Granola Cookies, aka Breakfast Cookies, aka Kitchen Sink Cookies

granola cookies

My little guy is totally addicted to Annie’s granola bars.

And what’s not to love? They are just soft and chewy enough for his little teeth to bite into without sending cascades of granola bits flying everywhere. They are just wee enough for his chubby little fist to grab and carry with him on all his little toddler adventures. And the wrapper, which I leave on and pull down as needed, keeps him mostly sticky free, until he devours the last little nub.

Plus they are organic with recognizable ingredients and less sugar than most granola bars out there (hey, helps with my mom guilt).

But at nearly $5 a box for 7 little bars, they are kinda on the pricey side. And we go through them super fast around here.

So the other day, I totally spaced out and forgot to pick up a box at the grocery store, which caused a minor meltdown when little dude asked for one later that day.

I managed to distract him (What, you want a granola bar? Hey, let’s go play on the trampoline!), and mentally made a note to go to the grocery store the next day.

But then I thought, ugh, the grocery store. I dread going to the grocery store. Anyone who’s been grocery shopping with a two year old knows what I am talking about. Plus we live out in the country, 10 miles from the nearest Annie’s granola bars, so running out to the store for a single item is not exactly convenient.

Then I thought, what if I made some instead? I’d made granola bars once before, and they were good, and easy to make, but really sticky, and really sweet. I wanted something a little less sweet and maybe not so sticky. I do enough laundry around here.

Then it hit me – what about a granola cookie instead? All the goodness of granola packed into a cute little cookie, what child could resist?

I turned to the internets for research and development and came across these kitchen sink cookies on Martha Stewart. These were just what I was looking for – crisp on the outside, moist on the inside, chock full of fun bits and chunks. It’s like oatmeal cookie’s parents went out of town for the weekend and she invited all her bffs from the pantry over for a night of, umm, granola making.

I did end up tweaking the recipe to healthify it a bit, but they are still cookies after all.

When little dude asked for a granola bar, I distracted him with these (Hey, cookie!) and started thinking about ways to healthify a lollipop.

Granola Cookies, aka Breakfast Cookies, aka Kitchen Sink Cookies

Adapted from Martha Stewart

Recipe notes: This recipe is very versatile – I made a bunch of tweaks with no disastrous results. What I ended up with was a very lightly sweet cookie, not too crumbly, crisp on the outside, soft in the middle. I cut the sugar in half, swapped all purpose flour for white whole wheat, added almond flour for protein, and swapped the chocolate for dates and sunflower seeds. Oh, and switched coconut oil for the butter. Whew. Normally when I sub white whole wheat flour for all purpose flour, I only do up to about 25%, per Cook’s Illustrated. But then I remembered the 100% whole wheat chocolate chip cookies from Kim Boyce, and I thought, let’s do this. So I went for it and did 100% white whole wheat flour. The dates I had were kind of tough and chewy, so I soaked them in apple juice and that made them a little more tender. Actually I soaked them a little too long and they started to turn gelatinous, so then I had to try to dry them out a little. It was a big mess. Don’t soak them too long, 5, 10 minutes tops. These are super easy to make – usually cookies involve creaming room temperature butter and sugar (which I find tedious), then beating in the rest of the wet ingredients, and finally adding all the dry ingredients. But these substitute melted coconut oil for butter, so you can skip the creaming and just mix that bad boy up with a simple wooden spoon, no need to bust out the mixer. There is a lot of measuring due to all the add-ins, but it goes pretty quick. The dough is rather thick – once I got all the stuff mixed in, I scooped heaping tablespoons and basically pressed them into little balls, them smooshed ‘em a bit for that classic cookie shape. They are very crumbly right out of the oven (I know this through scientific, uh, research) but firm up nicely once cooled completely. Then they are pretty portable, if you are into running around with a cookie in your fist. Makes about 26 cookies. If that is too much, scoop all your cookies as directed, bake just a few, then freeze the rest on a baking sheet for a couple of hours. You can then store them in a ziplock bag and bake them straight out of the freezer as needed, adding a minute or two to compensate. Next time I might try adding an extra egg white and maybe some peanut butter for extra binding and protein. And of course there is plenty of room for experimenting with the add-ins.

