Chapter 3 – All three meals? What to make.
Restaurant owners know that people have price resistance to certain meals. Very few people will pay the same for breakfast as for supper. Lunch items may be exactly the same as what is offered for supper, but they are usually smaller portions and a smaller price.
Breakfast may be the cheapest meal to make but often you have the least time to cook if you work at a set time.
Supper is the biggest money saver to make yourself and usually people have more time to make it also. If you only cook once a day supper is usually the best meal to cook.
Lunch presents unique problems because those of us who work on a clock don’t commonly have time to go home – cook – eat – and return to work. Some of us work construction or delivery away from a building where we have the use of a refrigerator and microwave that have become so common in the break rooms and lunch rooms of most companies.
I’ll suggest customary menus, but really, there is nothing but social conditioning and custom preventing you from having a cheeseburger for breakfast or ham and eggs for supper.
Those conditions will color my suggestions and recipes.
Chapter 4 – Breakfast!
I’ll assume most mornings you have to get ready and go to work. You have neither time nor energy for fancy dishes that make a big mess you’ll have to deal with when you get home.
Oatmeal – Boring? Slimy? Doesn’t have to be. For one thing buy steel cut oats instead of rolled oats. It has a much better texture and feel to the tooth.
For interest, variety and nutrition add:
Nuts, walnuts, pecans, slivered almonds, peanuts, peanut butter or sunflower seeds.
Fruit, diced apples, sliced banana, blueberries, strawberries, canned fruit, and raisins.
Oils, butter, margarine, any cooking oils, even leftover bacon fat.
Spices, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, salt.
Sweeteners, honey, brown sugar, maple syrup, sorghum syrup, molasses, even, sugar!
Don’t be shy to add several.
First method. Conventional cooking of steel cut oats is straightforward. Put the dry oats in a pan and add twice the volume of water. Bring it to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. I recommend adding any oils at the start. Try a cup of oats as a starting point for a serving.
I think you all know boiling is when steam bubbles form. However simmer is when just enough heat is used to keep the water at or near the boiling point. You may or may not see occasional steam bubbles, but there will be definite roiling motions. To some degree foods will self-stir at this heat or at worst only need an occasional stir to keep from burning or sticking. Stoves vary a lot in how much heat they produce. You simply have to experiment to find out where to set the knob for an electric stove or what the flame should look like on a gas stove to get a simmer. A good starting point is down in the low range or a flame just one step above the danger of flickering out. If you can’t remember what the setting was make a notebook for recording your cooking skills, or take notes on your phone or tablet. You can even put a little wedge of tape by the knob to retain the information. If you go to a bigger pot you will likely need more heat.
Something you should know about boiling and cooking. Once you get water to a boil it will not get any hotter if you turn up the heat and boil it faster. It simply turns the water into steam faster and wastes fuel or power. Honest. Even if your granny told you different.
If you want to dump fruit or nuts in now depends on what you like. They will be softer cooked. You may prefer that for say, raisins. Blueberries however will turn the whole batch blue and pretty much break down. Stirred in at the end they stay whole. It depends on what you like.
A pan of oatmeal takes about 40 minutes to cook enough to be ready at a simmer. A little bit more if you live someplace high like Denver CO. Water boils at a lower temperature the higher you are because the air pressure is lower.
It doesn’t take much experience before you can put your oatmeal on to cook and you can go off and shower, dress, etc, and come back it should be done. You want to check on it a few times when you are new to this to see that it is not sticking or burning from too much heat – or not staying hot enough to get cooked. If you have non-work days they are good to try new things. Don’t worry – you will get skilled at setting the heat very quickly. If you like you oatmeal thicker reduce the water. But be aware it will stick easier and may need more stirring. If you like it wetter, obviously use more water.
I’d suggest as a general rule you do not salt anything while it is cooking. The salt is absorbed into the food and you don’t really taste it. If you add it right at the table it is more effective.
What if you don’t hang around fussing and primping in the morning long enough to cook?
