granola and baked apples, flavors of fall

Les Dames d’Escoffier, the same group that got me to St. Louis for their annual conference, had yet another assignment for me. Our local Les Dames chapter sponsors Community Design Center, a youth gardening program. Dames are often called upon to teach cooking classes to program participants and Tuesday was my day.

I had limited time to pull ideas together, so a quick “menu” of granola and baked apples was planned. The granola recipe came from a class I’d taught many years before (again, to a youth gardening program, so I was confident it’d fly) and the baked apples were inspired by a cookbook my husband brought to the marriage. Strictly for Boys: A Cookbook for Boys 8 to 80 had been a gift to my husband from his mom when he was a small boy. Dog-eared, it also serves as a place for him to store any recipes he picks up from his mom, and it’s a kick to see it still used. My girls have scribbled “and Girls” just below the “for Boys” on the front cover and it’s a fun go-to book for simple brownie recipes and such. It was the first place I looked for a baked apple recipe.

First step with the 12 high-schoolers was making a batch of brown sugar for the granola. I’m loathe to pay for what I could easily make on my own, so was glad to show these kids that a batch of brown sugar is as easy as thoroughly mixing 1 cup granulated sugar with 2 tablespoons molasses. (That’s how it’s done in the factory; why pay for that extra step?) Granola ingredients were then thrown together and the students proved their creative mettle by etching a smile and a heart in their granola before baking.

granola with a smile

granola with heart

Next up was baked apples. I used the Strictly for Boys book as reference, but provided no recipe as I wanted the kids to feel comfortable making these “pies without a crust” (coined so by a student) without exact amounts. They enthusiastically cored their own apples, then filled them with cinnamon-sugar and a small slice of butter. After baking for half-an-hour at 375°F, the apples were ready. The fragrant baked fruit, oozing with buttery, cinnamon-sugar syrup, was gobbled up as quickly as the granola had been.

These kids were amazing—cooperative, enthusiastic, entertaining, creative. (Even better, they did dishes without being asked.) And it was gratifying to see soon-to-be young adults enjoying (and inhaling) foods that were packed with good-for-you nutrients. I know I’ll soon be whipping these fall favorites up for my kids as well.

classic granola

Classic Granola

  • 2 cups old-fashioned oats
  • 1/2 cup wheat germ
  • 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup Extras (nuts, seeds, dried fruits)
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup or honey
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract or other flavor extract

Heat oven to 275°F. Grease baking sheet.

In large bowl, toss together oats, wheat germ, brown sugar, salt, and Extras except for dried fruit.

In saucepan, bring maple syrup, oil, and water to a simmer. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla. Pour liquid over oats mixture; stir to coat. Spread mixture evenly over baking sheet. With fingers, squeeze oat mixture to form clumps. Bake 30 minutes. Stir in dried fruits, if using. Bake 15 minutes longer or until browned and fragrant. Makes about 3 cups.

rock star food with the dames

Last week, I attended the national Les Dames d’Escoffier conference in St. Louis, Missouri, and found myself surrounded by so many amazing and accomplished women. And lots of food. Because this blog is all about the food, I’ll focus on the edibles but the women at this conference were inspirations to me as a female business owner and I was honored to be a part of their four-day gathering.

The first night I enjoyed a meal at Araka, a restaurant across from the hotel that had been recommended by the St. Louis native sitting next to me on my flight. My dining companions and I ordered up drinks, then split an appetizer (lobster sliders), flatbread (braised short ribs, horseradish, gorgonzola, arugula), entree (arctic char with polenta, sun-dried tomato pesto, shaved Brussels sprouts), and dessert (bourbon peach cobbler). I was already developing camera fatigue, so only shot the sliders.

Araka’s lobster sliders

Sponsored in part by California Figs, the conference boasted mounds of these heart-healthy fruits. Breakfast and lunch often included bowls spilling over with more types of figs than I knew existed. (I’m from Minnesota, remember? Our figs are imported and usually of the Black Mission variety.)

striped tiger, brown turkey, calimyrna–figs figs figs

Also seen often at conference meals was platter after platter of cheeses. They ranged from robust to mild, salty to slightly sweet, creamy to dry, but all were divine. The slivers of dried mango (under left tongs in photo) were the perfect complement and I’ve already purchased a package of these dried fruits myself.

wedges and wheels, cubes and crumbles, slabs and slices of cheese

Especially fun for me (as I’m new on the ice cream-making trail), was the soy sauce ice cream à la Kikkoman. It was dusted with ground hazelnuts and could easily pass for a slightly smoky version of salted caramel.

Soy sauce ice cream–who knew? It really was lovely.

There was also high-end fancy fare. The food was pretty and tasty, for sure, though my favorite meals were those with the bowls of figs, platters of cheese, and a fantastic African couscous breakfast dish (keep reading!).

strikingly beautiful (and artistic) dinner–roasted veg, parsnip puree, onion-crusted beef

fancy dessert–tres leches cake, deconstructed

That couscous breakfast dish? It was magnificently simple (couscous, dried fruits, nuts) and I wondered why I hadn’t thought of it before. Quick to make, easily stored, offering good-for you proteins, carbs, fiber, vitamins, and minerals–an ideal breakfast, whether hot or cold. I’d bet that a dusting of cinnamon and drizzle of honey would make it even more appealing.

Tunisian Mesfouf, a.k.a. Sweet Breakfast Couscous

A smaller group of attendees toured a number of local food finds, one a chocolate factory called Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate. I loved it for its name alone, though the chocolate was over-the-top rich, sweet, and creamy, too.

Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate display

Another tour involved a brewery, where I enjoyed an oatmeal stout float with vanilla ice cream (yum) and a beer flight of 4 Hands Brewery pours.

4 Hands blond ale, oatmeal stout, red ale, rye IPA

All this food and drink called for morning visits to the hotel’s fitness center. In addition to their pyramids of bottled water and fresh fruit, they offered fruit-infused water. The apple-berry version on the right was a huge wow. I’m making it at home for sure. (And so should you.)

refreshing fruit-flavored waters

I’m glad to be home, though I enjoyed food magically appearing at seemingly all times at the conference. It’s up to me to put meals together now, though I’ve had plenty of inspiration. I’ll put figs on my grocery list, apples in my water, and couscous on my breakfast table. Here’s hoping you’ve been inspired to try something new as well.