I have a problem with breakfast. I need trained professionals with paddles who shout ‘clear’ in order to wake up before the kids. Early morning is not my best time of day. So, I find a big heaping bowl of ice cold milk and wet flakes first thing about as appealing as finding our labrador had an accident in the living room.
Don’t get me wrong. Should anyone from Kelloggs, General Mills, Post or any other cereal company stumble over here and find me comparing their products to dog poo: I’m sure you good folks make very fine breakfast foods, which are enjoyed by hundreds of millions daily. In fact, I believe breakfast cereals are the fourth most common item purchased at supermarkets in the US. So, I’m also sure, you don’t miss having me for a customer.
I think my distaste for cold cereals started when I was a young boy. In those days my father would only allow the family to eat the kind of cereal HE liked. And he liked corn flakes. Every single day. My brothers and sister and I would watch television commercials with creatures shouting about exotic, unbelievably sweet and shaped cereals, eye-popping with colors, and could only imagine what it would be like to live in a country that served them. Like, just next door.
I discovered my ideal breakfast on an extended work stay in a bed and breakfast outside Aberdeen, Scotland. Let’s just say, the breakfast was bigger than the bed. The gracious family who ran the place would suggest what I might like to have, without restriction, and then serve it. Not ‘either / or’, but, altogether. Meats, eggs, fried tomatoes, and potatoes, black pudding, baked beans, whole grain breads and marmalade, on the plate, early every morning. And in the center of my table, arranged by variety, stood little boxes of different types of dry cereal, which I deliberately ignored. With a start like that, I ran all the way til dinner and skipped lunch.
Now, its clear, if I ate that way each day of my life, I would actually require those professionals with paddles, to manage heart attacks. So, at home, it’s just a fond memory.
But every couple of weeks, I like to take a weekend morning and give the kids a small taste of what they’re missing. They’d choke on my Scots menu, so I do a special hash brown potatoes with eggs or french toast, and they’re always happy.
The hash browns are a big hit because of a little cooking secret. Here’s how it works. Plants that have bulbs or tubers in the ground are actually using them to store up sugar, so they can get through a deadly winter, and have enough spark to put up leaves in spring. You may not know it right off, but onions, garlic, and potatoes have the sweet stuff in abundance. The trick is to get them to come out so you can taste them.
Slow, long cooking is the key. I start with two good-sized onions and three garlic cloves and eight medium potatoes, to feed six. That may leave you with leftovers, but they’re just as good as fresh.
Chop the onions into pieces about the size of your thumbnail, and the garlic as fine as you can. Margarine or butter, about a tablespoon or one and a half, in a cast iron skillet. Use another pan at your own risk, you want to brown things, not blacken, and the trusty skillet is a master at doing that.
Start the onion and garlic over medium heat. Meanwhile, microwave or boil the whole potatoes til they’re firm enough to still resist a fork, but less so than raw. Cut that into pieces about twice the size of your thumbnail, or any size you prefer. Smaller cooks best.
Then turn the flame down to medium low, still sizzling but gently, and put in the potatoes, with some salt, a bit of pepper, a little shake of dry dill if you have it, and a couple good shakes of paprika. You can also add another tablespoon of margarine or butter if the mix looks really dry. The ingredients should look like they have a little on them.
The layer of pieces in contact with the skillet bottom cook, and as they do, they’ll want to stick. So, your job for the next hour or so is to use a metal spatula and keep them scraped off and turned over, so everything gets evenly done.
As they cook, the onion, garlic and potatoes are losing water, and the sugars in them are browning. Medium dark brown is good, close to cherry wood, but not walnut, or stop before things start to get crunchy.
A proper breakfast, if I say so myself.
The old saw is, you are what you eat, and I like the idea I’m feeding the kids something good, straight from the earth. My wife says, I’m flaky enough as it is.