Baked Oatmeal with Earl Grey, Prunes, and Almonds

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So. Let’s talk prunes.

Aaron makes a face whenever I mention prunes. He was forced to drink prune juice as a kid, and still has the memories.

I found prunes as an adult. I love their deep, wine-like sweetness. I love the rich flavor. To me, they are a comforting but sophisticated dried fruit. When I first graduated from college I was a nanny for a toddler. I would bring prunes for my snack, and she would beg me, over and over, for just one more prune. I can’t think of any better proof that hatred of prunes is learned, not innate.

I’ve seen prunes starting to be sold as dried plums, which is factually true. But it also seems a bit silly. I don’t mind eating prunes, no matter the unglamorous name. I suppose it’s further evidence that I’m actually in my 50s, not 20s.

Prunes are the star of this baked oatmeal, and the idea that made it all fall into place. I wanted to make a baked oatmeal that felt wintery, as most baked oatmeal recipes I’ve seen call for berries. This seems silly, as I don’t know a better time for a hearty, hot breakfast than winter. Winter is also the best time for dried fruit, at least here in the Upper Midwest, because there’s so little that’s fresh. Winter has long been a time for food dried and stored. Perhaps I am actually 80, not 50. Prunes take up the place of berries here. They’re soaked in Earl Grey tea and tossed with lemon zest, almonds, and maple syrup. The maple syrup reinforces the rich sweetness of the prunes, and the lemon zest and tea balance it. The almonds provide a delightful crunch, and help make the whole thing feel like a meal.

This is a comforting breakfast if you’ve already finished off all of your Thanksgiving pie, and even if you haven’t. It’s a sturdy oatmeal, the kind that will keep its shape as you serve it. It’s the type of breakfast I like to make for a lazy morning, and then store the rest for busy days.

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Baked Oatmeal with Earl Grey, Prunes, and Almonds

If your prunes are very moist and you’d like to skip a step, you could pass on soaking the prunes in tea. And if you’re absolutely against prunes, I bet this would be stellar with dried figs.

Serves 6

Adapted from Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson

1 cup hot Earl Grey tea
1 cup (about 15) pitted prunes
2 cups (190 grams) rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (100 grams) slivered almonds
1/2 cup (60 grams) unsalted sunflower seeds
2 tablespoons (16 grams) poppy seeds
2 cups whole milk
1/3 cup maple syrup
2 tablespoons melted butter
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat your oven to 400.

In a small bowl combine the Earl Grey tea and the prunes. Set aside to steep until the tea has cooled and the prunes are soft, about 5 minutes. Drain the tea and roughly chop the prunes.

In a large bowl combine the oats, baking powder, lemon zest, cinnamon, and salt. Whisk well, then add the chopped prunes. Whisk well again, and set aside.

In a medium bowl whisk together the almonds, sunflower seeds, and poppy seeds. Add half of the seed mixture to the oats and whisk the oats again. Set the rest of the seeds aside.

In another medium bowl whisk together the milk, maple syrup, melted butter, eggs, and vanilla until the eggs are completely incorporated.

Turn the oats out into a 8×8 pan. Pour the milk-egg mixture evenly across the oats. Top with the remainder of the seed mixture, being careful to spread the seeds evenly. Transfer the pan to the oven, and bake until golden and fragrant, 30-40 minutes. Serve warm.

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Cranberry Chutney with Crystalized Ginger and Currants

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I know. It’s the day before Thanksgiving. If you’re a planner, you may want to tuck this post away for next year. You’ve probably already gotten everything assembled. You’ve got your grocery shopping done. You had your menu planned weeks ago. You are a Thanksgiving machine and you’ve got this.

If you’re not a planner, then you may still be looking for last minute additions to the Thanksgiving table. I am not a planner, which is why I’m posting this the day before Thanksgiving. If we’re in the same boat, may I suggest this cranberry chutney as a worthy addition to your Thanksgiving table?

