Be sure to check my Reflections blog as I've put up two recent posts on it!

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like granola. Except, of course, the pickiest of eaters who can count all the things they eat on their fingers (my brother being one of these people, poor guy), they might say they don’t like granola. As for me, it’s one of my favorite foods. When I have fresh berries it is a “must” for my breakfast cereal. As far as yogurt goes, well, rather sadly I find I have a very hard time eating it now without granola. Often though, granola, while it may seem healthy with its oats and nuts, can actually be quite unhealthy thanks to the gobs of oil and sugary sweets used to coat the granola. This can be the case with both homemade granola as well as store bought that proclaims itself as “healthy” because it’s all natural or organic. Umm, no, as I found out, organic doesn’t mean limited amounts of sugar and fat. When I do find healthy granola in the grocery store, it usually costs around $5.00 for the smallest size box of cereal sold. Yikes! For a girl on a budget, that’s just no good! So what’s a girl to do? I resolved to make my own granola and make it healthier, cheaper, and better tasting than the rest.

Upon searching for granola recipes, I found that many called for brown sugar in addition to a liquid sweetener like maple syrup, honey, or molasses. Some recipes even use butter in place of oil, At least with oil you can choose a healthier oil like canola oil, (to see why canola oil is considered one of the healthiest cooking oils click here) but butter?? Yeesh, there is a time and place for butter, but granola is not one of them. In the end, I made up my own granola recipe that is healthy, a snap to make, and easier on the wallet. This allows me to have granola constantly on hand whenever I want it, which is pretty much everyday!

To make the granola I use conservative amounts of canola oil and honey. I chose honey because it is a natural, unrefined sweetener and it is cheaper than real maple syrup or agave nectar (also natural sweeteners). I use whole old-fashioned oats (as they bake up crispier and just plain look better than quick oats) and add wheat germ, what bran, and flax seeds (to see the health benefits of each, click on the words “wheat germ,” “wheat bran,” etc.) For nuts I use slivered almonds and pecans because those are what I usually have on hand, but by all means use walnuts, sunflower seeds, or pumpkin seeds too. Nuts are great for protein of course, but don’t forget their other benefits; omega-3’s and large amounts of wide variety of vitamins (including antioxidants). In the end, my final product was just what I wanted: slightly crunchy, slightly sweet, with a great depth of flavor from the toasted nuts and oats--not to mention cheaper and healthier too!

Whitney’s Granola

I leave dried fruit out of my granola so it is more versatile for whatever use I want it for, but go ahead and add whatever dried fruits you want once the granola is toasted and done. I believe wheat germ, wheat bran, and flaxseed are all available in the health food section of most grocery stores. If they are not available in bulk, a common brand that sells them is Red Mill. This is an expensive up front cost, yes, but I’ve had my germ, bran, and flax for a year now and have made many large batches of granola with them. Make sure you store the bran, germ, and flax in the freezer so they do not spoil or go rancid.

Once the granola cools it develops a nice crispness but it will not “cluster” as there is not enough oil/butter and sugar coating it for this. If you would like your granola to do this I have read that you can add a bit of water (1Tbsp per 2 cups of oats) to it with the other liquid ingredients and squeeze the granola into clumps with your hands. This apparently gives you nice clusters as the water forms a “mortar” with the wheat germ. Let me know if this method works if you try it!

4 cups whole old-fashioned oats

¼ cup wheat germ

¼ cup wheat bran

¼ cup flaxseed

1/4 tsp. salt

¼ cup slivered almonds (or other nut of choice)

¼ cup pecans (or other nut of choice)

1 tsp cinnamon

1/3 cup canola oil

1/3 cup honey

1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325F. In a large mixing bowl combine the oats, wheat germ, wheat bran, flaxseed, salt, slivered almonds, pecans, and cinnamon and mix so everything is evenly distributed. Then add the canola oil, honey, and vanilla extract and mix everything together so all the oats are evenly coated. Spread mixture onto a large, rimed cookie pan (12 x 17 inch) so it evenly covers the whole pan. Place into oven for 10 minutes. Take it out and stir granola around (trying not to spill some) redistributing it so the edges don’t get done too fast. Place back into oven for another 9-13 minutes depending on the heat of your oven and how thick the layer of granola is on your pan. You want it to be a nice golden brown but not burnt, just toasted. Be careful though, the granola can burn quite fast!

