Chewy-Gooey Oatmeal Bars

On my search for a (somewhat) less sugary granola bar to keep on hand I finally realized that I should probably just make them myself. The following recipe is an amalgamation of recipes I found on various websites and subsequently altered to fit my honey-only sweetener needs (chocolate chips being the welcome exception to the rule). There really are no rules for this one,  I’ve done almonds, dried cherries, and sesame seeds, with and without extra spices, I’ve used raisins, cranberries and this week I chose dried apricots, shredded coconut, almonds, and chocolate chips. I could also easily see this being adapted into a homemade candy bar; I’m imagining crushed candy-canes, chocolate chucks and marshmallows, or possibly substituting part or all of the honey for molasses and doing a gingerbread version (clearly I have Christmas on the mind).

The Recipe:
Makes 12 bars

2 1/2 C. Old-fashioned Oats
1/2 C. Coarsely Chopped Nuts (in this batch I used almonds)

1/4 C. Unsalted butter
1/2 C. Honey
1/2 tsp. Vanilla
1/4 tsp. Salt

1/2 C. Coarsely Chopped Dried Fruit (apricots)
1/4 C. Chocolate chips (not exactly necessary, but does help to keep things together)
Additional fillings, spices, or toppings as desired (1/8 C. unsweetened coconut for the inside and another sprinkling for the top)

 

The Process:
Pre-heat oven to 350^

Chop your nuts and place them together with the oats on a small cookie sheet and toast in the oven for 5 minutes. Stir, and toast again for another 5 minutes.

Melt butter, honey, salt, and vanilla in small saucepan, stirring occasionally, over medium heat until butter is fully melted and a light simmer has been achieved (I keep my unsalted butter in the freezer, so usually the saucepan mixture is ready around the same time as the oats and nuts are getting out of the oven the second time).

In glass or metal mixing bowl, stir together hot ingredients.

Chop dried fruit and add to mixture with chocolate chips and any other extras after the mixture has been allowed to cool slightly (about 5 minutes). chocolate chips will most likely melt a bit, but this will help your bars stay together better.

Line the small baking sheet you used earlier with a piece cling-wrap and evenly place your mixture onto half of the pan, fold the other half of the cling-wrap over the top of your bars and pack the mixture as tightly and evenly as possible, lift cling-wrap and sprinkle any toppings, and then press again.

Let chill in fridge 2 hours and then cut into twelve even bars. You can store in the fridge, or just in an airtight container depending on your preference (I usually choose the fridge).

 

Enjoy!

~Ladybird

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our daily bread

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the no-knead rustic loaf

I love baking bread, it is one of the things that I prioritized, even during the crazy months that were the 2017-2018 academic year when our life involved a 125 mile, one way, commute every week. There is something grounding in bread making for me and it undeniably makes me feel at home. So of course, the monumental achievement after relocation to our northern neighbor state WA, and moving into our very first house, was the first loaf of bread. But here’s the thing, it wasn’t just any bread, it was a no-knead bread that you can leave in your fridge for up to a week and bake off a loaf at a time. It was wonderful and for several weeks I kept this miracle dough on hand to go with our crock pot soups and stews that have kept us fed while I navigated trimester 3 of my wonderful new human’s life and staying at home full-time with my amazing kindergarten son while C started work at a new school in a full time position (a single 9-5 job is a first for us in the nearly decade that we’ve been building our life together).

And then, I discovered the magic of yet another hands off bread dough, Food52’s Potato Peel Focaccia. Scrub those russet potatoes well before you peel them for whatever potato delight they are destined to become and then collect all of those peels into a small pot. I have been cooking potatoes for mashed potatoes and then draining the boiling water straight over my peels and cooking the peels in this liquid (nothing goes to waste in my kitchen if I can help it!). While the Food52 directions instruct you to use a specific amount of peel and liquid I have taken to measuring the volume of my peel and liquid puree after the fact and adjusting the flour, yeast, and salt accordingly. Also, I usually salt my boiling water for the mashed potatoes so take that salt into account as well. The potato peel puree can hang out in the fridge for a couple of days, and the dough develops its best flavor with at least a 24 hour rest but I have been known to give it 48 hours without any harmful side affects.

