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A Fruity, Nutty Kind of Granola

I mentioned in an earlier post that we have two granolas we enjoy for breakfast. But this is the one full of memories and sweet associations.  This is the one we have a history with. It’s a rainy morning and I have a new batch baking now. The aromas floating through the kitchen take me back years and plop me down at an old wooden table, with its slightly creaky top – a table that was once “Yaya’s” and around which her four hungry boys gathered to be fed. (The third of these would one day be our Dad.) Many years later, it was the round, creaky table where my girls and I ate our meals and grew up together. Often our breakfasts would include small bowlfuls of creamy-smooth yogurt on which this crunchy granola was toppled, theirs with an extra shimmer of drizzled honey. We’d eat, planning our days, sometimes practicing spelling, finishing math or editing essays, chattering or giggling with mouths still full. There was a lot of happy around that table.

My daughters have the same honeyed aromas filling their kitchens these days, and new memories are forming in other cute little heads. In fact, today three little girls eat around that very same creaky-topped table, ambered and dented with years of living.

Even after all this time, my husband and I love when a fresh batch of granola is pulled, all crackly hot, from the oven. We can barely wait for it to cool. I suppose by now it’s obvious, this is the granola we favor.

Spree’s Golden Granola

Preheat oven to 300°F.  Into an ample-sized glass or metal cake pan, scoop the following:

  • 3 cups rolled oats (the slow-cooking, old-fashioned sort)
  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut, shredded (see NOTE)
  • 1/2 cup chopped raw almonds (or hazelnuts)
  • 1/2 cup raw sesame seeds
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened raw wheat germ
  • 1/4 cup of ground flaxseed (optional)
  • To the above ingredients stir in
  • 1/2 cup honey (or real maple syrup, or 1/4 cup of each)
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • Stir to combine well, and then add
  • 1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds

Pop the pan into your oven and plan on cooking for about an hour (though it may be to your liking in less), stirring every 15 minutes or thereabouts to toast it evenly.  When it’s the kind of crunchy that suits you, remove and cool.  Once cooled, add a total of

  • 1 cup or so of dried fruits

My favorites: 1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped raisin-size (I have a strong preference for Trader Joe’s apricots, full of tangy flavor); 1/4 cup dried cranberries; and 1/4 cup or more of raisins.  But I also like dried cherries or blueberries in place of one or two of the others. Make it as fruity as you like.  Like all good granolas, it’s nice on yogurt with fresh fruit, or in a bowl with milk, or out of the hand for a quick little munch.

NOTE: The coconut you’ll see featured here is from Bob’s Red Mill – these ribbons of coconut look pretty, toast up beautifully, and put a distinct bite of coconut in your mouth.

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for a printer version of this recipe, click here.

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Spicy Candied Pecans (or Walnuts)

Here’s another one of the appetizers served at our Beat the Winter Blues Party .  I’ve tried a number of recipes for candied nuts over the years, but my favorite is this.  (Judging from responses to these sweet and savory bites, I’m not alone.) I’ve made it with both pecans and walnuts, and though I love walnuts, pecans definitely have the edge here – something about their sweetness offset by the savory heat of the spices is just right.

Spicy Candied Pecans

Preheat oven to 350°F.

  • 4 cups pecans

Spread the nuts in a shallow pan (either a broiler pan or a jelly roll pan will do.)  Roast for 8 minutes.

Remove from the oven and drizzle on to the hot nuts…

  • 1/4 cup maple syrup (grade B is darker and has a bit more maple-y flavor)
  • 1/4 cup brown rice syrup

Stir to coat well, and then pop them back into the oven to roast another 10 minutes.

While the nuts are roasting, in a small bowl mix together:

  • 2 T. sugar
  • 1 t. ground cumin
  • 1/2 t. chili powder
  • 1 t. salt (or 1-1/2 if using Kosher)
  • 2 t. paprika
  • 1/8 t. (to as much as 1/4 t.) cayenne pepper

Place a piece of parchment paper on the counter and wait – (have you noticed that smell in your kitchen? ah!) When the nuts come out of the oven for the second time, quickly sprinkle the spices over them and mix well to coat.  Quickly spread the candied nuts onto the parchment paper to cool, breaking the clumps apart with your fingers when they’re just cooled down enough to touch.  Store airtight. (These make a nice gift too, in a pretty container or vintage jar.)

Serving suggestions:  These are absolutely wonderful in a salad.  I’ll give a favorite salad to utilize these nuts in an upcoming post.  You can chop them up and roll a log of chevre over them and serve with crackers or crusty baguette.  Or chopped and scattered over green beans or yams or – .  And always as they are, straight from the jar, with nothing but your fingers.

