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Homemade Granola Bars

11 Apr

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If I were to tell you straight off the bat that these granola bars were made of whole grains, dried fruit, healthy nuts, and no added sugar or sweeteners, you would probably roll your eyes at me and then refuse a taste of what could only be an exercise of virtuous, boring, tasteless snacking. This would be a mistake, of course, because refusing a taste of one of these delicious granola bars is akin to refusing yourself a…well, a taste of a delicious granola bar. A really, really delicious granola bar.

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I am aware that most people do not give one hoot about what goes into a granola bar, and I understand why. Granola bars are not particularly exciting, and being readily available at any number of stores only adds to the banal nature of their status. But, if you are like me, and you like snacking, and you like your snacking to do as little damage to yourself as possible, you start to actually get interested in granola bars and the elements that make a fine granola bar what it is.

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As with energy bars, I tend to think that a granola bar should not be simply a disguised candy bar or a cookie. If you’re going to eat a candy bar or a cookie, just eat a candy bar or a cookie. Conversely, if you’re going to reach for a seemingly healthy granola bar, it should be all that its reputation advertises. Sweetened with pulverized dates and a hit of fresh, unfiltered apple cider (which is merely unfiltered apple juice, for all you Europeans out there), there is nary an extra sweetener included in these fellows. What is included in these granola bars, however, is a whole lot of stuff that is very good for you, and also has the added benefit of tasting good. It’s not all that often that you can find a place where those two distinctions overlap. Take advantage of that knowledge and put these to work right away.

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Another take on homemade granola bars (although a thicker, sweeter, heartier option) can be found here

Last Year: Cider-Braised Greens and Roasted Fingerling Sweet Potatoes with Lemon Tarragon Aioli

Homemade Granola Bars

2 cups oats (not quick-cooking oats)

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon sea salt

1 cup roughly chopped nuts or seeds of your choice (I used almonds, pepitas, and sunflower seeds)

½ cup dried fruit of your choice, roughly chopped to be of similar size to the nuts (I used chopped dried apricots, but raisins, dried cherries, or dried blueberries would also be good)

1 cup pitted whole dates (plain, with no added sugar)

¼ cup unfiltered apple cider (also called unfiltered apple juice)

1/3 cup almond butter

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a 9” by 13” baking pan with a sling of parchment paper, then slightly spray or brush the pan and paper with vegetable oil.

In a large bowl, combine the oats, cinnamon, sea salt, nuts, and dried fruit. Toss to combine.

In the bowl of a food processor or blender, combine the pitted dates and apple cider. Pulse until the mixture forms a thick paste, with some visible chunks of date still remaining.

In a medium bowl, combine date and cider mixture with almond butter, vanilla, and vegetable oil, then whisk to combine. Pour wet mixture over oat mixture. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, stir the ingredients together until they are thoroughly combined.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Wet your hands, then pat the mixture into the pan, pressing it down into the edges and corners. The mixture will really, really want to stick to your hands, so keep rewetting your hands as necessary until you’ve flattened the mixture completely into the pan.

Bake in the center of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until the edges are golden brown. I baked the batch pictured above for far too long, so it is overly darkened at the edges. Don’t make the same mistake.

Allow the bars to cool for at least an hour before attempting to cut them. Cutting with a large serrated knife (like a bread knife) works best for these. The granola bars will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for about a week, but they will keep indefinitely if kept in an airtight container in the freezer.

Raspberry Cheese Blintzes

29 Mar

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Don’t be afraid. I know, I know. Blintzes—those are made with crepes, right? And crepes are terrifying to make, right? They rip and burn and act all fussy, and who has time to it in front of the stove and babysit that type of food anyhow? Well, sorry, but no. I mean, yes, blintzes are made of crepes, but whatever fears you may have about crepes need to be shown to the door right now. Crepes are not to be feared.

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Truth be told, I think that crepes are not fussy at all, and don’t need to be treated as such, if done right. With a rock-solid recipe for your batter and a nicely buttered pan, you can’t go wrong with making crepes. And if you think they take a lot of time, you’re mistaken. Yes, you have to deal with them on the stove, but with each crepe only taking about a minute to cook—and only on one side, my friends, which means no flipping involved—I’d go do far as to say that crepes are easier to cook then pancakes. Yes, I know, then you need to stuff the crepes. But, look, if you know how to fold a piece of paper (and I am not talking origami folding here, I am talking stuff-a-grocery-list-in-your-pocket style folding), you know how to fold a crepe. I promise you, there is nothing to fear. Plus, with results so delicious, I can’t imagine that any lingering doubts you may have about crepes or blintzes would stick around after your first bite of one of these babies. No, really. They are good enough to erase fear.

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It is not often that I look at a food and the most distinctive adjective I can come up with to describe its appearance “cheery,” but that is exactly what happened when I took a look at a plate of these delicious crepes wrapped around a soft pink filling of raspberries, ricotta, and cream cheese. These blintzes, with their brunch-eaten-outside vibe and touches of fresh fruit, made me think of spring, and when enveloped in the sort of grayness that we in the PNW experience throughout the plodding months of the winter and beyond, a tasty little hint of spring is an especially cheery sight to behold.

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Last Year: Esquire Pancakes–apparently the end of March makes me think of pancakes and the like.

