Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Homemade Granola

For months I've been flipping through cookbooks and blogs, marking those recipes I find especially appealing. In October, that meant butternut squash and warm salads, while in November it was nutmeg; December was full of cookies and cake, while in January I tagged anything I could roast in the oven (carrots and cabbage, fish, fruit).

This month, as I've told you, has been one of heartwarming, simple foods. And while that often translates into super easy dinners of beans and rice, roasted cod with parsley and lima beans, and this amazing shrimp and broccoli, it has also meant a well-timed foray into granola land.

So simple, and so sweet; what a perfect recipe for these cold winter days! What I love best about making granola is that step you never see as you grab a bag off the shelf--the delightful step of transferring the pan into your oven, then sitting down to read a book while the room slowly fills with perfumes of cinnamon, oats and brown sugar, and then that faint but unmistakable scent of warm honey. Beautiful. Try it today.

Homemade Granola
adapted from "Baked: New Frontiers in Baking" by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, and first found here on the Amateur Gourmet

I adapted this recipe a tad, substituting diced dried apricots for the raisins and cranberries for the cherries, which yielded a delightful combination. I also like a more even texture of granola, so I roughly chopped the hazelnuts and almonds. Most important, however, was the change in salt: using 1/2 tsp made the granola way too salty for my taste, so I would recommend using 1/4 tsp or perhaps even less. (But to each her own!)

2 cups rolled oats
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. (or less) salt
3 tbsp. plus 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup almonds, roughly chopped
1/3 cup hazelnuts, roughly chopped
1/3 cup dried apricots, diced
1/3 cup dried cranberries

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, toss the oats with the cinnamon and salt. In a medium bowl, stir together the oil, honey, brown sugar, and vanilla. Whisk until completely combined.

Pour the honey mixture over the oats mixture and use your hands to combine them: Gather up some of the mixture in each hand and make a fist. Repeat until all of the oats are coated with the honey mixture.

Pour the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet. Spread it out evenly, but leave a few clumps here and there for texture.

Bake for 10 minutes, then remove from the oven and use a metal spatula to lift and flip the granola. Sprinkle the almonds over the granola and return the baking sheet to the oven.

Bake for 5 minutes, then remove from the oven and use a metal spatula to lift and flip the granola. Sprinkle the hazelnuts over the granola and return the baking sheet to the oven.

Bake for 10 minutes, then remove from the oven. Let cool completely. Sprinkle the raisins and cherries over the granola and use your hands to transfer it to an airtight container.

The granola will keep for 1 week.

you can really put type of nut or dried fruit in this granola; I imagine it would be quite tasty with walnuts or with a tad ginger or nutmeg, maybe even with chopped up chocolate added at the very end. But whatever you do, do try the hazelnuts; they made the whole thing out of this world.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Maple milk

For me, this month has been all about simple sustenance and sustainable simplicity.

Allow me to explain. I am, at the moment, awaiting graduate school decisions on my application. O, intolerable suspension! O awful anticipation! Call it what you will--I myself find it particularly Kafkaesque--it's driving me quite mad.

So while January might have been a month of fabulously complex and ambitious meals (i.e., fruit tart, beet and watercress salad, tuna ni├žoise platter), my February food attitude--fooditude?--is shaping up to be more calm, composed, full of clean lines and soothing flavors. Don't give me worrisome, finicky recipes that demand my full concern; give me collections of simple, nourishing gestures. Give me yogurt with brown sugar, honey roasted carrots, fish in foil by lamplight and the Big Chill soundtrack. Give me...

Give me maple milk.

Maple milk.
inspired by the Montague Book Mill (pictures below)
The epitome of simplicity and nourishment.
Equally enjoyable in a mug or a tall, clear glass.

glass of cool milk
pure maple syrup

Pour desired amount of syrup in the bottom of the glass. Fill with milk.
Stir. Enjoy.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Fresh Fruit Tart

My friends, let us face the facts: there are times that call for a celebratory dessert. And when they do, I'm sure a number of beloved and oft-contemplated thoughts wend their way into your mind, floating around like so many visions of sugar-plums.

Here, dear readers, is one to add to your queue.

It's one of those desserts you see in the bakery window, sitting in a glorious halo of golden goodness. This tart has it all: an endearingly sincere cookie-like crust, a cream the stuff heaven is made of, and to top it off, a jewel-like array of fruit that nods and beckons you closer, as you brush your fingertips ever so softly across the glass. Ethereally beautiful and yet elegant in its simplicity, it's also easy enough to make at home--and the result is stunning. We'll take it step-wise (crust, cream, fruit), the recipes following.