To make a double batch position the oven racks so that they divide the oven into thirds and use two cookie pans baking them at the same time. Rotate positions after 10 minutes and leave them in to finish baking slightly longer than if you were making a single batch.



Last Saturday morning I decided to go to the local farmer's market for one reason only, fresh basil. My mission was to get in and get out, without becoming sidetracked. I needed to hurry home ASAP and start cooking so that everything would be ready in time for a noon potluck picnic with coworkers. Upon entering the farmer's market, I fully intended on sticking to my guns and finding the cheapest, best-looking basil and then getting out of there. I wanted to prove to Scott that I really could do it (he had bet that there would be no way I'd come home with only basil).  However, alas, that morning it was the first appearance of gladiolas at the market this summer. Gladiolas are not easily missed; they command attention. Even with my "tunnel vision" I couldn't help but notice them. Against my will and my conscious, my eyes wandered down to the chalkboard sign, "A dollar a stem." One dollar for a long, lithe, boldly bright stem. Oh dear, I was seduced and Scott was right. But I didn't stop with the gladiolas! As I was handing the money to the woman for her gladiolas, my gaze fell on the tiniest potatoes I had ever seen sitting on the table below me. 

They were in their own little container surrounded by cartons of normal-sized new potatoes. They were so small and helpless looking. Can potatoes look helpless? Whatever the case, I felt compassion and sympathy for them, and the longer I looked at them, the cuter they became. Couldn't you just imagine serving the prettiest, daintiest potato salad with these coin-sized potatoes cooked in chicken stock and dressed up in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, fresh herbs, perhaps bits of bacon and shreds of Parmesan cheese? Well, I did, and so I was seduced once again (who gets seduced by potatoes of all things!?) and I bought my second non-basil purchase and proved that Scott was right.

            Once home, I set to work making strawberry basil sweet tea, homemade fresh salsa, and a S’mores cheesecake for the picnic. After the busy morning in the kitchen on Saturday I didn’t get another chance to think about my potatoes until dinnertime Sunday. I had a bunch of cabbage that needed to be used (it always seems that once I buy cabbage I’m constantly looking for ways to get rid of it. If you have a tasty cabbage recipe, please let me know!) and a stockpile of mediocre grapes in the fridge so I decided to make Chicken alla Vendemia with braised cabbage.  

With the potatoes I decided to make a soup, leaving the potatoes whole, and serve it in shallow bowls mounding the potatoes in the center so they could be on display. The whole meal was delicious, but the soup was the star. If you want an elegant soup to impress this is it. I started with a leek and potato soup recipe that I had used last summer when I had bought leeks at the farmer’s market. (Leeks are members of the onion and garlic family. They have a very mild onion taste and are less bitter than shallots. Leeks can be found at most supermarkets year-round. If you are unfamiliar with leeks and would like to learn more click here or here.) I remember thinking that the soup was very good, but the addition of juicy meatballs could make it spectacular. After a quick search I decided to make a variation of Giada DeLaurentiis’ ground turkey meatballs and form them into tiny balls to match the size of the potatoes. The meatballs were delicious, flavorful and moist, and I even used lean white meat turkey! (For those of you who think turkey is flavorless, you have got to try this recipe.) To finish the soup off, I made rosemary croutons by tossing sourdough bread in olive oil, salt, and pepper, sprinkling on the rosemary, and toasting them in a dry skillet till browned and crunchy. The end result was a dish that had us savoring each bite in slow motion, trying not to miss any of the rich, or subtle, flavors.

