Some Things Just Don’t Mix in the Kitchen

by GAIL JOKERST

My husband often uses an expression he learned from his grandmother and that recently surfaced from memory. It goes something like this: “If you are half as smart as you think you are, you won’t do that again.”

It seems I’ve been granted many opportunities to relearn lessons I wish had been mastered the first time around. This is especially true when I multi-task in the kitchen because I’m fussing over how long a particular task takes. That approach usually lands me in the Monopoly equivalent of going directly to Jail without passing GO or collecting $200.

My latest reminder of the virtues of staying single-focused came unpredictably in the form of granola. I make it from scratch, tossing in whatever dried fruits, nuts, and seeds that currently reside in my refrigerator. It’s simple enough to prepare, but it does require patience.

Cutting corners

The baking process is slow, taking about 90 minutes in 300-degree heat, to avoid burning the almonds and coconut while the moistened oats dry out.

In the past, I never attempted to bake anything else while the granola crisped in the oven. Occasionally stirring the mixture held in two large pans and rotating the pans between two shelves has always kept me busy enough.

However, this one evening, I thought I could save time and let my oven do double duty. Instead of making only granola, I decided to also bake a five-hour beef stew simultaneously.

Since the two recipes called for the same temperature, I considered this a dandy idea. Why waste electricity? Why not use the third oven shelf? Why bake the granola later?

Why, indeed!

Past lessons

As I pondered whether this was really such a smart move, a certain memory niggled at my thought. Years ago, friends bought a few groceries for me, including chocolate croissants and cumin from the bulk spice section of a natural-foods store 160 miles away. They enjoyed a three-hour scenic drive home on a warm summer’s day with the croissants nestled in a paper bag and the cumin, in a plastic bag, cozied up next to it.

The next morning when I bit into a croissant, I surprised my taste buds with an unexpected flavor sensation.

To my dismay, the pungent scent of cumin had usurped the sweet taste of chocolate with a seasoning I prefer to enjoy in chili and hummus rather than in a breakfast treat.

This may have occurred 20 years ago but—trust me on this—a cumin-laced chocolate croissant is something you don’t forget.

And even before that, another opportunity to imbibe the lesson of dueling flavors came my way while touring an herbal tea factory. When our guide walked us past the peppermint room, she explained how quickly they learned that peppermint needed to be stored  in  a  separate  space. Nothing  short of a concrete-walled room, minus any ventilation, could keep the potent odor from infiltrating the other seasonings used in their special blends.

So there I stood by the stove many moons later with two gustatory case histories to ignore at my peril.

The Power of Onions

If you have ever fixed a pot of beef stew or eaten a bowlful, you know that beef, carrots, celery, and potatoes are key ingredients, plus another item I should have paid more attention to—onions.

As I discovered, onions possess the same permeating ability as cumin and mint. Despite being encased in a hefty cast-iron Dutch oven with a secure lid, that distinctive aroma escaped  its  environs.  Admittedly,  my  peeking  under  the  lid  to  check  on  the  stew several times was not in the granola’s best interest either.

Fortunately, the cereal wasn’t rendered as inedible as those croissants. I can mask the slight hint of onion with maple yogurt to subdue the interloper. But next time around, I won’t be sharing oven space with anything else while baking granola. At least I won’t if I’m half as smart as I think I am.


Maple-Nut Granola

Once you start eating homemade granola, don’t be surprised if you end up forsaking all commercial brands and begin perfecting your own recipe. Granola is such adaptable breakfast fare, you can toss in any number of different nuts, seeds, and dried fruits to please your own tastes. This adapted recipe is from www.eatingwell.com.

Ingredients

  • 5 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (not quick-cooking)
  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut chips or flakes
  • ½ cup sliced almonds
  • ½ cup pecans, coarsely chopped
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup unsalted raw pumpkin seeds
  • ½ cup unsalted raw sunflower seeds
  • ½ cup pure maple syrup
  • ½ cup water
  • ¼ cup unflavored vegetable oil (i.e. safflower, corn, canola)
  • 1 cup dried fruit (Your choice of dried cranberries, cherries, apples, unsweetened banana chips, or raisins. A variety is nice.)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Combine oats, nuts, brown sugar, and seeds in a large bowl. Blend together syrup, water, and oil, then pour over oat mixture. Stir until well combined and the oats are moistened. Spread the mixture onto two large, rimmed baking sheets (12-by-15-inch or larger). Line the pans with silicone baking sheets to keep the granola from sticking, or coat them lightly with cooking spray. Bake for 30 minutes, then stir the granola. Repeat in 30 minutes. During the next 20-30 minutes, watch, so the granola doesn’t brown too deeply. I remove it from the oven when the almond slices and large coconut flakes look golden and are crisp. Place each pan on a cooling rack, and stir ½ cup of the dried fruit mixture into each. Let it cool completely before storing.


Slow-Cookin’ Country Beef Stew

Aside from being a flavorful and satisfying meal, the beauty of this Amish stew is that it’s prepared in one baking dish and doesn’t require browning the meat first. Not only that, you don’t have to stir the stew once you’ve placed it in the oven. This adapted recipe comes from the pages of Cooking from Quilt Country by Marcia Adams.

Ingredients

  • 2-½ pounds beef stew meat
  • 3 to 4 potatoes, peeled
  • 3 to 4 carrots, peeled
  • 2 ribs celery
  • 3 small onions
  • 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • ½ cup water
  • 5 tablespoons minute tapioca* 
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon allspice
  • ¼ teaspoon dried marjoram
  • ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 or 2 bay leaves
  • ½ cup fresh parsley, chopped

Directions

Cut meat into serving pieces. Cut potatoes into pieces slightly larger than the meat. Cut carrots, celery, and onions into 1-inch pieces. Combine all the ingredients (except parsley) in a large Dutch oven or roasting pan. Mix very well, to distribute seasonings and tapioca. Bake covered at 300° for 5 hours. Do not stir while baking. Garnish with parsley before serving.

* Because of the tapioca thickener, this stew doesn’t freeze well, so invite company over for dinner when you make this. Plan to eat leftovers for a while, or cut the recipe in half.

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