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Confession time for Bad Mama Genny: I’ve been using my Crockpot a lot lately.  Also, my text software just tried to edit “Crockpot” to read “crack pot”.

Please let it be known that I have not been using my crack pot a lot lately.

It’s addictive, that thing.

The Crockpot, not the crack pot.

Okay, you know what?  We’re gonna call it a slow cooker from this point forward.

So I’ve been using the slow cooker a lot lately, and once you get started and master a few basics, it’s actually pretty amazing and easy to end up with very nice food that doesn’t always taste like beef stew.

Unless it’s beef stew, and then it tastes like beef stew.  Or, at least, it should.  And if you have a problem with that, well, why were you making beef stew in the first place?

So last night I felt that it wasn’t enough to make salmon croquettes with lemon aioli and a side of steamed spinach and artichokes for dinner.  Hmm, surely there’s SOME ridiculous project I could start too late in the day?…I know!  I know!

GRANOLA!

Except I’m not a glutton for punishment (lie, totally am, but still) and I’ve burned more than my fair share of granola by leaving it in the oven for 0.29 seconds too long.  This here granola is a delicate business, folks.  And I just wasn’t up for a delicate project.

I’d heard that you could make substantially less finicky granola in a slow cooker, but only recently did I look into it for really reals.   And you know where you should go for the basics?

Right here, to Stephanie O’Dea’s site.  She’s the genius behind the cookbook, “Make it Fast, Cook it Slow,” a bible for those of you who heart your slow cooker big time.  Or your Crockpot.  Or heck, even your crack pot.

I didn’t use Stephanie’s granola recipe, and decided instead to go off in my own direction.  See, while O’Dea’s recipe calls for two liquid components–butter and honey–mine adds a third: fruit puree.  what worked for me was 1/2 cup fat, 1/2 cup sweet stuff, 1/2 cup fruit puree.  This cuts down on the amount of fat and sugar you need, adds flavor, and–oh, fluffernutter!–gives you even more scope for the imagination when it comes to cool taste combos.

Yesterday I made pumpkin granola.  I used pureed sugar pie pumpkin and added cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and a pinch of nutmeg.  Three words: OM NOM NOM.

I wish I could explain just how good this smelled while it cooked.  But I can’t.  They just haven’t invented Smell-o-Vision yet.  Or the Smell-ternet.

So now that we’ve added that fruit component, let’s review just a few of the taste combinations that come to mind:

Pumpkin puree with pecans, raisins, pie spices, and butter.

Apple butter with walnuts, pumpkin seeds, raisins, pie spices, and butter.

Any fruit puree you desire, or none, with maple syrup instead of honey, and walnuts

Coconut oil instead of butter, banana puree, banana chips (or dehydrated banana, added after cooling), macadamia nuts, chunks of dried pineapple, and shaved, unsweetened coconut

Cherries and almonds.  Mmmm….

Apple butter with blueberries, almonds, and butter…just like a muffin!

Banana puree with walnuts and butter, and dehydrated bananas added after cooling…like banana nut bread!

Pumpkin puree with dried cranberries and pecans…perfect for Thanksgiving breakfast!

Basically, what I’m saying here is: this is the easiest granola you will ever make.  You will not go back to burning tray after tray of granola in the oven and sobbing all over your own The Boy while he tries to console you about all those wasted ingredients.  And the sky’s the limit with this recipe–if you can imagine it, you can do it!

Who’s that on the phone?  It’s Legal?  And they’re telling me I can’t guarantee that if you can imagine it, you can do it?

Okay, revision.  More like, if you can imagine it, you can try it, be my guest, but I won’t be held responsible for the results.

There, that’s better.  Legal should be happy with that.

Hey, what are you still doing here?  Shouldn’t you be playing with your crack pot?  I mean, Crockpot.  I mean, slow cooker.

Damn. Legal again.

