Monday, March 29, 2010


Cauliflower isn’t always an easy sell. It doesn’t have a whole lot of flavor on its own and usually gets dipped in something creamy or covered in a cheese sauce, at least in this part of the country (or in my family, anyway). Since I’d usually been presented with it boiled into an unappealing mush, I’ve always preferred it raw. Relatively recently, however, I’ve learned that cauliflower is quite nice when roasted. It’s still mild in flavor, but it browns and caramelizes, developing a touch of sweetness and getting a little nutty. (Sound like anyone you know?)

I’ve been tossing cauliflower into pans of Roasted Vegetables, usually in the fall and winter when I have lots of root vegetables and winter squash to roast. I came across a recipe in a recent issue of Cooking Light magazine, however, that was a little different. I just had to see the photo of the dish to know I was going to make some version of it, and soon. As I mentioned in the previous post, as things progressed, I ended up changing a recipe for turkey salad just to make it “go” a little better with this one.

This recipe combines cauliflower with chickpeas and green olives, and punches it all up with lots of garlic, olive oil and crushed red pepper flakes. The whole lot is roasted until the cauliflower gets mostly tender, the chickpeas get a little toasty and chewy, and the whole place smells like roasted garlic. The hot pepper is noticeable, but not fiery. You could leave it out if you don’t like spicy food. The warm olives are a nice surprise. I like their tart, brininess amidst the milder cauliflower and chickpeas. Lemon juice and parsley, stirred in after roasting, just brighten up the dish even more.

I can imagine some potentially interesting variations of this recipe (kalamata olives, sun dried tomatoes, different fresh herbs), and I now know from experience that it’s worth working a meal around this roasted side dish. I also heated the leftovers and served them as a sandwich in pita bread. The combination of the chickpeas and the wheat in the bread should create a complete protein so, ta-da!, I’ve just declared this a light main dish as well!

Roasted Cauliflower, Chickpeas and Olives
Based on a recipe in Cooking Light magazine

1 medium cauliflower, about 1-1 ¼ pounds, cut into florets
½ cup pimiento-stuffed green olives
6 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 (16-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon coarse salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ cup minced parsley

1. Preheat the oven to 450 F. Place the cauliflower florets, olives, garlic and chickpeas in a roasting pan.

2. Add the olive oil, salt and pepper and toss to coat well (I used my hands).

3. Bake at 450 F for about 25 minutes or until the cauliflower is beginning to brown. Stir occasionally. The cauliflower will not be completely tender, but will still have a bit of crispness to it.

4. Remove from the oven. Drizzle with lemon juice and add the parsley. Stir to combine well.

Makes about 4 servings.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Making it Match

It has become that bad. I now lay awake at night trying to figure out how to make two dishes using ingredients that have been languishing in the freezer or have gone a bit past their prime into a cohesive menu with flavors that don’t clash, but compliment each other. As if there isn’t enough in this crazy world to worry about.

You see, it all started with the turkey tenderloin I’ve had in the freezer since late December. Now that the warmer weather allows for cooler main courses, I planned to make a turkey salad with curry powder, grapes and cashews. The thing is, I also wanted to use up a cauliflower that I had bought more than a week ago. (It was starting to get a few brownish spots. Don’t worry, they didn’t kill me.) I had a great-looking recipe for roasted cauliflower with chickpeas and olives that I wanted to try. I just didn’t think these two recipes would “go” together as well as I wanted and was planning to make them for separate meals. I needed to use up those ingredients, though, and wanted to do it soon.

I tried to think of a way to curry up the cauliflower dish, but just adding curry powder to everything seemed so inelegant (yes, I worry about these things.) And so I was lying awake, agitated about these dishes as if the world would somehow be a better place if I figured this out. Well, duh, it finally occurred to me that I could change the turkey salad just as easily as the cauliflower dish and the day was saved.

The roasted cauliflower dish (I hope to post that recipe soon) has chickpeas and lots of garlic and green olives. This made me think of Spanish flavors which translated into sherry vinegar, red bell peppers and smoked paprika for the turkey salad, since those were ingredients I had on hand. For crunch, I wanted to replace the cashews in the original recipe with almonds, but all I had were smokehouse almonds. These turned out to be a great match with the smoked paprika.

