Monday, February 11, 2013

Breakfast

So one of the big things that I've realised doing this $2 project is that breakfast is little more than a profit making business. If breakfast is the most important meal of the day, then why do we spend so little time on it? Think about the amount of space taken up by cereals at the local supermarket and the rituals around it. What we see as breakfast options... We're lead to believe that healthy should be textured like cardboard and taste horrendous. Or that people are too busy and so we have products like "Up and Go". Sugary cereals, fat filled corn flakes, pancakes/flapjacks/pikelets, the good ol' fry up or the unfulfilling fruit.

Furthermore, these options seem excessively pricey. A couple of years ago I was in a cafe in Parnel when I noticed that they had porridge on the menu. $10 for a bowl of porridge. Probably one of the cheapest breakfast items on the market (so long as you don't go for the speciality items like individual serves, "instant" porridge or various flavours - you're better off buying dried fruit to flavour it yourself) and it was being sold in a cafe for an amazingly excessive price.

And all for the sake of saving a few minutes in the morning. I'm convinced that you can both make and sit down and have an enjoyable sit down and even do the clean up all within 1/2 an hour (10 minutes for each) - probably less time than it would take at the local cafe. What's more, the energy from a proper meal should be greater. Going out with the fibre from rice or pasta in your stomach means that you're probably not going to start fading half way through the day.

Stop reaching for that can of soup, pasta cup, muesli bar etc. and have a real meal with vegetables, carbohydrates and protein...

So as part of my $2 project (it just has a better ring to it than the $2.25 project), I've been, not exactly skipping breakfast, but thinking of breakfast as just a meal. So I've been cooking. Carbonara is a particular favourite. Although... traditionally carbonara was a breakfast thing anyway. Recipe to follow (once I've brought some bacon - there's a conversation there to be had about picking bacon). There's something to be said here about what's considered breakfast in other parts of the world. Asking my father what they used to do for breakfast in India, it was either left overs with a wholegrain Indian bread (a kind of whole grain version of Roti) or that same wholegrain bread with yoghurt. We're talking about the 1950's. Mr Breakfast.com lists out quite a few breakfasts. Look for the links on the left for different regions.

The Asian-inspired pepper prawns also work quite well. In fact, it seems that with this whole effort, just about any $2.25 meal would work - given that they're all (thus far) fairly quick to make.

So let's get onto a recipe - but first... bacon. Bacon comes in horribly diverse quality. Personally I like a rindless middle bacon but it's horrendously expensive. You can use quite a bit less in most recipes as it normally has a slightly stronger flavour than the cheaper stuff. So as part of this project I've been looking at cheaper options. I started by buying the cheapest pack I could possibly find. It was a fairly large pack, had an expiration date (something you don't normally see on bacon) and looked nasty. It was nasty. It kind of had the texture of luncheon and right on the expiration date, it kind of turned into a mushy mess. Hint: if it doesn't really look like meat - like off a pig - and has an expiration date on the packet, it's best to avoid it. Cooking it was horrid. It would stick and wouldn't crispen up unless it had been turned to charcoal. AND it had absolutely no flavour.

Why would I be so against an expiration date? A friend of mine brought "smoked salmon" and found that it went off on him. Smoking is supposed to extract the water and with a little salt should result in a preserved product. He enquired at the supermarket and it turns out it's not actually a smoked meat but rather, a smoke flavoured product.

Bacon's supposed to go through a similar process - smoked, salted and cured. So if it has an expiration date, it's probably a bacon like product rather than bacon.

Tonight I've brought a small pack (4 rashers. 200g) of bacon - of the Countdown supermarket brand, Signature Range. Opening it was a pleasant experience - it smelt like bacon. A little smokiness with just a hint of Manuka honey.

