Sunday, May 22, 2011

I Got the Hippie Hippie Shakes

Hethyr:  Prior to student teaching and becoming a teacher at Manitou Elementary, Jon worked as a para-educator at Ute Pass Elementary.  It’s a great little school in the Manitou Springs school district and we’ve gotten to know the staff quite well over the last few years.  They really create a fun atmosphere for the kids.  I remember when Jon first started working there, he came home chuckling one day about a reading challenge that was taking place.  There was a map of the United States on one of the bulletin boards and pinned to the state of Colorado was a Volkswagen bus and it was pointed West.  As the kids logged reading hours, the van would inch closer and closer to California, and more specifically San Francisco.  Once there, the whole school would have a “hippie” party where everyone dressed like hippies and they had music, hula-hooping, food, drinks and, I’m sure, lots of recess.

I still talk to the P.E. Teacher often on Facebook and Twitter and she recently asked me to participate in their first “Health Jam” where vendors are set up and classes and parents rotate through to see demonstrations and displays pertaining to health and fitness.  I knew I wanted my demonstration to be something that would hold the kids’ attention while also being interesting for the parents and teachers.  To me, that means hands-on, easy, tasty food for the kids and information for the parents on keeping their families healthy and happy.

Nephews, Ashyr & Roc, making granola bars
So, for this “hippie” school, I decided a “granola” presentation was appropriate.  I’ve been making my own granola bars since I decided that boxed bars are too pricey for what you get and unacceptable in terms of ingredients.  I can't even pronounce some of them.  I know exactly what goes into my bars and that they’re inexpensive and incredibly easy to make.  Aside from using the oven, a kid could make this recipe entirely on his/her own.  For the demo, I plan on asking for student volunteers and having them actually make these granola bars.  It should be very entertaining for the adults!  ;)

A couple of things worth noting:
We wonder why kids are
addicted to sugar...

1)  Boxed granola bars are loaded with sugar in lots of different forms.  For example, on Wal-Mart’s Great Value Chocolate Chunk Chewy Granola Bars ingredients list, you can find sugar in the first ingredient (granola), sugar as the second ingredient, sugar in a couple of different forms in the chocolate, corn syrup solids, sugar (yes, again on it’s own), high fructose corn syrup and fructose.  So, sugar is listed eight separate times on the ingredients list.  Wow.

2)  Boxed bars contain ingredients of unknown origin (at least to us!).  We found an ingredient called “crisp syrup” on the same ingredients list.  We Googled it and came up with nothing.  WTF is this stuff?  Not to mention “BHT (a preservative).”  Another quote from the ingredients list:  “May contain traces of almonds, pecans, walnuts and peanuts.”  MAY contain?  As in they don’t know?  That’s messed up.  Again, I know exactly what is in my granola bars!  I even throw in a little dark chocolate and organic dried fruit for good measure.

Boxed bar=size of Jon's
middle finger
Mine=bigger & MUCH better
3)  Size does matter!  The same store-bought bars are less than half the size of my homemade ones (although you can certainly determine your ideal size for yourself… nah, I’ll let that one go).  That’s about the size of Jon’s middle finger (see picture at left).  When you buy their bars, that’s essentially the message they’re sending you.  So why not send the message right back by refusing to buy them anymore and by taking a step toward self-sufficiency and making your own?

These granola bars, just like most of my other recipes, are very versatile.  If you tire of dark chocolate, you're sick... oops, I mean try other kinds of chips such as milk or white chocolate, peanut butter chips, etc.  Mix up the fruit and/or nuts or make up different combos such as "tropical" using dried pineapple, large coconut flakes and chopped macadamia nuts.  Or "autumn" using fall spices, dried apples, cranberries and walnuts.  Use your imagination and the possibilities become infinite.  And you'll never have to buy icky boxed bars again!

Chewy Granola Bars
Makes 16 bars (or 32 if you want their size)
  • 2 1/2 cups quick rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup brown rice crisp cereal
  • 1/4 cup coconut flakes
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 6 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup dried fruit, chopped OR 1/2 cup dried fruit, chopped + 1/2 cup nuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Grease a 9-inch x 13-inch baking dish with butter or cooking spray.  Set aside.

Grease hands to keep
granola from sticking
In a large bowl, stir together oats, brown rice cereal, coconut flakes, chocolate chips and salt.  Add brown sugar, melted butter, honey and vanilla and mix well.  Stir in dried fruit and nuts (if using).

Pour mixture into the greased baking dish and, with greased hands, press down firmly and evenly.

Bake at 350°F for approximately 18 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes.  Score into 16 bars, then let cool completely.  Once set, finish cutting bars the rest of the way through.

