Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Chocolate Chip and Date Granola Bars

I've been eating a lot of dates lately. Between batches of date-cashew snack bites (รก la Fat Free Vegan) and the discovery that we can make bacon-wrapped dates at home (omg!), it was only a matter of time before I thought to put them in granola bars.

My no-bake granola bars have three components - dry ingredients that get toasted in the oven (oats and nuts), dry ingredients that do not get toasted (flaxseed, wheat germ), and wet ingredients (butter, brown rice syrup, honey, almond butter). Usually I mix dried fruit with the other non-toasted dry ingredients, but because these dates were really fresh and soft, I decided to combine them with the butter and brown rice syrup, hoping that the heat would kind of "melt" the dates into the other ingredients.

I think the chocolate date granola bars might be here to stay for a while. Do you ever have chocolate for breakfast?

Chocolate Date Granola Bars
Makes a 9"x13" pan


2 1/2 cups oats
2 cups almonds
1/2 cup buckwheat groats
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup ground flaxseed
1/2 cup medjool dates, pitted and chopped
1 tablespoon butter
3/4 cup brown rice syrup
1/2 cup almond butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup chocolate chips, divided


Heat oven to 350F. Chop the almonds to get a mixture of large and small pieces. Spread the oats, buckwheat, and almonds on a large baking sheet (or two smaller baking sheets) and toast in the oven for 8-10 minutes, stirring every few minutes.

In a very large bowl, combine the wheatgerm and flaxseed. Add the toasted oats, almonds and buckwheat and stir to combine. Let cool for a few minutes, then stir in about half of the chocolate chips.

Line a 9"x13" pan with wax paper, and set aside a second piece of wax paper of the same size. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the dates and cook for 2-3 minutes, then pour in the brown rice syrup. Simmer for 3-4 minutes, then remove from the heat and stir in the almond butter and salt.

Pour the date mixture over the dry ingredients and mix very very well until thoroughly combined. Pour onto the prepared 9"x13" pan and use a spatula to spread the mixture. Sprinkle the remaining chocolate chips over the top. Put the second piece of wax paper on top of the bars, then use your hands and/or a rolling pin to flatten the bars as much as possible. Cool completely before cutting into bars.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Weekly Lunch: Waldorf Quinoa Salad

I am totally digging my lunch this week! I wanted something a little different, and I thought, "fruit!" I hardly ever put fruit in my salads but I am starting to rethink this...

Here's a fun riff on a waldorf salad. No mayo, but instead a creamy, tangy yogurt-based dressing. I topped each serving with a hard boiled egg for a protein boost.

Waldorf Quinoa Salad

1 1/2 cups quinoa
2 cups water or vegetable stock

1 cup walnuts
5 stalks celery
2 large apples
4 oz. baby arugula
Hard boiled eggs (optional)

1/4 cup plain yogurt
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1/4 cup olive oil
Pinch of salt, several grinds of black pepper

Bring the water/stock to a boil in a medium saucepan. If using water, add a pinch of salt. Rinse the quinoa in a fine mesh strainer, then add to the boiling water. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 15 minutes or until the water is absorbed. Remove from the heat and let sit, covered, for 5-10 minutes.

While the quinoa is cooking, toast the walnuts either in a 350 degree oven or on the stove over medium heat, for about 8-10 minutes. Chop the celery. For the apples, I chopped enough for 1-2 days at a time, then sprinkled a little lemon juice on top.

In a small jar or other sealable container, mix the yogurt, vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper, and olive oil. Shake well before using.

Mix the quinoa with the celery, apples, walnuts, and arugula, then drizzle with the dressing just before serving. Top with a hard boiled egg if desired.


Here are a couple of other things I am digging this week:

A new batch of granola bars with chocolate chips and dates, (and, surprisingly, no more sugar than my regular granola bars). The chocolate was requested by my sweetie. Who says women are the only ones who love chocolate?

And, finally...

YAY! It's about time!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Soft Pretzels

I took advantage of a rainy day and made something I've always wanted to make - soft pretzels. I'm a big Alton Brown fan, so I started by watching the pretzel episode of Good Eats, conveniently available on YouTube. It was really helpful to watch him go through the process, and his recipe seemed pretty simple.
Barley malt extract is definitely not required for soft pretzels, but it gives a certain flavor that makes them taste more like proper pretzels. (Barley malt extract is also used in bagels!)

The dough didn't take long to put together, and it rose quickly - it doubled in size in about an hour.

I recently got a kitchen scale recently and it really makes baking so much easier! I don't have to use as many dishes, either, which is always nice. The dough weighed about 36 oz., so I divided it into twelve 3 oz. balls.

