Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Mixed Plate: The Gospel of Breakfast

I hear it time and time again: Breakfast is the Best Meal. And you know what? It's 100% True. You may as well write that into every holy book out there, canonize it for future generations, not that they won't already know and accept this to be the gospel of meal enjoyment. And I know I can say that out loud, into the Bloggosphere, into the Inter-Webs and nary a peep of offense or complaint will surface. Because we know this simple fact to be true. So let us raise our hands and rejoice in the holy celebration that is Breakfast! Hallelujah!!

First there was darkness... then there was breakfast pastries from Essential Baking Co. - Photo by Wasabi Prime
Bring on the poisonous snakes for our ritualistic snake-handling dance and get ready to hurl those crutches aside, brothers and sistahs, it's time to revel in the glory and the power that is Breakfast. I'm not exaggerating on this, breakfast is really that good. I did a whole piece on it for my Sense Memory column for Honest Cooking months ago, and everyone had great reasons to share why breakfast is the bomb-diggety. They included wonderful things like: you can have it 24/7 at a lot of diners, it tastes good any time of the day, it's got the perfect combination of protein, starch and fat, and of course the most important reason -- you can drink in the morning and no one gives you a sidelong glance. It's the only reason Bloody Marys and Mimosas were created, to make morning alcoholism more fashionable. Plus there's fruit and vegetables in it, so it's like a serving of produce, really.

I have to think our idea of breakfast with eggs, bacon and hashbrowns is more of an American thing. I thought about this as I was getting breakfast with a group of friends after a particularly brutal night of Releasing the Kraken -- we all had visions of pile o' food dancing in our alcohol-pummeled heads. Our breakfasts are a distinctive mashup of European styles, English breakfast with French omelets and maybe some German sausage thrown in for good measure -- but it's all over-the-top. Mile-high pancakes covered in fruit, chocolate chips and whipped cream. Gravy piled on biscuits with cheese, egg and a mound of bacon. You never have just one egg, it's always four served at restaurants. Even though it's all one great cholesterol/fat bomb, we love it because it's got all the ingredients and flavors we crave. And it's a savior when you've got a wicked hangover.

Stare long enough, you'll get a sugar high - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Comedian Jim Gaffigan made a funny yet true observation: breakfast is the meal that allows you to have cake first thing in the morning. Don't deny it. A sweet cake full of chocolate chips or fruit is dessert, meant to be had at the end of any other meal, but no one bats an eye when you have that monster-sized chocolate chip or blueberry muffin, topped with sugary-sweet streusel crumbles. Or an icing-topped scone. Or some marvelously flaky, cinnamon-sugar-filled sticky bun covered with currants and chopped nuts. I'm the last person to complain about breakfast pastries, specifically because we're not obligated to call them "sugary sweets for breakfast." I was like a kid given the Golden Ticket to Willy Wonka's mildly disturbing Chocolate Factory when I was blessed with a wealth of pastries from Essential Baking Company. It was a true spoil of baked good riches, mostly breakfast sweets, like scones, muffins and flake pastries, but also their incredible monster-sized cookies, jammy thumbprint cookies and some of their fruit bars. 

I'm ready for my closeup, Mr. DeMille... - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Essential Baking Company is one of my favorite bakeries and I don't get to enjoy their marvelous goods nearly as much as I'd like -- and that's to my waistline's benefit, believe me. The fact that they've got a Bellevue cafe set up at the University Bookstore just adds more temptation every time I'm in that neighborhood. Fresh-baked artisan breads, sweet pastries, all the reasons you say Glory Hallelujah for Carbs and give up those supermodel almond-counting dreams. As much as I wanted to eat all my favorites in one sitting, I just saved my absolute favorites and packed the rest off with the Mister, so that he could share the wealth with workmates. I admit, I saved the best ones and hoarded it like Gollum, whispering My Precioussssss.... I gleefully rationed out the flaky butter croissant, cinnamon roll and sugar-dusted almond croissant across a few days, savoring each bite. I rarely have breakfast pastries, mostly because it's not worth the sugar crash and quite frankly, so few bakeries are as good as Essential, but when you get a chance to indulge, they are Top Gun, Best-of-the-Best, and will be your Wingman any breakfast morning

Perfect Sunday morning - latte at French Bakery, brunch at Trellis - Photos by Wasabi Prime
What I really love about breakfast is when it gets fancied up and becomes Brunch, which just makes breakfast a real event to soak up those last, precious moments of weekend freedom on a Sunday. I forgot how wonderful a true lazy brunch can be, but got a nice reminder a little while ago when I met some friends on a Sunday morning in Kirkland. We planned to meet up at Trellis, the restaurant below the Heathman Hotel, which has a fantastic breakfast menu full of locally-sourced seasonal goodies. I got there a little early and gave myself a little present of Me Time, getting a creamy latte at the French Bakery across the street. I was tempted to get one of their almond croissants, which is probably my favorite thing at The French Bakery, but knowing a proper brunching was the order of the day, I stuck with the latte, which is honestly a treat all on its own. To sit in a little cafe on a sleepy Sunday morning, sipping a latte while flipping through a magazine, it's a religious experience all its own. Very zen and just appreciating the present. Maybe not as zen as giving up all material possessions, donning a robe and living in an ashram at the top of a mountain for years, but hey, this is 21st Century Zen, complete with a pretty foam drawing. By the time I got to Trellis, I was fully in the mindset to enjoy the morning with friends, have that Bloody Mary, and have a hearty omelet stuffed with goodies like cheese and avocado. And their free mini-doughnuts are a nice touch, too -- cheers to you, Trellis.

