no-bake apple and carob chip granola bars

A recipe caught my eye on Pinterest the other day and I thought I’d give it a go.  We go through a fair number of granola bars in any given week, between the husband’s lunches, Kat’s snacks, my pre-workout snack, etc., and let’s be real:  your garden-variety, store-bought granola bars can be the equivalent of eating a candy bar.  So, I spend a lot of time reading labels while I shop, searching out the healthiest options on the market.  Frequently, I’ll just make my own.   I have a great crispy granola recipe I’m pretty fond of,  but I’ve never tried to make granola bars.

True confessions?  These didn’t successfully turn out as bars.

More true confessions?  You might as well eat a candy bar as eat this granola.

dryingredients©ziouptonuts

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s tasty.  And, although granola is pretty widely known for being very calorie dense, my go-to recipe had a lot of sugar in a variety of forms (brown sugar, molasses, honey, dried apples, etc.).  Even though I substituted a few ingredients, I wished later I’d cut down on some of the other sugar (see Cook’s Notes, below).

The finished product was sweet (a little too sweet for me), but deliciously chewy.

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The instructions were very strict about the 60 second boil, indicating less than 60 seconds would result in granola that fell apart, or more than 60 seconds would result in bars that ended up too hard.  I clearly failed to meet the required 60 seconds, despite my best efforts (how hard can that be, really?), because my granola didn’t want to stay in bar form.  While I managed to successfully cut and wrap a few to photograph, the rest we ate out of hand or I sprinkled over Greek yogurt and berries at lunch.  That was my preference with this particular recipe.  Give it a shot making bars, though.  I’d love to hear if anyone has any real success.  Enjoy!

 No-Bake Apple and Carob Chip Granola Bars (recipe adapted from My Small Potatoes)

 Ingredients:

  • 4 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 c brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 6 Tbsp honey
  • 2 Tbsp molasses
  • 2 c rolled oats
  • 1 1/2 c puffed brown rice cereal
  • 1/2 c dried apples, chopped
  • 1/3 c carob chips
  • 1/8 c sesame seeds, toasted
  • 1/8 c chopped almonds, toasted

Directions:

  • Toast sesame seeds and almonds over medium heat, stirring regularly so as not to scorch.  Remove from pan when golden.
  • Combine oats, brown rice cereal, dried apples, carob chips, toasted sesame seeds, and toasted chopped almonds.  Mix well and set aside.
  • Line 9″ x 13″ baking pan with wax paper.  Spray with non-stick cooking spray to make removal of the bars easier.
  • Melt butter over medium heat.
  • Stir in brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, honey, and molasses.
  • Bring to a boil for 60 seconds then immediately remove from heat and pour over dry ingredients.
  • Working quickly, mix wet and dry ingredients until evenly combined.
  • Scoop into lined baking pan and spread evenly, packing the mixture hard with your hands.
  • Let cool before removing from pan and slicing in to bars.

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***Cook’s Notes – this granola was too sweet for me.  Don’t get me wrong, it tasted fine, but when I make it again, I’ll reduce the brown sugar to 1/2 to 3/4 cup.  I’d also probably reduce quantities of honey, as well, from six tablespoons to four, because I don’t think the additional two tablespoons add anything significant to the recipe other than more sweetness.  And honey is naturally sweeter than refined sugars, so you can use less of it.  Also note, when using dried apple rings, make sure you buy apples with no sugar added.  We’ll see.  This one definitely needs some tinkering to get it just right, but I think it would be worth it in the long run.

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baked s’mores – not just for the campfire

Kat and I had a girl’s night last night while Daddy-O was at the Stanford/ASU game.  We baked homemade mac/cheese (her all-time favorite meal) and settled on the animated version of A Christmas Carol for after dinner entertainment.

But what of dessert?

Ice cream?  Too cold.

Popcorn?  Too last Friday night.

Baked S’mores?  Why, yes, please and thank you!

These are pretty much a no-brainer.  You don’t really need a recipe.  Just keep your eyes on the s’mores at all times lest they quickly turn to ash under the broiler.

