"Lite" Granola

I was looking for a granola recipe that was light and didn't have all the fat, sugar and preservatives you get in boxed granola. I soon discovered that it didn't exist. Through trial and error, I've come up with a recipe that is delicious and as "lite" as it can possibly be, without sacrificing taste and texture. You can substitute any kind of nuts or dried fruit you prefer.

Vegetable cooking spray
4 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup almonds (halved)
1/2 cup pecans (halved)
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1 1/2 cups sweetened coconut
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup Splenda brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

  Preheat oven to 325*F. Lightly coat a cookie sheet with cooking spray.
In a large bowl, combine oats, almonds, pecans, coconut, cinnamon, and salt (the cherries go in after
In a small sauce pan, stir in oil, honey, and sugar. Don't worry if the oil doesn't thoroughly combine with the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a boil and remove from heat. Stir in vanilla. Pour over oat mixture and stir until it's completely combined.
Pour onto prepared cookie sheet (you may need 2 depending on size) and spread evenly. Bake for 20 minutes or until it's lightly golden brown. Stir once or twice during the baking process, and keep a close eye on it to prevent it from burning. Remove from oven and stir in the cherries.
Let it cool completely before breaking it into pieces. Store in an airtight container.

Kale Chips

  On a recent trip to California, my daughter Ali made the most delicious snack I've had in years. They were  light and crispy kale chips. They literally disintegrate in your mouth... when made correctly! I had heard about them and read about them in every cooking magazine, but never attempted to make them. So when I got home it was the first order of business. As it turned out, it was not as easy as she made it look!! To add insult to injury, she made three different varieties, a salt and pepper, a cumen spiced and a cayenne chili pepper.... big show off!!!
  My first batch was a disaster!  I had the oven preheated to 350*F, tore the kale leaves, added salt and pepper and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. What I produced was a brown oily chip...YUCK! The second batch, I lowered the oven temperature to 300*F and used less oil, and it was closer to Ali's, but still a bit soggy. It's all about the texture, and I wasn't getting the light, crispy, exploding in your mouth chip that she made. So on my last attempt, I finally got it right. I used a 300*F oven, tore the kale into larger pieces, barely oiled them, salt and pepper, in a single layer on a cookie sheet. I placed them in the center of the oven and cooked them for about 10 minutes. What resulted was a lighter than air, crispy Kale Ali Chip!! At last!!

Essential Kitchen Tools

  I get more catalogues than anyone I know, and big surprise, most of them are cooking related. So I flip through them and can't believe the enormous amount of useless/extraneous tools..... who buys these? The most ridiculous is the little rubber tube that peels garlic..... really??  How about using the flat side of a wide knife and smashing the garlic to remove the peel.... is that too easy??
  Admittedly, I've gotten sucked in on more than one occasion. Like the time I just couldn't live without the chestnut cutter. It never worked properly... so it sits in the drawer and I use a paring knife to do the job, like I've been doing for years.
  So it got me thinking.... what are the kitchen tools I find indispensable? These are a few of the essentials I cannot live without.... not necessarily in order. Garlic press, immersion blender, microplaner, tongs, instant read thermometer, ricer, mini food processor, knife steel, whisk, wooden juice reamer, assorted measuring cups, "Y" shaped vegetable peeler, wooden spoons, spatulas, pepper mill, assorted strainers, stainless steel bowls, salad spinner, mandoline slicer, assorted cutting boards, box grater, kitchen scissors and the most essential tool, a sharp chef's knife, emphasis on SHARP!!
  The importance of a sharp knife is worthy of discussion. A sharp knife is rarely the reason one cuts themselves, but in fact, it's a dull knife that is the culprit. A dull knife blade tends to "slip" off whatever you're cutting, slicing your fingertip instead of slicing through the item you're cutting. So keep your knives sharpened and save yourself a trip to the E.R..... oh and don't buy tools you really don't need!!

Helpful Hints

1) When buying a chunk of a good hard cheese, like parmigiano reggiano, don't discard the rind. Instead, save it in the freezer and toss it into soups, sauces, and stews.
2) If you plan on freezing steak, chops or any meat or fish you plan on marinading before cooking, marinade it first in a ziplock bag and the freeze it. The marinade has a chance to really penetrate the protein.
3) Before you cut into a lime or a lemon, roll it under your palm, with some pressure for 30 seconds or so. It releases more juice.
4) When cooking pasta, salt the water heavily, do not add oil, and before straining, reserve a quarter cup of cooking water. The starch in the water helps whatever sauce you use, to become a little creamier and stick better to the pasta. Just add a little at a time until you get the consistency you want.
5) I think the best way to make a very juicy steak is to start by using an oven proof saute pan. Preheat your oven to 450*F. Heat the saute pan on stovetop, using medium high heat, get the pan smoking hot. Salt and pepper your meat heavily and drizzle a bit of olive oil over it. Put it in the hot pan and don't move it at all for about 4 minutes, until it forms a dark crust. Turn it over and repeat. If the steak is thick, brown the sides the same way, using tongs. Place it in the preheated oven and roast it for 5-10 minutes, depending the thickness and how you like it cooked. Remove from oven and put it on a plate and tent it with foil loosely (it will continue to cook). Put the saute pan back on the stove top on medium heat, and squeeze the juice from a whole lemon into pan scraping up any bits at the bottom. Simmer for a minute or so and season with salt and pepper. Pour it over the steak and serve.
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