Homemade granola bars + Make your own vanilla extract

As a simple on-the-go breakfast, post-workout snack, or get-you-through-the-afternoon munchie, I love granola bars! Endlessly varied in terms of type of nuts, berries, chocolate, flavors in them, they are always in my pantry in multitudes.

Usually I buy whatever is on sale, say $1-2 for a box. I have a rotation and favorites, but am not brand loyal by any means. But even at $1 for a box of 6, it can get expensive. So I figured, I already have lots of different types of nuts and dried fruits, and oats. It can’t be hard to make my own.

After googling a bit, I found this recipe for home made granola bars, which is close to what I had on hand. But I didn’t want the chocolate part (shocking, I know!) because I’d be storing them in my book bag and gym bag and don’t want to deal with melty chocolate all over my workout shoes or laptop. So as usual, I took the framework of the recipe and made it my own with what was on hand and the pan size I was working with. The results were splendid!

Ingredients:
3 cups oats
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup craisins (dried cranberries)
1/4 cup smashed pistachios (I shelled them, put them in a ziplock baggie and smashed them up with a spoon. For reals.)
1/2 cup smashed up candied peanut halves (also ziplock pulverized)
1/4 cup chia seeds (bought a few months ago and had no idea what to do with them… perfect.)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup honey
4 tbsp butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp vanilla extract

Step 1: Mash up the nuts, then mix together oats, dried fruit, nuts, seeds and olive oil. Stir to coat well, then bake in a flat oven safe pan at 350 for about 10 minutes, to make everything brown and toasty.

Step 2: In a pan over medium heat, stir together butter, brown sugar, honey and vanilla. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat. Pour over the granola mixture, and stir well to coat everything. Bake at 300 for 25-30 minutes, until warm and brown. Remove from the oven and let cool or stick in the refrigerator for a little while. Cut into bars the size you like.

I used a 9×13 pan, and as such I got 16 bars. They are very soft, so I put them in the fridge for about an hour before I cut them up.

I individually wrapped each bar in a plastic baggie, and am storing them in my pantry. They are delicious! The honey makes it so sweet, I don’t think you’d need chocolate anyway. Probably could even have done without the extra brown sugar.

I love these because I can use whatever dried fruits or nuts/seeds I have available. The next batch will include dried apricots and plums. You better believe sometime into the fall I will be making some bars with pumpkin seeds in them! I think I’m going to try experimenting with peanut butter in the honey instead of just butter too.

These are vegetarian, and could easily be made vegan as well. If you go easy on the oil/honey they are quite healthy and filling. And very inexpensive! Buy whatever fruits/nuts/seeds you like on sale, oats are cheap in bulk. This batch probably cost me $5 total?


Speaking of  inexpensive baking, did you know you can make your own vanilla extract from just vanilla beans and vodka? Seriously, that’s it.

A bottle of vodka on sale was about $7, the beans were a bit pricey at $4 for 2. But that’s $11 for about a gallon of vanilla that I can use pretty much forever. If I invested a bit more I could even jar it myself and give it as gifts or sell some. When you get low you just add more vodka and maybe after a year another bean or two. Jackpot.

Peanut butter, banana and Nutella sandwich

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This was a spur of the moment creation while packing for a hiking trip. We were attempting a 14-er (peak higher than 14,000 feet) and it would be a 5-7 hour climb round trip. When I do long hikes I like more than just a few granola bars and trail mix.
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So I made a peanut butter sandwich, then noticed a banana on the counter about to go bad. Sliced that guy up and added it on top of the Jif. Then I remembered I had bought Nutella a few weeks before and it was in the refrigerator still, so that was the finishing touch on this buttery, peanutty, fruity delight.
Ingredients:
  • 2 slices wheat bread
  • 1 tbsp peanut butter
  • 2/3 banana, sliced
  • 1 tbsp Nutella spread
Step 1: Spread the peanut butter on one slice of bread. Spread the Nutella on the other. Slice up the banana, and layer the slices on the bread. Sandwich together. Enjoy immediately, or pack up in a baggie or Tupperware for later.

It was gooey, filling and delicious. Even after being smashed in a backpack with 2 water bottles for 3 hours.