Carbonara

Ingredients

A note about the ingredients. You should be able to buy a lot of these things on special. Pasta, if in a sealed bag, should last years. Bacon, if it doesn't have an expiration date, will probably last a few weeks without any problem - if done right, it should last longer.
  • 1 tablespoon of oil (no real need to get picky here though I think that one of the biggest advantages of an expensive oil is that you're conscious of how much it cost in which case you're less likely to use too much).
  • A pinch of chilli flakes (This can probably be omitted though I think it works better with - it lends the bacon a little smokiness and gives the overall dish a little kick. Some Italian cooking uses quite a bit of chilli anyway, so it's still fairly authentic. I guess you could use a smoked paprika but add it a little later in the dish - burning your paprika wouldn't be good).
  • 1 rasher of bacon ($1.05 normally though I brought it on sale at $0.85 a rasher).
  • 1 clove of garlic. (I normally forget to put the garlic in).
  • 1/4 of a 500g pack of spaghetti ($0.575 - though on special, it was $0.50)
  • 1 egg
  • A palm full of parsley (finely chopped) - preferably home grown Italian flat leaf parsley. I also think that this could be filled out a bit using a little bit of spinach just to get your greens in there.
  • A palm full of grated parmesan or romano cheese (I need to quantify this as parmesan and romano are horrendously expensive. I spoke to Baillie about this the other day who said that you can buy big 1kg bags of ready grated stuff from places like Gilmours or Toops though I want to keep this project to things that I can buy without accounts* and the like). I would love suggestions on places to get romano or parmesan from OR suitable replacements - for both texture and flavour.

Method

  • Put your spaghetti on to cook. A few tips: make sure your water is REALLY hot before putting your spaghetti in. Add some salt to the water. It's better to have a large pot with your pasta swimming around rather than crowding your pasta in a small pot. To test if it's ready, it's kind of fun throwing it a wall. If it sticks, it's ready. If it bounces, keep cooking it. It should be a violent boil. It should take around 10 minutes to cook.
  • Chop up your bacon into small bits. Crush your garlic (i.e. crush when peeling, chop up into small bits. DON'T use garlic from a jar or from out of the freezer if you can avoid it. If you use a garlic crusher, you tend to use a bit of texture).
  • Put your oil, chilli flakes, garlic and a pinch of salt into a frying pan. When it's come to heat, throw in the bacon. Turn down your stove to a low heat. You're trying to infuse those flavours into the bacon while dehydrating the bacon to make it resemble pancetta.
  • Mix up your egg with the parsley and cheese in another vessel (I just use a cup). It'll be kind of thick.
  • When the pasta is ready, turn the heat off on the bacon. It should now be crispy.
  • Pour in 1/4 of a cup of the water from the pasta onto the bacon. Drain the pasta and throw it in on top of the bacon. If you have too much water in your pan (It should just sit on the bottom and sit about 1/3 of the way up the pasta), burn it off NOW. Give it time to cool down (3 minutes should be okay) before proceeding.
  • Add your egg mixture to the bacon and pasta and mix (I like using tongs here). If the temperature of the water is just right, the eggs and cheese will combine with the water to become creamy. Some recipes will tell you to use a fat in this step as well - olive oil, lard or butter, or even, cream. I think this is completely unnecessary. Choose your battles. There are better places to use fat to richen up meals and really - who wants to start the day with craploads of fat?
  • Chuck it on a plate and you should be sweet. Top it off with a parsley leaf or two.
I was going to add a photo but the sample I made had too much water which lead to a soupy like texture instead of creamy. If this happens you've got two choices - quickly whisk up another egg and throw in with some more grated parmesan, OR apply a little heat (keeping to budget) which results in a scrambled egg texture AND a soupy mess... In other words. the water is really important. That teaches me for not paying attention.

Another suggestion - the lost comment - came through to use a little flour to help thicken it up. I made it again today and so have a photo though this one was also a little thin - this time the water was a little cold. Flavour was great. Texture mostly okay. When you get it just right it's like nothing you've ever eaten before.

* Is there an opportunity here to buy in bulk and sell to friends and neighbours? A kind of communal (oh so very hippy of me) bulk buying agreement...

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