Pistachio Granola

Pistachio Granola|Brittany's PantryWith the exception of that strange, green instant pudding from my childhood, my experience with pistachios was rather limited until I married my husband, Mike.  My Aunt Mary used to make this awesome dessert called Watergate Cake and it was a lovely shade of pistachio green and it contained that same pudding.  Recipe coming soon!!  But thats not what today is about!  Granola.  Today is about granola.

So.  My husband loves pistachios and has always preferred to buy the ones roasted, salted and cracked in the shell.  He snacks on them regularly and he has passed that nutty love of lime green nuts onto our children.  They eat them whenever they can get their hands on them and when I came across a recipe that made them the star player in granola, I couldn’t pass it up.  I always add them to my favorite granola bar recipe for color and flavor, but this recipe takes the obsession one step further.  One tasty, crunchy, healthy, and addictive step further.  So good in fact, I passed some of this along to my neighbor when I was testing and tweaking this recipe, and even though I sent it with yogurt to eat as well, she skipped the dairy and just inhaled the granola by itself.  Then she pestered me for more!  Good indication of a winner, don’t you think?
Pistachio Granola|Brittany's PantryIn general, I prefer to save a buck or two and crack them myself.  Or rather, I give them to Mike and he cracks them for me.  (Some of those suckers are tough!)  Pistachios are on the expensive side so when they are on sale, I buy what I can and enjoy them.  I always plan to buy ahead and freeze them, but we eat them too fast!  Like most nuts, pistachios are incredibly good for you and contain a wealth of nutrients.  Just a handful can give you your daily allowance of more than a half dozen vitamins and minerals, in addition to healthy fats and antioxidants.  I would love to mention all of the benefits of these fantastic nuts, but I think that we should really just stick to the most important factor: They are GREEN!!!  You faithful readers know about my obsession with all things green, afore mentioned here and here.  How do you pass up such a cheerful color?  Pistachio green paint is so popular, the 60′s and 70′s had people painting their entire kitchens with it.  Those people knew something groovy when they saw it, huh?
Pistachio Granola|Brittany's PantryIf you are not familiar with the taste of them, this granola is the perfect segue into discovering your love of happy, green, pistachios.  Healthy, nutty, crunchy, and incredibly toasty, we love it sprinkled over yogurt or poured in a bowl with some milk and eaten like a cereal.  Absolutely fantastic.  And much less of a commitment than painting your cabinets green.
Pistachio Granola|Brittany's Pantry Mixed and ready to toast in the oven!
Pistachio Granola|Brittany's PantryAll done!  Perfectly toasty and delicious!

*Todays recipe is the second part of a healthy eating series I am doing over on J Rose Fitness, a healthy living Facebook page!  Jessica McKenzie is an online Beach body coach and you can check out her page here.  Be sure to like her on Facebook to get regular healthy living tips and inspiration!  Click on the links below to see the other recipes in the series.

Green Tea Smoothie

Pistachio Granola
Recipe adapted from Mountain Momma Cooks
I do double this recipe, but most of the time I like enjoying this small batch.  I make this often, but it isn’t my regular go-to formula for granola so we treat it as something special.

1 1/2 c rolled oats
1/2 c shelled pistachio nuts, roughly chopped if desired
1/3 c sliced almonds
3 T grape seed or canola oil
3 T honey, preferably raw
1 tsp vanilla
small pinch of salt (if your nuts come salted, omit this ingredient)

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.  In a medium bowl, combine nuts and oats.  In a large measuring cup, microwave the remaining ingredients until just warm enough to soften the honey and stir the mixture smooth.  Pour over the oats and pistachios, mix thoroughly, and spread on a parchment lined sheet pan.  Be sure the mixture is in a nice, thin, single layer so that the heat can circulate well and toast your granola evenly!  Bake for 10 minutes, then gently stir the mixture well, spreading it evenly out on the sheet pan again.  Toast for another 5 minutes, stir again, then toast for a final three minutes.  Granola should be golden brown and don’t worry-it will crisp up as it cools.  Remove and let cool completely.  Store in an airtight container or freeze.

Buttermilk Bread

Buttermilk BreadInevitably, when I leave for vacation, I seem to have a container of buttermilk left.  You would think I get hip to this fact over time and take the necessary measures, using it up in waffles and pancakes the week before we go, but I never do.

Now, if this were ice cream, I would be all over it.  I would gladly sacrifice my healthy lunch to finish off that lonely quart of mint and chip.  The fact that ice cream would easily last until I returned in a week or so is irrelevant.

But buttermilk?  You obviously can’t just drink it down to use it up.  I always keep it in my fridge because I use it to bake with so much, but when I am packing 5 people for a trip (one of them who is still in diapers) time is of the essence.  Yes, I could freeze it, and occasionally I do.  Unfortunately, my freezer real-estate is limited and much sought after (the blueberries usually win) so that isn’t always an option.  Especially now in our little rental house.  My solution?  This bread.  Aptly named, Buttermilk Bread.  You may have already deduced the main ingredient…

This earns a spot on this blog because it is just so darn versatile.  I am all about multitasking so anything that serves more than one purpose is on my ‘I like you’ list.  Believe it or not this isn’t a sweet bread, but it can certainly be served that way.  Baked ahead and tucked in the freezer, this bread is great to pull out and slice up to put out for breakfast or brunch; slathered with butter and jam of course.  The mild, neutral flavor also lends itself to savory applications.  Added to the dinner table in lieu of dinner rolls, no butter needed, is a great way to change up your menu without a lot of effort.  Think of it alongside soups, stews, main dish salads, and even Thanksgiving!

I’ll post the recipe below.  You know…just in case you are going on a trip soon.
Buttermilk BreadButtermilk BreadButtermilk Bread
Adapted from Cooking Light
This quick bread comes together with minimal ingredients and even less steps, making this a great recipe to use when you are short on time!

