Risotto with Asparagus

Sorry I haven’t posted in a while. I’ve been in a sugar coma.

You may have noticed that many of my recent posts have been sweets. I have a ton more goodies to post, but I felt a tad guilty about posting so many recipes using processed white sugar, when my goal is to help people get OFF processed foods. Processed sugar is my one huge weakness (meaning: addiction). It’s also my kryptonite.

Unfortunately, when I’ve had the time and energy to make a fabulous blog-worthy dinner, I’ve rarely had the patience to hold off four starving kids and a starving hubby long enough to take pictures and such. Desserts are another story. I can make them any time of day and take pretty pictures.

But, I finally pulled it off and took some decent pics of this dinner before serving it. But, please forgive me if the next 20 posts are all desserts.

Risotto: risotto is a high-starch, short-grained rice. It is cooked differently than normal rice. It is first browned in oil, then cooked in broth, stirring continuously while adding the broth in small amounts. Honestly, the first time I made risotto, I said to myself “you’ve got to be kidding! that’s a lot of work!”, but it really isn’t that bad. I had a good book I was reading, and just read while stirring. You will find risotto rice, typically the arborio variety, in the specialty food section of your grocery store. My local store has an Italian section that has specialty items from Italy, like extra expensive olive oils, sauces and vinegars. That is probably where you’ll find the arborio rice.

RISOTTO WITH ASPARAGUS

1 pound of thin asparagus
1/3 cup olive oil
2-3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
7 cups chicken stock
3 cups uncooked arborio rice
1 TBS butter
1/4 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated (do NOT use the cheap powder stuff you get in a can, go to the cheese section and get real parm).
salt and pepper to taste

Rinse and trim the asparagus. Do this by removing the bottom inch or so and discarding. An easy way to do this is to hold the spear upright and bend it down from the top until it breaks off. Where it naturally breaks off is where it goes from tender to fibrous. I usually do this to a few at a time, then put them back in the bunch and cut off the bottoms of the entire bunch where those few broke off. I hope that makes as much sense to you as it did to me as I was writing it. In a large heavy skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the asparagus and stir fry until cooked but firm (where you can fairly easily snap it in two with whatever utensil you are using to stir fry it, but before it becomes soggy). Remove the asparagus to a plate, reserving as much of the oil in the pan as possible. While cooking the asparagus, heat up your chicken broth, either in the microwave , or in a saucepan. Add the garlic and the arborio rice to the hot pan. Stir fry those with for 2-3 minutes, until they start to brown. Stir in one cup of hot broth. Start your timer, setting it for 14 minutes. Stir and cook until broth is almost completely absorbed. Add another cup of broth. You will continue to add the broth by cupfuls, stirring until each cup is absorbed before adding the next. You will use between 6-7 cups of broth, and the total time will be between 14-20 minutes. At about 14 minutes, start testing your risotto. It should be “al dente”, which means it still has some substance, it doesn’t dissolve or turn to glue in your mouth, but isn’t crunchy or chewy. If it seems a bit hard, continue adding broth and testing every couple of minutes. When you believe it has the right cooked texture, remove from the heat and add the butter and Parmesan cheese. Stir until both are melted and incorporated. Add in the asparagus and serve immediately. This recipe is about 6 main portions or 12 side portions.

REAL food alert: please, please, please use real parm cheese. Pretend you have never heard of Kraft canned parmesan powdery cheese. Trust me. Also, check your chicken stock for additives and msg.
ALLERGY alert: you can leave out the butter and cheese, but it won’t be as creamy. A non-dairy margarine could be used, or a dollop of coconut oil (though the taste may bug you).

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Chile and Corn Quinoa

Okay, okay…this is very similar to my other corn quinoa recipe. But, I’m on a quinoa kick. If you’re curious why quinoa has become popular lately, I’ll give you a brief synopsis. First, it has twice the protein of white rice. It also is a complete protein. That means it has all 9 amino acids the body needs. Typically, you find complete proteins in animal products (meat and dairy), or you need to eat a combo of foods to get all of the amino acids. Quinoa is a unique plant product that is a complete protein. That makes it popular amongst those who are moving to a more plant based diet (which is becoming a string movement, partially in thanks to a movie called Forks Over Knives, which I strongly suggest, especially if cancer runs in your family).

