In my kitchen, cold dark mornings lend to long, lingering breakfasts.
Winter is my favorite time of year for large fortifying meals that will fuel my crew before they head out of doors. Where I live, winter chores include grooming trails for our sled dogs to run upon, cutting firewood, and shoveling snow from our buildings -- all labor-intensive and weather-exposed activities.
The outdoor team, four hearty souls bundled into insulated suits, facemasks, and with ice clinging from their beards, buzz in and out of the kitchen at frequent intervals to warm up and refill their mugs with steaming hot coffee or tea. They eat all day long: large breakfast, snack, snack, moderate lunch, snack, snack, and finally a relaxing and often festive dinner signaling that the workday is nearly done. We are cooking from sun-up to sun-down for these guys -- and, they are all skinny and always starving.
Breakfast favorites in my kitchen include hashed potatoes of all kinds. We like to make smoked salmon hash, we “corn” our own beef and serve it with chunky fried potatoes, onions, eggs, and fresh baked breads. We always have a basket of muffins or breakfast breads near the coffee station for those frequent drive-by visits we get throughout the morning.
We like to make steel-cut oats on egg-alternating mornings. Steel-cut oats, really called "whole grain groats," are chewier and more substantial in texture than the usual rolled or quick-cooking oats you might be more familiar with. To quicken the time to cook steel-cut oats, we just, right before bedtime, bring 4 cups of water to a boil, add in 1 cup of steel-cut oats, and stir. We cover the pot and leave overnight near the stove (We can’t leave anything on top of our stove because the pilot lights on a commercial stove emit too much warmth, but you could do that if you using a home-style stovetop). In the morning, basically just heat and serve. This little trick shaves about 45 minutes from the morning routine.
We make sourdough pancakes and waffles, often digging into our stash of frozen berries to stir into the batter. We keep a clear-glass pitcher of sourdough going on the wire shelf near the stove. We don’t use commercial yeast to start our starters. We rely on the wild yeast already living in the kitchen. In goes a cup or two of flour, equal amounts of water, and sometimes flavors such as a bit of fermented green apple.
Through travel and family, we’ve all become fans of British-style breakfasts that might include grilled mushrooms and fresh tomatoes (a luxury for us in the winter), fried eggs, potatoes, and those molasses-and-tomato-baked beans.
This week, we made our own English muffins, not necessarily a component of an English breakfast, and not necessarily English at all, but perhaps due to the "McGeneration" familiarity with handheld breakfast sandwiches, our homemade English muffins are a perpetual favorite around the breakfast table.
English muffins are surprisingly easy to make, perhaps even more quick and simple than bread. This particular recipe doesn’t take forever to rise and knead. It is perfect for crab benedicts, as we made this week -- or, just to serve with a hot slab of butter and homemade jam.
If you’d like a recipe for our simple small-batch hollandaise sauce, send me an email request at kirsten(at)alaskadispatch.com and I’ll happily send it along to you. Stay warm!
Homemade English Muffins
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Add the milk and butter into a small saucepan over medium heat. Heat just until the butter is melted and the milk is warm. Cool slightly and then stir in the honey and yeast.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, and baking soda. Add in the milk-butter-yeast mixture and the egg. Mix all until a dough forms, either by hand or in a mixer.
Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface. Roll the dough out with a flour-dusted rolling pin to about 1-inch in thickness.
Use a round, 3-inch cutter (Or, in our case, we used the rim of an inverted water glass. Cut-out tuna cans are ever popular, if anyone has those around anymore) to cut out each muffin. Tradition calls for laying the muffins out onto a baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal, and I like this -- the muffins don’t get to floury, and the cornmeal can be dusted off after baking if preferred. Sprinkle the top of the muffins with cornmeal also to prevent sticking.
Cover the muffins with a clean kitchen towel and let them rise for about a half-hour.
Over a hot, lightly greased or pan-sprayed griddle, griddle pan, or cast-iron pan -- or even a nonstick frying pan -- “griddle” each muffin for about five minutes on each side.
Slip the muffins onto a baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal and slide into the oven for an additional 8-10 minutes, or until the muffins are fully dried out in the center but still just lightly golden brown on the outside.
Makes 16 (3-inch) muffins.
Kirsten Dixon is an award-winning chef who has cooked and lived the past 30 years in the backcountry of Alaska. To learn more about her, visit www.kirstendixon.com.