Oatmeal Topping for Fall Fruit Crisps, plus filling options

Here in New England, it’s peach and blackberry season with apple season right around the corner.  Our favorite orchard opens for Pick Your Own apples this weekend, as a matter of fact.  I’ve been buying amazing peaches at a local farm stand and was able to snag a few for a pie before Dan ate all of them. I also had a pint of blueberries from the same farm stand.  I decided to make a pie.

I’d made a double crust, but was planning to use one for a quiche, so I needed a topping for my peach and blueberry pie.  I wanted something more hearty (and ever so slightly more healthy) than my standard topping, so I chose oatmeal. I used Bob’s Red Mill extra thick rolled oats. They’re my go to for a hot breakfast and my homemade granola, so I knew they’d be perfect for a fruit crisp topping. Along with coarsely chopped nuts, brown sugar and butter, I was in business. I overdid it and I made enough for 2 crisps. I put the extra into the freezer for next time.  Feel free to halve the recipe, if you’d like.

Note: I use softened butter because you’ll freeze the topping before putting it onto your crisp.   Softened butter makes it a whole lot easier to mix in.

oatmealtopping

Oatmeal Topping:

3 cups thick cut rolled oats
1 cup coarsely chopped nuts (I used almonds, but walnuts or pecans would be great here)
1 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) softened butter

Mix oats, nuts, brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt together. Add butter and combine using your hands (it’s the easiest way).

Put oat topping into the freezer for about 30 minutes.

While your topping is freezing, make your fruit filling and put into a prepared baking dish.  Put the baking dish on a cookie sheet in case its juicy contents decide to overflow.

For apple crisp, I use 6-8 apples, peeled, sliced and tossed in a bit of 2 tablespoons of sugar mixed with 2 tablespoons cornstarch, plus a healthy dose of cinnamon.  Top with 1/2 the topping and bake for 1 hour at 375.  Cover lightly with foil if the top browns too quickly.

Peach & Blueberry (or Blackberry) pie with Oatmeal Crumble:
3 large peaches, peeled and sliced
1 pint of blueberries
1/4 cup sugar blended with 1/4 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 pre-baked pie crust, preferably homemade (this is optional, will be just as delicious as a fruit crisp)

Mix fruit with sugar, cornstarch, spices and salt. Pour into pie crust, top with half the crumble topping.

Bake at 375 for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Let cool slighlty. Serve warm with ice cream or a dollop of sour cream.

Brownies

Infinitely interchangeable, easy to make from scratch.  Why use a boxed mix which is loaded with preservatives, chemicals and other junk?  BLECH!  If you bake, you probably have all the ingredients on hand.  If you’ve been using a boxed mix- think of the purchase of the ingredients as an investment in your future.

You can add stuff, you can subtract stuff.  Just keep the basic recipe kind of as is.  Add a nut butter swirl.  Add a Nutella swirl.  Add an extra egg if you like cakey brownies.  Add nuts.  Add coffee.  Use melted butter in place of the oil.  Use almond flour or whole wheat pastry flour in place of white flour. Use 2 eggs instead of 3 if you want an extra fudge gooey mess of a brownie.

Here are the basics:

2 cups of sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup of vegetable oil or melted butter
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
3 large eggs at room temperature
3/4 cups Dutch processed cocoa powder
1 1/3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Optional add ins:
1/3 cup cacao nibs
6 ounces chocolate chips
1 cup of chopped nuts
1 tablespoon Maldon flaked salt

Nut butter swirl:
1/2 cup room temp butter
1/4 cup of your favorite nut butter (peanut, almond, pecan, Nutella)
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg at room temp
1 tablespoon cream
Beat all this together and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350. Grease a 9×13 inch baking dish.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together. Toss the chocolate chips in the flour. This will help them from sinking to the bottom of the baking dish.

Whisk the sugar, cocoa powder, espresso powder together until smooth and lump free. Add eggs and beat until incorporated. Stir in melted butter or oil. Add cocoa nibs or nuts, if using, at this time.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix to combine.

