Fig and Molasses Granola

First, there was apricot, cashew, and coconut oatmeal.

Then, there was raisin, walnut, and flax meal baked oatmeal.

Today, I am happy to share my latest fruit/nut/superfood oat concoction: Fig and Molasses Granola.

granola pan

Chunks of dried fig and crystallized ginger dance with chopped walnuts and pecans in this crunchy and not-too-sweet granola, made using The Professional Palate‘s “overnight” method.

Breakfast heaven!

figs2

Let’s talk for a minute about Figs. Regarded by many ancient cultures as sacred, figs were originally grown in southern Europe, Asia, and Africa. Spanish missionaries brought them to North America, and in the U.S. they are mainly cultivated in southern California, though they do grow elsewhere (Charlottesville, VA included!). There are many varieties of figs, ranging in color from deep purple to almost white and in shape from round to oval. Figs are a good source of iron, calcium, and phosphorus.

This granola is a great source of iron, as it also includes blackstrap molasses. Molasses is produced when the juice squeezed from sugar cane and sugar beets is boiled down into a syrup from which sugar crystals are extracted. The first boiling produces light molasses, the second, dark molasses, and the third, blackstrap. It is a good source of iron, calcium, copper, manganese, potassium, and magnesium (source).

jars

As I have been learning more about the ingredients I have been cooking with, I have been intrigued by the many facets of “food knowledge.” From history and anthropology, to horticulture and nutrition, there is so much to learn about the foods we eat and the way our bodies process them.

I would love to hear which tidbits of information resonate most with you all, our lovely readers. Please let me know if you are enjoying learning about ingredients, and which aspects are most interesting to you.

granola pan close

Fig and Molasses Granola

Ingredients

  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 2 Tablespoons ground flax seed
  • 2 Tablespoons chia seeds
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 cup blackstrap molasses
  • 1/8 cup coconut sugar
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla
  • 1 Tablespoon coconut oil, melted
  • chopped figs
  • chopped crystallized ginger

Method

Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment.

In a large mixing bowl, combine oats, flax, chia seeds, pecans, walnuts, cinnamon and ginger. In separate bowl, whisk together molasses, brown sugar, orange juice, vanilla and oil. Pour over oat mixture and mix well.

Spread granola evenly over baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes, stirring at 15 minute intervals. Turn oven off. Leave granola in oven. Granola will crisp as it cools overnight. Just before serving, toss in chopped dried figs and crystallized ginger. Store granola in jars in the fridge.

jars and bowl

I have really been enjoying this granola atop a bowl of greek yogurt, chunky applesauce, and sliced banana. The flavors come together so nicely, and the crystallized ginger adds an almost surprising element.

“Superfood” indeed.

-L

Berry Orange Smoothie and Foodie Finds

Berry Orange Smoothie

Berry Orange Smoothie

I had an awesome mini-vacation over the weekend! I went to Florida for an audition, and was able to meet up with one of my best friends. I was sad to come home so soon, but have had a great time since returning to SF.

Wading in the water

Wading in the water

After ballet class on Tuesday, I wandered over to the Ferry Building Farmers Market to pick up some fresh fruit. I ended up with some gorgeous navel oranges and a pack of strawberries. When I got home, I decided to toss some of them into the blender to make a Berry Orange Smoothie.

Beautiful bunch of oranges

Beautiful bunch of oranges

Berry Orange Smoothie

Serves 1

  • 1 banana, frozen
  • 1 orange, seeds and casings removed
  • 4 strawberries
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • Topping of choice (I used granola)

Combine fruits and coconut milk in blender. Blend until smooth. Pour into glass, and garnish with topping of your choice.

Fruity and fun

Fruity and fun

Foodie Finds

While I was at the Ferry Building, I also picked up a bag of Original Granola made by From the Fields. This wheat and oil free granola is made in Marin County, just across the Golden Gate Bridge. It has a great crunch, a variety of nuts and seeds, and plump cranberries. I’m looking forward to trying the Honey Lavender flavor soon!

Farm to Fields Granola

From the Fields Granola

When I was outside, I gave into temptation, and accepted a sample of Dark Chocolate Coffee Almond Brittle from G.I. Alfieri. I’ve seen them many times before, but have always managed to keep my distance. I have a big weakness for nuts and chocolate! Today I’m glad I stopped. The almond brittle is delicious! It is thin and crispy, with smooth dark chocolate, and a surprisingly strong kick of coffee flavor. I enjoyed a lovely conversation with the man handing out samples as well! It turns out he was a dancer, and knows many of the teachers I train with in the city. What a small world!

Dark Chocolate Coffee Almond Brittle

Dark Chocolate Coffee Almond Brittle

This was the perfect way to wind down after my fun, fast venture to Florida! The rest of the week will be a bit less leisurely, but with my new foodie finds and fruit, I feel ready to take on whatever comes my way.

