Category Archives: Breakfast

Classic French crêpes

I know I often go on about my love of crepes, and I’ve written about some different takes on them…here and here…but have I ever actually shared my go-to recipe for classic crepes?  I don’t think so!

Crepes are the perfect centerpiece for any brunch, and with Easter Sunday just behind us and Mother’s day around the corner, not to mention graduations, weddings and bridal showers this time of year, it is surely high brunch season.  But you don’t really need any excuse to enjoy the deliciousness that are crepes.  We made these for a family gathering on Easter weekend and the best part of all, is that whether you like your brunches sweet or savory, there is something for everyone here.

One thing I must reveal is that I really hate pancakes.  Never have liked them.  I know, how un-American of me, especially considering how much I love crepes.  But they are just so light and delicate and go well with such a variety of accompaniments.  Can’t say that about pancakes!

With such a quintessential French food, it is unwise to try and improve on the traditional recipe (unless you’re vegan, go here…and I’ve heard of but not tried some gluten free versions with buckwheat as well).  So I stick to the master:  Julia Child.  This recipe is easy enough for a beginner and has never failed me:

Julia Child:  Crêpes fines sucrées at Epicurious

You don’t necessarily need a crepe pan to make these; just a large skillet.  The first few take a little practice, and don’t be afraid to use your fingers to help flip them, but soon enough you’ll get the hang of it.

Be creative in what you choose to serve them with, but keep it simple.  We set up a bar where people could pick and choose their own creations:

Sweet
Nutella (duh)
Fresh berries
Creme fraiche
Homemade strawberry Jam
Honey

Savory
Sauteed swiss chard
Sauteed mushrooms
Caramelized onions
Shredded Gruyère
Creamy gruyère sauce

Creme fraiche and fresh jam rolled together in a crepe is my absolute favorite — the creme just cuts the sweetness of the jam so perfectly, it is simply amazing.  You can find it at more specialty grocery stores, like Whole Foods.

Some other ideas that come to mind — broccoli and cheese, asparagus spears, spinach or other greens, bechamel sauce…be creative!

Oh, SO GOOD… and so much fun to make and share.

-R

Freezer steel-cut oats — healthy breakfast in minutes

One thing I cannot do without, even with my kitchen in a state of disarray, are my steel cut oats, the  breakfast of champions.  But anyone who’s prepared them knows that there’s a bit of inconvenience and sticky mess involved.

Some resolve this issue with instant oatmeal.  But I’m sorry, that shiz is nasty.  Tastes like soggy paper to me.  And I also am not a fan of preparing a week’s worth of oats and leaving them to become mushy gloppiness in the fridge. So while out of town I swung by a certain nationwide-chain novelty grocer and picked up a few packages of little frozen cups of steel cut oats which have served as my breakfast for a few weeks.  Three minutes in the microwave, and yet still the substantial, nutty texture. Great.

But, being me, of course this begs the question:  why can’t I just do this myself?  After all, it would save me a few bucks and trip out of town to the nearest ader-tray oe’s-jay, while gaining the satisfaction of having accomplished something with my own sweat and tears.  Besides, I’ve got my own issues with supporting this chain.  So a quick google search revealed:  I can!  Muffin tins.  Genius.

I made 2 cups uncooked oatmeal — I normally prepare it with 1 part oats to 3 parts water, but since it is being frozen you will want a little extra water.  Rinse the oats thoroughly, bring to a boil with the water and simmer for about 30 minutes until water is absorbed and oatmeal is, you know, digestible.

For this batch I stirred in some maple syrup to taste (about 2 tablespoons) and spooned it all into a total of 15 regular-sized muffin cups, a little over 1/3 cup each.  I didn’t grease the tins — let them thaw a little bit (can be expedited with the help of warm water) and then pry out with a knife.  If you have silicone pans, well then even easier.

Which became breakfast in about 2 minutes the next morning.  Awesome.

-R

Camping gourmet

It’s been a while since I’ve last updated — the last few weeks have been busy with going out of town, starting a new job, and, oh yeah, that triathlon I think I’ve mentioned before.

But thanks to Irene my plans this weekend vanished and I’ve been holed up inside, watching movies, sipping tea, knitting and making a pot of soup.  So before the power goes out, I better get a few blog entries in!

I think this dreary day is also an apt time to reminisce about my recent camping trip in the Sierra Nevada, where the weather was just about perfect and the scenery beyond words.  Mr. R and I camp several times a year, mostly staying locally though every couple years traveling somewhere distant.

