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Cherry Almond Granola

26 Nov

Sometime in the past decade or so, I became a stingy Scottish granny. At least, this is what I have been told. Well, I haven’t been told that I, specifically, have turned into a stingy Scottish granny, but I have been told, many times over, that my non-Indian grandmother often referred to herself as being a stingy Scottish lady, and, well, it appears as though that apple hasn’t fallen too far from its tree. But allow me to back up just a bit.

Over the summer, I spent several lovely mornings in the company of my best friend, who had just had a baby. We spent our mornings together chatting, squeezing her new baby, and walking to a nearby place to get coffee. One day, while waiting in line, I was gazing at the selection of baked goods, practically drooling all over the glass as I ogled their offerings of scones bursting with fruit, cookies packed with nuts, and a huge, nearly overflowing glass jar of granola. The granola was a deeply golden brown, studded with big chunks of dried cherries and slivers of almonds. I could practically feel the crunch of the granola between my teeth as I brought my face closer and closer to the display counter, almost certain that the only thing that would make my coffee even better was a big bowl of cherry almond granola.

And then, like something out of a cartoon—I mean, you could practically hear the record needle come to a scratching halt as my eyes hit the price tag—I noticed the going rate for a bowl of granola: $6.

Now, I realize that complaining about the cost of a pastry or breakfast item or, really, anything at all that comes from a restaurant is ridiculous, being as though the entire existence of restaurants if contingent upon charging lots of money for stuff that people simply don’t feel like making at home themselves, but the price of that granola set something off in me. $6 for a cup of granola with a scoop of yogurt on it? You can buy a three pound tub of oats for less than that, and I happen to know from experience that granola is made up of mostly oats. So, I did what I had to do. I took that knowledge and made my own cherry almond granola. And I did it my way—free of oil, low on sweetness, big on crunch, and heavy on the almond, I can’t imagine that the $6 granola tastes any better than this, and I don’t think I’ll ever bother to find out. I’ll be too busy spending $3 on a couple of shots of espresso with a splash of milk tossed in. Because that, of course, makes perfect financial sense. Ahem.

Last Year: Crisp Spiced Nuts and Kicking Off the Holidays

Cherry Almond Granola Recipe

6 cups rolled oats (not quick cooking)

1 cup sliced almonds

¼ cup wheat germ (optional)

1 teaspoon cinnamon

pinch of sea salt

1 cup unfiltered apple cider

¼ cup grade B pure maple syrup

1/3 cup almond butter

1/8 teaspoon almond extract

½ cup dried cherries, roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a large baking dish, combine oats, almonds, wheat germ, cinnamon, and sea salt. Stir with a wooden spoon or toss with your hands to combine.

In a medium bowl, or in a large measuring cup, whisk together apple cider, maple syrup, almond butter, and almond extract. Pour the apple cider mixture over the oat mixture, and stir to thoroughly combine.

Bake the granola in the center of the oven for 2 hours, stirring once or twice just to keep the granola from sticking to the bottom of the baking dish, until the mixture is crisp and golden. Remove from oven, stir in the dried cherries, and allow to cool completely before packing away in an air-tight container.

Best Food to Pack on a Road Trip

23 Jul

Many people may find this to be an admission of pure insanity, but I like a long road trip. That’s not the insane part, though. I like a long road trip with my kid.

Perhaps it is because, for the first year or so of his life, my kid hated riding in the car. Most people I know swore by putting their baby in his or her car seat and driving around in order to silence their kid’s fussing or screaming, but my kid had the exact opposite reaction to riding in a car. Whereas he would start out a car journey in complete calmness, by about 30 seconds in he would start fussing, then crying, then screaming in total agony. The whole time, I might add. The screaming wouldn’t stop until the journey came to a stop. Because of this, my husband and I, for the first year of our kid’s life, never went anywhere in the car. The only traveling our kid did was via a stroller or Baby Bjorn. Since it was impossible to make trips to the coast or the mountains via stroller, I think we’re still, all these years later, making up for lost trips. Because now? My kid is a champion road-tripper.

We’ve become pretty adept at it, too. We’ve learned which east and west-bound routes serve us best, which rest stops along I-5 have the most pleasant surroundings (I highly recommend the Randolph C. Collier Rest Area in Northern California for both lovely scenery and unsurpassed cleanliness), and most importantly, what types of foods to pack that will bring us not only energy, but also pleasure.

I try to pack a good variety of foods for our trips, and I try to arrange them into two categories: meals and snacks. Depending on how long our road trip will be, I might end up packing two meals and a handful of snacks, or sometimes just a good amount of snack foods.

