Experiments In Breakfast


I've never been much of a morning person or a huge breakfast eater but since I've been consistently getting up fairly early and walking Charlie (our dog) in the morning, I've realized that I'll never make it to lunch time if I don't eat something for breakfast. Some of my favorite breakfast foods are French toast or pancakes with bacon, omelettes, and soft boiled egg with toast and tea. I've been trying to cut back on how much wheat and flour I eat in general and I've also been trying to be a little bit more efficient in the morning so I have time to work out, walk the dog, take a shower, write and still get all my work hours in for the day. So I've been experimenting (fairly successfully) with some different breakfast options.

First of all, I start off pretty much every day with either a chai or green tea latte. I love tea, it helps re-hydrate me, the caffeine helps wake me up, the protein helps me not feel sick to my stomach and it's basically how I reward myself for getting out of bed every morning. Plus it only takes 5 minutes to make. I've been doing this for several years and it's pretty much the only thing I like about early mornings besides the quiet (unless there's a gorgeous sunrise).

I tend to make breakfast a couple hours after I've gotten up, when I actually feel hungry. This summer I made lots of green smoothies (with chia seeds, gelatin and coconut oil for extra nutrition), which was nice - quick, easy and fresh. I switched up the fruit and other flavorings I added so that I didn't get bored. Unfortunately there's no way I can bring myself to drink a cold smoothie in the morning in the fall or winter since I'm usually freezing as it is. (I tried a warm pumpkin smoothie once, but wasn't very impressed. Kind of reminded me of what it's like to throw up a smoothie. Maybe I need to find a better recipe? Anyway...) Enter muesli, baked oatmeal, blender waffles, egg scrambles and avocado egg toast.

Muesli is basically uncooked granola. I make mine by mixing up a big batch of rolled oats, chia seeds, chopped nuts and chopped dried fruit. You can eat it raw with milk or yogurt, but I prefer to add a little milk and/or water to mine and cook it for a few minutes (stirring frequently!). I also typically add coconut oil or peanut butter, salt, other spices (like cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom or ginger) and vanilla or almond extract while I'm cooking it. After it's done cooking I like to add another splash of milk (I use soy) because I really enjoy the combination of warm cereal and cold milk.

As for oatmeal, I really never planned to eat it once I started cooking for myself. Because oatmeal is nutritious, cheap, easy and fairly quick to make, we had it constantly when I was growing up. And although my dad is a wonderful cook, I only ever remember eating grayish, gluey, boring oatmeal. Once I had kids of my own and started trying to reduce the amount of wheat we all eat I revisited oatmeal, and to my surprise, if cooked correctly and flavored properly, it's really pretty delicious. I like to cook oatmeal just long enough and with just enough liquid to be nice and creamy but not gluey. I add plenty of salt, spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom or ginger (are you sensing a theme?), vanilla or almond extract (almost always almond - that stuff is amazing!), coconut oil, chia seeds and fruit (dried, fresh or frozen) while I'm cooking it. Sweeten lightly with maple syrup or honey, serve with a splash of milk and (the game changer for me)  top with fresh fruit and chopped toasted nuts.

Okay, so I do realize that my versions of muesli and oatmeal are really exactly the same things but in my mind they're two different foods because the muesli is mixed up ahead of time and I only make one serving at a time whereas I always cook oatmeal in a big batch completely from scratch and add fresh fruit when I serve it. So oatmeal tends to be more of a weekend food for us because between getting out all the ingredients, waiting for the water to boil (I almost always make 6-8 servings so this takes awhile) and stirring, I'm stuck in the kitchen for about half an hour.

Enter baked oatmeal. I'm still experimenting a bit with this one but I love it because you do all the prep at night and in the morning all you have to do is take the pan out of the fridge, pop it in the oven, wait 30 minutes and you've got a delicious breakfast highly reminiscent of one of my favorite desserts (apple crisp). I start by filling a glass baking dish about half full of fresh or frozen fruit (favorites include various combinations of sliced apples, diced rhubarb and frozen berries). Top with enough rolled oats to thoroughly cover the fruit. I also like to add chopped nuts, chia seeds, salt and spices (yep, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom or ginger again). If I'm feeling lazy or am in a hurry I just throw these in on top of those oats without mixing. If I've got time I mix these up with the oats and some melted coconut oil and vanilla or almond extract before I add them to the pan with the fruit. You could also mix all the ingredients including the fruit together and then spoon it into the baking  dish. The next step is to add enough liquid to almost cover everything. I usually use a combination of coconut milk and water. If I've mixed up the oat topping with coconut oil I skip this step and don't add any liquid before cooking (which is actually my favorite way to do this). Store in the fridge until you're ready to bake. I usually put the oatmeal together after supper and then put it in the oven when I get up in the morning. If it's been in the fridge, you'll want to put the oatmeal in the oven without pre-heating (putting a cold glass dish in a hot oven is a very bad idea). Bake at 350 for 30-45 minutes (basically until the top starts to brown). Serve warm with milk or yogurt if you like.

Blender waffles have become a huge favorite in our house. I love them  because the recipe we use calls for intact grains, not flour, so you know your'e getting the whole grain and the recipe is super customizable. It's really pretty easy to make a big batch of waffles, freeze them and pop one in toaster for breakfast in the morning. I make variations of this recipe: Tuesday Recipes: Waffles/Pancakes. I typically don't soak the batter overnight, just mix it up and make the waffles right away. I usually replace the buttermilk with coconut milk and/or soy milk and often add some spices (you know which ones) or other ingredients to change the flavor. Recent favorites include pumpkin spice waffles (add pureed pumpkin and cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger, reduce the liquid slightly if necessary) and chocolate banana almond waffles (add 2 mashed bananas and 1/4 cup cocoa powder, replace the vanilla extract with almond extract and reduce the liquid slightly if necessary). The kids like maple syrup on their waffles but I generally just eat mine with a little butter.

Egg scrambles are pretty self-explanatory. Chop whatever veggies and/or meat you're using (a great way to use up leftovers), saute in butter or oil for a bit if you want, mix the eggs up with a splash of milk or water (and salt and pepper if you like) and cook. I usually top mine with cayenne pepper or hot sauce (Melinda's is the best!) and sometimes smoked paprika and/or goat cheese. I also just made my first batch of scrambled egg muffin cups this week and they turned out great! I added chopped veg. (arugula and onions) and meat (venison summer sausage) to muffin cups (I use silicone liners for easy clean up), filled each cup 3/4 full with the egg mixture and baked for 30 minutes at 375. Heat one or two up in the microwave in the morning for 15-20 seconds and you've got a super quick, healthy and filling breakfast.

Avocado egg toast is my favorite quick and easy culinary discovery in awhile. I've been hearing people talk about it for ages and finally gave it a try. Basically, you mash up some avocado (I use between a quarter and a half of the avocado depending how big it is), spread it on a piece of toast and top it with a fried egg (I add salt and hot sauce). One way to make this even quicker (and possibly more delicious) is to make a batch of hard boiled eggs in advance. Then in the morning just mash one hard boiled egg up with your avocado, add salt, hot sauce, etc. if you want and spread that on the toast. I typically eat this with some fruit. 

So that's been my breakfast lately. It's been great to be able to have warm and healthy breakfast options that only take me a couple minutes in the morning to prepare, are more filling than toast and a cup of milky tea, aren't all wheat-based and involve lots of vegetables and/or fruit. If you've got any other ideas for quick and healthy breakfasts (or a warm smoothie recipe that you actually like) I'd love to hear them!