Homemade Nut Free, Gluten Free Granola

Finding a granola that's tasty, nut free and also not loaded with weird ingredients used to be hard. Do you have a favorite brand? There are loads of great options out there, but I found my happy place when I started regularly making my own. Lately I've been leaving the big jar out on my kitchen counter and it gets demolished pretty quickly. My son plans granola + yogurt + fruit for his lunch at least once a week, and with a big jar on hand, it's super easy to pack. 

parfait lunchbox

I love homemade granola because it's straightforward, versatile, and with a million different ways to keep it interesting, no two batches are ever the same. Some weeks, ours includes lots of seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame), some weeks it's heavy on dried fruit. Once I got the basic formula straight, it freed me to customize based on my pantry. 

The only hiccup arises when I shut off the oven timer but not the oven, and forget to take it out. Admittedly, this has happened more than once. Sigh. This recipe is easy enough for kids to make on their own, with adult oven supervision. It's perfect for a nut free, gluten free meal or snack, though it's best to always read labels if cross contamination is an issue for you. Be sure to check the recipe notes following the recipe for some variation ideas. 

homemade granola

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 cup coconut oil
1/3 cup maple syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 cup dried unsweetened coconut or coconut chips
1/4 cup dried cherries

Method
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Combine the oats and seeds together in a large bowl.
3. Mix in the cocoa powder, salt and cinnamon.
4. Stir in the oil, maple, and vanilla.
5. Place onto a parchment-lined sheet pan and bake for about 25-30 minutes, or until the granola is light brown.
6. Add coconut in the last 10 minutes of baking.
7. Remove from the oven and add dried cherries. Let the whole thing cool.
8. Store in an airtight container for up to 10 days.

Notes: 
1. If you can have nuts, feel free to add those in! A little crunch would probably be delightful here. Start with 1/2 cup and go from there. Add at the same time as seeds. 
2. If you don't want cocoa powder, eliminate it. I like the earthy flavor that it adds, but it's not for everyone. 
3. If you don't have coconut oil, any neutral oil (like avocado or grapeseed) will do. 
4. Feel free to substitute any dried fruit for the dried cherries. Options might include chopped dried apricots, or raisins, or dried banana pieces. 
5. I love coconut, but if you hate it, eliminate it. 
6. I've tried this recipe with honey, and I prefer maple's more subtle sweetness. Both are doable in this recipe though. 
7. I've tried reducing the amount of maple added, but it didn't taste as good in my opinion. 

Overcooked granola happens (see below). Don't sweat it. Just eat it. #wastenotwantnot 

lunchbox with overcooked granola

Want more lunchbox inspiration? Right this way.... 
Looking for meal planning help with lunchboxes? I've got you covered

Olive Oil Lemon Cake with Blueberries and Ricotta

olive oil lemon cake

I thought about making a pie today, in celebration of Pi Day (3/14). But truth be told, I'm not such a pie-making gal. It's the crust that intimidates me. My mom is a phenomenal pie maker. Her pies are the stuff of legend. She learned from her mom, who was also celebrated for her pies, with their perfectly balanced fruit fillings and their perfectly textured crusts. 

Not sure how or why I yearned to learn how to cook certain foods from my mom but not others. But that's how the cookie crumbled for me. So today, though I wanted to bake a pie, instead I baked a cake. 

I'm anxious for spring, so I wanted something light and fruity. Immediately I thought about an olive oil cake. I perused several recipes (like this one and this one) and then came up with my own.  

