Spiced Crispy Chickpeas

It’s funny that now I have a fancy new office job (which is absolutely fab by the way) with a computer and a desk and all that, certain things in my life have become much more important than they ever were before. For instance, I now, for the first time since maybe middle school, have to keep careful track that my bedtime does not extend past 8:00 (and yes, it does make me feel old). I have now also become obsessed with traffic patterns. It is simply amazing to me how traffic can go from insignificant to absolute gridlock in a matter of minutes (generally in the time frame of around 4:46-4:49) and it becomes of absolute necessity to leave the office at precisely 4:30 to prevent an imminent doom of stop-and-go commuting. Has anyone also ever noticed how traffic really seems to have no reason for being, how the worst possible congestion can suddenly end as if 2/3 of the cars evaporated into thin air? And also how people feel a dire need to slow down and stare whenever a cop has someone pulled over, creating a jam large enough to prolong my drive by approximately 15 minutes? Oh, traffic…so perplexing.

But I think the one thing that has climbed near the top of the “aspects of my life of vital importance” list is snacks. When it gets to that moment when my eyes suddenly glaze over from three hours of staring at the computer screen, yet it’s still much to early to justify eating lunch, there is nothing better than a walk to the lunchroom for a snack break. Of course, it helps that my new employer provides a plethora of limitless free and healthy snacks and fresh fruit and bottomless Tazo tea and Starbucks coffee. Each day is like an adventure to see what kind of new snack made it into the selection. White Cheddar Pirate’s Booty? Sure! Potato chips fried in Avocado Oil. Oh yeah! And while I’m at it I’ll take a grapefruit with me for good measure.

However, I have realized that my self-control will, at some point, need to reign in my newfound obsession for prepackaged snacks. I considered signing up for one of these subscription healthy snack boxes where you are sent a new selection of goodies every week. But then I realized that I can pretty much get the components of these things in the bulk section of many nearby grocery stores for much cheaper. And this led to the great epiphany that I should make my own snacks and trail mixes and granola bars so I could cater them to my tastes and know exactly what’s in them. Well, at least that’s the plan for now while the idea’s newness gives me the momentum to follow through. So, to start, I made use of about a 1½ cups of extra chickpeas I had from my latest batch of hummus and turned it into snack that could give potato chips a run for its money after all.

These are crispy chickpeas. They are nothing but chickpeas with a tad of oil and a lot of spices, dried out in the oven until crunchy and nutty. That’s it. Dead simple. It sounds so boring when you thing that its nothing but a shriveled, dried out bean but you must eliminate those thoughts. This may be a healthy, fiber and protein filled snack but, in this form, the chickpeas masquerade as the guilty pleasures from the vending machine. And they don’t have to necessarily be used own their own as mere snacks. They are amazing on salads and soups and curries and all sorts of dishes. You can mix them with other roasted nuts, seeds, and dried fruits for trail mix or serve them on a cheese and charcuterie platter. And you can feel free to play around with the spices. Make a sweet cinnamon sugar version, or Texas bbq, parmesan rosemary, or even curry. You can pretty much replicate any snack flavor out there!

Do you sense a bit of excitement here?

Yes, I do realize I’m probably the last person to catch on to this trend (per usual) but hey, better late than never, right? I’m afraid to say that there may be a chickpea epidemic about to erupt in my house though I suppose there could be many many worse things than that.

Spiced Crispy Chickpeas

1 15-oz can chickpeas, drained, rinsed, and air-dried on a clean towel (you could also use 1½ cups fresh cooked chickpeas, if you happen to have them available)
1 Tbs. olive oil
¼ tsp. cumin
¼ tsp. coriander
¼ tsp. ground ginger
¼ tsp. smoked paprika
½ tsp. sea salt

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Toss the dry chickpeas with the olive oil and the spices until they are coated evenly. Spread them out a baking sheet. Roast in the oven for 30-35 minutes, shaking the pan periodically, until the chickpeas are lightly browned and crispy all the way through (to test for crispiness, remove a few from the oven and let them cool for a moment before tasting). Let them cool completely before storing in an airtight container. But really, they won’t last that long.