Preheat your oven to 350.  In a large mixing bowl, add:
2 c all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
Whisk dry ingredients together to combine.  In a large measuring cup, whisk together:
2 egg whites
1 1/2 c low fat buttermilk
2 T honey
1/4 c canola or grape seed oil, or melted butter

When wet ingredients are whisked until smooth, add to dry ingredients and stir and fold both together until just combined.  No need to whisk or beat this.  Pour batter into a sprayed, standard sized loaf pan (about 8X4 or 9X5) and bake for 45 minutes.  It will be nicely browned on top and a toothpick or skewer should come out clean when inserted near the center.  Cool slightly in the pan for 10 minutes or so until the bread has a chance to set a bit, then turn out onto a cooling rack.  Cool completely!!  Slightly warm is ok, but slice it too hot and it isn’t as good. Great bread to freeze ahead and just thaw on the counter before you serve it.  Enjoy!

Green Tea Smoothie

Green Green SmoothieSo, remember when I posted this recipe for Green Green Salad?  I am at it again, but this time its drinkable.  I keep creating these verdant recipes and all I can think of is, “Awesome.  It is sooooo greeeeeen.”

Side Note:  I have been looking for a green couch for my family room, but don’t tell my husband.  Sssssshhhhhhh.

I love the color green and every time I make this smoothie I do a little happy dance because it just looks so vibrant and energizing and positive.  In general, food of this shade is on the healthy side so how can you think of anything else but the power of the nutrients coursing through your veins?!  This is why Popeye got so revved up on spinach!  Green just does something to us!  It makes our arm muscles bulge and that look of heroic wisdom cross our faces.  It is life!

Yes, in case you are wondering, there is spinach in this smoothie, but the color and health factor get a bit of a boost from some matcha powder.  What the heck is that, you ask?  Only the coolest stuff on the PLANET!  Ok.  The pyramids are cooler, but matcha powder is pretty neat.  It is just a finely ground green tea that uses the whole green tea leaf and a little bit goes a long way.  It is actually so potent that 1 tsp of powder mixed with a cup of hot water to dissolve it, is the equivalent of 10 cups of brewed green tea.  Neat huh?  You can find it in the health food sections of most grocery stores nowadays, and for sure in any health food/specialty store worth its salt.  Heck!  You can even find it at Vitamin World!  Yes, it is a bit expensive, but it lasts for a long time.  And it is the perfect boost in this smoothie.  It kinda gives it that herbal taste without adding more fibrous veggies.  Because, hey.  I love broccoli as much as the next person, but I personally don’t like to drink it cold and raw.  *shudder*

Regardless of wether or not you are gluten free, dairy free, nut free, vegan, or like me, proud to be at the top of the food chain and eating anything you can get your hands on, this drink has you covered.  It won’t weigh you down and I swear it makes you feel healthier just looking at it. And you know why, right?  Because its green.
Green Green Smoothie Green Green Smoothie*Todays recipe can be found on the JRose Fitness page on Facebook by the lovely Jessica McKenzie!  I will regularly be contributing feature recipes that are good for da body and good for da soul so check it out here!  Be sure to ‘like’ the page so you don’t miss anything.  And bonus!  You get a boost of healthy living and fitness inspiration as well!  Click here to see her actual coaching site!

Green Tea Smoothie
This drink is full of good things.  It may be tempting, but don’t skip the lemon juice.  Not only is it incredibly beneficial (health wise) but it gives a brightness of flavor to this smoothie that brings it from OK to outrageous!

1 c coconut milk (I use light)
1 banana
juice of 1/2 of a lemon
1/2 bag frozen, organic peaches (1 1/2 c or so)
2 extra large handfuls of baby spinach, preferably organic
1 T honey (optional)
1 tsp matcha powder

Blend all ingredients together in a blender until smooth, adding ice of desired.  Serve immediately.

IMG_9820There really is no other way to say this: This stuff is awesome.

Not much in the way of frills.  It just takes something really great (three kinds of summer melons) and takes it up a smidge to make it spectacular. And contrary to my usual rants, I am not exaggerating!

You know by now how much of a honey freak I am.  I have always loved honey.  Have I ever told you the story about aspirin and honey from when I was a kid?  No?  Well then… When we were kids and we would wake up in the night with a headache or fever or some kind of ailment, my Mom would give us aspirin.  Remember the big, clear bottle of tiny, white pills with the little white cap?  That is what we had.

Ah! The 80′s.

Anyway, because we were generally too small to swallow pills on our own, and because aspirin is enormously bitter, my mother would put a half (or whole, depending on our age) pill on a huge spoonful of honey.  We would take the whole thing in one bite and no matter how shocking the taste of plain aspirin was, we could chew it up with a huge gob of raw honey in our mouths.  Not a bad way to take your medicine, I must say.  To this day, the smell and taste of aspirin makes me think of honey!
Melon Salad W/Honey & LimeIn this case, we are just using it to boost the already sweet flavor of the fruit.  Super simple but with a big impact, this is a great-and healthy-dish to set out for brunch, lunch, or even bring to your next barbecue.  Besides!  Honey goes with everything!  Even aspirin.
Melon Salad W/Honey & LimeAbove is just a big bowl of fruit that I cut up, layered in the bowl to make it pretty, and then covered with cellophane and tucked in the fridge.
Below is the drizzled final product.  YUM!
Melon Salad W/Honey & LimeTri-Melon Salad W/Honey & Lime
Go ahead and cut the fruit and even put it in your serving bowl up to a day ahead.  Don’t drizzle on the syrup until just before you serve.  Bite sized chunks are great for eating, but go just a bit bigger than that so that they hold together in the bowl better.

Cantaloupe, Watermelon, and Honeydew-trimmed and cut into large chunks
1/2 c honey, preferably local and raw
1 T water
zest of 1 lime
juice of 1 lime, about 2 T

In a large serving bowl, layer the fruit in a bit at a time.  You aren’t going to stir this so however it goes in the dish is how you want it. Clear vessels are beautiful but it ultimately doesn’t matter.  Cover and chill until ready to serve.  When ready to eat, microwave the water and honey for 30 seconds in a glass measuring cup, stirring and heating longer if necessary to make it easily pourable and warm.  Add the lime juice and zest, stir, and drizzle over the fruit just before you serve it.  Do not stir.  Garnish with mint or lime wedges if desired.  Note: The chunks on the bottom that sit in the syrup the longest are the pieces you are going to be fighting over!!

