breakfast and brunch

Oatmeal: don't eat it because I said so, but because it's good for you

When I was a kid, you knew winter was coming when the box of oatmeal came out. Oatmeal was good for you, stuck to your ribs, as my Mom liked to say.  While I was all legs and feet as young girl, no one would ever suggest thickening my ribs these days.

I never liked breakfast and I really detested oatmeal. I especially despised the raisins, dark gluey clots that mingled with the clumpy oats. For some reason, our oatmeal was always lumpy.  The only saving grace was the butter and brown sugar, which I liberally dumped into the bowl.

Interestingly enough, I've grown to appreciate oatmeal, although I only half-heartedly attempt to get my son to eat the stuff. He takes one look at my bowl heaped with oats and shot through with honeyed dried fruits and usually slices from an offending banana and is aghast. (My son last ate a raw banana at roughly age 18 months. I have a photograph where he's clutching the dreaded fruit in his mits to prove it.)

Just like appetites change (I now love breakfast), so too do attitudes.

Oatmeal is good for you and it doesn't have to be a lumpy, disgusting and overcooked mess.  Not saying my Mom's oatmeal was all these things, but anyone who's eaten instant oatmeal can attest to its lack of appeal.

For better breakfast oatmeal, use better oats. Makes sense doesn't it? I like to add a little milk (soy in my case) to the oats while cooking and a dash of cinnamon for a nicer flavor. Add some of your favorite dried fruits like prunes (people who really calls them dried plums) and chunks of dried pears, maybe a few sour cherries. Add a pat of butter and a splash of maple syrup and you're ready to dig in.

Oats are a good source of many nutrients including vitamin E, zinc, selenium, copper, iron, manganese and magnesium. Oats are also a good source of protein. The insoluble and soluble fibers in oats give them cancer-fighting properties and help lower cholesterol levels. People who eat more oatmeal are less likely to develop heart disease.

It's true that a breakfast of oatmeal stays with you.  I rarely feel ravenous until well after midday when I start my morning with oatmeal. 

Why should you eat oatmeal? Not because I said so, but because it's good for you (and tastes good too).

Cake for breakfast Banana Chocolate Chip muffin recipe

Banana chocolate chip muffins! photo by Mary MacRae Warren

Muffins are the best excuse I know of to eat cake for breakfast. This Banana Chocolate Chip recipe is utterly sinful.  For extra decadence,  I added an almond butter glaze.

In the interest of making them healthier, we use organic and natural ingredients, substituting coconut milk for cow's milk because dairy doesn't like yours truly. 

The recipe was modified from one I found at, a trusted and beloved resource. These muffins look awesome, taste even better, and everyone loves them.

Try them yourself next Sunday morning.

Breakfast epiphany: fresh fruit-filled pancakes recipe

The boy digs The last few days have been cooler and kinder. 

After the searing heat of August and early September, it's finally nice to sit outside on the patio again.  To celebrate the more temperate days, we decided to have breakfast out doors where we could enjoy soft golden sun and the winds whispering through the still green oaks and maples.

We did a quick early morning shop for fresh fruits and berries to make pancakes with maple syrup.  I'd seen a photograph recently of some really gorgeous pancakes, a sliver of carmelized banana running through the perfectly browned orb and I had to make some of my own. Sometimes a photograph inspires me as much as the recipe or the market.

I wanted blueberries but there were none organic, so I settled for peaches and bananas, with raspberries for garnish.

What I love about this breakfast is how astonishingly easy it is to prepare and how absolutely beautiful it looks and tastes. You don't need to be an expert at anything here.

Organic fruit-filled pancakes Fresh, fruity and good for ya

yields approximately 6 pancakes

3/4 cup multi-grain pancake mix

1/2 cup vanilla soy milk

1/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 banana, halved & sliced length-wise into thirds

1/2 peach, peeled & sliced into thin quarters

1/4 cup raspberries, washed & drainec

warmed or room temperature maple syrup

room temperature butter

In a medium-size prep bowl, mix together with a whisk the pancake mix, soy milk and coconut mix. Beat batter until just smooth and free of lumps. While preparing the fruits, allow batter sit for about 5 minutes. 

In a skillet, heat the canola oil to medium heat, being careful to avoid smoking the oil.

Ladle about a quarter cup of batter into the center of the skillet. Arrange banana and peaches in a pleasing pattern and cook fruit side up until air bubbles show in the surface of the pancake. 

Carefully flip the pancake over, fruit side down, to carmelize the fruits.  Continue cooking until golden, about 2-3 minutes.

Serve warm with maple syrup and butter. Garnish with raspberries.

Southern sausage biscuits

Sausage biscuits for r breakfastI was craving some big old fluffy biscuits with country sausage.

Off to the store we went to grab some savory sausage.

Back home in the kitchen, we got busy with the flour, Crisco, butter and rolling pin.

