In Defense of the Humble Prune

I don’t care how hard the California Dried Plum Growers & Packers try, they will never make prunes sexy.  They can change their name to “dried plums” and put them in fancy packages, but they’ll always be prunes in my book.  And the thing is, no matter how old (and constipated) it may make me sound, I really like prunes.  I don’t need them to be sexy.  I just need them to taste good.  And they do.

Prunes have gotten a bad rap over the years.  Mostly because people associate them with “regularity” and other such sensitive topics.  They were those wrinkly black things that your grandparents ate.  And yet nobody had issues eating dried apricots, or raisins, or dried cherries, blueberries, apples or bananas.  For some reason, prunes were the only dried fruit that gave people issues.  So the powers that be decided to change their name.  Next thing you know, we’ll be calling raisins “dried grapes”.  What is the world coming to when even our fruits have politically correct monikers?

I hadn’t bought prunes in years, but over the holidays, Tami posted this recipe for Zinfandel Poached Prunes.  Simply spooned over a dollop of rich mascarpone cheese, it exuded elegance.  This is how you make prunes sexy, I thought to myself, not by changing their name to something innocuous like “dried plums”.  I still haven’t had a chance to make that beautiful dessert, but I did go out and buy a passel of prunes.  And we’ve been snacking on them ever since.  My youngest thinks they’re the biggest, most delicious raisins he’s ever tasted.

People, I implore you.  Give prunes a chance.

Oatmeal with Almonds and Prunes
prep time: 2 minutes
cook time: 10 minutes
yields: 1 serving

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk (could sub soy or dairy milk)
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup prunes, chopped
  • 1/8 cup raw almonds, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon sucanat (could sub brown sugar)
  1. Bring milk and salt to a boil in a small saucepan
  2. Add the oats and cook, stirring to keep from sticking, until thickened
  3. Add the prunes, almonds and sucanat
  4. Enjoy

This is a hearty, nutrient-dense breakfast.  It is not terribly low in calories, but it makes up for that by packing a wollop of vitamins, minerals and fiber into the calories that are there.  I’m often left wanting when I eat a bowl of cold cereal for breakfast, but this sticks with you.  It’s sweet, but not too sweet.  The texture from the raw almonds is a nice contrast to the oatmeal and the prunes.   And if you use almond milk (as I did), you get an extra bit of almond flavor, which is nice.

So while this is not as sexy as poaching them in red wine and spooning them over creamy Italian cheese, this oatmeal should help you overcome some of your preconceived prune notions.  Oh, believe me – I’ll be poaching prunes soon – but until then, this will have to do.

When All Else Fails, Make Granola

A week or so ago, I posted something to this blog’s Facebook page about trying a recipe, and hoping it wasn’t a total disaster.  My cousin commented almost immediately, saying that she doubted anything I ever made was a total disaster.  While flattered, I laughed out loud when I read the comment – if she only knew how many miserable failures I’ve had in the kitchen (and elsewhere).  Some of them to the point that they’re completely inedible.  I just don’t write about the failures.  Maybe I should.

I think if you love to cook, you can’t be afraid to fail.  There’s always going to be that one batch of cookies that you burn, or that jelly that didn’t set or the bread dough that just didn’t rise for whatever reason.  The important thing is that you try to learn from those mistakes and move on.  Sure, sometimes it can be painful to your ego (and to your wallet, in some cases), but it’s not the end of the world.  I’ve curdled a dozen egg yolks making custard, and had an equal number of egg whites that never whipped to stiff peaks.  I’ve turned multiple batches of failed sourdough bread into sourdough breadcrumbs.  I’ve tossed out a stockpot that had sugar burned so badly on the bottom that it was irreparably damaged.  Believe me – I’ve had plenty of disasters in the kitchen.  Sometimes they push me to try harder, and sometimes they make me take a step back and reevaluate whether I really have the time and the inclination to babysit a sourdough starter.

The answer to the second question, by the way, is no.  At least not right now.

Speaking of stockpots....

Yesterday was one of those days.  You know the ones – where nothing seems to go quite the way you’d planned?  I woke up thinking that I’d do some grocery shopping, wash some clothes and maybe make some granola bars to send to school as snacks for the boys.  A productive day – that’s all I’d really hoped for.  And it’s not that it wasn’t productive, it was just not the kind of productive I’d planned on.

New chickens on the block
New chickens on the block

You see, rather than running my grocery errands and washing the umpteen piles of laundry that are currently carpeting my laundry room floor, I spent half the day yesterday driving 100 miles round-trip to procure these lovely Barred Rock and Ameraucana hens.  We started our backyard flock back in April.  Three Rhode Island Red hens, which my oldest son promptly named Sally, Tweety and Fred.  Since then, the trio has dwindled to a lonesome single Sally – Fred was felled by a Black widow spider, and Tweety we lost to an unknown predator just a couple of days ago.  While we know that these are just some of the perils that come with raising livestock, it’s still a sad affair when you’re faced with the loss of an animal.  Poor Sally seemed a little lost without her flockmates, and we’d been thinking of expanding our numbers anyway, so I felt justified in postponing my chores for a bit so that we could do just that.

Once we got back home, got the chickens’ wings clipped and transferred them safely to the coop to get acclimated, I decided to move on to making granola bars.  I had placed some apple chunks in the dehydrator before we left for our chicken wrangling adventure, and they were nice and leathery upon our return.

Semi-succesful granola bars

I had attempted granola bars earlier in the week, based on this recipe from Smitten Kitchen.  They were good, but they didn’t really ever set up the way I expected them too.  First, they burned and stuck on the edges; and, second, they were too soft at room temperature to maintain their bar shape.  I’m not sure if its my error (probably) or a flaw in the recipe (probably not – Deb’s pretty much a genius, plus she tests her recipes carefully), but I wanted to start over from scratch to try and get something that was more bar-like and less really thick oatmeal-like.

I used a combination of rolled oats, wheat germ, dried apples, raisins, unsweetened flake coconut, sucanat, agave nectar and coconut oil.  I sprayed my pan liberally with oil.  I only baked them for about 15 minutes.

And they were a disaster.  A complete and utter failure.  At least as far as granola bars go.

As granola, though?  A total success (well, except for the part that was so baked on the pan I couldn’t get it off without soaking it in hot water for an hour or so).  With a little almond milk, it makes a delicious breakfast cereal.

So despite the fact, that nothing that I initially intended to get done yesterday actually got accomplished, I wound up with some beautiful new chickens, and some delicious granola.  I won’t bother sharing the ratios I used, since I really was trying for something completely different from what I ended up with.  However, once I do figure out the perfect granola bar recipe, I’ll be sure to pass it along to all of you.  In the meantime, don’t be afraid to try and fail in the kitchen- it’s better than never trying to cook at all (or something like that).

Oh, and those new chickens?  My oldest son ran right out to the coop when he got off the bus and promptly named them: Spot, Dot, Tweety, Jr. and Fred, Jr.  He’s nothing if not original.

In case you’re just really jonesing for some homemade granola bars, here are a few recipes that seem promising:

Alton Brown’s Granola Bars

King Arthur Four’s Chewy Granola Bars

Ina Garten’s Homemade Granola Bars

Apartment Therapy’s Crunchy Granola Bars