Gifting Granola

In the same Prevention Magazine as yesterday’s Green Truffles (September 2, 2015), there were recipes and variations for beautiful granolas to give as healthier alternatives to the popular butter-laden (but delicious), nutrient-deficient Christmas cookies and cakes.  I was drawn to the granola idea for multiple reasons– a giant collection of glass jars, a Costco-sized bag of oatmeal, and 2 giant bags of almonds (because my mom overestimated the quantities she needed to make her almond crescent cookies this year). Also, granola is much faster than a batch of cookies, and I needed homemade treats for my colleagues the week before winter break.

Each recipe serves 6 to 8.

Granola Base
Heat oven to 350°F. Line sheet pan with parchment. In bowl, combine 3 cups rolled oats, 1/2 cup wheat germ, 1/4 cup ground flaxseed, and 1/4 tsp kosher salt. In saucepan, combine 1/4 cup maple syrup and 1/4 cup coconut oil. Heat until oil melts. Combine with oat mixture until well coated. Spread onto sheet pan in even layer and bake until crisp and golden, 15 to 18 minutes. Cool and transfer to airtight container. Store up to 1 month.

1. Seeds and Spice Granola
To dry oat base, add 1/2 cup raw pepitas, 1/4 cup shelled sunflower seeds, 2 Tbsp chia seeds, 1 Tbsp sesame seeds, and 2 1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice.

2. Cherry, Almond, and Vanilla Granola
To dry oat base, add 3/4 cup sliced almonds. To syrup mixture, add 4 tsp pure vanilla extract. After baking granola base, stir in 1/2 cup dried cherries.

3. Chocolate, Coconut, and Banana Granola
To syrup mixture, add 3 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder. After baking granola base, stir in 1/2 cup roughly chopped banana chips and 1/4 cup toasted unsweetened coconut flakes.

You know I don’t follow the rules on most recipes, so I picked an ingredient from each variation and created my own concoctions.  I made chia seed, almond, cocoa powder, and dried cherry, as well as coconut, almond, cherry, and white chocolate chip.  Since I didn’t have any wheat germ, I threw in raw quinoa (I’ve toasted it in homemade granola bars before, and when it’s toasted it adds a nutty crunch).

Watch the edges of your pan carefully!  It’s probably a good idea to stir the mixture halfway through, or consider dropping your temperature to 325º.  My almonds on the edges were on the near side of burnt (my sheet pan was a dark one), and I was picking out a few that were too far gone (not for me, but some people don’t like the bitterness of a little char).  I might consider splitting the mixture in half and roasting in a 9×13 to allow for easy stirring.  I got rave reviews on the coconut/white chocolate combo, and I thought the almond/chocolate/cherry was perfect (pictured below).

Verdict:  These granolas don’t need to wait for Christmas to make an appearance.  I’m thinking granola in a cute little mason jar tied with a scrap of ribbon would make a great hostess gift or simple birthday present at any time of the year.  You could also easily adapt them to be gluten-free or nut-free.  I’m considering heading out to the kitchen to make a batch right now.



Healthy Truffles?

I’m always looking for unique food gifts to give.  For at least the last 5 years I’ve tried to focus on giving people experiences or consumable items rather than STUFF (with the exception of books).  I’ve been baking bread for years for Christmas and Easter, and I’ve made fun things like chocolate spoons for coffee, hot chocolate mix, and soup mix in a jar.

My mom subscribes to Prevention Magazine and passes it on to me when she’s done with it.  I have saved a few recipes, mostly for salads and smoothies.  These truffles looked so beautiful in the picture I just had to try them.  With only 4 ingredients (3 of which I already had in the house), they were easy yet impressive (from the September 2 issue).

