The Morning Meal
By Catherine Newman
Introducing food guru Catherine Newman – bringing high-energy, low-carb breakfast recipes and ideas to start your day with some delicious OOMPH!
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Hi! I’m Catherine, and I am thrilled to be here, writing for diaTribe. Because even though I write a lot about cooking and eating in a lot of different contexts, the longer I do this, the more I think that health is really all that matters – and that healthy eating is one of the keys to a healthy life. I mean, duh, right? But I mention it because, well, it’s not rocket science to make food that tastes good (says the person who has a recipe below called “Big-Batch Bacon”). But it’s kind of harder to make food that tastes good and is good for you – especially for breakfast.
And it matters! Not just in the most-important-meal-of-the-day nagging of your own parents – although they were a little bit on to something, honestly. But also in the sense of eating whole and wholesome foods that are delicious and fill you with energy. You’re going to notice that the recipes here are pretty egg-centric – like, centered around eggs, not a pun on eccentric, although that too. But really, it’s not just because I just love eggs, although I do. My whole family does. Not always the same way at the same time – my 17-year-old son Ben, for instance, would sooner poke his eye out with a fork than eat a boiled egg, and my husband Michael doesn’t like them poached unless it’s all very saucy, like the Huevos recipe – but there’s enough overlap that it mostly works. Plus, I love to cook with eggs because they’re crazily inexpensive, especially considering that they’re basically a complete meal in a shell, and they’re filled with feel-good nutrients: all that protein and those B-vitamins that calm your nervous system and make you feel like maybe it will all be okay after all. That make you feel like maybe it will all be good, even.
We want you to feel good! Even when the details about health get more complicated, that’s the overarching goal. It’s mine too. Do I always feed my family meals that look like they got lifted off of super-annoying super-foods Pinterest boards? Thank you for asking – I do! Okay, no. I don’t. In fact, as I was photographing the Baked Huevos Rancheros, my 14-year-old daughter Birdy said, “I’m sorry – did you fan the avocado slices? Who are you? And are we eating that or just taking pictures?” (We were eating it. For dinner!). But I’m working on it. Not the fanciness – just the feeling good. Also, on everyone clattering their fork to their empty plate and saying “Yum” out loud.
Read on for some great, low-carb breakfast inspiration! (Click a link to go directly to that recipe.)
Mini Ricotta Frittatas
Perfect Boiled Eggs
Fluffy and Filling Little Pancakes
Baked Huevos Rancheros – new recipe!
Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 45-50 minutes
Makes: 12 (6 servings)
Total Carbohydrates: 5 grams per serving
These are crazily good: dense and cheesy little muffin-shaped eggs that are great warm and great cold. I like to make a batch at the end of the weekend, and then have them for breakfast for a couple weekday mornings – although the truth is, they don’t last that long, because my kids also like to take them to school for lunch (sigh). Predict two of these per person as a serving size. If you’re making them for just you, feel free to… two-thirds the recipe (I was going to say “halve,” but then the 3 eggs got in my way.)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) whole-milk ricotta (Calabro is my favorite brand)
1 heaping cup grated whole-milk mozzarella (I like Polly-O or Trader Joe's)
1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan
3 cups chopped or baby spinach (around 6 ounces)
1-2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill (or another herb of your choosing: cilantro, mint, basil, parsley, chives, or a lesser amount of thyme or marjoram)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Heat the oven to 350 and grease the 12 wells of a standard muffin tin.
Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium heat and sauté the onion until soft and browning, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, cook another minute, then add the spinach and cook until just wilted, about 1 minute.
In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, then add the cheeses and stir. Add the spinach mixture, the dill, and the salt and pepper, and stir well. Season this aggressively. If you're too shy to taste it raw (fair enough), microwave a tiny bit and check for salt.
Divide the mixture in the muffin cups (I use an ice cream scoop, but a 1/3-cup measure would work well), and bake 15-20 minutes until puffed, deeply golden, and set. Eat right away or refrigerate – or try a little of both.
Active Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 15-25 minutes
Total Carbohydrates: 0.1 grams per slice
Here’s game-changing advice: Make your bacon in the oven. You’ll think it can’t possibly be as good, because if it were, why haven’t you done it before? But it’s great! It’s perfect. I mean, unless you love standing around getting fat-splattered at the stove, cooking bacon that never makes it to the table because everyone wanders by to snack on it. Just saying (#teenagers). Use the best, nitrate-free bacon you can find. Then simply heat the oven to 375, lay the bacon in a single layer on a large, rimmed baking sheet (you’ll fit about 10 strips per sheet, though you can bake more than one sheet at a time), and bake for around 15 minutes, checking it first at 10 and being prepared to go to 20. Remember, as you’re evaluating it for doneness, that it will crisp more as it cools. Drain it on paper towels, and be a hero.
Note 1: You can also slightly undercook the bacon, store it in the fridge in a Ziploc, and then reheat it in the microwave on a paper towel, when you “need” bacon.
