Oh So Apple Saucy Granola

The other day Andy and I were talking about making some more items ourselves here at home. I already make my own garbanzo flour (it’s loud, but a Vitamix does a great job on dried garbanzo beans), and a few times I made my own almond milk, though I decided that was simply too labor intensive. One of the foods we realized I had never made was granola. It’s one of the easiest things to make and yet I had never even attempted it. Andy eats granola every  morning for breakfast, and growing up his mom often made it. Today I decided to give it a go.

Here was my hangup: Granola is insanely sugary and fattening if made regularly. I don’t mind the fat coming from the nuts but many of the recipes I saw included both a bunch of sugar and or butter to make it clump. Gulp. No thanks.

I had this absolutely delicious granola a long time ago baked with applesauce. It was sweet, low in fat, and contained only a little sugar. I knew I needed to replicate it. I was okay with using some sugar, and some agave nectar as long as total it didn’t exceed one cup (with at least have of that cup being raw agave nectar, and the sugar being raw brown sugar). After some googling I came across this recipe at Fake Ginger.

Her recipe is as follows:

Ingredients
  • 2½ cups old fashioned oats
  • 1 cup nuts (pecans, walnuts, almonds)
  • ½ cup sunflower seeds
  • ¼ cup sesame seeds
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • ⅓ cup raisins
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 300F.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together oats, nuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.
  3. In a small saucepan, warm the applesauce with the honey and oil over low heat.
  4. Mix the applesauce mixture into the oat mixture and stir to coat everything. Spread the mixture onto a 9 x 13 baking pan.
  5. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, until the granola is a deep brown. Remove from oven and stir in raisins. Cool completely before enjoying.

This is what it looks like before baking. I messed up the focus on my camera so just look at that tiny strip of in focus mix *hits self in face*. This is what happens when I don’t use my camera very much for a couple months.

Since we limit animal products in our diets, and I already had raw agave nectar on hand I decided to make the switch from honey. My other changes included using cake spice instead of cinnamon since I was out, choosing pecans and walnuts for my nuts, and adding about a half teaspoon of vanilla.

Here are a few notes:

  • I did about 4 1/2 rounds of 10 minutes – meaning 45 minutes and it was a little browner than my personal preference. I’ll do 30 minutes next time but I have to say it did sets up to a nice crunch and adding the raisins in made it a lot tastier. I think it honestly just comes down to preference on this one. Andy thinks it’s fine.
  • Next time I will also either cut out the salt all together, or cut to 1/8 of a teaspoon. I found 1/2 to be too much. I’m fairly salt sensitive though, in general a little amount is plenty for me. It didn’t taste salty at all to Andy.
  • Be careful turning the granola every 10 minutes so you don’t break down the clumps too much. It’s not a clump intensive granola like some, and I don’t think you will get that with an apple sauce granola. It still clumped nicely though, but if you are too aggressive during turning you’ll break them up.

It’s held up really nice, and once it was entirely cool I put it in a tupperware. The key is to make sure that it is entirely cool. Very Very cool. You don’t want any residual heat or else it will turn chewy and blech.

One of the things I really enjoy about this recipe is that it’s pretty versatile if you follow the basic recipe. Next time I’ll likely go with almonds and dried raspberries. Mmmm so tasty.

Verdict: There’s no need to ever buy granola again. This was both super cheap, and super easy. Give it a try!

xo,

Heather

Wild Ideas: Autumn Olive

A few weeks ago the dogs and I were out at the apple trees in the back field when I noticed Primrose eating tiny red berries that had spots on them.

I was concerned because normally small round red berries = bad. At least, that’s how I was raised. So I came in the house (oddly calmly, I think at this point I just expect things like this from her sweet little face) and tried to figure out if little miss trouble maker had just poisoned herself. After a bunch of googling around I found out the berries were called Autumn Olives.

Not only are the berries not poisonous to either dogs or humans (or cats and horses apparently), they are actually a superfood secret and they make very good juice, jam and fruit leather. Excuse me?! Say what?! I’ve had a zero effort harvest in my backyard for five years and I never knew about it? Let me clarify that these, despite the name, are not olives. Rather, they are a tart berry filled with lycopene (cancer fighting) and antioxidants. They have pits but I haven’t had a problem just eating them. It turns out Autumn Olives are an invasive species in North America, but as I figure it invasive can simply mean opportunistic. I’m into permaculture and if it’s growing wild, and I can harvest it, why not? It’s the same reason I made dandelion syrup this spring, wild stuffed grape leaves this summer and harvested wild blackberries and raspberries.

