Frontier Psychiatrist

Cook It, Don’t Buy It!

Posted on: May 9, 2012

Homemade Granola with BerriesFor about a year I wrote for Mark Bittman, a culinary role model of mine.  I would cook and photograph a selection of his recipes each week and write about what happened in the kitchen, to make it easier for other non-professional home cooks to follow along.  If you don’t know Mark’s style, it’s very much about making cooking accessible.  Not boring and not dumbed down, but simple, delicious, and do-able.  And while the recipes are not all easy, per se, they encourage experimentation and exploration.  Most recipes have options.  Don’t have lemon?  Try lime.  Don’t have a clue what lacinato kale is or where to get it? Use spinach.  Don’t have time to fully caramelize onions?  Try this trick to speed it up. You can make it your own by trying out different flavor combinations and cooking methods.  You can almost always get creative with proportions.  The idea is that there’s no one right way to cook a dish.  Unless something gets set on fire.  That’s almost always the wrong way to cook.

One of the better lessons I learned from cooking Mark’s recipes is that some things are just not worth buying at the grocery store because they’re way better made from scratch.  In some cases it’s because it’s way cheaper to make yourself, or way healthier, or way tastier.  In all cases your return on investment is well worth the time spent in the kitchen.

My absolute favorite would-never-buy-it-in-a-box-again recipe is for granola.  When the packaging says things like

Homemade granola

Freshly baked granola

maple and brown sugar crunch, or mango ginger flax, it’s easy to be intimidated into thinking granola is something better left to the cereal experts and their uncanny ability to create those heavenly clusters.  Envy not the cluster makers!  Perfect granola is within your reach.  The base is plain old rolled oats (no, not the quick cook kind, unless you want charred oat flake granola), and everything else is customizable to your taste.  Mark’s granola recipe, originally something I found in his Minimalist column for the NY Times, suggests 6 cups of oats and 2 cups of nuts as the main ingredients.  If you’re crazy about clusters, which I clearly am, forgo about 1/4 or 1/3 cup of nuts and replace it with about ¼ cup of peanut (or almond or cashew or sunflower) butter.  Sometimes it helps to melt it in the microwave a bit for improved spreadability.  See the recipe below for more ideas about add-ins.

The second thing I never, ever buy in a bottle anymore is salad dressing.  Have you ever read the ingredients on a bottle of that stuff?  Some are better than others, but I have a bottle of balsamic vinaigrette in front of me that contains fish gelatin and xanthan gum.  Hmm.  Instead, I typically whip up a little dish of vinaigrette each time I make salad.  It takes about a minute, and it’s so much fresher.  And not at all creepy.  Like granola the add-ins are endless, but my favorite combination is olive oil, balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, honey, and black pepper.  For something lighter, perhaps olive oil, lemon juice, honey and black pepper.  Basically oil + acid + flavor = dressing. Done and done.  You can mix up a larger batch of dressing and it will keep in the fridge for at least a few days.

And the final food Mark taught me to make on my own is sorbet.  Unlike ice cream, which involves a machine to churn it and bring it down to temperature, making sorbet is quite straightforward.  Similar to salad dressing, pre-packaged sorbet often contains various acids and concentrated juices and “natural flavor” (OMG, my favorite flavor!).  But all you really need to make it yourself is frozen fruit, a little liquid (wine works well!), yogurt, sugar, and a food processor.  Just another way you get to control all the elements of what you’re eating and how to flavor it.  You want peach blueberry sorbet?  Go for it.  Haven’t seen that one in the freezer aisle!

Homemade Sorbet in a Blender

Whoosh! Sorbet in the making.

Crunchy Granola
Adpated from The Minimalist by Mark Bittman

Some of my favorite things to add: pine nuts, flax seeds, almond butter, currants, dried cherries, pumpkin seeds, chocolate chips (at the end).

Time: 40 minutes
Makes: About 8 cups

6 cups rolled oats (not quick-cooking or instant)

1.5 cups mixed nuts and seeds: sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, chopped walnuts, pecans, almonds or cashews

¼ cup (or more) peanut butter or almond butter

1 cup dried unsweetened shredded coconut, optional

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, or to taste

Dash salt

1/2 to 1 cup honey or maple syrup, or to taste

1 cup raisins or chopped dried fruit, optional

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, combine oats, nuts and seeds, cinnamon, salt and sweetener. Place on a sheet pan and put in oven. Bake for 30 minutes or a little longer, stirring occasionally. If you’re using coconut, add it about halfway through.  Mixture should brown evenly; the browner it gets without burning, the crunchier the granola will be.

2. Remove pan from oven and add raisins or dried fruit. Cool on a rack, stirring once in a while until granola reaches room temperature. Transfer to a sealed container and store in refrigerator; it will keep indefinitely.

Salad Dressing

Adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything

Time: 2-3 minutes

Makes: Enough for 4 salads

¼ cup olive oil

2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

2 tsp honey

1/8 tsp ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a small dish and whisk with a fork until combined.

Raspberry Cabernet Sorbet

Recipe from Mark Bittman’s The Food Matters Cookbook

Makes: At least 4 servings

Time: 10 minutes

All you need is a food processor to make this super-easy frozen dessert. If you can find good fresh raspberries and freeze them yourself, so much the better.  The small amount of alcohol in the mix makes the texture a little less icy than in a typical sorbet, and leaves you and your guests with nearly a full bottle of wine to polish off.

1 pound frozen raspberries

1⁄2 cup silken tofu, yogurt, or crème fraîche

3 to 4 tablespoons sugar

2 to 4 tablespoons cabernet or other full-bodied, flavorful red wine

1. Put the raspberries, tofu, sugar, and 2 tablespoons wine in a food processor. Process until just puréed and creamy, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed and adding more wine 1 tablespoon at a time if the fruit does not break down completely. Be careful not to over-process or the sorbet will liquefy.

2. Serve immediately or freeze for up to a day or two; if serving later, allow 10 to 15 minutes for the sorbet to soften at room temperature.

Freya Bellin writes alternate Wednesdays for Frontier Psychiatrist. Her recent FP recipes include A Duck of My Very OwnWhy Ramps Make People Giddy, and Cookie Season.


8 Responses to "Cook It, Don’t Buy It!"

great post! sounds like you had an awesome job!

Any suggestions for the nut-allergic who want to finally get to eat granola? I could sub sunflower, pumpkin, and sesame seeds for the nuts, but what about the peanut/almond butter? Would it still work if I left that out?

Lisa, it would totally work if you leave out the nut butter. If you can eat sunflower seeds, you might check out sunflower butter, which I’ve heard is very good. Or tahini works too.

yum, tahini … excellent suggestion!

[…] Bellin writes alternate Wednesdays for Frontier Psychiatrist. Her recent FP recipes include Cook it, Don’t Buy It, A Duck of My Very Own, and Why Ramps Make People Giddy. Share […]

[…] Bellin writes alternate Wednesdays for Frontier Psychiatrist. Her recent FP recipes include Cook it, Don’t Buy It, A Duck of My Very Own, and Why Ramps Make People Giddy. Share […]

[…] Frontier Psychiatrist. Her recent FP recipes include Ethnic Excursion: Kalustyan’s in NYC, Cook it, Don’t Buy It, and A Duck of My Very Own. Share this:ShareEmailTwitterFacebookRedditStumbleUponYahoo […]

[…] FP recipes include Perhaps It Won’t Be a Pie, Ethnic Excursion: Kalustyan’s in NYC, and Cook it, Don’t Buy It. Share this:ShareEmailTwitterFacebookRedditStumbleUponYahoo BuzzDiggLike this:LikeOne blogger likes […]

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