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For my final 365 blog post, I polled a few people about what they like best for breakfast. I am of the Sesame Street school myself. My son used to have a book in which Ernie and Bert went to the supermarket and the foods they picked for breakfast were eggs, milk, butter, bacon, that sort of thing.

You can make pancakes with those ingredients, for one thing, and thin crepes are a family favourite around here.

But friends of mine variously claimed that the best breakfast consists of steamed buckwheat noodles with soy sauce, Vietnamese Pho, and a fruit shake with protein powder. And an ex-boyfriend of mine was partial to a bowl of cold curry in bed in the morning (we’re no longer together…). So today we celebrate diversity as well.

Different countries like different things for breakfast – in Holland, it’s almost always a slice of dark bread with ham and a fried egg. In France, a bowl of good coffee and Croque Monsieur, the cholesterol-heavy fried ham and cheese sandwich of Paris sidewalk cafes. Maybe cold curry is a popular breakfast item in Delhi?

My friend Cy Marney (who hails from the southwest US) made a key observation: there’s the best breakfast, and there’s the best-tasting breakfast. For him, the “best” breakfast is yogurt with fresh berries and granola, but the “best-tasting” breakfast as a green chili enchilada with fried eggs on top. Ah yes, the old good for you versus tastes good dilemma.

Funnily enough, that exact choice became apparent when I made the “best breakfast ever” – which incorporated some (but definitely not all) of the suggestions above.

Three lucky teenagers woke up to a table spread with organic yogurt with honey granola, maple syrup and fresh strawberries; banana-blueberry French toast with creme fraiche; and crepes with maple syrup and crispy bacon. And coffee and orange juice, of course.

This breakfast called on the tastes of three different countries – France for the crepes, California, USA for the granola, and England for the French toast – because yes! It’s a recipe from my favourite (in so many ways) chef, Jamie Oliver.

Despite my best intentions, I personally passed over the granola and yogurt and focussed on the crepes, bacon, and French toast. Given the choice, my tastes became clear…

So what’s your idea of the best breakfast?

It’s been a pleasure being part of 365 Foods – thank to everyone!
~ Deb

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Banana Blueberry French Toast, from Jamie Oliver:

Ingredients:
White bread slices
2 eggs
sugar
blueberries (and any other fruit you like)
banana
butter for frying
Creme fraiche

Method
Trim crusts from bread. Beat eggs with sugar. Toss blueberries with sugar and mix with mashed banana. Dip bread in egg, let excess drip off. Place dollop of fruit mixture in middle of bread and press another slice on top. Fry in butter til golden on both sides. Serve with a dollop of creme fraiche and any remaining fruit mixture.

French Crepes

Ingredients
1 cup white flour
1 egg
1 tsp salt
1.5 cups milk

Method
Put flour in bowl, make hole in middle. Crack egg in middle and sprinkle salt in as well. Whisk till lumpy, start adding milk bit by bit til batter in smooth. Leave to sit for 10 minutes. Fry ladlefuls of batter in butter on medium-high heat, turning the pan to spread it out – keep a stack warm in the oven til you’re ready to go. You have to watch these closely or they will burn – but don’t worry, the first pancake is almost always a write-off!

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A few years ago I spent six weeks backpacking around Cuba and another four weeks in south and central Mexico.  The pot of beans on the stove was ubiquitous in both places. In Cuba, the beans are cooked in a pressure cooker to reduce cooking time and therefore cooking fuel.  Beans are an integral part of the diet in both places for largely economic reasons but the result of this necessity are regionally specific cuisines packed full of flavour.  Here in Canada, beans, for the most part have been relegated to occasional side dish.  Often it is the overdressed three-bean salad at a buffet table or a bowl of baked beans at a barbeque restaurant.  Beans have become a bit of a relic of bygone days unless they are a curiosity at a Mexican restaurant.