While eating my other quinoa recipe, I said, “This would be really good with roasted chiles”. My husband agreed, and this dish was born. If you subscribe to my posts, you’ll notice that oven roasting veggies is a habit of mine. Pretty much anything tastes better roasted, and it’s any easy way to prep parts of a dish while making other preparations.

In this dish, I kept with the southwestern flavor theme by adding a little cumin and browned sweet onions. I also added chicken as an option, for those not yet on board with meatless main dishes. Enjoy!

CHILE AND CORN QUINOA

2 ears of corn, still in the husk
1 poblano chile
2 TBS olive oil
1 sweet onion, thinly sliced
2 cups chicken stock
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup quinoa
1/2 tsp cumin
salt and pepper
1 pound chicken breast, cooked and diced (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place corn (still in the husk) and chile on a baking sheet in the preheated oven. Roast for 30 minutes. Turn chile once during roasting. Chile should be bubbled and black in most areas when done. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

While they are roasting, heat olive oil in a frying pan. Add onion and cook until soft and brown. Remove from heat. In a pot, heat chicken stock over medium high heat. Add garlic and heat to boiling. Stir in quinoa and cumin. Cover and lower heat to low. Simmer for 15-25 minutes, or until quinoa is cooked and all of the liquid is absorbed.

Wearing gloves, remove the blackened skin from the chile, remove and discard the seeds and slice the chile into thin strips. Remove the husks from the corn and cut the kernels from the cob. When quinoa is cooked, stir in the onion, the chile and the corn kernels. Add chicken if desired. Salt and pepper to taste, if needed. Serve warm.

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Roasted Corn, Broccoli and Black Bean Quinoa

In lieu of a written entry for this recipe, I will refer you to this awesome blog post.

Also…I use my food processor A LOT in recipes. Every time I write a recipe that uses my food processor, I think about what I would do without it. I LOVE my food processor. They can be pretty expensive, so when I ran across a cuisinart sale here, I thought I’d post it. If you’re new to the site and join, you get a free $15 credit, which is cool. There are stick blenders, ice cream makers, coffee grinders and all sorts of awesome small kitchen appliances on sale. Check it out. (The cuisinart sale ends in a couple of days, but comes back every few months or so).

ROASTED CORN, BROCCOLI AND BLACK BEAN QUINOA

serves 6-8 as a side dish, or 4-6 as a main dish

2 ears fresh corn, still in the husk
2 large heads of broccoli, with the main stalk removed
2 TBS olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup uncooked quinoa
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 tsp fresh thyme, removed from stems
1 (15 ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed, or 1 1/2 cups cooked black beans
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place corn (still in husk) and broccoli crowns on a baking sheet. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes, turning the broccoli a couple of times. Allow to cool for 5 minutes. Remove husk and cut corn kernels from the cob with a sharp serrated knife. Break the broccoli into very small crowns, removing excess stalks. I like the broccoli to be as small as possible, without completely chopping it up.

While the veggies are roasting, heat olive oil in a pot over medium heat. Stir in onions and cook until lightly browned. Add garlic and cook, while stirring, an additional minute. Add quinoa, broth and thyme. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and let simmer for 20-25 minutes (or until all the liquid is absorbed). Stir in corn, broccoli and black beans. Add salt and pepper to taste. This makes a great side dish, or main dish.

Adapted from The Dish on Delish

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Two Tasty Tomato Dishes

My mom is an incredible gardener. My dad was, too. I am not sure yet if I’ve inherited this ability. My pinterest board is filled with great gardening tips and ideas. I have aspirations to have a gorgeous garden from which I can pick and make fabulous fresh dishes. Unfortunately, I’m a little lazy and very forgetful. Our first garden attempt was dry and dead with in two weeks (I live in the desert, so gardening here takes a little more effort, care and *ahem* regular watering). I really want a garden, but I know two things must be in place before I can be successful: 1. I must be done with school. 2. It must be on an automatic watering system. When I can get these two things done, I look forward to a wonderful harvest and learning many new things!