For meals, I find it difficult to go wrong with a nice sandwich, packed with crisp vegetables and a nice slip of meat or cheese (or both). For our recent road trip to Eastern Oregon, I packed individual sandwiches on little ciabatta rolls (in the past, I have made these black bread rolls for sandwiches and, man, were they good). Much like with this stuffed picnic sandwich (which is also a great item to pack on a road trip), I like to tear a bunch of the bready middle out of the center of each roll, allowing for a tidier nest in which to nestle in your chosen sandwich fillings. If you are going to be forced to actually eat your meal in the car while driving, this also makes for a much tighter sandwich packet that is easier to contain. For the sake of ease, you can make make your sandwiches the night before you leave, wrap them up, then just toss them into a small cooler on the morning of your trip.

I have also had good success rolling some of these Indian turkey burgers into a tortilla with chunks of cucumber and strips of lettuce. If you are horrified by the idea of mixing Indian food with a tortilla, just close your eyes (but not if you are driving) and pretend that the tortilla is a chapati and you’ll be fine.

For a simpler spread, sometimes I just fill one bag with a selection of crackers, another with squares of sharp cheddar, and call it good. These are great with sliced vegetables while picnicking, or, if you’re traveling with other people, they can be stacked up and handed to you as you drive. For a different riff on this idea, try slices of sharp cheddar piled on top of slices of this no-knead apple bread, or perhaps this no-knead flatbread.

For snacks, I tend to lean heavily in the direction of things that are satisfying without being heavy or sweet. These granola bars are a huge hit on road trips. Lately I have taken to baking the granola bars in a 9” by 13” pan and baking them for a slightly shorter amount of time. This makes for a crisper, flatter granola bar that is great for a little snack while hiking or on the road.

I also like to make my own trail mix out of a cup each of roasted almonds and pecans, sometimes pumpkin seeds, and then a handful of various dried fruits (dried cherries, dried cranberries, and chopped up dried apricots are all good additions). I used to also add a handful of dark chocolate chips, but they tended to get a little messy after being tossed around in a warm car (also, my kid would pick out all the chocolate chips and then launch into a chocolate-fueled frenzy, which is something you want to avoid while trapped in a moving vehicle).

Fruits and vegetables are also important snacks. I have learned that the less juicy the fruit, the better. This means no peaches, nectarines, pineapple slices, or watermelon. Better choices can be found in grapes, blueberries, raspberries, sliced apples, or even sliced peaches and nectarines (so long as they can be eaten without being dropped because, oh, man, how unpleasant is it to accidentally sit on a peach slice in a hot car?). Basically, choose fruits that are unencumbered by pits or seeds, since you don’t want to have to deal with those things while driving.

If you don’t have room for fruit, or you don’t want to deal with it, you can always opt for a nice selection of fruit leather.

As for vegetables, baby carrots are standard for our trips, but blanched green beans are another crisp, delightful option. Sliced bell peppers and sliced cucumbers are also nice to have on hand, and they pair wonderfully with the aforementioned cheese and crackers.

And, because I am me, I can’t have a road trip without a little treat. These Mexican chocolate zucchini muffins are a delightful thing to have on hand, and their low sugar content won’t make you feel crazy while you sit in a car for several hours after eating them. We also took this tangerine zucchini bread on a recent trip, and it was great to have on hand for a little something sweet, yet not cloyingly so. The same goes for these carrot muffins, another pleasing, not-to-sweet treat.

We’re gearing up to take our annual summer trip to San Francisco, and you can bet that a wide variety of these foods will be coming along with us. Not to hammer in my previous mention of suspected insanity, but the drive is 12 hours long—each way—so the food we pack can make or break our enjoyment of the drive. It also helps that, without fail, we always hit a Dairy Queen as a special treat while driving through the hottest parts of the state. A small dipped cone (vanilla ice cream, chocolate dip) can perform near-magical  wonders in the heat.

Last Year: Grilled Peaches and Sausages with Almond Herb Bulgur

Multigrain Sandwich Bread

11 Jun

Since September, I’ve been baking bread for my son’s school.  I make two loaves of bread for his class, and the bread gets used throughout the week for work projects (in a Montessori school, activities that involve bread are the basis for learning, which should make obvious the variety of reasons I am a fan of a Montessori education), snacks, and the occasional almond butter sandwich that a kid will receive for lunch when his or her intended lunch ended up on the floor or, occasionally, in another child’s mouth.  It happens.

Before the start of the school year, I spent a lot of time working on a suitable bread recipe for my son’s school.  It was preferable to everyone involved that the bread be whole grain or whole wheat, and, because of the dietary restrictions of some students, the bread had to be vegan.  It also, most importantly, had to be something that a child would want to eat.  Knowing full well about children and their preference for foods that do not contain too many surprises or unexpected textures, the bread had to be on the soft side, with no big chunks of seeds or nuts that might possibly repel an unsuspecting child.  And, of course, it had to be delicious, because who am I to foist healthfulness upon a child without the added promise of tastiness?

