Friday, March 28, 2008

The Breakfast Series # 8: Coconut Date Oatmeal with Banana

Easter Egg Radishes that have nothing to do with Oatmeal

I am a fan of hot, filling, stick-to-your-ribs cereals, as anyone reading about my breakfast polenta already knows. Heidi over at also has a nice breakfast polenta recipe up, with a photo that blows my bleary-eyed snapshot away. For me, especially on a cold morning, hot cereals are the perfect meal. They fill you up with whole grains and keep you going through a busy morning at the desk or on the farm.

In the USA there is a long-running argument over hot cereals. Southerners claim that corn grits is the only way to go, while Northerners traditionally prefer cream of wheat or oatmeal. Cream of wheat was invented in 1893 by wheat millers in Grand Forks, North Dakota, where it no doubt kept people warm through those frigid winter days. It is made out of coarsely ground wheat grains. Grits, on the other hand, are made out of coarsely ground corn. White corn is considered "traditional", but yellow corn is also used. Polenta, an Italian take on grits, is usually made with yellow cornmeal and lots of Old World cheese.

Oatmeal, the topic of today's recipe, technically refers to ground oat groats (hence the use of the term "meal"), but is also used to describe cooked rolled oats and steel cut oats. Rolled oats are groats that have been steam treated and had the bran removed. Each grain is then rolled flat by heavy rollers. Large flakes are sold as rolled oats while small ones are often packaged as instant oatmeal. Steel cut oats are oat grains that have been steam treated and chopped into small bits, retaining some of the bran layer, so they contain more fiber than other oat products. However steel cut oats take about 45 minutes to cook, so if you haven't bothered to mix up a batch on the weekend to last you through the week, rolled oats are the way to go. The large flakes have more substance than instant oatmeal, which is bland and mushy, and the oat flavour is more prominent. Get some organic rolled oats next time you are at the store and try out this recipe. You will see what I mean.

There is no picture of today's featured recipe, mainly because I was up late last night working on a paper about Italian fertility policies and when I stumbled out of bed this morning I didn't think to nicely arrange my breakfast for a photo-op. By the time the idea crossed my mind there was a half eaten bowl of cooked oats in front of me-far from photogenic. So I decided to entertain you with an appropriately spring-like photo of some lovely easter egg radishes. Delicious in a salad, just don't get the wrong idea and toss them in your oatmeal. That is one flavour combination that no one needs to try.

Anyways, you guys already know what oatmeal looks like. A picture is superfluous. What you need to know is how this recipe tastes. There are a lot of ways to window dress oats. Cinnamon and apples, maple syrup, blueberries and cream, raisins, the list goes on. I think this combination is particularly scrumptious because of the winning combination of sweet dates, bananas, and the lovely aroma of coconut. You don't need much coconut to get a good flavour, so this dish won't compromise your healthy eating, and it just might remind you of your last Caribbean vacation (or set you to planning one).

You may wonder, where's the sugar? You wont need any. The two dates furnish ample sweetness in this dish, in fact I found it slightly too sweet, so you might even prefer using only one date. This is a really filling meal, but if you just got back from a long run, you might want to serve it with one of the citrus salads that I posted about the other day. The bright orange flavours are a perfect palate cleanser after chowing down on this creamy dish.

Rolled Oats with Banana, Dates and Coconut

This recipe makes one hearty serving, just multiply it by the number of people you have over if you are making it for a crowd. The total calorie count for the original version with nonfat milk is 429 calories.

1/2 cup rolled oats
1 cup nonfat milk
1/2 organic banana, sliced
2 medium dates, chopped
1 tablespoon dried, unsweetened coconut
6 almonds, coarsely chopped (you may omit these if you like, but I like the added crunch )
1/8 tsp ground ginger or to taste
1/8-1/4 tsp cinnamon or to taste
A dash of salt


1. Heat the milk, oats, banana and dates until the mixture begins to bubble. Stir regularly to keep it from sticking to the bottom. Lower the heat to medium. The mixture should begin to thicken after about 5 minutes.

2. Add the ginger, cinnamon and salt, coconut and almonds. If you want, try toasting the coconut and almonds in a skillet before adding them. It is amazing how much a little dry heat enhances the flavour.

