Molasses Granola

When you've nailed it, you know. I've been baking my own granola for a while, and swore never again to buy it because a) it's super easy to make, and b) each batch is like a personal mood board -- ("Oh, last time I used almonds and currants? This time I want cashews and coconut.") But I recently broke my store-no-more promise and tried a version from KIND. I was instantly charmed. With a glance at the ingredients, my mouth curled into a grin -- before me was a list of familiar, pronounceable names -- ideal ammo for a DIY granolateer.

KIND uses gluten-free ingredients, and their base includes a mix of whole grains like amaranth, quinoa, oats, millet and buckwheat. I simplified a bit and used ingredients I had on hand, pairing rolled oats with quinoa and flaxseed meal, chocking it up with crushed walnuts and flax seeds, and dressing it in olive oil, maple syrup, and a game-changing ingredient: molasses. Not sure why I'd never thought to use the viscous player before, but when the granola came out of the oven I knew I had found my secret weapon. Molasses lends a deep, dark flavor that weaves itself in and over the oats and seeds in a way that I have never achieved with my maple or honey-sweetened batches. I don't know, maybe I'm partial to products of my own creation, but I think I may have one-upped KIND on their own recipe...


1 1/2 cup rolled oats 
1/4 cup raw quinoa 
1/4 cup golden flaxseed meal 
1/2 cup crushed walnuts 
2 Tbsp flaxseeds 
2 Tbsp sunflower seeds 
2 Tbsp olive oil 
2 Tbsp maple syrup 
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp molasses 
 Sea salt, to taste

Heat oven to 300 dgF. Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl; toss gently. Add oil, maple syrup, and molasses; stir until ingredients are evenly coated. Spread granola onto a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. Bake for about 30-35 minutes, stirring every 15, until toasted and golden. Allow to cool completely before serving or storing. Lasts several weeks in an airtight container/jar.


Simply Gazpacho

It's an unwritten adage: When August gives you ripe tomatoes, make gazpacho. The raw, chilled soup has become the quintessential celebration of summer produce at its freshest. It's incredibly easy, can be whipped up sans stove, and doesn't require a ton of ingredients because the select few it includes are just that good -- (and be sure to use the best). Even more appealing is that you don't have to follow directions exactly; the recipe is more like a sketch -- and one that invites coloring outside the lines. 

Despite the fact that it can be made differently every time, tradition holds gazpacho to a few basic essentials: tomatoes (the ripest you can procure), cucumber (or zucchini), onion, garlic, olive oil, vinegar...and a blender. Sometimes bread is added, sometimes not. Sometimes a hot chile, or a bell pepper, or an earthy herb like cilantro or basil. It's infinitely variable -- you could even use fruit like grape or melon -- but here I channeled the classic version. Simple and bursting with tomato-y flavor, it's bulked up with rustic bread -- both in the soup and on top as crunchy homemade croutons. Diced avocado and shavings of manchego add subtle creamy notes that balance the fresh vibrancy of the soup. Whatever you do, serve it super cold; there's nothing that tastes more refreshing in this August heat. [Note: It's even better the next day, after the flavors have had time to chill and mingle]. 

[Adapted from Rebecca Meeker, Chef de Cuisine at Congress]

3 large ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1 English cucumber, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
1 medium onion, peeled and diced
2 slices rustic country bread, crust removed and cubed
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar, plus more to taste
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Tabasco sauce, to taste (optional)

In a large bowl, combine tomatoes, bell pepper, cucumber, garlic, cubed bread, olive oil, vinegar and 1 tsp sea salt. Use your hands to crush the ingredients together. Place in the refrigerator and allow to chill for at least an hour. 

Remove gazpacho from the fridge, transfer to a blender or food processor, and puree until smooth, working in batches if necessary. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. If you want to give it heat, add some tabasco sauce -- a little at a time -- stirring and adjusting flavor as preferred. Chill again. 