Leek and Potato Soup with Turkey Meatballs and Rosemary Croutons

Turkey Meatballs

 (This recipe makes double the amount you will need for the soup so use the rest in spaghetti the next night! )

1 small onion grated (this may sting your eyes if you have a potent onion, but it ensures that the onion is well cooked in the meatball and not overpowering)

3 garlic cloves finely minced

1 large egg

1/4 dried bread crumbs (I used Panko)

3 Tablespoons ketchup

1/4 cup chopped fresh flat leaf Italian parsley or rounded

1 Tbsp dried parsley

1/4 cup grated Parmesan

1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano (if unavailable substitute Parmesan--so 1/2 cup Parmesan total)

1/2 teaspoon salt (use 1 tsp salt if substituting Parmesan for the Pecorino, this makes up for the loss of the sharp, saltiness that the Pecorino provides)

1/4 tsp ground black pepper

1 lb ground turkey meat (I use white meat to keep it "healthy")

3 Tbsp. olive oil

Combine the first 10 ingredients together and mix well. Add the ground turkey and mix again (I find getting in there with your hands works the best). Form turkey into balls, 3/4 inch in diameter for the soup or 1 1/4 inch for spaghetti. Heat a large skillet on medium-high heat with the olive oil. When oil is hot add a batch of meatballs and saute until browned on all sides. When done, transfer them to a paper-towel-lined cookie sheet. If the meatballs are 3/4 inch they should be cooked through at this point (if they are the larger meatballs for spaghetti finish cooking them in spaghetti sauce over medium-low heat simmering for 15-20 minutes). Meatballs can be made up to two days in advance and stored in the fridge. Reheat the meatballs slightly before adding to the soup.


Potato and Leek Soup

(Serves 6 as an appetizer or 4 as a light meal)

1 large or 2 small leeks, about 1 pound

2 bay leaves

20 black peppercorns

4 sprigs fresh thyme

2 tablespoons butter

2 strips bacon, chopped

1/2 cup dry white wine

5 cups chicken stock

1 1/4 pounds tiny new potatoes whole, or russet potatoes diced

1 teaspoon salt or to taste

3/4 teaspoon white pepper

1/2 to 3/4 cup creme fraiche or heavy cream (I went with whole milk because it is what I had on hand)

2 tablespoons snipped chives (optional garnish)


Trim the green portions of the leek and, using 2 of the largest and longest leaves, make a bouquet garni by folding the 2 leaves around the bay leaves, peppercorns and thyme. Tie into a package-shaped bundle with kitchen twine and set aside. (Alternately, tie 2 leek leaves, bay leaves, peppercorns and thyme together in a piece of cheesecloth.) If you have neither kitchen twine or a cheesecloth do as I did and improvise with a rubber band and a paperclip, worked like a charm.

Using a sharp knife, cut off the green leaves and the white "bulb" of the leeks and discard. You should be left with only the white stem and light green part of the leek. Halve the leek lengthwise and rinse well under cold running water, brushing the "leaves" apart with your thumb, to rid the leek of any sand. Slice thinly crosswise and set aside.
In a large soup pot over medium heat, melt the butter and add the bacon. Cook for 5 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is very soft and has rendered most of its fat. Add the chopped leeks and cook until wilted, about 5 minutes. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Add the reserved bouquet garni, chicken stock, potatoes (if pureeing, don't add if leaving them whole), salt and white pepper, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are falling apart and the soup is very flavorful. In the meantime, if you have mini new potatoes and choose to leave them whole cook them now. Place them in separate pot and fill with water until potatoes are covered by one inch of water. Add 1 tsp of salt and bring this pot to a boil. Continue to boil until easily pierced with a fork, about 10-15 minutes. Drain water and reserve potatoes. If you have not already made the meatballs ahead of time now would be a good time to make them.
After the soup has simmered for 30 minutes, remove the bouquet garni and, working in batches, puree the soup in a food processor or blender. (Alternately, if you own an immersion blender, puree the soup directly in the pot.) Return soup to pot, add meatballs and potatoes and heat to rewarm the meatballs if necessary. Taste to adjust seasonings, ladle the soup into shallow bowls and swirl decoratively into each bowl 1 1/2 Tbsp. creme fraiche (or dairy product of choice). Serve immediately, with some of the snipped chives (optional) and croutons sprinkled over the top of each bowl of soup.


