Great Gosh and Galore! Granola Bars!

My days are long. I often leave the house early and come home after 9 PM. Long live academia and the pursuit of excellence! And because I have a strong opposition to paying for food when I could make it for the half the price and better at home, I have to pack a selection of treats to get me through the day. I don't always bring two meals, lunch and dinner, but one for sure. However, I worry more about the in between moments. It's a bad situation to find yourself slumping and drooping among the stacks on the fifth floor at the library into the I'm so hungry I can't function and my eyes are crossing and I wish I had a granola bar or something! mode.

I've been bringing little jars filled with raisins, almonds and chocolate chips. That really does the trick, but then while perusing the Smitten Kitchen's website, I found these tasty little buggers, among other enthusiastically concocted recipes for all occasions.

Granola Bars

adapted from "the Smitten Kitchen"

In order to get a really firm, substantial bar, you need to pack the mixture into the pan so they stick together. Even then, mine were a little on the tender side. These need to cool for 3-4 hours before you cut them. That way they have enough chance to harden. I left mine over night and cut them in the morning. Deb recommends keeping them in the freezer, and I followed her advice, but I left some on the counter in a plastic container and they can hold their ground. So put a couple in your lunch, take your break outside, watch this spectacularly fascinating world go by and enjoy the last few warm days before the leaves begin to really fall.

This recipe makes 12 big bars. It is a SNACK after all.

2 C rolled oats
1 C chopped nuts
1 C shredded coconut (unsweetened)
1/2 C sesame seeds
2/3 C honey
2/3 C peanut butter
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 C chopped dried fruit (I used cranberries and apricots, small luxury items I know)

- preheat the oven to 350
- put oats, nuts, coconut and sesame seeds on a large baking sheet with sides and roast until golden and fragrant
- pour this mixture into a bowl, add honey, peanut butter, vanilla, salt and fruit. It's important to add the honey and peanut butter on top of the warm oats so that it melts a little and will mix together well.
- PRESS into a WELL GREASED 9X12 pan (or whatever you have around) and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown on top.

* These are the first bars I've ever made and they held together pretty well. One pan was crumblier than the other, so I ate the crumbly bits with yogurt for breakfast. But I'd claim them a success.

* I've also heard that using condensed milk is a great way to help them stick together. For another day I suppose!

- murph

I've Just Gotta Say

Jif natural peanut butter is wonderful. No, they are not paying me - but if they'd like to, I will gladly accept.

For whatever reason Matt and I decided we could splurge on brand name peanut butter this month (vs. the store brand). And damn. I'd forgotten just how good it could be.

The Soup's Gotta Settle.

For some reason I got it in my head that white bean soup would be the perfect ode to late summer. And I also happened for find white beans for an obscenely low price at the dollar store.

So I soaked those old, discounted beans for TWO DAYS. Plumped and primed, I set them to simmer in homemade chicken stock with bay leaf.

A few hours later, with beans that were still hard, I began to fret. I added the sauteed leeks and spring onion that I'd prepared and prayed that the beans would hit their softening point.

After another hour and a half, my beans were edible, but not what they should be. But it was late and we needed to eat so Matt and I endured. I added corn cut directly from the cob (which had been steamed and frozen for about a month) and chunks of a baby zucchini. I also added generous amounts of salt and pepper.

The soup was dissatisfying. Bland, too hot, and the beans, were, well, sub-par. Matt politely ate his bowl of soup and told me it was good. I gave him the ubiquitous you're-only-saying-that-because-you-love-me face and he protested and fussed for a bit to make me feel better and then set about doing the dishes.

I put the left over soup in containers, dismayed that I had so much left of what I considered to be a disaster.

Fast forward two days. I force myself to eat a bowl of blah bean soup, believing that it is getting no better with age. I microwave a bowl for myself and fix some foccacia toast, knowing that I am going to need something satisfying to make the whole lunch endeavor worthwhile. But behold - that bean soup had completely transformed while interned in Tupperware. The beans and sufficiently absorbed flavor and moisture, the leek flavor glowed through the surrounding veg, and the corn and zucchini had sustained their fresh summer crunch and color. It turned out to be not only a satisfying lunch, but an excellent ego stroke. My soup WAS good. It just needed a little time to get comfortable.