Both of these breads are a special treat in our household with plain white flour, but they also hold up well to a generous 50% whole wheat substitution. I haven’t tried a higher substitution yet but suspect that they would loose some of their chewy texture.

I wish you all cozy autumns full of your favorite comfort foods from my new kitchen here in Washington,

Bethany

mid-move kitchen meditations

“Look at you, you found your happy place,”  I nod, still intent on the meticulously thin slices of onion I am preparing. “One of two, I should say, the kitchen and the garden.” My dad was right in his observations of me at work in my mom’s kitchen, doing what I do best . . . keeping my hands busy while being a general presence in the hubbub of little boys and music and chatting and freshly picked blueberries being rinsed and frozen. The kitchen is a safe space for me, a place to feel productive and nurturing at the same time. I can fill my own soul even as I fill the growling bellies of the ones I hold dear. And so it is that in the midst of relocating, our third state and fourth home in six years, with a new baby on the way, I found my way to a kitchen with produce from the garden I have left behind. Sometimes my happy places collide on the dinner table in an array of brightly colored dishes. I thought I was bringing produce for one decadent meal of all the bits and pieces of the deep summer produce just about to burst into high productivity and the last of my cooler weather crops still holding on for dear life. My meal has morphed into many meals, a caramelized onion pizza; fried zucchini pasta; caprese salad; Ottolenghi’s Surprise Tart Tatine; a cabbage and kohlrabi salad; pan seared chicken with spring onions; a snow pea, carrot, and grape tomato stir fry; the never ending supply of fresh produce is a welcome gift as we wait to transition to our new life and I dream about my own little garden and my TWO babies keeping me company during the days while C transitions into his new role as Director of Jazz Studies. Life has been gracious to us, just as my garden this year, it has been overflowing with good things in unexpected places at unexpected times. All I can do is be incredibly grateful and pass on the good gifts to the ones that cross my path.

Love on my way to Washington,

BV

Summer cooking

The summer is flying by! I have a few spare minutes this evening to pop in and tell you what’s been cooking.

The dessert front has been exciting lately. The hot and humid New Haven summer has inspired me to go beyond my comfort zone and experiment with no-bake or stove-top desserts. I bought popsicle molds and promptly tried out SK’s strawberry-pepper and key lime pie pops. We liked the strawberry-pepper pops, but we loved the key lime pie ones. My philosopher claims they taste exactly like his favorite childhood ice cream (San Jerónimo in lemon). I also tried out a recipe from SK’s first book: the deconstructed strawberry cheesecake. Those got rave reviews too.

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Other endeavors have been the mango-tapioca pudding (a tried-and-true favorite of several years) and the lemon meringue pie smash from the latest book. We liked the latter, but boy! is it sweet. We’ll go for smaller servings tomorrow.

In the dinner department, I’ve found some new inspiration in The Moosewood Restaurant Table, which I stumbled across on the new books shelf in my library. The recipes have different flavor profiles from what we normally eat, and I love the fact that the recipes come with side recommendations, so it’s easy to pair a few recipes for a single meal. Last week I tried the herbed quinoa salad (which surprisingly contains both dried apricots and olives and is a happy home for both), and I served it with roasted carrots (rubbed in a blend of African spices I got for Christmas a few years back, and dipped in a simple sauce of yogurt, harissa, and a squeeze of lime). We also bought a whole pineapple and I dished up pineapple-lime glazed tofu with spicy cucumber salad. This was good, but it took forever (I think I ended up spending almost three hours in the kitchen, which is a lot for a weeknight meal), and there was a lot going on in the dish. I liked the idea though, and I would make it again for a special occasion, with a few tweaks (like including only pineapple juice in the tofu marinade and either reducing or eliminating the amount of pineapple chunks cooked alongside).

Up this week: a roasted peach salad and pasta carbonara with zucchini, as well as a summer stir-fry with halloumi cheese. I’ll let you know how they go!

I hope your summer has been as delicious as mine.

