hearty breakfast muffins

MorningGloryMuffins

The current location of the Toyota/Lexus dealership at Leslie and Eglinton was once home to The Inn on the Park, and on that same property was a Sports Clubs of Canada facility, and within that fitness club was a cafe that served hearty morning glory muffins. I was around 6-years old when these muffins came into my life, emerging from the playroom to join my mom for a post-workout breakfast. In my somewhat foggy childhood memory, I remember the muffins being full of tasty bits, each bite like a treasure hunt. They were also super-sized, which made them all that much more appealing to my small self. Looking to recreate a compact breakfast treat that was both tasty and wholesome, I experimented until I landed on this version. With the wisdom of age, I now prefer them as mini muffins (yes, it’s okay to eat two!), so this recipe makes 24 small ones. 

You can use walnuts instead of pumpkin seeds, dates instead of apricots, or raisins instead of cranberries – work with the flavours you like and what you have in your pantry. These muffins freeze well, so I will make up a batch and then wrap them in sets of two or four to be easily defrosted at a later date.

MAKES 24 MINI MUFFINS

1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats (not instant oatmeal)
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg
1/3 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 cup grated carrot (about 2 large carrots)
1/2 cup grated apple (about half an apple)
1/2 cup grated zucchini (about 1 whole small zucchini)
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup dried apricots

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a large bowl, stir together flours, oats, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt.

In a separate bowl, whisk egg, buttermilk, brown sugar and oil until smooth. Pour wet ingredients into bowl with dry ingredients. Stir to combine. It may seem dry, but the addition of the grated fruit and veggies will fix that.

Add shredded carrot, apple, and zucchini. Mix until all incorporated. Gently stir in dried fruit and seeds.

Line a mini muffin tin with paper cups (I prefer the Paper Chef parchment liners). If you don’t have liners, lightly grease the muffin tin with vegetable oil. Spoon batter into prepared muffin tin, filling each to the top.

Bake for 15-17 minutes. The muffin tops should be firm and golden. Pierce a muffin with a toothpick – it should come out clean with no batter when they are cooked through. Remove from oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container for 2-3 days, or store in the freezer and then take out the night before so they will be defrosted and ready for breakfast the next morning.

Kevin’s banana bread – revisited

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We’ve had a lot of overripe bananas lately, which means lots of banana bread and banana muffins. I’ve been playing with the recipe, as I found some batches to be a bit flat and a bit dry, especially the next day. There was one loaf where I added maple syrup and peanut butter – too sweet. Some muffins with just peanut butter – better. In the most recent batch I added some buttermilk and was very happy with the result. Even on day 4, the lone remaining muffin of the batch was still tasty. Below is the updated recipe, with changes noted in italics.

MAKES 1 LARGE LOAF, 3 SMALL LOAVES, or 10 MUFFINS

4 ripe mashed bananas
1/3 cup melted butter
1/2 cup buttermilk
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
1 1/4 cup of all-purpose flour
½ cup whole wheat flour (optional: you can use all purpose flour for a total of 1 3/4 cups if you prefer)

make it your way: add up to 1 cup of chocolate chips, toasted walnuts, or dried cranberries

Preheat the oven to 325F.

Mash bananas in mixing bowl. Stir melted butter into bananas. Add buttermilk and stir to combine. Blend in sugar, egg, and vanilla. Add the baking soda and salt and mix in well.

Lastly, stir in the flour until well blended. If you are adding chocolate chips, walnuts, or cranberries, add them now and stir into the batter. Pour mixture into a buttered loaf pan. If making one large loaf, bake for 50-60 minutes. If using three small loaf pans, bake for approximately 30-40 minutes. Muffins will rake about 20 minutes. Every oven can run a bit differently, so I like to check on the loaf about 10 minutes before the suggested time to make sure it’s not overdone and then let it finish if it needs a bit more time. Slide a toothpick into the centre of the loaf to check if done – if toothpick comes out clean then loaves are cooked all the way through.

Transfer to wire rack to cool. Store in airtight container or wrap tightly in aluminum foil. These also freeze well – wrap in saran wrap and then in a freezer bag.

View the original recipe here.

polenta fries

PolentaFries

These ‘fries’ are a nice alternative to potatoes for a side that is warm and salty with a little crunch. Plus, they’re a great way to use up leftover polenta. And they’re gluten-free.

