Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Little Bit Granola Happy




How about some Chocolate Granola? I know it sounds a bit counterintuitive. I mean granola is supposed to be healthy. The very word 'granola' has taken on a world of meaning - plain, wholesome, natural, earthy - while 'chocolate' conjures up luxury, excess, passion. Could it be right?   At first chocolate granola just seems wrong, more like CocoPuffs than something I can get behind for breakfast but after you try it (and make it) you'll see that it is actually a pretty good choice (or perhaps you will just want to justify....) One of my favorite boxed cereals in Japan is a kind of chocolate granola and so this week when I was faced with the need to make a lot of granola for something I remembered how fantastic it is. Thinking it can't be that hard to make I gave it a shot and it's not! But it is super-yummy. 

Needing still more of the stuff (and hating to make too much of even this good thing or Grandy's Noga) I remembered hearing about Peanut Butter Granola. That sounds a little bit closer to the earthy, wholesome granola concept. I know the idea is not original to me (a google search will show the evidence of that) but I like my version. And it's easy.  So here are two more granola recipes, in case you were craving some - or just maybe thinking it might be good (for you). 


Chocolate-Cranberry Granola

6 cups large flake rolled oats
1 cup flaked coconut
1 cup raw sunflower seeds
1/4 cup chia seed
1/4 cup milled flaxseed
1/4 cup hemp hearts
1 cup chopped pecans*
2/3 cup slivered almonds
1/3 cup good quality cocoa
1 tsp cinnamon
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup coconut oil
2 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup agave nectar
1/4 cup honey
2 oz semi-sweet chocolate (2 squares)
2 cups dark chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups dried cranberries

Mix the dry ingredients together thoroughly. Melt the coconut oil, add the honey,agave nectar and vanilla. Heat to warm and add the chocolate. Let it sit a few minutes until the chocolate is melted and stir thoroughly. Pour the honey mixture over the oat mixture and stir very thoroughly. (I can't over-emphasis the stir thoroughly. If the liquid isn't very well distributed you will have hot spots where the granola will cook faster -read burn - so stir past the point that you think you need to.) Bake in two large parchment lined baking sheets at 325 F. for 30 minutes - stirring halfway through. Cool and add the chocolate chips and dried cranberries if desired.


Peanut Butter Granola

8 cups large flake rolled oats
1 1/2 cups flaked coconut
3/4 cups wheat germ
1/4 cup milled flaxseed
3/4 cup chopped almonds
1 cup raw sunflower seeds
1 cup chopped pecans*
1/4 cup chia seed
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/4 cups honey
1 cup natural peanut butter
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2/3 cup coconut oil
2 cups peanut butter chips (or chocolate)

Stir dry ingredients together, mixing well. Heat the honey, peanut butter, and coconut oil. Stir to mix well. Add the vanilla and pour over the dry ingredients. Again, mix very well. Bake in 2 large parchment lined baking sheets at 325 F. for 25 minutes (or until golden) - stirring halfway through. Cool and add peanut butter chips if desired. Or chocolate chips ;)

*I always use pecans in recipes because I am allergic to walnuts (nasty, itchy hives) but feel free to use walnuts instead. I wish I could. Both or either would be delicious.


I had a blast making all this granola, and then making labels, and bagging it. More "If You Give A Mouse A Cookie" I guess. But it sure was fun.

And I highly recommend the Chocolate Granola. It is not super sweet so it really isn't like CocoPuffs. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Don't You Hate It When....



Dinner looked pretty today. The recipe sounded good too. But I won't be sharing it because ....... honestly? It was just not that great. It was good (faint praise) - but I wouldn't order it again if I had had it at a restaurant nor would I try to figure out how to make it. I wouldn't tell my friends about it, that's for sure, except possibly to point out the disappointment. The arugula was too bitter (and I do like arugula), the Cambozola cheese too blue (although that shouldn't have surprised me - it is lowering to admit but I do not like blue cheese.)  I do think there are possibilities and things I would change if I were to try something  inspired by this again. I would take into account the fact that I don't like blue cheeses and choose a cheese I like. Pretty obvious one might rightly point out.  And I think that spinach would be a better choice than the arugula. Hmmmm, I may try this again - revamped - another day after all. It did have the twin virtues of being fast and easy. I'll let you know.


