Thursday, July 16, 2009

Best Granola Ever

I think I'll look back on my twenties and remember them as the decade that I fell madly in love with breakfast. I don't ever really remember caring that much for breakfast up until these last few years. To be honest, I also didn't care that much for mornings! Now, I like them quite a bit and have become somewhat of an early bird. The thing about breakfasts is that once you start having them regularly, you usually wake up hungry for them. Then... you're hooked.

Maybe there is just something about the kinds of food we eat in the morning hours. Though there is nothing wrong with cold pizza or pasta salad. I've certainly been known to go down that road. The morning time is fresh and perky, looking out at a day full of possibilities and goodness. I'm a big dreamer and idealist (sometimes to a fault) so these early hours of the day cater to my personality. Not only the day has many possibilities, but so does breakfast. There are so many items to consider and all of them perfectly fabulous. Start with your beverage. Would you like to start gently with hot water and lemon? A big glass of water is always healthy. Coffee. Black with just enough cream and brown sugar? Iced and milky with caramel? Though that's usually best in the afternoon. Juices? Perhaps a dainty glass of ice cold orange juice? Maybe you're a meal in a cup type and smoothie is on your agenda? I'm getting excited already and we've only covered drinks!

Let's move to the food portion of this topic. Depending on what's in your fridge and pantry and what's going through your food mind, there are so many great places to go. I usually find my body knows just what it wants. Usually it wants a lighter breakfast, relatively speaking I suppose. I don't do non-fat dairy or even close to it so my term 'light' could be a grey area. As featured here, I just love tart, unsweetened yogurt topped with granola and fresh fruit. It's filling, creamy, refreshing, and full of tastes and texture. My favorite yogurt for this purpose is Annie's Plain Whole Milk Yogurt with Honey. You can find it in huge tubs which provides for many and many quick breakfasts.

I'm also a huge fan of eggs. I love them scrambled with with vegetables like onions, broccoli, and peppers and then served along side a small quesadilla. Poached perfectly and laid over salmon-cream cheese-covered crostini with fresh fruit on the side. You can always scramble them into a little round and put them between a gourmet English muffin with pesto, provolone, ham, and thinly sliced red bell peppers or anything else you feel like. One of my favorite pairings is a warm, fresh scone with cream and jam served with scrambled eggs and fruit. One day, I'll make my Sunday Eggs and share that with you as well.

Are you with me yet on how fantastic breakfast is? We are near the end but I've saved the best for last. While I don't eat these delights very often, they really are the grand climax of breakfast. They bring everything together in one giant swoop. A rich, indulgent, sweet & savory morning time culinary gold mine. You can pair them with salty, rich breakfast meats when you really want to go all out. Which we do once in a while... Okay, let's get started. Pancakes. Love them. I make some out-of-this-world buttermilk flapjacks. That would be our go-to. I also have a really great whole grain recipe from Martha Stewart. To balance that, I also have a favorite, very indulgent recipe from Gourmet that calls for loads of butter and results in a very beautiful, thin and crepe-like pancake which is perfect for special occasions. My favorite topping for all of these cakes is fresh fruit compotes and vanilla bean whipped cream. I also love sweet, gooey fruit jams smeared all over the top. Let's not even get started with the thought of Creme Brulee French Toast. Or thick Belgian waffles. Or pastries. Croissants! Dutch babies with lots of butter, fresh lemon juice, and confectioner's sugar. With all these choices, I must admit I rarely make room for oatmeal of cold cereal... Can you hardly blame me?!

Now that I've taken you on the breakfast tour of delights, let's get back to this granola. I do things a little differently but I thought I should honor the recipe of origin. The biggest change I make is to cook the granola at a much lower temperature that doesn't require stirring or overly brown as easy, also, this makes the granola a giant block which means huge, crunchy chunks which is what you want. It's also just a lot easier. I would say set the oven to 200-225' and watch it. It will really harden and crisp up out of the oven also. You want a light golden color. This batch I shot went a bit over... Enjoy!

