Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Yogurt Apple Salad

Ages ago, Guestblogger Alita and I had a lunch club. Twice a week we each had a day where we brought lunch to work for the both of us. We had read about this concept in Martha Stewart Living (no surprise there), and loved the idea of bringing a nutritious and inventive lunch for one another to spice up a boring or stressful workday. We were young cooks then and loved trying new recipes out on each other. The joy we took in smugly eating our feasts in front of our co-workers while they heated up Lean Cuisines and microwave popcorn was boundless.

There were many standouts in our lunch club repertoire, one of which was the simplest of all. It was a recipe that came from Cooking Light magazine that combined grapes, yogurt, pecans and cinnamon. It was addictively good and I have adapted it many times over since then. My version uses a nice, crisp Australian Pink Lady apple as well as the tartness of dried cranberries and the extra crunch of sunflower seeds. It's important to use a good quality, preferably organic yogurt here.

This recipe makes a few servings but the quantities can be easily multiplied and would make a nice addition to a brunch menu. It comes together quick and is just plain delicious.
  • 1 large apple, cubed
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon raw sunflower seeds
  • 3/4 cup vanilla yogurt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
In a medium bowl, combine the apple, cranberries, pecans and sunflower seeds. Stir in the yogurt and then the cinnamon. Serve immediately or keep covered in the refrigerator for up to one day.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Toasted Super Muesli

One of the best things about being food obsessed is that I get to occasionally seem smart and knowledgeable without really trying. M, for example, was bemoaning the fact that Australia doesn't have traditional American-style cocktail sauce at the grocery store and showed me this bottle of "seafood cocktail sauce" which was an alarming bright peach-colored mayonnaise. I said, "well, just make your own." He looked at me quizzically and I shrugged and said "just stir together ketchup and horseradish. That's all it is."

This little moment reminded me that I generally am of the belief that most everything is better when it's homemade and that most storebought items are a rip-off. Take muesli or granola for example. It seems to me that any sort of good quality store-bought cereal is pretty pricey. I get that they are filled with all sorts of healthy goodness but still...we're mainly dealing with grains here.

Any well-stocked bulk foods section of a grocery store will have what you need to create a fantastic, customized muesli and I stocked up on all sorts of great ingredients. I spent little money and the ingredients I bought were almost all organic. I'm calling my version "Super" because of the addition of dried goji berries (which are touted all over the place as being a superfood) and because the muesli turned out really, really good. The psyllium gives it an extra fiber kick too.

Because this muesli is toasted for extra flavor and not baked like granola, the effort that goes into making it is minimal. I think I have the proportion of grains/crunch/sweetness down but there's plenty of room to swap ingredients.
  • 5 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup flaked almonds
  • 1/2 cup raw pepitas
  • 1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds
  • 3 cups puffed barley
  • 1/4 cup psyllium husks
  • 1 cup chopped dates
  • 3/4 cup crushed banana chips
  • 1/3 cup goji berries
  • 1-2 tablespoons packed brown sugar (optional)
  • 1½ teaspoons cinnamon
In a large pot over medium heat, combine the oats, almonds, pepitas, sunflower and sesame seeds. Stir frequently until the mixture is lightly toasted and fragrant. Remove from the heat and set aside until cool.

In a large bowl, stir together the puffed barley, psyllium, dates, banana chips and goji berries. Stir in the oats mixture and combine well. Sprinkle the muesli with the brown sugar (if using) and the cinnamon. Stir gently but thoroughly.

Store the muesli in an airtight container.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Crafty Down Under

When I was in the 3rd grade, one of our assignments was to figure out how old we would be in the year 2000. When I realized I would be an ancient 24 years, it was absolutely shocking. We had to write a few sentences about what we would be doing in this surreal futuristic time. My unimaginative prediction involved being married with three kids and working as a doctor.

Flash-forward to the present and I can confirm that I would make the worst fortune teller ever seeing that I am newly divorced, childless, not nearly smart enough to be in the medical profession, and just moved to the other side of the planet to live in Australia with my high school sweetheart.

Clearly, this isn't a typical recipe post. This post is to take care of some business that I need to share with all of you because I've found that cooking and eating do not happen in a vacuum. They are so entwined with all aspects of life. The inspiration for recipes, the events, places and people that shape my posts are all a part of my blogging world. There was just no way to sneak down to another country and carry on Crafty business as usual.

So instead of Minneapolis, I find myself in Perth. Instead of lakes and the Mississippi River, I now live near the Indian Ocean. When it's cold there, it will be hottest here. The upside-down seasons mean that there might occasionally be a rhubarb post in January and a pumpkin post in July. Snow and ice will not be missed but the absence of my friends, fellow cooks, gardeners and bakers will feel like a loss every day.

