Friday, August 30, 2013

Granola for Grown-Ups

Pecan Pie Granola with Yogurt and Fresh Peaches - YUM!
In the last 50 years (or so) granola has become a stable breakfast food in most homes.  You can make it at home, you can buy it at the market or on the internet, and you can order it in a restaurant.  There's millions (well literally hundreds) of recipes available.  Doing a browser search I came up with more than 30 pages of recipes.

We all know granola is generally made up of things like rolled oats, nuts, dried fruits and some sort of sweetner (honey, agave nectar,  sugar,  molassas,  fruit jam, etc.), but after checking what's available on line, OMG, this stuff has come a long way!  Now you'd think what could they do to granola? Well let me tell you, I found exotic flavors and ingredients like gingersnap, sweet and salty caramel, cafe mocha, chai spice, and extra deep, dark chocolate ---- a whole next generation of granola.

Unlike the original mundane breakfast cereal, this stuff will rock your morning and really is "ice cream worthy".  The descriptive explanations for these mixtures sound more like tasting notes for a fine wine; "with just the right note of salt, a depth of flavor from olive oil, cardamom and maple syrup, and sweet nibbles of dried fruit".  I'd call it a granola renaissance.  As with coffee, chocolate, beer, and food in general, we have taken granola up to a new level, a level where we love to indulge all our senses, as well as verbal decadence.
Pecan Pie Granola

Which brings me to the real reason for my new found interest in the crunchy mix.  A couple of weeks ago I received a package from my daughter-in-law.  The label said, "Pecan Pie Granola" which was a special concoction invented in her kitchen.  I love pecan pie -  I was intriqued.  The next morning I got out my low fat yogurt and milk and commence to partake. It was divine with fresh peaches.  It was divine! After a call to my daughter-in-law, I found out the secret ingredients, or should I say ingredient.  For all you needed to do is look at the stuff and figure out what is in the mix, but she added something else, something that really put it over the top.  Something I cannot devulge for fear of excommunication.

Regardless, it got me to thinking and being a creative, brainstorming kind of person, I came up with my own special granola. Granola for grown-ups.  As you can see I've included Kahlua coffee liqueur as a key ingredient.  A hint of coffee elixir to break the morning fast, hey, why not?

So I proceeded to assemble the ingredients that would go with such a concoction.  Thinking a tropical theme was in order (and using what I could find in the kitchen), I included banana chips, shredded coconut, sesame seeds, almonds, and a handful of pistachios, along with the rolled oats.  Add a portion of brown sugar, salt, and of course the Kahlua and voila - granola for grown-ups.

Although I'm sure, the alcohol evaporated in the baking, I thought it was a great - wild and crazy idea.  Kind of like living in the fast lane on the speedway of life, and a definite ice cream topper.

I must admit that although tasty (very tasty), my daughter-in-law's pecan pie granola is way better - truly a granola that has a Southern influence with a mix of natural and candied pecans, chopped dates, and other secret ingredients. And as I said, combined with fresh peaches, it is divine.  Not difficult at all to envision on top of caramel toffee ice cream either.

For a basic granola recipe, check out a former post on field notes, Granola - Sticks and Twigs.  You can use this recipe as a template and tweak it to please your every granola desire.
Granola for Grown-ups

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Kitchen Entertainment - Cooking with Friends

(risotto, risotto carbonara, gluten free)
Kitchen entertainment - adventurous, enjoyable, and a way to get to know about those endearing little idiosyncrasies you'd otherwise never know your friend possessed. Kind of like taking a road trip without the complications.

Truly -  some of the best times I've had were cooking fabulous food with a friend.  I talking about cooking together - participating in the creative process and in the end result. Working together in the kitchen, sharing a cup of coffee or a glass of wine sure works for me.