Whole Wheat Cheese & Chocolate Snack RollsRight around this time of year I start to feel like this is my life.  Make no mistake, I know it will only get worse as my kids get older, but preparing for a move across the country, trying to sell our house and buy a different one in a different time zone, transitioning insurance (…and doctors and ballet studios and karate dojos and playgrounds and pharmacies…) I am just barely hanging in there.  It is only slight exaggeration when I say that this little snack saved my life about a month ago.

Sometimes, when I am just. so. bored. with what is in my fridge and I just can’t make myself make/eat another peanut butter sandwich or ham and cheese roll-up for me OR my kids, I tend to kinda loose it.  I am not a creature of habit.  No no.  I need variety.  I know you know this already, but it bears repeating so that you understand the full reasons behind the chocolate chips.

I was desperate.

Truthfully (and this is a safe place so I feel as though I can be honest here), I wanted some cheesecake.  Badly.  I wanted the thick, rich, toothiness that comes with a super cold slice of New York style cheese cake.  The ‘clog your arteries with one bite’ kind.  Of course, living in the heartland of the midwest and surrounded by cornfields, I would have to make it myself.  Unfortunately, my kitchen contained exactly zero of the elements that make a cheesecake as I am in the middle of trying to empty my cupboards, freezer, and fridge.

This little snack was my compromise and I have been dishing them out as a part of lunches, snacks, and late breakfasts ever since.  I usually add honey to just about anything that I smear with cream cheese, but in this case, I um…well…I forgot.  That was  my intention, as I stood at the fridge and blankly decided to add chocolate to cream cheese, and then I spaced it.  Turns out, that was a smooth move because it doesn’t need that added blast of sweetness.  Whole wheat tortillas are a staple in our house and if you make them from scratch yourself, all the better!  Smeared with low fat cream cheese and sprinkled with mini chocolate chips, this snack is not really sweet at all, but is actually quite satisfying.  I have been passing them off to the kids as we struggle to the end of the school year, and even whipping them up as a quick, protein snack to keep me from crashing after a workout.  And lets face it; mini chocolate chips make everyone happy.  Especially when you are just days away from summer vacation.

*deep breath*  I’m ready.
Whole Wheat Cheese & Chocolate Snack RollsWhole Wheat Cheese & Chocolate Snack RollsWhole Wheat Cheese & Chocolate Snack RollsTwo Years AgoTofu Chocolate Pudding
Three Years Ago: Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream & Lemon Thyme Orzo

Whole Wheat Cheese & Chocolate Snack Rolls

whole wheat tortillas
low-fat whipped cream cheese
mini chocolate chips, dark if you can find them

Spread a thin layer of cream cheese on the tortilla, sprinkle with mini chips, roll and eat or slice into bit sized pieces.

Pioneer Bread

Pioneer BreadCan I just, say something…crazy?
In my head, that request was stated like Princess Anna in Frozen.
Ok.  Here is the crazy thing.  Are you ready?

This bread tastes like history.  Like the Old West.  Like The Oregon Trail.

I TOLD you it was crazy, and although I am not a woman prone to exaggeration (*cough cough* ahem), I promise you this is true.  It makes you think of covered wagons, sod houses, and Little House On The Prairie.  I take a bite, close my eyes, and I no longer hear the beep of the microwave timer, but instead, the clang of the iron cookstove door as my husbands adds more logs to the fire.  I can almost smell the waist high grasses blowing outside of the open kitchen window.  My calloused hands bring the still warm slice of bread to my lips for another taste and a sudden bellow from Mazy in barn reminds me that its almost time for evening milking.

Don’t you love it when food does that to you?  Transports you to another time and place or evokes a thought or feeling with just a taste?  I do.  That is one of my favorite things about food.  Perhaps a little of it is the name, but I feel stronger, more independent, and more adventurous just mixing up a batch.

The recipe-or a version of it-has been handed down through families for generations.  It relies on the acid of sour milk to do its leavening and contains no refined sugars and no butter or oil.  Certain items have been changed over time, such as the use of  wheat flour, but I think it still stays true to its name.  It is hearty and a bit heavy, due to the denseness of the ingredients, but it isn’t TOO heavy.  The dried fruit helps sweeten the bread but the honey flavor comes through and results in a bread that nearly tastes like sunshine itself.  We like to eat it sliced thick, plain, right out of the hand.  When you get to the end of the loaf after a day or two, toasted with butter is down right excellent.  Milk cow and covered wagon optional.
Pioneer BreadPioneer BreadPioneer BreadOne Year Ago: Pomegranate Sorbet W/Mini Chocolate Chips & White Sangria,
Two Years Ago: Classic Buttermilk Biscuits, The BEST Strawberry Rhubarb Jam,
Three Years Ago: Lemon Chiffon Pie & Outrageous Grilled Pork Chops

Pioneer Bread
Adapted from Americas Test Kitchen
The little boost of sugar is not necessary, but I found that it makes the honey flavor a bit stronger in the finished bread.

3 c white whole wheat flour, or regular whole wheat flour
1 c all purpose flour
1/4 c sugar (optional)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 egg
2 c buttermilk
1/2 c honey
1 c chopped walnuts
1/2 c chopped dates
1/2 c raisins

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Combine dry ingredients in a bowl.  In a large glass measuring cup, whisk together the buttermilk, egg, and honey until combined.  Gently stir into dry ingredients, folding together until not quite mixed.  Add the nuts and dried fruit and gently fold together until completely combined.  Pour the batter into two, well greased or sprayed 9X5 inch loaf pans.  Bake for 50-60 minutes or until golden brown and toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack and let cool the rest of the way.  Store well wrapped on the counter for a day or two, or freeze.

Honey Cardamom Snack Cake

Honey Cardamom Snack CakeA year or so ago, my friend Thea and her family stopped by to visit on the way through town.  Aside from the fact that I have know her more than 20 years and she remembers what I looked like in the mid 90′s, she is a professional baker.  She has been mostly special occasion cakes for the last 8 years, but recently opened up a store front, giving the general public a chance to enjoy her creations on a day to day basis.  Needless to say, we talk flour, butter, sugar, and eggs whenever we are together.

