Saturday, October 30, 2010

Granola, 2 Ways

Now that it's fall, I feel like a squirrel foraging for nuts, trying to store up sustenance to survive the long winter I know is ahead of us. Even if it's not going to be as cold here in Rome as some places I've lived, fall is the time to get a head start on boosting the immune system, which for me means not being hungry all the time.

On a recent weekend visit, my Uncle told me about his favorite "secret" granola recipe (which he willingly shared). He adapted it from Melissa Clark's recipe, and now I've adapted it from him. The secret lies in the trio of unexpected ingredients, namely the olive oil, maple syrup and cardamom. My old granola recipe was pretty dull in comparison and I'm excited to have one that is more unique and much more delicious now.

We eat granola almost every morning with fruit and yogurt. Sometimes if I'm feeling indulgent, I'll mix it with ricotta because I know I'll burn it off ten-fold during my busy days with this crazy superhero. (Happy Halloween, by the way)

"Secret" Granola
You can obviously use any combination of nuts and dried fruits you like. Slivered almonds would be a nice addition .

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (do not use quick-cooking oats)
1 cup
raw pumpkin seeds, hulled
1 cup hazlenuts
1 cup sesame seeds
¾ cup pure maple syrup
½ cup
extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup packed
light brown sugar
1 teaspoon
kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
¾ cup raisins

Preheat the oven to 300°.

In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients except the raisins. Mix thoroughly and spread the mixture evenly onto a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, until the granola is golden brown and well toasted.

Once the granola is cooled, transfer to a large bowl and stir in the raisins.

Read on for part 2:

Next comes the issue of afternoon snacks. I cannot make it from one meal to the next without snacks. For years I have purchased granola bars because they are portable and a somewhat healthy snack, however they are usually to sweet and fall short of my expectations. I set out to finally make my own. This is also a twice handed down recipe, from King Arthur Flour, then to Smitten Kitchen and now it's shown up in my kitchen, with more changes (like even less sugar!)

These bars completely met my expectations, and I love being able to control the amount of sugar, change the nut and fruit combination, really the sky is the limit!

Seriously delicious granola bars

1 2/3 cups rolled oats (I used half oats and half spelt flakes)
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup oat flour (or baby oatmeal, which I need to use up since Roman likes real oatmeal)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon (you could use more but I didn't want to overpower the other flavors)
6 tablespoons melted butter
1/4 cup maple syrup (or honey)
1/3 cup hazelnut spread (Rapunzel makes a good organic version, otherwise use Nutella)
1 tablespoon water
2-3 cups any combination of dried nuts and fruit. Here's what I used (I opted for a full 3 cups worth):
sunflower seeds

Here is the method:
Chop all the nuts and seeds either by hand or in a food processor.
Combine the oats, sugar, oat flour, salt, cinnamon in a bowl and add the chopped nuts and fruits.
In another bowl, combine the melted butter, Nutella, maple syrup and water. Mix well to combine, then add this mixture to the oat/nut mixture and make sure it is well combined.
Line a 8x8x2 pan with parchment paper and press the granola mixture in firmly and evenly (use some plastic wrap and this will be less sticky.) Bake at 350 degrees for 30 - 40 minutes. Once cooled, if the granola seems crumbly, put it in the refrigerator before cutting.
Can be stored in the refrigerator or at room temperature, either individually wrapped or in an air-tight container.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


Sunday morning when we're up before the sun is a good time to put up some bread to rise. It's a good way to take advantage of the day. I learned this in my childhood, growing up with parents who loved to bake. Weekends at home involved lots of flour spilled on the floor, wildly delicious scents coming from the oven and (much to my embarrassment) opera played way too loud with all the windows open for the neighbors to hear.

I have a tattered and stained copy of James Beard's Beard on Bread dated July of 1976, inscribed from my father to my mother. I was a year and a half old at the time. I like to think about how happy she must have been to get this gift, at a time when money was scarce and baking your own healthy loaves was (and still is) an excellent way to nourish your family. The book is literally a treasure trove of amazing, unique bread recipes. I love that my copy is falling apart at the seams and has my mom's notes scribbled beside many of the recipes.