Don't you hate it when dinner is a disappointment?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Trifle (Merrill-style)



Smack-dab in the middle of the last century my grandfather, Milton Magrath Merrill, went to South Africa to serve a mission for our church - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. He didn't go as a raw 19 year old boy, he was a mature man leaving home and family to answer the call to serve. He returned about the time my parents met in 1951 (when my mom was an apparently very eye-catching 15). With him came the diamonds that eventually made my mother's wedding rings and - perhaps even better - a recipe for Trifle. Apparently the South African version is a bit unique. I don't really know about that but I do know that it is terrifically good. I consider it a family treasure. I know it the way my mother learned to make it from her mother-in-law, my Grandma Merrill. We love it and it is often requested as "birthday cake" in our family.

This is my spin on it. Grandpa insisted that it be made with Bird's Custard Powder but I personally prefer making the custard from scratch. The fruit varies with what is in season (or at least available). In the Reed Merrill branch of the family we have developed a preference for Nanking Cherry Jelly for the jam part but unless you have a cherry hedge or access to a bush or two as well as the desire to make your own jelly, you will likely have to be (very) happy with my next favorite which is Raspberry Jam.

Trifle (Merrill-style)

Cake
2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
3 eggs
Heat oven to 350 F. Grease and flour a 9x13" pan. Measure all ingredients into a large mixer bowl. Blend on low until mixed and then on high for 3 minutes. Pour into baking pan and bake for 40 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool and turn out of pan onto wire rack.

Custard
1/3 cup sugar
2 Tbsp cornstarch
1/8 tsp salt
2 cups milk
2 egg yolks
2 Tbsp butter
2 tsp very good vanilla
Blend sugar, cornstarch, and salt in 2 liter saucepan. Add milk and egg yolks and whisk thoroughly. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and boils. Boil and stir for 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in the butter and vanilla. Cool, stirring several times as it cools.

Fruit and Cream
2 cups whipping cream, whipped
fruit (for this trifle I used the following)
1 banana, sliced
3 cups cleaned and sliced strawberries
1 can mandarin orange segments, drained
1 cup sliced, canned peaches
Fold the fruit into the whipped cream.

1 cup jam 

Assembly
This is the fun part! We think it is pretty much a kitchen staple to have a "trifle" bowl but if you don't it will still taste as good. You will just miss the wow! factor - a big part of this dessert - so serve it at the table for sure. My trifle bowl is a 10" straight-sided vessel. I use the edge of the bowl to mark a circle on the cake and then cut the circle out. Next, split your cake circle in half so you have two circles. Put one of them in the bottom of the bowl and cover with 1/2 of the jam, topping that with half of the custard. Layer on about half of the fruit and cream. Repeat the layers. Stand back and admire. 

I almost always end up with a bit more of all the parts than will fit in the bowl and there is for sure going to be left-over cake so I use it to make another poor man trifle - lots of cake and little cream. It is still good and always gets eaten with gusto. I made this one in a canister.


The cake recipe I use here is one of our family favorites for many things. Makes great cupcakes and is perfect for the kind of birthday cakes you make for kids - the ones you cut into shapes. It has a nice moist texture and a most delicious taste. Plus it is super easy - as easy for sure as a cake mix and worlds better in every way.




Monday, April 18, 2011

Blouse to Baby Romper


Last summer I saw a blouse on a clearance rack - size XL... much too big for me but XL so.... lots of pretty fabric. I bought it, brought it home and showed Merin. She loved the fabric and we planned to use the lovely cotton voile to make something fun for her after Ysa was born. As is often the case, I had more ideas than time and so the blouse got bundled up and put in the closet in the sewing room. 

A better idea was born last week when Eden asked me to make a few summer things for Ysa. I thought of that pretty fabric and pulled out the blouse. I had already cut off one of the sleeves and used the fabric in a quilt top. My initial thought was to just use the fabric as yardage but when I got started there was such pretty pleating at the neckline, and sweet little buttons, and the self-fabric belt....well, the wheels started turning. It was so much fun to make this little outfit and even more fun to see how absolutely adorable a cute round baby makes it look.






It looks even cuter when the elastic at the bottom is pulled up around her chubby little legs - kind of like a soft, sweet bubble. Super delicious!




Thursday, April 14, 2011

31


Thirty one. She may think that's a lot of years but not I. Those years seem so short. Is it possible that it was thirty one years ago I first saw her sweet face and fell in love with her? Because that's exactly how it was - thunk. Hard. But so sweet. As I write this evening I remember laying in the bed after she was born and all was quiet. Only new Eden and I in the room. I looked at her face as I held her close and felt overwhelmed with joy to have this daughter, to feel the power and gentle warmth that is Eden. She had a presence even then - so distinct that both David and I felt it clearly - and it has never wavered. What a privilege to be her mother, to have the joy of learning with her, to see her grow into a most amazing woman. She is one of the very best things in my life - and so today I "share" her, a little bit.