1/2 cup coconut oil, melted

1/4 cup firmly packed light-brown sugar

1 large egg

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3/4 cups white whole wheat flour

¼ cup almond flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats

1/2 cup chopped dates

½ cup sunflower seeds

1/2 cup sweetened flake coconut

1/2 cup raisins

1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl with a wooden spoon, stir oil and brown sugar together until smooth. Mix in egg until well blended. Stir in vanilla.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt (or just mix together, I never bother with sifting). Add oats, seeds, coconut, raisins, dates and walnuts and stir until well blended. Gradually stir dry mixture into oil mixture until well blended.

Drop batter by heaping tablespoons on baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Press tops down with the bottom of a glass or your hand to flatten cookies evenly. Bake until golden, about 14 to 16 minutes. Cool on pan for 2 minutes. Remove from pan, and finish cooling completely on wire rack.

Update 3/17/2013: I tried a batch with an extra egg white and puffed rice in place of the sunflower seeds. They held together pretty well, but the puffed rice sort of disintegrated into the cookies.

Healthy-ish Beet Cupcakes with Chocolate Ganache Frosting for Your Boo

beet cupcakes

Usually I am not the sentimental sort, but when V Day looms, I can’t resist whipping up something special for my boo.

Back Before Baby, I spent many happy hours concocting all sorts of decadent treats for my guy. One year, in a fit of unabashed sappiness, I crafted a surprisingly convincing 2D Jack Skellington and Sally from melted dark and white chocolate, complete with a chocolate Zero and little chocolate hearts. We ate the whole thing for dinner and washed it down with cheap champagne, lots of it.

But these days, now that I’m a mama, my efforts are a little more, wholesome, shall we say.

Like these here cupcakes. That lovely, vibrant red crumb? The work of beets, my friends! Also, there is whole wheat hiding in there. And the frosting is dark chocolate, which is practically a health food, am I right? OK, so the candy hearts are, ummm, candy. But know that I planned to top these with pomegranate seeds instead, I was just too lazy to peel the dang thing.

Healthy-ish Beet Cupcakes with Chocolate Ganache Frosting for Your Boo

Cupcakes adapted from Sunset Magazine/Diane Morgan. Chocolate ganache frosting adapted from Cook’s Illustrated.

Recipe notes: These cupcakes are super easy to make, but it does take a bit of time to pull them all together. For me, it was easier to roast the beets (along with some other vegetables I planned to put in a stew) a day before, so they were ready to go when I started the cupcakes. The original recipe calls for cake flour, but I never have that on hand, so I went with a substitution. Also, I cut the sugar by 1/4 cup and 2 tablespoons. As for the chocolate ganache frosting, the recipe calls for letting it cool in the fridge for 45 minutes before frosting your cupcakes. If you happen to let the frosting kick it in the fridge overnight, as I did, it may turn a bit hard, which makes it very difficult to work with. You might try whipping it to loosen it up, not sure if heat would help. Also, I’ve tried swapping out the whipping cream for other liquids, but so far that hasn’t worked out. This frosting, it’s finicky, but hey, only two ingredients.

BEET CUPCAKES

Makes 12 cupcakes

1 pound red beets (3 medium), scrubbed

1 cup all purpose flour

¾ cup white whole wheat flour

¼ cup corn starch

1 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon kosher or fine sea salt

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

¾ cup granulated sugar

3 large eggs, beaten to blend

2/3 cup canola oil

3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Roast beets: Preheat oven to 400°. Wrap each beet in foil, put on a rimmed baking sheet, and roast until tender when pierced, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Let cool. Peel, cut into chunks, and purée in a food processor. Measure 1 1/4 cups purée.

2. Preheat oven to 350. Line a 12-cup muffin pan (1/2-cup size) with paper liners. Sift together flour, corn starch, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Set aside.

3. Whisk together beet purée, granulated sugar, eggs, oil, and vanilla in a large bowl. With a plastic spatula, stir in flour mixture one-third at a time just until smooth.

4. Spoon batter into muffin cups, filling each almost to the top of the liner. Bake until cupcakes spring back when gently pressed and a toothpick inserted in center of one comes out with a couple of moist crumbs clinging, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes. Transfer to rack to cool completely.

CHOCOLATE GANACHE FROSTING

Makes about 2 cups, enough for 12 cupcakes

1 cup heavy cream

8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped

Bring cream to boil in small saucepan.

