Saturday, December 15, 2012

All Natural Homemade Granola

This granola is SO YUMMY AND SO EASY TO MAKE! It has become an absolute staple in our house. Pete just dominates a bowl of greek yogurt if I top it with some of this crunchy granola. In fact, I don't think I could ever even get him to eat a plain bowl of nonfat, unsweetened, greek yogurt at all if it weren't for this granola.
This recipe makes enough to fill 3 large mason jars. The first time I made it, I thought 'Oh my this is way too much, I need to give away a jar or two. We will never finish all of this.' But we wound up going through all 3 of them in just a month!
It is super nutritious- packed full of fiber, vitamins, and protein ...and flavor! Flavor is an important part of nutritious food too -if it doesn't taste good, people won't eat it; if people won't eat it, what good is it! This granola shows that nuts, seeds, and whole grains are not just bird food anymore :) They're definitely nutrition worth eating.

I originally got this recipe from one of my dear friends- and college roommate- Dana. She got the recipe from her neighbor, but Dana tweaked it a bit to make it her own. Now that I've been making it for awhile, I've tweaked it a bit. That's the best kind of recipe; one that's been passed around and versatile enough to be tweaked to your own liking. Feel free to make changes to this granola to make it your own. Share any changes with me...I would have fun with your ideas to mix it up a bit next time I make it :)

This is ironic timing to share the recipe because I first tried this granola when Dana gave me a big mason jar full of this yummy granola for Christmas a few years ago. I think I just might fill a few jars to give away this Christmas as well. Tie a ribbon around the lid with a little handwritten tag and it makes a great gift for teachers, neighbors, co-workers, acquaintances, ...even a possible stocking stuffer?

RECIPE (about 12 cups or fills 3 Large Mason Jars plus a little extra) :

  • 5 cups Rolled Oats
  • 1 1/2 cups Shredded Coconut
  • 1 cup Ground Flaxseed (or Wheat Germ)
  • 1 cup Sunflower Seeds, shelled
  • 2 cups Cashews, halved
  • 1/2 cup Canola Oil
  • 1/2 cup Honey
  • 1/3 cup Water (or 1/3 cup Maple Syrup)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon Salt
  • 2 teaspoons Vanilla
  • 1 cup dried fruit (I like to use craisins. Dana used orange scented golden raisins from Sprouts Market and they were super awesome in this granola)
This makes A LOT, so before you start making this, make sure you have two jelly roll pans, OR a HUGE baking dish with like 5 inch tall walls like the one I have pictured here. I actually think two pans would be better because it will toast more evenly. I have to stir my granola often in the deep dish pan that I use. 
Then preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a bowl, mix together the oil, honey, water, salt, and vanilla. (The original recipe from Dana's neighbor gave the option of 1/3 cup water OR 1/3 cup maple syrup. I opt for the water in order to cut down on the sugar, but you can try it either way and see which you like best)
**Helpful tip: warm the honey slightly and it will combine easier with the other ingredients. 

Then, into your honey mixture dump the: oats, coconut, flaxseed (or wheat germ), sunflower seeds, and cashews. Stir well and make sure it is all mixed together and coated completely with the liquid/honey mixture. 

Spread your raw granola mixture evenly in your baking pan/pans, and bake for about 40 minutes or so (stirring every 10 minutes) until it is all golden brown. It will not be all crisp and crunchy until you pull it out of the oven and let it cool for a few minutes. So don't worry if it's golden brown but feels slightly soft -you can continue to bake it longer if you want, but as soon as it turns toasty brown colored just pull it and let it cool to a crisp.
However, BEFORE it cools, add in the one cup of dried fruit. Stir into the hot granola.

Allow to cool, and store in an airtight container. I love using the old fashioned mason jars.