This week I made the last two loaves of bread that I will ever bring to his school.  School ends this week and my son will leave kindergarten and enter a new school in the fall, a grade school, where children eat en masse in a cafeteria, sit at assigned desks, and intermingle with other students who are twice their age.  It’s all a bit overwhelming, I would think.  I don’t say this to my son, of course.  Instead, there is a lot of talk of how great the garden is at the new school, how big the playground is, how nice the teachers are.  I want my son to transition as seamlessly as possible when he enters his new school, and it would be preferable that I instill him with a sense of confidence about his new surroundings, rather than a sense of doom concerning the fact that, dude, did you see that fifth grader?  He looked like he was one growth spurt away from needing a shave.

I’ll be making this bread for just us now.  The recipe makes two loaves, which is enough to last a family of three quite some time.  The funny thing is, even though I’ve made this bread so many times that I now have the recipe memorized, there has never been a time when both loaves turned out the same.  No amount of practice or repetition could ever remedy the fact that, no matter what I did, one loaf was always larger than the other.  Or sometimes one loaf rose faster than the other, resulting in some craggy tears along the top.  One time the loaves almost scorched on the sides, even though I baked them at the same temperature I always do, in the same pans I always do, in the same oven I always do.  It’s a mystery, really.  One entire school year, and I still manage to be a little bit surprised by this bread every time I make it.  I imagine I’ll continue to be surprised by it as the years go on, much like I’ll continue to be surprised by my son and the fact that, no matter how many times he tells me that he wants to be a whale-watching bunny farmer when he grows up, he is getting older, wiser, and ever more interesting every single day, right before my eyes.

Last Year: Pizza with Chicken Sausage, Fennel, and Spinach

Multigrain Sandwich Bread Recipe

Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen

1 ¼ cups Bob’s Red Mill 10 grain cereal mixture

2 ½ cups boiling water

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoons olive oil

¼ cup agave nectar (if you don’t need the bread to be vegan, you can use honey instead)

2 ½ teaspoons instant rapid-rise yeast

3 cups (15 ounces) unbleached all purpose flour

1 ½ cups (7.5 ounces) whole wheat flour

1 teaspoon fine grain sea salt

In a large bowl, or in the bowl of a stand mixer, combine cereal mixture and boiling water.  Stir thoroughly, then allow to sit, stirring occasionally, until the cereal has absorbed the water and cooled to a temperature of around 110 degrees Fahrenheit (this should take anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour).

In a medium bowl, whisk together all purpose flour and whole wheat flour.

When cereal mixture has cooled, stir in vegetable oil, olive oil, agave nectar, and yeast.  Stir until ingredients are fully incorporated.  If using a stand mixture, attach the dough hook to the mixer.  Slowly, about ½ cup at a time, add the flour mixture to the cereal mixture, mixing all the while.  If using a stand mixer, use only the first speed for this.  If using your hands, stir with a sturdy wooden spoon.  When the flour mixture has been added in its entirety, turn the stand mixer to the second speed and knead the dough for about 1 minute.  If using your hands, stir the mixture with a sturdy wooden spoon until all ingredients are completely combined, about 1 to 2 minutes.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow dough to rest for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, add the sea salt to the dough and knead the dough until it is smooth and shiny (5 to 6 minutes on level 2 for a stand mixer, and 7 to 8 minutes if kneading by hand).  The dough will be a bit sticky, but that is normal.

On a well-floured surface, shape the dough into a tight ball.  Lightly oil a large bowl, then place the dough in the bowl, turning the dough to completely coat it in oil.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap or a tight-fitting lid, then allow dough to rise until doubled in size.  This can take anywhere from 40 minutes to a little over an hour, depending on the temperature of your kitchen.

When the dough has doubled in size, turn it out onto a well-floured surface.  Using your hands, pat the dough into a 9” by 13” rectangle, with the long side facing you.  Cut the dough in half to make two 9” by 6 ½” pieces.  Starting at one 6 ½” end, roll one piece of dough into a tight log, pinching the seam closed at the end.  Place the dough in a lightly-oiled 9” by 5” loaf pan.  Repeat with other piece of dough.  Lightly brush or spray the tops of the loaves with oil, then cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in size.  This can take anywhere from 1 hour to 1 hour and 45 minutes, depending on how warm your kitchen is.

About 20 minutes before it appears as though your loaves might be done rising, preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  When loaves are done rising, remove plastic wrap and bake loaves in the center of the oven for 35 to 40 minutes, rotating loaves after about 20 minutes.  The loaves are done when the tops are a deep golden brown and the bread has an internal temperature of about 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

Turn loaves out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes 2 loaves.

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