Thursday, January 30, 2014

Easy Homemade Granola

I have been wanting to try my hand at making my own granola. I've seen it done quite a few times, but never attempted it myself until yesterday. I have no idea why I waited so long, because it is so incredibly simple!
   If you've never had granola it's a mixture of oats, nuts and anything else you feel like throwing in, tossed with a syrup and then baked/dried out until it's sweet, crunchy and delicious. I chose to make mine fruit-free this time, but any dried fruits can easily be mixed in at the end.  Some chocolate would be a welcome addition also . . . but I'm a chocoholic so I think it belongs in most things. :)
   If you are looking for an easy way to add some crunch to your morning or mid-day snack, this granola is it. You can sprinkle it on any sweet breakfast item: e.g. yogurt, fruit, pancakes, waffles, etc. (You can even cook it INTO your pancakes and waffles and it elevates them to a whole new level!) You can keep a bag of it on hand to snack on as is. Or you can even pour some in a bowl with a splash of milk and eat it like cereal. It's satisfying and pretty healthy (especially if you use coconut oil like I did).
   I adapted a recipe written by Alton Brown, because he is a culinary genius. I often turn to his recipes for inspiration. His granola recipe was good, but I think I made it better. :)

    OK. Enough talking, let me show you how easy it really is.
**Update April 2016. I have since adopted a healthier approach to my eating habits, and have eliminated all highly processed ingredients, and eat as organic as possible. As a result, I have tweaked this recipe a bit. If you're interested in my healthier take on this yummy granola, just see the adjusted recipe at the end of this post. :)

First, put the oats, nuts, coconut and brown sugar into a large bowl. I like to use the 3,2,1 ratio. 3 cups oats, 2 cups nuts and 1 cup coconut. I used what nuts I had on hand, so that was sliced almonds and pecans but really any nut that is your favorite would work great. Same goes for the coconut. If you don't like it (which I find hard to imagine) you can swap it out for any other dry mix-in of your choice. Bran cereal is a nice choice that adds extra nutrition too.  Stir it all together and set it aside.

Then, in another bowl or measuring cup (like I used) measure out the maple syrup (100% pure maple syrup only please), salt and oil. I used coconut oil and it's solid at room temperature, until heated.

So I measured out what I needed (1/4 cup) . . .

and then warmed it all up for about 30 seconds until the coconut oil was melted.

The oil will just sit on top of the maple syrup, though so you need to stir or whisk them together until thoroughly combined. (I just used the measuring spoon I had already dirtied while measuring the maple syrup.)

Then pour the mixture over the oats, nuts, coconut and brown sugar.

Stir it VERY well, until every little piece is coated with the syrup.

Then pour mixture onto two cookie sheet - half on each please.

And spread it out into an even layer.

Bake on the top 1/3 of your oven @ 250F for 1 hour and 15 minutes. . .

stirring ever 15 minutes to ensure even browning.

When it's done it will be golden brown and crunchy. (It gets even more crunchy as it cools.) See the pieces that are clumped together, making nuggets of all the ingredients? Those are the best part! But it's all delicious.

Nothing left to do, but eat it! This is the way me and my kids had it for breakfast. . . But if it lasts much longer I have many plans for all this goodness.

Here's the recipe:
adapted from Alton Brown's Granola

Easy Homemade Granola

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup sliced almonds (or any nut of your choice)
1 cup pecans, roughly chopped (or any nut of your choice)
1 cup shredded sweet coconut
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted (or veg oil)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup organic

Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.
In a large bowl, combine the oats, nuts, coconut, and brown sugar.
In another bowl or measuring cup, combine maple syrup, oil, and salt. Combine both mixtures and pour onto 2 sheet pans. Cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes to achieve an even color.
Remove from oven and transfer into a large bowl. Add dried fruit (if using) and mix until evenly distributed. Store in an air-tight container.