Next, I rolled out each ball into a rope about 16" long. To form the pretzel, make a U-shape, then cross the ends over each other once or twice. Fold the ends over the base of the U, then pinch the overlapping parts together.

No pictures of this part (too quick!), but you bring some water and baking soda to a boil, dip the raw pretzels in for about 30 seconds each, and drain on a rack for a few minutes. Then brush on an egg wash, sprinkle with coarse salt, and bake for about 14 minutes.

Chewy, salty, exactly what I was craving! The baking soda bath gave the pretzels a great toothy crust. Now I just need some mustard...

Soft Pretzels
Adapted from Alton Brown


  • 1 1/2 cups warm (110 to 115 degrees F) water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar (I used 2 teaspoons barley malt extract + 1 teaspoon sugar)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 22 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 4 1/2 cups (I used about 16 ounces of high-gluten bread flour and 6 ounces white whole wheat flour)
  • 2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
  • Vegetable oil
  • 10 cups water
  • 2/3 cup baking soda
  • 1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
  • Coarse salt


Combine the water, sugar (and barley malt extract, if using) and salt in a large bowl and sprinkle the yeast on top. Let sit for 5-10 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam.

Add the flour and melted butter and stir with a wooden spoon until well combined. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes. Clean the bowl and then oil it well with vegetable oil. Put the dough back in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and sit in a warm place for about an hour or until the dough has doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line 2 half-sheet pans with parchment paper and lightly brush with  vegetable oil. Set aside.

Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in a large pot. In the meantime, turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surface and divide into 12 equal pieces. Roll out each piece of dough into a 16-inch rope. Make a U-shape with the rope, holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other and press onto the bottom of the U in order to form the shape of a pretzel. Place onto the parchment-lined half sheet pan.

Place the pretzels into the boiling water, 1 by 1, for 30 seconds. Remove them from the water using a large flat spatula and let dry on a rack for a couple of minutes. Return to the half sheet pan, brush the top of each pretzel with the beaten egg yolk and water mixture and sprinkle with coarse salt. Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Weekly Lunch: Beet and Wheatberry Salad

This salad is really nothing special. Beets were on sale, I have a bunch of wheatberries in the cupboard, you know the story.

Red-stained beet hands are always fun.

More exciting is the salad dressing I made this week. I sprinkled some thyme on the beets while they were roasting, so I put thyme in the dressing to enhance the flavor of the beets and tie together the other ingredients. In addition to the wheatberries and beets, this salad contains chickpeas, baby spinach and toasted walnuts (I put the beet greens to use elsewhere). Some fresh goat cheese would be a most excellent addition.

Garlic-Lemon-Thyme Vinaigrette

Juice of 1 lemon, about 3-4 tablespoons
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil

Sprinkle a little salt on the minced garlic and smash it with the side of your knife a few times, to make a paste. Mix the garlic-salt paste with the lemon juice, thyme, mustard, remaining salt and pepper. Whisk in the olive oil. Makes about 1/2 cup.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Project Pork: The Shoulder

It's been a while since my last Project Pork post! I learned a lot from that experience and I feel a lot more confident in my ability to cook a large hunk of beast flesh. Plus, my sister gave me a probe thermometer for Chrismukkah (my family's blended winter holiday), which helps ease my worries about under/overcooking - I can just set my desired cooking temperature and the thermometer alarm will go off when the meat reaches that temperature. I am still learning about the best place to put the thermometer though, there can be some big variations in temperature especially in cuts like this that have a bone through them.

For this pork shoulder I decided to go with a simple Mark Bittman recipe for classic Puerto Rican pernil. It involves making a paste of onion, garlic, oregano, vinegar, olive oil, and a couple of spices - I used cumin, paprika and chili powder. You just rub the meat with the paste, let it sit for up to 24 hours, and then roast at a low temperature for several hours.
It took about 3.5 hours for this 4-lb shoulder to reach a "safe" temperature of 160F. The savory garlic-herb smell in my apartment was almost unbearable at this point. 

We definitely cut off a few bites and ate them as-is (with plenty of finger-licking), then mixed another portion with barbecue sauce and made some simple tacos with corn tortillas, spinach and plain Greek yogurt.

We have so much leftover pork! We're planning to make an almond butter satay sauce (due to peanut allergies) for tonight's leftovers, and maybe make put some of the rest of it on a pizza, with apples and cheddar. I love how the flavor of the garlic-spice rub is so versatile!

