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Archive for the ‘Dried Fruit’ Category

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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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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Stollen is one of those classic holiday recipes that is perhaps comparable to a mysterious foreigner named Gregor, or Maurice– just approachable enough so that everyone will try it, but also vaguely ethnic-sounding, naturally rendering it impressive.  Many recipes call for candied peel and candied cherries–that’s right, those day-glo bright fruits that only make themselves known on store shelves for the few weeks preceding Christmas.  My recipe uses homemade candied clementine and lemon peel, because your BMG hates her life and wanted to know what it would feel like to be put to work in a Russian gulag.

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You’ll also find plump, dried bing cherries, among other delicious fruity additions.  Some people like to put a rope of marzipan in the middle of theirs, and I was about to myself, but decided last-minute that I liked the stollen just as it was.  You can go your own way.

Go your own waaaaay.  You can call it anoooother lonely da–

I’m done, I promise!

In other words, this recipe bears absolutely no resemblance to the glue-ey brick of fruit and nuts magically held together by high-fructose corn syrup and marvelously capable of holding down even the peskiest of flyaway papers on your desk.  It will, undoubtedly, change your life, give you newfound confidence, cure male-pattern baldness, and get that cute boy in the next cubicle to notice you.

But if those reasons aren’t enough to convince you, consider the free therapy!  I felt incredibly calm as I violently abused dough the day before we were to make a 14 hour exodus by car out of New York and toward our Chicago homeland.  In fact, I exorcised so much of my inherent rage that The Boy could hardly recognize the blissed-out, bovine-eyed, sloppy-grinned Christmas elf who had replaced The BMG.

Behold the power of dough.  Or, you know, the wine I was sucking down.  Could go either way, really.

I recommend giving stollen-making a try when your holiday dose of Prozac just isn’t cutting it, or perhaps just after you remember that going home for the holidays means actually having to hang out with your family.  Stollen is like that–fits in everywhere.

Merry Christmas, you lovely, stressed-out lil’ misfits!

Holiday Stollen
Makes 2 regular-size loaves or 8 little loaves

Go Get:
1 1/3 cups warm, whole milk yogurt (NOT hot); (you can also use milk or almond milk)
milk (cow, soy, almond, whatever) for brushing the loaves
2 T. active dry yeast
2 eggs
2/3 cup sugar, plus some for dusting on top
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup butter (or Earth Balance for you DF misfits)
5 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons vital wheat gluten (if you don’t have or don’t want to use this, use bread flour instead of all-purpose; I like it because it gives the bread excellent lift and a beautiful, chewy texture, even with all those fruits weighing it down)
2/3 cup currants
1 cup dried cherries
2/3 cup raisins (can use golden)
1 cup candied lemon and orange peel (I made my own to avoid the junky stuff sold at the grocery store; I used this recipe, using clementines instead of oranges)
2 teaspoons ginger
2 teaspoons Jamaican allspice
2 teaspoons Saigon cinnamon

Go Do:
Dissolve the yeast in the yogurt and let it sit until it’s a bit frothy, maybe about ten or fifteen minutes.

Cream the butter, salt, and sugar together, then beat in the eggs and the yeast mixture.  In another bowl, whisk together the flour, vital gluten, ginger, allspice, and cinnamon.  Throw about five cups of that mixture into the yeast mix, and beat it until the flour is incorporated.  Slowly add the rest of the flour mixture in small amounts, beating well after each addition.  Once you’ve got a workable dough, flour a work surface and knead it until it’s smooth.  Spread the dough out into a rough rectangle and fold in one of the fruits.  Fold the dough in half and press to seal the ends and “trap” the fruit in the dough.  Then knead as usual.  Repeat with all the other fruits and peel, and knead thoroughly until everything is well-distributed.

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Place the dough in a lightly-buttered bowl and cover it with a damp kitchen linen.  Set it in a warm place and…you know what to do.  Let it sit there for about two hours or so, until it’s doubled in volume, while you go do something else.

I recommend running into the street while holding your half-consumed bottle of wine and screaming “I’M MAKING STOLLEN, BITCHES!” at the passerby.  But that’s just me.

When the dough is ready, punch it down to deflate it, and plop it onto a lightly floured work surface.  Divide the dough into two halves (or, into 8 mini loaves).  Place the dough pieces onto a cookie sheet that has been lined with parchment, and shape them into loaf-like beings.  Cover these guys with another damp cloth and let them sit in a warm place until they double again, probably another 60-90 minutes.

When your babies are ready, brush them with some milk and sprinkle the tops with granulated sugar.  If you don’t like this part, you can leave it out, or you can sprinkle them when they’re hot out of the oven.  Alternatively, you can wait until they cool and use powdered sugar.  My family always preferred the crunch of the grainy stuff.  Preheat the oven to 350, and when it’s ready, put the loaves in and bake them for about ten minutes.  Then drop the heat to 300 and bake them for another half hour to forty-five minutes, until they’re golden.  Watch the bottoms on these–they will generally be the best indicator of how done the bread is.  Of course, the bread should also sound hollow when you tap it.  When you’re there, take them out of the oven and remove them to a cooling rack.  Voila!

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