According to multiple sources on the internet the berries get ripe best in cool weather, and even when they seem ready they normally aren’t until the end of September to mid-October. I found them around the beginning of September and let me tell you with how much anticipation I’ve been waiting for them to be ready to harvest: a ton. Thursday was the day. I went out, tasted a berry and it was still tart but not painfully so. It was, dare I say, tasty. I knew the birds would be out to get these soon so I got my big tin pail and walked out to gather about 5lbs of berries per a jam recipe I found.

Here’s a few tips on harvesting the berries:

  • Put the pail below each stem and then gently roll the berries off of their stems with your fingers. If they don’t come off easily don’t force them. Ripe berries will easily roll off.  The juice of these comes out easily as well, gentle gentle gentle.
  • You will get spiders and other creatures from the plant in your berries. That’s harvesting for you. I try and pick them out with care because I know they are beneficial to the plant life.
  • About a 1/4 of a five gallon bucket hit about 5lbs for me.
  • Share your harvest. In other words: these are wild. Other animals besides you eat them too. Don’t take them all. I took a very small portion of what was there and left a good amount in each area I did harvest from. I didn’t do the work to grow them, and I don’t think it’s really my right to wipe everything clean and leave the birds and other animals with nothing. Responsible harvesting high fives all around.

On Thursday I came in, rinsed the berries, and plucked all the little stems out of them. My water was pretty dirty only because my bucket had some dried dirt it in before I started. Next time I will definitely use a clean bucket. It will significantly cut the rinsing steps down.

On Friday I knew it was time to turn it into jam, or at least that was my intention. After boiling the berries down for about 20 minutes, in order to make them easier to pit through a food mill, I realized this stuff would be great as a fruit butter.

I boiled berries on the front burner so I could mill them, and then added the puree to the back burner to cook down.

On the other side of the stove I had the jars sterilizing and the tops and lids slightly simmering.

The entire time I was doing this and experimenting with sugar/pectin/lemon, I was video chatting with Lauren over at Filing Jointly. Let me tell you something about Lauren—she’s great. She also thinks she awkward and she’s not. I feel like a lot of people who blog feel like they are awkward in person and more dynamic online. I even feel like this. I know I’m awkward, but I embrace it. Have you seen the video of me making spaghetti sauce? Lauren can probably testify to my a.) talkative nature and b.) awkward movements. I can testify to her awesomeness. Also, you all should encourage her to write about the pig farm story. It’s great.

That said, she pretty much just watched this process live. There really isn’t much of recipe but I’ll give a general breakdown. It’s a pretty typical fruit butter recipe I’d say. When it sets up it will look like a jam from the outside, but once you open it give it a quick stir and it quickly becomes butter consistency and nothing like jam.

Autumn Olive Butter Recipe

Remember, this is a “more or less” recipe. I’ve made jam before so I just sort of winged this and knew it would either be butter or jam, with my hope being for a soft butter/spread. Mine became butter because I was stingy on the pectin, and the mash is already very butter like on it’s own. You can easily make a small batch of this by just milling your berries, adding a little sweetner and moving on. The recipe below is for canning it, which requires more sugar and some citrus to be safe. I also realized it takes a TON of sugar to make it sweet once you add more than a tablespoon of lemon juice, I had added two and it was harshly tart. Next time I may just stick with less lemon juice, and plain sugar.

  • 8 to 9 or so cups berry mash (food mill to remove pits)
  • Few teaspoons of lemon juice. Be careful and add slow, the berries are very tart. The more lemon you add, the more sugar you need to add to offset it. You need a certain amount of citrus though, especially if you’re water bathing. A professional will have more advice than me on this, but I always do it as a precaution.
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • Few tablespoons powder pectin. I used ball and some new kind. I really recommend sure jell if you want this to be more like a jam. Follow the directions on your own pectin for best results.

Follow proper procedures to making fruit butter and for canning per the National Center for Home Food Preservation. Butter recipes for canning can be found lots of places like Balls Complete Book of Home Preservation. Process according to your altitude. I boiled the fruit until it coated my spoon and came off in a sheet and processed once it reached a rolling boil for about 10-15 minutes. I’m not a professional canner and I don’t want to give you information that may be considered inaccurate because of botulism and other goodies that can grow if not preserved appropriately and will make you very sick, so please please please consult with the National Center if you don’t know how to can, or need more accurate instructions. 

