Oatmeal with Amarena Italian Cherries & Almonds

After posting my recipe for homemade oatmeal mix the other day, I remembered that I wanted to share this idea for topping off your morning oats.

Admittedly, it’s a little indulgent. Amarena cherries are a type of tart cherry grown in northern Italy. They’re soaked in grappa or brandy and packed in cherry syrup, and let me tell you they are the Cherry Bomb. I really like their tart sweetness and intense almond-like essence.

It could be that the word “amarena”  makes me think of amaretto. I’m not sure how the extracted almond flavor is achieved; whether it’s naturally how the cherries taste or if they’re enhanced by the type of brandy used – all I know is the cherries work very nicely paired with the crunch of toasted almonds and warm, creamy oats.

I didn’t find much info on how amarena cherries are made;  if you know more I’d love to hear.

They are sweet and rich, but a little goes a long way here. Feel good knowing that cherries are regarded as a superfood with protective benefits against degenerative disease.

Oatmeal with Amarena Italian Cherries & Almonds

Serving Size: makes 1 serving

Ingredients

  1. 1/2 cup homemade oatmeal mix
  2. 1 cup almond milk
  3. 1 teaspoon ground golden flaxseed
  4. 1 or 2 tablespoons amarena cherries in syrup, depending on your sweet tooth
  5. 1 tablespoon sliced almonds, toasted

Instructions

  1. Mix the oatmeal mix and milk in a microwaveable bowl; microwave on high heat for 1 - 1/2 minutes or until the milk is absorbed and the oats are thickened to your liking.
  2. Top the bowl with the flaxseed, cherries and almonds. Enjoy.
http://familystylefood.com/2011/03/oatmeal-with-amarena-italian-cherries-almonds/

Toffee Oatmeal Chip Cookies

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I don’t know why I don’t bake cookies more often – they are such an excellent tool for bribing the kids to do the small, important jobs that happen to appear on their weekly chore lists, but for some reason don’t actually get done.  Like walking the dog.

We adopted Poppy, our little Jack Russell-mixed mutt, almost a year ago and since then she’s been keeping our family busy, taking us for walks and arranging playdates. So very busy.

How was I to know that the same dog who greeted us for the first time by docilely flopping down at our feet, presenting us with her soft, pink underbelly would turn out to rival Perez Hilton in her intense need to meet, greet and butt-sniff every dog in the neighborhood?

I’m not saying that I don’t enjoy the walking – it’s great exercise and all, but after a few trips around the block in a day I prefer to delegate the job.

I pulled a few pans of these Toffee Oatmeal Chip cookies from the oven and set them on the counter to cool, and like magic my children began to float around me like happy, dizzy dust motes. It occurred to me that I was in the position of ultimate power: Alpha Mom with Treats. Oh, you’d like a cookie? Walk the dog first.

Bingo! The lead was on Poppy’s collar and she was flying out the door with a child attached in two seconds flat.   A win-win for all parties. I love that!

Heidi Swanson was the inspiration for this particular cookie recipe. Her healthy cooking blog 101 Cookbooks is one of my favorite sites, and my copy of her cookbook Super Natural Cooking has pages falling out from over-use. One recipe I’d flagged and have been meaning to try is Mesquite Chocolate Chip Cookies. I was intrigued by the recipe because it calls for an ingredient that I’d never heard of or seen before (gasp!) – mesquite flour.

It turns out that mesquite flour can be difficult to track down. Commonly used as a staple among Native Americans of the Southwest,  mesquite flour (also labeled mesquite powder or meal) is made from the ground fruit pods from mesquite trees and is said to be super-nutritious.  What got me interested is Heidi’s description of its flavor; smoky, malty, sweet and chocolate-like.

I didn’t get my hands on some until just recently; my friend L brought some back after scouting it out at the super-duper Whole Foods flagsip store in Austin. (An online source for mesquite meal is the Raw Guru site.)