Green Truffles

Total Time: 35 minutes + cooling time
Makes: 3 dozen
2 to 3 c water
3 c dark chocolate chips
½ c heavy cream, room-temperature
⅓ c crushed pistachios
1 Tbsp matcha powder or ground green tea leaves

1. In saucepan, bring water to a simmer. Place heatproof glass or stainless-steel bowl over saucepan.
2. Add chocolate chips and heavy cream. Use spatula to mix well as chocolate melts.
3. Remove bowl from heat and transfer mixture to parchment-lined loaf pan or shallow bowl.
4. Cool completely, then chill 90 minutes to solidify. Using melon baller or hands, mold mixture into 1″ balls.
5. Place pistachios in bowl. Roll truffles in nuts, pressing gently.
6. Using fine mesh strainer or sifter, dust truffles with matcha powder or ground green tea leaves.
7. Store in paper liners or parchmentlined tin and refrigerate until ready to serve.

NUTRITION (per truffle) 115 cal, 2 g pro, 11 g carb, 2 g fiber, 8 g sugars, 8.5 g fat, 5 g sat fat, 3 mg sodium

I put these together a couple of days before Christmas.  We had 2 and a half giant bars of Hershey’s Special Dark chocolate, which left us just shy of 3 cups after chopping.  I grabbed a couple of 1 oz dark chocolate bars my friend just gave us from her Native American Casino Anniversary and added those to the mix. Since I have no patience for a double boiler, I put the chopped chocolate into a glass bowl and used the microwave (30 seconds at a time, stirring after each interval).  I stirred in the cream until it was nice and smooth, then poured it in a parchment lined loaf pan and put it in the fridge.

I ended up leaving the chocolate mixture cooling overnight, which was way too long.  When I got around to forming the candy balls, I had to let the chocolate sit out for a little while (okay, at least an hour) before it was malleable enough to shape.  I wore food service gloves to roll the truffles, just to keep the equivalent of an entire truffle from sticking to my palms.  The pistachio rolling went off without a hitch, though I did almost run out of the crunchy pieces.  After smelling the matcha powder, I realized it was much too strong to use an entire tablespoon.  I probably used the equivalent of a teaspoon, and the truffles were just perfect.  DO NOT LICK THE MATCHA POWDER OFF THE TRUFFLES!  It is completely disgusting and only works as part of the bite.  The crunch and salt of the pistachios offsets the rich gooey chocolate perfectly, but the grassy matcha does not stand well alone.  Trust me.


So, at 115 calories per bite, these aren’t exactly diet truffles.   They do boast antioxidant properties and are at least natural.  One is a perfect serving.  They are so rich you really wouldn’t want to eat more than that (well, you might want to, but I wouldn’t recommend it). I gave these to family for Christmas and the decadent balls received rave reviews (as well as some Schweddy comments). I would definitely make them again, and would try rolling in almonds, pecans, or walnuts and dusting with cinnamon or ginger.  I might even try curry powder, but I’m kind of weird that way.


Miso Delight

Chicago has this fantastic thing called Restaurant Week for 10 days in early February.  I believe it originated in New York and has caught on in a few cities, as well as  in our northwest suburbs and even our Edison Park neighborhood.  The premise is this:  restaurants offer a prix fixe tasting menu (lunch or dinner) so you can test out a restaurant that is either out of your price range or out of your culinary comfort zone.  Restaurants usually highlight their best known or most popular dishes (Morton’s signature steak, for example) to get people in the door during what is normally terrible weather here in our slushy city.

A couple of years ago, after about 20 inches of snow fell on our parking challenged streets, Jin, Husband and I went to a fabulous bistro called Browntrout.  One of their Restaurant Week features was a miso ramen bowl, about 2 quarts deep, filled with steamy broth, veggies, a soft boiled egg, and lots of tofu.  It. Was. Incredible.  Sadly, Browntrout’s owners decided to move on to a new project and closed down just a few months later.  I was so sad that I only dined there the one time.

I came across this recipe in November’s Good Housekeeping:

I tore it out, hoping to recreate that miso bowl I had at Browntrout.


