Saturday, April 26, 2008

a bowl full of mush

As I was thickening applesauce with some baby oatmeal for Monkey's breakfast one morning, I was reminded of a once-loved recipe that I hadn't thought of for years. It used to be one of my favorite breakfasts, in fact: a combination of oatmeal and grated apple, soaked in liquid overnight to make a dish that's soft, comforting, and--odd as this may sound in relation to a breakfast food--distinctly refreshing.

I was pretty sure the prodigal recipe was called muesli--I could picture its yellowing newsprint, glued to a plain white index card. But neither my mother nor I knew where the index card was.

Disorganization has its benefits, I guess, because a quick Google search of what I remembered about the recipe (muesli + grated apple) revealed that this "fresh muesli" (as distinguished from dry muesli, those flakes with little bits of dried fruit more familiar to us inhabitants of the land of Kellogg) is in fact the original muesli (I know, Google and Wikipedia cited in one post! The librarian in my life will be so proud), invented a century ago by the Swiss physician Maximilian Bircher Benner and sometimes known as Bircher Muesli in his honor. And appropriately enough, it turns out that the word "muesli" is derived from the German for "mush."

In light of that coincidence, how could I resist creating baby and adult versions of the dish, and sharing breakfast with Monkey?

Figuring out Monkey's version was pretty straightforward: just a slight elaboration of what I'd already been feeding her for breakfast. But the question of what to put in my own bowl was more daunting, because there are about as many variations on muesli as there are cooks out there. I kept it simple, with just oats soaked in apple juice, a bit of lemon juice and cinnamon, grated apple, and some yogurt to serve. But you can also add other fresh and dried fruits, nuts, and any number of additional grains, seeds, and spices if you're so inclined.

To this I added a puree of mixed dried fruits, which sweetened the muesli recipe from delicious:days. I changed up the mixture of fruits (I wanted to get some prunes in there since I know Monkey loves them), and simmered them for a while to soften them up before blending, and wow am I happy I tried this out. I think this puree has a ton of potential uses, in both baby and adult diets. I'll share some ideas on that in an upcoming post--but for now, it's breakfast time.

Bircher Muesli

This recipe does require some forethought, since the oats need to be soaked in liquid overnight to soften. But resist the temptation to double the recipe--this dish is better the first or second day. After that, the grated apple loses its crispness, and with that goes the dish's refreshing quality.

1 C old-fashioned rolled oats
1 C apple juice
1 medium apple, grated (leave the skin on for color!)
A squeeze or two of lemon juice
1/4 tsp cinnamon
Plain yogurt
Dried Fruit Puree (recipe follows)

Place the first 5 ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine. Cover and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, dish the muesli up in individual bowls and top each serving with a dollop of yogurt and a smaller dollop of Dried Fruit Puree.

Makes about 3 servings.

Baby Bircher

1 Tbsp applesauce (or 1 ice-cube's worth, for those of you freezing along at home)
1 Tbsp (dry) baby oatmeal
2 tsp plain yogurt
1 tsp Dried Fruit Puree (recipe follows)
Pinch of cinnamon
Apple juice or water

Place the first 5 ingredients in a small bowl and stir to combine. If necessary, thin with apple juice or water to the desired consistency. Serve immediately.

Serves 1 baby.

Dried Fruit Puree

Most any combination of dried fruits could be used in this puree (I'd like to try adding some candied ginger, too); just use an equal volume of fruit and water.

1/2 C dried apricots
1/4 C prunes
1/4 C dark raisins
1 C water

Combine all of the ingredients in a small saucepan and simmer, covered, over low heat for about 20 minutes or until the fruits are very plump and tender. Let cool a bit and then puree in a blender or food processor until smooth.

This puree keeps in the freezer for quite a while, but (due to the high sugar content, I think) it may not freeze solid. Test this out before tying up an ice cube tray!

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