Coconut Maple Pecan Granola

I’ve never really understood the appeal of granola. I don’t dislike it or anything, it’s just not something that’s ever gotten me real hot and bothered, you know? Not to mention, I think most granolas are about 1,000,000 calories per four tablespoon serving, and if I’m gonna be blowing a week’s worth of calories in one sitting, I’m gonna be consuming those calories in the form of a giant pizza, thankyouverymuch.

Yogurt  + Granola Breakfast Bowls with Coconut Maple Pecan Granola

Anyways, in recent years, I’ve become a big fan of greek yogurt. It’s delicious, packed full of protein, comes in tons of flavors, and is easily portable – but I prefer to eat it with something added to it for crunch. (I feel weird eating a big bowl of food that requires absolutely no chewing, for reasons I can’t explain.) I’ve found a few different varieties of granola that are quite serviceable, but nothing that’s life-changing (in fairness, perhaps I’m expecting too much out of my breakfast)… until recently. And wonder of wonders, it was a homemade granola, served up in a tiny little pie shop in the middle of Detroit, that made me understand the appeal of granola. The most spectacular yogurt + granola bowl, with a starring ingredient of… mint! Mind. Officially. BLOWN. Clearly, the only appropriate course of action was to go home and recreate the entire bowl, from top to bottom.

Coconut Maple Pecan Granola

Coconut Maple Pecan Granola
makes… a whole bunch. I did not measure.

2.5 cups oats
1.5 cups coarsely chopped raw pecans
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup melted coconut oil
1/4 cup honey
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground ginger
2 oz roasted coconut*

Yogurt + Granola Breakfast Bowls
per individual serving

6 oz plain greek yogurt (2% or full fat)
honey to taste
1/4 cup Coconut Maple Pecan Granola
2 T dried cherries
3-4 mint leaves, minced or sliced into thin ribbons

*I love the roasted coconut chips from Trader Joe’s in this granola. If you don’t have a TJ’s near you, you can use flaked coconut of your choice – just be sure to toast it separate from the granola (either in a skillet or in the oven), as it will toast much faster than the rest of the ingredients, and you don’t want it to burn.

Yogurt  + Granola Breakfast Bowls with Coconut Maple Pecan Granola

1.) Preheat your oven to 300°F. While the oven preheats, whisk together the maple syrup, melted coconut oil, honey, kosher salt, and ground ginger. Pour the oats and raw pecans into the wet ingredients, and gently stir with a rubber spatula until everything is evenly coated.

2.) Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone baking sheet. Evenly spread the granola out on to the baking sheet, and place it in the oven.

3.) About every 10-15 minutes, remove the granola from the oven and give it a good stir before returning it. This will help ensure even browning.

4.) After about 35-40 minutes, the granola should have a nice, even, golden brown color. Stir it one last time, then put it back in the oven; turn the oven off and crack the oven door, and allow the granola to cool completely – about 45 minutes or so.

5.) Once the granola is totally cooled (you want to be sure there is NO warmth whatsoever – because that warmth will just translate to soggy granola once it’s stored), lightly crumble the coconut and add it to the granola. Transfer the granola to an airtight container. The granola will be good for several weeks, but I bet it won’t last that long!

Yogurt  + Granola Breakfast Bowls with Coconut Maple Pecan Granola

To assemble your yogurt and granola breakfast bowl, start with a base of yogurt; top with a drizzle of honey (as much or as little as you like). Add the granola, dried cherries, and mint. Enjoy!

I’m not sure why it didn’t occur to me sooner that, if I was not pleased with the granola options available to me, I should just make my own – but I can be a little dense sometimes, so, there ya have it. Turns out, granola is really easy to make, and can be customized in several million different ways – though I think this particular combination of ingredients is pretty darn heavenly.

I have to tell you, the use of mint in the yogurt and granola bowl was a huge surprise to me. I was half-convinced I would hate it – but as it turns out, it MADE the dish! It added a brightness and a freshness that was absolutely fantastic.

