Friday, December 17, 2010

Happy Trails to You

Do you have a go-to snack for when you travel, whether it be on a plane, in the car, or running errands? Mine consists of fruit and/or nuts. And the ultimate? Trail mix. So simple and good.

Growing up, my father packed our lunches for us to take to school. My siblings and I never bought lunch because it was too expensive and not that tasty anyways. My lunch consisted of either a PBJ or lunchmeat sandwich, a piece of fruit, and either two cookies or trail mix. The trail mix he put together was peanuts, raisins, and chocolate chips. To this day I love the combo of peanuts and raisins. When I lived in Nicaragua for a year, a simple and filling snack was to buy a package of peanuts and a package of raisins when traveling.

I've branched out since then and have created numerous versions of trail mix, versions that I never write down, but then re-create again after forgetting about them.

Before taking the bus home to Massachusetts for Thanksgiving, Justin made some trail mix for us to snack on. He raved about how tasty it is and how everyone should bring trail mix on trips, even if they're not hiking trips. My goal with this post is to inspire you rather than dictate a recipe. A good rule of thumb is to have an equal ratio of dried fruit to nuts, with just a little something sweet, like chocolate chips. When stored in an airtight container, it keeps for weeks. Except that it doesn't, because it's usually eaten up before that long. Here are some favorite variations:

Simple Snack

peanuts
raisins

Mix together in equal portions


Simple Snack II

walnuts
dried cranberries
Mix together in equal portions


The Ultimate

raisins
dried cranberries
chopped apricots
dried cherries
cup peanuts
deluxe mixed nuts
walnuts (since they're usually not included in mixed nuts)
sunflower seeds
chocolate chips
Mix together in equal portions


Pepitas Trail Mix

2 cups pepitas (green pumpkin seeds)
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup dark chocolate chips


Tropical Trail Mix

dried pineapple
macadamia nuts
almonds
coconut
dried mango
cashews
white chocolate chips
Mix together in equal portions

Do you have a favorite combination? I need new ideas for my travels to Michigan next week!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Oatmeal Bars

Finally, a dessert recipe! I might be an anomaly since previously I was only posting healthy recipes during the holidays. This recipe is "healthy" in small doses. I confess, the name of this recipe is not very catchy. "Oatmeal" doesn't always inspire awe, and "bar" is, well, blah. But in this post, ladies and gentlemen, you get not one, but two variations of oatmeal bars! I give you Apricot White Chocolate Bar Cookies and Pumpkin Cranberry Bar Cookies. That has a nice ring, yes?

I was searching for a good bar cookie that uses oats, mainly because I thought it would be a nice alternative to using nuts. What, no nuts? I tend to put nuts in everything. The story behind not using nuts in this recipe is that Justin is a middle school teacher, and one of his tactics for keeping students motivated is by grouping them into teams every week. The team with the best behavior for that week gets a home-baked something from me (sometimes him). I never add nuts in case of allergies.

It's a good thing I was not allowed to use nuts, because I don't think I would have put together these delicious, awe-inspiring oatmeal bars otherwise. First I thought of making white chocolate butterscotch bars, but the grocery store I went to didn't carry butterscotch without high fructose corn syrup in it. I noticed the dried apricots and was inspired. For the pumpkin version, I had been wanting to make a pumpkin-cranberry-chocolate something for awhile, so that was already on my mind.

I adapted Martha Stewart's Chewy Oatmeal Blondie recipe. She creates a baking mix that can be used for this recipe and a couple others. I downsized the baking mix so you can make just one batch of each, but if you think you'll make these on a regular basis, you can find her baking mix recipe here.

Apricot White Chocolate Bar Cookies
Adapted from Martha Stewart's recipe for Chewy Oatmeal Blondies
Serves 16

1 cup whole wheat flour (can substitute half oat flour, or half white flour)
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
Mix together in a large bowl. Set aside.

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
Beat together with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.

1 large egg
Add and beat until combined. Gradually add dry ingredients and mix just until combined.