Healthier Homemade Granola

3 organic old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup organic sliced almonds (or any nut of your choice)
1 cup organic pecans, roughly chopped (or any nut of your choice)
1 cup organic, unsweetened shredded or flaked coconut
1 cup organic raw pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons organic pure maple syrup
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons organic coconut oil, melted 
3/4 teaspoon ground Himalayan pink salt

Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.
In a large bowl, combine the oats, nuts, seeds and coconut.
In another bowl or measuring cup, combine maple syrup, oil, and salt. Combine both mixtures and pour onto 2 sheet pans. Cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes, rotating the pans half way through. (You can stir it every 15 minutes if you want it broken up, or just leave it if you want clusters/chunks.)
Remove from oven and let cool. You can transfer it to a large bowl, and stir in 1 cup of organic dried fruit, but I never do. Store in an air-tight container.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Lasagna Cups

I have made these twice in the last week because they were such a hit! They are the perfect party food, or family dinner on the go. Each little cup is a mini-personal lasagna that has insanely good crunchy corners (the ones sticking up and making the pretty flower shape) and soft and meaty/cheesy goodness throughout. If you didn't want to take the time to make individual lasagna cups, you can ditch the wonton wrappers and use regular lasagna noodles to make a traditional 9x13 family sized lasagna. (I have also doubled the Italian sausage and made a 10x15 sized dish with no problem.) But the cups are pure genius! It's my 7 year old's new favorite food. You should try it this way at least once.

Like any lasagna, there are multiple steps, but none of them are difficult, they just take a little planning. This is definitely not a "dinner in a hurry" but it's worth every minute. I was inspired to make them this way because of the lasagna cupcakes that I saw on the Food Network one morning, but I wanted to use my own lasagna recipe. (Which incidentally I have never taken the time to write down until now. I usually just cook it by look, taste and feel. I still have no idea how much cheese I use. I just put enough on until it looks right. At least you have the pictures so you can see what it looks like too.)

I start by browning my meat. I doubled my recipe on this day, so I had to do my meat in batches. First I browned my ground turkey. (Just cooked it over medium high heat, while breaking it up into pieces using a spoon or potato masher, until all the meat is brown and cooked through.) If you are not using a lean ground meat, you will want to drain off all the grease. Beef and bison are both good substitutes if you didn't want to use ground turkey.

Then I cooked my Italian sausage and onion together. I tend to leave my sausage in bigger pieces than the turkey.

When the sausage and onions are browned I added back in my cooked turkey, a little garlic and my marinara or pasta sauce. You can make your own or just use a canned/jarred sauce. No one is in your kitchen to judge, and there are some really great sauces out there to choose from.

I also added in about 1 1/3 cups water, because I wanted the sauce to simmer for a while and not get too thick.

This night I only simmered it for 30 minutes, but I have done it for 2 hours before with great results. If you do decide to simmer it for hours, keep an eye on it and add a little extra water if it gets too thick. (It does tend to "spit" at you, so use a splatter screen or strategically placed lid over the pan to still let out the steam, but save you -and your kitchen- from getting spattered with sauce.)

The next step is to make the Ricotta Mixture. In a mixing bowl, I combined the Ricotta cheese and egg. (Again, I doubled the recipe so I have twice as many ingredients shown as you will need.)

Then I added in some salt, dry basil and dry parsley,

and a little garlic. I added about 2 tsp garlic (2 large cloves minced), but this is to taste. If you want more or less garlic then by all means change it to your tastes.

The last ingredient is the Parmesan cheese. I used the fresh shredded from the store, but if you can grate your own it's best. I just put a couple handfuls in. My handfuls are about 1/3 cup each. Stir it all together and set aside.

If there is any one ingredient that sets these lasagna cups apart from all other lasagnas it is this package of wonton wrappers. You can find them in the refrigerator section of the grocery store. If you are making a full recipe, you'll want 2 packages.

Make sure to spray your 12 cup muffin trays (this recipe makes 48 lasagna cups, but they don't have to be made all at once). Press one wonton wrapper over each each muffin cup, facing it towards you to make a square.

Gently press down with your fingers, pressing the wonton wrapper into the edges of the muffin cup. The corners will stick up out of the cup slightly, but that's OK.

Next, spread a little of the Ricotta Mixture into the bottom of each cup. I just scooped it with my spoon. I used about 1 or 1 1/2 tsp, but don't go crazy and measure each one. Just eye ball it. You just want the bottom of the cup covered with a thin layer.