NOTE:  Can easily be halved and baked in an 8-inch x 8-inch pan.

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Jon:  What’s not to love about granola bars?  The Urban Dictionary has seven definitions for “granola.”  Some of the highlights include…

“A person who dresses like a hippy, eats natural foods (granola), and is usually a Liberal, but in all other ways is a typical middle class white person, and is likely to revert back to being straight when they finish college.”

“A tree hugging, free spirited hippie minus all the drugs.”

“earthy crunchy, nature valley, au natural, plain jane, somewhat dirty and unkempt, and in need of a shower.”

Need to hear it used in a sentence to truly understand?  I thought so.  Here are a couple of helpful examples…

“Did you see that granola chick at the farmer’s market buying bean sprouts?  Yeah, her new Volvo was parked next to me.”

“That chick doesn’t shave her armpits; she’s hella granola.”

cub_handsign_lgSo I guess if we take the Urban Dictionary to be law (which we clearly should), granola bars are free-spirited, tree-hugging, earth-conscious, natural edibles.  But they also happen to have just enough style and class to appease those uppity types who like to shower regularly.  They've got the whole package.  Let's face it, if a granola bar were a person, it’d be Johnny Depp.

One of the best things about Hethyr’s granola bars is that they are a little different every time.  Since you can use any type of dried fruits, chocolates, nuts, and whatever other ingredients, your bars can have a great variety of flavors.  One of the other best things about Hethyr's granola bars are that they taste freakin' amazing.  The portability is nice, too.  I often have one or two during snack time right after recess.  Yep, that's right.  I still have snack time and recess.  And all the kids are jealous of my granola bars.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Stuff It!

Hundreds of morels found by Jon's family
Hethyr:  You probably know by now that I am a huge fan of morel mushrooms and I, for one, hope that you get several morel recipes from me this spring!  That would imply that we’ve been successful on our hunts.  Unfortunately, I think it’s still too early in the mountains (at least where we’ve looked) because, as of two days ago, we were still getting snow.  I’m hoping to try again in a couple of weeks, but until then we’ll enjoy the dried morels we received as a gift yesterday from Jon’s dad, step-mom, sister and brother-in-law.  They had a VERY successful hunt last week, gathering about 650 between the four of them!  Of course they wouldn’t disclose where they found them or they would have had to kill us.  I put our little jar of dried ‘shrooms in the pantry and wondered what mouthwatering dish I’d eventually use them in.  Well, it didn’t take long to figure it out.  About 24 hours, as a matter of fact.

Today, while shopping for clients, I picked up some fresh, locally grown asparagus to have as a side dish with dinner.  I had some chicken and pork tenderloins thawing in the refrigerator and thought the asparagus would make a beautiful side for either.  Well, I know I’ve mentioned my odd cravings in prior posts and today was no exception.  I started fantasizing (yes, food is like porn to me, okay?) about calzones at one point, knowing that we had some leftover ricotta from a recipe earlier this week.  Then I started wondering what kind of scrumptious fillings I could think of to put in my fantasy calzone…?...?...  Then I remembered the morels.  And the chicken.  Yep and yep.

When I mentioned my idea to Jon, I had barely gotten the name of the dish out before he was in full agreement that he, too, wanted this more than anything.  Ever.  Okay, maybe I’m imagining that he wanted this as badly as I did, but I guess we’ll have to see what he says…

It is hard to describe the sense of satisfaction and wonder I feel when I start with a few basic ingredients, spend a little time in the kitchen and end up with a sensory masterpiece.  I think it was this feeling that led me to fall in love with cooking in the first place.  I remember how proud I was of my first fruit pizza which I made when family visited Jon and me during college.  I think you can see the pride in my face in the picture.  =)  

Although the fruit pizza was a far cry from my current culinary creations, I still get that same giddy feeling when a dish turns out well.  I got that warm, fuzzy feeling from these calzones… not fuzzy like those massive caterpillars which seem to have attached themselves to my eyebrows in this picture.

Chicken and Morel Calzones
Serves 2 to 4
I love coming up with new Spring recipes!
  • 1 dough recipe (see below)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 ounce dried morel mushrooms (use fresh if you’ve got ‘em!)
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup sliced cippolini onions or shallots
  • 1/2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup shredded Asiago cheese
  • 1/4 cup shredded Fontina cheese
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 3/4 cup cooked, shredded chicken
  • 1 egg
  • Splash of water

Prepare dough (see recipe below).  While dough is rising, place dried morels in a bowl with boiling water, cover and let reconstitute for 20-30 minutes.  Drain, reserving liquid for another use, and coarsely chop mushrooms.