First, make and fully bake the crust. I used Deb's "great unshrinkable sweet tart shell" for the base, which is by far the best recipe I've found all year. I skip the wrapping, chilling, and rolling bit and go right for the press-all-of-it-into-a-pan-even-though-it-looks-like-sand method. It works. Trust me (and the last comment, that reads "Not only doesn’t this shrink, it also can be dropped after baking...scraped up, pieced and pressed back into the tart pan, and baked for a few more “please hold together” minutes") works. It comes out golden and tastes of the most marvelous crumbly sweet tart base you've ever tried, ever.

Second, make and chill the cream. I used Ina Garten's recipe for pastry cream and it turned out pretty well. However, for some reason (ahem, a bad pan) it cooked quite quickly, a full 4 minutes ahead of Ina's schedule, and caramelized on the bottom so that the cream ended up tasting of caramel, almost of creme brulee. (Desperate times called for delicious measures: I decided to top it with bananas, which complemented the caramel custard quite well. See below.)

Lastly, top with fruit. This is the best part, of course. Whether your approach is one of precise geometry or casual arranging, this step is full of delight--that breathless moment in front of a brand-new coloring book, with a fresh stash of crayons by your side. Will you go berry or citrus? monochrome or rainbow? seasonal or flamboyantly anachronistic? Take your pick. Small, colorful berries are often an easy but expensive go-to; I think thin slices of kiwi, oranges, even lemons and limes would be very striking, and of course stone fruit would make a lovely complement to the vanilla cream. Bananas went very well with my accidentally caramelized custard; the flavor is pretty overpowering, though, so use them with caution unless you want something tasting of banana cream pie.

Fresh Fruit Tart, piecemeal:

1. Sweet Tart Crust
by smittenkitchen

Makes enough for one 9-inch tart crust

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (9 tablespoons; 4 1/2 ounces) very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk

  1. Pulse the flour, sugar and salt together in the bowl of a food processor. Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in. (You’re looking for some pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and some the size of peas.) Stir the yolk, just to break it up, and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. When the egg is in, process in long pulses–about 10 seconds each–until the dough, which will look granular soon after the egg is added, forms clumps and curds. Just before you reach this stage, the sound of the machine working the dough will change–heads up. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and, very lightly and sparingly, knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing.
  2. Press the dough in as soon as it is processed: Press it evenly across the bottom and up the sides of the tart shell. You want to press hard enough that the pieces cling to one another, but not so hard that it loses its crumbly texture. (And then prick it all over with a fork. -KR)
  3. Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, before baking.
  4. To fully bake the crust: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil (or use nonstick foil) and fit the foil, buttered side down, tightly against the crust. And here is the very best part: Since you froze the crust, you can bake it without weights. Put the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake the crust for 25 minutes.
  5. 5. Carefully remove the foil. If the crust has puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon. Bake the crust about 10 minutes longer, or until it is firm and golden brown, brown being the important word: a pale crust doesn’t have a lot of flavor. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool the crust to room temperature, and proceed with the rest of your recipe.

Do ahead: The dough can be wrapped and kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 2 months. While the fully baked crust can be packed airtight and frozen for up to 2 months, the flavor will be fresher bake it directly from the freezer, already rolled out.

2. Pastry Cream
by Ina Garten

(note: This yields 2 1/2 cups, which Ina says is enough for two tarts. As I use a slightly deeper quiche pan for my tarts, I found the amount of cream fit quite comfortably in one, with a small amount leftover.)

6 extra large egg yolks (at room temperature)
3/4 cup sugar
3 Tbsp cornstarch
2 cups milk
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 Tbsp heavy cream
1 tsp brandy or cognac (I omitted this.)


  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the egg yolks and sugar on medium-high speed for about 3 minutes, until the mixture is light yellow and falls back into the bowl in a ribbon.On low speed, beat in the cornstarch.
  2. Bring the milk to a boil in a large saucepan.
  3. With the mixer on low speed, slowly pour the milk into the egg mixture. Pour the entire mixture back into the saucepan.
  4. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a whisk or wooden spoon, until the mixture is thick, about 10 minutes. Bring to a boil and cook on low heat 2-3 minutes more. Taste to be sure the cornstarch is cooked. Remove from heat.
  5. Mix in butter, vanilla, cream, and cognac (or brandy). Strain into a bowl.
  6. Place plastic wrap directly on the custard surface and refrigerate until cold.