My Favorite Banana Bread

A banana bread muffin, split, toasted under a broiler, with fancy butter and a cup of tea.  This is a breakfast for a gray, rainy day, one that never manages to crawl above the mid-40’s in temperature.  Three months from now, these temperatures will feel positively quaint.

Ugh.

My Favorite Banana Bread

Yield: one 9 x 5 inch loaf

Adapted from Bon Appétit Magazine

This is my all-time favorite banana bread. It's not too sweet, it's not too rich, it's full of banana flavor and a little nuttiness from the whole wheat flour and flaxseed. It toasts gorgeously; and though it doesn't need it, a little pat of butter is a luxurious accompaniment. Some days require luxury.

If you'd like to make this into muffins, increase the oven temperature to 350º F and bake for about 30 minutes. I always seem to get 15 or 16 standard size muffins out of each batch.

Ingredients

  • 127 grams (1 cup) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus additional for dusting the pan
  • 85 grams (2/3 cup) whole wheat flour
  • 25 grams (1/4 cup) ground flaxseed
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 large eggs
  • 148 grams (3/4 cup) sugar
  • 1 cup smashed very ripe bananas (2 to 3)
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Instructions

1. Preheat the oven to 325° F. Lightly butter a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan, and sprinkle with flour. Shake the pan around to coat evenly with flour, then turn the pan upside down over the sink and knock on the bottom to remove any excess.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, flaxseed, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices; set aside.

3. Using an electric mixer, whip the eggs and sugar together until fluffy and light, about 5 minutes. In a liquid measuring cup, smash the bananas until smooth (a fork works well here). Make sure there's at least 1 cup; if it measures more than that, don't worry one bit. Add buttermilk, oil, and vanilla, and stir until combined.

4. Add the banana mixture to the eggs and sugar. Mix until just blended. Remove the bowl from the mixer and add the dry ingredients. Stir together just until the flour is moistened and no large pockets remain; do not overmix. Transfer batter to the prepared pan, and lightly smooth the top.

5. Bake at 325° F until golden brown on top and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Let cool briefly in the pan before removing to a rack to cool. Excellent served warm, or sliced and toasted.

http://www.onehundredeggs.com/my-favorite-banana-bread/

Brown Rice Onigiri; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Make My Lunch

I love cooking.  That’s probably quite apparent, what with the food blog and all; and it’s even more apparent when you consider that I cook for a living, too.

So why, then, can I never be bothered to make myself lunch?  In the middle of the day, if it takes longer than about two minutes to prepare, it isn’t happening.  This from a girl who spends entire days preparing totally-from-scratch meals for others, and loves it dearly.

Most often, my lunch ends up being a bowl of brown rice and edamame, two things I make sure to always have on hand.  If, by some misfortune, there is no cooked brown rice in the fridge, I consider myself ess-oh-el.  Much hand-wringing ensues, followed by apples and cereal, or the rare sighting of a fried egg.

I’ve gotten into the bad habit of only bringing basically a Lärabar and an apple to work, which is simple, delicious, and portable, but it’s not really enough to keep my energy up during a day of cooking.  This explains why I sometimes feel exhausted at the end of the day, with only enough left in me to haul myself home and onto the couch.  Add beer or wine, and internet.  Stir.  Serve chilled.

Trying to come up with a way to reformat my go-to lunch into a work-friendly snack, I had the idea long ago to make onigiri, the famous Japanese comfort food that was designed to be a traveling snack.  I knew it was, at its most basic, just a ball of rice, but I had assumed it was made of sushi rice (i.e., seasoned with salt, sugar, and vinegar), so I dismissed the thought.  I hadn’t ever had luck with making good brown sushi rice; further, neither I nor my hypoglycemic tendencies wanted to resort to white rice, or any kind of rice with sugar.

But in recently looking up recipes for furikake to jazz up my plain rice and edamame, I found I had been wrong.  Onigiri is, in fact, never made with sushi rice, but rather with plain rice.  The sky opened, and angels sang; my dream of onigiri was reborn.