I am glad to say that around my place no one has to tell me to eat my beans.  We eat them in salads, soups, and hashes.  I bake them, boil them and refry them.  I thought I should take a picture of some of the beans in my pantry for this blog.  I found ten different kinds… I’m out of red lentils.  I admit I don’t dwell on the subtle distinctions of growing region and time to maturation between peas and beans.  They’re all legumes to me.  I grew up on split pea soup and baked beans.  I added cassoulet, black bean soup, Jamaican rice and peas, and chana masala later.  The recipe list keeps getting longer and the part of my pantry reserved for beans keeps getting larger.

Back Row - Green Lentils, Pinto Beans, Navy Beans, Yellow Split Peas, Red Kidney Beans, Black Turtle Beans - Front Row - White Kidney Beans, Chickpeas, Pigeon Peas

Despite the many recipes that come to mind for beans, I was faced with a challenge for this blog.  Months ago Eva said that she would never find a satisfactory baked bean recipe given her aversion to pork.  I argued that it was really the fat and the smoke that mattered and that porkless baked beans could be good.  Today I test the theory.

The recipe below is my family recipe.  I’ve been eating these beans for as long as I can remember and this is the flavour that I measure all other baked beans against.  I used the same recipe with one exception.  Instead of bacon or a smoked hock I added a smoked turkey drumstick to the pot.

Beans, onions, mustard, pepper and turkey ready for the oven.

Baked Beans

  • 1 pound small white beans, soaked all day or overnight
  • 1 medium onions, diced
  • 1 lb bacon diced *
  • 1 tablespoon dry mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 6 cups water *
  • 1/3 cup fancy (light) molasses
  • 1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • salt

Substitute:

1 ½ lb smoked pork hocks and 9 cups water, or to cover

Rinse, drain and pick over beans. Place beans in large pot covered with at least 2 inches of cold water overnight.

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Drain beans thoroughly and return to pot.  Add onion, bacon, mustard and pepper. Cover and bake 3 hours, stirring every hour.

Add molasses and brown sugar and bake for another 2 hours.  Uncover beans and bake an additional 30 minutes.

Salt to taste.

To substitute smoked pork hock for bacon:

Put hocks in deep pot or soup kettle covered with water. Heat to boil and reduce to simmer.  Cook, covered for about 3 hours until meat begins to fall off bones.  Cool to room temperature. Refrigerate, uncovered, overnight.  Remove fat congealed on top. Remove ham hocks from liquid; discard bones, skin and fat. Shred meat and reserve liquid for beans.

Now, Eva hasn’t tasted the smoked turkey beans yet, but I believe she will be as pleased as I am.  The beans were pretty close to the original and that without adding a bunch of fat.  My bean makeover is smoky, meaty and I think would get past any critic.  I would absolutely use the turkey substitution again!

Dark, rich, smokey and sweet with plenty of chunks of turkey.

I know that you are going to read about baked beans again later this month so I have included my favourite Black Bean Soup recipe for good measure.

Slow-Cooker Black Bean Soup

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 medium red onions, diced
  • 1 medium red bell peppers, diced
  • 1 medium green bell pepper, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 1 pound dried black beans
  • 1 chopped canned chipotle chilli
  • 7 cups water
  • juice of one lime
  • salt to taste, about 2 teaspoons
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Sauté onions and both bell peppers until slightly browned. Add garlic and cumin and sauté for about a minute more. Transfer mixture to slow cooker.

Add beans and chipotles and water. Cover and cook on high until beans are very tender, about 6 hours.

Puree soup in blender or with immersion blender until smooth.

Season with lime juice, salt, and pepper.

Bon appétit,

Della

I’ve been cooking and eating Coq au Vin for as long as I’ve been cooking and that’s a pretty long time.  It is not only quintessentially French, but fabulously delicious and dead easy to make.  But, just like my most recent exploration of Coquilles St. Jacques, I wanted to reinvent the dish.  I wanted to preserve the flavour while updating the presentation.  I think I hit the right notes, but I’ll leave it to you to judge.