Saving Autumn Olives For Fruit Smoothies

When you mill autumn olives to remove the pits, the mash will look an awful lot like a smoothie in consistency. The next day when it sets it will feel like a firm pudding, or as my childhood memories remind me – Nickelodeons Gak. Given how good these berries are for you, and the natural consistency of their mash, I am going to process more of these and freeze them into ice cube trays. I’ll then vacuum seal the frozen berry mash cubes into bags with about 4-5 in each bag. I’ll use these in place of ice cubes when I make smoothies.

Autumn Olive Frozen Fruit Butter

Given the natural smoothie butter consistency of the mash, it makes perfectly good sense to me that if the mash freezes and thaws well, I could easily thaw one or two cubes of mash and mix it with a little maple syrup to make a really nice spread for toast. I’m interested in testing this method with the cubes vacuum sealed to protect against freezer burn, but I’m glad I preserved a batch too.

Autumn Olive Cake Topping

This sounds ridiculous but it is *so darn good*. I recently made a banana molasses spice cake and man oh man, the butter I made and preserved is ridiculous with it. Not only is it super tasty, it sits and holds really well. This would make a great spread in between layers because it will soak into the cake without totally soaking in. I wouldn’t use it on the sides because it would slip off. I’m sure the fresh mash could be doctored into a stiff frosting, but lets face it that is way out of my jurisdiction as I’m a pantry baker at best.

My final opinion…

Make it. Eat it. Love it. I think I love the mash best on it’s own with just a little sweetner, if I’m being entirely honest. I just don’t like taking something so healthy for you and ruining it with so much sugar. I bet I could make it with a lot less sugar if I upped the pectin. That might be the next trial. That doesn’t mean I won’t lick clean every jar I preserved already though. I will. Oh, I will.

xo,

Heather

P.S. Winnie was eating rearing off the ground and jumping for the berries her nose deemed best. Good God, I love these dogs.

How To Be Classy Like Me: Baking A Bundt Cake

In this installment of “How To Be Classy Like Me” we’re going to tackle baking. There are a few things you need to know before we start. Be prepared for the Queen of England to ask you to make her a cake for her next royal event. This in turn will make you so in demand that you’ll have to open a full time bakery, followed by making millions. So, if you want to make millions and meet the Queen of England then follow my directions precisely. If you don’t, I can’t guarantee you millions. If you do…I still can’t guarantee you millions but I can guarantee you the awe and admiration of all those you encounter that it might at least taste decent.

To be super classy you must start by realizing you literally have almost nothing in your kitchen to bake with. Because you have no butter, and no eggs, you consult a vegan cookbook. Everyone knows vegan baking is what classy people eat anyway.

After consulting Veganomicon you find a coconut lemon bundt cake and realize it’s the only recipe you have everything for. Except for lemons. Minor detail, you have limes. Or oranges. Or whatever.

Next heat your oven up and get your bundt pan out. If you need to grease it so it doesn’t stick, do it. If you have a non-stick one like I do, high-five.

Now look at your ingredients and directions and mix all that shit together. Why? Because it says to. Also, this is the part of baking you don’t totally suck at. You can mix. You can mix with the best of them. Why? You’re classy, of course.

Put that cake in the oven and set the timer. Do not forget to set the timer. You wouldn’t anyway, you’re awesome. Once a knife (or a fork, spoon handle, spatula, whatever) comes out clean your cake is done. Take it out of the oven. Admire it’s beauty. Now let it sit for about ten to fifteen minutes. DON’T TOUCH IT or try and flip it out.

In the mean time get your super pretty cake stand out that you’ve never used before. Or maybe you have, I don’t really know, I’m not in your kitchen. What I do now is that I had never used mine before. I got it over a year ago. That’s how often I bake cakes. At least, that’s how often I bake cakes that I don’t eat directly from the pan with a fork. Don’t worry, it’s a contemporary classy looking fork.

Once your cake cools to the specified time, put your cake stand over the pan and flip it. When it doesn’t flip out because it’s still too hot don’t wait for it to cool further. All you need to do is hit your cake pan like, fifteen times. Classy women don’t loose their cool, so hit your pan with a smile on your face. Even when your non-stick bundt pan totally messes your cake up, you remain calm and collected and do not at all swear or say things like “What the f….”. Also, classy women don’t mess up so make sure you blame your cake sticking on the brand new (year old but never used) non-stick pan, not on the fact that you didn’t let it cool enough. You need to be an accountable woman, you need to take responsibility for your actions, but this was clearly the pans fault. Blame it on the inanimate object you classy broad.

