As if Alex and I weren’t lucky enough to win a trip to Napa Valley for a two-day grilling class on the stunning COPIA campus in August, we also got to meet Elise of Simply Recipes fame. Not only is she as warm, kind and knowledgeable as she comes off on her site, she’s one of those types of people who reach into their bag two minutes after having met you and proffers up a homemade gift, in this case, apple butter made from the early apples grown in her own backyard. “What’s a backyard?” Alex and I asked her, wide-eyed and baffled. Elise smiled politely.
We ate it with a spoon, and I don’t mean weeks later; I’m talking about when we arrived back that Tuesday night near midnight. I confess that apple butter is one of these things I hadn’t known about growing up. Amusingly, my first knowledge of us came from watching Oprah shortly after her first or second major weight loss, and she told her audience that one of her secrets had been apple butter instead of regular butter on her morning toast. Needless to say, I was dubious that anything could take the place of real butter and the idea of trying apple butter fell largely to the back of my mind until that Tuesday night.
And oh my god, it was just phenomenal. Thick, gooey and lavishly spiced, it was like fall had exploded in our kitchen, and I vowed between spoonfuls that we would go apple picking and make an enormous batch of our own from Elise’s recipe this fall.
Well, not to be anticlimactic, but we haven’t been apple picking yet, yet when I saw that Shutterbean had gushed about Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Butter this weekend, I remembered the remainder of the can of pumpkin puree from the bread pudding lingering in my refrigerator, more or less going to waste due to my indecision about what to make with it. Considering how dearly I missed Elise’s apple butter, this was an easy-peasy choice.
Pumpkin butter is ridiculously easy to make, taking hours less than its tree-ripened cousin, mostly because you can start with puree from a can. Now, if you haven’t had apple or pumpkin butter before, you’ll probably find it very sweet, which it is. But I happen to think of it more like a jam, or something you would dollop on pancakes or waffles or vanilla ice cream or your plain morning yogurt.
Which also brings me to my favorite granola recipe. I mentioned it for the first time last year, but due to the discovery a store this weekend that sells nuts and dried fruits galore in bulk and for far less than most gouging stores in NYC, I knew it was a sign it was time to make it again. Below, I have updated the recipe a bit with some adjustments and advice culled from practice, and comments from you.
And then tomorrow for breakfast, I want you to throw a cup of plain Greek yogurt, with or without a drop of vanilla extract swirled in, a few spoonfuls of granola and a dollop of pumpkin butter in your work bag and feast on this in your cubicle tomorrow instead of the routine. Believe me, the view will be much better from there.
One year ago: Pumpkin Muffins
Adapted from AllRecipes
1 (29 ounce) can pumpkin puree, approx. 3 1/2 cups
3/4 cup apple juice
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/3 cups brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Juice of half a lemon
Combine pumpkin, apple juice, spices, and sugar in a large saucepan; stir well. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer for 30 minutes or until thickened. Stir frequently. Adjust spices to taste. Stir in lemon juice, or more to taste. Once cool, pumpkin butter can be kept in an airtight container in the fridge.
To preserve: Whoops! It turns out, pumpkin butter is not safe to can. Into the fridge or freezer it goes! Confused? Read more here.
Adapted from Calle Ocho, New York City
In the couple years I have been making my own granola, I have learned a few things that I hope will help you too. The first is that I think most recipes have too much oil, and that gets in the way of clumping. I am updating the recipe to include less of it. The second is that it burns very quickly, so just because I can get away with 30 minutes baking time in my oven doesn’t mean that it won’t over-toast in 20 in yours. I’d suggest you check it every five minutes after the 15 minute mark. Finally, and this is the hardest-learned advice I can give: keep it in the freezer. Granola, even in an airtight container, actually especially in an airtight container, gets soft after a couple days. In the freezer, it stays crisp and crunchy indefinitely, and also extends the shelf life to months.
3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup sliced almonds (1 oz)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup green (hulled) pumpkin seeds, sometimes called pepitas (1 1/2 oz; not roasted)
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup mild honey
Pinch salt (flaky sea salt is wonderful in here)
1 cup tart dried cherries
1/2 cup dried blueberries
1/2 cup dried pears (1/4 inch dice)
1/2 cup diced dried apricots (1/4 inch dice)
1/3 cup golden raisins
— or —
2 3/4 cups mixed dried fruit of your choice (I used pears, figs and tart cherries)
Accompaniment: Sliced bananas; plain yogurt flavored with vanilla extract, pumpkin or apple butter
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 375°F. Stir together all ingredients except the fruit in a large bowl until combined. Spread mixture evenly on a large (17-by 12-inch) shallow baking pan lined with parchment paper and bake, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes, but checking every five minutes after the 15-minute mark because it burns quickly. Transfer granola, in pan, to rack to cool stirring occasionally, about 45 minutes.
Stir in dried fruit.
Granola keeps, frozen (the fruit’s moisture softens granola if not kept frozen) in an airtight container, a few months.