If you already have a garden and are wondering what to do with your huge crop of tomatoes, here are two super tasty recipes for you! The sauce freezes well, and the soup is perfect with crusty grilled cheese. To be honest, tomato soup for me has always been an excuse to eat gooey grilled cheese sandwiches. When I made this soup, I ate one half of a sandwich. The soup was so good it didn’t need anything, so I left the sandwiches to the kids and had seconds of soup. The sauce goes well with some mild italian sausage, if you’re a carnivore, and piled onto a tender whole wheat pasta. It’s perfect summer comfort food with some grilled asparagus.

EASY CREAM OF TOMATO SOUP

serves 4 (main dish) or 6-8 (side dish)

2 TBS olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups fresh tomatoes, chopped
2 cups chicken stock
1 TBS fresh basil, chopped
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup heavy cream

In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook while stirring until they start to brown. Add garlic and cook and additional minute, or until garlic barely starts to brown. Add tomatoes and chicken stock. Bring to a boil. Lower heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes. Add basil and cook an additional 5 minutes. Add salt and sugar and remove from heat. Pour into a blender or food processor, or use an immersion blender to puree. Puree well, until smooth. Return the soup to the pot and stir in the cream. Heat on low until warm again. Serve. Garnish with fresh basil or croutons, if desired.

REAL food alert: check chicken stock for msg and additives
VEGGIE alert: to make vegetarian, sub veggie broth for the chicken stock.
ALLERGY alert: for dairy allergies, sub a non-dairy milk, like coconut or almond milk, for the heavy cream.
HEALTH alert: this recipe is only about 150 calories per serving. If you want to health it up even more, you can reduce the cream to 1/4 cup, and sub honey for the sugar, or eliminate the sugar.

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ROASTED TOMATO SAUCE

3 pounds fresh tomatoes (about 6-10), cored and quartered
1 head of garlic
1 TBS fresh thyme, chopped
1 TBS fresh rosemary, chopped
salt
sugar
3/4 pound mild italian sausage (optional)

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Place the tomatoes on one or two foil covered baking sheets, along with the head of garlic (do not separate the cloves, just remove any loose paper from the outside). Sprinkle the thyme and rosemary over the tomatoes. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until tomatoes are slightly charred. Rotate pans halfway through cooking, if they don’t both fit on the same rack in your oven. Remove from oven when done roasting. Pour the tomatoes and any juices into a blender or food processor, or pour into a bowl if you use an immersion blender. Using a serrated knife, carefully cut the root end of the garlic head. Pull the garlic head apart into three or four chunks. Squeeze the soft roasted garlic pulp into the tomato mixture and discard the tough exterior. Blend the tomatoes, garlic and herb mixture until desired consistency (we like minimal chunks, but you may like chunks in your sauce). Add salt and sugar to taste (if you have nice ripe tomatoes, you won’t need sugar, if you have grocery store tomatoes, you may need a pinch or two). The sauce is ready to serve with pasta. If you like meat in your sauce, brown sausage in a large pan over medium heat. Add sauce and cook for 10 minutes.

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Calabacitas con Crema (Zucchini with Cream)

There’s a song I learned in my 7th grade Spanish class. Here’s how I remember it (starting from the part I can recall): “cinco de mayo, seis de junio, siete de julio, San Fermin. La, La, La, La, La, La, La. Hien a roto la pagareta. La, La, La, La, La, La, La. Hien a roto la pagara.” I sang this for my Brother-in-law once, who is fluent in Spanish, and he looked at me like I was crazy. After messing around with google translate, I’m pretty sure “hien” should be “quien”, but I am still pretty sure somewhere since 7th grade, the song has become warped. We called this the “Smurf Song”…you can guess why. I still sing it today (incorrectly)…every time I hear the words “Cinco de Mayo”. I live in the American Southwest, so Cinco de Mayo is a pretty big deal. We eat Mexican food on a weekly (sometimes daily) basis, but I still love to have a little themed dinner on May 5th, just for funsies. This particular dish is one of my favorites. It takes some prep, but it’s sooooo worth it. Plus, it’s fairly healthy to offset the refried beans, rich meat and stacks of tortillas that is normal Mexican fare. Try it for your Cinco de Mayo dinner this year! It’s perfect with soft tortillas, Garlic Pork Roast and Roasted Red Salsa.

