mint, granola and doughnut season: breakfast lately

I fear to write too much as I don't want to complain about the weather. It really isn't my intention and yet if I put too many words in this post I doubt that I will be able to resist. And so I will write about breakfast instead. I'll take breakfast talk over complaining about the weather any day. I'll just say for now that I thought that I had gotten through this winter without getting sick. I also thought that I had gotten through this winter, but the past few days have proved me wrong on both accounts. Let's just say, thank god that Alphonso mango season has begun. 

But because mango season has just begun, mangoes are only starting to make an appearance on my breakfast table. Instead, oatmeal has been a staple throughout the past few months and I have rediscovered an oatmeal classic from my childhood: cinnamon raisin oatmeal. I have fond memories of this flavour combination as, even though I admit that this oatmeal came in a package and was made just by boiling water in a kettle, it is a breakfast that I often ate on winter weekends when I stayed over at my grandparents. My grandparents always had a well stocked pantry and come winter that pantry had a large share of packages of cinnamon raisin oatmeal, as well as peaches n' cream. In addition to eating with all of our senses, I eat with all of my memories.

I've been surviving winter with lots of fresh, broiled and roasted  fruit. Fresh blood oranges. Broiled grapefruit. Roasted bananas. Something magical happens when you put a banana into the oven for a few minutes. Somehow, just don't ask me how, it tastes even more like a banana when hot and slightly caramelized. I've been eating roasted bananas with yogurt, with shaved chocolate and sometimes with a sprinkling of granola. In fact, I've also been adding granola to everything I can, from on top of smoothies to in Bircher Muesli and from fruit salads to garnished on oatmeal.  

At breakfast I've been sticking to granola sweetened with maple syrup or honey. However, this NY Times article, "Granola is Sowing Its Wild Oats", discusses chefs who are transforming what was once considered hippie food into classy, experimental dishes. Granola tossed over a root vegetable salad adds some crunch and additional flavour (granola with honey and black pepper sounds particularly enticing). And then there is granola with foie gras. If Montreal's landmark restaurant Au Pied de Cochon has taught us anything it is that there is always room for foie gras in almost any dish. I certainly haven't been as brave in how I combine granola with other foods. I admit that compared to granola specked foie gras, granola on top of a smoothie feels rather conservative, but this article has me definitely inspired to make a savoury batch to use beyond breakfast. Or maybe even with a savoury breakfast? 

Luckily the harshest period of winter in Bavaria coincides with the weeks before Lent and these weeks, I've discovered, count as their own season: doughnut season. Doughnuts filled with jams go by many different names in Germany and are probably best known as Berliners. However, in Bavaria they are called Krapfen. Interestingly enough, the Venetian version of a doughnut - two pieces of dough filled with a towering dollop of whipped cream - is also called a Krapfen.

Carnival is a big thing in South-west Germany and although in Munich things are much quieter compared to the wild party days in Cologne, the city still gets into the Carnival spirit and this is mainly done with Krapfen. After eating way too many of these jam stuffed doughnuts in January and early February, it is quite easy to understand how one could then give up sweets for Lent. Lent seems much less disciplined when you realize that people are giving up something that they probably over-indulged in in the weeks prior to. In fact, this is believed to be the reason why the weeks leading up to Lent are doughnut season here in Catholic Bavaria. The aim was exactly that: to fatten up before Lent in order to survive fasting.

I'm not even Catholic and I decided that I too would give up Krapfen this February. Lent wasn't the reason. Instead it was due to a lack of self-discipline that came from discovering that South Germany has a doughnut season. Yes, the country that has a separate meal for cake and coffee even has a separate season for doughnuts, or at least in parts of this wonderful, oh-so-hard-to-resist, I-swear-I'll-just-have-one-more-bite, sweet country.

