food maven's granola

     Years ago, my Aunt Bette gave me a granola recipe. It was very involved, with lots of ingredients. My love for granola runs deep and thus, the quest for an easier recipe began. 
     I have tried, altered, discarded and invented countless versions for years until approximately ten years ago, I came upon a granola prototype that suited me in its simplicity. 
    I reduced the amount of fat and sweetener by half and came up with several combinations to suit my family's tastes. This recipe is designed for just that purpose... change
     I love nuts and seeds. My two precious girlies do not. We all adore toasted coconut. Get creative and make your family's fave!
1 stick unsalted butter
½ cup raw honey
8 cups quick cooking oats
Optional ingredients:
1 c. nuts or seeds, or combination of both
2 c. raisins, dried, chopped fruit, dried berries
1 c. unsweetened, shredded coconut
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp. cinnamon
Melt butter and honey in microwave. Stir in vanilla. Place oats, cinnamon, coconut, raisins and nuts in large bowl. Stir together. Pour honey mixture over oat mixture and mix well. Spread out on two baking sheets, half of mixture on each. Bake @ 400 degrees for 10 min. (Check it around 5 minutes in. Stir if granola around the edges of pan looks brown. Continue baking, 5 more minutes.)  Cool, then store in an airtight container.
Yogurt and Granola Parfait
     Place a small amount of plain or vanilla yogurt in an individual serving dish. Add a layer of fresh fruit, then a layer of granola. Repeat steps, ending with granola, until dish is full.

surviving memphis and marie's banana bread

      For four years, I lived in a suburb of Memphis, Tennessee. We moved there for a job... my husband's. It was the first time I had lived far from my hometown and family. 
     When I arrived, on a sweltering July day, my thoughts were of impending loneliness, gloom, dispair and misery. Sounds like an old Hee Haw song, doesn't it?
the four musketeers, l to r, michelle, bev, me and maire
     Well, I am happy to report that it was a mere two months until I felt as if my entire life had been spent waiting to live in the southwestern corner of Tennessee. 
     The friends our family made and the things the four of us experienced changed the way we viewed our lives for the better. I could regale you for hours with tales of silliness, sisterhood and spiritual growth, but that's another post...
     Not only did I make great friends, but the ones dearest to me are unique characters even the most talented author could never imagine! Marie, hails from Europe and speaks several languages. She has a zest for life and keeps everyone laughing. She has lived in places most of us have yet to visit and is an inspiration in the kitchen. 
     The two of us, along with two other ladies, could find adventure or trouble without much effort. Her recipe for Banana bread is my all time favorite.
1 c. granulated sugar (or 3/4 c. brown sugar)
1 stick butter, softened
2 eggs
5 very ripe, mashed bananas
1 tsp. vanilla
2 c. flour (I use whole wheat, oat flour or a blend of the two)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 c. chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)
Cream butter and sugar in mixer bowl. Add eggs and vanilla. Blend well. In a seperate bowl, blend dry ingredients with a fork. Add to butter/ sugar mixture. Blend well, scraping down sides of bowl. Add bananas and nuts, if desired. Blend just until incorporated.
Place in greased loaf pan. Bake @ 350 degrees for 1 hour. Cool in pan for 10 min., the turn onto cooling rack. Makes 1 loaf.
Some people like raisins, nuts and coconut, so add what you like. At holiday time, I make this in individual loaves, wrapped with a bow and stored in a large basket to pass to visiting neighbors or guests.

praline-pepper bacon: the end of civilzation as we know it!

      If you have read very many of my posts, you have gathered that I try to cook healthy food with great flavor... most of the time. I am an anti-iceberg lettuce Nazi. I collect cookbooks that tout high fat recipe reform. I really, really like colorful, fresh stuff.
      But, I believe that occasionally you should throw caution to the wind and just enjoy life. Comfort food is nothing to mess with... until it becomes dangerous! Let me share a cautionary tale of pork-induced mayhem with you...

