August 29, 2013

Recipe: Savory Granola Clusters (aka "Granola Croutons")

In an attempt to balance out all the baked goods I've been making lately (Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies, Blueberry Lavender Scones...), I'm turning to the healthful, ever-open arms of vegetables. Specifically, I'm trying to eat more leafy green salads, which - as a vegetarian - I'm comically bad at consuming. The best way for me to increase my salad consumption is playing around with interesting additions that make a simple green salad taste exciting. New dressings and toppings are ideal ways to perk up a salad, especially when you get a little creative... which is exactly what we're doing today! Boring Green Salad, meet your newest friend, Savory Granola Clusters.

Savory Granola Clusters are exactly what they sound like - crunchy clusters of a savory (not sweet) granola that can be tossed on top of salad (or soup!) for a textural pop and toasty flavor. Granola Croutons, if you will. There are several non-vegan versions of savory granola floating around, like this Cheese-Herb Granola from The Kitchn and this Pumpkin Seed and Rye Granola from CHOW. Saveur even placed a savory granola - Daniel Humm's Provencal Granola - on its Saveur 100 List back in 2010.

Clockwise from top: Pepitas, Oats, Poppy Seeds, and Puffed Quinoa

My version of savory granola forgoes Daniel Humm's suggested puffed rice for a more nutritious option - puffed quinoa. Puffed quinoa is a new technique for me, and I am super excited to use it in a bunch of recipes down the line. Basically, you're popping the quinoa kernels in an oiled pan, just as you would popcorn, transforming the hard seeds into toasty, puffed tidbits with a satisfying crunch. It's delightful. To make the granola, the puffed quinoa is added to rolled oats, roasted pepitas, and poppy seeds, then the whole mess is tossed with a sticky, garlic-y "honey"-mustard syrup. After 30 minutes in the oven, you'll have gorgeous, crunchy clusters of granola that just might have you craving salads all week long.

Savory Granola Clusters (Granola Croutons)
Inspired by Daniel Humm's Provencal Granola
Makes 4 cups 

1 tablespoon oil (I used rice bran oil)
1/2 cup quinoa
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup roasted pepitas
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
3 tablespoons brown rice syrup
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
a few grinds of black pepper

Pop the Quinoa: Let's talk about what we mean by "pop". Just like popcorn, the kernels will jump about. Unlike popcorn, you won't really see a change in appearance while they do so. Quinoa kind of "pops on the inside". Rest assured that when all is said and done, the quinoa will have a delicate-but-definite puff-y crunch.

Place the quinoa in a mesh strainer and rinse well for a minute or so under cold running water, then tap the strainer to remove excess water and let the quinoa drain for a couple minutes while you heat your pan. Bring a large heavy-bottomed pot with a lid (a dutch oven is perfect for this) over medium/just-above-medium heat (a "6" on my stovetop). If you have a mesh splatter guard, grab it to have on hand - those little quinoas will fly around once they get popping.

Once the pot is heated, add the oil and swirl around to evenly coat the bottom of the pot. Give the strainer of quinoa a final tap (you want as little water as possible on the quinoa), then add the quinoa to the pot. The wet quinoa might make the oil splatter a bit, so please be careful. Stir the quinoa around every 30-60 seconds to prevent it from burning. From here on out you'll want to keep a close eye on things, but feel free to place the lid/splatter guard on the pot as necessary. After 3-5 minutes, the quinoa will start to pop. After 5-7 minutes, the popping should continue and the quinoa will start turning golden brown. Somewhere between 7-9 minutes the popping will subside, but err on the side of caution and remove the quinoa whenever you feel the golden color shouldn't get any darker (see picture of ingredients above for a good reference on the color of the finished quinoa).

Immediately transfer the puffed quinoa to a large plate and spread out into an even layer so it can cool quickly. Resist the urge to taste the quinoa before it's finished cooling - those little buggers are burn-your-face-off HOT.

Make the Granola:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking spray or a bit of oil and set aside. Grab a piece of foil or parchment a bit larger than your baking dish and place it on your counter - this will be the landing zone for your granola to cool.

In a large bowl, combine the puffed quinoa, oats, pepitas, and poppy seeds, stirring together to create a consistent granola mixture. In a small microwave-safe bowl, add the brown rice syrup, mustard, garlic, salt, and pepper and stir together until smooth. Microwave the syrup mixture for 30 seconds, or until the syrup is bubbly, hot, and pourable. Pour the hot syrup over the granola mixture and toss together until the granola is evenly coated with the syrup.