CALABACITAS CON CREMA

2 ears of corn
1 large poblano chile
1 pound zucchini or mexican squash
1/2 tsp salt
1 TBS butter
1 TBS olive oil
1/2 medium sweet onion, sliced into thin strips
2/3 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. On a cookie sheet, place 2 ears of corn, still in their husks and poblano chili. Place in the preheated oven. Cook for 30 minutes, turning chili as needed to get a nice blister on each side. The blacker the skin, the better. While corn and chile are cooking, dice zucchini into 1/2 inch cubes. Toss the zucchini in salt and place in a colander. Put the colander in a larger bowl or over the sink or a towel to catch drips. The salt will draw out moisture, which you want to drain off. Let sit for 30 minutes, then dry zucchini on paper towels. Sometimes I have gotten 1/2 cup of liquid, and sometimes only a few tablespoons. Either way, I’ve noticed a difference in the texture of the zucchini after it’s cooked. Cut onion into thin strips. When corn and chile are done cooking, allow to cool, about 15 minutes. Take a paper towel and rub the chile, removing the blistered skin. The blacker the skin, the easier it is to come off. You may want to wear disposable gloves while you do this, as chile oil does not wash off easily and you will be in pain if you touch your eyes after the chile. Pull off the cap on top and any seeds that come with it. Cut open on side of the chile and flatten it out. remove any seeds and discard. Slice the chile into thin strips. Remove the husk from the corn and cut the kernels off.

When the zucchini, chiles, onion and corn are all prepped and ready, Heat oil and butter in a pan over medium heat. And the zucchini and fry, stirring frequently, until brown and just tender (cooked, but not mushy). Remove the zucchini to a plate, retaining as much oil and butter in the pan as possible. If the pan is dry, add another TBS of oil and wait for it to come up to heat before continuing. Add the corn, onion and chile to the pan and stir-fry until onions are soft and brown. Add the zucchini back in to the pan along with the cream. Heat until the cream glazes the vegetables. Remove from heat and serve immediately. If you don’t plan to serve immediately, after the veggies are cooked, combine with the zucchini and let rest. Right before serving, add cream and heat over medium until cream reduces to a glaze, about 3-5 minutes. This tastes best if made and served immediately, so I would suggest you do all the prep work beforehand, then leave this to be your last dish cooked.

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Adapted from a recipe by Rick Bayless.

 

Real-Food Remake: Celebration Potatoes (Funeral Potatoes)

There’s a recipe that has been used for generations in my family and the families of many that I know. They are called “Funeral Potatoes”. What a morose name.

They are called that presumably because they are a tradition dish made for luncheons served to the family at funerals. They are the ultimate comfort side dish, easy to make in bulk, filling and satisfying. Every family you know who makes this dish has their own twist. Some people add green onions, some people like bread crumbs or corn flakes on top. In our family, we not huge fans of green onions, and we like a simple cheese topping. The dish itself is basically grated potatoes and onions in a scalloped-potato style cream sauce and baked. Traditionally, the recipe calls for cream of chicken soup and sour cream. Simple.

However, some of us can’t (or won’t) have cream soups, which are absolutely horrible for you. When planning my Easter dinner, I really wanted funeral potatoes, which we typically only eat at my in-laws house, and decided I’d do a Real-Food Remake.

The first step in the tradition recipe is to use frozen hash browns. Frozen hash browns don’t turn color, thanks to an additive called disodium dihydorgen pyrophosphate. It is a chemical additive. Because we avoid chemicals, and because potatoes are dirt cheap (a little pun for your Monday Morning), I make hash browns from scratch. The trick to keeping them from turning colors is getting the excess starch off. After shredding them, put them in a colander and rinse with cold water until the water runs clear. If you are grating them by hand, grate them straight into a colander under running cold water. You’ll see in the pictures that my hash browns are white as white can be, no brown or gray to be seen!

