Friday, May 25, 2012

Scandinavian Muesli

Muesli (mew-slee) is a Swiss-German breakfast cereal.  Although I grew up in a very Scandinavian part of the country and had heard of muesli, I had never actually tried it until we were at a buffet breakfast in St. Petersburg, Russia and there it was.  Maybe that's because we were close to Scandinavia?  Anyway, the Lawyer likes it so I decided to give it a try. I thought muesli would either be like oatmeal since it has rolled oats, or like granola since it has nuts and fruits.  Actually it's like a cross between the two that's served cold with yogurt or milk. 

At this particular restaurant the muesli was mixed into yogurt to soften overnight, which is traditional.  It reminded me of a summer version of oatmeal because the texture was similar but it was cool and creamy rather than hot. (It would be really good on a warm summer morning.)

mixed with yogurt

 I really like it, and especially like the fact that you can mix it up the night before.  I also like that it's very healthy with whole grains, the cholesterol-fighting properties of oats, calcium-rich dairy, probiotics (good bacteria) in the yogurt, and some protein. 

Speaking of Russia, if you ever have the opportunity to go I highly recommend it.  St. Petersburg is very beautiful and looks like a European city, while Moscow has those great funky buildings that look like Johnny Depp and Tim Burton might have designed them for an Alice in Wonderland movie.

Back to Muesli - I like this particular recipe because the grains, almonds and coconut are toasted to give them a little additional crispy texture and nutty flavor, and  I also like the touch of sweetness and cinnamon.  Even when mixed into yogurt the night before, the muesli will retain some crunchiness due to the nuts. You can easily double the recipe - although it states that it will keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, you could freeze some for later. It's a really easy and healthy way to start your day.

* * click here for a printable recipe * *

Scandinavian Muesli
8 servings, about ½ cup each

Note: you can substitute any combination of chopped dried fruit for the raisins and can add fresh fruit just before serving. Walnuts can be substituted for almonds. You can also eat the muesli with yogurt or milk mixed in right before serving rather than the night before. The texture will be different – try it both ways and see which you prefer.

2 cups old-fashioned or quick-cooking (not instant) rolled oats
2/3 cup rye flakes, wheat flakes, or whole grain nugget cereal
1/3 cup coarsely chopped almonds
2 tablespoons flaked coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)
½ cup raisins
2 tablespoons honey
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350d. Cover a large baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray. Spread oats and rye flakes (or wheat flakes or nugget cereal) on the baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Stir in the almonds and bake for an additional 5 minutes, then stir in the coconut and bake for a final 5 minutes. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and turn it off.

Microwave the honey for 10 seconds, then stir in the vanilla and cinnamon. Drizzle over the muesli and stir very well to coat.  Return the muesli to the turned-off warm oven and let cool completely, about 2 hours.  Add the raisins and stir again. 

Cover and refrigerate for up to two weeks.

To serve: combine with low-fat yogurt or milk (twice as much yogurt or milk as muesli) and refrigerate, covered, overnight.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Pan Bagnat

Sandwiches have always been one of my favorite foods.  They've become even more popular recently with the proliferation of food trucks serving a wide variety of hand-held foods from around the globe.   I've tried to broaden my horizons by trying  some of the great and famous sandwiches of the world.  As my first choice in a new occasional series of famous sandwiches, I chose the Pan Bagnat which is the specialty of Nice, France.  It incorporates many of the flavors of a Nicoise Salad (also a specialty of Nice) into a tuna sandwich that's completely different from your normal tuna/mayo mixture.  The Pan Bagnat has no mayo - it has an olive oil vinaigrette instead - and has lots of vegetables in addition to tuna and hard boiled eggs.  Everything is placed in crusty french rolls or baguettes and allowed sit for several hours before eating so the juices soak into and soften the bread, the onions can mellow and the flavors meld together.

I chose the Pan Bagnat for several reasons.  First, I love tuna sandwiches.  Second, this sandwich is actually pretty healthy with Omega 3's in the olive oil plus all the veggies.  Finally, it's picnic season and this sandwich is just perfect for picnics since it has no mayo and should be made well in advance of eating. (I just love a picnic dinner at a concert in the park.  If you're quiet about it you can even sneak in a bottle of wine to go with the sandwiches.) If you have a picnic for two, use individual french rolls or mini-baguettes as I did.  If you have more people, use a full-size baguette and cut into pieces prior to serving.

