Monday, April 22, 2013

Four Years and Greatest Hits

You know a blog is in a rut when it doesn’t even celebrate the anniversary of its own creation. Yep, The Messy Apron just sailed by its 4th birthday without even the smallest treat to acknowledge it. Not even a cupcake.

The good news is that there have been a lot of recipes posted here already (most of them listed in this index), and a few of them have been around long enough to become a “Greatest Hit” of sorts. These are the recipes in the top five most visited posts on The Messy Apron.


The popularity of these pancakes makes me think I should be making them more often myself!



Last year, I received a package of apple cinnamon pasta as a gift, and it was fabulous in place of the spaetzle in this dish.


I love these roasted cherry tomatoes, which can be used to sauce pasta in addition to filling this galette. If I have time to make it, however, I would choose to use my tomatoes in the galette over just about anything else. If only summer would come!


This is one I haven’t made in a long while. Perhaps it’s time for a recipe revisit!


I don’t need to sell you on how good these cookies are. The recipe title says it all. I’ve been making people happy with them for years, no matter the season.

As for what lies ahead in the next year for The Messy Apron, your guess may be just as good as mine. I wish I had more time to try and post new recipes, but I see a lot of working weekends in my near future. I hope to include a lot of produce from my own garden in the next several months. Unfortunately, while at this time last year I had peas and arugula coming up and making big promises, Spring 2013 is shy (or stubborn) and refuses to show itself. All I’ve got to demonstrate that I have a garden at all is an especially muddy patch in the back yard and brave but stunted clump of emerging chives. I’m afraid “seasonal” won’t mean leafy and green for some time.

Thanks for reading for some or all of the last four years. And please come again to see what kind of messes I’ll be getting myself into next.


Monday, April 15, 2013

Peanut Butter Granola

This is my new favorite homemade granola. I make it with the typical oats, nuts and dried fruit combination baked with a coating of sweetness, but then I slather all that in peanut butter. How did it take me so long to decide this was a good idea? (Or for that matter, when did I become such a fan of peanut butter?)

This variation is as easy to make as any other granola. I do cook the coating mixture a little before stirring it into the oats and nuts, just to melt it together nicely. (I didn’t need to do that in this recipe.) I used lightly salted cocktail peanuts for this, which were just right as far as I’m concerned, but you could use unsalted peanuts or dry roasted peanuts. Of course I recommend peanuts over any other nut simply because there’s already peanut flavor going on here.


I was a bit concerned when, after a proper baking time, the granola was appropriately toasted, but still quite moist. I let it cool completely in the pan, however, and it crisped up nicely as it cooled. In fact I’d say it crisped up just right. The final product is nice and crunchy without being too hard, gently sweet and good and peanut buttery.

I added raisins, which went well, but I also took the liberty of including chocolate in my final granola mixture. It’s peanut butter, so there has to be chocolate right? Okay maybe not has to be, but is sure is good there. I used semi-sweet chocolate chunks for a real chocolate presence. I also waited until the granola was completely cooled before stirring them in.

This granola is good mixed with vanilla yogurt for breakfast, or with milk or almond milk. It’s also not too shabby eaten by the handful. It’s supposed to be for our breakfast, but I’ll admit it has stood in for a brown bag lunch (with yogurt), and its peanut-butter-and-chocolate-goodness makes it a fine substitute for snacks and desserts as well. I have to keep some of the batch in the freezer so I don’t casually nibble it all away a little at a time each pass through the kitchen.


Peanut Butter Granola

4 cups rolled oats
1 cup lightly salted or unsalted peanuts (coarsely chopped, if desired)
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup honey
½ cup creamy peanut butter
2 tablespoons roasted peanut oil (you could use canola or another neutral oil)
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup raisins
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chunks

1. Preheat oven to 325 F. Prepare a large rimmed baking sheet by lining it with a silicone baking mat (my preferred method) or with foil sprayed with cooking spray. Set aside. In a very large bowl, combine the oats and peanuts. Set aside.

2. In a small saucepan, combine the brown sugar, honey, peanut butter, and peanut oil. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the ingredients have melted together and the mixture is smooth. Stir in the cinnamon, salt and vanilla.

3. Pour the brown sugar mixture over the oat mixture and stir to coat the oats and peanuts well. Spread the mixture out onto the prepared baking sheet. Bake at 325 F for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.

4. Remove from the oven. Cool the granola on the baking sheet until dry and cool enough to handle. When completely cooled, transfer to a very large bowl and stir in the raisins and chocolate.

Makes about 7 ½ cups. Store in an airtight container for several days. Freeze for longer storage.

Other recipes like this one: Granola; Chocolate, Almond, and Cherry Granola; Almond Butter Granola Bars (you can use peanut butter to make these, too)

One year ago: Lemon-Fennel Egg Salad, Fried Potatoes with Scallions and Ham

Monday, April 8, 2013

Farro and Apple Salad

I introduced myself to farro recently. A smallish bag of pearled farro grains, in fact. I’m happy to say we’ve hit it off nicely and this is likely to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

I suppose I’d have to describe cooked pearled farro grains as sort of a cross between wheat berries and barley in flavor and texture. The pearled farro took much less time to cook than wheat berries do, more like the time it takes to cook pearled barley. For busy cooks, that’s rather an advantage. I liked the texture, which is a bit chewier than barley, but not quite as chewy as wheat berries. It’s nicely nutty in flavor, although still quite mild like most cooked whole grains. That just means it can hold a place well in a flavorful dish like this salad I’ve been making with apples, craisins and cider vinaigrette.