And while there is no experience quite like waking up under the stars, I will say I’m not the most hardcore outdoorswoman I know.  There are just certain amenities I’m not willing to give up — for example, running water.  And of course:  FOOD!

Nope, you will never find anything freeze-dried in my camping pantry.  One of the most satisfying things to me in life is returning to my campsite after a day of hiking, cycling, kayaking, or whatever, to cook a huge meal over the fire.  There’s a certain rewarding feeling of authenticity to know you took some raw ingredients and concocted something delicious without the aid of electricity.  I LOVE it!

Perhaps our most ambitious meal was the time we steamed lobster over our camping stove while in Acadia National Park:

But that was an exceptional example :).  Usually we stick to simple veggie dishes that can be easily assembled and prepared.  Here are a few recent ideas:

Prepare ahead

If you are going away for a weekend, one thing I like to do is make a couple easily transportable dishes that can be made ahead.  My favorite thing to bring is tamales.  These are the perfect camping food.  I mean, they are designed to be portable!  They keep well and can be thrown into your pack for a snack or lunch on the trails.  And they are delicious.

I know I need to devote an entire post to this, but for now, I’ll just point you in the direction of Alton Brown’s episode dedicated to tamales.  He doesn’t have a recipe for a vegetarian filling, but in short, I make a simple mixture of black beans, peppers, onions, chili seasoning, and cheese, all sort of mashed up together.  You can leave out the cheese if you don’t want to worry about refrigeration, but I’ll admit I’m personally not super anal about that.

Simple salads, pasta dishes, and other sides can also be made ahead.  Another idea would be to bring a frozen meal — soup, for example –which serves double duty as an icepack for your cooler as well as lunch or dinner.  Great way to clean out your freezer!

Essential tools

Really all you need is some firewood, foil, and some sort of implement to lift your food out of the hot coals to cook a great meal at your campsite.  But too many times I have arrived to find rainy conditions, wet or unseasoned wood, or otherwise been able to properly start a fire that is good enough to cook on.  Also, boiling water over the fire takes freaking forever, which is not acceptable to me when I wake up and need my coffee!  So it’s good to have a backup:  we have this stove and this one.  The first is a good all-purpose stove for car camping, the second is super easy to use and awesome for trips where you want to pack lighter, or for boiling water for coffee, soup, etc.

I also have this set of cookware and it is awesome, if a little pricey.  If you have the space, a small cast iron skillet is also great to bring along for cooking directly over the fire.  A small spatula, knife, and serving dishes are also necessary.

Basic method

I’m sure my fellow former girl scouts are familiar with the foil cooking method.  You can cook just about anything in this way.  Mr. R will usually prepare some chicken in a foil packet, whereas I cook myself some veggies.  It really couldn’t be easier!

Start your fire and while it is burning down, chop your ingredients and prepare the foil packets.

Pull out a piece of foil and coat generously with a stick of butter.  Layer on your ingredients, season and roll up the edges to seal.

Make sure your fire has some nice hot, but not flaming, coals.  Lay your foil packets directly on the coals.  If your fire ring has a nice grate, it might be easier to use that instead.

Meal ideas

Use both this method and your camp stove to pull together an entire meal!  For breakfast, I will scramble some eggs in a pan on the stove, and in a packet cook some potatoes.  For dinner, make an easy pasta primavera by combining your fire-roasted veggies with some pasta, seasonings, cheese and a splash of wine or vinegar.  A veggie burger or a can of legumes adds some easy protein — wrap the beans with the veggies up in a tortilla and you have a burrito!  Throw that filled tortilla over the grill for a moment and you’ve got a quesadilla. The possibilities are endless!

Here is the pasta primavera and grilled corn I enjoyed while watching the sunset over the San Joaquin Valley while camping in Sequoia National Park:

Cooking over the fire is a labor of love, but that is truly what makes it more worthwhile.  These dishes are simple, but enjoyed en plein air, they are just strangely more satisfying than anything I’ve ever cooked in my kitchen.  I hope to get out and camp again this fall to enjoy the colors.  Until then, I’m stuck indoors, waiting out the hurricane, but in my mind, I’m enjoying the great outdoors!

-R

Wild mushroom tart

Apologies for being MIA the past few weeks!  Spring is always a busy time of year, but this year the busyness seemed to start a bit early — and it took me a little off guard!

But it’s time I get my act together, as there is much to be done!  I need to get my garden in order, plan some activities to get out and enjoy the impending nice weather, start formally training for my triathlon, and there are always events to be cooking for. And I promise to be better about recording everything!