Pour into your prepared baking dish. If you are using a nut butter swirl, make 6-8 dollops on top of the brownie mixture in the pan. Use a butter knife to swirl through.

Bake for 30-35 minutes until just set. Edges will look dry and begin to pull away from the pan. The middle will finish cooking as they cool. Try not to overbake.

Cool completely if you can wait. Use a plastic knife to cut the brownies- this will help with sticking.

Notes on English Muffins

Artisan English muffins are all the rage right now. Every local bakery bakes their own.

Lately I’ve worked on rye bread, croissants, bagels and sourdough country bread. I can’t say it enough, but Tartine Bread is a great tool and reference. It’s now covered in flour and dried up bits of dough. You can buy a copy here: Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson

I decided a while back that I wanted to tackle English muffins. The problem is that Thomas’s are so endeared to the American public that anything less is substandard. That being said, I did not get those perfect “nooks and crannies.” I did get flavorful, crispy English muffins with a few divots for melted butter. They take a couple days, but are really worth the effort.

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You’ll be able to find Tartine’s English muffin recipe in their cookbook, so I will not type it all out here.

The basic recipe:
1. Expand your starter and let that come to life overnight (8 hours minimum).
2. Make a poolish with commercial yeast and flour.
3. Mix the dough accordingly. Give it a long bench rest (rise) and turn the dough with damp hands every few hours in place of a formal kneading.
4. Turn out the dough, give it a brief rest and press into a prepared pan, and let it rise overnight in the fridge.
5. Griddle to cook the English muffins

I’ll give you a step by step run down of what I did differently and an explanation of it all. My mature starter is named Zelda, as in Zelda Fitzgerald, if you wonder to whom I’m referring when you see the name pop up.

1. EXPAND YOUR STARTER- The original has a formula to take a portion out and discard the rest, but I prefer to take what I need out, feed Zelda and set it aside for another job. From there, I expand what I’ve taken. I feed the starter with all organic bread flour. The original recipe calls for expanding the starter with a 50% AP white flour, 50% whole wheat flour blend. Since I take from my starter stash, I can expand whichever dough I making with all bread flour. I refresh Zelda with the blend, though my blend is 50% organic white flour, 25% rye flour and 25% whole wheat. A blend gives your finished product depth of flavor. I use rye flour in my blend and I feel using bread flour for the expand gives it a little extra oomph.

2. MAKE A POOLISH- basically mix the yeast and flour and allow to rest per the recipe.

3. MIXING-
a.  Unlike the recipe, I add the salt during the mixing of the dough. Salt can retard your rise, but I found it easier to do it this way.
b.  After mixing, place your dough in a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Keep it in a warm spot.  The bench rest should take about 4 hours.
c.  You will need to fold your dough intermittently as it rests. Wet your hands with some water before grabbing your dough, it will help prevent sticking. I folded my dough every 40 minutes for the first 2 hours of the bench rest and every hour for the last 2 hours of the bench rest.

*A note on “folding”*
It’s  a simple, less taxing-on-your-forearms method of bread dough prep that requires folding the dough around itself every 30-40 minutes over the course of a 4 hour bench rest. This takes the place of kneading for 10 minutes. Basically you lift the dough and fold it over itself. Gentle folding allows your dough to rise, become structurally sound and create air pockets within the dough that will make those beautiful holes inside your loaf of bread.

4. TURNING OUT THE DOUGH AND PREPARING FOR A GOOD LONG REST-
a. Prepare a large sheet pan. I use a half sheet pan, and I line mine with a silicone mat and generously dusted it with coarse corn meal (polenta grind).
b. Gently remove your dough from the bowl. It will be nice and relaxed. I pre-stretch the dough into a rough rectangle and lay it in the sheet pan. Let your dough relax for 30 minutes.
c. After 30 minutes, press and gently stretch to fit the pan. Make sure it’s an uniform thickness.
d. The original recipe calls for an overnight rise immediately after fitting your dough into the pan. I give mine a 2 hour rise on the counter before placing it in the refrigerator for the night. It might be my fridge and it might be too cold, but I found that I don’t get a good enough result from putting the dough directly into the refrigerator once it’s been placed in the pan. Those 2 hours on the counter gives the dough enough time at room temp to start getting puffy. The slow rise in a cold environment allows the flavors in the dough to develop as well.
e. Remove the dough about 2 hours before you want to cook the muffins. The Tartine recipe advises 30 minutes, but I’ve found that this doesn’t give enough puff to the muffins when they hit the grill, as the dough is still too cold from the fridge to wake up sufficiently. Dan takes dough out when he gets up in the morning, so by the time I haul my butt downstairs, it’s just about ready to go.

