The blog turns 1! With awkward video!

If you woke up this morning, felt something special in the air, and couldn’t quite put your finger on it, look no further. SSATT is having its very first birthday! (Or anniversary? I can’t decide which one sounds more appropriate.) It has been quite the year since my first post…..highlights include:

I asked the blog what she wanted for her birthday, and she said “KitchenAid stand mixer, DUH.” Well, sorry, sassy-pants, but we don’t have the funds for that, so we’re going to celebrate with something a little different. Today, I present the very first She Sings at the Table video segment, in which I make carrot cake cookies. And, can I just say–cooking on video is hard! I tried not to be too terribly awkward, but getting good at this would definitely take lots of practice…

Thank you all for reading! I truly have tons of fun cooking and writing for this blog, and it means a lot that a few people actually read it. Here’s hoping year #2 will bring gainful employment, grand times with wonderful people, and more delicious food.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MD669PqWF14]

Carrot Cake Cookies (makes 20-24)

  • 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda (I forgot this in the video. If this were “The Next Food Network Star”, they would kick me off, and while packing up my measuring spoons I would say something dramatic through my tears, like “You haven’t heard the last of me, Food Network! You’ll see!”)
  • 1 1/2 c. rolled oats
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp dry ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 flax egg (1 tbsp ground flax mixed with 3 tbsp water)
  • 3/4 c. brown sugar
  • 1/4 c. melted coconut oil (could also use canola or vegetable oil)
  • 1/4 c. drained crushed pineapple
  • 1/2 c. almond milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 c. golden raisins (or regular raisins, whatever floats your boat)
  • 1 c. grated carrots
  • 1/2 c. chopped walnuts

Combine the ground flax and water to make the flax egg, and set it aside so it can thicken. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking soda, oats, and spices. In another bowl, mix the flax egg, brown sugar, coconut oil, pineapple, almond milk, and vanilla. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and stir until just combined. Fold in the raisins, carrots, and walnuts. Drop spoonfuls of the dough onto a greased cookie sheet, and bake at 375 for 12-14 minutes.

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Smoothies and happy thoughts

In preparation for the bar exam at the end of July, I’m taking a review class that meets every weekday from 9:00 until about 12:30. We get two ten-minute breaks, and the rest of the time is filled with dry lecturing by a law professor on video, and diligent note-taking. Then we’re supposed to go home and study, and study, and study some more, I guess. I won’t complain too much, because it’ll be over by the end of July, and I did voluntarily sign up for this whole thing, but…..UGH. It’s pretty gross. One day last week, I woke up and looked in the mirror, and this is what I saw:

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YIKES. OK, fine, that’s actually Charlize Theron in Monster, but you get the idea. (Source)

I decided it was time to create a before-class routine that would make life seem a teensy bit brighter. I love morning routines like I love polka dots and musical theater (i.e. I love them a lot). I like to start my days with quiet time and vegetables, so my “Survive the Bar Exam” morning routine has two main components: green smoothies and 15 minutes of meditation.

I’m no expert at meditation, but I started doing it for 10-15 minutes every morning several months ago, and I love it. I’m a big-time over-thinker, and right now there are about a million half-complete legal rules floating around in my head, so it’s nice to just shut everything out for a few minutes and think happy thoughts. I just set my cell phone alarm for 15 minutes, and sit down on the floor criss-cross applesauce. (According to my mom, retired first-grade teacher, “criss-cross applesauce” is the new “Indian-style.” More culturally sensitive, you know.) Sometimes it doesn’t work and I just sit there thinking stuff like “What exactly IS a “secured transaction?” or “I wonder what ever happened to those kids from ‘Salute Your Shorts’?” But–no matter what you spend this time thinking about, it’s pretty wonderful to have 15 minutes of quiet before the day gets going.

