Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Homemade Granola Bars

(Our granola bars all wrapped up and ready in what has become the official granola bar basket!)

Rating: 5 stars
Prep time: Easy
Source: My friend Stacy

I've been wanting to do homemade granola bars for months, but just couldn't find a recipe I liked the look of. The one that came most highly recommended used an ENTIRE CAN OF SWEETENED CONDENSED MILK to hold it all together. Now, I like sweetened condensed milk as much as the next person (almost as much as Winnie the Pooh), but let me tell you something about the sticky stuff. It has 22 grams of sugar...per tablespoon. So, for obvious reasons, I opted against that recipe. When I found this granola bar recipe on my friend's blog, I was so excited. I made it for the first time last week, and we're already on our second batch! These make great take-along snacks for class/work/gym/errand-running/whatever. They're also delicious for breakfast. And unlike the sweetened condensed milk recipe, these granola bars only have roughly 10 grams of sugar per bar (if you cut them into 15 squares like I do).

1/4 cup sugar (I prefer brown)
1/4 cup maple syrup (I'd also like to try molasses, since I don't have real maple syrup and my fake stuff isn't very healthy!)
1/4 cup honey
2 T peanut butter
1 egg
1 T milk
1 t vanilla
1 cup wheat flour
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t allspice (I use nutmeg because I have no allspice; it gives my bars a nice autumnal flavor!)
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 1/2 cups rice krispie cereal
1/3 cup chocolate chips (I like to chop mine up a bit so that the chocolate is more evenly distributed.... you could also use mini chocolate chips) - The chocolate is technically optional, but what's a granola bar without a little chocolate?

Anything else you want—dried fruit, nuts, seeds, etc. I typically use a mix of sunflower, pumpkin, and flax seeds.

Preheat oven to 350. In large bowl, combine first seven ingredients and mix well. In smaller bowl, combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and allspice/nutmeg. If you're lazy like me and don't want to use two bowls, here's my cheat: I pour the flour on top of the wet mix in one corner, and then add the soda and spices on top of the flour. I gently mix all the dry things in without incorporating the wet mix, so that the soda and spices are mostly blended through the flour. Then I integrate it all together. Pour dry mix into wet mix and stir to combine. Add oats, cereal, chocolate, and extras. Mix well. Press into greased 9x13 pan and, using a sharp knife, cut into 15 squares. Cook for 18-20 minutes (in my oven it's exactly 18). If your oven is cheap like mine and cooks unevenly, you might want to turn the pan halfway through cooking so that the bars are evenly cooked and not overdone on one side. Granola bars will look light brown and toasted when they're ready. They'll still be very soft while they're hot, so don't take that as a sign that they need more cooking! Let cool completely in pan. Once bars are cool, re-cut along the lines you put in at the beginning and wrap individual bars in plastic wrap. Enjoy! Try not to eat them too quickly....

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Whole Wheat Crackers

Rating: 5 stars
Prep time: Easy

One of my favorite snacks of all time is saltine crackers with cheese and some fruit. I don't usually buy crackers, though—they're cheap, but even cheap things add up, and they're so not good for you! I never seem to be able to justify spending a few dollars on totally empty calories. However, I'm trying to work on having more quick snack-friendly foods in my house, and so I decided to take a shot at making my own crackers. There are tons of basic recipes floating around on the internet. This is the one I used—it's super easy and very customizable. You can add herbs for a savory snack, or honey or sugar for a sweeter cracker. I also want to try adding some parmesan cheese sometime. The options are endless! I put sesame seeds on top of mine, because I love sesame seed crackers, but next time I would add them in the beginning with the flour because they do have a tendency to fall off the dough! 

1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups white unbleached* flour
3/4 t salt
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2/3-3/4 cup water
Salt for sprinkling
Other desired herbs or spices

Preheat oven to 350. In medium bowl, mix flours and salt. Mix in oil and water with wooden spoon. I found that after the oil and water were mostly integrated, it was easiest to use my hands to knead the rest of the dough together. Knead for a minute or two; dough should be supple but not sticky or wet to the touch.

Divide into 3 sections. On lightly floured surface, roll dough out as thinly as possible. Transfer to cookie sheet (it sounds difficult, but it was actually pretty easy to pick the dough up and slide it onto a sheet). Repeat with other two balls. If you don't have three cookie sheets, you can do them in batches in the oven. Using a fork, prick a few holes in each cracker.

Using pizza cutter or pastry roller, score or cut crackers (my original recipe said just to score them, but I honestly didn't think it made any difference whatsoever) into desired shapes. I just did squares and rectangles this time, but you could also use a cup to cut round crackers—next time I have to do a snack plate for a party, that's my plan! Sprinkle salt over dough. Bake for 10-15 minutes; when the outside edges of the dough start to turn golden, your crackers are done. The longer they bake, the drier they will be; we thought that the best time was when just the edges were golden, so the crackers in the center were still a little more moist (but crunchy). Let cool. If you scored before baking instead of cutting, break crackers along scored edges. Enjoy! They are delicious with cheese and like I said, this recipe is VERY customizable.

*This recipe is fine for bleached flour too. I always use unbleached because it's typically the same price, contains more of the wheat protein, and doesn't have as many harmful additives. 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Chiles Rellenos

Rating: 5 stars
Prep time: Easy

I had this meal this summer in Utah and loved it! I knew Mahon would like it too, so once I got back I made it for him. We've now had it a few times, and I can tell it is one that will become a favorite in our rotation!

