Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Breakfast of Champions

Cereal is so expensive! And I like the good stuff, with real ingredients--nothing frosted or loopy or colorful. Last year, in an effort to save money and ensure my breakfast contains ingredients I approve, I started making my own granola. I gathered several recipes from Food and Wine magazine and an episode of Good Eats by Alton Brown and started testing them out. I tried all different varieties and made batches to share with friends and family over the holidays. I'm no longer interested in buying granola from the store! I make big batches and store them in the rolled oats containers I emptied for the recipe. Here's a basic formula I like, with ingredient suggestions and some tasty combinations.

egg whites, oil, sweetener, salt
 Homemade Granola

2 egg whites
1/4 cup oil
1/4-1/3 cup sweetener
3 generous cups of rolled oats (quick not instant)
1 1/3 cup chopped nuts
1/3 cup ground flaxseed
1 cup dried fruit
generous pinch of salt

  1. Preheat the oven to 250.
  3. Whisk your "binders" together: egg whites, oil and sweetener, until light and bubbly. Add a generous pinch of salt and whisk to blend.
  4. Add rolled oats, nuts and flaxseed and mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon.
  5. Line a large 1" rimmed baking pan with parchment paper, nonstick spray or brush with oil. Spread your granola mixture evenly with the spoon.
    chopped nuts and ground raw flaxseed
  7. Bake in preheated oven checking every 10 minutes to rotate the pan and run a spatula through for even toasting. Total baking time is 30-40 minutes depending on your toasty and crunchy preference.
  8. Transfer baked granola to a clean rimmed baking pan set atop a cooling rack. Sprinkle with dried fruit and let cool completely before storing or enjoying.
Oil: Regular olive oil works fine, so does canola or vegetable oil. Try walnut oil for a nuttier flavor.

Sweeteners: Agave nectar, dark or light brown sugar, maple syrup. Maple syrup is really fragrant and my favorite to use. Agave nectar is sweeter than sugar, so you may need less.

Nuts: Almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, pecans, walnuts. I always have almonds and walnuts in the pantry. I prefer to chop them myself but you can purchase blanched or slivered almonds and already chopped other nuts. Just make sure they're raw--if they're roasted and you bake them again, they might be too bitter.

toasted granola
Dried Fruit: Apricots, bananas, blueberries, cherries, cranberries, dates, raisins, strawberries. Other tropical fruit like pineapple, mango, or papaya might be good too.

Extras: Candied ginger, cinnamon, coconut flakes, flaxseed, roasted pumpkin seeds, nutmeg. All of these would be added while your granola is cooling, except the if the flaxseed is raw. Roasted flaxseed (sometimes called "golden") would be added during cooling.

Yummy Combinations:

Combo 1: Dates, raisins, almonds, pecans.

Combo 2: Apricots, cherries, almonds.

Combo 3: Cranberries, almonds, walnuts, ginger.

Keep in mind what all of your ingredients are as you make granola. Cranberries, for example, are tart so you may prefer an extra tablespoon of sweetener. But if you're using sweetened coconut, that might compensate. I'd say trial and error is the best way to experiment, but it's really hard to make "errors"!

dates, almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Pastitsio = Greek Pasticcio

Staying with the Greek theme from last entry, I forged ahead with what Saveur magazine called "Greek Lasagna" or Pastitsio. I've had this dish at my favorite Greek restaurant in NJ, Pithari Taverna, but it must have been from someone else's plate because I always get Ola Mazi, a medley of vegetarian dishes. Pastitsio is less like lasagna and more like what my Italian relatives refer to as pasticcio. In my experience, the difference between lasagna and pasticcio is ricotta vs. bechamel. Personally, I'm not fond of ricotta cheese and never make lasagna this way, so I opt to prepare pasticcio when the mood strikes for a warm, baked pasta dish. This Greek version includes different vegetables and spices such as green pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg. It's not sweet, but it is less tangy than a pasticcio that includes garlic and basil or parsley.

