Homemade Granola — The Perfect Weekday Breakfast

Maple Pecan Granola

I love granola and so does Neri.  We eat it for breakfast with milk, soy milk or yogurt  and on Greek yogurt with fruit and honey for dessert or as a late afternoon snack. There is something much more satisfying about the taste of homemade granola.  The problem with store-bought granola–too many fillers like puffed rice, too few nuts and dried fruit pieces and often, too many artificial ingredients.

Making your own granola is simple, cheaper (generally speaking) and so much healthier for you and the environment. How is this better for you and the environment?

  1. Fewer boxes and bags to toss in the trash.
  2. Increases your daily consumption of whole foods–no fillers in the homemade version.
  3. Decreases your intake of artificial ingredients and by-product made from soy, corn and other non-food crops that giant corporations produce in excess, making it is in their best interest to promote and encourage the consumption of large quantities of low quality, junk food.

Off the soap-box and into the kitchen…My standard granola recipe was inspired by recipes from Molly Katzen and Martha Stewart.  Cookbooks are a great source of inspiration or an excellent resource to find basic proportions for a specific dish to ensure a more successful recipe born of your own creativity.  This granola is not too sweet, but extremely flavorful.  After making the initial recipe, try experimenting with different rolled grains, nuts, seeds, oils, liquid sweeteners and flavorings.

Homemade granola also makes a great ice cream topping, a quick fruit crisp topping with addition of flour, sweetener and butter or a base for a homemade trail mix.

I use a clay or stoneware dish (Emile Henry or Le Creuset are my favorites) approximately 9 x 12 or larger baker instead of a baking sheet.  You can use rimmed baking sheet, but you will need to watch the granola more carefully to avoid burning the nuts and smaller ingredients.

A clay or other stoneware dish will slowly and more evenly toast the granola than a metal baking sheet.  Set your timer for 5- 10 minute increments to check batch for browning and to toss the grains.  Once you know how your oven works with the recipe you may be able to set the timer for 15 minutes for the first round and then every 10 minutes.

Good luck and don’t be afraid to experiment.

Maple Pecan Granola

  • 3 1/2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/2 cup dried unsweetened flaked or shredded coconut
  • ¼ tsp white sesame seeds (raw not toasted)
  • ¼ tsp sea salt
  • 6 tsp walnut or other nut oil
  • 6 T pure maple syrup
  • 1-2 tsp pure vanilla extract

1.  Preheat oven 325℉.

2. Using a large bowl, mix together the dry ingredients. Add the wet ingredients and gently toss together until dry ingredients are thoroughly coated.

3. Spread mixture evenly in a baking dish or rimmed baking sheet.

4. Bake until golden brown. Total time is approximately 20-40 minutes, depending on your oven. For your first batch check every 10 -15 minutes when using the baking dish and every 5-10 minutes with the baking sheet.**

5. After the first 10-15 minutes, toss the grain and spread out evenly as well as rotating the pan to ensure even cooking. Check and toss as necessary. Average time to cook- 30 minutes.

6. Remove when golden brown. Cool completely and store in an air tight container at room temperature.  Will keep up to 2 weeks.

**After gauging your oven’s cooking time you may increase the amount of time between checking the granola.

Meatless Monday–Huevos or Tofu Rancheros with Salsa de Aguacate y Tomatillo

Huevos Rancheros con Salsa de Aguacate

Corn tortillas, leftover pinto beans and a large batch of Salsa de Aguacate quickly become a meatless dinner for two.  Use eggs for a vegetarian version or vegans can substitute pressed and pan fried tofu for the eggs. Either version is a delicious, quick and nutritious Monday night meal. The salsa is a raw version which adds a refreshing component to a normally heavy dish.  Top with roasted peppers or chilies.

SALSA DE AGUACATE

  • 1 medium avocado quartered
  • 3/4 lb of tomatillos quartered
  • 1/2 small white onion-diced
  • 1 small garlic clove
  • 1 jalapeño seeded
  • 1/4 tsp salt and sugar
  • 1/4 c cold water
  • 1/2 c cilantro roughly chopped
  • 1 small lime juiced

Place sugar, salt, garlic, onion and lime juice in food processor. Pulse until minced. Scrape down as needed with spatula. Add jalapeño and 1/2 tomatillos, pulse until coarsely chopped. Add 1/2 avocado and 1/2 cilantro, blend until smooth. Add remaining avocado and tomatillos, blend until desired consistency.  If sauce is too thick whisk in cold water 1 T at a time. Chill for 1 hour before serving.  Store for up to 5 days in the refrigerator.