The weekend tradition of the Skillet Breakfast - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Most breakfasts for us are enjoyed in our own kitchen. And they're hardly as eventful as a restaurant brunch. It's very low-maintenance, I don't dirty more than one skillet at a time, which is why I tend to call this mish-mash meal our usual Weekend Skillet Breakfast. As long as I have eggs, cheese and milk, I can make something. It's usually chopped up vegetables or leftover meat cooked up in a skillet that gets some eggs mixed with milk poured over it, and then the whole pan goes into the oven. I sprinkle cheese over everything, right before it goes in, and right at the end, I turn on the broiler to give it a quick crispy topping. It's not the prettiest meal in the world, as I can never predict what will show up in the mix, so the ratio of ingredients can be totally off the charts. Many times, it's a Green Eggs and Ham hot mess, because there's a bunch of kale or chard thrown in. But it's tasty, hearty and goes well with coffee as we curl up on the couch, still in our robes, and watch some craptacular television. For us, this is why breakfast at home is a marvelous thing.

The makings of a delicious Breakfast-Monster - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I will try to mix things up now and then -- I had a chance to play around with Demitri's Bloody Mary seasonings and I had a Lightning Bolt moment in my brain: Bloody Mary Breakfast Sandwich! I wasn't necessarily trying to figure out a way to spike a sandwich and get a booze buzz off of it, but I saw the dry Rim Shot seasonings meant to flavor the edge of a Bloody Mary glass and thought that would nicely season some ground pork for a homemade breakfast sausage. A couple of tablespoons will do for a half pound of plain ground pork, letting the flavors soak in overnight before forming small patties to fit in between an English Muffin. I used the Bacon Salt flavored Rim Shot seasoning, so I skipped adding bacon to the sandwiches -- sounds like heresy, I know, but this flavoring had its share of smokiness and I didn't want it to be overwhelming. I did add ham, so there was more Divine Swine added to the sandwich, along with a fried egg and a smear of sun dried tomato pesto, to give a little nod to its Bloody Mary origins. 

The Breakfast Sandwich of Champions, thanks to Demitri's Bloody Mary salts - Photos by Wasabi Prime
A fried egg on a sandwich the size of a burger is great, there should be enough layers and overall surface area to absorb the inevitable yolk runoff. On a breakfast sandwich the size of an English Muffin... not so much. I lost most of the precious liquid gold yolk to the plate, which was easily mopped up with the sandwich, but it was messier than I would have liked. Upon making the Bloody Mary Breakfast Sandwich a few more times, I cooked the egg yolk to a more solid, pudding-like thickness, so its texture could be enjoyed with the sandwich itself. There's really no science or recipe-magic to any of this, the main thing is making your own breakfast sausage patty by seasoning it with whatever marvelous flavors you can find. I heartily enjoyed this cocktail-inspired sandwich for Brinner, aka, Breakfast for Dinner, several nights in a row.

Baby quiche-cakes - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Breakfast inspires innovation, from cocktail sandwiches to individual hand-held quiches. The cupcake craze has resulted in all of us owning our share of cupcake tins. I have three different sizes: little bitty appetizer-sized tins, average just-right size, and Texas-sized muffin pans. These things have been dying to be used because no one wants cupcakes anymore, they're so sick of 'em. I was going to a brunch party at a friend's house and wanted to bring something easy to eat. This was also a housewarming gathering, so I didn't want to assume everything was unpacked. It wasn't a pastry-eating group, so I couldn't hit the Doughnut Button. I decided on little vegetable and cheese quiches, baked in cupcake tins for convenient pre-portioned eating; no nuts or gluten to keep it allergy-friendly and no meat in case there were vegetarians. All the food bases were covered. Everything worked out well -- I had eggs, a fresh bunch of chard, a mix of Parmesan and cream cheese to make it savory and creamy. The only hitch was I should have used muffin tin liners. Even if the quiches looked like weird, flat cupcakes in the liners, it would have kept me from soaking and scraping that damn cupcake tin fifty times, just to get all the little bits of egg off of it. Even with a spray of cooking oil, the egg stuck to the metal like glue. I was able to get the quiches out with a bit of finessing, but the eggy residue was like drywall spackle on that tin. Lesson learned, and let it be a lesson to you out there -- muffin tin liners ARE YOUR FRIEND.

Cheers to Breakfasts of all sorts, the meal you cannot judge, even with a bottle of bourbon - Photos by Wasabi Prime
So to sum up this Breakfast Bohemian Rhapsody, it is the ideal meal for any situation, be it festive, humbly prepared at home, or a food intervention after drinking your weight in boozeahol. I love how it's the Little Black Dress that fits for any occasion, can be enjoyed day or night, and that a lot of diners all over the country recognize this appreciation for the Perfect Meal, serving it every hour of the day, with love, honor and respect. So raise them hashbrowns high and praise them over-easy eggs -- Hallelujah for Breakfast!

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