To replace the cream of chicken soup, I made my basic cream of chicken substitute sauce. You can use this sauce in absolutely any recipe that calls for a cream soup. I opted for sweet onion instead of the green, ’cause that’s how we roll. Then, I topped it off with cheese. You can use bread crumbs and dot it with butter if you’d like. This recipe is still full of dairy and definitely high on the fat content, but it’s still a step up from a chemical-filled traditional funeral potato recipe. Because of that, I changed the name to “Celebration Potatoes”. It kinda has a nice ring to it.  Forgive the non-professional looking pictures. My family was VERY patient to sit while I took quick pics of our Easter feast, and I left them in a tad too long, your cheese doesn’t have to be this brown. 🙂

CELEBRATION POTATOES

1 1/2 cup chicken stock
1 1/2 cup milk
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp seasoned salt (like season-all…a salt-free, msg free seasoning)
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp pepper
4 TBS butter
6 TBS flour
2/3 cup sour cream
5-7 potatoes
1/2 sweet onion
1 cup cheddar or colby-jack cheese, grated

Mix the chicken stock, milk and seasonings in a bowl. In a sauce pan, over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and whisk quickly. It will be very thick. Cook the flour for one minute. Slowly add in the chicken stock mixture 1/2 cup at a time, whisking well after each addition. Make sure you whisk out the lumps. Cook, stirring frequently, until thick, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, add in the sour cream.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. To prepare your potatoes, rinse, peel and grate them. Rinse them under cold water until the water runs clear. Lay them in a 9×13 pan. Grate the 1/2 sweet onion and mix together with the potatoes. Pour the sauce over and mix into the potato mixture. Top with a layer of cheese. Cover with tin foil. Bake at 350 degrees for 50-55 minutes, removing the foil during the last 10 minutes of baking.

REAL FOOD ALERT: Check your grated cheese for additives, it’s better to grate your own. Check your sour cream. Always use a “natural” sour cream. Next time you’re at the store, compare the ingredients of the store brand sour cream and Daisy brand, or another natural version. The ingredients should be “Cream” and that’s all. Hash browns: frozen hash browns have chemical additives.

ALLERGY ALERT: to make gluten-free, eliminate the butter/flour step. Instead, put the broth mixture into the saucepan, bring to a boil. Mix 2 TBS cornstarch with 2 TBS cold water and add to boiling liquid. Stir until thick.

 

World Wednesday: Irish Soda Farls

World Wednesday

Have ever done genealogy? That’s where you track down your ancestors. A few years ago, I felt like giving a go and it consumed me. It’s like the most addictive puzzle ever created. My mom, who was working on her ancestors, gave me a line to work on. The Robinsons. My maternal grandmother’s grandparents. I traced it back to Charles and Catherine Robinson, my 5th great grandparents who came over around the year 1773 from Ireland. It sounds easy summed up like that, but in reality, it was hours of obsessive searching. I’d send the kids off to school, turn on a movie for the littles and the next thing I know, I’m being roused from my puzzle-solving by a dirty diaper, a demand for lunch, eventually my husband is there (Where’d he come from? Why isn’t he at work? It’s the middle of the….oh..it’s 6 p.m.) asking if we’re having PB and J for dinner again. Yeah. I stopped doing genealogy for a while. I figure, in a few years I’ll be missing my kids all day and needing a distraction, and I can pick up the addiction again. BUT, the point here is what I FOUND. At least a part of me is Irish. I was ecstatic. I have always loved all things Irish, the music, the food, the sexy accent. My husband’s main line is Irish as well, and I have a goal to some day trace both of our lineage back to Ireland and take a nice long trip there when our kids are grown and gone.

A few years back, inspired by good friends who have special family traditions marking their ethnic heritages, I decided that we needed a St. Patrick’s Day tradition. I’m not a huge fan of corned beef and cabbage, so I decided to make Irish Soda Farls and Lemon Curd every year. Disclaimer: Lemon Curd is not specifically Irish. I believe it’s more of a British tradition (can my international readers shed some light?), but my kids love it and it’s tasty.

Soda Farls are like a pan-cooked quick biscuit. The dough is very soft and the result is a very soft, tender bread. Traditionally, the dough is rolled out, cut into fourths and the browned in a skillet. I cut mine into eighths, because it’s easier to work with and the kids feel like they get more when they can have seconds or thirds. (Yeah, you moms know what I’m talking about, parental trickery rocks). This works great in an iron skillet. Unfortunately, mine was accidentally soaked and has some rust we need to scour off, so it wasn’t available for my farl-cooking this year.