Really Good Granola
adapted from Ina Garten

Homemade Granola

4 cups (14 oz.) rolled oats
2 cups (6.5 oz.) sweetened, shredded coconut
2 cups (6.75 oz.) sliced almonds
½ cup (4 oz.) vegetable oil
2/3 cup (7.25 oz) honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon sea salt or 1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 heaping cup (5.25 oz.) dried cherries or cranberries ( I like combining bright orange apricots, blueberries, and cherries or cranberries)

candied nuts (recipe below)

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. In a large bowl, combine oats, coconut and almonds and gently stir or toss with your hands to mix well. In a small saucepan, combine oil, honey, vanilla and salt and heat for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring to emulsify slightly. Pour over the oat mixture and with a spatula stir until evenly coated. Spread onto a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and stir well. Return to the oven and bake for 5 minutes. Stir well again. Repeat twice more until the granola is golden — be very careful at the end: The coconut will burn easily, leaving the granola with a bitter, burnt taste. Remove pan from the oven, place on a cooling rack and leave undisturbed until completely cool, at least one hour. Meanwhile prepare the nuts:

Candied Nuts:
neutral oil such as canola or vegetable
1/3 cup sugar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1½ cups raw, unsalted cashews
1½ cups raw, unsalted almonds (skin on)

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Oil a rimmed baking sheet.

In a small saucepan, combine sugar with ¼ cup water, the salt and cinnamon and bring to a boil. Add the nuts and let the mixture simmer for one minute, stirring constantly to coat them with the syrup. Remove the nuts with a slotted spoon and spread them on the prepared baking sheet — don’t be tempted to drizzle the excess syrup on the baking sheet as well (it will just burn). Bake for 15 minutes, stir and return to the oven until golden and crisp, about another five minutes. Remove pan from the oven and place on a cooling rack to cool, about an hour.

To finish the granola:

Using a bench scraper, carefully remove the granola from the pan and transfer to a bowl, keeping the granola in chunks as best as possible. Add the nuts to the bowl, breaking up the mass into small clusters. Add the dried fruit and toss mixture lightly to combine. Transfer to an airtight container to store.

Pioneer Woman's Potato Salad

It's approaching midnight here, I've got a bit more energy to give and I can't think of a better thing to do than think on potato salad. Who doesn't like potato salad? Anyone? I suppose there are those weird people out there who don't like mayonnaise or things that are creamy. I've never understood these types of folks. You know, those people who say, "I just really don't care for cheese of any kind." Or even worse, they casually murmur, "I'm not really a sweets person..." I guess truth be told, sometimes I wish I was one of those people, my waistline would thank me. But then I'd be one of those people and I hardly know which one is worse! But if you can stomach mayonnaise and like potatoes then I think we can both agree that potato salad can be wonderful. It should be wonderful. Of course it isn't always. Potato salad really must be homemade. It should also be made by someone who cares for it with passion. Anyone can throw together a potato salad, but the right person makes it great. I've decided to be one of those people.

I came across the Pioneer Woman's blog quite some time ago while on the quest for a fantastic homemade ranch dressing recipe. I guess it was quite fitting to find a killer ranch recipe on the Pioneer Woman's site. Pioneers, ranch... they go together, yeah? It was a killer recipe and I along with thousands and thousands of others frequent her site regularly. She does it all. Home schools, cooks, makes art, etc. And she makes it all look incredible. She's pretty much the pioneer of Awesome. She's super mom and wonder woman.

When I saw a potato salad she featured here I was sold. I liked this recipe for a couple of reasons. For one, you put the potatoes through a ricer or food mill. We all know that most potato salads call for one to cook the potatoes perfectly in order to keep their shape when cubed and be cooked through but not mushy. It's a bit of a balancing act! So to have a recipe deliberately turn the potatoes to a fine mash was intriguing to say the least. Also, it's just a really basic recipe. Mayonnaise, pickles, boiled eggs, scallions, mustard. That's practically it. It's a purists salad. The thing with potato salads is that most of them are truly pretty similar. They just are. To make one really unique and have it stand out, I think you have to consider adding some interesting ingredients. Caramelized onions (which I've done), olives, yogurt, bleu cheese, red pepper flakes, celery, bacon, or dill. The list really could go on and on. A bit like I'm doing! This is a good salad. Hands down. I like the creamy texture and simplicity. It's straight forward and classic. If you want something fancier play around with some of those other ingredients. I think some fresh parsley would be nice here. And you simply must sprinkle in some good old fashioned white sugar. Before I go, I'd love to hear some of your most beloved go-to Potato Salad recipes...

Classic Potato Salad
adapted from The Pioneer Woman

5 pounds russet potatoes (about 8 medium russets)
1 1/2 cups real mayonnaise (NOT Miracle Whip)
4-5 tablespoons prepared mustard (regular, Dijon, or a mixture of both)
5 green onions, sliced up to the darkest green part
8 small sweet pickles (or dill if you prefer)
1 teaspoon kosher salt (more to taste)
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 T. sugar
4 hard boiled eggs, coarsely chopped
Fresh dill or parsley

Cut potatoes in halves or thirds, then boil until fork tender. Drain.
Mash potatoes or run them through a ricer or food mill to make them extra fluffy.
Fold potatoes together with mayonnaise, mustard, green onions, salt, pepper, and other seasonings you like. Fold in pickles and eggs, then taste for seasonings, adding more salt, mustard, or mayo as needed. You may also splash in juice from the pickle jar if salad needs a little moisture.

