Come for Breakfast
by Tarla Fallgatter
One of my favorite memories is le petit dejeuner at Le Notre in Plaisir outside Paris. I was attending a week-long pastry class that began at 8:30 a.m. Every morning between 8:00 and 8:30, students would arrive and pick up fresh fruit, warm croissants and butter from Normandy to enjoy with delicious café au lait. Students and instructors alike would gather at different tables, sharing conversation and "breaking bread" together while enjoying this simple meal—it was really a great way to make friends.
The first meal of the day is meant, as the word itself says, "to break the fast," but even so, breakfast is a much-neglected meal. All too often during the week it consists of a quick bowl of corn flakes and a hasty cup of coffee. So, when all the family are at home on the weekend, you have guests, or you are celebrating a special occasion, why not turn breakfast into a social time?
Breakfast means many things to many people. It may be nostalgia for the ample breakfast of a rural New England or Midwestern childhood, or the remembrance of a true Southern breakfast. It may be the intense pleasure at the smell of bacon wafting through the house, or the desire to drink one's coffee and read one's paper in utter peace.
Not only people, but nations too, feel differently about breakfast. The people of cold Northern Europe, in Norway, for example, eat large, substantial breakfasts of fish, meats and cheese—a veritable smorgasbord. A Spanish farmer, on the other hand, may content himself with a bowl of soup, or a piece of bread and sausage. Frenchmen invented one of the most delicious of all breakfast breads, the flaky, buttery croissant. Italians choose black coffee or cappuccino, and perhaps a quick brioche. The Egyptians eat Fuul Mudamma (a cooked bean dish) as their morning staple. The Israelis set out a huge buffet, which includes yogurt, fish, radishes, turnips and other vegetables, eggs and cheese each morning. The Japanese traditionally eat rice and miso (fermented soybean soup) to start their day. The Swiss, Germans and Austrians drink their Milchkaffee, coffee with hot milk, and eat fresh rolls, butter and jam, and perhaps a slice of sausage. The English appear to take the prize for the most ambitious breakfast, with hot porridge followed by bacon, sausage or even kippered herring, and grilled tomatoes with eggs.
But breaking the fast is not the only function of breakfast. Nutritionists stress that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. To be a good breakfast, the meal should be high in protein. The reason: protein is essential for building and maintaining healthy bodies and is best utilized when distributed throughout the day. In addition to protein, a good breakfast should contain from one fourth to one third of all the other food values needed daily: carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals. Once upon a time, steak, fried potatoes and apple pie launched Americans on their hardworking days. Today the typical morning meal has become orange juice, bacon and eggs, or cereal, buttered toast and jam, and milk or coffee. But there is no law that says this menu must be served morning after morning. In fact, where indifference to breakfast is a problem, variety may be the answer, and it is up to the cook to provide it. Remember that any food enjoyed at lunch or dinner can be served at breakfast, too. (My daughter loves leftover rice for breakfast!)
A simple bowl of perfect berries or half a sweet grapefruit broiled for a moment or two can be enough to please any breakfast lover. A melon garnished with fresh mint leaves, fresh, succulent figs with raspberries and goat cheese, a plate of berries and sliced fruit garnished with edible flowers and sprigs of herbs are perfect ways to begin breakfast. The most important thing to remember about serving fruit for breakfast is to pay attention to the seasons. Summer is the time to eat a wide variety of naturally ripened fruit. In fall and winter, pears, apples or dried fruit can be deeply nurturing.
However, if you prefer your fruit as juice, orange juice is a great choice. In many homes pre-squeezed orange juice has superseded fresh-squeezed juice, with frozen concentrate the leading replacement. If you love fresh-squeezed juice, invest in a good juicer to make life easier on yourself. While frozen orange juice concentrate is comparable to fresh juice in vitamins and minerals, it does lack the native fruit enzymes. And, if allowed to defrost before preparation, the vitamin C content dissipates. If you are using frozen orange juice concentrate, make sure you are getting the real thing. Do not be persuaded by brands that profess to "taste more like the real thing" while they are actually adulterated with sugar and chemicals.
If any single food signifies breakfast it is the egg. If you have access to fresh, farm-raised eggs, by all means use them. Certainly no other food is as versatile. The number of eggs you serve to one person depends on the content of the rest of the meal and the size of the eggs. If the menu is principally the egg dish, use two large eggs per person. If several foods are on the menu, two medium eggs are sufficient. If the menu is abundant, one large egg will suffice. Typical egg dishes include eggs benedict, poached eggs on toast, huevos rancheros, shirred eggs, scrambled eggs, omelets with herbs, filled and folded omelets, frittatas, soufflés, quiches and crepes, to name just a few.
