So it’s that time of year when I get a little obsessed with homemade gifts and seem to wind up putting cinnamon and nutmeg into everything. I’m lucky to have an orchard, and so most of my gifts are inspired by that, and the hedgerows that surround it. Jam, chutney, sloe gin… you know the drill. But this year, my very generous friend, Kanna, loaned me a food dehydrator, glamorously named “The Excalibur”, which has taken my apple preserving – and my gift giving – to a whole new level.
Right about the time I’d amassed my third mountain of dehydrated apples, a neat kitchen-y thing arrived at my doorstep: this nifty recipe box from Instaprint, along with recipes from ten groovy foodies (including me and my recipe for Pear and Avocado Smoothie).
Flipping through the recipes, I came across Karen’s Maple Almond and Pecan Granola with Blueberries which instantly inspired me to create something similar with my apple stash. I liked the heavy dose of pecans, the wintery spices and the coconut action. And I really liked the idea of doing something OTHER than jam and chutney for my DIY Christmas presents this year.
I didn’t change much from the original recipe. I used honey instead of maple syrup and dried apples (plus a few dried cranberries) instead of blueberries. I kept the dried apple pieces really big and left the pecans whole. I love the crunchy rustic-ness of it all. And I love how it smells! Just like Christmas.
Christmas Granola with Apples, Almonds and Pecans
125mls honey (use maple syrup or similar to make this vegan)
25g Demerara sugar
30mls rapeseed oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
400g jumbo oats
100g porridge oats
50g pumpkin seeds
50g sunflower seeds
100g whole almonds
100g dried coconut flakes
1 teaspoon sea salt (I use Maldon)
2 teaspoons ground mixed spice (or ground cinnamon if you prefer)
150g dried apples and cranberries
Pre-heat oven to 180C/350F. Line three large roasting tins or trays with baking paper.
Pour the honey into a large bowl and then add the sugar, oil and vanilla extract. Mix well before adding the oats, mixed seeds, almonds, pecans, coconut flakes, sea salt and mixed spice.
Using your hands, mix all of the ingredients together so that all of the dry ingredients are coated in the the maple syrup and oil mixture.
Spoon the mixture over the paper lined trays so that is is evenly spread and in a single layer. Bake it in the oven for 10 to 20 minutes, checking every 5 minutes or so and giving it a good stir. Make sure it doesn’t burn!
The granola is done when it’s toasted to a light golden brown colour. Remove it from the oven and allow to cool completely before mixing in the dried apples and cranberries.
Store the granola in airtight containers and use within 3 to 4 weeks.
Or “Laraballs” as the case may be. In case you’ve never seen them, Larabars are raw snack bars made with dried fruit and nuts. It’s a pretty simple formula that results in an amazingly tasty snack. And unlike many snack bars, they aren’t full of weird ingredients. In fact, most Larabar packages will list only two ingredients on the package: dates and nuts.
Last year I came into possession of a box of dates that I didn’t know what to do with. I’m not a huge fan of dates on their own – I find them too sweet – but since it was Christmas time, I thought I’d turn them into by making homemade Larabars (aka “Monibars” or “Moniballz” depending on the form facator). With a food processor, these things are a cinch – and they’re tasty!
If you Google ‘homemade Larabars’, you’ll find loads of recipes and limitless flavour combinations, but these are the ones that worked the best for me (my personal favourites are Banana Bread and Cocoa Mole):
1 cup raw cashews
1 cup dates
pinch of sea salt (optional)
8 oz. dates, chopped
1 Tbsp. minced fresh ginger
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp cloves
4 1/2 oz. almonds
3 1/4 oz. pecans
1/4 cup dates
1/4 cup dried banana (Trader Joe’s sells these as “Nothing But Banana, Flattened”, or you can follow Oh She Glows‘ method for drying your own)
1/3 cup raw almonds
1/2 cup cashews
1/2 cup dates
2 Tbsp cocoa powder
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/16 tsp cayenne pepper
1 cup almonds
1/2 cup dates
1/2 cup dried cherries
The method for making any of these is the same:
Pulse the nuts in a food processor until they’re crumbled into small bits, but not completely ground into a powder.
Remove the nuts and put the dried fruit and any spices into the food processor. Pulse a few times so that the dried fruit forms a sticky goop.
Put the nuts back into the food processor and pulse until everything comes together.