There are ten million different ways to make onigiri, depending on how the rice is seasoned, whether or not it’s filled, what sort of filling, how it’s shaped, and so on.  There is but one requirement: short grain rice is mandatory.  Long grain rice will never stick together properly, and medium grain is iffy at best.  Do not use jasmine, do not use basmati, do not use Uncle Ben’s.  Do not use Minute (ever, not just for onigiri).  Do not pass GO.  Do not collect $200.

short grain on top, long grain on bottom. see the difference? use the one on top.

I decided to use the following method to make my onigiri (learned from the delightful Just Hungry) not only because it works particularly well with brown rice, which will always have a harder time sticking together than white rice, but also because it automatically packages the onigiri in the process.  It’s ideal for my particular amalgam of laziness and snobbishness.

This is about 2 cups of cooked short grain brown rice.  It will make four smallish onigiri.  I want to keep them small, so I can eat one easily and quickly while sautéing or whisking or what-have-you.  There is no sitting down or stopping to eat at work.

did i mention this is short grain rice? use short grain rice.

It gets mixed with about 1 cup of frozen shelled edamame, which was thawed in the microwave and pulsed a few times in a food processor.

To season, about 2 tablespoons of black sesame and nori furikake, more or less.  This mixture has enough salt in it to adequately season the rice, which can taste a little bland if too little is used.

Mix it all together.

Line four small bowls with plastic wrap, or line one bowl four times.  Whatever works.  Try to press it in evenly, with no big wrinkles.

Either spray or drizzle in water, just enough to moisten the plastic without pooling.  A spray bottle works wonders here;  this is a cheap one I picked up god-knows-where for no more than a couple of dollars.  It’s useful to have around, especially when the cats misbehave.

A light misting of moisture keeps the rice from sticking to the plastic.  I haven’t tried omitting this step; maybe it’s unnecessary, but I don’t mind doing it and my rice hasn’t stuck yet.

Divide the rice evenly between the four bowls.

Gather up the plastic wrap around the rice.

Press the rice together and squeeze out as much air as possible.  Don’t crush it, but compress it well.  Twist the plastic to hold it all together.

This is basically the end of the process (thanks again to Just Hungry for the technique), but if you want the traditional triangle shape, now’s the time to make it: just squeeze the ball into a triangle shape.  These wrapped-up rice balls can be eaten immediately, or after a few hours at room temperature, or refrigerated for a few days.  They also freeze beautifully, which is what mine are doing now.

On my way to work in the morning, I grab a couple and leave them at room temperature.  By the time I want to eat them, they’re appropriately thawed.  If you’re ambitious, wrap a little nori strip around the bottom, just before serving so it doesn’t get too soft.  Mine already have nori in them from the furikake, so I only did this for looks.  I do not give my onigiri little nori pants at work.

Baked Brown Rice for Onigiri
Adapted from Alton Brown
Makes about 4 cups cooked rice

This method has never, ever, ever failed me.  It turns out perfect brown rice, every single time.  It works for any type of brown rice, but for onigiri, be sure to use short grain rice.  Rice labeled as “sushi rice” is ideal.  If in doubt, um, look at the grains of rice.  If they’re short and round, then you’re good to go.  If they’re long and thin, then don’t bother; it won’t be starchy enough to hold together in a ball.

If you like, you can add some seasoning other than salt before cooking the rice, such as bay leaf, cumin, sesame seeds, cloves, turmeric, star anise, dried herbs, furikake (recipe below), or even a garlic clove.  It will season the rice deeply and aromatically.

2 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups short grain brown rice
1 teaspoon kosher salt

1.  Turn oven to 375º F.  No need to fully preheat, just turn it on.  Bring the water to a boil, using whatever method is preferable (microwave, stovetop, whatever; me, I use a tea kettle).

2.  While water heats, measure out the rice into a baking dish of suitable size.  (Mr. Brown recommends an 8 inch square glass dish, which I happen to have, so that’s what I use.  I’m sure ceramic is fine, but maybe not metal, which will heat less evenly and probably crisp the outside edges of the rice.)  Add the salt.  If your dish doesn’t have a tight-fitting cover, pull out a piece of aluminum foil and fit it to the dish (to make covering it later go quickly and easily), then set the foil aside.

3.  When the water boils, pour it over the rice and salt.  Give it a little stir, and cover tightly with the foil.  (See?  If you hadn’t fitted the foil to the dish already, you’d be handling that over a dish full of boiling water.  I care about your hands.)  Immediately place the dish in the oven, and bake at 375º F for 1 hour.