On this particular visit, I was baking something.  For the life of me I canNOT remember what it was, but I assure  you, it wasn’t cake.  Of all the things to feed a professional baker, I avoid baked confections as much as possible.  Usually I lean toward things like creme brûlée, fruit bars, and puddings.  Whatever it was I was making, Thea walked into the kitchen, sniffed, and her eyes lit up.  “Are you using cardamom?” was her immediate question.  Yes, I told her.  Why?  “It is one of my favorite spices,” she declared.  “But it is so under-used!’

I agreed.  Even though it is a warm flavor with an almost herb-y quality to it, and is often mixed with Christmas spices, you don’t often see it used completely on its own.  I happen to love it.  I add it to my plain banana bread, shortbread cookies, and most recently, as the feature flavor in snack cakes!
Honey Cardamom Snack CakeHoney Cardamom Snack Cake As you can see, my two year old wasn’t willing to wait until I was done photographing.  The honey is the only sweetener in this recipe so please please PLEASE use local, raw honey if you have the chance.  The flavor is incomparable to the stuff from the grocery store.  It also gives it the perfect level of sweetness.  Paired with a simple, sour cream snack cake base and the warmth of the cardamom, it is just homey.  If you want to use it as a dessert, fresh strawberries and sweet whipped cream are outstanding with this cake.  But generally, I just like to pick it up and take a bite.

Thea would approve.
Honey Cardamom Snack CakeIMG_9145IMG_9102 One Year Ago: Loaded Black Bean Quesadillas

Two Years Ago: Cream Cheese Banana Bread

Three Years Ago: Honey Carrots & Non-Traditional Shepherd’s Pie & One Bowl Chocolate Cake

Honey Cardamom Snack Cake
This tastes great on day two so whip it up when you have time and enjoy as an after school snack!

1/2 c (1 stick) butter, room temp
1 c honey
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 c white whole wheat or whole wheat flour
1 c all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
large pinch of salt
3/4 c sour cream

Preheat the oven to 325.
Using a hand or stand mixer, combine the butter and honey until creamy.  Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until smooth.  In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients and add half of the mixture to the honey mixture.  Mix slowly until starting to combine, and add half the sour cream.  Still mixing slowly, add the last of the dry ingredients and the last of the sour cream.  Mix until just barely combined, finishing by hand and scraping down the bowl at the end.  Pour batter into a greased and floured 9 inch cake pan and bake for 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Let cool on the counter for 10 minutes or so, and then turn out onto a rack and let cool the rest of the way.  Slice into wedges and serve!

Whole Wheat Banana Bread

Whole Wheat Banana BreadOne look through my recipe archives and you know how much I love things made with banana.

It is not so much that it is my favorite flavor, but that it is just so dang easy to make.  Banana type baked goods are virtually guaranteed to come out naturally sweet, moist, and popular with everyone.  I always have bananas in the house and on the frequent occasion that I end up with some that are too ripe, it is a no brainer that having an arsenal of quick bread and muffin recipes is handy.

A few weeks ago, I decided to use up my rather large amount of soon to be mush bananas and make a quadruple batch of this Double Chocolate Banana Bread.  However after the first loaf, I realized that someone (not me) had used up all the cocoa powder (I didn’t do it) making hot chocolate (not I) and never added it to the grocery list (fine, it was me).  So I decided to do one of my favorite things: pull random cookbooks off my shelf and start rifling through them to find a new recipe.  I do this pretty often when I need a little extra inspiration, or when I just get bored with what I have been cooking.  With over 100 cookbooks in my possession (not including the 5000+ recipes on my computer) it could keep me busy for years.

Fortunately, the first cookbook I picked up was my Whole Grain Baking cookbook by King Arthur Flour and I had no need to go any further.  I found this recipe and immediately whipped it up.  A plain, straightforward, whole wheat banana bread was exactly what I was looking for.
Whole Wheat Banana BreadI made a few adjustments to accommodate what I had on hand.  And then I made it again.  And then again.  At one point in time, I even shmeared a few slices with cold, salty butter-OH my stars-which is something I rarely do with bread but may now have to do on a regular basis.  Butter.  Goooooood.

So just in case you were planning on searching high and low for a great whole wheat banana bread recipe, look no further.  I got ya covered.  And you don’t have to sift through 100 cookbooks to find it!
Whole Wheat Banana BreadWhole Wheat Banana BreadOne Year Ago: Upside Down Sausage & Mushroom Pizza Casserole & Lemon and Garlic Shrimp Linguini 
Two Years Ago: Lemon Potatoes & Buttermilk Brownies

Whole Wheat Banana Bread
Adapted from King Arthur Flour
As with all quick breads made with bananas, be sure to use over ripe fruit-as in past the point that you would eat it out of the hand.  The skin will have dark spots on it and they will be VERY fragrant.  This makes for a moist, sweet, banana-y flavored bread.  If you use fruit that is not over ripe, the flavor and texture will suffer.

3 very ripe bananas, peeled and mashed
1/4 c honey
2 eggs
1/3 c canola or grape seed oil
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 c brown sugar
2 c whole wheat or white whole wheat flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
3/4 c chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In the bowl of a stand mixer or other large mixing bowl, combine the first six ingredients until well incorporated.  Add the dry ingredients and combine until barely mixed.  Scrape the sides of the bowl and mix the last few turns by hand.  Fold in the walnuts.  Pour into a greased, standard loaf pan-about 9X5- and bake for 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  If your bread is getting too brown near the end of baking time, tent a piece of foil over the top.  Remove from the oven and let the bread cool in the pan for 10 minutes or so, until it has a chance to set a bit, then turn it out onto a cooling rack and let it cool completely.  This freezes great and is quite fantastic for breakfast.

Slow Cooker Apple Oatmeal

Slow Cooker Apple OatmealSo, you know that I love oatmeal.

There are no shortages of oatmeal laden recipes on this blog and I am only getting started.  It is one of those ingredients that is an automatic ‘yes’ for me.  Dishes that call for making browned butter?  No time for that.  Anything at all that includes water chestnuts? Not happening.  But oatmeal?  Yes.  I don’t care what food it is, the answer is yes, yes, A THOUSAND TIMES YES!

