Monday, October 24, 2011

Celebrating Food Day with Mu Mu Muesli

First and foremost: Happy Food Day!  October 24th marks the first annual national celebration of eating real, sustainable food that is both healthy and affordable.

Eat mindfully.  Buy local.  Make your own meals.  These are just a few of the ways you can honor National Food Day, which was created by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.  Preparing your own meals helps you to "...turn down the noise in your mouth and get off the processed food habit," says Ellen Kanner of the Huffington post.

Although I hardly need a holiday to get me to go to the public market, I figured I would make a celebratory trip in honor of the growing local food movement by heading down to the CNY Regional Market in Syracuse, NY.

Having become slightly obsessed with farmers' markets over the summer, this was oatally exciting for me. Beyond honoring Food Day, I had a mission. Twice I was told by friends to check out "the muesli guy," but as an oat aficionado I had never ventured into the muesli part of the cereal aisle. Muesli was developed by a Swiss nutritionist in the 1900s and is a popular meal in Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.  Usually it's a mixture of rolled oats, whole grains, dried fruits, and nuts, eaten raw with milk or yogurt.

Mike Shuster and his wife started Mu Mu Muesli after being
unsatisfied with the lack of fresh, unprocessed muesli products
on the market
That being said, if there are two things I know to be true, they are this: 1) I friggin' love oatmeal; and 2) Change is not my forte. Why waste a beloved breakfast on a mediocre bowl of muesli when I could  eat oats?

I wish I was kidding.  That is actually how I think.

Minutes after arriving at the market, I quickly found Mike the muesli guy, owner of Mu Mu Muesli.
Not only was I won over by the free samples Mike was giving out (the #1 reason I go to Wegmans on the weekend), but I liked that he was willing to talk to me and tell me his story. One of the biggest perks of  going to farmer's markets is forming relationships with local farmers and business owners. Go enough and you become a regular- I've had farmers save things for me or let me pay them back the following week.  It's nice knowing where your food comes from.

Mike uses a squeeze bottle to mix his muesli samples with fresh yogurt, which is too tangy for me, so I wasn't able to fully appreciate the taste of the muesli until I brought it home and tried it plain.  The toasted almonds lent an incredibly rich, buttery taste to the muesli that reminded me of a pastry crust.  I added it as a topping to what I'll call my "Blueberry Cobbler" oatmeal.

The combination of buttery muesli and tangy, melting blueberry swirls had me convinced I was biting into real blueberry cobbler. The dates and raisins in the muesli topping add just the right amount of chewiness, which compliments the texture of the steel cut oats and creates amazing mouth feel. 

Normally, adding too many ingredients to a dish is undesirable. It’s overwhelming. But cooking the oats with the strawberries and banana for a longer amount of time allows the fruits to caramelize, melding the flavors into one subtle, sweet flavor that is both nutty and fruity.  Not overwhelmingly fruity, though, so the tangy taste of blueberry still shines through.

This recipe is a reminder that home cooked oats knock the socks off any instant variety. Sure, you can buy “blueberry muffin oatmeal” or “cinnamon pecan swirl” boxed oatmeal, and think you’re getting the real deal. Not true. Anyone can take a container of dirt and call it “Brownie Mud Pie,” after all. That's marketing.  But you can be sure the dehydrated  fruit bits in your instant oatmeal are going to contain mega amounts of additives.

If you want the true taste of blueberry crisp, take the time to make this dish. The information age we now live in has sabotaged conventional societal values- including home cooked meals.  By making your own meals and visiting your local farmers' markets, you can be part of what Food Day is all about- bringing back the importance of eating real food.  One bowl of oatmeal (or muesli) at a time.

How are you celebrating Food Day? Breakfast matchup: muesli or oatmeal?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

