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Chef John Foster: When stumped for dinner, go simple and satisfying with breakfast fare


 

When in doubt, go simple, direct and without shame.
 
I favor scrambled eggs, bacon, buttered toast and some fruit. My sons will sometimes opt for an egg sandwich with the works – big, sloppy and satisfying.
 
If it’s lunch or dinner, it’s really not fair to include pastries – that’s brunch or Sunday breakfast. There is always room for roasted potatoes, or better yet, hash left over from previously roasted potatoes.
 
On a rare occasion, I can be persuaded to do French toast with fried ham, real maple syrup and some berries. It makes no difference winter or summer, fall or spring; there is always a time to have breakfast for dinner (or lunch).
 
I’m at my wit’s end with winter and the darkness it brings. I’m a New York boy where snow stays in the air and on the ground until mid-April. I moved to Kentucky in 1990, and after that a week of Christmas in New York was enough for me.
 
Day in and day out now it’s a drain on my glass half full that the flakes continue to fly. Like most people I seek solace in food, and we’ve spent the winter together each week trying to cook the food that satisfies on a cold winter night. This week, I finally gave in and cooked breakfast for dinner, and I enjoyed all of it, from the process to the clean plate.
 
I was so desperate, it was almost a premeditated act. I pulled some bacon rom the freezer ostensibly to make carbonara with some fresh pasta, but I never got that far. In fact, I never even pulled the flour or the pasta machine from its perch, I just went for the eggs and toast and some nice grapes.
 
There is one unwritten rule to all this: You can only do it “occasionally.” Breakfast is, after all, for the morning to break the fast of overnight sleep. Cooking it on a regular basis for any other meal or time of day upsets the time-space continuum and severely hampers our ability to discern night from day.
 
Early in my cooking career, I had the pleasure of working the griddle at the only Howard Johnson’s left in my part of upstate New York. We were on the edge of town, right by the state highway and we got a lot of tourist traffic. People would often have breakfast for dinner, having lost their sense of time while driving through our wilderness.
 
I could handle the 6 p.m. pancake dinner – that was a snap. The real horror was the midnight to three bar rush of hash browns, bacon, fried eggs and pancakes all done on the griddle, all on one plate! Multiply that by 100 and you improve your speed and organizational skills or you quit.
 
For a while, I seemed to be drawn to restaurants that served breakfast at all hours. New York City is famous for its diners, but when I first worked there in the early ’80s it was the cafés and coffee houses that offered breakfast until close.
 
Even when I moved here in the early ’90s a popular restaurant served muffins for lunch, and as its chef I would sometimes offer a savory frittata at dinner. Even at Harvest one of my first desserts at dinner was a take on Thomas Keller’s coffee and doughnuts.
 
It may be the sheer ease of the meal, or the unpretentious nature of one who serves it and is satisfied by it. Being the simplest (but as they say the most important) meal of the day, it is also the cheapest to produce, and in my mind the most return for investment.
 
Don’t overdo the regularity of the meal, and don’t over extend the creativity of what you serve. Keep it simple, eat it occasionally and enjoy it often.
 
Potato hash
 
It is better with leftover roasted potatoes or you can start from scratch. If from scratch, you need to par cook the potatoes by blanching them in salted water until you can slide them off your knife.
 
For two cups of potatoes, dice one shallot and two cloves of garlic. Sweat, not brown, the aromatics in whole butter and olive oil to prevent either fat from burning, and add the potatoes with enough room so that they move around the pan. Season the potatoes with salt, cracked black pepper and ground cumin.
 
You can also throw some chopped sage in there, but be very spare as it permeates the dish quickly. When everything in the pan has been coated with hot fat, press the mix down into the pan and slowly turn up the heat. You are creating a crust so you need the fats to be hotter and the potato surface area to be greater. Crust one side and then flip to the other side and do the same.
 
If you prefer, you can add a little bit of bacon fat when you flip them but don’t try to cook them all with bacon fat as it will burn easily. I like to soft poach a couple of local eggs, and dress the whole mess with a touch of really good extra virgin olive oil and maybe some parmesan.

 

John Foster is an executive chef who heads the culinary program at Sullivan University’s Lexington campus. A New York native, Chef Foster has been active in the Lexington culinary scene for more than 20 years. The French Culinary Institute-trained chef has been an executive chef, including at the popular Dudley’s Restaurant, and a restaurant owner.
 

Click here to read more from Chef John Foster.


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