Transfer the granola into greased baking dish and press down into an even layer. Bake granola for 25-30 minutes, gently tossing and pressing back down into an even layer every 10 minutes or so (a rubber spatula works best for this). The granola is done once it is deeply golden (but before the edges have burned!) and the oats have a toasty, crispy texture (feel free to carefully steal a little taste to check). Promptly remove from oven. Using a large spatula, scoop out the granola in as many large pieces as possible and place onto the foil to cool. Once granola has cooled completely, break apart the big pieces into crouton-sized clusters, or whatever size suits your fancy. Store granola in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

August 22, 2013

Recipe: Blueberry Lavender Scones

Remember when I confessed to my near-constant craving for breakfast pastries? Combine that weakness with a deep love of fresh-from-the-market blueberries and you get today's recipe: Blueberry Lavender Scones. I first tasted blueberry and lavender together when I worked at Great Harvest back in Michigan. We carried preserves from Food for Thought, a local company specializing in organic preserves with creative flavor combinations like Apricot Chardonnay, Blackberry Shiraz, Strawberry Basil, and Blueberry Lavender. They were all delicious, but that Blueberry Lavender Preserve was magical. You see, lavender perfumes sweet blueberries with an intoxicating floral-yet-herbaceous essence that somehow makes them taste more... blueberry-y. It's odd, and amazing, and insanely tasty.

I know many people are skeptical about cooking or baking with lavender, often stating a fear of making food "taste like soap". But here's the thing - the only secret to successfully cooking with lavender is using it judiciously. Lavender - especially when dried - is crazy intense. You know how too much rosemary can quickly overpower a dish? Lavender responds similarly when used with a heavy hand. However, used in small amounts, lavender can turn a good recipe into a great one. Such is the case with these Blueberry Lavender Scones.

This recipe relies on a lavender-scented sugar to deliver just enough flavor to intensify the blueberries without stealing their thunder. The result is a rich, fluffy scone gently infused with lavender goodness and bursting with inky pockets of fresh summer blueberries. It's a recipe that feels fancy despite its simplicity (seriously, guys, these are a cinch to pull together), sure to satisfy your baked good cravings with every blueberry-filled bite.

Vegan Blueberry Lavender Scones
makes 6 scones
adapted from my Grapefruit Ginger Scones

1/4 cup natural cane sugar, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons dried lavender flowers
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
2/3 cup plain soy yogurt
2 tablespoons agave nectar
3/4 cup fresh blueberries
non-dairy milk (just a bit to wash the tops of the scones)

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees, then get yourself ready to making some fancy-pants lavender-scented sugar. Combine the lavender flowers with the 1/4 cup of sugar in a happy little pile in either a small bowl or a mortar. Smush the heck out of the pair using the back of a spoon or the pestle until the flowers have broken down and the lavender scent intensifies, a signal that the lavender oils have permeated the sugar (that's good). Set aside for the moment.

In a food processor, combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and half (two tablespoons) of the lavender sugar, pulsing a few times to combine. Using the feed tube of the food processor, slowly pour in the oil while pulsing to create a crumbly, sandy mixture with pea-sized bits of dough beginning to form (Alternatively, you can use a fork to mash the mixture together in a large bowl until crumbly). Transfer the mixture to a large bowl, form a well in the middle, and add the yogurt and agave nectar.  Use a fork to combine the wet ingredients with the dry, being careful not to over-mix. The dough will be thick and a bit sticky. Don't freak out. At this point, fold in the blueberries - I like to use my hands to gently mix them into dough, but a spatula will work as well.

Prepare a clean surface with a good sprinkling of flour and turn out the dough. With floured hands, quickly form the dough into a circle approximately 8 inches across and 1 inch thick. Cut the dough circle into 6 wedges, then brush the top of the scones with a bit of milk, followed by a generous sprinkling of the remaining lavender sugar. Arrange scones spaced out on a baking sheet lined with a silpat or parchment. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, until the scones have a rich golden brown crust and feel "springy" to the touch (you want the interior of the scones to be pillowy and tender). Cool for at least 10 minutes before enjoying.

August 15, 2013

Recipe: Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies

These cookies? These gooey, decadent, chocolate chip cookies? They are vegan. They are whole wheat. And they may well be the best damn cookies you've ever eaten. At the very least, this recipe will replace whatever chocolate chip cookie recipe you've been using, because holy-mother-of-delicious, these cookies are fantastic. I could spend the next few paragraphs explaining to you the ins-and-outs of how I got to this recipe - an epic and entertaining tale of recipe development - but that would only delay you making a batch and tasting the awesomeness for yourself, which you really, really need to do as soon as possible.

