Category Archives: Breakfast

Nutella Oatmeal with Dried Cherries


Many people vividly remember their first encounter with Nutella, the decadent Italian spread of chocolate, hazelnuts and deliciousness.  My situation was different in that rather than being the Special Treat That Changed Everything, Nutella was actually one of about three foods that I would eat until the age of 12 (the other two being chocolate pudding cups and bread).  Determined to make my sister and I into independent young women, my mother insisted that we pack our own lunches for school beginning in the first grade.  So as you can imagine, my daily lunch consisted of a Nutella sandwich and a chocolate pudding cup.  While this meant that I was the most popular six-year-old at the lunchtable, it also meant that my blood, muscles and most of my major body organs were composed predominantly of chocolate.

While my tastes have certainly since expanded beyond those three foods, there is still a special place in my belly for Nutella.  However, especially after looking at the listed ingredients (I don’t recommend it), Nutella seems better suited to a supporting role in the daily diet.  Here, I’ve paired half a serving size of Nutella with hearty rolled oats, Omega-3-packed flax seeds, and tart dried cherries, to add a little luxury to what can be a humdrum morning meal.  If you are just getting used to “health foods” like whole grains and flax seeds, think of this dab of Nutella as the proverbial spoonful of sugar to help you start eating the good-for-you stuff.  Sugar, coincidentally, is the number one ingredient in Nutella.

I added a teaspoon of cocoa powder to bump of the chocolatey taste, without adding the additional sweetness and calories that would be in extra scoops of  Nutella.  Oatmeal is an inherently customizable dish, so make this according to your tastes–more Nutella, less cocoa powder, no oatmeal, etc.  You can even garnish with sliced almonds or chopped hazelnuts in addition to the cherries for a little crunch.  I always give flax seeds a buzz in my spice grinder before using them because your body assimilates the nutrients better when the seeds are ground; however, if you don’t have a spice grinder, you can leave them whole.

Nutella Oatmeal with Dried Cherries
Serves 1

1/2 cup rolled oats
1 1/4 cups water
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon flax seeds, preferably ground in a spice grinder (can be left whole)
1 tablespoon Nutella
1 teaspoon cocoa powder
2 tablespoons of dried cherries

1. Place 1/2 cup of rolled oats a small pot with 1 1/4 cups of cold water and the pinch of salt. Bring up to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the oats are fully cooked and most of the water is absorbed. There will be a little excess liquid for the flax seeds and cherries to absorb.

2. Stir in the ground or whole flax seeds, Nutella, cocoa powder and dried cherries. Let stand for 1 minute to thicken before eating.  Garnish with additional cherries if desired.

Toasty Cinnamon Brown Basmati Rice

I grew up eating lots of rice at home.  We ate so much of it that I was convinced it was a vegetable for most of my youth.  (Don’t waste your time trying to figure out the logic there.)  Rice was synonymous with white basmati rice, a long, fragrant grain from India that my mom would cook with a good with a pinch of floral saffron or wrapped in tendrils of dried dill.

While I still look to white rice when I’m trying to create an elegant meal for a special occasion, brown rice is one of my everyday go-to foods.  Since brown rice has both the bran and germ intact, it has more nutrients, protein and healthy fats present.  Out of all the grains, it’s the highest in energy-giving B vitamins, and also contains significant amounts of vitamin E, manganese and selenium.

The key to cooking brown rice is to work with its idiosyncrasies rather than against them.  Brown rice is chewier and heartier than white rice, so I try to cook it with strong, toasty flavors like cumin, cinnamon and clove that complement its texture.  Compared to sticky short-grain rice, basmati grains are longer, crunchier and more separated.  After toasting the spices in the oil to release their flavor, I also toast the rice to accentuate its individual grains and keep them separate.

This rice is spicy and flavorful and is a great accompaniment to an Indian meal.  Try it with dal or tandoori chicken with a side of Sauteed Broccoli with Cumin and Mustard Seeds.  Its flavors are versatile enough to accompany an American or Middle Eastern-style meal as well.

A warm bowl of brown rice also makes a great, hearty breakfast on its own.  It’s really not so different from a breakfast of commercial dry cereal or oatmeal, except that the whole grains are intact and no additional sweetener is required.

Toasty Cinnamon Brown Basmati Rice
Serves 4

1 cup brown basmati rice
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 cinnamon stick
4 cloves
5 green cardamom pods
1 3/4 cups of water
pinch of salt

1. In a mesh strainer, rinse the brown basmati rice until the water runs clear. Drain and set aside.

2. In a medium pot with a lid, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add the cumin seeds and gently stir until they start to sizzle and pop, about 30 – 60 seconds. Then add the cinnamon stick, cloves and green cardamom pods, stirring gently for about 30 seconds. Add the drained rice, stirring occasionally until the water has evaporated from the grains. Pour in the water and the pinch of salt and bring the pot up to a boil. Once it has reached a boil, turn the heat down so the water is only simmering and cover with the lid. The rice will need to cook for about 30 – 45 minutes. When all the water is absorbed, turn off the heat and let the rice sit and steam for 10 minutes. This well help soften the grains.  Remove cloves, cinnamon stick and cardamom pods before serving.  Or just warn your guests.

