Homemade (Nut Free) Granola

Let’s see….on a sunny mountain during spring downhill skiing, in the car with your girlfriends on the way to your X-C ski weekend, on your next flight somewhere, on a warm rock during a great hike, on the field after your kid’s (or your) <insert sport here> game, in your kid’s lunchbox, at the kitchen table after school, on top of yogurt for breakfast…. there are so many ways to enjoy granola! And a myriad of ways you can personalize it. It’s so much cheaper to make it yourself than to get store-bought. For me, with nut allergies, store-bought granola is generally a no-go so I didn’t grow up eating it and have only recently been turned onto it.

The ingredients are as complex or simple as you’d like them. I started with 5-Grain rolled hot cereal, but you can use plain rolled oats of course.

Most people would add sliced or whole almonds, walnuts, peanuts etc, but since that won’t work for the nut-challenged, I discovered that roasted soy nuts work very well. They’re not really nuts, just roasted and salted soybeans. (Of course, that won’t work for the soy-challenged, but hey, I can’t please everyone!!)

Dried fruit adds different textures and interest. I used dried blueberries and cranberries. Shaved coconut would be a good addition too.

But what makes is really great, and super clumpy and cluster-y is the use of peanut butter (soy nut butter for me). I got the idea from Dinner with Julie. When you pour the melted nut butter over the cereal just work it in a little bit and you’ll get these awesome clumps which makes it great for snacking by the handful. Like this:

If you like your granola finer use a bit less nut butter and honey and keep working it in until it gets distributed more evenly. Like this:

Then bake it until it gets toasty. When it’s still hot, pour on the dried fruit and nuts and stir it around before letting it cool.

If you really want it to be a decadent snack with your fave tv show a good energy boost during your long, difficult hike, scatter chocolate chips over it when it’s still hot in the pan. O..M..G.

Let it cool completely and then store it. Everyone stores their granola in 1950’s bar ware, right?

Homemade Granola (Nut Free)

The amounts below will make your granola pretty clumpy. You could make it less clumpy by using about 1/3 cup soynut/peanut butter and 1/4 cup honey. Also, my soynut butter is sweetened already so I tend to use less..some recipes call for both honey and brown sugar. If you use unsweetened PB, you may want to add a bit more. The recipe below is certainly not cloyingly sweet by any means.

3 cups 5-grain rolled cereal/rolled oats
1 cup small pieces of dried fruit
1/2 cup whole roasted soy nuts (or whole or slivered tree nuts)
1/2 cup soy nut butter/peanut butter
1/3 cup honey (it’s also yummy with maple syrup)

In a small saucepan over med-low heat, slowly melt the soynut butter (peanut butter) and warm the honey. In the meantime, dump the rolled cereal/oats in a large mixing bowl. Add shredded coconut if you’re using it. When the nut butter and honey are all liquid-y, pour it over the cereal and stir to combine. When as well distributed as you’d like, spread it out on a cookie sheet with sides.

Bake at 350° for about 20-30 min or until golden, depending on your oven. Take out of the oven and sprinkle the dried fruit and soynuts and stir them in while the granola cools. If you scatter chocolate chips over the top at this point, leave them for a minute or two so they melt over the granola. Swirl them around over the top of the granola with a knife and then leave it to cool completely (it shouldn’t look shiny at all). It will kill you to not eat any at this point but trust me, you do not want all that good melted chocolate going to waste smeared on the pan. You can always stick the pan in the fridge to speed it up if you are so impatient! Store in your favourite container on the counter.

Crazy Gingerbread Family

Life, work travel, failed recipes and/or crappy photos have been interfering with my blogging lately!! But daylight savings has kicked in (natural light- yay!), and I’m trying my brother’s camera so that certainly helps! May have to invest in a little artificial light that looks natural though….but I’m kind of amazed at the good photos I’ve been able to take just with my li’l old iPhone. I haven’t quite found the right balance between fun hobby and obsession yet though. Seems I’m quite good at neglecting my family while dinner gets cold as I’m trying for the best shot! But I try to make it up to them by spending a lot of time reading to Ev after dinner.

