I love me some Granola

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My morning meal usually consists of coffee, juice, yogurt, and granola.  Like I could eat that stuff every single day.

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Until now, I’ve been buying our granola, but it’s quite expensive for the amount you get and it’s full of all sorts of weird additives and the like that I don’t really want to put in my system.

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My mother used to make granola for us sometimes when we were kids, so I figured that I could probably do it myself if I tried.  And it’s easy.  And you can use what you’ve got in your cupboards, or what you can scoop up at the bulk food store.  Which means you can customize each batch.

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So preheat your oven to 350°F and get out a large rimmed baking sheet.  I took the precaution of lining mine with parchment paper, so stuff wouldn’t stick.

The majority of granolas start with a base of oats, about 4 cups.  I used four double handfuls, because I measured my tiny hands once and put together that’s about what they hold.  And thus ends my list of measurements for this recipe.  Because you can do whatever you want.  So what else have I got going on here?  In addition to the oats, I have bran, ground flax, shredded coconut, sliced almonds, nutmeg, cinnamon, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, lavender flowers (yes), and then a selection of dried fruits: apricots, mango, and raisins.

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Take all your happy dry ingredients (minus the fruits) and plop them in a bowl.

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Mix ’em up.

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In another bowl, add about 1/2 cup runny honey,

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about 1/2 cup maple syrup,

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and about 1/2 cup melted butter.

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*** EDIT: If you’d like granola that forms clumps (and that’s my favourite kind), whisk 1 or 2 egg whites into a froth and add them to the mixture as well.  The protein in the whites will stick everything together during the baking process.  Just use caution when stirring mid-bake, as the amount you stir will affect the size of the clumps you create. ***

Pour that golden loveliness into the dry mixture and stir until all the dry ingredients are coated.

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Spread that stuff out on your baking sheet and chuck that in the oven for about 40 minutes.

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Make sure to stir with a spatula every 10-15 minutes or so to keep the stuff on the bottom from burning.

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While that’s on the go, get your dried fruit ready. I chopped up the apricots and mango slices a little to make them easier to get on a spoon.

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Remove from the oven and let it cool in the pan, stirring it occasionally to break up the chunks.  The finer grained your ingredients are, and the more sticky wet ingredients you use, the chunkier your granola will be.

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While it’s still a little warm, stir in your dried fruit.

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Store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks, and enjoy whenever you want!

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I caved for Kale Chips

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Yup.  I’m behind the times on this one, I know.  Wayyyy behind.  You are all probably like, kale chips?  Been there, done that, b’y! (although probably without the “b’y” part, unless you’re in Newfoundland).

Thing is, kale is something you can get locally grown here.  Other thing is, it comes in a huge 5kg bag.  Having not tried this dark green super food before, the Pie and I were a little leery of purchasing such a huge amount of it at once.  Then recently I saw these wee bunches of a frizzy kind of kale that were just the right size for two people.  I could finally see what all the fuss was about.

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Start by preheating your oven to 350°F.

Wash the kale well (as you should with any vegetable — it’s amazing what can get stuck in those leafy greens).  You want the kale to be as dry as possible.  If you have a salad spinner, give it a whaz in that for a while and see how that goes.  My kale was pretty rigid so I gave it a hefty shake and then bashed it against a tea towel for a while until I’d shaken most of the water drops off.

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Now you want to cut or tear your kale into chip-sized pieces.  The stems on mine were pretty tough so I make sure to get rid of that.

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Lay your pieces out on a baking sheet in a single layer and drizzle with a few tablespoons of olive oil.  Because I’m lazy (and I care about accuracy), I used my Misto oil sprayer, which pressurizes your own brand of oil and lets you spray it like an aerosol, minus all the gross things that come with aerosols.

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This allowed me to get a thin layer of oil on every leaf, rather than huge gobs somewhere and none somewhere else.  Anyway, then you use your fingers to massage the oil into the surface of every leaf.  If it’s not covered with oil it won’t get as crispy when you bake it.

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Sprinkle with salt and pepper (though less salt than you’d think, as kale is naturally a bit salty), or with any other toppings you like, such as cumin, chipotle, or even cheese, and toss, making sure the leaves are once again in a single layer.

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Bake for about 8-12 minutes, checking to make sure the leaves aren’t burning.  The cooked leaves are dark, even slightly brownish, and crisp like chips.  Allow them to cool (or don’t) and crunch away on this easy peasy snack!