To make homemade croutons: roughly cube another slice or two of bread (adjust depending on how many croutons you want). Heat a skillet over medium, add olive oil and swirl to coat the bottom. When hot, add cubed bread and cook, stirring occasionally, until crispy on all sides (about 6 to 8 minutes). Serve over chilled gazpacho with diced avocado, a drizzle of olive oil, and freshly grated manchego cheese. 


Corn & Black Bean Burgers

Veggie burgers get a bad rap. And to be fair to the carnivores that scorn them, it's true, aside from shape, there's barely any resemblance between patty-shaped veggies and the juice-dripping ground meat we Americans have established as the appropriate manifestation of the word "burger." Still, there is much to be argued for the vegetarian counterpart. For one, veggie burgers demand creativity -- since ground vegetables can't hold their own against the grill like meat can, they need some backup. This is where things get fun. Gena Hamshaw, author of the blog Choosing Raw, suggests the "you pick (at least) three" method of curating your veggie burger base. This should include a veggie (corn, zucchini, mushrooms, beets, sweet potato...), a grain (ie. quinoa, oats, rice, breadcrumbs...), a legume (beans, chickpeas, lentils...), and/or a nut (walnuts, pistachios, almonds, cashews, sunflower seeds, pepitas...) From this formula, the possibilities are limitless, and the process becomes a challenge to find the tastiest combination. 

For my burger I pulled from all four categories--

Veggie: Fresh corn
Grain: Quinoa
Legume: Black beans
Nut: Pistachio

Then I spiced the mixture up with cayenne, coriander and cumin, channeling the Southwest flavors suggested by the corn-black bean duo, and finished it off with fresh lime juice and basil. The flavor was so awesome that it was hard not to skip the burger-making and just take a spoon to the bowl. (And really, you could just stop right there and start dunking chips). But I resisted the urge, formed my patties, and grilled them up. Despite the fact that they are indeed more prone to crumbling than meat burgers, that shortcoming is forgiven when you take a bite. The slightly charred crust gives way to an explosion of flavor that summersaults over your tastebuds -- at once fresh, nutty, sweet, spicy. It won't matter that this burger isn't a juicy mass of meat -- it's not supposed to be. 


2 Tbsp olive oil, divided 
1 clove garlic, minced 
1 cup onion, chopped finely 
1 1/2 cups fresh corn off the cob
1/2 cup shelled pistachios 
Salt and pepper, to taste  
1 1/2 cup cooked black beans 
1 cup cooked quinoa (1/3 cup dry) 
2/3 cups water 
1 Tbsp lime juice, plus more to taste  
2 Tbsp fresh basil, chopped 
Dash cayenne 
Ground cumin, to taste
Ground coriander, to taste

Rinse 1/3 cup quinoa, place in a small saucepan with 2/3 cup water and some salt; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer with lid ajar for about 15 minutes, until water is absorbed and you see thin rings detaching the quinoa grains. Fluff with a fork, cover, and set aside.

Heat olive oil in a medium skillet over medium. Add minced garlic and chopped onion; saute until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add corn and saute an additional few minutes until heated through. *Note: In this batch I used leftover raw corn salad with minced onion, lime juice, cumin, olive oil, coriander. 

Meanwhile, pulse shelled pistachios into a course meal in a food processor with some salt and pepper. Add the black beans, quinoa, lime juice and basil and pulse to combine (you want the beans to break down slightly and the mixture to hold together, but the consistency should still have some texture, so don't process for too long). Transfer to a mixing bowl and fold in the sauteed corn and onions, using your hands to combine. Season with cumin, coriander, cayenne pepper, salt and black pepper, to taste. Shape mixture into 6 round patties.

Heat grill pan or cast iron skillet over medium-high. [Note: You can also attempt on an open grill, but be wary of the patties' crumbly tendency on the flip. You might want to use a grill pan let you lose half of the burger through the grate.] If cooking on stovetop, heat a bit of olive oil in your skillet then add burgers and cook for about 5 minutes on each side (again, careful on the flip).