3. Serve with a sprinkle of coconut on top.

Variations: While making this I pondered some of the more decadent options to be explored. For a richer meal and more pronounced coconut flavour, try replacing half the nonfat milk with coconut milk. If you don't want a saturated fat overload, I recommend using "light" coconut milk, which usually has about 60% less fat than the regular. As always, please buy organic if you can.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Breakfast Series #7: Two Great Things to do with Oranges

Blood Orange, Kumquat and Kiwi Salad with Toasted Coconut

This was a no brainer. Peel, thinly slice and arrange on a plate:

1 blood orange (or a regular orange if you prefer)

1 kiwi fruit

2 or 3 kumquats (no need to peel these)

Sprinkle about a teaspoon of sugar over the fruit and leave it to rest. Meanwhile, heat up a cast iron pan or griddle and toast a couple tablespoons of grated coconut until fragrant and slightly browned. Sprinkle on top and serve. If you don't feel like arranging fruit, you can just cut everything into chunks and toss it in the sugar and coconut. This is a basic salad that works not only with oranges, but also with other citrus like grapefruit. Feel free to add in a couple strawberries if you have some nice ones lying around (unlikely this time of year, but you never know.)

Another great recipe with oranges is not suitable for your tea-totaler or straight-edge punk friends because it involves a liberal use of good quality rum. Get ahold of some and try the following:

Macerated Oranges with Rum and Cinnamon

Serves 4 as a great brunch side dish.

4-5 juicy oranges

Fresh ground cinnamon (not a container that has been sitting on your shelf for a year)

Good quality rum (I use a light rum so it doesn't overwhelm the oranges)

Sugar (I used white sugar for this)


1. Peel and thinly slice the oranges, removing any seeds that catch your eye. Place one layer of the orange slices in an attractive dish (a wide glass serving bowl or a deep platter that can catch the juices).

2. Sprinkle the layer of oranges with an equal mixture of sugar and cinnamon. They shouldn't be buried under cinnamon-sugar, but you probably will need at least a teaspoon or two of the mixture for each layer.

3. Glog a couple splashes of rum over the oranges.

4. Repeat with each layer until you run out of oranges. Depending on how much rum you poured on the first time, you may decide against adding more with each layer-it is really up to you. Sprinkle a bit more cinnamon-sugar on top and let rest in the fridge for at least an hour to allow the flavours to blend together. The sugar will pull the juices out of the orange slices, which will mix perfectly with the rum, sugar and cinnamon.

This dish is fantastic for a Caribbean or Latin American inspired breakfast. Serve with some of FX Cuisine's ginger allspice banana fritters and you have yourself a veritable feast!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Broccoli with Kumquats and Red Pepper Flakes

Where oh where would I be without my red pepper flakes? Whenever I need a touch of heat and hot sauce just wont do (rare though those occasions may be), there you are, ready to add colour and flavour to everything you touch! Yes, you are most famous for spicing up pizza, we all know how you love to be shaken over huge slices of late-night thin-crust pies oozing cheese and dripping oil onto the shoes of hungry club goers; but there is so much more that you can do!

Red pepper flakes are a wonderful ingredient for any cuisine: Italian, Pan-Asian, American. Any vegetable stirfry is better when red pepper flakes are involved, and after eating massive quantities of chili cheese fries and hot dogs at Ben's Chili Bowl earlier today I definitely needed a light, vegetable oriented meal for supper.

Stir-fried Broccoli with Kumquats and Red Pepper Flakes

Serves 2 as a side dish, total of 132 calories or 66 calories per person

1 medium spear or 6 oz of broccoli
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
about 1/2 tsp of olive oil
1 tsp seasoned rice vinegar (Mirin)
1 tsp sesame seeds
2 kumquats, thinly sliced and seeds removed
slivered zest of 1/3 orange


1. Very thinly slice broccoli stems and florets. Heat oil over medium high in a nonstick pan. Add the sesame seeds, stir and let toast for a minute or two.

2. Add broccoli and 1 or 2 tbsp of water. Cover the pan for a minute or two. Uncover and stir, add red pepper flakes, kumquats, orange zest, salt, pepper and the mirin. Cover again for 1 minute.

3. Remove the cover and stir over medium heat until the broccoli is still a bit crunchy and you can smell the citrus. Serve immediately with a squeeze of orange juice if desired. I ate mine with more wheat berries, but rice would be as good.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Wheat berry salad with feta and olives

Wheat berries are one of those things that I'd never eaten, except in tabbouleh. Until today that is. Yet another acquisition from Whole Foods, I put them to soak in a big bowl of water this morning and found them plump and pliable by dinner-time. Wheat berries take a while to cook-much longer than cracked wheat, and even boiling them on my biggest burner, it took about an hour until they reached al dente perfection. These babies suck up a lot of water, so make sure that you have plenty in the pot or they will stick to the bottom and burn. I had extra water left by the time they were cooked and so I just drained the berries in a colander.