After meditation time is over, I break out the blender and make a green smoothie. Here’s my favorite combo so far:

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Key Lime Pie Smoothie:

  • handful of spinach (about a cup, loosely packed) (You won’t taste it, honest to blog.)
  • 1/4 of an avocado
  • zest of one lime, and the juice of half
  • 1/2 banana (slightly overripe and frozen is the best)
  • 1-2 tsp agave nectar
  • about 1 c. milk of your choice, more to thin it out as needed (I use almond milk, always and forever)

Blend until completely smooth, and then pour into your most festive glass.

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Nothing like a little vacation and nutrition in a glass before a few hours of Real Property. Seriously, friends–make yourself a green smoothie a few mornings each week, and you will eventually look like this:

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(Source) Maybe not exactly like that, but close.

Treasures from times gone by…

It has been a little over a week since I moved into my parents’ basement, and I have made some spectacular discoveries.  For example, feast your eyes on the dress I wore to Jefferson-Scranton High School’s junior-senior prom, circa 2003:

Yes, it totally still fits, thank you for asking.  It just doesn’t zip, which is a minor detail.  A strategically-draped shawl, a few safety pins, and BAM, I could be ready for my very own royal wedding in ten minutes, tops.

(Oh, by the way, isn’t my mirror charming?  My sister-in-law painted it for me many, many years ago.  She’s all kinds of brilliant and artsy!)

I also found……drumroll…….

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My very first cookbooks!  Do you remember the American Girl dolls?  I swear, everybody I knew when I was a tiny little Darcy had one of those dolls, and about fifty outfits for it.  I was not into the dolls, but I was really into the cookbooks.  They came in a set of five: Molly (World War II era), Kirsten (pioneer girl), Addy (escaped from slavery on the Underground Railroad), Felicity (daughter of the Revolution), and Samantha (hoity-toity turn-of-the-century girl with a butler).

They’re full of historical information and easy recipes one could make with adult supervision, AND in the back of each one there are detailed instructions for throwing a theme party.  Molly’s book, which was my favorite, was set in 1944 and had instructions for throwing a “patriotic slumber party.”  Here’s a tip:

Uhhh, sure.  Or, how about you just don’t invite fun-haters to your patriotic slumber party?

Here are two of my favorite recipes from Molly’s book.  They’re both really easy, but the first requires a knife and the second requires a hot oven, so if you are not an adult, please find one to supervise you.  I definitely waited until my mom was home for the hard parts.

Frozen Fruit Cups (adapted—barely—from “American Girls Pastimes: Molly’s Cookbook”)

Makes 8-12 small cups (I used 8 oz. cups and made 9)

  • 1 c. orange juice
  • 15 oz. can of crushed pineapple in its own juice
  • 1 small (about 11 oz.) can of mandarin oranges, drained and coarsely chopped
  • about 3 cups sliced strawberries
  • 2-3 bananas, sliced
  • 1 1/2 c. club soda

These are not rocket science, obviously, as the recipe came from a cookbook for elementary school-aged children.  But they are delicious, and a great refreshing snack for summer.  I used to make them all the time and eat them while swaying in my mom’s hammock with a Babysitter’s Club book.  Feel free to substitute whatever fruit you like, your favorite juice, and 1 1/2 cups of something fizzy (the original recipe calls for ginger ale, which is good, and I’ve also used 7-Up).  Stir everything up in a large mixing bowl, ladle the mixture into small cups, and freeze.

Raisin Bread in a Can (adapted from “American Girls Pastimes: Molly’s Cookbook”)

This recipe didn’t have a lot of fat in it (because, as explained in the front of the book, Molly and her mom were conserving for the war effort).  It also only had one egg, so I went ahead and made a few adjustments to vegan-ize it.  To bake, you need a clean, empty coffee or juice can—about 45 ounces.  You could use a loaf pan, I suppose, but where’s the fun in that?