This all might not take you directly to Spain, especially as a turkey salad served in pita bread, but it tastes good, and that’s the whole point anyway. Oh yeah, and it matched well with the cauliflower dish.
Turkey Salad with Sherry Vinegar and Smoked Paprika
Based on a recipe in Cooking Light magazine.

I roasted a turkey breast tenderloin with salt, pepper and olive oil at 350 F for about 40 minutes, or to an internal temperature of 165 F. I then covered it with foil for about 10 minutes (to finish cooking), removed the foil, let the turkey cool and shredded it.

There’s absolutely no reason that I can see why you couldn’t use chicken instead of turkey to make this salad.

¼ cup sour cream
¼ cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups cooked turkey breast, shredded or chopped
½ cup finely chopped red bell pepper
½ cup finely chopped celery
¼ cup finely chopped red onion
¼ cup chopped smoked (or “smokehouse”) almonds
2 tablespoons minced parsley

1. In a large bowl, combine the sour cream, mayonnaise, sherry vinegar, honey, smoked paprika, salt, and pepper. Whisk to combine.

2. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well. Taste and adjust seasonings if desired. Cover and chill until ready to serve. Serve on a bed of lettuce or on bread or in a pita as a sandwich.

Makes about 4 servings.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Spring Cleaning

Now that it’s spring (or so my Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog calendar insists) I’m increasingly tempted to cheat. Not on my taxes or on my diet (such as it is) or even at Ticket to Ride or Small World. No, instead my eyes gaze longingly at the covers of current cooking magazines and wander through the produce section of the markets. There are new things there. Pretty green things. I want to cheat on the perfectly good locally-grown foods waiting for me at home, just because they’re a little out of season.

Root vegetables and frozen corn and squash have been sitting, uncomplaining and obedient in our freezer and root cellar. Okay, so it’s not really a root cellar, just the bottom shelf of the refrigerator, but many things have kept surprisingly well there all winter. (Except for beets. Beets don’t keep. They lurk.) Despite the temptations of the flirty new spring vegetables, I manage to stay strong. There’s a lot left to enjoy before I break down and buy some asparagus that’s been trucked, flown or shipped in from Mexico, Chile, the Emerald City, or wherever things are green this time of year.

Soup seems to be a good catch-all for whatever is left, no matter what the season. It also still offers some hearty comfort when the days aren’t quite as warm as they look, or spring rains (and melts) threaten to drown your spirit (or your basement). I recently made a good soup with celeriac (aka celery root) which was waiting faithfully to be utilized, and some of the wild rice I had frozen after cooking up a bunch to make this salad.

As I was making this soup, I had The Barefoot Contessa on the TV in the other room. Ina Garten just happened to be making a celeriac remoulade and was speaking of the affinity of the celeriac for mustard. Not one to turn up my nose at such a piece of culinary serendipity, I added some dry mustard to the soup. I was thrilled by the flavor of the final product (I thrill pretty easily, I guess), and I think the mustard made the soup go even better with the Dark Rye Bread I served alongside it.

This is a pretty simple soup. To make a thicker base, I pureed half of it using an immersion blender. (It splattered quite a bit, but that’s what the apron is for!) You could also use a regular blender. Just be careful when pureeing the hot soup. I find it works well to remove the little insert in the top of the blender lid and cover the resulting opening with a folded-up towel while blending. This seems to help keep explosions to a minimum. (The apron can only do so much.)

As I clean out my refrigerator, freezer and cupboards (there’s plenty of stocked-up dried beans and grains, too), I’ll try not to post much that really clashes with the spring season (pumpkin pie for Easter, anyone?) If you’re really eager for springtime fare, I’ve added a new link to the sidebar titled “Favorite Spring Recipes.” It will take you to another set of links to Messy Apron posts containing some of my favorite spring recipes. Happy Spring, whatever you’re eating!

Celeriac, Potato and Wild Rice Soup
Based on a recipe in Cooking Light magazine

I used a homemade vegetable broth for this soup, but you could use canned broth, or chicken broth if it is more convenient.

2 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, chopped
½ teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt, plus more if desired
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dry mustard
½ cup finely chopped carrot
1 medium celeriac (about ¾ pound untrimmed weight), finely chopped
¼ pound potatoes, peeled and finely chopped
4 cups vegetable broth
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons half and half
1 cup cooked wild rice

1. Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion and ½ teaspoon salt. Saute 3 minutes, or until onion is beginning to soften and turn translucent. Stir in the garlic, pepper and dry mustard. Cook about 1 minute more.