Crockpot Granola, a Jillion Different Ways

Go Get:

5 cups oats
1/2 cup honey (or maple syrup, etc.)
1/2 cup butter (or coconut oil, or Earth Balance, or half butter/half peanut butter, etc.)
1/2 cup fruit puree of your choice
1 heaping teaspoon cinnamon
2 Tablespoons wheat germ
1/2 cups sliced almonds
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
3/4 cup dried fruit and/or dehydrated fruit (Trader Joe’s, among other places, sells fruit that’s been dehydrated–the second it comes into contact with moisture, it rehydrates and becomes soft again.  While dried fruit can be added during cooking, I’d hold off on adding dehydrated fruit until you’re bagging the cooled mixture.)

Directions:
Toss all ingredients except for dried fruit (and any dehydrated fruit you may be using) into the stoneware and set it to high.  Don’t bother melting the fat and honey together first, as O’Dea recommends.  While this is a nice touch, I can’t bear the thought of washing an extra pot when I’m already using the slow cooker.  Call me crazy.  Vent the slow cooker by sticking a wooden spoon in between the lid and the stoneware.  This will help your granola to lose excess moisture.

During the first hour, your butter will melt and you’ll want to make sure it gets evenly distributed, along with the honey or whatever other sweetener you’re using, throughout the dry ingredients.  Watch this stuff–you won’t have to stir much at the beginning, but as your granola gets further along, you’ll wanna give it a stir every few minutes or, as O’Dea says, whenever you can smell it cooking.

When you’re 2/3 of the way through, put in your dried fruit (NOT yet on the dehydrated fruit).  O’Dea has you adding everything at the beginning.  This does work, but my fruit got a bit dark where it touched the stoneware.  I’d hold off next time.

And that’s it!  Keep stirring every so often, and after 3 to 4 hours, everything will look nice and toasty.  It will NOT be dried out.  I’d say, when everything’s golden brown and there’s no excess moisture, you’re probably there.  Toss the mixture onto some parchment-lined cookie sheets and let it cool.  Once the mixture is cool, you can add any dehydrated fruits you’ve been holding onto and put it all into an airtight container or gallon-size ziploc bag.

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I’m not gonna lie–it is hard to serve most men salad for dinner.

Bad Mama Genny’s inner Gloria Steinem is recoiling at the generalization, but there it is. I think it’s part connotation, part social expectations (a la “real men don’t eat quiche,” which is such bull because I swear I could get Chuck Norris to eat quiche if HE WOULD ONLY RETURN MY PHONE CALLS WHERE ARE YOU CHUCK I’VE BEEN SITTING OUTSIDE YOUR BEDROOM WINDOW FOR LIKE EVER) and part vivid memories of poor salad execution. So when you endeavor to serve your man, or any other skeptic for that matter, a dinner salad, you must remember…

THE ALMIGHTY RULES FOR SERVING SALAD TO MEN:

*Top it with meat. Lots.
*Top it with cheese. Lots.
*Include crunchy bits.  Nuts are good, crumbled tortilla chips and chow mein noodles are better.  I did not invent this logic, I just know it to be true.
*Include a delicious, warm hunk of bread. A low-carb salad just adds insult to injury, and we don’t want to hurt anyone’s big, strong man feelings here.
*Borrow the “sandwich method” from business management school. By that, I mean, flank a salad meal on either side with two extremely beef-a-riffic, man-friendly meals. Examples include: a steak sandwich, chicken wings, a whole side of buffalo, a double cheeseburger with steak fries, a T-bone served to him by you clad in a leopard-print loincloth, a beheaded buffalo passed briefly over an open flame.  Eaten off a stick.  Amidst ambient grunting.
*Act like he’s doing you a huuuuge favor for condescending to eat your salad, and my, isn’t he just the most wonderful, most handsome, most long-suffering The Boy ever? (What you really mean is, you should eat this salad, be grateful for this salad, think this salad is the best salad you have ever eaten in your life, and remember to tell me all of these things while looking at me the way you did the first time we ever met.)