In order to know where you’re going you have to know where you’ve been.  The traditional Coq au Vin is a tough old rooster braised with mushrooms in red wine, flavoured with the holy trinity of cooking, the mirepoix (onions, carrots and celery), seasoned with a little salt, pepper, thyme and just a bit of bacon.  That’s it… that’s the whole recipe.  How can something so simple be such a venerated icon of culinary history?  The simple answer is flavour.  Coq au Vin as endured because these humble ingredients combine to create one of the most satisfying meals in any cook’s culinary repertoire.

I really wondered if I should mess with perfection.  I was certain I couldn’t improve on the original, but I was certain I could capture the essence of the dish and still inject my own gastronomic sensibility.  So, where to start?

No matter how many times I make Coq au Vin, I always struggle over the decision of what to serve it with.  Traditionally, there are potatoes cooked in the braising liquid and the dish is served as a stew.  I have also served it ladled over egg noodles and rice.  I have even substituted toasted slabs of garlic-rubbed French bread for the starch component.  Today I considered serving it over potato gnocchi but finally settled on roasted vegetables… carrots, new potatoes and shallots tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper and a couple sprigs of thyme.  So simple, yet so satisfying.

Vegetables ready for the oven.

The next question was “what to do with the old bird?”  I could have braised a stewing hen or a capon, but I really didn’t want all the bulk that comes with the skin.   Sure, skin means flavour, but there are lots of ways to inject flavour.  I decided on boneless, skinless thighs. Blasphemy you say? Patience, patience… you’ll see.

And what about the sauce?  In the traditional version, the “sauce” is the product of hours of braising… rich, thick and flavourful.  But how can you recreate all that flavour without all those hours? Yes, we can! And, here’s how.

Ingredients for Coq au Vin

Coq au Vin 2 – Son of the Rooster

Serves 4

  • 4 carrots, cut into 2 inch lengths
  • 4 shallots, peeled but left whole
  • 8 new potatoes, cut in half
  • 2 sprigs of thyme

Toss vegetables and thyme in olive oil, salt and pepper.  Bake at 425 degrees for about 30 minutes.

  • 8 boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into ½ inch strips
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • Combine flour, salt and pepper.  Dredge chicken strips in flour mixture.  Set aside.
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 lb mushrooms, halve or quarter to bite sized pieces if mushrooms are large
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped fine
  • 2 cups dry red wine
  • 4 strips of bacon, chopped into ½ pieces
  • salt and pepper to taste

In a sauté pan, cook bacon until crisp.  Remove bacon and leave fat in the pan.

If necessary add a little olive oil to make about 2 tablespoons of fat.  Add chicken strips in a single, uncrowded layer.  Sautee for about two minutes, until browned and turn to brown the other side – about another two minutes.  Remove from pan and set aside.

Add mushrooms to pan and sauté until lightly browned.  Remove from pan and set aside.

Add chopped celery, carrots and onions to pan and sauté until softened.  Add garlic and cook for another minute.  Add wine to pan to deglaze, scraping the brown bits off the bottom.  Return bacon, chicken and mushrooms to pan.  Reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes.

The flour from the chicken should be enough to thicken the sauce, but if necessary add a paste of flour and butter to the pan and cook until thickened.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve over roasted vegetables.

The finished product - no skin, no bones but lots of flavour.

So there you have it.  The flavour lost from the skin and bones of an old coq are replaced, at least partially by the rich caramelized flavours developed in the pan by sautéing the chicken and roasting the vegetables.  Instead of a stew, this is more of a thick sauce.

Would I do it this way again? Absolutely.  Would I do it this way for a big group? Never.  The Dutch oven is the perfect tool when feeding a crowd.  The stovetop was ideal for a dinner for two or four.

I think I will always make Coq au Vin, but I won’t always make it the same way.  Maybe next time I’ll use cippolini onions and serve it with potato gnocchi.

Bon appétit.

Della