2. Stir in the carrot, celeriac and potatoes. Add the vegetable broth and white wine vinegar. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and cook about 30 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.

3. Remove the pot from the heat. Spoon about half of the soup into a bowl (if using an immersion blender) or into a blender container. If using an immersion blender, blend the soup remaining in the pot until well-pureed. If using a conventional blender, blend the removed portion of the soup until well-pureed.

4. Carefully pour the removed soup back into the pot. Stir in the half and half and the wild rice. Taste the soup for salt and add more if desired. Return the pot to the heat to warm through if needed.

Makes about 6 servings.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Darker Side of Bread

“The whiter the bread, the sooner you’re dead.” That’s what my dad always says. That adage had come down to him through the generations, and now seems to have found itself a place (although with gentler language) in nutrition science and dietary recommendations. Whole grains are good for you. Whole grains are darker than ultra-refined ones. Eat darker bread. Like this Dark Rye bread made with a hefty dose of whole grain flour and a few other dark (but not too scary) surprises.

For me, eating darker bread usually means making it myself. I can’t remember the last time I bought a loaf of bread, and I enjoy the challenge of making new recipes work. And this recipe was a challenge. There’s nothing unusual or tricky or complicated about it. I just used my usual method of making a mini-starter that stands for a short time to allow the yeast to grow and develop more flavor in the dough. The salt and the rest of the flour are then added and then the kneading begins. And therein lay the challenge. This was a stiff dough, even when still sticky, and I got myself quite a workout kneading it by hand. Next time you see me, if I have forearms like Popeye’s (without the anchor tattoo), you’ll know I’ve been making this bread.

I adapted this recipe from a bread machine baking book. That recipe was probably adapted from a conventional-method recipe, but I thought I’d take it back, since I haven’t had a functioning bread machine in years. I used a 100% whole grain stone-ground rye flour (Hodgson Mill brand) with enough bread flour and vital gluten flour to ensure that I made a bread rather than a brick.

As if rye flour wasn’t enough, this recipe gets even darker with doses of molasses, coffee and cocoa powder. The individual flavors of coffee and chocolate don’t necessarily stand out, but they give the bread a distinctive rustic, slightly bitter flavor, not to mention a rich brown color. This bread also has the usual (in my mind essential) caraway seed often found in rye breads, with the addition of fennel seed. I crushed the seeds gently in a mortar and pestle to release their essential oils, aromas, and flavors. The fennel pairs well with the molasses, contributing a subtle anise-like note.

This bread might not technically keep you from dying, but it sure makes living a lot more interesting. I served it with soup, but also sliced it for ham or pastrami and Swiss sandwiches (which Harry liked very much). It’s also great eaten all by itself slathered with butter. The kneading of this dough may be a challenge, but the results are so dark and delicious you’ll think you’re eating a vampire romance.

Dark Rye Bread
Adapted from The Complete Guide to Bread Machine Baking from Better Homes and Gardens

1 cup warm water (about 100-120 F)
2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast (1 envelope-style package)
3 tablespoons molasses
2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup brewed coffee
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 cups bread flour, divided (plus more if needed)
2 cups stone-ground rye flour
1 tablespoon vital gluten flour
1 teaspoon caraway seed, coarsely crushed
½ teaspoon fennel seed, coarsely crushed
1 ½ teaspoons salt
oil or cooking spray

1. Combine the water, yeast, molasses and butter in a large bowl, or the bowl of a heavy-duty electric mixer. Let stand 5 minutes or until foamy.

2. Add the coffee, cocoa, 1 cup bread flour, rye flour, gluten flour and caraway and fennel seeds. Mix well until a soft batter forms. Cover with a towel and let the starter stand about 20 minutes.

3. Add the salt and about half of the remaining bread flour to the starter, stirring as much in as possible. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface (or place the dough hook in your mixer if you wish to knead by machine). Knead the dough, adding as much of the remaining bread flour as it will take (or add more if the dough is still very sticky). The dough will be very stiff and require some muscle to knead by hand. The dough should remain slightly tacky, but add enough flour to keep it from sticking to the kneading surface. Knead 10-12 minutes or until a moderately smooth dough is formed.

