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Archive for the ‘Brunch’ Category

Pumpkin muffins

We’re almost in what my sister likes to call Pumpkin Time. Yes, I know Thanksgiving and Hallowe’en are over, and we’re all pretty much over celebrating the harvest. She means Pumpkin Time in the Cinderella sense, as in turning into one — the year’s fun has peaked; it’s done. Pumpkin Time is where Autumn turns to Almost Winter.

November and I have an uneasy relationship. My birthday’s this month, and when I was a kid I usually had snow for my birthday, though not enough for a fun outdoor party. (I really feel that my spiritual birthday is in April, but never mind.) As an adult, this month is when I really start to feel the descent into cold and dark. My brain starts to really miss the sunlight.

In fact, the descent usually starts this weekend, when we turn the clocks back and trade a brighter morning for a darker evening. I hate that we mess with time like this; it’s one of the few reasons why I would ever want to live in Saskatchewan. I’ve done better in recent years in managing my seasonal affective disorder, but even so, to me November is the Month of Dread.

BUT! This week the weather has granted me a bit of reprieve. Sure, there’s more of a chill on the air, but the past few days here have been so sunny and golden. The leaves have turned but the trees are still half-full. I want these days encased in amber.

For now, Pumpkin Time isn’t so bad.

These muffins are a recent happy discovery. Lately I’ve been working on introducing Penny to new tastes, and it turns out freshly-baked tiny muffins are the perfect vehicle for new tastes. Warm? Check! Starchy? Check! Slightly sweet? Check!

To up the nutritional factor I used whole-wheat flour along with white, and applesauce so that I could get away with adding a bit less sugar. The molasses and spices give it a touch of pumpkin pie flavour. It’s a big hit with the kid.

Pumpkin muffins
makes 1 dozen muffins or 2 dozen mini-muffins

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground clove

1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup applesauce
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup  brown sugar
2 tbsp. canola oil
1 tbsp. molasses
1 1/2 tsp. freshly-grated ginger root
2 eggs, lightly beaten

Optional: 1/2 cup of toasted pepitas or pecans, plus more for sprinkling on top

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and prepare a muffin tin; either with paper liners or lightly grease each well with butter or cooking spray.

Sift together all of the dry ingredients into a large bowl. (Or if you’re lazy, like me, you can measure all the dry ingredients into the bowl and then whisk to combine.)

In a smaller bowl, mix together the pumpkin, applesauce, yogurt and brown sugar; whisk together until the sugar is well incorporated. Add the oil, molasses and grated ginger and mix to combine. Last of all, add the eggs one at a time and mix just until combined. If you’re adding pepitas or pecans, mix them in now. Spoon the batter into each muffin well and top with extra pepitas or nuts.

Bake for approximately 25 to 30 minutes (about 15 for mini-muffins) and let cool for five minutes before removing the muffins from the tin.

Serve warm. These are delicious with maple butter, apple butter, almond butter or just plain butter.

Do-ahead: If you want to make these for breakfast, mix up the batter the night before and keep in a covered container in the fridge. As a bonus, I’ve noticed that the flavour of ths spices is more developed if you do this.

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I have a love/hate relationship with pancakes.

I love to make them and I love to eat them, but I hate they way they leave me hungry an hour after breakfast is over. They’re like the Vietnamese vermicelli of breakfast. As a person with hypoglycemic tendencies who has recently changed my ways in the white flour and sugar department, I’ll treat myself on occasion but I swear I can feel my blood sugar get out of whack. (I’m sure this is just me being paranoid, but there you are.)

But here’s the thing. I have a husband who likes pancakes, and a baby who will happily eat anything starchy. How could I deprive my loved ones of pancakes? To make us all happy, I just need a pancake recipe that includes grains and less white flour, and then I need the will power not to drown my portion in syrup. But first things first: the tinkering.

Smitten Kitchen (a website I love) has a recipe for oatmeal pancakes that I tried once, and turned out fine, but it calls for a cup of cooked oatmeal. Now I can be organized, but not always so organized that I would think to cook extra oatmeal the day before. (Besides, how would I know that I’ll want pancakes the day before I want them? But I digress.) Now the advantage of using cooked oats is so that you get the heft of the oats, all that fibre-y goodness, without the chewy bits of dry/raw oats in the batter. As a compromise, I used both quick-cook oats and oat flour – rolled oats finely ground in the food processor – which both add weight but soften quickly in the batter.

A note on flour. The theory goes that using all whole wheat flour isn’t the best idea in a quick bread, since the bran tends to weigh a batter down. Despite that fact that I would rather leave out the white flour as much as possible, I do use a bit because I still can’t shake the notion that a quick bread recipe needs a bit of flour that is unencumbered by bran, for the sake of its structural integrity.  That said, I’m sure that you could substitute whole wheat flour for white in this recipe and it would likely turn out fine.

Come to think of it, you could probably get a fluffier pancake if you sub the yogurt for buttermilk. I just don’t like to use too much buttermilk in pancakes because then they turn out too tangy for my liking.

Anyway, these pancakes, they made me happy. I even made them into blueberry pancakes to celebrate the joyous height of fruit season.  Blueberries in the pancakes and on the side, plus some ripe perfect peaches on top. And a bit of lightly sweetened ricotta to add a tiny bit more protein. Oh yay.

The family approved.

And you know what? That breakfast kept me going straight through till lunch.

Blueberry oatmeal pancakes
makes about 16 four-inch pancakes

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup quick-cook oats
1/2 cup oat flour or finely ground oats
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup yogurt
1 1/2 cup milk
2 tbsp. honey
3 tbsp. melted butter
2 eggs

approximately 1/2 cup of blueberries
extra melted butter for the pan

Combine the dry ingredients: in a bowl, whisk together the white, whole wheat and oat flours, quick-cook oats, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the yogurt, milk, honey and melted butter. Add the eggs last, one at a time, taking care not to overmix. Add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients, folding the batter gently. Mix just to combine. A slightly lumpy batter is okay.

