Archive for January, 2007

The Great Granola Hunt, recipe division

This did not start out as a project – it was just one of those idle irritations. Bill, who eats granola for breakfast, came home with some that was truly dreadful, up to and including the very strange pink bits of freeze dried raspberry. We will not discuss why he bought it; suffice it to say that even he didn’t want to eat it and of course then we got talking about the old days when you made your own and then the very next Wednesday there was Mark Bittmann in the Times with a recipe for crunchy granola.

Rather than simply following it, I decided to look at some of the competition, always a danger now that we are in the age of Google. When I asked it to find “granola recipe”,   it came back with “Results 1 – 10 of about 1,420,000. ”

Uh huh. But when would it stop being granola recipes or literary references to granola recipes and start being the usual outer reaches: strings of words that start with g; science fiction pornography; entries in what looks like Chinese but isn’t.

Plunged in, leaping the longest intervals offered. On page 30, there was a lowcarb granola, a thought too scary to explore further. On page 46, an excerpt suggesting that nuts “should be rinsed in cold tap water to which vitamin C powder has been added”. Page 65 was still recipes, including one for a “vegan fusion ” version called Marley’s Hemp Granola, which I should have looked at, I guess, since what I remember about cooking with hemp is that the results were generally – how shall I put this? – more functional than delicious.

The plan was to stop at page 100 but google’s ” that’s it, nothing after this but repetition” kicked in after only 810 hits, on page 81.

Give or take a few, I think 81 is about the number of granola items sold by my local Stop and Shop. They have granola stocked in 3 places: the health/ organic (pay more here) area; next to the whole nutmeats and rice cracker snacks at the end of the produce aisle; and of course in cereal, which had the smallest number of granolas but the largest number of granola bars: 60 running feet of shelf space. Not wishing to piss away the time required I didn’t count varieties, but did notice that many were chocolate covered and one contained m&m’s. The one with the m&m’s was not, by the way, on a low shelf where small children would be enticed by it.

I could go on, and probably will, since there is a food-historical black hole between J.H. Kellogg’s Granola, which sold by the ton in the 1880s , and the tidal rise of the 1960’s product that made “crunchy” an adjective applicable to human beings.

For today, I will only say it’s surprising, once you start tasting alertly, how many variables there are, that plenty of salt certainly helps, and that so far the Corsican special is my favorite but Bill prefers good old Honey Nut.


1 cup whole almonds

1 cup pecans, whole or in large pieces

6 cups old fashioned rolled oats

1/3 cup sunflower seeds

¼ cup toasted wheat germ

½ cup mild honey

3 tablespoons walnut oil (or peanut oil, if there’s no walnut already in the fridge)

2 teaspoons vanilla

½ teaspoon salt

1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Spread almonds and pecans in separate pie tins and toast until a broken nut is very pale gold; about 12 minutes for pecans, 15 or longer for almonds. When nuts are done, reduce heat to 300.

2. Spread oats and sunflower seeds on a large jellyroll pan and parch in the 300 degree oven, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes. Oats should crisp while scarcely coloring.

3. Turn oat mixture into a large bowl and stir in the wheat germ. Combine honey, oil, salt and vanilla, heat just long enough to liquefy/thin honey, give it stir and pour it in. Stir until all dry matter is coated, then add nuts and stir again ditto.

4. Turn the whole works out onto the oat pan, spread to the edges and return to oven. At 5 to 8 minute intervals, use a flat pancake turner to lift the brown edges into the middle and spread the paler material. Keep it up until the granola is a rich dark gold and a cooled nugget is properly crunchy, anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes, depending on pan, oven and sugar content of honey.

5. Store airtight. If you want raisins or other dried fruit , the time to add it is right before eating. There’s no reason to pre-mix something you want to keep moist with something you want to keep crisp unless you’re going camping.

Variation: The Corsican Special, aka Double Chestnut

(which was originally known as Italian recipe fanatic – there’s no way you’d have these ingredients handy unless you were really into it)

5 cups rolled oats

¼ cup sunflower seeds

3 tablespoons chestnut flour

2 tablespoons wheat germ

scant half-cup chestnut honey

3 tablespoons grapeseed oil

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla

scant ½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ cups coarsely chopped pecans

1. Heat oven to 300 degrees and toast oats and seeds as in 2., above.

2. In a large bowl, mix oats and seeds with flour and wheat germ, then add remaining ingredients as in 3, above.

3. Very slowly toast the living bejeeziz out of it, lowering the heat if it starts browning before the first half hour is past. It’ll be done in 40 minutes to an hour.