I was pleased to see that 1 cup of dry berries resulted in two cups of cooked grain. I stuffed the rest in the fridge and tossed this salad together for dinner. The slightly chewy berries melded perfectly with the salty feta and the sauteed mushrooms and spinach. A little lemon zest and juice is a good, though optional, addition. This salad is open to experimentation-I think quinoa or brown rice or pasta would work almost as well as the wheat berries, and one could certainly substitute different cheeses for the feta or try sauteing peppers in place of the mushrooms or kale instead of the spinach.

Wheat Berry Salad with Feta and Olives

Serves 1 as a light main course, two as a small side. About 365 calories total if using fat free feta.

3/4 cup cooked wheat berries

About an ounce of crumbled feta (I used fat free, but pick your favorite)

3 olives (or more, to taste)

A large handful of fresh spinach

Optional: about a cup of sliced Crimini mushrooms

A splash of sherry (optional)

Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

1/8 tsp red pepper flakes or to taste

Grated zest and the juice of 1/2 lemon (optional)

2 tablespoons minced red onion (or to taste)

2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley (optional)

1 tsp olive oil


1. Slice mushrooms, mince the red onion and thinly slice the olives.

2. Heat the teaspoon of olive oil in a nonstick pan to medium low heat. Toss in the spinach and mushrooms and turn the heat low, add the sherry, if desired, cover the pan and allow the mushrooms to "sweat" for several minutes. You may also add the onion at this point if you don't like it raw, otherwise save it for garnish.

3. Uncover the pan, add the black pepper and crushed red pepper and salt if needed. Toss in a bowl with the feta, wheat berries and olives. Top with the parsley, onion and lemon zest, and squeeze a bit of lemon juice over the whole shebang before serving.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Pumpkin Soup with Ripe Plantain and Lime; Curry Bison Topping

This is version 1.0 of my newest favorite soup. That's right, the one I promised I would blog about a couple weeks ago. No, it wasn't the catfish gumbo I was talking about, although that is good too. This is my riff on all those curried pumpkin soup recipes floating around the Internet. For all you cilantro haters out there, you will be glad to see that I avoided this ubiquitous ingredient without compromising the taste.

An explosion of flavours, umami and spice predominating, permeates this dish. Silky smooth yet filling pumpkin, plantain and coconut milk, warm and spicy curry powder and chili, tangy lime and lipsmackingly meaty bison may seem like too much to handle, but I assure you that the taste is sublime. I call this version 1.0 because I already have ideas for variations on this theme that I like would like play around with in the future, and I hope to post a 2.0 sometime this spring. In the meantime, pick up some pumpkin or squash on your next food run and try this one out.

Pumpkin Soup with Ripe Plantain and Lime

The plantain flavour is not too strong in this soup, so if you want it to show through a bit more I would suggest substituting two more plantains for a cup and a half of the pumpkin. Making a more plantain based soup is on my list of priorities for this recipe. With low fat coconut milk, 1 cup of soup (sans toppings) contains about 167 calories and the recipe makes about 6 and a half cups total.

2 ripe plantains, peeled and chopped (about 1 and 1/2 cup)

1 cup chopped onion

4 cups pumpkin or winter squash puree (either cook and blend your own squash-I keep mine frozen in the freezer, or you can buy a couple cans of pumpkin)

2 cups low fat chicken stock or vegetable stock

1 can low fat coconut milk (about 2 cups)

About 1/2 tbsp minced fresh ginger

1/2 tsp salt

1-1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (or to taste)

1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper

1 bay leaf

1/2 to 3/4 tsp good quality curry powder

Juice and zest of one large lime


1. Get out a big pot, heat it over medium heat and saute the onions in a spritz of olive oil until soft. Add the spices and plantain and cook for a minute or two more, stirring as needed, then add the pumpkin puree and simmer over medium heat until everything is cooked through.

2. Remove the bay leaf and blend the soup with the coconut milk until smooth. Reheat over low heat and stir in the lime juice. There may be some curdling, but keep stirring and it will disappear. Serve over rice (left over Chinese take out rice in my case, but I think this would be good with a jasmine rice or a medium or long grained brown rice), and top with a sprinkling of lime zest and a spoonful of curried bison if you aren't vegetarian (see the recipe below).

Curried Bison or Beef

Although I made this with some ground American bison meat that was stuck in my freezer from my last trip to the Dupont Circle Farmer's Market, good quality ground beef can be substituted instead. Given that bison is quite lean, pick the leanest ground beef you can find, as the recipe will be too greasy otherwise. This recipe makes about 1-1/2 cup and is about 300 calories per half cup. You should only need a tablespoon or two for each serving of pumpkin soup. It is spicy so if that isn't your thing you may wish to skip this recipe.