And that’s what I was doing this past weekend — a dear person close to Mr. R’s and my heart is getting married soon, and Saturday was her bridal shower.  In accordance with the brunch theme, we made some quiches.  Well, mine was not exactly a quiche, but the same idea.  Inspired by this recipe, it was easy to do the morning of.

Wild mushroom tart

Olive oil cooking spray
1 pie crust, prebaked for 10 minutes at 450
1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup thinly sliced shallots
3/4 pound mixed wild mushrooms (such as chanterelles, oysters or creminis), roughly chopped
2-3 scallions or 1 bunch of chives, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup vegetable broth
1/2 cup crème fraîche

Method

Saute the shallots in butter until golden, about five minutes, and add the mushrooms, salt and pepper.  Saute for another few minutes until cooked down some, and add the broth and wine.  Keep cooking until all the liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes.  Mix in the crème fraîche and again cook until liquid has absorbed/evaporated, and remove from heat. Mix in the scallions or chives.

Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the cheese on the bottom of the prebaked pie crust, and spread mushroom mixture evenly in the crust.  Spread remaining cheese generously on top.  Reduce oven temperature to 350, and bake pie for about 35 minutes, until crust is nice and golden and the center is bubbly.

I thought this tart was good — but it evoked a more autumnal feeling, what with the mushrooms, wine and cream.  So I would make it again, but probably in the fall or winter.

Nonetheless, I know it won’t be too long now till the farmer’s market opens and we start to see spring produce flowing in –and though I really can’t wait,  I’ll enjoy these wintery vegetables while I can!

-R

Homemade cream cheese

Cream cheese is super easy to make — anyone can do it!

There are several methods to making cream cheese.  The cooked curd method involves heating on the stove top and a few extra ingredients, but it will produce a drier cheese that is more similar to store-bought varieties.  The method below is ridiculously simple, but it has a creamier, more whipped consistency.  Both have the flavor of cream cheese we all love!

Ingredients

2 quarts half and half or light cream
1 packet direct-set mesophilic starter
Salt and seasoning to taste (optional)

Method

Sterilize all equipment, working space and butter muslin (butter muslin can be machine washed and then sterilized in a pot of boiling water).

Bring the half and half or cream to room temperature — 72°.

Note:  I know that 72° is quite warm for this time of year.  If your house is kept within 2-3 degrees of 72, that should be fine, it just may take a few extra hours to set. Otherwise, I would recommend adjusting your thermostat for this one day.

When the cheese is room temperature, stir in the starter thoroughly.

Allow to set at room temperature for 12 hours, more if your home is much colder than 72°.

After cheese has set, pour curds into a colander lined with butter muslin.

Tie corners of muslin together and hang from a spoon set across the sink or a bucket.

Allow to drain for up to 12 hours until cheese has stopped dripping and reaches desired consistency.

Mix in salt and any seasonings to taste.  I love onion and chive cream cheese.  Various fruit jams would also be delicious for those of you who enjoy sweet cream cheese.

Stay tuned tomorrow for a post on what I made with my cream cheese!

Cookbook review: The Kind Diet

The movie Clueless came out when I was in middle school or thereabouts, a most impressionable, celebrity-obsessed age, and while I don’t remember exactly when I became vegetarian, it was around that time, and I imagine Alicia Silverstone had something to do with it.  Her name has recently resurfaced following the publication of her best-selling book, The Kind Diet, and in search of dairy-free recipes in keeping with my new year’s resolutions, I picked it up at my local bookstore.

Overall, I am pretty excited about the recipes in this book — I’ve already tried out a few and am excited to make more.  I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in healthy living.

However, there are a few drawbacks:

She makes some unsubstantiated claims. Some of her advice is a little too heavy with the Traditional Chinese Medicine.  I know that this is an ancient practice with some benefits, and I myself have tried acupuncture before with much success — but some of the stuff she writes is just a little wacko.  For example, she says that we should never eat fruit grown outside of our climate, because it “weakens the blood.”  Um….okay.  Easy for a Californian to say!

Her attitude toward meat and dairy is a bit hyperbolic. That meat causes every disease known to man may hold true for fatty, red meats — I tend to agree that those are not healthy in any way, especially in the quantities considered normal today.  But I think the truth is a little more nuanced than she portrays it; certainly, lean meats raised in a natural environment can be a healthy part of your diet if that is your choice.

Too many fake substitutions! As a whole she avoids this pretty well, which was the appeal of the book to me.  But I don’t know how she can claim to avoid processed foods on one page and extol the virtues of soy and seitan on the next.  This is my primary issue with vegan diets overall, however.  She does make a point to say that the most processed soy products (soy milk, all the various fake meats, etc) should be eaten in moderation, but for some reason tofu is okay.  Hmm.