Is that from a movie….?

Anyway, I am really loving the revival of the slow cooker that seems to be happening right now.  Anything that can go in a crock-pot is a hot ticket item and has become, dare I say it, trendy, in kitchens everywhere.  For my part, I have always used my slow cooker quite a bit.  The addition of children in my life gave me need to pull it out even more for obvious reasons.  I am not someone who bakes cheesecakes in my slow cooker or steams rolls overnight using some kind of fancy rigging system to suspend small pans in the crock pot.  But I have to admit that as much as I use it, breakfast never really occurred to me.  And when I started seeing overnight oatmeal recipes all over the web, I had one of those ‘slap your forehead’ type of moments.  Why had I not thought of this before?

I really love the Overnight Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal recipe that uses apple juice and extra spices that I previously posted.  It is very fast to put together and is extremely hardy and healthy.  This recipe, while containing some similar flavors, tastes completely different.  It has few ingredients and bakes up incredibly creamy.  It isn’t overly sweet, but somehow still seems like you are eating something extra special for breakfast.  Sort of like a really healthy apple pie and I find that most people have a hard time staying away from it.

And all thanks to that infamous slow cooker.
Slow Cooker Apple OatmealOne Year Ago: Garlic Parmesan Pull-Apart Bread & Creamy Tomato Soup
Two Years Ago: Black Bean Salsa
Three Years Ago: Five-Minute Meatloaf & Enchilada Pie

Slow Cooker Apple Oatmeal
Inspired by Pinterest
If you have time to pop this in just before lunch and turn it on Hi instead of Low, it makes an outstanding after school snack.  As for apples, use whatever you have in your fridge, but generally, I try to avoid anything too sour.

Spray or butter the insert of a standard sized slow cooker.  In order, add:
2 apples, peeled and cored and sliced
1/2 c brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
2 c rolled oats-not quick cooking
4 c water

DO NOT STIR!  Cover and set on low for 6-8 hours.  I put this in right before I go to bed and it is done in time for my husband to eat some before he goes to work in the morning.  He turns it off, keeps the lid on, and it is still piping hot and ready for us when we get up for school!  Eat it as is or add a splash of milk, chopped walnuts or pecans, or even a handful of raisins or cranberries.  Leftovers are great reheated the next day.

Homemade Instant Hot Cocoa Mix

Homemade Instant Hot Chocolate {Brittany's Pantry}So…um….yeah.  This weather sucks lemons.

Before we get to todays recipe and my witty ramblings, I want to point out the handy dandy little icon on the top right of this page.  YES!  The rumors are true! Brittany’s Pantry has joined INSTAGRAM!!!  Do you know what this means, faithful readers?  It means that you now have photographic visual aids to keep up to date with my kitchen, my cooking, my failures, and yes, my pantry!  So click on the link to join me and while you are at it, check out Brittany’s Pantry on Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter!

So.  Between the church cancelations, school closings, impassable roads, and dangerous cold here in central IL, it is safe to say that we are kind of stuck in the house for a bit.  I’ve made soup, roasts, stews, baked desserts, and I am finally breaking free from the comfort food coma and heading in a lighter direction tonight; Roasted Fish with veggies and Baked Garlic Brown Rice.  I am still using the oven to give that warm, cozy feeling to the main floor of the house, but with something a little healthier than a baked/chicken/pasta/cheese/cream/bread crumb/butter type of casserole.  But this meal is no less comforting.  The rice is going to make the house smell deeeee-VINE ( a kind of…pre-requisite for food made during a winter storm) and the rest will be hot and tasty.  *sigh*  I can’t wait for dinner.

Between meals that could sustain olympic swimmers with their sky-high calorie count, you need to sip something just as warming to your soul.  For me, that will always be hot chocolate.  If you are a long time reader of this blog you know my obsessions with hot chocolate.  I have no less than three different recipes for it in archives here and I am always looking for different versions.  No matter what kind I make, it is always from scratch.  I am a bit of a snob when it comes to hot chocolate and I haven’t bought anything in a packet in years.  Why would you when you can make it sooooo much better yourself?

That said, I am the mother of three and sometimes, I just need the convenience of the already mixed up instant stuff.  Luckily, my Mom is the mother of six and wouldn’t ya know-she used to make her own!  This is not a revolutionary idea, but strangely, I don’t know many people who do this.  The monetary savings are enormous, but that aside, it just tastes better!  And the fact that I know exactly what is in it gives me that same warm fuzzy feeling that drinking it does.  Sometimes I make different versions of this that contain actual grated chocolate instead of cocoa powder, but my master version does not.  The cocoa powder adds incredible chocolate flavor while allowing you to control the level of sweetness.  Is it the best hot chocolate in the world?  No.  But it is cheap, easy, super fast, adaptable, and last a long time.  That is a major success in my book and definitely earns it a spot here to be shared with all of you.
Homemade Instant Hot Chocolate {Brittany's Pantry}I have made a ridiculous number of versions of this over the years and the main goal has always been to create a mix that doesn’t actually taste like a mix.  It should be rich.  It should be chocolatey.  It should make you go ‘Mmmmmmmmmmm’ (like Will Farell does in elf when he adds the booze to his coffee thinking it is maple syrup) instead of ‘Mmmm-Hey!  I can taste the preservatives and high fructose corn syrup in here.  Can you?’

Because that is most defiantly NOT comforting.

So when it comes to a hardy, non-perishable mix, this is what I use.  When I was a kid, my Mom used to make this in huge double batches (6 kids, remember?) and store it in an empty gallon ice cream pail.  Come to think of it, we stored a LOT of stuff in ice cream pails.  They seal tight on the top and they have a handle.  What could be better?  Snack mix, cookies-all kinds of things.  Either way, my batches aren’t doubles, but we do store ours in an gallon ice cream bucket too.  It tastes even more nostalgic that way.  In the picture above, the last of the mix-we had been using it quite a bit before the weather cooperated enough for me to photograph it-in a quart tupperware container.  A gallon plastic bag works great as well, for mixing and for storing.  Obviously this would be fantastic gifted to friends and family around the holidays, but when the weather turns ugly, it is a handy thing to have tucked in your pantry.