No one will ever know if you carefully pick up the broken piece of of your bundt cake, and then smash it back into the cake. Also, ignore any massive cracks you may have made when you hit the ever loving life out of your bundt pan…and it fell onto the counter instead of your cake stand. You don’t want to upstage other bakers anyway. Being the classy lady you are it’s good once in a while to prove you are also flawed—you know, or at least let other people believe you are (we know you aren’t).

When in doubt, regain that your cake is awesome by taking a photo of the part of it that isn’t cracked. Damn, you’re good.

The next, and final, step of baking an awesome cake like a classy woman is to cover up all of your mistakes with powdered sugar. Or at least try.

When that doesn’t work just cut it into pieces before you serve it. When someone picks up the piece that you smashed back into place and it breaks, compliment your guest on their strength and that you thought it looked like they had been working out.

You are good. You are really good. I’m proud of you, you classy woman. Keep on baking. Before you know it you’ll be making those millions.

Or just eating a ton of cake. Either way, you win.

xo,

Heather

Despite the fact that I do know how to drink wine like the lady I am, I was not drunk when I baked this. I wasn’t even tipsy. I didn’t even have anything to drink. I really am just that bad at baking, and I like to make fun of it. That said, the flavor of this was absolutely delicious.

Also, vegan baking is actually absolutely awesome. I really love it, even more so than normal baking most of the time. Veganomicon is a fantastic cook book to have around and this cake (yes it does exist) is unbelievable, even made with lime. I highly suggest it.

Oh, and if you want to see drunk cooking  I suggest this girl. Her YouTube channel is hands down my absolute favorite. It makes me crack up laughing every. single. time.

The Annual Wild Berry Harvest

As I’m writing this, I’m watching Primrose out by our old apple tree. It was here, and far overgrown, before we moved in. For no discernible reason it has full sized apples on it in July and August of every year, but they are too high for us to pick. They aren’t great quality, so once dropped on the ground the dogs run out to eat them. Any left overs are bagged up and given to the cows. It makes me laugh every year when I watch the dogs excitedly run to the tree and pick up apples. This year, Rosie has learned she can often carry more than one in her mouth. It’s a funny balance to watch her try and pick up one, only to have the other fall out of her mouth. She’s learned how to carry two, and she’s working on figuring out how to carry three.

For them, this is good food. They know how to harvest what nature gives them to supplement their diet and they enjoy every moment of it. In our house it’s the same way.  We of course have our garden, but we also try to take advantage of the wild harvests in our area from sorrel for salads, to grape leaves. Our favorite harvest though, is the annual wild berry harvest.

Each year around this time, the blackberries, black raspberries and raspberries are starting to explode all around us. We go out weekly at first, and then daily, to harvest the berries to make jam with, freeze, turn into a variety of other items or, our favorite, just eat. This year I even found a few wild blueberry plants. There are always more berries than we can even come close to harvesting, even when we go out multiple times per week.

Where we harvest isn’t something we often disclose to people. We’re certain at least a few more people around here know about it, but we’ve never witnessed anyone else out collecting. There are a few reasons I personally love this spot. For starters I’ve never seen this level of wild berries anywhere. Second, the dogs can run free and wild without worrying about vehicles. Third, I love all of the wild flowers that surround the area this time of year. This is where I picked the wild flowers in this post.

Normally this is a family activity, but with Andy on renovation duty it meant I was the sole harvester this year. Well, with the dogs. The dogs and I have an agreement to make it fair: I get the higher berries, and they get the lower ones.

Rosie is also willing to thrash through the thorny vines if it means she might get a succulent raspberry stash, often found past the blackberries.

We had been watching these berries for weeks, just waiting for the first one to turn black. On Friday night I saw the first one and came home with a palm full of berries for Andy. On Saturday I started the first harvest. It was pretty hot out in the morning when we went, and after about a 1/4 of a gallon bag the dogs started panting heavily. I hadn’t anticipated the heat, or that the water would be dried up from the spot we go, so I had to walk the dogs home but not before they managed to find some thick mud to romp through.

I hadn’t even touched 3/4 of the area we harvest from, but of the bit I did harvest the dogs often beat me to the berries first. As is typical, Rosie stays behind to keep picking at a bush while Winnie runs far ahead to find the next batch before I can get to it.

Though we had to call Saturday morning early, we still got a decent harvest. There will be plenty more harvesting days though before the season is over, which doesn’t last very long. It means I’ll be out just about every night this week picking berries, and of course eating as many black raspberries (my favorite of the bunch) as I can while I harvest.