That said, I think the pros outweigh the cons…

Recipes include new, interesting ingredients. Though some ingredients have been hard for me to find (like lotus root), I have been happy to discover recipes for vegetables and products I had never thought to use before.  Daikon root, radicchio, mochi, sunchoke — I’ve seen these in stores but never had any idea what to make with them.  Now I know!

She is not too preachy. She does not advocate converting to a full-fledged vegan straight away.  There are three different “levels” to attain, which allows you to gradually incorporate healthier, kinder eating into your diet.  She also is not one of those snotty, rigid vegans who believe that you cannot be considered a vegan if you dare have one drop of honey every 10 years.  She even admits to occasional cravings of sushi that cause her to grab a piece of fish.  I REALLY appreciate that kind of attitude.  I just believe we should define our approach to life by what we can and are doing to help our bodies and the planet, not what we’re failing to do.

It offers a comprehensive array of recipes. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, snacks, on-the-go meals, kid-friendly recipes — it has everything.  There is some great inspiration on these pages for some new ideas I’d never would have thought of myself.

Recipes are energy-intensive and full of nutrition. This is how it meshes so well with my food philosophy.  It offers some terrific ideas for getting the nutrients and vitamins you need on a plant-based diet without any calorie counting.

Overall, I’m pretty glad I picked up this book.  After all, it is the source of inspiration for my new favorite breakfast! Not quite vegan, due to the eggs, but meat, dairy and gluten-free!

Pan-fried mochi with scrambled egg whites and greens


I had never even heard of mochi before but after reading her recipe I was officially intrigued.  I stopped at my grocery store and there it was, in the section with the meat substitutes.  But mochi is not a meat substitute — it is made from  brown rice, processed into a cake.

You buy it in a big block form, cut it into small pieces, and either bake or fry them.  They puff up into strange shapes, get crispy on the outside but retain a delicious creaminess on the inside.  You can serve them sweet or savory, alone or as the grain component of any meal.  You can even cut it into strips and place across your waffle iron to make crispy mochi waffles!

My latest obsession has been eating them with my scrambled egg whites in the morning, instead of a piece of toast.

Ingredients
1 egg
1/4 onion, diced
Handful of frozen chopped spinach, or other green of choice
1 package mochi

Method

Heat a cast iron or other heavy-duty skillet over medium-high eat with about a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil.

Cut mochi into one-inch squares using a heavy knife.

Place squares into the pan, reduce heat to low, cover and cook for about four minutes.  When the four minutes are up, flip them over and cook for another four minutes on the other side. Add a few drops of soy sauce.

While you are waiting, start sauteing the onion in a separate pan.  When it is translucent, 1-2 minutes later, add the spinach and cook until it is thawed and cooked through. Add a splash of white wine vinegar.

Turn heat to low.  Crack an egg into the pan ( it is safe to eat up to seven egg yolks a week if you have healthy levels of cholesterol.  Otherwise, just use the egg whites — it is low in fat but still high in protein).

Scramble egg as you normally would, stirring continuously to combine with onion and spinach.

So filling, healthy and delicious!

-R

Hoppin’ John

This is a traditional New Year’s Day dish, what with the black eyed peas and all, but I think it is a pretty tasty and hearty meal to enjoy year-round.  You can’t really go wrong with rice and beans — filling, nutritious and a complete protein, too.

This recipe is adapted from The Ethnic Vegetarian by Angela Shelf Medearis — a cookbook I highly recommend.

Ingredients
1 onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 ribs celery, chopped
2 bell peppers, diced
1 can diced tomatoes
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 dried chipotle peppers
salt, pepper to taste
2 cups black-eyed peas, soaked for several hours
4 cups vegetable broth or water
1 cup uncooked rice

Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat.  Saute onion for 10 minutes, until slightly golden.  Add the garlic, celery, pepper, tomatoes, bay leaves, thyme, sugar, cayenne, and a few grinds of black pepper.  Saute for about 5 minutes, until vegetables have softened and spices are fragrant.

Add vegetable broth and peas and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer, with pot partially covered, for at least one hour, until peas are thoroughly softened.

Add the rice — I used a mixture of white basmati and Thai red jasmine rice — and cook for 20-30 minutes, until the rice is done.

I ate this for breakfast on New Year’s Day, in a sort of southern/African version of huevos rancheros or gallo pinto:

Maybe it will bring good luck!

-R