Monday, October 28, 2013

Chocolate granola with hazelnut and puffed cereal -- a.k.a. the best chocolate granola

Sadly, most people do not know the secret of granola-making. It is so easy that I am shocked that my peers would rather shell out the hefty sum that granola tends to cost in the supermarket than spend a half-hour whipping up something splendidly custom-tailored to their tastes. So allow me to inform you how to turn a couple dollars of ingredients into a huge, tasty batch of granola.

The basic components to granola making are oatmeal, nuts and/or dried fruit, and that special sauce that may be more properly termed as the glaze. The glaze is made up of two main components -- fat and sugar, in whatever form your heart desires, and, if you like, a bit of flavoring like spices, jams, or if you're feeling dangerous like I was today, chocolate. The possibilities are basically endless here.

Today, I was tempted by the chocolate chips in my pantry as well as some delicious hazelnuts I recently found for very cheap calling to me. I have made granola for years now, and letting my creative juices flow has ended in some pretty odd granola flavors (maple blueberry, anyone?). I have also not been shy in using unconventional ingredients, like dehydrated sprouted buckwheat or quinoa, or pumpkin purée. And now I think I have bested myself, in an ultimate apex of tastiness and creativity. I give you: chocolate hazelnut multigrain granola.

This idea of chocolate granola got stuck in my head from a muesli cereal I used to buy from Leader Price (pronounced leedare puhriiice) when I lived in Guadeloupe. I had to stop myself from buying it at the store because once it got home, the entire bag would be consumed immediately. This recipe might be even better than that cereal, so beware!

My recipe includes puffed whole grain cereal; and if you've never tried puffed grains before, you're really missing out. Think rice krispies, but made of all kinds of lovely grains like rye, barley, triticale, and buckwheat. It really adds that extra crunch that regular granola is missing, so I highly recommend tracking some puffed grains down for use in your future granola endeavors. And give oat bran a try, too; it really helps form those clumps that everyone looks for in the perfect granola, all the while adding some extra fiber. But feel free to add or omit anything to your taste! Granola-making allows for near-complete customization with no hiccups whatsoever, as long as you stick including the basic components.

Chocolate granola with hazelnut and puffed cereal

1 cup rolled oats
1 cup puffed whole grains (I used Kashi 7 Whole Grain Puffs Cereal)
.5 cup oat bran
1 cup chopped hazelnuts, walnuts, and almonds
1 handful dried black currant or chopped dried apricot

1/2 cup turbinado sugar simple syrup (1:1 sugar/water boiled down)
1 handful of chocolate chips
1 T cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 stick butter
2 T olive oil

Combine dry ingredients in bowl and toss thoroughly. Combine glaze ingredients in small pot and allow to melt together very slowly on low heat, being extremely careful not to overcook or boil, while stirring constantly. Prepare glaze to taste. Pour glaze in stages over dry mixture until thoroughly moist but not wet (be careful to not overdress -- you may have some leftover, depending). Arrange mixture flat onto a cookie sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes at 300 degrees. Allow to cool and store in a ziplock bag, large jar, or other receptacle of your choice. Makes many, many servings.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Yassa au poulet : chicken with onion, mustard, lemon, and vegetables

I was fortunate enough to be able to spend 4 months in Dakar, Senegal during college. West Africa, to me, is a seriously amazing place. I was comfortable there in a way I'm not sure I've ever felt anywhere else, and I nearly constantly feel the pull to make my way back there.

In Senegal, generally, there aren't really any grocery stories of any kind. There was one French supermarket near downtown that was very expensive and seemed to only be frequented by French ex-pats. For the most part, people bought all their food supplies at small boutiques and farmer's market-type stands on the side of the road. Every night on the way home from school (and after walking several miles), it became a habit of mine to buy a huge bag of local papaya or mango and gorge myself when I got home as I waited for the late French-style dinner. 