4.  Remove the dish from the oven.  I like to let it stand for about 10 minutes before uncovering and fluffing the rice with a fork, both to let the dish cool and to give the rice a little extra steaming time.  Cooked rice can be stored in the fridge or freezer.

Black Sesame and Nori Furikake (Rice Seasoning)
Adapted from The Kitchn
Makes about 1/2 cup, which will last forever

Furikake is really anything you sprinkle over plain rice to season it.  It’s usually fairly potent, so a little goes a long way.  The nori here doesn’t give a seaweed flavor so much as an umami richness; with the salt, it has a faint brininess that I particularly love with black sesame.  Nori can be found in the “international” section of many grocery stores, but Asian markets will have a wider selection.  I found some pre-toasted nori that was already cut into strips, for exactly such an application as this.

1/4 cup black sesame seeds
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup nori (toasted), cut into small strips

1.  Place the sesame seeds and salt in a spice grinder, or mortar and pestle.  Pulse or grind a few times until the sesame seeds are lightly ground, with some remaining whole.  At this point, you can add the nori and grind it all together, or simply mix the ground sesame-salt in with the strips.  Store in an airtight container in the freezer, or in the fridge if you’ll use it all within a few days.

The Endive Problem: An Exposé

In my line of work as a personal chef, I’ve had many occasions to plan menus for dinner parties.  Often, in searching for ideas for appetizers or hors d’oeuvres, I’ve come across something that looks a lot like this:

The ingredients vary, of course, but the basic format is always the same.  A single leaf of endive is topped with a glamorous dab of something-or-other, always placed at the base of the leaf.  The toppings can be as simple or as elaborate as you like.  One version simply called for a crumble of blue cheese, a walnut, and a drizzle of honey; another used lobster meat with avocado slivers and segmented grapefruit.  Pictured here is a mixture of goat cheese, crème fraîche, lemon zest, and olive oil, topped with smoked trout and chives.

Every time I see one of these recipes, I am momentarily swayed by the stunningly pretty bites.  The pale green endive, curling slender and seductive around the filling, promises an easy and elegant answer to all your entertaining needs.

But then, I remember all the myriad reasons why I will never, ever, ever, ever make one of these endive “boats” again.

This, Gentle Reader, is the carnage left from making a mere six canapés.  These are the leaves that I couldn’t use, the waste left over.  For six canapés.  This is what those other recipes and well-styled photographs will never admit.

See, a head of endive is a slightly deceptive thing.  The outer leaves are simply too big for an hors d’oeuvre, which by typical standards should never be more than a single bite.  The inner leaves are too small to look quite right when prepared in this manner.  So the long-suffering chef is left only with the leaves in the middle, of which there are precious few of a similar size.

And yes, if one doesn’t care all that much about keeping all canapés the same size, it’s certainly possible to use all the leaves.  But then you end up with some extremely giant bites, and some lilliputian bites.  Call me a snob, but that just plain looks silly.

two of these things are not like the others

Not to mention that endive is a rather bitter green.  Paired with other flavors, it’s lovely, but it’s a little much to just eat on its own.  If you use the largest outermost leaves, your guests very well might only eat the end with the topping on it, and then leave the lipstick-stained bitter ends lying about.

Further, endive will not naturally sit flat on its spine.  In order to achieve those picture-perfect platters, it’s necessary to shave off a tiny bit of the leaf from underneath, which is tedious and leaves you with a bunch of strange ellipsoid slivers lying about.

Two whole endives sacrificed their lives for six hors d’oeuvres, people.  We can do better by them.

If your heart is set on using endive for an appetizer (or if you’ve already bought some), just do away with the “boat” idea completely.  Forget it.  It’s a trap.  That way only leads to sadness.  And though raw endive makes a fantastic salad, the French have a much better idea: cook it.  Boil it, in fact.

It probably sounds like the least appealing thing in the world, but when boiled, endive loses its puckering bitterness, and a somehow nutty sweetness is coaxed from the leaves.  It’s not much to look at, but it tastes fantastic.  Ginette Mathiot, in her magnum opus I Know How to Cook, provides a recipe for endive purée that blends boiled endive with a quick béchamel sauce.  Flavorful and simple, it’s so French it might as well be smoking.