Yum yum

Yum yum

Happy Eating!

-C

Spicy Lamb Ragu

More and more these days, meat is a very rare component of my diet. I am eating more legumes, more tofu, and plenty of nutrient rich vegetables. I don’t miss meat at all – but sometimes, a hearty bowl of lamb ragu sounds too delicious to pass up.

bowl of ragu

It has been COLD in Virginia for the past week. We’re talking highs in the 20s, lows in the teens. I grew up in Texas, y’all… I am not a fan of such cold! At least we have has some snow flurries, because – let’s be serious – cold without snow is just plain obnoxious.

The more I eat seasonally, the more “in tune” I feel with what my body wants and needs. In the summer, I crave juicy fruits and fresh, crisp veggies. In the fall, I begin to turn to roasted root vegetables. And during these cold stretches of winter, sometimes there is nothing better than comforting foods like pasta with meat sauce.

2 bowls

This dish was made super special thanks to two “foodie finds” at Whole Foods – local ground lamb and fresh pasta. I chose black pepper pappardelle, and it was perfect.

Spicy Lamb Ragu

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma’s Wine and Food

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 3/4 cups reduced-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 cup fire roasted crushed tomatoes
  • 3 Tablespoons tomato paste
  •  2 small fresh rosemary sprigs
  • 1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 pound fresh pappardelle (or dried if you can’t find fresh)
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

bowl from above

Method

In a large frying pan, heat the oil over high heat. Add the lamb and saute, stirring to break up any clumps, until lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer lamb to a towel-lined plate.

Pour off all but 1 Tablespoon of the fat from the pan, and return the pan to medium heat. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Return the lamb to the pan and add the broth, 1/2 cup water, white wine vinegar, tomato sauce, tomato paste, and rosemary. Bring to boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer gently, uncovered, until sauce has thickened slightly, about 25 minutes. Add the balsamic vinegar and cook for 1 minute longer. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Keep warm over low heat.

While the sauce is cooking, cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain the pasta, add it to the sauce, and toss and stir to combine. Add the 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese and toss again. Divide pasta into shallow bowls, top with more Parmesan cheese, and serve immediately.

lamb ragu

Isn’t pappardelle a beautiful pasta? I love the way the thick noodles fold in the bowl, and they way they stand up to a meat sauce. 

This dish was very well received by my meat-loving husband. We enjoyed the leftovers again later in the week, served a top a base of fresh spinach (you gotta get your greens in, after all!).

2 bowls above

The only thing missing was a glass of wine… The cookbook suggests an Argentine Sangiovese or an Italian Barbera, which have enough acidity to stand up to the tomato sauce. We have served this dish with wine in the past, at a dinner party with friends, and it was a lovely pairing.

What type of foods do you turn to in the winter?

-L

Raisin Walnut Baked Oatmeal

My breakfasts tend to be a random assortment of flavors and textures, often involving oats, Greek yogurt, fruit, and granola. While delicious, it is rarely thought out or specific enough to post here as a “recipe.”

Baked oatmeal topped with peanut butter, banana, and chia seeds

Baked oatmeal topped with peanut butter, banana, and chia seeds

A few weeks ago, however, I began imagining a series of “fruit/nut/superfood” oatmeal concoctions, largely based on the ingredients in my pantry. I am using the term “superfood” loosely (it is a vague though trendy term after all), but this element will tyically add a distinctive flavor (like coconut) or a nutritional boost (like maca powder). My Apricot, Cashew, and Coconut oatmeal was the first creation in this series.

On a random Sunday evening after a weekend away from home, I suddenly realized that this series could move beyond a standard bowl of oatmeal, to showcase the plethora of oat-based breakfast options. Thus, this tasty baked oatmeal was quickly whipped together and popped into the oven, ready to be rewarmed on Monday morning.

Baked oatmeal

Baked oatmeal

The fruit/nut/superfood combo featured here is raisins, walnuts, and flax meal–so basically, it’s an oatmeal raisin cookie masquerading as a breakfast food!

Continuing my resolution to learn more about make the ingredients I use, let’s talk briefly about oats and flax.

Oat is a cereal grain, a staple food of Scotland, and commonly used to feed livestock. The oats we eat have been cleaned, hulled, toasted, and often steamed and flattened into “rolled oats.” Steel cut or scottish oats are the oat groats prior to being rolled. The outer casing of the oat is oat bran, which is particularly high in soluble fiber and is believed to lower cholesterol and protect against heart disease. Oats do not contain gluten, so they will not rise in baked goods unless combined with flour.

A slice of oatmeal

A slice of oatmeal

Flax seed is a rich source of Omega-3s, as well as calcium, iron, niacin, phosphorus, and vitamin E. It is also high in fiber and a source of antioxidants called “lignans.” The nutrients in flax seed are best absorbed when the seeds are ground into flax meal.