Love from CT,

Allison

crisped peaches

I am a huge fan of citrus, I can’t get enough oranges. And lemon is the best addition to most foods. But, when the stone fruits start showing up in the produce section and you can smell their sweet goodness when you pick one up to gently test for ripeness, I suddenly forsake all of my citrus allegiances. I can hardly keep myself from buying up every last peach and nectarine in sight. Getting them to stick around my fruit basket for more than a couple of days is a miracle.

Some people say that watermelon is a pregnant woman’s best friend (and I do love a perfectly ripe, crisp, sweet, and cool watermelon) but peaches are where it’s at these days! So clearly, when it was 9 o’clock at night and I was craving that sweet treat before I headed off to bed, I was eyeing the bowl of peaches on the table. It turns out that in 45 minutes flat you can turn a peach into individual peach crisps, and then, freshly roasted from the oven, you can scoop them into china tea cups, top them with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and swoon as you take not so dainty spoonfuls of the best of summer’s offerings.

Also, I absolutely intend to eat one of the leftovers as breakfast on top of a bowl of plain yogurt because. . . it was just peaches and “granola” right?

Love from Roseburg (for a few more weeks!),

BV

individual crisped peaches (makes 8 peach halves)

  • 4 peaches (halved and pits removed)
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 3/4 cup oats
  • 1 c. brown sugar (I definitely think you could scale this back to 3/4 or maybe even 1/2 a cup)
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

Preheat oven to 375 F. Arrange peach halves in a 9 x 13 inch baking dish. In a small mixing bowl combine flour, oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Cut butter into cubes and work into the dry ingredients until it resembles coarse crumbs. Scoop 1/8 of topping into a ball and press onto a peach half, continue with remaining topping and bake for 30 minutes, until peaches are bubbling and topping is crisped. For dessert top with vanilla ice cream, for breakfast serve with plain yogurt. Either way polish off all 8 halves and repeat again and again until you can’t stand to eat another peach!

wild mushroom risotto

Sometimes the dredges of the fridge yield up an offering more bright than the shriveled remnants in brown paper sacks suggest. Almost as if they know that a wearying Wednesday deserves a special sort of celebration, a reminder that lighter days are coming, that the fruits of spring plantings are about to burst from the vines and brighten our table. In the meantime, the scraps of winter foraging will bring a warmth to our evening and sustain us through the days ahead.

For a meal that takes a surprisingly short, albeit attentive, amount of time to make, I am left wondering why it has taken me three and a half years to accidentally stumble upon the joy that a creamy bowl of mushroom risotto is on a chilly spring evening. During my first winter in Colorado I made the Dried Porcini Mushroom Risotto with Goat Cheese from Food and Wine with dried porcini that I had picked up on a whim to put in C’s stocking. It was wonderful, we refer to it often and fondly, C frequently asks when I am going to make it again, I never have. Until tonight.

Tonight I pulled a bag of once fresh black trumpet mushrooms now shriveled and dried from the far corner of the fridge and a half bag of dried chanterelle from the cupboard, I spotted the unopened log of goat cheese and realized I had all the ingredients to return to that supper of legend, the one which C probably thought he would never taste again.  It was something special and unexpected something to make an otherwise average Wednesday evening something to look forward to.

Love from Southern Oregon,

BV

Dried Wild Mushroom Risotto

  • 1 cup dried wild mushrooms, I used a combination of chanerelle and black trumpet from my local forager (about 1 ounce)
  • 3 cups hot water, more if needed
  • 3 1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 tablespoon better than chicken boullion
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups arborio rice
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
  • 2 ounces mild goat cheese, I used chevre
  • Grated Parmesan, for serving

Put your dried mushrooms in a heatproof bowl and cover with the 3 cups of boiling water. Let soak until tender about 20 minutes. Reserving soaking liquid, remove and coarsely chop the mushrooms.

Heat your olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add your chopped onions and garlic and cook until softened about 5 minutes. Add your chicken boullion, chopped mushrooms, salt, and rice. Cook, stirring until rice begins to turn opaque about 2 minutes. Then, straining your soaking liquid through a colander lined with paper towel or pour over coffee maker and coffee filter, add 1/2 cup of liquid at a time keeping the contents of the pan at a simmer and stirring frequently, until liquid is absorbed. When all of the soaking liquid has been absorbed begin to add the additional 3 cups of water in the same manner until risotto is al dente and the remaining liquid is creamy, you may need extra water to achieve this consistency and it will take you 25-30 minutes of frequent stirring. Add butter, black pepper, and goat cheese and stir to combine. Adjust salt to your liking.