Best of all, it’s a simple trick to turn this thick purée into an elegant canapé.  Crustless white bread, lightly toasted and cut into triangles, makes a base for a dollop of the endive purée.  A flake of smoked trout sits happily on top, accented with a colorful chive.

It’s nearly the same ingredients as the aforementioned endive bites, and just as attractive, but much better to eat and much nicer all around.

no
yes

I’m not quite sure where all these endive boat recipes got started, but I’m reasonably sure it was from someone with too much time on his hands, too much endive in the fridge, or both.  Maybe it’s some grand Endive Cabal, an alliance between endive farmers, recipe writers, and stylists, meant to make the rest of us poor saps look (and feel) dumb.  As for me, I’m having no more of it, and I mean to convince you all as well.  The next time you see one of these “endive boat” recipes, don’t pay it any attention.  Just walk on by.  You can thank me later.

 

Canapés with Endive Purée, Smoked Trout, and Chives
Makes about 2 cups purée, enough for many canapés
Adapted in part from I Know How to Cook, by Ginette Mathiot

The yield of this recipe is variable, but depends on how large your slices of bread are, how much smoked trout you have, and how many of these you feel like making (though it could hardly be described as difficult).  You may end up with extra endive purée, which makes a fabulous sauce for pizza, especially with some slivered red onions and leftover smoked trout and chives on top.  Just sayin’.

4 heads Belgian endive (about 1 1/4 pounds)
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon freshly-grated nutmeg, or to taste
White pepper and salt, to taste
Sliced white sandwich bread
Melted butter or olive oil, as needed for brushing
Smoked trout, skin removed, and flaked
Fresh chives, snipped into 1 inch lengths

1. Preheat the broiler.  Bring a medium pan of water to a boil over high heat.  While heating water, cut endives into quarters lengthwise.  Salt the boiling water liberally, and add the endives.  Boil, uncovered, for 15 minutes.

2. While endives cook, make a béchamel sauce by melting the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat.  When the foam subsides, whisk in the flour until thoroughly combined with the butter.  Continue cooking and whisking until a slight nutty aroma develops, 2 to 3 minutes; do not let the mixture brown.  Add the milk slowly, whisking to prevent lumps.  Cook for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the béchamel is well thickened.  Season to taste with the nutmeg, white pepper, and salt.  Remove from heat.

3. After cooking the endive, drain well.  Let cool briefly.  When cool enough to handle, squeeze as much liquid as possible from the leaves, and transfer to a food processor.

4.  Purée the boiled endive with the béchamel until smooth.  Taste, and correct seasoning as needed with salt, white pepper, and nutmeg.  Let cool.  The purée should thicken a bit more as it cools.

5.  While purée is cooling, prepare the bread.  Brush each slice lightly with melted butter or olive oil.  Toast under the hot broiler until just golden brown.  Remove the crusts from the slices of bread, cut each slice into four triangles, and set aside.  (At this point, check the consistency of the purée.  It should be quite thick, and not at all runny.  If it’s too thin, you can toss in some of the toasted bread crusts and process until well blended.  Repeat as necessary.)

6.  To finish canapés, top each bread triangle with a small dollop of the endive purée.  Place a flake or two of smoked trout on top, and decorate with a piece of chive.  Plate and serve immediately.

pizza with leftover endive purée, shaved red onion, leftover smoked trout, and chives

 

Spicy Eggplant Caviar

One of the grandest things about living in Chicago is the park system.  Aside from the beautifully-tended landscapes all up and down the shore of Lake Michigan, there are constantly free events for the public to enjoy.  During the Summer, you can find something to do every day of the week.  Free movies?  Free concerts?  Free dance performances?  Free exercise classes?  Check, check, check, and check.

The crown jewel of these venues is Millennium Park, in the heart of downtown.  There, the Pritzker Pavilion, with its exuberantly swooping facade, hosts a daily (sometimes twice a day) concert for lovers of all types of music, from Classical to Hip-Hop and everything in between.

