Monday, October 21, 2013

Maple Pecan Pumpkin Pie Spice Skillet Granola- I'm Obsessed!

Another obsession of mine- making homemade granola!  It happened out of necessity, as I struggled to find a grocery store granola that wasn't loaded with sugar or artificial ingredients.  And now, I'm hooked and so is my family.

Like many of my recipes, this granola can be different every time you make it, just by changing the nuts, seeds, and fruits you choose to use.  This particular combination is my favorite for two reasons:  first, I've used pure maple syrup as the sweetener instead of my usual organic honey, with absolutely delicious results, and second- because the entire batch is mixed and baked in one large skillet.  Less fuss, less mess, so easy!

Stir fry the ingredients until they are toasty and fragrant!

Ok, so I lied.  There are three reasons.  One of the recipes I'm best known for in my family is my pumpkin pie.  And the best thing about that recipe is the perfect combination of spices.  And so that exact combination is what I have put in this granola:  cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves in that order decreased by half.  Trust me, it works.

In our house, we use granola in the traditional way, as a cereal, but my absolute favorite is sprinkled over Greek yogurt.  Ridiculously good. 

Next time I do this, I'm going to drizzle some extra maple syrup over everything.  Mmmmmm!

But don't stop there!  Maple Pecan Pumpkin Pie Spiced Granola is an unexpected yet fabulous topping for vegetables, as I discovered this weekend while creating a side dish for roast pork.

First, I sliced Delicata squash and Bartlett pears, tossed them in olive oil and sprinkled them with salt and pepper.  They were roasted on 425 for about 20 minutes.  In the meantime, I mixed a half cup of pure maple syrup with a teaspoon of Ancho chili powder and cayenne (to taste) in a skillet.  When the squash and pears were roasted, I tossed them in a pan with the maple mixture and sprinkled them with crumbled pancetta.  After transferring everything to a serving dish, I topped it with the granola. The spicy sweet veggies and fruit combined with the crunchy granola....   seriously fabulous.

I could eat this every day!

If you think of another way to repurpose this granola, or if you've tried some interesting combinations, I'd love to hear from you!  For this particular recipe, I owe a thank you to Pure Canadian Maple Syrup for the inspiration.  (  I will definitely be using maple syrup to sweeten my treats again!

Maple Pecan Pumpkin Pie Spiced Skillet Granola
2 cups rolled oats
1 cup chopped pecans (or other nuts!)
1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds (or sunflower seeds, or other seeds!)
1/4 cup wheat germ (or wheat bran, or even natural coconut!)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup raw virgin coconut oil (grape seed oil, or nut oils work well too)
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup chopped dried figs (or other dried fruit!)
Heat oven to 325 degrees.
Place oats, pecans, pumpkin seeds, and wheat germ in an oven safe non-stick skillet and toast over medium heat until golden and fragrant, stirring frequently.  You are essentially stir frying the ingredients here.
Sprinkle spices and salt over the mixture and stir to combine.  Pour coconut oil, maple syrup and vanilla into pan and mix thoroughly.
Transfer skillet to oven and roast for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove from oven, cool slightly, then stir in figs.  Cool completely and store in airtight container.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Lemon Rosemary Olive Oil Cake- a little slice of heaven!

I promised so many people I would share this recipe.  And they ask me so apologetically.  As if I am safeguarding it like it's some kind of family secret.  I will tell you that it is a bit of a finicky recipe.  I've overbaked it and underbaked it and I've also shared the recipe with a chef who had no luck with it at all.  By now though, I've made it so many times that it has become my go-to dessert.  It's especially perfect after a heavier meal as it is light, refreshing, but full of flavor.  Ask Carly about this cake and she will describe it as a religious experience.

To have success with the recipe, I would make the following recommendations:
  • Use enough rosemary.  I've made the mistake of holding back in fear that it would be too savory, but if you don't use enough, you just taste lemon and you don't get that lemon-rosemary-angels singing affect.
  • Use cake flour.  Don't substitute.  I'm not kidding.
  • Make sure all of your ingredients are at room temperature, especially the eggs.  And I use organic eggs.  Can't say for sure that it makes a difference in the quality of the cake, but it makes a difference to me.
  • Fold ingredients carefully!  Do not overbeat!
  • Watch it carefully.  There is a fine line between a cake with lemon pudding in the center and sponge.  Use a cake tester and don't let it get too brown on top.
I made the mistake of topping it with fruit once.  Never again.  It stands on its own and doesn't need any embelishments.  Would love to hear if you have success with this little gem.  She's pretty special!

