Category Archives: Breakfast

Messing with the classics – A Modern Banana Bread

sliced on white plate 1I had a friend in seventh grade whose long straight shiny hair I envied. It reached down to her lower back and was a beautiful shade of butterscotch. I had short, wiry, curly black hair and would have given anything for hair like hers. She seemed so exotic to me. As I spent more time at her house I came to appreciate how different our families were. She only had one sibling and her mom was quite involved in all aspects of her life. I had 5 siblings and my mom was busy just trying to keep all our names straight.

One of the strangest things about my friend’s mom was that every week she would buy a huge bunch of bananas and leave them in a pretty bowl on the kitchen table. By the end of the week, they would be ripe and almost black and she would throw the bunch away and buy a fresh one to replace it. No one in their family liked the taste of bananas, yet her mom just loved how they looked, so she continued to buy them.speckled bananasAt the time it never occurred to me that you could make banana bread with ripe bananas. In our house, banana cake came from Sara Lee. Oh how I loved the icing on those frozen cakes!sara Lee banana CakeI only came to discover the joy of homemade banana bread many years later, during my University years, when I worked part-time as a Cuisinart demonstrator. I was given Noreen Gilletz’s book “The Pleasures of your Food Processor” as a gift. And there on page 208 was a banana bread recipe so perfect that it became my gold standard by which I judged all other banana breads for the next 30 years.

My mom was a student of the “more is more” school, and she revised Noreen’s recipe by using 5 or 6 bananas, instead of the 3 called for in the recipe. We dubbed her version, “Banana Brick.” It was wet and heavy.

Little did my mom know that with her addition of more bananas, she was onto something big here. She wanted to intensify the banana flavour but she just lacked the correct technique to do it without ending up with a sodden heavy mess.

Cook’s Illustrated Magazine figured out a way to ramp up the banana flavour without introducing too much additional moisture. They started with five very ripe bananas (versus the usual three in most typical recipes) and proceeded to microwave them to release their juices. The next step was to drain all the juices that had accumulated during microwaving and simmer that liquid in a saucepan until it reduced.

peeling bananaspoking hole in saran

after microwavingstrainingmashing bananas reducing liquid 2This reduced liquid is then added to the batter, a sort of intensified banana essence.adding liquidcracking egg

adding a touch of whole wheat flourmixing batterCooks Illustrated decided to further boost the banana flavour by adding a sixth banana, sliced thin and caramelized on top of the loaf gave this banana bread an enticingly crisp, crunchy top.sprinkling with sugar

top view

I tasted the bread warm from the oven and to be honest, I wasn’t sure I liked it better than my classic recipe from Noreen. But I went back for a second taste after it had cooled for about 6 hours and I was astounded at how different it tasted. All the buttery goodness was now front and center. It was moist, but not wet. The slices, heavy for their size, had the perfect density.

There were several layers of sweetness to this banana bread. It tasted of bananas but the sweetness was not overpowering. The addition of brown sugar to this version added a molasses undertone that helped balance the sweetness.  Cook’s Illustrated called for walnuts in their recipe and not being a walnut lover, I hesitated over this addition. In the end, I added them and their slight bitterness provided just the right contrast with the sweet bananas.

The sliced bananas and granulated sugar on top of the bread caramelized and they added a crunch to the top that was such a nice surprise and contrast to the moist interior. This banana bread continued to improve over the next 3 days, much like a fruitcake. Sometimes it does pay to mess with the classics! I think even Noreen Gilletz would approve.

Click here to print recipe for Ultimate Banana Bread.sliced on wire rack

Raw Apple Muffins

Before we go any further, let me just state, for the record,  I’m really not a muffin person. If I’m going to eat copious amounts of sugar, fat and flour, I would prefer to ingest it in the form of a cookie. The fact that some people delude themselves into thinking that muffins are actually a healthy way to start the day irritates me. Your Raisin Bran Muffin is 360 calories and contains 10 grams of fat! You would be better off starting your day with a Chocolate Dipped Donut. with only 210 calories and 8 grams of fat! My husband is a muffin person. Enough said!

However, I digress. This is not a post about delusional breakfast idiots. Rather, it is a story about a wonderful Raw Apple Muffin, created by the incomparable Marion Cunningham, from her lovely little gem of a cookbook, “The Breakfast Book.” I meant to blog about this muffin last summer. I even got so far as baking them and taking the pictures, but then I must have gotten distracted with this.  But I was gently dragged back to these muffins by my daughter. She is dating a muffin person and he was coming for a visit. She wanted to bake something for him. I agreed that these were outstanding muffins, high praise indeed, coming from me, the notorious muffin hater. I took the pictures and she baked.