Second method. Prepare the oats the night before. Bring your water and oats to a boil. Pour the boiling mix in a wide mouthed thermos bottle. It is best to rinse the bottle out with hot water just before pouring the boiling mix in it so the mass of the thermos itself doesn’t cool it down. A big funnel may help you if you don’t have a steady hand. (I bought mine in the automotive section of our big box store) Cap it and in the morning it will be cooked to eat or to take along. (don’t forget a spoon – a long handled tea-spoon if you have to eat it right out of the thermos)
A hint. Clean-up delayed is clean-up made needlessly difficult. A nonstick pan cleans out with a swish of the rag unless you let it sit and dry all day. A thermos is much easier to clean later if after eating you run some hot water in it – cap it – and shake it a bit to rinse it out.
Scrambled Eggs /Omelets – Better than the corner diner.
If you get eggs at a restaurant they usually give you two. A ‘Lumberjack Special’ or other cute name for their big breakfast may give you three. They want to fill you up on potatoes and bread. Protein keeps you filled up clear to lunch time and doesn’t make you as fat. I often have four or five eggs in the morning and little bread or starchy fillers. I’d rather take my carbohydrates as a bowl of fruit or a glass of juice with other nutrition besides calories.
Eggs have a delicate flavor. Some of the premium eggs from chickens fed a special diet have even stronger flavor. If you add items with subtle flavor they can compliment that flavor. Or you can add strong flavors that completely change the dish. Some of the things you can add to scrambled eggs are:
Meat, bacon bits, crumbled sausage, any diced leftover meats.
Cheese, shredded cheese is much easier, and grated dry cheese works too.
Vegetables, almost anything diced fine and in moderation, spinach, mushrooms, onions.
Sauces, I love a dash of A-1® steak sauce, or a couple spoons full of salsa.
Starches, fried potatoes, diced or sliced corn tortillas fried a bit.
For scrambled you want to limit the add-ons to a tablespoon or so of each. They can take over a dish and ruin the texture.
You want to add butter, cooking oil or fat to the pan and let it warm a bit before you add the eggs. You can break and add the eggs directly to the pan if you want. The whites and yolks will not mix completely. Or you can break them in a bowl and beat them until they are a more uniform color. If you add a small amount of water or milk – a teaspoon for each egg – they will be fluffier.
You want your burner set to a medium or higher heat. If it is too hot you will see the eggs start to brown even if you are constantly scrambling them with the spatula. To me that reduces the subtle flavor and toughens them. You want to stay with eggs and actively move them. When there is no more liquid stop. If you walk away to do something you may get an omelet – one solid mass – even if that was not your intention.
Omelets are perfectly fine. But a proper omelet has the extra ingredients put on top of a solid mass of cooked egg and then it is folded over to make a pocket. Most folks go with a three egg omelet. You can start out scrambling the eggs to make an omelet, but stop while there is plenty of fluid remaining to bind the pieces. Add your extra ingredients – put a lid on the pan – and turn the heat down to medium or a bit lower. Allow the omelet to cook for another three or four minutes and when you take the lid off the cheese will be melted and the added items hot and it will be ready to folded over.
Omelets can work with more and heavier ingredients than a scramble. An omelet can be a massive amount of ingredients in a thin egg shell. If you want to be fancier some gravy poured over it is tasty and very filling.
Got to run? Roll your scramble or omelet up in a flour tortilla and you have a breakfast burrito.
Breakfast Meats – Pork is cheap but you get what you pay for. People like their breakfast meat but there is no way to cook it quickly. If you have time in the evening or weekend you can cook breakfast meat and keep it refrigerated to heat up in the morning. There are precooked portions in the market. Some fairly good, some awful.