Bright Salad

Our bright lights chard is still going strong in the cold room, and last time I went shopping the commercial stuff looked pretty good ( for a change), so if you have become tired of cabbage, consider

Rainbow Slaw

Every measurement in this so-called recipe is “about,” “to taste,” “use what you’ve got,” ” fiddle,” because all three of the vegetables vary enormously in sweetness and flavor-strength. Plus it would be a shame not to enjoy it just because you were almost out of celery and didn’t realize it until a half-hour before dinner.

For 6 servings

Toss 1 ½ cups each julienned celery, fennel, and rainbow chard stems with a dressing of

¼ cup rice vinegar
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt

let it sit about 5 minutes, then taste and adjust.

At this point, you’ll have a very light, clear-flavored salad that goes well with almost everything, especially winter’s rich brown braises and stews. To jazz it up, add finely-minced jalapeno and coarsely-chopped cilantro. Shreds of Peking duck from the Chinese grocery are a nice addition, if you happen to have it ( either the duck or the grocery) handy.

Winter Reading

On Sally Spillane’s freewheeling Garden Show our topic was (mostly) the joys of winter garden reading , and in the course of the proceedings I mentioned several favorite publications.

Then when we hit the usual frantic time crunch at the end I promised to list the access info. here , so:

The Flower and Herb Exchange yearbook

The Garden Conservancy open days directory

Pomona, quarterly journal of the North American Fruit Explorers

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

The Pepper Gal – seeds

Select Seeds-Antique Flowers – seeds and plants

Totally Tomatoes – seeds, not plants

Rainbow (chard) Not Over Yet

At Seed Savers, it’s 5 Color Silverbeet. At Johnny’s, which got an AAS award for it in 1998, it’s Bright Lights. At our place, it’s just rainbow chard, a must-plant delight: easy to grow, easy to cook, beautiful all summer long and long into the fall.

Bill insists it’s sweeter after frost; I think he’s simply confusing it with cole crops like kale and collards, which are sweeter, because temperatures below 40 destroy sulfur compounds. Sweetened or not, rainbow is slightly less frost hardy than regular chard, so we dug it up when temperatures started going way down – way back in early November there actually were a couple of nights when it hit the mid-teens.

The plants were set upright in a big pot lined with a thick plastic bag, with no more dirt than what was left clinging to the substantial roots. The pot was stored in an unheated enclosed porch , aka our well-lit walk-in. Every once in a while, I pour some water over the bases, but not very much.

chard plant, out of pot for photographic purposes

We have been harvesting regularly, breaking off leaves as needed as though the plants were still in the ground. When all have been eaten, we’ll compost the stumps. They could be replanted in mid-spring, if we wanted to save seed, but we’re not that dedicated. (Colors cross, so the pros grow each one in isolation and mix the seeds at packaging. )

Some say the different colors taste different, a lot to assert given that the colors include pink, red, purple, magenta, orange, yellow, white, white with pink stripes and some extremely zingy mixtures of pink and tangerine. All I can say is that none of them are as good as plain old white-stemmed Lucullus. But gorgeousness counts, even if the colors don’t stand up all that well when cooked.

Cooking Swiss Chard

is sort of like cooking chickens and turkeys – it helps to remember that cooking the thing whole is likely to be unkind to one part. Instead of light and dark meat, chard has stems (petioles) and leaves.

Chard Stems appear almost celerylike, very sturdy and crisp when raw. But at least when the chard is freshly harvested, they get tender quickly and tend to end up unpleasantly flabby if cooked for more than a few minutes. Most recipes say the stems are tougher than the leaves and should be cooked longer, but when we cook the chard from the garden we add the chopped stems near the end, shortly before the leaves have cooked through.

In Europe , stems are as highly prized as the leaves and those from varieties like Blonde de Lyon and Monstruoso are frequently cooked solo. Standard advice is to cook them like asparagus , which I take to mean “like asparagus the old-fashioned way: briefly blanched, thoroughly drained, then finished with a rich sauce such as browned butter or hollandaise.” You’d think boiling would be ill-advised with something so watery, but in my experience it works as well or better than steaming and stir-frying.

The alternative, especially when you want to preserve the bright colors of Rainbow types, is not to cook the stems at all. Just slice thinly crosswise (longitudinal julienne can be stringy) and sprinkle over hot cooked greens, toss into salad or add to a slaw of fennel and celery.
Not much needs saying about the Chard Leaves, except that they’re delicious prepared any way you’d prepare spinach and most of the ways you’d prepare stronger greens like kale and broccoli raab. Also nice stuffed and stewed, just sub pairs of them for the single cabbage leaves in your favorite stuffed cabbage recipe.