5. GRIDDLING- You’ll find many artisanal English muffins to be heavily fried in clarified butter or oil. I am not a fan of this method. First, if they are fried and not eaten within a day or two, the cooking medium can turn rancid and taste bad. Second, the outside of the english muffin gets greasy when its fried. It’s not for me. I’ll load up the butter after toasting.

*A note on cutting your dough*
You will waste quite a bit of dough when you cut out the English muffin rounds. I’ve thought about cutting them into squares, but haven’t gotten that daring yet. We all know that one person who will say “Why’d you do it like that? They are supposed to be round,” instead of complimenting you on your hard work and how delicious the square HOMEMADE English muffins are. Actually, I only thought of it after I threw away a bunch of dough from my last batch.

Anywho… Have a cooling rack ready. Preheat a non stick griddle to 400. Give it a swipe with a paper towel dipped in vegetable oil- just barely enough to a little extra “prevent sticking” insurance. Using a nice sharp 3-4 inch biscuit cutter, cut 6 rounds and place them face down onto the griddle (corn meal side up). Allow to cook for 4 minutes. They will puff up and can do so a little unevenly, but that will be fixed when you flip them over. Flip over and cook for another 4 minutes. Lower the heat to 350 if they are browning too quickly.
**if your griddle has hot and cool spots like mine does, rotate the muffins around as they cook to decrease the chance of burning. Allow to cool completely before slicing, toasting and enjoying if you can.

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Homemade Deli style Roasted Turkey Breast

My brother owns an Italian deli and grocery store in the St. Pete, Florida area. There you can get a giant, overstuffed sandwich on homemade bread for a great price. We were talking about making roast beef and turkey in house to set him apart from the competition. I decided to experiment and see what I could come up with.

I chose to begin with turkey as it’s pretty much America’s go to for a sandwich. I’ve had “in store” roasted turkey at other delis or grocery stores, but always find them to be dry and flavorless. I did some research on techniques and recipes because I wanted to replicate what you get in the deli as closely as I could, but without any junk like artificial preservatives or flavors.  I planned to tailor the recipe to what I wanted by using some ideas that I had floating around in my head from reading about charcuterie and curing.

I found a recipe from Bon Appétit’s website, http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/turkey-club-with-herb-mayo, that was very close to what I was looking for. I changed up the flavors for the dry rub and cooking method, which you will find below.  It was a great jumping off point, and I was was happy to find it.

In addition to the turkey breast and dry rub, you’ll need kitchen twine, plastic wrap and aluminum foil.

Herb Roasted Deli Turkey

1- 2 1/2-3 lb boneless turkey breast with the skin on
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
1 teaspoon each: onion powder, garlic powder, dried thyme, dried basil, dried dillweed
1/4 teaspoon dried sage
1 teaspoon sugar

Pat turkey breast dry with paper towels. Cut several lengths of twine which will be used to tie the turkey breast after seasoning. (If you’re an expert butcher, you’ll be able to use a single length of twine to tie up your turkey- I haven’t mastered that yet!)

Mix salt, pepper, dried herbs and sugar together in a small bowl.

Rub the turkey all over with the dry rub. Use all the rub.

Roll the turkey up, making sure the skin is facing outward, and tie. I basically overlapped both ends- envelope style and tied from there.

Wrap the turkey breast tightly in plastic wrap. I used 2 layers to help prevent any juice from leaking out while the turkey breast relaxed in the fridge for a day.