Serve warm, possibly on a bed of spicy arugula picked fresh from your garden, sprinkled with a generous amount of Parmesan and enjoy! Please, don’t wait three and a half years to come back for seconds. It’s worth an annual rotation at least. 🙂

100% whole wheat sandwich loaf

I have been on the hunt for a tender sandwich loaf that slices cleanly. I accidentally made my dream loaf a few weeks ago and it took me exactly 3 tried to nail down how I arrived at this stellar loaf. Hint, it does matter which order the ingredients find their way into the bowl (oil goes last!).

 

Ingredients

1.5 cups heated and cooled whole milk (mine has extra cream which may have played a role in the final product)
1/2 cup lukewarm water
1 large egg
3 tbls. honey
3 tbls. olive oil
1 tbls. active dried yeast
1.5 tsp. salt
4-5 cups white whole wheat flour

Combine milk, water, egg, honey, half of your flour and the other dry ingredients, mix until well combined then keep mixing for 2 minutes. Add an additional 1 cup of flour and mix until it starts to form a more pliable dough. Turn off mixer and let dough rest for 15 minutes. Turn mixer on to medium low speed and add additional flour until the dough is soft but pulls away from the edges of the bowl as it kneads. At this point slowly pour in your oil until it is thoroughly mixed in.

Turn dough out into a lightly oiled bowl and raise until doubled. Shape into two 8 inch loaves or 1 larger loaf and several rolls. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and let dough raise until nearly doubled. Bake loaves for 30-35 minutes, loaves should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Let cool completely before slicing.

birthday baking

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The Marzipan Petit Fours

Let’s start with the birthdays. J and I kicked off our birthday month (it’s the big 3-0 for us this year!) with this smashing Marzipan Petit Four cake from the new Smitten Kitchen cookbook I set aside a whole afternoon to bake and construct it, and I was really pleased with how it turned out.

My oven has been pretty touchy lately, and it was a genuine beast when it came to maintaining heat levels for the cake layers–likely because testing for readiness involved lots of opening and closing of the oven doors. I ended up sticking one of the three layers back into the oven after it had been sitting out for 10 or 15 minutes, just because I couldn’t make up my mind about whether it was setting properly or not.

But the end result was delicious. I enjoyed the extra flavor of the marzipan in the cake layers (I used a pastry cutter to work it into the batter since I don’t have a food processor!) And the chocolate ganache frosting was so much fun to drape and smudge over the little cakes. (Oh, and it lasted for days afterward, even after I gave away slices to our party-goers, which made for many sweet treats with afternoon coffee.)

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A dreamy interior courtyard in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (where we spent part of our very successful NYC birthday celebration)

My other recent baking experiment was this double-coconut muffin recipe, which I mixed up on impulse Thursday afternoon between finishing my writing for the day and heading out for dinner. I had two jars full of flaked coconut that were slowly going stale, and I had just bought a new jar of coconut oil to replace the one that I discovered molding in a corner of the pantry; plus, there was a container of yogurt in the fridge and ours almost always goes bad. The recipe was a god-send.

I don’t know why I don’t make muffins more often: they are quick to mix up and bake and can be riffed on endlessly. I liked the extra coconut-y flavor of these ones and the slightly sour tang of the yogurt. And I was glad that I didn’t have the recommended sweetened cococut: the recipe was just fine without them.

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Sweet little crocuses spotted on my long run this weekend

And now: on to spring! With just over a month until my dissertation is due, it’s going to be a hectic April. Wish me serenity, a clear mind, and lots of good words.

 

Love from your Connecticut baker,

Allison

How To Use Extra German Chocolate Cake Frosting

(if you don’t have graham crackers to eat it on)

I don’t know about you, but I always find that somehow I can never make the exact right quantity of frosting for any dessert project. Either it’s not quite enough so I have to make another whole or half batch just for that last three tablespoons I need to cover the top of the cake, or it’s just waaaaaay to much to begin with. Either way, I can never bring myself to throw it out. Of course, if you have graham crackers to spread it on, you don’t even need to read this, but if (like me this week) graham crackers are nowhere in the house, I’m here to help you.

