Well, the butternut squash bacon pasta recipe must wait for a day or two, mostly because Joe hasn't even tried it yet - Wednesday should have been bsbp dinner, but there was emergency surgery, and emergency surgery always leads to emergency sushi and sake, and then Thursday should have been bsbp dinner but there was a happy hour (very happy happy hour) and happy hour leads to sleep. And tonight there were 2 young men who came to join us for the week and that meant family taco night. So, though I have brought the delicious concoction to work twice and enjoyed the heck out of it, I am waiting for the audience feedback.
Fortunately, there is granola. You know, I sometimes read cooking blogs and these home cooks will describe attempt after attempt at perfecting their recipes, and I wonder how in the world they have time to do these things and still have full-time jobs and lives and children... and then I made granola bars tonight, my third batch in 2 weeks, and - oh heavens - it's happening to me...
For granola bars, it all came down to a balance of dry and wet, plus the fruit component. The first batch, yummy but it didn't stick together in the least, and we had a nice crumbly granola on which to munch. The second batch, half was for me (the chocoholic) and half for Joe (heart-healthy, good-for-you, best-stuff-on-earth guy), and my chocolate-chip side was perfection but the apple and pear and cranberry side just didn't hold together. Fruit to oat ratio was too high. The third batch has already garnered rave reviews from the men of the house. This is a keeper.
Thick, Chewy Granola Bars
from Smitten Kitchen, of course
Adapted from King Arthur Flour
Mix and match at will. I like the vanilla in there but Deb from SK didn't think she could taste it. Maybe that depends on the vanilla you choose - I'm partial to Mexican vanilla myself. You can try honey, maple syrup, molasses, agave nectar for the liquid sweeteners. I think my first batch didn't stick because I used thinner liquids - maple syrup and agave nectar. If you want to include a lot of fruit, I wouldn't go much over the 2-cup suggestion.
1 2/3 cups quick rolled oats (if gluten-free, be sure to use gluten-free oats)
1/2 to 3/4 cup granulated sugar (use more for a sweetness akin to most purchased bars; use less for a mildly sweet bar)
1/3 cup oat flour (or 1/3 cup oats, processed till finely ground in a food processor or blender)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 to 3 cups dried fruits and nuts (total of 10 to 15 ounces)
1/3 cup peanut butter or another nut butter (I used almond butter) (optional)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 tablespoons melted butter
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon water
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8″ x 8″ x 2″ pan in one direction with parchment paper, allowing it to go up the opposing sides. Lightly grease the parchment paper and the exposed pan, or coat with a non-stick spray.
Stir together all the dry ingredients, including the fruit and nuts. In a separate bowl, whisk together the vanilla, melted butter or oil, liquid sweeteners, nut butter (if you're using it), and water. Toss the wet ingredients with the dry until the mixture is evenly crumbly. Spread in the prepared pan, pressing them in firmly to ensure they are molded to the shape of the pan. A piece of plastic wrap can help with this, as you press down on the back of it.
Bake the bars for 30 to 40 minutes, until they’re brown around the edges — don’t be afraid to get a little color on the tops too. They’ll still seem soft and almost underbaked when you press into the center of the pan but do not worry, they’ll set completely once completely cool.
Cool the bars in their pan completely on a cooling rack. Alternately, after about 20 minutes you can use your parchment “sling” to lift and remove the bars, and place them in their paper on the rack to cool the rest of the way. This can speed the process up.
Once cool, use a serrated knife (or bench knife) to cut the bars into squares. If bars seem crumbly, chill the pan of them further in the fridge for 30 minutes which will fully set the “glue”, then cut them cold. To store, wrap the bars individually in plastic or stack them in an airtight container. In humid weather, it’s best to store bars in the refrigerator. They also freeze well.
Suggestions: Dried cranberries, apricots, pecans, sunflower seeds, coconut, walnuts, sesame seeds, pepitas, dried pples or even chocolate chips. Tonight's mix was sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, a few almonds, dried cherries, dried banana chips, and wheat germ (and yes, Mom, I meant to put in here the disclaimer that I have not gotten over my banana aversion, although when the stuff's dried I can at least touch it to add it to the food processor! This batch is entirely the boys'. I didn't even lick the spoon!). I pulsed the coarser pieces in the food processor a few times to break it up a little, though this isn’t necessary if you don’t mind yours chunkier.
And the other granola is for me! Fortuitously, I made batches of #1 and #2 before Spring Break arrived - if it weren't for the presence of yummy granola bars, there would have been many more hands in the crunchy granola container.
I found this recipe my favorite way - clicking at will through blogs and comments, a 'blog hop' that led to an amusing story about an unpleasant woman who made very pleasant granola. I'm impressed with the blogger's humility: this is entirely her recipe, but she attributes it to a woman who refused to part with her own and set her up on a seven-year quest for delicious granola. I thank her, too, for publishing the fruit of her labor...
from The Traveler's Lunchbox
Yield: about 8 cups
1 lb. (450g) quick oats*
3 cups (750ml/about 300g) coarsely chopped raw nuts and/or seeds (I used almonds, pecans, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and wheat germ)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground mace
1 cup, packed (200g) dark brown sugar
1/2 cup (115g/1 stick) unsalted butter
1/3 cup (80ml) water
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
dried fruit, at your discretion (my discretion was to save the dried fruit for other people's granola)
*if you can't find quick oats, it's suggested that you pulse regular oats a few times to break them down to about 1/2 their original size
Preheat the oven to 300F/150C. In a food processor, coffee grinder or blender, grind half the oats to a fine powder. In a large bowl, combine the whole oats, ground oats, nuts, seeds and spices. In a microwave-safe bowl (or in a saucepan over medium heat), combine the brown sugar, butter and water and heat just until the butter has melted and the mixture is bubbly. Stir the mixture together until smooth, then stir in the salt and vanilla. Pour this mixture over the oats and nuts, stirring well to coat. It should be uniformly moist - stir in another tablespoon or two of water if it isn't. Let stand for about ten minutes.
Spread the mixture out on a large baking sheet, separating it into irregular clumps with your fingers, and allowing space between the clumps for the hot air to circulate (Note: I thought there was too much granola for one baking pan, so I spread it among 2. I proceeded to burn about 1/2 of 1 of the pans. 1 baking pan is perfect. Another note: Use a pan with sides. You will need to stir the granola several times, and this is just a bit easier with side bumpers.). Slide into the middle of the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. Remove from the oven and stir, gently breaking up the mixture into small-to-medium sized clumps. Return to the oven and bake another 15 minutes or so before stirring again. Repeat the bake-and-stir until the mixture is a uniform golden brown and completely dry; this usually takes 1-1 1/2 hours. Cool completely, then stir in any dried fruit you want to use.
Store in a covered container at room temperature. Serve with milk or plain yogurt (make it yourself!) and fresh fruit as desired.