Without further ado, here's the recipe: 

ingredients

INGREDIENTS
1 cup whole milk ricotta
1/3 cup +2 tablespoons olive oil (I used a very fruity evoo)
3 large eggs
3/4 cup white sugar
Zest of 2 whole lemons
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 pint blueberries

METHOD

  • Preheat the oven to 350. Line the bottom of a springform pan with parchment and spray with a neutral oil.
  • Combine the ricotta, olive oil, eggs, sugar, lemon zest and vanilla extract. Don't overbeat... this can all be done by hand. 
  • In a separate bowl, add the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt). Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir until fully combined.
  • Next, get a clean bowl and pour in half of the batter. Add half of the blueberries to half of the batter. This will be the bottom of the cake. Pour this into your springform pan. 
  • Add the remaining batter on top of this cake and decorate with blueberries as you'd like. 
  • If you'd like to make it easier, you can combine all of the batter and all of the blueberries. This method is best if you have a design in mind for the top. 
separate half batter and half berries
top with batter

When you have finished designing your blueberry top, bake for approximately 35 minutes. the top will be slightly golden brown and the texture inside will be moist and delicious. 

olive oil cake pre-baked

Once this is finished baking, set aside to rest and cool for at least 10 minutes. It's bright and satisfying, but not too sweet. The ricotta adds depth and the lemon zest and blueberries balance out the sugar. You'll absolutely notice a change in flavor with a change of olive oil in this cake. Experiment and see what you like best! Enjoy immediately, or savor it over the course of several days (if it lasts that long!) 

olive oil cake

Cured Egg Yolks

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The humble egg is a family favorite. It's a quick, healthy solution for breakfast. A reliable standby for lunch. A welcome change for dinner. When I came across something recently about cured egg yolks, my curiosity was peaked and I had to dive right in. I've tinkered with the original recipe from Bon Appetit slightly, and am looking forward to continuing to experiment with it. 

Cured yolks add a salty, creamy depth to dishes. I grate them over pasta, over salads, on simple steamed vegetables and on top of several types of toast. They add an umami dimension that is eminently satisfying. Here's my favorite part: you can use them in place of a hard, salty cheese to make a dish dairy free. I used four yolks each time I made this recipe, and because a little goes a long way, they last a long time. (Make sure to reduce the amount of added salt to a dish if you plan on adding cured egg yolks). You can see the step by step process that I used below, or follow along on my highlighted Instagram Story

Without further ado, here's my adapted recipe: 

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 2/3 cups kosher salt 

  • 11/4 cups sugar

  • 4 large egg yolks

  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest OR 2 tablespoons of fresh chopped dill (optional, or add your own fresh herb)

  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray

PROCESS

Whisk salt and sugar (and optional lemon zest or herb of choice) in a bowl to combine. Evenly spread out half of salt mixture in an 8x8" glass baking dish. Using the back of a tablespoon, create 4 depressions in salt mixture, spacing evenly. Carefully place an egg yolk in each depression. You can freeze the whites in an ice cube tray if you don't plan to use them immediately. Gently sprinkle remaining salt mixture over yolks and cover the dish with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 2 days. (continued below)

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Preheat oven to 150°F. My oven only goes as low as 170°F, so that's what I used. Brush salt mixture off each yolk, then carefully rinse under cold water to remove any remaining salt (yolks will be semi-firm, and bright, as shown below). Gently pat dry with paper towels. They'll look a lot like glacéd apricots. 

Generously coat a wire rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray; place yolks on rack. Dry out in oven until opaque and texture is like a firm Gruyère cheese, about 80-90 minutes. You can experiment with the timing of this based on how firm or soft you'd like your yolks. When the cooking is done, let them cool. They will last up to a month in a refrigerated airtight container. 

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Here are some of the ways that I used them: 

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Top left: here we've got sourdough toast with labne, avocado, thin slices of cured egg yolks, microgreens and fresh ground pepper. 

Top right: simple salad with micro greens, baby arugula, purple radish and grated cured egg yolks. 

Bottom left: fresh pasta with oven roasted oyster mushrooms and baby kale with grated cured egg yolk and fresh pepper. 

 sourdough toast with avocado, watermelon radish and grated cured egg yolk

sourdough toast with avocado, watermelon radish and grated cured egg yolk

 DIY Toast with cured egg shavings, guacamole, radishes and lime.

DIY Toast with cured egg shavings, guacamole, radishes and lime.

 Polenta with roasted cremini mushrooms, scallions and cured egg yolk.

