Josh Ayers

If it weren’t for the thought of warm muffins or salty eggs in the morning, I don’t think I’d ever get out of bed. During the excruciating three quarters of my second year, when I had class at 7 each morning, my only hope of making it to class on time was to tempt myself by baking coconut muffins, blueberry scones or banana bread the night before. They were ready at a moment’s notice, and I could munch on them on the way to school (a habit I developed while living in Paris mimicking the young professionals bringing their croissants on the trains in the morning).

However, rushed breakfasts are never my favorite. If I had the time, I would spend hours every morning at the breakfast table reading the paper, sipping coffee and lounging over a tropical fruit salad. During leisurely mornings in high school, I perfected eggs Benedict – my sister’s favorite brunch dish and mine. I think I’ve made this dish at least a hundred times; it soon caught on as a friend’s favorite and eventually they would invite themselves over on Sundays to ensure a plate.

The two essentials of great eggs Benedict are a well-prepared hollandaise and poached eggs. While there are easier canned or mayonnaise-based sauces, when you make it from scratch it’s just amazing. It might take a little practice to get the eggs cooked just right. For the perfect poached eggs, add a splash of white vinegar to simmering water to help the egg whites bind together as they cook. And to make timing easier, you can poach more than one egg at a time if you use a large, deep-dish pan. For a medium cooked egg, so the yolk is still a bit runny, simmer for 3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to get most of the water off.

Last Friday, I had a little reunion with our weekend breakfasts. Despite the commencement of bikini weather and our current cultural fear of carbs, I couldn’t resist waking up early to have a sour cream coffee cake ready when my guests arrived before the heat. It was an instant hit; sweet and moist, it’s my current favorite bakery recipe. That Barefoot Contessa certainly knows her stuff. And it’s perfect with a fruit salad!

Another great breakfast staple is homemade granola. While there are some good high-protein, high-fiber cereals in the markets that might keep you full all morning, I feel they lack flavor. They often have a cardboard, bland taste and texture that makes breakfast a lot less fun. But making your own at home is ridiculously easy and the flavor is beyond comparison. You can also customize the recipe based on what you’re after by adding different nuts or dried fruit.

I’ve messed around with this recipe quite a bit, and my favorite combination is a tropical blend with dried pineapple, papayas and macadamia nuts. Another is what I call a harvest mix with toasty pecans and dried cranberries and golden raisins. Any way, this granola recipe is amazing. You can eat it with milk and fresh fruit, as a snack, or on top of vanilla yogurt.

Granola is a healthy alternative to those tempting colorful cereal boxes I remember begging for as a kid (and never getting). Nuts are one of the highest sources of vegetable protein and are rich in fiber and antioxidants. Also, they’re full of “good fats” that your body doesn’t produce on its own. The insoluble fibers in oats are also great for you. A bowl with milk or yogurt will keep you full all morning.

So don’t skip breakfast! There are just too many delicious and fast options that can help keep you up, alert and focused during those early morning classes!

Munch on these:

3 cups whole oats
1 cup sliced almonds
1 cup nuts (pecans, macadamia, cashews or whatever you like)
3/4 cups dried shredded coconut
1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/3 cup vegetable oil
Pinch of salt
1 cup dried fruit

Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.
1. In a large mixing bowl, combine oats, nuts and coconut.
2. In a separate bowl, blend sugar, syrup, soil and salt until combined. Drizzle over oat mixture and toss until oats are coated.
3. Divide granola onto two rimmed baking sheets and spread evenly. Bake for 1 hour 15 minutes until golden brown. Mix granola and switch sheets each 15 minutes to ensure it cooks evenly without browning.
4. Allow to cool when done and toss in dried fruit. Enjoy right away or store in an airtight container for about two weeks.

Barefoot Contessa Coffee Cake
(Courtesy of Ina Garten)

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 extra-large eggs at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups sour cream
2 1/2 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

For the streusel:
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3/4 cup chopped walnuts, optional

For the glaze:
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons real maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan.

Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment for 4 to 5 minutes, until light. Add the eggs one at a time, then add the vanilla and sour cream. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture to the batter until just combined. Finish stirring with a spatula to be sure the batter is completely mixed.

For the streusel, place the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, salt and butter in a bowl and pinch together with your fingers until it forms a crumble. Mix in the walnuts, if desired.

Spoon half the batter into the pan and spread it out with a knife. Sprinkle with 3/4 cup streusel. Spoon the rest of the batter in the pan, spread it out, and scatter the remaining streusel on top. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean.

Let cool on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes. Carefully transfer the cake, streusel side up, onto a serving plate. Whisk the confectioners’ sugar and maple syrup together, adding a few drops of water if necessary, to make the glaze runny. Drizzle as much as you like over the cake with a fork or spoon.

Best Ever Eggs Benny

4 English muffins, toasted
8 slices Canadian bacon
8 eggs, poached

For the hollandaise
3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon cold water
1/2 cup melted unsalted butter
Lemon juice from one lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Crack eggs yolks in metal bowl. Add tablespoon of cold water and beat until frothy with whisk.
2. Heat over a saucepan of barely simmering water, like a double boiler, until the egg looses its raw egg texture but before it scrambles.
3. Remove bowl from heat at whisk in melted butter. Finalize sauce with lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.
4. Place warm bacon (or salmon, if you wish) on toasted English muffin halves. Place poached eggs on top and drizzle with hollandaise sauce. Serve warm.

Sinead Brennan is an agribusiness senior and Mustang Daily food columnist.

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