Straight from Bombay

My good friend, Cheryl, used to have a boyfriend. He was (still is) of Indian descent, and he was one pretty cool guy. He liked hip-hop music and Escalades (neither of those necessarily made him cool, and I’m not sure why I keep saying these things in the past-tense, because I’m sure he still likes hip-hop and Escalades). What was my favorite thing about him, you might ask? I’d be hard-pressed to decide between his dance skillz and his ability to make a killer masala chai.

Oh, Lordy-me-oh-my, that stuff was good enough to make you consider selling your first-born child for a lifetime supply of it. Though he’s not around anymore, I’m willing to bet he could be found through a simple Facebook search, and if I do find him, I might ask him if he’d like to have an “ultra-white” blue-eyed, blonde-haired raggamuffin. But then, if he said yes, I’d have to give up wine for 9 months, and I’m not sure if I’m ready for that, especially with a trip to the west coast in my near future (!!), and a hopeful excursion to “the boot” next year (!!!).

Now before I go on waxing poetic about this guy (actually, I was finished), let me say that Cheryl’s new (if you consider new to mean almost 3 years old) squeeze is way more awesome, and I’m not just saying that just because he reads my blog. I’m saying that because he has a motorcyle. And a boat. And, he let Hubs borrow his “De-troits” when we visited them a couple of weeks ago. Also, he has mad photo skillz (to make up for what I would assume to be lackluster dance skillz, although I can’t say I’ve ever seen him cut a rug, or try to, even – it’s just a hunch) and he can make a Mediterranean pizza that might just make me consider trading in my second-born for a constant supply of that. I get the impression that I’d have to up the ante though, cause I doubt Cheryl wants a lil’ Wetzel running around her house, and quite frankly, I’d prefer our bedroom there to be free of mobiles, onesies, and poo.

Back to this chai business. I seem to be losing focus today, don’t I? I’m gonna try to push through, because I do want to talk about this lovely concoction you see here. My breakfast rotation was starting to become a bit stale, if you will, and let me tell ya – I heart the granola bar, I do. But I was in need of a change, actually just a slight variation, you see. I wanted something a little less chewy, but not lacking in flavor or texture otherwise. I wanted to make it myself, because I do adore homemade breakfasts. I wanted there to be oats, and fruit, and nuts (oh, my!), and distinct flavors that wake me up in the morning, sans caffeine.

So quite clearly, what I wanted was granola spiced with all those Indian flavors that you find in a masala chai, those flavors that remind me of those few times the ex-boyfriend-of-my-friend-and-still-Indian-guy-with-the-dance-skillz made when he was visiting.

And since, at some point during the process of contemplating this recipe, I’ve decided that I would probably like to keep my first- (and possibly second-) born children, when and if I have them, I figured it best to make my own spice mix, and that I did. I’m guessing, no I’m quite certain, that you can buy what they call “chai spice” mix from your local spice store, but making it really is just as easy if you’ve got a few seconds. You can do like I did and use ground spices as a short-cut, or you can really keep it real by using whole spices.

Either way, when you do make it, and when you get your hands into that bowl of fresh-made chai-spiced granola, thank those folks from South Asia for their lovely spices. Or me, really – the one phrase I learned during my one German class was, ironically, “Ich komme aus Bombay“.

ps – Happy Birthday Cheryl – this one’s for you!

Vanilla-Chai Spiced Granola
makes ~20 servings (1/2 c each)

okay, this probably seems like a lot of granola – you wouldn’t be wrong in saying that. but here’s the thing: it keeps for weeks, so why not make a boat-load of it?! store in the fridge for weeks, give to friends, or eat it by the handful over a weekend. Your choice. and if you choose to not make this much, it easily halves.

by the way, this granola is awesome with plain yogurt, or with a little milk poured over it. or by the handful, as previously suggested.

printable version

ingredients
6 c rolled oats*
2 c coarsely chopped nuts (I used pecans and hazelnuts)
1/2 c unsweetened shredded coconut
5 T packed brown sugar
1/2 t kosher salt
1 T ‘chai’ spice blend (recipe below)
1/2 t vanilla extract
1/3 c agave nectar
1/3 c blackstrap molasses
4 T vegetable oil
1 c dried fruit (I used blueberries and golden raisins)

instructions
Preheat oven to 300 F. Line two standard-sized baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, mix oats through vanilla. Combine oil, agave nectar, and molasses in a small saucepan and heat until mixed thorougly and just-boiling. Remove from heat and pour over granola mixture.

Spread 1/2 of mixture on one baking sheet and the remaining half on the other. Bake for ~ 40 minutes, stirring mixture and rotating pans every 10 minutes. Remove and cool granola in the baking sheets on a wire rack. When cooled, mix in dried fruit.

*gluten-free oats if needed.

Chai Spice Mixture
makes ~3 tablespoons

there are dozens of similar recipes out there, so use this or use whatever you find. or buy it, if you don’t have all the spices on hand and don’t want to buy all of them!

printable version (spice only)

ingredients
1 T g. ginger
1/2 T g. cinnamon
1 t g. cloves
1 t g. cardamom
1 t g. nutmeg
1 t g. allspice
1/2 t g. pepper

instructions
isn’t this obvious? mix them together!