Remove off stovetop (this is important. I forgot to do this once and the frosting turned out very, very dense).

Place chocolate in the saucepan, cover and let stand 5 minutes.

Whisk until smooth, then cover and refrigerate until cool and slightly firm, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Remove from the fridge and frost those babies!

Soy Vinaigrette, or the Only Salad Dressing I Ever Use

soy vinaigrette

Every year come January, I resolve to eat more vegetables.

And, ermmm, exercise more frequently and lose those last five pounds, which I soon forget all about sometime in February, as if those early hopeful days of January never happened.

But this year I have a secret weapon, at least for eating more vegetables. It’s the best salad dressing ever. I came across it on Serious Eats, and I’ve never been the same. I put it on just about any salad, even ones that might not necessarily seem compatible. I have been known to slurp the leftover dressing right out of the bowl. I have the freaking recipe memorized for crying out loud!

OK maybe I am going just a wee bit overboard. But seriously, it’s pretty much the only salad dressing I ever eat anymore.

I keep a mason jar of the stuff in the refrigerator, ready to go should any opportunity for salad arise.

Soy Vinaigrette

Adapted from J. Kenji Lopez-Alt at Serious Eats

A couple notes on the recipe: mine is a pared down version, with fewer ingredients and a little less oil. Originally, I swapped the Dijon for maple syrup, because I was out of mustard at the time, and I find honey a little messy to work with. But I liked the maple syrup version so much I kept it that way. That said, maple syrup is not as good as an emulsifier as mustard or honey, so you need to give the dressing a good shake right before dousing your salad. Read more about emulsifiers and salad dressing in the original post here.

4 tablespoons rice vinegar

2 tablespoons soy sauce

4 teaspoons maple syrup

½ cup canola oil

¼ tsp salt

Put all ingredients in a jar, screw on a lid and shake, shake, shake!

Sharp Knives

knife

I feel like such an adult now.

I finally invested in a set of sharp new knives. Nothing fancy schmancy. Just everyday workhorse Victorinox knives. I got a 4-inch paring knife, a 6-inch utility knife, an 8-inch chef’s knife, a 10.25-inch bread knife and a 12-inch slicing knife that makes me feel like a samurai wielding my sword.

I heart them.

Not only that, but I got a knife sharpener too. With the idea that I would actually care for and maintain my lovely little babies. I got the Accusharp knife sharpener, which is ridiculously easy to use. I have actually even used it already. Just like a grown up would.

My beautiful, glittering new arsenal replaces a sorry, rag tag bunch of knives I’ve held on to for far too long.

Most of the predecessors were from a knife set that an ex-sister in law gave us 10, maybe 12 years ago. It was a nice enough set back then, pedigree unknown, but plenty sharp with wooden handles and a wooden block in which to store them.

At the time, though, I was woefully ignorant in the ways of proper knife management. I mean, I didn’t even know the difference between a bread knife and a chef’s knife, let alone how to use a sharpening steel.

So what that meant was for the first 8 or 9 years or so, I never sharpened those knives. Truly. Hey, my cooking is what you call rustic so it’s not like I ever tried to dazzle anyone with my precision cutting skills. I am more of a rough chop kind of girl.

But over the last couple of years it dawned on me that it might make chopping a whole lot easier and faster (and safer) if those knives were nice and sharp.

So I bought a couple of cheap-y Chicago cutlery knives at Fred Meyer, and took those babies for a spin. The difference was night and day.

Instead of hacking and bludgeoning my way through the vegetables, I simply sliced through them with a flick of the wrist. So that is what it’s supposed to be like.

I used those for a year or so, sharpening (or is that honing?) them every so often with the crappy sharpener they came with.

But as of late, the knives just didn’t seem to stay very sharp, no matter how much I employed the crappy sharpener.

It was definitely time for a set of real knives. Adult knives.

I have been known to go a little nuts with research at times, but this time I decided to stick with the Cook’s Illustrated recommendations. For those on a budget, they recommend Victorinox knives, pretty much for any style of knife, and Accusharp knife sharpeners.

Clearly I am no expert, but I do think these knives perform beautifully. I can chop through veggies like butter. I used to hate chopping onions – with the old knives I basically had to saw through the onion. And winter squash? Fuggedaboutit. It was like I was murdering the poor things.