There is nothing like buying your food directly from people, feeling for soft spots, and bargaining for a good price. The sellers I habitually bought from got used to me, and came to remember that I liked my fruit a little overripe and would always offer me a good deal on the stuff that was about to go. Everything there felt more real, connections were tangible, people I didn't know remembered my face. I think it is the kind of life we were meant to live.

One thing I loved about Senegalese cuisine was that it was an entirely new food paradigm for me: meat + vegetable + flavoring, simmer, serve over a starch. Simple, easy, and all-encompassing. When I got home, and after some tinkering, I was able to replicate two dishes in particular that were my favorites, yassa poulet and mafé. Yassa, a very popular dish made of a broth of chicken, onions, lemon juice, and dijon mustard, may sound weird at first, but with simmering, it turns into something seriously delightful. I hope you'll give it a try, and I'll have to post my recipe for mafé sometime soon; it's a spicy peanut sauce that is a crowd favorite at potlucks.

Yassa au poulet

4 chicken thighs
5 large white or yellow onions, sliced
chicken bouillion or broth (both preferred)
1/3 cup dijon mustard, to taste
1/3 cup lemon juice, to taste
3 tbsp peanut oil or 1 tbsp peanut butter (both preferred)
1 habanero pepper
3 carrots
1 small yucca root
1/2 small cabbage
black pepper

Heat peanut oil or butter in a very large soup pot or dutch oven and add sliced onions. Cook until translucent or caramelized. Add chicken broth until onions are covered.

Heat a non-stick pan with a bit of frying oil until water pops in the pan. Salt and pepper both sides of the thighs and leave them in the pan until a nice brown crust forms from the high heat (this is called searing). Remove from pan and submerge the thighs under the onions in the soup pot so they may simmer and cook fully.

Chop carrots and yucca in to 3-4 inch sections. Quarter cabbage; if you cut through the stem the sections from the bottom half will stay together as one unit while simmering. Add vegetables and the habanero pepper (you may want to wrap it in cheesecloth for easy removal and to avoid over-spicing). Add broth so that all ingredients are covered and may simmer properly.

Add lemon juice, dijon, and if using, a spoon of peanut butter and stir. Add bouillion, nutmeg, and pepper, to taste. Allow the mixture to simmer heartily for 30 mins, and check the spice level from the habanero. Continue to check the spice level until desired, and remove habanero. Let simmer, covered for 2 hours and with lid cocked the last hour. Three hours of total simmering seems to be the magic number, and the flavor suddenly stops tasting weird and turns awesome. Add more dijon or lemon juice to taste, and serve over rice.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Asparagus, spring mix, black bean, and pepita salad with simple avocado dressing

I have loved to be creative with salads this summer. I believe there is no need to constrict our salad-making to lettuce with random vegetables and store-bought dressing. It is so much tastier, and satisfying, to combine a bunch of interesting ingredients that work together to create something fantastic. I love using uncommon salad additions such as beans, nuts and seeds, grains, and cheeses. Here is one of the results of my effort to spruce up my salad life, inspired by the creamy goodness of avocado.

The dressing I created for this recipe is a bit more complicated, mexican-inspired version of an extremely simple avocado dressing I use often for packed lunches. Simply pack a whole avocado with a knife, and a small container with a spoon of mayo and salt and pepper. At lunch, simply slice the avocado and spoon out the good stuff, and mash together. Cutting the avocado at lunch prevents browning and preserves the avocado's taste. And there's nothing simpler and healthier than putting vegetables on vegetables!

Asparagus, spring mix, black bean, and pepita salad

fresh asparagus
spring mix
black beans, prepared
sliced onion

avocado dressing
1 avocado
1 tbsp sour cream
1 tsp lime juice
1 clove garlic
smoked paprika

Cut asparagus into 1-2 inch segments, and steam lightly until tender, but not limp. Drop into cold water to stop cooking and to quickly chill. Combine salad ingredients. 

