Your Very Own Granola

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Meal planning is one of the least glamorous sounding phrases on the internet, right along with “dank memes” and “subtweets”. But now that I’m actually home more evenings than not it’s become something that I look forward to. I spend half an hour every week thinking about what I want to eat and making grocery lists, and a few more hours on days off making food. It’s become this enjoyable ritual where I either queue up Stranger Things (I’m still on Season 2, mostly because no one will ever convince me it’s not scary) or soothing videos about minimalism on YouTube while making food for the week. I cook beans, make pots of soup to take to work, mix spices, and bake goods. And if I don’t have a full mason jar of this granola, I make granola.

When I first started cooking granola was one of my responsibilities. We served it for brunch at the restaurant I worked at, and it was easy to forget because it was rarely ordered. And the granola was finicky- mostly because the ovens at work never heated true to temperature and so it burned easily. Still, the granola page in my recipe book is splattered with oil and coated in salt, because I made it so many times.

This is an adaptation of that granola I made dozens of times in a professional kitchen. I’ve done some tinkering to increase the crispness and clumps of the granola and to make it more stable in the oven. It’s a stunner with a dark, rich sweetness from maple syrup, balanced by a healthy pinch of salt. I like to toss in a variety of nuts, seeds, and dried fruit to suit my whims, though it’s still quite nice naked.

When Aaron went on his first-ever business trip I packed a jar for his breakfasts in his carry-on. When we fly out to California later this month I’ll bring some to eat with almond milk and berries. And right now my platonic ideal of a breakfast is this granola with cream topped yogurt, strong black tea, and toast with butter and jam.

 

Your Very Own Granola

The beauty of this recipe is its flexibility. I like to raid our cabinets for whatever dried fruit and nut combination looks good, which makes this granola endlessly customizable and has the added benefit of using up all the odds and ends around. The maple syrup can be swapped for honey if you’re interested, and spices can be adapted- I’m planning on using garam masala in a batch very soon.

Makes about 5 cups

3 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup canola oil
up to 1 1/2 cups add-ins of choice (for this batch I used sunflower seeds, flaked almonds, shredded coconut, and dried cranberries

Preheat the oven to 325.

In a large bowl whisk together the oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt together until well-combined. Set aside.

In a small bowl whisk together the maple syrup and canola oil. Drizzle the oil mixture over the oats and toss well to combine. Turn out onto a sheet tray. Set the small bowl aside.

Bake the granola for half an hour, turning with a rubber spatula every fifteen minutes. While the granola bakes place your add-ins in the small bowl, and toss well to coat with any remaining maple syrup mixture.

After half an hour add your add-ins to the granola, and toss well with the rubber spatula. Return to the oven and bake for fifteen more minutes, until it’s golden in color and crisping up. It will get crisper as it cools, so it’s alright if it’s not perfectly crunchy yet, but you don’t want it to be wet. Let cool. Transfer to pretty jars.

Granola will keep stored in airtight jars for a few weeks.

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Shakshuka

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This week I’ve been hanging with my dear friend Sara. We met in junior high when we attended different schools but the same youth group. She wasn’t yet my friend when our youth director showed us The Sixth Sense as a treat and I called my parents to take me home (still haven’t seen it). But we became friends in spite of my scaredy-cat tendencies. And we’ve stayed friends for over half our lives. She’s spent the week staying on a nest of sleeping bags in my living room, where we’ve occupied our time taking Buzzfeed quizzes, arguing about movies, and taking long walks around the lakes. And cooking.

Sara, my oldest friend, my penpal for almost 10 years, and owner of a key to my parent’s house, has Celiac’s disease. And so we’ve spent a lot of time in the kitchen together cooking and eating together. We went out for arepas one night and Italian another. There have been occasional impromptu dances to Earth, Wind, and Fire. She organized all the magnetic poetry on the fridge by type of speech. We made these beans and tomato sauce, threw together a lentil soup, and tried out some earl grey macaroons (verdict- delicious, but not very earl grey-y…). And there was shakshuka. Because what better way to celebrate a close friend’s visit than with tomatoes and peppers and onions and eggs?

Shakshuka is a North African dish that’s essentially eggs poached in a sauce of tomato and peppers. As with all straightforward sounding dishes, there’s a world of variations available. I found my recipe in Yotam Ottolenghi’s brilliant (and classic) book Plenty, which may be the first cookbook I ever obsessed over. I know I’m not alone in this. I used to carry Plenty around with me in my purse JUST IN CASE someone hadn’t seen it yet. I was insufferable. I still am.