I can’t tell you how many different gingerbread men books we’ve been reading lately. Evan keeps bringing them home from school, plus we have the lovely Jan Brett version, The Gingerbread Baby. So it’s kind of all gingerbread all the time these days! But hey, if he’s willing to practice reading, we’ll sit through another story! So naturally when I asked him if there was anything special he wanted to do with his Nana at our upcoming visit, he immediately said “make gingerbread men!”

He floured (a bit), rolled (a bit), cut out (a bit) and then announced he was bored.

Note Nearly Headless Nick (we’re also into Harry Potter these days) on the top left. The cookies do swell somewhat in the oven which provided some much needed treatment for our friend NHN, who became just Nick.

Decorating brought him back along with, in typical 7 yo boy fashion, the request to make some of them look creepy or fierce. So Nick ended up with crazy eyes and “blood” dripping from his neck!

Lots of fun and they were delish! Plus I got to eat Smarties, which are NOT the slightly-sour-like-a-SweetTart candies you see at Halloween in the States. No, those are called Rockets, thank you very much. Smarties, for my US friends, are like M&Ms only better. (I’m not biased or anything). Anyway, the cookies were pretty mild as far as gingerbread goes which is good for a younger palate. If you wanted it to be a bit sharper you could use a darker molasses and add more ginger and allspice. You can make the dough ahead of time and keep it in the fridge for a couple of days or freeze it for a couple of weeks if you want.

Adapted from Bon Appetit, Dec 2006, via Epicurious.com

2 1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1/4 cup mild-flavored (light) molasses

Whisk first 6 ingredients in medium bowl and set aside. Beat butter and sugar in large bowl until fluffy, then add in molasses, then add dry ingredients. With your hands, work dough in to four balls and flatten somewhat into discs. Wrap in saran and chill for at least 2 hours and up to 2 days.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment. Roll out relatively thin and cut into shapes. Transfer to cookie sheet and bake until almost firm in the center. In the meantime, gather the scraps and roll out again. At some point the dough will get warm and sticky and will need to be chilled again. Just wrap it back up, put it in the fridge and use another chilled disc in the meantime. Wait until fully cooled to decorate.

Hot Salad

Hot salad. Doesn’t that sound sexy? All right, I’m a geek. I guess you could just called it sautéed vegetables but that sounds so boring…and it also sounds like a side dish. This is a one dish meal. And it made a perfect lunch the other day. My inspiration is a local restaurant called 50 North where they make this wonderful Grilled Steak Salad that I strove to recreate at home. Of course, by the time I got around to making it at home, I couldn’t recall exactly what went into it, except that it had small diced vegetables and potatoes, some sautéed or braised greens, grilled steak on top and a cherry gastrique (a thick sauce made from a reduction of wine or vinegar, sugar, and fruit– I had to look that up…didn’t know what a gastrique was. Now that I know, I need to make it!)

What’s great about this salad is that it’s filling with the potatoes added (and steak if you added that too…I would have, but was working with what I had on hand at the time), but still light. I used onion, zucchini and asparagus, but many others would be great…rainbow carrots, beets, parsnip, snow peas…. The vegetables and potato are finely diced then sautéed briefly.

The pan is deglazed with some wine (because cooking is always better with wine, right?), the greens added along with broth and cooked until they are wilted and everything is tender.

I threw in some dried cranberries for the sweetness the gastrique would have provided. Voilà . Super easy.

Hot Salad
inspired by Grilled Steak Salad at 50 North

3 cups finely diced vegetables (zucchini, carrot, asparagus, beet, snow peas…whatever)
3-4 cups fresh baby spinach (or swiss chard or kale*)
1 cup finely diced new potato
1/2 cup finely diced red onion or shallot
1/3 cup dry white wine
2/3 cup broth
1/2 cup dried cranberries
salt and pepper to taste

*if using kale, chop roughly with a knife into small pieces and then scrunch it up in your hands to bruise it a bit before cooking.

Sauté the vegetables and potato in butter/oil/both for a few minutes on medium-high, until very bright in colour. If using asparagus, just do the stalks for now, save the tips to add later.