Two words: Hand. Pies.
I cannot even describe the convenience of pie crust in solving the leftovers problem (sweet or savory). Extra points if you already have some tucked away in your freezer from the last time you made a Quiche. Just pull that out of the freezer and stick it in the fridge to defrost in the morning so it’s ready to go whenever you have a chance to do a tiny bit of pastry making during the day. I don’t have any specific pie crust recipe to suggest, but find one with no eggs and plenty of vinegar in it for the most tenderness and flakiness.
For my part, I didn’t alter the frosting much, although you really could go wild if you wanted to. For about 3/4 to 1 cup of frosting and 1/2 batch of pie crust I used:

1 large Bosc Pear (very well-ripened as it was the last in the fruit bowl) peeled and diced
1/2 tsp each of ground Cloves, Cinnamon, Ginger, Nutmeg (my favorite ingredients)
1 small palm of black raisins

For the pie crust: Divide into 8 equal parts and then leave in the fridge, bringing out the sections one at a time as you work with them. keeping your surfaces floured, roll out your section, spread a thin layer of butter and fold in half, spread with butter again and fold in thirds (like the last fold of a towel) to make a tiny cube. Roll it out again as thin as you can without damaging it. Fill the center with a heaping spoonful of your frosting/filling, fold in half and fold the edges in a twist pattern like you would a regular pie. Place on floured baking pan. Grab your next piece of crust out of the fridge and repeat.
To finish them all off, brush a little egg over the tops and if you’re feeling extra fancy you can sprinkle a little raw sugar granules on as well (I didn’t do this, but I think it would be lovely). I baked mine at 425^ for 20 minutes, but I’ve found that depending on the day and the humidity of the filling it’ll need more or less time. Set your timer for 10 or 12 minutes and go from there is my go-to method for hand pies.

Sadly we ate all of ours before I remembered to take a picture, but they were absolutely delicious and I could see them going excellently with a serving of vanilla bean ice cream or a little whipped cream-cheese desert topping a-la-pear desert (get that recipe from Faerynn). And, of course, it’s best served with a mug of your favourite tea.
Like I mentioned before, this is also an excellent solution for savory leftovers (maybe you didn’t get all the way through the filling on taco night?), and I hope it comes in as useful and delicious for you as it has for me!

Happy pastry-making! Elaina Joy

a return…and some bready advice

Wait…how did that happen? The year slipped by, right through my fingers, dish after tasty dish, all un-chronicled here. But I’m back now, ready to take another stab at catching these edible days before they disappear.

Some domestic, wintry scenes

My kitchen exploits have slowed to a gentle simmer recently (not that they were ever truly at a full boil), due to my impending dissertation deadline and a rough job market season.  However, I am now back to baking bread every two weeks, and on the off weeks I try my hand at a treat, usually from Smitten Kitchen. This weekend I’m looking forward to attempting the “Marzipan Petit Four” recipe from her latest book. (If I remember, I’ll try to take some pictures on J’s phone, since mine has been out of order since September!)

I’ve been very pleased at the results of my bread-making revival. Very early this winter I was really struggling to get my loaves to rise. My loaves were turning out heavy and dense, despite the fact that I was using tried and true recipes. But recently I think I pin-pointed the problem: I was killing my yeast. Turns out, in my eagerness to get the yeast into warm water, I was plunging it into almost boiling water. I’ve since made sure to get my tea kettle water lukewarm before adding the yeast, and the results have been pillowy loaves, even using the plainest recipe.

As the pictures above show, J and I have really settled into our domestic rituals, complete with puzzles and gentle dustings of snow. Of course real life can’t always be like this. Most days we are caught in the shuffle of emails, and readings, and classes, and writing. But I like to remember that real life can be like this–like a Sunday afternoon with the smell of fresh bread hanging in the air and an unread book or an unfinished puzzle calling your name.

Much love to you all from CT,

Allison