Breakfast Ogre

Almost without exception (the exception being breakfast sausage), I love, love, love breakfast food.

I adore eating breakfast out.  The omelets and hash browns at Waffle House are the stuff of cheesy, carb-y dreams.  The crispy on the outside, creamy in the center French toast at Tra’Li at Brier Creek in Raleigh is more than delicious (The Kid really digs their traditional Irish breakfast, but once you put blood sausage on the plate,  my heart and appetite are broken).  In addition to perfectly cooked, creamy, rich eggs Benedict, Watts Grocery in Durham offers fresh churros with the best chocolate dipping sauce you’ll ever dunk into to.But, my very favorite breakfast experience, hands down, is a buffet.

The reason is simple.  I can eat fifteen or twenty different dishes at a buffet, without the judgy server, or the $75 breakfast bill that comes from ordering like a lumberjack with a hollow leg.  It’s heart breakingly frustrating to be limited to either French toast or pancakes because of the social stigma attached to life-threatening gluttony.

It just ain’t right.

And unless I plan on running seven or eight hundred miles a day or switching out all my clothes for caftans, sweat pants and elastic waists, giving rein to my darkest dining desires has to be a once-in-a-great-while occasion.

This is mine.  What are y’all eating?

But as every mother who’s worth her operator’s license will tell you (multiple times); “You gotta eat something!” “Do you wanna get sick?”  “Eat!  You’re breaking my heart”  “I’m cold! Put on a sweater!”

So, one needs to eat.  But ideally something that contains less than forty-seven thousand calories and doesn’t put you into a food coma for 3 days.

It may not sound exciting, but these days many of my breakfasts center around yogurt.

The thing is, traditional yogurt doesn’t move me.  In fact, I don’t really like it.I don’t know whether you’ve taken a gander in the dairy department lately, but we are living in the golden age of fermented moo juice.  Even in the smallest grocers your choices can easily number from 20-30.

There is fat-free, low-fat, and full fat.  Sweeteners from sugar, to honey, to lab created artificial supplements, and even no sugar in some savory versions.  Extra protein, gluten-free, even dairy free.  From organic yogurt from a goat named Gertrude to synthetic concoctions filled with Captain Crunch and Oreo crumbs.

And pretty much any flavor you can imagine is available for purchase

I like bigger flavors, like salted caramel and black cherry, which can cover any strong, yogurt-y tang.  And I always pick the chiffon-style.  Then I get to work tarting it up.The easiest and quickest way to do this is to have the dairy act as a dip for graham crackers.  Most of the time, though, I really get busy with it.I add fresh blueberries for brightness.  I add dried fruit for chewiness, and pecans for crunch.  I then stir in a tablespoon or so of chia seeds because they swell up when they sit in the fridge for a half hour.  Once activated, they’re just like tapioca, and I love the gelled pop they add.

Some of the factory fancified yogurt varieties can have up to 500 calories, so I steer clear—if I want that many calories, I’ll spend it on a stack of 15 or 20 pancakes, drenched in butter and syrup.But Chobani has something called “Simply 100 Crunch”.  The peach cobbler tastes like fresh, ripe peaches, only contains 100 calories, and shockingly, includes real peaches.

So, I’ve never owned a pair of yoga pants, The Kid has never played soccer, and I don’t drive a mini-van.  But gosh darn it, I can get behind some frou frou, fancy-schmancy yogurt.Oh yeah, ogre?  That’s how The Kid used to pronounce yogurt.

Oh yeah, ogre?  That’s how The Kid used to pronounce yogurt.

No that’s an ogre I can get behind.  Except for that damn black (blood) pudding.

Thanks for your time.

Hey jalousie

Jalousie is a French word, meaning louvers.  It’s also the technical name of this week’s dish.

But I have given it an American twist, used my writer’s prerogative, and renamed it.

This new recipe is now called “Saloon Doors”.

I learn the oddest and most arcane things writing these essays each week.  I should rent myself out for trivia games.  For today’s topic I did a little research on those swinging louvered doors festooning saloon entrances in Western movies.

And discovered they’re pretty much a Hollywood invention.

Think about it, having half doors swinging in the wind would have been a horrible idea for someplace like Montana in January.  And using those doors would have left no manner of securing the saloon when closed—which it did for at least a few hours every day (Miss Kitty needs her sleep, y’all).

But they make for very dramatic entrances of black-hatted villains and white-hatted heroes into the saloon and thus Tinsel Town has implanted them irrevocably into our collective psyche.

Anyway, back to my own, edible, clichéd, saloon doors.  The recipe calls for puff pastry, manipulated, stuffed and baked.  So once you know the procedure, you can fill it to your taste and occasion.  As a jumping-off place I’ll give you four ideas for filling; breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert.  Where you go from there is up to you.

This recipe is made with frozen puff pastry, found in most supermarkets, and made by layering dough with butter, rolling, and refolding, countless times.  This gives it up to a thousand layers.  The water in the butter evaporates while baking.  This produces steam which gives the puff.

