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Easier, Healthier Oven-Cooked Bacon

24 Apr

Y’all still here? Sorry I haven’t been around. We headed out of town for spring break and then spent last week playing catch-up, and I haven’t cooked anything new in awhile. But today, I have a great tip for you!

Bacon has been the hot food for awhile, and while stovetop frying is still a delicious way to cook it up, it’s hugely greasy and very, very messy. And I for one do not enjoy splatter burns all over my hands, which is what I get frying bacon.

You probably already know you can “fry” bacon in the oven. The problem with that, of course, is that you generally end up with bacon that’s submerged in a pool of grease on the sheet pan. Not great for crisping, and, quite frankly, disgusting to contemplate.

Enter your cooling rack. Yes, the same one you use for cookies and breads and baked amazingness. Note: if you don’t have one of these, they are a true multi-tasker and make a huge difference in the kitchen–great for baking but also good for many other things. They’re like $5, and I highly recommend procuring one or two.

Here’s the trick: Line your baking sheet with foil and put your cooling rack on top of it, just like you would if you were cooling cookies on it. Spray it with olive oil or other nonstick stuff; bacon has a lot of fat, but it’s all going to run off and if you don’t spray your rack, you’re going to be scraping bacon bits off it for a good long time.

Lay your bacon on the sprayed rack and bake it at 425 degrees for about 20 minutes–start checking on it after 10, because your oven is going to cook differently than mine. When it reaches its desired done-ness and crispyness, pull it out. See how all the fat is on the baking sheet where it’s not touching your yummy bacon?

Neat, eh?

I hope you’ll try this soon. And I have an amazing recipe for you later this week–I promise!

 

Breakfast Quinoa

16 Apr

I have a super-healthy friend who loves quinoa (which makes total sense–the nutritional stats on this whole grain are unbelievable and it’s tasty too), and she mentioned to me this weekend that she was going to try to do something with it for breakfast. That sounded like an outstanding idea to me. I mean, if egg protein is good for you first thing in the morning, quinoa protein must just about knock breakfast out of the park from a staying-full-all-morning standpoint.

I came home and started thinking about making quinoa a little bit sweet and a little bit cereal-like, and that led to thoughts of rice pudding. If you’ve never had rice pudding, you should give it a try–it’s sweet and cinnamony and really not so bad for you as far as desserts go. Since quinoa cooks like rice and takes up flavors like rice, I decided to make a quinoa pudding out of it, using coconut milk (which is also really good for you) and similar spices to what I’d cook in a rice pudding.

To be honest, my first try was less than stellar. Quinoa needs a lot more liquid to get pudding-ish than rice does and I ended up with a good-tasting but too-dense bowl of grains. Whoops. But I made a second batch, let it chill out in the fridge overnight, and dished myself out some this morning with a little extra milk and some banana.

Yummy. A little bit goes a long way, what with the whole grain and the protein, and this has the outstanding benefits of being gluten-free and casein-free if you go with all coconut milk (which, for the record, does not taste like coconut. It’s just a sweeter milk than cow milk). Bananas were great with it, but blueberries would also be super yummy. Peaches or apples too.

My kids won’t touch this. Be prepared for that reaction. It’s fine, though. More yumminess for me without anybody asking to share. I got about four bowls from this recipe, and am looking forward to breakfast all week as a result. Which makes me happy. 🙂

Want to try quinoa for breakfast? You need:

1/2 cup quinoa, very well rinsed (it’s bitter–rinsing it really really well will get rid of that)

1 14-oz can of light coconut milk

3/4 cup regular milk (or more coconut milk if you’re going for dairy-free)

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg

2 tsp brown sugar

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 cup coconut flakes (optional–I really like coconut, but skip this if you don’t)

In a medium-sized saucepan, whisk together your milks and spices. Stir in your rinsed quinoa, turn your burner on medium, and let it come to a boil. Keep an eye on this–coconut milk comes to a very fast, violent boil just like milk. As soon as you start seeing bubbles, lower your heat to medium-low and stir every 10 minutes or so for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the mixture takes on a cream-of-wheat kind of texture. I made this while we ate dinner, so the time and stirring wasn’t such a big deal.