My mom has an old Calumet baking powder can she uses to make perfect little cat's paw-sized biscuits.

That's how the old school Southern gals do it. They're not using any cookie cutter. 

Mom's biscuits are some of the best I've ever eaten, real met in the mouth goodness.  I make a decent biscuit, but it takes a lot of biscuit-making to master this simple home recipe.

Not to worry, you can make good biscuits too.  The Alton Brown recipe below is as good a starting place as any.

Southern Biscuits

makes 1 dozen


  • 2 cups flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons shortening
  • 1 cup buttermilk, chilled

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using your fingertips, rub butter and shortening into dry ingredients until mixture looks like crumbs. (The faster the better, you don't want the fats to melt.) Make a well in the center and pour in the chilled buttermilk. Stir just until the dough comes together. The dough will be very sticky.

Turn dough onto floured surface, dust top with flour and gently fold dough over on itself 5 or 6 times. Press into a 1-inch thick round. Cut out biscuits with a 2-inch cutter, being sure to push straight down through the dough. Place biscuits on baking sheet so that they just touch. Reform scrap dough, working it as little as possible and continue cutting. (Biscuits from the second pass will not be quite as light as those from the first, but hey, that's life.)

Bake until biscuits are tall and light gold on top, 15 to 20 minutes.

Berry sweet brunch for Valentine sweethearts

Strawberry creme brulee

This year, Valentine’s Day falls on one of the least romantic days of the week: Sunday. But while Sunday may not shine in the romance department, it positively owns brunch. So let’s make the most of it, shall we?

Invite two or three couples over and celebrate the fact that cupid’s arrow finally hit its target and the pressure is off!

Start by setting the table with red and pink accessories like red carnations, candy hearts and vases filled with red and white M&M’S®. Use old-fashioned Valentine cards as place cards.

Now for the most important element – the food. Brunch is all about variety. So take the time to buy or prepare several dishes.

Fruit is a brunch staple. We happen to love incorporating raspberries and strawberries into the menu, not only for their color, but because they’re yummy and healthy, too. In fact, topping traditional pancakes or waffles with Fresh Raspberry Sauce instantly updates an old favorite. For a more savory menu item, try a Raspberry Ham Frittata or Goat Cheese and Strawberry Bruschetta.

We heart pink drinks! Valentine’s Day is the perfect time break out the Maker’s Mark and whip up a refreshing Belmont Breeze. And for those who don’t imbibe, try a simple strawberry smoothie.

What could possibly be sweeter than your sweetheart? That’d be dessert. Strawberry Crème Brulee is a fabulous treat that is as easy on the eyes as it is the taste buds.

Strawberry Crème Brulee

Prep time: 15 minutes
Bake time: 35 minutes
Makes 6 servings
Crème Brulee:

1 package (16 ounces) Driscoll’s Strawberries, hulled, divided
2 cups half and half
7 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup light brown sugar, divided
Heat oven to 325°F. Place six 6-ounce ramekins in a roasting pan; set aside.  
Coarsely chop 4 strawberries and evenly divided in bottom of each ramekin. Bring half and half to a boil in a saucepot over medium heat. Whisk egg yolks, sugar and vanilla in a bowl 2 minutes or until golden yellow. Slowly whisk hot half & half into egg mixture. Divide among prepared ramekins. Pour enough hot water into roasting pan to reach halfway up sides of ramekins.
Bake 35 minutes or until edges of custard are set and center jiggles when ramekin is tapped. Remove from hot water bath and cool to room temperature. Cover each one with plastic wrap and refrigerate 2 hours or overnight.
Heat broiler. Press through a sieve 2 teaspoon light brown sugar evenly over the top of each custard. Arrange custards on a baking sheet and place 2 inches from source of heat. Broil until sugar melts and bubbles.
Top each with a strawberry halved.
Nutrition Per Serving: 285 calories, 13.26g total fat, 7.23 saturated fat, 6.33g protein, 31.85g carbohydrate, 284.74mg cholesterol, 1.03g fiber, 51.27mg sodium
Tip: lighten up the recipe by replacing half and half with milk

I love the egg man

The egg man

You know how sexy it is to wake up to the aroma of bacon frying, bread baking and coffee brewing, right.

Unfortunately, you would not be at my house this morning. I woke to the smell of tuna and hard boiled eggs. My nocturnal reverie - the one where I wake up to the Stepford husband with terrific morning breath who makes me breakfast in bed after snacking on me - was shattered.

Luckily, I'm not one to let fantasies interrupted ruin my day, so I managed to roll myself out of bed, ignoring the unsensual tuna salad scents, and fumble my way to the coffee pot.  Once lubricated with my brew, I felt ready to consider my morning meal.

Enter the egg.

After years of derision as a dietary foe responsible for heart disease, the lowly egg - inexpensive, low fat and a good source of protein - seems geared for a comeback. A mainstay of many diets around the globe since ancient times, the egg always has been my friend.  Eggs are delicious and can be prepared as easily or complexly as you desire. 