Rosemary Croutons

Day old bread

Extra virgin olive oil

Salt and Pepper

Fresh or dried Rosemary

Cut bread into 1 inch cubes (crust and all) and drizzle extra virgin olive oil over. Toss to distribute the olive oil evenly on all sides. The bread should be lightly coated. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, toss croutons again and then sprinkle with rosemary (be generous with the rosemary as some will fall off the croutons). Toast croutons in a dry skillet over medium high heat until browned on all sides. Alternatively, spread croutons on a cookie sheet at bake at 400F for 15 minutes.



Roasted Broccoli with Lemon and Parmesan

Simple and delicious. I don’t think there’s anything better than a recipe that is both simple and delicious.  Admittedly, I love to try complicated, time-consuming recipes partly for the challenge.  I also convince myself that a complicated recipe will taste better than a "simple" recipe.  I’ve realized, though, that complicated does not always equal better. So forget complicated, today we’re going simple... simple and delicious.

This recipe is so simple that I feel a bit odd calling it a recipe; rather it’s more of a method with one or two key embellishments. It’s Roasted Broccoli with Lemon and Parmesan. I discovered this method a few years ago when I was home from college for the summer. It was back in the day when the only time I cooked in the kitchen was to make cookies, tomato soup from a can, grilled cheese, and Kraft macaroni and cheese. Really! That’s about all I made! That particular summer though, I discovered the Food Network and I began watching it every chance that I had. It was while watching it one day, that I saw Tyler Florence make a version of this on his show, Tyler’s Ultimate. Inspired, I got up off the couch, rummaged through the “crisper” drawer in the fridge and found some broccoli.  I then went to my mom who was working in the laundry room, and announced that I was going to “try something” for dinner and she needn't make a side.

Today, this is my most used recipe. Every time I buy broccoli (which is often), I make this recipe with at least one of the heads. The fact that I use this recipe so much speaks volumes for it because the recipe that I’ve made the most after this one, I’ve only made three times! I think that I use it so often because, in my opinion, it is the best way to prepare broccoli, and it’s the kind of recipe that once you do it one time, you’ll be able to do it again by memory every other time. Please give this recipe a try and use it often, it really is quite simple and quite delicious.

Roasted Broccoli with Lemon and Parmesan

Serves 2

For those of you who don't think you like broccoli because you've only had over-cooked, steamed, bland broccoli, you might be in for a surprise! I've had several non-broccoli lovers realize they really do like broccoli with this recipe! Also, feel free to add things to this recipe and play with it a bit to fit the meal or occasion. Toasted nuts, lemon zest, dried cranberries (for Thanksgiving or Christmas), dried chopped apricots, other roasted veggies, garlic, etc. would all make nice additions.

One large head of broccoli
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Lemon juice (I estimate that I use around 2 tsp to 1 Tbsp)
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

If I have them on hand I love to add toasted pine nuts as well

Preheat oven to 400F.
Cut off the stalk of the broccoli and cut the head into bite size florets. Spread florets onto a cookie sheet, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Give everything a good toss with your hands, spread the broccoli out over the cookie sheet, and roast in the oven for 10-15 minutes, depending on the thickness of your floret stems and the temperature of your oven. Turn florets over (they should be nicely browned where they were in contact with the pan) and gather the broccoli together in the center of the pan (in a single layer) to make a nice "bed" for the grated parmesan to land on. Sprinkle the parmesan over the top and replace back in oven for another 10 minutes (this will result in "crispy" cheese, if you only want the cheese melted reduce this second roasting time to five minutes and increase the first roasting time by five). When broccoli and cheese is to desired doneness, remove from oven, sprinkle on the lemon juice (and pine nuts if using) and serve. The cheese that missed the broccoli and fell on the pan is delicious too so don't hesitate to serve those crispy, crunchy morsels with the broccoli too!