Sour Cherry, Apricot, and Sunflower Seed Granola Bars (with Lime)

I’m in Ann Arbor for the week to do research and go to a wedding. This means I’m writing this in my tiny hotel room, while sipping miso soup from the surprisingly good hole-in-the-wall Korean place next to the hotel. This is my second night in a row eating Korean take-out. It also means that for lunch every day I’ve been relying on a few staples that don’t need to be refrigerated. You know, pre-cut broccoli and snap peas I picked up at a grocery store my first night here. For breakfast, I’ve been eating granola bars, and those are what I actually want to tell you about.

When I used to travel for campaigns, I would load up on Lara Bars before every trip so I wouldn’t have to rely on bad hotel breakfasts or over priced yogurt parfaits. Earlier this year, I decided to replace my Lara Bars with homemade granola bars and started tinkering with this smitten kitchen recipe.

My first attempts were fine, but kind of crumbly and nothing worth writing about. This time, I tinkered a bit and came up with something that I think is both delicious and a little different. These granola bars, hold together–admittedly the first requirement for anything with the name “bar.” They aren’t too crunchy or too sweet. Most importantly to me, however, they have a sour kick.

It’s not clear from this blog yet, but I’m pretty much always trying to make everything more lip-puckering. I am constantly adding a squeeze of lemon, a splash of vinegar, or a slice of lime. I can drink a carton of grapefruit juice in two days, although I generally regret it afterwards.

That said, I would never have added lime to these granola bars if I had not been afraid that they were too salty. I was finishing them up and got worried that the combination of salted butter, salted sunflower seeds, and a quarter teaspoon of salt was just too much. So I grabbed the half a lime in my refrigerator, squeezed it all over the top, and crossed my fingers that the acid wouldn’t produce some kind of  kitchen alchemy that caused my granola bars to crumble. It didn’t.

So, may I suggest that the next time you are travelling, or really if you just want to bake a snack, you try these tangy granola bars:

 

Sour Cherry, Apricot, and Sunflower Seed Granola Bars (with lime): 

* Note: I don’t know why, but until about a month ago I thought that parchment paper was a luxury for people with yachts. I was so convinced of this that for years I substituted wax paper for parchment paper when it was called for in recipes. I then spent unbelievable amounts of time peeling melted wax paper off the back of granola bars, brittle, and other such things. This was stupid. Buy parchment paper. Use it sparingly, but, when it’s called for, it really make things much easier.

– 1/2 cup + 1/3 cup rolled oats

– 1/4 cup sugar

– 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons oat flour

– 1/4 teaspoon salt

– 1 1/2 tablespoons coconut oil

– 1 1/2 tablespoons butter

– 1 tablespoon agave syrup

– 1 tablespoon maple syrup

– 1 tablespoon corn syrup

– 1 tablespoon water

– 3 tablespoons almond butter

– 1/2 a lime

– 1 1/2 cups of dried apricots, dried sour cherries, ground flax-seed meal, and sunflower seeds. (You can fiddle with these proportions, but I did 1/2 a cup chopped dried apricots, 1/2 a cup chopped dried cherries, and 1/2 a cup sunflower seeds. I put them all in a measuring cup and then dumped in the flax-seed meal until it filled in all the cracks in the mixture.)

*** A note on all the syrups: You could probably use all agave or all maple syrup. I liked the combination of the two. It left the bars sweet but not very maple-y. Do use the corn syrup. I tried to do without it my first time, and the bars were a lot more crumbly. Plus, as my mother likes to point out, corn syrup is really just another form of sugar.

* Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line an 8 x 8 pan with parchment paper so that it fits squarely into the bottom of the pan but runs up two sides so that you can use it to lift the bars out. Grease the parchment paper lightly.

* Chop the apricots and cherries pretty finely. Again, I learned from experience that, if you don’t do this, when you go to cut the bars, bigger chunks will get in the way of a clean cut. Put them in a measuring cup with the sunflower seeds. Pour in flax-seed meal and hit the bottom of the cup on the counter a couple of times so that the flax-seed meal shakes down into the cracks between the dried fruit. Set aside.

* Mix together other dry ingredients.

* Add fruit and seed mixture to dry ingredients and mix together well.

* Melt butter and coconut oil together. Stir syrups, almond butter, and water into the melted fats. Whisk until all the liquids combine into a smooth mixture.

* Stir liquids into dry ingredients until they are evenly coated.

* Press mixture into pan making sure to really push it into the corners.