Though there is proper seating near the stage, I’ve never used it.  Further back is a gorgeous lawn under a loose and arching grid that suspends speakers overhead, giving pitch-perfect sound no matter how far away from the stage you have to sit.

Bring a blanket, bring a crowd, and bring a picnic.  (Did I mention you can bring food and wine?  Well, mostly you can.)  Sit and enjoy one of our breathtaking Chicago Summer nights, looking up at the surrounding skyscrapers.  Watch the sun set.  See the lights flick on and then off in the offices within.  Be grateful you’re not in one.

Recently, a few friends and I decided to get together for an evening of music and food at the Pritzker, as we often do when the weather agrees.  And, faced with the glut of cheap eggplant at the store, I decided it was the perfect opportunity to try out a recipe from one of my best-loved new cookbooks (new to me, anyway), Susan Spicer’s Crescent City Cooking.

Chef Spicer is the mastermind behind my Mom’s favorite restaurant, Bayona; and in a food capital like New Orleans, that’s saying something.  Like the food at her restaurant, the cookbook is filled with uncomplicated and carefully-tuned recipes that make the absolute most of each ingredient.  Nothing is fussy, but everything is good enough to serve to honored guests.  I can’t stop cooking out of it.

The recipe for Eggplant Caviar caught my eye immediately, mainly because of the accompanying photo of a charred, burnt-paper-skinned eggplant, cut open to reveal a creamy and slumping interior.  I didn’t really care what else it involved, I wanted to scoop up that eggplant and eat it with a spoon.

I discovered that the method detailed in the recipe (chop everything by hand) left the dip with bits of red onion that were too large and too abundant for my tastes; they overwhelmed everything else.  Beautiful, yes, but if you are sans food processor, I suggest reducing the amount of onion by up to half.

A quick spin in the food processor to tame the pungency, though, and it was perfect.

Well, nearly perfect.  I do love a smoky eggplant flavor, but I love it even more with some heat to brighten it.  I happened to have some pickled Aurora chilies in the fridge from a previous farmers market experiment, and two of them were just the thing to add the capsaicin I craved.  (I’ve written the recipe to use a more available chili, since I assume no one out there has pickled Aurora chilies sitting around.  If you do, I’m coming over for dinner.)

This is probably one of those recipes that benefits from an overnight rest in the refrigerator, giving the flavors a chance to become acquainted and meld together.  I’m sure it would become positively transcendental.  But I’ll probably never know for sure, since it disappeared completely at the picnic, and I can’t actually imagine having it around for more than a few hours and keeping my hands off the stuff.

As the sun went down behind the city, the changing light transformed the park.  The stage turned into a luminous jewel box, all crimson and gold.

Behind us, the new Modern Wing of the Art Institute hung glowing above the trees.

We finished off the wine and the eggplant and the strawberries and the bread, and we hung around long after the music stopped thrumming from the speakers above.  The moon came out, and the sky dissolved into that perfect, rich indigo.  And we left, and we were grateful.  Let’s do it again next week.

Spicy Eggplant Caviar
Adapted from Crescent City Cooking, by Susan Spicer
Makes about 2 cups

Be sure to not skip the first step, pricking the eggplant with a fork.  If you don’t do this, your eggplant will explode in the oven, and you will have bigger problems than a lack of eggplant caviar.  And don’t be afraid of getting the eggplant too close to the broiler; you want to really char it.  I put mine about 4 inches away from the heat, and the flesh began to slump long before the skin blackened properly.

1 1/2 to 2 pounds eggplant (2 small or 1 large)
1 cup red onion (about 1/2 medium onion, less if chopping by hand)
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 small chili pepper (such as Serrano)
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil (to taste)
1 tablespoon lemon juice (from 1/2 lemon)
1/4 teaspoon smoked pimentón (Spanish smoked paprika), or cayenne pepper (to taste)
Salt and black pepper (to taste)

1.  Turn the broiler to high, and let preheat for 5 to 10 minutes.  Pierce the eggplant a few times with a fork.  Broil on a rimmed baking sheet very close to the heat until the skin is charred and black, turning about every 5 minutes, cooking 15 to 20 minutes total.  The flesh should feel very soft, and the juices that run out will turn syrupy and thick.  Let cool.