  • 8 c. water
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1/2 c. miso paste
  • 4 oz. thin rice noodles
  • 5 oz. baby spinach
  • 1 lb. silken or soft tofu, cut into small cubes
  • 2 tsp. sesame oil
  • 2 hard-cooked eggs, halved


  1. In 4-quart saucepot, heat water and sugar to boiling on high. Reduce heat to medium.
  2. In medium whisk miso paste and 1/2 cup boiling water from pot until smooth. To pot, add rice noodles; cook until tender, stirring. Add spinach, tofu, and sesame oil, miso mixture, stirring until spinach wilts. Serve with eggs.
About 330 cals, 17 g protein, 38 g carbs, 13 g fat (2 g fat), 3 g fiber, 1,375 mg sodium.This recipe came together in no time.  Our water dispenser has a hot and cold water feature, so I measured out the water for my noodles from there and had a boiling pot in a matter of minutes.  I substituted vermicelli for the rice noodles because, clearance pasta.  While the noodles cooked, I handled the rest of the ingredients and boiled the eggs.  My miso didn’t dissolve completely in the 1/2 cup of water, so I threw it in the pot once the noodles were cooked and whisked it a little bit more in there.

Verdict:  Thumbs up!  The broth was salty with a richness from the sesame and the miso.  I was still finding clumps of it even after whisking, so when I make this again, I’d pull at least a cup of water out of the pot to make sure it was completely dissolved (the undissolved clumps were grainy and a little bitter).  I didn’t break up my vermicelli before cooking, so the long strands were awkward to eat (but you are supposed to slurp a noodle bowl, right?). This is a lovely comfort food (I had a little stomach bug yesterday and soup really hit the spot today) that would be casual yet fancy for company.  The easy prep is a huge bonus that would free you up to hang out with your guests.  Definitely a keeper.


Ham & Brown Rice Casserole

We intended to smoke a ham and 2 turkeys for Thanksgiving this year.  Unfortunately, the turkeys took up the entire smoker, so we cooked the ham in the oven (it was already smoked, actually, so we may have done ourselves a favor by heating it indoors). Siiiince we only hosted a party of 7, we had a few leftovers.  I was tearing out recipes from old magazines and figured this would put some of those leftovers to good use.  This casserole (their title, not mine) was in All You on September 19, 2014. I’d call it a rice bowl instead of a casserole.

Prep: 5 min  Cook: 20 min  Serves: 6  Cost per serving: $1.48


14 ounces low-sodium chicken broth
2 1/2 cups chopped cooked ham
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups instant brown rice
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 cups frozen peas


1. In a skillet, combine broth, ham and garlic. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir in rice and season with pepper. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

2. Stir in peas and cook until rice is tender and peas are hot, about 7 minutes longer. Serve immediately.

Simple, and only 212 calories a serving, so a perfect lunch or dinner entree for Client.  I have a cute little rice cooker, so I buy bulk bags of brown rice at Costco and make it in batches (you can throw in vegetables near the end of the cooking time, or make your veggies separately and mix it together at the end).  When I use the rice cooker, I don’t usually use broth, so you could swap out the ham for more veggies or meatless crumbles and make this a vegetarian dish.

I had some leftover brown rice from a recent turkey gumbo, so I repurposed it for this recipe.  Since Client isn’t a big fan of peas, I used fresh green beans and tossed them in with the rice (in the rice cooker) with about 12 minutes left on the timer. Really, you could use any mixed vegetables here.  1 cup each of peas and carrots would add a little more color, or a California blend would switch it up a little.


Verdict:  Great!  Quick and easy.  The ham gave it a smoky and salty flavor, and I loved the chewiness of the rice against the crispy green beans.  Again, any veggies would be great in here–I’m thinking broccoli, crunchy radishes, carrots…the possibilities are endless. This was a perfect lunch a couple of days last week.  Definitely will make this again.

More Soup for You!

