Thursday, 29 October 2009

Recipes: Ha-ha-ha-ha Halloween Breakfasts

Worst Halloween breakfast joke?

What's a ghoul's favorite breakfast cereal? Rice creepies...
Thanks to Mr for that howler

Best Halloween breakfast recipes?

1. Pumpkin pancakes (Mr

What better way to use up the pumpkin innards than to puree it and make these warming, slightly sweet breakfast goodies? Serve warm with cream cheese if you're feeling really wicked... Also see the Serious Eats recipe

2. Wizard Cereal (Bed & Breakfast Network)

Oh so simple sneaky dash of food colouring in your kids' breakfasts - they thought Coco Pops were cool... wait til they see blood-stained milk (and the e-numbers kick in...)

3. Buried Alive Muffins (Every Day with Rachael Ray)

Muffins with limbs coming out of them. Absolute clear winner for spooky hilarity. Extra points for finding edible arms...

4. Mummies for breakfast (

Sausages or Nutella with eyes wrapped in bread lattices. Thank you America once again for your boundless and imaginative culinary support of national holidays. These guys are just too cute to eat.

5. Ghostly eggs (Serious Eats)

30 seconds with a marker pen, or black food colouring if you're really fancy - and hey presto. Terror in a cup.

Photo: Lucy Schaeffer from Every Day with Rachael Ray

Friday, 23 October 2009

Emergency breakfasts at high street chain cafes

Sometimes best intentions - to soak that bircher muesli overnight or poach that egg before work - go awry. And sometimes you miss the alarm and it's as much as you can manage to get your clothes on before running out of the door.

At times like these, there's no option but to grab something on the way into work (because missing breakfast is inconceivable).

Here's my top six emergency breakfasts on the go - in order of preference - from the sorts of fast food places and coffee shops you'll find around the country (so none of my independent little favourite cafes and bakeries - they'll come another time).

1. Eat Swiss Bircher Muesli (creamy oat texture with berries) or Porridge with apple, cinnamon and sultana compote (usually ask for hot milk on top to stir into lumpy porridge and extra compote if they've been stingy)

2. Pret Rhubarb Breakfast Bowl (slight sharpness of rhubarb to spice up the yoghurt)

3. Bagel Street multiseed or wholemeal bagel with banana and honey (add peanut butter if hungover)

4. Starbucks Greek Yoghurt with wild flower honey and crunchy granola (tasty yoghurt but a touch too much honey and sugary granola)

5. Costa Fruit, Seed, Nut and Honey Bar (better than your average supermarket cereal bar but packed with sugar)

6. Subway (go hungry)

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Best cafes: in the Cairngorms

Take too much notice of AA Gill and you'd think Scotland was a food desert.

Yes, you can find deep fried Mars bars in Glasgow and restaurants that look (and smell) like the inside of a sweaty Scotsman's kilt, but that doesn't scratch the surface.

For starters, the country has an enormous wealth of home-grown produce, from Speyside salmon and Highland venison to Arbroath smokies and Scots oats. Then there's all the cottage industries in the country's more remote outposts and islands - Arran cheese for one or Isle of Mull oysters? Aaand the Scottish chefs - Nick Nairn, Andrew Fairlie and Claire McDonald.

I used to go to Scotland just to tramp and cycle up and down its titanic backbone, but now I go for the hearty, grease-free breakfast before the trampling and cycling and the fresh, robust and wholesome meal I'll have at the end.

It was on a recent expedition to the Cairngorms, for some canoeing this time, that I found the Mountain Cafe in Aviemore.

It's above one of the town's many outdoorsy shops, innocuous enough looking, with a little balcony and a discreet sign. But this place doesn't need to shout - ask anyone who knows their espresso from their macchiato where to eat in Aviemore and they'll send you to the Mountain Cafe.

Cappuccino art aside, there's a massive selection of teas, homemade breads, cakes that make you glad you've just walked, or are about to walk 15-miles. Porridge comes plain or with a twist - check out this picture of creamy Scots oats with berry compote, honey, nuts and a dusting of icing sugar.

Even bagels get the royal treatment - peanut butter, cream cheese, honey or jam and a pretty blueberry and mint garnish.

Comely presentation, colourful ingredients, local produce, fresh home cooking, local art on the walls and easy going staff. Ticks all the boxes for a cracking breakfast.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Granola bar recipe test no.1

Granola bars are breakfast on the go, snacks between meals, energy for sporty types, gifts in nice boxes, and a worthy outlet for satisfying that baking urge when you don't want the product to be a calorific cake. Plus, they last a good week or so in an airtight container.

OK - so you can buy them for peanuts - supermarket shelves are groaning with muesli/ granola/ nut/ chew/ crisp bars these days, but there's always something not quite right. Whether it's too much fat, sugar, fruit, faux yucky 'yoghurt' topping or just plain tastes-of-muesli-factory-floor-sweepings, I've yet to find one that fits my bill.

Making your own is the solution, but where to start?

My many cookbooks scream out recipes, Google offers 45,100 results for a 'muesli bar recipe' and 419,000 for 'granola bar recipe' search, and every cafe/health food shop/farmers' market stall worth its oats has it's own version.

I've yet to find my perfect recipe, so I'm asking you to join me, if you will, on the hunt for the perfect bar. Use the comment form to leave your thoughts on my attempts, or perhaps even share your secret recipe...