Place the wrapped turkey onto a plate (to catch any liquid that might leak out) and place in the fridge for 24 hrs.

Remove turkey from the refrigerator 30-45 minutes before you want to roast.

Preheat your over to 275 degrees. Prepare a baking sheet by placing a rack in it or use a roasting pan with a rack.

Leaving the plastic wrap on, wrap the turkey in 3 layers of aluminum foil.

Roast the turkey for 1 1/2 – 2 hours. I didn’t want to make a hole in its cocoon with a thermometer as I wanted to keep all the moisture inside.  The turkey will feel firm when it’s cooked through. You can definitely use and instant read thermometer to ensure that the turkey has reached 155 degrees.  It will continue to cook once removed from the oven and will climb to and internal temp of 165.

Remove from the oven and allow the turkey to cool on the counter for about an hour. Place the still fully wrapped turkey breast on a plate and put in the fridge for 12-24 hours. This will allow the juice to reabsorb and keep the turkey juicy.

When ready to use, remove from the fridge and wrap. You can remove the skin at this point if you’d like.  Slice as thinly and use to build your favorite sandwich.

tureky breast

Potato Gnocchi

You’d think gnocchi would be easy to make.  It’s just potatoes, flour, salt and eggs.  Ratios here are important; too much flour and your gnocchi are going to sink to the bottom of your stomach and sit there for a week.  Too little flour and they become a sticky mess.

Good quality, starchy potatoes are a must. Russets are the potato of choice. Organic, even better. Locally grown or from your own garden– YES!!! In any case, russets will give you nice, fluffy, pillowy gnocchi.

You will need a potato ricer to make perfect gnocchi. You could probably use a food mill, but I fear that the potatoes will get too gluey. A ricer is a worthy investment and will see  plenty of action. Use it to make mashed potatoes and you’ll wonder where this tool has been all your life.  And,  you no longer have to peel potatoes.  Cut them in half to boil, place cut side down in the ricer, press into some warm buttermilk and melted butter and your potatoes are ready to be mashed.  But I digress…  I shouldn’t blog when I’m hungry.

I’ve been following Barbara Lynch’s recipe from her cookbook, Stir, to make gnocchi. I’ve made one major modification. She calls for potatoes to be boiled and I bake mine. Boiling will make the potatoes too watery, requiring more flour which again, make leaden gnocchi.  I’ve also bumped up the salt since I bake the potatoes.

To shape the gnocchi, you can use the back of a fork, like an Italian grandma. You could use a gnocchi board, which is a small wooden board with ridges or you could make a dent with your finger after cutting- just so you have a little cup to catch whatever delicious sauce your serving on your gnocchi. (I’m sorry that I didn’t get pics of me shaping the gnocchi, but I’m a one woman show in the kitchen.)

How many times can I say “gnocchi” in this post?

Here’s the recipe:
2 pound of russet potatoes (also known as Idaho or baking potatoes)
9 oz (2 cups) All purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt (if using regular table salt, using a little less)
2 room temperature large eggs

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Prepare a baking sheet by sprinkling with cornmeal or flour.

Bake the potatoes and allow to cool completely. Cut them in half and place half the potato, cut side down in the ricer, and rice onto a piece of parchment paper or mixing bowl. Repeat until all the potatoes are riced.

Add 4.5oz (1 cup) of flour and salt to the potatoes. Toss gently together. Make a well in the center of the potato mixture and add the eggs. Mix. If the mixture is too sticky, add more flour a little at a time, until the dough is slightly sticky. Go easy on the flour. You can add more during the little bit of kneading you will do, if you need it. When it comes together in a shaggy mass, dump out onto a lightly floured board and knead into a ball. Do not over knead. Dough should still be a little sticky.img_4495

Cut the dough in half and cut each half into three pieces. You can cut each third in half if it makes it easier for you to work with.

