Mango Coconut Cluster Granola

by Maja Lukic


Anyone else popping antibiotics or analgesics? Figured. I'm in a snowy city; the sky is colorless. I'm dry-coughing my way to the end of an infection, rasping like an inveterate cigar smoker (or the spawn of Tom Waits). I would like to be able to complain about winter but I have no real cause. Here is a more honest picture: noon passed by me still lounging in bed, with coffee and fresh fruit, and booking my spring vacation. After this? I don't know. I could spend the day watching movies and reading poems about snow. Yeah, life is brutal. I love wallowing. 

This has been a different winter for me, psychologically at least. I think I've made some sort of tentative peace with cold weather. I even seek out cold walks around the city. I fell into a subtle rhythm of yoga, art, writing--rinse, repeat. The cold is present, but it feels irrelevant. All this time spent indoors writing, reading, and working quietly on projects has shifted my perspective on food preparation, too. I'm working on creating leaner and easier healthy recipes. Simpler meals. Less overwrought complexity and multi-step endeavors. (Which isn't to say that I am now above preparing something like Ottolenghi's 5-hour simmered chickpeas--delicious and entirely worth every minute). Basically, I feel more balanced and relaxed on the whole this winter. 

In the spirit of promoting optimal balance, if you've made some sort of vague resolution to clean up your game this month, here is a cheerful and clean breakfast idea: mango coconut cluster granola with coconut yogurt and fresh mangoes. Mangoes are one of my absolute favorite fruits and the combination of dried and fresh mangoes is bright and sweet, playing off slightly different taste notes. An egg white stirred into the granola mixture before baking--a brilliant idea from Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen--creates large, crunchy clusters. 

Pro tip: prepare huge batches of granola and then stockpile it in the freezer forever. No need to defrost--the fruit will harden somewhat but will obtain room temperature within minutes. As always, feel free to substitute other types of fruit or dairy yogurt for the coconut version.

Mango Coconut Cluster Granola (gf)

Inspired by Smitten Kitchen

Makes approx. 4.5 cups

2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

1/2 cup raw cashews, chopped

1/2 cup unsweetened shredded or flaked coconut

1/3 cup sliced almonds

1/2 tbsp flax seeds (optional)

3 tbsp maple syrup

2 tbsp organic virgin unrefined coconut oil

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp sea salt

1 egg white

2 cups chopped dried fruit: organic apricots, dried mangoes

To serve: fresh sliced mango, yogurt

Preheat the oven to 325 F. 

Combine the first five ingredients in a large bowl. Heat the coconut oil and maple syrup in a microwave or on the stovetop until the oil has just melted. Whisk in the spices and sea salt. Toss with the oats and nuts until the mixture is evenly coated.

Whisk an egg white in a small bowl until frothy. Stir into the granola mixture. Spread the granola on a large baking sheet in an even layer. 

Bake for about 20 to 25 minutes. Halfway through the baking time, carefully turn sections of the granola over with a spatula, but do not break it up too much. When the granola is golden brown, remove from the oven and carefully stir in the sliced dried fruit. Allow the granola to cool completely. It will harden as it cools.

Serve with yogurt and fresh fruit. Store in the cupboard in an airtight container or in the freezer in an airtight freezer bag.  

Note: I bake the granola at a low temperature of about 300/325 F because my oven chars everything. With a weaker oven, you may increase the temperature to 350 F. For larger clumps, do not stir the granola mix too much after adding the egg white and during/after baking. Conversely, for a flakier granola, stir well to break up the clusters.

 


Cherry Thyme Clafoutis

by Maja Lukic


I am going to France! Not like tomorrow or next week or even next month, but certainly in a few months. And since I've been contemplating this fantastic European excursion, mapping Paris, making lists, I'm feeling Francophile inspiration everywhere. 

I decided to prepare a clafoutis, which is a sweet French cake with a soft pudding-like texture. It's similar to a baked pancake. For my first clafoutis, I thought I would start with a traditional cherry version and work up to more outrageous fruit from there. But for interest--and a delicate Provençal twist--I added fresh thyme. It's beautiful and it complements the fresh sweet cherries. (Of course if you're not feeling the herbal situation, leave it out). I've had an idea for a gluten-free/grain-free clafoutis in mind for months. Almond flour was a natural choice because almonds and cherries pair so well in any context. 

This can be a delicious and filling dessert but it's even better as breakfast with a strong espresso. You can serve it chilled or at room temperature. And if you'd like to add a creamy element of some sort, no objection here. 

I shot this recipe with both frozen black cherries and fresh sweet cherries. After several rounds of taste tests, I confess mixed feelings about using frozen cherries here. The visual difference between fresh (image above) and frozen fruit (image below) is palpable in the photographs but I can also vouch that the flavor of the fresh cherry clafoutis is nicer. I should add that the fresh thyme is more noticeable and lovely in the fresh cherry version. And it only takes a little extra effort to pit the cherries (a plain drinking straw works quite well to remove the pits if you don't have a cherry pitter).

To be fair, my only real issue with frozen cherries is that the cherries bleed blue juice into the pancake batter, which isn't egregious on its own but, combined with the soft texture of the clafoutis, the effect can be unappetizing. 

Although this post has French roots, the red, white & blue nature of this dessert coincides nicely with the upcoming holidays--4th of July here and Canada Day on July 1 for my friends up North. Have a wonderful long weekend and enjoy the holidays!

