Breakfast


Tofu is not an exciting food. It has no color, a mild but not especially appealing flavor, and a nondescript texture that’s soft but not rich or creamy.  In an egg-free household, though, tofu’s blandness makes it useful. I’ve added it to smoothies for a protein boost and used it as a stand-in for ricotta in lasagna and for eggs in brownies. But I’ve never been inclined to let it take center stage in my cooking.

Then one day I had a desperate craving for my favorite of all egg dishes, huevos rancheros, and decided to give tofu it’s big break. I crumbled a block into a skillet with chopped veggies and salsa, toasted a corn tortilla, sliced an avocado, and in 10 minutes had a hearty, healthy breakfast on the table. Vegans have been scrambling tofu for ages, and with good reason: It’s quick, it’s good for you, and — when combined with some bold flavors — it’s delicious!

Tofu rancheros

Serves 4

One 14-oz. package firm tofu

About 3 tbsp. olive oil, divided

1 zucchini, finely diced

1 red bell pepper, finely diced

1 bunch scallions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced

1 c. salsa

Salt, to taste

4 corn tortillas

1 avocado, sliced

Drain the tofu, wrap it in a clean dish towel or a double layer of paper towels, and press it between two heavy dinner plates to remove excess moisture.

Warm a large skillet over medium-high heat. Drizzle in 2 tbsp. oil, then add zucchini.  Cook 2 minutes, stirring occasionally, then add pepper and scallions and cook 2 minutes more. Crumble the tofu into bite-sized pieces into the pan and add salsa. Lower heat to medium and cook, stirring gently so tofu doesn’t disintegrate, about 5 minutes or until warmed through. Season with salt if needed and set aside.

Heat the oven to 150 degrees. Warm a small skillet over medium-high heat.  Drizzle in 1 tsp. oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Toast one tortilla in the pan, a minute or two on each side, until hot and softened and pockets of air start to form under its surface. Remove to a plate and keep warm in the oven while you cook the remaining tortillas.

To serve, top each tortilla with one quarter of the scrambled tofu and one quarter of the sliced avocado.


Tofu scramble with mushrooms, spinach, and bacon

This elegant, company-worthy scramble is rich and earthy with an assertive lemon flavor.

Serves 4

One 14-0z. package firm tofu

Canola oil

4 slices bacon

1 yellow onion, chopped

1 lb. cremini or white mushrooms, sliced

Juice of 1 lemon (scant 1/4 c.)

2 handfuls baby spinach

Salt and freshly ground, black pepper, to taste

Press tofu to remove extra liquid.

Fry bacon in a very lightly oiled skillet until crisp. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside.

Discard all but 2 tbsp. bacon fat from the skillet. Raise heat to medium and add onion.  Cook 2 minutes, then add mushrooms and a generous pinch of salt. Raise heat to medium high and cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms release their liquid and the liquid begins to evaporate. Crumble in the tofu — aim for bite-sized pieces — then add lemon juice and a few grindings of pepper.  Lower heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally (and gently, so the tofu doesn’t disintegrate), until tofu is heated through, about 5 minutes. Fold in spinach and cook until wilted.  Season with additional salt as needed.  Serve immediately.

Make it vegan: I haven’t tried it, but tempeh bacon would probably give this dish the smoky flavor it needs. If you make the substitution, use olive oil to saute the vegetables.

As an on-the-go breakfast or after-school snack, portable, kid-friendly granola bars are a boon to busy families. When it comes to nutrition, though, all bars are not created equal. They can be reasonably virtuous or downright decadent.  My whole-grain, high-protein recipe is a little of both — hearty and satisfying, dense and chewy, and just sweet enough.

Chewy sunflower seed granola bars

Yield:  16, 2-inch squares

2 c. rolled oats

1 c. raw sunflower seeds

1 c. raisins

1/2 c. toasted wheat germ or unsweetened, shredded coconut

1/2 tsp. fine sea salt

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/3 c. brown sugar

1/3 c. canola or safflower oil

1/3 c. sunflower seed butter

1/3 c. honey or maple syrup

1 tbsp. hot water

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Measure oats into the work bowl of a food processor.  Pulse about a dozen times — some of the oats should be ground to a flour-like consistency, some oats should be whole, and the rest should be somewhere in between.  Pour processed oats into a large  mixing bowl.  Stir in sunflower seeds, raisins, wheat germ or coconut, salt, and cinnamon.