We enjoy this granola in a yummy yogurt parfait with fresh strawberries during the summer. I use plain, nonfat Greek yogurt, with NO sweetener. All you need is the natural sweetness from the fruit and the granola and you'd never know that it's plain yogurt!
Good strawberries are hard to find at this time of year, so you can use any fruit that's in season, OR don't forget about frozen fruit! Just because it's frozen doesn't mean it's any less good for you... just make sure you choose frozen fruit with no sugar added.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Holiday Treats!

Christmas season is in full swing -that means parties, and parties mean FOOD! We are in the heart of potlucks and parties with family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, church groups, etc. If you need some quick ideas for holiday treats and desserts... or especially if you are invited to a cookie exchange... here are some quick ideas: 

The Sweet 'n Salty, Nutty 'n Chewy...

Rich, Chewy Molasses Cookies:

Santa's request at our house every Christmas Eve...drumroll... 

Delightfully addicting, Christmas snowy, MUDDY BUDDIES:

World's BEST Cinnamon-Sugary Snickerdoodles:

Nutty, Chocolately, Buttery, Coconut MAGIC COOKIE BARS

Perfect Lemon Squares

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Oven-Roasted Parmesan Tomatoes

I needed a veggie side to go with our parmesan tilapia dinner, and I had some extra tomatoes in the fridge, so these delicious little treats were born :)

They are roast-y on the outside and juicy on the inside. They have a delicious golden parmesan crust and a little sprinkle of basil adds a big complimentary punch of flavor. Absolutely beautiful.

Tomatoes are even better for you when they are cooked anyway! A lot of people are worried about losing nutrients when they cook their fruits and veggies, but tomatoes are actually more powerful for you when they are cooked. That's why it's commonly recommended to include red pasta sauce into your weekly menu rotation, or canned tomatoes, tomato soup, ...any form of cooked tomatoe... like these warm little roasted tomatoes! :)
One of the great nutritional components of tomatoes is 'lycopene', and it is lycopene that is activated when heated/processed/cooked. In fact, the lycopene in a tomato is roughly 4 times more bioavailable when it is cooked (i.e. pasta sauce) rather than when eaten raw (i.e. in a salad). Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant and is believed to possibly help prevent cancer -especially prostate cancer. It is found in several fruits and veggies (mostly red-orange colored ones) but is most well known in tomatoes since they contain such high levels of lycopene. Lycopene is also fat-soluble, which means the more olive oil you eat with it, the better it is absorbed into your body :)
So let's start oilin' and cookin' our tomatoes!...

Ingredient List:
  • Tomatoes (I used Romas, but I suppose you can use any firm ones that you like or that you already have on hand)
  • Olive Oil
  • Basil (I used crushed dried Basil, but you could use fresh as well)
  • Parmesan Cheese
  • Black Pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Slice the tomatoes into about 1 inch slices. (To use the ends, slice just a tiny tip off each end of the tomato to give them a footprint to stand on and the open slice on top; see picture below)

Line a baking sheet with foil and drizzle with olive oil. Lay the tomato slices on the olive oil, and drizzle the tops of the tomato slices with olive oil as well, and a good sprinkling of basil.

Now top each tomato slice with a hearty pinch of Parmesan, and a little dash of black pepper.

Roast the tomatoes at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes so that the tomatoes get roasty and heated through, and the cheese melts on top. Then finish them off under the broiler for just a few minutes to give the cheese a golden, bubbly crust on top.

They are so simple yet so divine! Look at that beautiful roasted skin, the warm juicy inside, and the bubbly basily cheese :)

I served mine alongside parmesan tilapia and creamy risotto:

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Parmesan-Crusted Tilapia

Tilapia is a great fish if you're cooking for a mixed group; it is tender and flakey enough for fish-lovers, yet mild enough that non-fish-lovers definitely enjoy it too. Tilapia is a very mild white fish and doesn't taste 'fishy' at all. It is usually a great one for beginners. 