Zucchini (and lots of other stuff) Muffins

This year is the first (in many) that my family put a garden in our yard. As a kid, I always remember having one. It was enormous and a mainstay for our summer table. For some reason many of my vivid memories of childhood stem from that garden; I feel like I was forced to pick green beans for hours every day though looking back that may be a bit of an exaggeration. But when we moved about ten years ago, the gardening stopped. Our house now is built on what used to be an old junkyard and we just happened to be a bit dubious about planting our vegetables in a sea of broken windshield glass and car battery acid. I guess we put caution to the wind this year when we planted a boatload in our little garden plot and watched as it very quickly became a miniature jungle out there.

Our garden, in only the past few weeks, has absolutely flourished. The size of the plants dwarfs those of the neighbors. We harvest about 10 zucchini a night only to find 5 more the next day that seem to have popped up in the matter of a few hours. It’s kind of ridiculous. I think the real reason for this is the fact that my mom sprayed the dirt with Miraclegrow. So…technically our garden is on steroids, the products of performance enhancing drugs. Now we couldn’t enter anything into the biggest vegetable contest at the county fair if we wanted to (actually I’m not sure if that sort of contest even exists) for fear of an embarrassing disqualification.

The only problem with an overwhelmingly flourishing garden is a sudden lack of refrigerator space and mouths in the household to eat everything. It has come to the point where only about a third of the produce stays in our home and the rest is placed into the hands of anyone who will take it. Strangely, it’s been hard to give away the Swiss chard. No one seems to know what to do with it, which is a shame. Obviously all they have to do is go on this blog and look here, or here. Problem solved. I’ve also been getting creative with the zucchini. The other day I made a Mexican vegetable and tortilla “lasagna”. My agenda today includes some pickle production. And Monday I whipped up a batch of these super-healthy zucchini muffins.

Despite their uber-grungy-hippie façade, these are not your classic crumbly and dry health muffins. They are also not cupcakes in disguise. Sweetened with only a little sugar, moistened with canola oil rather than butter, and absolutely chockfull of tasty mix-ins and, of course, zucchini, these are wonderfully filling and even delightful. They are heaven when eaten warm with a schmear of peanut butter and cream cheese. They are also perfect for adaptation. You really can adjust the nut and dried fruit types to your preferences. Want sunflower seeds, pepitas, millet? Go for it. Hate coconut (shame on you)? Leave it out. You could definitely also throw in a handful of grated carrot for good measure, if you’re so inclined. So if you find yourself the receiver of someone’s superfluous zucchini crop, make these.

Zucchini (and lots of other stuff) muffins
adapted very slightly from Joanne Chang’s Flour cookbook
makes about 15 muffins

½ cup oats, ground into coarse powder with a food processor
½ cup hot water
1 medium zucchini
¼ cup dried cranberries
¼ cup golden raisins
¼ cup toasted chopped walnuts
¼ cup toasted chopped pecans
½ cup sweetened flaked coconut
½ apple, peeled, cored, and chopped into ¼ into cubes
2/3 cup light brown sugar
3 eggs
¾ cup canola oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1½ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup whole old-fashioned oats
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put muffin paper liners in about 15 slots in some muffin tins.

In a medium bowl, stir together the ground oats with the hot water until it forms a paste. Set aside. Grate the zucchini into a strainer or colander.  Press on the zucchini to release some of the excess liquid. Measure out 1½ cups of the grated zucchini. Add the zucchini, cranberries, raisins, walnuts, pecans, coconut, and apple pieces to the wet oat mixture and stir to coat. Set aside.