When I cook for Client each week, I try to choose some recipes that keep preparations to a minimum.  Working full time and cooking 10 meals a week, plus menu planning, shopping, and culinary class is enough to make my head spin.  So when I saw this recipe for slow cooker soup I was pretty excited, as it freed me up to make 3 other things while this made itself (from All You, 9/19/2014).


2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 28-oz. cans diced tomatoes with juice
1 cup low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
3/4 cup heavy cream, warmed
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper

1. Melt butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring often, until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Add flour and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Transfer to slow cooker.

2. Stir tomatoes with juice, broth and 1/2 cup water into cooker. Cover and cook on low until tomatoes are very soft, 5 to 6 hours. Puree with an immersion blender, then stir in cream and cayenne. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

I followed this recipe to the letter, except I swapped the butter for olive oil and cooked the soup for about 4 hours on high instead of low.  I had chopped several onions before I left for work the day I planned to make this, and since I was using the immersible to blend it all at the end of the cooking time, I didn’t chop more finely than a medium dice.  I took this picture just before I stirred in the last of the cream.


Verdict:  Undecided. The texture was rich and velvety, but when I tasted the soup it was overpoweringly acidic.  I sprinkled in some sugar, which helped, but it was still not a pleasant flavor.  There was a tomato-y flavor, but it was  almost astringent. While writing up this post and re-reading the recipe, I can’t swear that I added the broth and water before cooking!  That’s a pretty big omission.  So when I reheat the leftovers (it made 8 cups), I may add some stock and see if that helps.  This was a very hands-off dish, and I’ll definitely make it again, if only to put my mind at ease about what went wrong.  If I didn’t forget the water and broth, it’s possible that using the high temperature setting on the slow cooker didn’t allow the canned flavor of the tomatoes to cook out.  To combat the acidity, I would add a good half to whole tablespoon of sugar towards the end of the cooking time (before the cream, and taste as you add it), or throw in a carrot while the soup cooks to balance the flavor (I do this for the last 30 minutes of a tomato sauce; remove the carrot and discard when the soup is done).  You could also add an extra half to whole cup more of stock or broth if you don’t like the sugar or carrot idea.  One of these additions should improve the acidity level and make this soup stellar.

Plenty of Pears

Pears are a love ’em or hate ’em fruit.  I love the grainy texture and the coarse skin.  I can eat them raw or cooked, in breakfast or dessert, poached or baked.  My husband cannot stand them raw, but we found out a few years ago that if the pears are cooked (especially in a dessert) he thinks they are delicious.  Cooked pears are the equivalent of apples, he says, and he thinks he could not tell the difference if you told him it was one over the other.

So when I saw this recipe (I think in Costco Connections, either the September or October issue), I was more than willing to give it a try.  Credit was given to Setton Farms in the publication, but I found it online here:

Baked Acorn Squash with Pistachios, Pears and Herbs


2 acorn squash
2 t olive oil
1/4 t each sea salt and ground black pepper
1 cup shelled and diced pistachios
1 red D’Anjou pear, cored and diced
2 t each olive oil, maple syrup, and red wine vinegar
2 fresh rosemary sprigs, finely chopped
10 fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
4 sprigs fresh thyme, finely chopped
1/4 t each sea salt and ground black pepper


Preheat oven to 400º F. Slice squash in half vertically and remove seeds. Place squash cut side up on rimmed baking sheet. Rub with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast 30-35 minutes, or until soft.

While squash bakes, in a medium bowl, mix together nuts, pear, oil, maple syrup, vinegar, herbs, salt and pepper. Divide filling among squash halves. Sprinkle with finely chopped shelled pistachios.

Preheat broiler. Place squash under broiler for about 3 minutes, until golden. Serve warm. Makes 4-6 servings.

