Recipes run around in my head sometimes.
It used to be that my brain played games with words and phrases, repeating kerfuffle or shuffle off to buffalo. (Watch that clip. It cracks me up, particularly the ladies sitting disdainfully on high.)
Words still whirl in my mind, but these days they have to share space with ingredients.
Pistachios and golden raisins. They play well together. Cake? Or granola?
When I first began this blog, I cooked and baked like an acolyte lighting candles before Sunday morning services: somberly, with a great sense of duty. I was humbled by the bevy of recipes before me in my stack of favorite cookbooks. I wanted to conquer them all. I had no guide aside from the words on the page.
Now, however, I throw foods together in the pan, listen to the sizzle, dip in my finger, and decide what to add next. When I look at other people’s recipes every day, through the hours of cooking and writing, inspired I wait for the tug. The tug that says, “Get in the kitchen. Start cooking.” I follow recipes exactly the first time through. After that, it’s a free for all.
Danny has really changed me.
Watching my husband stand at the stove, composing as he throws food into a skillet, then flips all that heat and steam into the air it gets me every time. But after awhile, I no longer wanted to be in awe. I wanted to be the one doing that.
I know how to flip gluten-free pancakes without thinking about it now.
I’ve been cooking nearly every day, several meals a day, for five years, with the last three being the most intensive. (Feeding a kid. That’s an urgency that makes needing to create recipes for the blog a pale imitation.) And it’s just this year that I’m feeling confident in the kitchen, confident enough to really play.
Mistakes don’t feel like mistakes if you’re just playing.
To my surprise, lately, I’ve come up with ideas that Danny may think a little daft at first. And then he approves.
Flying Apron Bakery in Seattle makes a great peanut butter bar. Now, I have to tell you that I have always supported the ethos of Flying Apron, but I haven’t always loved their baked goods. There seemed to be a lot of leaden chickpea flour creations. But something shifted in the last two years. Suddenly, the baked goods are good. And some of them are free of xanthan gum, like this peanut butter bar. It’s packed with good organic foods, like gluten-free oats, raisins, sunflower seeds, and maple syrup. And it’s at our grocery store here on Vashon. Once in awhile, I buy one.
Then, the other day, I started thinking about peanut butter. It started with Matthew and Molly, with their peanut butter show on Spilled Milk. I listened to it on one of my walks, laughed out loud in the middle of the woods, and came home thinking about peanut butter. Normally, we’re an all-natural peanut butter family. But damned if those two didn’t make me buy a tub of Skippy peanut butter the other day. With two jars of Trader Joe’s organic peanut butter and sunflower seed butter (for Lu’s lunches at preschool) already in the refrigerator, I had to do something with peanut butter.
So I threw some ingredients in the food processor. With friends in the kitchen, I felt like I was playing. Nothing serious.
And then I really liked what emerged: a little sticky, studded with nuts, slightly sweet bar. For breakfast. For snacks. For those times in the car when the kid needs to eat now.
I smoothed the surface and put it in the refrigerator. Within a few hours it hardened. Done, I thought.
Gluten-free, vegan, raw, no baking involved. Who wouldn’t love this?
He liked it. But the stickiness bugged him.
“Let’s bake it,” he said, in that tone of voice that suggested that was the best way.
So we did.
Guess which one we preferred? The easy way!
Baked, this is interesting, but a little dry. It lacked the kind of bounce I wanted against my teeth, the fresh taste of food thrown together without trying. If I wanted the snack I dreamed up, I’d leave it unbaked.
However, after it cooled, and we decided we weren’t crazy about it, I couldn’t just throw out all these ingredients. So, it became a fabulous nut crust for a tart. As in, fabulous. If I had created this recipe for this crust, I would have been thrilled.
Unbaked or baked? You never know what works for each person in her own kitchen.
Your turn. You play now.
Don’t worry about following this recipe too closely. You might like sunflower seed or almond butter instead. Maybe you can’t do oats, even if they are gluten-free. Quinoa flakes? Walnuts would be great. How about crushed hazelnuts? Any dried fruit you have handy that works with these flavors? Throw them in there. And maybe you like agave or brown rice syrup and you’ve run out of maple syrup.
Play. You really can’t go wrong.
2 cups peanut butter
1 cup certified gluten-free oats
1 cup pistachios
½ cup dried cranberries
2 tablespoons maple syrup.
Prepare a 9-inch square baking pan with two pieces of parchment paper, each one going a different direction and flopping over the sides. (See photo above.) Grease the parchment papers liberally.
Combine all the ingredients in a food processor. Pulse until they have all come together, clinging to each other into one sticky mass.
Spread the peanut butter concoction into the square pan. Use another greased piece of parchment paper to press down on the top of the bars, pushing it to all the edges and smoothing the top.
Refrigerate for 4 hours before cutting into squares.
If you want to bake this for a crust .
Bake in a 325° oven until the top has begun to set, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely before crumbling the bars and smooshing them into a pie pan to make a crust.
p.s. The lemon tart you see above, the one we made with this crust? Oh my gosh. It’s from the The Food52 Cookbook: 140 Winning Recipes from Exceptional Home Cooks. I’ll be telling you more about this book later. Just know that this lemon tart recipe? That one recipe is worth the price of the cookbook.