I like to cook. Sometimes my daughter likes to eat.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Healthy Snacks: Granola Bars and Fruited Bran Muffins

MZ's school hosted a Lunchbox Cafe as part of its Fall Festival, where parents brought favorite healthy lunch items to share ideas with others. The table was full of interesting items: carrot and hummus sandwiches, quinoa cakes with avocado, popcorn sprinkled with nutritional yeast. I made two items that went over well, the granola bars with the school crowd and the muffins with MZ.

Thank you for your great work organizing and hosting the table today, it was such a good idea and so much fun in practice! Am I confused? Am I supposed to be sending these to you? Please let me know if they should go somewhere else.

Granola Bars with Pumpkin Seeds, Chocolate, and Dried Cranberries

I've tried several granola bar recipes at home, these have been the most successfully received and they easiest to make. Some call for a lot of butter or oil, or peanut butter as a binding, or eggs, which make them more likely to spoil. Whole Foods and Trader Joe's both carry organic condensed milk. These bake up into a chewy bar, and they freeze well, if one pan is more than you can use. Adapted from "Back to School Granola Bars" at the Three Many Cooks blog. Makes 20-24 bars

2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup wheat bran
1/2 cup ground golden flax seed
1 cup pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup semi-sweet chips or chocolate chunks (about 3 ounces)
1/2 cup dried cranberries (substitute cherries, blueberries, raisins or chopped dried apricots)
1/4 cup shredded coconut, unsweetened (optional)
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk

Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease an 8-9" square baking pan with vegetable cooking spray. Line bottom of pan with two strips of parchment paper, with at least 2" of paper up over the rim on all four sides of the pan (this will make it much easier to remove the bars after baking). Spray parchment lining lightly with vegetable cooking spray.

Mix dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Add condensed milk and stir thoroughly. Turn into prepared pan and, using a spatula, firmly pack into pan, filling the corners and leveling the top. Bake until golden brown about 30 minutes.

Transfer pan to freezer to cool. When firm, use the parchment paper "handles" to remove the bars from pan. Use a long, sharp knife to cut bar into 20 bars approx. 1 x 3 inches (you may need to run the knife under hot water to keep the blade clean, this helps keep the bars in one piece). Store in an airtight container up to 1 week, or wrap in wax paper and place in a ziplock bag to freeze up to one month.

Gluten free variation: Substitute 1/2 cup rolled oats that have been finely ground in a food processor for the wheat bran, or use 1/2 cup ground flax meal.

Fruited Bran Muffins

This is barely a riff on a recipe from Weelicious, except that we've been experimenting with the flavors. MZ prefers chopped crystalized ginger or dried blueberries to the cranberries she uses, and we also added coconut. I'd like to try it with grated apples or chopped dried cherries. If using grated apple (or carrots or zucchini), I would squeeze out the liquid. This makes a very loose batter, but bakes up to a tender, not overly sweet muffin. Makes 15 full size or 40 mini muffins.

1 1/2 c all purpose flour
1/2 c whole wheat flour
1/2 c wheat bran
1 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 c buttermilk
1 t vanilla extract
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup mild-flavored vegetable oil such as canola
1 cup dried cranberries, blueberries, chopped dates or chopped crystalized ginger
1/2 cup shredded coconut, unsweetened (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Add dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl, whisking to combine. In a smaller bowl, lightly beat the eggs, then add the rest of the liquid ingredients. Whisk to combine. Slowly fold the wet ingredients into the dry flour mixture. Add the cranberries and coconut and stir lightly to combine.

Pour batter into a greased muffin tin or use baking cups, filling each 2/3 of the way up. Bake 14 minutes for mini muffins or 20 minutes for full-size muffins. Cool on a baking rack and serve.

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Monday, September 19, 2011

Post-Caprese Tomatoes

Our family doesn't typically get sick of tomatoes. We wait impatiently for tomato season, then gorge ourselves on heirlooms, cherries, roasted San Marzanos... In those heady early weeks we savor our tomatoes thickly sliced and topped simply with salt and pepper, or on a bagel with a light smear of good cream cheese. Then comes the basil, oil and vinegar treatment, augmented occasionally with some fresh mozzarella or sweet corn. Really, we can do this 2-3 times each week and never get tired of the tender sweetness of a perfectly ripe tomoto.

But this year I bought a flat of heirlooms that did us in. I couldn't look at another basil leaf, I thought I was done. Fortunately we were rescued by the redoubtable Mark Bittman, who offered up this Asian take on tomato salad.

Sesame-Soy Tomato Salad

Slice 4-5 heirloom tomatoes 1/4-1/2" thick and arrange on a platter. Combine 1.5 tablespoons toasted sesame oil with 3 tablespoons soy sauce, and drizzle over tomatoes. Finely slice 2 scallions, sprinkle over tomatoes and serve.

Spicy Green Apple Salad

This recipe is a brilliant intersection between North American summer and fall, from the shesimmers.com blog -- a gorgeous blog with wonderful recipes, very much worth checking out. We made this salad with San Marzano tomatoes from our farm box and apples from our Rosh Hashanah foray to Petaluma's welcoming Chileno Ranch.

She recommends this salad as a topping for grilled or pan-fried fish. We added shredded leftover rotisserie chicken and a chopped heart of romaine and enjoyed it as an entree salad, topped with the recommended chopped cashews. Delicious! Makes about 2 cups without the added chicken and lettuce.

1 medium Granny Smith, Gravenstein or other very firm, tart apple
1 medium shallot
3-4 roma tomatoes, cut into ¼-inch dice
lime juice, to taste
fish sauce, to taste
dried red pepper powder or chili flakes, to taste
2-3 T of chopped cilantro leaves
¼ c coarsely chopped roasted cashews (optional)

Put 2-3 cups iced water in a bowl; keep the bowl handy. Core the apple and cut it in half. Slice each half lengthwise into thin slices. Make stacks of 4-5 apple slices and cut them lengthwise again into thin matchsticks. Soak the apple matchsticks in the prepared iced water.

Thinly slice the shallot lengthwise. In a mixing bowl, toss together the shallot slices, tomatoes, the well-drained apple matchsticks, and cilantro. Season to taste with fish sauce, lime juice, and dried red pepper powder. Serve immediately.

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