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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four fruit oatmeal crumble bars

I haven’t baked for a while, in some small part because 2/3 of the house has been down with the creeping crud.  I generally prefer not to hack and cough all over my goodies even if they’re going to bake at 350° for 40 minutes.  Yeah, that’s just gross!  So I’ve been out of the kitchen for a couple of weeks.  Good man that he is, hubs has been picking up the slack at meal time, but he’s not about to photograph it – even though last night he put together an amazingly good Shrimp Scampi….garlic heaven, people.  Garlic. Heaven!!!

Of course, this mandatory time off has forced allowed me to spend an awful lot of time perusing recipes on the interwebs.  That’s what laptops and iPads are for, right?  Just because you feel like death-warmed-over doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to make yourself feel better by indulging in some foodie fantasy.  I might not have been capable of much else, but I could prop myself up on my pillow and imagine what I’d cook/bake if I ever stopped feeling like death-warmed-over.

This recipe caught my eye because it was so easy and so adaptable.  The original recipe calls for strawberry preserves, but a four fruit preserve made up of  cherries, strawberries, red currants, and raspberries sounded particularly delicious when I was picking up some other ingredients at the grocery store.  If you’re moved by a certain fruit preserve, have at it.  If I can find some pear preserves, that has the makings of a good combination, as well.

These fruit crumble bars are easy to assemble and make great school or after-school snacks for the kids, too.  Enjoy!!

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Strawberry Oatmeal Crumble Bars (recipe courtesy The Pioneer Woman)

Ingredients:

  • 1-3/4 stick cold butter, unsalted, cut into pieces
  • 1-1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 cup Oats (quick or regular)
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 jar (10 To 12 Ounce) strawberry preserves (or the preserve of your choice)

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9 x 13 or 8 x 10 baking dish.

Mix together the flour, oats, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter until it resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle half the mixture into the pan and pat lightly to pack it a little tight. Spoon strawberry preserves evenly over the surface, then use a dinner knife to carefully spread it around. Sprinkle the other half of the oat mixture over the top and pat lightly again.

Bake until light golden brown on top, about 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool in pan.

When cool, cut into squares and serve.

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Baker’s Notes:  I used regular rolled oats in the recipe.  The original recipe did mention slight differences in texture based on whether you use regular or quick cooking oats.  The regular rolled oats result in a crisper bottom crust and more crunchiness.  I think the quick cooking oats would result in a softer, chewier cookie.  Again, like the preserves, it’s all personal preference.

Roasted Garlic, Sun-Dried Tomato, and White Bean Dip

We had some friends in from Seattle over the New Year and I needed some snacky-type appetizers for the grazing while I worked on the crab cakes.  Mostly, I think the dips and crackers were more of a distraction so no one would notice I didn’t have a clue what I was doing with my crab cakes (which turned out amazingly well for a first-time effort, I might add).  Anyway, this was one of two bean dips I made and I have to say, as much as I liked this one, it wasn’t my favorite.  It needs some tweaking, I think.

What I’d change right off the bat is the amount of olive oil.  It only calls for two tablespoons, but because the recipe uses sun-dried tomatoes packed without oil, I found it a little too dry for my taste.  So I’d either add additional EVOO, or I’d opt for sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil to increase the moisture of the dip.

I might also shop a different brand of sun-dried tomatoes.  The ones I used must have had a higher sugar content because I did find this dip to be a little on the sweet side.  Just an FYI when purchasing ingredients.

If you’re not a huge garlic fan, don’t worry.  I love garlic but was leery of using an entire head of garlic for this recipes.  Fortunately, roasting garlic has the delightful effect of mellowing the flavor and virtually eliminating what some might perceive as pungent garlic overtones.  This dip won’t leave you with embarrassing garlic breath the next day (or, maybe it did and all of us had eaten so much of it we just didn’t offend each other).

Serve with pita wedges, Calabrese crackers, or fresh sliced veggies.  Enjoy!