Now? Now I am like a slicing and dicing Benihana ninja. Not really.

My knives are beautiful, but my knife skills leave something to be desired. My hands are all cut up from the careless handling – I guess now I need to bone up on my technique.

Crazy Addictive Granola

I only made granola a handful of times before I stumbled across this recipe in the NYT.

It was for the granola that Eleven Madison Park (three Michelin stars!) gives to guests at the close of a meal.

Sadly I’ll probably never have the chance to eat there, but I was curious to sample a hooty-snooty take on bird food. How would one of the top chefs in the country interpret a simple breakfast food?

The recipe looked easy enough, and the ingredient list not too intimidating, so after a quick trip to Trader Joe’s, I whipped up a batch lickety split.

Good lord. I could not stop eating the stuff. I kept on finding myself in front of the pantry absent-mindedly stuffing fistfuls of it in my face.

It became my go-to granola recipe on the spot. My apologies to all the neglected, unloved granola recipes out there – my heart belongs to this one. It is sweet and salty and lightly crisp with a little hit of olive oil to round it out.

It was only after I made this several times that I found out it was actually based on one by Nekisia Davis of Early Bird Foods in Brooklyn. Apparently it is so beloved that it has been adapted by quite a few big names.

I stuck with Eleven Madison version because I like the quantity it makes – just enough to fill up my large tupper. Anymore and I would need to invest in some big girl jeans.

I did end up tweaking the Eleven Madison version though – as written, it calls for 1 tablespoon of kosher salt, which I find a bit too salty to eat out of hand. So I scaled it down to 1 teaspoon (I use table salt), which is in line with several other versions out there.

I also tried cutting the sweetness, for a more everyday version. Melissa Clark did the same, for an even leaner version.

And I tried swapping out the olive oil for coconut oil, which is good, but a little more subdued.

Even still, it’s habit forming. Once I make a batch, it is usually gone in a couple of days, and there are telltale crumbs on the front of my shirt.

The next time I make some, I may try measuring out enough dry ingredients for 3 or 4 batches, bake one batch and store the rest for when the mood strikes. That way I could cut my prep time in half. But then again, maybe that is just tempting fate….

Eleven Madison Park Granola

Adapted from the NYT

Recipe notes: I checked out the Eleven Madison Park cookbook from the library and found that the kitchen uses kosher salt unless otherwise specified. Also, the recipe calls for Grade B maple syrup (soon to be called Very Dark), which is supposed to be richer and deeper-flavored than Grade A. But if all I have is Grade A I sure don’t let that stop me from making this here granola.

2 3⁄4 cups rolled oats

1 cup shelled pistachios

1 cup unsweetened coconut chips

1/3 cup pumpkin seeds

1 tablespoon salt (if you like salty, I do closer to 1 teaspoon)

1⁄2 cup light brown sugar (1/3 for lighter version)

1/3 cup maple syrup (1/4 for lighter version)

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (1/4 for lighter version)

3⁄4 cup dried sour cherries.

1. Preheat oven to 300. In a large bowl, mix together the oats, pistachios, coconut, pumpkin seeds and salt.

2. In a small saucepan set over low heat, warm the sugar, syrup and olive oil until the sugar has just dissolved, then remove from heat. Fold liquids into the mixture of oats, making sure to coat the dry ingredients well.

3. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat, and spread granola over it. Bake until dry and lightly golden, 35 to 40 minutes, stirring granola a few times along the way.

4. Remove granola from oven, and mix into it the dried sour cherries. Allow to cool to room temperature before transferring to a storage container. Makes about 6 cups.

Freezing Pureed Tomatoes

I was in a panic over tomatoes. We’d had an unseasonably sunny October, and the local tomatoes were like pure vegetal candy.

But rain was in the future. The weather channel predicted a deluge unlike any we’d seen since spring, in just two days time. We live in Oregon, and folks here know that when the rains start, it is time to hunker down and hibernate until they clear up some time in June.

So I was running around like crazy, trying to maximize our last few days of golden rays. We went to Bushue’s to ride a tractor around the pumpkin patch and pick out a stellar specimen for the front porch.

But also to pick the last of the tomatoes, before the rains split their juicy innards open.

I came home with about 20 pounds of tomatoes, and visions of their sweet nectar sustaining us through the dark, soggy depths of winter.