Shape into balls or squares using your hands or a square container as a mold (see below).
If your food processor isn’t doing a good job of goop-ifying the dates, try a blender on low speed.
If in step 3 the mixture doesn’t seem to come together, turn off the food processor and use your hands. Squeeze the mixture and see if it comes together that way. If not, you might need to add another date or two to the mix.
Try to get good, soft dates. The dates from Medjool.co.uk worked well, as did these Natural Delights Dates. Both were sticky and squishy to touch. I’ve used other dates that were almost smooth and hard on the outside – these didn’t work so well in the food processor and I had to use the Vitamix to goopify-them.
It helps to wet your hands before shaping the bars / balls.
The bars are easiest to shape by using a container lined with cling flim. Push the fruit-nut mush into the container, then remove and slice into whatever size you like:
I prefer “bars” to “balls”, but my mom likes the balls because they’re bite-sized (I won’t read further into that).
The nice thing about these DIY Larabars is that they keep for ages so they’re handy to stash in the car or backpack as an “emergency snack”. They’d also make perfect high-energy portable treat to take on long hikes or bike rides: a good excuse to go trekking if you ask me.
I’m back in Chicago for Christmas and have been happily very busy, mostly with things involving food. As I’ve written previously, I’ve been on the hunt for the perfect veggie roast. Thanksgiving was good practise – and great fun – but Christmas adds an extra layer of “special” since I’ll be spending it with my family.
The veggie loaf I’ve settled on is this Pistachio and Cranberry “Nut Roast”, adapted from Anna Jones’ recipe in the Jamie Oliver magazine of all places. But I really do love it. She bills it as a “nutroast”, but there’s a whole lot more going here – a risotto-style base of barley (or arborio rice), mushrooms, cheese, pistachios of course, plus lots of Christmassy herbs like rosemary and sage. The best part, though, is the cranberry “glaze” on top that makes it actually look pretty appealing, rather than just a vomitty-colored lump of congealedness on a plate. Plus, cranberries are great with pistachios. And cooking the rice in a risotto-like manner with white wine, wild mushrooms and porchini mushrooms gives the loaf that super umami flavour that you really need on Christmas.
A handful of breadcrumbs from sourdough or ciabatta
50g strong cheddar cheese, grated
225g ricotta cheese
1 red chilli, finely chopped
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 eggs, beaten
2 sprigs each of sage, rosemary and thyme, leaves picked and chopped
2 tbsp soft light brown sugar
200g fresh cranberries
Cook the puy lentils in boiling water until al dente, then drain and set aside.
While the lentils are cooking, make the risotto base: Soak the dried porcini in a little boiling water. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large pan over a low heat. Add the celery and onion and cook for 10 minutes, until soft and sweet. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or two.
Turn up the heat and add the rice. Cook for a minute or so until you hear it snap, crackle and pop, then add the wine and stir until absorbed.
Drain the porcini, sieve any grit from the liquid and add this to the risotto pan, stirring until absorbed. Finely chop the porcini and add to the pan.
Add the hot stock, a ladleful at a time, stirring each one in until it has been completely absorbed, about 20 minutes. Stir as much as you can – this is what will make it creamy. Once the rice is al dente (when you break into a grain, it should be almost cooked through but still have a white fleck in the middle), transfer to a bowl to cool.
Preheat the oven to 190C/375F. Fry the wild mushrooms in a little olive oil over a medium heat for 5–10 minutes, until they are just starting to crisp. Bash the nuts into coarse pieces, or quickly pulse in a food processor.
Once the risotto has cooled, add all other ingredients except the sugar and cranberries, season, and mix well.
Butter a 20cm loaf tin and line the bottom with greaseproof paper. Cook the sugar and the cranberries in a pan over a medium heat for 1–2 minutes, then tip into the tin and spread evenly. Pile on the nut-roast mixture and pack it down with the back of a spoon.
Cover the whole thing with foil and bake for 45 minutes, then remove the foil and cook for a further 15 minutes. Once it’s golden brown on top, remove the nut roast from the oven and leave to settle for 10 minutes.
Use a knife to loosen the tin, then place your serving platter or board on top. Cover your hand with a tea towel and flip the whole lot over, then carefully lift the tin off. Serve with cashew gravy and all the trimmings.
Image credit: Many thanks to Emily for snapping the above picture on Thanksgiving. A very happy moment captured!