Ultimate Granola Recipe

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My issue of Food & Wine last month was all about eating better, including pages and pages about the benefits whole grains. Ugh, I love white bread and pastries made with refined flour. But I welcomed the advice and decided to get started by finishing up the year-old package of Quaker Oats in my cabinet. (I hate oatmeal…) To be clear, I covered the oatmeal in honey and sugar and butter before eating, though.

Granola is great IF it’s homemade. Store-bought granola always has a weird bitter, plasticky taste to me. When you make granola at home, you get toasty, crumbly bits that you can bake just to your liking. Also, when done right, it basically feels and tastes like cookies, but you can eat it for breakfast. There are a few people in my life who make incredible granola at home, and, together, they turned this whole grain skeptic into a believer in the stuff.

My oldest sister makes granola so good that we demand it ahead of time when we plan a visit to her house for the holidays. A mason jar of her golden mixture has been known to wait under the Christmas tree for each of us; she apologizes as if it’s not a legitimate gift, meanwhile we’d been crossing our fingers that it would make another appearance. Leigh likes her granola like she likes her ice cream–packed with add-ins. She inspires this minimalist to take a few risks and when it comes to my own cereal-making.

The second master that I know, a woman I babysit for, often has trays of her granola cooling all over the kitchen when I arrive. She and her kids devour granola, which she stores in a cabinet that seems to be dedicated entirely to canisters of her concoction and the ingredients she uses to whip it up. Never at a shortage for slivered almonds, dried apricots, and the best oats, she taught me that the key to her incredible recipe is olive oil. It adds a savory depth that you don’t get with vegetable oil, which is more commonly used.

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Finally, my youngest sister taught me that her delish granola benefits from low, slow baking. She insists that baking at 250 degrees for more than an hour makes all the difference. And I have to admit, she’s really onto something. Just like with great barbecue, low gentle heat over a long period of time keeps things tender and coaxes out flavors you didn’t know were there.

Under the influence of all of these experts, I culled together my ultimate recipe. Try it out–you’ll be eating more whole grains in no time and those grains will be dessert-flavored!

A couple quick notes: I usually use whatever nuts I have handy, whole (pecans, almonds, pistachios). I like them whole, but almond slices are a favorite of the women who inspire me! Also, dried cherries are incredible, but pricey. If I can’t afford them one week, I skip dried fruit all together since raisins or dried cranberries taste pretty lame once you’re used to cherries. Instead, I eat my granola with a spoonful of raspberry jam if I don’t add fruit. Your call, though!

Granola Recipe

1/4 cup butter
1 tablespoon salt
1⁄2 cup sugar
1/3 cup honey
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup shelled pistachios
1/2 cup whole almonds
1 cup unsweetened coconut chips
3⁄4 cup dried sour cherries, chopped

 

1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Melt butter over medium heat. Be careful not to let burn!! Add sugar, salt, honey and olive oil. Stir to combine using a rubber spatula and continue to heat gently, until sugar has dissolved. Turn off heat.

 

2. In a bowl, combine oats, nuts, and coconut chips. Combine with butter/sugar mixture and toss until oats are coated.

 

3. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and spread granola over it. Bake until dry and lightly golden, about one hour. Stir granola a few times along the way, creating clusters or preventing them as you like–I like to create LOTS of chunky clusters!

 

4. Remove granola from oven and stir in dried cherries while still hot. Let cool and store at room temperature for up to three weeks. I like to eat mine over Greek yogurt before work; it’s the perfect, ready-to-go breakfast for hectic weekday mornings!

Korean Barbecue Bulgogi Recipe

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I feel like I talk a lot about Korean food on here, but those posts always get lots of views, so I’m guessing you’re not tired of it yet! Today, we’re talking Korean barbecue… bulgogi, specifically.

I asked Dan to teach me how to make bulgogi a while back. His mom usually sends him home with lots of it when he goes to visit for holidays or long weekends. But I wanted to try making it for myself instead of relying on his trips home for my fix. Rather than his mom emailing a recipe for us to try, she promised to show him next time he was home. That’s how I learned that if you ask an ajumma for her bulgogi recipe, she’ll need to show you with her hands. When Dan returned with his knowledge, it was all, “you’ll need a palmful of this,” “an index finger-sized amount of that,” or “add enough water to reach your knuckles when you submerge your hand.” After a few tries, we literally got a feel for how the proportions work.