4. Form the kneaded dough into a smooth ball. Oil a large bowl or spray it with cooking spray. Place the dough ball in the bowl and oil or spray the top. Place a sheet of plastic wrap loosely on top of the dough. Cover it all with a towel and let stand to rise about 1 hour or until double in size.

5. Deflate the risen dough without squashing it completely flat. Let stand a few minutes. Shape the dough into a loaf about 10 inches long. (You could also use a 9-inch bread pan.) Place the loaf on a baking sheet coated with oil, cooking spray, or a silicone baking mat. Cover with a towel and let rise about 1 hour, or until it is about doubled in size and puffy-looking.

6. Preheat oven to 375 F. With a sharp knife, cut several slashes into the top of the unbaked loaf. Place in the oven and bake at 375 F for 30-35 minutes. You can check the bread for doneness by inserting an instant-read thermometer probe into the bread. It should be 200 F.

7. Remove the bread from the pan and cool on a wire rack.

Makes 1 2-pound loaf.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Kiss Me I'm (Really Not Very) Irish

Chances are that if you’re not Irish, you pretend to be for St. Patrick’s Day. You’ll wear a little green, stick some shamrock and leprechaun decorations in your window and maybe knock back a few Guinness Extra Stouts or green-dyed lagers. And you’ll even think about what to have for dinner. Corned beef and cabbage get the promotional spaces at the supermarket, but you might (especially if you really are Irish) have a colcannon, soda bread, or Irish stew recipe that has been passed down to you through the generations.

My few drops of Irish blood didn’t come with a recipe box, and I can’t remember if I’ve ever even eaten corned beef that wasn’t in deli-sliced form. (I do have vague memories of searching for corned beef in South Texas supermarkets, so maybe I did cook it one year.) Luckily, I also don’t have any ethnic food police after me (that I know of) so I can take a bit of a side-step and celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a Beef and Guinness Pot Pie. This is one of Harry’s absolute favorite dishes, and I’ve been trying to follow Aunt Helen’s advice and make it more often, but he always gets it at least once a year.

This is a rich and delicious beef stew with a fluffy and crispy puff pastry cover. It’s loaded with slowly cooked beef enhanced with dark, rich, slightly bitter (but not unpleasantly so) character from a bottle of Guinness. It also gets a peppery kick from brined green peppercorns. These are simply younger peppercorns that still have some of their fruit qualities, which have been bottled in brine rather than dried. They are milder in spice than the more familiar black peppercorns. They also contribute a touch of briny flavor and a little something vegetal that dried peppercorns don’t bring along. They sort of dissolve into the stew and take on the persona of a secret ingredient (I won’t tell if you don’t.) I love them, plain and simple.

You can find brined green peppercorns in larger supermarkets, usually shelved with things like pickles, olives and capers. In fact, they kind of look like capers and are packed in little jars of similar style, so they’re a bit difficult to spot on the shelf. I think it’s worth making the effort, however, since they give this dish a unique quality that isn’t too weird or palate-shocking.

I usually place the fully-cooked beef stew (which you could make ahead of time) in single-serving crocks, cover them with thawed store-bought puff pastry, and bake them until the pastry is puffed and browned. You could also bake the squares of puff pastry separately and float them onto bowls of the stew. (This is what I usually do with leftovers.) Or, you could forgo the puff pastry altogether and use a different pastry crust, or simply serve this as a stew with biscuits or bread.

Whether it’s with corned beef and cabbage, Beef and Guinness Pot Pie, or your usual Wednesday night fare with a dash of green food coloring I hope you celebrate St. Paddy well (and responsibly) even if your Irish roots are a little weak. I would suggest, however, that you’re careful who you kiss, Irish or not, especially after a few of those green beers.

Beef and Guinness Potpie
Modified from Gourmet magazine

This recipe can take 3 hours or more to prepare, so make sure to allow yourself enough time.

