Saturday, November 30, 2013

Homemade Granola

I began the month of November with a post about making my own yogurt. Some of the yogurt  I make goes into baked goods—cakes, muffins, quick breads, etc.  And occasionally I use it to accompany a grain pilaf or other savory preparation.   But most of the yogurt that I make is consumed for breakfast with fresh fruit.  I think I am a bit unusual in that I typically don't add granola to my bowl of fruit and yogurt.  But because many people I know like to sprinkle granola over their yogurt at breakfast, I thought I would end the month by sharing my granola recipe.

Since I don't often eat granola for breakfast, one might wonder why I make it at all.  It isn't that I don't like granola.  I actually like granola a lot.  It just so happens that I prefer to eat cake for breakfast.  Granola on the other hand is a really great snack. Unfortunately, I like it so much that I can sit in front of the TV with an open container of granola and eat it like popcorn.  Since granola isn't as low in fat and calories as popcorn, popcorn is the safer choice for mindless eating...needless to say, I try to stick to popcorn (air-popped...with lots of butter and/or olive oil...and salt).  I usually only make granola when I have a specific need of it.  If I know, for example, that my work schedule will require several days in a row of hurried breakfasts, I make a batch.  It's pretty easy to eat a big bowl of granola and fruit and yogurt in the car.  (Maybe I shouldn't admit that I occasionally eat in the car...  At least I'm not getting it from a drive-thru.)   

Another great reason to make granola is in preparation for houseguests....which is the situation that many people find themselves in this time of year.  It is of course nice to get up before your guests so that you can make and serve a fresh hot breakfast.  But people have such varied morning habits, it's also nice to have a variety of things on hand that will allow people to fend for themselves (particularly if you have a guest who likes to rise earlier than you do).  Things that are good to have available would include yogurt, a selection of fruit, whole grain toasting bread, butter, jams/preserves/honey, maybe a nut butter of some kind, cheese...and of course a container of homemade granola.  If you show your guests where everything is located, how to work the toaster, and how to use your coffee maker, they'll be set.

Granola recipes abound.  My recipe is a hybrid of the recipes of two good friends (Bonnie and Nancy).   I don't know that there is anything particularly special about my recipe...except that it pleases me. Granola is nothing more than a combination of flaked grains, nuts and seeds, moistened  with a liquid comprised mostly of fat and sugars and baked until everything is toasty and dry.  It can be clumpy or flakey, quite sweet or not very sweet at all.  I like mine clumpy (it is much more snack-able this way).  I also like mine on the moderately sweet side.   

The combination of grains, nuts and seeds is up to you.  Like my friends, I choose to use all old-fashioned oats for the grain portion...but there are loads of flaked grains on the market to choose from and it would probably be fun to experiment if you are so inclined.  As far as nuts go, I like sliced almonds (chopped almonds seem a bit hard) and chopped pecans.  Bonnie uses all chopped pecans and Nancy uses sliced almonds and shredded coconut.  I can't imagine any nut that wouldn't be delicious...but I'm sure you could make granola that didn't include any.  Seeds too are optional.  Bonnie doesn't include any.  I use pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds).  Nancy uses sesame seeds.  Sunflower seeds would be a good choice too.

Old-fashioned oats, sliced almonds, pepitas and chopped pecans

As with the dry ingredients, granola is flexible when it comes to the liquids.  The liquid is made up in a large part of sugars.  Using a large quantity of sugary liquid relative to the quantity of dry ingredients will result in harder and larger clumps of granola that can sometimes even be a bit sticky.  Less will produce a looser, dryer granola.  The "sugar" itself can be refined granulated or brown sugar as well as honey, maple syrup, molasses and/or agave.  All of these vary quite a bit in flavor and sweetness and choosing one over another can dramatically alter the taste and sweetness of your granola.  If you want to experiment with the sweetener you use, remember that by volume, honey is the sweetest, followed next in sweetness by agave, then granulated and brown sugar, then maple syrup and finally molasses is the least sweet of all. The other major piece of the liquid is fat. Most recipes call for a neutral oil (like canola oil) although more and more you will find granola recipes that use coconut oil (which is what I use).  You could also use olive oil if you like.

