Susie’s back everyone and she’s giving you the scoop on a new cookbook about my favorite meal of the day – breakfast! Enjoy!
Oatmeal, Buckwheat & Rye—Oh, My!
So sorry, all, but I couldn’t resist a slight cheesy homage to one of my childhood favorites, The Wizard of Oz. Now, I know every single person reading this is thinking, What the hell does The Wizard of Oz have to do with cooking?! (It doesn’t. I just needed the rhyme, OK?)
See, after February’s delicious but admittedly, er, calorie-laden chocolate extravaganza, I was eager to road-test something a little lighter. Given that it was still below zero every day most of this month, I was still leaning toward something that would offer some warm, cozy dishes—the culinary equivalent of a woolly blanket and feetie pajamas. (Come on, East Coasters—you know you’d have bought a few pairs if they made ‘em in our size!)
WHOLE GRAIN MORNINGS by Megan Gordon author of the blog, A Sweet Spoonful and also the purveyor of MARGE Granola, turned out to be the perfect choice. The book features recipes that not only highlight morning faves like oatmeal, granola, fruity muffins and pancakes, but most importantly, showcases flavorful new twists on these comfort classics, as well as dozens of really yummy-looking other dishes.
Another whole grain book? What’s so great about this one?
See, I can read your mind. I can practically see your eyes rolling. Well, I, too, was a little skeptical, being that I’ve sampled recipes from quite a few whole grain books and came away . . . uninspired. But Megan Gordon’s book is different, because, as the title says, it is all about mornings. Which means . . . breakfast. I don’t know about you, but I love breakfast. Though when flipping through the pages of this book, looking at the lovely, extremely hunger-inducing photos, I noted that this is also a great book for those who love “breakfast for dinner” or any other time of day.
I’ve been experimenting with whole grain flours for a while, so I couldn’t wait to start working with these recipes. I also loved that, at the end of most recipes, Gordon includes a note called “Make It Your Own,” encouraging readers to tweak the recipe to their taste, pantry or region by changing up the fruit or nuts. She also recommends substitutions when she calls for ingredients that might be harder to find.
So, to get the bad news out of the way first, my main, and really only, gripe with this book is what we in publishing call “mouse type.” I mean, for a cookbook, this has some teeny tiny type (to be fair, I have really lousy eyesight.) At times I found it quite difficult to make out the differences between amounts (1/2 tsp or 1/3 tbsp). Bad fonts are a real pet peeve of mine, particularly in cookbooks, where the difference between one-quarter and three-quarters can make a world of difference. Having kvetched about the print, though, I can say that the recipes I’ve sampled thus far were terrific—and I cannot wait to try more!
A quick word about working with whole grains and their flours—always store them in your fridge or freezer, as they go rancid faster than regular flour. You don’t want to start making pancakes with bad buckwheat flour. Ew.
As for those Whole Grain Buttermilk Pancakes—what could be bad here? You are basically making your own version of Bisquick, which keeps for ages in the fridge and can be used as desired (snowy Sunday mornings . . . or snow day weekdays? Whatever your pleasure.) The flavor was so good, though—wholesome without tasting “healthy,” and they didn’t fall apart as soon as the syrup soaked in—an important quality in a pancake! I’m not the best pancake-maker, so mine turned out a little denser than they were probably supposed to, but I’ll chalk that up to my questionable technique.
I fell in love with the Vanilla & Cream Steel Cut Oats Porridge just for its name (when you hear “porridge,” don’t you think of Little House on the Prairie?) But after making it once, it was so incredibly delicious I had to make it again! It is hard to resist sticking your face in the pot—because this smells amazing—but please, do not do as I did or you’ll get a steam burn on your face. (Also do not do as I did and let the pot boil over on your stove, unless you want to spend your day scrubbing burned milk.)