I shipped my most essential cookbooks, pots and pans, springform cake pan, wooden salad bowl, pie plates, tart pans, the perfect ice cream scoop, mandoline, and much more. The things left behind - Le Crueset essential pot, Kitchen Aid Mixer, Cuisinart Food Processor, Ice Cream Maker - will be an inconvenience but I suppose part of being Crafty is about figuring it out on my own.

I am 34 years old in the year 2010, and as I sit across the table from M, it's beyond bizarre to think that two kids from suburban Illinois are not only in the land down under but are here together. I could never have predicted any of this which really, should come as no surprise at all.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Seared Tuna with Summery White Beans

I had a bowl of fabled San Marzano Tomatoes sitting on my counter alarmingly going bad that had come from the local co-op. I've actually never seen them outside of a can and their smallish, almost peanut-shaped bodies were demanding that I eat them up quick.

I had already been conjuring up some sort of a fresher version of the classic tuna and white bean salad recipe which is one of my go-to quick meals. I thought that perhaps the beans could be livened up with some perfect summer tomatoes and topped with fresh, instead of canned tuna. I had baby spinach in the fridge that needed eating and so it all sort of came together out of both necessity and my nearly constant food daydreaming.

I was going to finish things with a squeeze of fresh lemon but made some super delicious seasoned bread crumbs instead, infusing them with zest and garlic. That added bit of boldly flavored crunch is the key to taking this meal from something really good to something extra great.

This was a cinch to make and was done in less than half an hour. It's quick enough to be a weeknight meal but pretty enough to serve to guests.

  • 1/3 pound fresh tuna steak
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 cup plum tomatoes, cut into small dice
  • 15 ounce can Cannellini Beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 cups packed baby spinach
  • 2 tablespoons panko bread crumbs
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

Season the tuna on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat a small, heavy skillet over medium-high heat and add one teaspoon of the olive oil. Add the tuna steak and sear on both sides for a minute or two until. Remove from the skillet and set aside.

Meanwhile, add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over a large skillet set over medium heat. Add all but one teaspoon of the minced garlic clove and saute until just fragrant, about 30 seconds, and then add the tomatoes. Cook the tomatoes for a couple minutes, then add the spinach. Saute until the spinach is wilted. Add the beans, season with salt, and cook for a minute more, until the beans are heated through.

Place the remaining teaspoon of olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat and add the reserved teaspoon of garlic. Cook until the garlic is just starting to turn golden, then add the panko. Cook, stirring frequently until the mixture starts to turn toasty brown then transfer to a small bowl. Add the lemon zest and a pinch of salt to it.

Spoon the bean mixture between two plates. Thinly slice the tuna and arrange on top of the beans. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs evenly over the tuna and serve immediately.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Nectarine Ginger Bars

The other day I was doing a cookbook exodus, which included sorting through my big 3-ring binder of recipes I've torn out of magazines. I flipped through it perusing potential recipes from Eating Well, Cooking Light, Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, The New York Times, and the dearly departed Gourmet. I'm pretty ruthless when it comes to getting rid of my things (clothes, shoes, purses, etc) but a mixture of nostalgia and the sense that I could really be missing out on the best.recipe.ever. prevented me from tearing anything out of my binder.

I set it aside and moved on to my collection of family recipes. There I came across an oldie but a goodie that my mom used to make called "Apricot Bars". These bars are a rich crumbly mix of buttery pastry and a thin layer of canned apricot filling. I always really liked them and decided to do a little reworking of it.

I switched out the apricot filling for some fresh nectarines, lacing them with some zingy candied ginger. I used all whole wheat flour for the all-purpose flour which I was a bit worried about but learned that 2 sticks of butter makes everything delicious.

These bars have a delicate, tender crumb and aren't altogether sturdy. It's best to allow them to almost completely cool before slicing and removing them from the pan. These bars don't keep for very long, not much longer than a day, but really, I don't think that will be too much of a problem.

For 15 bars:
  • 3 ripe but firm nectarines
  • 1/4 cup finely minced candied ginger
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup finely chopped walnuts
  • Confectioner's sugar

Peel and finely chop the nectarines. Place them in a bowl with the ginger, 1/4 cup of sugar and cornstarch. Stir together and set aside.

In the bowl of a mixer, cream butter with sugar. Add egg and vanilla and mix well. Stir in flour and salt. Add walnuts and blend well.

Divide dough in half. Spread one half evenly into the bottom of a 13 x 9-inch greased pan. Cover with nectarines. Drop remaining dough by spoonfuls over filling, spreading out with a spatula. You don't have to be too thorough with this part as the dough will spread as it bakes.

Bake at 350˚ until the top is golden, about 35 minutes. Cool in the pan on a wire rack until almost cool. Slice and place on the wire rack to cool completely. Once cool, sift confectioner's sugar over each bar.