And that is very comforting.
Homemade Instant Hot Chocolate {Brittany's Pantry}One Year Ago: My Go-To Sloppy Joes
Two Years Ago: Forgotten Kisses (Peppermint Meringue Cookies)
Three Years Ago: Honey Waffles & Filet Au Poivre & Fettuccine W/Spinach Alfredo & Shrimp Quesadillas

Homemade Instant Hot Cocoa Mix
This is OK made with hot water, but it is MUCH better made with milk.  Use whole milk if you are being particularly indulgent, but I have made it with skim and it is still lovely and creamy.  A heaping spoonful added to cup of coffee gives you a nearly perfect mocha.  Feel free to add Tablespoon or so of cinnamon to the batch to make a spiced hot chocolate mix.

Sift together:
2 c powdered sugar
1 c cocoa powder (dark is fine)
2 c powdered milk
1 c powdered non-dairy creamer
heavy pinch of salt

Combine ingredients well and store in an airtight container.  When ready to use, fill whatever size mug you are using about half full of mix and fill the mug with hot water or hot milk.

Whiteout Smoothie

Whiteout SmoothiesHave I ever mentioned how much I love white?

I don’t like to to wear it-that is just an accident waiting to happen-but I love it in my house, my dishes, my kitchen, my decor, and now, in my smoothies.  My cupboards are white, my appliances are white, and I collect milk glass to display all over my house.  If it wasn’t so darn impractical, my couches would be white.  I love the look of a clean blanket of new snow, and if I can ever get my husband to agree, my dream bathroom would be ALL white.  It looks great with everything and makes any color it is with that much more beautiful.  Naturally, my heart rate accelerated when I recently came across a recipe for white hot chocolate.  Even though I don’t plan on ever making it due to my usual and wildly selective aversion to white (read: fake) chocolate, I couldn’t take my eyes from the pure white drink.  All white.  Clean.  Creamy.  Starkly gorgeous.  White on white on white.  Classic.

With that in mind, I was whipping up smoothies for my kids this week when I realized I didn’t have any fresh spinach left to make this recipe.  So I decided to forgo color all together.  A few fine tuning adjustments and this final recipe was the result.  It is wonderfully thirst quenching and chug-able since it has nothing fibrous to make it super thick.  Its clean and refreshing and a fantastic change of pace from the berry/spinach/kale/ broccoli concoctions that are so popular right now.  And you know what else?  Its white.
Whiteout SmoothiesThe above picture is my special smoothie transporter.  I got it a bajillion years ago when my aunt was cleaning out her Tupperware supply and tossed this into the box that I was getting.  It holds as much as a large drinking glass and the lid seals tight and secure.  If I have a busy morning planned for the next day, I fill this the night before, shake it up on my way to the car, and pop the lid while driving to my destination.  It feels so retro.  However, if I wasn’t going old school with the Tupperware, I would (and might still) pick up one of these bad boys.  I’m thinking they are kinda perfect after I read this write up about them.  They come in two sizes and are kind of awesome.  This is the only place I found this particular model-with a wide spout for smoothies and a sport spout to use as a regular water bottle-that wasn’t in foreign currency.
Whiteout Smoothies Whiteout Smoothies One Year Ago: Asian Smokies
Two Years Ago: Midnight Crackles
Three Years Ago: Hot Wings

Whiteout Smoothies
If your avoid smoothies because you don’t fancy the thick texture, this is a great alternative.  It is thinner but no less nutritious.  It also makes a great base to add other fruit to, thus making it a ‘non white’ smoothie!  The amount of honey you add will depend on the ripeness and sweetness of your bananas and your overall individual preference for tang.

2 c plain yogurt, low fat-I use half of a large 2 lb container
2 c unsweetened refrigerated coconut milk
2 bananas
2 T honey (or to taste), preferably local
1 T ground flax seed

Blend all ingredients together in a blender.  Taste a bit to see if you need to add more honey.  This makes two large servings for breakfast or four 1 c servings to share.

Brown Sugar Banana Nut Muffins

Brown Sugar Banana Nut Muffins I see Banana Nut Muffins as a pretty standard type of baked good.  When I set out to create this recipe, I wanted all the great flavor but with just a tweak (just a smidgen) of an update.  So I made it heart healthy but kept the classic brown sugar taste that I love with banana.  Nothing all that fancy; just a healthier version of a great muffin that just may become your ONLY version.  It is for me.  And I am not saying that just because I can’t stop eating them.  I generally like to eat my muffins the way I was raised to; sans butter.  But when I smeared a good ‘ol salty glob of the good stuff on these muffins, I nearly dropped to my knees in thankfulness.  Stellar.
Brown Sugar Banana Nut MuffinsOne Year Ago: Pork & Prune Stew & Ginger Chai Blondies
Two Years Ago: How To: Homemade Pumpkin Puree & Garlic Herb Bread & Pumpkin Dinner Rolls
Three Years Ago: Piggy Pudding & Broccoli, Bean, & Cheddar Soup

Brown Sugar Banana Nut Muffins
Of course these freeze beautifully and this recipe makes exactly 12 muffins.  If you are feeling particularly fancy, sprinkle the muffins with a pinch of extra brown sugar just before you bake them!

3 ripe bananas
1/3 c canola or grape seed oil
1/3 c buttermilk
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 T ground flax seed
3/4 c brown sugar
1 c all purpose flour
1 c white whole wheat flour or standard whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1 c chopped walnuts-pecans would be fine too

In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the first 7 ingredients until bananas are mashed and everything is evenly incorporated.  Add the dry ingredients and mix just until barely combined, then add the nuts, stirring the last few times by hand to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and spray a 1 dozen count muffin tin or line it with baking papers.  Divide the batter evenly into the 12 muffins wells.  They will be full, but not overflowing.  Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until puffed, golden brown, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool for 5 minutes in the pan and then turn the muffins out onto a cooling rack.