2 lb boneless beef chuck
2 Tbs all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
2 Tbs canola or vegetable oil, divided
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 ½ Tbs tomato paste
1 ½ cups beef broth
1 (11.2 ounce) bottle Guinness or other Irish stout
1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp drained brined green peppercorns, coarsely chopped
2 fresh thyme sprigs or ½ teaspoon dried thyme
1 pound peeled potatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
½ (17.3 ounce) package puff pastry (1 sheet) (or more if needed), thawed

1. Pat the beef dry with paper towels if it is damp on the surface. Cut the beef into 1-2 inch cubes. Combine the flour, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add the cubed beef and toss to coat with the flour mixture.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large pot, such as a Dutch oven, over medium heat. Add the beef in one layer and cook, turning to brown on all sides. Remove the browned beef from the pot and place in a clean bowl or on a clean plate. Repeat with the remaining beef, adding more of the oil as needed.

3. When all the beef has been browned, add the onion to the pan. Cook over medium heat 3 minutes. Add garlic and ½ cup beef broth. Scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot.

4. Stir in the tomato paste and cook 1 minute. Add the beef and any juices that may have accumulated in the bowl. Add the remaining 1 cup broth, Guinness, Worcestershire sauce, brined green peppercorns and thyme.

5. Bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer 1 hour. Add the potatoes. Simmer about 1 hour more or until the beef is very tender. Remove the lid for the last 30 minutes to thicken the stew if desired. Remove the stems from the thyme sprigs if you used fresh thyme. The stew can be made ahead of time up to this point.

6. Preheat the oven to 450 F. Spoon stew into 4 oven-proof single-serving crocks or soup bowls. Cut the puff pastry sheet into 4 squares. (You can cut it smaller or larger, or use more than one sheet, depending on the size of the bowls you are using.) Place 1 sheet of puff pastry on top of each filled bowl. Gently press to adhere to the sides of the bowl. Cut 2 to 3 slits in the top of the pastry to allow steam to escape as it bakes.

7. Place the pot pies on a baking sheet for easy transfer to the oven. Bake at 450 F 10-15 minutes or until the puff pastry is well browned. Remove from the oven and let stand 5-10 minutes. The stew under the pastry will be very hot.

Makes about 4 servings.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Good Advice and Spaghetti Pie

At my bridal shower (over ten years ago), the hostess passed around a journal and the ladies all wrote down some advice for my plunge into married life. It was all very good advice, like that from my Aunt Vivian’s mother Cathy: “Let Harry make all of the big decisions and you can make all of the small ones…of course there won’t be any of those big decisions.” Then there’s the bit from my Grandma Lorraine that I wish I had the ability to follow a little more carefully: “Bite your tongue occasionally (quite a bit). Mine is full of holes.”

But the easiest piece of advice to follow was from my mother’s aunt Helen: “Once in a while cook his favorite meal as a surprise.” Maybe I don’t get the surprise part down so well, because I can’t stop talking about what I’m going to cook next. Last time I made Spaghetti Pie, however, I managed to keep it under my hat until a whole day before I made it. Harry was appropriately surprised. And very happy.

Not only is this one of Harry’s favorite meals, but it also has a high nostalgia quotient because it was one of the first recipes I tried when I decided I wanted to teach myself to cook. I think I’ve been making it for nearly ten years now. The problem is, with so many new recipes to try (I’ve posted over 90 in these pages already, and those are just some of the good ones) I don’t make Spaghetti Pie nearly often enough. Another problem was that the original recipe just made too much and I would get tired of the leftovers and wouldn’t want to make it again any time soon. The simple solution was to scale down the recipe. I won’t tell you how many years it took me to figure that out.

This casserole is a layer of spaghetti noodles topped with a mixture of sour cream, softened cream cheese, and green onions. This, in turn, is topped with a beefy tomato sauce, then a layer of gooey melted cheese. I’m sure you could use ground turkey in place of the beef in the sauce, and, while I like the flavor of cheddar cheese on top, you could probably use something else that melts well, such as Monterey Jack, or mozzarella.

Since this is a food blog I won’t be giving any marital advice, but I will say that if you’re just learning to cook and these flavors look good to you, this is a solid recipe to try. If you’re a seasoned veteran, it’s quite easy and won’t take much of your time. If you’re feeding a larger crew this recipe can be doubled, and the leftovers heat nicely in the microwave.

I may not know the universal secrets to wedded bliss, but Harry doesn’t seem to have become tired of me yet. Thanks to all the good advice, and the Spaghetti Pie (even the leftovers), I must be doing something right.