  • 3/4 c. white flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 1 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1/3 c. chopped nuts (I used walnuts, leftover from my rapture cupcakes)
  • 1/3 c. raisins
  • 1 flax egg (Mix 1 tbsp ground flax with 3 tbsp water in a small bowl, and allow the mixture to thicken for 5-10 minutes)
  • 1 tbsp canola oil
  • 1 1/4 c. almond milk
  • 1/4 c. molasses

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the white flour, wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar, nuts, and raisins.  In a large mixing bowl, combine the thickened flax egg, canola oil, almond milk, and molasses.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir until well-combined.  Grease a large, clean tin can (about 45 ounces), and pour in the batter.  Bake at 350 for 1 hour.  After an hour, place the can on a rack to cool.  When it’s cool enough to handle, loosen the bread from the sides of the can with a butter knife and try to shimmy the bread out of the can.  If you’re having trouble, use a can opener to open the bottom of the can and carefully push the bread out.

Housekeeping: the address for the blog is now http://shesingsatthetable.com, not http://shesingsatthetable.wordpress.com.  Update your Google readers (or whatever you kids use to read your blogs these days) accordingly, pretty please.

Also, thanks to my web designer/13-year-old niece, you can now “like” She Sings at the Table on facebook—see the link on the right side of the page.  That’s all for now—have a marvelous week!

McTofu

I know Lent is supposed to make me think about discipline and sacrifice and being a better person….and it does…..but it also makes me think about Egg McMuffins.

When I was in high school, my family used to go to Colorado every Easter.  We’d leave on Thursday, stay somewhere in Nebraska that night, and cruise the rest of the way into CO on Good Friday.  The general practice was to drive through McDonald’s that morning, get Egg McMuffins, and, because of the no-meat-on-Friday-during-Lent thing, throw the slice of mystery meat (ham?  Canadian bacon?) out the car window once we reached full speed on I-80.  Nebraska, if you’re listening, I’m sorry about the litter.

So anyway, although I don’t generally get Mickey D’s cravings, I do have a soft spot for their breakfast menu.  I associate the greasy, salty McMuffin with spring, open roads, and adventure.  In that spirit, I recently took a block of tofu out of my fridge and made an easy McMuffin knock-off that tastes much better to me than anything that ever came out of the drive-thru window in Ogallala.

For the baked tofu, I used this recipe from Caitlin at Healthy Tipping Point.  While you’re getting the marinade ready, you can press the tofu to get some of the moisture out.

I firmly believe it tastes better if you press it with your prettiest plates. Then, dice the tofu into small pieces and marinate as directed in the recipe linked above.  I wanted a round slice of tofu to mimic the perfectly round egg in the McMuffin, but I don’t have any round cookie cutters.  (What’s with that, seriously?  Who AM I?)  So, I used a heart instead.  Nothing wrong with having more heart-shaped foods in your life.

While it’s baking, you can ready your tofu accoutrements.  I like the Food For Life sprouted English muffins in the freezer section of the grocery store—definitely an upgrade from the standard fast food English muffin.  Other than that, you just need some cheese, and veggies of your choice.  I went with spinach and scallion.

I’m not on a roadtrip, sadly, but this sort of made me feel like I was.

Plus, now I have tasty baked tofu for quick stir-fries, salads, etc. all week long.  You should definitely check out Caitlin’s recipe—it’s a tiny bit sweet and a little spicy from the chili powder.  I used agave nectar instead of the honey, because that’s what I usually have on hand, and it worked fine.

I hope you all have a stellar Monday—see you next time!

Study buddies

Another week of lawyer school is upon us.  Some of us have just realized that finals aren’t really that far away.

Some of us are legal superstars with important projects due soon.

And some of us are just generally cranky.

None of us will survive without study snacks.

I’ve made granola bars before (and posted the recipe here), but these are better.  They’re easy, infinitely adaptable, and practically guaranteed to make you smarter and/or more organized.

