Thursday, 27 May 2010

Recipe: organic banana, oat and peanut breakfast cookies

These aren't normal cookies - the sinful, indulgent sort - they are the "healthy" sort - but don't let that put you off.

It all started with a couple of over ripe bananas and my desire to find something other than banana bread or banana tea loaf to make with them.

I wanted to make a breakfast snack that was filling, but not sugary, and after doing some experimenting with other breakfast staples, I stumbled on this recipe.

They don't go crunchy or doughy. They go a little bit crispy on the outside and sort of stodgy and banana-y in the middle. They go perfectly with a spicy chai tea or a frothy cappuccino.

Ingredients (makes around 13 cookies)

2 large ripe organic bananas
2 tbspns of organic unsweetened soy milk
2 tspns of vanilla extract
2 heaped tbspns of organic, sugar-free peanut butter
2 tbspns of organic agave syrup
225g of organic porridge oats
2 tbspns of organic wholemeal flour
2 tbspns of cinnamon

Mash the banana with a fork in a large bowl. Mix together with the soy milk, vanilla, peanut butter, agave. Then mix in the oats, flour and cinnamon (you can use less, or none, if you prefer).

Roll into balls the size of table tennis balls and flatten slightly. Cook on a baking tray at 180 degrees C for 15-20 minutes until they are slightly browned on the outside but still soft in the middle. They won't 'bake' like normal cookies because they don't have the butter and sugar to bind.

They don't last well - store in an airtight container and eat within three days.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Breakfast included: Matfen Hall, Northumberland

Surroundings: A grand dining room with oodles of wood pannelling, leather-bound library books on the shelves, and views of early-morning golfers on the 18th. Beyond that, the rugged and wild Northumberland countryside.

The path of Hadrian's Wall passes through the hotel's turf - what treasured land you look upon over your bacon and eggs.

Buffet: A big table loaded with bowls that looked promising at first, but the fruit was mostly melon, prunes and the tinned variety. I'd like to think a summer visit would yield some berries and spring some mango, but my early spring visit yielded little to excite.

Cereals too were a little unimaginative, with no homemade or luxury muesli or granola in sight, although there were bowls of nuts if you wanted to turbo-charge the Alpen. The bread basket looked cute, but a little saccharine, and probably bought-in. No matter, though, the speciality here is the hot stuff...

Hot stuff: The towering Northumberland breakfast is the no brainer here - layered black pudding, local sausage, apple, Geordie eggy bread (English muffins dunked in egg and fried).

The dishes that didn't get a look in were local kippers, eggs Florentine and the Full English, although other diners looked very happy with their helpings of these.

Details: Matfen Hall, Matfen, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, NE20 0RH; tel. 01661886500

Thursday, 20 May 2010

All hail the Pain Quotidien vegan muffin

I have dallied with a few food avoidances in the past, and although I am back to my meat, sugar, dairy and wheat-eating self, I can't help but leap with joy at spotting the word "gluten" or "vegan" on a breakfast menu.

The latest beat my heart heart skipped was in Pain Quotidien, the rapidly sprawling bakery-cum-bistro that's popping up all over London (15 at last count), and the world for that matter.

I've now had two vegan blueberry muffins, and I'm sold.

They use soya milk to replace the dairy and it more than measures up. The muffin surface is slightly crispy, the dough moist and the blueberries big and juicy. £2.80 organic muffin is 400 calories, so it's a full breakfast, rather than a snack if you're watching your weight.

Of course, my loyalties will now be split between this, Gail's bran muffin and my breakfast muesli muffin and the awesome using Muesli Lover dairy-free and vegan pumpkin muffins. It's a wonder I ever get around to writing about anything else...

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

London's best dressed eggs at Ginger & White

You'd have thought Hampstead, with its dog walkers in wellies and wisteria-covered cottages, would have breakfast outlets galore to serve its discerning locals, but good breakfast places are few and far between.

There's Gail's, whose wonderful bran muffin I've written about before, and there's Base Bistro, which does a fairly unimaginative and a little over-priced breakfast menu, but eating in Hampstead doesn't really come into its own until lunchtime. For a decent breakfast you need to head to the area around South End Green or the cute England's Lane.