Place pizza stone on center rack in oven and preheat oven to 400°F.  Sprinkle pizza peel liberally with cornmeal.

Heat olive oil in medium skillet over medium heat.  Add sliced onions or shallots and chopped morels and cook until onions or shallots are translucent.  Add balsamic vinegar and cook until evaporated.  Remove mixture from skillet and cool slightly.

In a large bowl, combine ricotta, Asiago, Fontina, thyme, chicken and mushroom mixture.  Season with salt and pepper.

Prepare egg wash:  In a small dish, combine 1 egg with a splash of water.  Whisk with a fork.

Place half of the filling onto half of each prepared dough circle, leaving an inch around the edge to close the calzone.  Brush around the edge of each calzone with the egg wash, fold the dough in half and press closed.  Roll the edge up on itself and press down again so filling doesn’t leak out.  Brush tops with egg wash, then cut a few vents so steam can escape.

Transfer calzones to pizza peel one at a time and slide onto the preheated pizza stone.  Bake for 25-30 minutes or until tops are golden brown and insides are hot.  Cut in half, if desired, or keep the whole thing to yourself.  =)

Basic Pizza/Calzone Dough
Makes one 10-inch pizza or two calzones
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry active yeast
  • 6-8 tablespoons warm water (100°F to 110°F), divided
  • 2 1/4 ounces (about 1/2 cup) white whole wheat flour
  • 2 1/4 ounces (about 1/2 cup) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Cooking spray
  • Cornmeal
Dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup warm water and let stand for 5 minutes.

Place flour and salt in a food processor and pulse a few times. 

Pour yeast mixture through chute while processor is running, then add additional water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until dough forms a ball (see picture at left).  Process for 30 seconds.

After an hour, if the dough has risen enough, a couple of fingers pressed into dough will leave an indentation.  Punch down dough, cover and let rest 5 minutes.

FOR PIZZA:  While dough rises, preheat oven to 500°F.  Place pizza stone in the center of preheated oven about 30 minutes prior to baking pizza.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll into a 10-inch circle.  Place dough onto a pizza peel sprinkled with cornmeal.  Top and bake according to recipe.

FOR CALZONES:  Divide dough into two equal pieces and one at a time, on a floured surface, flatten each dough round with a rolling pin until about 8 to 10-inches in diameter.  Fill and bake according to recipe.
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Jon:  I love the concept of a calzone.  It provides all the satisfaction of a pizza with its tasty browned dough, gooey cheese, saucy... um... sauciness.  But there's something extra cool about the calzone.  Maybe it's that a calzone is like a little gift-wrapped present... a doughy package with a surprise inside.  Feasting upon good food that has even better food stuffed inside of it is fun.  It's like biting into a chocolate donut and discovering a creamy filling.  Or grabbing a piece of chocolate-covered who-knows-what from a box, wondering if you'll hit the jackpot with a caramel or coconut center (or gag because you got the orange one).

Gumbys Pizza

Remember Tidal Wave gum, the gum with a gooey fruity liquid in the middle?  Your taste buds would go haywire for one glorious minute before you had to spit the bland, tasteless remains out of your mouth. Calzones also remind me of pepperoni rolls from Gumby's pizza in Champaign, IL.  They were great with a side of Pokey Sticks at 3am during the college years.  Pepperoni rolls were nothing special... in fact, they were pretty low quality.  But once again, there's just something about the mysterious appeal of food that hides inside of other food.

I think it's funny and fitting that "calzone" refers to "stockings" or "trousers" in some Italian dialects. Earlier today I suggested to Hethyr that we make a breakfast stocking sometime soon.  Of course, when I say "we" I really mean "she," but whatever.  A calzone with bacon, eggs, potatoes, cheese and black beans? Yum.  That would be a mighty fine trouser.

Anyway, this calzone was outstanding.  The morels and balsamic vinegar are what really did it for me.  But something else might satisfy your cravings, which is the beauty of the magnificently versatile calzone.  So my advice to you... go stuff something inside of something else and enjoy it.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Happy National Buttermilk Biscuit Day!


Homemade Whole Wheat Buttermilk Biscuits inspired by National Buttermilk Biscuit Day
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Monday, May 9, 2011

What's Shakin', Beef 'n Bacon?

Hamburger Bubble Clip Art
Hethyr:  The other morning, I got an intense craving for a burger, which is a bit odd for me.  Not to say that I don't love them - they just aren't something I eat very often and especially at 9:00 am.  Usually Jon and I grab a burger after a good hike, but this was not the case on this particular day.  This craving came from some unknown place deep in my psyche and would not subside - I thought about it all day long. Even while I was doing yoga (about the only time my brain gives me a break), all I could think about while I wasn't supposed to be thinking at all was a big, juicy burger with bacon and cheese.  *DROOL*

Jon's beautiful burgers,
grilled on a perfect day
When Jon got home from school that day, I asked him to grill some burgers.  Since we didn't have any buns on hand, we decided to use slices of homemade bread and make our version of a patty melt.