The only drawback to this sandwich is the name.  I took French in high school with limited results, but one thing I noticed was that French words sometimes have letters that are completely absent in the pronunciation.  For example, you pronounce Pan Bagnat as pahn bahn-yah.  So what happend to the "g" and the "t"?  French is sneaky that way.  If nothing else, you can impress people with your pronunciation the next time you order one in a bistro.

A note about the tuna - water pack or oil pack?  Yes, water pack tuna is lower in calories.  It also has less taste.  My personal preference is to use oil pack tuna for special recipes where tuna is a star and use water pack for everything else.  I used oil pack tuna here but the choice is up to you.

* * click here for a printable recipe version * *

Pan Bagnat
Makes 4 servings

Note: you may find it easier to place the ingredients in the top half of the bread rather than the bottom half because the top is typically deeper and will cradle them better.

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon ground pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 baguette or 4 french rolls
½ English cucumber, sliced
1 tomato, thinly sliced
½ small red onion, thinly sliced
12 ounces canned tuna packed in oil or water, drained and crumbled
8 basil leaves
4 hard-boiled eggs, sliced
½ cup pitted kalamata olives, sliced

Whisk together the red wine vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper. Gradually add the olive oil while whisking to form an emulsion. Add the cucumbers to the vinaigrette and toss to coat. Set aside.

Slice the baguette (or rolls) horizontally into 2 pieces. Tear out some of the soft bread in the center of each side, being careful not to tear the crust. Place the ingredients on one half of the bread in the following order: half the cucumbers, tomato, onion, tuna, basil, eggs, olives, then the other half of the cucumber slices. Drizzle the remaining vinaigrette over the vegetables, top with the second piece of bread, and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Let stand at room temperature for 2 hours or refrigerate for up to 6 hours.

Cut the baguette into four pieces and serve.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Chicken Salad with Fruits and Peppadews

Love, love salads!  Although this salad just screams summer, you could make it any time of the year because the fruits - strawberries, mandarin oranges, pineapple and avocado - are available year-round. In addition to the beautiful fruits, this salad features savory chicken, toasty nuts, a fresh citrus vinaigrette, and peppadews.  If you're not familiar with peppadews, they're small red peppers with a bit of heat and sweetness.  They're sometimes available in the olive bar at your grocer, otherwise you can find them in jars with the olives in the grocery shelves.  (They make a really great appetizer filled with cream cheese or goat cheese.) I would definitely serve this salad to company - it's beautiful, fresh and elegant.

Back in the days when The Lawyer and I had a giant community garden, we decided to grow our own peppadews.  Turns out that's not as easy as it sounds.  The peppers grow in South Africa and the seeds and breeding rights are closely guarded.  We scoured the internet and found a close substitute for seeds.  The surprise was that the peppers are so hot they pretty much melt your tongue and only become peppadews after removing the seeds and pickling them in a sugar brine to calm the heat.  The Lawyer, being ever inquisitive, tried a raw pepper and regretted it for quite a long time.  You should have seen the looks on our faces when we were first tried the pickled version after his fire-eating experience - pure fear which turned to relief when we found out they were great and just like store-bought peppadews.  Life is an adventure.

* * click here for a printable recipe version * *

Chicken Salad with Fruits and Peppadews
Four servings

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
Lemon pepper seasoning
1 avocado
1 bag baby salad greens
1/2 cup thin sliced red onion
1 cup mandarin oranges, drained
1 cup sliced strawberries
1 cup fresh pineapple chunks
8 – 10 Peppadew peppers, cut in half
1/2 cup pecans or almonds

Citrus Vinaigrette:
1/2 cup fresh orange juice (about one orange)
1/3 cup fresh grapefruit juice
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
2 teaspoons minced peeled fresh ginger

Combine all vinaigrette ingredients in a blender and process until smooth. Pour into a bowl, cover and chill.

Sprinkle the chicken with lemon pepper seasoning and salt. Grill or broil until done, about 5 minutes per side. Set aside to cool slightly, then thin slice on a diagonal.

Toast the pecans or almonds in a dry pan or oven until fragrant (this just takes a minute so watch them carefully). Coarsely chop the nuts.

Cut the avocado in half and remove the pit, then score the avocado flesh into cubes with a knife and scoop from the shell using a spoon. Gently combine salad greens, onions, mandarin oranges, strawberries, pineapple, peppadews and avocado chunks in a bowl. Toss with some citrus vinaigrette. Place on plates, top with sliced chicken breast and nuts. Spoon a little more vinaigrette over the chicken.