Chocolate Chip Toffee Granola Bars (makes 9-12)

  • 1 2/3 c. oats
  • 1/4 c. sugar
  • 1/3 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 c. sliced almonds
  • 1/3 c. toffee bits
  • 1/3 c. chocolate chips
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 6 tbsp melted butter or Earth Balance
  • 2 tbsp honey (I think you could probably substitute agave nectar or brown rice syrup.)
  • 1 small, overripe banana, mashed

Preheat your oven to 350, and line an 8×8 pan with parchment paper.  (This made removing the bars a cinch, but if you don’t have parchment just grease the pan.)  In a large bowl, mix the oats, sugar, whole wheat flour, salt, almonds, toffee, and chocolate chips.  In a smaller bowl, combine the vanilla, melted butter, honey, and mashed banana.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and stir to coat.  Press the mixture firmly into the 8×8 pan, and bake for about 30 minutes.  Let cool completely, and then slice into bars.

Muffin makeover

Last night I had my fellow students from the study abroad program I did in France over for sangria and crepes.  It was lovely!  And—it provided some baking inspiration.  I have a framed recipe hanging in my kitchen, and someone asked about it.  Let’s just say I have a long history with this particular recipe.

Over a period of approximately 10 years, starting when I was in middle school, my mom and I made this recipe at least once a month—always in the form of muffins instead of bread.  It’s a “friendship recipe”–one of those deals where you get the starter for the batter from someone else, and then when you make the recipe you end up with starter that you have to pass on to other people.  It’s a vicious cycle.  Especially when you live in a town of  about 4000 people and you only know a certain percentage of them well enough to approach them with a Ziploc baggie full of stinky, fermenting muffin batter.

But once we started, it was impossible to break free!  Cinnamon muffins were the official food of my high school career.  I have a friend from high school who I think only hung out with me because she knew we would always have them in the freezer when she came over.

And then, one fateful day, our starter inexplicably turned moldy.  I think it was Mother Nature’s way of saying “Stop making these muffins, you psychos—they have no redeeming nutritional value and nobody else wants to be dragged into this!”  Just like that, no more cinnamon-y starts to my mornings.  I hadn’t thought about the recipe for quite some time, but last night when someone noticed it hanging above my sink and mentioned it, I decided I would try making up a starter-less version that would be similar, but healthier.  After a quick perusal of my mom’s recipe binder, I was ready to go.

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Muffins are super-easy, so there’s no need for lots of step-by-step photos here.  You just dump everything into one bowl and mix until just combined, spoon the batter into the muffin tins…

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…bake, and BOOM—basket of muffins.

These have the same flavor as the originals (thanks to cinnamon and a non-negotiable box of Jello butterscotch pudding), but with a lot less sugar and oil.  They also have happy, healthy stuff added in—oatmeal, whole wheat flour, and ground flax seeds.  My little muffins are all grown up!

New and Improved Cinnamon Muffins (makes 16-18)

  • 2 c. almond milk
  • 1 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 1 c. oats
  • 1 c. whole wheat flour
  • 2/3 c. white flour
  • ¾ c. brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 small box Jello butterscotch pudding mix
  • 1 ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ¼ c. ground flax

Stir the cider vinegar into the almond milk (this is to mimic the flavor of buttermilk).  Then combine all ingredients, mixing until just blended.  Spoon the batter into greased muffin tins, sprinkle the tops with cinnamon and sugar, and bake at 325 for about 25 minutes.

Easy breezy, no?  Try making up a batch and giving them to a friend.  Actual muffins > muffin batter.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-cherry prom

I’m all tuckered out from Law Prom last night.  But, there are people out there that need baked goods, and when I bake things that turn out well I feel the need to share them with you….so….look at these!

OMGdelicious!  But first—prom!  Yesterday was what we’ll call a “break” from the 21-day cleanse.  There is nothing “cleansing” about bargain basement sparkling wine from a red Solo cup.  Or 2:00 a.m. pizza with macaroni and cheese on top.

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However, I think we could say that fun and frivolity is…mentally cleansing.  So, I maintain that the day was, in fact, yet another step in my journey to health and vibrancy.

Today I made scones for a delivery later this week.  And, because the recipe worked so well (and because sometimes I’m lazy), I’m just going to give you the link and then tell you how I adapted the recipe instead of writing it all out.