Note 2: Are you wondering about bacon’s giant cameo appearance in this good-for-you article? Well, it’s true that bacon isn’t conventionally thought of as a health food. But it’s actually a decent source of protein and an excellent source of pleasure – and it won’t jack up blood sugar, which is nice!
Active Time: 10-20 minutes
Total Time: 10-20 minutes
Makes: 1 serving
Total Carbohydrates: 1 gram per serving (plus additional for the fillings)
Okay, these are just eggs scrambled with omelet-type ingredients, but I like the sound of it – and also, I prefer scrambled eggs because they’re unfussy and the eggs are fluffier. Add your favorite ingredients here (think: pizza toppings), but, yes, you’re going to notice that every recommended filling combo starts: “Baby spinach and...” Of course you don’t have to add spinach to all your eggs! But it’s such a good and painless way to get your greens, you might as well.
2 teaspoons water
A large pinch salt
2 teaspoons butter
Fillings (see below)
Crack the eggs into a small bowl or mug, add the water and salt, and use a fork to beat them well. The more you beat them, the fluffier they’ll be! Or that’s how I feel, at least.
Heat the butter in a small pan over medium-low heat. When the pan seems hot, pour in the eggs. Add your filling ingredients and scramble the eggs, dragging the spatula across the bottom of the pan so that the egg that hasn’t set yet can run underneath the egg that has.
When the eggs are done to your liking, serve them.
Favorite filling combinations
Baby spinach with chopped pickled jalapenos and cream cheese
Baby spinach with sautéed mushrooms and onions (do these in the pan before adding the egg) and cheddar
Baby spinach with feta and black olives
Baby spinach with Monterey Jack and a spoonful of salsa
Baby spinach with diced ham or crumbled bacon and American cheese
Baby spinach with chopped leftover cooked vegetables (e.g. broccoli, Brussels sprouts, winter squash, sweet potatoes) and goat cheese
Active Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes
Total Carbohydrates: 0.5 grams per egg
This method produces truly great medium-boiled eggs. You hear a lot about hard-boiled eggs, and a fair amount about soft-boiled, but not so much about medium-boiled. Which is sad, because medium-boiled turns out to be the gateway egg for people who don’t like hard-boiled eggs. And honestly, they’re so much better: the whites are totally set, but the yolks are still bright and soft, with barely liquidy centers. It’s true that you can’t really make deviled eggs or egg salad out of them, but for breakfast or a snack, you can’t really beat the simplicity.
To make them, half-fill a large pot with water, and bring it to a boil over high heat. Carefully lower any number of eggs into the boiling water, and boil them for 8 minutes (7 minutes for a runnier yolk, or 9 or 10 minutes for a firmer one.) If this step does not feel unbearably fussy to you, stir the eggs for the first minute and a half of boiling; it keeps the yolk from settling to one side, and seems to make the eggs easier to peel. When the eggs are cooked, drain them and run cold water over them until they’re cool enough to handle, then peel them and blot them dry on paper towels before halving and serving.
Optional additions include a drizzle of hot sauce, a confetti of herbs, a dash of curry powder, or a little splash of vinaigrette. Some bacon crumbs wouldn’t hurt, either, unless, of course, you keep kosher or halal or are a vegetarian, and then they would.
Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Makes: 16 (2-inch) pancakes (4 servings)
Total Carbohydrates: 8 grams per serving (plus additional for the toppings)
These grain-free pancakes are protein-rich and carb-poor, meaning nice, steady energy for your morning. They’re delicate and a little eggy – i.e. they’re very tasty, but they’re not Aunt Jemima, so if you’re cooking them for more people than just yourself, you may need to sell them a little bit. “Silver Dollar Pancakes” is a nice marketing strategy, I think. Two things: 1) You can double the dry ingredients and store this in the fridge as “pancake mix”: just add a cup to the wet ingredients in the blender, and you’re all set. 2) Not to sound all mommy-blogger, but I like to put the batter in a squeeze bottle before making the pancakes because I find it easier to use that way. (You can also scrape it into a Ziploc and snip the corner off – great for squeezing out letters and shapes, if there are smaller people in the house who might appreciate that kind of thing.)
2 tablespoons melted butter (plus more for the pan)
½ cup milk
1 cup almond flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
Optional 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and/or ½ teaspoon cinnamon
Butter, yogurt, and/or fruit for serving
Put the wet ingredients in a blender jar and blend to mix them.
Add the dry ingredients and blend again thoroughly, adding a splash or two milk if the batter seems too thick. (How will I know if it’s too thick? is a reasonable question. If the blender blade seems disinclined to move through it, or if the batter is too thick to pour easily.)
Heat a griddle or frying pan over medium heat, then butter it generously. Spoon or squeeze two-inch circles of batter onto the pan and cook the pancakes until the bottoms are nice and brown. These will not reveal their doneness the way regular pancakes do, with bubbles popping at the surface – you will have to gently peek underneath.