Might I suggest honey if you don’t have Nutella, or a semi-melted chocolate bar. Maybe try some marshmallow fluff instead of the peanut butter if you’re allergic to nuts. I bet peaches or pears would work well too, sliced thinly. I might need to go try all these combos now…

Lazy won-ton soup

Sometimes you just get a craving for something specific, you know? Not like a vague “I’m hungry”, no it’s an “I want a peanut butter, honey and banana sandwich on pumpernickel bread” kinda craving. Right now. That’s how I felt about won ton soup the other day. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts for nearly a full year, I have not yet found a satisfactory Chinese restaurant. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve found some great noodle places, sushi and Thai. But I miss the giant buffet-style vats of soup and all you can eat MSG-laden delights from Ohio. Anyhow, I had a bag of frozen pork dumplings I’d bought a few weeks back, plus some fresh produce from the world’s best Farmer’s Market (chain), Sprouts. Apologies if you don’t have this cheap fresh veggie heaven near you. That and some chicken bouillon I always have on hand for soups or a late night snack, and I had dinner for days and happily satisfied taste buds.
Ingredients:
1/2 bag frozen pork dumplings
1 bunch fresh spinach, chopped or 1 package frozen
1 small head cabbage, roughly shredded
1 bunch green onions, diced small
3-4 bouillon cubes + 8 cups water or 8 cups chicken broth
Garlic salt to taste

 Step 1: Chop up all your veggies. Add the bouillon to the water and bring to a boil. Add the veggies & dumplings.

 Step 2: Boil for ~1 hour, or long enough to cook the dumplings and soften the greens. Not recommended to boil longer than about 2 hours, to risk the dumplings falling apart.

The flavors blend so nicely, and 1/2 bag made enough soup to last me about 4 days, at two bowls a day! I love soups so much, and this Lazy Won Ton Soup was just perfect.

Easiest steak stir-fry

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Anyone who doesn’t have a personal chef is a fan of meals that are fast and easy to make. Bonus if it happens to NOT be grease-laden, deep-fried, double-wrapped hatred of yourself. Aka some semblance of nutritional value. At least to me that’s a priority.
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This is one of my standby all-time favorite recipes, used from the lowly days of undergrad’s first apartment until the present, it has never failed me yet. Once the individual ingredients are made, they are very versatile, and remain so even after mixing.
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Ingredients:
1 cup rice (I used easy brown)
1-2 cups frozen veggie, any you like
1 can red kidney beans, rinsed
*You can stop here for a filling vegan/vegetarian snack or meal, or continue to carnivorize it
2 tbsp sriracha, if you like it hot
4 tbsp soy sauce
1 cube frozen veggie stock or ice cube
1 small steak (or pork or chicken…)
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Step 1: Mix 1 cup water and 1 cup rice, microwave on high 10 minutes. Let sit for 5, then fluff with a fork.

Step 2: Put frozen veggies and beans in a bowl, microwave 5-10 minutes while waiting for rice to absorb the water.

Step 3: Mix rice, beans and veggies. Sprinkle on some garlic salt and enjoy from here, or….

Step 4: Pour on the sriracha and soy sauce

Step 5: Put the steak in a frying pan on medium heat, add extra soy sauce if you like, and the cube of liquid. Cover and cook on medium for about 5 minutes, until nice and brown. Flip and cook on the other side 5 minutes.

Step 6: Remove steak and cut into bite-size pieces. Return to the pan along with the rice, veggies and beans and mix well. Heat through, and enjoy!

This is quite customizable based on what type of vegetables and meat you like, you can use white or brown rice, and mix up the type of beans too. Try Italian seasoning, or garlic salt, or Worchestershire. The sky’s the limit!

Elk burgers — new food for July

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As July’s food item I’ve never tried, Elk nominated itself by being present at a farmer’s market I attended during 4th of July weekend. It sounded delicious and was only $10 a package from a local rancher, so I couldn’t resist. It was ground elk, so I’m sure I could have tried elk meatloaf or elk chili, but I had a hankerin for a good, juicy burger, so there you go. If you can’t or don’t want anything so fancy as elk, ground anything works for this plain ol classic burger recipe.
 
Ingredients:
1 pound ground elk (any meat)
4 tbsp seasoning of choice: I used Weber’s burger seasonings that include onion, black pepper, garlic, etc.
Buns
Burger toppings
 

Step 1: Divide ground elk into 4 even patties of about 1/4 pound each. Mix 1 tbsp seasoning into each and mix well. Shape into patties with your hands, or a press if you’re fancy enough to have one.