Meals in a Bowl
Never think of cereals as humble. They can be as delicious as caviar and as healthy as sunshine. All grains can be made into hot cereals. There are three basic ways to eat them: raw, with water or milk; slightly cooked by pouring boiling water over them and letting them sit a minute; or as porridge, cooked slowly in simmering water. Read the packaging for cooking instructions—some grains are precooked and need little additional cooking; others, like whole-wheat berries, take hours.
There are plenty of ways to prepare and serve hot cereals. You can cook different cereals together for variety; you can serve them with butter, with maple syrup or brown sugar, with applesauce stirred in, with fresh fruit, with raisins and other dried fruits, with nuts or granola—the possibilities are endless.
Oatmeal and Oats
Oats make perhaps the best hot cereal because they have more protein than most grains, as well as a high fat content. Porridge made with oatmeal is extremely filling. Gruel is one oatmeal dish that sounds pitiful and frugal to us, but it was an old-fashioned curative that was supposed to do all kinds of wonderful things for a person.
In this country, almost all the oats we eat are rolled oats—steam-treated oats rolled into flakes. You will find regular and quick-cooking kinds in the supermarket. The only difference between the two is the thickness of the oat flake—regular rolled oats are thicker flakes than the quick oats.
Try toasting oatmeal before cooking it. Spread the oatmeal out on a baking sheet and toast the flakes until they are dark golden. Cook then in the usual way. Toasting the oats gives them a tasty, nutty flavor.
Tarla's Favorite Granola
4C rolled oats
3/4C firmly packed brown sugar
3/4C unprocessed bran
3/4C natural wheat germ (not toasted)
1/4C raw sunflower seeds
1/4C vegetable oil
6 Tbsp. honey
1 tsp. vanilla
1C golden raisins
4C fresh fruit, cut up
1 quart milk
Preheat the oven to 325ºF. Stir together the oats, sugar, bran, wheat germ, walnuts and sunflower seeds.
In a small pan heat the oil, honey and vanilla until bubbly. Thoroughly mix the oil mixture into the oat mixture, spread on a cookie sheet and bake 15 to 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes with a metal spatula to keep the granola browning evenly. Remove the pan from the oven and stir in the golden raisins. Let cool completely. Store in an airtight container.
To serve: Spoon the granola into a bowl or glass, add milk and top with fresh fruit.
Griddlecakes and Waffles
The use of the griddle and waffle iron dates back to the early days of cookery when fuel was scarce. Both griddlecakes and waffles provided a hot bread when time and economics prevented the use of the baking oven. In America such breadstuffs are closely associated with rustic life. While in the early days griddlecakes and waffles appeared on the table as only one element in a traditionally large breakfast spread, today they are the focal point of many breakfast menus.
Griddlecakes, also known as pancakes, hotcakes or flapjacks, are the product of simple batters that can be mixed in a few minutes. The batter can be made in the morning, or it can be prepared the night before and stored in the refrigerator.
The consistency of the batter will determine the quality of the cakes. Since the moisture content of flour varies, you might find it necessary to add a little flour of the batter seems too thin, or more liquid if it is too thick. To avoid toughness, flour batters are best mixed as little as possible, just enough to moisten all dry ingredients. Ignore the lumps. They will smooth out during the cooking.
A large, flat griddle is a great convenience for making quick griddlecakes since you can cook about eight at one time. Be sure you preheat the cooking surface first. To test for proper heat, sprinkle a few drops of cold water on the griddle. When the droplets bounce, the griddle is ready.
Griddlecakes are ready to be turned when bubbles begin to cover the surface. A spatula should slip right under, and you may peek to make sure they are sufficiently browned. Turn only once, though, or they will be heavy. Serve immediately while hot.
Although shaped differently, waffles are essentially a rich version of pancakes containing more fat and eggs in the batter. Like the griddle used in making griddlecakes, the waffle iron must be preheated to the point at which droplets of water bounce on the surface. If you break in the waffle iron by heating it with oil before it is used, you will need only a light surface oiling each time you make waffles. The iron can be cleaned after each batch by wiping off any crumbs and rubbing the grid with an oil-dampened paper towel or cloth.
In general, the preparation and cooking time for waffles is longer than for griddlecakes, so do not attempt a waffle breakfast if you are pressed for time.
If you love to bake you can make your own whole-wheat bread, cinnamon rolls or any of the "old-fashioned" yeast breads. Though these breads are not difficult to make, they do require a chunk of time in which they must rise once or twice, be shaped, rise once again, and be baked. Most of us opt for the quick breads, which need not go through the lengthy rising periods of yeast-leavened breads. These quick breads, which include muffins, biscuits, scones and popovers, as well as sweet loaves often referred to as "tea breads," depend on baking powder, baking soda or eggs as their leavening agent. They can be put together in less than ten minutes, and are at their best if baked fresh for breakfast—not impossible, for they require 20 minutes at most in the oven.