In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together brown sugar, oil, sunflower seed butter, honey or syrup, hot water, and vanilla.  Fold into oat mixture with a rubber spatula, stirring until evenly moistened.

Lightly oil an 8 x 8-inch baking dish.  Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom of the pan and extend up and over two of the sides (this will help you get the baked granola bars out of the pan).  Press paper into pan, smoothing out bottom and up sides.  Lightly oil paper.  Spoon granola mixture into pan and press down very firmly with an oiled spatula to form a compact, even layer.

Bake 35-40 minutes, until edges are nicely browned.  Let cool completely (summon all your will power — if you try to cut them when warm, they will crumble).  Use parchment paper overhang to lift granola from pan.  Place on a cutting board and, using a long, serrated knife and firm downward pressure, slice into 16 squares (if you don’t have a good knife, you may want to chill them a bit in the refrigerator before cutting).  Wrap each square in a small piece of wax paper, and store in a tightly sealed container.

This hash goes nicely with everything from salmon to steak.  I like to balance its smoky sweetness and vibrant colors with a side of lemony sauteed spinach.  The recipe makes a lot:  for a hearty breakfast,  reheat leftovers in a non-stick skillet or spread in a single layer on a sheet pan in a moderate oven, and serve with eggs or grapefruit and sliced avocado.

Sweet potato hash

Yield:  Makes about 8 c., serving at least 6

4 good-sized sweet potatoes, scrubbed and cut into ½” dice

6 oz. sliced bacon

Olive oil, as needed

1 red bell pepper, finely diced

1 bunch scallions (white and light green parts only), thinly sliced

1 tbsp. maple syrup

1 tsp. cider vinegar

Salt and freshly ground, black pepper, to taste

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add diced sweet potatoes and cook until barely tender, about 3 minutes.  Drain in a colander, then return potatoes to pot to steam off excess moisture.

Brown bacon in a large, non-stick skillet (or, better yet, use a large pancake griddle, if you have one) over medium heat.  When crisp, remove to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.  When cooled, crumble and set aside.

Pour off and reserve all but 2 tbsp. bacon fat from pan (or discard bacon fat and use olive oil instead).  Add half the potatoes and cook, undisturbed, until bottoms of potatoes are nicely browned, about 7 minutes.  Turn potatoes with a spatula, season generously with salt, and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are evenly browned and soft in the middle, 5-8 minutes more.  Remove potatoes to a large mixing bowl and lightly cover to keep warm.  Add 2 tbsp. reserved bacon fat or oil to skillet and cook remaining potatoes in the same manner. (If you have a large griddle, you can cook the potatoes in a single batch.)  Remove second batch to the mixing bowl.

Add 1 tbsp. bacon fat or oil to skillet, raise heat to medium-high, and cook pepper and scallions until just softened, about 2 minutes.  Return potatoes to pan and toss gently until hot throughout.  Stir in crumbled bacon, syrup, and vinegar, and season with additional salt and pepper as needed.

We went apple picking last Monday and brought home a half bushel — that’s about 20 lbs. — of apples.  One week later, only five remain in the bottom of the bag.  The rest have been sliced, diced, grated, baked, sauced, or eaten raw — a team effort (at least the eating part) to be sure.

Having polished off last week’s pie and diligently stocked the freezer with three quarts of sauce, this afternoon’s project was a giant apple crumble.  I wanted it just sweet and buttery enough to make a satisfying dessert, yet not too rich to serve for breakfast with a few spoonfuls of yogurt.  (For breakfast?  Yes, breakfast.  Such are the sacrifices one makes after picking a half bushel.)