Using a stand mixer with they whisk attachment, whip the three eggs and the brown sugar together on medium speed for 4 minutes until lighter in color and slightly frothy. Add the vanilla and then slowly pour in the canola oil in a steady drizzle. Remove the bowl from the mixer and set aside. Combine the flour, whole oats, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a medium bowl and stir to evenly combine. Pour the dry mixture into the mixing bowl with the egg and oil and quickly fold together until just mixed. Add in the zucchini mixture and gently fold into the rest of the batter.

Spoon the batter into the muffin tins. They will not rise very much so you can fill each almost to the top. Bake for 35 to 40 minute until just lightly browned on the top. These are best eaten within the first 24 hours they are made. For any extra, they keep for about 3 days at room temperature. They also freeze well, wrapped tightly in plastic or foil. Let them defrost in the refrigerator, at room temperature, or reheat in a 300-degree oven. I’ll admit, I actually heated them for 20 seconds in the microwave…you won’t want to wait for the oven to warm up, trust me.

Holiday Snack (CRACK)ers

Do you know what these little morsels are? These are possibly some of the most uniquely flavored, amazingly textured, little biscuits I’ve had…ever. That’s why the are (crack)ers. They’re drugs in snack form. They’re addicting to the point where you can’t ever seem to stop yourself from going for another sweet and savory crunchy bite. Yet, believe it or not, this is one addiction that you won’t regret making.  Because, despite the rich butteriness and the sweet, caramelized crispness of these crackers, they are VERY healthy. No fats and oils here. Just sweet dried figs, tons of nuts and seeds, woodsy rosemary, a dash of whole wheat, natural honey, and a lot of creamy, yet low-fat, buttermilk.

These crackers could possibly be a little bit of a lifesaver this Christmas season. Flavor-wise they are just as satisfying as the masses of cookies, sweets, and other naughty things you’ll be tempted with. Yet you will know that they are actually on the nice list. And with such a great crunch, they’ll be a real stress-reliever when the craziness of the holidays makes you feel like you could just…crack.

They are the easiest things to put together and the batter is pretty much assembled in one bowl. The whole process is a lot like making biscotti yet so much simpler and cleaner. The batter is split between two loaf pans and let to cook until golden and spongy. They cool completely, spend some time in the freezer to firm up and are then sliced into paper thin pieces before being toasted to nutty crispness in the oven.

The flavor is a little hard to describe. They definitely have sweetness from the honey that becomes almost molasses-like is it caramelized with the toasting. They also have they unusual tanginess from all of the buttermilk. A rich buttery smell permeates the whole house as it cooks, which strangely actually comes from the rosemary. Though herby there is a caramel-like undertone. It’s a smell that is reminiscent of fireplaces, cool, snow-dusted forests, and sweet toffees. And finally, the extraordinary number of figs and nuts adds lots of texture layers and rich toasty flavors.

There is a lot of potential for ways to top these crackers. We enjoyed them with chesees of all sorts; sharp, aged cheddar cheese, brie, smoked gouda, or a simple smear of mascarpone. Though I’m sure there are so many other uses for these. In fact, I almost liked them best plain. I am also really interested in swapping out some other ingredients for other to make an apricot, pistachio, cardamom crackers or dried cherry, pecan, and thyme, maybe even candied orange, almond, and tarragon. The possibilities seem endless. I hope you try these out in your own home and even consider them as a nice gift along with some cheese and snack bowls.

Holiday Snack (CRACK)ers
Makes about 70 crackers
adapted very slightly from Seven Spoons

Note: It can be a little hard to tell when these are done toasting because they stay soft while in the oven and don’t crisp up completely until after cooling. So, I would start at 15 minutes per side and if they still seem a little softer after cooling, pop them back in the oven for five minutes at a time until they reach good crispiness. But be careful not to burn them! Also, if they start to get soft after a few days form air moisture (if they last that long) you can again place them back in a 250 degree oven for 5-7 minutes, let them cool, and they will be perfect again.

½ cup chopped walnuts
¼ cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup whole-wheat flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1½ tsp salt
2 cups buttermilk
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ cup light honey
1 cup chopped dried figs
¼ cup shelled sunflower seeds
¼ sesame seeds
1½ tsp finely chopped rosemary

Preheat the oven for 350 degrees and grease two 9 by 5 inch loaf pans with butter or cooking spray.