Salsa de Aguacate

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Sesame Buckwheat Noodles— warm or cold, always exquisite and substantial

After a particularly stressful day at work I felt that Neri deserved a big bowl of noodles. Neri loves noodles and could eat them every day of the week if I would let him. Italian dishes dominated our plates earlier in the week and I needed to switch things up.  We still had oyster mushrooms, baby bok choy and red Chinese long beans in the refrigerator from a Farmers’ Market earlier in the week. Time to be creative to avoid wasting any food.

Chinese or Japanese for dinner, I couldn’t decide, so I went with my favorite fusion dish…Sesame Buckwheat Noodles.

I often combine my love of Japanese and Chinese cooking into this one dish that can have endless variations depending on what is in season and currently in my pantry. The basics ingredients that never change are the soba noodles, sesame paste , shichimi togarashi and/or gomasio, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, sugar and either vinegar, mirin or lemon juice–depending on my mood.

Several regions in China have variations of sesame noodle dishes, often made with a wheat noodles such as Dan Dan Mien or Ji Mah Mien.  In Japan, soba or buckwheat noodles are eaten hot or cold served with a broth-like soya (sauce) for dipping and often topped with goma or sesame seeds. Thicker sesame sauces are also used in Japanese cooking for topping vegetables or casserole dishes. My dish is a combination of aspects from both traditions that is easy to make at home and great in hot or cold weather.

NERI’S FAVORITE SESAME NOODLES

Serves 4-6

  • 3 or 4 servings of soba noodles—1 small package or 3 or 4 bundles from a large package
  • 2 to 3 cups of Red Chinese Long Beans cut into 2 in pieces
  • 5 scallions diced
  • 2 T of sesame paste (tahini raw or toasted)
  • 1 T of almond or peanut butter
  • 1 T soy sauce
  • 1 T mirin
  • 1 T sugar or honey
  • 2 tsp grated or finely chopped young ginger
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 T to 3 T of finely chopped shiso or lemon-basil
  • 1 T to 2 T shichimi togarashi -also known as Seven Spice Pepper
  • 1 T sesame oil
  • 1/4c 1/3 c of pasta water

Optional Toppings:  sauteed oyster mushrooms, sauteed bok choy, pressed-flavored tofu), green onions, grated daikon, sesame seeds, gomasio or pickled vegetables.

  1. Place a large pot of water on the stove to boil noodles and parboil red beans.
  2. Rinse and cut vegetables–beans, ginger, garlic, herbs, green onions.
  3. In a large glass bowl add sesame paste, almond butter, soy, mirin, sugar, ginger, garlic and sesame oil.
  4. When water begins to boil, add red beans and gently cook for 5 minutes. Test for tenderness at 3 minutes and cook until fork tender.
  5. Strain beans from water and rinse with cold water. Don’t dump out the water.
  6. Place soba noodles in the boiling water and cook following suggested cooking time on package–time varies depending on buckwheat/wheat ratio and whether they or dry or fresh.
  7. Take 1/4 c of hot water from the pot and whisk with sauce ingredients in your glass bowl.
  8. If sauce is too thick, slowly whisk in more hot water, 1 tablespoon at a time. It should be slightly thinner than honey. Add shichimi togarashi and taste mixture and add additional amounts of ingredients to suit personal preference for sweet, salty and spicy.
  9. Add beans to the sauce, toss gently.  Add herbs and scallions to the mixture.
  10. When the noodles are ready, strain and rinse slightly with cool water.
  11. Toss noodles into bean mixture and sprinkle on additional shichimi togarashi, goma or other toppings.
  12. Serve warm as a one dish meal or with suggested optional toppings.

Great the next day as a cold noodle dish. Allow to sit at room temperature 15 minutes after removing from the refrigerator.

Do Chua–Vietnamese Pickled Daikon Radish and Carrots

Do Chua Jar #1 and Jar# 2

Do Chua are the sweet, slightly sour, crunchy daikon and carrots pickles you find in Vietnamese restaurants. If you still don’t recognize the pickles from the pictures–do you remember the last time you had a Bánh mì?

I have been consuming these delicious tangy, sweet and sour pickles for almost two decades, always wanting more after finishing the small portion on my plate.  Finally, I decided to make a batch and found out how fast and simple they are to prepare at home.  Neri loves these pickles–one of his favorite daily snacks.  Two 1 quart jars last about a month (for two people who really love pickles).  I have now added these to my regular food prep schedule along with homemade granola, yogurt, hummus and salad dressings.

Added bonus– these are low-salt pickles and make a healthy low-calorie snack.  Experimentation is “a-must” after your first batch!  The pictures below may not contain the most traditional versions of these pickles, but they are delicious and maintain that trademark sweet, tangy-sour flavor and refreshing crunch.

Jar #1 is a traditional batch of Do Chua with a twist—garlic and dried chilies.