I hesitate to even call these muffins.  They are more like apples and raisins held together with a bit of batter. When you are mixing the batter you will probably look at the ingredient list and think you missed some liquid. You didn’t. This a supremely dense batter. It is best to use an ice cream scoop to transfer the batter to the muffin tin.

I have adapted Marion’s recipe slightly by gilding the lily. When these muffins come out of the oven, I dip the top of them in melted butter and then roll them in a mixture of sugar and cinnamon. I am under no delusion that these are healthy, but they are delicious. The huge quantity of apples and raisins makes them super moist. The sugar cinnamon topping adds a bit of crunch. Muffin nirvana!

Click here to print the recipe for Raw Apple Muffins.

Double Coconut Granola

I have a confession to make. I have a bit of a cookbook crush. I’m not sure there is such a thing, but if there is, I have it. Melissa Clark’s new book, “Cook This Now”, is aptly named. As I leafed through this book, I felt compelled to run to the kitchen and create almost every recipe in the book, immediately. This is not a glossy photo filled coffee table book. There are some colour photos, but the stories she tells, the descriptions of the food and the recipes themselves make glossy photos totally unnecessary.

I have come to be a granola lover fairly late in life. When it comes to breakfast, I am a creature of habit. I tend to eat the same breakfast every morning for several years in a row, until I start to feel bored. First it was Cheerios and bananas. Sometimes I would get a little wild and crazy and have multi-grain Cheerios instead of the original. Then I switched over to Rideau Bakery rye bread, toasted, with salted whipped butter and sour cherry jam. Next, it was Quaker Oats Squares, with blueberries in the summer and bananas in the winter. From there I moved onto oatmeal, sweetened with a hint of maple syrup.

And then, everything changed when fat-free plain Greek yogurt became widely available at my local supermarket last year. I mixed the yogurt with some berries and then crumbled a Dad’s oatmeal cookie on top. The crunch and sweetness of the cookie was a wonderful complement to the creamy, tangy yogurt. A new breakfast routine was born.

Then, last fall when I was away on holiday in Italy there were no Dad’s oatmeal cookies to crumble on my yogurt. I sprinkled some granola on top and was shocked at how good it was. This granola had big clumps and was chock full of almonds, seeds, oats, raisins and coconut. When I tried to get the recipe I discovered it was not home-made, but was Kellogg’s Fruit and Nut Granola. I was unable to find it at home and have been dreaming about it ever since. I frequently save different granola recipes to try out, but then when I look at them again, they just don’t appeal to me.  But when I read through Melissa’s granola recipe I thought I might have found a contender.

To be honest, she had me hooked when I read the title. DOUBLE COCONUT! My girlfriend Sandy says that coconut is one of those polarizing ingredients. People either love it or hate it. I happen to love it. Without a doubt, Joanne Yolles’ coconut cream pie from Scaramouche restaurant in Toronto would be my last meal request.

The first coconut in this granola recipe comes from what Melissa calls “Coconut Chips”.  Essentially, these are just large flakes of unsweetened dried coconut. Shredded won’t be the same, you need to seek out the large flakes. I buy mine locally at the bulk food store.

The second form of coconut is coconut oil. Melissa calls for virgin coconut oil. When I went shopping I just picked the first coconut oil off the shelf, which was organic expeller pressed coconut oil. Upon doing a little bit of research, I learned that Expeller Pressed Coconut oil is less expensive than Virgin Coconut Oil, and because it goes through a steam deodorizing process the taste is very bland, unlike Virgin Coconut Oil which retains the odor and taste of fresh coconuts. If you don’t want the coconut flavour to be overwhelming, go for the expeller pressed. I used the expeller pressed, but will definitely seek out the virgin for my next batch, to really amp up the coconut flavour.

I was really shocked (and thrilled) to learn some of the health benefits of coconut oil, not the least of which is that it aids in weight loss. Apparently it contains short and medium-chain fatty acids that help in taking off excessive weight. Not that I really understand what short and medium chain fatty acids are, but I am happy to be delusional in thinking that eating large handfuls of this granola will help me lose weight! Coconut oil also contains lauric acid, which is a key ingredient in breast milk. Now really, could you get any healthier than mother’s milk?

The coconut oil is solid and must be melted before using. To be honest, it looks more like a cream to rub all over the body for moisturizing. The original recipe called for pecans but I used almonds instead.

Rolled oats, pumpkin seeds, dried cherries, maple syrup, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt round out the ingredient list.

Use your hands to toss everything together, then spread it out on a baking sheet.

It takes about 40 -45 minutes to bake, and you should toss it every 10 minutes for even browning.

This granola is like a party in your mouth! It has the perfect balance of flavours and textures. Slightly salty with great crunch from the almonds and pumpkin seeds, some chewiness from the dried cherries and coconut, and a hint of maple and cinnamon, this granola makes me very happy! Mornings just got a whole lot better around here!

Click here to print the recipe for Double Coconut Granola.

