Breakfasts to Savor

A new day is dawning in the kitchen, jostling the soundest of sleepers awake. Far removed from the dusty boxes of cereal and granola bars, bold, bright aromas infused with spice and umami fill the air. Though the standard American diet leans heavily on sweets for the “most important meal of the day,” polls have shown that the majority of those chowing down before noon prefer a savory breakfast.

Skip the batter, forget the flour, and stick firm slabs of tofu straight into the waffle iron for a high-protein foundation to hold a deeply umami lashing of espresso-spiked gravy. Waffled Tofu with Red Eye Gravy provides a hearty, gluten-free vehicle for enjoying this thick, creamy sauce enriched with sautéed mushrooms without any regrets.

If dry cereal is more your speed, you’ll be bowled over by Curried Coconut Granola. Warmly spiced clusters of thick oats and coconut flakes are baked to golden-brown perfection with minimal added oil. They’re perfect for sprinkling over unsweetened yogurt, plain oatmeal, soups, salads, or simply eating out of hand.

Craving buttery pastries, flaky and crisp? Skip the sugary frosting and syrupy fruit filling with Cheesy Broccoli and Bac-un Toaster Tarts. White bean-based cheese sauce fills flaky pastry pockets along with smoky bites of tempeh bac-un and tender-crisp broccoli florets.

Some Americans consume eggs in the morning, but have you heard of the latest Indian street food sensation taking the world by storm? Bread Omelets wrap up a fusion of French toast, scrambled eggs, and an egg sandwich all in one neat package. My vegan version is made with chickpea flour seasoned with black salt for the same sensation, without the eggs or dairy.

South of the border, Chilaquiles have been an essential staple for using up stale tortilla chips but take on greater flavor when prepared fresh, from scratch. Homemade corn tortilla chips are baked and not fried in this take on breakfast nachos. Little prep or planning is needed to throw together fresh salsa, black beans, and diced avocado in a meal that can be scaled for one or one dozen.

Tall stacks of pancakes dripping with syrup may sound dreamy, but the sugar crash soon to follow isn’t quite as satisfying. For a substantial morning meal that will power you through the day, skip the sugary stuff. The breakfast revolution will not be sweetened.

Get all these recipes in the 2021 Issue 1 of Vegetarian Journal, and online at VRG.org!

Hit the Snooze Button

Don’t sleep on Snooze AM Eatery. As the name would imply, the door of this establishment opens bright and early, but you’ve still gotta be quick to snag a table. Devoted to all things breakfast, brunch, and lunch, you’re out of luck if you show up in the afternoon. That considerable barrier to entry is just one of many reasons it took me so long to venture out, even though it’s a few minutes away. Tallying up the strikes against Snooze, my hesitancy was not without merit.

For one, it’s a franchise, boasting 46 restaurants spread out across 8 southern states, bringing quality and consistency into question. Second, and this is a big one, the “plant-powered” section of its egg-heavy menu isn’t actually a cheat sheet for vegans. Those helpful suggestions are still littered with eggs and cheese, turning a simple order into a daunting demand. Study up online before arriving and don’t expect assistance from your server, who’s more surly than smiley after dealing with grouchy hipsters in need of a coffee fix. On top of all that, no matter which location you visit, parking is almost guaranteed to be a nightmare, and lines are inevitable. Do check in on the virtual waiting list but don’t forget to clear your agenda for the next few hours, regardless.

Sounds like a terrible experience, right? Speaking to the strength of the food itself, despite those myriad affronts to common sense, I’d still sign up for another round of impersonal insults for another bite. Much as I want to hate it, especially in this sea of brilliant plant-based eateries, Snooze still pulls its weight with some truly winning dishes.

Thank goodness, the cocktail program is equally strong, because you’re going to need a drink to take off the edge. The wait is much easier to stomach with a stiff Cosmopolitan in hand. Tart, bright, slightly sweet, it’s the eye-opener you didn’t know you needed.