For the last week, we've been eating this incredible bacon jam that I received at a local swap.  People hand-make goods (food or otherwise) or come with eggs, produce, milk, herbs, etc. to swap with other folks. No money is allowed so you trade your items for others'.  It's a cool way to meet people in your community and end up with a rockin' stash of goodies.  

The bounty I received from the swap
I took dark chocolate-cherry-almond granola bars, dark chocolate "beetniks" (mini-muffins), artisan bread, organic unsweetened applesauce that I canned from Colorado apples and my Asian sesame vinaigrette.  I came home with balsamic-marinated dried tomatoes, peppermint lotion, Gorgonzola shortbread bites with fig compote, bacon jam (times two!), raw goat milk, vegetable seeds, mayonnaise and Japanese-style mayonnaise, sandalwood and patchouli soaps, piñon nuts, farm-fresh eggs, white whole wheat flour, honey caramels, banana pudding with salted caramel sauce, lemon pudding with raspberry sauce, dog treats, pot de crème (sort of like crème brûlée) and laundry soap.  It was awesome!  

We’ve tried several of the items from the swap so far – all incredible – and the bacon jam has made a few appearances on this week’s menu.  First, Jon made us grilled cheese sandwiches with bacon jam, then we had the patty melts and just this morning I made breakfast burritos with eggs, potatoes, black beans, cheese and… you guessed it – bacon jam.  Freakin’ amazing.  I plan on making it myself someday, but first I guess we’ll polish off the two jars I got at the swap.  Yep, that’s right – I shamelessly took a second jar when it was up for grabs.

Our patty melts thoroughly satisfied my mega-burger craving, but I’ll probably never be quite content with a regular patty melt again.  I’ll always feel like it’s missing that sweet, tangy, smoky something.  Maybe I’ll have to start carrying a jar of it around with me in my purse...

Bacon Jam Patty Melts
Serves 4
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground beef
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 8 bread slices
  • 4 tablespoons bacon jam or 8 cooked bacon slices
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise (we used some from the swap)
  • 4 slices of white cheese (mozzarella, muenster, pepperjack, etc.)
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 5 tablespoons butter
1.  Form the ground beef into 4 patties, coat with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Grill, broil or pan-fry the patties until cooked to your liking (keep in mind that they'll cook a little more when the sandwich is made).  Cover with foil to keep warm and set aside.
2.  Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a large skillet over medium heat and add the onion slices.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and browned.  Remove from skillet and set aside.
3.  Spread 4 slices of bread with mayonnaise and 4 with bacon jam (or bacon).  Top 4 of the slices with hamburger patties, cheese and cooked onions.  Top with the remaining bread slices.
4.  Melt half of the remaining butter in the skillet and add sandwiches.  Cook until golden brown, then carefully flip.  Cook second side until golden brown and cheese is melted.  Cut in half, bite in and experience bacon-y bliss!
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Jon:  Some of my best memories from college are from the days when Hethyr and I would sleep until mid-afternoon then head to Steak 'n Shake for a very late breakfast.  Those of you who live out west with us might not know about Steak 'n Shake because they haven't yet migrated into the mountain time zone. Basically it's a 24-hour diner where you can shorten your life significantly by consuming a greasy burger, cheese-soaked fries and a cherry coke for minimal cash.  It's the kind of place that we no longer frequent due to the fact that we want to live to see 40, but it was great college food nonetheless.

Frisco Melt
Steak 'n Shake's Frisco Melt
Our favorite Steak 'n Shake meal was definitely the "Frisco Melt."  It was a couple of burger patties with two kinds of cheese and "Frisco sauce" (which tasted suspiciously like Thousand Island dressing), all loaded up on some grilled sourdough bread.  It was truly a miracle meal, sufficing as a late-afternoon breakfast or an early morning beer-sponge.  What more could a couple of starving college kids want?

When Hethyr came to me the other day with her burger craving and we didn't have any hamburger buns, the Frisco Melt discussion started immediately.  We knew we wanted the same satisfaction, only this was our chance to make it healthier (kind of) and even tastier.  With a little creativity and some help from the bacon jam, our new best friend, I can proudly proclaim mission accomplished.

By the way, Mom and Dad, in case you're reading this, you can be sure that we only did this on weekends and never would have done such a thing on a school day.  I always tried to get up by noon when I actually had class.