If you’re headed out to the orchard — or the farmers’ market — this week with baking in mind, choose you apples wisely.  My all time favorites for pies, crisps, cobblers, and crumbles are tart and sturdy:  Northern Spy, Pink Lady, Gravestein, Jonagold.  I love Macouns, too, though they’re very juicy — toss them with a little extra flour before tucking them into a pie.  Cortlands are drier and hold their shape perfectly when baked, but I find their cooked texture a bit mealy.  And nothing beats Macintosh for apple sauce — they’re sweet, requiring little if any added sugar, and they fall apart quickly when cooked.

Apple crumble

Yield:  One 13×9″ pan, serving 6-8

For apples:

4 lbs.  (10-12 medium) apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2″ slices

About 1/4 c. packed, light brown sugar (depending on the sweetness of your apples)

Juice of 1/2 lemon (about 2 tbsp.)

2 tsp. cinnamon

For crumble:

1 1/2 c. rolled oats

1 c. unbleached, all-purpose flour

1/2 c. packed, light brown sugar

Pinch fine sea salt

1/2 c. cold butter (or use a non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening), cut into small pieces, plus a little extra for the pan

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Lightly butter a 9×13″ baking pan.

In a large mixing bowl, toss sliced apples with sugar, lemon juice, and cinnamon.  Set aside.

In a separate bowl, combine oats, flour, sugar, and salt.  Using your fingertips, rub butter into oat mixture until moist and crumbly.

Spoon apples and any accumulated juices into baking pan.  Top evenly with crumble.  Bake until lightly browned and bubbly, 45-55 minutes.

I think it’s fair to say that Saturday morning breakfast is the most highly anticipated event of our family’s week.  There’s apt to be pancakes or waffles, bacon, slices of banana, handfuls of blueberries, a leisurely pot of coffee or hot chocolate, and lots and lots of maple syrup.  It’s not unusual for one of the kids to wake up on any given weekday morning and before even getting out of bed shout, “Is it pancake day?”  I’m proud of our breakfast feast.  It’s utterly lavish despite being entirely egg- and dairy product-free.  This week, I thought I’d try something new and cook some breakfast sausage.  But, as is often the case when feeding kids with food allergies, it was going to take a bit more work than just driving down to Trader Joe’s.

For the food-allergic consumer, what’s not written on food labels can be as frustrating as what is.  “Contains milk and soy.” (On a container of soy yogurt, of all things!  What is the point of dairy soy yogurt?)  “Processed on equipment shared with peanuts and tree nuts.”  (Chocolate, alas.)  Back on the shelf they go.  But when it comes to food allergies beyond the Top 8 — in our son’s case, mustard — things get a little trickier.  What exactly are the “spices” listed among the ingredients on package after package of sausage?  I could send an email to the manufacturer.  But Saturday morning waits for no customer service rep.

I don’t own a sausage grinder… yet.  But as it turns out, the food processor makes quick work of mincing boneless, skinless chicken thighs.  Add a grated apple, some chopped onion, and a handful of herbs, and 10 minutes later you’ve got a plateful of the freshest, most incredibly delicious chicken sausage you’ve ever eaten.  The cooked patties freeze beautifully and reheat quickly in the toaster oven, so go ahead, make a big batch — you’ll always be ready to answer the call, “Is it sausage morning?”

Chicken breakfast sausage with apple and herbs

Yield:  Serves about 8.

2 tbsp. olive oil

1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped

1 small, sweet apple (I use macintosh), peeled and grated

1 garlic clove, minced

2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into small chunks

1 tbsp. finely chopped, fresh sage leaves

2 tsp. finely chopped, fresh thyme leaves

1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Canola oil, for frying

Warm a small skillet over medium heat.  Drizzle in olive oil, then add onion and apple.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until apple juices have evaporated and onion and apple are soft and tender, about 8 minutes.  Add garlic and cook 1 minute more.  Set aside to cool.

While onion and apple cook, pulse chicken in a food processor to grind.  Be careful not to over-process: running the machine for 4-5 seconds, then scraping the bowl, then running it 4-5 seconds more should do it.   You want a chunky yet cohesive mixture.  Don’t turn it into a paste.

