Wonderful Breakfasts Front and Center. (Right Where They Belong.)

I have always loved breakfast. For me, an important part of lingering happily over an obscenely strong, rather large (at least for one) pot of coffee in the morning is the pleasure of planning with what wonderful treat I shall start my pursuit of culinary delights for the day. My favorite guilty pleasure, two perfectly cooked eggs (firm whites, runny yolks), perched tauntingly a-top a zesty Chorizo hash? Or ethereally light Lemon Ricotta Pancakes, topped with a fresh Blueberry Sauce (low-carb, high anti-oxidant, always a tease)?  My favorite omelet featuring two eggs, homemade tapenade, diced fresh tomatoes, prosciutto and a healthy chunk of chevre? (for which my eternal thanks to my son-in-law John, who stumbled upon this fabulous combo amidst his continuing omelette experiments). An embarrassment of irresistible choices awaits me each and every morning. Poor moi!

I always try to start my day off with food that puts me in a happy frame of mind. I can’t begin to tell you how important this has been in my life. After all, every day is a new beginning. Is there any better way to start off a day in the world than creating a jumping-off point from which you feel really satisfied and, well, can I say it here? Loved. (I live alone now, so I guess that would mean loved by me. What a lovely place to end one’s life…happy to love oneself.)

My pondering on the important decision of ‘what’s for breakfast’ is seldom a slap-dash affair, but for me as for most of us, time is frequently a critical factor. For weekends I plan something special, a “no holds barred” treat. Sometimes, due to the aforementioned time constraints, I adapt a more complicated recipe to work for weekdays. A perfect example is Crockpot Irish Oatmeal. It takes steel cut oats, (the very best oatmeal in nutrition, flavor and texture!), layers it with fruit, and crocks it overnight. In the morning you can eat it as is with a simple embellishment of milk. Wonderful. Or, get a little fancier, and top it with toasted nuts and serve it simply with milk and your choice of sweetener. Approaching awesome. Or, on the weekends when you have more time, again, nuttify it, brulée it and serve it with the Spiced Maple Syrup Cream below. To die for! However you dress it up, or down, this oatmeal is so far removed from any oatmeal you have ever tasted that if you don’t give it a try, well, you probably have oatmeal where your grey matter should be!

I scribbled the bare bones of this recipe down from (as I recall) a TV show featuring The (now-defunct) Quilted Giraffe restaurant in New York City. What I present here is probably not a perfect copy of the original, but is at least a loving representation of it, based on what I managed to jot down. I don’t think it will disappoint. In my family everyone loves it, hands down, especially the full-court press edition with the Spiced Maple Syrup Cream.

CROCKPOT IRISH OATMEAL BRULÉE

The Quilted Giraffe

1 cup Irish steel-cut oats, preferably McCain’s

4 cups water

Dried fruits of your choice (such as figs, currants, raisins, apricots, cranberries, cherries)

Toasted nuts of your choice (such as pecans, walnuts, almonds)

¼ cup brown or white sugar for the brulée, if desired

Spiced Maple Syrup Cream (recipe follows)

Layer the steel cut oats and dried fruit in a crockpot. Add the water and cook overnight. In the morning, spoon the oatmeal into bowls (heatproof if you are going to brulée the top), and sprinkle with some toasted nuts. For brulée, distribute the sugar on top of the bowls and broil 8” from the heat source for 4 to 6 minutes, until the sugar is browned and crisp.

Serve with the warm Spiced Maple Syrup Cream

Spiced Maple Syrup Cream:

1 cup heavy cream

¼ cup pure maple syrup

1 star anise

1 cinnamon stick, broken

1 strip orange peel

Create a sachet (I like to use a metal tea ball for sachets) with the star anise, cinnamon stick, and strip of orange peel.

Simmer the cream, maple syrup and sachet in a saucepan to thicken. Discard the sachet and serve the Maple Syrup Cream alongside the oatmeal.

And now it’s time for the ta-dah moment, in which I introduce you to one of my (and my children’s and my grandchildren’s (stay tuned for my great-grandchildren’s, whose judgment I shall most certainly not be here to certify) favorite breakfast go-withs. I have named it Mim’s Breakfast Pork Loaf. OK, so three seconds into scanning the recipe and you’ve found me out. You’re right. It’s my version of (oh, no!) SCRAPPLE!

