The Most Important Meal of the Day – What’s on the Menu?

My mum was onto breakfast as the most important meal of the day since before I can remember! Personally I have tended to have a rather mixed relationship with this meal because it comes in the morning and I am definitely a night owl – some of my earliest memories are lying in bed awake long after the light went out. I found it interesting when I had my own children that my eldest was a morning child, up with the sparrows and out like light as soon as she switched off at night. When my son came along I found myself looking at the child I remember in my head – he was never one to make a fuss but when I went in to check on them he would be lying there good as gold and wide awake!

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Muesli with fresh fruit supplies a nutrient rich kick start

My point is that if you are a night owl breakfast can be a challenge because it requires action before my brain is really engaged! The meal of my childhood was cereal of the packet variety and toast, classic fare for sixties kids. At the weekend we might have bacon and eggs or sometimes a treat like pancakes. As I have gotten older I have come to understand my body rather better and what works best for me in terms of providing lasting energy through the day, and it has come with some changes to how I think about food. Cereal still figures when I am in the mood but it is muesli with lots of nuts, seeds and dried fruits topped with fresh fruit and sometimes yogurt.

In summer I adore fresh fruit and I ring the changes with Earl Grey tea, herbal tea or cider vinegar, lemon juice and water – this last I should do more often as it does give a really cleansing, refreshing start to the day and gets good press for its health benefits! Sometimes a simple bowl of blueberries fresh picked is quite enough.

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As winter sets in, however, as it is at present, I need more energy, particularly if I can’t count on a satisfying lunch on a busy day. I have learned that I do far better on protein and veggies than I do on cereal and toast but it has taken quite a mind shift to devise ways of delivering this before I am really awake. Weekends are fine because one can start late or better yet go out and enjoy brunch. Smashed avocado with poached eggs and mushrooms plus or minus sourdough toast is a favourite when someone else is cooking. If its me at the helm I often default back to eggs and bacon from my childhood but add it spinach or some other veggie.

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Sunday brunch courtesy of the Picnic Basket Cafe
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Home cooked bacon, scrambled eggs with parsley, steamed silverbeet and reheated potato scones (left over from making the Chicken, leek and green chilli pie with potato crust)

Weekdays remained a challenge until I realised that my thinking was being constrained by a box labeled ‘breakfast ingredients’ – if it wasn’t in the box I didn’t consider it. Then one day I made a break through – I love thick and hearty vegetable soup made from a bone based stock. A bowl of this for breakfast takes no thought at all – open fridge, take out soup container, ladle into pan and heat while I make tea! So easy and its warm, filling and a great start to my day.

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Vegetable soup can be made in bulk and keeps well or freezes

Soup every day would eventually wear a little thin and I have learned to make an omelette or scramble some eggs and then add perhaps a couple of meat balls or a little salad.

 

Some people, like my Scottish ancestors, swear by oatmeal porridge as a winter warmer – ‘it sticks to your insides!’ – that is perhaps my problem with it! With the exception of Guide camps where long ago I learned to be a good leader and model trying anything you are given, I do not eat the stuff! But I do eat asian style savoury rice porridge – perhaps my ultimate winter breakfast.

This is a dish I first met during my university days when I spent time with the asian student community studying in Hobart. Late at night after a party the girls would head to the kitchen and return with this wonderful fragrant chicken and rice dish that was part soup part casserole and that they called ‘Kai chook’ or words to that effect. It was a traditional Laotian dish that provided a wind up to partying – and helped counteract the effects of alcohol! Since then I have met it again in a number of settings – most recently served from food vans at our iconic Salamanca Market. The present day version is marketed as congee and it generally thicker and more like a porridge.

Together my son and I have devised our own version of congee as he too thinks it makes for a great start to a Tasmanian winter’s day. Start with a good chicken stock – which will be the topic of a future post. In a heavy bottomed pan heat a little olive oil on a low to medium heat and in it sauté finely chopped garlic, ginger and fresh chilli. Add a couple of cups of medium or long grained rice and cover generously with stock. Bring to the boil then turn down to simmer. Cook until the rice is soft – longer than one normally would as the aim is for a porridge like consistency. Keep an eye on the liquid level and add extra stock if necessary. (If you run out use a little stock powder and water)

 

Once cooked stir in roughly chopped cooked chicken meat and season to taste. Sometimes I take a short cut and buy a pre-cooked chook – strip it of meat and make stock from the carcass then add the meat back at the end. A better option, when I have the time and inclination, is to poach a whole chicken in water with seasoning and vegetables, lift it out when the meat is cooked and strip it from the bones which are then returned to the pot to further enrich the stock – basically a number of ways of achieving the desired outcome, some of which create a superior product!

We also add chopped spring onions. This can be done as you dish up together with chopped mint and/or coriander, hot chilli sauce, crispy fried onions – take your pick or add your own flavours – crushed peanuts perhaps, after all its your breakfast! The joy of congee is that like my vegetable soup it keeps for several days in the fridge or you can freeze it so we make a big batch then breakfast is merely a matter of putting some in the pan, heating it through, maybe adding a splash of water if it has thickened more than you want – checking the seasoning and sprinkling on any added extras and hey presto Breakfast is on the table – and my brain can wake up gently!

Enjoy!

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I would love to hear what makes it on to your breakfast table!

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