I made a batch of the cookies, and really liked the toffee-like quality the mesquite flour added. Since Heidi recommends substituting an equal amount of flour in place of the mesquite,  I tweaked her recipe a bit to make it a bit more accessible – I realize that most (sane) people don’t go to such lengths to find an unfamiliar ingredient.

These cookies have a similar texture and taste, perfectly good bait for anyone you need to gently influence – wink.

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Toffee Oatmeal Chip Cookies

Adapted from Heidi Swanson

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup stone-ground whole wheat flour

1/2 cup malted milk powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

2 sticks butter, at room temperature

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup light brown sugar

3 eggs, at room temperature

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

2 cups rolled oats (not instant)

1 cup chopped toffee (I used Heath brand)

1 cup chocolate chips (I like dark but use whatever you like)

Heat the oven to 375 degrees for at least 30 minutes before baking. Line 2 or 3 rimmed baking sheets with parchment or reusable non-stick sheet like Silpat.

Combine the flours, malt powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.

Beat the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer until fluffy. Gradually add the sugars, starting with the granulated sugar, beating until incorporated before adding the brown sugar. Beat in the eggs one at a time, followed by the vanilla. Gradually add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until a thick dough forms.

Lower mixer speed to “stir” and add the oats, toffee and chocolate chips until evenly mixed. The dough should be dense and moist.

Drop heaping tablespoons of dough onto the prepared sheets, about 2 inches apart to allow cookies to spread. Bake one sheet at a time for about 13 minutes, or until evenly golden brown. Cool on the pan 10 minutes before transferring to a rack to cool completely, or until it’s time to walk the dog.

Yield: 3 – 4  dozen cookies

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Make Homemade Almond Milk

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A few months ago I wrote about my obsession with my new Blendtec blender, the acquisition of which led to some surprising changes to my everyday cooking repertoire, like trying to eat less meat and including lots more fresh fruits and vegetables in my family’s diet.

I’ve since traded in the Blendtec for a brand new Vita-Mix. There are endless debates about which of these high-power blenders is the “best”, and for me it came down to nit-picky details. For one, I got tired of how the Blendtec would move all over the counter while it was blending up a smoothie with lots of frozen fruit – the base doesn’t seem to have enough weight to withstand its own powerful motor.

On the other hand, the Vita-Mix container is a bit harder to clean, but, still, when I turn it on I feel that I’m in the presence of a superior, heavy-duty machine. It doesn’t have the automated digital “brain” of the Blendtec but requires manual operation instead. That’s okay with me – I’m all about hands-on.

I’m still experimenting with smoothies, using any piece of available produce in my kitchen, both fresh and frozen;  red, yellow or green.

I’ve even conditioned the children not to gag when I throw a handful of parsley or spinach leaves into their blueberry smoothie – they seem to believe that the taste of green materials is undetectable and that consuming them will hone their growing, spongy brains into glowing spheres capable of breathtaking genius. That’s mommy persuasion for you! And I thought my powers were fading a bit.

One thing that I now prepare on a regular basis is homemade almond milk.  Some members of our household don’t tolerate dairy products, but still like to splash a little something on a bowl of granola in the morning. I am also one of those people who cannot stand the taste of soy milk.

That’s where almond milk comes in. Almonds do contain a respectable amount of calcium – although admittedly just a fraction of that found in cow’s milk – as well as other minerals like selenium, magnesium and potassium. I can’t tell you for sure what the nutrition value of homemade almond milk is compared to the commercially made stuff, but at least when you make it yourself you know exactly what’s in it.

I recommend filtering the milk through a cheesecloth to avoid a bit of grittiness; I usually strain mine through a very fine strainer, but a small amount of solids come through. I don’t mind that so much, but if you want a perfectly smooth milk go for a cheesecloth or the unfortunately named Nut Bag.

Homemade almond milk tastes delicious with granola – try my favorite recipe for Homemade Granola, too.

Homemade Almond Milk

1 cup whole almonds

2 tablespoons maple syrup or agave nectar

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 cups filtered water

Blend all ingredients at high speed in a blender for about 1 minute. Strain through a cheesecloth-lined colander set over a large bowl. Refrigerate for up to 3 days.