IRISH SODA FARLS 

4 cups flour (I used half whole wheat)
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
2 cups buttermilk*

In a large bowl, combine flour, salt and soda. Slowly mix in buttermilk until dough starts to form. Dump onto a lightly floured surface and knead a little until dough is fully combined and smooth. Dough will be very soft and a little sticky. Reflour your surface, and divide the dough into two halves. Roll each half into a circle about 1/2 inch thick. Cut into fourths or eighths. Heat a thick-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Place your dough in the skillet and cook on each side until brown and the middle is cooked. Turn down your heat to medium after the first batch to avoid the pan over heating. If you find that they are sticking, reflour the dough before putting it in the pan. Serve hot with butter and jam or lemon curd.

*If you don’t have buttermilk, Measure 2 cups of milk into a bowl and add 2 TBS lemon juice or white vinegar. Let it sit 15 minutes before using.

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Technique Tuesdays: Double Boiler. Recipe: Creamy Lemon Curd

Technique Tuesday:

Double Boiler

Lemon Curd is a great companion to Irish Soda Farls that we make each St. Patrick’s Day. Curd is essential a fruit custard made with egg yolks. This recipe calls for a double boiler. I don’t know about you, I don’t know anyone who owns an actual double boiler. It isn’t even necessary as long as you have a sauce pot and metal bowl that fit together nicely. You’ll notice in the picture below the recipe my very dirty stove. You will also notice how the “double boiler” should look. You do not want the bottom of the bowl to touch the water. Essentially, the point of a double boiler is to heat something using indirect heat, to avoid it scorching or curdling. It’s used to melt chocolate and make custards, among other things. The custard is heated by the steam created by the boiling water underneath.

This lemon curd recipe results in a creamy curd, not the gelatinous kind many use for a lemon meringue pie. It’s perfect for a topping for breads or as a spread.

CREAMY LEMON CURD

5 eggs yolks
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 TBS lemon zest
4 TBS butter, cut into pats and chilled

Fill a small pot with about an inch of water, place on the stove over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, in a metal bowl that fits on top of your pot, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar. Whisk well, until light and creamy. For smooth curd, pour the juice through a fine mesh strainer to remove any pulp. Whisk in the lemon juice and zest. When the water comes to a boil, quickly reduce heat to low, to keep to a simmer. Place bowl on pot and whisk continually until thick. This takes about 10 minutes, but will vary. You know it’s ready when it thickly coats the back of a spoon or reached 160 degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat and add in the butter, one pat at a time, stirring each until it melts before adding the next pat. Pour into a container or bowl and press plastic wrap against the surface of the curd. Refrigerate until cool.

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Easy Chewy Granola Bars

My dad passed away a couple of years ago. He was a sporatic, but obsessive, cook. He spent the better part of a year one year perfecting chocolate chip cookies. He experimented with various recipes, tweaking the measurements, substituting butter, margarine and shortening in various ways. In the end he even specified the exact sized scoop you should use to scoop the cookie dough onto the sheet, before pressing each one with your thumb and refrigerating it over night. Some of my best memories of him are him in the kitchen, making the perfect fluffy omelet, or out grilling his specially basted chicken. I think most of my cooking skills come from my mom, but my analytic side definitely comes from my dad.

This last Christmas, a dear family friend gave me a Fred Batterfinger Spatula” target=”_blank”>fun finger scraper, shown in the pictures of this recipe. She chose it, knowing I loved to cook, and because the company who makes them is called “Fred” (my dad’s name is Fred), and each scraper has “Fred” on the handle. She said that way I would always think of my dad while cooking. It’s one of the most thoughtful gifts I’ve ever received. It also started me on a love affair with quirky “Fred” products. I’ll list some of my favorites after the recipe.

For a while now, I’ve been wanting to make chewy granola bars at home, without all of the preservatives, refined sugar and hydrogenated oils you find in the ones in the grocery store. I think I channeled my dad when I made these three different ways in one day, attempting to get them perfect.