     It was a lovely, spring morning. Brunch was ordered for about thirty people for a church event. I prepared a light and colorful menu, fitting the season, with one dark exception. There was a healthy Fritatta, Greek yogurt and mixed berry parfaits topped with my Homemade Granola, a three-melon medley, little cheddar biscuits with ham and peach-onion chutney, fresh orange juice, and just to make it more sumptuous, the Praline-Pepper Bacon.
     Within moments of eating a bite or two of the bacon, grown men began to weep. Women were tearing at their clothing and children were wildly racing about the room! Everyone, all at once rushed the buffet line for MORE! Questions of what, how, where and the ever popular OMG, bombarded me. Fearing a riot, I watched the Praline Pepper Bacon disappear before my eyes.
      My sister warned me about the effects of The Bacon, but I did not heed her admonition. I made up my mind to witness the popularity for myself. Was it a need for adulation or fame? Did I need to hear the words of praise from the breakfast crowd, no matter the consequences?
     I understand the great risk I run by putting this addictive recipe out on the world wide web. It's the arterial equivalent to a pipe bomb, if mishandled. If you do not have great willpower and fortitude, please refrain from preparing this most dangerous of recipes. Please. Proceed with great caution!
That being said... here you go:
Spray the bottom, top and rack of a broiler pan or jellyroll pan with sides, fitted with a wire cooling rack. Place desired amount of bacon on pan. Now, double desired amount. Trust me. Just do it. You can thank me later. 
In small bowl, mix brown sugar, a pinch or five of cayenne and lots of freshly ground black pepper. 
Dust top of bacon with sugar and pepper mixture and press to coat bacon well. 
Bake in 350 degree oven until bacon is brown and crispy. Cool slightly. Drain sugared side up, if necessary, on plate lined with paper towel. Serve at your own risk.
*Note: In an effort to redeem my healthy ways and save mankind, I recently made this with Turkey bacon and it was good. Not bacon intervention good, but okay.

potato, spinach and gruyere fritatta

     For our community group supper the other night, we collectively made breakfast. By collectively, I mean we each made one or two items to feed the entire group. It was like a progressive dinner, without the progressing. My chosen items were a huge spinach and swiss cheese fritatta and my famous praline bacon. And yes, I will share the bacon recipe. You will be eternally grateful!
     A frittata is simply scrambled eggs, baked in the oven. They are like a quiche without the crust. I have a few friends allergic to gluten, so I tend to make these more than I make quiche. Fritattas are easy to make and not as scary or exotic as it may sound. Any combination of leftover, cooked ingredients can be added to the egg mixture to create a frittata. This is an easy breakfast or weeknight meal. Most of us have eggs on hand in our refrigerators. You can also use Egg Beaters. Some have chopped veggies already in them, which will save even more time. The recipe instructs you to use 8 eggs. This is only a suggestion and will depend on the number of people you are feeding, how much they eat and how big your non-stick skillet is. Mine is very large and the one I recently made contained around 12 eggs. (If you plan on each person eating two eggs and have 6 people, use an entire dozen. You get the idea.)
     Add some leftover ham from a previous dinner, sausage and tomatoes, chopped chicken with some spinach and feta or goat cheese… the sky is the limit! I serve these when I have a very small amount of leftover meat or veggies and want to stretch it to feed The Fam. Think of other recipe combinations you have had at a restaurant or read about in the newspaper. Try adding some chopped turkey, creamy brie cheese, peppery arugula leaves and chopped apple. Add a salad and rolls, or pancakes to accompany your creation for an easy weeknight meal or weekend brunch.  In just a few minutes, your meal is done and everyone will be very impressed. Only you and I will know how easy it is... and I won't ever tell!

3-4 red-skinned potatoes, cut into thin slices
1 ¼ tsp. salt
2 t. olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
half or all of a small bag of baby spinach
8-12 large eggs
¼ c. half and half
¼ tsp. black pepper
fresh thyme leaves
1/2 c. grated Gruyere cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In 2-quart saucepan, heat 3 cups water, add potatoes and 1 tsp. salt. Bring to boil over high heat. Cook until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.
In a non-stick skillet, heat oil over medium heat. (If your non-stick skillet handle is not oven-safe, wrap it in a double layer of heavy duty aluminum foil before placing in oven. This will protect it.)

Cook onion until tender and golden. Add cooked potatoes to skillet and allow them to brown a little. Add spinach and cook until it wilts.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs, half and half, ¼ tsp. salt, black pepper and thyme . Add grated cheese to egg mixture. Pour into skillet. Cover and cook until eggs begin to set around edge, about 3 minutes. Remove cover and place skillet in oven. Bake until frittata is set evenly, about 15 minutes. If center not completely set, bake a few minutes more. Allow to cool for a minute or two.
Slide onto large plate or platter and cut into wedges (OR cut into wedges in skillet) and serve.

