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Loco for Loco Moco

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Every now and then I eat something where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Do I like rice, ground beef, egg, and gravy? Of course, but I can’t ever imagine going crazy over them individually, or a combination of some kind.

The first time I heard about loco moco (a mound of rice, topped with a ground beef patty and fried egg, which is smothered in gravy) I was rather underwhelmed. It sounded okay, but nothing I would go out of the way to try and something I didn’t see myself make. Then someone I went to brunch with ordered it and I fell head over heels in love with the dish. Runny egg yolk, rich beef gravy, starchy rice, and a seared beef patty are the perfect marriage. And it’s something that can be enjoyed any time of the day at either breakfast, lunch, brunch, or dinner.

When it comes to Loco Moco there are so many variations. One of my favorite local restaurants makes an exceptional version with the addition of Portuguese sausage, grits, and pineapple. Other establishments use fried rice instead of white rice and every now and then I come across a chunky, creamy sausage gravy instead of a broth based beef gravy. Are these variations all delicious? Yes, but there’s something about the original that I prefer, which is why I like to make mine as basic as possible.

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Loco Moco

Serves 2, recipe can easily be doubled or tripled

  • 1/2 cup white rice (brown rice is an alternative, but it’s just not the same)
  • 2/3 lb ground beef
  • 1 shallot
  • 2 cups beef stock or broth
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • Scallions

Cook rice per package instructions.

Approximately 15 minutes before rice is done, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat (a cast iron skillet is perfect for this). Form ground beef into two patties. Season the outside liberally with salt and pepper. Once the pan is very, very hot, add the beef patties and cook 3-4 minutes then flip and cook another 3-4 minutes. Remove from pan. Turn down the burner heat to medium. Add butter to the same skillet and add finely minced shallot and cook for a few minutes just until softened. Add flour and cook for 2 more minutes to get rid of the raw flour taste. Add broth, stir, and continue to cook until thickened.

Meanwhile in another pan, fry eggs (you could poach them if you were so inclined). I like my eggs nice and runny.

To assemble dish, place a scoop of rice in a wide bowl, top with a beef patty, fried egg, and pour in gravy. Garnish with chopped scallions.

Enjoy!

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Berry & Oatmeal Muffins

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I’m not sure why, but it’s been almost impossible to get out of bed the past few mornings. No, it’s not depression, just my immense hatred of being awake before 6 a.m. I’ve never claimed to be a morning person and even on a good day I press the snooze button at least twice before even considering getting out of bed. But recently hitting that glorious button that gives me 9 more minutes of sleep has been pressed countless times. Before I know it I have less than 15 minutes to wake up, shower, get ready, and head out the front door to battle traffic and get to work on time.

While I should be making a bigger effort to eat breakfast, I’ve recently been in the position where I have to chose between brushing my teeth and eating a bowl of fruit and yogurt since I only have time for one… and since I take my personal dental hygiene seriously (and don’t want to scare off coworkers with bad breath) it’s a pretty easy choice to make. And since my lack of breakfast means I’m ravenous long before lunch, I usually grab something quick and easy at a store or cafe. While my local coffee establishment has some truly tasty pastries, it can be hard to justify spending three or four bucks a day on a pastry. My solution? Make something that’s easily portable, relatively healthy, and something that will stay fresh for a few days…. and I decided on muffins…

Berry & Oatmeal Muffins

Adapted from King Arthur Flour; makes 12 muffins

  • 1 1/2 cups rolled oats (not the instant kind)
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup lightly packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder (yes, a tablespoon, not teaspoon)
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cup berries (I used raspberries, but blueberries, blackberries, or chopped strawberries would also work)

Preheat your oven to 500°F. Lighltly grease a muffin tin.
Place oats, flours, sugars, salt, and baking powder in a large bowl. Mix together with a whisk. 

In a small to medium sized mixing bowl, add milk, oil, eggs, and vanilla; lightly whisk.
Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and mix with a whisk until just barely combined. Gently fold in berries. 

Fill cups of a lightly greased muffin tin three-quarters full. Place muffins in the oven and immediately drop temperature to 400°F. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into a muffin comes out with just a few moist crumbs. Let cool in muffin tins for 15 minutes before removing and letting cool completely. Muffins will last, wrapped and at room temperature, for 3-4 days.