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You make bulgogi by marinating thinly sliced ribeye, but the marinade I’ll outline below is incredibly versatile. Use it for beef, thinly sliced pork belly, pork ribs, pork tenderloin, even baby octopus or squid! I like to make a big batch of this marinade early in the month. Then, I package portions of my protein plus marinate in large freezer bags and freeze. You can defrost one of the bags for a quick and easy weeknight dinner. Just fry up the meat, or use a grill pan, and serve  with kimchi and steamed rice. Or, have a little fun and make lettuce wraps, tacos or sandwiches. I like the lettuce wrap route if I’m having people over.

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I’ve learned that nothing pleases a crowd quite like a Korean barbecue feast, and it’s SO easy to put together once you have meat already marinating. Simply head out to Han Ah Reum and buy some panchan (or, make them yourself if you have the time and superhuman ability to plan things in advance!), kimchi and whatever other sides you like — maybe some mandoo (dumplings) or pajeon (savory pancake). As Dan likes to say, Korean meals are “modular,” so it’s so easy to add or take away pieces, creating new menus with the same elements! Plan a dinner party in no time, just make sure to have some bulgogi at-the-ready. Here’s how:

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Step One: Buy your meat — if you can find an Asian market nearby, thinly sliced ribeye or thinly sliced pork belly is traditional. However, Western butchers usually don’t have a deli slicer like you’d need for this, so it’s hard to get if you don’t have an Asian grocery. Instead, a great substitute could be pork tenderloin, cut into bite-sized pieces. I usually work with 1 lb. of meat at a time.

Step Two: You will also need a couple of Asian ingredients that might take a bit more tracking down. Make sure to find them ahead of time at a local Asian market, international aisle or online: gochujang (Korean red pepper paste), sesame oil and good soy sauce. A lot of grocery stores in the middle of nowhere nowadays have soy sauce and sesame oil, but it’s way cheaper at Asian marts!

Step Three: In a large freezer bag, combine a sizeable glug of soy sauce (about 1/3 cup), a couple spoonfuls of sugar (we use brown, you could use caster, or even honey), another spoonful or two of sesame oil, and a couple heaping spoonfuls of gochujang– or make them less heaping if you like your food less spicy.

Step Four: In a food processor, puree half of an onion and 3-4 cloves of garlic. Add puree to bag. (Pureeing is completely optional. A lot of folks add sliced onion and minced garlic instead, which is nice too. The sliced onions give the final dish a little more texture.) Grate about ½ tsp of ginger into bag. Also, chop 1-2 green onions and add.

Step Five: Then, add in your meat, shake to combine and let mixture marinate for at least one hour. Note that at this point, you can stick your Ziploc bags straight in the freezer. When you’re planning a Korean meal, defrost one bag in the fridge. If you’re not freezing your bulgogi, you can leave the meat to marinate for up to a day in the fridge.

Step Six: When ready to cook, use a grill pan or thick-bottomed skillet on high heat. Brown meat and cook through (8-10 minutes). Heads up: this very saucy marinade will caramelize and leave your can caked in crispy bits. I usually deglaze once I remove the meat, but while the pan is still hot, to make clean-up a bit easier! Serve with some freshly chopped green onion and/or sesame seeds for garnish!

Once you’ve tried this simple version, try adding grated Asian pear in place of the sugar, or add an Asian vinegar for variation. “In Southern regions,” says Dan, people sometimes put pineapple in their bulgogi. Often you’ll see this in Hawaiian barbecue, too, which resembles Korean-style in flavor. It’s very sweet, but really tasty when you’ve got a great piece of fruit!

Rules for Nachos

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Is there really a wrong way to make nachos? Part of me is inclined to say “no,” but I’ve also been the person at a party standing next to a tray of soggy, cheesy chips. The person who digs into the platter, pulls out a chip, and sees life in slow motion as the chip collapses beneath its own weight. I catch the falling bits in my other hand and momentarily debate the best way to eat a handful of cheese and sour cream. I either have to find a napkin (ineffective), wash my hands (and risk getting nacho goo on the doorknob/light switch/faucet), or… eat nachos, like an animal, out of the palm of my hand (the single most repulsive human act).

So, in order to prevent this madness, here are some tips I’ve picked up on nacho architecture. Take heed and keep your Superbowl snacks sanitary.

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Salsa!? No, no, no.
When I was a kid, “nachos” meant dumping a jar of Tostitos salsa over a plate of Tostitos, sprinkling some pre-grated Kraft cheese on top and microwaving for a few minutes. I distinctly remember doing/eating this while watching a Ren & Stimpy marathon (so I was, max, 8-years-old?) and needing a spoon to scoop up all the sludge. As an adult, I’ve completely nixed any salsa. Instead, I like to make a quick pickle of thinly-sliced radishes (added at the end, so they stay chilled) and I add lots of pickeled jalapenos (baked into the cheese to take away a but of the intensity). Then, right before serving, I drizzle on my favorite hot sauce– anything from Tabasco to Sriracha. Those ingredients add the spice and acidity of salsa, but keep things from turning into a drippy mess.