Take it off the heat and stir in the coconut if you’re using it. Cool, cover, and pop into the refrigerator overnight. In the morning, dish yourself out a bit and add fruit and extra milk as desired. Be happy.

Leftover Magic: Honey Roasted Sweet Potatoes as Breakfast

5 Apr

See that up there? It doesn’t look like much, I know. But break the eggs and stir it all together and you have one of the most decadent-tasting, satisfying breakfasts I know of, and it’s a healthy way to start off your day. Swear.

I don’t have a cute family story to tell you about this one–my kids won’t touch this. Which is totally fine with me, because it’s one of my favorites and their disinterest means more for me, quite frankly, without anybody asking me to share. We moms share very well, but once in awhile, it’s nice to have something delicious that’s only touched by your own fork.

That said, we’re going to move straight onto the recipe, which is the best part of this–it’s so stinkin’ easy and such a great way to empty out some leftovers that I can’t wait to share. You need:

Leftover honey roasted sweet potatoes. Click on that if you need the recipe for those. I’d say about a half-cup, but any amount will work.

Eggs

Olive oil

That’s it.

Heat a small pan over medium heat and drizzle it with a little olive oil to keep things from sticking. Stir around your leftover potatoes until they warm through–keep them moving for a few minutes so the honey doesn’t burn.

Once they’re warm, spread them out (or bunch them up, depending how many you have) into a solid layer. Very carefully break your egg or eggs on top. Lower the burner to low, and pop a lid on that puppy.

Wait about three minutes and then start checking your eggs for doneness–you want them cooked through but with runny yolks. Once you get there, slide the whole beautiful shebang onto a plate, cut the yolks open, and smile because this, my friends, is good stuff.

Don’t-Tell-‘Em-They’re-Whole-Wheat Pancakes

2 Apr

Before you shake your head and mutter about whole wheat flour and head off to Paula Deen’s site for some real pancakes for the love of Bisquick, give me a second to tell you about Friday night.

Friday night starts in the mountains of western Maryland where, about 10 minutes outside of a lakeside area that makes its money almost purely on tourism, stands Annie’s Kitchen, which is a third-generation (I think) working-class, meat and mashed potatoes, over-easy eggs and scrapple kind of restaurant. Linoleum floors, mismatched tables and chairs, diner coffee cups from before Crate & Barrel started making them, and waitresses who know everybody in town, and every thing about every body. You know the kind of place–the hole-in-the-wall you only tried because you wanted something off the beaten path, and any shake-shack of a dive with that many pickup trucks in the parking lot had to have something going for it.

Once you try it, of course, you understand that this may well be the best breakfast joint you’ve ever had the supreme pleasure of visiting, and that unless you want a heart attack before your 50th birthday, you’d best not visit all that often.

We were not in western Maryland on Friday night, but our story starts there because when we are, my kids beg to go to Annie’s for breakfast. Pancakes, they say. At Annie’s.

So. Friday night was a meat-free night for our family. DH and I had enjoyed a large, late lunch and weren’t particularly hungry at 6 p.m., but the kids were starving. Wanting something simple in both the cooking and the clean-up department, I promised them pancakes; we’ve talked before about how I always make a mess of them and stow the extras in the freezer for very fast hot breakfasts later on. Pancakes for dinner become a two-fer in my house, and two-fers are gold this time of year.

I pulled out my handy-dandy copy of How to Cook Everything and flipped to the basic pancake recipe, and decided right then and there that it would be an outstanding night to muck around with it and see if there was any magic to be had in the healthy-but-good department. And so I swapped out this for that, upped this other thing over here, figured out how to add in a simple chemical reaction to give me lots of air bubbles in the batter and lighten things up (thank you, years of Alton Brown), messed with the mixing part a little bit, and produced a whole-wheat pancake. Which I spread with a little butter and a touch of syrup and served, without a word, to my little guys.

The 8-year-old took a bite and nodded and told me hers were really good. And the 10-year-old…guess what he said about these healthier pancakes with their grainy goodness?