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For Your Muffin Top

For someone claiming to dream of owning a Bed of Breakfast, you wouldn’t know it from reading this blog. Aside from the granola bars, I haven’t really shared much of anything breakfast-related, other than some waffles (albeit with a kick-ass cherry sauce). I won’t lie – it’s not that I’m not sharing because I’m stingy, selfish, and want to keep all the recipes to myself (or my nonexistent B&B) – it’s because there really aren’t many of them. There… I admitted it. I am a bad breakfast blogger.

I do cook breakfast – if by cook, you mean throwing cereal in a bowl or whipping some homemade jam on a piece of toast. Sometimes, I really do it up; I can make a mean french toast and I thoroughly enjoy the breakfast casserole (stratas, quiche, you name it). I just sleepily & groggily omit the picture-taking, and therefore can’t prove that I’ve really done much cooking at all until at least noon.

And so, I’m pleased to say that, after allowing you all a couple of days to vote on what today’s post would be, over 1/3 of you chose breakfast (over dinner, dessert, and canning)! I must say I was surprised and had actually expected dessert to win, since we haven’t talked about dessert in these parts since those infamous homemade marshmallows; marshmallows that drew thousands of curious, hungry readers. Which reminds me, if you’re still hoping for dessert, specifically of the marshmallow form, you do not want to miss this coming Tuesday’s post! Promise.

Either way though, thanks for playing along. It was fun, wasn’t it? I’ll keep the tradition going as long as the votes are comin’ – hopefully there will be many more next week since I’ve already posted the poll (look to your left, and scroll up, and you’ll see it – aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand vote.). So do it – it’s easy, it’s fun, and it makes me oh so happy to know that I’ll be posting what you ask for. So go ahead, humor me.

I should also add that, since I was surprised, I did not crazily photograph these here muffins, and instead took pictures of pudding, chicken, and marmalade. But nonetheless, you get the jist: they’re ultra sexy, so healthy they’ll make you sick, and so easy you might consider making them weekly for your Monday thru Friday breakfasts (well, maybe alternate between the granola bars and these).

Even better though, is that since they’re healthy, eating these lil’ muffins (and their tops) won’t contribute to your muffin top. You can thank me later :).

Oat Bran & Dried Fruit Muffins
Adapted from Techniques of Healthy Cooking, makes 12-16

portable and filling, these muffins work great for those who are on the go. if stored in an airtight container, they should last through the week (I know because I’ve been eating them all week and they get better each day). should you choose to whip up a batch of these little creatures, I’ve included my adjustment suggestions; I haven’t tried them, but I’m sure they’ll do the trick: make sure your fruit is in small pieces, add a teeny dash of salt, and some vanilla.

printable recipe

ingredients
5 1/2 oz dried fruit, cut into small pieces (1 heaping cup)
4 oz oat bran (1 1/3 c)
3 oz rolled oats (a little less than 1 c)
2 1/2 oz all purpose flour (~1/2 c)
1 1/2 oz brown sugar (1/4 c)
3/4 oz baking powder (1 1/2 T)
pinch of salt
1 t g cinnamon
5 oz mashed ripe banana (~1 large banana)
2 t grated orange zest
2 oz fresh orange juice
1 oz vegetable oil
1 t vanilla extract
2 egg whites
1 c skim milk

instructions
preheat oven to 400 F. combine dried fruit, all dry ingredients (oat bran through cinnamon), and banana into food processor. Process until evenly mixed. Transfer to large bowl.

in another bowl, combine remaining ingredients. Add this mixture to the dried fruit mixture and fold until just combined.

to make 12 muffins, spoon 1/4 c of batter into each of 12 buttered or sprayed muffin tins, or into disposable muffin cups (for 16, measure ~1 1/2 oz). bake until surface of muffins are golden and until they feel slightly springy when touched, about 20 minutes.

turn the muffins out onto a cooling rack and allow to cool for 10 minutes.

I Must Be Nuts

You may know this already, if you know me personally or if you’ve been reading along for oh I don’t know, a week – but I can be a bit nutty sometimes. One time, I booked the wrong flight from NC to IL and got to the airport only to find that my flight left me the day before! My mom was selfishly ecstatic; meanwhile, Hubs was bitterly picking a Benjamin from our money tree. I forgot to include a dryer sheet the other day and I had static cling all morning until I was rescued by the static cling fairy one of the admins in my department. Static cling just isn’t pretty. I’ve missed my train stop a couple of times in the past month or two because, as opposed to most other people who miss their stops because they are sleeping, I’m just daydreaming. And just now, I received an email from someone searching for me because i forgot to include contact information on a hotel booking form. Thank goodness for google searches, eh?

I even went to culinary school once. Isn’t that just batty? I was in class three nights a week learning how to use aspic and how to make puff pastry from scratch, among other things. And as silly and nutty as that may have been, I loved every second of it. I miss it, in a way. And since finishing that last class and getting my official ‘culinary certificate’ in the mail, I’ve wondered where my place is in that world. I’ve wondered how to comfortably nestle my career as a genetic counselor into the arms of something I find even more rewarding, invigorating, and downright satisfying on so many levels – food. Not just eating food, but the entire process of it and the happiness that comes when you cook for others. Nourishing them, expanding limits of what they will eat, expanding limits of what I will eat – ultimately, that is what makes me smile, and that’s what this is all about.