Parmesan cheese has a strong sharp flavor that is perfect for flavoring this mild filet of fish. The paprika and parsley are more for color and visual appeal than for flavor. Interestingly enough though, dried parsley is a surprising nutritious source of lycopene- the antioxidant most well known as one of the great health components of tomatoes. (Which reminds me that I also served these tasty filets with roasted tomatoes -another post where I discuss lycopene in more detail).

I accompanied this tilapia with creamy risotto and roasted tomatoes. If you have all your ingredients ready to go, you can make this entire meal in 30 minutes start to finish. We'll start with the fish...

Recipe (makes 4 tilapia filets):

  • Four 4 oz. Tilapia filets
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground Paprika
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried Parsley
  • a couple shakes of ground Black Pepper
  • Olive Oil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Cover a rimmed baking sheet with foil, and drizzle a little olive oil on the foil so that it's ready for the fish.

Mix the parmesan, paprika, parsley, and pepper in a dish.

Gently pat the fish filets dry with a paper towel, and drizzle with some olive oil.

Sprinkle the parm-mixture evenly over each of the filets, gently pressing it into the olive oil on each side -especially on the top :)
Lay the filets on the olive-oiled-foil me, do not skip the olive oil here! Fish is tender and flakey and it would be terrible if your beautiful filets fell to pieces because they stuck to the foil while trying to get them off.

Bake at 400 F for 15 minutes or until the parmesan topping is golden and the fish is cooked through.

They are GORGEOUS, HEALTHY and DELICIOUS. And SO easy! Who knew!? 

That is a delicious crust on the fish, and see how beautifully the paprika colored it!
Just look at how wonderfully flakey it is! No mushy fish here :)

I served my tilapia filets with creamy risotto and roasted tomatoes. You can have this entire healthy, fancy meal on the table in just 30 minutes!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Fresh Fruit Tart

Peter and I just got back from a trip to Seattle and I just fell in LOVE with the Pikes Place Market!!! All the beautiful, colorful, produce was almost too overwhelming for me- I just wished that we had a kitchen there so that I could have an excuse to carry bags of the gorgeous fresh groceries home with me.
Alas, I had no kitchen to cook in; instead, Peter graciously started each day by taking me for a morning stroll through the market so that I could gawk and soak in the market culture that I loved to feel a part of. 

They had these huge, super juicy, sweet yellow peaches that that all the produce vendors called 'OMG' peaches or 'Oh My Goodness' peaches. I had to go visit the peaches everyday just to make sure they were still as sweet as the day before :)

When we returned home, though I didn't have Pikes Place to go to for my fresh fruit, I did get a Farm-to-Home produce box delivery! What perfect timing! It even included peaches! With so much beautiful fruit in my box, I thought a fruit tart would be perfect to make! I had the fruit, the only problem was that I didn't have a tart pan to make it in. The fruit had already magically showed up for me on my doorstep... and guess what- 1 day later, SO DID THE TART DISH I NEEDED!!! Well, it didn't show up on my doorstep, but I showed up on it's doorstep.. at a garage sale right in my own neighborhood! This was too good to be true; this tart was meant to happen!

Along with the cute white fluted tart dish, I also found a couple other thrifty finds from this 91 year old woman's garage sale:
A gorgeous antique glass vanity box with aged metal edging and claw feet, AND a cool anniversary clock glass dome. 
I filled the glass vanity box with turquoise sand from an hour glass that had broke in my living room. Then I nested a pink sea shell from my personal collection inside. 
I placed the clock dome over a flat, round, mirrored pillar candle base and displayed a beautiful piece of white coral within. 
I love repurposing my treasures to create unique beach decor for our little Laguna Beach cottage :)

Okay, enough of the nonedibles. Down to the tart business! This fruit tart is beautifully impressive looking, but incredibly easy to make. It is almost a 'no-cook' recipe. It has a shortbread crust (only 3 ingredients -and the only baked component), a cheesecake-ish filling, fresh fruit, and a lemon glaze. 