She is beautiful in every way. Most often behind rather than in front of the camera, she sees and captures the beauty in others. I am so proud of her talent. She is fun, sensitive, warm, strong, firm, spiritual, faithful, loyal, loving, witty, stylish, clever, thoughtful, careful, .... I know I am her mother but I am also her friend . I know her well and see her clearly - she is all of those things and more. If you are blessed to know her, you know that too.




Happy Birthday Sweetie. I love you....so much!!



Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Plum Torte



A week ago or so I was thumbing through my wonderful New York Times Essential Cookbook and noticed the enticing information that a particular recipe was the most requested recipe in their entire archive. Does that not intrigue you?! It certainly did me and I was seized with the ambition to give that recipe a spin as soon as possible.  And then I read  "it's nearly a perfect recipe" - better yet. Finally, the story about the woman who made 24 tortes, stored them in a friend's freezer (and had to pay the friend 2 tortes for the privilege). The friend went away for two weeks, left her mother with her children and came back to find that fully half of the tortes were gone. Wow! good enough to eat a full dozen in two weeks! What possibilities..... what could be so amazing that it would make a recipe the most requested and most often published? The only way to know was to make it. So the 'bear went over the mountain' - and it was well worth the easy walk. It is a simple recipe with few ingredients. Probably all you need to buy are plums. I bought some and went to work. The verdict? It was simply....absolutely delicious. I get it now. 


Purple Plum Torte 
(from The New York Times Essential Cookbook)


1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
large pinch sea salt
1 cup sugar, plus 1 Tbsp
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 large eggs
12 purple plums*
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp ground cinnamon


Heat the oven to 350 F. Sift the flour with the baking powder and salt.


Cream the butter with the sugar until light in color. Add the dry ingredients and then the eggs.


Spoon the batter into an ungreased 9" springform pan. Cover the top of the batter with the plum halves, skin side up. Sprinkle with the lemon juice and remaining tablespoon of sugar. Sprinkle with the cinnamon.


Bake until the cake is golden and the plums are bubbly - 45-50 minutes. Cool on a rack, then unmold.


* Purple plums are not to be found this time of year so I used the nice big plump black plums - super yummy! I only used 6 plums. Apparently other fruit can be substituted (apples and cranberries being one suggestion, or blueberries) but the plums were so fantastic I think I will stick with plums.


The torte is not only delicious but very pretty when cut. The rich colors of the plums shine like jewels nestled in the dough, or maybe stained-glass....something lovely anyway.







Monday, April 11, 2011

Wonders



Back in the mists of time, when we lived in Osaka, I had some (ahem) adventures in the grocery store - that lead to even greater adventures in the kitchen. Ahhhhhh, the mystery foods I bought. (Actually it was more often ugggggg than ahhhhh but time kindly softens pretty much everything.) Once we bought adzuki bean ice cream bars for the kids as a treat. That turned out to be one of the greatest disappointments of their young lives, they thought they were getting chocolate because that's what the picture on the package looked like.... Five sticks of ice cream ended up melting in the sink and five sad kids looked at me accusingly. Oh well, I believe we have all moved on and hope they scarcely remember the tragedy. Another time I bought what I hoped was chili powder to make one of their favorite comfort food dinners, only to find out that it was, in fact, chili pepper. And we all know that a tablespoon of chili pepper in a recipe is a world away from the same amount of chili powder. More accusing glares.


Fortunately, there were some delightful discoveries. Like Wonders* - as in I wonder what they call these (because I can't read the Japanese on the package). Essentially sandwich cookies made of crackers and icing, they are addictive. The touch of salt combined with sweet icing and the buttery crunch of the crackers....divine. 


So this 'recipe' is really more of a suggestion and follows my philosophy that it is a shame (bordering on sin) to waste any speck of cream cheese icing. In case you have any cream cheese icing left after making the Snap Baby Cookies (and licking the beaters) this is an excellent suggestion. 


Wonders


-an even number of Ritz crackers (or reasonable facsimile of Ritz but personally I am a purist)
-cream cheese icing


Spread a generous amount of icing on one cracker and top with another cracker. Press lightly. Enjoy thoroughly.