“Mom…you made Annie’s pancakes! These are Annie’s!”

We had not, for the record, talked about Annie’s in weeks. Just so you know. And I am 99.99 percent confident that Annie’s pancakes are most definitely not whole wheat.

My kitchen smelled divine and I’ll have you know that my kids stuffed themselves with whole-wheat pancakes. The ingredient swaps and changes made them just as light and fluffy as regular flapjacks, and they froze and reheated beautifully so I still got my twofer. This recipe is absolutely our family’s new pancake standard, and I feel pretty darned good about that. I hope your family likes them just as much, because they are no more difficult than normal pancakes (which are really very easy). To make them, you need:

1 cup whole-wheat flour (I prefer King Arthur brand, which is soft and very easy to work with)

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 tbsp plus 1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 egg plus two egg whites (the extra whites mean fluffy goodness with wheat flour)

2 tbsp vinegar mixed with enough milk to equal 1 1/2 cups (this’ll react with the baking soda for more fluffy stuff)

2 tbsp melted butter

Get your griddle heating up first–you want that bad boy to be screaming hot when the first pancake hits.

In a large bowl (I use my batter bowl), whisk together all the dry goods. Then, stir in the wet stuff with a whisk. Voila–your pancakes are ready to cook. Told you it was easy! Cook them on a hot griddle or fry pan until you see dry bubbles around the outer edges, and then flip them until they’re done.

Hint: The batter is going to fizz up a bit between batches as the baking soda and the vinegar get to know each other (and no you do not taste vinegar in these at all–trust me, my kids would revolt). Give the batter a quick stir before you pour each round of pancakes to get it to settle down and pour nicely for you. These are also going to want to stick to your griddle a bit, so give it a swipe of your nonstick goodness of choice between batches.

And don’t tell anybody our little wheat secret!

Baked Eggs Florentine

28 Mar

You know those mornings when you wish you could snap your fingers and have a healthy, hot, delicious breakfast appear? This is kind of like that. You dump everything into a ramekin and toss it in the oven, and voila. Eggs and vegetables that magically bake together into something that’s sophisticated and yummy, and jam-packed with nutrients to boot.

This is a riff off the baked eggs I posted not long after this blog was born. That’s still a great recipe, but I had a bunch of spinach and mushrooms in the fridge this week. They, I decided, looked like breakfast. And so it was. The result reminds me of something you’d get in a fancy restaurant–chi-chi places love putting eggs over salad–and it’s perfect for breakfast, brunch, or lunch. If you have a bunch of ramekins, you could do this for a party–they’re quick and easy and the single portions are perfect for a late morning gathering. And because they’re low-carb, they should work for just about everyone you’d want to entertain.

I am making this again today, gang. It is that good. For one serving, you need:

A small handful of spinach leaves, rinsed well

Two mushrooms, sliced or broken

Two eggs

A pinch of Parmesan cheese (omit if you want, but I wouldn’t)

Olive oil

Other veggies you have laying around–tomatoes, broccoli, onion, asparagus would all be nummy.

Heat your oven to 400 degrees. Spray your ramekin with olive oil. Put it onto a small baking pan to make moving it into and out of the oven easier.

Smoosh your spinach leaves into the dish–it’ll cook down quite a bit, so put in a little more than you think looks reasonable. Give them a small drizzle of oil, and top with the other veggies. On top of that, carefully break your eggs.

Sprinkle with a touch of Parmesan cheese (it’s salty–you don’t need extra salt) and pepper if you so desire. Bake it for about 10 – 15 minutes, depending on your oven; take it out when it looks slightly undercooked, because it’ll keep cooking in the dish for a minute or two after you take it out of the hot box. Grab a spoon and enjoy.

Cinnamon-Kissed Banana Chocolate Chip Pancakes

9 Mar

How’s that for a title?

This came about because of the two browning bananas in my refrigerator and my (temporary) disinterest in banana bread. And a school holiday when we slept late and craved something a bit more substantial than the normal racing-out-the-door, five minutes at the kitchen island breakfast. I wanted banana pancakes, but most recipes were pretty much normal pancake batter with slices of fruit added on the griddle. Which wasn’t what I wanted at all; I wanted pancakes that tasted like banana all the way through.