Lemon Olive Oil Rosemary Cake

based on an Epicurious recipe
 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (lemon infused, if possible)
Juice and zest of one large lemon
1 cup cake flour
2 Tablespoons very finely chopped fresh rosemary
5 large organic eggs and room temperature (save one white for later use)
1 cup sugar, divided
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter or oil 9 inch springform pan, line with parchment paper, then butter or oil again.
Whisk together cake flour, lemon zest and rosemary.  Set aside.
Beat yolks with 1/2 cup sugar on high speed until thick and pale yellow (about 3 minutes).
Reduce speed and add olive oil gradually and lemon juice.  Stir flour mixture in with a wooden spoon just until combined.
Beat egg whites (4) and 1/2 tsp. salt together in a second bowl at medium high speed until foamy.  Then add 1/4 cup sugar gradually and beat until soft peaks form (about 3 minutes).
Gently fold 1/3 of whites into yolks, then fold remaining whites in gently but thoroughly.
Transfer to prepared pan, tapping sides to release air bubbles.  Cover entire top of cake with remaining sugar (about 1/4 cup).
Bake for about 25-30 minutes.  The original recipe says 45 minutes but that is way too long, at least for my oven!  Again, you will need to watch and check it often.
Let cool for 10 minutes before removing the side of the springform pan.  Remove bottom and parchment before serving.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Things I'll Never Buy Again- Part I: Granola Bars!

Completely ignore my previous granola bar recipe.  I have discovered one that is so versatile, so healthy, so wholesome and delicious that I will never buy packaged granola bars again.  Now some of you will balk at my expensive ingredients and the time investment of providing my family with a steady supply of these treats, but all of this is well worth it when considering the benefits.

The more I read and learn about how whole foods fuel the body and how artificial ingredients and unnecessary additives adversely affect it, the more I just give in and make my own.  Now before you decide that I've gone off the deep end and foresee me selling everything and living an entirely product free lifestyle on an organic farm somewhere, bare-footed, no make-up, free of all contemporary evils, I want to assure you that I am remaining somewhat balanced and logical although admittedly a little crazy with regards to healthy eating.  As I always say, everyone has a little crazy.  You just have to point your crazy in the right direction, and I choose to point mine on food.

So back to the granola bar story...  I gave up on the previously mentioned granola bar recipe that I adapted from Whole Grain Gourmet because I wasn't getting a consistent texture and ended up wasting some batches that stubbornly refused to release themselves from the pan.  So after a little searching, I ended up trying Alton Brown's recipe.  What I love about this recipe is that it is already full of healthy ingredients and I really didn't have to do a lot of substituting.  Conversely, the potential substitutions are actually what make this recipe outstanding.  I bake these pretty much every week and every batch has been different depending on which nuts, seeds, fruits, and extracts I choose to use.  The family favorite so far has been almonds-sunflower seeds-chia seeds-apricots-almond extract, but to be honest, they have loved every single combination.  Following the recipe, I will list some of the combinations I have tried, but use your own ideas and see what deliciousness you can create.  For my next batch, I plan on experimenting with some spices like cinnamon and clove. 

Regarding the expense, I did the math and using all the best ingredients I can find (natural, organic, raw, no added sugars, etc.) each bar costs about 75 cents to make.  Yes, you could buy a package of six granola bars in the store for $2.99 but they are not going to taste nearly as good and they are going to have processed, modified ingredients that your body definitely does not need.  Each square pan yields sixteen bars and I put each in a snack size Ziploc bag so we can take them to work or school.  I also like to crumble one into my Greek yogurt.  Yum!  Again, a time investment, but well worth it.

Maria's Granola Bars
(Based on Alton Brown's)
2 cups rolled oats (NOT quick oats.  I use Bob's Red Mill)
1/2 cup wheat germ (substitutions:  wheat bran, oat bran, unsweetened coconut)
1 cup chopped unsalted nuts (I mostly use almonds, but I have used cashews, peanuts, a mixture of nuts, etc.  They can be roasted or raw- you are going to toast them in the oven anyway)
1/2 cup seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, sesame, chia, flax, etc.  I usually use 1/4 cup of the bigger seeds like sesame, and 1/4 cup of the tiny seeds like chia)
Mix all the above ingredients and spread them out on a rimmed baking sheet.  Toast at 350 until lightly browned, stirring occasionally (and carefully!)
Meanwhile, heat the following in a large saucepan over medium heat:
1/2 cup raw organic honey (or raw organic blue agave or pure maple syrup or other natural liquid sweetener)
1/4 cup coconut crystals (or organic raw brown sugar or other solid natural sweetener.  Remember, the coconut crystals do not taste like coconut!  They just come from the coconut plant and are similar to brown sugar)
2 T organic extra virgin coconut oil (I have used unsalted butter as in the original recipe, but recently switched to the coconut oil.  You can also use another healthful oil like a nut oil.)
1/2 tsp Kosher salt
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract (I have used 1 tsp vanilla, 1 tsp almond and 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla, 1/2 tsp rum extract, both with great results.)
Cook until sugars are melted and mixture is smooth.  Add toasted oat and nut mixture to saucepan and stir until combined. 
Now for the fruit.  Try to find a dried fruit with little or no added sugars.  Our favorites have been-  mission figs, apricots, tart cherries, and dates.  You can definitely combine as well!  You'll need 6 1/2 oz. of chopped dried fruit.  Stir them in.
Spread the mixture in a buttered (or oiled) square pan and pat the top with a spatula, pressing down.  Bake at 300 degrees for about 30-35 minutes.  Cool in pan.  Score while still warm, and press down again.  Cut and remove when completely cooled.