2.  Meanwhile, prepare the other ingredients.  If using a food processor, roughly chop the onion, garlic, basil, parsley, and chili pepper, and place in the bowl of the processor.  If making by hand, chop everything as finely as possible, and place in a large bowl.  Add 2 tablespoons olive oil, and lemon juice.

3.  When the eggplant is cool enough to handle, peel the skin away from the flesh.  Cut the eggplant in half, and remove any seeds that are large and easily visible (some seeds are small and not easily distinguishable from the flesh; these will not be so bitter and are okay to leave in).  Roughly chop the flesh, and add to the other prepared ingredients.  Purée in the food processor, or mix by hand.  Season to taste with pimentón, salt, and pepper, and add extra olive oil if desired.  Serve warm or at room temperature, with pita bread or toasted baguette slices.

Energy Bars

There’s something incredibly appealing about the whole idea of an energy bar: it’s a discrete unit of food, carefully packaged in its own colorful wrapper, just the right size for a snack or, with a piece of fruit, breakfast or a light lunch.  It’s like a little food present, just for you.

There are also, of course, more so-called “energy bars” on the market than you can shake a stick at.  On the more virtuous side, an energy bar is an easy way to get some whole grains and fruits (in dried form) into the diet.  But on the other end of the spectrum, you’ll find the line between “energy bar” and “candy bar” very fine indeed.  Determining which category any given energy bar falls into can be rather tricky, if not downright impossible.

Even if your chosen bar contains nothing more offensive than soy protein isolate (also known as soy protein powder), the long list of ingredients can be a little off-putting.  My all-time favorite energy bars boast an ingredient list of as little as two items (seriously!), and both are real food; but I rarely buy them, because at $1.50 a pop, those suckers can add up fast.

So for the last couple of years, I have been making my own energy bars.  I started after I realized with slight horror that my boyfriend had been breakfasting on an instant powder drink.  In my book, anything powdered cannot be called breakfast, so I convinced him to start packing a banana and a homemade energy bar.  (It didn’t take much convincing.)

With batches of homemade energy bars around, I soon adopted a new afternoon snack.  But, as I tend towards hypoglycemia, I had to be wary of recipes with more than a slight amount of added sugar.  (This problem becomes more apparent for me with energy bars, as they tend to replace meals for me, rather than come at the end of one, as a cookie might.)  One sugary recipe sent me into a confused daze for half a day, during which I was utterly useless.

My most often made recipe is Alton Brown’s protein bars, mostly because I made them once, found them to be good, and decided that I shouldn’t try to fix what wasn’t broke.  But as good as they are, even those can be a bit boring after two years; so I recently decided to branch out a bit and try some new recipes.

This recipe, from Food Network’s Ellie Krieger, appealed to me initially because of the ingredient list.  The only sweetener, apart from a plethora of dried fruit, is from a scant amount of maple syrup.  The remainder of the bulk is made from whole grains and nuts, and can easily be made into a gluten-free version.  There’s nothing strange in there, just a pile of healthy and real food.

Upon closer inspection, the method appealed to me almost more than the ingredient list: it’s primarily made in the food processor.  I understand that this might be a deal-breaker for those of you who don’t have one; but for those of you who do, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an easier energy bar recipe.  It’s just blend, mix, pan, bake.  Slice.  Savor.

But the thing that’s cementing this recipe’s inclusion in my permanent file is the end result.  These bars taste like the healthiest cookie you’ve ever eaten.  They are firm-textured, nutty, loaded with dried fruit, and have a pleasantly grainy chew.  Surprisingly filling, one of these will give you the sustained sort of energy you wish all energy bars would.  And so pretty!  The variety of fruits and nuts make for a lovely mosaic look, each bite speckled through with orange apricots, crimson currants, and green pepitas.

Best of all, there was no blood sugar spike and crash for me with this recipe.  The sugar level looks rather high in the nutritional data, but it’s mostly natural fruit sugar, which isn’t nearly as bad as refined sugars.  However, the next time I make these – and there will be a next time – I think I’ll use some protein powder to offset the sugar level a bit.

My only regret is that I waited so long to break out of my energy bar rut.  I’m not giving up Alton’s recipe; but I tell you what, if there are other recipes like this one in the world, I’m going to have to start making more energy bars.

