Homestead Living: Maple Syrup Granola

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It’s  been three weeks since we moved into our little house on the hill and I must say that settling into country living is going pretty smoothly so far. Smith and I are starting to get into a good routine and I am really enjoying my newly updated kitchen (pictures to come soon). One of the goals I have for our new location is to attempt to embrace more of a homestead type of living. This doesn’t mean I’m swearing off modern medicine (I’m a physical therapist, after all). It just means I am hoping to broaden our horizons with more made-from-scratch foods, gardening, and composting. I plan on including my steps toward a modified version of this type of lifestyle. The first project? Homemade granola.

t am always shocked to see the price of granola in grocery stores considering how easy it is to make and that all the ingredients for a basic batch are readily available. Robert has finally joined the Greek yogurt train, but he prefers eating it with a bit of granola. As a result, i decided it was time to start making our own at home.

I perused through recipes and landed on this one. It’s from the folks of the ever-reliable Cook’s Illustrated. It’s a simple concoction with a delicious result. The original recipe calls for almonds and raisins, but old Bert is a no frills type of guy and we kept it simple. This is a great granola recipe that you can jazz up with lots of ingredients depending on your personal preferences. Nuts, dried fruits, seeds, chocolate chips, etc. The possibilities are endless so save yourself some moolah and start making your own granola today!

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Oh and I just couldn’t resist throwing in this picture of my little ham loaf…

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Maple Syrup Granola

Yield: 5 3/4 cups

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 5 3/4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, mix together the maple syrup, vanilla, brown sugar, and salt. Whisk in the oil until well combined. Add in the oatmeal and mix until the oats are evenly coated.

3. Pour the mixture onto a baking sheet. and gently pat down with a spatula.

4. Bake for 40-45 mins, or until lightly browned. Be sure to rotate the pan after about 20 minutes to ensure even baking.

5. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 1 hour. Break up the granola with a spatula and store in an airtight container.

Source: My Year Cooking with Chris Kimball

Homemade Larabars (No Bake Granola Bars)

Thanksgiving week is upon us. We’re busy preparing our house for guests and getting things ready for the big feast this Thursday. Some of the first items I made were easy breakfast foods for people to enjoy while they are staying at our house. It’s always chaotic in the kitchen on Thanksgiving day and as the day goes on and it gets nearer and nearer to dinner, certain unnamed relatives (ahem… my brother and sister) tend to gravitate towards the kitchen for samples of what’s to come. While I love my siblings dearly, I think it would be better for everyone if they can have food early on in the day to keep them away from the war zone.  As a result I made banana bread, pumpkin bread, and these incredibly easy homemade Larabars for everyone to enjoy.

They’re made with very few ingredients and are especially wonderful because they are a no-bake treat that is customizable and comes together in a flash. The main binding ingredient are Medjool dates, which can be found in the produce section at the grocery store. The sticky and sweet fruit acts as the glue and then it’s easy to basically throw whatever else you want into the bars- dried fruits, nuts, chocolate chips, peanut butter, oatmeal. The choice is up to!

Besides being an easy breakfast, these bars are also great pre-workout snacks to fuel you through a good calorie burn before you sit down to a big plate of food this Thursday. :)

Homemade Lara Bars

Yield: 10-12 bars

Ingredients

  • 1 cup pecans (or other nut)
  • 3/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup shredded coconut
  • 1 1/2 cups Medjool dates, pitted and coarsely copped
  • 1 cup dried tart cherries (or other dried fruit)

Directions

1. Place the pecans, oats, chocolate chips, and coconut in a food processor. Pulse until finely chopped. Pour into a large bowl and set aside.

2. Place the dates and cherries in the food processor and pulse until a sticky ball forms. Add the date mixture to the nut/oat mixture and mix with your hands until uniformly mixed.

3. Pour the mixture onto parchment or wax paper and form into rectangle. Wrap up the dough and place it in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to allow it to harden. Cut into bars and enjoy! Wrap individually in parchment or wax paper if desired. Store in the fridge.

Inspired by 100 Days of Real Food

Homemade Pie Dough

It’s hard to believe Thanksgiving is just over a month away. We’re having a meal at our house again this year and I’ve been thinking of scaling things back a bit because I always feel like I consumed a block of lead after the marathon day of eating; and it would be nice to not be in a total food coma for the entire extended weekend. It probably isn’t necessary to have 6 different desserts after eating a huge meal, but the jury’s still out on that.

One thing’s for sure and that is that I will be making some sort of pie- whether it be pecan, apple, or pumpkin. You can’t have Thanksgiving without pie. I believe it is in the Constitution. Every great pie comes with a great crust. I used to be intimidated of making my own crust until I found this recipe from Martha Stewart and discovered how simple it really is. All you need is butter, flour, sugar, salt, and ice water. Her recipe uses a food processor, but it can be done with a pastry cutter or an electric mixer if you don’t own a food processor (although, I highly recommend them!). This pie is perfect for both sweet and savory pies and is delightfully buttery and flaky.

If you feel like getting a jump start before Turkey day arrives, this dough can be frozen for up to a month.

Pie Dough (Pate Brisee)

Yield: 1 double-crust or 2 single crusts for 9 inch pans

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter chilled and cut into small cubes
  • 1/2 cup ice water

Directions

1. Pulse the flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor. Pulse until combined.

2. Cut the butter into cubes and place in the food processor.

3. Pulse until the mixture resembles oatmeal flakes.

4. With the machine running, slowly add the ice water until the dough just comes together (don’t mix for more than 30 seconds).

