bircher muesli

When it comes to food, I probably have fewer “mainstays” than most people. Sure, I have my favorites, but you’re more likely to find me whipping up a one-time-only creation from the scraps in my refrigerator than making “Monday night meatloaf” or some such weekly regular.

I’ve always wanted to be that person. Known for a dish. Talked about in social circles. (“You’ve simply got to try Jen’s famous butternut squash lasagne…”) But I’m not, and I’ve come to terms with that. You’ll rarely find me making anything twice, let alone committing it to memory.

Except for a few special standouts, which brings me to this post. Meet my new obsession: Bircher muesli. Straight outta Switzerland, my new breakfast staple came to me by way of the chic city of Melbourne Australia, where I got to travel for work last month to sit in cafes and wax poetic about soaked oatmeal. Sort of.

Before Melbourne, I was only vaguely aware of this strange mixture that, to my uneducated palate, was basically just un-crunchified granola. We did eat a chocolate chunk enhanced version of it by the handfuls when I was living and working in West Africa but it quickly faded from my memory. I wasn’t sure what to make of it when I saw it again in health food stores, packaged up in cute little bags. I’d read somewhere that you should soak it in juice (really? cereal and juice?), but passed it off as an odd old-world habit.

Foolish, foolish me.

After trying it again in Australia, where it’s offered on every breakfast menu from upscale bistro to underground cafe, I was hooked. The texture ranged from soft and gooey to pasty, stick-to-your-ribs hefty. Toppings included everything from stewed fruit and actual granola (above) to banana and macadamia nuts. The possibilities were endless. One thing it was not? “Just cold oatmeal.” Nope. This stuff is in a class by itself. So much so that granola goes by another name: “Toasted muesli.” I found that funny for some reason.

Muesli was introduced around 1900 by the Swiss physician Maximilian Bircher-Benner for patients in his hospital. I figure if it was good enough for a doc, it’s good enough for this breakfast-loving triathlete who needs a nutritious start to her day. And it’s quickly making a move on coffee as the number one thing to look forward to during a 6 a.m. swim. (Watch out coffee, your post is under siege!) I’ve surprised myself by how many consecutive mornings I’ve been able to eat this stuff. And enjoyed it. A lot.

But of course, as you can see above, my two loves get along swimmingly.

Preparing Bircher muesli is as easy as toasting bread or pouring cereal, if not easier. Let me introduce you…

Step 1: Procure some raw muesli. Above is my current favorite, the bulk Hot European Cereal from Sprouts’ market. I love it because it’s all ready to go, includes dates and raisins that get all poofed up when you soak them, as well as almonds and sunflower seeds for extra good fats. (Plus, it serves as my new favorite base for homemade granola. Just toss it with the wet mixture, bake, and voila!) Bob’s Red Mill makes a pre-packaged version, or you can make your own at your favorite local bulk foods store. In a pinch, plain, old-fashioned oats will work just fine too.

Step 2: Soak the mixture in half the amount of liquid. Here, I used 2 cups of muesli, and a total of one cup apple juice and milk. I’m still experimenting with the best combinations, and have some other juices on hand to try soon (peach, pineapple, and cran-apple).

Step 3: See how easy this is? You don’t even have to stir. Just put a lid on it and shake shake shake! Then pop it in the fridge overnight.

Step 4: The next morning, it will look something like this. Take out what you want (I usually make about 2 days’ worth at a time), and mix in however much plain yogurt you need to achieve your desired consistency. This is an essential step, and you must mix heartily. I usually put only about a quarter-cup of the regular (not Greek) lowfat plain yogurt in mine. If you do use Greek, add some milk so that it doesn’t become too pasty. Some recipes call for grated apple to be added here too, but I usually skip that step in the interest of time.

Step 5: Top with your favorite toppings. I make a big jar of toasted coconut, dried cranberries, pepitas, flaxseeds, and almonds and keep it around for a quick topping. But get creative! That’s what this stuff is for.

