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Breakfast and Brunch Ingredients

Breakfast and Brunch Ingredients
Preparing the morning meal begins with the best-quality ingredients, from flavorful grains to fresh fruits and vegetables in season. Follow the guidelines here for stocking your pantry and refrigerator, and for making sure you have the right cooking equipment on hand.

Eggs
Scrambled or fried, made into an omelette or a quiche, or used to add moisture and texture to baked goods, eggs are a versatile mainstay of the morning menu. For best results, purchase fresh eggs and store them properly in the refrigerator.

Eggs are sold by size. Most recipes, especially for baking, use large eggs. Look for grade AA eggs, sold in most markets. These eggs, which are the highest quality, will have a firm, rounded yolk and a thick, gelatinous white. Check the sell-by date on the carton; do not buy the eggs if this date is approaching.

When possible, buy free-range eggs, which means the hens were allowed to roam outdoors. The less-regulated cage-free label means the hens were given some access to the outside, though it is often highly limited.

Store eggs in the refrigerator where the temperature is below 40°F. Keep them in their carton, rather than storing them in the open, so they do not absorb other flavors.

Dairy
Dairy products are essential to breakfast and brunch. Yogurt enriches smoothies, cheeses fill omelettes, sour cream garnishes potatoes, and milk is indispensable for baking and for serving with cereal and coffee.

Dairy products that were once hard to find are now stocked in many markets. Greek-style yogurt is made by straining the yogurt to remove excess liquid. Thick, creamy and tangy, it can be used in place of milk on granola and is a delicious garnish. Crème fraîche, a rich, velvety cultured cream, makes an incomparable garnish for crepes, fruit salads and other dishes.

When purchasing milk, cream, butter and other dairy products, check the sell-by dates on cartons and packages.

Store dairy products in the coldest area of the refrigerator. Wrap cheeses tightly in plastic wrap to prevent them from drying out and spoiling.

Grains and Cereals
Like eggs, grains and cereals have long been staples at the breakfast and brunch table. Packaged grains and cereals are readily available, but for the best quality, look for these ingredients sold in bulk at natural-foods stores or other well-stocked markets with a high turnover, which helps guarantee freshness. You will also find grains sold in vacuum-sealed packages that maintain freshness while the products are on the store shelves. After opening the package, transfer the contents to a tightly sealed container. If you store all grains and cereals this way in a cool, dry place, they will last for up to 1 year.

Oatmeal, polenta and grits are processed into fast-cooking forms. Despite the ease of preparation, these products lack the flavor and texture of the standard versions. Old-fashioned rolled oats, for instance, are more robust than the instant and quick-cooking varieties, and they take only 5 minutes to prepare. And there is no substitute for rolled oats when making homemade granola. Polenta and grits need to cook about 15 minutes longer than the quick-cooking products, but the results are well worth the extra time.

Dry Ingredients
When you keep your pantry stocked with dry ingredients such as flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and a selection of spices, nuts and dried fruits, you will have most of the ingredients you need for making pancakes, waffles, muffins, quick breads and other delicious breakfast treats.

You can purchase many of these ingredients in bulk at a store where the supply sells quickly and is replenished often. If you buy packaged flours, baking powder and baking soda, avoid items that are nearing their expiration dates.

The major concern when storing dry ingredients is preventing rancidity. Purchase flour and nuts in amounts that you can use within a few months. Flour readily absorbs odors, so transfer flour to an airtight container, put in a cool, dry place, and use within 4 to 6 months.

Store nuts in airtight containers or plastic bags in a cool, dry place for 1 to 2 months. For longer storage, place them in the refrigerator or freezer, where they will stay fresh for up to 6 months. To save time, you can toast nuts in advance and store them until needed.

Fruits
Mimosas with freshly squeezed tangerine juice; granola layered with strawberries, nectarines and yogurt; and plump fresh figs partnered with crisp, golden French toast are just some of the ways that fruits are integral to breakfast and brunch dishes.

Fruits benefit from special handling to preserve their flavor. When you bring fruit home from the market, do not wash it before storing. Wet or damp fruit can easily develop a layer of mold.To store delicate berries, line a shallow glass or plastic container with paper towels, spread the berries in a single layer, cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.

Many fruits, in contrast, should be stored at room temperature to preserve their flavor and aroma. Set bananas, peaches, nectarines, plums, mangoes and citrus on a counter until ready to use. They will also ripen faster if set out at room temperature.

Raisins, currants and other dried fruits retain moisture that is important to their flavor and texture. To prevent them from drying out, store in tightly sealed containers at room temperature for up to 1 month or in the refrigerator or freezer for up to 6 months.

Vegetables
When you think of vegetables as part of the morning menu, potatoes may first come to mind. A variety of other vegetables, prepared in salads, soups and even sandwiches, can enhance a breakfast or brunch menu.

Proper handling and storage of vegetables help guarantee the best flavor and allow you to purchase some vegetables well in advance of preparation.

Loosely wrap lettuce, arugula and other greens in paper towels and store in a resealable plastic bag in the refrigerator. They will keep for up to 1 week.

Most vegetables, such as artichokes, asparagus, beets, bell peppers, carrots and fennel, should be refrigerated in a plastic bag. They will keep for up to 1 week. Other produce should be set out at room temperature. Tomatoes and eggplants will stay fresh for 2 to 3 days.

Enclose potatoes in a paper bag to shield them from direct light and use them within 2 to 3 weeks. Store onions and garlic separately from potatoes. Put them in a cool, dry place away from direct light, which can cause sprouting.

Meat, Poultry and Fish
Bacon, ham and sausages of many types and flavors contribute protein to the breakfast or brunch plate. Chicken can be cooked into hash or potpies. Lobster, smoked trout or crab salad makes an elegant main course for brunch.

When preparing meat, poultry and fish, be sure to follow several food-safety guidelines.

Prepackaged meats should be used in advance of the sell-by date indicated on the package. If you buy meat or poultry directly from a butcher, use within 2 days.

Fresh fish and shellfish should ideally be served on the day of purchase or at most within 1 day. To prevent cross-contamination with other foods, reserve a cutting board exclusively for preparing raw meat, poultry and fish. Do not leave these raw items at room temperature for more than 1 hour. Especially when serving buffet style, do not allow cooked meat, poultry and fish to stand at room temperature for more than 1 to 2 hours. In hot weather, reduce the time to 1 hour.

Outfitting Your Kitchen
Most breakfast and brunch dishes are made with everyday kitchen equipment. Here is what you will need to put morning meals on the table:

Baking dishes and pans
Baking sheets
Blender
Cast-iron fry pan
Citrus reamer, zester and juicer
Coffee grinder
Coffeemaker
Crepe pan
Espresso machine
Food processor
Fry pans
Griddle
Instant-read and deep-frying thermometers
Loaf pan
Measuring cups and spoons
Mixing bowls
Muffin pans
Omelette pan
Pastry blender
Ramekins
Rubber and metal spatulas
Saucepans and pots
Tartlet pans
Teapot
Timer
Toaster
Waffle maker


Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Breakfast and Brunch, by Georgeanne Brennan, Elinor Klivans, Jordan Mackay and Charles Pierce (Oxmoor House, 2007).