This recipe came by way of my dear friend Carolyn, and to her, from another friend. That’s the way it goes with good eats.  The original recipe called for corn syrup.  I’ve replaced it with brown rice syrup, and not only is their taste improved (yes, hard to believe), but they’re crunchier and healthier too!

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Marinated Olives

My husband and I had a “Beat Them Winter Blues” party over the weekend, with about 25 or so guests. We’re thinking it might be the first of a string of annual winter blasts. We had just way too much fun, and of course we ate too much, but we went into it knowing full well we would, and we feel no shame whatsoever! Over the next several posts I’ll be sharing recipes from that night’s menu. We begin with — as my Greek YaYa would say — the Oliv-ess. These little beauties received deep moans and sighs of appreciation, so you might just want to try them yourself. The recipe is not my own, so it’s fine if I brag (right?) – I think they’re one of the tastiest plump little olive bites I’ve ever popped in my mouth. The recipe comes from Giada de Laurentiis’ Everyday Italian. Graci, Giada!

Marinated Olives

  • 3 T. Olive oil
  • 1 T. grated lemon zest (from about 2 lemons)
  • 1/2 t. dried crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1-1/2 cups cracked green olives or other green olives – with their pits –  (see NOTE)
  • 1-1/2 cups Kalamata olives – with pits – (truly a combination of any olives you’re fond of will work here)
  • 3 T. fresh lemon juice
  • 2 T. chopped fresh basil

NOTE: About the olives. On this occasion I was unable to find cracked green olives, so chose the green olives with the least added herbs and spices, and then I rinsed them off and rolled them in paper towels before proceeding.

In a medium size, heavy skillet, warm the oil, lemon zest, and red pepper flakes over medium heat for about a minute, just until fragrant. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the olives.  Add the fresh lemon juice and basil, and toss to coat.  Transfer the olive mixture to a container, cover and refrigerate. Over the next 12 hours, stir from time to time, allowing the olives to soak up these lovely, bright Mediterranean flavors.

Before serving, allow the olives to return to room temperature, stirring occasionally. Put in a pretty little bowl and watch them fly out.

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More love on the table

Approximately once a month, Sicily and I get together for a “baking date.” She’s a DELIGHTFUL nine-year-old, wise and funny, big-hearted and passionate. And like me, she loves to get her hands in the bowl.  A couple weeks ago, we were making a gingerbread cake for her to take home to her family. It came time to “sift together the dry ingredients” and she looked to me with hopeful eyes, “Can I use my hands?”  ”Absolutely!”  So with her clean fingers she began sweeping and parting and stirring the silky flour and the spices through the sieve into the bowl beneath.  Shaking the last bits of flour dust down, she lifted the sieve, and – cross my heart! – THIS is what was waiting:

Both our eyes widened, and I said, “Look at that, Sicily!  You’re putting love in your gingerbread!” And she said, “Quick, Nana, get your cell phone. Take a picture!” And so I did. And so it goes…from Sicily’s hands, to the table, with love.

(This post first appeared in March 2011. The gingerbread we baked together was made just before Valentines Day, which made the occasion of this heart in a bowl doubly serendipitous. That recipe will appear in a later post.)

Still Not Soup

It’s not a rare thing that I stop along the way to admire the view. That’s as true for me in the kitchen as anywhere else. I’ve come to understand that those “diversions” are where Life is, waiting for me to show up, be awed, and be thankful. Case in point: my little side-trip into the cauliflower jungle. Soup can wait!

Cauliflower Before It’s Soup

Something as pretty as this begged to be seen, and then remembered…before it’s soup, and steaming in a bowl…

Love in a Box

(A repeat performance of a post first published in Feb, 2011)

Three days ago, my 82-year-old mother had what her doctor termed a “mini-stroke.”  She’s had several now. Aside from slowing down and the normal signs of aging, she remains unimpaired. Mom still lives on her own, on six acres in the middle of Oregon’s wine country, tending the chickens she loves and rises early to cook for each morning. Yes, she actually cooks them warm meals, made of the sorts of things they’d never find on their own, living chicken-like lives: bread soaked in warm milk, perhaps an egg spun in, some leftover oatmeal, a colorful scattering of vegetables from the night before. She lovingly heats and stirs the pot before she’s had her own coffee, before she re-kindles the fire to get her own body warm. And then, with her walking stick (and the unlikely cell phone in her pocket) she sets out for the coop. Making little noises as she nears them, they respond in kind. She unlatches the creaky door, and they burst from the roost, making fluffy circles around her feet. One hen in particular begs to be lifted into her cradling arms. The total effect is a flurry of feathery clucking bodies creating a welcome party just for her, each and every morning. Mom scatters lettuce and scratch, then serves them their breakfast in an enameled cast-iron gratin dish with remnants of blue Fleur de Lys, worn, but still visible on its sides. She may fill her one empty pocket with eggs, if there are any. This time of year there tend not to be, but she doesn’t love them for their eggs. She simply loves them.

