Cooking for your Health: Homemade Granola Bars

Cooking for your Health: Homemade Granola Bars

In this installment of Cooking for your Health, the theme is brain food: Healthy high energy snack food that’s a perfect pick-me-up during the work or school day or following a workout, providing a nutritional boost of energy which improves concentration and stamina. A diet rich in iron, B vitamins, essential fatty acids and complex carbohydrates comprises a winning menu for your brain, increasing focus and memory. While nailing the nutrition may be easier to accomplish when preparing a sit-down meal, it’s often difficult to find in a snack when you are grabbing food on the go. What can you eat that’s portable, delicious and healthy? Look no further than these homemade granola bars.

The beauty of homemade granola bars is that you can pick and choose your ingredients, omitting excess sugars, fat and additives without sacrificing flavor. These granola bars are studded with dried fruit and nuts, including anti-oxidant rich blueberries and almonds, B-vitamin heavy lifters oats, coconut and wheat germ, and coconut oil which provides lauric acid, known for its anti-oxidant and antibacterial properties. Come to think about it, snacking never felt or tasted so good.

Homemade Granola Bars

Feel free to substitute the fruit with other dried fruit such as raisins, cherries, dates or figs to your taste. Walnuts may be used in place of the almonds. Recipe adapted from Ina Garten. Makes approximately 24 small bars.

2 cups old fashioned oats
3/4 cup coarsely chopped raw almonds
1/2 cup unsweetened grated coconut
1/2 cup raw wheat germ
3 tablespoons coconut oil or unsalted butter
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup honey
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup dried blueberries
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots

Preheat the oven to 350 F/180 C. Butter a 9 inch by 12 inch (20 x 30 cm.) baking pan. Line with parchment and butter the parchment. Toss oats, almonds, coconut and wheat germ together in a bowl. Pour onto a rimmed baking sheet and spread evenly. Bake until fragrant and lightly toasted, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from oven and reduce temperature to 300 F/150 C. Heat coconut oil, brown sugar and honey in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and whisk in the vanilla, cinnamon and salt. Pour over the oats, mixing to thoroughly combine. Stir in the dried fruit. Spread batter in the prepared pan, spreading to firmly and evenly distribute. Bake in oven until golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove and cool completely in pan until firm, at least 2 hours. Cut into squares or rectangles. Store at room temperature in an airtight container.

Sweet Pepper, Salami and Basil Pizza

Sweet Pepper, Salami and Basil Pizza

It’s pizza night tonight – no take out necessary. I’ve got dough defrosting in the refrigerator from my last pizza night. All that’s needed are a few ingredients from the refrigerator, and it’s as simple as that. The next time you make homemade pizza, be sure to make extra dough to freeze. Then when it’s suddenly pizza night, you can whip one up as easy as ….

Sweet Pepper, Salami and Basil Pizza

Pizza dough for one extra-large pizza (recipe below)

1/2 cup  tomato sauce (recipe below)
3 ounces salami or pepperoni
1 cup thinly sliced sweet peppers
1 cup basil leaves, torn in half
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 500 F. Stretch out pizza dough in a large rectangular shape on parchment paper.
Spread a thin layer of tomato sauce over crust, leaving one inch clear around the edge of the crust. Arrange salami over pizza. Scatter peppers and basil over the salami. Sprinkle with cheese. Brush the exposed crust with olive oil.
Slide the parchment and pizza onto a baking stone on lowest rack in oven. Bake until crust is golden brown and cheese is bubbly, about 12-15 minutes. Serve immediately.

Tomato Sauce
Makes 1 cup

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 15-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes, with juice
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Heat olive oil in a saucepan. Add garlic and saute until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add tomatoes. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally and breaking up tomatoes, until sauce is thickened, about 30 minutes. Add salt and pepper.

Pizza Dough Recipe
Adapted from a recipe by Alice Waters. Makes 1 extra large or 2 medium pizza crusts.

2 teaspoons dry yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup semolina flour
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cups cold water
1/4 cup olive oil

Stir yeast and lukewarm water together in a bowl. Add 1/4 cup all-purpose flour and semolina. Mix well. Let sit until bubbly, about 30 minutes. Combine remaining flour and salt in another bowl. Add to yeast with cold water and olive oil. Mix well to form a dough. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead with hands until dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. (Or use a mixer with a dough hook, and knead about 5 minutes.) Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl and turn to coat all sides with oil. Cover bowl loosely with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 1 to 2 hours. Punch dough down, and let rise another 45 minutes. Divide dough into 2 equal disks (or 4 if you would like small pizzas.) Let rest 30 minutes before shaping. Lightly flour a work surface. Using your fingers or heels of your hands, stretch the disks out to desired shape.

Homemade Bratwurst and a recipe for Beer Mustard

Homemade Bratwurst and a recipe for Beer Mustard

~ Homemade Bratwurst and a recipe for Beer Mustard ~

This month’s Charcutepalooza challenge had the whiff of Oktoberfest. Not only were we asked to make and stuff more sausages, we were asked to blend and emulsify the meat filling to a consistency found in a hot dog, bratwurst or weisswurst. I chose the bratwurst, partly for it’s happy collaboration with beer and partly for its relative ease compared to the hotdog. Baby steps, please!

