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

Toss this Salad

Salad with Spicy Pumpkin Seeds & Avocado-Lime Vinaigrette

Before I start sassing Thanksgiving feasts, let me first say that it IS my favorite holiday. Some of my favorite dishes come out to play for that one lovely day weekend and every turkey day I wonder why I never make sweet potato casserole or deviled eggs any other time during the year. I also love that we have friends over and that I don’t have to travel, since Christmas always seems to involve multiple hours of driving around North Carolina. Not that I don’t love coming ‘home’ for Christmas, but you know what I mean. You do, right?

What I don’t love about Thanksgiving is the fact that my stomach hurts for days afterwards from cramming every morsel of tasty food, savory and sweet, into my mouth for an entire weekend.

pepitas & peppers
What also annoys me to no end is that, after enjoying a weekend of my favorite foods, I have to eat lettuce and pinky-sized pieces of meat in a meager attempt to make up for it.

That being said, the week after Thanksgiving is sorta like the week after vacation: light eating. Salad-eating. Lean cuisine-eating. Yeah – generally sub-par, unstimulating, sad sad food.

avocado vinaigrette

There are, of course, exceptions. And when I scanned through my pictures of the many many dishes I’ve yet to blog about, I found one of them. I do love avocado – as the staple of guacamole, cold avocado soup, served with ceviche, and chopped up on a salad. And now like this: chopped up on a salad AND pureed into a vinaigrette. Yeah, vinaigrette. You read right. A double dose of avocado.

Lovers of the oft-called alligator egg, this salad is for you.

cherry tomatoes
Vinaigrette made with avocado infused with cilantro, pumpkin seeds, garlic and a little heat from a serrano chile. Vinaigrette tossed around a bowl of the greenest lettuce and the brightest tomatoes you can find. And what’s wrong with adding more avocado? And pumpkin seeds? Well, you have to add a little crunch, and these spicy pumpkin seeds do that and a lot more. Do yourself a favor and make some extra – or else you might just eat ’em all before the salad’s ready.

avocado vinaigrette

Salad w/ Avocado-Lime Vinaigrette & Spicy Pumpkin Seeds
Adapted from Bon Appetit, September 2009; serves 4-8 depending on course

printable recipe

ingredients
spicy pumpkin seeds
4 dried chile de arbol (or 1/2 t cayenne pepper)
2 t olive oil
1 c unsalted shelled raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
1 t sugar
1/2 t salt

vinaigrette
9 T evoo
1/2 c diced avocado
1/2 c chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 c fresh lime juice
1/4 c unsalted shelled raw pumpkin seeds, toasted
3 T distilled white vinegar
1 garlic clove
1 serrano chile, seeded or unseeded

salad
1 5 oz pack mixed greens
2 avocados, halved & sliced
1 12 oz container cherry tomatoes, halved
1 med cucumber, diced
1 med jicama, 1/3″ sticks
1/2 med red onion, very thinly sliced
1 1/2 c crumbed cotija cheese (or feta)
spicy pumpkin seeds

instructions
pumpkin seeds: finely grind chiles in spice mill or with mortar and pestle. heat oil in large skillet over medium. add seeds and stir until toasted, about 5 minutes. seeds will make popping noises. sprinkle with sugar, salt, and 1/2 t chile de arbol. toss to coat and let cool.

vinaigrette: combine all ingredients for vinaigrette in mini blender and blend until smooth. season to taste with salt and pepper. will be slightly thicker than a typical vinaigrette.

salad: place greens in large bowl and add avocados, tomatoes, cucumber, jicama, and onion. toss with enough vinaigrette to coat. sprinkle with cheese and pepitas.