I’ve heard the mark of friendship isn’t liking each other but understanding each other. I think there’s some truth to that. But when you’re lucky you have people who like and understand you. I’m lucky. I have friends like Sara, who doesn’t laugh or roll her eyes when I decide that the perfect writing outfit is leather leggings and Aaron’s sweater. She drags me bra shopping and makes sure to bring backup sizes. We debate what makes Pride and Prejudice a great novel, the love story or the social commentary, and still swoon together when Elizabeth and Darcy touch hands. We annoy each other with our music choices, and then both belt out Backstreet Boys in the car. There are many gifts of friendship, but one of the best is that it can make you more open to your shared joys and sorrows.

And that makes sharing a meal, breaking the (metaphorical) bread together, that much more sweet.

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Shakshuka

The spice and herbs here are flexible- you could up the cayenne pepper, add hot peppers, and change out the herbs. Cilantro, thyme, and chives would all be excellent. The saffron here is optional- the shakshuka will still be fantastic even if saffron runs a bit too dear.

adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

serves 4

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 cup olive oil
2 onions, sliced
2 red bell peppers, sliced
2 yellow bell peppers, sliced
2 tablespoons chopped oregano
1/4 cup chopped parsley
2 bay leaves
1 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
pinch saffron (optional)
scant 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
salt and black pepper
juice of 1/2 a lemon
8 eggs

In a large pan over medium high heat add the cumin seeds. Toast them, stirring often, until they start to smell fragrant and get dark, about 2 minutes. Add the olive oil and the onions and sauté for 5 minutes, until the onions are soft.  Add both the peppers, the oregano, and the parsley and stir well. Continue to sauté for 10 minutes, until the peppers are soft.

Add the canned tomatoes, saffron, cayenne, and a good pinch of both salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to low and bring the sauce to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes or until the sauce has reached the same consistency as pasta sauce. If you need to cook it a bit further to get it there, or add water to get that result, do what you need to do. Add the lemon juice and taste, then adjust seasonings as necessary. It should taste bold.

This can all be done ahead of time. To serve the shakshuka, place a portion into a skillet and warm it. Make as many nests in the tangle of peppers as you want eggs, then crack an egg into each nest. I find it easiest to crack an egg into a small bowl, then slip it into the nest. Season each egg with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to low, and cover the skillet. Cook the eggs until they are set to your liking, starting to check at about the 6 minute mark and then for every 2 minutes after. Serve with a generous sprinkle of parsley.

 

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Galentine’s Day Buckwheat Waffles with Chocolate Sauce and Orange Whipped Cream

These waffles were photographed in my dear friend Danielle‘s kitchen. Danielle and I met the first day of college. We lived directly across the hall from each other which made it quite convenient that we saw each other a lot. She was the person who told me to read Virginia Woolf for the first time, who started a poetry club called Dead Poet’s Society our sophomore year (we would go and read poetry outside), who describes her fashion sense as “third grade cool”, who still goes by the nickname Dani Unicorn, and who broke her promise to Aaron by telling me he liked me when we were freshman. She’s a model for showing up every day with creative work and the most Gryffindor person I know. When we got married the only reason she wasn’t a bridesmaid is that she couldn’t get away from her Peace Corps service. And she saw nothing weird or abnormal with me asking her to text me a picture of her kitchen table on a whim.

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Leslie Knope (#Knope2020) from Parks and Recreation created Galentine’s Day to celebrate all the awesome ladies in her life. Galentine’s Day is for the women you call “beautiful and poetic land mermaids” and “strong, sensative musk oxes” and such. Female friendships are such a valuable thing, and I like that there’s a holiday, no matter how fictitious, to celebrate them. For a long time I didn’t feel like I understood friendship, not really. It was always difficult to make friends. Finding your place, especially as a kid, is scary and difficult, but when you find the right people? It’s perfect. Why wouldn’t you celebrate that?

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In honor of Galentine’s Day we have waffles. Buckwheat waffles, because I love the earthy, almost beer-y flavor of the buckwheat and all my favorite baked goods have some interesting flours. Whipped cream and chocolate sauce, because Leslie wouldn’t have them any other way. Orange segments for the reassurance that we’re eating fruit at breakfast (and because orange, chocolate, and buckwheat are as good friends as Leslie and Ann), and chocolate shavings because if there’s ever a time to eat chocolate for breakfast, it’s Galentine’s Day.

Danielle, you beautiful minx, thank you for letting me invade your home and morning. Happy Galentine’s Day. Love you girl.

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Buckwheat Waffles with Chocolate Sauce and Orange Whipped Cream

This batter will look quite wet, which is a good thing as buckwheat flour is dryer than all-purpose flour. Because the egg whites are folded in the batter should be made into waffles immediately. If you delay, the batter will fall and that would make sad waffles. These keep well frozen, and can easily be warmed back up in a toaster oven. I’ve learned two tricks to make these waffles crisp and caramelized and fantastic. The first is to cook them on high- preferably the highest setting your waffle maker can handle. And second is to brush the waffle iron with melted butter in between waffles, even if the waffle iron is non-stick. Those two tricks taken together make for crispy edges and a soft interior, and that contrast is what truly makes waffles great.