Place the walnut pieces and the pepitas on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flours, baking soda and salt. Add in the brown sugar, honey, and buttermilk and stir with a wooden spoon until just combined. Add the toasted nuts and the rest of the ingredients and stir to mix them in.

Divide between the two pans and bake about 35-40 minutes until golden and the top springs right back when you lightly poke it. Remove from the pans and leave to cool. Once fully cooled, wrap them up well and place them in the freezer until firm. This makes it much easier to slice and actually, it lets you slice up however many crackers you want to make at a time and leave the rest of the loaf in the freezer for later.

For the toasting, heat the oven to 300 degrees. Slice the frozen loaves into ¼ inch (or even a little less if you can) pieces and place them in one layer on a cookie sheet. Bake them for 15 minutes on one side, flip the crackers over, and then 15 minutes on the other side. Cook on a wire rack. Again, if they are too soft, continue to toast at 5-minute intervals until very crunchy.

Hummus, the Real Way

I had a slight epiphany the other day.

I was sitting at a table in the building where I have my major classes and was shoveling down my lunch before class when my teacher, who knows I like to cook and has read my blogs, walked by and commented, “Oh, so did you make that hummus?” I’m sure he wouldn’t have been surprised to hear a, “yes, just whipped it up last night,” and probably expected a detailed explanation of the recipe but instead I turned my head toward the tasteless and lumpy dip and replied with a resounding, “no.”

He left, probably thinking no more about the encounter but I felt embarrassed. I realized that I have been spending entirely too much money on tubs of hummus that I don’t even enjoy from the grocery store. I’m sure I’ve tried almost every brand out there and each one leaves me disappointed and struggling to finish it off. It’s always either too grainy or the flavor has the unpleasing bitterness of granulated garlic and onion. That, along with the list of stabilizers and preservatives among with the ingredients, just leaves me yearning for a better way to spend my precious dollars.

Solution: I’m making my own.

Why I never did this before is beyond my comprehension. I suppose it was the thought of having to wait overnight for chickpeas to soak and the hefty price tag on the jars of tahini. But when I did the math and discovered that a jar of tahini and a couple pounds of dried beans is enough for several month’s worth of hummus, I realized that the homemade way, though not exactly a time-saver, is a definite bargain for a product that I am waaaay happier with.

It’s difficult to explain homemade hummus to someone who has never tasted its wonders, to get the point across that a gloopy puree of beans can be so much more than just a way to make carrots taste more exciting. Homemade hummus is almost a dish in itself. It begs to be eaten plain with a spoon, though that’s not to say crudités and pita don’t benefit from its flavors. It showcases the earthy, sweet, and natural flavors of the chickpea itself without the cloyingness of excessive artificial garlic. And the chickpeas are brightened by a dash of lemon and cumin, intensified by the toasted nuttiness of the tahini, and transformed into pure velvety richness as they’re pureed with fruity olive oil and their natural cooking water. The texture really is astounding; it’s fluffy and creamy and when you drag a spoon through it makes a little crackling noise of millions of popping air bubbles.

So now I eat my lunches a little more proudly. Though everyone else may assume my hummus is another $4.00 waste from the grocery store, my taste buds know the truth. It’s the real deal.

Hummus and Pita
Adapted from The Healthy Foodie

Don’t be scared away by the prospects of using dried chickpeas. It just means a little planning ahead. But honestly, it makes a world of a difference since they are not impregnated with the salty brine that canned chickpeas reside with. Also, the trick of soaking and cooking the chickpeas with baking soda makes a huge difference. The soda really allows the beans to reach a point of maximum softness so they puree into such creaminess. If you really must use canned chickpeas, use two drained and rinsed cans as a replacement and just plain warm water. I like to eat my hummus with carrots, celery, snow peas, and of course pita bread. The pita in the pictures is a homemade, half whole-wheat variety and you can find the recipe here. The pita breads are best the first day they are made when still warm and soft but leftover pita can be made into chips, frozen for later use, or used as a great base for mini pizzas.