Clockwise from the top--Coconut oil, cinnamon & salt, honey & brown sugar,
egg white & vanilla

The most significant difference between my recipe and most that I have seen is that it includes an egg white as part of the liquid.  I took this idea from Nancy's recipe (which was in turn adapted from a Bon Appetit recipe).  I think the egg white makes a granola that has a lighter, more tender crunch.  If you don't want to use an egg white, many recipes (including Bonnie's) use water instead.  Aran Goyoaga of Cannelle etVanille uses apple juice in hers.

One last observation.  I don't put any dried fruit in my granola.  When I do eat granola for breakfast, I eat it with fresh fruit and don't really want the dried.  But if you like dried fruit in your granola,  Nancy recommends that you add it when you serve it.  If you add it to the baking granola (even if you add it towards the end) it can become too hard.  If you add it to the granola for storage, it introduces moisture which tends to soften the granola.

As I hope you have gathered, the granola you make should be all about your preferences.  Find a recipe or two that are close to what you think you might like in terms of texture and sweetness and then begin to alter it in a way that pleases you.  I'm certain you will quickly arrive at a recipe that is basically your own "house" granola.  Perfect for breakfast (for yourself or your guests)...or a snack...or a homemade holiday gift.   


1/4 c. (60 g.) coconut oil (warmed until liquid)
1/2 c. (170 g.) honey
1/3 c. (65 g.) brown sugar
1 t. kosher salt
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/2 T. vanilla
1 egg white (30 g.)

5 c. (500g.) old fashioned oats
1 c. (105 g.) sliced almonds
1 c. (105 g.) pecans, roughly chopped
1/3 c. (50 g.) pepitas

Combine the first seven ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer.  With the paddle attachment, mix on low to blend.  Add the oats, nuts and seeds and paddle on low until everything is well combined.  The mixture should look clumpy, but not wet.

Spread the granola on two parchment-lined, rimmed baking sheets.  

Place in a 300° oven and bake until golden brown—about 40 minutes.  

Rotate the pans from top to bottom and front to back half way through the baking time.  I prefer big clumps of granola, so I don't stir mine.  If you like yours more "separate", stir a couple of times as it bakes—if you stir, your granola will be more uniform in color throughout. 

Let cool completely—the granola crisps as it cools.  Break up into whatever size clumps you prefer and store air-tight, at room temperature.

Note:  If you don't have a stand mixer, combine the oats, nuts and pepitas in a large bowl.  Combine the first seven ingredients in another bowl.  Pour the liquid over the dry and mix with a rubber spatula until everything is thoroughly combined.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Pizza with Sweet Potato, Kale & Goat Cheese...and Happy Thanksgiving

Recently I had a bit of a dinner mishap involving a pizza.  On the way to the table with my freshly made pizza, I somehow managed to tilt the peel in such a way that most of the slices of my pizza slid off and onto the floor.  All landed cheese-side down (of course).  The three slices that remained on the peel made a meager dinner for two. There were other things in the house to eat, but I really wanted to eat the pizza.  It was the first time I had made this particular pizza and it was delicious.  After we finished our pizza snack I eyed the ruined slices in the sink, hoping that some might be salvageable after all.  I have to admit that it was with much regret that I turned on the disposal.    

I wish I were able to cite the original inspiration for this pizza, but I can't.  I was flipping through old issues of Food & Wine, Bon Appetit and Gourmet on a mission to find something particular (I don't recall now what it was I was looking for).  I remember seeing the words "sweet potato pizza" in an index and being intrigued enough to turn to the recipe.  I had assumed that the sweet potatoes would be sliced or cubed, and then roasted or sautéed and scattered over the pizza.  Instead of that, the pizza was "sauced" with a smear of sweet potato purée.  I posted a winter squash pizza made the same way a few years ago.  Since I like that pizza a lot, I mentally tucked away the image of this one and returned to whatever it was I was doing before it caught my attention.

It was this image that inspired me the night of our ill-fated pizza.  I had some beautiful Beauregard sweet potatoes from my last visit to the farmers' market in addition to some local Red Russian kale and red onions.  Along with some goat cheese I knew I had the makings of a pretty stellar pizza.  And it was.  I should console myself with the thought that I didn't drop all of the slices.