And for those of you who need a more traditional recipe, here you go:

Bircher Muesli

Ingredients

Base:

2 cups bulk dry muesli (ie: Sprouts’ bulk Hot European Cereal mixture) or old-fashioned rolled oats

1 cup liquid (try low-fat milk, natural apple juice, or a mixture of the two to discover your perfect creamy/sweet ratio)

½ cup low-fat plain yogurt, Greek or regular style

½ an apple, grated (optional)

Toppings:

coconut flakes, slivered almonds, and/or hazelnuts, toasted

raisins and/or dried cranberries

stewed or fresh fruit

apple butter or maple syrup for extra sweetness

granola (what the Aussie’s call “toasted muesli”)

pluma moos (fruit compote)

Preparation

  1. Mix the dry muesli mix (or rolled oats) with the cup of liquid (milk, juice, or a combination of both) and let sit overnight in the fridge.
  2. In the morning, stir in the yogurt until well mixed. (Plain yogurt will give the finished product a more moist texture, whereas Greek will yield a “drier” effect.) Many recipes call for the addition of grated apple. Try it if you have time; it’s by no means essential.
  3. Top with your favorite toppings and enjoy!
Advertisements

calypso roti

You wouldn’t know it by hanging out around this blog, but there’s been a whole lotta great food in our lives lately. Since my tango with the Paleo diet came to an end (R.I.P.), I’ve returned to eating a healthy, well-balanced diet( with a new appreciation for tasty animals, and a better showing of the vegetable kingdom throughout my day). I must say, however, that I am enjoying eating the things I love again, and I still feel great.

One of the best things about being lucky enough to have the wide wide world of food available to me again is being able to try new recipes from colorful cookbooks like Rebar. (Of Smoky-Sweet Potato Soup fame.) When I found out we were indeed going to have dinner guests on Sunday night, I whipped out this book to look over while I drank my morning coffee. I’m not sure which was more fun: perusing all the great recipes I wanted to try, or sipping a delicious brew from Copenhagen’s Coffee Collective, a generous gift from a friend recently returned from Denmark. Given the glut of red peppers in my fridge, I settled on this recipe, which looked inspiring enough to serve to a transplanted German and Ohioan.

Photo by cookbookman17

I have to thank the good folks on the Internet for most of these photos, as it was too dark and the wine was already flowing too freely for me to want to drag out my SLR. These “rotis” are essentially spiced-up, crunchy wraps full of simple but bright flavors. They’re a great make-ahead meal, as both the hummus and the “mango mojo” sauce can be made ahead of time and stored in the fridge. First you make a black bean hummus with garlic, lime juice, toasted pumpkin seeds, spices, and chipotle purée. This hummus would be excellent served with chips or vegetables as its flavors are uniquely nutty for a hummus. I never thought of using pumpkin seeds before, and they lent a nice thickness to the spread.

Your second make-ahead sauce is the “mango mojo” which is basically just blended ripe mango (we used the smallish ones, can’t remember their proper name but they were perfect). You blend that up with cilantro, the juice of two limes, fresh garlic, and half a habanero pepper. I was pleasantly surprised at the heat in this sauce. It was definitely spicy, but had a warming, “manageable” spice instead of a pass-me-the-milk-NOW-dammit effect. We ended up spooning all the leftovers over our bites of roti.

Once your two sauces are done, you spread the hummus in a wrap, top it with sautéed red peppers and green cabbage, drizzle with mojo sauce and sprinkle with more toasted pumpkin seeds. You roll them all up, pop them in the oven on low while you nosh on salad and wine. They’ll come out 15-20 minutes later just warm enough for a late summer evening meal. This is definitely one for the rotation, and in the presence of more meat-eaters, I might be so inclined to throw some pulled pork or blackened chicken in for good measure.

