Pumpkin Spice No-Bake Granola Bars

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pumpkin spice granola bars

There’s really nothing like homemade granola bars. They’re an easy, luxurious addition to anyone’s snack repertoire. I like my granola bars chewy (no Nature’s Valley oats ‘n’ mummy dust for me, thanks), and these hit the sweet spot on texture as well as taste. (Who doesn’t like a sweet, seedy pumpkin spice treat?) Best of all, these are easy to make; forget the oven!

It must be known that every time I make these my husband takes at least two in his bag for the workday. My sister has stuffed her purse with them after noticing the neatly wrapped little beauties sitting on my counter. Suffice to say, these babies are sweet little showstoppers that will impress anyone who tastes them.

Pumpkin Spice No-Bake Granola Bars
Recipe adapted from eating from the ground up

Ingredients:

Dry mixture:

  • 1 1/2 cups gluten-free rolled oats (old-fashioned, not quick-cooking or instant)
  • 1 1/2 cups plain puffed rice or millet (hint: cereal aisle, natural section)
    You can also forgo mixing up the grains and use a straight 3 cups of oats.
  • 1 1/2 cups pepitas (pumpkin seeds sans shells)
    If you use salted pepitas, simply omit the salt in this recipe. If you don’t have pepitas, use sunflower seeds or toasted and chopped almonds, pecans or walnuts.
  • 1 1/2 cups dried sweetened cranberries
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground or freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground clove
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt

Wet Mixture:

  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil (I have used both canola and olive oil with equally pleasant results.)
  • 1/2 cup brown rice syrup (find this at your natural foods grocer) If you don’t have it or can’t find it, try corn syrup, maple syrup, agave, or honey if you aren’t vegan. Post your results to let me know how it worked!
  • 1/4 cup vegan brown sugar or turbinado sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

  • In a large mixing bowl, thoroughly mix the dry ingredients and set aside.
  • Spray the inside of a 9×13 glass baking dish with cooking spray.
  • In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring all the wet mixture ingredients except vanilla to a boil, stirring occasionally. Cook for just one minute past boiling, then remove from heat, stir in vanilla, and pour over the dry mixture, stirring vigorously as you do. Make sure the wet and dry mixtures are completely combined and there are no dry pockets.
  • When it’s all mixed, dump the contents of your mixing bowl into the oiled baking dish and smush down the granola with your stirring spoon.
  • Now tear off a piece of wax paper that is longer than your baking dish and cover the granola; using your hands, smush the granola down until it is tightly packed in an even layer. Leave the wax paper on and refrigerate the granola for at least an hour.
  • With a quick flip, turn out your granola onto its wax paper and slice into bars. I usually cut my block in half lengthwise, then halve it width-wise, then halve those halves… You get the picture. When your granola bars are sliced, wrap them individually in plastic wrap, glad wrap, or waxed paper. These will keep for at least a week, but you’ll eat them all before then.

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Green Smoothie

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I went for a run today… For the first time in three months. Needless to say, I re-entered my house sweating, wheezing, and feeling like my brain was about to explode; I needed a light, refreshing pick-me-up. Enter green smoothie.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup fresh spinach (or another dark leafy gren
  • 1/2 cup fresh pineapple, coarsely chopped
  • 1 peeled kiwi, coarsely chopped
  • 1 large sweet apple (or 2 small), peeled, cored and coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 2 heaping tbsp flaxseed meal
  • 1/2 cup almond or coconut milk

Dump all ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth.

This will make one big smoothie.
Notice the absence of banana, the typical smoothie emulsifier/binder, and a provider of creamy texture. I didn’t want a gloppy, uber-thick fruit porridge; I wanted a light, refreshing smoothie. The kiwi, apple and pineapple do the trick here as a binder, without that gluey thickness and banana flavor; the almond milk gives a touch of creaminess.
Now chop, blend, and enjoy this delicious green, nutritious, refreshing treat!