I’ve been making a version of this cranberry chutney for at least 7 years now. I first found it on Orangette, and I don’t remember the first time I made it, but I do remember not being legally able to buy the booze that Molly’s version calls for. It was such a success that I’ve made it for every Thanksgiving since (save the one I spent in England and we held a feast for almost 80 people. There were some sourcing and scalability issues there).

There’s a reason this cranberry chutney’s a classic. I love its bracing, sweet-tart taste, and the way the ginger sneaks in and out, giving brief glimpses of its fiery bite. The texture is yielding but not soft or gelatinous, the sort that I want to accompany all sorts of Thanksgiving goodies. On the table, in a beautiful cut-glass bowl (the kind I borrow from my mom) the vibrant cranberries and dark currants are suspended in a beautiful, jewel bright sauce. It looks festive and elegant, just right for your Thanksgiving table. And I also love how easy it is. The whole thing takes less than 15 minutes, and the most complicated part of making the chutney is chopping the crystalized ginger.

This recipe also takes very kindly to adaptations. Every year I pull out Molly’s book and turn to the most tattered and stained page. And every year I change things up just a bit. I might swap out the vinegar, or use different preserves, or sub allspice in for cloves. Here’s this year’s adaptation, filled with apple butter and currants. It’s sweet-tart and bright, the perfect bite of relief after a mouthful of buttery mashed potatoes and rich gravy.

Happy happy Thanksgiving. May your meal be delicious, your company even better, and your day be full of things to be grateful for.

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Cranberry Chutney with Crystalized Ginger and Currants

Be sure to check your cranberries before making this chutney- there are usually a few soft, mushy, or otherwise inedible berries hiding in a bag.

adapted from A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg

Makes 1 quart

12 ounces apricot preserves
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons cranberry juice
1 teaspoon apple butter
pinch salt
pinch ground cloves
12 ounces (1 bag) fresh cranberries
1/2 cup currants
1/4 cup finely chopped crystalized ginger

In a medium saucepan combine the apricot preserves, vinegar, cranberry juice, apple butter, salt, cloves. Stir well and cook over medium high heat, stirring often, until it’s thickened a bit.

Stir in the cranberries. Let the cranberries cook for a few minutes, until you hear a few pop. Remove the mixture from heat and stir in the currants and ginger.

Allow to cool completely before serving.

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Delicata Squash and Kale Salad with Maple Vinaigrette

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I first made this salad for Thanksgiving two years ago. I had seen a delicata squash salad on 101 Cookbooks, and was struck with the idea to adapt the idea a bit. When my mom requested that I make that specific salad for two more parties within a month I scribbled down the recipe and have used the format many times since.

This year Aaron and I are celebrating 4 Thanksgivings- an early Thanksgiving dinner with his parents, a celebratory Thanksgiving celebration with a friend’s family, and two Friendsgivings. Today’s plans include making three different pie crusts, deep cleaning the living room, and debating how many pounds of mashed potatoes is enough for 4 people (I know 2 should be fine, but I’m feeling 5, you know?). This salad’s definitely going to be making an appearance at at least one event.

When I originally developed this recipe I wanted to give this salad a Midwestern feel. When I first started hearing about seasonal eating I was a teenager, and role model of seasonal eating seemed to come only from the South or California. It was both exhilarating and irritating. What was I supposed to eat when I can’t get locally grown oranges in the winter? Now that I’m older and we’ve grown a better network of farmers and distributers the local question is an exciting challenge. As it gets colder I want warming squash and crisp greens that will continue to grow until we hit a deep freeze. I want maple syrup, a product that only comes from cold climates, and strong apple cider vinegar. I want locally made cheese and carefully stored shallots. And no shade meant to the green bean casserole, but using ingredients that are a product of the place I live feels like a more true representation of Thanksgiving. I am thankful for the food that feeds me and the place that produces them. And I am thankful we have a specific time meant to celebrate our food and our home.