Pumpkin Coffee Cake W/Brown Sugar Streusel

Pumpkin Coffee CakeI wish…

Oh! How I wish…

…that I had found this recipe years ago!

Like so many of you, I love the pumpkin season.  Homemade pumpkin puree gets stirred into muffins and pies and even dip!  I don’t jump on the pumpkin spice latte bandwagon, but most everything else I am game for!!  I have a major soft spot for coffee cake and when I saw this recipe, I knew it was right up my alley.  For some reason, the fact that it gets cut into wedges is more appetizing to me.

I have no idea why.

Regardless of the shape of the pan it is baked in, this coffee cake would be excellent baked in a shoe box.  It is simple and classic, which is what I like most about it.  On Pinterest the other day, I saw a recipe for pumpkin glazed roast chicken and I wanted to strangle whoever created that.  Not EVERYTHING should be pumpkinified people!!  It should be limited to things like…well…coffee cake.

This isn’t too sweet and it is moist and lovely.  Add a hot cuppa tea and-gah.  I just.  I can’t even.

The recipe makes two round coffee cakes so that means I have eaten….a few.  We won’t go into details, but suffice to say that I can say with confidence that these bake up great every time and hold a full 24 hours and the streusel is still crunchy on top!  Defrosted from the freezer and warmed a bit in the oven is very nice so add these to the menu when guests are coming over the holidays.  Heck!  Bake one after dinner and eat it with hot cider for dessert!  Or as a mid day snack with that tea I mentioned.  I hear that it is also good eaten with your hands standing over the sink with a huge glass of cold milk, but thats just a rumor.
Pumpkin Coffee Cake Pumpkin Coffee CakePumpkin Coffee Cake W/Brown Sugar Streusel
Recipe adapted from here.
Note that this makes two coffee cakes.  You could freeze one, but I prefer the eat coffee cake two mornings in a row meal plan.

Coffee Cake:
1 stick (1/2 c) butter, room temperature
1 1/2 c sugar
3 eggs
1 can (15 oz) pumpkin puree-not pumpkin pie filling
2 1/2 c flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 T cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cloves
3/4 tsp salt

1/4 c flour
1/4 c sugar
1/4 c brown sugar
2 T butter, melted
1 tsp cinnamon

Mix all streusel ingredients together until well incorporated.  Set aside.

With a hand mixer or stand mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until smooth and creamy.  Add the eggs one at a time and mix until smooth.  Add the pumpkin and mix, scraping the sides of the bowl and mixing again to combine thoroughly.  Mixture will look curdled.  Add the dry ingredients and mix slowly until just barely combined, scraping the bottom and mixing by hand with a spatula at the end.  Spray and flour two, 8 inch round cake pans.  Divide the batter evenly between the pans and sprinkle with the streusel.  Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pans for at least 10 minutes to let the cakes set a bit, then run a thin spatular or knife carefully around the  edges of the cakes and turn out onto a cooling rack.  Serve warm or room temp.  If you want to freeze either of the cakes, cool completely and wrap well in cellophane and seal in a gallon ziptop bag.  Defrost and serve, or warm briefly in the oven before slicing.

The Ultimate Apple Butter Recipe

The Ultimate Apple ButterOk. Last apple recipe for awhile.  I can’t help it.  They have kinda dominated my kitchen for the last two weeks.  And can I just say check out the serious sunshine in the photo above shining in my screen porch windows and onto my breakfast plate!  I love fall!

So yes, I have been canning, freezing, baking, cooking, roasting, and eating apples.  I confess that I had actually sworn off making apple butter this year.  One, I was on GO mode and apple butter just takes too long to make.  Its not the labor involved, its the waiting!  Secondly, I have made a LOT of apple butter over the years and even though it is all good, none of my versions have ever been ‘the one.’  I like all kinds of apple butter so how do you pick one that tastes the best?  You don’t!  You just wander aimlessly, eating all the apple butter you can find and exclaiming, ‘Oh!  I like this one! ‘ or ‘This one is super yummy too!’ or even ‘This is so good I could bathe in it!’  But none of them really stood out.

Until now.  I realized the error of my ways.  I needed two things.  Rum and vanilla.

Now, I am kinda classic when it comes to apple butter, but when I was elbow deep in the sticky, turn-my-fingernails-brown apple trenches, my friend posted this recipe.  I read the title (Vanilla Rum Apple Butter) rolled my eyes and exclaimed out loud, “FINE!  I’ll make apple butter!  Twist my arm, why dontcha…”  About 5 minutes later, it was in the crock-pot and cooking away.  The only change I made for that batch that was different from her original recipe, was to add some brown sugar (my apples seriously lacked flavor) and mine were peeled because I was using this handy dandy contraption mentioned in the last post.  Other than that, I made them the same, crossing my fingers that the lack of spices you usually see in apple butter wouldn’t be missed.

So…um…yeah.  Not missed at all.  It was so amazingly yummy, a friend of mine said she “…could slather that on my face, its so good.”  Another said she would eat it scraped off the floor if necessary.  While that certainly wasn’t called for (although once I did eat spinach artichoke dip that I had scraped off the oven door…) I was thrilled that they liked it so much.  As I stared at my seemingly never ending pile of apples, I decided to rinse out the crock pot and do it all over again, but this time I would add the spices I so so love in apple butter.

The result??  The Ultimate Apple Butter Recipe!  It is rich and full flavored and balanced and lovely.  I will never make apple butter any other way ever again.  And here it is for you!
Apple Butter I can not really stir it yet, but there it is piled in my crock pot and nestled on the counter amongst empty canning jars, full canning jars, and a very sad looking banana…
Apple Butter Ten hours later and it stirs to mush. Ready to puree!
The Ultimate Apple ButterSmooth like buddah!