Step 2: If you’re lucky enough to have a grill, light that bad boy up and cook em that way. If you do not, a regular frying pan works. Cook on medium heat for about 10 minutes, then flip. They’ll be nicely browned and sizzling. Cook the other side another 5-7 minutes. We like some pink inside so it took about 15 min total.

Step 3: Add your toppings. I love avocado but none was available. But we had the classics, so my elk burger included: sliced American cheese, lettuce, tomato, & ketchup.

My boyfriend the carnivore (“meat man”) had a double, and declared it one of the best burgers he’s ever had. Since I’d say that number is probably in the hundreds, I consider it a great compliment. Elk is salty and tender and delicious. It’s like beef, but different. Just try it sometime, and if you like beef I bet you’ll like this even better.

 What’s your favorite burger?

Make your own pizza, male and female style

You may think I’m weird for saying this, but I don’t like pizza that much. I know, how un-American of me. I will eat it if it’s around, and I get an occasional craving for a weird one like chicken bacon ranch, but in general if asked what I want for dinner, the answer will not be Little Caesars.
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My current S.O. could literally live off pizza and burritos. So we found a compromise, making our own pizza. That way I can have the things I want on it (veggies) and control the sauce, and he can have what he wants (as much meat as possible) at the same time. This is our version of men are from Mars, women are from Venus, in the kitchen.
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Ingredients:
1 tube pizza dough (about $2 at grocery store)
1 jar pizza sauce (~$2)
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Toppings of choice: Female half
Spinach & mixed greens
Onions & peppers julienned
Zucchini
Mozzarella cheese
Pineapple
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Toppings of choice: Male half
Deli ham
Ground beef (pre-cooked, left over from burritos actually)
Bacon
Mozzarella cheese
Pineapple
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Step 1: Cook the meat if needed, spray a 9×13 oven safe pan. Roll the pizza dough out flat and press to the sides of the pan.
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Step 2: Spread on as much sauce as you like. I don’t like most pizzas because I end up scraping a cup of sauce off my slices, so I put it on thin.
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Step 3: Layer the toppings.

Step 4: Cover in as much cheese as you can handle. Because cheese is sent from heaven to make all foods taste better. Some calories are just worth it.

Step 5: Bake at 425 for ~20 minutes or until crust is brown and crispy and cheese is bubbling.

This recipe is as varied as your imagination, nearly any meat or vegetable can be a pizza topping, so if you like it then go crazy! You can use veggies left over from other meals. It’s easy to make a vegetarian (or even vegan without the cheese) pizza.

You can fold the dough in half to make a smaller deep-dish pizza. Try a bunch of variations and find what you like best.  No matter what you put on yours, its likely to still be much cheaper and healthier than a purchased one.

100th post: Pheasant is pleasant

 

I know I started this blog as a poor college kid. And trust me, I still enjoy mac-n-cheese, ramen noodles, and hot dogs. There will still be simple recipes with 3 ingredients or less. But as I’ve progressed through my Masters and am now in PhD school, my tastes have evolved and I like to expand my horizons. Thus I decided at least once a month I will try making something I’ve never had, slightly exotic dishes.

For June, as my 100th post, I give you, roasted whole pheasant! The ~3lb bird itself was $25, but the brine and the accompanying roasted veggies were less than $10, so it’s still not bad for a super cool and fancy meal for two plus leftovers. Also you then have forever bragging rights.

Brine:
8-10 cups water (enough to cover the bird)
3/4 cup salt
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 tbsp whole cloves
3 cloves crushed garlic
2-3 bay leaves
Juice of 1 whole lemon
Juice of 1 whole lime

Step 1: Add salt and maple syrup to water, bring to a boil so all salt and syrup dissolves.

Step 2: Let cool to room temp, add spices and juices. Place the whole pheasant in the brine. Mine was frozen so I thawed it in the fridge overnight, but you can put it in there frozen whole too. Let the bird soak a minimum of 4 hours up to overnight. The longer it soaks, the saltier and more flavorful it will get. Mine soaked overnight, about 20 hours total.

Step 3: Take the bird out of the brine and drip dry it. Rub it all over with butter, including loosening the skin and rubbing butter underneath, directly onto the flesh if you can. Optional: place spices from brine over the bird or add fresh.

Step 4: Place a quartered onion and/or halved apple inside the cavity of the bird. Place it in a buttered or sprayed oven-safe pan and tent tin foil over it.