Makes about 6 waffles

1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (65 grams) buckwheat flour
1 teaspoon (4 grams) baking powder
1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) sea salt
2 eggs, separated
1 cup (250 milliliters) whole milk
1/2 cup (120 grams) whole yogurt
1/4 cup (60 milliliters) maple syrup
2 tablespoons (25 grams) butter, melted, plus more for the waffle iron
1 tablespoon (15 grams) cane sugar

To serve:

Orange Whipped cream (recipe below)
Chocolate sauce (recipe below)
Orange segments
Shaved dark chocolate (use a vegetable peeler to shave the chocolate)

In a large bowl combine the all-purpose flour, buckwheat flour, baking powder, and salt. Whisk together, and set aside.

In a medium bowl whisk together the egg yolks, milk, yogurt, maple syrup, and butter until smooth. Add to the dry mixture, and whisk until smooth.

In another medium bowl place the egg whites. Use a whisk attachment to beat the egg whites at medium-high speed to medium peaks. Once the egg whites keep their shape but the tips flop over when the beater (turned off!) is lifted, sprinkle in the sugar and beat until the peaks are stiff and glossy. Fold the stiff beaks into the rest of the batter with a rubber spatula, being careful to only stir as much as necessary and no more.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Place a cookie sheet with a cooling rack on top inside of the oven.

Heat your waffle iron on the highest setting. Once it’s nice and hot brush the iron with melted butter, and then scoop the batter into the iron and press. Every iron is different- mine works best with 1/2 a cup of batter, but play with yours to find your ideal amount. Cook the waffle until it smells toasty and golden. For me, that’s longer than when my waffle iron says it’s finished. Place on the rack in the oven to keep warm, and repeat with remaining batter.

Serve waffles warm, topped with orange whipped cream, chocolate sauce, orange segments, and chocolate shavings.

Orange whipped cream

If you’d like a stronger flavor, you could add in a hit of orange juice or orange liquor.

1 cup (250 milliliters) heavy cream
zest of 1 orange
1 tablespoon (15 grams) cane sugar

In a medium bowl beat everything together on medium-high speed using a hand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat until the cream is softly whipped, when the cream balls together but is still loose.

Chocolate Sauce

This chocolate sauce is just a thin chocolate ganache. And now that you know how to make it, you can play with all sort of ratios to turn into fillings for chocolate, frostings, and sauces. This is texturally the best the day it’s made,  but it makes a very good hot chocolate. (Just warm your desired amount with your milk of choice.)

1 cup (250 milliliters) heavy cream
4 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons (30 milliliters) maple syrup
1/4 heaping teaspoons (1/4 + 1/8 teaspoon) sea salt

Place the cream into a small pot. Bring the cream to a simmer, then remove from heat.

Place the chopped chocolate in a small bowl. Pour the warm cream over the chopped chocolate, then use a whisk to quickly stir the cream and chocolate together. Don’t stop whisking until the chocolate is all melted and the sauce is smooth and emulsified. Stir in the maple syrup and salt. Taste for seasonings, and adjust as necessary.

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Baked Oatmeal with Earl Grey, Prunes, and Almonds

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So. Let’s talk prunes.

Aaron makes a face whenever I mention prunes. He was forced to drink prune juice as a kid, and still has the memories.

I found prunes as an adult. I love their deep, wine-like sweetness. I love the rich flavor. To me, they are a comforting but sophisticated dried fruit. When I first graduated from college I was a nanny for a toddler. I would bring prunes for my snack, and she would beg me, over and over, for just one more prune. I can’t think of any better proof that hatred of prunes is learned, not innate.

I’ve seen prunes starting to be sold as dried plums, which is factually true. But it also seems a bit silly. I don’t mind eating prunes, no matter the unglamorous name. I suppose it’s further evidence that I’m actually in my 50s, not 20s.

Prunes are the star of this baked oatmeal, and the idea that made it all fall into place. I wanted to make a baked oatmeal that felt wintery, as most baked oatmeal recipes I’ve seen call for berries. This seems silly, as I don’t know a better time for a hearty, hot breakfast than winter. Winter is also the best time for dried fruit, at least here in the Upper Midwest, because there’s so little that’s fresh. Winter has long been a time for food dried and stored. Perhaps I am actually 80, not 50. Prunes take up the place of berries here. They’re soaked in Earl Grey tea and tossed with lemon zest, almonds, and maple syrup. The maple syrup reinforces the rich sweetness of the prunes, and the lemon zest and tea balance it. The almonds provide a delightful crunch, and help make the whole thing feel like a meal.