For optimal results, pretend it’s the late 90’s again and no one really understands what the word “vegan” means. Stress that all toast comes dry, no butter, cheese, or milk in any entrees, and substitute tofu for eggs. True, some dishes are emblazoned with an unmistakable “V”, like the impossibly light and fluffy Vegan Bliss Pancakes, but don’t let your guard down. It never hurts to make your needs known, especially in an establishment not necessarily built with dietary restraint in mind.

Throwing down a Tofu Scramble that could hold its own against the heavy hitters in town, you get your choice of three inclusions from a generous list of options. All the usual vegetables make an appearance, in addition to subtly spicy soyrizo, and even a whole lobe of buttery avocado at no extra cost. Savory, well-seasoned, hot, and deeply satisfying, you can’t go wrong with this classic dish. Plus, it comes with a side of hash browns, which are delicious served in a tight cylinder or smashed flat if requested “extra crispy.”

Branch out just a little bit to try the Sweet Potato Veggie Smash Up, veganized with that eggy tofu scramble crowning two grilled sweet potatoes, infused with a touch of maple syrup. Piled high with asparagus and umami-rich mushrooms, it’s finished with pickled onions for a perfect briny contrast.

You snooze, you lose. Set your alarm clock at least an hour or two earlier to beat the crowds and claim your table. It might sound daunting, but it’s worth the extra effort to start your day on a delicious note.

Greatfruits

Life is like a box of CSA produce: You never know what you’re gonna get.

We all know what to do when life gives you lemons, but what about grapefruits? Sure, you could give them the same treatment and turn them into grapefruit-ade, but it doesn’t have the same kind of ring. Simply topped with a sprinkle of sugar and brûléed for breakfast is a nice treat, but it feels like so much work to painstakingly dig out each little segment first thing in the morning. When all I want to do is just go back to bed, that level of effort is really asking a lot.

Best suited for advanced preparation, they’re a perfect match with chia pudding, soaked overnight and ready to enjoy no matter when the alarm clock rings. As both an ingredient and topper, the excess grapefruits infuse the whole elegant assembly with bright, citrus flavor. Perfumed with floral notes from orange blossom water and the distinctly spicy taste of cardamom, the pudding itself contains volumes of rich, complex flavor that far exceed the average bowl of oats.

Simple grapefruit supremes would be a fine topper for a simpler finish, but they take on greater substance when gently gelled with agar, straddling the line between jelly and compote. Full of zest to spark your enthusiasm for a fresh new day, grapefruit will suddenly become the shining star amongst the predictable array of seasonal produce picks.

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Firehouse Favorite

When I first met Paul five years ago, I knew right away that he was different from my usual photography client. His passion was unmistakable, almost tangible, paired with an infectious enthusiasm and warmth that could win friends in an instant. It wasn’t just a granola business he envisioned, but a stronger, healthier community. Such lofty goals never seemed out of reach with a clear vision and determination to make it possible.

Paul’s Firehouse Granola has been a labor of love from day one, born from the need to feed fellow firefighters while spending long hours on duty. Never knowing when they’d need to refuel, Paul’s carefully balanced formula was a runaway hit. This convenient, delicious snack was designed to provide quick energy to sustain them for the long haul, but demand quickly spread beyond the station. It’s easy to see why, just at a glance.

No other granola on grocery store shelves packs in the same quality and variety of whole nuts, seeds, unsweetened dried fruits, and whole grains. The best way to honor such superlative ingredients is to let them shine, unimpeded by excessive sugar or heavy spices. Paul’s Firehouse Granola is so spectacular because Paul doesn’t doesn’t cut any corners or take any shortcuts, valuing flavor just as much as nutrition. That means you’ll find rich dark chocolate chunks cozied up right next to toasted nuts and thick-cut, toasted oats.

