My best breakfasts of 2017

Last January, I wrote a post about the best books I’d read in 2016. But this past year, I didn’t read quite as many books and none of them were really exciting enough to devote a whole post to. So this January, for something a bit different, I’ve decided to talk about the 15 best breakfasts I had this past year. Some are my own original recipes, others are from cookbooks and a few were at restaurants or food stands. If you follow me on Instagram, you might recognize some of them!

As with my post about the books, my goal is to inspire you to try some new things. You might find a new favorite flavor combination or get ideas for further experimentation.  Many of these are simple enough that you can reproduce them just from the photo and description, but in other cases I’ve tracked down recipes for similar dishes or provided a link when the dish is from the archives of this very blog.

I’m a big fan of breakfasts—I find that having a substantial meal in the morning (with coffee or tea, of course) is a great way to start the day with enough energy to get a lot of work done before a mid-afternoon break. I often have just a large-ish breakfast and then dinner without any lunch. Of course, it helps that I work from home and can take the time—when there are no urgent deadlines—to make something interesting. But if you have an office job and are short on time in the mornings, these may still give you some ideas for things to prepare ahead of time, or to make for weekend brunches.

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Fresh seasonal fruit (here, apple and persimmon) over plain soy yogurt can make for a simple but tasty and vitamin-rich breakfast. Here, it’s drizzled with Bee-Free apple honey (substitute maple, rice or agave syrup) and topped with chopped toasted almonds.

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Homemade turnovers are really easy to make when you buy premade flaky pie dough and have an apple (or other fruit—pear, banana, berries, etc.) on hand. Check out my recipe for apple turnovers with a sweet, lemony miso paste.

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On Saturday mornings, all year round, there’s an organic outdoor farmers’ market in my neighborhood (on boulevard des Batignolles in the 17th between metro stations Rome and Place de Clichy). If you live in Paris or will be passing through, you can stop by for some vegetables and also pick up one of these delightful savory chickpea galettes with a soy-basil sauce. They’re completely vegan and super filling and yummy. Look for the stand in the easternmost section of the market, the part closer to Place de Clichy. Or if you’re a Sunday shopper, you’ll find the same people operating a stand at the boulevard Raspail organic farmers’ market in the 6th near metro station Rennes. Alternatively, stay home and make this one yourself!

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I recently acquired a great French cookbook devoted to breakfast recipes, L’Heure du petit-déjeuner végane a sonné by Melle Pigut. I love her recipe for scones and make it often. They’re very easy to throw together, as long as you can wait 20 minutes for them to bake! Here, I have spread them with a vegan chocolate-hazelnut spread. If you don’t read French or can’t find this book, you can try this recipe.

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This pudding-like dish made with sorghum is a common breakfast dish in Tunisia that I recently learned how to make. I’ve garnished it here with toasted almond slices and Bee-Free apple honey, but you could top it with fruit, grated coconut or whatever else strikes your fancy. Check out the recipe here!

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As an American, I have an undying affection for peanut butter and love incorporating it into breakfast dishes. I find it makes any dish more substantial and provides long-lasting energy. Here, I have spread some on toasted English muffins (newly possible to find in France!) and topped them with fresh nectarine slices and toasted pumpkin seeds.

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This amazing bowl of overnight oats, which I enjoyed at Vegabond during my stay in Amsterdam this October, is one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had, ever. It was made with rolled oats and chia seeds and topped with green apple, pecans, plenty of cinnamon and a fresh physalis berry. You can try making your own overnight oats with this recipe.

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Another recipe from Melle Pigut’s breakfast cookbook that I loved is these potato flatbreads. They’re also quite easy to make if you plan a bit ahead and have some cooked potato ready. Here, I served them spread with hummus, grated carrot, some fennel seeds and black pepper. If you don’t read French, you can try this recipe.

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One of my favorite new finds in 2017 is a gluten-free rice porridge from Marks & Spencer, which has recently opened some stores in Paris. I’m not gluten-intolerant, but I happened to try this porridge and LOVE the texture… I find it to be softer and creamier than traditional oat porridge. Here, I made it using soy milk and topped it with fresh fig and peach slices and a sprinkle of toasted blond sesame seeds.

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If you want to prepare an extra-special breakfast or brunch item (best to start the night before), try this French fruit cheesecake. This one is made with apricots, but you could use just about any fruit.