Roll the first piece into a rope about 1/2 inch thick. Cut the rope in 1 inch sections. Make an indent in each piece with your finger or roll down the gnocchi board or fork. Place gnocchi on prepared baking sheet. Repeat with each piece of dough. Put the baking sheet in the freezer. Once the gnocchi are frozen, you can put them in a freezer bag or other container in the freezer.

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To cook, bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Add the frozen gnocchi and cook for 4-5 minutes or until they are all floating.

Drain. Toss with your favorite sauce and serve.

Family Recipes, Kaminsky edition

Recently I posted a recipe for my mother in law’s tourtière where I talked about family recipes not being very clear or precise. My maternal grandfather was a fairly prolific cook when it came to all things meat. He was always dropping by with a ham or pot roast or a turkey. There was a soup that he and my grandmother made that, until I was older, I didn’t really appreciate. It’s very hearty, stick to your ribs kind of soup. One could almost consider it a stew, it’s that borderline. It’s peasant food- inexpensive to make and you can stretch it from here to kingdom come and feed an army of people, and just what you want to eat after a long, cold day working outside.

I asked my mother over the holidays if she had a recipe for it. She told me to ask my aunt. This proved useless because she said the same thing as my mother. This was the conversation: Me: “Do you know how to make the sauerkraut soup?” Mom & Fran: “It has sauerkraut, potatoes and pork.” Me: “What kind of pork?” Mom & Fran: “I don’t know. It might have bacon, pork shoulder. I think he used pork chops. I haven’t made it in years.”

A couple weeks ago, my mother sent me a picture of a recipe card with the “recipe”. It’s just as vague as the conversation we had about the soup. I should’ve known, but at least there’s something written down.

sauerkraut-soup

“Cook until done.”  Now I know how my husband feels when he asks how much of something to add to a dish.  I usually tell him to add “just enough.” HAHA

So figuring out this recipes is my next challenge. It’s not difficult but I’d like some specifics with regard to a jumping off point for the future. What kinds of pork will I use? Will I add caraway seed? Where’s the right balance between pork and potatoes and sauerkraut? I guess I’ll find out, and let you know.

Browned butter corn muffins

I’m no Southerner.  I like my corn muffins New Jersey diner style, slightly sweet and a little cakey.  Split and griddled in butter to boot.

Most of the corn muffin recipes I’ve come across are too dry, too bland, have too much extra crap in them like frozen corn kernels, canned creamed corn, cheese, jalapeños, etc.  That’s fine for other times, but it wasn’t what I was craving.

I asked for help finding a quality corn muffin recipe, and many suggestions rolled in. I took a look at them and then formulated my plan.

One recipe called for creaming the butter, shortening and sugar like you were baking cookies; but it was closest to what I was looking for.  However, my butter was frozen and I don’t really use vegetable shortening. I decided to go with melted browned butter because browned butter makes everything taste better.

So with the Pixies as my background music this morning, I made muffins.

Corn Muffins

12 tablespoons butter
1 1/4 cups sifted flour
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
*if you can find freshly ground cornmeal at a farmers market, all the better
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup of half & half

Preheat your oven to 400. Line a muffin tin with papers or butter them.

Put your butter in a pot and melt.  Once melted, stir constantly and watch for it to brown.  It will go through stages.  First it will get foamy as the milk solids are rendered, then they will start to caramelize.  Watch the butter closely so you don’t burn it.  Once it’s a nice deep brown, pour butter into a bowl and allow to cool a bit while you prep your other ingredients.

Mix dry ingredients together. Set aside.

Mix wet ingredients together. Pour into dry ingredients, whisking until dry ingredients are just moistened. Don’t overmix, or you’ll get tough not tender muffins.

Divide between the 12 muffin cups.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.

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**You could make one cornbread.  Butter an 8×8 pan, an pour the batter into that.  Baking should still take about 20 minutes.  Alternatively, you can heat a cast iron skillet on the stovetop, toss a chunk of butter into the skillet and pour your cornbread batter into that.  Bake for 15-20 minutes.

Let cool briefly, otherwise muffin papers will stick, and enjoy!