There's a new grain in town, and it's naked

Cavena Nuda, a new form of hulless oats, has high hopes for making an impact on global health
Oats…meet your cousin, Cavena Nuda. Aka, Naked oats.
Cavena nuda is a naturally hull-free grain produced by Canadian farmer Scott Sigvaldason.  Avena nuda is Latin for naked oats, and the “C” was added to make it Canadian.   Similar in taste and texture to rice, this new kind of oats is often called “rice of the prairies.”
Cavena nuda could provide nourishment for impoverished countries needing to grow their own food, says Scott in a News1130 interview. Much of the processing of regular oats comes from removing the hull- a process called oat milling.  Once the hull is removed the oats must be heated to keep them from going rancid, according to the Cavena Nuda website.  This processing requires fuel, and is not an economically friendly option for poor countries, where rice is a common staple.  Countries that rely on rice as a nutritious food staple may grow this new grain and spare themselves from the contamination that often comes from run-off of rice patty fields.  Fresh water resources are also spared because these oats have no flooding or irrigation requirements, according to the website.
Paging Dr. Oats
Dr. Vernon Burrows, research scientist emeritus with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in Ottawa,  says hulless oats are adapted to grow anywhere in cereal growing regions, which would provide farmers an opportunity to grow their own crops and provide local food to their communities.    Dr. Burrows has spent time with farmers in China who grow hulless oats to improve production.  This could mean big things for global health.
“In time, I believe these new hulless oat varieties will be the new oats of the future, something like the transition from industrial rapeseed to canola,” Sigvaldason said to Top Crop Manager.
 By eating naturally hull-free naked oats, which are denser than regular oats and thus use less storage space, you can reduce your carbon foot print.  Not only are you making a choice with is better for the environment, but eating Cavena Nuda oats instead of regular oats you are doing your diet a favor as well.
With a nutty flavor, naked oats taste just like brown rice but are much more nutritious.  100g of Cavena contains less calories and more dietary fiber and protein (a winning combination for keeping you full) than regular oats.  The fact that they don’t need to be heat treated the way regular oats do allows Cavena to have this higher protein content. The chart below provides a more in-depth nutritional comparison between Cavena Nuda, white rice, and oats.

If you know how to boil water, you know how to cook naked oats. Simply cook 1 cup of oats in 2.5 cups of water for 35-40 minutes, then drain.
Add it to soups, salads as you would bulgur or quinoa.  You can also grind and toast the grains and use them like you would breadcrumbs, or use as a substitute for oats in your favorite bread or muffin recipes.
For tasty ways to try Cavena Nuva, check out their website for recipes like Cavena Nuda Crusted Pork Tenderloin or Naked Chili.
A "Healthy Harvest Risotto" using naked oats

If you’d like to see Cavena Nuva in your local supermarket, visit their website and download a request form.     
What do you think about naked oats- have you tried them? Would you use them as a replacement for your regular rolled oats?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Oatmeal Carmelitas

Upon the discovery that my last few posts were getting pretty "nutritiony" (a tendency among nutrition students to tout foods for their nutritional benefits rather than, well...tasting good), I have decided to offer up an oat recipe that speaks to my sweet tooth rather than my health-conscious mind.

Oatally Awesome does some fantastic things with oats. Like Oatmeal Carmelitas. Caution: This is not work appropriate. You WILL be caught drooling at your desk. Just sayin'.


Oatmeal Carmelitas (from Oatally Awesome) adapted from With Love & Butter

makes 36 bars

1½ cups (3 sticks) butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
2 cups flour
2 cups oats (quick or old-fashioned)
1 tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
1½ cups chocolate chips
½ cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1 cup honey
½ cup cream

Preheat oven to 375° with the rack in the center position.  Butter a 9×13-inch baking pan.

Cream the butter and brown sugar together with an electric mixer.  Add the flour, oats, baking soda, and salt and combine. Set aside 1/3 of the dough.  Press the remaining dough evenly into the buttered baking pan.  Bake for 10-15 minutes.  The crust should be barely brown.  Leave the oven on. Scatter the chocolate chips and walnuts over the hot crust.

Now blob the reserved dough as evenly as you can on top of the chocolate and nuts.

Combine the honey and cream.  Heat in the microwave or on the stove until hot but not boiling.
Pour the honey cream sauce over the dough and bake 15 to 20 minutes.  The bars will be done when they turn a uniformly rich golden color.  Cool and cut.

OK. I give up. My brain couldn't stay out of this one. If this recipe looks like heaven on earth to you but you can't bring yourself to bake anything with 3 sticks of butter in it, let alone even have them in your kitchen...this adaptation is for you. For the rest of you who want your carmelitas true to form, stick with the original.

Adapted Version:
½ cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
½ cup applesauce, unsweetened
½ cup pumpkin puree
2/3 cup brown sugar, firmly packed

1 cup regular flour, 1 cup whole wheat flour
2 cups oats (quick or old-fashioned)
1 tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
1½ cups chocolate chips
½ cup coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted
1 cup honey
½ cup light cream

Preparation is same as above!

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