Since I didn't get any pictures of the finished pizza that night, I knew I would have to make it again if I wanted to post the recipe.  I decided to make it again sooner rather than later because Thanksgiving is upon us, and at some point it occurred to me that this pizza would be a great way to use up leftover sweet potato purée from your Thanksgiving dinner (assuming that your Thanksgiving sweet potatoes don't include marshmallows). Or, it would make a great dinner for the night before Thanksgiving—just cook an extra sweet potato while you are preparing your sweet potatoes for the next day's feast.   If you don't have any kale, any number of things you might have on hand would be delicious in combination with the sweet assortment of cheeses...something salty like bacon, prosciutto or sausage....some caramelized onions or sautéed mushrooms...

I do hope that you will give this idea of a sweet potato-"sauced" pizza a try, but mostly today I would like to take a moment at the beginning of this week of Thanksgiving to wish all of my visitors a very happy Thanksgiving.  I hope that none of your food winds up on the floor (unless it is a purposeful gift for a beloved furry companion).  And may you find yourself at a peaceful table....laden with delicious the company of those you love—and who love you—best.

Pizza with Sweet Potato, Kale & Goat Cheese

1 medium sweet potato—about 12 oz.  (Beauregard, Jewel & Garnet are all good choices)
Salt, Pepper & Nutmeg
2 T. Olive oil, plus more for brushing
1 small red onion (about 6 oz.), cut into a 1/4-inch dice
pinch of red pepper flakes
1 fat clove of garlic, finely minced
1 bunch Red Russian kale (Green Kale or Tuscan Kale will also work), stems stripped away and discarded
Pizza dough (see below)
3 1/2 to 4 oz. goat cheese, coarsely crumbled
3/4 to 1 oz. (1/4 to 1/3 cup) finely grated Pecorino

Prick the sweet potato in several places.  Place on a small baking sheet and transfer to a 400° oven.  Bake until tender and oozing sugary syrup—about 40 minutes to an hour.  When cool enough to handle, remove the skin and discard.  Mash the flesh with a fork and season to taste with salt, pepper and nutmeg.  You should have about 3/4 cup of sweet potato purée (see note).  Set aside.  (Sweet potatoes may be prepared ahead...or leftovers may be used.) 

While the sweet potatoes roast, cook the onions and kale:  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the kale and cook until tender—about 7 to 10 minutes. Drain and spread on a baking sheet to cool. When cool, squeeze firmly to remove as much water as possible.  Chop coarsely and set aside.

Heat 2 T. of olive oil in a sauté pan set over medium heat.  Add the onion, along with a pinch a salt and the pepper flakes and sweat until the onion is very tender and beginning to caramelize—15 minutes or so—regulating the heat as necessary to keep the onion from burning.  Add the garlic and continue to cook until fragrant—a minute or two.  Add the kale, toss with the onion-garlic mixture and cook until the kale has given up any remaining excess water and has begun to sizzle in the olive oil (add a bit more if the pan seems dry). Set aside.

Build the pizza: Roll the rested dough out into a 11- to 12-inch round (the dough will continue to stretch another inch or so in diameter when you spread the sweet potatoes) and transfer to a baking sheet, pizza pan or pizza peel that has been dusted with flour or cornmeal.  Brush the dough with a little olive oil.  Spread the sweet potato purée over the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border.  

Spread the kale mixture over the sweet potato and crumble the goat cheese evenly over the kale.  

Scatter the Pecorino evenly over all. 

Bake the pizza: If using a pizza pan or baking sheet, place the pizza in the pan on a pre-heated pizza stone in a pre-heated 450° to 500° oven. Bake until the crust is golden brown on the bottom and the cheese is tinged with golden brown, about 12 to 15 minutes. To insure a crisp crust, slide the pizza off of the pan and onto the pizza stone as soon as the crust is set (after 4 or 5 minutes). 

If using a peel, slide the pizza directly onto the preheated baking stone. Bake until the crust is golden brown on the bottom and the cheese is tinged a golden brown color—about 8 to 12 minutes.