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Sweet Potato Fries

Sweet Potato Fries

In trying to adapt to a new routine (in our case, to the start of a new school semester), it’s easy to get lazy about your cooking.  Fortunately (because I’m me), when I cook I do it in large batches and I freeze what I don’t use.  So on nights when we’re feeling lazy we can simply unfreeze some pre-prepared goodness rather than buying something quick at the store.

In this particular situation we hauled out some beef burgers I’d frozen the week before.  But what to go on the side?  How about some sweet potato fries?  That sounds like a good plan.  Baked instead of fried, of course, but you get the idea.

Preheat your oven to 425°F.

Peel yourself some sweet potatoes (we used 4, but it depends on the size of the potato and the amount of fries you want).  These are also known as yams in some parts of the United States, but it gets a little confusing

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Chop the potatoes up into thin sticks (y’know, French fry-shaped pieces), and pop them in boiling water for 5-6 minutes to par-boil.  If you like your fries a little crispier, I wouldn’t bother to par-boil them.

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Drain them and toss them in a greased roasting pan or baking sheet.  Sprinkle evenly with salt and pepper and a little bit of cajun seasoning.

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Bake for 20-25 minutes, flipping with a spatula halfway through.  The “fries” should be crispy on the outside and tender on the inside.  Enjoy!

Sweet Potato Fries

Crispy Won Ton Crackers

Add a touch of the fancy to a regular meal by whipping up these super-easy crackers as an accompaniment.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and preheat your oven to 400°F.

Get yourself a package of won ton wrappers.  You could probably use round dumpling wrappers as well, but I haven’t tried those.  Separate each wrapper and brush both sides with melted butter, using a pastry brush.  If you want to be slightly healthier you can use vegetable oil, but I like the darkness the butter creates.  Place those suckers on your baking sheet.  Don’t fret if they don’t lie flat — they’re going to curl anyway.

Sprinkle the wrappers with salt and pepper.  I added a bit of premixed Tex-Mex spice for flava.  You could probably do a sweet version of these with brown sugar and cinnamon too.

Bake for 5-10 minutes, until the wrappers are crisp and full of bubbles, and they’re as dark and toasty as you want them to be.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool and then serve.

CRUNCH!

Spy Tarts

Secret AGENT Tarts, Secret AGENT Tarts, he’s givin’ you a number, and takin’ AWAY your name …

Baking is much more exciting if your recipes come from a spy, like this one did.

I have a friend who works for CSIS, which is the Canadian equivalent of the CIA (likewise, our RCMP is the FBI).  And like all good spies, he is multi-talented, and thus has a very good recipe for butter pecan tarts. Or butter tarts.  Or raisin tarts.  Or whatever you call them.  I call them SPY TARTS.  I had to call him at work to get this recipe.  Espionage was involved.

(I also applied to work at CSIS a few years ago, and after a very entertaining 3-hour interview, both CSIS and I decided we wouldn’t be a good fit, though I’m sure they kept that file on me somewhere.  I must be too awesome to be a spy.)

So here is your top-secret recipe.  It’s top secret because it’s super easy.

At some point I will expand my repertoire to include pastry, but at the moment you will just have to be satisfied with pre-made Tenderflake tartlet shells.  This recipe makes 12 3″ tarts.

Preheat your oven to 425°F.

Gather together the following:

1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup
1/4 cup shortening
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup raisins
Divide the raisins evenly among the 12 pre-made shells and place them on a baking sheet.
Mix all the other ingredients together in a bowl.
Fill each shell 3/4 full.
If you have mixture left over do not be tempted to overfill your cups, as they will bubble and get everywhere.
Bake on the bottom rack of your oven for 12-15 minutes.  Be careful not to overbake.  Of course if you underbake then they will stay runny. 
Remove from oven.  They should be all foamy and bubbling and the crust should be a nice brown.  Place a pecan half on top of each tart and allow to cool and solidify.  The reason I put the pecans on after they are cooked is I find that the pecans tend to burn if you do it before cooking.
EAT!

Roasting Red Peppers

Roasting your own red peppers is super easy, and it fills the house with the most amazing aromas.

Set your oven to broil (that’s when the burner on the roof of the oven goes instead of the bottom one).

I am used to roasting my peppers whole and then dealing with all the nonsense of soggy seeds later, but my mother showed me a new trick that makes doing it even easier.  She seeds and chops the peppers first, then bends the pieces so that they lie flatter against the baking sheet.  You can spray the sheet as well if you are concerned about sticking.Roast the peppers for about twenty minutes (depending on the heat of your broiler), or until the skins are bubbled and blackened.Before they have a chance to cool, chuck the whole lot into a brown paper bag and roll it up.  This will allow the steam from the hot peppers to ease off their own skins.Once the peppers have cooled, rip open the bag and peel off the skins, easy peasy.