Step 4: Roast the pheasant at 400 degrees for ~1 hour. Then lower the oven to 350, remove foil and roast an additional 30-50 minutes, until no longer pink and juices are clear. I’m sure there’s a temperature recommendation too but as I have no meat thermometer, I just looked and said, yup that looks done and delicious.

For vegetables:
1 yellow potato
1 normal russet
(I wanted one purple too but the grocery didn’t have them)
1 onion, sliced
1-2 cups baby carrots
Garlic salt

Add the cut veggies in a sprayed pan to the oven for the final 30-50 minutes of baking. Add some bringing liquid if you like for extra flavor. Sprinkle with garlic salt when done.

And so you see, you can make a magazine-looking-worthy meal with very little work. If a busy, poor PhD student can do it, you can too! And trust me, brining overnight is definitely worth it! The meat was salty and tender, not at all tough or dry or gamey. I would highly recommend trying this.

Spaghetti squash ‘pasta’ with Turkey Meatballs and Tomato-Chickpea Sauce

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I had bought a spaghetti squash a few days ago, and finally got around to making it. I was not sure what to make with it, so I went with the “spaghetti” theme and made turkey meatballs and a tomato-chickpea sauce. Like real pasta only tons more fiber and quite delicious!

Ingredients:
Spaghetti squash

Sauce:
1 can chickpeas, drained
1 can diced tomatoes
2 garlic cloves, diced
Italian seasonings
1 1/2 cups water/chicken stock

Meatballs:
1 pound ground turkey
1/4 cup bread crumbs
3 cloves garlic, diced
1/4 onion, grated
1/4 cup ketchup
1 egg
1/4 cup blue cheese/parmesan cheese

Step 1: Bake the spaghetti squash face-down for 1 hour at 375 or microwave 10 minutes then bake for 30.

Step 2: Mix all meatball ingredients in a bowl.

Step 3: Cook the chickpeas in a sauce pot for ~5 minutes. Then add the diced tomatoes, water, and seasonings and simmer.

 Step 4: Roll the meatball mix into 1-inch balls and bake on a sprayed cookie sheet for ~10 minutes at 350, or until brown and cooked through. Then add to the simmering sauce.

 

Step 5: When the squash cools, use a fork to pull the strands out.

In a bowl, add the squash, a meatball or two, and pour on some sauce. Enjoy!

Asian tofu/cabbage soup

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This is a spin-off of a soup a friend of mine made that was fabulous. I had most of the ingredients and another friend wanted to go to the Asian specialty store where I could get the rest of the ingredients. It’s so simple, but it is delicious!
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Ingredients:
1/2 Napa cabbage
1 package tofu
1 package mushrooms
2 large carrots, diced
4 cups water/stock
Optional: 3-4 pounds chicken/duck/beef

Step 1: Dice the cabbage, mushrooms, tofu and carrots.

Step 2: Cook the veggies in order of hardness, carrots first, then cabbage, then mushrooms. Add the stock and any seasonings you like. I used veggie stock and put some extra chicken stock and black pepper in for spice.

The broth is simple but complex. You should try it first, then add salt or other spices to taste. The tofu adds a punch of protein, making this a perfect well-rounded meal for a vegetarian or vegan.

Stuffed eggplant

So I’ve been reading lately about how healthy eggplant is for you. Then it went on sale at my favorite produce store, so I had to buy one. The only question was what to do with it. I had tried eggplant before and wasn’t particularly fond of it diced up in casserole-type dishes. So I decided to stuff it, because what isn’t made better by a meat mush and cheese baked inside?
 
Ingredients:
1 eggplant
olive oil
1/2 pound ground turkey
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1 egg
1/2 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
Italian seasonings
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
 

Step 1: Brown the ground turkey over medium heat and drain.

 Step 2: Dice the veggies and core the eggplant. Cook the veggies in the same pan as the turkey until tender, ~5 minutes.

 Step 3: Mix the cooked veggies, egg, turkey, and bread crumbs.

 Step 4: Divide the mix between the eggplant halves and stuff. Sprinkle italian seasonings over top and bake at 375 for 30-35 minutes, until nicely browned and eggplant is soft when poked with a fork.

 Also, to make it vegetarian you can just omit the ground turkey.

YUM!

The fusion of food, fun, frugality, and curiosity.