One Year Ago: How To: Caramelize Onions
Two Years Ago: Salmon Nicoise
Three Years Ago: Overnight Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal

Ultimate Apple Butter
My recipe is inspired by this recipe.  The flavor isn’t as traditional as mine, but it is ah-ma-zing.
Some kinds of apple butter are so spiced they kind of reach up and smack you in the face.  I prefer to actually taste the apples instead of just smearing cinnamon paste on my toast.  If I could thin this down, I would suck it through a straw.

apples, cored, peeled and chunked small about 10 cups-enough to fill a standard 4 quart slow cooker (any NON-tart, soft apple is good for this but use whatever you have)
1/2 c spiced rum
1 c pure, no sugar added, apple cider
1/2 c brown sugar
3 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Pile the apples in the slow cooker, adding more if needed to fill it to the top.  Add the rest of the ingredients on top, EXCEPT THE VANILLA!  Stir it a bit if you can, but don’t worry if you can’t.  Set the lid on tightly and turn the pot on low. After an hour or so, stir it if you can as it starts to cook down to distribute all the spices and coat all the fruit in the rum! :)  Leave it on low, until the apples get so soft that it breaks up as you stir it, at least 8 hours.  It will depend on what kind of apple you use and the ripeness of the fruit.  When it is mushy, stir in the vanilla and puree using an emersion blender, or transfer to a blender or food processor and puree in batches.  Can it or freeze it and enjoy!

Chunky Applesauce Years ago, my Mom brought me all her canning supplies, complete with about 40 quart jars, a huge canning pot with a rack for up to 7 jars at a time, and all the tools of the trade.  What she didn’t know at the time, is that she also brought with her a wealth of memories from my childhood.  Rows and rows of brightly colored jars filled with tomatoes, peppers, beans, pears, sauces, and apples.  A tiny, steamy kitchen in an non-air conditioned house in August with pots for boiling, pots for sterilizing, and pots that were bubbling.  It was hot.  We burned our fingers.  It was (and still is) sticky, dirty, seemingly never ending work.

And I loved every minute of it.

There is something supremely satisfying about taking a perishable food item and lining it up neatly with its fellow bounty, like portly soldiers waiting to be called up to duty on some unspecified future day, and knowing it will be just as spectacular then as it is at that moment.  Preserving food is not a new concept and while it was mostly done out of necessity and survival, there is a certain respect that goes along with canning foods.  One doesn’t can-or freeze or dehydrate-food unless we love it.  We want the flavor to last and the waste to be minimal.

And what is more classic than applesauce?!  Its gluten free, vegan, made with refreshingly few ingredients, healthy, and has a bazillion uses.  I like to make a few batches of unsweetened sauce that I make a bit smoother and then use just for baking and cooking with.  The chunky version shown here is great on pancakes or waffles, and I stir it directly into plain oatmeal all the time.  After trying this recipe, you will never spend money on the high fructose corn syrup laden, super processed store bought versions again!  Try it spooned right on the plate at lunch or dinner.  I like to send it in my daughters lunch or serve it to her as a cold, right from the fridge snack with whole wheat graham crackers for dunking!
Chunky Applesauce Two Years Ago: Mashed Sweet Potatoes
Three Years Ago: Apple Cider Syrup

Chunky Applesauce
I like using a natural, no sugar added, pure apple cider when I make my applesauce.  It needs liquid so that it can cook, but you might as well add flavor while you are at it!  After many different versions of applesauce over the years, I discovered that the best flavor comes from minimal plain white sugar and a bit of cinnamon.  The pure apple taste comes out and it isn’t masked with a bunch of other flavors.  Feel free to omit the sugar and cinnamon entirely and just make an unsweetened version for eating or cooking.  If you are making this into baby food, use only water as the liquid and add three times as much.  No sugar or cinnamon and puree the soft apples in batches in a blender or food processor or with an immersion blender until very very smooth.  Freeze in ice cube trays and then pop out the cubes and store in labeled plastic bags.  This recipe yields about 4 quarts of finished applesauce.

16 cups peeled, cored, and thinly sliced apples-soft apples work best since you are cooking them down anyway (Golden Delicious, Cortland, Fuji, MacIntosh, or in my case, whatever you get free from your friends and neighbors)

2 c apple cider or water or a mix of both
1 c white sugar
2 tsp cinnamon

Lets get started!
Chunky ApplesauceThese were directly off my neighbors tree.  Beautiful!  Regardless of where your apples come from, give them a good rinse before peeling.
Chunky ApplesauceI have a hand crank that attaches to my counter.  It peels, cores, and slices all in one fell swoop.  A major time savor when you are dealing with 6 or 7 bushels of apples, which is what I had!  You can find them just about anywhere this time of year and this is the one I have.  However, I highly recommend this one.  It suctions to the top of the counter which is way easier for clean-up than the clamped base one.
Chunky ApplesauceThis is one batch of apples for applesauce-16 cups.
Chunky Applesauce In your largest, heavy bottom pot, add your apples, liquid, sugar, and cinnamon.  Stir it if there is room!
Chunky Applesauce On medium low to medium heat, cook the apples, stirring occasionally.  Lower the heat if it starts to burn.
Chunky Applesauce Keep cooking.  This will take awhile…
When you have the space and the apples are starting to break down, mash with a potato masher to break up the pieces.  If the fruit is getting too dry as it cooks down and evaporates, add a bit more liquid.
Chunky Applesauce Cook the apples more, several hours, stirring often.  Continue to mash the apples to aid them in cooking.
Chunky Applesauce When the fruit is cooked through, and you can now mash or puree if you like, but I prefer my applesauce thick and chunky, not smooth like babyfood.  Taste the sauce to see if it is sweet enough and add a bit more sugar if your apples are especially tart!  The total cook time will depend on the size and density of your chunks of apples, and the moisture content of the fruit.  Every year I have to adjust the cooking time and sweetness and liquid because the apples I use change, but this recipe is my starting point.
Chunky Applesauce And there you go!  Eat, freeze, can, enjoy!  The picture above also has some of my jars of plain apples in cinnamon syrup.  If you are canning the applesauce, pour it hot into clean and sterilized jars leaving 1 inch of headspace.  Wipe rims clean, top with a sterilized lid and ring, and process in a boiling water canner with the water at least and inch above the lids for 20 minutes.  Remove, cool, and check that all jars are sealed.  Enjoy any unsealed jars right away!  If freezing, pour the applesauce into freezer proof containers, or into heavy duty, gallon ziptop plastic bags.  Lie flat until frozen solid.
Chunky Applesauce Look at that texture! Mmm.