It takes time, and it can get tedious, but they payoff is totally worth it. Harvesting wild food is incredibly satisfying and nature does all the work for you. There’s no weeding, no watering and no mulching. It’s permaculture at it’s finest, and I for one am happy to partake.

Here’s to more berries, more meals and realizing that if we just stop and look around that the good Lord provides if we’re willing to put in some sweat equity.

xo,

Heather

Smoothie 101

Between the hot summer days, the renovations and everything else going on, there are just some days you don’t feel like cooking a whole lot. There’s something about a humid 85 degree day that doesn’t exactly make you want to throw on your apron and be Betty Crocker or Julia Childs. Granted I could never be either one of these ladies anyway so I guess I’m in luck.

With all of the energy we are exerting renovating, especially Andy, it’s pretty important to make sure we keep not only hydration but vitamins up. This means smoothies. Lots and lots of smoothies.

We mostly have these for breakfasts and/or lunches on the weekends but lately I’ve been making them for dinner or as an after dinner snack. Tonight for example I cooked the boys some spaghetti, but I was so darn hot after standing around that boiling water and sauteing veggies for the sauce that I couldn’t even *think* about eating something so hot. I was pretty sure my skin would have melted right off my bones if I managed to get as hot inside as I felt outside. That’s a little dramatic, but I still wasn’t having it.

Enter the smoothie.

Unlike what you might think, you absolutely do not need to have tons of fresh fruit on hand. In fact, we often only have oranges and bananas fresh in this house. I buy the store brand frozen fruit in bags stocked in the freezer for easy access. Using frozen fruit also means no adding ice that will water down your smoothie later on. Double score. Oh, and I personally prefer to buy all of my fruits separate so I can mix and match, but if mixed bags are your thing have at it. There’s no smoothie police. I once tried to find a number for them when my brother made a beet smoothie. Unfortunately, they do not exist.

I’m going to suggest something—invest in a Vitamix. Let me add in here that this is not a paid post. My Dad bought us one of these for Christmas a few years ago and it has hands down been in the top 5 most used/valuable kitchen items I have. One of the best reasons it’s smoothie-tastic-awesometown is that you don’t have to peel any fruit you can normally eat the skin of (i.e. apples, etc.—it blends so fine, including seeds, you can’t tell. This means you get all the nutrition unlike a juicer).  I know they aren’t cheap, but they are incredibly worth it. It’s also hands down the loudest item I own in the kitchen, and I’m pretty sure you should be wearing hearing protectors when you use it (especially when you throw dried garbanzo’s in to make flour) but I don’t even care. Forget blenders, Vitamix is where it’s at.  Can I please tell you that it can make sorbet in about 15 seconds flat? Well, I’m going to. Sorbet in 15 seconds is my bag of chips. Minus the chips and plus a delicious wonderful, smooth, fruity, frozen snack. 

But this is about smoothies. So, with me now focusing on wanting sorbet, here’s a “recipe” for one of my favorite quick and easy smoothies. Though really, they are all just about my favorites. If you love V-8 put a bunch of veggies in, even beets if that’s your thing…I guess. It’s not mine, but if a smoothie has fruit in it I’m in. If you add in any kind of spinach or kale to that fruit watch out, I might just pour it over my face in slow motion Gatorade-after-a-championship-win style.

It’s an attractive mental image, I’m aware.

Best Ever Smoothie (Except probably not because there are a thousand variations which are super ridiculous tasty)

  • Some Soy/Coconut/Almond or Rice Milk
  • A banana
  • An orange
  • Frozen Strawberries
  • Frozen Pineapple

Directions: Whiz until tasty and combined. Then pour into glasses. Unless you made a small batch and you’re home alone, then maybe drink right out of the Vitamix container. I suggest a glass but hey, it’s your home. I hope. Maybe don’t do it with a friends.

Other favorite combinations include:

  • Blackberry, Strawberry, Banana, Orange and Coconut Milk
  • Kale, Spinach, Banana, Raspberries, Agave Nectar, Almond Milk
  • Strawberry, Soy Yogurt, Soy Milk
  • Spinach, Pineapple, Mango, Orange, Orange Juice, Soy Milk
  • Carrot, Spinach, Mango, Peach, Rice Milk
  • Anything you have in the freezer that might end up super tasty in a smoothie

It’s really that simple, and it feels a heck of a lot better than any of the frozen “add juice and shake” or fast food smoothies out there. Plus, did I mention you can make sorbet?

Must. Make. Sorbet. Now.

xo,

Heather