Tourtière, for a French Canadian inspired holiday

This is my mother in law’s, Muriel, recipe. She is renowned all over Lewiston, ME for her “meat pies” which is the local colloquialism for tourtière. Dan (my husband and her son) tells me, they were usually served between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. The pies freeze well, which is great for entertaining because you can pop them in the oven for an hour, and spend time with your guests. Typically pickles or piccalilli are served as the pies are very rich.

Anyone who cooks will find it no surprise that family recipes to be vague in the details of measurements- it’s “a shake of this”, “a handful of that”, but hardly ever 1/4 cup of something.  Learning from watching and helping  your grandmother cook often made specific measurements for ingredients unnecessary, I think. In Muriel’s case, my father in law was her “taster” and she’d add the spices and he’d taste, they’d repeat the process until he gave the ok, then it was properly spiced. Since I don’t have Larry here to guide me, I have to use my own wits and rely on Dan’s tastebuds to make sure that the meat pies taste just so. Ground cloves is one of the spices and if you add too much, it all goes down in flames.

I’ve done my best to try and approximate measurements. Try to use ground pork that is decently marbled. Pork that is too lean will be too dry. I get my pork from a local farm. You can grind it yourself, or ask the butcher at the grocery store, from a pork shoulder, which has a moderate amount of fat.

TOURTIÈRE
(French Canadian Pork Pie, Muriel Nadeau’s recipe)
Makes 4 pies

Need:
4 double pastry crusts
(This recipe is for a top and bottom crust, so make this 4 times. I make them separately because I like to control the portions)
2 cups sifted flour
1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 tsp salt
1/4-1/2 cup ice water

In a food processor or by hand, cut butter into flour and salt. When the butter/flour blend looks like peas, add water 1/4 cup at a time until the dough just comes together. Form into a ball, flatten into a disc and refrigerator until needed.

*Some recipes for pastry crusts call for 2 sticks of butter and less water. I find that the pastry gets too greasy. If you want to up the fat, then you can go with 1-1/2 sticks of butter and cut back the water by half or so, depending on the humidity in your house.

**You can also use vegetable shortening or lard for your crust

Filling:
4 lbs ground pork
4 medium onions, finely chopped
4 medium potatoes, diced
1 cup water
10 saltine crackers, finely crushed
2 tsp salt and 1 tsp pepper
Spice blend:
2 T cinnamon
3 tsp allspice
3/4 tsp ground cloves

Cook pork with onions, salt, pepper and water. Stir frequently to break up the meat, you can use a potato masher. Cover and allow to simmer for about 3 hours.

After 3 hours, add 1-1/2 T of the spice blend. Mix in well and allow to cook, partially covered, for another 1 hours or so, or until most of the liquid has evaporated.

Cook the potatoes and run through a ricer or mash well. Add to the pork mixture, along with the crushed saltines. Taste and add salt, if you feel it needs it.

Put the pork mixture into a large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap.  Refrigerate overnight.

Day 2:

Divide pork mixture into 4 equal portions. I used a food scale and it works out to about 1-1/2 pounds of pork per pie.

Roll out 4 bottom crusts. (I tend to do this one pie at a time to keep the dough as cold as possible because, you know, butter. If you use vegetable shortening, this isn’t much as an issue as it doesn’t need refrigeration.)

Fill each crust with its portion of pork. I use a graduated spatula to smooth out the mixture.

Roll out your top crust. I brush a little water along the edge of the bottom crust to ensure a seal. Trim the crusts, roll under and then crimp the edges.

Brush the top with a beaten egg or cream (milk in a pinch).

Bake at 350 for an hour.

Alternatively, you can freeze the pies before baking. I put them in the freezer until frozen, then wrap in plastic wrap and foil. I find them easier to handle when frozen. Brush with cream or milk and then bake at 350 for an hour and ten minutes.

Enjoy!

Public Service Announcement, know it all edition

This is just a quick post to give you a few ideas for things that I think you need in the kitchen to make your life easier.  Especially since it’s the holiday season and if you can spend less time doing kitchen prep and cleanup, all the better. I love Sur La Table, so I automatically go there when I’m looking for kitchen things, but I also have an addiction to Amazon, which probably requires therapy.