1/2 cup dried apricots
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup old-fashioned oats
Fold in 3/4 cup of oats, dried apricots, and white chocolate chips. Pour batter into buttered 8-inch square pan and smooth batter evenly. Sprinkle remaining oats on top. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30-35 minutes, or until inserted toothpick comes out with just a few crumbs clinging to it. Let cool in pan. Store in airtight container for up to two days, or freeze for up to two months.


Pumpkin Cranberry Bar Cookies
Adapted from Martha Stewart's recipe for Chewy Oatmeal Blondies
Serves 16

1 cup whole wheat flour (can substitute half oat flour, or half white flour)
1/4 cup oat flour (blend whole oats in a blender)
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/8 teaspoon ginger
Mix together in a large bowl. Set aside.

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
Beat together with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.

1 large egg
1/2 cup pureed pumpkin
Add and beat until combined. Gradually add dry ingredients and mix just until combined.

1/2 cup cranberries
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup chocolate chips (can use half or all white chocolate)
1 cup old-fashioned oats
Fold in 3/4 cup of oats and remaining ingredients. Pour batter into buttered 8-inch square pan and smooth batter evenly. Sprinkle remaining oats on top. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30-35 minutes, or until inserted toothpick comes out with just a few crumbs clinging to it. Let cool in pan. Store in airtight container for up to two days, or freeze for up to two months.

Do you have a favorite nut-free dessert, muffin, or baked good recipe? Do tell, I'd love to add it to my middle school recipe lineup.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Healthy Breakfast for the Holidays (Part II)

A couple of weeks ago I bought some spinach from the neighborhood farm that I'm involved in. The spinach was young and sweet. I wanted to do something spectacular with it for dinner but, alas, my meals were already planned. I needed to use it before it went bad so I threw it in a frittata. Have you made one before? They're ridiculously easy.

I hadn't made one in a long time so I needed to find a good template to follow. Alice Waters saved the day with "The Art of Simple Food." I went off of her recipe for chard frittata, but replaced the chard with spinach and added Havarti cheese and sun-dried tomatoes. The Havarti was nice, but next time I make this frittata I think I'll use feta instead, since it's such a winning combination with spinach.

I sauteed the spinach and onion and added the remaining ingredients the night before. The next morning, I heated up an oven-proof skillet, dumped in the frittata mixture, and cooked it for about 7 minutes. Then I finished it off in the oven for another 10 minutes or so. The result was eating a special breakfast with Justin at 6:15 am before we went off to work. That's the beauty of this recipe. If you have a half hour the night before, you can get this all ready to make for your holiday guests. It's a healthy breakfast (with veggies, even!) that doesn't take forever to make.

Spinach Frittata
Adapted from Alice Waters' recipe
Serves 6


1 bunch spinach
Wash spinach and chop into ribbons.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced thin
Heat oil in a heavy pan over medium heat. Add onion, cook for 5 minutes then add spinach. Cook until spinach is tender. Add a splash of water if pan dries out.

6 large eggs
Salt
1 teaspoon olive oil
Fresh-ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup feta
Lightly beat eggs. Add remaining ingredients along with spinach and onion mixture. (This is the part where you can store the mixture in the fridge overnight if you'd like to cook the frittata the next morning).

1-2 tablespoons olive oil
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Thoroughly heat a 10-inch skillet on the stove. Add the olive oil. After a few seconds, pour in the egg mixture. As the eggs set on the bottom, lift up the edges to let the uncooked egg flow underneath. Continue to cook until mostly set. Slide the skillet into the oven and bake for another 7-10 minutes until the frittata is set on top.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Healthy Breakfast for the Holidays

I can't go too long without posting a pancake recipe. They're just so tasty and versatile!

Will you have family visiting for Christmas, or will you be staying with family? It's always nice to make a special breakfast for them -- one that's unique, but not heavy. And maybe even includes vegetables. Around this time of year, it's hard to avoid indulgent foods. I usually dive right in at other months, but in December, they seem to be everywhere I turn.

These carrot pancakes only feel indulgent thanks to carrot cake spices. I got this recipe from Cooking Light and have had it hanging around for the past year. Finally I found the time to try it out. For the buttermilk, I combined a scant tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with enough buttermilk to make 3/4 cup and let stand for five minutes. I added raisins, switched from all-purpose flour to a whole wheat and oat flour blend, and instead of slathering the pancakes with honey butter as the recipe suggested, I drizzled honey on top instead of syrup. They were delicious and healthy, and special enough to make for guests.