Crock pot roast
Mild long green peppers, such as Anaheim or banana (the larger the better)
1 egg
1 T flour
Monterey Jack, Mozarella, or Parmesan cheese
Oil for sauteeing

In crock pot, cook roast according to your crock pot's settings with about 1/4-1/2 cup water and your desired blend of Mexican-esque spices. When roast is well-done and falling apart, shred and set aside. In bowl, combine egg and flour. Wash peppers and slice off tops and bottoms. Slice down the middle to open them, and remove seeds and membranes. Fill peppers with shredded beef and cheese (stuff them as full as possible, but not to the point where the stuff is falling out, or it will make your life harder during the next step). Heat skillet to medium-high and drizzle with oil or butter. With pastry brush, coat outside of peppers with egg mixture. Place in hot pan and fry until egg is cooked and pepper is tender (1-2 minutes). Transfer peppers to baking dish and sprinkle with more cheese. Broil for 3-5 minutes, or until cheese starts to brown. Enjoy! We had this tonight for dinner along with roasted chickpeas and apples and let me tell you, we were licking our plates!

Cindy's Fresh Pasta

Rating: 5 stars... we make it every week or two!
Prep time: Medium-hard (if you have a pasta machine it would be a lot easier)

I love pasta, and I love cooking, so it was only a matter of time before I tried making my own pasta, right? It is a HUGE hit with us—it's become one of our regular meals and we have it every week or two. I almost always serve it with a simplified version of the cream sauce from this recipe. The homemade pasta with that sauce is hearty enough that I usually just serve it with that and veggies on the side. Fresh pasta definitely takes more time and effort than store-bought, but the taste is so unbeatable!!! We make a huge batch and it never lasts more than 2 meals!

5 regular eggs
3 1/2 cups flour (I do at least half whole-wheat, it's so much yummier!)
Dash of salt
Olive oil

In bowl of stand mixer* with dough hook attachment, combine eggs, flour, and salt. Let mix on low speed until everything is integrated. At this point you will start to have a dough ball forming on your hook, but it will be fairly dry/crumbly and there will be a lot of crumbs left in the bottom of the bowl. Slowly drizzle olive oil in until a lot of the crumbs are moistened and integrated into the dough ball (I usually end up with about 2 tsp olive oil). If you don't want olive oil (which enhances the flavor), just use water. Let mix for another moment to get the olive oil worked into the dough. There will still be a few crumbs in the bottom of your bowl and your dough will still be fairly dry. SLOWLY (you don't want much water) drizzle water into bowl ONLY until the rest of the crumbs are moistened and integrated into the dough bowl (it usually works best to drizzle a little water, wait a few minutes, add a bit more, etc.—if you get too much water, your dough will be very sticky and tough to roll out). If you do end up with too much water and sticky dough, add a tablespoon or two extra flour and let it integrate into your dough ball. You are going for a dough that is not at all sticky—it should be sticking together, but fairly dry to the touch. If you don't get this right the first time, don't worry; it took me a few times to figure out the right consistency for the dough. 

Once everything is added, allow the dough to knead in your mixer for about 5 minutes. Once it is done kneading, remove the dough and wrap in plastic wrap. Let rest at room temperature for at least 20 minutes (if you skip this step, your pasta won't work). After dough has rested, fill the biggest pot you have with salted water and start bringing it to a boil. On lightly floured surface, roll dough as thin as you can get (if you have a pasta maker, great, use it!). It's tough to get this really thin by hand, especially if you add wheat flour. Ours is usually pretty, um, robust. ;) Using a pizza cutter or pastry wheel, cut pasta into desired shape (because our dough is fairly thick, like I said, I usually try to cut it into very thin strips). Do not let your strands drape over each other, or they will start to stick and mold together. We usually will divide the dough into 2 portions and roll it out on 2 separate surfaces, and just leave the noodles flat until we're ready to put them in the pot. When your water is ready, gently lift your cut noodles (a flat plastic spatula or pastry scraper can be helpful if they are stuck to your rolling surface) and toss into water. They will float to the top fairly quickly, so I find it helpful to stir the pot often to make sure noodles boil evenly. The boiling time will depend on the thickness of your noodles; ours usually take 6-10 minutes. I test the noodles frequently. When they are cooked through to your satisfaction, strain them and add to sauce. We usually put half of the noodles in cream sauce to eat that night and the next day for lunch, and drizzle the rest of the noodles with olive oil (to keep them from sticking to each other) and put in the fridge for a meal in the next few days. Depending on how hungry we are, this recipe usually provides enough pasta for 2 meals (including leftovers). I won't lie, though, when we make this, we eat a ton—it's delicious! It definitely is a more time-intensive meal, but on a day when you can spare a few extra minutes in the kitchen, it is SO worth it. We make this meal as a team—I try to get the pasta dough all put together and resting by the time Mahon gets home from work, then he rolls it out and I cut it.

*If you don't have a mixer: Pour flour out in a mound on a clean countertop. Create a well in the center of flour; add eggs and salt. With your hands, slowly work the flour into the eggs (starting from the inside of the well and working your way outward). Once everything is combined, add a little bit of olive oil and/or water to help dough hold together (without getting sticky). Knead dough for 10 minutes, cover with plastic, and let rest 20 minutes.