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Delicata Squash and Kale Salad with Maple Vinaigrette

Delicata squash, if you haven’t seen it, is long and pale gold, with vibrant orange and green stripes. It looks a bit like if a zucchini got a winter makeover, and when it’s roasted it’s mild and nutty and creamy. The skin is edible, which is fortunate because it’s beautiful. Lacinato kale is also known as dinosaur kale (or cavolo nero) because of its bumpy appearance. This will still be delicious with the more common curly kale, but you will want to massage it more aggressively.

adapted from 101 Cookbooks

Serves 4-6 as a side

1 cup walnuts
1 delicata squash, halved, seeds removed. and sliced into 1/4 inch slices
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 shallot, thinly sliced
salt and pepper
1 large bunch of lacinato kale, stems removed and leaves torn
2 radishes, thinly sliced
Parmesan cheese, for shaving

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the walnuts onto a baking tray and toast in the oven for 8 minutes, until the walnuts are golden and rich tasting. Set aside.

Raise the oven temperature to 425. Toss the delicata squash in 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon both of salt and pepper. Spread onto a baking tray, making sure the squash has plenty of room. Roast until tender and darkened on one side, 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl whisk together the apple cider vinegar, maple syrup, and shallot with the remaining three tablespoons of olive oil. Season generously with salt and pepper. The vinaigrette should have enough acid to feel it in the back of your throat.

In a large bowl toss the kale with half of the dressing and massage well. Keep rubbing the kale until it feels softened, and has turned a glossy dark green.

When you’re ready to assemble the salad, add the squash and the radishes to the kale and toss with the rest of the dressing. Transfer the salad to its serving container, and top with the toasted walnuts and shaved parmesan.

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Celery Root and Parsnip Soup with Apple Butter

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Minneapolis is the coldest major city in the United States. We have yet to hit 32 degrees Fahrenheit, which usually happens by first week of October. It’s not that it’s warm- if you don’t live in the North, you might think the air is chilly. But it doesn’t feel like Novembers past. There are still leaves on trees, and I’ve only worn a coat at night. It hasn’t snowed yet. It hasn’t snowed in over 200 days.

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After a turbulent and strange week I would very much like for the weather to follow its predictable pattern. This unanticipated lag is unsettling. I wish for snow, and I fear it won’t come.

In times of stress I cook. This isn’t new news, and I have a feeling that you may have a similar coping strategy. I’ve recently tried to turn more to other people’s recipes, to let them guide me through new ideas and different ingredients. It’s an education and a practice. If you cook frequently you have a vocabulary. You have the ingredients you always keep on hand and your go-to techniques. It’s both a pleasure and a challenge to spend some time with another person’s vocabulary, using unfamiliar words. At the end there’s a new knowledge gained. With a capable guide and a bit of luck it’s good knowledge.

I make soup all winter long, both for warmth and for comfort. Right now comfort is the sole reason for making soup. It’s been a stressful season and it doesn’t seem like it will get any less stressful soon. I found this soup in Sarah Copeland’s Feast, a smart and elegant book on vegetarian cooking. And so here are vegetables and cream and spices all blended together. This is not a groundbreaking recipe, but it’s very good. Celery root and parsnips are cooked with apples and onions, then get blended together with a healthy drink of cream. It sounds fine, but it really very delicious. But then when it’s time to serve there’s a dollop of apple butter, and that sweet/tart apple butter turns the soup from something good to a knockout.

Aaron and I ate this soup for a cozy lunch together with some crusty bread and strong bleu cheese. If you’re into elegant, coursed dinners, this would be an incredible starter for a fall/winter dinner party. And if you’re uninterested in the apple butter, this would make a simple but very tasty dinner.

