Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Bowla Granola

I've always been a big fan of breakfast.
I love the way this morning meal is so interpretive depending on the region. In England, I ate massive fry-ups; fried bread, sausage, eggs. In France, I devoured pain au chocolat and fruit and yogurt. In Belgium, I feasted on fresh bread with meat and cheese, and a bowl of muesli. And here, at home in Canada, the breakfast menu replays itself over and over: eggs and toast, a big bowl of cereal, pancakes and waffles made from scratch or of course, my favourite: yogurt and granola. The marriage of creamy, sweet and crunchy. Oh my. I'm drooling a little.

I've made several different kinds of granola, and each time I felt something was amiss because I'd attempted to make it less calorie-dense, more virtuous. And the truth is, while I'm happy to cut down on some of the sweetness, I kind of feel like granola needs a minimum amount of oil and honey to hold it together, to give it that nudge into something extraordinary.

I found this recipe on one of my favourite sites, Eat Make Read. I made a few modifications from the original because this is what I do, but feel free to make your own adjustments. Granola recipes are sort of like starting points, don't you think?

Baked Granola

2 cups rolled oats (I use the quick cooking, organic kind)
1 cup Rice Krispies
1 cup All Bran original
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp brown sugar
3 1/2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey
1 tbsp fancy molasses
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup almonds, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
a handfull of raisins
a handful of dried cranberries

1. Preheat oven to 325
°F. In large bowl combine the oats, Rice Krispies and All Bran. Add the salt, cinnamon and brown sugar and mix.

2. In a small bowl, mix the vegetable oil, honey, molasses and vanilla and whisk till combined. Pour into the large bowl and stir till all the cereal seems to be coated. Spread out onto baking sheet or roasting pan.

3. Bake for 10 minutes, then stir. Bake for another 10 minutes, stir again. Then add the nuts and dried fruit and bake for an additional 5 minutes, checking on it to make sure it doesn't burn. When it's done, allow it to cool completely, then put in an airtight container and enjoy!

Sexy Salad

I've always been a lover of words. As a kid, I wasn't allowed to watch television during the week, except for Friday nights with my mom and my sister, watching Dallas and The Love Boat. This televisual deprivation led to a great affair with books, which in turn led me to writing. Writing, words, putting thoughts down, this is how I've always communicated best. The downside to my love of words, however, is that I tend to use twenty of them when twelve will do.

I seem to have the same problem with food. Despite my best efforts to cook simply, I have a tendency to overcrowd my dishes with too many flavours. I can't help myself. I grew up on simple, lightly seasoned meals, and I was an annoyingly picky eater. But now, I am so excited by food, by the sensuousness of it, by all the different spices and herbs and tastes, that I have a hard time choosing just a few at a time.

I know that when you're starting out, it's a good idea to master some simple recipes before you start improvising. But sometimes I think it's not only okay, but imperative to throw caution to the wind. How else do you learn what you like if you don't try it? And I'm pretty sure even the most accomplished of cooks sometimes get it wrong. And occasionally, these improvisations lead to the most accidentally delicious meals.

This salad, to me, is like that. I found this recipe here, on the Fine Cooking site, and as soon as I saw it, I was mentally adding chickpeas and onions. Once I'd made it and tasted it, I wanted it to have some heat, so I added a few chili flakes. I love it. I find the flavours subtle and bold, sweet and salty; the best of all worlds. I don't care that it's overcrowded. Sometimes, the best parties are.