First is the Kuhn Rikon soft edge spatula.  This has to be the greatest spatula I’ve ever owned.  It’s flexible and sturdy, yet the silicone edge is very thin so you can flip an egg without damaging it.  http://www.surlatable.com/product/PRO-2402600/

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Next is a potato ricer.  It doesn’t matter what brand you buy, as long as it has changeable disks and is sturdy.  It’s a must have for perfect mashed potatoes and especially important if you make gnocchi.  I always include one when I buy a gift for a bridal shower or as part of a wedding gift.  http://www.surlatable.com/product/PRO-188104/

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Lastly, parchment paper.  I don’t put anything on a baking sheet without first lining it with parchment.  It makes clean up easy, it helps to prevent burning and it’s non stick.  I have silicone mats that I use as well, but I’ve found that I prefer parchment because you can just toss it out after using, where the silicone mats need to be washed.  Pre cut sheets are convenient because you don’t have to fuss with a roll and they are already flat, so they don’t curl up on you.  http://www.kingarthurflour.com/shop/items/baking-parchment-paper-set-of-100-half-sheets

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Granola, updated

I’ve posted my granola recipe in the past, and it’s been shared near and far. It’s a basic outline for granola and you can pretty much do whatever you want to it.  Add what you like, omit what you don’t- like I will NEVER put coconut in my personal stash.  Try different sweeteners, seeds, nuts, spices. It can be your own personal creation.

I’m posting it again, because it’s a great homemade gift to give someone for the holidays.

I like granola best in big clumps and not where everything is just kind of dry and loose like muesli. I’ve found that using just honey or just maple syrup will give you that flaky “cereal” type of granola, and if you like that, enjoy! I always add a bit of molasses to my granola. It helps everything stick together and you get some nice clumps throughout.

My favorite way to serve it is over traditional vanilla yogurt with fresh berries and fruit.

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GRANOLA
3 cups rolled oats (NOT QUICK COOKING), if you are GF make sure the package says GF
1 cup of nuts, roughly chopped (I like pecans)
1 cup seeds (I like a blend of hemp, chia, flax, pumpkin)
1/2 cup unsweetened, flaked coconut (optional)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 cup molasses
1/2 cup brown rice syrup
(You can use honey, agave or pure maple syrup, and when all else fails, you can use 3/4 cup packed brown sugar)
1/2 cup oil
1 egg white (optional)
2 scoops whey protein powder (optional)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1-2 cups dried fruit- blueberries, raisins, cranberries
1- 12 oz bag of chocolate chips (if you want to make bark)

Preheat your oven to 325. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. This will help prevent burning.

Mix oats, nuts, coconut, seeds and spices in a large bowl. Mix oil, sweetener, egg white, protein powder and vanilla in a small bowl.

Combine the wet ingredients to the dry. Mix well until everything is coated.  Using your hands is best, so if you have plastic gloves now would be the time to slap on a pair.

Spread the mixture onto the baking sheet in an even layer.

Bake for about 20 minutes. Remove pan from the oven and gently mix the granola. I use a spatula to flip over sections, so I can ensure some nice clumps.

Bake for another 20 minutes.

Remove from oven and allow to cool completely.  Pour granola into a large mixing bowl and toss in dried fruit.

Store in an airtight container.

Variation: if you want to make granola bark, add the dried fruit before baking so it is incorporated in the mixture. Once you remove the granola from the oven after 40 minutes, sprinkle the chocolate chips evenly over the top and use a graduated spatula or butter knife to smooth the melted chocolate over the top.  Allow to cool and harden before breaking into large pieces  **You can chop and temper your own chocolate if you do not want to use chocolate chips.

Some fruit, nut and sweetener combos that I like:
Dried cherries, hazelnuts and brown rice syrup
Raisins, walnuts and grade B maple syrup
Mango, macadamia nuts and agave
Cranberries, almonds, honey
Raspberries, pecans, brown sugar

Enjoy!