Calypso Roti

makes 4 large or 6 medium rotis

BLACK BEAN HUMMUS

2 – 14-ounce cans black beans
1/2 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
2 cloves garlic
juice of 1 lime
2 tsp chipotle puree (puree made of canned chipotles in adobo sauce…the best!)
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 – 1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground corainder
2 – 3 tbsps chopped cilantro
2 tbsp flax seed oil
1 bunch cilantro

MANGO MOJO

1 ripe mango (use two if they are very small)
2 cloves garlic
1/2 habanero (seeded and chopped…use gloves!)
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp cilantro, chopped

ROTIS

4 roti, chapati or whole wheat tortillas (I used 6 medium-sized tortillas)
2 sweet red peppers
1 tbsp cooking oil
2 cups shredded cabbage, tossed with some lime juice
4 tbsp toasted pumpkin seeds

1. Puree the ingredients for the hummus in a food processor or blender until smooth. Set aside. Puree the Mango Mojo ingredients using a hand blender or standard blender. Set aside.

2. Halve, seed and julienne the red peppers. Head the oil in a skillet, and saute the peppers for 5 minutes over medium-high heat. Heat the wraps in the microwave to soften. Spread hummus over wrap up to 2 inches from the edges. Line with grilled peppers, cabbage, Mango Mojo, and toasted pumpkin seeds. Roll, and place in a warm over (250-275) until ready to serve, or serve immediately.

eggplant caponata

I first alluded to this dish back when I posted on a cold noodle salad I’d made for a dinner in my favorite style: that is to say, tapas, or little plates. It’s a trendy word these days, but eight times out of 10 I’d rather have a cocktail party at my table over a big plate of food.


This past week, almost two years later, that dish came to mind again. We’d been invited to an Italian-style potluck, and as usual, I signed up for appetizers. It was a mid-week gathering, and so being the working woman that I am, I had to enlist my second set of hands to do the dirty work, once I’d thought up our piece de resistance. There was so much food that we went home with enough to serve again to friends on Friday night. With fresh mussels, green salad from their garden (in February?!? What is this California or something?), and a cheese plate, it was tapas time all over again.

If you love the meaty, mushroom-meets-scallops consistency of long-cooked eggplants, then get out your pan because this is a recipe for you. It doesn’t skimp on the olive oil, making it what I’d imagine to be an authentic Sicilian caponata, perfect for soaking up soft and crusty Italian bread (we ate ours all up, hence the crackers’ debut in these photos).

Best of all? This stuff  just keeps getting better as it sits in your fridge, and can be used as an impromptu pizza topping for pitas, or just eaten straight outta the jar with a spoon. I found Bittman’s use of olive oil a tad excessive (although it was lovely how it soaked up the pigment from the peppers and eggplant) so feel free to reduce to four tablespoons if you want to experiment with a lower-fat version. Try it at least once with the full six tablespoons, though.

Continue reading

smoky sweet potato soup

Who would’ve thought that after moving to Southern California from Canada I’d start finding culinary Southwestern inspiration in a book out of Victoria, B.C? Well, it happened.

I’ve been wanting the Rebar Modern Food Cookbook ever since a cold late-winter day in 2008 at my friend Lenora’s in Ottawa. In hopes of distracting myself from thinking about whether Syracuse University was going to accept me into their Masters of Journalism program, I drank coffee and flipped through this colorful book. It’s one of those cookbooks you just never get around to buying for yourself, but then when someone finally gives it to you, you wonder how you lived without it.

The masterpiece

OK, OK, so I’ve only made three things out of it so far. And two of them were soups. Hardly thorough sampling. But I’ll be the first to tell you: these soups are made of smoky chile-infused dreams. The perfect comfort meals for this prairie transplant, new to a part of the country where cliffs and cacti make up my backyard. Perfect for a place where avocados and limes daily compete for my affection. (If gin’s nearby, the latter usually wins out—especially when priced at 10 cents apiece).

You start by roasting three of the best-tasting earthy things known to eaters: Sweet potatoes, garlic, and red peppers. They’ll fill your house with aromas as they pop and spit away in the stove.

