Sunday, January 19, 2014

Banana, Date & Coconut Baked Oatmeal: Breakfast game-changer

I'm not good with change.

I still remember my devastation when ABC moved "Full House" to Tuesday nights when I was nine. It went against everything I believed in - "Full House" belonged on Friday nights, as part of the TGIF line-up that I looked forward to all week because, at that age, watching two hours of uninterrupted television is the Holy Grail of family-bonding activities.

I didn't fare any better in high school when Keri Russell chopped her long curly hair off during the second season of "Felicity." And I could write an entire thesis about the turmoil that erupts in my life whenever Trader Joe's discontinues one of my favorite products. I don't think I'll ever recover from the loss of their dark and milk chocolate-covered cashews. Nor the dark chocolate-covered Joe Joe's that they now only carry during the holidays with peppermint pieces affixed to the top to make it "seasonal." And it's not the same, guys. Not the same, at all.

So when I first paged through Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Every Day, now, more than two years ago, I didn't immediately consider her recipe for baked oatmeal. I was plenty happy with the stove-top oats I prepared from scratch every morning and didn't need a new method disrupting what was already good and well and right. Except, of course, I did. I just wasn't aware of it until a chilly Sunday morning in December when I popped open the cookbook on the kitchen counter and thought with finality, "Baked oatmeal."

Admittedly, it was partially a means of heating my apartment without having to actually turn on the heater, but it also suddenly felt like the thing I needed to do in that moment, standing in the kitchen with a wool beanie on my head and a scarf wrapped round my neck. A proper salute to the winter season that had crept up on me when I wasn't looking.

Yet even when I was making it, measuring out my oats and a seemingly careless amount of cinnamon, I wasn't prepared for how dramatically it would alter my perception of what is, for many, a form of edible punishment.

The texture is entirely different from anything I've ever encountered with stove-top oats before - less like a sticky porridge and more like a cobblery muffin bread pudding hybrid that just happens to be passable as breakfast. Perhaps even a healthy breakfast - one you can eat, and more importantly, want to eat, all week-long.

In the month or so that has passed since that initial, life-altering encounter, I've tried several iterations of the recipe. One with simply bananas and raisins, another punctuated with sautéed cinnamon apples, a hyper-seasonal variety with ripe persimmons and currants, and the one you see here, a coconut-topped banana and date version that nudges closer toward the dessert category than is perhaps permissible for oatmeal.

Which is, you know, precisely the point.

It's a breakfast game-changer. For the next thirty years.

Banana, Date & Coconut Baked Oatmeal
Adapted from Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Every Day
Serves 4-6

Notes: It could get a bit exhaustive to talk through all the changes I made to the original, but I will endeavor to do so as concisely as possible. I swapped in coconut oil to grease the baking dish in place of butter (and nixed the additional butter that is suggested for baking), used almond milk instead of regular milk, added nutmeg and shredded coconut, and used a date syrup in place of the requested maple syrup to sweeten. In other variations, I've used the maple syrup to superb effect, but for the purposes of this version, I wanted that caramel undertone that pairs so well with bananas.

1 teaspoon coconut oil (can be replaced with butter)
2 ripe bananas, sliced
6 Medjool dates (if sweetening with maple syrup, use 1/4 - 1/3 cup)
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped and toasted
2 cups rolled oats
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups unsweetened vanilla almond milk (or regular milk)
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons unsweetened shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Grease an 8 x 8'' baking dish with the coconut oil, then spread the slices of banana in an even layer on the bottom of the dish.

Remove the pits from the dates and place in a small saucepan with 1/3 cup of water. Bring to a low boil then simmer until the dates begin to soften. Use a fork to mash the softening dates, and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the dates form a sort of syrupy paste. Add additional water if needed. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine oats with cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, baking powder, and toasted walnuts.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, almond milk, vanilla, and date syrup.

Sprinkle oat mixture over the banana slices. Carefully pour the almond milk mixture over the oats.  Give the dish a good shake or two or four to ensure the liquid is evenly distributed. Sprinkle the top with the shredded coconut, then bake for 40-45 minutes or until the top is nicely browned and the center is firm to the touch.

Baked oatmeal can be stored in the fridge for 3-4 days, or frozen in individual portions for future breakfasts.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Sound Bites: I stopped eating dessert edition

Because there's not always time for a full meal...

1. The recipe I'm dying to make - Salted Chocolate-Rye Cookies via Tasting Table - I'm currently on Day 18 of no desserts after ripping two pairs of jeans and one dress during the holidays, but have my eye on these rye chocolate chip cookies from Tartine's master baker Chad Robertson for when I reach my threshold of self-flagellation. Or, you know, stop ripping my friggin' clothes.

2. My new obsession - Retinol - Last month I nearly had a minor meltdown at my dermatologist's office when she told me, without pausing for pleasantries, that I need to "work" on my skin. And, oh yeah, that I'm getting OLD. Okay, so she didn't actually say I'm getting old, but recommending anti-aging products is the same thing, and, guys, I'm 30 now so that basically means I'm a heart beat away from 50. In 20 years. But whatever. I nodded my head (so I wouldn't cry), and pulled out my credit card even though I still had Christmas presents to buy, and $75 later I had my first bottle of retinol. I want to hate her (the evil workhorse dermatologist) for almost making me ugly cry, but the thing is… IT WORKS. While my skin has been clearing up since I cut out dairy milk this past November (more on that later), the retinol has taken it to the next level of clearedness. Or clearness, if you want to be grammatically correct about it. The point is, my skin tone is starting to even out, the sunspots that came out of nowhere when I turned 27 are lighter, and I'm drinking the crap out of the retinol Kool-Aid.

