Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Apricot Cardamom Breakfast Bars

Are you noticing a pattern here lately? Salad, bar, salad...and here you go another bar. It's summer, and I'm still cooking for one. What can I say. I'm all about cooking things that I can eat all week.

These little beauties combine a few of my favorite things: cardamom, dried fruit, nuts, o and food shaped into a bar. Perfect.

They're chewy and little sweet, with some crunchy and some crumb. I made these a few weeks ago to take with me to Chicago. That's how I learned that they don't really travel well. They kind of turn into breakfast bar dust. So if you want to make them and take them, individually wrap them. Don't throw them into a gallon ziplock and put them in the bottom of your lap top bag. Just sayin.

I first saw these as marathon cookies on 101 Cookbooks (of course I immediately starred them), and after looking at a few other versions online, I came up with this combination. Then I turned them into bars, because that just sounds more appropriate for breakfast than cookies.

Apricot Cardamom Breakfast Bars
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks

You can change the combination of the dried fruit and nuts and/or the spices for a different flavored bar. Next time I think I'm going to go with ginger, pepitas, and dried cranberries.

2 cups oatmeal, divided
1 cup whole wheat (or white whole wheat) flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
1/4 tsp. salt
zest of one large lemon
15 oz. can white kidney or navy beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup agave nectar (or real maple syrup)*
1 egg
2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1 cup chopped dried apricots

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
-In the bowl of a food processor, pulse 1 cup of oatmeal until it resembles a course flour. Add flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, cardamom, and salt and pulse to combine. Pour dry mixture into a large bowl, then add the other cup of oatmeal and the lemon zest and stir.
-In the bowl of the food processor, pulse the beans until they are pureed. Add the butter, agave nectar, egg, and vanilla and pulse to combine.
-Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir to combine. Stir in the pine nuts and the dried apricots.
-Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit inside a baking sheet. Dust the parchment paper and your hands lightly with flour. Scoop the dough onto the parchment paper and shape into a long rectangle using your hands. The dough is sticky, but move quickly and it will come together fairly easily. (Another option if to refrigerate the dough for an hour.) Using a sharp knife, cut the dough in half lengthwise, and then into six sections top to bottom (for 12 total bars). Don't separate the bars, just make the cut with the knife so they will be easier to separate once they are baked.
-Bake for 18 to 20 minutes. 5 minutes before they are done, separate the bars so the edges will brown. Use a knife if they are not coming apart easily.

*You can substitute 1 cup packed brown sugar.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Summer Bean Salad

I have a serious thing for vinegar. I can't get enough of it. It took Nic years to get used to eating my salads because of the amount of vinegar I put on them. In middle school, our science teacher asked who wanted to volunteer to drink a tablespoon of straight vinegar, and obviously I volunteered. (I have no idea what that had to do with science, or what it was supposed to teach us.)

I think my love of vinegar was ingrained in me as a child. My great grandmother used to make green salads that had so much salt and vinegar on them, they made your jaw ache just to eat them. Her salad was always my favorite: romaine leaves, salt, red wine vinegar, olive oil. I don't even think she put black pepper on it. It was glorious.

I've been making this bean salad all summer, ever since string beans showed up at the farmer's market. I make it every week, and eat it for days until I finish off the batch. It gets better every day, as the beans soak up the vinegar. This weekend, I finally made myself measure what I put in the salad so I could share it with you. I toned down the vinegar to a respectable half of a cup, still quite strong, but I think most people can handle it... Then I secretly added more.

Summer Bean Salad
Sort of a riff on this recipe, I posted last year.
Serves 6.

You can use string beans or a combination of green beans and wax beans (yellow) for this salad. I like to have both for the color if I can find them. You can also sub out some of the chick peas and kidney beans for cannelloni beans, if you prefer.
10 oz. string beans
15 oz. chick peas
15 oz. kidney beans
3 cloves of minced garlic
1 scallion, minced (or 1/4 cup minced onion)
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley (or 2-3 tbs. dry parsley)
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/2 cup cider vinegar
3 tbs. olive oil

-Steam or blanch the green beans, cooking for only a few minutes. They should still be crisp and brightly colored.
-Rinse the green beans with cold water, and chop into 1/2 inch pieces.
-In a large bowl combine all of the ingredients. Let sit for at least one hour in the fridge to let the flavors meld.
-Serve cold or at room temperature. Lasts for 2-3 days in the fridge.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Brown Rice Crispy Bars w/ Fruit and Nuts

I'm ashamed to admit it, but a decent percentage of my meals/snacks come in bar form. I stock up on Luna Bars and other packaged carb bars like it's going out of style. I'm just happy that bar-food (not to be confused with the other type of bar food, as in the kind that goes with happy hour) has improved since those original protein bars that were approximately the consistency of cardboard and glue. At least they're better than a candy bar for a late afternoon snack before my run.