Sweet potatoes are my second-favorite root vegetable (beets have my heart). Not only because of their “superfood” status (they’re packed with fiber, beta-carotene, and vitamins A and C), but because they are just so good. They’re the candy of the earth—would that be “bon-bon de terre”? Taste some of the syrup that leakes from the roasted ones and you’ll know what I’m talking about. (I was so excited I forgot to get out the camera…hence having to borrow this one!)

Another trick this soup taught me? Chipotle puree. Mix this stuff up once and it will give back to you for months. You’ll forsake all others: ketchup, salsa, possibly even Sriracha. (The horror!) All ya do? Buy a can of chipotle chiles in adobo sauce and puree away.

addictive

good on everything

While roasting everything takes a bit of time, it’s 100% worth it. Plus, you won’t spend as much time chopping as you normally do. With this one (boringly named Roasted Yam and Garlic Soup with Chiles and Lime), most of the time is spent sitting around waiting for the roasting to finish. I recommend a cup of coffee and a book to help make this time go speedily.

Give this soup an hour of your time, and it’ll reward you with silky, smoky (I said that already, didn’t I?), sweet-tart bursts of flavor. Whether you’re smokin in the Southwest or freezing in Philly, D.C., or New York, I promise you’ll love this soup.

Continue reading

sarah’s rice pilaf

I’ve been a little slow on the blogging draw as of late. But rather than bore you with the details of why, here’s one of those dusty old drafts I never got around to posting. Maybe because the photography wasn’t as good as I’d hoped—the actual printed recipe yields a much better-looking dish than what’s pictured here, which was my “I don’t have everything” adaptation! Whatever the case may be, this is a hearty, chewy rice pilaf will make you feel like curling up at a big wooden harvest table with a bunch of good friends. Which reminds me…

How much I miss my Syracuse supper club people. We weren’t a formal club, just a group of couples who loved to eat. I think I only attended three or four of the actual events before I moved off to D.C., but being still relative newcomers to our new town, I miss eating regularly with others. This dish was one of the first, served at a cozy home in Tipperary Hill, Syracuse, but the lovely and fleet-footed Sarah. We ate buttery, garlicky mussels, and then this pilaf stuffed into individual mini pumpkins. Sarah introduced me to trail running and French wine, and to that I owe her the world.

Or at least, dinner. Hopefully in the next few months I’ll be able to return the favor.

last image courtesy of Huro Kitty/Flickr Creative Commons

Continue reading

Healthy Winter Granola

Many of you loyal readers of this blog already enjoy granola à la Jen; that simple, throw-together-whatever-you’ve-got bowl of nuts, seeds, and grains that turns mornings into moments. I call it Chameleon Granola, and it always surprises me with its various incarnations.

For those of you who feel a little lost in an ingredient list that read “this, OR this,” I’ve put together this foolproof, easy to follow recipe. Just the straight-up stuff with none of the playing around and experimentation. (Actually, truth be told, I put it together for the magazine I work for, where it’s featured in the December-January issue under off-season nutrition.)

So try this one, and next time, maybe you’ll be ready to play Picasso with your breakfast cereal.

Healthy Winter Granola*

Ingredients

Dry:
-4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
– ½ cup wheatgerm
-½ cup flaxmeal (ground flaxseeds)
-½ cup pumpkin seeds
-½ cup unsweetened coconut (if you don’t like coconut, use 1 cup pumpkin seeds)
-2 Tbsp chia seeds
-1 tsp salt
-1 tsp cinnamon, nutmeg, or ground ginger

Wet:
-¼ cup molasses
-¼ cup pure maple syrup
-¼ cup agave syrup
-¼ cup smooth peanut butter
-2 egg whites
-splash of water or milk

Preparation

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix together the oats, wheatgerm, flaxmeal, pumpkin seeds, and coconut, and spread over two large cookie sheets. Toast for 10 minutes, or until lightly fragrant. Remove, turn oven down to 325 degrees.