As I embarked on this challenge over the July 4th weekend, I envisioned dirndls, sauerkraut and good strong mustard in my future. Somehow a trip to Europe has eluded us this summer, but, by golly, if we can’t make it back for a visit, then I will bring Europe home to my California kitchen. I spent the better part of a day on  this challenge, which provided much thoughtful time to reflect on how I would title this post. Here are a few of the contenders:

How to make a Danish family happy:
Yes, my husband is Danish and bratwurst is German. At the end of the day, they share a border, and, while their history may have been a tad testy, these 2 countries also share a culinary love for sausages. In Denmark, sausage is the fast food of choice, with carts distributed wherever people roam. While I may be hunting down a cup of coffee upon international arrival from the U.S., my husband will sidle up to the nearest airport sausage cart with both of our kids in tow, and order a flight of pølse with mustard, bacon and crispy onions. Apparently his gene pool is the strongest.

How to train a terrier:
Or, more specifically, the unflinching interest my dog is showing in me while making bratwurst is unsettling. I have never succeeded in getting our terrier to consistently obey me. Now I know how.

Why a power hose should be our next new kitchen gadget:
Sausage, sausage everywhere…on the counters, on the floor, in the sink, in the bowls, in the mixer, in the grinder, in my hair, under my nails, on my clothes and countless kitchen towels.  And did I mention that my dog is intently staring at me?

The difference between white pepper and black pepper: 
White pepper is traditionally used in dishes that should not show dark flecks of black pepper. But visuals are not the only difference. White pepper has a potent spiced flavor which, in large amounts, I don’t care for. Too bad I only figured that out after I added a heaping spoonful to the filling.

Familiarity breeds contempt:
I am 6 hours into the meat stuffing process, which includes handling, chopping, chilling, grinding, chilling, mixing, frying, tasting, chilling, stuffing, chilling, poaching, frying and tasting ground, blended meat. I think I’ll tuck these babies away in the freezer and take a time out.  Then I can rename this title to: Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

I could be watching Wimbledon and sipping Pimms right now:
But, no, I am blending and stuffing bratwurst in the company of my dog. Pass the sauerkraut and a beer, please.

Mustard makes everything taste better:
Especially when everything involves sausage. Truth be told, these were quite tasty, and my family gobbled them up (see title #1). I pan-fried the bratwurst and served them with thick slices of country-style bread, mustard and sauerkraut. As we ate the bratwurst, we watched Wimbledon highlights and enjoyed an ice cold Danish beer. The EU is alive and strong in Northern California.

Homemade Beer Mustard

Begin the mustard at least two days before serving. Makes 1/2 cup. (Recipe may be doubled.)

1/4 cup yellow mustard seeds
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup dark beer
1 tablespoon dried mustard
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

Combine mustard seeds, vinegar and beer together in a non-reactive bowl. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Transfer mustard and liquid to a small saucepan. Bring to a boil; immediately remove from heat. Cool to room temperature. Transfer to a food processor or blender. Add remaining ingredients and purée. Transfer to a glass jar or container and refrigerate overnight. Mustard may be stored in refrigerator for up to two weeks.

What is Charcutepalooza?
An inspirational idea hatched by Cathy Barrow and Kim Foster and partnering with Food52 and Punk Domestics. It celebrates a Year in Meat, where participating foodies and bloggers will cure, smoke and salt their way through Michael Ruhlman’s bestselling cookbook Charcuterie.

The Pig Chronicles – Home Cured Ham


OK, I am going for it.  I put a call in to my foodie friend, Diana. I need to find a pig.  Well, actually just a part of a pig, but ideally attached to a living member of a farm community, blissfully nibbling away in an area that is kind to people and animals alike – Sonoma County, California.  Bliss and terroir are important. The pig should be happy, organically raised, and living from a local, natural diet that will impact the flavor of its meat.  I can’t dictate the nature of the geography, but my guess is that Sonoma county is not a bad place to start.

My back-up plan is to purchase a leg directly from an organic meat producer.  I had a nice chat with the man at the Prather Ranch table at the farmers’ market this morning, and he can help me out if I cannot adopt a pig.  Prather Ranch is located near Mt. Shasta, and as environments go, this is a very nice one, too. This would also sort out a dilemma I face (sorry) which is my own cowardice/hypocrisy/whatever-you-want-to-label-it: while I will happily invest in a pig’s welfare, upbringing, diet and care, I would prefer not to meet it.  It would be too difficult to face later.

So, I will own a quarter of a pig, or a leg, or however I am able to arrange it.  What I am specifically interested in is its rear end.  You see, I am after a ham, because I am determined to try and air-dry my own.  Salted, air-dried ham, or prosciutto, as I prefer to call it, is a favorite in our family diet.  We’ve been known to seek out obscure villages and towns  in our travels just to taste their air-dried ham and meat specialties. It’s also a frequent guest on my blog.  The lynchpin for me was when we visited Anna at the wonderful Villa Gioianna last month, and she showed us the hams she had air-drying in the cave of her turn of the century villa in Umbria.  Encased in salt, they had been hanging for months, while a man from the nearby village would come round weekly or so to see how they were drying and add more salt.  At that moment, I knew, I had to get my own pig.  Or at least its rear-end.

This will be a long process – up to half a year – and I will blog about it as it progresses.  My only wishes  at the outset are (1) finding a space that is consistently cool (60 F.) on our property in California  and (2) that my husband won’t be relocated.