Feeling Crunchy? Make Granola!

This weekend, Virginia gave us a taste of summer. When temperatures started climbing, I got my butt out the door to enjoy the ever-increasing hours of daylight. The general warmup has inspired me to go to the river several times already this year. The appearance of local spring vegetables and the blooming of flowers all around me remind me of what’s to come.

Summer will be here before we know it, and if today’s weather (at highs in the upper eighties) is any indication, it’s coming early this year. The warm temperatures always make me want to come out of hibernation and do spring and summery things, so I have been having a wonderful time in the great outdoors. Last week, I went to the river in the late afternoon to read a good book and catch some rays before sunset.

Today, I rode my new bike for the first time! My old bike was a great starter bicycle, and I got good use out of it over the last year or so, but I recently decided I was ready for an upgrade. I bought a Torker Graduate a few weeks ago from Carytown Bicycle Co. and I finally went on a short ride today to test it out. I met up with Adrienne and Liz to ride from Ellwood Thompson’s to Byrd Park. I had a great time and so far I love my new bike. I can’t wait to log some more miles though and really get a feel for it. I want to ride so much that I get to know my bike so well that it feels like an extension of my body. That would be really badass, right? I hope to someday be that legit.

Maybe it’s all the time in the great outdoors that made me want to make granola this week. Hiking, biking, gardening, hanging out at the river. . . it turns you crunchy if you weren’t already there. Lately I have been reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and it makes me want to cook and bake everything from scratch. The nice warm weather has me yearning for summery flavors, like mango and coconut.

If you are ready for your fix of summer, or if you just want a great snack for hitting the trails, this homemade granola is very easy and inexpensive to make. This mango coconut variation on my basic granola recipe feels tropical and tastes sweet and delicious. It stands up well to milk to make a cold cereal, and it works wonderfully in a parfait. I layered my mango coconut granola with vanilla yogurt and sliced bananas for an afternoon snack, and I almost felt like I had been transported to an island.

If mango coconut isn’t your thing, try out my basic granola recipe and substitute your own mix-ins. I think my next batch will feature dried cherries and chocolate chips. Yum!

Mango Coconut Granola

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups old fashioned oats
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • 1/4 cup unsalted sunflower seeds
  • 2 Tbsp golden flax seeds, fresh ground
  • 1/8 cup coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp coconut extract
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup dried mangos (unsweetened, diced, and dehydrated- I used the Bare Fruit variety)

Preparation

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Combine the oats, coconut, almonds, sunflower seeds, and ground flax seeds in a medium-sized mixing bowl.
  3. Combine oil, honey, and brown sugar over medium heat in a small sauce pan. Bring to a simmer then remove from the heat and whisk to combine.
  4. Carefully pour the oil-honey-sugar mixture over the granola and stir to combine. Add vanilla and coconut extracts, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt and toss all ingredients together.
  5. Pour the granola mixture onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Use a wooden spoon to spread it into an even layer.
  6. Bake in preheated oven for 8-10 minutes, then stir to turn over and return to oven for 8-10 additional minutes at 325 degrees F. Granola should be golden brown when finished; remember to take it out before it gets too crispy or it will taste burnt! For a color guide, see my original granola post.

Mango Coconut Granola Parfait

For a tasty and refreshing parfait, simply layer your favorite yogurt with mango coconut granola and fresh sliced banana, mango, or the fruit of your choice. This works great for a nutritious breakfast or snack that will stick with you throughout your day.

Here’s to more sunny days to come!

Honey Oat Pancakes

I turned 25 this year and my quarter-life milestone (fingers crossed) coincided with a lot of changes. I started a new job. I joined a soccer team for the first time in 8 years. I started using anti-aging eye cream. I went blonde for 4 months, then back to brunette. I shelled out the cash for DVR.

But let’s focus on the soccer, shall we? I hadn’t played since high school when I started again this spring. I wasn’t very good but I had a lot of fun. . . if you call head-to-toe muscle soreness for 43% of your life “fun.” All kidding aside, I am so glad I started up again. I am also surprised and delighted that my team agreed to have me back for the fall season and didn’t try to pass me off on some other suckers in the pre-season draft.

When the season started two weeks ago, I wanted to make a good impression on my teammates. Kick some ass and show them I ate my Wheaties that morning. Only I don’t eat Wheaties. I chose to eat this instead. I am oh so glad I did.

These whole wheat pancakes have a touch of honey in the batter and hearty oats throughout. The hint of orange zest wakes you up , and the wholesome grains keep you full all morning. I ran ninety minutes while full of energy and I wasn’t hungry after, so these pancakes clearly go to work for you.