MAKES 4 SERVINGS as a side

1 cup polenta (cornmeal or corn grits. I like to use Bob’s Red Mill.)
3 cups water
¼ cup milk
1 tsp salt

2 tbsp olive oil
¼ cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated
salt and pepper to taste

To make the polenta, bring 3 cups water and ¼ cup milk to a boil. Add the salt. Then add the cornmeal, stirring constantly as you add to the pot. Reduce heat to medium-low. Stir, stir, stir. This one requires constant attention to avoid lumps. I find a spatula works best so that you can scrape down the sides and bottom of the pot as you stir continuously. If you find your polenta is really bubbling, turn down the heat to low. You want a creamy, thick consistency. Just keep stirring. Timing can range, but it may take 20 minutes (it’s a good arm workout).

When the polenta is quite thick – challenging to stir and retains its shape if you pull up a peak with your spatula (like whipped cream) – and then remove from the heat. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and spread the polenta onto the baking sheet. You want a thin even slab. It’s okay if it does not fill the entire sheet (it will probably fill about half). Allow to cool to room temperature and then cover and chill in the fridge for at least one hour, or preferably overnight.

To make the fries, remove set polenta from the fridge. Preheat your oven to 450F. Cut polenta into thin even rectangles or wedges, depending on what shape you want your fries to be. Transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet. Lightly brush fries with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt.

Bake in the oven for 10 minutes, then flip the fries and bake for another 10 minutes. They should be crispy and start to go golden around the edges. Remove from oven and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Return to oven for one minute to warm the cheese. Add a final dash of salt and pepper before serving.

summer chickpea salad

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I like hummus with carrot sticks and sliced cucumber as an afternoon snack. Falafel with homemade tzatziki sauce – yum! But beyond those two dishes I often look at the can of chickpeas that has been hiding in the back of my pantry for who knows how long and wonder what to do with them. Inspired by this great Moroccan-influenced recipe on the food blog 101 Cookbooks, I made up a light chickpea salad for lunch the other day. It’s quick to put together, zesty and light, and easily portable for a summer picnic.

MAKES 4 SERVINGS as a side salad

DRESSING
2 tbsp (30ml) lemon juice
3 tbsp (45ml) olive oil
1 generous tbsp  (15ml) honey
2 tsp (10 grams) ground cumin
pinch red pepper flakes
salt and freshly ground pepper

SALAD
1 (500g) large can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup (65g) finely sliced carrots
1/4 cup (30g or about 8) chopped dried plums, also known as prunes, but “prunes” sometimes get a bad rap

1/4 cup + 2 tbsp fresh mint leaves, roughly torn
handful chopped toasted almonds

Whisk the dressing ingredients together and set aside.

In a medium sized bowl, combine chickpeas, carrots, dried plums and 1/4 cup mint. Add three quarters of the dressing and stir. Depending on how wet you like your salad, add more dressing until it suits your liking. Taste and adjust salt and pepper seasoning as needed.

Salad can be stored in the fridge until ready to serve. About 20 minutes before you’re ready to enjoy your chickpea salad, remove from fridge and sprinkle with chopped almonds and remaining mint.

romesco sauce

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This is one of my favourite sauces. It’s so versatile and so tasty. In Spain, where the sauce is originally from, it’s served many ways – with patatas (fried potatoes) or grilled vegetables or grilled fish. I think it tastes best on the second or third day, after the flavours have had a chance to meld, so if you can, make it a day ahead. But it’s pretty darn good slightly chilled right after it’s made too – I would recommend saving a hunk of bread to wipe out the food processor for a well-earned chef’s taste test. I like to serve romesco sauce as an appetizer dip with fresh crusty bread, lightly drizzled with olive oil and a crack of sea salt, with mixed olives on the side. Or I will toss it with hot pasta, roasted tomatoes and fresh Parmesan for a simple dinner.

The origins of this recipe are from the LCBO Food & Drink magazine, but I have made a few adjustments from batch to batch to end up with this version that I like best.

SERVES 6 AS AN APPETIZER DIP
SERVES 4 AS A PASTA SAUCE

2 large sweet red peppers
8 large plum tomatoes (or about 20 of the smaller roma tomatoes)
5 large unpeeled garlic cloves
4-6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1/2 cup toasted almonds, ground
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C). Line a baking tray with sides, or a glass dish, with parchment paper. Cut peppers into quarters. Remove seeds and white pith. Cut tomatoes in half and remove seeds. Place vegetables cut-side down onto baking tray. Add garlic cloves. Drizzle with 2 tbsp of olive oil. Toss garlic to coat with oil. Roast in oven for 30-40 minutes or until soft. Remove from oven and allow to cool down enough that you can handle vegetables to transfer to food processor.