Energy Bars
Adapted from Ellie Krieger
Makes 12

Try to find dried fruits that don’t have sugar added; the fruit is sweet enough on its own, and the extra sugar will only add unnecessary calories with no nutritional benefit.  For a gluten-free version, substitute the rye flour for any gluten-free flour (such as quinoa, buckwheat, or amaranth), swap the wheat germ for ground flaxseed, and be sure to use gluten-free oats.

3 1/2 ounces (about 1 cup) rolled oats (either quick or old-fashioned)
3 ounces (about 2/3 cup) dried apricots, roughly chopped
2 1/2 ounces (about 1/2 cup) raw almonds (preferably whole)
2 1/2 ounces (about 1/2 cup) golden raisins
2 ounces (about 1/2 cup) raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
2 ounces (about 2/3 cup) dried dates, pre-chopped or whole pitted
2 ounces (about 1/2 cup) dried currants
2 ounces (about 1/2 cup) wheat germ (toasted or raw)
1 1/2 ounces (about 1/2 cup) dry nonfat milk
1 ounce (about 1/4 cup) whole-grain rye flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 ounces (about 1/3 cup) maple syrup
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons water, as needed

1.  Preheat the oven to 350º F.  Lightly oil an 8 inch square pan, line with parchment paper, and lightly oil the parchment.

2.  In a large bowl, loosely mix together the first 7 ingredients (oats through currants).  Process (in batches, if necessary) in a food processor until the mixture is finely chopped.

3.  Meanwhile, in the large bowl, whisk together the wheat germ, dry milk, rye flour, salt, and cinnamon.  Add the chopped oat and fruit mixture, and mix until evenly blended.

4.  In a bowl, whisk together the maple syrup and eggs.  Add to the dry ingredients, and stir until all dry ingredients are moistened (mixture will be very stiff).  Add the water by tablespoons as needed to fully moisten.

5.  Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish.  Using a nonstick spatula or moistened hands, press the mixture firmly and evenly into the pan.  Bake at 350º F for about 25 minutes, or until lightly browned on the edges and just set in the middle.  Let cool before slicing into 12 bars.  Bars can be individually wrapped, and frozen or refrigerated.

Nutrition (per bar):
220 calories
7 g fat (1 g saturated)
36 mg cholesterol
133 g sodium
34 g carbohydrate
4 g dietary fiber
20 g sugar
8 g protein

Note:
1.  For a higher-protein bar, you can substitute the powdered milk for an equal amount of soy protein powder (1/2 cup, or 2 ounces).  This increases the protein to 11 g, increases the dietary fiber to 5 g, and reduces the sugar to 18 g; all other nutritional data remains virtually unchanged.  Soy protein powder is readily found at specialty stores such as Whole Foods.

Roasted Chickpeas, Three Ways

It’s Super Bowl time.

For me, this usually means that I get invited to a party where I care far more about the company, food, and drink than I do about the planned entertainment.  Though I do enjoy throwing parties quite a lot, I usually forget about this so-called “Big Game” until the last minute, and someone else has already claimed hosting duties.

This year, however, is quite another story.  I am from New Orleans, you see; and right now it doesn’t matter if you’ve ever even seen a football game before, if you’re from N’Awlins, you are damned excited about this particular game.  The Saints have never been to the Super Bowl before, and it would be a severe understatement to say that the city is fired up about it.  How excited are we?  This is how excited.  Five thousand men in dresses parading down Bourbon Street can’t be wrong, and you’re sure not going to see that in Indianapolis.

So, of course, I can’t let this one slide by without a celebration.  But typical fare at a Super Bowl party tends towards the “bar food” end of the spectrum; me, I usually serve something a bit more soigné than, you know, hot wings.

Not wanting to make my guests uncomfortable, though, I’m reluctant to serve the sort of food that I would normally turn to, things like precious canapés or anything with an adjective-laden name.  I mean, who wants to watch football with a cup of chocolate mousse balanced on his knee?  No, for this party, I need something that goes with beer.

Of course, there will be a main entrée, but people are going to want something snacky, something that can sit out all night, something starchy and bite-sized.  Chips or cocktail nuts would certainly fit the bill here; but they’re so incredibly salty.  I find that football goes best with a steady infusion of beer, and if I want to be standing at the end of the night, I don’t need anything to make me want to drink more.