With this in mind, the other evening I got a spur of the moment call from an old friend. Seems he wasn't doing anything and wondered if I was free too. Would I like to come over, have dinner and catch up on the last 6 months. Yes - I was open and yes - I'd be there at 5. Since this was spur of the moment he hadn't any idea what to prepare, so we hashed back and forth the virtues of various entrees, then settled on an experimental Risotto Carbonara (I love pasta carbonara, he loves risotto). We decided to make this a joint culinary effort, he as the executive chef would come up with a recipe, gather the ingredients, and orchestrate the process - I would function as the sous chef - second in command.

When I arrived, he had the kitchen ready for action. All the ingredients and cooking utensils had been assembled - the stock prepared. We commenced with the process.  He read the recipe - I chopped the onions.

He read the recipe again - I chopped the pepper bacon. (He couldn't locate panchetta and the pepper bacon turned out to be a terrific substitution.)

He sauteed the onions and bacon. I pressed the garlic.

Then came the crucial stirring of the rice, and simutaneausly blending in the stock. He poured, I stirred.

After that he grated the pecorino romano cheese and incorporated it into the risotto.

It was going well - we congratulated each other for what looked to be a fine risotto. Oh yes, it called for another glass of wine.

At a certain point the risotto was ready for a short stint in the oven (20 minutes). We then lightly scrambled the eggs and added the creme fraiche to the mixture. (Again, he couldn't locate creme fraiche, so we ended up using the best sour cream I've ever tasted - Organic Valley Organic Sour Cream - and it turned out fantastic!)

Then we took the risotto out of the oven and with the precision of a master chef gently folded in the egg mixture. It was look'n good!

In fact it looked good enough to have come out the pages of Food and Wine.  Even better - it tasted like it came out of Food and Wine.  And  even better than that was the crazy fun we had putting it all together, together.

So here we were with a pretty darn good Risotto Carbonara - the gluten free version of the classic pasta dish.  Never would have thought of it without my friend and visa versa. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Travels with Charley

(labradoodle, Travels with Charley, Steinbeck)
At the age of 58, John Steinbeck bought a new GMC pickup truck and had it fitted with a custom camper-shell for his personal journey across America. For companionship he took along Charley, a middle-aged French poodle, with whom he has many conversations as they travel together.

Their trip leads them from NewYork to Maine to Seattle to California to New Orleans and back to New York - from small towns to large cities to tremendous wilderness where they encounter the America of 1960,

It took 75 days for Steinbeck to make his 10,000-mile trip and 2 more years to publish his iconic road-trip book, Travels with Charley in Search of America.

They say that Charley was a literary device, but as you become fond of him, it's difficult to think of him as just a "device".  Steinbeck portrays Charley as a wise and precocious companion, protector and a means to connect with the people he encounters. Charley is described as:

 “…an old French gentleman poodle… Actually his name is Charles le Chien. He was born in Bercy on the outskirts of Paris… and while he knows a little poodle-English, he responds quickly only to commands in French. Charley… prefers negotiation to fighting, and properly so, since he is very bad at fighting...  But he is a good watch dog—has a roar like a lion, designed to conceal from night-wandering strangers the fact that he couldn’t bite his way out of a cornet de papier.”

Still much loved after fifty years, Travels with Charley in Search of America provides an intimate look at America as we stumbled into a dramatic decade of upheaval and enormous change. The book was published as a non-fiction memoir, which lately has come under much scrutiny for being "heavily fictionalized". Truth or fiction (does it matter?) this is a gem of a book and an enlightened portrait of 1960 America (or reflective portrait, depending on your age).

Now you're wondering how I've come to enjoy a book written 50 years ago about a aged writer and his aged dog wandering around America.  Truth is, I've come into possession of a semi-French poodle myself. Admittedly he's a French-Canadian, with a distinct French appearance (he could easily pass as a Parisian).

Forgive me as I blather on about how sweet, charming, sensitive, handsome, etc., etc., he is. I am trying, with difficulty, not to go on like an obsessing grandmother showing pictures of her all too perfect grandchildren while going on about how they "really are the most good looking, well-behaved,  above-average children ever born".  But here goes.