Guess it’s time to plant some mint in the backyard,
Tina

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Acorn Squash, Sweet Potato, and Chipotle Mash

This year, I thought I’d try something new, and post a Thanksgiving recipe BEFORE Thanksgiving! Isn’t that a great idea? Just you watch, I think it’s gonna catch on around the food blog world. I’m practically a genius.

This has become one of my go-to sides this fall. The idea actually came to me after I made a dinner that involved stuffing acorn squash halves with chipotle chicken (I’ll be back with that recipe before too long) – and I LOVED the flavor combination of the sweet squash and the smokey, spicy chipotles. I often find that acorn and butternut squash can be too sweet for my liking, but the addition of some spice completely turned things around. I tried this mash out shortly thereafter, and my husband and I can’t get enough of it! I think it’ll make a perfect side dish for Thanksgiving – a newer, more interesting take on the traditional sweet potatoes (not that I have anything against brown sugar and marshmallows – I’m not a MONSTER).

Acorn Squash, Sweet Potato, and Chipotle Mash

Acorn Squash, Sweet Potato, and Chipotle Mash
serves 4 as a side dish

2 medium acorn squashes, halved and seeded
3 medium sweet potatoes, scrubbed and poked with a fork
2 chipotles, minced
1/2 cup plain greek yogurt (2% or full fat – sour cream will also work)
1 T butter
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
olive oil

1.) Preheat your oven to 375°, and line a baking sheet with foil. Lightly spray the inside of the acorn squash with olive oil, and season the flesh with a sprinkle of kosher salt. Place the squash cut side down on the baking sheet, and place the potatoes on the same sheet. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until the squash and potatoes are fork tender (the potatoes might take longer than the squash).

Acorn Squash, Sweet Potato, and Chipotle Mash

2.) When the squash and sweet potatoes are cooked through, allow them to cool for a couple minutes. Use a spoon to scoop the flesh of each into a medium bowl, and add the chipotles, greek yogurt, butter, salt and pepper. Mash until smooth, and well-combined.

Acorn Squash, Sweet Potato, and Chipotle Mash

3.) Spread the mash into a baking dish, and pop back into the over for 5-10 minutes, so everything can warm through. Serve hot.

This could certainly be made ahead of time – I’d say up to 2 days in advance. Refrigerate the mash (either in an airtight container, or in the baking dish, covered with plastic wrap), and then reheat in the oven for 20-25 minutes before serving.

I’ve actually found that this makes for a great, quick, weeknight side dish. I throw the squash and sweet potatoes in the oven, and let them bake while I prep the rest of dinner, or work out, or watch some HGTV. Despite needing some baking time, the active prep for this mash is about 5 minutes total! Not too bad, if you ask me. It’s healthy, it’s creamy, it’s a little spicy, and it reheats beautifully – so make a big batch, and use it up throughout the week! You could even spread a little bit on to your post-Thanksgiving turkey sandwich, to add a little kick.

How can you not love a holiday that basically REQUIRES elastic-waist pants?
Tina

Gruyere and Black Pepper Biscuit Sandwiches (with Strawberry Balsamic Jam)

I’ve always said: “Happiness is a warm, fluffy, buttermilk biscuit!”

Actually, that’s a lie – I’ve never said that before. But, I have felt that sentiment deep down in my heart for a very long time, and NOW I’m saying it… and I mean it! Seriously, a buttermilk biscuit is a beautiful, wonderful thing, especially when it’s fresh from the oven and slathered in butter. Part of the beauty of a buttermilk biscuit is that you can dress it up in millions of ways. Add cheese! Pop it on top of a chicken pot pie! Slice it in half and use it to sandwich a delicious piece of fried chicken!

(Stop drooling on your keyboard. It’s unsightly.)

