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BREAKFAST CAN BE WONDERFUL

Few meals are as satisfying as a hearty, homemade breakfast. Here are some hints for making delicious breakfast treats.

Waffles

Waffles may look intricate and impressive, but they're easy to make using a non-stick waffle iron. They're also perfect for brunch parties or large family breakfasts, since they keep well in a warm oven. They even freeze well (reheat frozen waffles for 10 minutes in an oven set to 350 degrees).

When waffle batter is pressed between the hot grids of the iron, it develops a crisp, delicate crust. The inside of the waffle is cooked with steam and remains deliciously moist. Ladle the batter into each square of the waffle iron, until it almost reaches the edges. For a sweet, crunchy topping, sprinkle with 1 to 2 teaspoons of cinnamon sugar. Close the lid. When your waffle iron stops giving off steam, the waffle should be done. Lift the lid -- if it resists at all, the waffle needs a bit more time.

Try savory waffles -- made with potatoes, cornmeal or cheese -- in place of bread for breakfast sandwiches, or as a delectable base for eggs.

Oatmeal

For amazing oatmeal, use old-fashioned rolled oats or steel-cut oats (also known as Irish or Scottish oatmeal). Both of these take longer to cook than instant varieties, but the superior flavor is well worth the extra few minutes. Use a heavy pot to cook oatmeal and other whole-grain hot cereals -- lightweight pots tend to scorch. Be sure not to use more liquid than recommended, or the grains will overcook and become limp.

Add milk to replace some of the water for creamier oats, or apple or grape juice to add a fresh, sweet taste. Stir just enough to prevent sticking, as constant stirring breaks down the oats and makes them gluey. Simmer, don't boil, for best texture.

For a delicious nutty flavor, toast the oats before they are cooked. Toss dry oats in melted butter over medium heat until they begin to brown and give off a wonderful aroma. Add water, bring to a boil, and simmer until most of the water has evaporated.

Pancakes

For perfect pancakes, the griddle, cast-iron skillet, or non-stick frying pan needs to be the right temperature. Test it by flicking a few drops of water onto the surface. If the droplets bounce, sizzle and disappear, the griddle is ready. Melt some butter on the griddle, gently wiping off the excess with a paper towel -- too much butter will produce a pancake that is crisp on the outside, but underdone on the inside. You'll know it's time to flip a pancake when the batter surface is covered with little bubbles, some of which have started to break.

Blueberries aren't the only morsels you can add to pancakes. Try sliced bananas, toasted nuts, diced apples and ground cinnamon, granola or raisins plumped in fruit juice. Instead of mixing these ingredients into the bowl of batter, dot them over the batter immediately after you pour it on the griddle. This way, the additional ingredients are evenly distributed.

Luscious toppings

Cranberry syrup: Place 1 cup of fresh cranberries and 1 1/4 cups pure maple syrup in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Let simmer, stirring occasionally, until the berries pop, 8 to 10 minutes. Serve warm.

Sauteed pears: Peel and core 2 pears and slice them into 8 wedges apiece. Toss the pears with the juice of 1 lemon in a medium bowl, then set aside. Melt 1 tablespoon unsalted butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the pear slices and 1/2 cup of water. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of sugar. Simmer until the water has evaporated and the pears are golden brown, stirring occasionally. Serve warm.

Spiced honey: Warm 1 cup of honey, 4 star anise, and 4 cinnamon sticks in a small saucepan over medium-low heat for 5 to 10 minutes. Turn off the heat, and let the mixture rest for at least 30 minutes or overnight. The honey will keep up to 10 days in an airtight container.

Potato waffle

Closely related to potato pancakes, the potato waffle has one advantage -- it reheats exceptionally well and can be made in advance. Serve with your favorite brunch foods, such as soft-boiled eggs and poached asparagus.

POTATO WAFFLES

2medium (about 13 ounces) Yukon gold potatoes

1 1/2 teaspoons salt, plus more for saucepan

2cups all-purpose flour

1teaspoon sugar

1teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

3eggs, separated

2cups non-fat buttermilk

8tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted
Peel potatoes and cut each into eighths. Place in a medium saucepan of cold, salted water. Bring to a boil and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 8 minutes. Drain and set aside in a bowl to cool. Mash into coarse pieces with a fork or pastry cutter.

Heat the waffle iron. In a large bowl, sift together all-purpose flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks, buttermilk and butter. Pour into the dry ingredients and stir briefly, until just combined. Stir in the potatoes.

In another medium bowl, beat egg whites until stiff but not dry. Fold into the batter.

Ladle about 1/3 cup batter onto each section of the waffle grid. Spread batter almost to the edges. Close lid. Bake 5 to 6 minutes, until no steam emerges from waffle iron.

Transfer waffles to a baking sheet. Place in an oven set to about 200 degrees. Serves 4 to 6.

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