Tabouleh

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Tangy and cool, hearty but light, this delicious Lebanese salad is a summer comfort food. Who am I kidding? It’s always a comfort food, even in the drear of winter when the veg is shipped from South America. (Yes, in spite of my love for locally grown and in-season produce, I shamefully succumb for the sake of a bowlful of tabouleh.)
But I am picky about my tabouleh.
I hate greasy, super oily tabouleh. I don’t like tabouleh that is swallowed by bulgur; I like lots of parsley, mint, tomatoes and cucumbers.
Basically what I’m telling you is that I love MY tabouleh.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup bulgur
  • 1 1/2 cups boiling water
  • 1 cup fresh cherry or grape tomatoes, quartered (Alternative you can dice full-size tomatoes to equal a cup; know that the texture and flavor of bite-size tomatoes is preferable here because they pack more tomato punch taste-wise and their texture is firmer.)
  • 1 cup peeled, seeded cucumber, diced to 1/4 inch size pieces
  • 1/2 cup chopped green spring onions (scallions), which is about more or less a bundled bunch at the store
  • 1 cup minced parsley
  • 1/4 cup minced mint
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste

First bring your water to boil; pour bulgur into a heat-safe bowl. Pour boiling water over bulgur, stir, and cover for at least 30 minutes. Drain any remaining water from bulgur, transfer to either a large storage container, and set aside.

As you chop your vegetables and herbs, slide them off the cutting board into your drained bulgur. When all the veggie business is complete, fold it all together until everything looks evenly distributed.

Whisk together lemon juice with olive oil. Sprinkle about a teaspoon of sea salt and 1/4 teaspoon of freshly cracked pepper into this lemon dressing as a baseline and adjust from there. Pour your dressing over the veggie/bulgur mixture and fold until coated.
Now you need to taste it; this is where my tabouleh and yours may part ways. I personally loathe oily tabouleh, opting for lots of extra lemon juice. If you taste your tabouleh and feel like it’s lacking tang, add a splash (or three) of lemon juice. If you feel like the dressing needs more body or density, add a glug of olive oil.

Enjoy as a light lunch or as a side with dinner, or add a can of drained, rinsed chickpeas (garbanzos) to create a stand-alone meal. If you aren’t vegan, try sprinkling some feta on top!

Kiwi Sour Cream Pancakes

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Sometimes the old weekend pancake breakfast routine needs a little pizzaz.

I’d been planning on making a recipe for sour cream pancakes with peaches from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook I got for my birthday. The age-old pairing of peaches and cream translated into pancakes sounded like a pancake-gasm. After fruitless (har har) attempts at finding fresh peaches on the cusp of spring, I bought a tub of sour cream and thought, “I’ll just make plain sour cream pancakes.” But this morning when I made the batter I really wanted those peaches to caramelize in my skillet. As I gazed longingly at my peachless fruit basket, my eyes landed on the kiwis. They possess a lovely bright sweetness and a texture and flesh composition not too starkly different from that of a peach. After a ponderous moment or two, I made an executive decision that resulted in a truly magical pancake. The kiwis caramelize and lend sweetness and acidity to counter the rich, lightly spiced pancake.

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 c. flour
  • 1 tsp aluminum-free baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • Butter for the pan
  • 2-3 kiwis, peeled and sliced to 1/4 inch thickness

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Preheat your skillet to medium-low heat. For best results (i.e. even browning) use a heavy-bottomed, non-stick skillet.

In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, soda, salt, spices. Separately in a slightly larger bowl, whisk together egg, sour cream, sugar, and vanilla; fold dry ingredients into wet. (Batter will be thick and lumpy, so just fold until nothing looks dry or powdery.)