While the pepper and tomatoes are roasting, prepare the breadcrumbs and almonds. You can use store-bought breadcrumbs, but you can also take a couple of slices of slightly stale crusty bread (I include the crust, even though many recipes suggest you cut it off) and pulse in the food processor to make your own breadcrumbs. They’ll taste better and don’t take too much work. To toast the almonds, place a pan on the stove top over medium low heat. Spread the almonds in the pan. Every couple of minutes, give the pan a shake to move the almonds around and flip them. You just want to give the almonds a light toast. Transfer almonds to the food processor and pulse to grind into almond crumbs (they should be similar in texture to the bread crumbs).

When vegetables are cooled, remove skins from peppers. You can also remove the tomato skins (they will slip right off), but I include the them. Peel the roasted garlic cloves. Transfer peppers, tomatoes and garlic to food processor. Add half the breadcrumbs, all of the almonds, 2 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. Whirl until almost smooth. I like the sauce to have a bit of texture, so it’s okay if you have a bit of grit from the almonds.

Add more olive oil if you want the sauce thinner, or more breadcrumbs if you want it thicker. You are looking for a pudding-like texture. Taste. Adjust the salt, pepper and balsamic vinegar as needed. Store in the fridge in a covered container for up to 4 days. It freezes well, so you can freeze any leftovers. And don’t forget to wipe out the food processor for your well-earned sample!

Cafayate poached egg with garlic spinach

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Sometimes, when you just want something light, warm and comforting, a poached egg on toast really hits the spot. While traveling in the Salta region of Argentina, we spent one night in the town of Cafayate. The area is a semi-desert that seems almost inhospitable to growing anything, and yet it produces some mighty fine wines, predominantly from Malbec or Torrontes grapes. Staying at an estancia on the outskirts of the town, we weren’t up for the walk to the main square, followed by the search for a restaurant that always takes far longer than desired (and we had already had our fill of empanadas). When we saw that the small in-house dining menu offered up a poached egg on a bed of garlic spinach, we released a happy sigh…sometimes things just work out. Enjoyed in the quiet of our room, this dish proved to be just what we needed. Here is my take on the recipe, as inspired by the kitchen at Patios de Cafayate.

SERVES 2

3 handfuls baby spinach, rinsed, stems removed
1 tbsp olive oil
1 clove of garlic, minced
1/4 whole almonds (unsalted)
2 eggs
dash lemon juice or white vinegar
1 English muffin (or 2 slices of whole grain bread)
1/4 cup Reggiano cheese, coarsely shredded
salt and pepper to taste

In a deep-sided frying pan, heat water until it almost starts to boil. Add spinach. Blanch for 2 minutes and then drain in a colander. Press the spinach with the back of a wooden spoon or spatula to remove excess water.

Empty the water from the frying pan and dry off. Add olive oil to pan and turn to medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the minced garlic. Fry for a couple of minutes and then add the whole almonds. Add the drained spinach to the pan. Toss to coat and allow to cook for about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat water in a small pot just until it starts to boil. Add a dash of lemon juice or white vinegar. Crack egg into a small bowl and gently slide into pot of just boiling water. Repeat with the second egg. Turn the heat off.  The eggs will only take 3-5 minutes to poach, depending on how runny you like your yolk.

Toast your English muffin or whole grain bread. Place one half (or slice) on each plate. Add grated cheese to the spinach and mix in. Spoon spinach and almonds on top of English muffin. Using a slotted spoon, remove poached eggs from water and gently place on top of spinach. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Enjoy (maybe while wearing your pyjamas)!

savoury bread pudding

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Bread puddings, often served as a sweet dish for dessert, also make for a great savoury side or a way to stretch a few eggs and a little bread to feed a crowd for brunch. And the leftovers are good cold the next morning too for a quick breakfast or simple lunch. This version uses a hearty combination of mushroom, sausage and potato. But there are lots of flavour pairings to experiment with. I have suggested some others below, so you can use the basic bread and egg base, and then add whatever mixture you like best.