Who can argue with the beauty and simplicity - not to mention the savory flavor - of the deviled egg? The precursor to our modern finger food was an Ancient Roman recipe for boiled eggs "seasoned with broth, oil, pure wine, or are served with broth, pepper and laser," according to Apicius: Cooking and Dining in Imperial Rome. You know those Italians can throw some food on the table.

Anyone who has ever watched their lovingly crafted souffle deflate minutes before meal time can attest to the complexity of this egg-based dish. According to the Oxford Companion to Food, the souffle, a light and frothy concoction either savory or sweet,  was an 18th century culinary creation, whose name was derived from the French word meaning puffed up. Antoine Beauvilliers, author of  L'Art du Cuisinier, was making souffles as early as 1782.  I doubt you'll get any argument that the French know their way around a kitchen.

I might mention as well the contribution of the egg to Asian culinary arts - Chowan Mushi, the delicate Japanese steamed egg custard, for one, the nutritious and delicious Egg Curry found in Indian and Nepalese cooking, and the delicacy of preserved quail eggs in Chinese cooking

I'm not going to contest the cooking skills or ingredient choice of some of history's best cooks. No, I'm right there with them.

This morning's fried egg, seasoned with salt and pepper, then sandwiched between two buttered and toasted English muffin halves, may not have been the most sophisticated fare, but it sure did satisfy.

Egg in the Nest or Toad in the Hole

One good egg

Growing up we called this breakfast treat Egg in the Nest. You might know it as Toad in the Hole.By either name, it's delicious and easy to make. 

Kids and kids at heart love it.  

The Culinary Institute of America Cookbook has a recipe for this breakfast classic that includes Red Pepper Ketchup.

Toad in the Hole with Red Pepper Ketchup

Serves 8


16 slices sourdough bread, about 3/4 inch thick

1 cup melted butter or as needed

16 eggs

2 teaspoons salt or to taste

1 teaspoon black pepper or to taste

1 cup Red Pepper Ketchup (recipe below)

Cut holes in each slice of bread with a 2 1/2-inch biscuit cutter. Be sure not to get too close to the edge of the bread. Brush both sides of each slice of bread with the melted butter.

Heat a griddle to medium heat (the CIA cookbook calls for a gas grill or charcoal grill but for indoors I suggest a griddle, either electric or stove top). Griddle the bread on one side until golden brown' about 1-2 minutes. Flip each piece of bread over and crack one egg into the hole in each piece of bread.

Season the eggs with salt and pepper. Fry the eggs about 2 minutes for sunny-side-up, 3 minutes for medium yolks and 3 1/2 to 4 minutes for hard yolks. Flip the bread over, being careful not to break the yolk, and cook for 30 seconds more, if desired.

Serve immediately with the Red Pepper Ketchup on top or on the side.

Red Pepper Ketchup

Makes 2 cups


1/4 cup olive oil

5 red peppers, diced

2 tablespoons minced shallots

3/4 cups dry white wine

3/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the peppers and shallots and saute until tender, about 5 to six minutes.

Deglaze the pan with the white wine, making sure to scrape up anything that is stuck to the bottom of the pan.

Top Paris pastry chef opens Nutella patissierie

Nutella is my secret vice

I am of a certain age, which here means that I can remember a time that Nutella was sadly NOT available in US groceries.

I remember stashing jars of the chocolatey, nutty goodness in my suitcase to hold me until my next trip over the pond.

Thank goodness this indignity has been rectified, although I still think the European product far superior to what we mere Nutella newbies get stateside. And technically, US Nutella is manufactured in Canada.

For those of you fortunate enough to find yourselves in Paris, My Little Paris, the insider's guide to La Ville-Lumière or the City of Lights, suggests La pâtisserie des rêves (93 rue du Bac, 7th Metro Rue du Bac or Sèvres Babylone tel : 00 33 1 42 84 00 82) where pastry chef Phillippe Conticini creates the recipes in his cookbook,Sensations Nutella dedicated exclusively to the jar of chocolately, nutty deliciousness.

We can't think of anything more divine.

Moja Mix: make your own muesli giveaway

"When you wake up in the morning, Pooh," said Piglet at last, "what's the first thing you say to yourself?"

"What's for breakfast?" said Pooh. "What do you say, Piglet?"

"I say, I wonder what's going to happen exciting today?" said Piglet.

Pooh nodded thoughtfully.

"It's the same thing," he said.

Winnie the Pooh has the right idea. Breakfast should be exciting - not blah.

The creators of Moja Mix have set up a website where you can chase away the breakfast blues by customizing your own special breakfast mix guaranteed to put a smile on your mug.

The site is easy to navigate and offers thousands of possibilities. Choose from endless varieties of grains, nuts, and dried fruits or pick a pre-mixed cereal. 

Average cost is $9-10 for a 12-ounce custom mix.