Some of our favorite combinations:
almonds-coconut-sunflower seeds-chia seeds-apricot-vanilla/almond extract
cashews-pumpkin seeds-figs-vanilla
peanuts-cherries- dark chocolate (I added the chocolate in combination with the dried fruit and it melted!  I thought it would be a disaster, but it was actually delicious).

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Dessert Doesn't Have to be Unhealthy to be Delicious!

Dessert doesn't have to be unhealthy to be delicious!  Now you may not believe me when I tell you that the above mouth-watering almond strawberry shortcake is made with all natural healthy ingredients, but it is indeed true. 

I invented this recipe out of desperation, when the strawberries that Tim grows all around our deck became so prolific that bowls of them were overflowing in the refrigerator and I was afraid that many would be wasted.  Wasted food is one of my biggest pet peeves (as Tim and Connor will attest...  I can be rather a nag about it!) and besides, his strawberries are sweet and delicious... not something one would want to waste.  And so, I decided to make a healthy strawberry shortcake.  Remembering a great recipe from the Food Network Kitchens for whole wheat buttermilk biscuits, I originally planned on just making those and topping with the strawberries and whipped cream sweetened with honey.  But as with just about every recipe, I ended up making changes and substitutions and ended up with something entirely different than I originally planned.

When I looked at the biscuit recipe, I was reminded that along with the whole wheat flour, it called for cornmeal.  I decided that this was all wrong for my shortcake.  So I substituted almond flour.  I've used almond flour in many recipes and it gives not only a beautiful flavor but a soft delicate texture.  Now that I had made that change, I decided that this was now going to be a strawberry almond shortcake.  The next step was the cream.  I did sweeten the cream with a little honey, as I had planned, but I used almond extract instead of vanilla, and then whipped in some mascarpone cheese at the end to make the cream extra rich.  Ok, so there's some fat here, marring my "totally healthy" claim, but it certainly can be left out and the cream will still be delicious!

The tricky part was going to be how to macerate the strawberries without sugar.  I thought that maybe honey might overpower the almond flavors I was going for, so instead I sprinkled two packets of Truvia over the berries and hoped for the best.  I don't use artificial sweeteners, but feel ok about Truvia since it is plant-based.  However, I had no idea if it would behave like sugar here.  Luckily, it worked very well!

Last, I toasted some sliced almonds in a pan to sprinkle on the top.  The result can be seen in the pictures above and it was just as delicious as it is pretty!  And I was able to use about 3/4 of the strawberries in our fridge.  None are going to waste this season if I can help it!

For the biscuits:
1 1/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2/3 cup almond flour (or very finely ground blanched almonds)
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 packet (or 1 tsp) Truvia sweetener (sugar may be substituted)
1 tsp fine salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
6 T cold unsalted butter cut into 1 T sized pieces
3/4 cup buttermilk
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Line baking tray with parchment.  Place flours, baking powder, Truvia, salt and baking soda in food processor (you can also do this by hand).  Pulse until combined.  Pulse in the butter one tablespoon at a time just until combined.  Do not over-mix!  Transfer to a bowl and stir in buttermilk only until combined.  Turn out onto a well floured surface.  Fold dough until the right consistency for cutting.  Pat into a 3/4 inch thick rectangle.  Cut with a biscuit cutter.  Bake until tops are lightly browned, 10-15 minutes.  Cool.  Makes 8-12 depending on size of cutter.
For the strawberries:
Cut strawberries in half if small, in fourths if medium.  I'm not giving you the amount- use your own judgment!  If I had to guess though, I'd say I used about 2 cups.  Sprinkle with 2 packets of Truvia (or 1/4 cup sugar if you must...) and let stand at room temperature, stirring occasionally.
For the almond mascarpone cream:
Whip 1 cup cream with 1/2 tsp. almond extract and about 1/4 cup organic raw honey (or more or less to your taste).  Whip on high speed until soft peaks form.  Add 1 8 oz. container of mascarpone cheese, softened slightly.  Whip on medium, just until incorporated.  Do not overbeat, or your cream will die a tragic death.
For the almonds-  Just toast them in a pan until lightly browned.  Don't put anything in the pan.  It's not difficult.
To put together:  Slice each biscuit in half.  Use three halves per serving.  Start with one of the bottoms, spread a generous portion of cream on that, then another biscuit half, then more cream, then one of the biscuit tops.  Spoon strawberries and liquid over top, then another dollop of cream.  Garnish with a whole strawberry and toasted almond.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Thanksgiving in the Spring!