MAKES 6-8 SERVINGS

3 cups stale bread, cubed
3 eggs
1 egg yolk
1 1/2 cups milk
pinch each of salt and pepper

1 tbsp grainy mustard
2 tsp fresh thyme
1 sausage
1 large potato
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup dried porcini mushrooms, rehydrated and chopped
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 350F (175C).

Roughly cut or tear stale bread into 3×3 cm (1 inch) cubes. You can collect up random bits of bread from different loaves, cube them, and keep in the freezer until you are ready to make a pudding. I include the crusts, especially when they have tasty sunflower or pumpkin seeds on them that will add flavour and texture. Spread your stale bread in an 11”x7” pan (or similar size pan that holds approximately 6 cups). If your bread is not nice and dry (quite stale), give it a quick toast under the oven broiler. Drier bread will better absorb the egg.

In a bowl, whisk eggs, milk, thyme, mustard, salt and pepper.

To cook your sausage, you can pan fry or grill it. Once cooked, cut into ½ cm (1/4 inch) slices, and then cut in half again horizontally.

To cook the potato, wash and then cut into thumbnail-sized pieces. Place into a pot of salted water. Being to a boil and cook until the blade of a knife slides easily into the center. You want the potato to be cooked, but still hold its shape. Drain potatoes and let rest for a few minutes so that excess water dries off. Heat oil in a pan. Add potato pieces. Fry, turning occasionally, until they have lightly golden and crispy outside.

Add rehydrated mushrooms, sausage, and potato to the bread cubes, spreading around to evenly distribute in the baking dish. Sprinkle in the Parmesan cheese. Pour egg mixture over baking dish to cover all the yummy contents. Give it all a gentle stir to make sure all the bread is moistened by the egg. You can sprinkle a little extra cheese over the top for a toasted cheesy crust.

Bake in the oven for 35-40 min until egg is set.

Other combinations to try:
oven roasted tomatoes (or store-bought sun-dried tomatoes)
black olives
goat cheese
thyme

prosciutto
asparagus
ricotta
basil

roasted sweet potato and parsnip
sage

caramelized onion
potato
rosemary

Greek yogurt pikelets

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Many of my favourite recipes are born out of a lack of ingredients, and the need to be creative in order to pull it all together. While staying on a remote sheep farm in the Canterbury High Country in NZ, we had to bring in all our provisions for eight days. When we decided to extend our stay by two additional days, we needed to reevaluate our menu plan and stretch our materials. Craving pancakes one morning, but not having much milk to spare and only one egg, I experimented with the little milk and lots of Greek yogurt we did have in the fridge.

For all its simplicity, a pancake is not just a pancake. Be it a flapjack (North America), pannenkoeken (Netherlands), or serabi (Indonesia), many countries have put their spin on this basic round flat treat. The Kiwis call them pikelets. Usually made with flour, milk, eggs, and icing sugar, they are small and often served with butter or whipped cream. We had our pikelet pancakes for breakfast, and enjoyed them with butter and a syrup we made from Mauka honey (necessity really is the mother of all invention!).

MAKES 12-14 PANCAKES (PIKELETS)

1 cup plain Greek-style yogurt
2 – 4 tbsp milk (will depend on how thick your Greek yogurt is)
1 egg
2 tbsp butter, melted + additional butter to grease your frying pan
1 tsp vanilla extract (I didn’t have any on hand, but know it would only make it better)
1 tbsp granulated sugar or liquid honey
1 cup flour
2 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
handful of blueberries (optional)

Preheat oven to 200F (approx. 100C).

In a small bowl, combine yogurt, 2 tbsp milk, egg and vanilla extract. Whisk until blended together. Allow melted butter to cool slightly and then whisk in. If using honey, combine with the wet ingredients.

In a separate medium-sized bowl, combine flour and baking soda. If using sugar, add it to the dry ingredients. Stir to combine.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and use a spatula to stir until all blended together. This recipe makes a fairly thick batter. If you need a little more moisture to absorb all the flour, add a couple more tbsp of milk. Don’t over mix, but you do want to make sure all the flour is incorporated and that there are no lumps.