Of course, that meant I had to actually do something to preserve them for our future selves, and quickly.

Never mind that I had never actually “put up” before (no, no, not “put out”, you dirty little birdy! Put UP, as in preserve!).

But a couple weeks back I heard from the farmer who grows our vegs that you can simply throw tomatoes in the freezer whole, no skinning, seeding, blanching or chopping necessary. Tomatoes you plan to cook, that is.

My mind was blown.

That is when I hatched the plan to acquire a supply of tomatoes and put her bold statement to the test. I would get a bunch of beautiful local tomatoes, freeze them, and use them in place of the canned tomatoes stewed in BPA that I normally use during the dark months.

But then I thought, wait, instead of freezing them whole, which would make them a little difficult to use, why not purée the tomatoes before freezing them, since that is what I usually do with canned tomatoes before adding them to sauces and stews and soups?

Couldn’t I just purée the tomatoes , then freeze them flat in two cup portions in ziplock bags? That way they would be easy to store, and quick to thaw? It would be a bit of work on the front end, but then they would be ready to dump into whatever I happened to have bubbling on the stove.

Normally I would spend the better part of a day researching the answers to these questions, but I didn’t want to end up with a bunch of moldering tomatoes so I just went ahead puréed away.

It took about half a day to get through all the tomatoes, but by the end of it, I was thrilled to have 20 lovely ziplocks chilling in my freezer – roughly the equivalent of 20 14.5 oz cans.

I did have some mishaps though. I wasn’t paying attention when I stuck the first four ziplocks in the freezer, and they ended sliding partially over the edge of the shelf and freezing in a right angle – not the most convenient for storage. Also I managed to get tomato gore over every surface in the kitchen. So worth it though.

Freezing Pureed Tomatoes

Recipe notes: This is not so much a recipe, but instructions for freezing a bounty of glorious tomatoes.

a big old pile of ripe tomatoes (San Marzano of course are considered the best for sauces, but I don’t even know what kind of tomatoes I ended up with, and the puree turned out just lovely)

a supply of quart-size freezer ziplock bags

Wash all the grit off the tomatoes. Lop off the stem and any nasty bits. Chop into chunks (I cut the smaller ones into quarters, larger ones into eighths). Fill a blender about half way full of chunks (my blender had trouble blending if I filled it too full) and puree. I left mine a little chunky. Pour into a bowl. Scoop two cups of puree into a ziplock bag, seal tightly and lay flat in the freezer. I laid mine on the back of a cookie sheet to prevent any slipping and sliding around. Continue until tomatoes are gone, or you are sick of it. Pat yourself on the back for making your life a little tastier.

Update 11/14/12: So I’ve had the chance to use some of my stash, in the form of veg chili, ribollita and tomato sauce. All very tasty, with a distinct sweet tomatoey goodness that was lacking when I used the canned stuff.

That said, the texture turned out much different than expected – the puréed tomatoes were super watery and the flesh seemed to almost melt away.

Hubbie’s verdict on the veg chili: good, but mushy. When I made another batch several days later with canned tomatoes, he found it more toothsome and to his liking. Poop.

So I did some digging around and finally learned why certain tomatoes are best for sauce and others for eating fresh. It turns out that San Marzanos and other plum-type varieties such as Romas are meaty, and not so juicy. When cooked, they break down into a thick, luscious sauce. Tomatoes for eating fresh, on the other hand, are bursting with juice, but the flesh can’t withstand the heat. What you end up with is essentially tomato-flavored water.

In my tomato-induced panic back in October, I paid no attention to any of this. I just headed for the fields and blindly started picking. I had no idea what variety of tomato I was picking, although it’s clear to me now that they were tomatoes intended for eating fresh (they were round, and ranged in size from golf-ball to tennis-ball).

All is not lost though. I will still use my precious harvest in the coming winter months. But to combat the wateriness, I will simply keep the pot on the stove a little longer and let the water boil away. I find that if I just turn up the heat, take off the lid, and let my stew or chili or soup simmer away, eventually the water will evaporate and the concoction will thicken up nicely. Sometimes it takes a while, which is kind of annoying when you’re hungry. Just eat a snack and quit your grumbling, OK?

Ketchup-less BBQ Sauce + Easy Slow Cooker Pulled Chicken

Bug is officially terrible! He just turned two, and you know what that means – we are in for it.