And perhaps the most important rule of all:

*Don’t make it a habit. He will become immediately distrustful of your intentions, and will began to entertain nightmarish fears that you are secretly trying to go vegetarian. Even if your salads are doused in meat. Suffocated by meat. Shrouded by warm, still breathing piles of meaty meat.

You don’t have to take my word for it, either. When he starts breaking out into cold sweats at the grocery store when you pass the tofu, you’ll KNOW Bad Mama Genny was right.

Hey, don’t blame me. I don’t WANT to be right, here, I just am.  It’s my cross to bear.

In any case, this isn’t even the most man-friendly salad dinner I’ve ever made. I believe that one involved copious amounts of barbecued chicken, thick shreds of cheddar cheese, a creamy dressing, and a paper thin layer of lettuce. But really, now. We needed veggies.

The Boy will be just fine. Nobody feel bad for The Boy.

Especially because I split some lovely french rolls to accompany, stuffed them to the gills with double-cream brie, and baked them at 425 until they were oozy and delicious and melt in your mouth oh my god I need a cigarette.

This recipe is so simple and haphazard, which is what makes it great. It’s also what makes it painful to commit to words. Improvise, use what you’ve got on hand, and adjust proportions to your liking.

Then enjoy. Both the salad, and his lame attempts to convince you he’s excited by it.

I know I did.

Strawberry Salad with Baby Greens, Almonds, and Scallops
(I meant to include crumbled goat cheese in this salad, but then discovered that I didn’t have any. Sad, I know. That’s how I settled on the brie-stuffed French rolls…hardly a disappointing switch. Feel free to use whichever you like.)

Makes 2 Servings

Go Get:
2 Romaine hearts, torn into bite-size pieces
1 cup mixed baby greens (mine were from my garden’s thinning. Not that I’m bragging or anything. Except I totally am.)
1/4 cup sliced, dry-roasted almonds
10 strawberries, sliced
20 smallish wild bay scallops, rinsed and patted dry (if I could have, though, I would have opted for just a few giant scallops. They weren’t available.)
garlic powder
pepper
salt
apple cider vinegar
olive oil
fresh basil, or high quality dry (Spice House!)
poppy seeds
mayonnaise

Go Do:
In a shaker bottle or dressing pitcher, mix 1 part apple cider vinegar and 2 parts olive oil. Add poppy seeds, shredded fresh basil, salt, pepper, and enough mayo to make it slightly creamy (but not heavy). Whisk it or shake it, and set aside.

On 2 large plates, arrange the Romaine pieces. Then layer on the baby greens. Next lay on the strawberries and almonds. (Told you this was easy.) Lightly drizzle dressing over both plates.

Sprinkle both sides of the scallops with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. In a skillet, heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil over medium heat until it’s hot. Gently lay the scallops in the pan and cook them (without moving them around too much–they’ll form a nicer crust that way) for 2 to 3 minutes per side. When they’re opaque, they’re done. Don’t make anybody cry by overcooking them. If you think they’re done, they’re probably done.

Lay the scallops on top of the salads, and serve.

If you were planning to include brie-stuffed rolls, as I did, put them in the oven at 425 before you do everything else. They should be ready to go when you are.

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Now, you may think that because I’m a self-employed freelance writer, I stumble into bed at 3 AM, yawn and stretch my sleepy limbs at noon, and then talk to my plants for an hour while eating a sumptuous breakfast involving at least three bacon courses.

That’s what I would do if I were smart.

Instead, I have my love to keep me warm…and groggy. 

The Boy works a bizarre schedule which has him up at 4:30 or 5:00 in the morning for about half of every week, and like the devoted sucker I am, I get up with him.  But breakfast?  BREAKFAST?  That, I simply cannot do.  He’s lucky if I manage to make it past the couch, where I typically wrap myself in a blanket and rock gently until I’m no longer praying for death.

Hey, I said I was devoted, not superhuman.