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Whole-Wheat Banana, Nut, and Chocolate Chunk Bread

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A while back I made banana and chocolate chunk bread…. and then dipped that in egg batter and pan-fried it, French toast style. I thought it was completely divine, but perhaps a bit rich and decadent for breakfast. And while I’m never opposed to something excessively indulgent, perhaps for the first and most important meal of the day, one should try to eat a bit more sensibly?

Some people seem to think banana bread is healthy enough as is, since, ya know, it has bananas in it. And fruit is good for you! While banana bread is a far more practical breakfast than a donut, there’s still room to make it a smidge healthier without making it dull. For starters, try substituting all-purpose flour with whole wheat. And then perhaps use honey instead of sugar, egg whites for whole eggs, and applesauce for oil.

Should you make all of these substitutions? Sure. With this particular banana bread recipe making all of the healthier substitutions results in a very good product. However, the texture was just a bit on the dry side. Still exceptionally good, but if you opt only to make a few of the healthier substitutions you may end up with something a bit more moist and rich.

… and yes, you could skip the chocolate, but why would you? This is pretty healthy so why not indulge a bit?

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Whole-Wheat Banana, Nut, and Chocolate Chunk Bread

Adapted from AllRecipes

  • 2-3 medium to large very ripe bananas
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil or 1/3 cup applesauce
  • 1/2 cup honey or 1/4 cup honey and 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs or 2 egg whites
  • 1 3/4 cups whole-wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup hot water
  • 1/2 heaping cup chopped nuts (I use pecans)
  • 1/2 heaping cup chocolate chips or chocolate chunks (I prefer bitter-sweet)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9×5 inch loaf pan.

In a large bowl, mash bananas (you want 1 heaping cup of mashed banana). Mix in oil and honey (or alternatives).

Add eggs one at a time, incorporating well after each addition (if using egg whites only, add all at once).

Add vanilla, flour, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Mix until just combined.

In a small bowl, mix baking soda and hot water, stir to mix, and then add to batter, mixing until combined. Blend in chopped nuts and chocolate. Spread batter into a greased 9×5 inch loaf pan.

Bake for 55 to 60 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out with just one or two moist crumbs. I usually check around 50 minutes to ensure it doesn’t overcook. Cool on wire rack for 1/2 hour before slicing.

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Cream Biscuits with Sausage, Mushroom, and Onion Gravy

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Why are biscuits and gravy so ugly? I’ve never been served them at a home or restaurant and thought: these look delicious. While I think visual appearance of food is so incredibly important, the sloppy appearance of biscuits and gravy in no way dissuades me from eating them. They’re just so good.

Growing up I would always ask my dad to make me biscuits and gravy. I sort of consider it his signature breakfast dish and it was an exciting day when he taught me how he makes them. He tends to leave his sausage in larger chunks and also adds mushrooms, which results in a slightly heavier, more substantial gravy than what you might receive at a restaurant. Wanting mine to be reminiscent of his, I haven’t made many changes, except the addition of caramelized onion (which I think makes everything better).

While I’ve been known to use canned, refrigerated biscuits due to laziness (I despise mornings and tend not to function very well), I’ve recently found a foolproof, incredibly simple biscuit recipe that can be made while groggy and partially asleep. Instead of worrying about cutting butter and flour together with a pastry blender, all you do is mix flour with heavy cream. It’s that easy!

The Easiest Biscuits in the World (aka Heavy Cream Biscuits)

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen (where it was adapted from James Beard’s American Cookery)

  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the surface
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silicon mat. Melt butter in a small pot or microwave dish, and set aside. Sift two cups flour, the baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. Fold in 1 1/4 cups cream. If the dough is not soft or easily handled, fold in the remaining 1/4 cup cream, little by little (I ended up using the remaining cream, but you want to add it in portions so your dough isn’t too wet).

Turn dough onto a floured surface, mound it into a ball and, using your hands, press it to a thickness of about 3/4 inch. Cut into rounds, 3 1/2 inches in diameter. Gather dough scraps and continue to make rounds (I decided to make rather large biscuits and it made 5). Arrange biscuits on prepped sheet pan and generously brush each biscuit with melted butter.

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Bake in preheated oven for 18-20 minutes, or until golden brown.