Puerto-Rican Style Roasted Pork Shoulder
Adapted from Mark Bittman

1 4-to-7-pound pork shoulder

4-6 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1 small onion, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon dried oregano (or 2 tablespoons fresh)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil

Cut off excess (but not all) fat from the meat.
Put all of the remaining ingredients (garlic through olive oil) in a food processor or blender and puree for about 10 seconds. Rub the mixture all over the meat, be generous. Place the meat on a rack on a baking sheet and refrigerate overnight up to 24 hours.
Heat oven to 325F and place meat in a roasting pan. Roast, turning every hour or so until it reaches 160F. Let rest about 15 minutes before cutting into chunks.

Here are some other pork shoulder recipes that look fantastic:

Beer-braised in a dutch oven at The Kitchn

A wintry recipe with fennel and orange at Leite's Culinaria

And the Pork Queen has an entire blog devoted to pork shoulder!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Weekly Lunch: Black Eyed Pea, Sweet Potato and Kale Soup

Okay, so maybe I overreacted last week when I said I was tired of wintry foods. A few days of rain put me right back in the mood for warm soups and casseroles.

This soup has some serious nutritional powerhouses - sweet potato, kale, garlic, tomatoes, beans - and will definitely help me keep up my veggie intake.

I like using curly kale in soup, but I prefer dinosaur/lacinato kale for salads. It's totally normal to have two favorite kinds of kale, right?

This is my favorite kind of soup to make - chop a bunch of veggies, throw them in a pot, and simmer.

It may be wintry, but anything this colorful will easily cheer up lunchtime.

Black Eyed Pea, Sweet Potato and Kale Soup
Makes 4-6 servings

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion
2 carrots
2 celery stalks
2 cloves garlic
1 large sweet potato
1 bunch kale
1 1/2 cups cooked black eyed peas (I used a 15 oz. can, drained and rinsed)
1-15 oz. can fire roasted tomatoes
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
4 cups vegetable stock

Chop all of the veggies and mince the garlic. I cut the kale in thin strips, about 1/4" wide and 2-3" long.
Over medium heat, cook the onion, carrot and celery in the olive oil in a large soup pot, 8-10 minutes until well softened and starting to brown. Add the garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes.
Add the sweet potato, herbs and vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, then add the tomatoes, beans and kale, and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for 15-20 minutes until everything is very tender. Add salt and pepper if desired.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Gluten Free Almond Flour Brownies

I think I have a new favorite brownie recipe. Everyone has different criteria for the perfect brownie, and for me they should be fudgy, dense and chewy, with no nuts or frosting. They may have chocolate chips or chunks, but that's it. Pure chocolatey goodness.

This recipe from Bob's Red Mill fits the bill perfectly, and is really simple to make. 

Brownies are a good exercise in delayed gratification for me, since they must be refrigerated to develop the fudgy and chewy texture that I love so much.

It was hard to wait for these brownies! I managed to distract myself by taking a walk, reading some James Tiptree, Jr. and making a big, healthy vegetable soup for the week, which I'll share soon.

Yeah, they were totally worth the wait.

Gluten-Free Almond Flour Brownies
Adapted from Bob's Red Mill

Makes 1 8"x8" pan


1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup almond meal
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chocolate chips (optional)


Preheat the oven to 350F. Line an 8"x8" pan with foil and grease with cooking spray. 
In a small bowl, whisk together the almond meal, cornstarch, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
Melt the butter and mix with the cocoa powder. Add in the sugars, eggs, instant espresso and vanilla. Stir in the dry ingredients and mix well, then stir in the chocolate chips.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly with a spatula. Bake for about thirty minutes. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours before cutting into bars.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Weekly Lunch: Yellow Split Peas with Cilantro Pesto

Is anyone else ready for winter to be over? I am getting pretty tired of root vegetables and squashes, and find myself wanting more fresh and lively meals to brighten my days.

Enter cilantro pesto. One of the many beautiful salads on Heidi Swanson's site is this pepita salad. I made the recipe exactly as she posted it, so I won't repost here. Suffice it to say that this cilantro pesto is totally awesome. Fresh, spicy, nutty, garlicky.

I made a slightly smaller batch of this salad (enough for 3 hearty lunch servings), but made the entire batch of the cilantro-pepita pesto. We made burgers earlier this week and topped them with the extra pesto for another summery meal.

This was my first time cooking with yellow split peas! I'm looking forward to using them in more recipes.

I can't leave well enough alone, so I added a hard boiled egg and a couple of sliced radishes to each serving of salad. I loved having toasted pepitas in both the pesto and sprinkled on top for extra crunch.

And, just for fun, here's my afternoon snack this week (along with an unpictured tangerine). I found LauraJayne's favorite flavor of Laughing Cow and I am so glad she recommended it. I love the hint of smoky spice. 

 What summery foods are you looking forward to?
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