But still, The Boy’s gotta eat.  And–despite the fact that food is, oh, THE LAST THING ON MY MIND while I’m doing my level best to maintain sanity and comprehend the fact that the sun is not up and yet I am I SAID THE SUN IS NOT UP AND THERE IS NO REASON ON EARTH WE SHOULD BE EITHER NO I DO NOT WANT YOU TO GET FIRED I JUST WANT EVERYONE TO SEE REASON AND REALIZE THAT THERE IS NO EXCUSE FOR ANYTHING TO BE HAPPENING BEFORE 10AM–I should eat, too.  Nothing fancy.  Nothing that even requires electricity.  Just something The Boy can grab on his way to the bus stop.  Something that I can figure out how to unwrap, masticate, and swallow until everything makes sense again.  Enter, the granola bar.

I used this recipe for inspiration–it’s based on the Barefoot Contessa’s recipe.  Then I changed a bunch of stuff.  A lot of stuff.  Still, though, credit where it’s due.  It’s a great foundation recipe, just perfect for switching your favorite fruits, nuts, and favorite delicious bits in and out.  It’s vegetarian and can even be made vegan by changing the kind of fat you use.  And friends, does it ever smell (and look) good when you pull it out of the oven.

And hello, this is the post that keeps on giving, because the photo below makes the most maaaaahvelous computer desktop wallpaper:

My last version was as I’ve listed it below–full of plump dried cherries, toasted almonds, and oat-y goodness.  I’ll be making another batch tonight, this time subbing in some peanut butter and chocolate chunks (oh, just a few…BACK OFF, I SAID JUST A FEW AND IF I CAN’T HAVE SLEEP I WILL HAVE MY CHOCOLATE).  Oh, yes.  I will have my chocolate.

Besides.  It makes me feel good to know that somewhere, out there in the darkness, The Boy is riding some cold, bumpy bus to work, just as tired as I am, but perhaps with the hint of a smile on his face as he chows down on a breakfast in his number one favorite flavor combination, made by the BMG who loves him.

A BMG who is still at that moment incoherent and slightly out of her mind, yes.  But still–a BMG who loves him.

Homemade Granola Bars

Makes 12 squares

Go Get:

2 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup sliced almonds
1 cup raw sunflower seeds
1/2 cup toasted wheat germ
3 tablespoons butter
2/3 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup raisins or other dried fruit

Go Do:

Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Butter a glass 9 x 13.

Toss the oatmeal, almonds, and sunflower seeds together on a sheet pan and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned–I actually usually need 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl and stir in the wheat germ and fruit.

Reduce the oven temperature to 300˚F.

Place the butter, maple syrup, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook and stir for a minute, then pour over the toasted oatmeal mixture and stir well.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Wet your fingers and lightly press the mixture evenly into the pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until light golden brown. Cool for at least 2 to 3 hours before cutting into 12 squares. Serve at room temperature. (I like to wrap them individually for easy, on-the-go snacks or breakfasts.)

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Misfits, your Bad Mama Genny is a pretty happy person, generally speaking.  Sometimes, however, there are…dark…things that haunt me.

Problems that seem to multiply when my back is turned, and then I whip around, hoping to catch them in action, thinking that if I’m fast enough, clever enough, I can outwit them, I can halt their progress–but I’m always just a second too late, turning a moment after all evidence is gone, left only with a distinct chill, and the knowledge that things will only continue to creep up behind me…

Naturally, the chill of which I speak is, of course, that of the freezer, and the nagging creep-up is that of bags and bags of leftover almond pulp.

Naturally.

Allow me to backtrack.  I don’t drink cow’s milk since I’m a lactard.  And while I currently just swallow my pride and drink Almond Breeze Unsweetened Almond Milk (a small price to pay for my sanity), there was a time when I would routinely make my own almond milk.  The process, for those of you who are BLISSFULLY FUCKING UNFAMILIAR, involves soaking your almonds for hours, blending them with water, and then straining the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve.

