Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Because You Need More Meat: Breakfast, UK-Style

Start the day off right--a traditional Welsh breakfast
One of my many food resolutions for 2011 is to eat more big, fatty breakfasts. I've gotten quite lazy in this regard, and have found myself nibbling a couple of crackers, a bowl of fruit, maybe a couple of scoops of yogurt, or most of the time, simply endless cups of black coffee. And, what have I gotten out of this? By the time lunch rolls around, I'm famished and half out of it, with most of my spaciness attributed to one hell of a sugar crash. The answer here is clear. I need to eat more greasy meat.

Low fat granola bars are no way to live, especially when something like this can instead be enjoyed with vim and vigor:
Over the years, I've traveled somewhat extensively throughout England, Scotland and Wales, and what I've discovered (in addition to some seriously good beer) is that the Brits know how enjoy a hearty breakfast. Being from West Virginia, where my granny was known to known to cook meals where literally everything had some sort of meat or meat byproduct in it, be it country ham gravy, fatback infused collards or brown beans simmered in nothing but a ham hock and a little salt and pepper, I have always counted myself as some sort of meaty expert when it comes to all meals, especially breakfast. Growing up in our house, the eggs were fried in bacon grease, the white gravy made from country sausage drippings, and the biscuits rolled in pure lard, so when I sampled my first real British-style breakfast, I seriously thought I had been transported back to granny's kitchen.
A traditional English breakfast must include Heinz beans
Eggs fried in bacon grease? Check. Greasy sausage links? Check. Bacon (streaky bacon) or Rashers (which are made from pork loin versus all belly)? Check. Side of canned baked beans in a tomato sauce that contains way too much sugar? Yup. All that was missing was a buttery biscuit and a bowl of mom's homemade apple butter, and I can forgive the Brits for including a vegetable or two (hence, the tomato and the mushroom) since those were also cooked in bacon drippings making them perfectly acceptable.

And, there are plenty of variations to the "Full Breakfast" theme, making an English, Scottish, Irish or Welsh breakfast a veritable blank canvas of potential porky goodness. There's black pudding (a.k.a. blood sausage) which is a combination of pig's blood, suet, breadcrumbs and oatmeal that is pan fried and served alongside your eggs, sausage, rashers and beans. (See photo a top.) Apparently, Barbara Streisand is a pretty big fan of it, too, which makes it even more cool (or she ruined it).

In Wales, it's all about the laverbread (a.k.a. Bara Lafwr). Laverbread is a nutrient-rich breakfast treat made from Laver, a type of seaweed found off the coast of Britain. Traditionally, it's pureed an served alongside rashers, sausages and cockles, making it the most healthy breakfast additions of the bunch. While visiting Wales, I found it to be particularly tasty when spread on a piece of crusty, buttered toast.
Photo courtesy Welsh Foodie
Other additions to a full U.K.-styled breakfast range from bubble and squeak (made from a mixture of leftover roasted vegetables often including cabbage, potatoes and carrots), sauteed mushrooms, oatcakes, farl (Irish fried soda bread) or the pinnacle of all that's good when it comes to pieces-parts, Scottish Haggis.  Last, but not least, all of this grease-laden goodness must be washed down with pot of hot black tea or perhaps a pint of Guinness if you're doing it Irish-style and/or straddle the alcoholic line.

Making a hearty meat-laden breakfast in honor of the British Isles couldn't be easier. Start with your meats (bacon, sausage, rashers, black pudding etc...) and fry them well in a hot pan (cast-iron is best for flavor).  Drain on paper towels and reserve most or all of the grease, depending on your intended fat quotient. Next up, fry any vegetables like a sliced-in-half tomato, mushrooms (Portabello is deliciously woody) or cubed potatoes. Set those aside. Keep your pan hot and crack in your eggs. Fry them how you like.  I like over-easy best for its runny-ness factor. Toast your bread. Warm your beans and season the whole shebang with plenty of freshly ground black pepper and a little salt.
We added a little Toad in Hole action to our breakfast
Some recipes are not meant to be an exact science and are better off with a little of this added to a little of that. Hence, why I don't have an actual written recipe for you. However, for you anal types (and you know who you are) here's a link to Jamie Oliver's Full Monty Breakfast Recipe which I think is pretty close to an authentic English-style start to the day. Chef Oliver recommends serving his breakfast with my favorite condiment on the planet, HP Sauce, so that automatically makes it a good rec in my book.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Little Chat with Chef Ming Tsai

Ming in action at the Barbados, Food, Wine & Rum Fest
Had the opportunity to chat with one of my culinary heroes, Chef Ming Tsai, at the Barbados Food, Wine & Rum Fest  Did a little feature for the Richmond Times Dispatch featuring the Chef's thoughts on the importance of dining together as a family, musings on his cookbook, "Simply Ming One-Pot Meals" as well as some of his favorite signature East Meets West-styled recipes.

Check it here: Celebrity Chef Talks Food

Me and the man himself.
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