Note: if you want to make smaller size biscuits (using a 2 1/2 inch diameter cutter), you’ll make approximately 10-12 biscuits and bake them for 12-15 minutes.

Sausage, Mushroom, Caramelized Onion Gravy

Adapted from my dad’s version

  • 1 onion, small dice
  • A few drizzles of olive oil
  • 16 oz sausage (ground, or casings removed)
  • 8 crimini mushrooms, sliced
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 3 cups milk
  • 1 pinch cayenne pepper (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Note: I like using either spicy chicken sausage or breakfast chicken sausage. Since chicken and turkey sausages tend to be leaner than pork sausage, the 3 tablespoons of butter is necessary to make the gravy. If you choose to use a fatty pork sausage, you likely won’t need 3 tablespoons of butter (probably only 1).

Heat olive oil in a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Add diced onion and approximately 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Sautee for a minimum of 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onion has caramelized (will be a golden brown color and onions will naturally sweeten).

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, over medium-high heat, fry sausage. Once the sausage is beginning to brown (approximately 3 minutes), reduce heat to medium, add the sliced mushrooms and cook for approximately 5 minutes, until mushrooms are tender and sausage is nicely browned.

Add butter to pan and let fully melt. Once melted, sprinkle in the flour, and stir until sausage and mushrooms are coated. If the flour isn’t getting absorbed, chances are you don’t have enough fat, so add more butter if necessary. Continue to cook for a minute or so, just to get rid of the raw flour taste. Pour in milk and sprinkle in cayenne (if using), stir in caramelized onion mixture, and cook until gravy thickens, approximately 10-15 more minutes. Taste for seasoning. I like my gravy peppery, so I add approximately 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons, but use your judgment and add as much as you desire. I find I typically don’t have to add much salt as the sausage I use is typically very nicely seasoned.

To serve, I split open a biscuit and top each half with a generous serving of gravy.

Delicious, but ugly biscuits and gravy…

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French Toast (aka Breakfast for Dinner)

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I had one of the most amazing slices of carrot cake (complete with brown butter cream cheese frosting) for breakfast today. Call me crazy, but I’ve never been one for traditional breakfasts on your average weekday morning. Sometimes I’ll have leftovers from the night before… cold pizza is always a favorite of mine. And who doesn’t like pita and hummus at 6 a.m.? I do believe breakfast is an important way to start your day, but I rarely have the energy to make anything in the morning on the weekdays, which is why I tend to take the lazy route and grab whatever is in the fridge.

Since I so rarely have “normal” breakfast food on weekday mornings, I occasionally spend my days dreaming of waffles, eggs, benedict, and biscuits and gravy. As a result, it’s not that uncommon for me to whip up breakfast for dinner on a Monday or Tuesday night.

I’ve always thought of French toast as being one of the easiest breakfast items. Chances are everyone has the ingredients available: bread, eggs, half and half or milk, and some seasonings. Better yet, the bread is better when it’s old. Who doesn’t have a few pieces of old bread? While even the most basic French toast made with white sandwich bread and some eggs, milk, and sugar is tasty, there are so many ways you can elevate it to something remarkable. A smidge of orange zest, a pinch of cinnamon, a bit of nutmeg, a dash of vanilla, and a heaping spoonful of brown sugar makes for one darn tasty meal (be it breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dinner).

My go-to recipe is really simple to make. Within 15 minutes you’ll have a delicious meal in front of you and it’s incredibly easy to double, triple, or quadruple, depending on how many people you’re feeding.

… and a few slices of the thickest cut bacon will make it that much better.

French Toast

Feeds 2-4, depending on how hungry y’all are

  • 4 thick slices of slightly stale challah or brioche (sliced about ¾ to an 1 inch thick, roughly half a loaf)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup half and half (milk works too, but half and half is much better)
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 lightly packed tablespoon brown sugar
  • A hefty pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon butter

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Mix together eggs, half and half, orange zest, cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar, and salt in a wide, shallow bowl. Soak bread in the egg mixture for approximately 5 minutes.

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Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat(I have one of those flat top, electric griddle thingys that I find so handy for French toast and pancakes).

Once bread has soaked in the egg mixture and the griddle is hot, cook bread for approximately 3-4 minutes per side, or until golden brown.

Lightly dust with powdered sugar and serve with jam or preserves (my personal favorite) or warmed maple syrup.

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