Latkes with Fried Eggs and Roasted Tomatoes

I know it’s a little too early to start thinking about potato latkes, since the first night of Chanukah is not until December 20 this year. But I have a good reason for posting about them now. You see, ever since I saw Chuck Hughes  make these on his show, “Chuck’s Day Off”, it’s all I could think about.

Now, before you continue reading any further, I must warn you that I am about to gush big time. So, if public displays of affection make you at all uncomfortable, perhaps you should stop reading this post right now. To be perfectly honest, Chuck’s been on my mind quite a bit lately. You may recall that I posted about Chuck in April, and then again at the beginning of this month. I guess you could say that I’m a bit smitten with him. For the record, I am happily married (not to Chuck!), but celebrity crushes are permitted. I think it’s actually healthy for our marriage.

For those not familiar with Chuck, check out this short video of him on YouTube, and you’ll see what I mean.

Chuck cooks on his day off for friends, family and his suppliers as a way of saying thanks. In one episode he made adobo pork shanks, fried rice and pineapple coconut pie for Edgardo and Burt, the father and son team that cleans his restaurant. How could you not love this guy?

He made these latkes for his pots and pans suppliers. He topped them off with a dollop of ricotta cheese and a fried egg. And on the side, he served roasted grape tomatoes and sautéed zucchini. The first time I tried the recipe, I made it exactly as Chuck did, but to be honest, the ricotta and the sautéed zucchini really muddied the flavours of the potato and egg. The roasted tomatoes, however, really brightened up the whole dish. Their acidity balanced the richness of the fried potato and egg.

Chuck’s latke method is more like the Swiss dish “röesti potatoes”, than traditional potato latkes. He parboils the potatoes first, then shreds them and mixed them with onion, chives, eggs, cayenne, salt and pepper. I gave his method a whirl but must admit, I like using grated raw potatoes. I find you get a crispier latke that way.

Grape tomatoes get a drizzle of olive oil, salt, pepper and some thyme.

After 45 minutes in the oven they come out all wrinkled and sweet.  They can be made in advance and sit at room temperature while you make the latkes and fry the eggs.

Click here for my version of Potato Latkes with Roasted Tomatoes.

Multi-Grain Corn Cakes

Sometimes when I finish a book,I have a very hard time starting a new one. With certain books, the characters stay with you for a long time and you are reluctant to begin a new book, because you aren’t quite ready to say goodbye to the old one. This happened to me after finishing “The Faith Club”, a true story written shortly after the horror of 9/11.

“Welcome to the Faith Club. We’re three mothers from three faiths—Islam, Christianity, and Judaism—who got together to write a picture book for our children that would highlight the connections between our religions. But no sooner had we started talking about our beliefs and how to explain them to our children than our differences led to misunderstandings. Our project nearly fell apart.”

At this point, you may be wondering if you missed something here. When did Salt and Serenity stop writing about food, and start reviewing books, and what about those multi-grain corn cakes? I actually came to make these corn cakes because I couldn’t pick up another novel quite yet. You see, I took “Good to the Grain” (Kim Boyce’s new book about baking with whole grains) to bed with me to read last week.

I have made several things from the book, and enjoyed them very much, but then I somehow got sidetracked and forgot about it. I stayed up very late reading, and in the morning I was raring to go to bake with whole grains.

In the multigrain chapter of the book, Kim gives a recipe for a multigrain flour mix  consisting of whole wheat flour, oat flour, barley flour,millet flour and rye flour. I headed out to my local bulk food store and stocked up. She says to mix up a batch of these flours and keep it in the jar on the counter to use in all sorts of recipes.

I decided to adapt my regular corn cakes recipe and substitute the all-purpose flour in the recipe with this mixture.

They looked good, but the taste was bitter and the texture was leaden. Had to toss that batch. I decided to take a step back and add whole grains a bit more slowly. I played around a bit more and threw out a few more corn cakes until I finally hit upon this combination of grains:

As I was cutting the corn off the cob, I pondered the milk decision, buttermilk or whole milk?

I decided to mix up a batch of each, The buttermilk mixture (on the left) looked so much more promising, thicker and all bubbly. I had high hopes for it!

By this time, it was getting close to lunch, so I threw in a diced jalapeno pepper.

The buttermilk batch did indeed cook up higher and a bit fluffier, but I found the taste of the whole milk one have a purer corn flavour. The buttermilk seemed to subdue the corn flavour and overpower it.

At last, I found the perfect combination. This final batch, had the goodness of whole grains, the crunch from corn meal and fresh corn, the heat of jalapenos and the fresh dairy taste from whole milk. Fried in a little bit of butter, these corn cakes were crispy around the edges and soft on the inside. They disappeared very quickly.

All that was left was the mess!

To print this recipe click Multi-Grain Corn Cakes