Flip them carefully as they’re a little sticky and fragile while they’re cooking. (Gluten in wheat flour is nice and stretchy, and it’s what makes other pancakes able to bend without breaking). Cook them on their second side another minute or two, then serve right away, even if you make more batter to cook; these are best eaten freshly cooked, and get a little stiff if you try to keep them warm.
Active Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 35-45 minutes
Makes: 4 servings
Total Carbohydrates: 22 grams per serving
Mexican Huevos rancheros is usually some combination of eggs, beans, salsa, and cheese, served with corn tortillas and various toppings. This version seems to have paid a visit to its Tunisian cousin, shakshuka, which is a dish of eggs baked or poached in a spicy tomato sauce. And it’s delicious: saucy, a little spicy (Or not!), and a perfect weekend breakfast or brunch or, while we’re at it, lunch or dinner. If you’re pressed for time, you can skip the onion and garlic and sautéing them, and just add a half teaspoon of garlic powder with the spices. You can also simply cover the pot and leave it on the stovetop to cook the eggs, thereby eliminating the oven altogether. If you want to serve this dish with corn tortillas, which are relatively low in carbs, go ahead – but it’s also really good just as it is.
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
½ teaspoon ground cumin
Something spicy (1/2 teaspoon cayenne or chipotle powder; 1 teaspoon canned chipotle en adobo; 1 tablespoon hot sauce or chopped fresh or pickled jalapenos)
1 (14-ounce) can crushed tomatoes (diced tomatoes will work too)
1 (14-ounce) can black beans, drained
½ teaspoon salt
Cilantro leaves, crumbled feta, sliced radishes, avocado, and hot sauce, for topping
Heat the oven to 375.
Heat the oil in a 9- or 10-inch oven-proof skillet over medium heat. Sauté the onion and garlic until the onion is quite soft and turning golden, about 6 or 7 minutes.
Add the cumin and the spicy something and sauté just until fragrant – a few seconds – then stir in the tomatoes, beans, and salt. Turn the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally and then more frequently, until thick, around 15 minutes. Taste the sauce, and add more salt if it needs it.
Use a spoon to make a little well in the sauce, then crack in an egg. (I’m neurotic, so I crack the egg into a mug first, to make sure I’m not going to ruin the whole dish with shell fragments or a broken yolk etc. In fact, while the sauce is simmering, I crack each egg into a separate mug so they’re all ready to go! I have a dishwasher, so the dirty mugs are not a hardship.) Repeat with the remaining eggs, then put the pan in the oven. (Note: If you are super-particular about your eggs and how done you like them, then you might want to poach or fry them separately, as cooking them in the sauce is an inexact science. That said, do you really want to wash another pan?)
Bake until the eggs are as set as you like them, which will take anywhere from 7 to 15 minutes. (The eggs will be more cooked underneath than the way they look on top, just FYI.) Use the baking time to prepare the toppings, then top the finished dish and serve.
Once you start rethinking breakfast minus carbs, you might feel a little stumped. (Are English muffins carbs? They are. What about coffee cake? Yes, that too.) There are a few things you can keep on hand to make it easier.
Low-carb or corn tortillas are good to have on hand so that, in a pinch, you can put one in a pan with a sprinkle of grated cheese and make yourself a quesadilla.
Nuts are a great snack, and having some around means that you’ve got something healthy to eat while you figure out breakfast. And if nuts kind of turn into breakfast? Well, there are worse things.
Whole-milk Greek yogurt is rich and satisfying. It’s also a wonderful base for smoothies: just blend it up with some frozen fruit (berries, mango, pineapple, banana), a splash of milk, a couple of pitted dates for sweetness, and a dash of vanilla. If you want an extra protein kick, add a spoonful of raw almonds or cashews that you’ve soaked in water overnight. And if you want to be a good healthy person, add a handful of spinach or kale.
Adam has a favorite chia pudding recipe here, and you can make it the night before. diaTribe founder Kelly swears by this one, even though she and many others were skeptical to start! But check it out – it’s one of the diaTribe articles we’ve received the most comments about this year!
Smoked salmon is not inexpensive, but it’s a delicious treat. Have some with a few slices of avocado and a squeeze of lemon, and forget all about that bagel.
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Catherine loves to write about food and feeding people. In addition to her recipe and parenting blog Ben & Birdy (which has about 15,000 weekly readers), she edits the ChopChop series of mission-driven cooking magazines. This kids’ cooking magazine won the James Beard Publication of the Year award in 2013 – the first non-profit ever to win it – and a Parents’ Choice Gold Award. Last year they started the WIC version of the magazine for families enrolled in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and are currently developing Seasoned, their senior version, commissioned by the AARP. They distribute over a million magazines annually, through paid subscriptions, doctor’s offices, schools, and hospitals. Their mission started with obesity as its explicit focus – and has shifted, over the years, to a more holistic one, with health and happiness at its core. That’s the same vibe Catherine brings to the diaTribe column.
[Photo Credit: Catherine Newman]