I usually cook oatmeal in a 50-50 mix of milk and water because to my palate, oatmeal made with 100% water is bland—a little milk brings out the richness. But Gordon’s three parts water/one part milk to one cup steel-cut oats made for a really rich, creamy and very nicely vanilla-scented breakfast, perfect during the umpteenth Polar Vortex. (Could someone please tell me, where and when did this term originate? Never heard it until this year, and now we’ve had at least four of them this winter. I feel as though I’m living in The Day After Tomorrow!)
Can you hear the theme from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly*? That’s the sound of two soon-to-be-overripe pears staring me down on the counter. I was running out of time and ideas, until I flipped through Gordon’s book and spotted the recipe for her Pear and Hazelnut Muffins. I was a little skeptical about baking with pears—I’m weird about fruit. I prefer to bake with apples and berries and eat other fruits in the raw, as nature intended. But these pears were going, going gone, and something had to be done!
So I shredded them into the batter as directed. I was out of cardamom, so I substituted cinnamon (and really, when is cinnamon not appropriate?) These muffins came out tender, with a nice crunch from the hazelnuts. I’d love to try them with cherries and almonds during the summer, and maybe apples and walnuts in the fall. I only made one mistake—I missed the direction to turn down the oven temperature when the muffins go into the oven, so these baked a little unevenly. But they still came out quite good (despite ten million bowls. Why does every recipe seem to use ten million bowls???)
The Hazelnut Cacao Nib Granola gave me the opportunity to play with a new toy—er, I mean, test a new ingredient: coconut oil! I’d never used the stuff before, and was curious about taste, texture, etc. (Word to the reader, this recipe’s headnote contains the only real bit of twee writing in the book—Gordon says that coconut oil gives this granola recipe “a whisper or a kiss” of sweetness. (Oy.) But the results are so delicious, I’ll forgive her.) Melting the oil—for the uninitiated, it is thick, like paste, in the jar—made my kitchen smell like a deserted island. Mmmm.
The granola itself—a combination of oats, sesame seeds, walnuts, hazelnuts, unsweetened coconut, maple syrup, vanilla, salt (a good amount, thank goodness, which helps the finished product achieve a nice balance of sweet n’salty) and cacao nibs to finish it off—smells AMAZING while baking.
It is pretty difficult to restrain yourself from picking while it is cooling (you’ll burn your tongue, badly. I should make a PSA for baking injuries.) Also, one recipe makes a lot of granola—I filled a gallon container! The good news is that this is versatile stuff—use it on yogurt (done), as cereal (done), on ice cream —but it lasts a long time. So enjoy!
I had hoped to try some of the savory recipes, but time was not on my side (ironically, the treats seem to take less time than the savory stuff.) So with the countdown clock ticking down, I went for the Blueberry Breakfast Bars, mainly because for ages I’ve been seeking a replacement for Starbucks’ long-lost Blueberry Oat Bar, and this seemed like it would fit the bill—and it really does. Except, of course, there’s no corn syrup or other creepy fillers that might kill you.
I used frozen blueberries (but can’t wait for cherry season to arrive—I bet this would taste fabulous with a fresh cherry filling! Or strawberry-rhubarb! Oh, damn you, spring, where are you?!) The filling is so pretty in the pot—not that I care about aesthetics or anything—and comes together quickly, as does the crust.
There is an omission in the recipe—the ingredients list includes 3-4 tablespoons water for the crust, but the directions don’t tell you when to add them. You do so at the end, one tablespoon at a time, just to help the crust come together (and you might not need all 3-4. I only needed 2.)
These baked up nicely, and smelled delicious from the brown sugar and cinnamon. At first bite they did have a somewhat overwhelming whole-wheat taste, but once the fruit flavor hits you, everything becomes balanced. These would be nice for breakfast, sure, but also in the afternoon, or late at night with tea—anytime, really!
Overall, I loved the recipes I tried from this book, and I will continue to experiment. If you do try anything from Whole Grain Mornings, let me know about your results!
In the meantime, I’m off to wash the dishes—blueberries stain, who knew?– but hope to see you all next month!
MB note: To connect with with Susie, you can most likely find her on Twitter (@susan_litman) (she’s at 999 followers – let’s help her break 1,000) and more recently, Instagram (@susanl73).