Spaghetti Pie
Adapted from Cooking Light Magazine.

4 ounces uncooked spaghetti noodles
8 ounces ground beef (I used ground chuck)
½ tsp salt, divided
¼ tsp black pepper, divided
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (8-oz) can tomato sauce
¾ cups sour cream
¼ cup chopped green onions
¼ cup (2 oz) cream cheese, softened
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

1. Cook the spaghetti in boiling salted water until it is slightly underdone. You want it to be a little more firm than you would eat it on its own. It will cook a little more in the oven later. Drain the noodles and place them into a 1-quart casserole or baking dish.

2. Cook the beef in a medium-size skillet over medium heat until browned. Stir often to crumble. Stir in the ¼ teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon pepper and garlic and cook 1 minute more.

3. Stir in the tomato sauce. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until the mixture has thickened.

4. Preheat the oven to 350 F. In a small bowl, combine the sour cream, green onions, cream cheese, ¼ teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Spread the mixture over the spaghetti in the casserole dish. Pour the meat sauce over the top. Cover with the cheddar cheese.

5. Cover the dish and bake at 350 F for 15 minutes. Uncover and bake another 10 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly. Remove from the oven and cool at least 5 minutes before serving.

Makes 3-4 servings.

Friday, March 5, 2010

...And Such

“Do more than one fun thing a day!” - Marjorie Ketcher

I just finished reading an inspirational book titled Wild Dogs, a Naked Man, and Such by Marjorie Ketcher and Jim Ehle. Jim is a friend of mine, and I’m glad we’re pals, because it’s likely I never would have learned of this story on my own. It’s subtitled Inspiration for Reluctant Adventurers, and is about Marjorie’s solo (solo!) ride across North America on Old Blue, her trusty bicycle. It’s a little book, but it’s a big story full of more guts than glory, and I don’t think I’m giving too much away by telling you that the most important part of it all is the “Such.”

Whether you’re a hard-core adventurer (reluctant or otherwise) or just an armchair wannabe (like me - I don’t even own a bike), you probably can understand the thrill of tackling a personal goal. And you’re going to need fuel to get through it all. I like these Almond Butter Granola Bars that I adapted from a recipe in Bruce Weinstein’s The Ultimate Candy Book. They’re dense and chewy and full of vitamins, complex carbohydrates and protein with a little high-glycemic-index kick. I think they’d be good on the road, but they’re also good to grab with your morning coffee if you’re a little slow to get started (like me).

If you’re a reluctant cook, these bars are also easy to make, requiring very little cooking. I made the Granola for mine, but you can use whatever granola you like. I also made the almond butter, which simply involved coarsely chopping and very lightly toasting some almonds and pulverizing them in the food processor until they turned to butter. I added a very small amount almond oil (about 1 teaspoon to about 2 cups of almonds), which seemed to help the almonds adventure on to a spreadable stage less reluctantly. You could certainly buy your almond butter, or use peanut butter or another nut butter.

If you use a glass or metal dish or pan to make these bars, be sure to grease it well and/or line it with parchment or wax paper. I use a flexible silicone baking pan (8” x 8”) and they never stick to it. (I spray it with a little nonstick cooking spray for insurance.) I don’t think I’ve ever actually baked anything in this pan, so I don’t know how it performs in the oven, but for sticky recipes like this one (also homemade caramels, etc.), it does reliably well. I’m thinking of naming it Old Blue in honor of Marjorie’s bicycle.

I know these granola bars are good because I make them pretty regularly and usually eat most of them myself. I know Marjorie and Jim’s story and philosophy are inspirational because I’ve already began to think of many “journeys” I’ve been reluctant to begin. And I started shopping for a bike today. I don’t know where things might go from here (although I could do without wild dogs or a naked man), but I do know it will be such and adventure!

Almond Butter Granola Bars
Adapted from The Ultimate Candy Book by Bruce Weinstein

You could replace the almond butter with peanut butter and the almond extract with vanilla.

Vegetable or canola oil or nonstick cooking spray plus parchment or wax paper for the pan
½ cup light corn syrup
¼ cup brown sugar, packed
¾ cup almond butter
½ cup powdered milk
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 ½ cups granola

1. Coat an 8” x 8” baking pan (or a smaller one) with vegetable oil or cooking spray. If you are using a glass or metal pan, you may also want to line it with parchment or wax paper. Coat the paper with oil or spray as well.