* Squeeze lime over top of pan and press mixture down evenly in pan again.

* Bake for 35 or so minutes until edges are brown.

* Let cool for about 20 minutes. Then use parchment paper to remove from pan and place on drying rack in the refrigerator over night. In the morning cut into squares using a very sharp knife.

These keep best in the refrigerator, but if you are staying in a hotel room without one they will be fine. I would recommend making sure there is a layer of wax paper (save your precious parchment paper!) or tin foil between each if you are going to bring layers of them on your travels. 

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Things to Learn to Cook Upon Leaving New York

No recipe today. Instead, I bring you blogging as commitment mechanism. Here’s another moving inspired list. (And just to liven things up some old pictures from Italy.)

Things to learn to cook upon leaving New York City:

– Massaman curry with avocados and Thai noodles with duck like the ones from Thai Market. Hell, while I’m at it, maybe I’ll also learn to make their chicken and radish dumplings and their daikon cakes.

I cried when we moved a few blocks out of Thai Market’s delivery zone. Crossing state lines is going to require recreating their menu.

Bettalona’s Carciofi.

Noah and I realized sometime this Spring that we could get these as bar food and skip the rest of the meal. So now we often end our nights around the corner from our apartment, the only people at this random Italian restaurant’s bar. It’s worth it. These artichokes, which they roast in a pizza oven to a fine crisp, are unbelievably delicious.

– Orange-watermelon juice like the one that 88 Orchard used to serve and tragically has stopped serving so I guess it’s time to leave anyway.

– Rice pudding like Kefi’s.

– Congee.

– And, if only, if only, Tia Pol’s Ensalada de Alcachofa.

This is my favorite salad in the entire world. It includes fried artichokes, white asparagus, and a mysteriously amazing dressing. We went to Tia Pol on Sunday night to say goodbye, although we agreed I would probably make us go back every time we returned to New York. When I finished the salad, I told Noah that being in a long-distance relationship with this salad was just not going to be the same.

It might also be nice if I could learn to pastrami Salmon, but I’m trying to be reasonable in my ambitions.

The way I’m looking at all this meat should accurately capture how I look at each of the dishes on my learn-to-make list.

Anyway, hopefully this public record will lead to some cooking experimentation over the next few months, and, if I figure any of these out, I promise there will be a post.

Gorgonzola, Endive, and Mushroom Salad

Last week on a rare trip to Williamsburg, Noah and I stopped in at the Bedford Cheese shop. I have an immense amount of affection for this place because the week before I graduated from college, my roommate and I drove to Williamsburg to try to find her an apartment and stopped here. On that trip, we bought Australian feta–essentially feta soaked in herbs and olive oil. It’s as good as it sounds.

My memories of the week before graduation mostly involve rain. Running through a hot rain storm; learning to replace the windshield wipers on a car; and being tucked into a warm car with wet clothes and good cheese as we got hopelessly lost in the Bronx on our way home from Williamsburg.

So, it seemed fitting, as we experienced days of gray skies, rain, and even hail(!) this week, to break into the cheese I bought on our recent visit to the cheese shop. This time, I had purchased a creamy gorgonzola. I decided it should go into a salad so I bought some Belgian endive, but beyond that this salad really came together based on what I had in our refrigerator.

That said, it was so good that I plan to make sure I have these ingredients in the refrigerator more often going forward. It has a nice mix of soft and crunchy ingredients and is hearty enough to be a meal. I think it will be an especially delicious fall salad.

Gorgonzola, Endive, and Mushroom Salad: 

– 3 heads of Belgian endive.

– 7 cloves of garlic

– 8 ounces Cremini mushrooms

– 4 ounces Shiitake mushrooms

– About 12 fingerling potatoes

– Gorgonzola (I used slightly under a quarter pound)

– Olive oil

– 1/2 a lemon

* Thinly slice mushrooms and garlic.

* Put out layer of 2-3 paper towels.

* Heat a good glug of olive oil in a large pan.

* Add mushrooms to pan in a single layer and sprinkle salt on top of them. Cook until the liquid they release is basically gone and they are starting to get a little crispy. Transfer to paper towels to dry.

* Add a little more olive oil to pan and put in sliced garlic. Keep an eye on the garlic and remove quickly when slices are mostly, but not entirely, brown. You want to make brown garlic chips, but garlic burns quickly so watch carefully. When you remove them, spread them on the paper towels to dry as well.

