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Cooking

Homemade granola

I decided to surprise my husband last night with one of his favorite treats – homemade granola. I had made this recipe dozens of times, and then it somehow ended up at the back of my recipe box and forgotten about. But this past weekend’s trip to Costco resulted in a great big bottle of pure Madagascar vanilla (at a very  little price), so I was eager to try it out.

The results were the same old favorite crunchy and delicious granola, but with a dash of extra flavor. The pure vanilla gives a cleaner vanilla flavor and complements the granola quite nicely. I made a double batch with a little extra oil and honey, and tossed the finished granola with dried cranberries for a more festive touch.

4 cups old-fashioned (not quick cooking) oats
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. In a large bowl, combine oats, brown sugar, salt and cinnamon. In a small saucepan, heat oil and honey, just until it melts. Stir in vanilla.

Pour the liquid mixture over the oats mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until mixture is covered. Spread on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray or lined with parchment, and bake for about 30 minutes, or until the granola starts to turn golden (bake for less time for softer granola, more for crunchier, drier granola). When cool enough to handle, take a spatula to remove granola from pan and break into pieces. Add dried fruit or mixed nuts to taste.

Store in an air-tight container at room temperature for up to a week.

The granola would also make a great housewarming, hostess or holiday gift, packaged in a pretty jar or tin.

Cooking

Cherry scones

Dried cherries are one of my favorite items to bake with. Not only do they make a delicious addition to chocolate cookies and granola, but their sweet-tart taste adds just the right amount of zip to almost any dessert. Martha Stewart published a recipe for cherry scones from Lauren Bank Deen’s Kitchen Playdates cookbook after she had Ms. Deen and her children on the show. I tried it out for breakfast this morning and was delightfully surprised. They bake up light and cakey without a hint of dryness, and are wonderful with that first cup of coffee in the morning (or as a tasty treat throughout the day).

Ingredients

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, chilled
1/2 cup dried cherries
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 large egg
5 tablespoons heavy cream, plus more for brushing on scones

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat; set aside.
  2. In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Add butter and pulse 3 to 6 times until mixture resembles a coarse meal. Transfer mixture to a large bowl; stir in cherries and lemon zest.
  3. In a small bowl, beat together egg and cream. Add to flour mixture; stir gently with a fork until mixture just comes together. If dough seems too dry, add a splash of cream; mixture should not be too sticky.
  4. Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface. Shape dough into a 6-inch circle, about 1 inch thick. Using a sharp knife, cut dough into 8 equal wedges. Place scones on prepared baking sheet; lightly brush tops with heavy cream and sprinkle with sugar. Bake until golden brown, 12 to 14 minutes.
  5. Let cool slightly on baking sheet before transferring to a wire cooling rack to cool completely. Scones are best eaten the day they are made.
Cooking

Oven-baked healthy french fries

What do kids eat? Chicken fingers, tater tots, french fries, and the like, right? While my daughter has reached the table foods stage and does enjoy these delicacies, I’m determined to give her more “whole” foods and less processed or store- or restaurant-bought pre-packaged items. It’s not always convenient or possible, but I try.

Hence my latest experiment -french fries at home. We had bought a bag of sweet potato fries for the tot, knowing that she loves sweet potatoes and in an effort to continue this love. But, upon looking at the list of ingredients on the package, we soon realized that maybe these sweet potatoes weren’t quite as sweet as we had thought. Why not try to make them at home with an actual sweet potato?, I thought.

So I got out the mandoline and two newly purchased sweet potatoes and went to work. I followed Zesty’s recipe for homemade fries with several moderations – sweet potatoes in place of baking potatoes and omitting the salt and pepper. I also baked them for 30 minutes instead of 45, and the results were crispy, delicious and potato-y french fries without a ton of grease. In fact, I only used about 1 tablespoon of olive oil.

Be sure not to crowd the pan with fries – a single layer works best to crisp them up, and fewer fries means it’s easier to turn the fries, which should be done frequently. Also be sure to only bake what you’re going to eat – I found that the lack of copious amounts of oil meant that the fries harden up – rather than wilt – if kept longer than an hour or two.

Thanksgiving

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Easy pumpkin spice cupcakes

Judging by the popularity of cupcakes nowadays, I think it’s safe to say that most people won’t say no to one. So this Thanksgiving (or anytime, really), why not make cupcakes for dessert? They’re easy, they’re fun and they are so delicious!

Pumpkin cupcakes are especially easy to make – all you need is a box of spice cake mix and a can of pumpkin puree. Pour ingredients into a large mixing bowl and stir with a wooden spoon until moistened. Then, using an electric mixer, combine the two on medium speed for about 2 minutes or until mixed thoroughly. Divide evenly into paper lined cupcake cups and bake 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes, or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pans on a wire racks for 10 minutes, then remove cupcakes to wire racks to cool completely.