Artisanry: Lean Bread

This is the first recipe in Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Every Day (page 46), and my first adventure in fancy bread.  Artisanal bread recipes are intensive, for sure, but the process is pretty simple.  There are many tiny instructions, but I think with practice all that stuff becomes second nature.  It’s more about timing, and having the patience to leave your dough overnight for fermenting purposes.  I plan to do this particular recipe a couple of times so that I can get it right before I move on to the next one.  This post is epically long, and for that I apologise.  But good bread comes out of it so it’s worth the time it takes to read.

DAY ONE:

Mixing Ingredients

Combine, in a mixing bowl or in the bowl of your mixer, 5 1/3 cups unbleached bread flour, 2 teaspoons table salt or 1 tablespoon kosher salt, 2 teaspoons instant yeast, and 2 1/4 cups lukewarm water.  Kosher salt doesn’t have any anti-clumping agents in it, so it is quite different in consistency and size from table salt or even sea salt.  Also, Mr. Reinhart recommends using instant yeast because then you get the fermenting action started right away.

Stir or mix on the lowest speed setting for 2 minutes or until well-blended.  I found that it all sort of clumped around my paddle and I had to remove it and start again before it took over the world. 

The dough should be, as Mr. Reinhart says, “very soft, sticky, coarse, and shaggy, but still doughlike.”  Whatever that means.

Use a wet spatula to scrape the dough into a clean, lightly oiled bowl.  Let it rest there for 5 minutes.  It should be soft enough to spread out over the bottom of the bowl.  Mine, of course, didn’t.  I think the wrangling with the paddle in the mixer made it a bit tougher.

Stretching and Folding Dough

Once the five minutes is up you get to do some more fun wrangling. Put your dough on a slightly oiled surface.  With wet or slightly oiled fingers, grab the front edge, stretch it out, and fold it over top of the rest of the dough.  Now grab the back edge and do the same, then again with both sides.  Finally, flip the dough over and bundle it into a ball.  Put it back in the lightly oiled bowl and cover it with plastic wrap for ten minutes.

Repeat this stretching step three more times, every ten minutes.  You should get all your stretching out within forty to forty-five minutes.

Using my tripod I’ve taken pictures of most of the whole process, just to show you the mechanics of the whole thing and also the changing texture of the dough as it gets stretched.  The way Mr. Reinhart puts it, it’s like you’re aligning the gluten molecules through stretching, in the same way that iron atoms align along their poles when a magnet is created.

Excuse my scary scarred and disfigured hands.  They’re really not that weird-looking in real life – my hands are just not very photogenic.  Also, that stuff?  On my pants?  It’s paint.  I swear.  Those are my painting pants.  What, it’s a Saturday.  I’m allowed to be lax in my dress.  You should be glad you didn’t see my bedhead.

Mouse over the photos to see where we are in the stretching process.  Below is the second round of stretching.

You can see that the dough is already smoother than it was to begin with.  On to the third stretching round.After the third rest you can see that it’s already significantly larger than it used to be.  I also felt some bubbles in the dough that indicated the fermentation process had already begun.  I hoped that popping them in the course of my machinations wasn’t to the bread’s detriment.

Fermenting Overnight

After the final stretch I tucked the dough into a ball and put it in a larger, lightly oiled bowl.

Immediately cover the bowl with plastic wrap (to keep in the moisture) and chuck it in the refrigerator to ferment overnight or up to 4 days.

If you are planning on making loaves over the course of many days, this would be the point at which you could separate your dough into separate bowls for separate fermentation.  I’m doing it all at once so it all goes in at once.

DAY TWO:

Take your dough out of the fridge at least two hours before you want to bake.  Holy smokes look how HUGE my ball is!  And check out that MASSIVE bubble on the top.

It was sad to pop it, but the most gorgeous yeasty smell came out when I did so it was totally worth it.

Shaping Bread

This recipe makes 2 large loaves, 4-6 smaller loaves, or 24 rolls.  I’ve decided to make two of the three, see what comes out the best.  Don’t want to get over-ambitious here.

So I divided my dough in half.  One half will become a round loaf called a boule (‘ball’).  The other half will become 2 baguette-style torpedoes (or bâtards, haha, bâtards).

I used a sharp serrated knife to divide the dough, but you can use a pastry scraper as well.  Make sure if you use a knife you let the serrated edges of the knife do all the work, and avoid pressing down into the dough.

The trick to getting a crusty loaf is in maintaining the surface tension, so you want to pinch the bubbles you see on the surface to pop them, and be gentle in your stretching.