Why say things over again when Ina has already said them so well?

Instead of orange-cranberry, I decided to make these cherry-almond.  Here’s all you need to know about scones: keep the butter cold, people!  Cold butter = flakiness = deliciousness.  Get everything ready to go before you take the butter out of the fridge and dice it up to put it in the dough.  If you want to be really on the ball, put your flour in the freezer ahead of time.

Roll, cut, egg wash, and get ‘em in the oven as fast as you can.  Time is of the essence!

(I don’t have a 3-inch round biscuit cutter like Ina suggests, so I used a cherry pie filling can.  Always on-theme around here.)

Here are the changes I made to the original recipe linked above:

  • Omitted the orange zest
  • Replaced the dried cranberries with dried cherries
  • Omitted the orange juice
  • Added 1/2 c. sliced almonds to the dough with the dried cherries
  • Added 1/2 tsp almond extract to the heavy cream and eggs before adding them to the dough

I’m going to freeze these and deliver them to someone later this week, but before I do I’ll let them thaw and glaze them with a mixture of almond milk, confectioner’s sugar, and almond extract. Then I’ll sprinkle each one with more sliced almonds, because baked goods need garnishes (much like cocktail dresses need accessories).

I hope you all have a marvelous week!

Goddess of Granola

Sure, you can buy plenty of varieties of granola at your average grocery store, many of which are perfectly tasty.  But why buy when you can make, huh?  Here’s a basic blueprint for making your own granola—try it once and then you can get creative with different ingredients and mix-ins!

Dry ingredients:

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Wet ingredients:

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Mix it all up and spread it out evenly on a sheet pan.

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Then, bake at 250 for an hour and a half, stirring every fifteen minutes.  (I know this sounds like a hassle, but it’s actually an opportunity for some serious productivity.  You can set the timer for each fifteen-minute increment and make yourself complete some task before it beeps, and when you’re done you’ve done six tasks and made granola.)

Store in an airtight container (I keep it in the freezer) and enjoy with yogurt, fruit, etc.

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Basic Granola (makes about 6 cups)

3 c. rolled oats

1 c. sliced almonds

1 c. miscellaneous nuts/seeds (I used half pumpkin seeds and half walnuts this time, and didn’t put the walnuts in until the last half hour of baking because I thought they might brown faster than everything else.)

3/4 c. coconut flakes

scant 1/4 c. brown sugar

1/4 c. honey

1/4 c. vegetable oil

3/4 tsp. salt

Whisk together the brown sugar, honey, oil, and salt, and pour over the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.  Stir to coat, and then spread the mixture evenly on a large sheet pan.  (You may have to use two sheet pans.)  Bake at 250 for about an hour and a half, stirring every 15 minutes.  (Baking time may vary depending on your oven and what type of pan you use.  Just keep an eye on how fast the granola is browning.)

After I made the granola (in my parents’ lovely and spacious kitchen, because I went to Des Moines for the day), I tried to make some goddess dressing, using whatever I could find in their fridge/pantry.

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I blended, tasted, re-seasoned, tried it on some salad, but…..

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It was pretty lackluster.  So, instead of giving you the measurements I used, I’ll just keep trying and tell you to try Annie’s Naturals Goddess Dressing instead.

Although I failed miserably at goddess dressing, later in the evening I went to an understated toga gathering where we all succeeded at dressing like goddesses.

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There were a lot of excellent contenders, but I’m going to have to give the “Best Toga” award to my friend Lisa, pictured here in the wolf-themed ensemble she found at Hobby Lobby.

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And now—the Super Bowl is upon us!  I must admit that I actually don’t have any idea who is playing who this evening…but I’m going to head to a party with some dip (recipe in the post linked here) and just cheer for whoever appears to be winning.  Have a lovely week, everyone!