Combine dressing ingredients in food processor. Blend. Serve over salad.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Savory pear tart with gorgonzola and caramelized onion (raw-inspired)

One of my new favorite things to experiment with this summer has been pear. Their flavor is subtle, but distinctive. They are such versatile fruits for cooking with, and can add a very unique element to all kinds of dishes, savory or sweet. As you may know, pear with certain cheeses is a classic pairing, and you can find the combination often in such things as adventurous pizza recipes. 

But I became intrigued by the idea of a savory tart from a series by Tastemade on Youtube called Raw. Vegan. Not gross. In one video, Laura Miller makes a savory tomato tart, with mock savory custard and all. While my tart is neither raw nor vegan, I hope she can appreciate my creative divergence. 

I combined lightly roasted pear with caramelized onion, fresh basil, and gorgonzola cheese, dressed with a sweet and sour white balsamic vinegar reduction. Though it is a bit rich with all the walnuts and cheese, I hope you'll enjoy this treat as much as I did. 

Savory pear tart with gorgonzola and caramelized onion

1.5 c walnuts
.5 T nutritional yeast
1 T olive oil
pinch salt

1.5c walnuts, soaked overnight, water drained
.5 T lemon juice or white balsamic
.5 T olive oil
.5 T nutritional yeast (optional)
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
pinch salt
white pepper

2 ripe pears
1/4 cup crumbled gorgonzola cheese
1 medium caramelized onion
few leaves fresh basil

balsamic reduction
.5 cup white balsamic vinegar
1 tsp dried sage leaf
white pepper

Combine crust ingredients in food processor. Pulse gradually, favoring the retention of some texture. Press into your tart tin (I used a spring-form pan) and bake at 200 degrees for 2 hours. Slice pear thinly or with the use of a mandoline, season lightly with salt and white pepper, and bake for 30-40 minutes along with the crust, until tender.

Combine filling ingredients in food processor. Process to a smooth consistency. Remove s-blade and fold in crumbled gorgonzola with a spatula.

Slice onion thinly and caramelize slowly with a dash of oil in a skillet on low. Season with salt and pepper lightly. Slice basil into ribbons.

While caramelizing onions, combine balsamic reduction ingredients in a small pot and boil gradually until reaching a honey-like consistency, being careful to stir often and not allow burning. Allow to cool.

The crust fully baked, add the filling to the tin and level with spatula. Lay pear slices on top and sprinkle with caramelized onion and sliced basil. Drizzle with white balsamic reduction. May be enjoyed chilled, warm, or heated.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Savoy cabbage and apple spiced sweet slaw

Can I just say I love my mandoline? With a dearth of kitchen utensils, it's easy to convince yourself you don't need another one, so I put off picking one up for a long time. But now that I have it, I can't believe I ever lived without a mandoline. It slices right through the bulkiest of vegetables, and even makes matchsticks and french fry shapes. I swear it took me 3 minutes to obliterate an entire head of cabbage into the perfect size for slaw. I'm truly in love!

As the weather gets warmer, I'm really getting into making fresh salads with my own dressings. I've made a ton that I haven't had a chance to post here yet. It's just so darn exciting trying to mix and match flavors, textures, and the cornucopia of plants available for us to eat. Cabbage and apple sounded like a perfect pairing to me, and a beautiful savoy cabbage along with a few nice tart apples to become my first summer slaw.

Believe it or not, when I'm working my kitchen magic, I sort of let the ingredients perk up on the shelves and call out to me, as if they can't wait to join the party of flavors. I must say I ended up with quite a mish-mash of elements in this slaw's dressing, but they really worked, and the flavors weren't overpowering at all. I really wanted something light and sweet, yet creamy and tart. And maybe most importantly, I didn't want anything to overpower the apple; as flavorful as apples can be on their own, when combining them with other foods they can become quite delicate.

If you try this recipe, let me know what you think of what I came up with! I'm not sure I've ever tasted anything quite like it. There's something light and summery about it that I love. It also has a bit of a spiced and sweet flavor, which is unique for slaw, so expect something a bit different!