Although I lived in Philadelphia for 10 years (a mere spitting distance from Pennsylvania Dutch Scrapple country), I never once tasted it while there. Why? Probably for the same reason many of you haven’t. Legend tells us that it’s made with “everything from the pig but the oink”. (Eeew! Yuck! Right?) Hallooo! Perhaps that’s the case in some insane fantasy of yours (and formerly mine), but in reality, while eating Scrapple you are probably eating pretty much the same stuff you have been enjoying “con gusto” (read: happily) on a regular basis since you were a kid. Bologna any one? How about Mortadella?  How ‘bout hot dogs? Made from the same delicious scraps of el piggo!

Think of my version as a pork-flavored polenta, which is precisely what it is. Nothing weird, just full-flavored crispy, porky goodness on your breakfast plate, right where it belongs. It is, in my opinion, one helluva fabulous American competitor in the international porky breakfast wars.

Here’s the real deal about (ahem) Mim’s Breakfast Pork Loaf:

It is the most awesome go-with to a plate of fried eggs and fried tomatoes you ever tasted. 

The defense rests.

Makes two 9″ x 5″ loaves

MIM’S BREAKFAST PORK LOAF

I started my scrapple recipe from a popular one I found developed by Bette’s Oceanview Diner, in California, but I have changed it so much that I’m sure she would never recognize it. (I tend to like a fair amount of spiciness in some things, this being one of them.) Nonetheless, a tip of the hat to Bette for getting me off on the right foot, with a good basic recipe and good technique!

This is a fairly spicy Scrapple; not hot, just highly seasoned. If you tend to like things on the mild side, add your spices gradually and to taste.

NOTE: I sometimes use just the bone-in shank end of a pork shoulder for my scrapple, sometimes a combination of slightly less shoulder complemented by a pork hock (either smoked or plain). If you’d like a nice smoky underpinning for your”loaf”, by all means use a smoked hock. You can also use boneless shoulder instead of bone-in, if that’s what is available; just adjust to accommodate the loss of bone weight. But always remember, bone-in means more flavor. Always.

One last note: Please fry this in clarified butter, for which I have provided the world’s easiest preparation. It will not burn, as nonclarified butter does when exposed to heat for too long, but does impart a rich, buttery flavor that really puts this breakfast over the top.

21/2 pounds boneless pork shoulder, or 1 ½ pounds shoulder and one pork hock (see note above)

1 large onion, chopped

3 celery stalks, chopped

1 T ground sage

1 T cayenne pepper

2 tsp. black peppercorns

2 bay leaves, fresh if you have them

5 cups pork broth, from cooking the pork

2 ½ cups yellow cornmeal

1 1/2 T kosher salt

1 T ground black pepper

2 to 4 T fresh sage, to taste, minced

Clarified butter (world’s easiest recipe follows)

Cut off chunks of meat from the shoulder in about 2 1/2” chunks, and throw them into a Dutch oven, along with the partially meaty bone in the onion, celery, ground sage, cayenne, peppercorns (I like to put these in a mesh tea leaf holder so I don’t have to fish them out later on). Barely cover with water (about 2” above the top of the meat does the job) and simmer over low heat until the pork is tender and the meat is falling off the bones, about 2 hours.

Drain and reserve the stock. Pour the solid contents onto a sheet pan so that you can easily discard the celery, onions, peppercorns, bay leaves and all of the bones. Make sure to pull the meat completely off the bones, being careful to remove all the small pieces of bone. I also discard any extraneous fat that’s left hanging around in the cooked pork. I find you don’t need it, either for flavor or texture.

Add the meat to a food processor with blade attachment and pulse to coarsely chop. (You can also do this by hand, which I have done a number of times when a food processor wasn’t at hand.) Don’t over-chop it. A few pulses do the job. I find that using two batches, evenly divided, I get the job done just right counting about six “1001, 1002, 1003”, etc. pulses on the food processor per batch.

Measure 5 cups of stock, return it to the pot, and slowly heat. Gradually but briskly whisk in the cornmeal, to ensure that it doesn’t clump up on you. Add the chopped meat, kosher salt, ground black pepper, and fresh sage. Bring to a simmer over medium heat.