He’s already been a bit of a handful, so when I was planning his birthday party, I wanted something quick and easy I could throw together in between temper tantrums and melt downs.

At first I was thinking homemade pizza because that is always a crowd-pleaser, but I didn’t want to do any real cooking the day of, and opening and shutting a hot oven with little ones running around didn’t seem like the best idea.

I considered spaghetti briefly, since the theme of the party was Curious George and he has been known to polish off a few bowls of the stuff, but it seemed like it would be a hassle to cook it all in advance then warm it all up after the guests arrived. Then I thought …Crockpot!

What better way to cook for a big crowd ahead of time, yet make sure the food will still be piping hot when you finally get around to serving it, whenever that may be? Oh, and with minimal prep, and no monitoring needed during cooking, which is awesome since you kinda forgot about it after that wee drinky drink?

Up until now I’ve mostly used my crockpot for making big batches of beans, but I’ve been meaning to try a recipe for pulled chicken that I came across on thekitchn.

So before the party, I did a test batch with homemade BBQ sauce and it was totally the bomb! Plus super easy!

On the day of, I was all sweaty and crazy trying to get ready for the party, so I just skipped the homemade and threw in Bull’s-Eye Original BBQ Sauce instead – still totally the bomb!

I ended up researching two different recipes for this dish – homemade BBQ sauce and slow cooker pulled chicken.

For the homemade BBQ sauce, I checked out Cooks Illustrated, Martha Stewart, Pioneer Woman, Homesick Texan and Ina Garten by way of smitten kitchen. But I went with the CI one, just because it seemed like a good basic version to start with. And boy howdy, it was about to become my go-to recipe, until I realized just how much sugar is in ketchup. The CI version starts with 1 full cup of ketchup, to which you add another 5 tablespoons of molasses! Oi!

Warning, math ahead, skip to the end of this graph if you just want the summary: 1 tablespoon ketchup has 4 grams of sugar, which is about 1 teaspoon sugar. There are 16 tablespoons in a cup, so 16 teaspoons of sugar in 1 cup of ketchup. There’s 3 teaspoons in a tablespoon, so about 5 tablespoons of sugar in that cup of ketchup. Then you go and add another 5 tablespoons of molasses. That brings you to about 10 tablespoons of sweetener for 1 1/2 cups of BBQ sauce. Of course it’s not like you would scarf down 1 1/2 cups of BBQ sauce in a single sitting, but you could easily inhale 1/2 cup without thinking about it (well, I could, don’t judge) which would be just over 3 tablespoons of sugar, or 9 teaspoons. The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugar intake to no more than 6 teaspoons a day for women! (OK technically, in the above example, we don’t know how much of the sugars in the ketchup are naturally present in the tomatoes and how much are added in refined form. The manufacturer does not have to break that info down. The AHA recommendation is for added refined sugars, not for the sugars naturally found in food. But 9 teaspoons is pretty high, though, especially since you are probably getting a whole lot more from other sources throughout your day.)

Summary: ketchup has a lot of sugar! Anyway, the CI recipe was also kind of fiddly, what with blending the onions then straining them through a sieve, so it was back to the drawing board.

So I started looking for another version that doesn’t use ketchup as the base, which turned out to be a bit more challenging. It seems like a lot of “homemade” BBQ sauce recipes I came across call for ketchup, and often a mix of other condiments, like hoisin or mustard or weirdly, barbecue sauce (how meta, barbecue sauce made from barbecue sauce to which you add ingredients found in barbecue sauce).

Hey, I’m not like militant about homemade or anything, but I do think it would be tough to get any sort of consistency if your recipe calls for ingredients that can taste drastically different from product to product. So I tried to avoid recipes that went heavy on the condiments too.

I finally found one ketchup-less recipe on the kitchn and decided to give it a go. Instead of ketchup, the recipe starts with an 8 oz can of tomato sauce, which has about 2 teaspoon of sugars, and a tablespoon of tomato paste, which has about 1/4 teaspoon of sugars. To this you add 1 tablespoon of molasses and 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, for a total of 4 tablespoons or so of sugars per 1 1/2 cup of sauce, which seems a lot more reasonable than the whopping 10 tablespoons in the CI recipe.