Enter the recent darling of the food blogging world: the roasted chickpea.  Endlessly adaptable to any flavor you put with it, these little gems are just what I’m looking for: bite-sized, crunchy, starchy, addicting, and they can sit out for ages.  Oh, and did I mention that chickpeas are incredibly cheap?  Could it get any better?

Of course, I could never settle on one flavor, so I’ve narrowed it down to three.  I’ve chosen a range that I think will please all my guests, one way or another.  The first is inspired by the flavorings of a traditional béchamel sauce, using onion, white pepper, and nutmeg.  The onion is caramelized, bringing a dark sweetness, while the abundance of coarsely ground white pepper has a sharpness that cuts any stodginess.  In the background, the nutmeg scents more than it flavors, with a warming and seductive spice.

The second seasoning blend is a bit more familiar, a tried-and-true combination of lemon and thyme.  I use lemon zest for its floral qualities, which accentuates the citrus notes of the fresh thyme, while lemon juice blends with olive oil to make a sort of savory vinaigrette that soaks into the hot roasted chickpeas.  A bit of black pepper adds depth, but not enough is used to bring any heat.

For those who like a sweet-savory combination, the third seasoning combines smoky cumin, toasted lightly before grinding, with cayenne and hot paprika for heat, and cinnamon and brown sugar for depth and a light caramel flavor.  A pinch of salt here makes the flavors pop without turning things savory.

This is not the extent of my Super Bowl menu; I will talk about other foods as I’m able, but this might be early enough for you to get some use out of it for your own party.  Whether or not you use these flavor combinations, you can hardly go wrong with this idea.  Simple, endlessly customizable, and tasty as all get-out, roasted chickpeas are an excellent (and healthier) substitute for the typical cocktail nuts or chips that you’d otherwise be tempted to resort to.

Roasted Chickpeas
Makes about 2 cups

Directions:

  1. 1.  Drain and thoroughly rinse 2 cans of chickpeas.  Lay out in a single layer on a kitchen towel, and gently dry by hand, or let sit until dry.  Preheat oven to 350º F.
  2. 2.  Spread chickpeas in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet.  Roast for about 1 hour, shaking occasionally, or until crispy and lightly brown.  Immediately remove from oven and toss with desired seasonings (variations follow).

 

Onion and White Pepper Seasoning
Ingredients:

  • 2 teaspoons whole white peppercorns
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly-grated nutmeg
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup onion, diced small
  • 1 large pinch salt

Directions:

  1. 1.  Heat a sauté pan over medium heat.  Add peppercorns, and toast until fragrant, about 3 minutes.  Remove from pan, and crush in a mortar and pestle, or with the flat side of a large knife.  Transfer to a large bowl.  Add nutmeg.
  2. 2.  Heat 2 tablespoons oil in the same pan over medium-low heat.  Add onion and cook, stirring often, until onion has caramelized, turning brown and soft, 15 to 20 minutes.  Add to bowl with peppercorns and nutmeg.
  3. 3.  Toss hot roasted chickpeas with the mixture in the bowl, adding salt, and remaining olive oil (if needed).

 

 

 

Lemon-Thyme Seasoning
Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large pinch salt
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon black pepper (to taste)

Directions:

  1. 1.  Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl.  Add hot roasted chickpeas, and toss until coated.


Sweet and Spicy Seasoning
Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (to taste)
  • 1/4 teaspoon hot paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 large pinch salt
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil


Directions:

  1. 1.  Heat a sauté pan over medium heat.  Add cumin seeds and toast until fragrant, about 3 minutes.  Remove from heat, and grind to desired coarseness in a mortar, or electric spice grinder.
  2. 2.  In a large bowl, mix ground toasted cumin, cayenne, paprika, cinnamon, salt, brown sugar, and olive oil.  Add hot roasted chickpeas, and toss until coated.

 

Notes:
1.  For the most part, roasted chickpeas can sit at room temperature in an airtight container for several days.  (The onion-laden ones, maybe store in the refrigerator.)  If they go soft, just re-crisp them in a 350º F oven for 5 to 10 minutes, or until they’re crunchy again.