Two Day Bean Soup
1 cup dried white beans
2 cups chicken stock
1 bay leaf
2 tbsp. butter
1 leek
1 spring onion
1 small zucchini
2 cooked cobs of corn
salt and pepper

Despite the strife I experienced with this soup, it is truly simple with a little forethought. Rinse and sort through beans. Soak over night, if needed (the older the beans, the more likely they need to be soaked). When ready to cook, drain beans of soaking liquid, and cover with chicken stock. Add bay leaf and bring to a brisk boil for two minutes, then reduce to a simmer. Cook beans in this manner for 1 to 2 hours, testing frequently until beans are soft. In the mean time, slice the leek and onion, sautee both in butter until soft and translucent. When beans are soft, add leek and onion. Cut corn kernels from cob, and dice zucchini. Add corn and zucchini to soup, continue cooking for just a few moments. Remove soup from heat, salt and pepper liberally, and allow to cool. Store soup in fridge for AT LEAST ONE DAY before serving.

My White-Westinghouse

I thought she was broken. The bottom element in the oven didn't work, the lights under the temperature dial flickered and I had no idea whether it was preheating or heated or going to start heating. I tried everything: switching the fuses, taking off the back panel, checking the element for burned charred bits, researching oven care on the internet, phoning many different companies and trying to make my situation comprehensible in French. Finally, I broke down and called a technician.

He came this afternoon: a skinny man wearing a baseball cap, a denim shirt and jeans. He had a long pony-tail dangling down his back, a slight swagger, smelled of cigarettes and was chewing a toothpick. I explained my problem, he punched a couple of dials and took off his glasses, peered through them at the window, inspecting for dirt smudges (he continued to do this throughout his visit, as well as call me petite mademoiselle, which I found rather hilarious). A minute later, he opened the oven door and there I saw the bottom element burning bright orange. What! I cried. Of course it was something so simple... Turns out, that on this particular model you can set your oven to turn on at a certain time and then turn off. This is called the automatic setting. Somehow, I had punched in the stop dial so that both the start and stop were punched in. Every time I turned the oven on, the current went first from the fuse, through the faulty timers and then to the
thermometer, causing the entire thing to run helter-skelter.

The fun didn't stop when I had no cash (checks are more expensive to process), so I hopped into the repair guy's little pickup truck and we went to the nearest bank, all the while him exuberantly telling me about some guy whose freezer was completely filled with ice and some Italian guy who had taken apart his washer in order to help save time and money, but obviously it just cost him more money in the end. Imagine the things you would see going into people's homes like that! I took out the $45 bucks it cost me to watch him punch in a dial, returned to the truck, gave him the money and he took me home, still going on and on about various clients he'd visited, smoking a cigarette and BLASTING classic rock. I sat there catching 3/4 of what he said in his twangy Quebecois accent, grinning and wondering how on earth the day ended up bringing me into this situation.


Ratatouille, a beret and a new beginning

During my first few days in my new apartment, devoid of the Internet, I reread some of Molly's "Homemade Life". There, a simple little recipe for ratatouille caught my eye. The next time I was at the market I picked out tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, garlic, onion and some fresh herbs. When the right time came, I sliced up my zucchini into thick rounds, covered them with olive oil and slid the pan into a 400 degree oven. I sauteed the zucchini until it was just slightly undercooked. I fried the onion until golden, added the garlic and then the chopped tomatoes. I added the cooked zucchini, the eggplant that I chopped up when it came out of the oven, and fresh thyme and oregano (but I could have added a bay leaf and some basil). I simmered my pot of Provencal delicacy for 15 minutes while cooking some quinoa. I fried an egg. I spooned the quinoa into a bowl. I spooned ratatouille on top. I slid my fried egg and broke the yoke with my fork. I ate the comforting dish with lip-licking relish.

I ate ratatouille for four days. It was spectacularly satisfing each time, and super easy. Just cook the veggies separately and then you won't end up with one huge mushy combination for a meal at the end.
Who knows what I'll eat for dinner tomorrow? Or lunch for that matter. Breakfast? There's
painting to be done, furniture to buy, an oven element to fix; I have no silverware, no chest of drawers; there are papers strewn all over the counters, I feel a little fuzzy-eyed; but, I'm home.

- murph

PS Tonight, the night of the last meal, I had toast under the ratatouille, with a bit of left-over broccoli sauteed in olive and balsamic vinegar on top.

Done like a Finn.

Last night I wandered around our local ghetto grocery store for about an hour trying to decide what treat I wanted. For a while I had both Cheez-its and Frosted Circus Animal cookies in my basket. But the guilt of spending money on treats + the guilt of missing my swim twice last week caused me to put both back, and leave the store with lemons, half & half, and salted butter.

When I got home I made my self a cup of cocoa to kick the chocolate craving and set to work on a Finn cake, Omena Sokerikakku, which literally translates to Apple Sugar Cake. I'd been thinking about Finnish apple pastry because apples are just popping on Minnesota at the moment. Next week will be the arrival of the coveted "Honeycrisp."I came home with a big bag of apple "seconds" from a vendor and knew that at least a few were going to meet a very Finny end.