Which brings me to ‘step 1’ and item #3 on my New Years Resolution list.I am officially for hire! Is that crazy, or what? So go on and read here for the details, and then spread the word! And if you’re up for being my sous chef one day, just holler :).

To really seal the deal on all this talk about nuttiness, I find it nothing short of mandatory to discuss homemade granola bars. Seriously, you really shouldn’t buy them at the store as they are loaded with all sorts of icky things. Plus, they are so freakin’ easy to make it’s not even funny. There are oodles of recipes online, so I’m not suggesting that you have to make these, but I’m biased and I can vouch for them – they will knock your socks off, even if you’re wearing two to three pairs these days.

I’m not sure what it is that makes these so awesome, but usually anything containing molasses is enough to make me drool like a St Bernard. Most recipes I saw used honey, but I had plenty of other sweeteners I wanted to try and I do love me some Grandma’s Molasses and have very fond memories of pouring it onto Aunt Faye’s buttermilk biscuits as a child. I think the agave nectar refines the taste a bit so that the bars aren’t overloaded with molasses, and you could surely use honey if you prefer, or even maple syrup. Either way, they truly are morsels of utter tastiness – sweet enough, chewy enough, and loaded nuts which add just the right amount of texture.

To boot, they are healthy and chock-full of all those good-for-you things that you want to consume first thing in the morning. Or afternoon. Or as a late night snack. No matter when, it’s a kind of nutty thing you just have to do, and you’ll never go back to those quaker granola bars again – unless you’re even nuttier than I think you are :).

Easy Granola Bars
makes 12 individual bars

yes, the version below is overflowing with ingredients. the thing about granola bars is you can totally make them your own by adding whatever suits ya. i’ll put an abbreviated recipe below so you can see how creative  you can be. because i’m all about making your life easy – especially making granola bars easy. because they are…

printable recipe

ingredients
2 c oats
3/4 c pumpkin seeds (or other seed combo)
3/4 c ground flax seeds
1/4 c macadamia nuts, finely chopped
1/4 c pecans, finely chopped
1/2 c walnuts, finely chopped
1/2 c almonds, finely chopped
1/2 c light brown sugar
1/4 c agave nectar
1/4 c molasses
3 T unsalted butter, optional
1 t vanilla extract
1/4 t salt
1/4 c unsweetened coconut flakes
1/4 c dried apricots, finely chopped
1/4 c dried figs, finely chopped
1/4 c golden raisins, finely chopped

instructions
preheat oven to 350 F. mix oats, seeds, and nuts into 9×13″ baking dish. toast nuts for ~20 minutes. dump in large mixing bowl when toasted and wipe down baking dish. toss in coconut and dried fruits and mix well.

while toasting oat/seed/nut mixture, heat sugar, agave nectar, molasses, butter, and vanilla in a medium saucepan until butter melts and mixture comes to simmer. pour hot mixture into the other ingredients and mix thoroughly.

line baking dish with parchment paper and pour sticky mixture into dish. spread evenly. use another sheet of parchment paper to press down on mixture with your hands to ensure the mixture is evenly distributed, but also to ensure there are no bubbles and that the mixture is packed densely.

remove from dish by grabbing parchment paper and lifting up. turn out onto cutting board and cut into whatever size you want (i cut into 12 rectangular shapes). they can be stored at room temp for a couple of weeks or stored for even longer in the freezer.

 

Easier Granola Bars
makes 12 individual bars

as promised, here’s the short and sweet version

printable recipe

ingredients
2 c oats**
1 1/2 c seeds*
1 1/2 c finely chopped nuts
1/2 c light brown sugar
1/2 c liquid sweetener
3 T unsalted butter, optional
1 t vanilla extract
1/4 t salt
1/4 c unsweetened coconut flakes, optional
3/4 c dried fruit, chocolate chips, or both

instructions
preheat oven to 350 F. mix oats, seeds, and nuts into 9×13″ baking dish. toast nuts for ~20 minutes. dump in large mixing bowl when toasted and wipe down baking dish. toss in coconut and dried fruits and mix well.

while toasting oat/seed/nut mixture, heat sugar, liquid sugars, butter, and vanilla in a medium saucepan until butter melts and mixture comes to simmer. pour hot mixture into the other ingredients and mix thoroughly.

line baking dish with parchment paper and pour sticky mixture into dish. spread evenly. use another sheet of parchment paper to press down on mixture with your hands to ensure the mixture is evenly distributed, but also to ensure there are no bubbles and that the mixture is packed densely.

remove from dish by grabbing parchment paper and lifting up. turn out onto cutting board and cut into whatever size you want (i cut into 12 rectangular shapes). they can be stored at room temp for a couple of weeks or stored for even longer in the freezer.

*any seed combo. or wheat germ. if using flax, grind them first!
** gluten-free oats available at Whole Foods