Roasted Garlic, Sun-Dried Tomato, and White Bean Dip

Ingredients:

  • 1 whole garlic head
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 (3.5-ounce) package sun-dried tomatoes, packed without oil
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 (15.8-ounce) can Great Northern beans, rinsed and drainedDSC_4886

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 375°.
  2. Remove white papery skin from garlic head (do not peel or separate the cloves). Wrap head in foil. Bake at 375° for 45 minutes; cool for 10 minutes. Separate cloves; squeeze to extract garlic pulp. Discard skins.
  3. Bring 1 cup water to a boil in a saucepan. Add tomatoes; cover and remove from heat. Let stand 10 minutes. Drain tomatoes in a colander over a bowl, reserving 1/4 cup liquid.
  4. Place garlic pulp, tomatoes, 1/4 cup reserved liquid, oil, and remaining ingredients in a food processor; process until smooth.

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applesauce chocolate chip bars

This is an easy recipe to throw together, has relatively low quantities of added sugar, and gave me that first hint of fall baking.  The combination of cinnamon and nutmeg just had that “it’s not going to be summer forever” effect on me.  These bars serve well as a healthier after-school snack or lunchbox treat, or with a warm cup of coffee on a cool fall morning (winter, if you live in the desert).  Kat gave them two thumb’s up so that’s a win in the Mom Column, if you ask me.  I thought, given this recipe’s decidedly autumn-ish undertones, you could easily substitute raisins for the chocolate chips and they’d be just as tasty.  Enjoy!

applesauce chocolate chip bars

Ingredients:

  •  1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 large egg (may use 1/4 cup egg substitute instead)
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, divided
  • 3/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • Scant 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • Scant 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped walnuts or nuts of your choice (optional)

Directions:

Pre-heat the oven to 325°.

Lightly grease an 8-by-8-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking oil spray, or line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on 2 sides for easy release after baking.Combine the shortening, brown sugar and egg in a mixing bowl until well incorporated, then add the applesauce and mix well.

Combine 1/4 teaspoon of the cinnamon and the 3/4 teaspoon of sugar in a small bowl and set aside.  Combine flour, baking soda,, salt, the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon and the nutmeg, mixing well.   Fold flour mixture into the combined butter/sugar/egg.  Add chocolate chips (and nuts, if you choose), stirring to mix well.  Pour the batter in the prepared pan and sprinkle evenly with the cinnamon-sugar mixture.  Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until browned or a toothpick comes out clean. 

Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool, then run a knife around the edges and cut into bars.  If you like, wrap each bar individually and freeze, then pop a single-serving in to your kids’ lunchboxes.  It’ll be thawed and ready to enjoy by lunchtime.

homemade granola

I love granola. Yet, I hate granola. I love it because it’s easy to grab a handful for a quick pick-me-up before heading to the gym, or toss it over yogurt for a little texture and crunch. I hate granola because it’s super calorie-dense and, even though it has a lot of really good ingredients, it has a lot of not so healthy ingredients, too; which means even though I want to stand over the bowl and eat serving after serving, I can’t. Well…at least I shouldn’t.
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The dilemma is only compounded by the fact this recipe is super yummy and delicious. So use your best judgment. I take absolutely no responsibility if you are will-power challenged and consume the entire quantity in one day. Besides, if you pace yourself, you’ll get to enjoy this heavenly deliciousness a little longer.  Enjoy!
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Homemade Granola
Ingredients:
1/4 c unsalted butter
approx 1 tbsp canola oil
approx 1 tbsp honey
approx 1/2 tbsp vanilla
several generous shakes of cinnamon
1 1/2 c rolled oats (organic/gluten free)
1 1/2 c puffed brown rice cereal (I used Erewhon Crispy Brown Rice from Sprouts)
1/2 c brown sugar
1/2 c sliced almonds
1/4 c sunflower seeds (husked, unsalted)
1/4 c flax seed
1 c dried cherries
1/2 c dried apricots, diced
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Procedure:
  1. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Melt butter in saucepan over low heat and add next four ingredients,
    mixing well. Remove from heat and add the dried ingredients (holding back dried fruits), stirring until well combined.
  2. Lightly grease a 13 x 9 baking pan. Transfer combined ingredients into the baking pan, spreading evenly. Bake for 15
    minutes.
  3. Remove from oven and add dried fruit, stirring in evenly. Let cool/harden before eating – if you can wait, that is.