Rub a stick of butter quickly over the hot skillet to coat the surface and add 1/4 cup of batter to form one pancake. Use a spatula and/or knife to gently coax the batter downward to spread into a circular shape about 1/2 inch thick; the batter will spread more while cooking so don’t worry if it looks thick to you. You’ll be able to cook about two 4-5 inch pancakes at a time. When you’ve properly doctored the shape and thickness of your cakes, top them with a single layer of kiwi slices. Cook for about 4 minutes, until the bottoms are golden brown. Loosen the pancake from the skillet and flip quickly, skootching the kiwis back into place as needed. It will take about 4-5 more minutes to cook them through; transfer cooked pancakes to a baking dish and keep them warm in the oven while you finish the rest.

Serve with maple syrup, ginger syrup, honey, etc.

Homemade Chai Concentrate

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I love chai; however, I do not love the amount of money it costs to buy a carton of Tazo. With an initial expense of buying a few exotic spices, you will be set to make your own for a long while.

Economical advantages aside, am I the only one who finds Tazo concentrate heavy on sweet and light on spice? I prefer a subtly sweet latte that tingles my tongue with a medley of cardamom, anise and cinnamon with a significant bite of ginger and pepper… Not a syrupy diabetic coma. So here you go.

Homemade Chai Concentrate

Think of the spice quantities as a baseline. I have given you a moderately spiced recipe, but if you’re wanting a spicy chai, feel free to increase the spice ratio by a few pods, cloves, peppercorns, sticks or stars. This recipe is your friend and it wants you to play with it.

Ingredients:

  • 10 bags of tea.
    White tea will be too weak in flavor to stand up against the spices, but from green to black feel free to experiment with teas until you find your favorite; green tea will create a delicately mellow chai while a full-flavor black tea will sing with flavor. Lapsang Souchong, anyone?
  • 4 cups water
  • 2-3 cinnamon sticks
  • 3 anise stars
  • 10 whole cardamom pods
  • 10 whole cloves
  • 10 whole peppercorns or 1/2 tsp freshly cracked
  • 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg (You can substitute ground nutmeg, but you’ll be surprised at how much more aromatic and spicy freshly grated nutmeg is!)
  • 1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled
  • 1 tbsp orange zest, or the peel of a mandarin (No need to remove the pith of a mandarin.)
  • 1/4 cup of honey or agave
  • 1/4-1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Bring all above ingredients except sugar and vanilla to boil in a pot; when boiling, remove from heat and steep for 15 minutes. Remove tea bags and steep 15 minutes more; if you forget this step and steep with the tea bags for the whole 30 minutes, you’ll end up with a bitter chai. After the entire steeping process has been completed, strain the liquid into a heat-safe pitcher and whisk in the brown sugar and vanilla. Cool on the counter for 30 minutes or so (pouring yourself a cup first, of course), then cover and move to the fridge to complete cooling.

To make a chai latte, mix one part concentrate to one part milk of your choice. Serve hot or cold. (If you have a frother, manual or electric, now is the time to use it.)

Lemon Herb Tofu with Asparagus, Lemon and Fresh Chèvre Risotto

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I am over winter. D-o-n-e.
In Oklahoma (from whence I came) it is springtime. The air is cool and fresh, the trees are budding, fragrant tomato seedlings line the warm windows of home gardeners… But here in the Mid-Atlantic things have not advanced so far. Here the trees have no buds, the wind is still wintry and the gardeners are chewing their nails waiting for the last hard freeze to hurry up and get it over with.

Suffice to say I crave the bright flavors of spring. Enter lemon, crisp asparagus and tangy fresh goat cheese.

Lemon Herb Tofu

Ingredients:

  • 1 cake extra-firm tofu, cut into 1/4 inch slices
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp dried herbs, such as rosemary or thyme

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit; cover a baking sheet with foil and lightly coat the surface with cooking spray (or wipe with an oiled cloth).

Whisk together soy sauce, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and herbs; dip each slice of tofu into the mixture and arrange slices with a relatively even spacing onto the baking sheet. When finished, pour remaining mixture over slices; make sure you include all the lovely little bits of garlic.