To make the boule:

This is pretty easy, and it’s something you’ve done several times before when you were in the stretching process.

Prepare a bowl or proofing basket.  I don’t have the basket so I took a bowl and lined it with a linen couche or proofing cloth.  For me, this is an old linen tablecloth that became too stained for company, torn into sections.  Spray the cloth in the bowl with oil and dust it with flour.

Gently pat the dough into a rectangle.

Gather the corners underneath and pinch together, stretching out the surface of the boule.

Place the boule, seam-side-down, in your bowl, mist it with spray oil and cover with the edge of the couche.  You can see how my seam is already coming undone.  Tsk.

To make the bâtard:

Prepare a pan by lining it with parchment paper and dusting it with corn meal or semolina.

Pat the dough into a rectangle, popping the bubbles as you go.

Using the edge of your hand, press a little furrow into the middle of the dough, running along its length.

Roll the front end of the dough over the top of itself until it’s all rolled up.

Pinch the seam shut.

Rock the dough back and forth, seam-side-down, until the dough has reached a desired length, probably between 6 and 12 inches.

Set the dough, seam-side-down, on your prepared pan.  Mist them with spray oil and cover with a couche

I need some serious practice.  Look how lumpy and deformed they are.  Tsk again.

Proofing

Proofing is a rest period in the fermentation process.  Once the bread is shaped, you let it sit, covered, at room temperature for an hour.

Uncover it and let it proof for a further hour.  Uncovering it will let the top of the dough dry out a bit and firm up.

Setting up the Oven

The Pie and I received a pizza stone as an engagement present (thanks KB!) in the summer of 2008 (holy smokes has it really been that long?), and we had yet to use it.  While the round shape of the pizza stone is not ideal for baking bread (Mr. Reinhart recommends an oblong shape), it’s the same consistency and will do the same job, which is giving a consistent heat without over-drying the bread.  It’s like bread magic.  You can of course do this with a sheet pan or cookie sheet instead, lined with parchment paper or sprinkled with semolina or corn meal.  I already own the stone, so I might as well use it.

About 45 minutes before you start to bake, you want to prepare your oven for hearth baking.  If you’re using a stone, place it on the centre rack and preheat the oven to 550°F or as hot as you can get it without turning on the broiler element.

The key to that lovely crackly crust is steam, believe it or not.  On the rack under the heating stone place a pan, like a rimmed cookie sheet, to be filled with water when everything gets hot.

Scoring

Just before baking, take your boule out of the proofing bowl and lay it on a clean surface, seam-side down.

Using a razor blade, score a cross-wise slash into the dough, which will allow some of the moisture to escape while baking and maintain surface tension.

On your bâtards, cut diagonal slashes the length of the bread.Baking

Ease your loaves onto your hot baking stone (use a peel if you’ve got one).  If you aren’t using a baking stone, put your prepared pan straight in the oven. I am pretty certain I overloaded my baking stone here, but I am not a patient enough person to wait and do it in two batches.  It’ll just bake all stuck together and I’m cool with that.

Very carefully pour one cup of water into the steam pan.  Use long gloves and wear long sleeves as you do this to prevent injury.  The Pie took this photo as I had my face averted and my whole body as far away from the heat as possible. 

Reduce oven temperature to 450°F.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake for a further 10-12 minutes.  I found it easier to just rotate the bread, and I took the opportunity to break apart my breads, which were, in fact baking into one large lump as predicted.  I think I saved them from looking too demented.

You can get a crispier crust by turning off the oven and leaving your bread in for another 5-10 minutes.  Smaller bread shapes will take less time, of course.

Storing Dough

Cool your bread on a rack for at least an hour before cutting and eating.  It’s a hardship, I know, after all that time you’ve waited.  But it gets the crust all good.  I promise.  Or you could break the rules and eat some while it’s still warm.  We did.  Mmmmmm.

Wrap any uneaten baked bread tightly in plastic wrap and it will keep for a couple days.

I found myself constantly comparing it to the knowledge I had of French bread, and so I had to constantly remind myself that this isn’t French bread.  The dough is much wetter and the bubbles are much smaller.

When the Pie took his first bite and looked at me I knew he loved me a little bit more, the bread was that good.

Mr. Reinhart says that the unbaked dough will keep in the fridge for up to a week, but that the flavour of the dough deteriorates after four days.  He suggests that if you want to keep some dough for later you can seal it in a lightly oiled freezer bag and freeze it after the initial overnight fermentation.  Thaw it in the refrigerator the day before you need it so it can thaw slowly without over-fermenting.  He also says that the dough makes excellent pizza dough.