That was until Ginger & White came on the scene in mid 2009. And, thank goodness its hidden down a cobbled alley because otherwise there'd be a queue outside every weekend.

With food stylist Tonia George, whose Breakfast and Brunch cookbook I adore, and restaurant consultants Emma and Nicholas Scott at the helm, the place was bound to look good - all reclaimed chunky furniture, church hall chairs, faded Union Jacks and upturned packing crates.

But thankfully, the food lives up to the decor.

First, you've got to get past the counter and shelves loaded with billowing muffins, gleaming brownies and oozing Victoria Sponges to take a seat.

Challenge over, you're rewarded with the breakfast menu - toasted sourdough, butter and jam (£2.50), homemade fruit crumble muffins (£1.95), homemade smoky baked beans with toast (£5.95), homemade granola with yoghurt, seasonal fruit and honey (£4.60), Wicks Manor sausage sarnie in a white bap with Hawkshead brown sauce (£4.80)... or I could go on, but you get the picture...

The soft-boiled egg with buttered soldiers (£4.60) was a highlight, not just for the perfectly cooked eggs with rich buttery yolks, but for the little hat that donned the egg-in-waiting. What better way to get kids eating a proper breakfast (and boy, there are a few at Ginger & White, so don't expect a quiet crowd).

The granola too looked stunning in the bowl with its spider-webbed honey and tasted divine - crunchy and nutty with light yoghurt and in generous portions.

The Square Mile coffee, which is hand-roasted in east London, was nutty and not too bitter with citrusy notes. The only disappointment was the sourdough toast, but only because I thought it was overpriced by about a pound.

Breakfast over, there's one final challenge - to get out past those cakes (not helped by the fact that you pay the bill at the counter). My resolve crumbled, I expect yours will too...

Ginger & White, Perrin's Court, Hampstead, London, NW3 1QS. Open 7.30am-5.30pm weekdays, from 8,30am weekends

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Homemade yoghurt with blueberry, pistachio, agave and cacoa

Smug alert: I made homemade yoghurt.

Now I know why my Mum used to push aside the pillow cases in the airing cupboard to squeeze in a bowl of bacteria wrapped in a towel.

I never used to get homemade yoghurt. For starters, one of the ingredients is yoghurt.

The other two are milk and milk powder - although the third isn't strictly necessary - which begs the question, why not just buy a bigger pot of yoghurt in the first place... and more to the point, who made the first yoghurt from whence all subsequent yoghurt has been made? And how did they make it without yoghurt?

I digress...

So, I made this yoghurt according to Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall's River Cottage Everyday cookbook. It was a bit runny, possibly because I whisked in the yoghurt before I'd cooled to milk and milk powder to exactly 46 degrees, thereby overheating the bacteria. So, it was a bit runny, so we'll call it pouring yoghurt...

After that it was easy. I poured the yoghurt on top of some blueberries in a glass and topped it with grated cacoa and chopped pistachios.

Two noteworthy mentions here: First, Willie's Cacoa, which is so wonderfully rich and smooth and tactile and handsomely packaged that it didn't feel too painful parting with £5.99 for it. Secondly, I should acknowledge Pod, whose lovely cacoa yoghurt pots gave me the idea for this (but don't taste half as good as the Muesli Lover version).

I had it again for breakfast the next morning (the curse of making too much homemade yoghurt) and topped the cacoa and pistachio with some just-made granola (oats, seeds, almonds and goji berries toasted in warmed olive oil and honey). That was rather tasty too.

Monday, 3 May 2010

I heart Anthropologie breakfastware

Loving these teapots, butter dishes, aprons, bowls, measuring jugs, mugs, milk jugs and bread boards.

Anthropologie has always been my Stateside splurge palace, but now it's come to the UK.

Prices may be at time eye watering but homeware is, on the whole, better value than clothes and jewellery. And just going to Anthropologie's shops is like stepping into Heals does Alice in Wonderland... fountains, butterflies, pretty things and little baskets to loop over the crook of your arm and fill with things you never knew you needed...

Anthropologie has shops on Regent's Street and the King's Road in London.