For most of my life I’ve considered myself to be a bit of a change junkie. I’ve always identified more with exploring the new than going back to the old. The possibilities of new horizons have usually been more alluring to me. But over the last year or so I’ve begun to develop an appreciation for the familiar.
It feels a tiny bit weird to be saying this but I am actually enjoying the introduction of a little routine. I’ve realized that sometimes it can be just as rewarding to revisit old favourites over again. Allowing little tweaks in the search for perfection but not trying to reinvent the wheel at every meal.
To be honest I can’t take the credit for the evolution of Sunday breakfast in our house. You see Glen is, by nature, one of those people who thinks that when you’re on a good thing you should stick to it. That doesn’t mean that he isn’t willing to experiment. Far from it.
The first meal Glen ever cooked for me was a Sunday breakfast. I remember it well. Sure I was a little nervous about letting someone else loose in my kitchen but I decided that staying out of things was the best course of action. I showered, had a leisurely read of the papers and tried not to worry.
The results were delicious and well past my expectations. Sublime scrambled eggs a la Gordon Ramsay were up there with the best eggs I had ever eaten. Crispy bacon and pure pork sausages provided a meaty oomph. Milky Irish breakfast tea. But the biggest revelation to me was the bread toasted only on one side. Warm with that lovely flavour that only good toast can have. Butter melting just so. Soft underneath so it wasn’t too hard and you could bight through easily. This was the business, a deal maker so to say. AndÂ the chefÂ was pretty cute too.
After that first breakfast I knew that there were going to be many more and I also realized that I needed to get used to sharing my kitchen. At first it was little things. I offered to make salad and set the table. And while the idea of salad with breakfast was treated with controversy from the Irish contingent, it’s now become a regular fixture.
Over time I’ve refined my breakfast salad. It started out as being wild rocket with a balsamic and olive oil dressing but that didn’t go down well with someone wearing braces. So I experimented and ended up with a mixed leaf salad with a dressing of caramelized red wine vinegar, seeded mustard and exra virgin olive oil. It’s funny but I didn’t realize until now but the only time I make that dressing is at breakfast. A place for everything.
The salad isn’t the only thing that has evolved. Eggs have gone from scrambled to poached to a brief stint of baking them in ramekins to our current favourite – the classic fried egg. I grew up with fried eggs and I guess hadn’t ever thought of them as being all that special. But these days they are our big breakfast egg of choice (that is except for when we’re having a breakfast frittata). Quick and easy and good looking. Not to mention the lovely crispy egg whites from around the edges. Yum.
Bacon has been a constant but the cooking method has varied over time. It started out with the classic pan frying technique before Glen started experimenting with the grill (broiler). If you’re only cooking for a couple of people the grill is the way to go. Glen recommends a medium low heat so the rind gets lovely and crispy and the flesh takes on a golden colour.
The other thing that has really helped our bacon is the discovery of a butcher who slices it to order. After playing around with a few different thicknesses we’ve settled on 4mm (0.16in) as ideal. You have to love the boys at Hudsons.
Our breakfast banger actually sparked some debate in the early days. Glen was always a supporter of the traditional pure pork but I secretly thought that they were boring compared to their chunky Italian style brothers. All it took was a tasting when we pitted both sausages against each other.Â I was happy to admit that at breakfast, the delicate melt in the mouth texture of the plain pork was much more enticing that the chunky garlicy Italian. Although I still maintain that on pizza it’s a whole different story.
Speaking of stories, if you missed the evolution of our perfect sausage cooking technique from a few weeks ago you can read it here. I say ‘our’ but really it was all Glen with a little help from his mate Heston.
The importance of pork products in a big breakfast should not be under estimated. We seem to have settled on bacon and bangers but please don’t think that this will always be the case. With an Irishman at the helm there of course has been many an excursion into the world of the ‘pudding’. I’m a big fan of both the black and white versions but they are incredibly rich and a little bit goes a long way. Add to that the fact that they’re difficult to source and you can see why they’re more of your extra special occasion item.