Transfer ground chicken to a large mixing bowl.  Add onion mixture, herbs, salt, and pepper and mix until evenly combined.

Heat a generous coating of canola oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  While oil heats, form chicken mixture into patties.  The mixture will be fairly loose — I roll golf-ball sized balls, flatten them gently, put them in the pan, then press them with my fingertips to form a patty.  Fry in batches until nicely browned and cooked through, about 3 minutes per side.  Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.  Serve hot.

This no-fuss spin on Boston brown bread — baked in a loaf pan rather than steamed in a tin can — is about as wholesome as quick breads get.  Hearty enough for breakfast and just sweet enough to make a satisfying afternoon snack, I like it toasted and topped with cream cheese and honey or peach jam.

Whole wheat and molasses quick bread

Adapted from a recipe by Mark Bittman

Yield:  One 9×5″ loaf

1 2/3 c. buttermilk or plain yogurt (or use 1 1/2 c. milk, at room temperature, mixed with 2 tbsp. cider vinegar and let to sit until curdled)

2 1/2 c. white whole wheat flour

1/2 c. cornmeal

1 tsp. fine sea salt

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 c. molasses

Canola oil or butter, for the pan

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Into a large mixing bowl, sift the flour, cornmeal, salt, and soda.  Stir well with a whisk until evenly mixed.

Whisk molasses into buttermilk or yogurt, then pour into dry ingredients.  Fold together with a rubber spatula until just combined.

Pour batter into a greased, 9×5-inch loaf pan and bake 45-55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean.  Let cool 15 minutes in pan before turning out on a rack to cool completely.

Make it vegan: Soy milk  makes a fine substitute for cow’s milk in this recipe (rice milk, however, is too thin and lacks the protein necessary for curdling).  Or try using soy or coconut milk yogurt.

My kids love pureed sweet potatoes, so when I make them, I make a lot.  They’re great to have on hand for stirring into soup or chili, or making quesadillas (Spread some puree on a tortilla, top with blue cheese and red onion, fold in half, and toast in a dry skillet.  Voila:  lunch!), or as a sweet and nutritious addition to waffles, cornbread, or — when I run out of overripe bananas — muffins.

Tender, moist, and not too sweet, these muffins are an adaptation of my go-to banana bread.  I omitted the chopped chocolate from the original recipe and added a sprinkling of crunchy, cinnamon streusel.  Because they are egg-free, the muffins are light and delicate  — watery sweet potatoes may make them a little soggy.  If your potato puree seems loose or wet, you might want to strain some liquid out of it before baking.  To do this, line a fine mesh strainer with two paper towels and set it over a bowl.  Spoon in the puree, and let it sit for 10-20 minutes.

Sweet potato streusel muffins

Yield:  12 muffins

For muffins:

1 1/3 c. unbleached, all-purpose flour

2/3 c. white whole wheat flour

2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp. fine sea salt

1 1/2 c. pureed, roasted sweet potatoes

1/2 c. light brown sugar

1/2 c. safflower or canola oil

1/2 c. chopped, toasted pecans or walnuts (optional)

For streusel:

1/4 c. granulated sugar

1/4 c. light brown sugar

1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 tbsp. cold butter

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Line a muffin tin with paper cups.  Lightly grease areas of pan between cups (so muffin tops and streusel won’t stick).

In a large mixing bowl, sift together flours, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt.  In a separate bowl, whisk together pureed sweet potato, sugar, and oil.  Using a rubber spatula, fold sweet potato mixture into dry ingredients until just combined.  If using, fold in nuts.  Spoon batter into prepared cups.

To make streusel, work the cold butter into the sugars and cinnamon with your fingers until the mixture is the consistency of wet sand.  Crumble streusel evenly over batter.

Bake in center of oven, 22-24 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into center of muffin comes out clean.  Let cool briefly in pan, then remove to a wire rack.  Muffins will keep at room temperature for a few days.  I like to reheat leftovers  in the toaster oven, at 350 degrees for 5 minutes or so, until the tops are lightly browned.

Make it vegan: Substitute your favorite non-hydrogenated, vegetable shortening for the butter in the streusel.

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