Bowled Over

Grain bowls. Lately I’ve been inspired by the idea of stacking food delicately into a small, fetching bowl. At its heart, a healthy grain or rice forms the base, then a good dose of well-flavored vegetables are arranged atop, with a smaller amount of protein tucked in for a balance meal in a bowl.

The concept hits all the right notes, it’s quick and easy. A bowl holds less food than a plate, and it’s a great way to round up a flavorful meal with odds and ends—or leftovers, in some circles. Of course the creative license to mix and match at will is powerful. There are no rules. Better than that, break the rules!

The key to the grain bowl’s success is to have a supply of pre-cooked rice or a grain such as farro, barley, or quinoa ready to go. For example, spoon a healthy amount of your grain or rice into a small, tall bowl, top with a generous handful of a pre-mixed blend such as spinach, pak choi, and mustard greens, fill in with a poached or fried egg to break up, much in the manner of a sauce.  Finish with some fresh herbs and a big punch of flavor, the likes of harissa or gochujang.

This past weekend I was on fire, filled with the anticipation of throwing together my own grain bowl.  A little low on supplies, I had only millet, but it was a fine start when simmered with a dash of turmeric and a bay leaf. Mostly, I was excited to take advantage of my latest rhubarb chutney, waiting for its own 15-minutes of fame.

At the farmers market I picked up a couple of beautiful zucchini and a few gorgeous carrots, a nice combo for a quick veggie add-on. In the fridge I had a small pork tenderloin. This was coming together more like a banquet that a small meal in a bowl. But, it’s the weekend!

When dinnertime rolled around I was running late, getting very hungry, and certainly glad this was going to be a fast, easy meal.  The pork was quickly rubbed with olive oil, Moroccan spice, salt and pepper.  I gave it fast sear and popped it in a 400° oven for about 25 minutes. While that was happening I deglazed the pan and made a quick sauce flavored with harissa.

The zucchini and carrots were quickly sliced into ribbons, tossed with a few drops of sesame oil and garam masala. Opa! We’ve got big flavors everywhere!  About 5 to 7 minutes before the pork was done, I added the veggies to the roasting pan and tossed them lightly with a little of the pan juices.  Once out of the oven, the tenderloin was tented for a few minutes to rest before slicing.Pork grain bowl

I had just enough time to pull it all together. It was then, that I was faced with the truth. A charming, small bowl would not do justice to the fine collection now waiting to be plated—or bowled, if that is a word.

This was worthy of a pasta bowl, of the first order.  Facing reality, I spread the thinnest possible layer of millet into the bottom of the bowl.  One of the grain bowl rules is to use more vegetables than protein. I smartly swirled a portion of the zucchini and carrots across the millet, allowing for three lovely medallions to arc around the corner, and finished the pork with a drizzle of the harissa sauce.  Rounding out the bowl, a small handful of spicy Asian greens became a mere place holder for the honored rhubarb chutney—and of course, a sprig of cilantro.

Good news!  No heartburn, or negative reaction to the epic grain bowl.  Delicious, all of it!

Epic Grain Bowl with Pork Medallions and Harissa Sauce

Ingredients
For the Pork
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 pork medallion
1-2 teaspoons olive oil
1 tablespoon Moroccan spice
salt and pepper
For the Harissa Sauce
1 cup beef stock, divided
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon harissa paste
salt and pepper to taste
For the Vegetables
1 zucchini
1 carrot
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon garam masala
For the Millet
1 cup millet
3 cups water
salt
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 bay leaf
To Finish
1 cup Spicy Asian Greens (spinach, pak choi, mustard greens)
½ cup rhubarb chutney
few sprigs cilantro

Directions

  1. For the millet, combine the millet, the turmeric, bay leaf, salt and water. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for approximately 35 minutes, until water is absorbed.  Set aside to cool.
  2. For the pork, rub the pork with olive oil, then with Moroccan spice, salt and pepper. Heat a large skillet with coconut oil over high heat and sear pork on all side, about 5 minutes. Remove to baking pan and roast at 400° for approximately 25 minutes.
  3. For the harissa sauce: deglaze saute pan with ½ cup of the beef stock, let it cook down briefly while scraping the bottom of pan. Add the remaining ½ cup stock combined with 1 teaspoon cornstarch.  Add the harissa sauce and let reduce. Taste for seasoning add salt and pepper as need.  Keep warm.
  4. For the vegetables:  using peeler or spiralizer thinly slice zucchini and carrot into long strands.  Toss with sesame oil and garam masala.  About 5-7 minutes before pork is done, add veggies to the roasting pan. Toss with the pan juices and heat.
  5. Remove the pork and veggies, tent with foil and allow to rest briefly while preparing grain bowl.
  6. To finish: re-heat the millet and spoon into the bottom of bowl. Spread vegetables over half of the top. Slice the pork into ½” or thicker medallions.  Nestle in the pork and drizzle with a little of the harissa sauce.  Add a small handful of greens and top with a dollop of Rhubarb Chutney.  Add a sprig of cilantro and enjoy. Yield: 2 or more servings.