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One memorable breakfast was this homemade buckwheat muesli with sunflower seeds and almonds that I made following a recipe in the French cookbook Délices déshydratés. Served here with soy milk and fresh apricot. A similar recipe in English can be found here.

banana icecream

When it’s really hot out, banana ice cream makes a fantastic breakfast. The “ice cream” part makes it sound more like a dessert, but since it’s much more filling than traditional ice cream and is also just fruit, it’s ideal for the morning. To make it, simply follow these directions. Personally, I always add lemon juice too—I find that the banana/lemon combination strangely results in a cheesecake-like taste (don’t ask me why!). You can also opt to add other frozen fruit or cocoa powder, chocolate chips, etc.

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Another English muffin and peanut butter breakfast! This time the topping is sautéed mushrooms and red onion with a sprinkling of smoked paprika. I know this combination might sound weird to a lot of you, but I love it!

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This was a super yummy chia pudding with mango coulis and fresh berries that I had at a place called Superfoods & Organic Liquids (Mitte district) in Berlin. More about that trip coming soon! You can make your own chia pudding with this recipe. Chia seeds are amazingly good for you, by the way (read more about it in the recipe link).

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Last but not least, if you’re in a French mood, try my recipe for basic sweet crêpes that you can fill with just about anything (even savory items, if you leave out the sugar). In the photo above, I served them with bergamot lemon juice and sugar.

What are your own favorite breakfasts? Are you more of a savory or sweet person? Let us know in the comments. 🙂 Until then, bon appétit!

Chocolate & peanut butter pies

10159After living in France for almost eight years now, and having traveled a lot before that, my sense of nationality and culture is somewhat fluid. I’m not French, but I also don’t really feel American anymore. Yet I still have a taste for certain American foods that are not always met with enthusiasm by people from other places. One of these is peanut butter. Often relegated to obscure shelves of mainstream French supermarkets, including the “world cuisines” section, peanut butter is not a guaranteed find at the average grocery store. And when you do encounter it, it’s sometimes quite expensive or not very good. But about a year ago I discovered a nice one from the Ethiquable brand in the fairtrade section of my local Franprix. It comes from a woman-inclusive cooperative in Nicaragua and isn’t any more expensive than most of its non-fairtrade (unfairtrade?) counterparts. And so, safe in the knowledge that I have this steady supply available, I have been freely experimenting with peanut-based recipes like Thai satay sauce, peanut-butter cheesecake (yep!) and of course, desserts with the magical peanut butter and chocolate combination, of which we will see an example below!

First, some history, and the answer to a pressing question. Is peanut butter actually from the United States? A widespread legend has it that it was invented by George Washington Carver (1864-1943), an American botanist and inventor who was born into slavery. But in 1884, before Carver had even begun studying botany, pharmacist Marcellus Gilmore Edson of Canada patented a process to make peanut paste. And much, much before that, as far back as the first century of the Common Era, the Aztecs also mashed roasted peanuts into a paste. So, it’s actually a Mexican-Canadian creation.

But Americans are still very fond of it. We are the world’s leading exporter and, according to this source, we eat around 700 million pounds (317 million kg) of peanut butter per year (about 3 pounds/1.4 kg per person). That’s not too hard to believe. When I was growing up, children brought their lunch to school, and very often it was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I carried mine proudly in my metal Pigs in Space lunchbox alongside carrot sticks and a Hostess cupcake. Now, peanut butter has apparently been banned from most schools due to the high number of kids with peanut allergies. I don’t understand how this allergy can have become so common, but that’s a matter for the experts to solve.

So the other week, I began experimenting with chocolate-avocado mousse, and the idea came to me to pair it with peanut butter in some way. I looked around my kitchen and spotted my set of mini-pie plates, and was on my way. The crust proved a bit tricky. My first version was made of ground almonds with peanut butter as a binder, but it wasn’t peanut-buttery enough for me. A second attempt with the addition of toasted millet (for crunch) wasn’t quite what I was looking for. Finally, a third try with a combination of ground roasted peanuts and ground almonds was just right. The rich-but-light texture and slight fruitiness of the mousse is nicely complimented by the earthy, salted peanut crunch of the crust.

As desserts go, this easy, no-bake recipe is definitely on the healthy side. It does contain fat (from the peanuts, avocado and coconut), but has no cholesterol or refined sweetener. And it packs a punch as far as protein goes, so the next time someone asks you where you get your protein, you know what to answer!