Meat Sauce:
1/3 cup evoo
2 green bell peppers, cored, seeded & minced
2 medium yellow onions, minced
1 lb ground beef, veal or pork
3 oz dry cured chorizo, minced
2 cups canned crushed tomatoes
1/3 cup red wine
1/4 tsp crushed red chili flakes
2 bay leaves
1 2" cinnamon stick
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste

Bechamel and Pasta:
8 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup flour
4 cups milk
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 eggs, separated
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste
1 lb No 2 Greek macaroni, bucatini or elbow
2 Tbsp evoo

  1. Make the meat sauce: Heat oil in a 12" skillet over medium high heat. Add peppers and onions and cook, stirring often until soft, 8-10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer onion mixture to a plate and set aside. Add ground meat and chorizo to skillet and cook, breaking meat up into tiny pieces, until browned, 6-8 minutes. Add reserved onion mixture along with tomatoes, wine, chili flakes, bay leaves and cinnamon and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring often until sauce thickens, about 15 minutes. Remove sauce from heat, discard bay leaves and cinnamon, and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Let cool.
  2. Make the bechamel: Heat butter in a 4 qt saucepan over medium high heat. Add flour and cook, whisking constantly, until slightly toasted, 1-2 minutes. Add milk; cook, whisking often until sauce coats the back of a spoon, 8-10 minutes. Remove from heat, add 3/4 cup cheese and egg yolks; season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Stir until smooth; set aside.
  3. Heat oven to 350. Bring a large pot of salted water to  boil; add pasta and cook halfway through, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk egg whites in a large bowl until frothy. Stir in remaining cheese; drain pasta in a colander and then toss with egg white-cheese mixture to coat evenly. Set aside
  4. Grease a deep 9"x13" baking dish with olive oil. Place half the pasta mixture on bottom of dish and cover evenly with  meat sauce. Top with remaining pasta mixture. Pour bechamel over pasta, spreading it evenly with a rubber spatula. Bake until the top is golden brown, about 1 hour. Transfer to wire rack; cool 20 minutes before serving.
I omitted the chorizo and used elbow macaroni since the grocery store didn't have bucatini. I could have gone next door to Pithari Taverna where they have a little shop of Greek goods and probably picked up No 2 macaroni, but I was hungry! It's a warm tasting dish with the cinnamon and nutmeg--not my husband's favorite combination but we enjoyed it together one night and I had leftovers for lunch the rest of the week. No pictures of the bechamel because it comes together so quickly and requires constant attention. I divided the dish into 3 pans--two went in the freezer after cooling and refrigeration overnight. It'll be a nice for a low-effort evening!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

It's all Greek to me

There is an awesome Greek restaurant in Highland Park, NJ called Pithari Taverna. It's small and unassuming...across from a gas station and surrounded by residential homes. My sister in law introduced us to it and it was love at first bite. I've always wanted to travel to Greece--it was my first honeymoon choice. Until we found out November weather in Greece is similar to November weather in NJ...Not exactly the sunny, warm, spend-half-your-time-on-amazing-beaches-and-the-other-half-enjoying-amazing-historical-sites-kind of weather. I feel like Pithari Tavern brings me closer to the experience, though. Somehow we always get the same waitress and she explains why some things on the menu aren't in season or available because of the time of year or upcoming holiday. Greek cuisine seems to hail from similar locavore roots as that of Italy. The Mediterranean influence is familiar to me, being half Italian (that's half Italian from Italy, not half Italian from Brooklyn)  but there are Middle Eastern influences that keep me guessing! A favorite side dish at Pithari Taverna is Lemon Potatoes. They're perfectly tart but the lemon isn't overpowering. You can taste the Greek olive oil and garlic too. Crispy on the outside but creamy inside it's an unforgettable combination. Last week I dared to try to recreate it at home!

Here is the recipe I used by Anthony Gougoutris on http://www.food.com/:

3 lbs Yukon gold potatoes or other waxy potatoes, peeled
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp fresh ground pepper
2 cups chicken broth

  1. Cut peeled potatoes in half or wedges. Let them stand in water while preparing sauce.
  2. Combine all other ingredients in a gallon size zipper bag and shake to combine.
  3. Dry off the potatoes and put all of them in the bag. Let marinate for 2 hours.
  4. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put potatoes in a large casserole dish.
  5. Roast for 1 hour 10 min turning occasionally, until fork tender. There should be plenty of sauce leftover after roasting.
  6. Crisp under the broiler for 5 minutes if you prefer.
My potatoes came out super lemony which made them slightly too tart. I couldn't taste the oregano or olive oil and the garlic was lost. While the directions don't specify to dump all the marinade in the casserole, it mentioned having plenty of sauce leftover so that's what I did. Next time, I'll use fewer lemons, roast them in a much smaller amount of sauce and definitely let them crisp a bit more. None of these differences deterred us from enjoying every last spud, though.

The first night they were a side dish with chicken cutlets and mixed salad. We finished them off two mornings later in a frittata-like breakfast dish. I warmed the potatoes in a nonstick pan, tossed in some spinach to melt, added 3 whole eggs and 3 egg whites previously whisked, topped with sun dried tomatoes and a few
crumbles of feta cheese. A savory way to start the day!