Honey Oat Pancakes (serves 2)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 tsp real vanilla extract
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/4 tsp orange zest
  • Cooking spray

Preparation:

  1. Combine dry ingredients (flour through salt) in a medium bowl.
  2. Add wet ingredients (milk through egg) and stir to combine. Add the orange zest and stir.
  3. Heat a pan or electric griddle over low-medium heat. Coat with cooking spray.
  4. Drop pancake batter on heated pan for desired size pancakes. When air bubbles are visible throughout the pancake and the bottom turns golden brown, flip over and cook for another minute or two more, then remove to a plate.

Whole wheat pancakes tend to be a little on the dry side, so make sure you have toppings available. Maple syrup, drizzled honey, Greek yogurt, fresh fruit or fruit compote work well.

Not a bad discovery for 25. I loved these so much I made them twice in one week. I suppose there are worse habits you could pick up. Do yourself a favor and make these pancakes this weekend. Who knows what you will be inspired to do?

And for that matter. . . Who knows what color my hair will be next? Who knows if this eye cream is actually working? Who knows if I’ll ever be good at soccer again?

At least the pancakes are a sure thing.

Blueberry Breakfast Cookies

I have discussed before that I have a hard time getting ready in the morning. I’m not exactly a morning person, and it is a constant struggle for me to get dressed, fed, caffeinated, and out the door on time. A few mornings a week, Kyle sleeps later than me and I have to get ready in the dark, which compounds the problem. I brainstormed solutions about a month ago, and oatmeal breakfast cookies were born. If you have trouble fitting a healthy breakfast into your morning routine, and if you’re like me and you typically put yourself together while stumbling around in the dark, this handheld serving of oatmeal might be for you too.

Candlelight is superior to lamplight when you are stealthily eating cookies in the wee hours of the morning while your partner sleeps, peaceful and cookieless.

I’ve created another version of these cookies, and they are even more delicious than Breakfast Cookie 1.0, originally posted here. They are the perfect on-the-go breakfast for those mornings that you find yourself feeling around the furniture to make your way to the shower in total darkness, banging your knees on dressers and ironing boards, stepping on your pet’s tail, tumbling over as the cat spitefully trips you by running in between your unsteady feet, and struggling to match the colors of your work outfit through squinty eyes.

When you finally make it out the door alive, this cookie is a blissful reward for your morning commute that helps you get energy and prepare for your day. It centers and calms you so much that you might not have a nervous breakdown when you notice that your knees aren’t the only combo of black and blue that you’re sporting today, as you realize that you have matched navy blue tights to your jet black pencil skirt. Full of all the things that make you happy and healthy, and determined to help you start your day out right, here it is:

The Black and Blueberry Breakfast Cookie


Ingredients:

  • 2 large bananas, mashed
  • 1 apple, peeled, cored, and pureed in a food processor (add some of the milk early if you need some liquid to get it going)
  • 1/4 cup skim milk
  • 2 cups uncooked quick-cooking oats
  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
  • 1/8 cup unsweetened, shredded coconut + 1/8 cup sliced almonds (or 1/4 cup of any combination of nuts)
  • 1/4 cup semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 4 teaspoons honey

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Let this mixture stand for ten minutes to let the oats soften. One time I let it stand for about 30 mins in the refrigerator and it was even better.
  3. Divide mixture into six large mounds and place the dough mounds onto a greased cookie sheet, 2 inches apart from one another.
  4. Bake for 20 minutes and let cool.
  5. Refrigerate in an airtight container up to a week.

This cookie goes well with a homemade iced coffee and a positive attitude. Now go forth and kick some ass!

My OOIAJ is better than your OOIAJ

In case you haven’t heard of them, OOIAJ = overnight oats in a jar and they are delicious. Today, I did them right. These might be the best overnight oats I’ve ever had.

You say, “but Lauren, it’s twenty degrees outside. Why would you eat cold oats in the morning?”

To you, I say: I love overnight oats. I love nutella. And when you have an empty jar of nutella, you make overnight oats in a nutella jar. Don’t even talk to me about hot oats in a jar. Nutella OIAJ is a dish best served cold. Bundle up and enjoy it.

In an almost-empty nutella jar, combine: 1/2 cup oats, 1/2 cup skim milk, 1/2 cup vanilla yogurt (I used Dannon light & fit), dash of cinnamon. Stir, cover with the jar lid, and place in refrigerator overnight.

In the morning, the oats will have soaked up the moisture and become mushy. Top them with sliced or mashed banana and chopped hazelnuts. Delish!