1/2 lb bison or lean ground beef

2 garlic cloves

1/2 cup tomato paste (I ran out and used ketchup and it was sacrilegious but still delicious)

3/4 cup finely minced onion

1 finely minced small red chili

1 tsp sugar (or to taste)

A couple grinds of black pepper

2 dashes ground all spice (optional but rounds out the flavour)

2 tbsp of Patak's Tomato and Cumin Hot Curry Paste (Available online and at Whole Foods-this stuff is amazing!)


1. Heat a nonstick frying pan over medium high heat. Dump in the ground bison or beef and let it brown for a couple minutes. When partially browned, add the hot curry paste, which is quite oily, and lower the heat to medium low.

2. Add the minced onions and using a garlic press, smash the garlic and add it as well (or mince it finely). Add the allspice and minced chili. Let the mixture saute over low heat until the onions are soft and transparent.

3. Add the tomato paste and sugar and mix thoroughly. Let the mixture cook on low heat for 5-10 minutes to allow the flavours to mix. Serve as a topping for Pumpkin soup with Plantain, or with rice.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Easy Catfish Gumbo

If you didn't make it down to New Orleans for Mardis Gras this year, you can transport yourself there with this quick and easy catfish gumbo. I found this recipe somewhere online and have adapted it to my tastes (read: less oil, more hotsauce!). This is a hearty, filling stew that is quick and easy to make, tastes great and is full of healthy protein and lots of vegetables. It is also remarkably low in calories, coming in at about 157 calories per cup. For proper gumbo flavour you are going to want to get ahold of some gumbo filet , a seasoning that is made of the powdered leaves of sassafras, a shrub or small tree that grows all over the eastern half of this country. Most supermarkets will carry it in their spice aisle, but depending on where you live, your best bet may be to purchase it online. The flavour is hard to describe, and the dish still tastes good without it, but for many people its not real gumbo without the filet.

Okra is also a non-negotiable item for die-hard gumbo fans, in fact the name "gumbo" is derived from an African word for okra. If you choose to omit it, at least have the decency to call the result "catfish stew" instead of gumbo. The celery, onion and bell pepper are sometimes refered to as the "holy trinity", and regardless of whether you are using catfish, sausage, chicken or crawdads, any gumbo worth its salt must contain those three vegetables. After that you can experiment as you like. Feel free to change up the spices, toss in some fresh parsley or use a different kind of protein (you could probably even make a tofu gumbo, but chicken and sausage are other popular options.) You could also use a mixture of seafood instead of the catfish. Shrimp or squid would be equally good.

Easy Catfish Gumbo

1 tbsp vegetable oil

1/2 cup diced celery

1/2 cup diced onion

1/2 large green bell pepper

1 (15 oz) can diced tomatoes

3 oz tomato paste

5 oz frozen or fresh okra, chopped

1-1/4 cup chicken, beef or vegetable broth

1 lb catfish fillet, cut into bite sized chunks

1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper

1 to 1-1/2 tsp cajun seasoning

1-1/2 tbsp flour

1 tsp garlic salt or 1/2 tsp salt and one minced garlic clove

1 bay leaf

A splash (or three) of hot sauce. Tabasco is traditional.

1 to 1 -1/2 tsp gumbo filet powder


1. Combine the black pepper, garlic salt, cajun seasoning and bayleaf. Set aside.

2. The original version of this recipe does not call for making a roux, or a browned mixture of flour and fat, but to do a gumbo the way its done in Louisiana, you will want to do so. However, making a roux takes a bit of extra time, so I am going to give you two options at this point, one which is more traditional and "authentic" and one which is faster. To make a roux, sprinkle the flour into the oil and stir over low heat until the flour-oil mixture browns. Then add the celery, onion and pepper, sautee and proceed as explained below. This can take about 20 minutes, unless you cheat by inching the heat up. The fast option is to heat the oil over medium low heat, toss in the celery, onion and pepper and sautee briefly, then stir in the flour a little at a time and proceed with the recipe. Do whichever you feel like, either way it will be good.

3. After the onion, pepper and celery have had time to sautee for a few minutes, add the tomatoes, tomato paste and okra, the mixed seasonings, and the hot sauce. Mix everything together, bring to a boil and then let simmer for about 30 minutes to allow the flavours to blend.

4. Add the catfish to the pot and simmer for about 20 minutes until the fish is cooked through. Stir in the filet gumbo powder and serve with crusty french bread or over rice.