I acquired Buddy, the Labradoodle, as a young pup, about 6 months ago.  He was the one (of three young male doodles) that held back and didn't overwhelm me with kisses.  He was the smallest, shyest, and he had the curliest tail. When we got home he never left my side and he pretty much still doesn't.  I wont say he's timid, but he is cautious. For example, I think he encountered the raccoon that lives up in my second growth Doug Fir. I think this because he has refused to go into the backyard for two days and he keeps looking out the window wild eyed.  He once got caught unawares as the automatic sprinkler turned on - it took two weeks for him to venture out onto the lawn again.  If another dog looks at him sternly, he immediately positions himself behind me. I am his protector. It took a long, long time to housebreak him. He rarely barks and I've never heard him whim or whimper so I don't know what kind of watch dog he'll turn into.

He doesn't much like getting into the car, but he jumps onto my bed every morning to wake me up. He's a funny (happy and peculiar) dog and as Steinbeck would say, "...couldn’t bite his way out of a cornet de papier." 

And he really is the most good looking, well-behaved, above average (in many ways, but I don't think he inherited the poodle intelligence) dog ever born.

There I've written it - so, accept in passing, you'll never read another rant about Buddy. He'll stay in the background, but I have to admit I've enjoyed sharing him with you for he truly is a "good thing", and the Charley book is a real winner too.

Here's Buddy with Lucy the Bassett, his true BFF.

Friday, August 16, 2013

A River Runs Through It

Portland, kayak, Next Adventures, Sellwood Riverfront Park
The respite between Seattle and San Francisco -  Portland is the quintessential city of the Pacific Northwest, left coast culture. It is the city of neighborhoods, coffee shops, brew pubs, restaurants, food carts, artesian bakeries, pinot noir, small batch roasted coffee, home smoked salmon and a river runs through it.

The rivers have a huge influence on the Portland vibe with the Willamette dividing the city, and the Columbia just north of town. Fact is they both add enormously to the city's ambience, creating and enhancing both commerce and recreation. The town is a bustling port especially in the summer - and yesterday was no exception. 

There were tons of people on and in the water and at Sellwood Riverfront Park there were tons of dogs on and in the water too! What a great place to people watch - and the dogs took first prize, joyously frolicing along the banks of the Willamette.

So how excited was I when I got to enjoy my first kayak trip on the Willamette with my hosts Next Adventures. Amazingly it was a Groupon that got me out there and I'm glad it did. Although a bit hazy (the weather that is) it was a perfect day to glide along and enjoy the hazy, crazy, lazy days of summer on the river.   Thank you Groupon and Next Adventures for providing good equipment and a great guide/teacher named appropriately, Wren.

We all got a beginner's lesson from our very welcoming, fun-loving and competent guide (Wren).  First she told us about all the parts of the kayak, then how to properly and efficiently use the paddle. After that we learned the technical terms and procedures, secured our life vests, and hit the water (or should I say carefully slid into our kayaks on the dock) along side the Sellwood Bridge where we took a paddle down the Willamette and around Ross Island. 

As I said, the day was perfect (again a bit hazy) and the water was perfect too. I have no great adventure or mishap to report on this trip (thankfully),  just enjoyed a very mellow paddle on a perfect day with fellow Groupon clippers.

This little gal was following us all the way.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

It's been a long, long time. . . . . .

Hello there!   You do realize that there hasn't been a word written in this blog for the last 8 months. Truth is I've been traveling around the country experiencing the great USA and discovering good things wherever I go.  This last year I had been blogging about the unique and special qualities of life in the Willamette Valley in Oregon - now I think  I should broaden my viewpoint and write about experiencing the good life everywhere - no boundary's.  New beginnings - who knows where it will take us!

Welcome to "field notes" a journal sharing the good life wherever it happens.