2. Pour toasted mixture into a large bowl and add chia seeds, salt, and spices.

3. Mix together the molasses, maple and agave syrups, and peanut butter, microwaving on low power for a few minutes if softening is needed. Stir into the dry mixture until well-coated. Pour in the egg whites and water. Stir to incorporate.

4. Gently oil the baking sheets (unless you’re using non-stick) and disperse mixture evenly over the two sheets. Bake for 20 minutes, remove and stir gently with a flat lifter (especially if you want clumps, don’t disturb the granola too much), and return to the oven for 5-10 minutes, depending on how crunchy you want the final product. (Less time equals a softer, more chewy texture, more time equals more crunch). Place baking sheets on racks and cool.

*Originally published in LAVA Magazine, Issue 3, December/January (2010, 2011)

spaghetti squash nests with moroccan spices

Seasons are now things of the past. Figments of memory, slices of lives lived farther north. With brisk days and crisp leaves behind me, I must now cultivate awareness—try to notice the small changes around me that signal the onset of what has always been my favorite time of year. McIntosh apples appearing at the grocery store (finally!), slightly cooler mornings and evenings, clearer coastal skies, an indigo-colored ocean. And yes, a tree here and there that’s decided to ignore it’s southerly surroundings, shedding a brown leaf here and there on the sidewalk to wait for the crush of my sandal.

I do miss the fall I have loved so much. But sitting on the beach at “negative tide” (a new term that I’ve learned is a synonym for “wow”) isn’t all that bad. And thank the newly cloudless skies there’s still squash, that harbinger of cozy, indoor evenings to come.

We’ve been eating a lot of spaghetti squash lately. It’s easy to square away in the oven while you prepare the accompaniments, and it’s just so, well, fun. (Not that I don’t LOVE the other offerings in the squash family, as my kabocha-udon noodles, quinoa-stuffed acorn squash, and warm butternut and chickpea salad can attest to. Not to mention the many other squash recipes that have showed up around these parts.) Scraping out the stringy flesh, I always think about the peasant who first discovered this freak of nature gourd: did she giggle when she set the fruits of her family’s labor down on the table? I would have.

Spaghetti squash is as versatile as the rest of the squash family, equally as delicious baked with butter and maple syrup as it is topped with more savory ingredients. But this variety of squash lends itself especially well to the pasta treatment, somewhat obviously, and my favorite way to eat it has been with a garlicky homemade puttanesca sauce. That is until I applied one of my favorite spice combinations to the stringy mass.

When I need some inspiration, there’s nothing like the good ‘ol Internet to help marinate the creativity. I was excited to find this recipe (from the 2002 issue of Gourmet – RIP), and after perusing some of the reviews and suggestions, took to the kitchen. Chickpeas are usually the featured legume in Moroccan cuisine, but they didn’t go very well with the squash, color-wise, so I chose my favorite lentil instead. My culinary compadre had already cooked up both the squash and the lentils, so all that was left was spicing and assembling.

The results? This is one easy dinner. Bake and scrape squash. Simmer lentils. Whip up a buttery spice mixture. Toss, garnish, and dig in! I think it would be a kid-friendly meal, too (not that I would know), as you can assemble these little nests if you so desire. Alternatively, you could mix the squash, spice mixture, and lentils all together for a more “complete” meal to serve to more sophisticated diners.


That’s all there is to it. As my triathlon training ramps down to base-building and my need for calories drops, these are the kinds of veggie-heavy dinners I want on my plate. A low-glycemic index meal that contains protein (yogurt and lentils) and good fat (cashews), and is vegan/vegetarian to boot? Bring it on. The optional raisins add just a little in the way of quick carbs, and the warming spices kept me satisfied until bedtime. And now, with these darker, post-time change evenings, even life in Southern California has begun to feel a little cozier. Continue reading