This tart is awesome for all of summertime's bountiful fruit, but you can make it all year round with whatever fruit is in season. It could also be fun to try adding some slivered nuts into the design. 

Ingredients (makes a 12" tart): 

Shortbread Crust: 
  • 1 1/2 cups AP Flour
  • 1/2 cup Powdered Sugar
  • 1 1/2 sticks Salted Butter, chilled and diced
    • (optional: 1 teaspoon Almond Extract)
Cheesecake Filling: 
    • 8 oz. Cream Cheese (Low fat optional)
    • 1/2 cup Sugar
    • 1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
    • Any Fresh Fruit you like (to give you an idea, the design pictured in my post here used 6 strawberries, 1/2 white peach, 1/2 yellow peach, a kiwi, and a handful of blueberries)
    (Optional Glaze):
      • 1/4 cup fresh Lemon Juice
      • 1/4 cup Water
      • 1/4 cup Sugar
      • 1 Tablespoon Corn Starch
    Place the crust ingredients in a food processor and pulse until for about 1minute until it clumps together enough that when you squeeze it in your hand it will combine to become like playdough.

    Press the dough into the tart pan. (You can do this way in advance and chill it covered with plastic wrap in the fridge until you're ready to bake it). 

    Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 12 minutes, or until it just barely begins to golden. Be careful not to over bake.

    *Note, make sure the crust is cooled before you fill it

    Next, mix the filling ingredients. (again, this can be done way in advance as well -stored, covered, and in the fridge until ready for use)

    Spread the filling evenly into the cooled shortbread crust.

    Then have fun decorating with your sliced fruits, but don't put on the berries until after you've painted the glaze. It doesn't ruin the berries or anything, but the berries don't stay in place like the other fruit does while painting the glaze. Plus, the glaze works as somewhat of an adhesive to keep the berries in place when you set them around the top :)

    You don't HAVE to use the glaze (though I highly recommend it) on your tart, but it is good for a few reasons: 1) it makes the fruit super glossy and appealing looking, 2) if you make your tart ahead of time, it can help to prevent the fruit from drying out or turning brown, and 3) IT TASTES GOOD too!

    If using, you can mix all the glaze ingredients together with a fork or a whisk and bring it to a light boil in a saucepan until it thickens, or just microwave it in a pyrex measuring cup for about 30 seconds to thicken it. 
    If it gets too thick to paint, just stir in a little water to thin it out a little bit. If it isn't thick enough, heat it a little longer until it thickens more.

    Paint the glaze over the fruit, and then polka dot any berries on top.

    See that beautiful glossy shine!
    You can see the ring of alternating yellow and white peach slices, the strawberry border, the kiwi center, and the blueberry polka dots. 

    And here my new tart dish even fits perfectly atop the cake stand I got from Aunt Peggy at my bridal shower 2 years ago!

    Isn't it just lovely! I LOVE all the colors! 
    It's so fun playing around with the natural shapes and colors to see what patterns and designs you can make with them!

    Saturday, July 21, 2012

    Chicken Salad Veronique

    I don't know where the name came from, but that's what my mom always called it when we were growing up, so that's what I'm going to call it. 
    It is pronounced 'vair-oh-neek', but Peter looks at the name and calls it "chicken salad very unique". Haha! That makes me smile :)

    Whatever you choose to call it, this is a great seasonal, summer salad. So seasonal in fact, that the ingredients showed up in a cardboard box on my doorstep this morning. I subscribed to a farm fresh produce box delivery, and this was my first delivery! It is so exciting when the box shows up! It's like Christmas morning... I have no idea what's inside and I just get to rip it open and dig through to find which fresh fruits and veggies were harvested this week :) As I dug through the box, I started registering all the ingredients in my head like puzzle pieces, so that I could play with them in my mind throughout the day to figure out what I could make for dinner.