***Cook’s Notes: Like all good recipes, this one was sentto me in partially cryptic
measurements. You know how it is when you bake or create something in your
kitchen? It’s always, “Well, I just add it until I think I’ve added enough,” or,
“Shake, shake, shake. Shake, shake, shake.” So this recipe is simply my
approximate equivalents. Do what you will. It is granola, after all. There are
no hard and fast rules.

crispy baked kale chips

I’m not a chip eater so much.  While I keep them on hand (Sun Chips or Veggie Crisps), I don’t think I’ve bought a bag of true blue, greasy potato chips in a long, long time.  Doritos and Cheetos?  Never.  But, then, I’ve always been pretty health conscious and if there’s one snack food diametrically opposed to a healthy lifestyle, it’s chips.

I’d read a number of food blogs over the last year touting the savory deliciousness of baked kale, but I only started cooking with kale in the last 6 months, or so.  Rummaging through the crisper in the fridge before then, you’d have been hard pressed to find a bunch of kale.  I have a 5-year-old.  Kale is a tough sell.

Kale is considered to be a highly nutritious vegetable with powerful antioxidant properties.  It’s very high in beta carotene, Vit K, Vit C, and is pretty rich in calcium, too.  Also, studies have shown kale is also a source of indole-3=carbinol, a chemical which boosts DNA repair in cells and appears to block the growth of cancer cells.  It’s a bona fide superfood.

So I’ve been incorporating kale into recipes more often (you should, too), and Monday I realized I had a few stalks left over and no imminent plans to use them.  Since I only had about 30 minutes to work with, crispy baked kale chips was the logical choice.

If you have less-than-adventurous eaters in your house, I suspect they’ll balk at this.  Admittedly, the crisps have a seaweed-like appearance.  But if they’ll take leap of faith, I think they’ll be pleasantly surprised.  And I’d dare them to eat just one.  Enjoy!

  • 1 bunch kale
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • sea salt, to taste
  • Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line a non insulated cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  • With a knife or kitchen shears carefully remove the leaves from the thick stems and tear into bite size pieces. Wash and thoroughly dry kale with a salad spinner. Drizzle kale with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt.
  • Bake until the edges brown but are not burnt, 10 to 15 minutes (mine cooked for exactly 10 minutes).

cinnamon toasted almonds

I like to make something for our teachers at the end of the year.  In addition to their class gift, it seems like a nice gesture to give a homemade gift to show how grateful I am for the love and attention they shower on my child on a daily basis.  It also gives me a chance to teach generosity and kindness to Kat.  She is, after all, the recipient of the love and attention.  Why not give something back?

A couple of weeks ago, I was down at the Old Town Scottsdale Farmers Market and bought some cinnamon roasted almonds from Moms Gone Nuts, a local company specializing in cinnamon roasted nuts.  They were so good, I was inspired to make some as my teacher gifts.  Roasted nuts are practically synonymous with Christmas and they’re really not at all hard to make.  The house filled with all this amazing cinnamon/vanilla aroma which, when combined with Christmas music, even made the desert feel a little festive.

Aside from teacher gifts (we boxed ours in some cute, holiday Chinese food carriers), these are great to set out as a snack at your holiday party, or tailgate party before the upcoming Bowl games.  I hear Santa’s reindeer like them, too.  Enjoy!

Cinnamon Toasted Almonds

  • 2 egg whites
  • 6 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 4 cups raw, unblanched almonds
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions:

  • In a large bowl, beat egg whites until frothy; beat in vanilla. Add almonds; stir gently to coat. Combine the sugars, salt and cinnamon; add to nut mixture and stir gently to coat.
  • Spread evenly into two greased 15-in. x 10-in. x 1-in. baking pans. Bake at 300° for 25-30 minutes or until almonds are crisp, stirring once. Cool. Store in an airtight container. Yield: about 4 cups.

***Cook’s Notes:  I found the almonds needed some added time to get the desired crunchiness.  Mine probably went for closer to 40 -45 minutes.