Thursday, April 30, 2009

Designer Granola

I love granola. I can't get enough of its fruity, nutty, grainy taste, with textures rough and wrinkled and chewy. Recently, I found a new granola delicacy, mixmygranola(tm) the way i like it.

mixmygranola has a few premixed selections, but their forte is make-your-own granola. In just a few mouse clicks, you can create the cereal of your dreams, FedEx-ed to your door.

You begin by selecting a base; I chose French vanilla. All the bases contain grains and sweeteners, plus some extras. The French vanilla base has the rolled oats you'd expect, along with  honey, almonds, crisp rice, and nutmeg. The web site's FAQ section discloses every ingredient in each of the bases, making life easier if you have food allergies or a special diet. Of the four, the organic base and the muesli are vegan.

Once you've chosen a base, you're directed to mmg's online pantry of 17 different dried fruits. If you're adventurous, choose goji berries or papaya. I opted for organic banana chips and dried pineapple. Compared to other banana chips I've tried, mmg's were a little starchy, but, in all fairness, the sweeter ones are generally heavily sugared and fried, whereas mmg's are made from dried banana. No frying. No added sugar. Nada. Nothing. Just banana. Dried not fried.

The dried pineapple was surprisingly fresh; I hadn't realized how much stale granola is out there until I experienced this stuff -- chewy without sticking to my dental work and sweet with just a little tang. This granola is so fresh it practically stands up and says good morning!

Next, the site guides you to pick from 17 nuts and seeds. What makes 17 a magic number, I'm not sure, but you won't feel slighted by the variety, which again includes both offbeat and conventional items. For my mix, I went for peanuts and pepitas.

But you still aren't finished with your masterpiece. There's one more category called 'extras.' Some of the extras, such as oat bran flakes, are healthy boosts. But others -- the lion's share, really -- might be better named 'guilty indulgences.' From a selection that included everything from mini yogurt pretzels to wasabi peas, I ended up selecting chocolate mini morsels and crystallized ginger. Again, the ingredients were impeccably fresh.

The resulting mixture was delicious and had 266 calories per two-ounce serving. This stuff is tasty, fresh, and you might even say it's on the healthy side, but it's only as diet friendly as you make it. Fortunately, mmg is on top of this, too. A nutritional calculator is built into the ordering system, so with a single mouse click, you can view your creation's vital statistics.

The web site also keeps a running tally of how much the whole adventure is costing you. Bases run $3.99 and $4.99 per pound, while fruits, nuts, and extras vary from $0.49 to $1.99 per ounce. I was able to purchase two different mixes, totaling two pounds, for just under 25 dollars, including delivery. This unusual take on breakfast would make a terrific gift and the company sells gift certificates that can be e-mailed or printed.

mix my granola at a glance

• It's distinctively fresh.
• The nutritional information for your specialized blend is available in one mouse click.
• mmg has great variety, with more than 50 fruits, nuts, seeds, and extras.

• mmg's texture is uniform, lacking the tasty granola clumps I dig for.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Too-cute Desserts

Last weekend, Aaron and I attended a reception that his employer put on and while it was hardly veg-centric, there were some delicious bites available to us herbivores, including these tasty desserts-on-a-stick. We could choose from several varieties, including marshmallows dipped in dark chocolate and jimmies (the frontmost one), angel food cake dipped in icing (to the left of the marshmallow), cheesecake on a stick, brownie triangles, and frosted Rice Crispies treats.

Other culinary high points for us veg-heads included roasted asparagus and green beans as well as a delicious selection of bruschetta topped with mild fresh tomato salsa, tapenade, or a light artichoke salad. We particularly enjoyed a crunchy Chinese chicken salad available with or without chicken and served in Chinese take-out containers. To me, the broad selection of veg appetizers shows tremendous progress over the first company gathering we attended a few years ago, where the main event was the meat-carving stations with large slabs of roast beef, ham, and turkey.

I was surprised by the amount of hard liquor flowing from the open bar. I'm largely a tea-totaler who occasionally imbibes in a glass of beer or wine, but I don't think I've had hard liquor since before I was old enough to drink. What about you: what are your feelings about hard liquor?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Smit'n with Chik'n for Passover

I might not make any friends by saying it, but I love fake meat. I get a giggle from it and enjoy the taste, the texture, and the variety it adds to my meals. I understand that some faux meat foes feel that it's junk food, as highly processed as Velveeta, Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwiches, or house-brand hot dogs.

Still, I must respectfully submit my fondness for it. I put Italian 'sausages' in my spaghetti sauce, make chili with Gimme Lean, and most recently, cooked up some un-chicken soup with vegetarian chik'n tenders.

Chik'n tenders are made by a British company called Quorn that has been selling meat substitutes in this country since 2002. Personally, I discovered the stuff only last month in a health-food store in Hawaii (of all places). I was impressed with how nicely it worked in a simple stir-fry and thought it would be fun to put it in an un-chicken soup for Passover.

First, I assembled my ingredients, sticking to what I understand to be the traditional
ingredients: carrots, celery, fresh dill, matzoh balls, egg noodles, no-chicken broth, and Quorn's chik'n tenders.

Such a soup -- you would not believe! Had I been told it was the real thing, I would have believed it without thinking twice.  The broth, from Imagine Foods, was remarkably realistic. The 'meat' -- be still my beating heart -- had all the taste and the same bite and texture as chicken.

I was surprised to learn that Quorn's chik'n is made from mushroom protein, a.k.a. mycoprotein. Who knew that mushrooms have protein and can be made to taste like chicken?

Whatever the case, I expect to be eating more of Quorn's pseudo-meat and Imagine's un-chicken broth.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Des asperges?

The hallmark of spring in California is the arrival of the year's first asparagus. I love the early-season crop with its bright green, pencil-thin stalks that are tender tip-to-tip. Our CSA, Full Belly Farm, has already sent asparagus several times and I can never get enough. For a beautiful, willowy bunch, no price is too high -- which is good, because even at season's peak, it isn't cheap.

For the most part, I believe that asparagus is best served au naturel, simply steamed in the microwave and served with a little Earth Balance, salt, and pepper. If your asparagus stems are on the thick side, pare them down with a vegetable peeler to expose the tender flesh underneath. (This is also a good way to handle broccoli stalks that you might otherwise throw away.)

When I was growing up in Michigan, I don't recall ever having eaten asparagus. Though I knew what it was, my depression-era grandparents, with whom I lived, almost never purchased fresh food because they saw it as an unnecessary luxury. Really. To their way of thinking, asparagus would probably have been the ring leader of superfluous vegetables.

When I was in college, I might have bought asparagus, but I don't remember it being available. 'Turns out that while Michigan is the third-largest producing state, only 25 percent of the crop is sold fresh. Processors buy the rest.

California, on the other hand, is the nation's top asparagus grower and it's available for nine glorious months each year. Springtime, though, is definitely the best time for it.

Question: Which fruit or vegetable signifies the end of winter for you?