Breakfast Lately

Bircher Muesli with fresh mint and almond milk, and with some crunchy granola on top

Sarah's life-changing loaf of bread 

stewed prunes with blood oranges served on hot buckwheat 

roasted bananas with cinnamon and honey, sometimes also with yogurt and walnuts

blood oranges and blood orange juice (sometimes with prosecco)

banana bread, vegan and with chocolate

mango-tahini smoothie with granola and pomegranate

cinnamon raisin oatmeal with apple

pear and ginger jam

avocado toast

egg, bacon and potatoes

Krapfen and coffee

almond milk sweetened with a medjool date

raw buckwheat porridge with mango, coconut and granola 

 * * * * 



a pancake that is half muffin, half banana bread

I admit that Sunday evening is probably not the best time to tell you about these pancakes. I also admit that my little corner of the web is becoming rather pancake heavy with 1, 2, 3 and, now, 4 pancake recipes.  So my fondness for pancakes is obvious, but I'm guessing that you too are probably okay with more pancake talk. But like those blue corn pancakes that I last shared, these pancakes are rather special.

Banana Bread Pancakes aren't your regular diner pancakes. Like their name suggests, they borrow their flavour from banana bread. They're probably unlike most pancakes that you've seen at the breakfast table. They are rather thin, but you won't miss any fluffiness. They are more comparable to the top of a muffin (and if Seinfeld taught us anything it is that the top is the most beloved part of the muffin) than to those buttermilk pancakes that you know so well. They are gluten-free and yet they won't make you miss regular wheat flour. They are vegan and yet they won't make you miss either eggs or milk. And even if they weren't, I wouldn't mind. They make a weekday taste like a weekend. In other words, even though tomorrow morning is Monday these pancakes are worth setting your alarm an extra half an hour earlier for.

I have one more pancake confession: I've been keeping these pancakes from you for a while now and for that I'm sorry. I've been greedy. I've probably made these a dozen times the past month. I've even made them for dinner and not because there wasn't anything else in my fridge to cook up, but only because I couldn't get them out of my head. It is just that each time I made them I was far too busy gobbling them up to reach for my camera. However, once you make them yourself I'm sure that you'll understand. You too will be too occupied with eating any crumbs leftover in the frying pan to even think about photography.

Like many of my favourite recipes, this one comes from My New Roots. In my book, no one is able to combine deliciousness and healthiness quite as well as Sarah B. Sarah suggests keeping the pancakes warm in an oven heated at low heat while frying up the other batches. In addition to keeping the pancakes warm, she claims that the oven helps to cook the middle which is sometimes left rather moist from the pan. However, I'm more of a pancake to plate kind of gal. Also, if I've been too occupied to pick up my camera each time I've made these (until today, lucky you), then it is obvious that I've also been too hypnotized by the first nutty bite to bother turning on my oven. 

  Banana Bread Pancakes

from My New Roots

serves 2


2/3 cup rolled oats
1/3 cup walnuts
1 tsp baking soda
pinch sea salt

1 ripe banana
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp olive oil
2/3 cup almond milk (or milk of your choice)
2 tsp maple syrup

virgin olive oil, coconut oil, ghee, or butter for the pan

for serving

sliced banana
chopped walnuts
shaved dark chocolate 

In a blender of food processor, pulse the oats until you get a shaggy flour. Add the walnuts and continue to pulse until they mix with the ground oats. Do not over process. It is okay if you have a few whole oats here and there; they will only add to the texture. In a medium sized bowl, mix the walnut and oat flour with the baking soda and salt.

Add the banana, vanilla, olive oil, almond milk and maple syrup in the blender or food processor and pulse until everything is well mixed. Alternatively, you can do this by hand. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Let the batter sit for 30 minutes.*

In a skillet heat the olive oil or oil of your choice over medium heat. Spoon a few spoonfuls of batter into the pan to make 4 pancakes (make sure that they are small as these pancakes spread a fair deal) and then turn the heat down to low. They will take much longer to cook than regular pancakes. Once the top is opaque, flip and cook the other side until brown and rather crispy. Remove from the pan, serve, and then cook up the next batch.

Serve right away with slices of banana and some chopped walnuts. If you're craving chocolate, add a few shavings of dark chocolate for good measure. 

* If you mix the wet ingredients by hand the batter doesn't need to sit for quite as long. However, if you use a food processor or blender the wet ingredients will resemble a smoothie and be much more fluid, thus requiring the 30 minutes. 



chipotle mint meatballs

I've had a lot of stories to tell recently. I've told you about Bagna cauda and Piemonte, about Venice and monks who grow roses and then make rose petal jam, about Mexico and hot chocolate and about Texas and grapefruit. But since all that travel and the time that it takes to transform memories of a trip into a recipe, things have been rather quiet as of late. I've just been waiting for spring and its white asparagus and wild garlic. That and I've been resisting the urge to bake carrot cake every second day. 