Enjoy, friends! And get to me about your favorite versions! That's an order! : )

Monday, July 06, 2009

To Market, To Market

To Market, To Market is one of my favorite episodes of Sex and the City. If you haven't ever seen the show it would be a great place to start! Season 5, I believe? Well, this post has nothing else to do with Sex and the City but it does have everything to do with a market. Here in Bellingham where I live, I think we have a pretty decent Farmer's Market. It has lots and lots of produce, flowers, handmade items, and yummy, yummy food.

Another great thing about it is that it's only about three blocks from my house. I went this last weekend with my dear sister Tara. We stopped in at a produce stall of her friends, a beautiful gal with awesome scrolly tattoos on her feet and ankles and the hands of someone who works in the earth. I was impressed. Also, I think she had the best looking produce in the whole market. The way it was displayed had something do with it, but I think what really pushed it over the top was that everything was wet and shiny and just glistened in the bright sunlight. Unfortunately, you can't really tell from my photos!

Don't you just love pretty little bushels of radishes? And sweet onions? Those are fabulous just thinly sliced and stuck between two pieces of bread with mayo...

Curly, tangly squash blossoms. I should have bought some...

A tostada, enchilada, and rice from one of the vendors. This plate was on display. I love the three tostada plate for five or six bucks. Fresh, crispy corn tortillas with lots of beans, fresh cabbage, pico de Gallo, and lots of cotija cheese. They are so balanced and refreshing. If only everyone would make their salsa without cilantro for me. Is that too much to ask? Okay, I suppose it is. It sure would make my life a lot easier though! I guess I'm pretty lucky if I actually consider dealing with cilantro and the task of avoiding it a major life crisis. I'll stop whining now.

The couple that mans this stall with all the dirt and flower-stuffed boots and tea pots also sells the most beautiful eggs. Little cartons filled with eggs big and small, brown, blue and green, sometimes I even get lucky and find a couple wispy little feathers on one. I always like that. One Saturday the lady told me all about how I would go about setting up some chickens in my back yard and how they really aren't hard to look after, that a big bag of feed is only about ten dollars and would last two months at least. I knew my husband was wrong. If only I had a backyard, there would be chickens.

Now onto a stall that belongs to another one of my sister's friends, Azizi Tookas. He runs the Brandywine Kitchen company and is known for growing some of the best heirloom tomatoes around. You may recall that Brandywine's are some one of the most prevalent heirloom toms. If you're starting to gather that she knows a lot of cool people you're right. She's got ins with some of the most creative folks in town. They make their own baguettes the night before and use the freshest and best ingredients possible. This particular one is locally smoked-salmon and quinoa croquettes with lettuce, tomato, and a wonderfully flavorful roasted red pepper sauce. Really, really good.

I couldn't resist throwing in this shot of my precious little nephew. I wish the market sold some of those!

A Delicious Mistake

Usually when a boo-boo occurs in the kitchen it's just that: a flop, disaster, waste, blunder, the list goes on... But every now and then it turns out to be a surprising and delicious delight!

This last weekend I was preparing some dessert components for a party (whipping cream in this instance) and had my sister and nephew over. My one-year old and adorable nephew Charlie was having a hay day in my kitchen, he was taking full advantage of the more unfamiliar kitchen that his own and had his chubby little hands in everything. He was taking cans off the shelf and placing them here and there all over the floor, he found my baking collection and all kinds of other goodies. I was also fixing my sister a french press and had a pint of half and half out on the counter for her, deciding to add more creme to the mixer I accidentally picked up the full pint of half and half and dumped it right into my mixer without even thinking! I didn't even realize what I had done until the 'cream' just wasn't setting up after about five minutes on the highest setting and had started splattering all over the place. I was slightly devastated because my trifle really needed more body from the cream and I didn't have time to run to the store to buy more. It ended up being okay and thankfully my sister was here to reassure me and even more thankful that she asked to put some of the frothy concoction in her coffee.

So, if you feel like having something terribly delicious to add into your coffee, tea, or even over fresh sliced peaches or berries just mix up about equal parts regular whipping cream and half and half. It's thick, creamy, frothy, and rich and I love how it pours. When you pour it to your coffee it just feels divinely sinful. I should add that when putting it in your coffee add an equally indulgent spoonful of brown sugar to make a most-wonderful milky and caramelized cup of café!