Next comes the Meat Sauce. Just put a little dollop into each cup.

Then top the sauce with a little shredded Mozzarella and Parmesan.

Then lay down another wonton wrapper. This one should be placed over the cup in a diamond shape, instead of a square. Just rotate the wrapper 90 degrees from the one on the bottom of the cup. Gently press the wrapper over the other ingredients, making sure to have the second wrapper touching the first wrapper.

Repeat the layers again: Ricotta Mixture . . .

Meat Sauce . . .

and cheese.

Now, you can leave it at 2 layers. . . . Or you can go for a third layer. One package of wonton wrappers will make 19 2 layer lasagna cups and 5 3 layer cups. If you choose to make them all 3 layer cups then you won't need all 48 muffin cups.
On your last layer, top it with extra cheese (ending with the Parmesan on top because it browns better).

They are baked @ 375F for 20 minutes. The protruding corners get brown and crunchy while the sauce and cheese bake up bubbly and soft. They need to sit for AT LEAST 10 minutes before serving. They need to set up and cool a bit. 20 minutes is best. One of the beautiful things about these, though is that they are just as great at room temperature as they are warm, so they can easily be made ahead of time.

Don't they look so cute? Like little lasagna flowers. :)

Now, you can serve them one at a time for dinner. (They are really easy for a dinner on the go if you have family members that need to rush out for a sporting event or scout meeting, or what have you.) You can certainly eat them with a knife and fork if you desire, but I prefer to just pick them up and attack them like I would any other muffin.

When I served these for book club I piled them high on a platter. I thought they turned out rather wonderfully.
I really hope you try this new way of making an old family favorite.
I doubled this recipe and made 48 lasagna cups and a family sized (9x13) lasagna. **I made 24 for dinner and book club one night, and then made the other 24 a couple days later. *The 9x13 I froze for another meal down the road.

Lasagna Cups

Meat Sauce:
1/2 pound Italian Sausage (mild or hot is up to you)
1 pound lean ground turkey or beef 
1 small onion diced (or 1/2 large onion)
1 tsp garlic (1 clove minced)
3 cups marinara or pasta sauce
1 1/3 cups water
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Ricotta Mixture:
32 oz Ricotta cheese
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp dry basil
1 1/2 tsp dry parsley
1 to 2 tsp minced garlic (1 or 2 cloves, minced) to taste
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup Parmesan Cheese, grated

2 packages of wonton wrappers
Mozzarella cheese, grated (at least 1 lb)
Parmesan cheese, grated (at least 2 cups)

For the Meat Sauce: Brown the Italian sausage, ground turkey (or beef) and onion with a little salt and pepper over medium high heat; breaking up the meat as small as you like it. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute more. Stir in the marinara sauce and water. Simmer for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours. (You might need to add more water, the longer you simmer it.)
Combine all the ingredients for the Ricotta Mixture until smooth.
Spray 4 12 cup muffin trays with no stick cooking spray. Press one wonton wrapper into each cup, completely covering the bottom and some of the sides.
Spread about 1 to 2 tsp of the Ricotta Mixture, and top with some of the Meat Sauce (again about 2 tsp but just eye ball it). Sprinkle on some of the Mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. Lay down another wonton wrapper, rotating it 90 degrees from the last one (so the corners make a flower or star-like shape). Repeat the layers again. (One package of wrappers will be enough to make 19 2 layer lasagna cups and 5 3 layer cups. If you choose to make them all 3 layers, then you won't need all 4 muffin trays.)
On the final layer, top with extra Mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses, so that no sauce is visible.
Bake @ 375F for 20 minutes. The exposed corners of the wonton wrappers will be brown and crispy but the sauce and cheese will be bubbly. Let it sit for AT LEAST 10 minutes before serving. The cups need time to set up and cool down. 20 minutes would be best.
Now just try not to eat half a tray all by yourself.!