As if that emphasis on premium ingredients wasn’t enough to feel good about, your purchase helps those in need, too. Paul’s Firehouse Granola proudly supports The San Jose Firefighters Burn Foundation and The Natalia Salcido Legacy Fund.

Now, after a lifetime of dreaming, years of hard work, and countless hours in the kitchen, Paul’s Firehouse Granola is finally available for online purchase! I’m proud to say I played any role in shaping the this voice for this bold new brand, and want to shout from the rooftops about the news. Instead, I thought it might be more effective to share a taste of this incredible blend with you. THREE lucky readers will get the gift of granola shipped straight to their door! If you’d like to win a beautiful glass jar full of Paul’s Firehouse Granola, leave me a comment below about your favorite way to eat granola. Do you sprinkle it over yogurt, mix it into muffins, or just eat it straight?

If you’d like some fresh ideas, make sure you check out the recipes I developed, including waffles, pancakes, and so much more.

Don’t forget to log your entry below, and find additional ways to enter, too!

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Czech Mate

How did such a humble, unassuming Czech pastry become so deeply intertwined with Texan foodways that it became an inextricable part of southern culture itself? While it remains largely unknown just beyond state borders, kolaches are serious business to any conscious eater. I had never heard of such a thing before visiting the Lone Star State, but kolaches are as essential to the local cuisine as barbecue. Arriving along with European immigrants in the late 1800s, central Texas became the nexus of kolache creation.

Technically, the savory version most popular in my immediate area are klobasneks, NOT kolache. Both employ a lightly sweetened, buttery yeasted dough, stuffed with a variety of fillings, but genuine kolaches are sweet breakfast treats, employing fruit preserves, cream cheese, or poppy seeds for flavor. Klobasneks are arguably more popular in these parts, calling for any sort of meat, from sausage links to ground beef to shredded chicken, cheese, jalapenos, and sometimes even egg and potatoes. Truth be told, any sort of stuffing might reside within these baked buns. For the sake of simplicity, they all get wrapped up under the kolache moniker. Those wise enough to tell the difference are also smart enough not to pick a fight.

Terminology aside, what makes for the best kolaches? It’s all in the dough. Supple, pillowy soft, catching the light with a subtle buttery shine, the tender bread should practically melt in your mouth. Impossibly light for such a rich mixture, it’s a delicate balance of art and science to achieve the perfect crumb. Years of experience with tireless practice are the secret ingredients; otherwise, the standard recipe is largely unexceptional. Flour, sugar, yeast, butter, and all the other usual suspects are present.

The key is all in quantity. Speaking with chef Craig Vanis of Bistro Vonish, his carefully honed formula makes liberal use of butter, both in and brushed on the rich dough. Coming from a long line of Czech bakers, his recipe reflects that heritage to create the best version around, vegan or not.

“When I said I wanted to open my own place, one of the first things I did was make and sell kolaches at various events in an effort to get my name and face out there,” chef Vanis explained through email.

“Before that, when I lived in Houston, I would occasionally pick up work at a bakery that made kolaches. Even though grandma always had kolaches made and on hand, I was never a part of making them, like I sometimes was with cinnamon rolls. I think that’s a large part of why I enjoy them so much now. My grandparents passed away many years ago, but as I think about the baking and enjoyment of kolaches, there’s an opportunity to create new memories that are connected to grandma’s house. I don’t feel like I missed out on a chance to bake them as a child. I do feel grateful that I have those fond memories attached to them now.”

According to Craig, poppyseed or plum are the most traditional fruit fillings, but the sky is the limit. Any jam or preserves will bake in beautifully to make sweet pastries, and any sort of savory meatless or vegetable stuffing can create a hearty stuffed bun.

What remains a mystery is why the art of the kolache has stayed contained within the Texas Czech Belt, when the base formula is infinitely adaptable, and its appeal so universal. If you’ve never been so lucky to see them in local bakeries, do yourself a favor and start your own family tradition, baking from scratch.

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