I offer a few pieces of advice.  Try to purchase all-butter pastry; it tastes and cooks better.  Let it thaw overnight in the fridge, or if not possible, on the counter until it can be unfolded and worked.  If you seal the edges, you will not get left.  So don’t get egg wash on them; it’ll glue them shut.  When cutting; cut, don’t press.  When sealing the two pieces, be gentle.  Egg wash, then cut the slats, so the steam can escape.

Saloon doors

(Makes 2 complete pastries)

2 sheets puff pastry, thawed

1 egg, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 425.

Cut each sheet in half.  Lay out two pieces on parchment-lined cookie sheet.  Spread filling on each, leaving a ¾ inch border.  Brush beaten egg on naked border.  Fill. Top each piece with the other sheet.  Lightly press border to seal.  Brush egg on top layer.  Leaving ¾ inch border, cut 1-inch horizontal slats down the length of each piece.

Bake at 425 until the pastry begins to brown and puff.  Lower oven to 375 and bake until dough is dry, crisp and deep golden-brown.

Slice and serve.  Makes 4-6 servings.

Breakfast Filling:

breakfast door

Scramble 10 eggs.  Season.  Cook 6 slices bacon until crisp. Spread eggs onto bottom sheets of pastry, leaving ¾ inch border.  Sprinkle on crumbled bacon and chopped fresh parsley.  Top with pinched off pieces of goat or Boursin cheese.  Cover with second piece, brush with egg wash, and cut slats, leaving border.

Bake according to directions above.

Lunch:

lunch door

Sauté leeks and mushrooms until browned and dry.  Spread on pastry.  Sprinkle on julienned prosciutto.  Using a potato peeler, scrape ribbons of Parmesan cheese over top.  Lay on top pastry, prepare, and bake.

Dinner:

dinner door

Spread thin layer of pesto on bottom of sheets.  Cover with shredded rotisserie chicken.  Dot with sun-dried tomatoes and mozzarella cheese bits.  Finish and bake.

Dessert:

dessert door

Spread half of a jar of black cherry preserves on each sheet.  Cut one 8-ounce block of cream cheese into small squares.  Top preserves with cream cheese, and dot with toasted, chopped pecans.   Cover, finish, and bake.  Sprinkle cooled tart with powdered sugar, and serve with whipped cream, or ice cream.

These are easy, but look impressive.  If you often have unexpected guests, it’s not a bad idea to keep a box of puff pastry in your freezer.  You could fill them with anything that you have on hand.  And when you carry out one of these puppies they’ll be so fancy looking, you’ll make Martha Stewart look like a slacker.

Thanks for your time.

Nutritional bang for your buck

I adore breakfast food.  All of it: eggs, carbs dripping with butter and syrup, processed meats, everything.breakyBut, I absolutely cannot face the thought of bellying up to the breakfast bar the moment I roll out of bed.  It makes me queasy to even think of food then.  I think my stomach wakes up much slower than the rest of me.

So often my breakfast is almost at lunch time.

In the spirit of total honesty, I have to confess though that some days I fall far short of nutritional excellence and my meal is sorely lacking.  But frozen yogurt and lattes both have calcium.  Right?  Right?

It’s an inconvenient bit of truth, but even though two foods might, on paper, have the same amount of calories, in reality they don’t.Think about it.  Say you drink a 200 hundred calorie latte.  Although you get a tiny bump of calcium, it really is nutritionally empty and your body can digest it in mere minutes.

But say that instead you have 200 calories of oatmeal made with skim milk, and studded with dried fruit and nuts.

Just off the top your body has to work much harder and longer to digest this meal.  It also contains complex carbohydrates, fiber, and protein.  It fuels your body, and you will feel full for hours.  Full enough to walk right past that vending machine.So, this week I have some suggestions for quick meals that will fill you up, be better for you, will be much more satisfying, and make you feel much more virtuous.

Quick, homemade meals:

Hot cereal- Oatmeal, Cream of Wheat, grits, or even something like hot Grape Nuts are all terrific.  You can make them sweet with additions like honey or maple syrup, then stir in nuts, seeds, and fresh or dried fruit.  Also don’t be afraid to add things like cocoa powder, vanilla and spices.

But hot cereal is also very tasty when you go in a savory direction.  Try topping it with things like caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms, and sundried tomatoes.  Nuts work well here too.  Then you can perk it up even more with hot sauce, cheese, horseradish, and herbs.  Maybe top it off with a poached egg.Toasts and sandwiches:

First, get rid of that spongy white bread-like substance that they sell in plastic bags.  Then get to know multigrain.  The labels can be confusing, and manufacturers can be deceptive, so either buy it at a bakery so that you can talk to the baker and learn how it was made, or purchase products that say “100% whole grain”.

You can fill that healthy platform with anything that tickles your fancy.  Smashed avocado, scrambled egg, peanut butter and sliced apple, even a grilled cheese that you stuffed with some tomato and fresh greens.  How about tuna mixed with hummus?

Smoothies: Buy various frozen fruits, leafy greens, and maybe some low fat Greek yogurt. Throw different combos into your blender until you find a recipe that you like.