new members' lunch, lemon slaw and a little bit of faith

     Sunday, we prepared a lunchtime meal for the newest members of our church. Around one hundred twenty five new friends and old filed into the lunchroom just after the eleven o'clock service was over. My instructions were to prepare a light meal, so I chose smoky pulled pork, a luscious, lemony coleslaw and assorted buns, sherbet and cookies and of course, gallons of Georgia sweet tea. Even though it is well into the month of September, it is still humid and muggy in the afternoon hours.
     My faithful assistant, Bob, shredded the pork shoulders, removing most of the fat. I made a fresh tasting, lemon coleslaw to keep the flavors light! This slaw uses the lemon zest (peel) as well as the juice. A little light mayo and reduced fat sour cream make up the base of this dressing.
     It could be served with anything you usually have that goes with slaw. An awesome burger place makes a delicious blackened and grilled chicken sandwich, topped with coleslaw and a slice of tomato. One of my childhood favorites is a foot long slaw dog on a grilled bun from Hampton's restaurant in Florida. And while living in Memphis, Tennessee, I discovered the flavors of pulled pork barbecue paired with the creamy flavor of slaw. Wow, I think I see a theme here. 
     Well, when lunch was over, there was only enough meat to make one small sandwich! Whew, that was close. As our church doesn't require a firm reservation from our members, (a practice I don't love,) our kitchen staff frequently has moments like this. We refer to them as "Loaves and Fishes" moments, referencing the miracle story in the Bible when Jesus fed the five thousand men, plus an untold number of wives and children, using the offering of a boy's lunch containing only five loaves of bread and two small fish.    
     While this practice seems rude or unorganized to some, it certainly keeps us on our toes and humbly on our knees. We must remember, at all times and in all circumstances, just Who is in control of every aspect of life... and it is definitely not me! So, here is the recipe for the slaw. I hope you will try it. If you are not a huge fan of lemons, add an additional pinch of sugar to the dressing. The flavor is light, fresh and clean, not mayonnaise-y. I am giving you the recipe in pared down quantities designed to serve around 10-12 people, not 125.
Lemon Slaw
zest of 2 lemons
juice of 2 lemons
1/2 cup light or reduced fat mayonnaise
1/4 cup reduced fat sour cream
1 tsp.salt
1 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. celery seed
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 large bag, coleslaw mix
Mix dressing ingredients in large bowl with tight-fitting lid, such as a Tupperware bowl. Add slaw mix, taste and adjust seasoning. If slaw is too tart for your liking, add another pinch of sugar. I like to put lid on bowl and shake it to insure thorough mixing.
lemon slaw

breakfast, anytime or anywhere... even tiffany's!

     Do you know anyone who doesn’t love breakfast at night? Actually I do know of one person, but he’s just weird. A hearty, huge breakfast is among our favorite comfort foods. Breakfast for dinner every week or so can be fast and save some pennies at the same time. When planning your breakfast menu, think of breakfast like you would any other meal. An 'entree' item should be chosen like eggs Benedict, a frittata, quiche or scrambled eggs. One side item could be the starchy part of the meal such as, pancakes or french toast, muffins or banana bread, coffee cake or whole grain raisin toast with apple butter. Then meat, if you choose and maybe some fruit and breakfast is served!
     The great thing about breakfast is that everything is prepared quickly and ready at the same time. This gives everyone a chance to have a part in preparing something, no matter how small. Kids are great at telling you what to put in the eggs or waffles. Mine love chocolate chip waffles more than life itself. Even small children can slice fruit or butter the toast or set the table. CAUTION: If eating breakfast late, limit the sugar or bedtime may be even later than usual.
     By using some healthy ingredients, the fat factor can be cut down and the fiber raised. Waffles and pancakes, made with whole wheat flour are satisfying and delicious. They can be topped with fresh fruit instead of syrup or the fruit can be stirred into the batter. In our house, small dishes of assorted pancake ingredients are placed by the stove, ready to inspire beginning cooks to try new flavor combinations. Some great pancakes additions are: blueberries, blackberries, cooked apples and cinnamon, bananas, pecans, chocolate chips and peaches.
     When making eggs, be creative. A frittata is an omelet started on top of the stove, then finished in the oven. It takes a mere 10 or 15 minutes to make. Quiche and frittata fillings can be prepared ahead and assembled before mealtime. This is a good way to get rid of small amounts of leftovers too little to make another meal out of. You can slip in more nutrition by adding fresh spinach, broccoli or asparagus. Egg dishes can be very nutritious, but can also break the calorie bank by way of hidden fat. To reduce the fat you see in some recipes, substitute low fat or fat free canned, evaporated milk for heavy cream or half and half.
     Breakfast meats that are already cooked are a fast convenient way to go, but you, the frugal person that you are, can cook the bacon or sausage ahead in large batches and freeze it, separated by pieces of waxed paper, until needed. This saves time and money. If you are not a fan of the pig, let's talk turkey! Turkey bacon has come a long way since its debut and reduces the amount of fat you consume, compared to pork bacon. Even turkey sausage is found in grocery stores.
     Now, close your eyes and think of the MOST hectic day you have had. Wouldn't a day like that fade far into the distance as you inhale the aroma of sizzling onions and bacon frying? Picture a plate of French toast, made with a real day-old baguette, topped with fresh blackberries and drizzled with a little cream, accompanied by a cup of decafe' au lait! mmmm... Don't you feel better already?