Jar # 1

Jar # 2 uses the same pickling juice with the addition of green daikon seed pods.  The pods are slightly spicier than daikon radishes but just as delicious.  The pods are also great on salads—egg salad, mesclun, Asian-style salads…use your imagination.  Where do you obtain these crunchy sharp bites of flavor?  Farmers Markets or your own garden if you let a few radishes go to seed.  Remember to collect the pods while they are still green—don’t eat the brown dried pods.

Jar #2 with Green Daikon Seed Pods

I have never seen green daikon seed pods sold anywhere outside the Farmers’ Market.  If you know of another local source, please feel free to share in the comment section below.

Recipe for a packed 1 quart jar:

I have included a basic recipe for Do Chua.  This is my own version after tinkering with several recipes on-line and in cookbooks. Try the first batch without any variations and then experiment to suit your own taste.  This recipe is slightly sweet, so if you want really sweet pickles you may need to add an additional 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup of sugar.

[ Additional water or vinegar may also be needed to completely dissolve the extra sugar]

  • 3 cups of julienned daikon and carrots—peel both vegetables and cut into 1/8 inch matchstick—use more carrots or daikon according to taste
  • 1 tsp of salt–add 2 or 3 more if you want a saltier pickle–but not really necessary.
  • 2 tsp sugar (plus 1/2 to 1 cup of sugar for the brine)
  • 1 1/4  to 2 cups of vinegar–use more vinegar if increasing sugar  (white distilled or rice vinegar—okay one type or to mix )
  • 1 cup of lukewarm water

1. Peel carrots and daikon. Cut into long or short matchsticks—your choice. Place in a large bowl, add 1 tsp salt and 2 tsp of sugar.  Mix salt and sugar into the vegetables with your hands, gently pressing the vegetables to force out excess water. Let the vegetables sit for 4 to 5 minutes and allow the sugar and salt to draw out excess water. When the vegetables soften so you can bend the matchstick to touch both ends together you are ready for the next step. Check both the carrots and daikon matchsticks.

2. Place the carrot/daikon mixture into a quart jar or similar container.  It is okay to gently press down on the vegetables and wiggle the jar to make everything fit.

3. Brine: using the same bowl—pour in the vinegar, warm water and sugar.  Mix until dissolved. A whisk is a good tool to use.

4. Ladle the brine into the jar, covering the vegetables. Marinate for at least 1 hour if you plan on eating them the same day. The pickles keep well for 3-6 weeks and the flavor will decline after the 3rd to 4th week.

Taste best if you let the pickles sit in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours.

STORAGE: You must store these pickles in the refrigerator.  They are NOT shelf stable.  Although the pickles are likely safe after 5 weeks, the flavor will decline and the vegetables will lose their crispness.  Remember if in doubt, throw it out!

NOTE: The garlic/chili version should sit for at least 24-48 hours to allow the garlic and chili to imbue the pickles with their flavor.

Laguna Hills Farmers Market–April 23, 2010

After leaving late and realizing I only had 10 dollars in cash for the market, I finally made it to my Friday morning destination.  This week’s bounty–arugula, red and yellow onions, mesclun, garlic, rapini, cilantro, lemons, kumquats, Asian pears, sugar snap peas, fava beans, avocados and Chinese eggplants. I always hit my 4 favorite vendors first and then look for items they don’t carry elsewhere.  Unfortunately, one of my favorite bakeries in OC, Bread Gallery in San Clemente, does not have a stall at this market. [Gunther and his wife Dawn make some of the best bread]

The amount of  produce at Ha Orchards is slowly shrinking as production slows on the apple and Asian pear trees.  Ha is my favorite purveyor of apples, pears and related jams–growing rare Asian varieties of apples as well as standards such as Fiji and Gala–and not the sand-textured ones available commercially, but red and yellow orbs of juicy, crunchy goodness.

Once you shop at the Farmers Market and grow your own vegetables, the produce at the grocery stores will no longer taste fresh. Even Whole Foods, which has some of the best grocery store produce in OC,  is still “less-than” the produce straight from the farm.

The only thing left to do is to decide what to make with my fresh produce!

Sugar Snap Peas are great fresh and raw.  My favorite recipes for cooked sugar snap peas is simple, easy and delicious.

1/2- 3/4  pound of fresh sugar snap peas

1 T of Meyer Lemon Juice-freshly squeezed

2 T of Extra Virgin Olive Oil-a good bottle from a single olive variety

3 cloves of fresh garlic

Salt/Pepper to taste

1. Whisk together Meyer Lemon juice, EV Olive oil and salt and pepper.  Add finely chopped cloves of garlic. Let stand while cooking peas.