This salad is extremely easy to toss together once the farro is cooked and cooled, and is, of course, open to endless variations. I liked the sweet-tart apple and craisin combination. The addition of something crunchy like nuts or seeds is also a nice compliment to the chewy grains and crisp apple. I use hulled pumpkin seeds (aka pepitas) because that’s what I was trying to use up from my pantry. Sunflower seeds or walnuts would probably also be nice.

I find that, except for really quite small variations in flavor and texture, cooked whole grains are pretty much interchangeable in many recipes. If you happen to have barley or wheat berries or rye berries on hand instead of farro, for instance, they’d be good in this salad, too. Or you could use a combination of grains (like I did in this salad).

I cooked up that whole bag of farro, divided up the cooked grains into portions appropriate for this salad (or others like it), and froze them for later use. You, of course, can do this with other grains, too, (to say nothing of beans). Thanks to this stream-lined make-ahead process, I’m on my second batch of this salad. All too often, it takes me a year or more to go back to a recipe. Farro and I are such good friends, however, that I think we’ll visit each other, whether in the form of this salad or some other dish, much more often. 


Farro and Apple Salad with Craisins
You could use another oil that you like in place of the sunflower oil, such as canola, olive or pumpkinseed. You could also use sunflower seeds or nuts in place of the pumpkin seeds.
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
½ teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper (a few grinds from a pepper mill)
¼ cup sunflower oil
¼ cup finely chopped red onion
3 cups cooked and cooled farro
1 medium apple, cored and finely chopped (I’ve been using Granny Smith)
¼ cup craisins
¼ cup pumpkin seeds

1. In a large bowl, combine the vinegar, salt, pepper, sunflower oil, and onion. Whisk together until well combined.

2. Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl and stir until well coated with the dressing.

Makes about 6 servings. Refrigerate leftovers for a few days.


One year ago: Spinach-Chive Pesto

Monday, April 1, 2013

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Bars

Just rich and delicious dessert bars with no healthy bits thrown in for good measure. That’s all these are. I didn’t doctor them up with seasonal ingredients or whole grains or a better choice of fats. Nope. These are just pure peanut butter and chocolate indulgence.

This recipe is based on the more common “revel bars.” They keep the best part intact: the creamy ganache-like chocolate layer, and accompany it with plenty of peanut butter in the cookie layers on the top and bottom. While it looks like there’s a lot of sugar in this recipe, somehow the cookie layers didn’t seem that sweet to me. I don’t know. Was it my imagination?

Anyway, these bars tasted fabulous, richly peanut buttery and chocolaty. Despite their familiar style, however, they tasted a bit unusual to me. Could it be that I’ve become so accustomed to fancy whole grain flours and at least slightly exotic flavors that a plain, traditional treat of a cookie bar is new and different all over again?


Aw, who cares? These are a nice treat. A “sometimes food.” Another example of the pureness of the concept of “two great tastes that taste great together” ™. I admit that I bought the publication in which this recipe appeared almost entirely for this recipe. I also admit that it was worth it. I really didn’t change the recipe, although I did sprinkle some chocolate chips on top of the whole thing. (I figured it would be a good way to use up the rest of the package.) You could skip this step and use the leftover chips for something else.

These bars might not have a sophisticated “adult” flavor profile, but they’re good enough to make me happy that I’m an adult and can eat what I want. At least sometimes.


Peanut Butter and Chocolate Revel Bars
Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens Special Interest Publications: Brownies and Bars

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 ½ cups (packed) brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 eggs
2 cups creamy peanut butter, plus 2 tablespoons, divided
4 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 12-ounce package semisweet chocolate chips, divided

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray a 13” x 9” baking dish with cooking spray, or grease it well with butter. Set aside.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl if you’re using a hand mixer) beat the butter at medium speed until fluffy. Add the brown sugar, baking soda and salt and beat until well-combined. Scrape the bowl as needed.

3. Beat in the eggs, 2 cups peanut butter, and vanilla until well-combined. Beat in the flour, stirring in the last of the flour if necessary, and scraping the bowl occasionally as needed.

4. Measure out 2 cups of this mixture and set aside. Press the remaining mixture into the prepared baking pan. Set aside.

5. To make the chocolate filling, place 1 ½ cups chocolate chips, sweetened condensed milk, and remaining 2 tablespoons peanut butter in a medium-size saucepan. Heat over low heat until the chocolate is completely melted, stirring regularly until the mixture is smooth. Stir in the remaining 2 teaspoons vanilla.

6. Pour the chocolate mixture over the dough base in the pan and spread evenly. Drop the reserved dough mixture over the chocolate layer in spoonfuls. Drop evenly but leave some of the chocolate mixture exposed on top. Sprinkle the remaining chocolate chips over the top. (This step is optional, but I wanted to use up the rest of the chocolate chips.)

7. Bake at 350 F for 30 to 35 minutes or until the topping is golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool completely on a wire rack completely before cutting into squares to serve.

Makes at least 2 dozen bars. (I cut mine quite small, since they are fairly rich.) Bars can also be frozen for a few months.

Another recipe like this one: Peanut Butter Cookies with Peanut Butter Cups

One year ago: Oatmeal Sandwich Bread