*They freeze nicely. You can freeze them in the muffin tin before baking or after baking. If you freeze after baking they loose their crunchy texture, which is one of the best parts if you ask me.
**To store these in the fridge and still retain the crunchy corners, put them on a plate or in a container UN-covered. They will stay this way for a day or two no problem. (I wouldn't know past that as they don't last that long in our house!) Enjoy!!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Homemade Noodles

I'm sick. My head hurts and my sinuses are aching and I get lightheaded when I move and get pins and needles sensation in my forehead when I bend over to pick up things. But, being the mom of four little angels I don't really get a break. So, I'm making chicken noodle soup with lemon tonight to help heal what ails me. (I might even throw in a few jalapeno slices in my bowl, since spicy foods are good when you're under the weather.)
   I decided that even though I don't feel good, and I would rather just spend all day, I would take the time to make homemade noodles for my soup. There's something so comforting about homemade noodles. You can taste the love that went into making them - even when I'm making them myself.
   Noodles are not hard to make at all. They just take a little patience and muscle (if you don't have a pasta machine or attachment for your stand mixer). They can be made a head of time and dried, or used right away. I made mine when I started my chicken stock, so they dried while the stock was simmering. I can almost taste the fruits of my labors. . . I just have to wait a little longer. (Now if I could get the kids to clean the house instead of me I'd be on Cloud 9.)
   Pasta dough can be made in different ways: eggs and flour, water and flour, eggs and flour with a little water or eggs and flour with a little milk like I made today. All ways are delicious, and they all have their place in the culinary world. I'm not going to debate which is better, or which is best to use for any numerous applications. I'm just sharing this version with you today.
  It all starts with two bowls: One with flour and salt, and the other with eggs and milk.

Just whisk together the eggs and milk, and add them to the flour and salt. (I prefer to use a fork, so I can use it to mix the dough as well.)

Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. . . 

until it starts to come together and clump up like this.

This is when I ditch the fork and use my hands.  Just press . . .

and fold . . . And repeat until the dough comes together into a solid mass.

If you have a little flour left over, that's o.k. The most important thing is that the dough comes together and starts to feel soft.

Wrap the dough in plastic and let it rest for at least 30 minutes. (I do this on the counter, instead of in the fridge so that it's easier to roll out.)

After the resting period, place the dough onto a floured surface, 

and roll it out using a rolling pin (or pasta machine if you are so blessed).

This takes time and muscle, but keep working with it. I think it took me a good 5 minutes to roll the dough out to about 1/4 inch thickness. I try to roll it as thin as I can get it, because it will expand a little when it cooks and I like my noodles on the thinner side.

The next step is to cut your noodles. If you are doing it by hand, like me, then a pizza cutter is the easiest tool to use. I cut mine about 1/4 inch wide, but you can make yours as skinny or as wide as you'd like.

Then, if you so choose, you can cut the noodles horizontally to be as short as you would like them. I like my noodles to be just a couple inches long, so they are like the ones that come in the red and white soup can that I grew up eating.

The final step (if you don't have time to dry them) is just to break up all the noodles, and make sure they are all separated from one another. 

If you are using them right away, then shake off as much flour as possible and drop them into simmering broth or soup a few at a time, so they don't stick together. Cook for 8-10 minutes or until tender and they are done!
   If you do choose to dry them a bit before using (which is preferred), then just spread them out and let them sit until you are ready to cook them. They freeze beautifully if you are so inclined. Just lay them out in a single layer on a cookie sheet and put in the freezer until hard. Then put them into a labeled zip-top bag and freeze for later use.
Now, if you'll excuse me I'm going to check on my stock to see if I can finish my soup now.

Here's the recipe:
from The Mama's Girls

Homemade Noodles

2 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
2 large eggs
3 Tsp. milk  

Put salt and flour in a bowl and stir together.  In a separate bowl, beat eggs and milk with a fork. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, and mix with a fork.  When the dough starts to come together, knead with your hands (press, fold, repeat) until a stiff dough is formed. Wrap the dough in plastic and let it rest for at least 30 minutes.
Sprinkle a clean work surface with a little flour and roll the dough out to about ¼ inch thick (or thinner)  Slice it into thin strips with a pizza cutter, and then again horizontally to make the noodles as short as you would like.  They can be used right away, or dried for 2 hours before cooking. To cook, sprinkle the noodles into boiling soup or broth, a few at a time, so they don’t stick together. Boil about 10 minutes or until tender.