Breakfast of Champions

muesli with oranges

I was a non-believer before this cereal.

For years the idea of consuming anything beyond coffee before 10AM was downright repulsive and I saw no reason to aimlessly stuff food down my gullet without seriously enjoying it.   On the weekends, brunch was a civilized concept that I could wrap my brain around:  a well presented tasty meal, designed for leisurely pleasure.  Now we’re talking.

When my schedule shifted and I needed high energy and all the smarts I could muster first thing in the morning― with little hope for food until late afternoon― I knew I had to adjust my eating habits.  For a while I relied on homemade breakfast bars.  Although that wasn’t enough to make it until 3PM or later, it did get my stomach programmed to tolerate early AM food.

I considered a lot of breakfast options and kept returning to a cereal of some sort―more out of convenience, but I wasn’t happy. Ready-made cereal was out of the question, and most cooked cereals were heavy and uninteresting.  I needed food with staying power.  I liked muesli, the European cereal with whole grains that are soaked, perhaps toasted, but not cooked. It’s probably the precursor to granola, but sadly most granola sinks into a disappointing sugar/fat saturated imitation of the real thing.

So this is the point where original muesli and I parted ways.  I opted for a similar ingredient profile, but headed toward a cooked version that would provide some of the enticing creaminess I yearned for. I love oats, so they would serve as my base.  I continued to tinker.  Over time, I hammered out what worked for me and developed a simple method to bring it all together.  My local market’s bulk food section became a regular hangout.

My standard grain combination is based on a good quality oat multi-grain blend―essentially 5 grains featuring rolled oats, flaxseed, rye, barley, triticale and whole wheat.  I beef that up further with my own five grains:  equal amounts of steel-cut oats to reinforce the oats, bulghur wheat, and buckwheat groats―for their nutty, musky, flavor. (I learned that buckwheat is unrelated to wheat, and even more nutritious; it is a great substitute for those who are gluten intolerant). Finally, millet is included for the creaminess component, I discovered mild-mannered millet has great binding qualities when thoroughly cooked.

Dried fruit is a regular in my muesli; golden raisins are a superb addition for their natural sweetness.  Other favorites:  dried cranberries, apricots, and even prunes (dried plums).   On occasion, I cut up an apple with skin on and add it with the dried fruit at the end of cooking.

hot cereal in pot

A variation including quinoa, dried apricots and cranberries

There’s no getting around it, cooking whole grains takes time, but I have learned I can make up a big pot once a week.  I have an electric kettle that I fire up with plenty of water.  In a 2-3 quart pot I heat 3-4 cups salted boiling water.  The grains are divided into 2 groups, the first batch cooks for about 20 minutes, with a couple more cups water added to thin.  The 5-grain oats are added and cooked for an additional 10-15 minutes.  Then, the dried fruit, perhaps an apple, plus a bit of cinnamon or other sweet spice are  stirred in, they continue to cook until the fruit is softened,  another minutes. As the cereal cooks I stir in more hot water to thin as needed since the cereal continues to thicken as it cools.  In all, I allow about 30 to 40 minutes total cooking time.

muesli and berries

Hot muesli with custard sauce and berries

A batch will store for up to a week in a sealed container in the fridge.  In the morning, I spoon the day’s portion into a microwaveable bowl.  When ready, I pop it into the microwave and heat until it is piping hot, about 2 minutes, and top it with a large dollop of plain yogurt and a spoonful of marmalade, jam, honey or agave. For a very special treat, it is delicious topped with homemade Custard Sauce and perhaps a few fresh berries.

I have to finally admit it, cereal really can be a great way to start the day.  I am no longer threatened by those extreme highs and lows, I can remain focused, my appetite stays in check, and I get the job done without becoming completely frazzled. It’s all built on a breakfast of champions.

CB’s Hot Muesli     

Named after the European cereal of soaked or toasted whole grains, my cooked version is still full of fiber and texture, but its creaminess adds another satisfying dimension.   Consider other grains like barley, triticale, quinoa, etc.  It can be stored well covered in the refrigerator for several days.

Ingredients

8 cups boiling water, divided
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup steel-cut oats
1/3 cup bulghur wheat
1/3 cup buckwheat groats
1/3 cup millet
1 cup 5- grain whole oats or any other oat-based blend
1/3 cup golden raisins, or dried apricots, currants or cranberries
1 apple, cut into large dice
½ tsp cinnamon, allspice, or nutmeg or a combination

Directions

  1. In 2-3 qt pot, bring 3 cups salted water to a boil. Stir in the steel-cut oats, bughur wheat, buckwheat groats, and millet.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes.  Add 1-2 cups hot water to thin as it thickens.
  2. Stir in the 5-grain oat blend and cook an additional 10-15 minutes; add hot water if it becomes too thick.
  3. Stir in the dried fruit, apple and spice and simmer another 5 minutes to soften the fruit.