2. Place the corn syrup and brown sugar into a medium sized saucepan. Heat over medium heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Raise the heat to high and bring the mixture to a boil. Cook at a boil for 30 seconds.

3. Remove from the heat and stir in the almond butter and the powdered milk until the mixture is smooth. Add the almond extract and the granola and stir until well combined.

4. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and carefully press the mixture into an even layer. It will be quite stiff and still quite hot. To make thicker bars, do not press the mixture all the way to the edge of the pan. It will be stiff enough to hold its shape. (Here is where a slightly smaller pan might work well.)

5. Cool on a wire rack, then chill until the bars are firm enough to cut. Cut into 12 bars. Individually wrap the bars and store in an airtight container or zip-top bag in the refrigerator. The bars are very stiff and can be hard to chew when cold, so remove them from the refrigerator for a while before enjoying.

Makes 12 servings. These bars freeze very well.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Three Grains are Better

I unearthed a recipe from a magazine for a salad with white beans, artichoke hearts and spelt, an Old World grain. The recipe looked great, but I was fresh out of spelt. Okay, so I’ve never owned a single kernel of it in my life. What I did have was a bag of cooked wheat berries in the freezer (leftover from when I made this salad.) But as long as I was putting a dent in what was in the freezer, I figured two grains might be better. I’d see what was in the cupboard as well. It turns out that the cupboard needs more attention than I thought, so if two grains were better, a three-grain salad must be on its way to greatness. I went with slightly exotic, but not unattainable: wheat berries, wild rice, and quinoa.

I’m probably not as scientific as I should be about cooking grains. I’ve got rice down pretty well, but, so I don’t have to memorize or look up ratios and recipes, I tend to just throw most other grains in a pot of water and boil them until they are tender. That’s how I cooked the wild rice and quinoa for this salad. It took about 20 minutes to cook the quinoa and about 40 minutes to cook the wild rice. The wheat berries, which I had cooked a while back, I first soaked for several hours (much like I would dried beans). This cuts the cooking time down from a couple hours to about 45 minutes. Cooking times of grains may vary depending on your source of raw materials. I usually cook much more than I need for a recipe and freeze the rest for quicker meals when things get busy.

I brought this salad to a potluck lunch at Harry’s workplace, and it received good reviews. I really like it too, and I think this might now be a regular resident in our refrigerator. The coats of the wheat berries pop as you chew them to reveal their starchy interiors, while the wild rice (which isn’t even a rice but a grass native to this part of the world) is chewy and earthy. The tiny quinoa grains fill in the gaps between the other grains, creamy beans and sort of leafy artichokes. The lemon vinaigrette is super-simple (just lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper) but cuts through the stodgy beans and grains to liven and brighten them up.

While these three grains seem to compliment each other well, you could probably use other grains such as brown rice, barley, or even corn. You could change up the type of beans, add different vegetables or tinker with the dressing. Before long, you’d have a completely different recipe. I better stop now before I give away all my secrets to recipe development and you won’t have a reason to read The Messy Apron any more!

Three Grain Salad with White Beans and Artichokes
Modified from Cooking Light Magazine

I used canned artichoke hearts. The brand I used listed only artichoke hearts, water, salt and citric acid (to prevent browning) in the ingredient list. You could use frozen artichokes, and I have included the approximate equivalent to the weight of the drained canned variety.

1 cup cooked wheat berries
1 cup cooked quinoa
1 cup cooked wild rice
½ cup finely chopped fresh parsley
¼ cup finely chopped red onion
1 ½ cups (about 1 15-ounce can) white beans, such as navy, Great Northern or cannellini, drained and rinsed (I used some I had cooked myself and froze)
1 14-ounce can (or about 8 ounces frozen) artichoke hearts, drained (or thawed) and coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon salt (plus more to taste, if desired)
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. In a large bowl combine the wheat berries, quinoa, wild rice, parsley, onion, beans and artichoke hearts.

2. In a small bowl, combine the lemon juice, olive oil, ½ teaspoon salt and pepper. Whisk until well-combined. Pour over the wheat berry mixture and stir to mix the ingredients together and coat them well with the dressing. Taste the salad for salt and add more if desired. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Makes 6-8 servings.