This post comes courtesy of Williams-Sonoma Culinary Expert Natasha Gandhi-Rue.
First, I learned to cook out of necessity as my mother was not a great home cook!
Once I began working in corporate America, I cooked because it was my creative outlet. It was something I would do, not simply out of necessity but to decompress after work. Also, it seemed to soothe my creative needs as well as nourish both body and mind of my friends and family after their grueling days.
After years of climbing the corporate ladder, I realized I wanted to cook better and understand the whys and hows behind cooking and food, so I went to culinary school – a huge leap of faith because it meant leaving behind what I had been working toward professionally and financially.
Now after culinary school, many years within the food industry, I cook for many reasons:
- To nourish my family. Cooking their meals means I know what goes into their bodies, what fuels them, what engages their palate. It is one of the ways I have of not only rewarding my family with great food but helping them accomplish what they want to do.
- Teaching my child many lessons. I have a six-year-old son, and cooking is an activity we do together often. It is how I teach him math; when he was three it was how we practiced counting! It is how I teach him about the earth, growing our own food (we have a huge vegetable and fruit garden) and it is how I teach him about geography and other cultures. When we cook Italian we discuss the country of Italy, where it is, the people, etc.
- Taking care of my friends and family. Food is a connection. When I cook, I put parts of me in my food – creativity and hard work, not only through the recipe but also if I am using vegetables from our garden, sauce that I have canned, herbs that I have tended – all of that goes into the dish.
To put it simply – cooking is my way of showing love, appreciation and thoughtfulness.
Fruit & Nut Granola
This is a staple in our home! I began making it as a way to use up fruits from our garden, which we dehydrate at home without the added corn syrup and sugars. It is also a comforting way for me to provide a healthy and delicious snack or breakfast for my son Jack, who is often my helper when we are making granola. He’s in charge of measuring and mixing!
This recipe makes a big batch of granola, which I vacuum seal in portions so it stays fresh and crunchy. When using store-bought dried fruit, make sure it hasn’t been sweetened, thus you avoid the extra sugars.
4 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup natural raw wheat germ
2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
1 1/2 cups sliced almonds
1 cup pecans, chopped small
2/3 cup vegetable or canola oil
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup good honey (I prefer organic raw honey)
2 Tbs. ground cinnamon
2 cups mixed dried fruit (our favorite combination is 1 cup dried cherries, 1/2 cup raisins, 1/2 cup dried blueberries)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Toss the oats, wheat germ, shredded coconut, almonds, pecans, cinnamon and brown sugar together in a large bowl. Pour the vegetable oil and honey over the oat mixture and stir with a wooden spoon to make sure everything is mixed together.
Pour onto two rimmed sheet pans. Bake, stirring occasionally and rotating sheet pans until the granola turns an even golden brown, about 30 minutes.
Remove the granola from the oven and add the dried fruit to the mixture – tossing gently. This allows the dried fruit to warm through and become softer. Allow to cool completely. Transfer to an airtight container and store at room temperature. Makes 14 cups.
About the author: A graduate of the French Culinary Institute in New York City, Natasha is the Williams-Sonoma Culinary Expert for the Wichita, Kansas store. She is the mastermind behind the in-store technique and cooking classes and is often on the road training other Williams-Sonoma Culinary Experts.