't expect them all to peel the same way. Farm eggs are more predictable. Their owners know their hens' idiosyncrasies, and can identify both egg and hen, as well as the proclivities of both. Their color has nothing to do with their cooking and peeling capabilities.

Farm-fresh eggs also are not coated with food-safe wax as commercial ones are. The wax is to protect the egg for the consumer, but when it comes to peeling eggs, it makes it harder. Adding a bit of baking soda to the water when cooking a farm-fresh egg aids the peeling considerably as it increases the alkaline. (While adding vinegar to the water helps set the color of a dye and also coagulates eggs, it makes them more difficult to peel.)

As eggs age, they also become more alkaline, which makes peeling cooked ones easier. They also shrink, leaving a greater vacuum between the shell and the egg, which again makes peeling easier. (The membrane and the shell are evident at the top of the egg when a hard-cooked egg is peeled.)

Working in the kitchen with Joe Yonan, food editor of The Washington Post, as he made Kimchee Deviled Eggs from his latest book, he was totally confident of egg-peeling. His trick is to cook, cool immediately in ice water, crack it slightly in the middle of the side, pull a piece of shell off the side, then to put it back in ice water before peeling it under ice water or running water. The water slides under the shell and releases it from the membrane, he says. For him, not necessarily for me.

Cookbook author and restaurateur Gale Gand cooks her eggs just six minutes after it comes to a boil, then pours the water out and replaces it with cold water and lets the eggs sit in the water before peeling.

A few specific tricks

Store the eggs, small end up, for 24 hours to center the yolk, particularly for fresh eggs. The Georgia Egg Council's preferred method suggests piercing the top of the egg with a thumb tack or needle before cooking, rolling the eggs gently with a metal spoon in a pan several times as the water comes to a boil. Once at a boil, the council recommends turning the water down to a simmer for 11 minutes, and leaving the eggs in the water covered for 15 minutes after the pot is removed from the heat.

My method is to add the pierced eggs one by one, gently tipping off the side of a large slotted spoon into boiling water to cover. Roll the eggs briefly to center the yolks. Simmer 11 minutes. Remove the eggs to ice water to cool. Drain. Tap the top of each egg on the counter. Roll on the counter to crack the shell. Under cool running water, start peeling at the large end to catch the air bubble. Pull off the shell, working down to the tapered end. Cook more eggs than needed for special times in case they don't all peel.

Kimchi Deviled Eggs

Makes 1 dozen

I'm in love with the combination of kimchi and eggs, and these came to me when I was looking for a flashy appetizer to take to an author event at the Smithsonian. But they became a standby in Maine when I had abundant access to fresh eggs but no one in the house to share them with, since my sister and brother-in-law had decided to go vegan. This recipe depends on the use of good kimchi, so either make (your own) or buy the best you can find, probably at an Asian market. These can be refrigerated, covered, for up to 2 days, but are best eaten within a few hours of being made. - Joe Yonan

Ingredients

6 eggs, preferably at least a week old, at room temperature

3/4 cup high quality kimchi, preferably spicy

1/4 cup cream cheese

Sea salt

Sriracha

Directions

Prick each egg just barely through the shell on the rounded end, using an egg pricker or a thumbtack.

Bring a medium saucepan full of water to a boil. Reduce the heat so that the water is at a simmer. Use a slotted spoon to carefully lower each egg into the water and to stir them frequently for the first minute or so of cooking. (This helps set the yolks in the center.)

Meanwhile, pour 4 cups of water into a large bowl and stir in 1 or 2 cups of ice.

Cook the eggs for 11 minutes, then transfer them to the ice water. As soon as you can handle the eggs, reach into the water and crack them all over, keeping them in the water. Remove them one at a time and remove a large piece of the shell at the rounded end, where an air pocket should be, then return them to the water. (This helps water get between the egg and the shell for easier peeling.) Remove one egg at a time, slip off the rest of the shell, and return it to the water as you continue peeling.

Transfer the peeled eggs to a countertop, and slice each one lengthwise in half. Pop out each yolk half with your fingers into the bowl of a food processor or blender, and set each white on a serving platter.

Drain and gently squeeze the kimchi of its liquid and finely chop it. Add 1/2 cup of the kimchi and all the cream cheese to the food processor or blender and puree until smooth. Taste, add salt as needed, and add Sriracha a little at a time if you want it to be spicier.

Use a teaspoon to carefully fill each egg white half with the kimchi mixture, mounding it on top. (Or, if you want to be fancy, spoon the filling into a pastry bag fitted with a decorative tip, or a plastic ziplock bag with one corner cut off, and pipe it onto each egg white half.) Finely chop the remaining 1/4 cup of kimchi and sprinkle it on top of the eggs. Squirt a few drops of Sriracha on each egg.