Raspberry Cheese Blintzes

Cheese Filling

¼ cup cream cheese, at room temperature

¾ cup ricotta cheese

finely grated zest of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

pinch of salt

½ cup fresh raspberries

Crepe Batter

1 cup milk

2 large eggs

1 cup sifted unbleached all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon salt

For Cooking:

4 to 6 tablespoons unsalted butter

To make the cheese filling, combine cheeses, lemon zest, sugar, vanilla, and salt. Whisk thoroughly to combine, until the filling is light and fluffy. Using your hands, break apart the raspberries over the filling, then fold the berries into the mixture.

To make the crepe batter, in a blender, combine milk and eggs, then blend until just combined. Add flour and salt, then blend until smooth, stopping the blender and scraping down the sides if necessary.

Heat an 8-inch or 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add a teaspoon or so of butter to the pan, or just enough butter to coat the bottom of the pan. When the butter has melted pour about 2 tablespoons of batter into the pan, then tilt the pan to coat the bottom as much as possible. Cook the crepe on one side only, until the edges appear dry, about 1 minute. Slide the crepe onto a plate, or remove it to a plate using a flexible spatula. Repeat until all the batter has been used, stacking the finished crepes on top of one another, and adding butter to the pan as needed. Depending on how judiciously you doled out the batter, you’ll end up with anywhere from 9 to 12 crepes.

To make the blintzes, place a heaping tablespoon of the cheese and raspberry mixture onto the center of a crepe. Fold in the sides, then the ends, to encase the cheese and form the crepe into a square.

Heat 1 tablespoon of butter in a medium to large skillet over medium-high heat. As you wrap each blintz, place it in the pan, seam side down, and cook, turning over once, until the blintzes are golden brown on both sides. The blintzes should only take a maximum of about 3 minutes total to finish cooking.

You can serve these blintzes hot, warm, or cold. If you want to make them ahead of time, you can place the fully-cooked then cooled blintzes in the refrigerator overnight (wrapped in airtight plastic), then either reheat them in a pan the next morning using the same skillet-browning method as before, or serve them cold, which I sort of prefer. Serve with extra raspberries, and, if you wish, a small dollop of whipped cream, sour cream, or crème fraiche.

Bourbon Apricot Bread Pudding

27 Mar

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If you’ve had fun making cascarones or other Easter egg decorating crafts that involve removing an egg’s insides from its shell, I probably don’t have to remind you that the second part of your egg decorating journey is now upon you. With a big bowl of raw eggs now sitting in front of you, what are you going to do?

Let me tell you what you are going to do: You are going to make bread pudding. Then, you are going to eat bread pudding and, again, I don’t think I have to tell you this, but, my friend, you are really, really going to like it.

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Much in the same vein as a frittata, bread pudding is a great way to use up a few last ends of this and that, eventually creating a finished dish that is light years removed from what you may have initially been able to achieve with each item individually. Because I am frugal to the point of being almost batty, my freezer is populated with several different bags of almost-finished hunks of bread. Not all of the bread is the same type of bread, but in the case of bread pudding, I have found that it doesn’t really matter if all your matches, so long as all of your bread is delicious. I’ve made bread pudding with a mixture of old baguette, leftover brioche, and stale Italian-style boule, and the result is never anything less than fantastic.

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Because I had dried apricots on hand, I decided to put them to use in this bread pudding, and because there are few things as well-paired as stone fruits and bourbon, I just had to give the apricots a nice soak in some bourbon before tucking them into the pudding. No surprise, the two items just sang when put together, and they did wonders for bringing out all the right notes when they met up with the dark brown sugar of the custard. With less than ¼ cup of sugar in the entire affair, I’d argue that this lovely, only mildly sweet dish could be carted out for brunch and never seem out of place. Not that I could ever think of a time or place where I would not welcome this bread pudding, but that’s just me.

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Last Year: Brown Butter Brown Sugar Cupcakes with Vanilla Bean Frosting

Bourbon Apricot Bread Pudding

½ cup coarsely chopped dried apricots

2 tablespoons bourbon

2 cups milk

4 large eggs

3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon dark brown sugar, separated

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

pinch of salt

5 cups stale or slightly dried bread cubes, cut into 1-inch chunks

¼ cup coarsely broken raw pecan halves

In a small bowl, combine dried apricots and bourbon. Toss to combine, then allow to soak for at least 20 minutes, tossing frequently to make sure the bourbon reaches every bit of the apricots.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl or in a large measuring cup, combine milk, eggs, 3 tablespoons dark brown sugar, vanilla, and salt. Whisk vigorously until the brown sugar has dissolved and the eggs are completely combined. Place the bread cubes in an 8” x 8” square baking pan, then pour the custard over the bread, soaking every piece as much as possible. Allow bread to rest in the custard for 15 minutes, pushing the bread down into the custard every couple of minutes to ensure that everything gets nice and soaked.

When the bread has finished soaking, remove the apricots from the bourbon (discarding the remaining bourbon, ahem, in any way you wish). Add the apricots to the soaked bread, using your fingers to poke the fruit down and really nestle them in. Sprinkle the pecans over the top of the bread, then sprinkle over the 1 teaspoon of dark brown sugar.

Bake in the center of the oven for 45 to 50 minutes, until the custard in the center of the pudding is set, and the bread has puffed up quite a bit and turned a nice golden shade. Serve hot or warm.

Makes roughly 6 to 8 servings.

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