Sausage. Cheap sausage has too much fat, fries up to nothing and makes a greasy mess all around the pan. If it is too pale white it doesn’t have enough lean meat in it. Plain ground pork has little flavor so you add spices. The common ones are fennel and hot peppers. Breakfast sausage is one of the few items I have bought worse out of a fancy butcher shop then big company brands in a supermarket like Bob Evens® or Purnell®. Sausage needs a little sugar or vegetable matter to brown. Butcher shop sausage often cooks gray and unappetizing. If the hot or fennel style sausage is too strong a taste for you buy one and a roll of plain and mix them. If you like spicier experiment with adding a little red pepper flakes, chopped garlic, black pepper or cumin. Just mix it by hand. Form into small palm sized patties about as thick as a pencil. Or size it to your English muffin or bagel for breakfast sandwiches. It will shrink a little.
You can start sausage in a hot skillet, but once both sides have been seared a little reduce the heat to medium or less and keep flipping the patties when they cup from the heat. If you are using a non-stick pan you may find the juices brown on the pan and rubbing the patty around picks up the color (and flavor) from the surface. If you buy sausage in links it needs to be rolled around and browned all over. You just can’t hurry cooking it.
Bacon. Most grocery store bacon has water added. This has no value except to make it look like you are getting more for your money. If you can go to a meat market that has bacon cured without water it tastes better and is faster to cook. All the water comes out and has to be boiled away otherwise. I occasionally get to buy bacon in Amish country. It is completely different.
Long slices of bacon are really difficult to handle and fry. I always cut bacon in short pieces and it are easier to handle, cook and eat. Bacon also is better not to rush. The slices should be separated by hand raw. If you throw them in the pan stuck together it can be hard to break them apart. You may need to turn it several times and sometimes pull pieces out that brown ahead of the others. If you wait until it looks very brown in the pan it will be very crisp and crumbly after it drains and cools. Remove the still slightly translucent pieces to a towel or paper napkins.
The bacon fat left in the pan is worth saving. It will keep in the frig in a sealed jar for a long time. If you are sure it is unhealthy and a horror toss it, but it is easily half of what you paid for when you bought the bacon. It will impart intense flavor in small amounts added to other dishes I’ll show you. A teaspoon is plenty to scramble eggs. Be careful if you do save it. It is much hotter than boiling water and will melt plastic or crack glass. Let it cool a bit before pouring.
Ham. A ham gets cheaper the bigger the piece you buy. For the kind of cooking we are talking about it gets too difficult to buy a big ham, divide it up and freeze portions.
You need to buy a package of diced ham pieces or buy luncheon ham and dice it up. It can be difficult to get a person at the deli counter to cut you slices thicker than the very thin pieces people favor for sandwiches. Persist however, because the paper thin stuff cooks poorly.
Most ham now just like bacon has water added. When you cook it the water comes out and is boiled away. Then when it is gone and the fat starts heating it browns very quickly – or burns if you are inattentive.
It is possible to buy small canned hams that, while not a gourmet delight, can be kept without refrigeration and are a delight to have if the power goes out or you are stuck home sick.
Last Breakfast Item: French Toast (Pain Perdue)
It tastes better with the fancy French name. Pain Perdue means lost bread – stale and otherwise ready to be thrown away. French toast is a good use for stale bread. It works better than fresh because it absorbs the liquid better.
You need eggs beaten together and a little milk or water. You should have an egg for each slice or even an extra. I always add a tablespoon of brown or regular sugar to make it brown nicely. I also like to add a dash of vanilla. My wife likes me to add cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice. You want to put this batter in a shallow bowl or a pie plate for dipping.
Do not just flop each slice of bread briefly in the fluid. Let it soak it up. Punching holes with a fork even if it is reluctant to take it up. Flipping it and moving it to the pan can be challenging when it is soggy. A pie server or spatula helps support it.
You want the skillet at a medium heat. Enough to brown it but not so hot it is burnt by the time the egg batter is cooked in the middle of the slice.
Plain old sandwich bread makes good French Toast. Thick cut bread is even better. Cinnamon Raisin bread is fantastic. Even better we have a cheap outlet that sells cinnamon raisin bread with apple chunks in it. If you have added sugar to the mix you don’t usually need as much syrup. Of course fruit is good on top too. When served as a desert confectioner’s sugar sifted on top is traditional. If you make extra they will store in the frig for a day or two.