Crunchy Granola

Granola is one of those foods with a highly debatable health factor.

Commercial granola completely misses the point. Laden with ingredients such as shortening, vegetable oil and corn syrup solids, it seeks to try to pull a fast one on unsuspecting consumers who are trying to eat better. Thanks, giant corporations, but I’ll get my junk food elsewhere.

Such as at the pub. By ordering french fries at the pub, you willfully enter into an unhealthy exchange with the crispy little buggars.

Sure you’re eating potatoes but they can’t count as part of your daily serving of vegetables. The oil that’s been in the deep fryer for ten years isn’t included in the list of healthy oils you’re supposed to ingest daily.

The same unhealthy ingredients shouldn’t be hidden in your morning bowl of granola.

Granola and french fries are not the same.

Now, Artisanal granola can be tasty and often has healthy ingredients. But it’s expensive and seems to always come in teeny tiny little bags.

So what’s a granola loving girl to do?

Well….make it.

So that’s what I do.

I’ve been making this recipe for a couple of years. It’s simple, quick, cheap and enormously satisfying. And it’s so delicious that I even caught my toddler pretending to eat it the other day.

This is the standard version of the recipe. It’s incredibly versatile. I happily substitute or omit unessential ingredients if they’re not in my pantry. (Wheat germ is something that I always forget to buy so it’s not often found in my granola. Oops)

Ingredients:

  • 8 cups (organic) rolled oats
  • 1 1/2 cups wheat germ
  • 1 1/2 cups oat bran
  • 1 cup (unsalted) sunflower seeds
  • 1 cup almonds
  • 1 cup pecans
  • 1 cup walnuts
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 3/4 cup honey
  • 1 cup coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla

Optional:

  • 2 cups raisins or cranberries

Method:

  • Pre heat oven to 325°C (190°F), line two baking sheets with parchment paper
  • Chop nuts
  • Combine oats, nuts, wheat germ, bran in a large mixing bowl
  • Combine salt, brown sugar, maple syrup, honey, oil, cinnamon and vanilla in small saucepan.
  • Bring to a boil over medium heat
  • Pour over dry ingredients and stir to coat.
  • Spread mixture evenly on baking sheets
  • Cook for 20 minutes, stirring half way through
  • Allow to cool but not harden
  • Stir in optional raisins or cranberries.

Variations to consider:

  • Adding uncooked quinoa
  • Substituting or omitting any of the nuts
  • Using different oils (peanut, avocado, etc.) and making different combinations to change the flavour
  • Reducing the amount of brown sugar, honey and maple syrup for a less sweet flavour.

*Savings tips: health food stores seem to sell organic rolled oats much cheaper than grocery stores

This granola is lovely with a cup of almond beverage, warmed applesauce or french fries. Just kidding; save those for an over-indulgent meal the pub.

Happy breakfast,

Jill

Oh, lovely Vanilla!

Vanilla-cropfbDid you know that vanilla isn’t a synthetic liquid that lives in a plastic bottle in the baking aisle at the grocery store?

I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t pay much attention to vanilla until fairly recently. I’m ashamed because I love baking and I love making things from scratch. I don’t use mixes because of over processed and questionable ingredients, so why did I use commercial vanilla for so long? Hrmph.

There are two types of commercial vanilla: pure and synthetic. Neither of them contain just vanilla pods and alcohol – the only two ingredients needed to make vanilla extract. Corn syrup, vanillin, lignin and/or sugar are among the listed ingredients. I also came across a rumour that beaver anal glands are used in the production of imitation vanilla but it seems to be disproven. Phew.

Meanwhile, vanilla pods, or beans, come from the vanilla orchid plant. Once the orchid’s flower is hand pollinated, it produces a pod. After a few months, the pod is harvested and cured.

The onerous processes of hand pollinating and curing make it the second most expensive spice after saffron. It only grows in Madagascar, Reunion Island, Mexico and Tahiti; each location producing its particular flavour of vanilla.

The recipe for authentic vanilla extract is so simple it hurts:

  1. two vanilla pods, sliced horizontally
  2. one cup (eight ounces) of vodka, rum or bourbon

Combine pods and alcohol of your choice in a glass bottle and place in a cool, dark place for eight weeks. Shake weekly.

Seriously, that’s it.

The end result is so aromatic and flavourful that you’re going to want to get your bake on. It’s well worth the eight week waiting period.

I did a quick cost analysis and it was cheaper for me to make my own than to buy it. I bought two pods for $5 at Bulk Barn and I had the vodka on hand. I left the pods in the bottle after it was (finally!) ready and I topped it up with more vodka after I’d used a few tablespoons. Eventually the pods will lose their potency but until then I’m going to keep adding vodka.

It also get more complex with age, unlike its commercial counterpart which has a shelf life of about two years.

And the next time my husband comes home with a bottle of bourbon, I’ll snatch a cup and experiment with different flavours.

I’m getting a little ahead of myself, it’s March, but I will give out bottles of vanilla extract next Christmas in pretty little bottles. I’m all about removing chemicals and plastic bottles from the cupboards of my loved ones and helping to make their desserts better…one tablespoon of lovely vanilla at a time.

Happy health,

Jill

French Onion Soup au Gratin

I’ve loved French Onion soup my whole life. I even used to like powdered soup mix with garlic croutons and a thick piece of mozzarella.

The soup that I love today takes more preparation than boiling water and opening an envelop. It takes good stock (homemade or not), delicious Gruyère cheese and just enough cognac to make the caramelizing onions take on a life of their own.

You’ll need:

  • 2 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon cognac, a little bit more for sipping
  • 2 quarts (8 cups) hot beef or veal stock
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 French baguette, thinly sliced
  • Gruyère cheese, thinly sliced

Over medium heat, slowly caramelize the onions in butter for about 30 minutes. Add flour to the onions and stir thoroughly. Add the wine and cognac, cooking long enough to evaporate the alcohol. Add the hot stock, thyme and bay leaf. Simmer uncovered for an hour.

Preheat oven to 350C. Before serving, lightly toast the baguette slices. Add Gruyère to the toasted slices and lightly broil. Remove bay leaf. Put soup bowls on a cookie sheet or roasting pan and ladle the soup in the bowls. Put broiled Gruyère toast cheese side down in the soup bowls. Top with a layer of cheese.

Bake for 15 minutes and broil on low for a couple minutes until cheese bubbles and browns.

Perfection!

It’s going to be hot so let it stand a few minutes. You don’t want to burn your tongue on the first spoonful – trust me, you won’t get to enjoy it!

I scored four of those gorgeous ceramic French Onion soup bowls at a Value Village a number of years ago for a buck each, lid included. They get very hot in the oven (duh) so take care and wrap the handles.