By Patrick F. Cannon
Many people who never learned how to cook are stuck at home, discovering that ordering out can be both expensive and frustrating. They could, of course, eat Lucky Charms for every meal, hoping no doubt that the luck of the Irish would rub off on them. Or, they could learn how to cook, which would both save them cash and fill their lonely hours. Regular readers of this space will know that I’m uniquely qualified to teach this skill (and many others, if I may say so).
Almost everyone I know has a kitchen, so I assume this room is almost universal. If you’re not sure you have one, I suggest you wander around your house or apartment to see if there’s a space that contains at least a refrigerator, stove, and sink. If it includes a dishwasher and micro-wave oven, so much the better. I have been in several homes where this room is the largest in the house, with immense refrigerators, freezers, and stoves that would not look out of place in a restaurant. Many also include wine coolers and separate pizza ovens. Most of them look suspiciously pristine.
If you search carefully, I’m sure you’ll also find pots and pans and other accoutrements needed for the recipes that follow. Be of good cheer and put the frying pan on the fire!
Classic Bacon and Eggs. As a young lad, my usual breakfast was a bowl of Kellogg’s Pep, unfortunately no longer available. On weekends, we might have bacon and eggs, or perhaps pancakes or waffles. It was only when the US Army sent me to France that I discovered to my astonishment that the French eschewed a proper breakfast in favor of a croissant or brioche, consumed at the local café, and washed down with something they call café au lait, which turned out to be coffee with too much milk (although artfully poured by the waiter). This was only one of many French customs that confound me to this day. For example, the first thing they do upon awakening is make love, then have a cigarette.
Anyway, the classic bacon and eggs can be found throughout the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Ireland. It is usually accompanied by a piece of toast, or perhaps a crumpet. Seems complicated, but not if you follow my directions.
Bacon is sold already sliced, so no worry there. I see something called “Applewood Smoked” bacon has become popular. It doesn’t seem to taste much different than the regular kind, but feel free to indulge. By the way, my culinarily-accomplished son-in-law Boyd sometimes makes his own bacon, but he graciously slices it before delivery. Eggs are typically sold by the dozen, in medium, large, extra-large and jumbo sizes. I say go for the jumbo, and cholesterol be damned!
Fortunately, this is a one pan meal; in this case, a frying pan. Ideally, it should have a flat bottom of perhaps 10 inches, and tapering sides of two. One with a non-stick surface is preferable, although some cooks prefer a cast-iron pan. I believe only experts are wise to their cranky ways, so you should avoid their use. Put the pan on a stove burner and adjust the heat to medium. If you don’t know how to turn on the burner, please refer to the manufacturer’s instructions. Peel off individual strips of bacon and place on the pan. Three for each breakfaster should suffice. When the bacon turns brown, turn it over until it reaches a doneness you favor. Some people prefer their bacon burned; the same kind of people, it seems to me, who order expensive steaks well done.
Place the cooked bacon on a paper towel, which will absorb some of the excess fat. The bottom of the pan will have an abundance of this fat. It is flavorful, but the amount is likely excessive. Drain some into a container for later use, then add my secret ingredient, a large pat of butter. Faced with breaking an egg, many recoil in fear. Please don’t whack it with a large knife, hammer, or other implement. Tap it on a flat surface until it cracks, then break it into a small bowl. If the yolk – that’s the yellow part – is intact, repeat with another egg. If one of the yolks breaks, cast it into the garbage. When you have two eggs with intact yolks, pour gently into the pan. You will notice that the clear part of the egg will begin to turn white. When it seems completely firm, gently slide a spatula (see internet for description) under the egg and lift onto nearby plate. Treat the other egg(s) in precisely the same way.
As it happens, many egg eaters are frightened of runny whites, and will want their eggs turned over to fully cook them. This can be called over-easy, over-medium, or over-hard (for those truly terrified of both runny whites and yolks). Again, one slides the spatula under the eggs, but instead on transferring to a plate, you flip it over onto the other side. With constant practice, you will break the yolk only half the time. For over easy, a mere ten seconds on the second side will suffice; for over medium, another five seconds; for over hard, until the yolk is fully hardened and inedible.
In the meantime, you should have placed a couple of slices of bread in your toaster, which should be found somewhere in among your kitchen cabinets. When they pop up, slather with butter (no substitutes please, especially avocado). Add the bacon to the plate with the eggs, but serve the toast on a separate plate. It would be a kindness to provide some jam or preserves to complete the hearty meal.
Frankfurters a la Boston. What could be more American that hot dogs and Boston baked beans? To make this wholesome and tasty meal, you will require two sauce pans. Fill one with water; the other with a can or two of pork and beans. You may wish to serve two dogs per person; thus you should multiply the number of persons to be served by two. What could be simpler? As to brand, this can vary by geography. Here, in the Chicago area, I prefer Vienna, but surely this is a matter of taste? In any event, all you have to do is put the dogs in the water and turn on the heat. When the water comes to a boil (that’s when bubbles appear) it will only be a matter of minutes until the dogs are heated through.
If cooking the beans at the same time is too daunting, you can just turn the water off and let the dogs stay warm. You can then turn the heat on under the bean pot, and stir occasionally until they reach a level of heat compatible with your wishes. However, I would advise adding some additional flavors to the beans, as the canned product is a bit on the bland side. I favor a dollop of barbeque sauce, a squirt of ketchup, and a soupcon of Dijon mustard. The truly adventurous will essay a dash of some hot sauce – Tabasco, for example – into the beans to add a bit of heat. I’m told that some cooks even chop an onion and toss it in, but I have never personally witnessed this, so it may just be an urban legend.
Decision time has now arrived. Do you serve the hot dogs on a bun, or naked? If on a bun, complications arise. Do you wish to serve a true Chicago dog? If so, you will need to have some poppy-seed buns, green relish, yellow mustard, diced onions and tomato, little peppers and celery salt. If this seem too complicated, limit your accompaniments to the mustard and relish. Do not be tempted to use fancy bakery buns – the cheaper the better. Sans buns, you need only serve jars of condiments, which one may use for dipping – but never ketchup!
To maintain proper standards, you must pour the beans into a serving bowl. Provide it with a large spoon, so each diner may partake as he or she wishes. It would be most helpful to also provide salt and pepper shakers, cutlery and napkins. A good lager would suit this menu. Wine choice can be tricky, but I would recommend a fruity Alsatian Riesling, properly chilled.
(Next time – Beef Wellington, with white Asparagus Hollandaise, and Bombe au Chocolat.)
Copyright 2020, Patrick F. Cannon