3. My new edible obsession - Avocados - I know avocados aren't exactly new to my universe or the universe in general, but when you haven't had dessert in 18 days, they suddenly become like the best thing you've ever eaten ever, EVER and suddenly everything needs to have avocado on it. Except for oatmeal because that would be weird. Right?

4. What I've been drinking - Zin Your Face California Zinfandel - I couldn't help myself. It's no 7even Deadly Zins, but totally drinkable on a Tuesday night while watching "The Mindy Project" and eating a bowl of avocado.

5. What I've been reading - I Watch The Bachelor So You Don't Have To - There are approximately five things I read on the Internet that have nothing to do with food, and this tumblr from local LA blogger Andrea Isasi is one of them. She says everything I am screaming in my head when watching "The Bachelor" in a way that makes me snort and feel like I could totally win at life, because at least I'm not a "Free Spirit" who doesn't wear shoes.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Chili Roasted Tofu with Minted Pomegranate Salsa: Resolved

I hate this time of year.

This awkward post-holiday period when it's suddenly weird to have glittery nail polish on my fingernails, the Michael Bublé Christmas station playing on Pandora and a mini tree from Trader Joe's named Larry on my dining room table.

I love Christmas, perhaps more than is appropriate for someone over the age of ten, and I always want to cling wrap myself to the moment -- the crazy family dinners featuring way too much wine, the excitement/anxiety that feathers the air, and the reckless fun of spending all my savings on the people I love. I didn't want it to end, and certainly wasn't ready to go back to regular nail polish, top 40 radio and a treeless table.

Because we all know that treeless tables are the ultimate form of post-holiday letdown.

Particularly trees that have been christened Larry.

There's also this whole new year to deal with -- a year that I have to remember to write on rent checks and the thank you cards that I've promised myself I'll send as soon as I recover from the grief of throwing Larry into the garbage bin. (May he rest in peace.)

So even though I was prepared for the idea of 2014 and the rush of expectations that came along with it when midnight slapped me in the face on New Year's Eve, I wasn't ready for what came after I collapsed into my bed at 1 am in full makeup and the wishbone necklace I couldn't be bothered to take off in my champagne stupor.

The reality of normal life -- the rudest of New Year's Day awakenings.

Aside from the hangover that left me pledging that I'd never drink alcohol ever ever again.

For, you know, like three and a half days.

This year that pledge has been coupled with one to avoid dessert until I can button my jeans without cutting off the circulation in the lower half of my body.  It's the ultimate insult to my post-holiday injury, but strangely enough I feel okay on what is now day 11 (!!!). I'm resolved with my resolution, if you will. And strangely a bit relieved to not feel the compulsion to eat every cookie in sight because "It's the holidays," and that's what's done.

The transition has been made somewhat easier with healthy "resolution" recipes like this one -- Chili Roasted Tofu with Minted Pomegranate Relish via Sprouted Kitchen. The vibrant flavors, diversity of textures, and addition of avocados, nature's butter, make this dish feel like something special. Even if it is eaten with sparkling water instead of sparkling wine, and without my four-year-old niece making faces at me from across the table.

It's a first step into 2014. And, hopefully, a step toward looser fitting jeans. 

Chili Roasted Tofu with Pomegranate Salsa
Adapted from Sprouted Kitchen
Serves 2

Notes: I left the structure of this recipe mostly intact, but played around with the proportions a bit - using less tofu than is called for, and adjusting the salsa ingredients to an amount more appropriate for one person to have lingering in the fridge. I added the arugula one day to turn this into more of a salad, and enjoyed the peppery contrast to the tartness of the pomegranates, though also enjoyed a side of roasted Brussels sprouts on another occasion. Either way, it's hard to go wrong with this combination of flavors.

For Tofu

6 ounces extra firm tofu, sliced into 1/2'' thick pieces, then halved into triangles
1 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon tangerine (or orange) juice
1 tablespoon olive oil

Pomegranate Salsa

1/2 pomegranate, deseeded
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 teaspoon tangerine (or orange) juice
1 tablespoon minced shallots
1/3 cup mint leaves, finely chopped
Pinch of salt

For Quinoa
1/2 cup quinoa
Scant cup vegetable broth

To Serve
1/2 ripe avocado, chopped
A couple handfuls of arugula
Olive oil
Salt, pepper

In a small bowl, combine chili powder, salt, tangerine/orange juice and olive oil. Stir together until well combined. Place tofu in zip lock bag and pour the marinade over the pieces. Seal the bag up tightly, making sure to remove any air pockets, and let sit for at least 10 or so minutes (or even overnight if you on top of things).

While the tofu is marinating, combine pomegranate seeds, orange zest, tangerine/orange juice, minced shallots, mint, and salt in a small bowl. Set aside.

Once ready to prepare the tofu, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking dish with parchment paper and arrange marinated tofu triangles on top. Drizzle marinade over the pieces and bake for 20-25 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium sized pot, bring vegetable oil to a boil. Add the quinoa, reduce heat and simmer, covered for 15-20 minutes or until liquid has been absorbed. Remove lid, fluff with a fork and let stand for 5 minutes over low heat.

To Plate:
Scatter arugula leaves over two plates. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt/pepper to taste. Spoon quinoa over the arugula, then arrange two tofu triangles over each quinoa mound. Top with pomegranate salsa and avocado.