Quinoa and Avocado Salad with Lemon-Cumin dressing

1/2 onion, chopped
1/2 can chickpeas
2 tbsp raisins
1 tbsp dried apricot, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup mixed white and red quinoa, rinsed well
half a lemon, zested
2 tbsp olive oil
1/8 tsp cumin
1/8 tsp coriander
1/8 tsp paprika
pinch of chili flakes, to taste (optional)
1 ripe avocado, cut into smallish cubes
2 tbsp coarsely chopped nuts - I used walnuts

1. Heat oil in pan, then add onions. Cook till softened over medium heat, about 5-7 minutes, then add chickpeas. Cook till onions are almost translucent.
2. Soak the dried apricot and raisins in hot water for 5 minutes to soften. Drain and set aside.
3. After quinoa is rinsed, bring the quinoa, salt and 1 cup of water to boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium and simmer till cooked, about 10-15 minutes. Once ready, remove from heat, fluff with a fork and bring to room temperature - you can lay it out on a baking sheet to cool.
4. Squeeze 1 tbsp lemon juice into small bowl. Add lemon zest, then add in spices along with the olive oil and whisk till combined.
5. Once quinoa is cooled, add the nuts, avocado, dried fruit, chickpea and onion mixture and combine. Then add the dressing and season with salt and pepper to taste. You may wish to add an additional dash of lemon juice...

***I found this tasted amazing the second day; the flavours had a chance to mix and mingle. I can also see this as a filling for a grainy pita bread.

Of Bananas And Bourbon

Almost Husband and I just moved in January to our new apartment and I can tell it's going to take me a while to get used to this stove. Like most appliances of an indiscernible decade that could be the 1970's but also maybe the 1980's, this stove seems to have a mind of its own. Temperatures, it would appear, are mere guidelines, and the nervous cook must perform constant vigil over the simmering, bubbling, baking contents to ensure she doesn't end up with a charred panful of culinary hope. Last night, I burnt beyond salvation what I believe was going to be a spectacular banana bread.

I had decided to bake some banana bread for a number of reasons. One, I love it. But two, and perhaps the most persuasive of reasons, my freezer has become something of a repository for the overripe bananas from my CSA box, and the truth is, I actually hate bananas. I will only eat them in cake or loaf form. And every two weeks, I get a bunch of bananas, so bright and eager and sunshine yellow, and I inwardly groan knowing Almost Husband will divorce me if I add one more bunch of bananas to our tiny freezer. So banana bread is, in effect, helping my Almost Marriage run smoothly.

Banana bread recipes are a dime a dozen. I've tried so many, some calling for rum or coconut, peanut butter or cocoa powder. I've also tried some of the healthier ones, subbing with whole wheat flour, using applesauce in place of some of the oil. But I've never found one that has the right consistency and taste; a meeting place of not-quite-cake pillowy texture and a hint of sweetness that doesn't overpower.

But here, here is the recipe that satisfies, that meets its full potential on its own, but could also invite a smear of butter or a dab of cream cheese on a slice in more decadent moments. I've used this recipe from the wonderful Smitten Kitchen but made a couple of changes because I don't have bourbon. In fact, I am so liquor illiterate that I had to ask Almost-Husband what the difference between bourbon and whiskey was, and whether I could use whiskey instead. And then I thought about it. Would I want whiskey in my banana bread? And the answer was no. I also reduced the amount of sugar to 1/2 a cup, because I like my loaves a bit less sweet than most recipes call for, but feel free to bump it up to 3/4 - 1 cup if you so choose.

Smitten Kitchen Banana Bread, as adapted from Simply Recipes:

3-4 ripe bananas
1/3 cup salted butter, melted
3/4 - 1 cup brown sugar (I used 1/2 cup and found it just lovely!)
1 egg, beaten lightly
1 tsp vanilla
1 tablespoon of bourbon (I skipped this step - see above)
1 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
1 tsp cinnamon (I used 1/2 tsp for a more subtle spiciness)
1/2 tsp nutmeg
pinch of ground cloves (I skipped this; I didn't have any)
1 1/2 cups of flour

1. Mash the bananas in a large bowl. Melt the butter and incorporate into the banana mash. Add the brown sugar, egg, vanilla, and bourbon; then the spices, and mix in. Then add the salt and baking soda and mix. Add the flour last and stir till just combined.

2. Pour mixture into an oiled/ buttered loaf pan and bake at 350
°F for about 50 minutes or until a tester knife comes out clean.

***My loaf was ready in about 40 minutes and I had to turn the heat down to 300
° F due to my stove's whimsical nature regarding temperature.