Alternatively, you can cook the burgers in the oven at 375 dgF for about 25 minutes (flipping halfway). I like to do a skillet cook first to get both sides brown and crispy, then finish off in the oven to help them heat through and hold their shape. (About 3 to 4 minutes each side in the skillet, then 10 additional in the oven.)


Orecchiette with Melon, Pancetta, Feta & Mint

It's hard not to be charmed by the salty-sweet marriage of pancetta and melon. (And with a summer crop that's sweeter than ever, now's the time to reach for the melon baller.) Here the classic pair is joined by fresh mint and tangy feta in a bright pasta salad that satisfies every taste bud.

[Adapted from Bon Appetit]

2 ounces thinly sliced pancetta
6 ounces orecchiette pasta
Sea salt
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
2 cups cantaloupe, scooped with melon-baller
1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh mint, divided
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper
1 ounce crumbled feta

Heat oven to 350dgF. Place pancetta in a single layer on a large rimmed baking sheet. Bake until brown and crispy, about 20 minutes. (Even faster: place pancetta between folded layers of paper towels on a microwave-safe plate and microwave on high for about 5 minutes.) Let pancetta stand until cool enough to handle, then break into bite-size pieces.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in a medium pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain pasta; run under cold water to cool. Drain and set aside.

Whisk oil and vinegar in a large bowl. Add cooked pasta, melon, red onion, half of the mint and pancetta pieces, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. To serve, garnish with crumbled feta and sprinkle remaining pancetta and mint over top.


Charred Aubergine Dip

This simple, summery dip was inspired by an appetizer I had at one of Michael Symon's beloved Cleveland establishments, Lolita. Despite being a Cleveland native, I'm embarrassed to admit that it took me until this past July to eat at one of Chef Symon's restaurants. My wait was certainly sucker-punched by his incredible fare, which both laughed at me for not indulging sooner and delighted me with creativity that one would only expect from the reputable Iron Chef. Among the (many) starters we tried, the charred eggplant dip was a family fave, with its addictive synchronization of eggplant, cumin, caraway, lemon and feta (not to mention the warm homemade flatbread that flanked the bowl). It's not complicated, nor overly flashy, rather, it's a dish that is rooted in the fact that every ingredient has a distinct voice. It belts a smoky, spiced, seedy, tangy, creamy anthem with such harmony that your pita-plunging will go on autopilot. (You might want to make a double-batch...especially if you're planning to share.) 

[Inspired by Michael Symon's Charred Eggplant Dip]

2 large aubergine (eggplant)
4 garlic cloves
1 Tbsp lemon juice
2-3 Tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
Pinch cayenne pepper
Caraway seeds
Black pepper
Feta, crumbled

Place an oven rack about 4 inches below the heating element and turn on the broiler. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and grease it lightly with olive oil.

Trim stem ends of 2 large aubergine and cut them in half lengthwise. Place on the baking sheet, cut side down. Broil until the skin is charred and the flesh is tender, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a colander to cool and drain.

Drizzle 4 garlic cloves with olive oil and wrap in aluminum foil. Place them on the same baking sheet and broil until fragrant and soft, about 10 to 15 minutes. Unwrap and allow to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, use a spoon to scrape the eggplant flesh from its skin. Drain excess water, then transfer flesh to a food processor. When garlic is cool enough to handle, peel and add to the food processor, along with lemon juice, olive oil, cumin and a pinch cayenne. Blend to smooth, then season with salt and black pepper. Fold in crumbled feta and caraway seeds, taste, and adjust measurements as needed. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil, more caraway seeds sprinkled over top, and pita chips on the side.

To make pita chips: Cut several pita rounds into 8 wedges (or eights, if they're large), and brush each piece with olive oil. Sprinkle with caraway seeds, black pepper, and a drizzle of honey, if you like. Arrange on a toaster oven baking sheet lined with aluminum foil and toast at 400dgF until golden brown and crisp, about 10 minutes.