1 cup dried chickpeas
1 Tbs. plus ¼ tsp. baking soda
¼ cup tahini
juice of ½ lemon
1 garlic clove
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. cumin
¼-½ cup chickpea cooking liquid
¼-½ cup olive oil

Place the chickpeas in a saucepan and cover with at least an inch of water. Add 1 Tbs. of the baking soda and stir until dissolved. Let sit overnight or throughout the day (at least 8 hours).  After soaking, drain the liquid and add more. Soak for an additional hour or two.

To cook the chickpeas, refresh the liquid again, this time adding enough to cover the chickpeas by at least two inches. Add the remaining ¼ tsp. of baking soda and stir to dissolve. Bring everything to a boil and cook on a medium high heat for 1 hour and 15 minutes, adding more liquid as it evaporates and skimming off any foam or skins.

When the chickpeas are finished cooking, reserve 1 cup of the liquid and drain them in a colander. If you wish, remove and discard the skins (this is not necessary). Place them in a food processor and blend until you have a thick paste. Add the tahini, lemon juice, garlic, salt, cumin, ¼ cup of the water and ¼ cup of the olive oil and puree until the hummus until it is creamy and smooth. Add more water and olive oil, as you need to, depending on the consistency you like. I like it smoother and runnier so I add more of the liquids. Adjust any other ingredients to taste as well. It tastes great freshly made and still warm but to store, transfer to an airtight container and keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Banana Bread

I’ve been thinking a lot about bananas lately.

And by lately I mean since two Saturdays ago when I began one of the most rewarding and enlightening experiences in my life. This past week and a half, I volunteered myself as an orientation guide for the incoming freshman of my University. It was not an easy job to obtain; the application process began last February and essays, group, and individual interviews ensued before 900 applicants were whittled down to 250 FROGS (First yeaR Orientation Guides). And so the moment finally arrived. The three days of training and six days of orientation that followed were, though exhausting (we got about four hours of sleep each night), some of the best of my life. The 18 fellow orientation guides that were in my training group are now my best friends and I make excuses to walk by the dormitory of the 28 first years that I was responsible for introducing to this amazing school, just in the hopes of running into them.

And though the support system of enthusiastic and optimistic people there kept me pushing through the hard week, I may not have made it without bananas either. Our days started with a mandatory 7:00 AM breakfast at the dining hall where I, on autopilot, instantly reached for two or three bananas before any coffee or bagels found their way into my hands. One was eaten immediately, slowly providing the energy to carry on with the remaining 16 hours of my work day. The others went into the backpack; they would have their uses later. The days would continue as my schedule told me. I let my group of first years to amazing presentations on alcohol safety and respecting diversity on campus and other wonderful performances and events. I directed students to correct classrooms where meetings were held. I busted out in song, dance, and mega-icebreaker games for about hours on the quad. But that was the easy part. The hardest two days were move-in where we FROGS spent literally eight hours each day hauling the freshmen’s unending supply or dorm supplies from their cars into their rooms. I lifted case after case of water bottles and Gatorade (anyone ever heard of a Brita pitcher) flimsy plastic under-the-bed drawers, neon pink shower caddies, and sacks of smelly shoes. If I saw a mini-fridge, I referred the parents to one of the guys with much stronger arms than I. The day was like and eight hour session of simultaneous stair climber and weight-lifting. But thank goodness a banana was always tucked away in my bag. And though warmer, mushier, and a little blacker than I had last left it, the sweet sticky fruit was an almost instant cure-all for hunger shakes and aching muscles.