Test 1


Labelled: Muesli Bar Recipe, healthy backpack snack (try saying that with a mouthful of oats)

50g low fat margarine
200ml runny honey
50g brown sugar
75g wholemeal flour
150g rolled oats
100g chopped nuts
75g pumpkin seeds
75g sunflower seeds
175g chopped dates, apricots and sultanas
25g sesame seeds

Instructions: melt margarine, honey and brown sugar; mix the rest of the ingredients in a bowl; add syrupy mixture, stir and press into baking tray. Bake for 25 mins at 180C.

AGA: For a two-oven Aga bake on a shelf in the bottom of the roasting oven with a cool shelf over the top for 20 minutes then raise cool shelf to two runners above the tin for the last 5-10 minutes. For a three-oven Aga bake in the baking oven for 25 minutes.

Results: the bars combined well and didn't fall apart when cut up. They were quite hard work to chew, but didn't harden in the tin and stayed chewy for six days. The taste was dominated by nuts and honey, with a slight singed edge as if the oats had caught in the oven.

Conclusions: I liked the texture and chewiness but would prefer a bar that's lighter in colour, a little less sweet and more healthy. Despite the url, these bars are pretty calorific; great for powering a triathlete, but too many KCals for a relatively sedentary day in the office.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Recipes: the best chocolate breakfasts

Throwing myself headlong into the PR invention that is Chocolate Week, here's some of the best breakfast recipes with a touch of cocoa magic, selected from my favourite foodie blogs...

Though these recipes are in no particular order, this is an obvious place to start. Orangette is a sumptuous blog of food photography, recipes, and heart-on-sleeve streams of conciousness. She often refers back to this delicious recipe - a toasted medley of oats, almonds, coconut, dark chocolate and honey.

2. Nuts, Chocolate and Banana Bread (La Tartine Gourmande)

The best thing about banana bread? It's cake impersonating something much more wholesome, and because it's called bread, it's a perfectly acceptable breakfast choice. Thank goodness for the Americans and their love of this delicious creation. Béatrice Peltre's version uses rice and quinoa flours, almond butter, seeds, nuts and dark chocolate chunks. Divine.

3. Granny Ragland's Chocolate Gravy (The Bitten Word)
This rather indulgent recipe (serving suggestion: pour over buttermilk biscuits) is tagged as a breakfast recipe, and who am I to argue? Flour, sugar, butter, vanilla, milk and cocoa mixed and warm - some of life greatest little pleasures truly are so simple.

4. White Chocolate Berry Muffins (Salihan via Chocolate Chipped)
Raspberries and white chocolate - a stunning combination when encased in a warm muffin jacket... and may I also suggest adding macadamia nuts for a creamy, energy-giving and texture enhancing kick?

5.Nikki's Healthy Cookies (101 Cookbooks)

Cookies may be an unconventional breakfast, but if you're in a rush, call these granola bars, and it sounds ok. Particularly when they contain mashed banana, almonds, cinnamon, almond meal, and of course chocolate chips.
Photo: nataliej

Monday, 12 October 2009

Recipe: the perfect day for apple porridge

Yesterday, Sunday 11 October, was World Porridge Day and Apple Day.

I thought I'd better mark the occasion with an apple porridge recipe from Golden Spurtle.

Its odd name comes from the contest, or more precisely the eponymous trophy, whereby porridge chefs battle it out to sort the oats from the chaff.

The recipe I picked is courtesy of a Canadian porridge fanatic and is called Red River Rise 'n' Shine Porridge - even the name sounds hearty and wholesome...

It's an unusual mix of ingredients and tempted though I was to meddle, adding honey instead of sugar, cutting down on the butter and cutting out skim milk powder, the recipe started with the line:

"This is our 'secret' recipe that we've been tinkering with for several years now... This is a take on recipes that come from the Scots here in Manitoba, Canada. Manitoba's earliest history is rich in Scottish porridge traditions dating back to the Red River crofter settlement established by Lord Selkirk in 1812."

You can't argue with that kind of history.

You can get the full recipe here, but here are the basics:

Toss oats in melted butter in a bain-marie, add cinnamon, salt, milk, brown sugar and skimmed milk powder, and then chopped cranberries and chopped apple with the skin still, on and stir occasionally for 30 minutes.

The result? Delightful.

Creamy with a good consistency that wasn't interrupted by the apple and cranberries, which had softened during the slow cooking. It's a little too indulgent for a day in the office but perfect for a day outdoors - I was full until lunchtime and despite the sugar, the energy release was steady.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Best granolas: Juliette's yoga granola

Why do I get up at 6.45 to do a yoga class? Juliette.

She's not the bendy instructor, she's the wife of the guy who runs the yoga cafe and she makes granola to die for.

He revealed the recipe to me this morning. The base is simple - oats, nuts, seeds, grains, and whatever dried fruits you fancy (Juliette keeps it to the odd shrivelled raisin).

It's toasted in brown sugar, honey, golden syrup, cinnamon and the big surprise... apple compote.

The yoga cafe man serves it with sliced banana and strawberry topped with runny plain yoghurt (or all manner of milks if you prefer). It's £4 for a generous pot and it's the perfect epicurean pat on the back.

If you want to try it, head to Triyoga in Primrose Hill, north-west London (Louise and Jeremy's 7.15am classes are my favourites).