Monday, October 26, 2009

Vanilla-Scented Granola

I love oats for breakfast. It's taken me a while, but I've adjusted to getting me and the boy out the door (on time!) in the mornings, and I don't skip breakfast anymore. However, I rarely have the time to make myself a bowl of oatmeal.

Let me clarify. I COULD make oatmeal each morning, but one of two things happens: I either make it too early so it can cool while I get Henry up, and by the time I eat it it has turned into a cold, dry plate of mush which I proceed to gag down; OR I make it after I get Henry up and it is still too hot for me when we need to leave, so I quick dump it in a tupperware and take it along with me, but by the time I drop the boy off and get to work, settle in, and haul out my breakfast, it's a cold, lumpy pile of much which I proceed to swallow without chewing or tasting.

And that is why I love granola. The convenience of a box of cereal, but the goodness of whole grain oats, with lots of taste. And I've been known to stir in vanilla yogurt in place of milk. I've tried several different recipes in the past few months, and while I wouldn't complain about any of them, one stands out as my favorite: Vanilla-Scented Granola. While I usually make changes, here is the basic recipe:

Vanilla-Scented Granola

4 c. old-fashioned oats
1 c. sliced almonds
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
1/3 c. canola oil
1/4 c. honey
2 Tbsp. sugar
4 tsp. vanilla

Mix together oats, almonds, brown sugar, salt, and cinnamon in a large bowl (I use my roasting pan for mixing and baking). Combine oil, honey, and sugar in a small saucepan and heat to a simmer over medium heat. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla; pour over oats and stir well.

Spread on lightly greased baking sheet (I use my roasting pan because it reduces the risk of burnt granola for me). Bake at 300 until golden brown, 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove to rack to cool, stirring several times.

For clumpy granola, bake without stirring and allow to cool in pan for 10 minutes. Remove with spatula and break apart.

* * *
The last time I made this, I added wheat germ, ground flax seed, replaced the almonds with sunflower seed and chopped walnuts. I often add dried cranberries to my bowl, also.

I like to measure the oil before the honey so the honey pours out of the measuring cup easily, and this time I probably added about 1/3 cup of honey. It was slightly clumpy, which is good, but I took it out of the oven and had to quick run somewhere, and by the time I came back it was a solid piece of granola which required some coaxing to get it out. So that's why I recommend stirring while it cools.

Next Monday I'll have a delicious weekend version of oats that we loved!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Caramel Crunch Bars


I don't remember what blog I saw this posted on, but I do remember that it is originally from Dorie Greenspan's "Baking, From My Home to Yours" cookbook.

They are delicious and slightly addictive, but don't quite make the 54 servings in the original recipe (I like them bigger).

Caramel Crunch Bars

1 1/2 c. flour
1 tsp. instant espresso powder or finely ground instant coffee*
1/2 tsp. salt (I like to use Kosher)
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1 c. butter, room temp
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 oz. bittersweet or premium milk chocolate, chopped (I used milk chocolate chips)

Topping:
6 oz. milk chocolate, chopped (or chips)
3/4 c. Heath toffee bits

Whisk flour, coffee*, salt, and cinnamon. Beat butter until smooth; add sugars and beat until light and creamy then add vanilla. Add the dry ingredients and beat slowly until almost incorporated. Add chocolate and mix only until dry ingredients are mixed in. It will be a heavy and sticky dough. Pat into a thin layer in a greased 9x13 pan (can line with greased foil). Bake at 375 for 20-22 minutes or until bubbly. Scatter chocolate on top and return to oven for 2-3 minutes. Remove and spread chocolate around and sprinkle with toffee bits, pressing down lightly. Cool on rack. You may need to refrigerate later to get chocolate to set completely.

*If you use the instant coffee, I would dissolve it in the vanilla and just add it when it calls for the vanilla.