Recently, we invited the girls and their boyfriends over for a turkey dinner.  I made several different sides and a cheesecake for dessert.  As I was serving the meal, Carly started looking for the traditonal Thanksgiving fare:  mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce... "Just because we're having turkey doesn't mean we're having a THIRD Thanksgiving!" I told her.  "And by the way, there's NO pumpkin pie!" 

You're probably wondering what I mean by "Third Thanksgiving."  Every year, we have Thanksgiving dinner at my dad's place with the whole Valentino clan.  And although it's a a great, delicious, (and loud) time, we always felt a little disappointment in not being able to cook the meal ourselves, and enjoy the leftovers the next day.  So years ago, we began a tradition called "Second Thanksgiving."  It occurs the Sunday after the real Thanksgiving and is something we all look forward to just as much as the traditional holidays.

When the joke was made about a third Thanksgiving, it occured to me that I didn't have to wait until next November to enjoy all those delicious flavors.  And that's when the Thanksgiving Salad was born.  I started with some mixed greens, then cut up some rotisserie turkey from the deli.  Sweet potatoes were roasted with olive oil, sea salt and pepper and sprinkled with goat cheese when they came out of the oven.  Ok, so goat cheese has nothing to do with Thanksgiving, but I'm in love with it, and it takes good on everything.  The cheese starts melting on the hot sweet potatoes and it is just so...  ok, I'm salavating now.

One of my favorite things to make is salad dressing.  I'm obsessed, and I haven't bought any bottled dressing in years.  It's fun to create different flavors and I like being able to control the levels of salt and sweetener that go in.  For this one, I started with pommegranate vinegar because my dad always puts out a few pommegranates after dinner and the kids all share them.  I had some squash seed oil from F. Oliver's so that seemed like a good choice.  Salt, pepper, and some minced fresh sage, and I had a flavorful dressing that meshed well with the turkey and sweet potato.  For toppings, I chose whole toasted pecans, to represent the nut cracking parties we have at dad's (which is what I am usually doing when the kids are digging into the pommegranates), and some dried cranberries to represent the cranberry sauce.  The only important dish not reprented thus far would be the stuffing, so it seemed reasonable to throw some whole wheat croutons on top.

And that, my friends is Thanksgiving salad.  Here is a rough recipe from what I remember, although I didn't write anything down.  I am increasingly cooking without recipes and just using my instincts.  The problem arises when someone askins me to replicate something and I have to rack my brain to remember!  I guess I should start leaving a note pad on the island when I'm cooking!


Thanksgiving Salad

Sliced rotisserie turkey, or leftover roasted turkey
Mixed salad greens
1 sweet potato, sliced into spears
Olive oil, sea salt, pepper
4 oz. goat cheese
croutons, dried cranberries (as desired)
1/2 cup whole pecans, toasted in a frying pan.  (Then try to avoid eating all of them before the salad is ready.  Very difficult for me!)

For dressing:
1/3 c. pommegranate vinegar
Sea salt, pepper to taste
1- 1/2 tsp. finely chopped fresh sage
1/2 c. squash seed oil (or nut oil, or Canola)

Toss sweet potatoes in about 1/4 c. oil and salt and pepper to taste.  Roast in a 350 degree oven until fork tender.  Remove pan from oven, sprinkle sweet potatoes with goat cheese and let stand.
Meanwhile, make the dressing:  Whisk vinegar with salt, pepper and sage in a bowl.  Slowly whisk in oil until emulsified.  Taste dressing and add more vinegar or more oil according to your taste.
Top greens with turkey, sweet potatoes and cheese, and pour desired amount of dressing over it.
Top with croutons, pecans, and dried cranberries.  Eat it.  It's really good!