My eye doctor recently recommended that I take a flax oil supplement to help keep my eyes moisturized. While I did buy a bottle of supplements, I have also been trying to eat flax meal once or twice a day. I always prefer to get my vitamins through food as opposed to pills.

Flax meal can be mixed with liquid to form a gelatinous mixture that is a good substitute for eggs in baked goods. While the recipe below is not vegan, you could increase the flax and use it in place of the egg.

plated 2

Peanut butter in the middle!

Raisin Walnut Baked Oatmeal

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 3 Tablespoons flax meal
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 1/2 cups almond milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 Tablespoon agave nectar
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
Wet and dry ingredients

Wet and dry ingredients

Method

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine first 7 ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine; set aside. Combine remaining ingredients and whisk to incorporate. Stir wet ingredients until dry until just combined. Pour batter into a greased 8×8 (or similarly sized) pan. Bake 25 – 30 minutes.

one piece

Breakfast is served!

While I prefer a bowl of oats to the baked variety, it was incredibly convenient to just heat and eat! I will probably try a few variations (with mashed banana, pumpkin, or different dried fruits and nuts) in the near future. This dish would also be great for a brunch party!

plated and pan

Pretty plate!

I love the versatility of oats. They can be sweet or savory, and provide a great canvas for all sorts of flavors. This baked oatmeal spotlights a traditional combination of raisins and walnuts. Next week, I’ll be sharing a recipe for overnight granola flavored with molasses, ginger, and dried figs.

What’s your favorite way to eat oatmeal?

-L

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Food for Thought: The Ethics of Quinoa

My husband shared an article with me a few days ago, and it has been weighing heavy on my mind ever since.

I aspire to be a conscious consumer, especially when it comes to food. I buy local produce, and when local is not available, I buy things from as close to Virginia as possible (so, for example, I choose Florida or Pennsylvania over California; U.S. over foreign, etc…). I try to buy organic produce when it comes to the “dirty dozen.” I pay attention to the meat or seafood I buy, choosing local, grass-fed meat and sustainably farmed seafood.  While I do sometimes choose to buy imported products (ahem, coconut and bananas), I have never really thought about the origins of the grains I buy.

quinoa spoon

Quinoa has gone from obscurity to wide-spread popularity in just a few short years. We have shared quite a few quinoa recipes here and lauded its health benefits. But at what price?

I knew that quinoa came from South America, and that it was a staple of traditional diets in Andean cultures, but I never paused to think about the effects of its popularity. According to ,

“The appetite of countries such as ours for this grain has pushed up prices to such an extent that poorer people in Peru and Bolivia, for whom it was once a nourishing staple food, can no longer afford to eat it. Imported junk food is cheaper. In Lima, quinoa now costs more than chicken. Outside the cities, and fuelled by overseas demand, the pressure is on to turn land that once produced a portfolio of diverse crops into quinoa monoculture.” (Source)

quinoa close

The article ultimately argues that an omnivorous diet is more able to embrace local products than a vegetarian or vegan diet. In a retaliatory article,  argues that the grain consumed by animals raised for meat makes a much more significant impact on the environment and the global food market than grain consumed by humans.

Rather than getting into an argument for or against veganism, I’d like to focus on the issue this article really stirred up for me:

When trying to be aware of the social impact of your eating habits, what factors do you consider? How do you decide which factors to prioritize?

I do not think that the simple answer to the “quinoa problem” is to stop eating imported quinoa–now that we have shifted the balance of the economy, to suddenly reduce the demand for the crop would surely have unforeseen (negative?) consequences.

quinoa bowl and spoon

My husband, always the one to play devil’s advocate in any argument, has reminded me that I often oversimplify things in my mind when trying to extol the virtues of an as-local-as-possible diet. What would you do if the local food sources we destroyed by bad weather or disease? Would you starve, or would you turn to imported foods?

So, it’s easy for me to make the choices I make when I live in a town that has high quality, local and organic foods readily available. It’s easy for me to choose organic even when it costs more, because I am blessed to have a job that allows me to make these decisions. It’s easy for me to choose “certified fair trade” products, because I choose to shop in stores that make this information available.

But trying to reduce the social impact of your eating habits is not easy. Just the opposite. The quinoa article has made me reflect on the choices I make. It has made me pause and want to investigate the origin of products I often take for granted (like grains). Labels are endlessly confusing, but I want to pay attention to the claims I see, and investigate their true meanings.

I’d love to hear about the choices you make when it comes to buying food.

Do you aspire to eat organic? Local? Are you a vegetarian or vegan for ethical reasons? Why do you make the choices you do when it comes to food?

-L

In the next few weeks, we will be migrating to wordpress.org! If you subscribe to our blog through wordpress.com, it will no longer show up in your feed once we make the switch. To keep getting updates of new posts, subscribe to our RSS feed, or follow us on Twitterand/or Facebook. Thanks for following, and we hope you will stay with us!