This is a comforting breakfast if you’ve already finished off all of your Thanksgiving pie, and even if you haven’t. It’s a sturdy oatmeal, the kind that will keep its shape as you serve it. It’s the type of breakfast I like to make for a lazy morning, and then store the rest for busy days.

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Baked Oatmeal with Earl Grey, Prunes, and Almonds

If your prunes are very moist and you’d like to skip a step, you could pass on soaking the prunes in tea. And if you’re absolutely against prunes, I bet this would be stellar with dried figs.

Serves 6

Adapted from Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson

1 cup hot Earl Grey tea
1 cup (about 15) pitted prunes
2 cups (190 grams) rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (100 grams) slivered almonds
1/2 cup (60 grams) unsalted sunflower seeds
2 tablespoons (16 grams) poppy seeds
2 cups whole milk
1/3 cup maple syrup
2 tablespoons melted butter
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat your oven to 400.

In a small bowl combine the Earl Grey tea and the prunes. Set aside to steep until the tea has cooled and the prunes are soft, about 5 minutes. Drain the tea and roughly chop the prunes.

In a large bowl combine the oats, baking powder, lemon zest, cinnamon, and salt. Whisk well, then add the chopped prunes. Whisk well again, and set aside.

In a medium bowl whisk together the almonds, sunflower seeds, and poppy seeds. Add half of the seed mixture to the oats and whisk the oats again. Set the rest of the seeds aside.

In another medium bowl whisk together the milk, maple syrup, melted butter, eggs, and vanilla until the eggs are completely incorporated.

Turn the oats out into a 8×8 pan. Pour the milk-egg mixture evenly across the oats. Top with the remainder of the seed mixture, being careful to spread the seeds evenly. Transfer the pan to the oven, and bake until golden and fragrant, 30-40 minutes. Serve warm.

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Fried Egg and Arugula English Muffin Sandwich

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Breakfast is the most wonderful and vexing of meals. It’s the beginning of the day and a chance to start things right. It’s the time for omelettes and scones and waffles and pastries and parfaits. It’s also a hurried, uncertain time. Breakfast is the meal I’m most likely to almost not eat.

Maybe you do the same. I don’t skip breakfast, but I’ll have just a piece of toast and peanut butter. Or I’ll eat a slice of leftover pizza, still cold. Once in a while breakfast is just an apple. Aaron’s even worse- he’ll survive on coffee until lunch, unless I make him toast. Toast which he will nibble on for an hour, before setting aside the remaining half. Aaron claims to not be hungry in the morning. I don’t understand. I am always hungry. I just have a serious case of morning brain.

But, of course, I love breakfast. It’s full of bread with butter, runny yolks, hot tea, and taking a moment to center myself before the day. I’m trying to get better about eating  breakfast, rather than consuming a meal that slightly resembles breakfast.

These breakfast sandwiches take inspiration from the ones my dad made my mom through my childhood. He would toast an english muffin, fry an egg over medium, and add some ham. My mom ate these on her commute with a thermos of coffee for many years. There’s a good chance she still does. Meanwhile, I was trying to master the perfect butter to eggo ratio (1:1 was my conclusion).

In my adaption of my parent’s standby I sub out the ham for arugula and picked red onions. If I’m going to make a savory breakfast rather than reheat breakfast-approriate foods, I want there to be vegetables. The arugula brings a fresh bite and peppery taste, and the onions provide a crisp bright contrast to the egg.  I also fry my eggs sunny side up. It does make the sandwich a bit less portable than my mom’s, but in the interest of civilized breakfasts the runny yolk is a good thing. It creates a luscious sauce that lingers in between the leaves of the arugula and nestles in the crevices of the the English muffins.

How good are these? I made one for Aaron this morning. Five minutes later it was gone- before he had even finished his coffee.

Wishing you a happy Thursday, full of runny yolks, hot tea, and maybe an election cake or two.

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Fried Egg and Arugula English Muffin Sandwich

I cook my eggs sunny side up, because I think this sandwich needs the richness of a runny yolk. If you’re absolutely opposed to a runny yolk, then I might add a bit of creamy cheese, such as brie, to boost the luxury factor.

Makes 1 sandwich

 

1 egg
Butter
Salt
Pepper
1 English muffin, preferably whole wheat
A handful of arugula
Pickled red onions

Place a small, nonstick skillet (either cast iron or other nonstick) between low and medium-low heat. Melt a small amount of butter in the skillet, enough that it forms a layer on the bottom of the pan but not so much that it’s swimming. Crack an egg and season with salt and pepper. Cook gently, moving the egg as necessary, until the white is set and the yolk is just warm. Remove the egg from the heat as soon as it’s done.

Meanwhile split and toast an English muffin. Once the English muffin is toasted spread both sides with a small smear of butter. On the bottom half of the English muffin place a generous handful of arugula. Top with the fried egg, a flurry of pickled red onions, and the top half of the English muffin. Eat immediately.

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