* Prepare potatoes by cleaning them and then either boiling them or microwaving them. Boiling the potatoes until they are tender will get you slightly better results, but when I’m in a rush, I just poke a hole in each potato with a  knife, and then put them all in a bowl covered with a plate and microwave for about five minutes, or until tender. In a salad, I think either way is fine.

* Clean endive and chop it horizontally so you end up with small slivers.

* Slice cooked potatoes into rounds.

* Toss endive and potatoes with the juice of half a lemon, olive oil to taste, and salt. Spread on a plate.

* Scatter mushrooms on top of endive/ potato mixture.

* Crumble gorgonzola on top of mushrooms.

* Sprinkle with garlic chips and salt and pepper to taste.

Best Banana Bread(s)

We’re moving in three weeks. The impending move has inspired a lot of list creation. We have a New York bucket list of things to do and a list of places to eat. I have a list of New York archives to visit. Most recently, I’ve realized that I have a freezer full of things that can’t be easily moved and so I also have a list of things to cook.

First on the list was doing something with the 15 frozen bananas that had accumulated in the freezer. Obviously, this called for a banana bread bake-off.

This Sunday I invited a group of friends over for brunch and promised them a variety of banana breads to taste if they brought some healthier fare. Friday and Saturday, I braved the heat and baked three banana breads (plus a fourth gluten-free banana bread that didn’t compete). Sunday morning we labeled them and voted.

The winner was, not unexpectedly, this (even though it fell and has a huge dent in the middle):

One of my best friends came up with this recipe in college when he added raspberries to a basic banana bread and changed all of our lives forever. I can still remember eating the first loaf on the porch of our house in New Haven. While bananas and raspberries may seem like a combination better suited for a smoothie than a baked good, trust me, they combine into a bread that is unbelievably dense and moist.

That said, this was a close runner-up:

This is the banana bread with ginger and chocolate from A Homemade Life. It got a number of votes for best banana bread on Sunday, but not quite enough. While this is good in loaf form, as we had it on Sunday, I actually think this banana bread shines best as a birthday cake. It’s light enough to be served with whipped cream frosting. I made it for both my mother’s birthday party and my birthday party this year. Divide the batter into two round cake pans and layer them with whipped cream.

The banana bread below, which I had high hopes for, totally flopped. I made it with brown sugar and roasted bananas. I hoped it would take on a caramelized flavor as a result, but it was too bland and overpowered by the chocolate.

Finally, I have to say, that this gluten-free banana bread with almond meal is pretty good. I think it’s best served cold with a big dollop of whipped cream. It’s not like the real thing, but if you’re at a banana bread party and trying to avoid gluten, it will certainly keep you satisfied.

Winning Banana Raspberry Bread (the ingredients may reveal why this won):

– 1 1/2 cups sugar

– 1 1/2 cups flour

– 1/4 teaspoon baking powder

– 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

– 2 eggs

– 1/2 cup butter

– 1 teaspoon vanilla

– 3 large, ripe bananas

– 1 cup raspberries

*Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

* Blend together sugar, butter, vanilla, and eggs.

* Stir together dry ingredients.

* Mash bananas.

* Add dry ingredients to wet.

* Stir in mashed bananas.

* Fold in raspberries.

* Pour into greased loaf pan and bake for 50 minutes or until a tester comes out dry. (Honestly, I’ve used every shape of pan known to man to bake this cake over the years. For shallower pans, adjust time down.)

 
 
Birthday Cake Banana Bread (from A Homemade Life):  

– 6 tablespoons butter

– 2 cups flour

– 3/4 cup sugar

– 3/4 teaspoon baking soda

– 1/2 teaspoon salt (if using unsalted butter)

– 3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips

– 1/3 cup finely chopped crystalized ginger

– 2 large eggs

– 3 large bananas, mashed

– 1/4 cup plain yogurt (she calls for whole milk, I use what I have around, which is generally low-fat)

– 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

* Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

* Grease pan(s).

* Microwave butter until just melted. Set aside.

* Whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in large bowl. Add chocolate and ginger and stir well.

*  In a medium bowl, beat eggs with a fork. Add melted butter, yogurt, mashed banana, and vanilla.

* Add banana mixture to dry ingredients until just combined.

* In loaf pan bake 50 minutes to an hour until tester comes out dry. Alternatively, if you want to make an amazing birthday cake, divide batter into two smallish-round cake pans, bake for less time (about 20-25 minutes). In the mean time, whip some whipped cream. Let cakes cool and then layer with whipped cream.