The mind-blowing goodness of these cookies comes down to their texture and depth of flavor, both of which are achieved through a 24-36 hour chilling of the dough (you can read about the magic of dough hydration here). Texture-wise, they're everything you want in a chocolate chip cookie, with crisp, lacy edges and a crinkly top fading into a moist, chewy center oozing with pockets of melted chocolate. Flavor-wise, they're everything you want your chocolate chip cookie to be and so much more.  The nutty whole wheat flour, fragrant oil, and earthy-sweet molasses meld into a complex toffee flavor that is a million times greater than the sum of its parts. The final touch - shards of sea salt baked into the tops - pushes the cookies over the edge into baked good nirvana. Nirvana, I tell you.

Ok, enough talk. Go to your kitchen and make these bad boys. Life is short, and you deserve the perfect chocolate chip cookies.

Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies
Inspired by The New York TimesIsa Chandra Moskowitz, and Great Harvest Bread Co.
makes 24 medium cookies or 12 giant cookies

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup melted coconut oil or neutral cooking oil (i.e. canola, peanut, sunflower, grapeseed)
3/4 cup natural cane sugar
2 tablespoons unsulphered molasses (use "light" or "original" molasses, not blackstrap)
1/4 cup nondairy milk (I use almond milk)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips (Trader Joe's are dairy-free)
large-flaked sea salt (Fleur de Sel, Maldon Salt, or Coarse Gray Salt are all great)

Make and Chill the Dough: In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt until evenly combined, then set aside. In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the oil, sugar, molasses, milk, and cornstarch. Cream mixture together on medium speed for 3-4 minutes, scraping sides as necessary, until thick and smooth. Add vanilla and mix for an additional minute. Add the flour mixture to the creamed ingredients in three additions, scraping sides of mixing bowl in between each addition. Add the chocolate chips, mixing briefly to incorporate.

Transfer cookie dough to a large container with a lid, or cover the top of the mixing bowl with a piece of plastic wrap pressed down on the surface of the dough. Chill the dough in the refrigerator for 24-36 hours - the long chill time allows the flour to fully absorb the liquids in the dough, resulting in a drier, slightly crumbly dough that will bake into a caramel-y, beautifully textured cookie.

Bake the Cookies: If you've used coconut oil, you'll want to let the chilled dough soften at room temperature for a good hour before you'll be able to form the cookies (this is because coconut oil chills to a solid state). If you've used neutral cooking oil, the dough should be soft enough to form the cookies right away. Once the dough is ready, preheat your oven to 350 degrees and grab a large cookie sheet. To form "medium" cookies (about 2 1/2" in diameter), form 1 1/2 tablespoons of dough into a ball, or use a #40/medium cookie scoop to portion out the dough. To form "giant" cookies (about 5" in diameter), form 3 tablespoons of dough into a ball, or use a #20 cookie scoop to portion out the dough.

Arrange the dough balls onto a cookie sheet - generously spacing to allow plenty of room to spread while cooking - and gently press each ball down into an even disc (discs should be about 3/8"-1/2" thick). Sprinkle tops of cookies with a bit of salt, then place in oven. Bake medium cookies for 9-11 minutes and giant cookies for 12-14 minutes - the cookies should appear a bit underdone, golden brown but still quite soft. Remove from oven and cool the cookies on the cookie sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. The cooling time on the pan is important - the carry-over heat from the pan will finish baking the cookies and allows them to firm up a bit. Once completely cool, cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 3-5 days, but their texture is best on the day they're baked.

August 7, 2013

Recipe: Tomato Tartine with Caramelized Onions and Creamy White Bean Spread

If you had told me a few years ago that I would come to crave tomato sandwiches, I would have said you were crazy. Until recently, raw tomatoes were one of my least favorite foods - slimy and watery and in desperate need of cooking. Tomato sauce? Delicious. Tomato slice? Gross. The best I could do was a thin slice stealthily tucked into the depths of a sandwich, and even then, I wasn't happy about its presence. Then I tasted locally-grown heirloom tomatoes, and suddenly the clouds parted whilst organic-farmer-angels sang. It turns out that eating a great tomato - one that's perfectly ripe, freshly picked, and not bio-engineered to be bright red but flavorless - is like biting into sweet, fruity-yet-savory, juicy perfection. After years of hiding tomatoes in my sandwiches, I am suddenly making sandwiches that are about the tomatoes. It's a revelation. So, friends, let's talk about the perfect tomato sandwich.