But over the last couple of months I've been trying to make my own bars, to varying degrees of success. Granola bars were not my friend. (They went from bar to crumble in about 2 seconds.) These brown rice crispy bars are very friendly on the other hand. They come together quickly, require no baking, and are done in less than an hour.

And even though they're healthy (well other than those marshmallows, but something has to hold all those nutrients together), they're still amazingly chewy, with a little sweet/tart kick from the dried berries, and a good crunch from the almonds. No one will even realize the rice is brown, the sugar is reduced, and the fat is the healthy kind. Trust me. I've eaten them for dessert, snacks, and breakfast. But mostly I pack them up and bring them to share with my running group.

Brown Rice Crispy Bars w/ Fruit and Nuts
Adapted from Alton Brown, Food Network

Brown puffed rice is not the same as brown crispy rice. I've made these with both, but if you do use brown crispy rice, the measurements will be off. I remedied this by adding the crispy rice to the marshmallow mixture slowly until it felt like the marshmallow goop couldn't absorb any more crispy rice. You also probably don't need to toast the crispy rice, although I'm dubious of the need to toast the puffed rice too.

3 oz. (6 cups) puffed brown rice
3 oz. (3/4 cup) almonds, toasted and chopped
4 oz. (1 cup) dried fruit (I prefer half cherries, half cranberries)
7 oz. (4 cups) mini marshmallows
3 tbs. flax seed oil, plus more for pan
1 tbs. honey

-Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
-Line a 13X9X2 in. pan with foil, and lightly coat with oil.
-Spread the brown puffed rice on a sheet pan and toast for 4 minutes, stirring occasionally.
-Combine the rice, almonds, and dried fruit in a large bowl.
-In a metal mixing bowl over a pot of gently simmering water, combine the marshmallows, flax seed oil, and honey. Be patient. You don't want the flax seed oil to get too hot or it will taste terrible. So keep stirring, keep the heat low, and don't try to do this in a pan directly on the burner.
-When the marshmallow is thoroughly melted and the oil is well mixed in, add the rice mixture and store to coat evenly.
-Coat the back of a spatula or a wooden spoon with oil and use that to press the mixture into the foil-lined pan evenly.
-Let cool completely before cutting into bars. Store in an airtight container for 1 to 2 days. (After that the flax seed oil can make the bars taste bad.)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Keen-WHAT?! Keen-Waaaaaaah (Quinoa)

I have been waiting to use that headline for a blog post for almost an entire year, basically since right after I started this blog. Say it out loud. Isn't it great? (For a time I walked around the apartment saying it out loud whenever I was making quinoa. I favored a sort of rap-esque cadence.)

So why did I wait so long to write a post about quinoa, the tiny little grain from South America? Because every time I made it, it tasted like poo. But don't worry! I have finally found a few fool proof ways to make this healthy, crunchy, protein-packed little grain delicious. *

But first, two indispensable prerequisites to any cooking with quinoa.

1) Soak it! The box won't tell you you need to do this, but if you don't, it will have a decidely bitter taste. (If you like that kind of thing, I guess you don't need to soak it.) The longer the better. I like to drop it in a bowl, cover it with water, and let it sit for an hour and a half or longer if I'm out of the apartment. But if you're short on time, at least soak it for 30 minutes.

2) Red quinoa is better than "traditional" or white quinoa. Ok, so that isn't really an indispensable prerequisite; I suppose it is a matter of taste. But what I'm getting at is, they taste very different, so if you try one variety and don't like it, still try the other.

So here is quinoa two ways. One for breakfast, the other for lunch or as a side with dinner.

Breakfast isn't so much a recipe. I just cook about 1/4 cup of quinoa, mix in a very small amount of butter while it's hot, then let it cool and store it in the fridge. I add a scoop to the top of my oatmeal in the morning. The heat from the oatmeal is enough to heat up the quinoa. Add some nuts and berries and you have lots of vitamins, whole grains, and protein.

Quinoa and Herb Salad
Inspired by 101 Salads

This is the quantity that I make. It is enough for two people for lunch, or for four people as a side. It can easily be doubled, and it keeps really well in the fridge for a few days. I like it even better the day after it is made.

1/2 cup red quinoa, soaked and rinsed (or traditional quinoa)
1 cup chicken stock or water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/3 cup chopped fresh mint
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1/3 cup chopped red onion (or to taste)
1 cup canned or cook chickpeas, drained and rinsed (about half a can)
1/2 tsp. salt
juice of one lemon
fresh ground black pepper to taste

-Cook the quinoa according to the package directions with the chicken stock or water.
-Drain any excess liquid when the quinoa is finished cooking and stir in the olive oil to prevent it from clumping.
-Chop your vegetables while the quinoa cools.
-Add all the remaining ingredients to the quinoa and stir.
-Serve at room temperature or cold. Keeps for several days in the fridge.

*Some notes about quinoa: It contains more high-quality protein than any other grain, it is the only complete protein grain, it is gluten free, and it was so important to Inca culture that they called it the Mother Grain. This is all according to the box, but I've read similar descriptions of this "superfood" elsewhere.