Beard's recipe for french baguettes is not very traditional, nor is it the recipe that I grew up on. I know my father doesn't use olive oil in his baguettes. As luck would have it, these turned out to be the best looking baguettes I've ever baked. They are flavorful, thanks to the olive oil, but to be honest, they are not as good as my dad's. How could they be?

Adapted from James Beard
2 packages active dry yeast
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 cups warm water
3 to 4 cups all-purpose flour (all flours seem to react differently, so you just have to play it by ear)

In a large mixing bowl, combine the yeast, sugar, and salt. Add the oil and 1/4 cup of the water. Beat this mixture well with a wooden spoon for about 3 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of the flour and continue to beat with the wooden spoon. Alternately, add flour, one cup at a time, and water, until you have a fairly soft dough, reserving approximately 1/2 cup flour for kneading. Remove the dough to a floured surface, and knead for several minutes until it springs back very briskly when you press your fingers in. It must be smooth and satiny. Oil a large bowl lightly and let the dough ball rise until doubled in size. (Cover bowl with a dish towel.) Punch the dough down and let it rest for 5 minutes. Then divide the dough into 3 and shape each portion in to a baguette. Once placed in the pan, let the dough rise again. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Before putting the baguettes in the oven, slash each one with a sharp knife. Bake for approximately 35 to 40 minutes until golden brown with a crisp exterior.

Tiens, Pépère, tu veux goûter?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sformato with butternut squash and chard

It was a long week with Roman's first virus and all of the extra care that went into getting through several long nights with a fever. He's fully recovered and seems to have bounced back even stronger than before. I can now return to the kitchen for short periods while he plays happily with his dad. For this and other reasons, I'm jumping for joy! I discovered a new dish that is sure to become a regular at our dinner table. It's called a sformato and it's like a cross between a soufflé and a vegetable fritatta, but it has no eggs although your taste buds won't believe it! It's made with chickpea flour, so for a vegetarian dish, there's plenty of protein in there. Served along side a salad, it makes a lovely lunch, brunch or light dinner. This new discovery put me in a seriously good mood. Food, and voracious 13 month olds can do that for me.

The Italian word sformato means un-molded. There are sweet versions (obviously not using chickpea flour) or savory, with whatever vegetable combination you like, or what's on hand. The method is simple. I'm delighted to have discovered chickpea flour, which apparently is used a lot in Indian cooking. I searched around on the web some and found lots of interesting uses for this flour, like chickpea flour crepes. It's always fun to discover new ingredients and bring new tastes to the table.

My version of sformato uses red onion, butternut squash and chard, all organic and in-season. I just happened to have these nice fall vegetables in my fridge and I love how the three colors and tastes compliment each other. Someone else just couldn't resist, and dug right in!

Sformato with butternut squash and chard
I found an italian recipe on a cooking forum online, translated it and then adapted it using my own combination of vegetables. Thus, the recipe uses liters and grams. I have a kitchen scale, which I love for measuring flour when baking. It's so much more accurate than the American method of using cups. If there is one kitchen item I recommend, it's a scale.
1/2 a butternut squash
1/2 red onion
4 leaves of chard leaves or other green leafy vegetable
1 liter of water (4 cups)
1 cube of organic salt-free vegetable broth
200 grams chickpea flour (this is equal to 1.6 cups)
4 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
salt if needed (I didn't use any because the parmesan is salty enough for me)

Cube the red onion, squash and finely chop the chard. Sauté the onion and the squash for several minutes (it will take just a few minutes since the pieces are so small), then add the chard, cover and cook for about 4 minutes, until the chard is wilted.

Bring one liter of water to the boil and dissolve the bouillon cube. When it boils, turn off the heat and using a whisk, add the chickpea flour a little at a time, whisking constantly so that it does not clump. Stir for about 2 minutes. Add the cheese and then combine this with the vegetables.

Oil or butter a pan (I used a lasagna pan) and spread the mixture evenly, bake for 40 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Let the sformato cool before cutting into squares and serving. Can be served room temperature, or warm.

As he says, "miam, miam!"

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