Variation: (for when you have mastered the basic version)
- substitute graham wafers for the Ritz crackers




If you want to be really nice to a friend in need or... anyone really, you can make up a stack of these. Wrap them in parchment paper or wax paper, tie with cute twine or ribbon, add a little tag or note and you are a star.




*My name for the cracker/cookies because I never did find out what they are really called.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Snap Baby Cookies



Meinhardt's in Vancouver is one of my favorite stores anywhere. I know some women would rather eat worms than go to the grocery store (or almost rather at any rate) but I have always enjoyed shopping for food. Some food stores really raise the bar. Entering them is a total sensory feast - the rows of perfect produce gleaming and seducing with their bright colors, the smells from the deli and bakery, the racks of dry goods and spices from exotic locales, ahhhh...... Well, yes - Meinhardt's is one of those stores. I want to buy every beautifully packaged item (total sucker here for great packaging) and have a taste of every enticing offering. Jonathon lives close to a Meinhardt's  (lucky guy) and stopped in the other day. He bought a cookie and immediately called me - mid-treat - with this wonderful revelation, "If Homemade Oreos and  Cry Babies had a baby this would be it!" Now that may not make you drool but it sure got me wiping my chin. Homemade Oreos x Cry Babies!!!!! My word!! Got right on that and realized success right off the bat - but really, how could I lose? 


Absolutely delicious. Promise. Trust me.



The cookie part is not exactly the same as the Cry Baby Cookie recipe - more inspired by.We decided to call them Snap Babies. 

Snap Baby Cookies

2 - 2 1/4 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp ginger
2 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp sea salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter
1 1/2 Tbsp molasses
2 1/2 Tbsp liquid honey

Combine butter and sugar, beat. Add the egg, molasses and honey and beat well. Sift dry ingredients together (using only 2 cups of the flour) and mix into wet ingredients. If the dough is really wet and sticky, add more flour to make a fairly stiff dough - one that can be easily rolled into a ball. Form 1" balls and bake on a parchment paper lined baking sheet for 12 minutes at 350 F.

(I used a small 'ice cream' scoop to make my dough balls. Not as messy as hand rolling, and the size is uniform which is nice when making sandwich cookies - no hunting for matching size cookies.)

Cool on wire racks.

When the cookies are cool. Spread a generous tablespoon of icing on a cookie and top with another cookie. Press together. Let them set for a while....if you can! Then lean back and soak up the raves. Or lick  your fingers. Either or both.

Cream Cheese Icing
1 package cream cheese
3 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Beat the cream cheese until softened and creamy. Add the sugar 1 cup at a time - unless you want to see it puff up and sift gently down over the floor and counter. In that case, go ahead and add all 3 cups at the same time (as you may suspect I did - and you would be right). Either way, beat until the icing has a smooth consistency. Lick the beaters (because wasting cream cheese icing is a shame) and fill the cookies.


mmmmmmmmmm...... Yum! All of us (Eden, Hannah, and the smaller people including toddlers - but not real babies - that were here when these debuted) agreed one or two was not enough.


Thursday, April 7, 2011

More Tea Party Fun


Mothers, daughters, sisters. Pretty cups and saucers. Sweet treats. Flowers. Tea (herbal), 0f course. And a most ridiculous puppy named "Bear" who likes to 'scratch his tongue' on little girl feet.  My sister Shan and  and her daughter Gabby hosted the tea party fun this time. Loved it!

Gabby made the adorable and delicious little gluten-free tea cakes in the shapes of radishes, lettuce, carrots, and peas in the pod - complete with faces. Perfect for an early spring tea party. 



Poppy Seed-Orange Pound Cake

1/2 cup unsalted butter (or 1/3 cup canola oil)
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
3 cups Sorghum Blend*
1 1/2 tsp xantham gum
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2  cups soured milk**
2 Tbsp grated orange zest
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup poppy seed

Preheat the oven to 325 F. Generously grease the cake molds (or a 10" Bundt pan).

Beat the butter on medium speed in a large bowl until smooth. Add sugar and continue beating until well blended. Mix in eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

In a medium bowl, sift together the sorghum blend, xantham gum, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. In a measuring cup, combine the soured milk, orange zest, and vanilla extract. With the mixer on low speed, beat the sorghum mixture into the egg mixture, alternating with the soured milk and ending with the 'flour' mixture. Mix in the poppy seed. Spread the batter in the prepared molds/pan.

If baking the tea cakes (in the molds) bake for 11 minutes. If baking in Bundt pan bake 1 hour or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan for 10 minutes on a wire rack. Remove cake from pan and cool completely on rack.