5. Divide the dough onto two separate pieces of plastic. Wrap into flattened discs. Chill in the fridge for 1 hour before using or freeze for up to 1 month.

Source: Martha Stewart’s Pies and Tarts

Homemade Vanilla Bean Creamer

I am a morning person more than I am a night owl, but I occasionally struggle to get out of bed in the morning. One of the main things that lures me out of a deep slumber is the promise of a fresh cup of coffee. Sometimes I drink my coffee black and other times I like to jazz it up by adding in creamer, especially if I am making iced coffee. When I am on a creamer kick, I usually use a vanilla version from the grocery store. However, I’ve been wanting to make my own version for a long time now and I finally decided it was time a week ago.

I don’t know why I didn’t do this earlier. It really can’t get much easier as there are only 3 ingredients in the creamer I made and there is minimal prep work. Plus I feel a little better drinking my sassed up (is that a verb?) coffee with minimal preservatives.

This recipe is very adaptable and would be great with cinnamon, almond extract, peppermint extract, chocolate sauce- the list goes on and on.

Happy Monday, everyone. I hope you are enjoying your cup of coffee as much as I am.

Vanilla Bean Creamer

Yield: About 3 cups

Ingredients

  • 3 cups half and half
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped
  • 2 tablespoons sugar

Directions

Pour the half and half and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add in the vanilla bean seeds and vanilla bean pod and allow the mixture to come to a low boil, stirring occasionally until sugar is dissolved.

Remove from heat and allow mixture to steep for 30 minutes. Pour the creamer through a sieve to remove the pod and other larger pieces. Store in an  airtight bottle in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Source: Lolly’s Sweet & Savory Treats

Strawberry Pineapple Jam

My mom always made her own jam while we were growing up- blackberry, red raspberry, pepper jelly, strawberry. You name it. She is quite an ambitious woman. I took for granted the luxury of having stores of delicious jam at my fingertips, and especially realized this when I left for college and was stuck with cafeteria stuff.

Because I apparently wasn’t a very good helper to my mom, I always assumed making jam was  a seriously complicated and time-consuming task; and while it does take a little planning, I was pretty pleased with the fact that it isn’t as arduous an undertaking as I had previously thought.

You need very few ingredients- fruit, Sure-Jell pectin, and sugar. And it turns out that the Sure-Jell box has several ratios for different fruit jams on a sheet inside the package. Each fruit has different pectin levels that help the jam mixture set and, as I am in no way an expert in this arena, it was nice that all of that work was done for me.

Another perk, is that this jam didn’t need to be placed in a canner to achieve the seal on the jars. My mom told me about an easy trick in which you screw the lid and seal on, flip the jar over, and allow it to set for several hours. I let my jam set overnight and every single jar sealed perfectly. Excellent.

With strawberry season almost into full swing, this jam would be a delicious and great way to use up some of spring and summer’s bounty. And it makes  a great shower favor as well! :)

Strawberry Pineapple Jam

Ingredients

  • 3 cups clean and hulled strawberries, crushed
  • 2 cups pineapple, finely chopped
  • 1 box Sure-Jell Pectin
  • 7 cups granulated sugar

Directions

1. Bring boiling-water canner, half full with water, to simmer. Wash jars and screw bands in hot soapy water; rinse with warm water. Pour boiling water over flat lids in saucepan off the heat. Let stand in hot water until ready to use. Drain well before filling.

2. Measureexactly 3 cups crushed strawberries and 2 cups chopped pineapple into a large 6-8 quart pot.

3. Stir pectin into prepared fruit in pot. Add butter to reduce foaming. Bring mixture to full rolling boil on high heat (it shouldn’t stop bubbling when boiled), stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Carefully stir in sugar. Return to full rolling boil and boil approximately 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly until the mixture begins to thicken on the spoon or when it thickens when placed in a small bowl over ice water.  Remove from heat. Skim off any foam with metal spoon.

4.  Ladle the jam immediately into prepared jars, filling to within 1/8 inch of tops. Wipe jar rims with a wet washcloth to remove any jam on the outside of the jars. Cover with 2-piece lids. Screw bands tightly. Immediately turn the jars over and allow to set for several hours. The lids should seal with this method (you shouldn’t be able to spring back the lid with your finger). If it hasn’t sealed it must be stored in the refrigerator. Eat immediately or store sealed jars for several months.

Source: SURE-JELL

Homemade Ranch Dressing

What is it with Americans and ranch dressing? People eat it with everything- salad, raw vegetables, baked potatoes, pizza, chips.  I’m starting to think all of these foods are just vehicles for the creamy sauce that us Americans apparently can’t eat enough. I’m not usually a fan of ranch dressing. I prefer blue cheese and vinaigrettes, but I saw this recipe on Pinterest and thought I should give the homemade version a try. The result? No contest. The homemade version is ten times better than what you buy in the store. It’s so much more flavorful with the fresh herbs and garlic. And it barely takes 10 minutes to throw together. I even lightened it up by swapping some of the mayo and sour cream for plain Greek yogurt.

If you love ranch dressing, you must give this version a try.

Happy Friday, everyone!

Homemade Ranch Dressing

Yield: 16 2-Tbsp dressing

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup reduced fat sour cream
  • 1/2 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 small bunch of chives
  • 1 small handful of parsley leaves
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper (white pepper, preferred)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup buttermilk

1. Place all of the ingredients into a blender with only 1/4 cup of buttermilk.

2. Blend for 10 seconds. Gradually add in more buttermilk until you achieve the desired consistency.

3. Store in an airtight container for 1 week.

Source: Slightly adapted from Pennies on a Platter