Today I don't have a story. I just have a recipe, one that I like so much that I've made it a couple times the past few weeks. Chipotle Mint Meatballs. The recipe really embraces the chipotle in the title so this recipe is for those people who like it hot. However, the mint cools things down a bit. It somehow tastes both spicy and fresh and is exactly the kind of food that I crave this time of year when one season is slowly turning into another.

The inspiration for this recipe come from The New York Times' version of a recipe from Rick Bayless' "Mexican Everyday". My version preserves the magic that is spicy chipotle and fresh mint, but I turn both up a notch. I've halved the recipe, but both the amount of chipotle and mint stay the same. I've also skipped the bacon and the ground pork and have gone 100% beef when it comes to the meat. Also, the original recipe calls for broth to thin out the tomato sauce and to make it more of a sauce. I didn't find this necessary and I like the spicy, thick tomato sauce just as is. I recommend serving the meatballs with some brown rice and a generous handful of chopped mint or cilantro on top. Crispy sweet potato fries with chermoula make a nice side as well. If you want to combat the fire of the chipotle, whip up a yogurt sauce similar to chermoula with lots of cilantro but with fresh mint instead of parsley. 

Chipotle Mint Meatballs

adapted from the NY Times (from "Mexican Everyday" by Rick Bayless)

serves 2


400 g ground beef
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 egg
1/3 cup panko
sea salt
1/2 cup loosely packed mint leaves, roughly chopped, plus more to garnish
1-2 chipotle chilies in adobo
1 400 g can whole tomatoes

Preheat the oven to 450 F /  232 C / gas mark 8.

Finely chop one garlic clove and set the other two aside. Place the garlic in a mixing bowl and add the egg, panko and 1/2 tsp salt. Stir until combined. Add the chopped mint and the ground beef and, using your hands, mix well.

Once well mixed, form eight equally sized meatballs and place them in a small baking dish. You want to make sure that the dish is big enough so that each meatball is in direct contact with the bottom of the dish (so no overlapping), but no so big that later the sauce won't completely cover them (as that is what you'll be doing shortly). Bake the meatballs for about 15 minutes or until they are lightly browned. 

While the meatballs are browning, prepare the sauce. In a blender add the chipotle chiles, the other cloves of garlic, the tomatoes and 4 tbsp of sauce from the canned tomatoes and 1/4 tsp salt. Blend until completely smooth. 

Once the meatballs have browned, remove them from the oven and spoon off any excess fat in the pan. Pour the sauce over the meatballs so that the meatballs are evenly covered and then return to the oven. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the sauce has somewhat thickened. 

Divide the meatballs between two plates, preferably with a generous side of rice, and spoon the tomato sauce over the meatballs. Garnish with some fresh mint.



carrot cake for the home stretch

March. We may have made it to the home stretch, but it sure ain't spring yet. As much as I want the return of sun to mean that we did indeed make it and that it is spring, well, a trip to my local farmers' market proves otherwise. Yes, we're almost there, but we still have a few weeks ahead of us of tired root vegetables and apples that have seen better days. 

It seems like I am not the only one with a case of the almost-spring blues. Sarah at the Yellow House describes this time of year as when we all throw our hands up and say "Enough with winter," yet the vegetables remind us that is is too soon to say enough. Melissa Clark bets that we've pretty much done all that can be done with root vegetables with the exception of Kimchi Radish Pickles. But to be honest, at this point I need a bit more than Kimchi Radish Pickles to make it to the end. 

Instead of fighting my almost-spring blues with something from my pantry - split peas or barley or the like - or by trying to re-imagine root vegetables, I'm taking the German route and going with cake. Nothing quite says "F. you winter" like a big piece of moist carrot cake with specs of walnuts and a rich cream cheese icing. Add some maple glazed walnuts on top and I might even momentarily forget what winter is.

Germans, including my German, love cake. They've even created a separate meal for it. Forget pastries or muffins, if you're having a cup of coffee in Germany sometime in the afternoon it better come with a generous slice of cake. Kaffee und Kuchen is an everyday afternoon affair which means that I'm living in a country where it is fine to eat cake before dinner. I am certain that a lot of children would be quite happy to know this as it is surely a sign that childhood dreams do come true, somewhere.

