Four Star Breakfast cooking class at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City

Most mornings my breakfast consists of a piece of whole wheat toast slathered with peanut butter, or yogurt and Dorset cereal, or a microwave poached egg and toast.

On weekends, the breakfast bar often gets raised a notch. The skillet comes out, and soon the heady aroma of crisply cooked bacon and fried eggs (sunny side up is my fave!) fills the house. Aaaahhhh! The breakfast of champions!

You can never go wrong with bacon and eggs, but when it’s a special morning or you’re preparing breakfast for guests, it’s fun to serve up something a little different.

While in New York City recently, I attended a Four Star Breakfast cooking class at the Institute of Culinary Education. The four-hour class was taught by Chef Chad Pagano. Besides me, there were 13 other breakfast lovers looking to learn some new recipes for the most important meal of the day.

Chef Chad started the class by going over the recipes we’d be preparing. We were to work in groups to prepare as many of the recipes as we wanted or had time to cook. I was paired with Mary, the friendly woman sitting beside me, and a fellow wearing a chef’s jacket. He turned out to be a graduate of the school although he was not working as a chef.

My group opted to start with Potato Fritter Pancakes with Foie Gras, Balsamic Syrup and Creme Fraiche. Our chef partner (we’ll call him Chef J) took the lead, directing Mary and I to gather the ingredients we needed and measure them out, then explaining cooking terms and techniques to us, giving us tips on how to whisk properly, how to pour liquids into a bowl, how to chop, how to do this and how to do that. At times it was a bit much and I was tempted to tell him he wasn’t the boss of me, and that I actually knew how to cook as I’d been doing it for many years and had taken some formal cooking training myself. However, I figured it wasn’t worth making a fuss. There probably were a few things I could learn.

Our potato pancakes turned out very well. The syrup was really easy. (Here’s the recipe: Combine 1 cup (250 mL) each balsamic vinegar, red wine, Ruby Port and dark brown sugar. Reduce over high heat until very thick.) The foie gras was a buttery rich treat although I’m still not sure on which side of the fence I sit on the ethical issue of foie gras. (That’s another discussion for another day!)

Potato Frittatas

Potato Fritters Pancakes with Foie Gras, Balsamic Syrup and Creme Fraiche

By the time we’d finished the potato pancakes, another group was serving up Eggs Benedict with Smoked Salmon and Yogurt Dill Sauce.

Eggs Benedict

Eggs Benedict with Smoked Salmon and Yogurt Dill Sauce

Then it was on to what would turn out to be my favourite recipe – Croissant French Toast filled with Goat Cheese, Herbs and Strawberries. I’ve made a variation of this recipe before, but using two pieces of bread instead of a croissant and sandwiching them together with cream cheese and strawberry jam, then dipping the sandwich in a beaten egg and milk mixture.

With this recipe, the dipping mixture was made with half and half, eggs, orange juice, orange rind, cinnamon and nutmeg. Into a pocket cut in each croissant we stuffed a mixture of goat cheese and chopped fresh herbs, then tucked in some sliced strawberries. The filled croissants were soaked in the egg mixture, then cooked on both sides until golden brown and served with a drizzle of maple syrup and a dollop of whipped cream.

Stuffed French Toast Croissants

Stuffed French Toast Croissants

Meanwhile, another group had made Poached Eggs and Spinach served over Brioche Toast with Cheddar Cheese Sauce and Hickory Smoked Bacon, and it was ready for sampling.

Poached Eggs in Kale

The eggs poach in a spinach and onion mixture.

Poached Eggs in Kale - garnished (over garnished?) and ready to serve

The finished product - Poached Eggs and Spinach with Cheddar Cheese and a whole lot of bacon

Chef Chad had a Three Cheese Frittata with Roasted Red Peppers, Pesto and Broccoli Rabe Sausage on the list of recipes we could make, but Chef J wanted to show Mary and I how to make a “fun frittata”. Sure, why not, we agreed. Since I work for the Egg Farmers of Ontario, I figured I probably knew almost every way to make a frittata, but hey, you can always teach an old dog new tricks.

First we cooked a thick frittata on the stove top until it was set. Then Chef J placed a clean cutting board on our table and wound a towel around the handle of the skillet. He picked up the skillet, swung it over his head, and with a resounding thwomp, smashed the pan upside-down onto the cutting board. Conversations halted mid-sentence as our fellow cooks looked over at us in surprise. (Hey, this frittata was not only “fun”, but it was a sure-fire attention getter!)

Chef J carefully lifted up the skillet and luckily most of the frittata stayed behind on the cutting board. (Had we had a non-stick skillet, it would have been the ideal pan to use.) A little cheese sprinkled over the top (or was it the bottom?) of the frittata covered up any missing bits of egg, and there it was – the “fun frittata”!

Four Star Breakfasts - Fun Frittata

The "fun frittata"

I certainly enjoyed the class and I did come home with a few new recipes that I would make again, however, when it comes to cooking classes, my preference is a demonstration format. I personally learn more when the chef or cooking instructor prepares each recipe in front of the entire class, giving tips and techniques along the way. That way everyone benefits from seeing each recipe demonstrated and getting a chance to sample everything.

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