Gluten Free Banana Bread (from thewannabechef): 

1 1/2 cups almond flour

– 4 eggs

– 1/4 cup oil

– 3/4 cup brown sugar

–  3 medium bananas

– 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

– 3/4 teaspoons cinnamon

– 3/4 teaspoons baking powder

– 1/2 cup chocolate chips

* Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

* Mash bananas.

* Mix together all ingredients except chocolate chips.

* Fold in chocolate chips.

* Pour batter into greased loaf pan or other similar sized pan.

* Bake 50 minutes, until tester comes out clean.

I think this is best served cold, preferably with whipped cream. 

Mango-Pistachio Popsicles

This March we took a day trip to Beacon, New York. We spent the morning at Dia Beacon and then hiked up Mount Beacon in the afternoon. Since we essentially skipped winter this year, by March it felt like late Spring. We progressively stripped off layers as the day and incline progressed. We also got to eat popsicles at this place.

I had a mango pistachio popsicle that was perfectly creamy with big chunks of pistachio jutting out from the top. It was a surprisingly delicious combination.

When the temperatures climbed into the 90s last month, I started to think about them again. My first stab at making them was a complete failure. I tried to make them with yogurt and mango and they came out tasting like tangy- nothingness. I also chopped the pistachios too finely and they had a weird texture. I washed them down the drain.

The second time, I carefully tried not to overwhelm the mango. I started by simply blending the mango into a pulp and then added cream a tablespoon at a time. Then I stirred in a smaller number of pistachios cut more roughly. Much more satisfying results and incredibly simple.

Mango-Pistachio Popsicles: 

– 1 mango 

– 2 tablespoons heavy cream

– 1 tablespoons roughly chopped roasted pistachios (I used salted and liked the flavor combo, but I could see preferring unsalted.)

* Blend mango to pulp.

* Add cream and mix thoroughly.

* Stir in pistachios.

* Put in popsicle molds and freeze.

Note: This made three popsicles in my rocket pop molds.

Cucumbers with Sesame Garlic Sauce and Chilis

Three weeks ago I told Noah I thought we should go to San Francisco and tried to make it sound like this was any other travel request. I think it worked, but I felt guilty so I almost instantly confessed that I really only wanted to go to Mission Chinese Food.

Noah, trying to be cool, googled Mission Chinese instead of saying “What’s that?” This was nice because it made me think for a little while longer that everyone knew exactly what Mission Chinese Food was when, in reality, it’s just those of us who obsessively read food magazines. That said, I don’t think a single issue of a food magazine has been published in the last year without mentioning this San Francisco hot spot. For those of you like Noah, Mission Chinese is a dive-y chinese food restaurant that serves classic Chinese dishes with a twist (think Kung Pao Pastrami).

Fortunately, Noah’s googling turned up some important news. “Isn’t there one in New York?” he asked.

Turns outs, there is! So, plans fantasies of jetting off to San Francisco for a meal were abandoned, at least for now, and we instead rounded up a team of people to go to the New York outpost. Along with our most reliable compatriot for eating adventures and another friend who took one look at their website and said, “I’m in for any restaurant with ninjas on their website,” we headed to the Lower East Side where we found a three-hour line.

After repairing to an excellent Cuban restaurant in the neighborhood, we decided we needed a better plan. We made reservations for the following Sunday at 5:30.

When Sunday rolled around it turned out to be 100 degrees. This didn’t stop us, but it did make the first dish we ordered seem like the most delicious thing you could possibly eat on a hot day. This is not to knock the Mapo Tofu  or their surprisingly good tofu and pumpkin soup, but, even though Mission Chinese is famous for their meat, the thing I’ve been thinking about ever since our meal is their cold cucumbers in garlic.

The dish they served was cucumbers slicked with sesame paste and doused in chilis. I know it’s not the most beautiful thing in the world, but it was perfect for the heat, a perfect combination of cold and numbingly hot.

Tonight I set about recreating it. I think it will be a stand by for the rest of the summer.

Cucumbers with Sesame Garlic Sauce and Chilis: 

– 3 kirby cucumbers

– 7 cloves of garlic

– 1/4 cup tahini

– 1/2 tablespoon water

– 1 tablespoon soy sauce

– Toasted sesame oil

– Salt

– Asian chili sauce (I used a pickled chili and garlic sauce, but you can use whatever you want. I think Sriracha would work, but that it’s ideal if you can find something a little chunkier and less pasty.)