As cruel and cold and dark as February can be, it also means a birthday in my house. And that birthday man is German and very serious about cake in general and carrot cake in particular. 

Germans often go for lots of creamy cakes that look like wedding dresses. Layers of pink berries and white cream and maybe some extra marzipan for good measure. I, on the other hand, often always prefer a dense and gooey French flourless chocolate cake. It might not be quite as pretty, but it sticks to the point and is immensely satisfying. However, if I'm going for a layer cake then, like my German, I'm also going for the carrot cake with lots of cream cheese icing. Maybe we're both boring when it comes to cake, but perhaps our shared love of carrot cake just explains why we share so much more.

Cake stirs up a lot of emotions and carrot cake is no different. Walnuts or raisins? Pineapple or coconut? White icing or cream cheese frosting? Keeping with this tradition, I'm going to be opinionated here. First of all, to me a carrot cake with a frosting other than one with cream cheese is simply not a carrot cake. Period. Carrot cake and cream cheese icing belong together and who is anyone to break this pair up? Second, no raisins. Sorry. Raisins belong in raisin bread or in porridge or even in lots of other cakes, but not carrot cake. Walnuts, on the other hand, are non-negotiable. I want a carrot cake with walnuts and lots of them. Third, I already stated that my taste in cake veers towards boring which means that I want to keep things simple. Walnuts and cream cheese frosting are enough for me. Hold the pineapple and coconut please. I'm happy to welcome both in my Bircher Muesli, but not here. Not in this cake. 

This cake is dreamy and beautiful and represents all of my picky opinions about cake. I often bake with light spelt flour, but feel free to use all purpose or whole wheat or a mix. The cake certainly does not need the maple glazed walnuts, but they are a luxurious addition that gives the cake a few extra beauty points. 

Like I said, we've almost made it. Hooray! But because we're not quite there yet, I recommend baking some carrot cake. Like us, you might just need it, birthday or not. It took that winter edge off for me and made me even forget that I've had my fill of root vegetables. Maybe I'll make Melissa Clark's Kimchi Radish Pickles after all. A little bit of cake and March's produce is no longer looking so tired.     

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Icing and Maple Glazed Walnuts

yields 8-10 servings 


for the cake

2 cups light spelt flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg

1 cup (225 g) butter, just melted
1 1/3 cup unrefined sugar
4 eggs
1/4 cup yogurt

3 cups grated carrots, packed
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1 tsp freshly grated ginger

for the icing

12 ounces (350 g) cream cheese
1/3 cup (75 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature 
 1 3/4 cups icing sugar
a squeeze of fresh lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract

for the maple glazed walnuts

1 cup walnuts, kept whole
1/4 cup maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 350 F / 180 C / gas mark 4. Butter two cake pans (8 or 9 inch pans) and set aside. 

Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg in a bowl.

In a small saucepan (or in the microwave, if you have one), melt the butter. Let cool slightly. Pour the butter into a large bowl and add the sugar. Mix well. Add the eggs, one at a time, making sure to beat the ingredients together thoroughly. Add the yogurt and mix well. Add the flour mixture and beat until everything is well incorporated. Add the carrots and mix, add the walnuts and mix, add the grated ginger and mix.

Pour the batter evenly into the two pans and bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let the cakes cool completely.

To make the cream cheese frosting, beat together the cream cheese and butter (both at room temperature) until completely smooth. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and the vanilla extract and then add the icing sugar gradually while beating until the icing is smooth and sweet.

To make the maple glazed walnuts, toast the walnuts in a clean skillet over medium-low heat until fragrant. Add the maple syrup, give the pan a good shake, and then cook at a low heat for a minute or two until the walnuts absorb the maple syrup. 

When the cake is completely cool, it is time to assemble. Place one cake layer on a plate or a cake stand. Spread about 1/2 a cup of frosting on the first layer and then layer the second cake on top. Use the rest of the icing to completely ice the rest of the cake. Scatter a single layer of the maple glazed walnuts on top.

Serve at room temperature; however, if you store the cake in the fridge it will keep for a few days. Just bring it back to room temperature before serving.


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