The thing I love about homemade granola bars is that you can customize them to be as healthy as you like, also geared toward your kids’ likes and avoiding allergens. This recipe uses peanut butter. If you have allergies to peanuts in your house, substitute the gooey part with 1 cup sugar + 1 cup honey + 1 TBS butter (if they have coconut allergies as well), and cook the same.

EASY CHEWY GRANOLA BARS

3/4 cup natural peanut butter (no sugar, just roasted peanuts and salt)
2/3 cup raw honey (read here about raw vs. processed honey and dangers of store-bought honey)
1 TBS coconut oil (if you don’t have coconut oil, substitute butter)
2 cups oats (use gf oats for gluten-free granola bars)
1 cup crisped rice cereal (I have no notes for this, but didn’t want them to feel left out)
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips (ditto)

In a large bowl, combine the oats and cereal. In a saucepan, over medium heat, combine the peanut butter, honey and coconut oil. Stir continuously. When the mixture barely starts to bubble, continue stirring for 2 minutes, then immediately pour over the oat mixture. Stir until well combined. Let sit for a few minutes, until it’s still warm, but won’t burn you to touch it. Add in the chocolate chips and lightly stir. They will melt a bit, so don’t over mix. Pour the mixture into an 8×8 square pan. Place a large square of wax paper over it and press down as hard as you can, compacting the entire mixture into the pan. Let cool in the fridge for 15 minutes. Cut into 8 bars.

You may want to double or triple this recipe, although it’s easiest to make in smaller batches. You can also personalize it, by adding ground flax, coconut, dried cherries, raisins, etc. have fun!! I’m sure you have noticed that coconut oil for weight loss is making waves right now, this is why I use it as much as I can get away with.

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Some of my favorite “Fred” products:

” target=”_blank”>Pastasaurus: Adorable pasta server with the head of a dinosaur. My kids love it.

” target=”_blank”>”Equal Measure” Measuring cup: a glass measuring cup that measures up to 2 1/2 cups, includes standard and metric measurements. The kicker is that it also includes measurements like “volume of half of the human brain” and “one hundred and fifty thousand poppy seeds”. Practical, yet humorous…and it appeals to the science geek in me.

” target=”_blank”>Unzipped-Bag Shaped Glass Bowl: the company has all sorts of funky-shaped stuff, and this is one of my favorites..it’s a glass bowl, but shaped like an unzipped ziploc bag full of something, sitting up. Perfect for a candy bowl, or fish bowl, or just a conversation starter. Clever.

” target=”_blank”>Cake Candelabra: For the diva, or just for an extra special birthday, this candelabra sit a top a birthday cake to hold your candles. I’m thinking I need one for my 40th birthday…which won’t be for another 20-30 years…

French Bread

Yeah, I don’t have a cute story to tell about one of my sons involving french bread…sorry. I’m just gonna get to the goods.

This is the easiest, softest french bread you’ll ever make. You will never buy a loaf from the grocery store again after making this bread. It’s super soft on the inside and crusty on the outside, exactly how it’s supposed to be.

FRENCH BREAD

2 cups warm water
3 tsp active dry yeast
2 TBS sugar
4-5 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp salt

In your stand mixer, with the dough hook, combine the water, yeast and sugar. Add 3 cups of the flour and the salt. Turn on low and mix while adding more flour 1/2 cup at a time. Stop as soon as the dough comes together and forms a ball. Let the mixer knead the dough for 5 minutes. Every once in a while, check the dough. If it starts to stick to the sides, sprinkle a little more flour on the dough until it comes back into a ball. Try to use as little flour as possible. Remove the bowl and set in a warm place until it doubles, about an hour. On a lightly floured surface, dump the dough out and cut it in half. Take each half and twist it into a long strand, like a baguette. Take one strand and fold it in half, twisting it onto itself. Repeat with the other half. Place them side by side on a baking sheet covered with parchment. Let rise for 20 minutes. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place a shallow pan filled partway with water on the bottom rack of the oven. Carefully place the baking sheet with the loaves on the middle rack. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the tops are brown and the bread sounds hollow when the bottom is tapped. Let cool before slicing.

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