My Grandma Pat used to make an apple Finn pastry when sis and I would visit in the summers. It had sliced apples lined the bottom of a 9x12 pan and then the top was covered in dough. I remember really loving it, and sitting on a tall stool to help make it.

It was my hope that Omena Sokerikakku would come out similar to this, but it didn't. In fact I over cooked it so badly I am not even going to share the recipe. But the process of making it, whisking the butter and sugar until light, slicing and arranging the apples, was more satiating then any Frosted Circus Animal cookie could have been.

Finding time to eat.....

Now I have a fridge in my apartment, and a stove. They're plugged in. They work. I cooked eggs this morning. Sunny side up. Except that they weren't so sunny, more like a total disaster of overcookedness. Turns out I don't have a spatula or hot pads. And since I have gone to the hardware store so many times they know my name, I was quite dismayed to discover I'm still missing dish soap, paper towels, scrubbers, and a supply of toilet paper. There's dust all over the floor. The walls are dirty and unpainted. You can't really walk anywhere in the living room because the floor is covered in coat hangers, shoes, books, dirty clothes, newspapers, bubble wrap etc. I have very little furniture to my name.

One thing we can be sure of is that I have A LOT of cookbooks for a single 23 year-old lady. Not 50, but at least 20, plus my small collection of food magazines. And in a couple days the kitchen will be painted and I can buy some lovely simple things like rock fish, green beans, corn and potatoes, cook it all up, make a little chile sauce for the corn, sit down, and breathe . Because when I don't, life is an endless stream of adrenaline; I lose myself in a whirlwind world of madness. I like getting things done, fast, efficiently. But I think I could use a bit more time, right now, to eat.

1 Chicken, 1 Week, 6 ways

Last Sunday night I roasted my first whole chicken. Full of zeal I tried to talk Matt into letting me cook it in a salt crust, which he quickly dismissed ("7lbs. of rock salt? No.") . I called Dad to pout, and he supported Matt. Apparently salt crusted chicken is not the best route for your first crack at cooking a whole bird. But someday, someday.

So I rubbed butter and oil and garlic and salt and pepper and lemon and fresh oregano and rosemary all over and in and up on my chicken. It was exhilarating to just go at that bird - I felt pretty empowered actually. I sat it on a baking rack in a broiler pan (dreaming of a Le Cruset dutch oven mind you) and cooked it at 400.

When the chicken came out of the oven roughly one and half hours later, Matt and I just stared at it. We were speechless. And I don't know what it is about a whole roast chicken, but you just immediately start picking at it. Before we knew it, the two of us were eating dinner standing up. Forget plates. We ate with our hands.

After the first night of chicken feeding frenzy I managed to work that chicken into 5 other variations; drumsticks with biscuits and beans, grilled BBQ and onion sandwiches, Chinese chicken salad, chicken wings with cheddar beer bread, and stock. If that isn't food economy people, I don't know what is. 1 Chicken basically fed the two of us for a week. And when you are living on an academic stipend that is what we call suh-uh-weet.

Grilled BBQ & Onion Sandwiches
2 thick slices of favorite sandwich bread
1/4 of an onion sliced thin
Chicken meat tossed in BBQ sauce
Cheese (if desired)

Melt a small pat of butter in a fry pan over medium heat. When melted, add sliced onions. Cook onions until they are soft and a little charred. Remove from heat.
Assemble sandwich as desired (bacon is a good addition also). Butter both sides of bread.

Chinese Chicken Salad
a Maki family favorite.

1/2 head of cabbage
1 package Raman
cooking oil
chopped chicken (about 1 1/2 cups)
diced scallion
1/4 cup sliced almonds
rice wine vinegar
soy sauce
sesame oil
1 tsp. white sugar

Break up the Raman noodles in the package. Add a splash of cooking oil to a large skillet over medium heat. Empty Raman noodles into skillet, careful to collect and discard seasoning packet. Fry noodles until golden brown. Drain on paper towel.

Arrange almonds on baking sheet and toast in 350 degree oven for 5 minutes or until golden brown. This happens very fast. If you can smell them, it's time to take them out.

Slice cabbage into thin long strips. Toss cabbage in large bowl with chicken, diced scallion, prepared Raman noodles & almonds. In a smaller bowl add 2 tbsp each soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, and sesame oil. Add a tsp. of white sugar. Whisk together with a fork and adjust for personal taste.

This is good right away but better if you let it sit for a few hours...and even better the next day for lunch.