Bake for 15 minutes (set your timer because the flip is essential to achieve the right texture); remove from oven, flip slices and return to oven for an additional 15-20 minutes. Your tofu will be sizzling and golden with a pleasantly chewy texture.

Meanwhile back at the ranch…

Asparagus, Lemon & Fresh Chèvre Risotto

Ingredients:

  • 5 cups hot vegetable stock (Of course homemade will make a tastier risotto but I’m no snob when in a pinch. Use what you’ve got; however, know that water will not do for risotto.)
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 large onion, 1/4 inch dice (but don’t get out a ruler- just eyeball it.)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 bunch fresh asparagus, cut into bite-sized pieces (approximately 1 inch long)
  • 1 1/2 cups arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine (When cooking with wine, don’t skimp; only cook with wine you would drink. Plus, the rest of that bottle will pair perfectly with whatever dish you’re cooking with it.)
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 1/2-3/4 cups of fresh goat cheese (You can get this as “goat cheese crumbles” in a tub or in a log and crumble it yourself; I find the log route to be more economical.)

Once you have your tofu in the oven, bring the stock to boil, then turn the heat to low. Have a ladle ready.

While your stock is heating, melt 1 tbsp butter over medium heat in a 2 quart+ pot. Add onion and saute (cook while stirring to keep anything from sticking) to release the juices and soften, for about 4 minutes. Once onions are softened add the asparagus and garlic and saute for an additional 4 minutes, until asparagus is bright green and still crisp. When finished, transfer the vegetables to a covered dish to keep warm.

Melt remaining tbsp of butter in the emptied pot; then add the rice. Saute for a few minutes to toast (you’ll know it’s toasted when the rice gives off a nutty aroma and appears slightly golden). Now add the wine and lemon juice to the rice; stir frequently and cook until liquid is absorbed completely. Get your ladle and add about 1 cup of stock to your rice, stir, and cook until the liquid is absorbed. Repeat this process, adding 1 cup at a time, until you have used all your stock (your risotto will be creamy in texture).

Now that your rice is risotto, you need to fold in the warm asparagus mixture. Last but not least, add the chèvre and stir until the cheese has softened the risotto to a velvety texture and everything looks smooth and incorporated.

Taste for sea salt and freshly cracked pepper and serve beside the tofu, which ought to come out of the oven about the same time as your risotto is finished.

Serve the tofu beside the risotto and pair with a crisp green salad topped with salty olives and a sprinkle of your leftover chèvre. And don’t forget that Pinot Grigio sitting on the counter beside the stove; it will unite all the bright flavors of the meal while cutting through the creaminess of the risotto. From my spring-loving heart to yours, enjoy!

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Homemade Vegetable Stock

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Do me a flavor.

Never throw away garlic or onion skins. Or carrot peels. Or celery greens, sweet potato skins or even the stems if that rainbow chard you chopped up for a salad. What you thought was waste for the compost bin is actually the raw ingredients for a delicious vegetable stock.

So when you chop an onion, throw those skins into a gallon-size freezer bag. Same goes for most of your veggie scraps, sans über pungent things that would taint the flavor of your stock rather than enhance it (e.g. fresh ginger scraps).

Then, once that bag is burgeoning, stuff a big pot (4-5 quart) of your precious “stock” pile (forgive the pun). Cover those goodies with cold water; add any combination of 1-2 bay leaves, a teaspoon or so of dried thyme, oregano, marjoram, tarragon, savory, fresh-cracked black pepper, etc.; and put a lid on it. Simmer for a couple of hours and check your stock for a deep rich brown hue. Once you’ve achieved this you can add a scant tablespoon of sea salt, or skip this step if you prefer. Adjust that salt and pepper ratio as needed and now you have a beautiful pot-full of rich, flavorful vegetable stock.

Utilize this elixir in soups, gravies curries, risottos, grains, etc.! You will be amazed at how much using homemade stock will impact your recipes- say goodbye to that watery store-bought imposter.