Melt a small amount of butter in a flying pan over medium heat. When the pan is nice and hot, use a soupspoon to measure out spoonfuls of batter into the pan. This batter creates smaller, but nice and thick, pancakes. If you’re making blueberry pancakes, drop a few blueberries into the batter in the pan. After about a minute, check to see if the first side has cooked and then flip. If your pancakes are really thick, press them down after you’ve done the first flip, wait a minute or so, and then flip again so that any raw batter from the middle that has come out when pressed has a chance to cook on both sides. Transfer cooked pancakes to an oven-safe plate, wrap in tin foil, and place in the preheated oven to keep warm while you make each batch. You may need to add a little more butter to the pan between batches to keep them from sticking.

Serve warm pancakes with butter, jam, real Canadian maple syrup (we didn’t have any, so we made a syrup from equal parts Manuka honey and water, cooked down in a small saucepan) – whatever you like best!

 

zucchini crostini

zucchini

This recipe is inspired by a dish from the Boat Shed Cafe in Nelson, New Zealand. Sitting on the covered porch, overlooking the Nelson harbour, our brunch started off with a fresh summer crostini of zucchini and mint. Later that week I was invited to join the Gourmet Sailing team aboard their boat for an evening BBQ, so I made up some zucchini crostini of my own to share with the group. This flavour combination reminds me of late summer in Ontario, when there is an abundance of zucchini…and the ongoing challenge of how to find fun ways to serve it. Look for smaller zucchini, as they are younger and have more flesh and less seeds. If you’re not a fan of goat cheese, you can substitute feta.

MAKES 12-16 PIECES

3 small zucchini
half fresh red chili pepper
zest of one lemon
small handful mint leaves (about a dozen large leaves)
2 tbsp + 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
juice of one lemon
freshly cracked black pepper
sea salt
3 tbsp semi-firm goat cheese, crumbled
fresh baguette, thinly sliced

Cut off the two ends of the zucchini and discard. Cut zucchini lengthwise into long slices about ¼ cm (1/8”) thick. Stack the slices and cut again lengthwise to create shoestrings. Then cut in half horizontally so that you now have matchstick-size pieces.

Remove seeds from chili. You only want to use the red outer flesh. Make sure to wash your hands and knife afterwards, so as not to transfer the spicy oils from the seeds to other ingredients (or to yourself!). Transfer chili to a mixing bowl. Add lemon zest, mint, and 2 tbsp olive oil. Add zucchini and toss to coat.

Slice the baguette and toast each slice to make your crostini. I find the easiest way is to lay all the slices on a baking sheet and lightly broil on the top rack in the oven. Just keep your eye on them – they can go from toasted to burnt in seconds.

To serve, add the lemon juice, salt and pepper to the zucchini mix. Taste and adjust as necessary. Drizzle the toasted baguette slices with the remaining olive oil, then top with zucchini and crumble goat cheese over top.

boat shed

salsa verde

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When you have fresh herbs on hand, this pesto-like sauce is a quick way to add flavour to many dishes. This version is a bit like Argentinean chimichurri. If you like a little more kick, you can add about ½ tsp red pepper flakes. Or make an Italian-style version and add capers and dollop of mustard. Work with the herbs you have, so play with substituting parsley for the chives. Or add in some arugula for a peppery bite.

3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbso white balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp lime juice
½ tsp salt
1 tsp (generous) cracked black pepper
½ tsp cumin
2 cloves garlic
1/3 cup chives
1 cup cilantro

In a small bowl, combine olive oil, vinegar, limejuice, salt, pepper, and cumin. Allow to rest for 10 minutes. Your next steps will depend on whether or not you are using a food processor.

Food processor method:
Smash garlic cloves. Peel off papery skin, cut off bottom, and remove the shoot that runs up the center of each clove. Roughly chop chives and cilantro, including stems. Place all into food processor bowl. Add seasoned oil mixture. Pulse until you have a sauce. I like to keep the sauce a little textured so that people can see bits of the herbs. Add a little bit of water if it is too dry. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.

Hand chopped method:
Not to worry if you don’t have a food processor. Mince your garlic cloves (if you have one, get out your garlic press for this). Finely chop your herbs, including some of the cilantro stems. This will be a more rustic sauce, but equally delicious. Add seasoned oil mixture to chopped herbs. Stir to combine. Add a little bit of water if it is too dry. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.

Allow sauce to rest in the fridge for a couple of hours before serving. I love to pair this with grilled flank steak, but it’s also good on grilled vegetables, and on fish or chicken.  I’ve never tried it as an accompaniment for a firm cheese, but I bet that would be good too.

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