This was a pretty easy recipe to put together, especially if you prep the pear and nut filling while the squash is roasting.  I used regular old Bartlett pears that were VERY ripe and juicy, but they still held their shape when I cut them up.  I still have fresh rosemary and thyme from the garden– I can’t believe how well it is holding up in the fridge!  By the way, I never chop fresh thyme.  The leaves are so small I find it a waste of time.  I just zip them off the stems and call it a day.  If you don’t have pure maple syrup you could substitute honey.  I omitted the mint because I didn’t have any.  These things happen, and one must adapt.


My broiler and I do not get along.  I use the broiler. I set the timer. I check the progress. I sniff the air to check for burning (or flames– like that time I was broiling burgers and the foil caught fire.  No matter what precautions I take, I ALWAYS end up charring at least part of the food.  So you can see the edges of the squash are a little black, and I scooped out a couple of pistachios that burned up in the process.  Luckily, I caught it early so the dish was not ruined.  That char scraped right off.

Verdict:  Hooray!  This is a hearty main or a little side depending on the size of your squash (I had part of one half as a side with dinner one night, and the other half as a lunch entree at work later in the week).  I loved the bites of rosemary– sometimes it sneaks up on you while you are chewing (I love bitter flavors, but I know not everyone is a fan, so be forewarned) and you get that moment of  “Oh! What IS that!”  The pistachios were toasty and crunchy, and the pears and squash really paired well, texturally and flavor-wise.  I would definitely make this again, and may or may not try the “correct” pears and the mint.  I was pretty happy with how this one turned out.  Except for my broiler.  The jerk.



Veggie Lo Mein

 Sneaking a lot of vegetables into a meal is a great way to feel full, up your fiber intake, and forget that it’s meatless Monday (or whatever day).  We try to go meatless at least once a week, and this lo mein caught my eye for several reasons:  a plethora of end-of-season farmer carrots, Costco edamame in my freezer, and clearance spaghetti (2 whopping 32 oz. boxes for ridiculously cheap).  This is a current find–I caught up on some magazine reading on a recent long weekend away–from Good Housekeeping’s September 2015 issue.


  • 8 oz. whole-grain spaghetti
  • 10 oz. frozen chopped broccoli
  • 1 1/2 c. frozen shelled edamame
  • 2 c. shredded carrots
  • 10 oz. baby spinach
  • 2 tbsp. toasted sesame oil
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 tsp. fresh ginger, grated and peeled
  • 1/4 c. plus 1 tsp. lower-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 4 large eggs


  1. Cook spaghetti in large pot of boiling water as label directs. Just before draining add broccoli, edamame, carrots, and spinach. Drain well; set aside.
  2. In same pot, heat toasted sesame oil on medium-high. Add onion, thinly sliced; cook 5 minutes. Add grated peeled fresh ginger, soy sauce, and balsamic vinegar. Cook 1 minute. Add eggs, beaten; cook 2 minutes without stirring. Add noodle mixture; cook, tossing, 2 minutes or until heated through.

I made a couple of modifications to this recipe.  My broccoli was fresh, as was my spinach.  I microwaved the frozen edamame for 2 minutes (the package says 3-4 minutes to fully prepare) just to make it possible to shell.  I added all the veggies to the pasta pot with about 3 minutes left to cook.  I like my vegetables crisp-tender, so if you don’t like the crunch you could put your veggies in the boiling water a little sooner.  After draining and cooling slightly, I threw everything into a gallon zip bag and put it in the fridge to finish later.

For step 2, I followed the recipe.  I didn’t find the eggs were set enough after 2 minutes; when I stirred in the noodles the eggs coated them and mostly disappeared (the GH picture shows beautiful clumps of scrambled looking eggs).  I’d give them at least another minute before stirring.  I wouldn’t want them to overcook, either, because rubbery eggs are blecch.  Since my noodles came from the fridge, it’s possible that their temperature affected how the eggs continued to cook.


Verdict: Yum!  I took this to work for lunch and the sesame and ginger flavors were warm and pungent.  They veggies were tender and the noodles held up to reheating well.  I would make this again, cook the eggs longer before stirring, and maybe switch up the veggies just for variety.