When I made these, I made my own toffee since I had everything else on hand, and I wasn't sure the local grocery store carried the toffee bits - I only remember seeing the chocolate covered kind, which would probably work fine. I'd post my toffee recipe (which was really good, especially after it got humid and the leftovers turned into this delicious-tasting substance that just dissolved on your tongue), but I don't know what happened to it.

Enjoy!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Chocolate and Pumpkin Cupcakes

So even though it seems that we've skipped fall and jumped into winter, my recipes have been reflecting the fall season, namely pumpkin.

My cousin (well, she married my cousin so does that make her my cousin-in-law?) Jessica has been posting some pumpkin recipes which may have inspired me. ;)

This week I made Chocolate Muffins with Pumpkin Frosting, which I found at the Tasty Kitchen. They were really good, but the muffin part was a bit finicky for me. Slightly over half full and they spilled over the edges and were difficult to separate from the pan. And they definitely did not dome like a cupcake, so there's a thick layer of frosting to cover where the middles settled down. I did add a little more powdered sugar to thicken the frosting, but it was still a little thin to spread smoothly, in my opinion. But I'm all about taste, not looks, so these were still good.

Chocolate Muffins with Pumpkin Frosting

Muffins:
  • 2 c. flour
  • 1 c. cocoa (dark was recommended, I used my regular Dutched cocoa)
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 c. (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
  • 3 c. sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 c. buttermilk
Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a separate bowl.

Cream together butter and sugar and beat until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing just to blend, then add vanilla. Alternately add the flour mixture and the buttermilk until combined. Mix well until smooth, about 30 seconds.

Grease muffin tins or line with paper cups. Fill halfway and bake at 325 for 15-18 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean - do not overbake, they are very moist. Cool in pan about 2 minutes then remove to cool on a wire rack.

This can also be baked in 2 greased loaf pans. Increase baking time to about 65 minutes. (I only have one muffin tin, so partway through I was wishing I had taken this suggestion since I ended up with 3 1/2 dozen muffins.)

Frosting:
  • 1/2 c. (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 8 oz. cream cheese (I use the 1/3 less fat Naufchatal cheese)
  • 3 1/2 c. powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/2 c. canned pumpkin
Beat cream cheese, add butter and beat until smooth. Add remaining ingredients and mix on medium speed. You can refrigerate frosting before icing the cakes, which makes it slightly stiffer and easier to spread.

But if you make them, be prepared to share!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Sidetracked Passions

I loved reading.

Up until probably my college years, I was always in the middle of a book. Even when I was in grade school, I remember pulling the sheets over my head and reading with a flashlight when I was supposed to be sleeping.

I still love a good book, but only in the past few months have I realized it's not a lack of time that's stopping me from being the avid reader I used to be.

Most nights I'm curled up on the couch next to Doug watching "reality" TV shows. Not the "get a group of people together and pit them against each other and watch the madness ensue" type of reality. I mean "Dirty Jobs," "Ice Road Truckers," "American Loggers," "Wrecked" (tow trucks), "Deadliest Catch" (fishing/crabbing in the Bering Sea).

I don't mind them for the most part, but some days I'm just not in the mood to watch someone else work, if I'm even in the mood to watch TV at all. So I've taken to reading, even though
Doug gives me a hard time (in a joking way).

A perfect solution, I thought.

The problem is that once a book pulls me in, I can't read just a few chapters a night. For example, I checked out "House" on Tuesday afternoon and read the first two or three chapters that night. But by the time we went to bed on Wednesday, I was slightly over halfway, and by the time Doug got home from work on Thursday I was finished. This was a 372 page book, granted I enjoyed that the pages had decent size type and spacing between the lines that made it easier and faster to read.

But, I didn't get much (if anything) done on Thursday, because I just HAD to finish it. Henry loved it because I finally let him play in the car again, and for over an hour, while I finished the book in the passenger seat.

So now I will force myself to return this book without checking out another, because getting wrapped up in the world of a book is fun, but my real world could use some attention for a while.

Here's to reading and good books. What good books have you read lately?