Carrot Cake Pancakes
From Cooking Light January/February 2010
Serves 2-4
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup oat flour (take whole oats and grind them in a blender)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
dash of ground cloves
dash of ground ginger

Combine dry ingredients together in large bowl.

1/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon yogurt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 cups finely grated carrot

Combine sugar and wet ingredients and add to flour mixture. Stir just until moist.

1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted

Fold into pancake batter. Heat a large skillet or griddle over medium heat. Coat with butter or oil. Spoon 1/4 cup-fulls of batter onto hot griddle. Cook until tops are bubbly or until edges look lightly browned, flip and cook 1-2 minutes longer.

Optional toppings: honey, maple syrup, extra walnuts, yogurt

Do you have a favorite holiday breakfast? I'd love to hear about it!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Winter Comfort

What is comforting about winter, you ask? It's cold, dark, and windy. Snowy. Icy. I shudder at the cold. I think I have a condition where my extremities don't get enough circulation, so anytime it falls below 70 degrees, my hands get like ice. One of the many reasons to keep moving, and keep cooking! The most comforting thing to me about winter is FOOD!

When most people think of comfort food, they think of heavy, creamy, full dishes. I think of a few of those myself, but comfort food (especially winter comfort food) does not have to be really heavy. It can be tasty and warm and spicy, but not leave you feeling like you ate a rock. Which is why I like this cassoulet dish. I got the recipe from my dear sister a couple years ago, and I'm not sure where she got it from. I did some research on the origins of cassoulet and this version wanders a bit from the original but is still delicious.

Cassoulet was born in the south of France. It consists of white beans and meat and is cooked in a deep, round, earthenware pot with slanting sides called a cassole. (I saw something similar recently at Wild Yam Pottery -- now it's on my mind to get it just to make cassoulet!) It was traditional to deglaze the pot from the previous cassoulet to give it a deep, earthy flavor, which has led to stories of an original cassoulet extending for years.

For my cassoulet, I used bison sausage. Bison meat is lower in fat and calories than other meats such as beef, pork, and even chicken. It is a good source of iron and vitamin B-12. If you like red meat, you'll like bison, as long as you view it not as a replacement for beef but as a delicious meat on its own. I don't eat a lot of red meat but in certain dishes it just shines. The bison sausage was flavored with maple and ginger and had a bit of a kick to it. If you're in the Baltimore area, I used local GBT bison meat.

Add to the meat thyme, potatoes, beans, tomato sauce, and red wine, cook for an hour and a half, and the dish you pull out of your oven turns into a wondrous thing. And your house has a wondrous smell. And your spouse/friend/roommate/dog thinks you're a wondrous creature for making such delicious food. I like to eat this dish with a glass of red wine and a Christmas movie with my husband and cat on either side of me. Winter comfort at its best.

Cassoulet
Serves 4, unless you have a very hungry husband, in which case it serves 2

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large links (about 2 cups) local, sustainable sausage (I used maple-ginger bison sausage)
2 large baking potatoes
1 cup dry white beans
1 cup dry black beans
1 cup dry kidney beans
1 can (or 1 cup) tomato sauce
1 cup wine
2 tablespoons dried thyme (or 1/4 cup fresh thyme)
1 teaspoon salt

1) The night before, soak 1 cup each black beans, white beans, and kidney beans in a pot with enough water to cover it well. After soaking, drain water and cover well with fresh water. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 1 hour, adding 1 teaspoon salt during the last 15 minutes of cooking

2) Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove the casings from the sausage. Heat oil in large skillet. Brown the sausage over medium heat, turning to brown each side evenly. Let cool a bit and chop into 1 inch pieces. Add to rectangular glass casserole dish.

2) Scrub and peel the potatoes. Cut into 1 inch pieces. Add to dish, along with remaining ingredients. Stir to coat everything with tomato sauce and wine. Bake for 1.5 hours in a 375 degree oven.

You can make this dish ahead and freeze it without cooking it. Let thaw in refrigerator before cooking. You can also cook it and then freeze it.

What is your favorite winter comfort food?