Savoy cabbage and apple spiced sweet slaw

1 head savoy cabbage (don't confuse it with it's non-crinkly brothers!)
2 medium-sized tart apples (green, or most red varieties besides red delicious)
1 half large yellow or white onion
3/4 cup mayonnaise
3/4 cup sour cream
1/2 cup milk or buttermilk
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp maple syrup
2 Tbsp cane sugar
smoked paprika
black pepper

Grate cabbage into slaw. Cut apple into matchsticks. Slice onion thinly. Toss.

In a separate bowl, combine mayonnaise, sour cream, buttermilk, vinegar, lemon juice, maple syrup, sugar, and spices. Mix and adjust amounts to taste. (Sorry I can't be more specific! Start with a dash of each spice and go from there. Make something that tastes great to you.)

Fold dressing into chopped veg. If you have time, chill, and allow flavors to settle.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Portobello and ricotta open-faced sandwich (vegetarian)

I cannot sing high enough praises for this sandwich. I don't know what to tell you -- all of a sudden one day I had a stroke of genius and it all just fell together as I assembled each facet individually. It's creamy, sweet, acidic, meaty, and cheesy -- all the best things known to man! And perhaps the best thing about it is it's completely meat-free, yet filling enough to satiate even my most carnivorous guests. Also, for the grain-free out there, the bread isn't all that necessary to the amazing combination of flavors; use the tofu slices as bread, and you can join in on the fun, too!

The sandwich is made up of a base of fresh rosemary bread slathered in a ricotta-parmesan spread, topped with fried tofu slices, sautéed portobello mushroom, and caramelized onions. The unifying flavors are fresh basil and red balsamic vinegar. I hope your mouth is watering as much as mine is right now! I'm definitely drooling over here, and I just ate this a few hours ago. Send help!

Every time I make this I remember that it might be the most delicious thing I've ever eaten, and it seems to go over extremely well with whomever I end up serving it to... at least I'm pretty sure it does -- their praise can tend to get muted out by the angel chorus of flavors going on in my mouth at the time. I'm not kidding.

Tonight, I served this with a side of savoy cabbage and apple slaw (the subject of my next blog post) as an early Father's day celebration, but honestly, I could eat this alone, and preferably for the next several months if possible! Seriously, send help! Or an endless supply of portobello mushrooms; either will suffice!

Portobello and ricotta open-faced sandwich

serves 4
1 block extra firm organic tofu
5 large portobello mushroom caps
1 yellow onion
1 loaf rosemary bread
1.5 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1/2 cup Ranch dressing
fresh or dried basil leaves
red balsamic vinegar
smoked paprika
black pepper
sea salt 

Combine ricotta, parmesan, and Ranch dressing in a medium bowl. Season with black pepper and smoked paprika. Fold in sliced basil leaves. Set aside (it will be hard if you snuck a taste!) and allow flavors to mingle.

Slice tofu into thin rectangles about 1/3" thick. Rub each side with sea salt and fry in a non-stick pan with a generous amount of oil until golden. Set on a paper towel to drain and sprinkle with smoked paprika.

Slice onion and thinly and sautée slowly with oil until golden and caramelized. Season with salt and black pepper and add remaining sliced basil until wilted. Set aside.

Slice portobello mushrooms into hearty 1/2 inch slices, and allow to sautée with oil until dark brown and soft all the way through. Season with salt, pepper, and smoked paprika, and toss with 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar (if your vinegar is thick and syrupy sweet) or 1 Tbsp (if your vinegar isn't sweetened) and sprinkle with a bit of sugar. 

Toast rosemary bread to desired toastiness. I like to allow my guests to construct the sandwich themselves, starting with a base of bread, topped with the ricotta spread, tofu slices, mushrooms, and onions. Enjoy the impending bursts of pleasure in your mouth. You're welcome!