I doctored up this recipe that seems to be all over the internets, and it is delicious. Be sure you cook them all the way through–they take a few extra minutes more than plain pancakes. Also, be sure to mash up your banana really well. I used my handy-dandy potato masher to squish them up with the butter, egg, and milk in a bowl, and then a whisk to finish the job. You could use an electric mixer or a blender, too.

This recipe made eight pancakes. We ate four and popped the leftovers in the freezer for another morning (hot breakfast without the mess tomorrow–score!). They are quite banana-ey, so you won’t need much syrup at all (less sugar–another score!). And despite my children screwing up their noses at the thought of fruit inside their flapjacks, they loved the final result and scarfed down their meal in no time flat. Sweet.

These are super easy. You need:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 tbsp sugar

2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 egg

1 cup milk

2 tbsp melted butter

2 brown bananas

Chocolate chips

Preheat your griddle over medium heat.

In a large bowl, whisk together your dry ingredients (up to and including cinnamon).

In another bowl, mash together your wet stuff (everything else except chocolate chips) until it’s well combined and only a few banana lumps remain.

Dump the wet stuff into the dry stuff and gently stir together until it’s combined. If it’s not pourable, add more milk or some water in small doses until it is. Gently pour onto your griddle and cook the bottom side until it browns (about two minutes on my griddle, but keep checking on yours). When that happens, sprinkle chocolate chips on the tops of the raw sides, flip them, and cook until done.

Toasted Oats

21 Feb

Just so you know, this isn’t much of a recipe. It’s more of a technique or an idea. But it’s well worth learning because it is so simple and you’ll find a lot of uses for it.

As part of my eating-healthier challenge, I’m trying really hard to like yogurt. It’s loaded with calcium and all kinds of good stuff, and the Greek variety has a ton of protein, which helps keep me full until lunch. It’s cold and creamy and comes in a ton of flavors, and in theory, I should like it.

Sadly, it’s a struggle. Plain yogurt does nothing for me except make me grimace. I’ve tried all the flavors and all the brands and all the varieties, and I just can’t do it. I’ve found, though, that stirring in other things helps a lot–fruit, granola, nuts. Unfortunately, my favorite is granola and that can be really calorie-dense and full of sugar despite the beautiful T.V. commercials with fit people crunching away on mountaintops.

I really like cold Swiss style oats in the morning (which is a mixture of yogurt and uncooked oats), but I’m not always good at thinking ahead far enough to mix it together so the oats soak up some of the yogurt and get soft. And if I don’t give it enough time, the oats are chewy. I don’t enjoy chewy raw oats.

This morning, I drank my coffee and smacked myself in the forehead. Because toasting the oats takes all of 10 minutes and makes them deliciously nutty tasting and wonderfully crunchy, which is the perfectly perfect thing to stir into Greek yogurt. Why didn’t I think of that sooner?

This is so super easy: You preheat your oven to 400 degrees and spray a pan with a tiny bit of olive oil. I used a 7 x 12 pan, but you can really use anything you have. Pour plain oats (rolled, not quick) into that pan and shake them out into a layer or two–you want as many individual oats touching the bottom of the pan as possible. Pop that into your preheated oven and let those oats toast in there for 10-15 minutes, giving the pan a good stir every five minutes so the oats trade places on the bottom and none of them burn.

See the difference between raw and toasted oats? The raw ones to the left are chewy. The toasted ones at the right are a gorgeous golden brown (channeling Anne Burrell–brown food tastes good!). No sugar. No preservatives. No fat. No billions of calories. Just toasty, crunchy goodness that’s perfect on vanilla yogurt with some blueberries, or whatever yumminess you like–these would also be delicious on pudding or frozen yogurt or anything else that needs a little crunch.

Toasted oats have rocked my world, y’all (or at least my breakfast table). I made up a mess of ’em and stored them in a container to use all week. So simple and easy, and such a nice thing to have around. Hope you’ll try it!

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