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Celery Root and Parsnip Soup with Apple Butter

Copeland originally calls for 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger, but when I went to grab our fresh ginger it was gone. The powdered ginger is delicious and significantly easier, so I’ll be using it again in the future.

adapted from Feast by Sarah Copeland

Serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 parsnips, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tart apple (such as a granny smith), peeled, cored, and roughly chopped
1 celery root, trimmed, peeled, and roughly chopped
salt and pepper
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
apple butter, for serving
green onions, finely chopped, for serving
olive oil, for serving
Aleppo pepper, for serving

In a large pot over medium heat warm the olive oil. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are softening and becoming translucent, about 5-8 minutes. Add the garlic and the spices, and cook for 1 minute. Add the parsnips, apple, and celery root and 4 cups of water. Season with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook until the vegetables are soft, between 20-30 minutes.

Once the vegetables are soft remove the soup from heat. Blend, using either an immersion blender or an upright blender, until smooth. Return the soup to the pot and stir in the heavy cream and apple cider vinegar. Taste, and season with salt and pepper as needed. Warm the soup on low heat to serve.

To serve, top the warm soup with a dollop of apple butter, a flurry of green onions, a sprinkle of Aleppo pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.

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Smoked Salt and Rye Chocolate Chip Cookies

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My father’s hopes travel with me
years after he died. Someday
we will learn how to live. All of us
surviving without violence
never stop dreaming how to cure it.
What changes? Crossing a small street
in Doha Souk, nut shops shuttered,
a handkerchief lies crumpled in the street,
maroon and white, like one my father had,
from Jordan. Perfectly placed
in his pocket under his smile, for years.
He would have given it to anyone.
How do we continue all these days?

“What Changes” by Naomi Shihab Nye (found here)

Last night at work I send out dessert to two woman sitting at the bar. They were crying. I told their server they deserved desserts because they looked as sad as I felt. They looked up at me, eyes bright with tears, and we communicated through nods and hand gestures- I see you. I understand your pain. We will get through this. We are stronger together.

Uncertain days lay ahead. I hope that we can move together in the direction of love and justice. I hope for an end to the ugliness. We have a time of protest and uncomfortable conversations and court cases coming. I hope that in four years we have healed this brokenness. I pray that we remember that all women and men are created equal, and that we are all endowed with inalienable rights. And I pray we always act as such.

I take comfort in baking and feeding people. It is the best way I know to love people. I think we’ll be needing a lot more love, in all its guises, in the coming months.

Stay safe, stay strong.

Smoked Salt and Rye Chocolate Chip Cookies

This is an adaptation of my favorite chocolate cookie recipe ever. If you’re skeptical of white chocolate, I understand. But the white chocolate creates a deliciously creamy, almost marshmallow-y pocket in the cookies that’s too good to pass on. Smoked salt is relatively easy to find, but if you can’t find it and still want a smokey flavor I would substitute the rye whiskey with Scotch.

adapted from Date Night In by Ashley Rodriguez

Makes 2 dozen cookies

8 tablespoons (113 grams) unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons (30 grams) turbinado sugar
2 tablespoons (30 grams) cane sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (190 grams) dark brown sugar
1 egg
1 tablespoon rye whiskey
1 1/2 cup (200 grams) All-Purpose flour
1/4 cup (30 grams) rye flour
3/4 teaspoon (5 grams) baking powder
1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) smoked salt, plus more for sprinkling
8 ounces (225 grams) mixed dark and white chocolate chunks (about half of each)

Preheat your oven to 350. Line 2 cookie trays with parchment paper and set aside.

In a large bowl using a hand mixer beat together the butter and the three sugars on medium-high for 5 minutes, until the butter is fluffy and the color is lighter. Add the egg and the rye whiskey, and mix until just combined.

In another bowl whisk together the all-purpose flour, the rye flour, the baking powder, and the smoked salt. Add to the butter and mix together on low until the flour is just combined. Using a rubber spatula, stir in the chocolate chunks.

Drop the cookies using spoons into tablespoon and a half balls onto the cookie sheet, making sure to space them an inch apart. Sprinkle each ball of dough with a pinch of smoked salt. Bake for 12 minutes, rotating halfway through. Remove from the oven when they’re just starting to set around the edges. Let cool on the tray.

The cookies will keep well, stored in an airtight container, for three days.

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