ANYWAYS. When I was brainstorming some menu ideas for a wedding shower I was helping to throw, I knew I wanted to make a biscuit sandwich of some sort. A biscuit sandwich fulfills many of the requirements for food at a brunch: it’s dainty, it’s cute, it’s carb-y to soak up all the mimosas in your stomach. I wanted to add a couple other elements, too – something Italian (I met the bride while working in her dad’s Italian bakery nearly 20 years ago), something cheesy (please tell me I don’t need to explain the need for cheese?), and something to give it a real savory/spicy edge. Mission accomplished!

Gruyere and Black Pepper Biscuit Sandwiches (with Strawberry Balsamic Jam)

Gruyere and Black Pepper Biscuit Sandwiches (with Strawberry Balsamic Jam)
makes about 16 petite sandwiches, with jam left over

For the jam:
1 pound strawberries, rinsed, hulled and quartered
1 cup brown sugar
2 T water
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar (white, if you have it)
a healthy pinch of kosher salt

For the biscuits:
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
generous 1/2 t kosher salt
3/4 t coarsely ground black pepper
8 T butter, super cold, and cut into cubes
2 oz gruyere cheese, grated (about 1/2 cup)
1 1/2 cups cold buttermilk

For the sandwiches:
16 thin slices of prosciutto
arugula

Gruyere and Black Pepper Biscuit Sandwiches (with Strawberry Balsamic Jam)

1.) Start by getting your jam going on the stovetop. Add all the jam ingredients to a small sauce pan, stir well to combine, and set over medium heat. Let the mixture come up to a boil; turn the heat back just a bit (you don’t want it to be a hard boil, but you want more action than a simmer), and let the mixture cook down until it’s nice and thick. Keep an eye on it, and stir often, and it should take about 45 minutes.

2.) While the jam cooks, make your biscuit dough (and preheat your oven to 425°). In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, kosher salt, and black pepper. Using a pastry blender (or two knives, or your hands), cut the butter into the flour mixture, until there are still some bits of butter the size of small peas. (More thorough biscuit-dough-making directions are here.)

3.) Add the grated cheese to your flour/butter mixture, and use a fork to toss it all together until the cheese is evenly distributed. Then, drizzle the buttermilk around the bowl, and use the fork to lightly mix everything, until a shaggy dough starts to form.

4.) Lightly flour your countertop, and dump the dough out on to it. Working quickly, press the dough together into a lump, and then shape it into a square that’s about 3/4″ thick. Remember, the goal is to handle the dough as little as possible, so it doesn’t get overworked and it stays COLD!

5.) Cut the dough into 16 neat squares. (You can also cut traditional round biscuits out of the dough – I just find the rolling of scraps to be cumbersome, and the constant handling of those extra pieces can result in a tough biscuit. So, I go with squares.) Place the biscuits on to a parchment-lined baking sheet, about 2″ apart. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until the biscuits have risen nicely, and are a light golden brown on top.

6.) While your biscuits bake, finish up your jam. Dependent on what kind of texture you want, you can do a few things: leave it as is (for a super-chunky jam); mash up the strawberries with a potato masher (for a finer, but still chunky, jam); or blend the jam with an immersion blender (or in a traditional blender, for a much smoother jam). Let the jam cool completely.

7.) When your biscuits are done baking, let them cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes, then move them to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Gruyere and Black Pepper Biscuit Sandwiches (with Strawberry Balsamic Jam)

8.) Time to assemble the sandwiches! Gently slices the biscuits in half, and then spread jam on both sides of the biscuit. Layer on a piece of prosciutto, a small bunch of arugula, and then the top half of the biscuit. Serve at room temperature.

These sandwiches really have a lot of flavor going on – but it all ends up working really nicely together. The biscuits are nice and savory from the gruyere, and a little spicy, from the pepper. The prosciutto is smoky and salty, and pepperiness of the arugula complements the biscuit, and the strawberry balsamic jam adds just enough sweetness to round it all out. They’re rich and delicious, but small enough not to be too filling and heavy.