“Banana and nutella. It’s like tomato and basil.” –Richard Blais

 

Oatmeal Breakfast Cookies

I have this little habit that is draining my bank account, cramping my morning routine and expanding my waistline. But it feels so good!  It’s my Starbucks habit and it is out of control. I know I’m not alone on this one but that doesn’t make it any better.

ADDICT!

 

Honestly, it’s not the coffee that bothers me; it’s the pastry case. The coffee is a necessity that I simply cannot start my day without. The pumpkin bread or breakfast sandwich is just an add-on that I find hard to resist. Why do I continue to buy Starbucks food? Time.

Mornings are usually somewhat of a fire drill for me. I am not really a morning person (although I really really wish I was!) so getting out of the house on time for work in the morning in the appropriate attire, with makeup and hair done, and equipped with everything I need for the day, is a little miracle every morning Monday through Friday. To also have coffee prepared and breakfast eaten by that time is nearly impossible. So I grab coffee and food on the run and eat while I am driving to work. Enter Starbucks, enemy of my wallet and waistband.

On the weekend and on my days off, I enjoy oatmeal or cereal for breakfast and I make coffee at home. My favorite breakfast is a big bowl of oatmeal loaded with toppings like nuts and dried fruit, and drizzled with honey or maple syrup. I love the taste and the texture and I love how it fills me up until lunch time rolls around. I have tried to enjoy a bowl of oatmeal before work in the morning but it is hard for me to find the time.

What I really need is to be able to eat oatmeal while I am driving to work. Due to the safety concerns that I have about using a spoon while steering to scoop hot liquids out of a bowl and into my mouth, I haven’t tried it yet. Richmond drivers, thank me later. Fortunately, I will never have to try it because I have found a solution.

Behold, the oatmeal breakfast cookie.

This photo was totally taken on the weekend. As if I have the luxury of waiting for the sun to come up before I have to go to work.

I modified a recipe that I found here and came up with a pretty awesome breakfast that tastes just like my beloved morning oatmeal, except it’s in my hand. Which leaves one hand free for driving to work. Maybe now I can get my act together enough to make coffee so I won’t have to stop at Starbucks at all! (Don’t hold your breath.)

Even if I do need to make an espresso run in the AM, at least I won’t be tempted by the pastry case. I plan to make these on Sunday nights and have them ready to go throughout the week so I can grab and go in the mornings. They aren’t super sweet like dessert cookies because they are breakfast, although I might up the amount of honey or substitute maple syrup in the next batch. They are just sweet enough to not be bland. Either way, this is a great basic recipe that I (and you!) can modify at whim.

Oatmeal Breakfast Cookies


Ingredients:

  • 3 mashed bananas (ripe)
  • 1/4 cup apple sauce
  • 2 cups uncooked quick-cooking oats
  • 1/4 cup skim milk
  • 1/2 cup sweetened dried cranberries (or any other dried fruit you want to add)
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds (or any other chopped nut)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp honey

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Let this mixture stand for ten minutes to let the oats soften.
  3. Divide mixture into six large mounds and place the dough mounds onto a greased cookie sheet, 2 inches apart from one another.
  4. Bake for 20 minutes and let cool.
  5. Refrigerate in an airtight container up to a week.

I have even included the nutritional information (estimated) from Spark Recipes here, in case you are interested:

Nutrition Facts – Oatmeal Breakfast Cookies

Enjoy!

Homemade Granola

During my visit to my hometown over Thanksgiving weekend, I picked up a bag of some of the most delicious granola I have ever tasted:

Michele’s Granola!

I tasted some of the pumpkin spice granola at a local coffee shop and was immediately hooked. I bought the 12 oz. size for around $7.50 and enjoyed every single oat and nut cluster in the whole bag. As the weekend drew nearer, the bag felt lighter and lighter. When I could see the brown paper at the bottom of the sack of granola, I panicked.

I considered stocking up on the stuff (which I highly recommend) but when I added up the cost of 2-3 months’ worth of Michele’s Granola and considered the impending drain on my bank account around the holidays, I figured there had to be a more cost effective way to get my fix. It was time to make some homemade granola. And it was a great way to get the holiday-related baking itch out of my system, without gaining 5 pounds of cookie dough around my midsection.

I burned the first batch while texting my friends about how awesome I was for making my own granola. The second batch was perfection. I did dump a whole batch of burnt granola in the trash, but on the bright side, now I can show you a color reference so you can tell the difference between “too long in the oven” and “just right.”

too long in the oven

just right 🙂

Speaking of bright sides, I replaced my 100-watt soft white kitchen light bulb with a GE Reveal light bulb, which is supposed to mimic daylight. This is particularly important for photographing your late night cooking and baking adventures for your food blog. No matter how hard I try, I rarely cook an entire dish during the 6 hours of daylight we get this time of year. I thought, “this light bulb will save me!”