2. Steam or Parboil peas until barely cooked. ( bright green color -2-5 minutes depending on technique)

3. Strain peas and rinse with cold water.

4. Add to dressing, toss and serve.

5. Peas taste great eaten right away, after sitting for a few hours, or heated gently as leftovers.

BONUS RECIPE

Increase the Meyer Lemon juice to 2 T and the EV Olive Oil to 3 T.  Make 2 to 3 servings of pasta and toss with peas and dressing.  Add freshly grated Pecorino or Reggiano cheese.

MMMMMMMMmmmm…fresh, yummy spring in a bowl.

Travel the world through your spice rack.

Ever since I was a child I have been eating my way through the culinary spectrum. Even at the tender age 6, I would eat any vegetable and would try anything that was new and interesting.  Jelly fish, caviar, lobster, venison and even broccoli were devoured and savored. Even now, as a vegetarian of over 20 years, I still find new and interesting things to eat.

 The jewel of my pantry is my spice rack. It contains everything I need to travel to India on one night and to Spain on the next.  There are four staples in my pantry that I am constantly using to enhance my meals. Sumac, Pimenton (Smoked Paprika), Saffron and Hungarian Paprika. I believe that everyone should have these four versatile spices in their pantry.

SUMAC is the bright purple-red berry found on the Rhus coriaria, a bush, that grows wild in the southern Mediterranean and the Middle East. Unlike its toxic cousins, poison sumac and poison ivy, the berry of this rhus plant can be dried and crushed into an edible souring agent. Try it in place of lemon juice, vinegar or other sour flavors in soups, salads, dressings or dry rubs. In the United States this spice is often sprinkled on a Fattoush salad or used as an accent on yogurt or hummus. Persian, Lebanese and Arab restaurants often have a container of sumac sitting along side the salt and pepper shakers. Sumac is great sprinkled on a cucumber salad or to brighten a bowl of canned soup. Try a little with your next meal and experience the versatility of this amazing little berry.

PIMENTON DE LA VERA, a smoked paprika popular in Spanish cooking, is one of the most underrated spices. Recently, this spice has been in the spotlight due to recent interest in food magazines and television. I have been cooking with Pimenton for years. Until the last few years, it was only available in ethnic grocery stores and on-line. This rich, aromatic powder is made from the beautiful pimiento. The pepper is smoked with oak, dried and then ground into a fine powder. This spice like Champagne in France or a regional olive oils in Italy has a PDO or protected designation of origin known as Denominacion de Origen in Spain. This means that only designated growers and spice producers can use this term for their smoked paprika. There are three main types of pimenton: dulce, agriducle and picante (sweet, bittersweet and hot). The hot variety does not have the heat of chilies, but adds a depth of flavor to your dish. Pimenton enhances everything including pan-fried perogies, tofu cutlets, grits, soups and bean dishes. Pimenton is also used to flavor Spanish chorizo and other meat dishes. If you like deep, smoky flavors, you will love pimenton whether it is sweet, bittersweet or hot.

SAFFRON, the world’s most expensive spice is also one of the culinary world’s most distinctive flavors. This red-orange jewel imparts an earthy but honey-like flavor to many popular dishes around the world. Imagine risotto Milanese, shirin polo, paella, bouillabaisse, or saffron buns without the flavor of this aromatic stigma. Saffron is made from the stigmas of a purple crocus. Today Kashmir and Spain are top producers of saffron, producing the highest quality and most sought after product. Each pound of dried saffron is made from between 200 to 250 thousand hand-picked stigmas or close to one hundred thousand flowers. Saffron gives each dish a delicate golden yellow color and flavor. Saffron should be used as the main flavor in any dish that also uses warm or hot milk, water or broth. If you feel like a culinary treat, purchase some high quality saffron and prepare a dish featuring this fragrant, intoxicating spice.

HUNGARIAN PAPRIKA is made from capsicum annuum, a shrub from the nightshade family that produces this wonderful pod. Hungarian paprika is considered the superior paprika. It has a sweet complex flavor that does more than accent your deviled eggs. It can be used in many of the same dishes as pimenton de la vera, but without the smoky flavor. It is a staple in Hungarian cooking and is used to flavor meats, goulash, sour cream sauces and salads. If you like the color of the common supermarket paprika, but long for more flavor this is your spice. The flavor is much sweeter than ground chili peppers and without the heat. Hungarian paprika is also sold in a hot variety and has more heat than the picante version of pimenton de la vera. There are more than two varieties of Hungarian paprika but the medium bodied version and hot are the most widely available in U.S. supermarkets. Hungarian paprika will add a whole new dimension to your cooking and your taste buds.

Now that you know more about these great spices, go out and try one or all of them. Don’t be afraid of adding more spice to your life.

*The program did not allow for accent marks and so they have been deleted to allow publication.

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