A couple items of note:

1.) You’ll have lots of jam left over. Use it on EVERYTHING – your morning toast, a slice of toasted baguette slathered in goat cheese, drizzled into your yogurt, eaten directly off a spoon. It will last for several weeks in the fridge.

2.) If you’re making these sandwiches for a party, make the biscuits ahead and freeze them. Once the biscuits are cut, lay them out on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and pop the baking sheet into the freezer. After 3 or 4 hours, when the outsides are completely firm, toss them all into a ziploc freezer bag, and keep them frozen until you’re ready to use them. Bake from frozen, but allow about 25 minutes for them to bake. (This is also a good idea if you just want to keep biscuits on hand for quick breakfasts or snacks – you can bake as many or as few at a time as you like.)

Gruyere and Black Pepper Biscuit Sandwiches (with Strawberry Balsamic Jam)

If you’re still feeling apprehensive about attempting homemade biscuits, just DO IT. It takes a little practice and finesse, but once you’ve got the hang of it, you’ll be so glad you tried it. You can do it!

A world of buttery, flaky, deliciousness awaits you,
Tina

Lemon Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Just to remind me that I am getting really, really old, one of my nephews had the nerve to go and graduate from high school last weekend. As if it’s not bad enough that I continue to grow gray hairs with the proficiency of someone three times my age, my nephew had to go and turn into an adult overnight! Please excuse me while I polish my bifocals.

Lemon Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

For me, family celebrations = cooking and/or baking. For my nephew’s graduation, I made oatmeal heath bar cookies (his favorite), devil’s food chocolate cupcakes with salted caramel buttercream (by request), and lemon cupcakes, just to switch things up a bit. These cupcakes might be my new favorite! I love the brightness of the lemon in desserts… it adds a freshness that cuts through the sweetness of all the sugar.

Lemon Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
makes 24

2 sticks butter, at room temp
2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
zest of 8 lemons
1 c milk (2% or whole is best)
1/2 c freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 t baking powder
1 t kosher salt

For the frosting:
3 eight ounce blocks of cream cheese, at room temp
12 T salted butter, at room temp (but not warm)
2-4 cups powdered sugar

Lemon Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

1.) Preheat your oven to 350°. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together until they’re very light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. (Of course, you can use a hand mixer for this!)

2.) Add each egg one at a time, mixing until well-combined after each addition. Add the vanilla and lemon zest, and mix well.

3.) Combine the milk and lemon juice in a measuring cup, and whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a small bowl.

4.) Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the bowl, and mix until just combined. Then add half the liquid, another 1/3 of the flour, the rest of the liquid, and the rest of the flour – mixing until just combined after each addition.

5.) Line your muffin tins with cupcake liners. Fill the cups about 2/3 full (I like to use a 4T cookie scoop for ease and consistency). Bake for 15-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean. The cupcakes should NOT brown at all.

6.) While the cupcakes bake, make your frosting. Combine the cream cheese, butter, and two cups of the powdered sugar in the stand mixer, and beat until the frosting is very smooth, 2-3 minutes. Taste the frosting, and add more powdered sugar if needed. I prefer my cream cheese frosting to be more tangy than sweet, but adjust to your taste.

7.) Once the cupcakes have completely cooled (at least one hour), pipe the frosting on however you like! (If you are not going to decoratively pipe the frosting, you can cut the frosting recipe in half.)

Lemon Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

You can make the cupcakes a day ahead (place them on a platter, and cover it with tinfoil), but the frosting should be made the day you plan to serve them.

Like I said, these are definitely a new favorite. The cake is light and moist, the frosting is rich and tangy, and they deliver a serious punch of lemon! If you wanted to get super fancy, you could pipe some lemon curd into the center of the cakes… But these are pretty perfect as they are, if you ask me.

BRB, gotta go yank some more grey hairs,
Tina