When the pizza is done, transfer to a cutting board and cut into wedges and serve.

Note (added November 2015):  I have noticed this year that the sweet potatoes have tended to be a bit drier than usual.  If you find yourself with an unmanageably stiff and dry sweet potato purée, drizzle in a bit of olive oil...or let it out to a more spreadable consistency.  

Pizza Dough:
1/2 cup warm water (100º-110º)
1 1/8 t. active dry yeast
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 T. olive oil
1/2 t. salt

Place the water in a large bowl and add the yeast. Let soften for a minute or two. Add 3/4 cup of the flour and whisk until smooth. Add the oil, salt and another half cup of the flour. Stir with a wooden spoon to form a soft dough that holds its shape, adding more flour if necessary. Sprinkle some of the remaining quarter cup of flour on a smooth surface. Scrape the dough out of the bowl and sprinkle with a bit more of the flour. Knead the dough, adding just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking, until the dough is smooth and springs back when pressed lightly with a finger—about 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise until it has doubled in size—about 1 hour. Punch down the dough and turn it onto a lightly floured surface and form into a ball. Cover with a towel and let rest for 15 to 20 minutes. The dough is now ready to be shaped, topped and cooked or frozen.

Food Processor Method: Place the water and yeast in a small bowl and let sit until the yeast has dissolved. Place 1 1/3 cups of the flour and salt in the food processor fitted with the metal blade and pulse to blend. Add the oil and yeast/water mixture and pulse until the dough is homogenous. Begin to run the mixture in long pulses until the dough is smooth and elastic—it shouldn't take more than a minute. If the dough seems wet and sticky, add some of the remaining flour a tablespoon at a time, pulsing after each addition. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and give it a few kneads by hand.

Variation for a Whole Wheat Crust: Instead of unbleached all-purpose flour, use 3/4 c. bread flour and 1/2 to 3/4 c. whole wheat flour (the new “white” whole wheat flour is a good choice).

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Pasta with Roasted Winter Squash

I have been debating whether or not to post today's pasta recipe.  I feel like I post pasta too often.  But maybe this isn't the case after all...  In looking back, I haven't shared a pasta recipe since August.  Maybe I just eat a lot of pasta.  In any case, I wanted to share the recipe I'm posting today for reasons beyond deliciousness (although that would be reason enough):  It is a "single ingredient" pasta featuring one of my favorite vegetables of the season (Winter Squash) and for all practical purposes, it is made with items you probably already have in your pantry, making it an ideal weeknight dinner.    

This time of year I almost always have a collection of Carnival, Sweet Dumpling and Acorn squash  hanging out on my counter.  The displays at the market and in the grocery stores are so beautiful that I can't pass them up.   Sometimes they languish a bit as I work my way through other more perishable purchases...kale, chard, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, white top turnips, etc.  But invariably I come to an evening when all of these other items have been consumed and these great keepers of the Autumn harvest remain.  This pasta is a perfect dinner for those nights. 

As I said at the start, it is likely that all of the other necessary ingredients for this pasta are in your pantry.   Most Americans keep a selection of dried pastas on hand.  For this pasta, bucatini is my favorite and  linguine is a close second, but perciatelli or gemelli...even spaghetti...would all be fine.  And if you keep pasta on hand it is not too much of a stretch to assume you will also have garlic, hot pepper flakes, olive oil and pine nuts.  As far as the cheese is concerned,  Pecorino is my first choice—I love its salty tang in contrast with the sweet squash—but Parmesan would be fine.  And if you happen to keep Feta around, it would be a delicious choice, crumbled generously over the finished dish.  The only remaining ingredients are fresh herbs.  And you might wonder that I think of these as pantry staples.  But with the exception of the parsley (something that is pretty much a pantry staple at my house) the herbs—thyme, rosemary and sage—are all late autumn hangers-on in the herb garden.  Even if we hadn't had such a mild Autumn this year, I can almost always reliably harvest these herbs up until Thanksgiving.  If you only have one of these herbs...or you don't have can (and should) still make this pasta.  Just use what you will still be delicious.