When the meat and broth are at a bubble, stir constantly to prevent the cornmeal from clumping or sticking as it cooks. Simmer until smooth and thick, about 15 minutes or so. Add a little stock or water, if needed, to ensure a smooth texture. When it’s done, it will be a little “gluey” looking, which is what you want. Too loose and it’s harder to fry.

Pour into one very large loaf, a couple of 9” x 5” loaf, or 4 mini loaf pans and immediately cover the top of each loaf with a “skin” of plastic wrap, not covering the pan, just pressing the wrap flat against the top of the loaf to prevent it from developing a skin on the top as it cools. Refrigerate until solid, preferably overnight. (Scrapple slices best while cold.)

(At this point the loaves are ready to slice and cook, or, if you like to have some on hand in the freezer, as I do, wrap the pieces individually in plastic wrap and seal in large freezer bags. They are particularly convenient to freeze sliced, as they take up much less room.)

Unmold, slice in 1/2” slices and fry in clarified butter (see recipe below) until golden brown over medium to medium-low heat. Fry at least 10 minutes on the first side, without touching it, then another 10 minutes on the second side, again without touching it, to ensure a deep, dark golden crust on each side.

Serve with fried tomato slices and fried eggs. I like to dip my tomato slices in some cornmeal and lay them in the in the clarified butter just as I am giving the scrapple its first turn, then turn them over after 5 minutes. That way they are crisp on both sides when the scrapple is done, and the pan is free to quickly fry up some eggs to your liking. The tomatoes are a terrific complement to the scrapple.  (Some people also like to serve it with applesauce or maple syrup. Not I.)

WORLD’S EASIEST CLARIFIED BUTTER

Compliments of an all-time favorite, The Frog Commissary Cookbook

Put a pound of unsalted butter in a small stainless steel bowl 200° F for 1 hour. Skim off the crust on top and put the bowl in the fridge. When the butter has solidified, turn it out of the bowl, and scrape off the white layer of solids, which is the part that burns during frying. Wrap and refrigerate the remaining clarified butter and use as needed. One pound of butter will yield about 14 ounces of clarified butter.

For days when I have no time to actually make something wonderful on the spot, I plan to have on hand something that 1) I love, and 2) satisfies my requirements for both flavor and nutrition, and 3) can be made ahead. That would be the following wonderful low-calorie, protein-rich cheesecake recipe, a wonderful grab-and-go breakfast from The Slim Gourmet, Barbara Gibbons. There is absolutely NO better way to start your day deliciously and in good health than this cheesecake. To me, it is the very best healthy”fast food” breakfast in the world. I have done the math somewhere, and if you need it, nag me and I’ll find it for you, but it is very low-calorie, and low-carb. A blessing, no matter what your dietary constraints.

CINNAMON DANISH CHEESECAKE

Barbara Gibbons

This cheesecake is wonderful plain, and that’s how I usually eat it. but once in awhile I like to dress it up, and top it with the pineapple topping that Gibbons provided with the recipe, or a fresh blueberry topping I created because … well, because I love blueberries! Why else? Both toppings add a little something extra, and make you feel like you are really indulging yourself, when in fact, the calories/carb points are still ridiculously low.

5 large cinnamon graham crackers

2 cups low-fat cottage cheese

4 eggs

1 T vanilla

Pinch salt

1/4 cup sugar plus 1/4 cup sugar substitute (optional)

1/4 tsp. grated lemon rind

Ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 275° F

Crush the graham crackers and sprinkle them on the bottom of a 9” square lightly greased baking pan. Put the cottage cheese, eggs. Vanilla, salt, sugar and sugar substitute, if using, in the blender. Add lemon zest and whip on high speed until smooth and creamy. Scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula, the spoon the filling into the crust. Sprinkle with cinnamon and bake for 1 hour. Turn oven off and let cheesecake cool in the oven, undisturbed, for an additional 1 hour. Chill before serving.

PINEAPPLE TOPPING

1 cup low-calorie crushed pineapple, with juice

1 tsp; cornstarch

Simmer pineapple and juice with cornstarch over low heat until thickened. Spread on cooked cheesecake and chill. Makes 9 servings. Calories with topping: 124 per square.

BLUEBERRY TOPPING

1 package frozen wild blueberries

¼ cup sugar, or Splenda to substitute

¼ cup water

1 T cornstarch

Heat ingredients in a small saucepan until thickened. Spread on cheesecake and chill until set.

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