©zouptonuts

©zouptonuts

Baked S’mores

Ingredients:

  • Graham Crackers
  • Marshmallows
  • Chocolate pieces (Hershey, Dove, you choose)
  • Parchment paper for easy clean-up

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat broiler to 500° F.  Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Break crackers in half, placing one half on baking sheet and reserve other half to top your S’more.  (Or, bake both sides and eat them open-faced.)  Place one marshmallow on each cracker.  Heat under broiler until tops of marshmallows are golden brown.  Turn off oven and remove pan.
  3. Top melted marshmallow with the chocolate pieces of your choice.  For these I used dark chocolate Dove candies.
  4. Slide pan back in the oven for 25 -30 seconds, or until chocolate starts to melt.
  5. Remove and top with remaining graham cracker halves to complete your S’mores.
  6. Indulge!

©zouptonuts

©zouptonuts

cucumber peanut salad

Labor Day weekend is fast approaching and we’re having guests for dinner, so I’m experimenting with some new salads.  This one hit the spot.  It’s picnic or barbecue  perfect, has great flavor, texture, appearance, and goes together super fast.  The original recipe called for an English Cucumber, but the ones in the store were so enormous I opted for a package of mini cucumbers, instead.  I actually think they were more colorful, too; the green being brighter and more cheerful.  Because a cheerful salad is a delicious salad, right?

Adapt as you please.  With the exception of the delicious dressing (lime juice and a little brown sugar) this isn’t one of those stuffy recipes where a minor change will make any difference in the finished product.  Enjoy…and have a safe and enjoyable Labor Day weekend.

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Cucumber Peanut Salad (recipe courtesy Cooking Light, July 2013)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups thinly sliced English cucumber
  • 1/2 cup vertically sliced red onion
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons light brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons chopped unsalted, dry-roasted peanuts

Directions:

  1. Combine cucumber, onion, lime juice, brown sugar, and salt in a medium bowl; toss to coat. Sprinkle evenly with peanuts.
  2. Step 2?  There is no Step 2.  So easy.  Serve and enjoy!

Serves four.

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***Cook’s Notes:  The peanuts make this a salad you either have to finish the day you make it, or eat any leftovers within a day.  They don’t hold up well refrigerated and stored in the dressing.  So eat it all up, or make sure you eat the remaining salad within 24 hours.

couscous with carrots and golden raisins

Couscous is a blank canvas.  You can paint it with whatever flavor palate you choose:  savory, hot and spicy, warm and mellow, sweet, salty, or pretty much anything you can imagine.  This is one of the many ways I prepare couscous, and probably one of my favorites.  I love the combination of flavors: warm spices combine beautifully with the sweetness of the carrots and golden raisins.  It’s a super easy way to dress up couscous for entertaining or a holiday meal.  It’s also good cold the next day.  Enjoy!

Couscous with Carrots and Golden Raisins

Ingredients:

  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and thinly sliced about 1/4-inch thick (1 1/4 cups)
  • 1 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 2/3 cup golden raisins
  • 1 1/2 cups couscous

Directions:

Put the carrots olive oil, butter, salt, cinnamon, ginger, in a saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 8 minutes. Add the water and raisins to the carrots and bring to a boil. Stir in the couscous, pull the saucepan off the heat, cover, and set aside until the liquid is absorbed and the couscous is plump and tender (about 10 minutes).

Fluff couscous with a fork and serve.

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Cook’s Notes:  This makes a ton of couscous, so feed a crowd or count on leftovers if you don’t reduce the recipe.

sweet restaurant-style slaw (otherwise known as the-best-ever coleslaw)