I love my mushrooms and the fact that they’re so easy to cook means that they’re often on the breakfast menu. My current favourites are medium sized portabellos. Just give them a brush to get rid of any dirt then pop them in an ovenproof dish with the stalk side up. Dot with a few knobs of butter and a drizzle of olive oil. Add a healthy dose of salt and pepper, a few sprigs of thyme and a few cloves of garlic still in their jackets if you’re in the mood. Then into the oven at 200C (400F) for about 25minutes and they’ll be all soft and juicy and lovely about the same time that your bangers are ready.
Apart from the salad and the mushies, there aren’t usually many other items from the vegetable kingdom hanging around our breakfast table. Although to be fair, avocado makes an appearance occasionally as do tomatoes either whole roasted if small or chunkily sliced and well seasoned and drizzled with your primo olive oil if they’re at their best.
Which brings me to the condiments. Basically the only thing that has lasted the distance has been chilli jam. At first it was from the good people at Hank’s Jam of which I’m a big fan. But inevitably I decided that I was going to have a crack at making my own.
The first port of call in my research was the ingredient list on Hank’s jar. To be honest I was a little disappointed that the main ingredient was sultanas and that chilli came way down the list. So I decided to go with red capsicum for colour, long red chillis to give warmth but not too much and sultanas for sweetening.
The first time we ate my version was the morning after I had made it. To say it was hot is a serious understatement. I was very much wishing I hadn’t been lazy and had actually bothered to deseed those last few chillis. I wasn’t sure how we were ever going to eat it all.
So I did the only thing sensible and pushed it to the back of the fridge and forgot about it for a while. A month or so later I spied the chilli jam skulking behind the yoghurt and I reluctantly pulled it out for another whirl. Taking tiny tiny samples we did the dance of the once-chilli-bitten. But as luck would have it the jam had mellowed during it’s time in exile. Sure it still packed a punch but gone was the super intense fireyness. It was delicious. The final piece in our breakfast puzzle, that is until it evolves once again.
the GB-JC big breakfast of choice
roast portabello mushrooms with butter and thyme
plain pork sausages
breakfast chilli jam
mr potato bread toast
kerrygold Irish butter
milky Irish tea (Barry’s brand)
breakfast chilli jam
makes about 5 medium sized jars
While we love it as a breakfast condiment, its usefulness doesn’t stop there. It makes a lovely addition to bangers and mash instead of onion gravy and is also a great way to spice up a sausage sandwich,
3 large red capsicum (bell peppers)
2kg (4lb) long red chillis
1/2C olive oil
6 red onions, peeled & finely diced
4 cloves garlic, peeled & chopped
1/2t ground cumin
1/2t ground allspice
1t smoky paprika
300g (11oz) sultanas, well chopped
100g (3 1/2oz) brown sugar
Preheat oven to 200C (400F).
Divide chillli and red capsicum between two baking trays and drizzle each with a little oil, reserving the rest to cook the onions. Bake for about an hour, turning every 20minutes or so until vegetables are soft and browned. Remove from the oven and cover and allow to cool.
Meanwhile, to sterilize your jars pop them in the dishwasher and give them a spin on the hottest cycle. Or place them in a large saucepan and cover with water and bring to a simmer then drain and allow to dry in a low oven.
In your largest saucepan or a stock pot, warm oil over a medium low heat. Add onion and cook stirring occasionally until onion is soft but not brown. Add garlic and cook for another few minutes before adding spices. If your chilli isn’t yet ready remove the onion from the heat while you attend to the chilli.
When the chilli and capsicum are cool enough to handle, I thoroughly recommend you put on some rubber gloves. Peel and deseed the capsicum and chilli, reserving any water that has accumulated. If you’d prefer it a little hotter leave some of the chillis with the seeds in (I left about 10 with their seeds in and was glad I hadn’t left any more). Roughly chop the chilli and capsicum flesh and add to the onion pan along with the reserved water.
Bring to a simmer and add sultanas and sugar. Simmer, stirring occasionally for 1 – 2 hours or until the jam has thickened into a chunky jammy paste. Immediately divide between the sterilized jars and seal while still hot.
Allow to stand for at least a week but preferably 2 before enjoying with your breakfast of choice.
Will keep in the cupboard for a few months but once opened, refrigerate the jar.
ps. I know the eggs in the photo about look a little bit too yellow
to be true but they are 100% natural free range from my uncle’s