(P.S. I used Windows Live Writer for the first time to do this post, so it looks kind of weird and I can’t quite figure out why because I lack any sort of techno-sense.  I’ll probably just have to get my niece to explain it to me :) )

TGITh

Due to the set-up of my class schedule this semester, Thursday is usually the day when I can take a little break from reading, hit the grocery store, and restock my fridge with home-spun healthy eats.  After finishing class today, I picked up some staples and got to work.  I didn’t use any recipes, but ended up with some good stuff!  First up: a beans-and-veggies salad.  Ingredient round-up:

All you need to do here is drain and rinse the beans and dice the veggies…

…whisk together the dressing,

…stir to combine everything,

…and say hello to lunch!

Lemon-Tahini Two-Bean Salad

  • 1 15 oz. can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 15 oz. can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
  • about 3/4 c. diced sugar snap peas
  • 1 diced red bell pepper
  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 diced avocado

Dressing:

  • 2 tbsp tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Whisk together the dressing ingredients.  Drain and rinse the beans, and combine them with the diced veggies.  Add the dressing, stir to coat, taste and add salt and pepper as needed.

Next, I wanted to make some granola bars.  I often get snacky during long days of class, and I hate buying packaged stuff at the cafe in the law building or from the vending machine.  I’m sort of a processed food snob–I like making things myself so I know what’s in them.  As Cher says in Clueless (albeit while referring to a very different topic), “You see how picky I am about my shoes, and they only go on my feet.”  I don’t like ingesting mystery ingredients, and so a new recipe was born!

First, I toasted the dry ingredients in the oven.

I found some recipes online that included wheat germ, but I didn’t have any of that so I used ground flax instead.  It’s great to keep around for making fake “eggs” for vegan baking, putting in smoothies, sprinkling on oatmeal, etc.  Keep it in the freezer for longer shelf life (with your popsicles, of course).

While the dry ingredients were toasting, I cooked the wet ingredients (or, what I like to refer to as “the goo factor”) until the sugar was dissolved, and then assembled everything.

I combined everything, pressed it into an 8×8 pan, and baked.  Then, I tried to get one out to see if this was going to be a granola bar success story, and it was not a bar.  It was a pile.

BUT–I went to pout (actually, to do some reading), and when I came back later, they were completely cooled and held together just fine.  I really need to learn some kitchen patience.

White Chocolate Banana Granola Bars (makes 12)

  • 2 c. oats
  • 1/2 c. ground flax
  • 3/4 c. sliced almonds
  • 1/2 c. millet
  • 4 tbsp Earth Balance or butter
  • 1/3 c. honey
  • 1/4 c. brown sugar (I used a very scant 1/4 c.)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 of an overripe-ish banana
  • 1/2 c. white chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350.  Mix the oats, almonds, flax, and millet on a baking sheet, and toast in the oven for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally (the almonds should turn a light golden brown).  Cook the butter, honey, and brown sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat just until the sugar is dissolved.  Take off the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Add the sugar mixture to the dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Add the 1/2 banana, sliced very thin, and the white chocolate chips.  Stir to coat all the dry ingredients, and press the mixture firmly into a greased 8×8 pan.  Lower the oven temperature to 300, and bake for 20-25 minutes.  Let cool completely, and then cut into 12 squares.

I’m the kind of dork that gets really excited about new recipes, and I think these are particularly exciting because they’re sort of “choose your adventure” recipes.  You could switch up the ingredients in all kinds of different ways: different beans and veggies in the salad, or different flavors in the dressing, and different add-ins for the granola bars.  Oh, the possibilities!  Next Thursday can’t come soon enough.

Our daily bread

When my mom was in high school, her family hosted a foreign exchange student from Sweden.  They’ve stayed in touch for a good 40 years, and in the summer of 2009 the former exchange student, Katie, invited me and my mom to come visit.  She said if we came in July we could “pick berries and mushrooms and have lovely sunshine,” and who’s going to turn that down, huh? Not us.  So we went and stayed a week, and there was indeed berry-picking and lovely sunshine, as well as boats, Stockholm sites, good food, and great company.