At first, the only thing it revealed was the horrifying collection of crumbs on my kitchen floor that I couldn’t even see in normal light. However it also improved the lighting situation for my photos so I am proud to present to you my 11:00 PM granola adventure, in all its GE Reveal glory.

Basic Granola

Ingredients

  • 2 cups old fashioned oats
  • 1/4 cup shredded coconut
  • 1/2 cup unsalted nuts (I used almonds, but any nut will do)
  • 1/4 cup unsalted sunflower seeds
  • 1/8 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Optional: 1/2 cup other mix-ins (dried fruit, chocolate chips, etc)

Preparation

1.Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

2. Combine the oats, coconut, nuts, and seeds in a medium-sized mixing bowl.

3. Combine oil and honey over medium heat in a small sauce pan. You may add the brown sugar at this step or in the next one. Bring to a boil then remove from the heat and whisk to combine. It will look a little angry when it starts to boil, but it will be OK. This is necessary to get the honey to jive with all the other ingredients when you toss everything together.

4. Carefully pour the oil-honey mixture over the granola and stir to combine. Add brown sugar if you have not already. Add vanilla, cinnamon, and salt and toss all ingredients together.

5. Pour the granola mixture onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Use a wooden spoon to spread it into an even layer.

6. Bake in preheated oven for ten minutes, then stir to turn over and return to oven for ten additional minutes at 325 degrees F.

Make yourself a cup of tea while you wait.

7. Remove from oven and sprinkle mix-ins over the top of the granola. Let the granola cool completely on the baking sheet before packing in an airtight container. Granola should keep for 1-2 weeks, although I doubt it will last that long!

I made a few variations of this granola and all varieties made fine accompaniments to our weekend activities. The cinnamon raisin went well with Saturday hiking.

And the gingerbread version was great for Sunday decorating.

When inspiration strikes, I hope you find this granola a fun and easy snack to go along with whatever you get yourself into this winter.

For more holiday baking ideas, check out Brittany’s 12 Days of Cookies over at Eating Bird Food. My persimmon cookies were featured last week, and all of the other cookies she has highlighted look delicious too!

The “I Can’t Resist Posting About Pumpkin” Post

I love this time of year – have I said that before?

I always enjoy the transition to fall ingredients, especially the sudden abundance of pumpkin. I usually celebrate with pumpkin-flavored lattes, beers, and of course pie. This year, I am inspired to use pumpkin even more. I am looking forward to snagging my Mom’s pumpkin soup recipe and making it on my own for the first time. I would also like to take a crack at this pumpkin coconut curry I have heard so much about. And there is a spicy fall stew baked in a pumpkin that I have wanted to make for two years. 2010 might be the year that I go for it.

For now, I am experimenting with a big can of 100% pumpkin puree. I am finding that it isn’t just for pie and that it’s a great ingredient to have in your pantry this time of year. Here are two ways that I used pumpkin puree today.

Maple Pumpkin Oatmeal with Walnuts

It is about to start raining here again for a few days. It isn’t always easy to jump out of bed in the morning when you are cozy under your covers and listening to the soft patter of the rain on the windows. This oatmeal is definitely worth the few minutes of extra preparation (a little more prep and a little less sleep).

Ingredients:

1/2 cup oats

1 cup water

2-3 Tbsp canned pumpkin puree

1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

1/8 tsp ground nutmeg

1 Tbsp maple syrup (or 2 Tbsp if you have a sweet tooth)

A palmful of walnut pieces

Preparation:

1. Mix the oats, water, pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, and maple syrup in a microwave safe bowl or mug.

2. Microwave on high for 2.5-3 minutes or until cooked.

3. Top with walnuts and enjoy!

This is also tasty with the addition of a handful of raisins. I can’t wait to try it with chocolate chips too.

Pumpkin Coffee Smoothie

This is a great way to get that delicious pumpkin latte taste on the days that a cold beverage would be more satisfying than a big mug of pumpkin spice. In Central Virginia, we tend to have warm weather throughout October and I am not always in the mood for a hot drink. This was so fast and easy to make that I prepared it in about 5 minutes on my lunch break then hopped in my car to head back to the office. My coworkers looked at me kind of funny when I told them what I was drinking, but I think they were just jealous.

Ingredients:

1 cup cold coffee

1/3 cup milk

3-4 Tbsp canned pumpkin puree

1 Tbsp brown sugar (oh yes…)

1/4 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp cinnamon

3-4 ice cubes

Preparation:

Combine ingredients in blender and blend until smooth. Add one straw. Bliss.