Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Pumpkin Maple Pecan Granola

Because it's decorative gourd season, motherf*ckers, I set out last weekend to plan a fall-themed Saturday up there with the best of them. Last year was apple picking and baking Perfect Pumpkin Apple Bread; this year, hiking and Pumpkin Maple Pecan Granola. In retrospect, I totally should've reversed the order of my activities, because the granola would've been a great snack mid-hike!

A few photos from the hike...

Am I the only person who never realized how easy it is to make your own granola, or has Minimalist Baker just triumphed again? This recipe is SO easy! Mix together wet and dry components, combine, bake for 30 minutes. Done. Chock-full of whole, protein-packed ingredients, natural sugars, healthy oils, and fiber-packed pumpkin, this granola is unalloyed pure; a testament to the benefits of whole eating. Choose this toothsome snack for a real energy boost—whether it be to start your day or a mid-afternoon snack—where excessive sugar, unhealthy oils, and processed ingredients won't pull you down.

I chose this recipe because its pumpkin-thrice: real pumpkin puree and pumpkin seeds accompany the pumpkin pie spice. So many "pumpkin" recipes just call for the latter ingredient—that kind of feels like cheating, doesn't it? So in addition to the cozy, mellifluous fragrance of cinnamon, nutmeg, ground ginger, and allspice (the combination of which defines pumpkin spice, FYI); the granola is fragrantly coated in a warm mixture of pure pumpkin, maple syrup, and coconut oil too. Seriously falltastic. I'm going to be honest, the taste of chunky pureed pumpkin isn't overwhelming (you kind of have to search for it, in fact....) but the granola's excellently spiced nature will wholly satisfy that pumpkin craving; a total trump over any pumpkin spice latte for sure.

This granola is truly fantastic. The crunchiness of the golden roasted oats, pepitas, and pecans against the sweet, juicy raisins—coated in an autumn blanket of maple and spice—is simply delicious.  When baking in the oven, it smells like a pumpkin pie, spiced apple cider, and pumpkin bread all rolled into one. Despite earning the healthy stamp for its wholesome ingredients and low(er) sugar content, the nature of granola is still extremely caloric: this one runs about 125 calories per 1/4 cup. To avoid eating it all by the handful in one sitting (albeit insanely tempting), try sprinkling it into less calorie-dense mediums like milk and bananas or low-fat yogurt to stay full without packing too many cals.

Amendments to the original recipe: I lessened the 3 tbsp of sugar to 1 tbsp; next time I will omit it all together as the maple syrup is plenty sweet, added in raisins (dried cherries would be a great alt), and doubled up on the cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. I think I'll try adding cooked quinoa in the future too: more crunch, more protein, why not?

Another reason as to why you should make this your annual pumpkin cooking project? It lasts. Unlike pies, breads and spiced ciders which feed a crowd in a single sitting (and thereafter are extremely difficult to keep around), this granola can sit airtight for weeks; an intermittent breakfast or snack ready for you to reap this freaky-as*ed (McSweeney again) harvest whenever you please.

Pumpkin Maple Pecan Granola (adapted from Minimalist Baker)
Makes about 5 cups

3 cups rolled oats
1 ¼ cups raw pecans
⅓ cup raw pepitas
½ cup raisins or dried cherries
1 tbsp sugar (optional)
¼ tsp of sea salt
¾ tsp pumpkin pie spice (plus extra dash of cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice)
¼ cup coconut or canola oil
⅓ cup maple syrup (can substitute agave nectar or honey)
⅓ cup pumpkin puree

1.    Preheat oven to 340 F.
2.    Mix the oats, nuts, seeds, raisins, spices, sugar (if using), and salt together in a large bowl.
3.    In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, warm the oil, maple syrup, and pumpkin puree and whisk. Pour the saucepan contents over the dry ingredients and quickly mix with a wooden spoon.
4.    Spread the mixture evenly onto two baking sheets* (or bake in two batches) and bake for 23-33 minutes, stirring a bit near the halfway point.
5.    Once the granola is golden brown (usually about 25 minutes), remove from oven and let cool completely. It will crisp up as it cools.
6.    Transfer to an airtight container, where it will keep for a couple weeks.

*This ensures the mixture is completely spread out in a single layer. The mixture does fit on one baking sheet, but it will be compact and not properly crisp if too crowded.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Vinegar Carrots with Toasted Sesame Seeds

People often ask me how I pick my recipes. Do you set out with a recipe in mind, they ask, or do certain ingredients inspire the dish? The answer is a bit of both. For example, now that it is fall, I feel obliged to add a new hearty soup to my repertoire and will google accordingly. But other times, the ingredients just speak to me (hello!) as was the case with this Vinegar Carrots with Toasted Sesame Seeds recipe. On a weekly trip to the Union Square Farmers Market, I came across the most beautifully rainbowed bunches of carrots I'd ever seen. Creamy ivory, golden yellow, and deep, regal violet stalks accompanied the expected orange taproot; complete with cartoonish big, bushy green tops.

At the farmers market, my beta-carotene buddies didn't just speak to me—they shouted with glee. "Pick me! Are we not the most colorful bunch of carrots you've ever seen? How excited are you to cook with us!" And finally, "can you not just roast us though? That's boring."

Ok, I conceded. But which to pick: the fat, rotund roots or the thin, delicate bunch?  In a rush I grabbed the former, a decision I was grateful for later on: the thicker carrots peeled wonderfully for this quaint little side salad.

I loved this recipe because the ingredients are mainly pantry items, but the end result was so unique and delightful that I felt, flavor-wise, like I was experiencing something completely new. Pleasingly nutty, tangy and acidic, and kickin' in heat and honey; each ribbon packs quite the flavor punch. As the weather cools and our appetites gear up for heavier grub (stews, roasts, etc), think of this light, lithe carrot salad as a choice side to accompany that hearty fare. It's easy to evolve this side into a main too: just add spiced chickpeas and a heaping cup of cooked quinoa for an easy, healthy, and certainly colorful fall lunch or dinner.

Vinegar Carrots with Toasted Sesame Seeds (from The New Persian Kitchen)

  • 1/2 cup sesame seeds (white or black)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • Sea salt
  • 1 1/2 pounds carrots, cut lenthwise into thin ribbons via peeler or matchsticks via mandoline
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro, tightly packed

1. Heat a small skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the sesame seeds and alternate between shaking the pan and stirring the seeds. When the seeds start to pop, after a couple of minutes, transfer them to a plate and let cool to room temperature.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together the garlic, vinegars, honey, sesame oil, red pepper flakes, sesame seeds, and 1/4 tsp salt. Pour the dressing over the carrots, add the cilantro, and toss well. Season with salt, to taste, and serve. (If you can, make the salad a few hours before serving to let the carrots soak up the dressing.)