    After I had my fun with the produce box, I went for a run. Though it was only 8:30  in the morning, it was already so sunny and HOT! Days like these remind me of my dad when I was a kid; he would always ask my mom to make 'chicken salad veronique' whenever it was a hot summer day. That's when it clicked for me this morning- I had most of the ingredients in my produce box already! My puzzle pieces were all put together and dinner was solved :)

    This salad is cool and refreshing with its lemony dressing and juicy grapes, yet crunchy and hearty with the slivered almonds and the crisp celery.

    The recipe below isn't the exact original, I altered it a bit to fit what I already had in my kitchen and to fit what I like. I get asked a lot how I come up with my recipes... this is usually how they start;  just swapping for healthier ingredients, what I have on hand in my kitchen already, and adding other flavors I think would be good complements to the dish. A lot of times I also research about a billion-gajillion other recipes and take bits and pieces that I like and put them together to come up with my own version. At the end of this post, I will outline some of the differences that I made to this original recipe in case you would like to play around with it for your own preferences as well. It's a very adaptable recipe, so feel free to experiment with some of your own changes too!

    Ingredients (4 small servings):

    • 2-3 cups Chicken, cooked, cubed, & cooled (about 4-5 chicken breasts)
    • 1 cup seedless Grapes, halved
    • 1 cup Celery, sliced (about 4 stalks)
    • 1/2 cup Almonds, sliced or slivered
    • 1/3 cup Craisins
    • 1/2 cup Nonfat Greek Yogurt
    • 1/4 cup Low Fat Mayo
    • 1 teaspoon White Wine Vinegar
    • 2 teaspoons Honey
    • 1/4 cup Lemon Juice (about 2 large, or 3 small lemons)
    • 1/8 teaspoon Ground Mustard Powder
    • 1/8 teaspoon Curry Powder

    You want to cook your chicken first so that it has time to cool before you assemble your salad (or use cooled leftover chicken).
    *Helpful Tip: If you are cooking chicken breast for dinner earlier in the week, just cook some extra and set it aside for this salad for another day's lunch or dinner.*

    Prepare the grapes and celery that you need to chop for the salad. And get the rest of the ingredients ready.

    In a large bowl, combine the yogurt, LF mayo, vinegar, honey, lemon juice, ground mustard, and curry. This is your hearty dressing for the salad.

    Now, just simply add all your prepared chicken, grapes, celery, almonds, and craisins to the dressing in the bowl and stir to coat. It is ready to eat right away or it is perfectly happy sitting in the fridge until you are ready to eat.

    Isn't it pretty plated on a bed or ruffly red leaf lettuce :) 
    I also garnished it with a little celery leaf and a few craisins for some bright polka dots of color. I always like to garnish with something that actually hints at the flavors that are within the dish. You could also garnish with a little lemon zest too! That could be fun :)

    This recipe is great for brunches, for women's teas, wedding showers, for making ahead when you won't have much time later to prepare dinner, or just for those hot summer days :)

    Free free to alter and swap ingredients as you please... this is a very 'swapppable' recipe :)
    Also, here are the swaps I made from from the original recipe that I told you I would outline to give you some other ideas:
    • Instead of the lemon yogurt that the original recipe calls for, I substituted in real fresh lemon juice and fat free greek yogurt sweetened with a little natural honey
    • Instead of a lemon-lime alcohol bitter, I used a splash of white wine vinegar to get that same bite in the flavor. 
    • It also calls for some diced raw onion, that I omitted completely
    • I used low fat mayo instead of regular
    • I added the craisins- there's no swap here, just added it 'cuz I felt like it, plus I thought it would be nice to add just for the punch of color contrast. 
    • ...Same with the curry. No sub. Just added it entirely. The flavor works VERY well in this dish.
    • It called for deli mustart, but I just used a bit of ground mustard instead
    • I didn't do this, but you could add a little lemon zest into your salad if you really like that fresh lemon flavor, or you can just sprinkle a little zest on top for garnish.