Mom’s place sits on a hill and through most of her windows (or from the chickens’ yard) the views that stretch are of a lovely gentle valley, a few stands of trees, and acres upon acres of wine grapes staked in their rolling rows. Read more

Ani’s Apple Crisp –

Ingredients Topping  

  • 3 T. unsalted butter, broken into several pieces  
  • 3 T. walnut oil  
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour  
  • 1/2 c. rolled oats (not quick-cooking)  
  • 1 handful of walnuts, chopped  
  • 1/2 t. salt  
  • 1/2 t. freshly grated nutmeg  
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon

Ingredients –  Filling

  • Approximately 2 pounds of apples (see note)
  • 1/2 cup or so of fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 3 T. all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar (I prefer brown, but granulated is fine)
  • ground cinnamon (1 t. or to taste)

NOTE:  A combination of Fuji, Granny Smith, Golden Delicious and maybe one other of your choice makes for the most interesting and tasty apple dessert.  About 4 medium apples should do.  Though there’s lots of leeway here, it’s essential to have one tart apple (such as the Granny Smith) for flavor.

Preparing the Topping:  Using your fingers, work the butter with the sugar, flour, oats and spices so that each piece is coated and you have a coarse, crumbly mixture.  Stir in the walnut oil and add chopped walnuts, incorporating well.  (Variation made with all butter: if you haven’t any walnut oil and the urge strikes you to make this dessert with what’s on hand, you can substitute 6 T. butter.  But walnut oil is delicious in certain salad dressings too and really nice to have around.  Keep refrigerated.)

The Filling:  Peel and core the apples and cut into bite-size pieces.  Mix with cranberries, flour, sugar and spices.  Pour into a 2-inch high baking dish, and cover with the crisp topping.

Baking: Bake at 375° F until the fruit is bubbly and thickened around the edges and the crisp topping is browned.  (Depending on your baking dish and the variability of ovens, this may take up to an hour, but check sooner.  If it begins to brown too much before its edges get bubbly, cover with aluminum foil for the duration.)

Served warm is best.  But even cold for breakfast, with plain or vanilla yogurt, is good!  (In a future installment, I’ll share my recipe for Vanilla Cardamom Ice-Cream, a rather divine accompaniment to a simple, homey dessert.)

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What does grace under fire look like? I’m quite sure I’d recognize it if I saw it…but, sadly, I haven’t in a while.  Spree is a bit out of her element when she’s dealing with issues related to cyberspace. Spree likes living things, plump fruits, and squatty little tubers, heaps of greens and her hands full of fragrant herbs; she likes wooden spoons and good sharp knives and pots that brown things well; she likes the woods, the ocean, and chasing clouds in an ever-changing sky; and Spree likes the shimmer and sparkle caught by her camera’s winking eye. But in cyberspace, Spree, poor thing, is chewed up and spit out, and she gets terribly whiney. So these past nine days, with her web site down, living with Spree has been hard.  (And because I mostly like her very much, that’s all I’m going to say about that!)

She had SO much in mind to share with you at the end of “citrus month”, she was quite giddy. So please, indulge her. More citrus recipes will be coming in May, but we’ll try to give a fair shake to foods falling outside that realm too. In any event, it’ll be a delicious month – and it will almost always feature healthful, approachable food – with a couple of really wonderful desserts thrown in just because we simply love it when you smile.

Thank you for bearing with the messages that you might have received when trying to visit cooking-spree recently (“forbidden” being the worst!) – and for what has seemed (to me) like an unbearably long absence. I’m back, and hope never to leave so rudely again! : ) In a couple days I’ll let you know how you can follow me on Twitter (if you do that sort of thing!) If the rug ever gets pulled out from under me again, at least on Twitter I could tweet you why.

In the next few days (oh, I hope it’s only a few!) I’ll be in the process of re-inhabiting my site with previously published posts. But at the same time, I’m interested in keeping something new coming your way, so we’ll see how good I am at performing that circus act.  In the meantime, thank you, as always, for visiting. I love knowing you show up to see what’s on the table here!  And I hope you’ll keep coming back! Leave comments if you like – I love those too!

We’re making lemonade from a mess of lemons!