Being serious breakfast people, we were particularly enamored with the toasting bread Katie’s husband Bob baked, and asked about the recipe.  He slaved away for a good hour at his computer, switching the measurements from metric, and I’m eternally grateful to him for this.  Store-bought bread has all but disappeared from my life because I love this stuff so much.  So how about a little step-by-step bread-baking action, complete with dorky how-to photos?  Baking yeast bread is a little intimidating, but it’s really just a matter of time and temperature.  Plus, if you screw it up, you can just tell yourself that flour is cheap and chalk it up to the mysteries of science.    Here goes!

Bob’s Wholemeal and Rye Bread (yields 1 loaf and about 16 rolls when we make it, or 3 loaves if you’d rather)

STAGE 1: Make the starter for the dough either the night before or the morning of baking.

  • 1 1/4 c. rye flour
  • 1 1/4 c. whole wheat flour
  • 4 c. boiling water

Mix the ingredients and then cover for at least 4 hours at room temperature.  The starter will resemble Oliver Twist-style gruel, like so:

STAGE 2: Mix 1 3/4 c. lukewarm water (about 95 degrees) with 3 (.25 oz) packages of active dry yeast.  Whisk the yeast into the warm water, and then add it, along with the following ingredients, to the starter:

  • 1 1/2 c. rye flour (plus, reserve an additional 1/2 c. in a separate bowl to use for kneading)
  • 1 1/2 c. whole wheat flour (again, reserve 1/2 c. for kneading)
  • 2 1/2 c. bread flour (same–reserve 1/2 c. of this as well)
  • 1/2 c. honey
  • 1 tablespoon salt

I would suggest working in the water + yeast and honey before you start adding flour.  Try a potato masher if a spoon isn’t working out for you.  Then add flour gradually.  I’m not gonna lie to you–this is challenging.  The dough will be pretty stiff, so you should choose a sturdy utensil (I learned this the hard way some time ago when I broke a sort-of flimsy wooden spoon clean in half while stirring.)

Sometimes I have to sit down.  I resolved to do more push-ups in the new year, though, so it can only get easier, right?  Anyway, once you have the dough as well-mixed as possible in the bowl, turn it out onto a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes.  It will be somewhat sticky to begin with, but gradually incorporate most of the flour you reserved above and it should become fairly smooth.

(That’s my mom–I usually make her do the hard parts of a recipe and then steal all the glory.)  After kneading, cover the dough with a damp cloth and allow to rise in a warm place for about 3 hours.  Tip: preheat your oven to 200, then turn it off, open the door, and set the dough nearby.  This will help the yeast do its thing.

STAGE 3 (LAST STAGE!): Punch down the dough and knead for 5 more minutes on a floured surface.  (Use flour left over from the bowl you reserved it in earlier.  You can add more if necessary, but you probably won’t have to.)  Then, place about 1/3 of the dough in a greased loaf pan, form the rest into rolls, and place the rolls on a greased baking sheet.  To make the rolls even, just cut the remaining dough in half, then in fourths, eighths, etc., until you think the pieces look roll-sized.  (Remember they will rise a little bit.)

Place the loaf pan and the sheet of rolls in the same warm place as before, covered with a damp towel, and allow to rise again (1-2 hours).  After the dough has risen for the second time, bake at 400 degrees.  The rolls will take 30-35 minutes, and the loaf will take about an hour.  To test for doneness, hold the bread (with an oven mitt, please) and give it a thump on the bottom.  It should sound hollow.

Flour, water, yeast, honey, salt, and some time–that’s all you need to make yourself some honest, healthy bread that will last you quite awhile!  (Well, it’ll last you quite awhile if you store it in the fridge.  No preservatives, you know.)  It’s a wonderful little taste of Scandinavia fresh from the toaster every morning, and although it’s tricky the first few times, it’s a lot of fun to mess around with the recipe.  Farewell for now, folks–I hope the first few days of 2011 have been treating you well!