* Peel cucumbers and cut into small chunks.

* Toss cucumbers with a drizzle of sesame oil and a pinch of salt. Set aside.

* Mash garlic. (A mortar and pestle would probably work well for this. I ran mine through a garlic press and then hacked at it with a knife for a bit in an attempt to get the same effect).

* Stir tahini, water, and soy sauce into garlic. You should end up with a pretty thick paste.

* Toss cucumbers with tahini/garlic mixture. Put about 2 tablespoons (or more or less to taste) of asian chili sauce on top. Serve cold.

Pao de Queijo

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Late last night we got back from celebrating the Fourth of July in Rhode Island with my parents. Fourth of July at our house involves a kitschy beach town parade complete with a Rod and Reel Drill Team and lots of kids riding their bikes in costume; a huge meal cooked by mother, ending with the once-a-year appearance of her old-fashioned wood ice cream maker; and, since Rhode Island legalized fireworks a few years ago, a panoramic firework extravaganza where all our neighbors set off fireworks and we stand on the deck and watch.

After the Fourth, Noah and I spent the next four days kayaking, swimming in the ocean, playing tennis poorly, and alternately eating my mother’s delicious cooking and Rhode Island’s culinary specialities.

Rhode Island has a weird food sub-culture. It has its own clam chowder (clear with no cream) that I think is better than New England or New York chowder, but others (Noah) beg to differ. A favorite treat is clam cakes, essentially hunks of fried dough (think savory cake donut) flecked with clam. Rhode Islanders drink coffee milk instead of chocolate milk. We like to keep a bottle of Rhode Island coffee syrup in our refrigerator. I could go on.

On this Rhode Island trip though Noah and I finally made it to a Rhode Island Chicken House. I read about these in Gourmet a few years ago and have been wanting to go ever since. Basically a chicken house is a giant restaurant (the one we went to seats over 1,000) that looks like a conference center. At a chicken house you order, naturally, a roast chicken dinner. This comes with roast chicken, manicotti with tomato sauce, french fries, salad, and dinner rolls. Drinks come in pitchers. Food comes quickly. It’s all you can eat.

I should mention that this was our third night of chicken in a row. We had chicken teriyaki for the Fourth of July and left over chicken the next night. I’m not actually a huge fan of chicken so by the time we got to the chicken house I was a little concerned, but this was really, really good chicken.

According to our waitress, Wright’s has 55 ovens that cook chickens 30 to a pan all day long at a low heat. As a result the chicken starts to flake off the bone achieving a texture close to that of pulled pork. It’s worth a trip if you’re in Boston or Rhode Island.

After dinner we visited the over-sized gift shop and loaded up on penny candy so that I could prove to Noah that Charleston Chews really do taste like cement mixed with marshmallows. (The jury is still out on that one.) This being Rhode Island, we also bought milky-coffee flavored hard candies.

The next day, we packed up to leave and packed dinner for the train. Despite the many chicken left-overs remaining the refrigerator, I decided that I could not eat chicken for the fourth night in the row. That’s where these came in.

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I had never made Pao de Queijo before, but it’s one of my mother’s standbys when she’s cooking for lots of gluten-free people. They are a traditional Brazilian cheese roll made with tapioca flour, thus following the rule that gluten-free food is better if it has always been gluten-free. You can’t think of them as a bread replacement, but they are really delicious in their own right. Texture-wise they are somewhere between a popover, a cheese puff, and mochi. I think this texture works really well for something that tastes like cheese since those of us with Western palettes are used to cheese being kind of squishy.

Pao de Quiejo are also, it turns out, remarkably easy to make. Here’s how you do it.

Pao de Quiejo (based on this recipe)

– 1 egg

– 1/3 cup of olive oil

– 1/2 cup packed sharp cheddar

– 2/3 cup milk

– 1 teaspoon salt

– 1 1/2 cups tapioca flour

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

* Blend all ingredients in a blender until smooth

* Grease muffin tin or mini muffin tin (depending on how big you want them to be)

* Pour batter into muffin tin

* Bake until puffy and lightly browned (about 15 minutes in a mini muffin tin and 20-25 in a regular one)

These can be eaten warm or reheated later.

For the train, I cut two in half and stuffed them with mom’s refried beans. The combination is delicious so if you’re looking for sandwich replacements, I would strongly recommend Pao de Queijo stuffed with some sort of smashed beans and I bet some avocado would be pretty delicious in there too.