For breads made in a loaf pan it is advisable to do the baking a day in advance so the bread has time to cool and set. The preparation of prize-winning quick breads is considered an art. It is almost impossible to specify an exact amount of liquid to use with the flour, but you will soon learn to determine when more liquid or flour is needed by the feel of the batter. For crusty biscuits or scones with a soft crumb, a minimum of handling is necessary; biscuits with a crumb that will peel off in flakes call for a gentle hand in kneading and thicker rolling.
Muffins that are large and symmetrical, with a fairly even grain that is free from "tunnels," call for mixing enough to dampen the dry ingredients but not enough to produce a smooth batter. Oven temperature must be well-controlled to produce straight-sided muffins with nicely rounded tops. If the temperature is too low, the muffins will be rather flat; if too hot, the peak will be lopsided or cracked.
There are times when people are in the mood for eggs or a big, hearty breakfast and other times when a plate of crispy potatoes and onions are just the thing. Try baking or boiling a few extra potatoes when making dinner so you have a head start on marvelous home fries or hash browns. Substituting sweet potatoes for regular potatoes can add a nice twist to any breakfast.
Nothing perks up the appetite like the aroma of sausages browning atop the range, bacon crisping in the oven or pan-fried ham slowly cooking. All of these meats pair well with egg dishes, pancakes, waffles and French toast. You can make a breakfast as simple as a favorite meat accompanied by fruit or juice, and warm, buttery biscuits.
Sausages were among the first of the processed foods. Made of ground or chopped meat and seasonings, they were born out of necessity to preserve meat without refrigeration. From its European beginnings 3,000 years ago, sausage-making has evolved into a worldwide industry producing over 200 different varieties.
In the 1800s, German and Austrian immigrants brought sausage-making to the United States. The "American hot dog," first served in 1904, was a type of sausage developed from their skills. Eventually, link sausages became a popular morning meat.
When cooking fresh links: Sausage links should never be pierced before or during cooking. For soft and lightly browned links, place sausages in a cold frying pan. Add two tablespoons water for every four links, cover the pan and bring just to simmering over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer for five minutes. Drain off excess water. Cook, uncovered, over medium-low heat, shaking the pan frequently, for 10 to 15 minutes or until the sausages are lightly browned on all sides.
Bacon and Canadian bacon come from different cuts of pork. Regular bacon is from the pork side; Canadian bacon is from the pork loin that has been boned, rolled, cured, smoked and fully cooked. Allow two to four strips of bacon per person and about 1/8 to 1/4 pound of Canadian bacon per person.
When cooking bacon: To prevent curling and splattering, bacon should always be placed in a cold frying pan. Place the bacon strips in the frying pan over medium-low heat. Cook, turning two or three times, for eight to ten minutes or until done to your liking; drain.
When cooking Canadian bacon: For even cooking, cut all pieces 1/4 inch think and nick the edges every inch so the bacon won't curl. Place the slices in a lightly greased frying pan and cook over medium-low heat for two to three minutes per side.
Bed and Breakfast Inns
If you love to travel and eat well, search out bed and breakfast inns that are listed in every guide book. There are numerous B&Bs in every major city. When you wake up in the morning you can enjoy a delicious, homemade breakfast (http://www.bbonline.com/recipe/index.html#cookbook) in a charming setting—the perfect way to start your day away from home. There are some very special bed and breakfast inns in California, such as the Bed and Breakfast Inn and the Petite Auberge in San Francisco, the Jabberwock Inn in Monterey, Cinnamon Bear in St. Helena, Belle Epoque in Napa, the Simpson House Inn in Santa Barbara, to name a few.
If you are near San Luis Obispo or Paso Robles, plan to stay at Orchard Hill Farms, 5415 Vineyard Drive, Paso Robles, CA 93446—a wonderful countryside bed and breakfast carriage house that is so peaceful and relaxing you'll never want to leave. Call Deborah Thomsen at (805) 239-9680 for information, or visit their Web site and see for yourself! Also click on "Three Days in the Country" and find out another way to relax and enjoy yourself.
Tarla Fallgatter is a well-known Orange County caterer, chef, teacher, restaurant consultant and kitchen tool manufacturer. She trained at Paris’ Cordon Bleu, La Varenne, and Ecole Lenotre cooking schools, and was the first foreign woman to cook in the kitchens of Maxim’s. She has traveled to over 60 countries throughout the world, "sampling" the local cuisine. She markets her "Tarla" all-copper rolling pin in fine cookware shops.