Cherry Thyme Clafoutis (gf)

Adapted from Saveur

Serves 8

5 eggs

1 1/4 cup almond milk

3/4 cup almond flour

3 tbsp maple syrup (or brown/sucanat/coconut sugar)

1/2 vanilla bean, scraped (or 1/2 tsp vanilla extract)

1 lemon, zest only

1 tsp fresh thyme

3 cups pitted fresh cherries (or frozen, see note)

sea salt

avocado oil (for baking)

powdered/confectioners' sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 400 F degrees. 

Blend the eggs, almond milk, maple syrup, seeds from 1/2 of a vanilla bean (or vanilla extract), and a pinch of sea salt in a blender (or whisk by hand). Blend (or whisk) the ingredients until smooth. Add the zest of 1 lemon and a teaspoon of fresh thyme. Add the almond flour and continue to blend/whisk until smooth and no lumps remain. Let the batter rest for at least 30 minutes in the fridge (or overnight).   

Slide a cast iron skillet into the oven for a few minutes to warm up. Add enough avocado oil (or other high-heat cooking oil) to the bottom of the skillet to coat the bottom and sides. Pour half of the batter into the skillet and slide back into the oven for 3 to 4 minutes. Distribute the cherries evenly over the batter and pour the remaining batter over the cherries. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until puffy and golden brown and a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. (It will deflate as it cools).

Cool for 10 minutes before serving. Dust with confectioners' sugar, slice into wedges, and serve. Store in the fridge for a day. 

Notes: The batter can be prepared up to one day in advance. Store in the fridge overnight. If using frozen cherries, defrost, drain, and blot dry with a paper towel. When baking, add half of the batter at a time so that the cherries don't sink to the bottom. If you don't have fresh thyme, omit (dried thyme is a poor substitute).

 


Sherry-Roasted Strawberries with Vanilla Date Pistachio Muesli

by Maja Lukic


It's a rare thing for me to eat a substantial breakfast. I'm a coffee & smoothie devotee -- it's the one constant in my day, sort of like the one perfume I've been wearing for years without thinking.

But a few weeks ago, I crashed and became sick -- for culprits, look to stress, spring germs, erratic sleep, inconsistent weather, too many projects. On the first morning that I woke up feeling better, I was starving. I wanted to eat something relatively healthy but nourishing, settling. I wanted it to have fruit, too--vitamins, hydration. And if beautiful edible flowers were somehow involved in the situation, I wasn't about to object.  

Then I remembered that I used to eat a ton of muesli in college. Muesli is basically a high-energy combination of oats, nuts, seeds, and dried fruit soaked in a liquid, which might be anything from water or fruit juice to cream or milk. The basic formula allows for infinite variations and unbounded creativity. Any ingredient in your cupboard will work, as will any liquids you have in the fridge. And in the summer, it's a wonderful, no-cook option. 

If you've seen recipes for "overnight oats," it's basically the same concept except that there's something about the term "overnight oats" that grosses me out. 

As delicious as the muesli is on its own, it's incomplete without the sherry vinegar-roasted strawberries. A traditional muesli recipe would also include a fresh grated apple, added before serving.  I replaced the apple with roasted strawberries for color and a brighter flavor. I could eat the strawberries alone -- they're complex, tangy, sweet but not cloying. Ever since I worked on this romesco recipe, I've been obsessed with sherry vinegar--an infatuation that has led me into far too many specialty shops in search for the perfect sherry flavor. It's less sweet than balsamic but just as, if not more, complex. And it syncs beautifully with fruit. 

This recipe requires a few minutes of preparation the night before and about a half an hour of hands-off roasting in the morning, which makes it the easiest recipe I've ever posted, I think. It's perfect for a spring brunch or a special weekend breakfast. And it's the sort of recipe that encourages rest and relaxation. With that goal in mind, I wish you a relaxing and healthy week. 

Vanilla Date Pistachio Muesli

Serves 1

1/2 cup rolled oats (gluten-free)

2 tbsp hemp seeds

2 tbsp unsweetened coconut flakes

2 tbsp pistachios, roughly chopped

1-2 dates, Medjool pitted and chopped 

3/4 cup almond milk (or other milk)

1/2 vanilla bean

sea salt

toppings: Sherry Roasted Strawberries (recipe below), pistachios, edible flowers (entirely optional), milk or yoghurt, maple syrup or honey

In a small bowl, combine the oats, hemp seeds, coconut flakes, pistachios, dates (either one or two, to taste). To use half a vanilla bean, cut a bean in half crosswise. Reserve one half for future use. Split the remaining half lengthwise with a sharp paring knife and scrape the seeds into the oat mixture. Add a pinch of sea salt and almond milk. Stir.

Cover and leave in the fridge overnight. In the morning, add more almond milk or some yoghurt if the muesli looks too dry. Top with roasted strawberries, more pistachios, edible flowers (if using), and maple syrup or honey, to taste. Serve.  

Sherry Roasted Strawberries

Serves 4

Adapted from Joy The Baker

1 lb. strawberries, hulled

2 tbsp maple syrup

1 tbsp sherry vinegar

1 tsp coconut oil

sea salt

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. 

Hull and slice the strawberries in half or quarters, if the strawberries are large. Whisk together the maple syrup, sherry vinegar, coconut oil, and a pinch of sea salt. Toss the mixture with the strawberries until the strawberries are evenly coated. Spread the strawberries out on a rimmed baking sheet in a single layer.

Roast for about 30 to 40 minutes, or until the strawberries are cooked and a syrup forms. Keep an eye on the berries and remove from the oven before the syrup begins to burn. Transfer the strawberries and syrup to a dish and allow to cool for about 5 to 10 minutes before serving. 

Note: Use the strawberries immediately for best texture but they can be stored in the fridge overnight; reheat before serving.