While I do somewhat exaggerate the annoyance of this process, I definitely am not overemphasizing the difficulty of finding uses for the leftover, strained-out almond pulp that remains.  I, like many who make their own almond milk, have spent embarrassing amounts of time Googling potential uses for the stuff, which is still too viable and, let’s be honest, too damn expensive to just chuck into the trash.   Popular ideas found online include making cookies out of it, blending it into a dip, and making pie crusts with it.

I now take a deep sense of pride in being able to say that I’ve added to that illustrious list with my newest recipe–Almond Pulp Marzipan!  Yes, that’s right, folks–I’ve taken a healthy product, utilized most often by vegans and raw food enthusiasts, and CRAMMED IT FULL OF SUGAR just in time for the holidays!

Fly me to the friggin’ moon!

So what to do with your rustic marzipan?  I carefully wrapped and froze mine to use in making holiday stollen breads, but not before ingesting what probably amounted to several hefty spoonfuls (and I got a lot of work done in the eighteen sleepless hours that followed!  HAVE I MENTIONED THAT MARZIPAN IS BASICALLY DAYQUIL IN SOLID FORM?!?!?!

The end result here isn’t the same creamy beige as a traditional marzipan, as it’s studded with little almond skin reminders, but I actually like it just fine this way.  It’s still just perfect for filling cakes and breads, dipping into chocolate, or keeping you up at night, and really, who could ask for anything more from their marzipan?  While this stuff isn’t ideal for making little lifelike fruits, I daresay it would make very lifelike marzipan smallpox victims!

What?

Enjoy, but remember this: use all of your almond pulp in this recipe, or you just might throw open the freezer a second too late one day, feeling so cold, so alone, and so so foolish for trusting the almond pulp not to reproduce behind closed freezer doors.

**Smallpox victims not your style?  Already made enough to recreate France’s last epidemic?  Why not swirl little chunks of this marzipan into the nondairy ice cream of your choice (coconut!) a la this recipe?  I’d add coarsely chopped almonds, too.**

Marzipan (from leftover almond pulp)
Makes more marzipan than any normal person probably needs, or enough for a small army of smallpox victims

Go Get:
About 4, maybe 4 1/2 cups of almond meal (dehydrate your almond pulp or dry it out in a 200 oven, then grind it into a fine flour using a food processor–this is almond meal)
2 cups sugar
2/3 cup water
1 teaspoon almond extract (I like my marzipan really almond-y; you can leave this out if you like)
2 egg whites, lightly beaten
Powdered sugar, for kneading

Go Do:
Set up an ice water bath in a large bowl. Set aside. In a large saucepot or Dutch oven, combine the sugar and water–stir it over medium heat until it dissolves. Bring the mixture to a boil and throw a cover on it. Let it go for about two minutes, then insert a candy thermometer and let it boil until it reaches 240F degrees, or what candy makers refer to as the “soft-ball” stage. When it hits this temperature, remove the pan from the heat and drop it into the ice water bath. Use a whisk to beat the solution while it cools down–after a few minutes, it will become thick and a bit foggy. When this happens, return the pot to the stove and mix in the almond meal, egg whites, and almond extract. Put a low heat under the pot and stir until all the ingredients are well-combined and have formed a thick dough.

At this point, put a generous amount of powdered sugar on a clean table or countertop. Use the spoon to plop your marzipan mixture onto the sugared surface. Dust your hands with another generous helping of sugar, and when the mixture is cool enough to handle, begin to knead the mixture. You will need to continuously add more sugar to keep the marzipan from sticking to you or the counter. When the dough is thick, firm, and not so ungodly sticky that you can’t touch it without walking away with it attached to you, then you’ve got marzipan! At this point, you can keep it tightly wrapped or in an airtight container in the fridge (it lasts for a while due to the high sugar content).  The marzipan, unlike the almond pulp, will not reproduce while you’re not watching. Unfortunately.

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