Breakfast is the most dangerous meal of the day.
I know that’s probably the exact opposite of what parents and health experts have told you for many years. But trust me, when you love carbs and are trying your best not to indulge in anything warm and soft with a golden-brown exterior, breakfast undermines your best efforts in a heartbeat.
Once upon a time, I could savor my morning carbs all the time with little concern. I loved it all: bagels, pancakes, waffles, French toast — especially French toast. I toasted, buttered and syrup-ed away to my heart’s content. Of course, this was also when I played soccer four to six times a week year-round and needed the carbs to sustain me with enough energy for double-header days and five-game tournaments.
Now, I typically stick with more fibrous carbs for breakfast, typically some variation on an oatmeal-and-fruit combination. As much as I love my French toast, I need to start my mornings with something more filling. Unfortunately, French toast tends to make me feel stuffed for all of an hour before I begin to feel hungry again, even though the number of calories I’ve just consumed should really hold me off until lunch.
Luckily, I’ve found a great compromise, with a peanut-butter-and-banana stuffed French toast. It still has the two most important parts of this indulgent breakfast food: a crunchy, golden-brown crust and a soft, slightly gooey center. Fill it with a creamy, not-too-sweet peanut butter-cream cheese mixture and ripe banana slices and you’ve got the perfect breakfast that appeases your desire to indulge in morning carbs and keeps you full until lunch.
Now, I could end here and send you off with a lightened take on a beloved breakfast food. But let’s be honest, no matter how much you want to keep a clean diet, you’re bound to have those days when you want to indulge. It’s easy to start the day well, but even easier to give in to a tempting treat when night rolls around.
This time, it involves another one of my five favorite dessert flavors — lemon. And what better to embrace this springtime flavor than the quintessential lemon bar?
These lemon bars are triple-everything — triple the number of layers, triple the lemon flavor and triple the amount of time you should spend exercising the next day after eating one (or three). Citrusy, sunshiny lemon flavor permeates the bars in the form of lemon juice, lemon zest and pure lemon extract. And the three different layers — the buttery crust, the smooth lemon-cream cheese filling and the zesty lemon curd topping — make these particular lemon bars surpass any other variations I’ve ever had.
I do have to warn you, these bars require triple the amount of time and patience that you’ve ever put into any previous recipe. However, if you’re willing to commit the effort, I promise that the first bite will make you believe that it was all worth it.
Or, it might make you think that you need to sign up for that next triathlon.
Overstuffed Peanut Butter and Banana French Toast
(adapted from a recipe by Lisa Lillien from the book Hungry Girl 1-2-3)
1/3 cup fat-free liquid egg substitute
1 ¼ teaspoons vanilla extract, divided
½ teaspoon plus 1 dash cinnamon, divided
1 no-calorie sweetener packet, divided (I used Truvia.)
1 tablespoon fate-free cream cheese, room temperature
2 teaspoons reduced-fat peanut butter, room temperature
2 slices whole wheat bread
½ medium banana, sliced
Nonstick cooking spray
2 teaspoons light whipped butter or light buttery spread
1/8 cup sugar-free syrup
A couple of drizzles of honey (optional)
Mix together egg substitute, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, ¼ teaspoon cinnamon, and half of the sweetener in a bowl. Set aside.
In a small bowl, combine cream cheese, peanut butter, ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract, ¼ teaspoon cinnamon, and the second half-packet of sweetener. Mix until smooth. (Lillien suggests using the handle of a fork or spoon, which works quite well!)
Using either a knife or your fingers (fingers work best), carefully spread cream cheese-peanut butter mixture evenly onto one slice of bread. Top with banana slices and a dash of cinnamon, and then top it off with the other slice of bread. Lightly press down edges to seal.
Coat a small skillet with nonstick spray and bring to medium-high heat. Add butter or buttery spread and allow it to coat the bottom of the skillet. In the meantime, evenly coat both sides of French toast sandwich with the egg substitute mixture. Coat the sides of the sandwich too. (There will be some leftover mixture.)
Place sandwich in skillet and cook for two to four minutes on each side until golden brown. (I cooked mine for two-and-a-half minutes per side.)
Top with syrup and honey, if desired. If you can’t bear to leave the other banana half hanging, slice the rest of it and serve with the French toast for extra potassium.
Triple-Layered Lemon Bars
(adapted from Debbi Fields from her book, Mrs. Fields Best Cookie Book Ever!: 130 Delicious Cookie and Dessert Recipes from the Kitchen of Mrs. Fields)
For the crust:
1/2 cup salted butter
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup flour
For the cream cheese filling:
8 ounces softened cream cheese
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon lemon extract
For the lemon curd:
4 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon cornstarch
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup water
2 teaspoons lemon zest, grated
1/4 cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons softened salted butter,
For the topping:
2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
Preheat oven to 325 degrees Farenheit.
For the shortbread crust: Cream butter and sugar in medium bowl with electric mixer set on high speed. Add vanilla and mix until combined. Add flour and mix at low speed until fully incorporated.
Press dough evenly into bottom of an 8” x 8” baking pan. Refrigerate for about 25-30 minutes until firm.
With a fork, prick shortbread crust and bake for 30 minutes or until crust turns light golden brown. Let cool on wire rack.
As the crust is baking, make the cream cheese filling: With an electric mixer set on high speed, beat the cream cheese and sugar until smooth in medium bowl. Add egg and lemon extract and beat on medium speed until light and smooth. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and chill.
Prepare the lemon curd (this part requires patience, but it’s worth it!): Blend the egg yolks with cornstarch and sugar in medium saucepan. Place over low heat and gradually whisk in water and lemon juice.
Increase heat to medium-low and cook, stirring frequently every few minutes, until mixture thickens. Remove pan from heat. Add lemon zest and butter and cool for 10 minutes.
Time to put the three layers together: Spread chilled cream cheese filling evenly over cooled shortbread crust with spatula. Spread lemon curd evenly over cream cheese filling. (Make sure that the cream cheese filling is thoroughly chilled so that it doesn’t blend together with the lemon curd.)
Place pan in center of oven. Bake 30 to 45 minutes or until edges begin to turn light golden brown. Let cool. Chill in refrigerator at least one hour before cutting into bars. Sprinkle confectioners' sugar on top and serve.