First of all, I've found that the perfect tomato sandwich is open-faced - a tartine, as the French call it. A tartine places its ingredients front and center, free of the smushing action that a second piece of bread would bring. This is particularly important for delicate raw tomato slices. On a tartine, those jewel-like slices keep their integrity, with the added bonus of having their prettiness on display instead of hidden. So, Perfect Tomato Sandwich Lesson #1: Tartines are a tomato's best friend.

Lesson #2? Get your hands on the freshest, tastiest, at-the-height-of-tomato-season 'maters you can find. Farmers' Markets are typically the best bet for finding perfect tomatoes, with the added benefit of having the opportunity to talk with a grower who can guide you to the best tomato for your tastes. With the help of Kittitas Valley Greenhouse, I've learned that some of my favorite varieties are Black Prince, Black Krim, and Brandywine. I also learned that proper tomato storage can make or break your tomato experience. I'd always kept my tomatoes in the fridge, which, as it turns out, was a huge mistake. The cold causes the cell membranes of a tomato to rupture (making them mealy) and halts the enzyme activity (hindering flavor development). Storing your tomatoes at room temperature protects their texture and allows them to ripen fully.

Finally, Lesson #3: Choose your bread and sandwich ingredients wisely. The best bread for a tomato sandwich is a hearty, crusty loaf of bread that provides a good textural crunch when toasted to contrast with the softness of the tomato. I love the Pain de Campagne, Multigrain Sunflower, and Walnut Levain loaves from Columbia City Bakery. As for additional ingredients, I prefer keeping it minimal so you don't overshadow the tomato-y goodness - one or two additions to "back up" the tomatoes is all you need.

Today's tartine is my favorite combination to date. Juicy, meaty tomato slices are perched atop jammy caramelized onions and a rich white bean spread fragrant with herbes de provence. As if that wasn't tasty enough, the sandwich is topped off with drizzles of good olive oil and balsamic vinegar, plus a crunchy sprinkling of finishing salt. It's a wonderfully messy tomato celebration, down to the last crunchy-juicy-sweet-rich-herbaceous bite.

Tomato Tartines
makes 6-8 tartines, depending on the size of your bread slices

1 loaf crusty, hearty bread
3 medium tomatoes, heirloom varieties if you have access to them
1 batch Caramelized Onions (recipe below)
1 batch Creamy White Bean Spread (recipe below)
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
finishing salt (grey, maldon, smoked... all great)

To assemble each tartine: Toast one slice of bread until crisp and golden. If necessary, reheat onions briefly in microwave until warm. Top toasted bread with a schmear of creamy white bean spread, followed by a layer of caramelized onions. Cut a few slices of tomato - enough to cover the top of the toast - and arrange over caramelized onions. Finish tartine with drizzles of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, along with a sprinkling of finishing salt. 

Caramelized Onions

The secret to perfect caramelized onions is cooking them "low and slow" in a covered skillet. This recipe gives you succulent, sweet onions with an even bronze color in 45 minutes.

4 medium white or yellow onions, very thinly sliced into half-moons
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper

Bring a large skillet over medium heat (that's a "5" on my stovetop) and add olive oil, followed by sliced onions. Cook uncovered for five minutes, stirring occasionally. After five minutes, season with salt and pepper, reduce heat to medium-low (a "3" on my stovetop), and cover. Cook onions covered for 40 minutes, uncovering to stir every five minutes. Each time you stir the onions, scrape up any caramelized "brown bits" developing on the bottom of the skillet. You should see a gradual deepening of color at each check-in, but the onions should always remain moist. If your onions look at all "crisp", you need to turn down your heat a bit. After the 30 minute mark or so, you may want to deglaze the pan with a splash of water to prevent the bottom of the pan from getting too dark. After 40 minutes of covered cooking, the onions should be deeply golden and completely soft. Deglaze pan if necessary before removing onions from heat. 

Creamy White Bean Spread/Dip

This silky bean puree is excellent as both a spread for sandwiches and a dip for crusty bread or pita/flatbread chips. If you don't have herbes de provence, feel free to experiment with marjoram, thyme, rosemary, or any other favorite herb you have on hand - you'll need around 1/2 teaspoon of dried herbs or a tablespoon or so of fresh herbs.

1 (15 ounce) can Cannellini or Great Northern beans, drained and rinsed well
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon dried Herbes de Provence 
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and black pepper to taste

In a food processor or blender, add the beans, garlic, lemon juice, and herbes de provence. Blend to puree, scraping down sides as necessary, until mixture is a thick puree. Using the feed tube, slowly drizzle in the olive oil while continuing to blend, until the spread is completely smooth. If using as a spread, store in a small tupperware container in your refrigerator for 5-7 days. If serving as a dip, scoop into a small bowl and drizzle with a bit of olive oil for presentation.