Refrigerate the stuffed eggs for at least 1 hour, covered, so the cream cheese firms up, and serve.

- From Joe Yonan's "Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook" (Ten Speed Press, 2013)

Quail eggs

I fell in love with quail eggs when I first met them, when Paul Pruhomme fixed them for a dinner in the late 1970s. Their intense flavor and small size beguiled me. To my delight, they could be cooked in the same ways chicken eggs could be. I particularly love them sunny-side up, because they are so, well, cute. They take just minutes to cook, and are said to be healthier than chicken eggs. The largest U.S. producer of quail eggs is South Carolina's Manchester Farms.

Not only do their shells have colorful patterns, they make fabulous deviled eggs, just perfect for one bite. They are a little tougher to crack than chicken eggs because they are capable of being moved around in the wild. A little egg-cracker, much like a cigar clipper, is available in Asian grocery stores and speeds the process along.

For a perfect hard-cooked quail egg, add them to boiling water with a pinch of baking soda. Reduce heat and cook 5 minutes before removing and immersing in ice water. They peel quite easily with the egg cracker starting them off, as they are not waxed.

To purchase quail eggs from Manchester Farms, they encourage you to contact their office for assistance. Local independent markets like Provisions by Sandy Creek in Columbia or The Farm Store in Sumter stock the eggs regularly. You also may purchase directly from Manchester Farms in Columbia as a walk-in customer, or have eggs shipped to your home.

With a little information from the customer, Manchester Farms can usually achieve a source to stock the eggs in an area. Their eggs are in distribution under other labels as well, such as D'Artagnan, Leblon Foods, and Jong's Egg Ranch, and you may find those products in the marketplace as well.

Contact Manchester Farms at 8126 Garners Ferry Road, Columbia, SC 29209, by phone at (803) 783-9024 or 1-800-845-0421 or their website www.manchesterfarms.com.

Eggs for brunch

If brunch hadn't already been invented, I would have had to do it. When the grandchildren visit, it becomes a main meal. They insist they only sleep in because it is so quiet in the guest room; at any rate, breakfast becomes brunch most days they are here. A holiday brunch is quite a different matter, demanding a full and proper meal rather than catch-as-catch-can.

I searched around for a new and different egg dish that would appeal to them and Gale Gand sent me a few from her new brunch book, "Gale Gand's Brunch," published by Clarkson Potter. It fits my main criteria for brunch, an uncivilized meal for night owls, because it is make-ahead.

My idea of a perfect brunch is sliced oranges or strawberries in a light caramel sauce or tossed with a little sugar, Biscuits with plenty of jam, crisp bacon or well-browned sausage links, and something eggy and delicious, plenty of time, and for the hip and able to drink in the morning crowd, perhaps a Strawberry Shrub. For the rest of us, maybe some home-squeezed orange juice?

(A tip for bacon: The easiest way to cook bacon for a crowd is to spread bacon out on a rimmed baking sheet and bake it in a 400 degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes, checking occasionally and turning once, as well as pouring off the fat when necessary. Drain and pat with paper towels before serving.)

When relatives are staying with us, sometimes I want to serve French toast but I want to prepare it the night before so all I have to do is wander down in the kitchen, preheat the oven and pop it in ... and then steal 60 more minutes of sleep. This is the recipe I use for that. I also love it because it uses up all those questionable apples in my fruit drawer. You have those too, don't you? Please tell me you do.

Apple and Cinnamon Baked French Toast

Serves 8

Ingredients

6 medium apples or ripe pears

2 tablespoons butter, cut up

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

8 slices of thick sliced white bread, sometimes called Texas Toast

8 eggs

1/2 cup sugar

3 1/2 cups milk

1 tablespoon vanilla

Directions

Peel, core and slice the apples into 1/4-inch thick slices. Heat the 2 tablespoons of butter in a saute pan until it starts to foam. Add the apples and cook them till tender, about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Set aside.

Pop the bread in the toaster to toast them a little. Cut them in half, corner to corner, to make triangles. Butter a 9x13-inch baking dish, then lay the bread triangles in the pan overlapping.

In a bowl beat the eggs, then mix in the 1/2 cup of the sugar, the milk and vanilla to make a custard. Pour the custard over the bread triangles. Spoon the apples over the top of the bread. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

The next day preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Take the cover off the baking dish and bake for 50-60 minutes until the custard it set and doesn't shimmy when you shake the pan. It will puff up and brown slightly. Remove it from the oven and allow it to rest for 10 minutes before serving. Serve in squares or large spoonfuls with honey butter or maple syrup.

-Recipe adapted from "Gale Gand's Brunch"