Texture is everything.
The key to great nachos involves strategizing what gets baked and what gets added post-oven. Ultimately, you should aim to protect chip integrity and too much moisture is the enemy! I like to bake nachos with just my protein (beans, meat), pickled jalapenos (drained) and cheese. I layer on everything else later– sour cream, veggies, cilantro, hot sauce, chopped avocado. ‘Cause who wants hot avocado and sour cream!?

Keep it colorful.
Have you ever been to a crappy sports bar, ordered nachos, and received a completely yellow mound of food? Ew. Adding color makes things look interesting, but it makes your nachos taste better too. Green avocado and freshly chopped cilantro, a fiery red hot sauce dribbled on top, bursts of white from radish and bubbling cheese, and, my favorite, blue corn tortilla chips. These chips are usually thicker than their yellow or white counterparts, making them better vessels, too!

It’s really about the cheese.
I’ve talked a lot about every other part of the nacho, but what’s a nacho without cheese? And, while I’m usually a low-brow gal who loves a Big Mac, this is the area where my snobbery kicks in. Grate cheese yourself. Pre-grated varieties in zipper packs taste like nothing. I like to use a combination of Monterey Jack and Mexican melting cheese. You can often find “quesadilla cheese” or “Mexican style mozzarella” in good grocery store cheese sections. If I feel zesty, I’ll also get some queso fresco for sprinkling on top– this one used as a “final touch” after baking.

I’m also intrigued by the idea of making creamy queso like this, but I haven’t tried it yet!

Cook meat ahead.
A bit of a no-brainer, but nachos work fantastically as leftover food. Have leftover chili or rotisserie chicken? Shred the meat into bite-sized pieces and put it on some nachos!

In conclusion: Here’s how I like to make nachos. Blue corn tortillas topped with scattered spoonfuls of refried beans, pickled jalapenos, shredded chicken and cheese. Bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees. Finish with diced avocado, pickled red radishes, chopped cilantro, chopped onions, dollops of sour cream, and lots of hot sauce! Oh, and for the love of God, put away the sliced black olives forever and ever, amen.

Brown Butter Pie Crust

Before I tried this recipe, if someone said the word “pie,” I’d leap off my couch and zip into my kitchen to put some butter in the freezer. I remember the first time my mom taught me how to make pie crust. We used blunt knives to cut flour into frozen cubes of butter. A cup of ice cold water stood by, ready to dribble into the dough. She taught me to pour just enough water to get the dough to hold together in pea-sized crumbles. We’d then wrap the dough up into disks and quickly stick it into the fridge for chilling. Don’t overwork the dough with your hands, she’d stress. Their warmth will melt the butter and you can kiss any flakiness goodbye!

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One thing I never thought about, though, was that this method of pie crust production made one, very specific kind of pie crust. It was perfect for your all-American apple pie, or a weekend quiche. The crust flakes apart perfectly when you dig in, but still has a bit of a bite to it– like al dente pasta. But a lovely chocolate tart? This isn’t the crust for that.

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Turns out, the way you make a crust for that (well, one of the ways) is by PUTTING YOUR BUTTER IN THE OVEN UNTIL IT MELTS AND STARTS TO BROWN. I don’t like typing in all caps (except for constantly on Twitter), but this was an all-caps bombshell for me. Pies used to take hours because of all the freezing and chilling and resting of the dough. With this brown butter pie crust recipe, pie exists in your immediate future. Say, 30 minutes.

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I like to fill this shell with chocolate pudding, or any other kind of custard. The crust is flaky, but in a different way from the pie crust my mom taught me. While the version my mom taught me (a traditional Pâte Brisée) is moist and flaky in a pastry-sort-of-way, this brown butter tart shell has a pleasant, dry crispiness– imagine the difference between a moist-yet-crumbly chocolate chip cookie versus a crisp, dry Oreo.

Hm, debating whether or not that was helpful… welp!

Anyway, the drier and very light texture works so well with a mound of pudding as its filling, but would also be nice with a rich ganache or lemon curd.

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Since I always feel funky about republishing recipes that aren’t mine, here are a couple links for ya to check out. If you’re a boring rule-follower like me, opening up the hot oven to find a bowl of hot butter into which you mix your flour will have you feeling bad to the bone. B-b-b-b-b-bad. Have fun!