Peanut Butter Banana Green Smoothie

Now, I know one of the words in the title of this recipe seems glaringly out of place to you, and it’s not “peanut butter” “banana” or “smoothie.”  In fact, you might even think  that I placed the wrong photo here, instead inserting one from my gallery of vintage Ecto-Cooler glam shots.  But today is Earth Day, and I’m giving you an appropriately green gift: introducing you to the trend of Green Smoothies.

Green Smoothies are an easy way to incorporate more raw leafy greens into your diet by blending them with fruit and drinking the mix like a smoothie.  Pioneered by fervent raw foodists like Victoria Boutenko, green smoothies taste like fruit but are packed with all the nutrients that we know come from leafy greens like calcium, iron, B vitamins and cancer-fighting antioxidants.  They make a great snack or a quick breakfast in the morning.

Since this green smoothie is likely your first, I’ve used banana and natural peanut butter because they have very strong, dominating flavors.  Baby spinach has such a delicate flavor so all you will taste in the final smoothie will be peanut butter and banana.  I promise.  But boy will it be green.  If you are hesitant, try using only 1 cup of the baby spinach.

Have you ever tried green smoothies before or heard the health claims about them?  Are you afraid or excited to try this?

Peanut Butter Banana Green Smoothie
makes 1 smoothie

1 banana
1 tablespoon natural peanut butter
2 cups of baby spinach
juice from 1/2 lemon
3-4 ice cubes (optional)

1. Put the banana and peanut butter into the blender and puree until smooth.  Then, 1 cup at a time, add the spinach, each time blending until smooth.  Scrape down the sides of the blender with a spatula between blends and add a tablespoon or so of water if you need to get the spinach blending.  Then add the ice cubes, if using, and pulse until smooth.

Coconut Date Granola Bars


Born out of the days of free love and food coops, granola bars are, in a way, a quintessential health food for the modern era.  The concept is simple: mix some whole grain goodness with nuts and dried fruit and smoosh it all together in a portable little package.  However, commercial granola bars are often loaded with sugar and additives, making them a far cry from the guitar-playing, unshaven, sticky oat squares we expect.  And when all you have to do it combine a few pantry ingredients and toss them in the oven, why not make your own?

For these coconut date granola bars, I use a combination of two natural sweeteners: honey and barley malt.  Barley malt is an ultra-sticky syrup made from (duh) barley that’s predominantly maltose, giving it a distinct malty/Whopper flavor. While there is debate about how different sugars affect health and particularly blood sugar, I think the main reason for using them over refined sugars is that they get your body accustomed to a “less sweet” sweet, and, in these bars, the gentle sweetness allows you taste the almonds, coconut and spices.  Don’t worry if you don’t have barley malt; just use the equivalent amount of honey.  Packed with protein from the nuts, fiber from the oats and dates, and good-for-you Omega 3 fats from the flax seeds and wheat germ, this is an elegant update that will boost your energy while satisfying your sweet tooth.

These granola bars make great gifts, particularly for friends who like to work out.  You’ll soon be just as popular as your baker friends.

Coconut Date Granola Bars
yield: 16 bars

1 cup blanched almonds, chopped (or any other nut)
2 cups rolled oats
1 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut
1/4 cup wheat germ
1/4 cup flax seeds
1/2 cup honey
2 tablespoons barley malt (or same amount extra honey if you don’t have barley malt)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons butter
pinch of salt
1 cup Medjool dates, pitted and chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter the bottom and edges of a 9×12 baking dish.

2. On a large sheet pan toss together the chopped almonds, oats, dried coconut and wheat germ. Toast in oven, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes.  The mixture should be slightly golden and fragrant. Remove from the oven and place in a large  bowl and add the flax seeds.

3. In a small pot, heat the honey, barley malt, cinnamon, cardamom, vanilla extract, butter and salt. Let the mixture come to a boil, turn off the heat, and pour it into the bowl with the oat mixture.  Add the chopped dates, breaking apart any clumps, and stir to combine.

4. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish and form a smooth, even layer, using a moistened spatula or your fingers. Make sure the mixture is packed down, then bake in the oven for 25 minutes. Remove and let cool for several hours before slicing into bars or squares.  Wrap individually in plastic wrap to keep your homemade granola bars fresh all week.