Heat your favourite skillet over medium heat until a couple of drops of water sizzle in the pan. (You can speed up the process by using two skillets at a time.) Brush the pan with melted butter and working quickly, use a quarter-cup measure to drop the batter in the pan, two or three at a time.  When bubbles form on the surface, drop a few blueberries onto the top sides of the pancakes. A pancake is ready to flip when bubbles are evenly distributed throughout the surface and the edges are slightly dry. Flip and cook another minute or two, and keep warm in the oven until all the pancakes are ready.

Serve warm with maple syrup and more blueberries. I also highly recommend some lightly sweetened ricotta.

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Usually on weekends we have one fancy egg breakfast. This morning I wanted something special and red, on account of the Hallmark-manufactured holiday happening on Monday. So I made poached eggs on whole-wheat biscuits, with creamy red pepper sauce and some garlic-sauteed spinach on the side.

The biscuits were cribbed from a King Arthur Flour recipe, but I haven’t yet tweaked it to my liking so I won’t include it here yet. However, the sauce is an old favourite. This recipe makes way too much for a few poached eggs, but then it also tastes divine as a pasta sauce, or as a drizzle over baked chicken, turkey or fish. It also freezes well for a later time, so that in a month or so you can randomly have fancy poached eggs again without having to do as much work.

Red Pepper Cream Sauce

1 red bell pepper, roasted, peeled and seeded
1 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups cold milk
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. tamari soy sauce
1/4 tsp. sriracha hot sauce
pinch salt

Equipment: immersion blender

1. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Sprinkle in the flour and whisk to combine, and let cook for a few minutes until it turns from yellow to a whiter shade of yellow. [Cooking Fact! This is called a white roux. It’s used as a thickener for bechamel, or white sauce. A brown roux, cooked a few steps further till it’s a nutty golden brown, is used to thicken brown sauces.]

2. With a whisk in one hand and the cup of milk in the other, pour in the milk and whisk vigorously to combine. Let cook until thickened until it coats the back of a spoon. If you draw a line with your finger on the back of said spoon, the line should its shape. It’s okay if you end up with a few lumps, because you’re just going to puree the whole thing soon. 

3. Pour the sauce into a large glass measuring cup or other vessel you like to puree stuff in. Add the remaining ingredients and puree until smooth.

4. Adjust the seasonings to taste.

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I love brunch.

It’s the wonderful meal that’s partly breakfast, substantial enough to be lunch. Involves sleeping in, leisurely coffee, a newspaper and something eggy – for me, usually on the savoury side, rather than the sweet.

 There was a time in my life when I made everyone else’s brunch on a weekend but couldn’t enjoy it myself, what with all the 6 am wakeups. This honed both my love of coming up with new combinations of flavours to eat with eggs, and my desire to get out of the restaurant world, so I could sleep in and have my own damn lesisurely brunch.

My favourite brunches involve poached eggs with toast and a sauce of some kind. At most restaurants, Eggs Benedict is the only dish that meets this description – a dish I’m not that fond of, so I tend to eat poached eggs at home.  And although making some kind of tasty sauce is an extra step, the enjoyment I get out of it makes it totally worthwhile.  The sauce varies depending on what’s in the fridge: cheddar, roasted red peppers, or roasted tomatoes, mixed in with a little milk- or cream-based sauce.

Recently Andy’s sister and husband stayed a weekend at our house, and here’s what I made for brunch. The sauce is not overly rich, but fresh with the taste of spinach and dill, slightly tangy from the feta.

Poached eggs with spinach-feta sauce
Serves four

8 eggs
1/4 cup white vinegar (for the poaching liquid)
special equipment: you need a slotted spoon for lifting out the eggs.

For the sauce:
1 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. white, all-purpose flour
1 cup milk (I use 1%) – you might need extra to get the right consistency
1/4 to 1/3 cup crumbled goat’s milk feta
1 cup fresh spinach, chopped fine
fresh dill and chives, chopped fine
salt and pepper to taste

Bread for toast

1. First, start your poaching pot: Fill a large saucepan with water, add the vinegar and heat to just below the boiling point.

2. Then, start your sauce: In a medium saucepan or frying pan, melt the butter over medium-high heat and sprinkle in the flour.  Stir to combine, and let cook for a minute or two. Whisk in the milk and stir to make sure it’s free of lumps. Add the feta. Turn the heat to low and keep it warm until ready to serve.

3. Poach your eggs:  Your water is ready when it has small bubbles surfacing, but is not at any kind of boil. Keep the heat set to medium. Use your slotted spoon to give the water a  gentle spin before cracking the eggs and dropping them in. Keeping the water moving helps them keep their shape as they cook.

Once you’ve added all the eggs, let them cook approximately 5 minutes until the whites are completely set – lift one out and prod it gently with your finger to be sure.  For runnier yolks, the eggs will still be a bit soft. If you like your yolks more cooked, leave them in longer.

4. Drain your eggs. Either in a fine-mesh sieve, or on a clean kitchen towel.

5. Make your toast. On this particular day I used whole wheat baguette. I tend to favour a crusty bread, cut thick – ideal for sopping up sauce and yolks.

6. Finish your sauce. Add the spinach, dill and chives, season to taste.

7. Put it all together. Eggs on toast, sauce on eggs. Like this:

‘Kay, I need to go make this again. Right now.

*One of these days I promise to do an egg-poaching tutorial, once I get up the courage to take photos during a cooking process where timing is crucial.

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