Deglaze with the wine and let it sizzle for a couple of minutes, toss in the cranberries and the asparagus tips if using, give a good grind pepper and a sprinkle of coarse salt. Then pile on the spinach or chard and pour the broth over the whole thing. Cover until greens start to wilt. Stir to combine and let bubble until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Serve hot on its own or with sliced grilled steak over top.

Cauliflower Two Ways

As a method of giving a 7 year old with a persnickety palate a measure of control, Thursday nights are Evan’s-Choice-Dinner-Night at our house. And no matter what he chooses, we honor that. We did lay a ground rule that we would not be having just candy or cookies for dinner, but that’s pretty much the only rule. We’ve been doing this for about a year now and E really looks forward to it. Initially, he tried to come up with really ‘grown up’ meals that he liked. The very first week, he decided we would have fried polenta, spinach (raw, dipped in dressing) and he and Bob would have grilled salmon while I had lamb. Impressive eh?

He sliced the polenta (the tube variety), carefully put it in the frying pan, put the spinach on everyone’s plate and helped Bob prepare the salmon. He (E) was soooo proud of himself and we all had a great time making dinner together. We had that same meal a few weeks in a row and then it occurred to him that it truly was up to him and so all of a sudden we were having pancakes or scrambled eggs (well, they would eat the eggs and I’d have to ask Evan what I was going to have….usually a bowl of cereal or something). Still, not unreasonable….who says you can’t have breakfast for dinner?

And then….one night last summer, after soccer, it became Pagliacci pizza night. It’s been there ever since. Half cheese, half veggie. Guess whose is whose! I love pizza as much as anyone but it’s getting kinda boring. It’s been so many months that the Pagliacci delivery guy (and it’s always a guy it seems) frequently shows up with the usual and announces that it’s on the house. I think we’re their best customers.

But tonight I made a request of E that we also have some cauliflower that needed to be used up.

Cauliflower can be pretty meh but I bought it thinking “we should eat more cauliflower for a change because I know it’s good for you”. There’s a lot of good stuff in cauli, despite looking so innocuous. You can find out just how good for you here (super cool site called NutritionData). Plus, I was enticed by the pretty green cauli in the store. Didja know that green cauliflower has more protein than white (www.usda.gov)? Can’t wait for purple to hit the produce aisle again. And orange cauli has a boatload more vitamin A than white. If you slice it from the top down like a loaf you get these lovely fans.

The flowerettes need to be tight for this to work and the green one I bought was looser so we cut little trees instead.

Here are two dynamite methods for making cauliflower. The green ones were tossed in olive oil, coarse salt and pepper before roasting and grating Parmesan on them and putting them under the broiler to melt it. It got all cheesy and crispy and salty. I’m drooling just writing about it. The flat white fans were brushed with a honey-mustard dressing I whisked together and they were tender but not falling apart and the honey had caramelized in the oven. Delish!

Ev agreed to us having cauliflower, and even managed to try some. And then he went back for more pizza.

Crispy Parmesan Cauliflower and Honey Mustard Roasted Cauliflower
Crispy parmesan option adapted from Dinner with Julie

Cut cauliflower into flowerettes or slice into fans. Lightly spray baking sheet with olive oil Pam.
Option 1: Toss (or brush) cauliflower with olive oil. Spread out on baking sheet and sprinkle with coarse salt and a grind of pepper.
Option 2: Toss (or brush) cauliflower with honey mustard dressing (below) or your favourite store-bought version. Spread out on baking sheet and sprinkle with coarse salt and a grind of pepper

Roast at 400˚F (time will depend on your oven; mine took about 15 minutes).
For Option 1 take out when it’s starting to brown but edges aren’t too crispy. Finely grate Parmesan cheese and finish under the broiler until cheese is melted and edges are crisp.
For Option 2: Roast until browned.
Serve immediately.

Quick Honey Mustard Sauce
1 tbsp smooth dijon mustard
1 tbsp (generous) liquid honey
olive oil
Whisk mustard and honey (add more of each to suit your taste). Drizzle in just enough olive oil to thin the sauce.