Store-bought, but pretty healthy:

Tacos:  Gosh, I love the fact that tacos can be on this list.

Yes, tacos can be fatty, nutritional nightmares.  But done right, they can be downright good for you.  Leave off the cheese and sour cream—dress with salsas only.  Then fill with grilled or roasted meat, and raw veggies.  I wouldn’t go for more than two for lunch though, no matter how tasty they may be.

At the deli:  Clear soups and lightly dressed salads are both good choices.

In addition, sandwiches can be a wise choice as long as it’s on whole-grain bread or wraps.  Grilled meat is better than cold cuts.  Raw veggies can be eaten with impunity.  And everybody knows that regular mayo isn’t great.  But be careful with mustard, too.  Some are chock full of sodium and/or fat.

The biggest thing to remember when eating out is to watch that serving size.  At most places, a single serving is enough for two—meals or people.  Either take home half in a doggy-bag or think about possibly ordering the child’s size.So, become mindful of what you put inside your body.  That way, you can have that second cookie before bed.

Thanks for your time.

 

Winning Black Friday

So Thanksgiving dinner has been served, eaten, and cleaned up.  Most of the relatives have gone home, and you’re reclining, semi-comatose, on the sofa.  Then Aunt Minnie from Altoona begins talking about Christmas shopping, and she Wants.To.Start.Tonight.

You’ve got a few options.

#1-Get up and toss her, Uncle Jasper, Cousin Viola, their luggage, and their 3 yappy, incontinent dogs outside, lock the door and turn off the lights.

#2-Get up, put on your shoes and jacket, and take them for 4 or 5 hours of bruising, shoulder-to-shoulder turkey night shopping.

#3-Get up, program their GPS for the best local retail Mecca, put some good music on in the kitchen, and while they’re gone get some relaxing, solitary prep done for tomorrow’s breakfast.

If you pick #3, I’ll guide you through the almost Zen-like process.  It’s simple and low-key, kind of a cool-down exercise from the earlier frenzy.

My breakfast menu consists of scrambled eggs, easy homemade hash browns, fall porridge, and awesome, delicious brown sugar pecan scones.

I made up this first recipe just this morning, for my own breakfast.  It was hella good and kept me full for hours.

Start with the hot cereal.  Any type will work, from instant oatmeal to slow-cooked grits (I used Special K Nourish).  What makes it special is this topping.  You can make fruit and cereal tonight, and heat them up in the microwave before service.

Harvest porridge

4 unpeeled pears, cored and cut into ½ inch cubes

¼ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons maple syrup or brown sugar

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ cup chopped almonds

½ cup golden raisins

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat non-stick skillet and melt butter.  Put in everything except raisins and vanilla.  Cook on medium.  When the pears and almonds are browned, add raisins and vanilla, and stir ‘til hot. Spoon onto hot cereal.  Serves four.

     My dad loves them, but I never understood scones.  They’re not quite muffins, not quite biscuits.  They just seemed dry and weird.  That was before I tasted Chef Jason Cunningham’s brown sugar pecan scones at the Washington Duke (3001 Cameron Blvd, Durham).  They’re neither dry nor weird.  Flaky and tasty, these are what scones are supposed to be.  Thanks to Chef Jason for the recipe.

Make these the night before up to the refrigeration stage, and bake them off in the morning.

Brown Sugar Pecan Scones

Yield 18

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup cake flour

2/3 cup light brown sugar

2/3 cup Butter

1 Tbl baking powder

Pinch Salt

1 large egg

½ cup whipping cream

½ cup orange juice

¼ cup chopped pecans

1 Tbl vanilla extract

Combine all-purpose flour and baking powder and mix thoroughly. Reserve.

Cream butter in a stand mixer until soft. Add brown sugar, salt and vanilla and cream until fluffy.  Add eggs and beat until fully incorporated.

Add cake flour and combine and then add the orange juice. Add half of the all-purpose flour mixture and mix until just incorporated.  Add the cream, incorporate and then the remainder of the flour mixture along with the pecans.

Do not over-mix! Once all ingredients are incorporated, wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate.

Once dough is thoroughly chilled, place on a floured work surface and roll to approximately ½ inch thickness. Cut into triangles.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake approximately 12-20 minutes until golden brown.

     These hash browns are so simple you can quickly make them in the morning.  It’s the only way I make them anymore.

Homo habilis hash browns

In a non-stick skillet melt 2-3 tablespoons butter.  Grate 1 unpeeled potato per diner directly onto melting butter.  Grate in about 2 teaspoons yellow onion per potato.  Salt and toss to mix.  With spatula, flatten in pan and cook on medium until golden-amber around edges (8-10 minutes).  Put plate on top of pan and carefully flip onto plate, cooked side up.  Slide back into pan and cook other side, 6-8 minutes.  Slice into wedges, and serve.

     You can go through all this, or do what I do.  Go to someone else’s house for dinner, go home and do most of your holiday shopping online in your pajamas, then sleep in on Friday.

Good luck, and happy Thanksgiving.

Thanks for your time.