I’m not a huge fan of coleslaw drenched in mayonnaise, preferring something a little lighter with a vinegar base.  Throw in some Granny Smith apple slices and I believe that might be the perfect slaw.  But uber-healthy coleslaw just doesn’t fit the bill when it comes to pulled pork or shredded beef sandwiches.  You really need something more traditional – roadside diner-ish traditional.
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Honestly, there are hundreds of good slaw recipes out there, so it’s not that hard to find something to please everyone.  But my husband thought this one was The. Best. Ever.  It’s the perfect combination of sweet and tangy, with slightly fewer calories and fat because it uses Miracle Whip as a base rather than mayo.  If you use the “Light” option, you can trim a few more calories and fat grams from the finished product.  And, even though I’m a true-blue healthy coleslaw lover, sometimes you just gotta live a little.
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We use this on hot dogs, brats, pulled pork, and most recently the slow-cooker shredded beef.  While it’s a great topping, it’s perfect for a summer picnic side dish, as well.  Enjoy!
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Sweet Restaurant-Style Slaw
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Ingredients:
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  • 1 (16 ounce) bag coleslaw mix
  • 2 tablespoons diced sweet onion
  • 2/3 cup creamy salad dressing (I used Miracle Whip Light)
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon poppy seeds
Directions:
  1. Combine the coleslaw mix and onion in a large bowl.
  2. Whisk together the salad dressing, vegetable oil, sugar, vinegar, salt, and poppy seeds in a medium bowl; blend thoroughly. Pour dressing mixture over coleslaw mix and toss to coat. Chill at least 2 hours before serving.

white beans with swiss chard and rice

 Any chance I have to make soup, I do.  The soup season here in the desert is short, to say the least.  What’s the old phrase?  Make hay while the sun shines?  Well, I make soup while the sun doesn’t shine.  Or, at least when it doesn’t shine so intensely.

This last week has been an amazingly cold, freakishly wintry stretch of weather.  Oh, I know we’re not buried in 19 inches of the white stuff.  But we’ve had frost, freeze advisories, and frozen fountains.  My winter wear of choice is a toasty, down-filled Patagonia beauty.  I generally wear it twice a year: once during our Michigan adventure after Christmas, and once if we head to the mountains in northern and/or eastern Arizona to get in some sledding or skiing.  I had never, until this last week, worn it in The Valley of the Sun.

If that’s not soup making weather, I don’t know what is.  I found this recipe in the New York Times about a year ago.  It is probably the heartiest, healthiest, most comforting bowl of soup I’ve ever made.  The original recipe doesn’t call for rice, but the rice bulks it up a bit and gives it a stew-like quality.  Also, I used red swiss chard which gave my broth a deeper, richer color.  And, although the original recipe called for 2 quarts of water, I subbed in 2 quarts of chicken stock.  To keep it a purely vegetarian meal, use water or vegetable stock.

This recipe is sure to satisfy your belly on a cold winter day and warm you from the inside out.  Enjoy!

White Beans with Swiss Chards and Rice

(Recipe adapted from Martha Rose Shulman, Recipes for Health)

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 pound Swiss chard (1 small bunch)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 to 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 pound (1 1/8 cups) white beans, washed and picked over
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 Parmesan rind (optional but recommended)
  • Salt
  • 1 cup rice (I used a Texmati blend)
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • A few drops of fresh lemon juice (optional)
 Directions:

1. Stem the Swiss chard, and wash both the stems and the leaves in at least two changes of water until thoroughly clean. Dice the stems if they’re wide, and set aside. Stack the leaves and cut in wide ribbons or chop coarsely. Set aside separately from the stems.

2. Heat the oil in a large, heavy soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, and add the onion and diced chard stems. Cook, stirring often, until the onion softens, about five minutes. Add half the garlic, and stir together for 30 seconds to a minute until fragrant. Add the beans, bay leaf, Parmesan rind (tie the bay leaf and rind together with a kitchen string to make retrieval easier) and 2 quarts chicken stock. Bring to a gentle boil, reduce the heat and simmer one hour. Add the remaining garlic and salt to taste, and simmer for another 30 minutes to an hour until the beans are tender.

3. Add the rice and pepper, and simmer 15 minutes until the rice is tender. Stir in the chard leaves, and simmer another five to 10 minutes until the chard is tender but still bright. The mixture should be soupy but thick. Season to taste with salt and fresh black pepper. Squeeze on some fresh lemon juice — 2 to 3 teaspoons — if desired, and serve in wide soup bowls.