Polenta with roasted cremini mushrooms, scallions and cured egg yolk.

Favorite Smoothies

Once upon a time, I thought that smoothies were too much work for our busy weekday mornings. I’m wiser now. 😎 

Pink Smoothie

These days, I make a smoothie almost every morning for my kids and truth be told, often it’s all they want (and need) for breakfast. 

My general rule of thumb for smoothies is this: they contain whole fruits, usually a combination of fresh and frozen, they use plain, unsweetened kefir or yogurt (whole milk), they typically have an added kick of vanilla extract and cinnamon, which reduces the need for sweeteners, and they're sweetened with either dates or occasionally honey. For all smoothies, I pop everything into the blender and that's it. Easy peasy. Exactly what busy weekday mornings need! 

This Pink Smoothie is an instant smile maker — and really, how can you look at this gorgeous color and not smile? The Pink is courtesy of pink pitaya, or dragon fruit. I buy it in frozen packets so I always have some on hand. 

Pink Smoothie:
1 packet of frozen pink pitaya
2 bananas
3 dates
2 cups plain kefir
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 tablespoon hemp hearts

green smoothie

My Green Smoothie is also a family favorite. My kids are not loving spinach these days, except if I use it in smoothies or muffins. So this smoothie adds that nutritional powerhouse, which makes me happy. I don't sneak veggies with my kids, so while they may complain about spinach in other dishes, they're fully aware that it's included in our Green Smoothie. My hope is that because they enjoy it there, they'll be more open minded to trying it elsewhere. At some point. Parenting requires patience, right? 

Green Smoothie: 
1 avocado
2 bananas
5 oz chopped frozen spinach
1/2 mango
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups yogurt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 tablespoon honey

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The third smoothie in constant rotation here is a Cocoa Banana Smoothie. I discovered this combo on a trip to Chicago last year, and when I recreated it at home, it was an instant hit. It tastes luxurious and sweet, but the sweetness comes from dates and banana, with no added sweeteners. My kids realize that it's not hot cocoa, but to them it feels like a breakfast treat! 

Cocoa Banana Smoothie:
2 bananas
4 dates, soaked in water to soften
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups plain kefir
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons cinnamon
 

Do your kids love smoothies too? Drop me a line, I'd love to hear what you put in yours! 

Quick Pickled Red Onions

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I am not a big fan of condiments.

There, I said it. You’ll never find me adding ketchup to anything, including French fries (that role is reserved for beloved hot sauce in my opinion and only on occasion). My kids think this is crazy, but what can I say? I don't see the appeal. Mustard is wonderful on some things, and mayo is essential on a BLT, but other than that, these items don’t feature prominently in my life. 

I am, however, a giant fan of pickled red onions. They’re perfect with breakfast (oh, hi, eggs!), they’re great for lunch (best sandwich or toast accessory, ever), and they’re marvelous for dinner (tacos and Buddha bowls topped with pickled red onions are next level!).  

My favorite part about this whole pickled red onion obsession is that they’re easy to make. I have a jar in my fridge at all times, and I highly encourage you to do the same.  A refrigerated jar will last about 3 weeks (if you don’t eat them before then!).

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Here’s how to make those pickled onions:

  • Thinly slice a red onion and place the rings in a strainer.
  • Boil 2-3 cups of water, and pour slowly over the onions. This takes the edge off a little.  
  • In a jar big enough to fit all of the onions, add 1 teaspoon of salt + 1 teaspoon of sugar + 1 cup of white wine vinegar. Stir until the salt and sugar are dissolved.
  • Add the onions.
  • Give the jar a little shake and let it sit for at least an hour. The flavor only gets better with time.

Enjoy with absolutely everything! 😎

 Get in my belly!

Get in my belly!

 Current obsession: warm naan with avocado, pickled red onion and micro greens

Current obsession: warm naan with avocado, pickled red onion and micro greens

Here’s a similar idea, and a fun snack that’s definitely elevated by the tang of pickled red onions: roasted sweet potato chips with avocado, pickled red onion and micro greens. 

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