Ingredients for half of a recipe

As far as inspiration goes, I can take very little credit for this particular pasta.  It is almost completely lifted from a Martha Stewart Living recipe.  I have only tweaked it slightly.  Stewart's recipe is finished by placing a large spoonful of ricotta on top of each plate.  I have never tried it this way.  The creamy, soft, sweet character of this cheese seems too similar to the roasted squash...I want more of a contrast.  (I have made it topped with crumbled Ricotta Salata...which is quite good.).  But this is only a small change...hardly worth mentioning except that when you look at her recipe you will notice the difference and might wonder. 

The biggest difference in our versions is the way that I combine the squash with the pasta.  Stewart's recipe directs you to divide your seasoned oil in half.  One half is used to reheat the roasted squash, the other is used to dress the cooked noodles.  The dressed noodles are then plated and topped with the dressed squash.  When I make my version, I simply warm the squash in all of the oil (and I admit it...I use quite a bit more oil in my version) and then toss the warmed squash with the pasta.  The difference in this final step is simply a matter of preference and you should prepare it in the way that works best for you, in your kitchen.  I think it is worth mentioning that when you warm the squash in the oil (at least for the way I prepare this dish) you are not trying to obtain a smooth emulsified purée of seasoned squash and oil.  Rather, the squash should look chunky and rustic, with the seasoned oil still visible—sort of coating, rather than blended with, the squash.

Finally, I like to finish the dish with a generous shower of toasted pine nuts.  They add subtle texture and echo the sweetness of the squash.  I think toasted crumbled walnuts would be good too.  Since they have a bitter character, they will provide a flavor contrast rather than an echo...but they would be delicious, never-the-less.

As always, there are so many directions to go with this pasta.  Besides varying the cheese, the herbs and the style of noodle, you could add other flavor elements. Julienned prosciutto or cooked bacon/pancetta would all be delicious (in which case the final touch of a dollop of fresh ricotta would be perfect).  Wilted greens would be a nice addition too.  Once you start thinking about dressing pasta with roasted, shredded squash, a world of possibilities open up.  No wonder I eat pasta so often.

Pasta with Roasted Winter Squash,
Pecorino & Pine Nuts

2 lbs. winter squash (Acorn, Sweet Dumpling, or Carnival)
2/3 c. olive oil, plus more for brushing the squash
6 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
1/2 t. hot pepper flakes
1 t. each minced Rosemary, minced Sage & minced Thyme
1 lb. Linguine, Bucatini, or Perciatelli
3 T. minced flat leaf Parsley
2 oz. finely grated Pecorino
1/3 c. pine nuts, lightly toasted

Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds.  Brush the cut surfaces and the cavity with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Arrange the squash, cut side up, on a cookie sheet and roast in a 400° oven until fork tender—about 45 minutes to an hour.  Set aside to cool slightly.  When cool enough to handle, scrape the flesh away from the skins (leaving the flesh in rustic shreds).  Discard the skins. 

Pour 1/3 to 1/2 cup of the olive oil into a large sauté pan set over moderate heat.  Add the garlic cloves and allow it to barely sizzle in the oil...reduce the heat if necessary.  

When the garlic is pale golden (this will take about 5 minutes), remove and discard.  Add the pepper flakes and the rosemary, sage and thyme and cook for about 30 seconds to allow the pepper flakes and herbs to flavor the oil.  Add the squash, breaking it up with a fork or wooden spoon.  Heat the squash through.  Remove the pan from the heat and keep warm while you cook the pasta.

Add 2 to 3 T. of salt to a large pot (6-qt) of boiling water.  Add the pasta  and cook until al dente.  Drain, reserving a cup of the pasta water.  Add the pasta to the sauté pan with the squash and toss and stir to coat, adding some of the pasta water if it seems dry.  Add the parsley and as much of the remaining olive oil as you like; toss to combine.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  Serve, topped with the Pecorino & pine nuts.  Serves 5 to 6.

Variation:  Replace the Pecorino with a generous quantity of coarsely crumbled Ricotta Salata or Feta.

(Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart Living)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Chocolate-Espresso Snowball Cookies

I know it isn't even Thanksgiving yet, but I've already started thinking about my Christmas baking. Cookies, to be precise. Every year I teach a holiday cookie class. Last year's class was dubbed "cookie-ganza" by a friend because instead of teaching old beloved favorites, I taught a class of mostly new recipes...which meant I spent a good portion of the fall baking (and eating) Christmas cookies. The recipes for many of those cookies ended up on my blog...but a few did not. Chocolate-Espresso Snowballs—the first cookie I tested—was one of those that I didn't post. Since I made a batch this morning (sort of a warm up for the baking extravaganza to come), I thought I would share the recipe now.

The idea for this recipe came from Food & Wine magazine. They published a recipe for Chocolate Espresso Snowballs in December of 2011 (Gourmet published an almost identical recipe—called Mocha Pecan Balls—way back in December of 1993). When I looked closely at these recipes I realized that they were just variations on my old childhood friend "Russian Teacakes" (sometimes called "Mexican Wedding Cakes" or "Snowballs"), made with cocoa and the grown-up addition of espresso. Since I have always thought my preferred version of Russian Teacakes (learned in Junior High Home Economics...I think it is probably a Betty Crocker version) was the best, I decided to adapt that recipe rather than use the one published in Food & Wine and Gourmet.

I only have one bit of advice for making these cookies—but I think it's important. Be very careful not to over bake them. One of the things I have always liked about the Russian Teacakes that I make is that they are tender and moist. If over baked even slightly, they are quite dry...they lose almost all of their charm. The same goes for this chocolate and espresso version. In fact, one of the reasons I made these cookies today was to double check the recipe before my class rolled around. Last year, after testing this recipe and coming up with a cookie that kept calling me back to the cookie tin for just one more, the cookies that I made for my class were just OK. I was puzzled by this. I thought that I might have written something down incorrectly in my final version of the recipe—although I suspected that I had probably just baked them a bit too long. Well, this must have been the case. The cookies I made today were delicious...but I kept a careful eye on the oven as they baked. You will know the cookies are done by the way they look: the surface of the dough will have lost its wet sheen and the cookies will have puffed slightly and begun to crack. 

Once they look like this, remove them from the oven right away. They will be too fragile to remove from the baking sheet at this point. Allowing them to rest on the sheet for a minute (no more) will give them time to firm up. At that point, they may be transferred to a wire rack...or, you may do as I do and simply slide the entire sheet of parchment off of the cookie sheet (only do this if you are using a cookie sheet without a rim). 

If you like Russian Teacakes...and chocolate....and coffee..., I think you will like these cookies. They pack a strong mocha flavor punch...have just bit of soft crunch...and are tender and moist. And there is absolutely no need to wait until Christmas to make a batch.

Chocolate-Espresso Snowballs

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (9 oz.)
3/4 c. pecans (3 oz.)—it is not necessary to toast the pecans for this cookie
1/4 c. cocoa (20 g.)
2 T. finely ground espresso beans (10 g. or 1 pod)—or use 2 t. instant espresso powder
1/2 t. salt
2 1/4 sticks (18 T.) unsalted butter
1/2 cup powdered sugar (2 oz.)
1/4 cup granulated sugar (1.75 oz.)
1 t. vanilla

Place the flour and pecans in a food processor and process until the pecans are finely ground.  Add the cocoa, espresso and salt and pulse to blend.  Set aside. 

Briefly cream the butter and sugars.  Beat in the vanilla.  Add the dry ingredients and mix to form a soft dough.  Chill for 1 hour, or overnight.

Mold into 1-inch balls 

You may portion the dough with a cookie scoop, but I think it's easiest
 to divide the dough into six equal portions, roll each portion into a
log and then cut the logs into 10 equal segments.

and place on parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing the cookies at least an inch apart.

Bake the cookies in a 400° oven until the tops appear dry and the cookies have puffed slightly and begun to crack—about 9 minutes (be careful not to over bake...the cookies will be dry).  Cool on the sheets for one minute (the cookies are too tender to transfer from the sheets when they first come out of the oven).  Allow the cookies to continue to cool for another 5 minutes.  Roll the cookies in powdered sugar (be gentle, they break).  

Finish cooling on a wire rack.  Sift more powdered sugar over the cooled cookies to give them a neater look.  Store air tight.

Makes 5 dozen cookies