When it all ended on Sunday, it was a bittersweet moment. School would begin the next day and though the other FROGS, the freshmen, and I had only just met, I felt like I had known them much longer. And the thought that we would not be meeting for breakfast the next day was disturbing and odd. But I was free to relax, to get my crap in order, and to finally cook for the first time in ten days. I arrived home, and after unloading my backpack realized that between my roommate and me, we had acquired a collection of 6 bananas over the week, all reaching an alarming state of ripeness. And there was not a moment of doubt in my mind. Banana bread. I found a recipe that was easy as anything and within a few minutes, I had a full bread tin of batter slowly cooking away in the oven. The air filled with the super-saturated sweetness of ripe bananas combined with that comforting heartiness of freshly baked bread and warming cinnamon. It came out of the oven at 10:00 but regardless of my sleep deprivation, I withstood waiting yet another 30 minutes for the bread to cool so I could indulge in a small slice. It was incredibly moist and definitely more on the bread/muffin side of baked good because of its subtle and gentle sweetness. The outer edges became slightly crispy while the center transformed into a mass of billowing, tender crumb. The next morning I ate a huge slice, toasted and slathered with peanut butter and banana slices. A heavenly breakfast after 10 straight days of dining hall food.

Now excuse me if I try to make a slightly far-fetched analogy, but in my state of deliriousness that Sunday night and intoxicated by the smell of baking bread, I came to realize something more about bananas. They are such an odd fruit, not juicy and crisp like most others but dense and mealy and sometimes unappetizingly slimy. Within three days they can go from neon green, to vibrant yellow, to murky brown and black. And with a little practice they can then be transformed from an inedible state to something delicious like bread or ice cream. Funnily enough I saw these evolution patterns paralleled in the people I was with during orientation and realized that bananas are a lot like humans.

My group of freshmen are those green bananas. They aren’t totally prepared for everything yet. In terms of maturation, yes, they’re a little green. But give them time and they’ll soften up. They will learn the ins and outs and slowly come to terms with their new position as an adult. They’ll embrace their place as a college student and the unending opportunities that come with that. In time, they’ll be at the ripeness of their life, like many of the sophomore and junior FROGS that accompanied me in this adventure. They’ll be learning, experimenting, soaking in information. And then they start to be like me, a brown-speckled banana. College is coming to an end and it’s almost time to release myself from the safety net of it all. But after this week, I’ve discovered a lot about myself and have grown tremendously and I now feel good about being in the position of an old banana, at the point where it is time to move on, time to no longer be a college student. In a sense, it’s time to become banana bread. In a year, I’ll go from familiarity into something brand new and hopefully, much better and more complex. Hopefully in a year I’ll come out of this metaphorical oven of a school ready to take on the world.

Banana Bread

I was not in a frame of mind to be innovation at the time that I made this bread so I followed the recipe verbatim. You can see it here. It comes from the Flour Bakery Cookbook and like everything else I’ve made from there was delicious. It is not by any means a difficult recipe and most ingredients are already available. Next time I may try pecan or peanuts and who knows, a chocolate chip or two may sneak in there!

 It should keep for three days at room temperature or can be well wrapped and frozen for up to 3 weeks. Like I said it’s also amazing with peanut butter for a protein rich morning meal but also good for just picking at throughout the day.

1 2/3 cup flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup plus 2 Tbs. sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
3 1/2 very ripe bananas, mashed (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 Tbs. sour cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2/3 cup chopped, toasted walnuts (optional)
1 tsp. cinnamon mixed with 11/2 Tbs. granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a standard loaf pan. In a mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Set aside.

in a stand mixer, use the whisk attachment to mix the sugar and eggs on medium speed for 5-7 minutes. Then, on low speed, very slowly drizzle in the oil until well combined. Add the mashed bananas, vanilla, and sour cream and mix until incorporated. 

Fold the dry ingredients into the wet until the dry is just moistened. Do not overmix. Fold in the walnuts, if using. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar overtop the surface of the batter. Pour into the loaf pan and bake in the center of the oven for 45 minutes to an hour until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 30 minutes then remove from the pan and continue to cool until room temperature. Store as directed in paragraph before recipe.