Chocolate & peanut butter pies

Makes two mini-pies (5 in./12 cm in diameter at widest point) 

Note: several hours before making this recipe, place the coconut cream/milk and your metal mixing bowl plus the beaters of your mixer in the refrigerator to chill. The lower temperature helps ensure a nice firm whip.

Ingredients

For the peanut crust

  • 1/2 cup (75 g) salted peanuts, whole (snack/party kind)
  • 2 tablespoons (12 g) ground almonds
  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter, either creamy or chunky
  • 1 teaspoon maple syrup

For the chocolate mousse filling

  • 1 large avocado (9 oz./250 g weighed when whole)
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2-3 tablespoons maple syrup, or more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • small pinch salt

For the whipped coconut cream

  • 3/4 cup (200 ml) coconut milk (full-fat) or coconut cream, chilled
  • 1-2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the garnish: roughly chopped bar chocolate, cocoa powder, finely chopped peanuts or gomasio

Equipment needed: food processor for the nuts, electric mixer with beaters to whip the cream, plastic wrap, mini-pie plates (or small bowls/ramekins)

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First, grind the peanuts by pulsing them just a few times. Be careful not to grind them too much, or (depending on the power of your processor) you could end up with something closer to peanut butter and the structure of the crust will not hold up as well. I stopped when my peanut chunks looked about like this (see next photo):

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Now add the ground almonds, peanut butter and maple syrup. Don’t be tempted to add more maple syrup, as it could make the crust too soggy. It’s okay if the crust is not especially sweet, since the filling and whipped cream will be.

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Combine the ingredients, mixing and pressing the mixture against the sides of the bowl with a large spoon or spatula (alternatively, knead with your hands) until you have a sort of sticky dough. Taste it at this point and if it seems to be lacking salt, for example if you have used a natural peanut butter that contains no salt, consider adding a small pinch.

Rip off a piece of plastic wrap that is the length of two mini-pie plates. Cover the inside of the pie plate with one end of it and press half of the crust dough into the plate as shown above. Be sure to fill the tops of the ridges well to get a nice result when the crust is unmolded. Then double the plastic wrap back over the top to cover the crust. Repeat with the second pie plate.  If you’re making the crusts well ahead of time, you can place them in the refrigerator to chill at this point, stacked together if space is a problem, but if you will be finishing and serving the dessert right away this step is not necessary.

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Cut the avocado in half, scoop out its flesh and transfer to your food processor. Add the cocoa powder, maple syrup, vanilla extract and salt. Process until smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides once or twice.

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Now you have your mousse! Taste it and add more maple syrup if you want it to be sweeter, and more vanilla or cocoa powder if it seems to need it (the results of different cocoa brands can vary). Process further if you have added something, and be sure that no chunks of avocado remain.

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Fill the crust with the mousse. The crust should still be in the pie plate at this point, as the filling process could make it crack if it were unsupported. Next, holding onto both sides of the plastic wrap, carefully lift the crust out of the pie plate and transfer it to a small dessert plate, removing the plastic.

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Take the pre-chilled coconut milk or cream, metal bowl and beaters out of the refrigerator. Transfer the milk or cream to the bowl. If using a can of coconut milk, stir the cream and liquid part together before measuring. Add the maple syrup and vanilla extract and beat on high speed until soft peaks appear (this will take a few minutes). Continue until you have reached the desired thickness, but be careful not to overbeat as it can become too thick. If this happens, do not despair as it can be salvaged—just continue beating and it will eventually revert to a more liquid state (unlike overwhipped dairy cream, which turns into butter!).

When ready to serve the dessert, top each pie with a dollop of the cream and decorate the top with a garnish of roughly chopped bar chocolate, a sprinkle of cocoa powder, some finely chopped peanuts or a pinch of gomasio.

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Note that the avocado will begin to oxidize and darken upon contact with the air, so it is best to fill the crusts not long before they will be served. Alternatively, if the top has already darkened, you could opt to cover the entire top with the whipped cream. The lighter color of the mousse inside would then not be noticeably different from the color of the top, and you would also have an interesting tiramisu effect.

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Variations:

  • Make the crust with ground almonds and almond butter (no peanuts) for a chocolate & almond version.
  • Add banana to the mousse for a tropical flavor.
  • Serve parfait-style in clear glasses so that the various layers show, alternating with additional layers of whipped cream and chocolate mousse.