Of course I tweaked the recipe a bit, I just can’t seem to help myself. I ended up using one 14.5 oz can of diced tomato (which I always have on hand) in place of the 8 oz can of tomato sauce (which I never have on hand). Nixed the water, nixed the cumin, added chipotle powder, added apple cider vinegar, subbed soy for Worcestershire, and, errmmm added a bit more sweetener (yes, hypocritical, aren’t we?). I may tweak it a bit more next time to be closer to the proportions in the CI version and to get rid of the honey mustard, but I’m pretty stoked with this not-too-sweet version.

Whew! Then I turned my attention to slow cooker pulled chicken.

It seemed like a lot of the recipes call for some prep work on front end, which I’m not totally opposed to, but not totally for either.

The kitchn version calls for sautéing onions on the stovetop first, then browning the chicken, before adding both with the BBQ sauce to the slow cooker to stew for 4 hours. Then you remove the chicken, shred it, reduce the BBQ sauce on the stovetop, and add the shredded chicken back to the thickened sauce.

But I am all about short cuts.

Since I was making homemade sauce, which started with sautéing onions, I didn’t see the point of repeating this step before adding everything to the slow cooker. And then, because I am lazy yet weirdly motivated to find justification for my slacker ways, I learned on CI that browning meat before adding it to a slow cooker just makes it more difficult to shred the meat when it’s done. Ha! So I skipped that step too.

So what I ended up doing was make the BBQ sauce, add raw chicken tenders to the slow cooker, dump sauce over the whole shebang, cook for 4 hours on low, shred. Boom. Crazy easy, crazy good.

The next time I made the dish, on the day of the party, I skipped the homemade sauce part and went straight for the glory: chicken, sauce straight from the bottle, slow cooker, shred, bam. Near instant gratification.

Ok so there was one peculiarity that I need to note. The BBQ sauce in first batch I made, with chicken tenders from Trader Joe’s, turned out nice and thick. I didn’t need to reduce the sauce as called for in the original pulled chicken recipe.

But the BBQ sauce in the second batch I made, with chicken tenders from Fred Meyer, came out watery, even though the sauce started out really thick. It occurred to me that the tenders might be plumped, that is, injected with salt water, to keep the meat nice and juicy no matter how mistreated or overcooked. I didn’t have time to reduce the sauce, hungry folks were hovering, so I just went ahead and shredded the chicken in the watery sauce and mixed it all up and it was fine, if a touch soupy.

The moral of the story is if you want to avoid the extra step of reducing the sauce, buy chicken that has not been “enhanced”. Or, cook the chicken in broth or water in the slow cooker, then drain the liquid and add the BBQ sauce at the end. Or, if you just want to skip the slow cooker thing entirely, shred a rotisserie chicken then add BBQ sauce. I am all about options.

Ketchup-less BBQ Sauce

olive oil

1/2 onion, diced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1/4 teaspoon chipotle powder

½ teaspoon chili powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 14.5 oz can diced tomato, blended (about 2 cups)

4 tablespoon molasses

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon honey mustard

Heat a splash of olive oil in a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until soft. Add the garlic and cook until the garlic turns fragrant. Add the tomato paste, chipotle powder and chili powder and sauté a bit to bloom the flavor (I don’t know, that’s what they always say on CI!)

Add the blended tomatoes and remaining ingredients. Stir until combined and heated through. Adjust seasonings to your taste.

Optional: If you want a smooth sauce, transfer to a blender or use an immersion blender to blend. I am all about rustic, so I skip this step. Add more water, a tablespoon or two at a time, if you prefer a thinner sauce.

Easy slow cooker pulled chicken with homemade BBQ sauce

1-2 pounds chicken tenders (not injected with saltwater)

1 ½ cup homemade BBQ sauce

salt

Make BBQ as listed above. Put chicken in the slow cooker, sprinkle with salt. Dump BBQ sauce over. Cook on low for 4 hours. Shred chicken. Serve on buns with coleslaw, or don’t, whatever floats your boat.

Easy slow cooker pulled chicken with bottled BBQ sauce

1-2 pounds chicken tenders (not injected with saltwater)

1 ½ cup bottled BBQ sauce

salt

Put chicken in the slow cooker, sprinkle with salt. Dump BBQ sauce over. Cook on low for 4 hours. Shred chicken. Serve on buns with coleslaw, or don’t, whatever floats your boat.