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.

 


Millet Grapefruit Walnut Salad (+ Cookbook Giveaway)

by Maja Lukic


I'm intensely aware that it's been a few weeks since my last post. I may be the world's laziest blogger by typical food blogger standards. The reason is this: I tend to follow intuition and inspiration rather than a set schedule and inspiration is fickle. And there's this, too: whenever my creative projects threaten to overwhelm, I slow down and take a brief hiatus from blogging. And the last of my half-hearted excuses is this: the weather has been gorgeous and I have a stack of new novels. Reading outside in a park or on a rooftop or, preferably, by a large body of water is one of my favorite things to do on warm days. And so, on a quiet Sunday afternoon, it's tough to drag myself away from extravagant sunlight and electric blue skies and into a cramped, overheated kitchen to test recipes. 

But I'm back today--if only briefly--with some fun news. This week, I'm participating in a "Virtual Salad Party" hosted by California Walnuts. Basically, all week, participating bloggers will be posting and featuring selected entree salad recipes created by one of three chefs:  Aida Mollenkamp, Joanne Weir, and Mollie Katzen.

I like walnuts, I like salads--naturally, I jumped at this opportunity. For the featured post, I chose to prepare this Grain Salad with Toasted Walnuts, Dates and Grapefruit by Chef Joanne Weir. You can check out some of the other awesome posts here. Anyway, in conjunction with the "Salad Party" happenings, the generous folks at California Walnuts have sent over an extra copy of Chef Weir's most recent cookbook for me to give away--to one of you. For full giveaway entry details, see below. 

But first, a brief interlude to introduce this salad. Entree salads are a default meal for me (and for many of you, I suspect) because they're fast, easy, and chill (to the extent that a meal can be described as chill). There is a sliding scale of "healthy" because anything from hemp seeds to steak is fair game. And salads are open to infinite variation, depending on what's available and what's in season.

This recipe is no exception. It's a creative mix of grains, nuts, herbs, dried and fresh fruit with a bright citrus vinaigrette. Although the original recipe is great as written, I played with some of the ingredients to suit my own tastes and preferences. The recipe calls for equal parts quinoa and millet but I decided to use all millet because I just don't love quinoa that much--sorry, guys. I substituted walnut oil for the olive oil for enhanced walnut flavor and while I enjoy the grapefruit, I may try different fruit next time--red grapes or blackberries come to mind. I may add in some roasted asparagus, too. The salad benefits from a fresh infusion of seasonal greens--I used pea shoots here but anything from wild spinach or escarole to sorrel to baby kale should work. To top it off, I tossed in handfuls of edible flowers until the entire plate began to resemble a high school production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." For color, but also, I have no self-control in the presence of edible flowers (see hereherehere, and here). All in all, I found this to be a delightful little lunch/dinner salad.  

To win a copy of Chef Weir's cookbook, all you have to do is leave a comment on this post telling me about your favorite salad ingredient. Don't forget to leave your email so that I have a way to reach you! A winner will be selected at random on June 21, 2014. Good luck!

Millet Grapefruit Walnut and Date Salad (v/gf)

Adapted from Joanne Weir

Serves 6

Salad

1 1/2 cups millet

sea salt

2 grapefruits, washed

1 cup walnuts, roughly chopped

1/2 cup dates, pitted and chopped

1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped

2 cups pea shoots (or other spring greens)

Grapefruit-Walnut Vinaigrette

2 tbsp white wine vinegar

3 tbsp walnut oil (or olive oil)

1/2 tsp grapefruit zest

2 tbsp fresh grapefruit juice

1 tsp maple syrup

sea salt

Preheat the oven to 375 F degrees. 

To prepare the vinaigrette, whisk the vinegar, walnut oil, maple syrup, and grapefruit zest together. Set aside. 

Place the millet in a skillet over medium high heat and toast for about four minutes, shaking the pan constantly. Add 2 1/4 cups water and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil on high heat. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer until all of the moisture is absorbed (about 35 minutes). You may need to add more water periodically if the grains dry out as they're cooking. When cooked, spread the millet out on a baking sheet to cool. 

Place the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast for about seven minutes or until fragrant and lightly browned. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. 

Wash the grapefruits and segment over a medium bowl to catch the juices. To segment (or supreme) grapefruit, slice off the top and bottom horizontally to reveal the flesh inside. Rest the fruit on a cutting board on one of the flat ends and, with a sharp knife, slice off the peel in strips, working from top to bottom. Work the blade of the knife along the curve of the grapefruit to remove all of the white pith. Then, with a paring knife, cut the segments out by slicing into the grapefruit vertically between the membranes. (It helps to hold the grapefruit in your hand as you do this.). Repeat until you've removed all of the segments and then squeeze the remaining center of the grapefruit over the bowl to extract the juices. Discard the center and remaining membranes. Repeat with the second grapefruit.

Add two tablespoons of the grapefruit juice to the vinaigrette. Season with sea salt.

Toss the pea shoots (or other spring greens) with a tablespoon or two of the vinaigrette and layer at the bottom of a wide shallow bowl to create a bed for the salad. Toss the millet, walnuts, dates, parsley, and grapefruit segments with the remaining vinaigrette. Taste for seasoning and serve on top of the pea shoots.

Notes: Although Weir specifies 15 to 18 minutes as the grain cooking time, I found it was closer to 35 minutes. Also, millet tends to cook unevenly--at the end, some grains will be soft while others will be al dente. That's OK--it's just the nature of the grain. These are my modifications to Weir's original recipe:

- I used all millet instead of equal parts quinoa and millet. 

- I added pea shoots to the salad and increased the amount of parsley.

- I added maple syrup to sweeten the vinaigrette.

- I substituted walnut oil for the olive oil in the vinaigrette.


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.