Once cooled, frost and serve.

Christmas

Cranberry crunch bars

Breakfast doesn’t have to mean a bowl of cereal or a piece of fruit grabbed on the way out the door. Make these cranberry crunch bars ahead of time, and enjoy a crisp-sweet-tart treat any day of the week. It’s also delicious as a dessert – just add crumbled up bars to vanilla or caramel ice cream! The bright red cranberries make it an especially festive and pretty treat for holiday entertaining.

If you like tart treats, reduce white sugar by ¼ cup or use more cranberries – ½ cup or so more will do it. For a sweeter crunch, increase white sugar by ¼ cup and reduce cranberries by 1/2 cup.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups cranberries, picked over
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 6 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into chunks

Directions

Preheat oven to 350. Mix dry ingredients in a medium bowl, then cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. You can also mix and then cut in the butter using a food processor. Just don’t pulse too much – you want coarse crumbs and pea-sized bits of butter for maximum buttery goodness. Spread half the mixture into a lightly greased 8×8 inch baking dish, top with cranberries, then sprinkle ½ cup sugar on top. Evenly spread remaining crumb mixture on top, then bake for about 60 minutes, or until top is browned and firm. Let cool, slice and serve.

Thanksgiving

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Cranberry chutney

Thanksgiving will be here before you know it … time to get your game plan in order for the big day!

This week I’m thinking about cranberries – those little balls of vitaminy goodness that are only in season from October through December. This year, I decided to try something new; instead of opening a can of cranberry sauce for the Thanksgiving table, I will be serving cranberry chutney. It’s a little more substantial than a cranberry sauce, and so versatile – spread it on your turkey or chicken (or leftovers sandwiches), on roasted pork, or even on ice cream, pancakes, or waffles for a sweet-tart treat.

  • 2 Granny smith apples, chopped
  • 2 1/4 c cranberries, picked through and rinsed
  • 1 c brown sugar
  • 1/2 c apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 t cinnamon
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1/2 t ground ginger
  • 1/2 t ground cloves
  • 1/2 t crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 c raisins

Place all ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for about 25 minutes, or until cranberries have begun to cook down and the chutney has thickened. To store, place in an air tight container and keep in the fridge for about a week, or can or freeze the chutney.

Jars of chutney would make a great holiday gift!

Halloween

Pumpkin bread in a jar

While debating the merits of baking bread in a tin can and the safety issues that this might bring up, a new idea emerged: bread in a jar. Why not use up some of those many jars that are otherwise collecting dust and taking up space in the cupboard, and put them to use? Plus, bread baked in little half-pint canning jars would just be so darn cute.

So I whipped up a batch of pumpkin bread, filled the jars and popped it into the oven. Note: Fill the jars only about halfway, not all the way to the fill line for canning, unless you like to clean a mess in your oven. I didn’t, and I don’t, but luckily I didn’t have a mess because I put the jars on a baking sheet first. And the overflowed, cooked muffin was delicious.

The jars would also make great gifts, either already baked or filled and frozen with baking instructions.

Halloween

Pumpkin spice latte

Pumpkin spice lattes. They’re always a treat to get at Starbucks or other coffee shops in the fall, but the cost adds up. We decided that this was another let’s-try-this-at-home treat to try recreating in the kitchen.

The key to the flavor of pumpkin spice lattes is the syrup, and pumpkin spice syrup is quite easy to make. Just make simple syrup (equal parts water and sugar (I used 1 cup each) simmered on the stovetop, stirring often, until sugar is dissolved). Add in pumpkin pie spices (I used 2 T ground cinnamon and 1/2 t. each ground cloves, ginger, and nutmeg) and simmer for five minutes. Strain the spices and grit out of the liquid by pouring it through a few layers of cheesecloth, then add a tablespoon of pure vanilla extract.

Store the cooled syrup in a glass bottle or jar, away from direct sunlight, or in the fridge.

To make a latte, combine 2 shots of espresso with about 2 T spice syrup, then add steamed milk. For extra decadence, top with whipped cream, sprinkle cinnamon or nutmeg on top, and pop in a cinnamon stick.

Website

Welcome!

Hello everyone!

I’ve finally started a blog so I can post my baking progress in the kitchen! Please feel free to follow along. All of the recipes I post I have personally baked myself and can vouch for – you won’t be wasting your time if you decide to make one of them yourself at home.

I’m starting this blog in time for Thanksgiving, and will start off by posting some recipes for this time of year, and for Christmas!

Thanks for reading.