Category Archives: Breakfast

Crispy Cheese Breakfast Tacos

With fried egg 2For me, the best part of a grilled cheese sandwich is the rogue bits of cheese that escape, melting and then dripping down the side of the bread, bubbling and browning away on the bottom of the pan, transforming into a lacy crispy disc of cheese. The Italians  have been making these crispy discs for years. They call them Fricos. I have made cheddar-parmesan ones to serve with soup.

The genius folks over at serious eats figured out a way to get that crispy cheesy goodness on a taco. Normally, grated cheese is added to a taco, but that’s kind of humdrum. They fused melted cheese to the taco.

My mind immediately went to breakfast, needing to fill these with eggs, avocado, jalapeño and salsa. If you are just going to make one taco, (and who could eat just one?), then you can certainly make the whole thing in a frying pan. But I wanted to figure out how to make several at a time, in case you are really hungry, or perhaps have a few people to feed.

Start with a parchment lined baking sheet and a 375° oven. I chose cheddar cheese, but feel free to experiment with your favourite. Pepper-jack would be good too. Arrange 1/2 ounce of grated cheese in a 5- by 2-inch rectangle. Repeat until you have about 3 or 4 cheese rectangles on the baking sheet. Bake for about 3 minutes until the cheese starts to melt.Melting cheese 1Melting cheese 2Then lay a fresh corn or flour tortilla  on top of cheese so that roughly half the cheese is covered by the tortilla. For my first batch, I lightly oiled the tortillas, which turned out to be a mistake, because you don’t want the tortilla to become crispy. It must remain soft, pliable and moist,  so you can fold your tortilla in half to eat it. So I briefly dipped the tortillas into a bowl of water before placing them onto the cheese and back into the hot oven. That way, the surface moisture evaporates, steaming the tortillas to give you the perfect supple texture.Melting cheese 3Melting cheese 4When they cool, you can lift them off the baking sheet and each tortilla is now wearing her own crispy cheese mini skirt! Then the fun begins. Fill them with whatever makes you happy.

I created some with scrambled eggs.scrambling eggsscrambling eggs 2With scrambled eggs 625 sqThen I decided to make an open faced one with a fried egg.With fried eggThese are almost as much fun to make as they are to eat.

Click here to print recipe for Crispy Cheese Breakfast Tacos.




Very Early Morning Breakfast Bars

with coffee 625 sqThe first time I had one of these breakfast bars was in Botswana. It was day 1 of our Safari adventure and we were out on our inaugural early morning game drive. The wakeup call came at 5:00 am and after I sipped my coffee and watched this breathtaking sunrise, we were ready to roll. (I must note that many of the spectacular pictures in this post come from my very talented friend Edward.)SunriseWe followed our Ranger, O.T. and his trusty sidekick, Tracker Bashee out to the jeep.O.T. and BasheeWhile most Safari goers are anxious to see the “Big 5″, our group was much more intent on observing  zebras and giraffes. There is something about the patterns on their bodies that I find mesmerizing.

The spot pattern on each giraffe is unique, much like a human’s fingerprints. Their unique patterns are how giraffes recognize each other. We learned that here are about 9 different subspecies of giraffes. Each subspecies have very distinct colouring and patterns. Here in Botswana we saw the South African Giraffe.  They are characterized by rounded or blotched spots, on a light tan background, running all the way down to the hooves. This sub species is also found in Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe. Giraffe 1While most would consider the lion to be the “king of the jungle”, I respectfully disagree. Giraffes literally kick ass in the jungle and in the bush. An adult giraffe really has no predators because her long strong legs are used for kicking and the force of them can actually kill a lion. The only way an adult giraffe would make herself vulnerable to prey is if she lay down, because it would take too long for her to get back on her feet should a predator approach. And so giraffes sleep standing up. Luckily they only require less than 2 hours of sleep a day. The only other mammal I know of who can sleep standing up is my husband!

Amazingly, they remain standing even when giving birth! A newly born calf must endure falling, head first, almost 4 feet, to the ground. Sadly only 50% of baby giraffes make it to adulthood. While adult giraffes are too large for most predators, the young can fall prey to lions, leopards and hyenas.2 giraffes 1Although there was no Starbucks in the bush, O.T. came prepared and pulled out a French press and we had a morning coffee break under a shady Acacia tree.french press coffeeMy girlfriend Sandy always travels with empty ziploc bags, so I wasn’t too surprised when she whipped a bag of what looked like granola bars, out of her back pack. We have travelled together before and she never gets on a plane with less than several hardboiled eggs, a large handful of toasted almonds and a peanut butter sandwich. She likes to be prepared! She had taken the bars from the breakfast tray at the Lodge that morning. Although not a huge fan of granola bars, I was starving, so I took one.

These are not your mama’s granola bars. They were unlike any I have ever tried. Usually I find them too chewy and a little gummy in the center. These were outstanding! Crunchy around the edges but just a little bit chewy in the center, these bars were crammed full of oats, dried fruit, sunflower and pumpkin seeds and coconut. They were the perfect snack combo to munch on in the bush. They instantly became our favourite Safari treat.pretty little bowls with mise en placeAfter our coffee break we hit the trail again. Bashee, our tracker spotted a “dazzle” of zebras in the distance so we sped up to see them at a closer range. “Dazzle” is the collective noun for a group of zebra. No two zebra are exactly alike, stripe patterns are like zebra fingerprints. Each zebra has its own unique pattern of distinctive stripes. Their stripes act as ideal camouflage. The wavy lines of his pattern blend in perfectly with the wavy lines of the tall grass. You would think that black and white stripes would stick out like a sore thumb in green grass, but luckily lions, the zebra’s main main predator, are colour blind. Zebra foals are born with brown and white stripes which turn black and white within a few months.

O.T. explained that there are two basic types of zebras, white skinned ones with black stripes and black skinned ones with white stripes. He asked us if we could identify which were which. Can you tell the difference?Ed's B&W zebrasAs we all started peering closely at the zebras, he and Bashee started laughing at us. No such thing! That’s what passes for humour here in the bush.

When we got back to the Lodge, I headed straight to the kitchen to see Chef Elizabeth. She   joked that she is the secret ingredient in these bars, but I finally wrangled the recipe out of her.chefI am the magic ingredient
I will warn you that these granola bars are not remotely healthy, so if that’s your thing, check out these from Bobbi over at “Bob Vivant”, or these from “Minimalist Baker” or perhaps  these from “Oh She Glows”. Chef Elizabeth’s are more like a special cookie treat, but they were so very delicious. Sweet, salty and crunchy, the perfect combo!

I needed to see if I could recreate them at home.sifting flour
adding liquid ingredients
press into pan
in glass cloche 2With my morning latte and breakfast bar, I can close my eyes and pretend I am back in magical Africa

Click here to print recipe for Very Early Morning Breakfast Bars.

stacked up

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.