* Sorghum Blend
1 1/2 cups sorghum flour
1 1/2 cups potato starch/cornstarch
1 cup tapioca four
Whisk the ingredients together until well blended. Store tightly covered. Makes 4 cups.

** Soured Milk (homemade buttermilk)
1 Tbsp cider vinegar or fresh lemon juice
2% milk (cow's, rice, soy, potato, or nut) to equal 1 cup
Let stand 10 minutes to thicken slightly.

For the glaze, Gabby says she just made a very thin icing and colored it before washing the cakes with it.


(The very cute vegetable mold pan is from Williams-Sonoma. Just in case you wanted to know.)


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Thai-Style Halibut with Coconut-Curry Broth


A girl from the Prairies, I did not grow up eating (or liking to eat) fish. It has taken a lot of travel to places where the fish is fresh and well-prepared to convince me that it is not only good for me but just plain good. Since eating fish regularly is a smart thing to do, I keep my eyes open for recipes that look promising - even here in land-locked Calgary. (Fortunately we can now get fresh fish, imagine!) The other night I tried this one from The Food You Crave by Ellie Krieger, a cookbook I am currently loving - not one single recipe that I have auditioned from it has been less than fantastic. Another really nice thing about the cookbook is the great nutritional information with each recipe (calories, fat breakdown, protein, fibre - all that, plus a list of "excellent source of..." and "good source of...").

I am not sure about the absolute authenticity of the Thai-ness but having been to Thailand a couple of times (and loving the food there) I can attest to the tribute this recipe gives to the tastes of Thailand. Plus it is super easy and comes together very quickly - on the table in less than half an hour ..... if you don't count the time it takes to cook the brown rice ;)

Thai-Style Halibut with Coconut-Curry Broth
(adapted very slightly from The Food You Crave by Ellie Krieger)

2 teaspoons coconut oil
2 large shallots
2 teaspoons Thai red curry paste
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk
3/4 tsp sea salt
4 (5 oz) halibut fillets*
6 cups lightly packed baby spinach leaves
2 cups cooked brown jasmine rice
3/4 cups coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
2 green onions, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring a few times, until they begin to brown (3 minutes or so.) Add the curry paste and cook stirring for 30 seconds. Add the broth, coconut milk, 1/2 tsp of the salt and simmer until reduced to 2 cups (about 5 minutes).

Season the halibut with the remaining 1/4 tsp salt. Lay in the pan with the sauce and shake pan gently to coat the fish. Cover and cook until fish flakes easily with a fork - about 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the spinach in a microwave safe bowl, cover tightly and microwave for 2 minutes.

Place 1/2 cup of the rice and a pile of cooked spinach in the bottom of 4 soup plates. Top with the fish fillets. Stir the cilantro, scallion and lime juice into the sauce left in the pan and season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle all of the sauce over the fish and serve.

I am definitely not a food stylist and this does not look nearly as good as it tastes - or smells - even so, it looks (pretty) good...better in 'real life'. It is a for sure make-again at our house.

*I made this with halibut but would try it with any white fish - couldn't be bad.


(Small note on serving/eating - in Thailand most dishes are eaten with a large-ish spoon. Definitely what I would use here.)

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Chasing Cotttons


I would like to "introduce" a sweet relative of mine - Rebecca Johnson. I have never met Rebecca. She is my cousin's daughter. The cousin moved to Australia when I was 10 and sadly, I have not been to Australia (yet) so I don't know his children - or any of the children of his siblings. I think I would really like to though. The cousin is visiting in Canada currently and Rebecca came to my notice. Her story touched me. I am impressed with her courage and the choice she has made to approach tragedy with faith and hope. To be active and strong. I am reminded that it is not what 'happens' to us that really counts but the way we respond to what happens.

Rebecca's grandmother (my Aunt Maxine) was a wonderfully strong and courageous woman. I have turned to her example often in the last months and been inspired.  Aunt Macky lost a son in his early teenage years to cancer. She was one of 5 close sisters - and lost them one by one to cancer, far too early. And she personally fought a very long and valiant battle with cancer. After and through all this she remained composed, vibrant and strong. She was creative - painting, sewing, among other talents - and dressed with a particular flair. Her grand-daughter has discovered that she has inherited some of that creativity as she has tried to deal with her own grief in a positive manner. 

I was excited to find Rebecca's blog and see the beautiful quilts she designs. To feel (despite distance) a kinship. And I so want to make this quilt.