Homemade Granola Bars

Dear Internet. I’ve been avoiding you. #sorrynotsorry.

It’s been a bit of a crazy summer here, but I’ve been teasing my Facebook friends and Instagram followers for months with photos of the homemade granola bars that I make every couple of weeks or so, and it’s really not very nice of me to keep holding out.

The first time I made these, I had been running (marathon training… yikes) for several months and had started to increase my mileage enough so that I was constantly on the lookout for a snack.   Said snack needed to be able to stand in for a light breakfast, too, on occasion, so I wanted something healthy-ish and versatile.  I had printed this recipe from some long-forgotten website and it seemed as good as any of the endless stream of results that google will happily spit at you if you are silly enough to search for “homemade granola bar”.  Maybe you didn’t know, but granola, homemade stuff, and healthy snacks are, like, a trend or something.  So I would encourage you to not get overwhelmed with the 2,440,000 results on google if there is something in here that you’re opposed to.  Just switch it out for something you do like and call it improv.

There are a few little shortcut-like tidbits I’ve come up with (after having made a double batch of these bi-weekly since around May) at the end of the recipe – please read all the way through before jumping in.  Enjoy!

Fruit and Nut Granola Bars

1 2/3 cups quick cooking rolled oats
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup whole wheat flour*
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 to 3 cups dried fruits and nuts (total of 15 ounces), the two mixes I use most often are below.**
1/3 cup peanut butter or another nut butter
6 tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 cup honey or maple syrup
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 tablespoon water

Fruit and Nut Mix:

5-7 oz dried fruit, something similar to this mix.  Publix sells a store brand tropical mix that I like.

3-5 oz unsalted sunflower seeds

3-5 oz flax seeds

2-5 oz pepitas

Cranberry Orange Chocolate Chip Mix:

5-7 oz dried cranberries

3 oz unsalted sunflower seeds

3 oz pepitas/flax seeds

4 oz mini chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8″ x 8″ x 2″ pan in one direction with parchment paper. 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 melted butter, peanut butter, liquid sweeteners and water. Mix the wet ingredients with the dry until the mixture is evenly coated and sort of crumbly. Spread in the prepared pan, pressing the mixture in firmly to ensure they are molded to the shape of the pan. (A piece of plastic wrap is useful here; just lay the plastic on top of your mix press it into the pan.)

Bake the bars for 30 to 40 minutes, until the edges are browned and the top is golden. Let cool on a baking rack until you can lift them out of the pan with your parchment paper, and then let them cool completely to room temp before cutting.  I slice them into the size that works for me as breakfast/post-run snack but feel free to customize that as well.

*If you do not have whole wheat flour, don’t fret.  Just use oat flour, which is an equal amount (1/3 cup) of oats that have been processed in a food processor until coarsely ground.  I think the texture is better when the grind is just shy of “fine”.  I’ve made these with the whole wheat flour and the oats, and both work fine.

**This is the tricky part:  put whatever you want in here.  I use my digital scale and just add the stuff I want until I get to 15 ounces, so it’s never the exact same twice.

I use this Earth Balance Spread that I found at Publix.  It tastes awesome and gives the best holding power in my experience, i.e. the bars stick together and hold their shape really well.  Otherwise peanut butter works well, as does almond butter.

I found that the Earth Balance Spread was harder to stir into my dry stuff.  I started adding the spread to my butter when I melt it in the microwave so that it melts and gets good and liquid-y and I can whisk all my wet things together really well and the stirring is much easier at the end.

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Blue Corn Grits

bluegrits-1

I’ll be honest.  I bought these because they’re blue.  Come on people.  Blue grits? Heirloom blue grits?  How could l not purchase them?  I first heard about Anson Mills in some culinary publication or other and, being a connoisseur of grits, I had to check it out.  Their story is pretty cool actually – you can read all about it here – but the short version is that they’ve rediscovered and are now growing and preserving several heirloom grains, including several varieties of corn and rice.  These blue grits are actually Native Coarse Blue Corn Grits, and they are excellent.  

When I say I’m a connoisseur of grits, you must understand; I was born and raised in the Deep South to southern parents, grandparents, etc.  And southerners take grits seriously.  Lately grits have been having something of a rennaissance moment – thank you Hugh Acheson and the Lee Bros – and have been showing up in all manner of fine restaurants and gourmet food stores, but they’ve been a staple in my house since before I can remember.  I can eat grits for breakfast, lunch, or dinner; with shrimp or salmon croquettes; made into grits cakes; or as a side dish at any given meal.  I’ve been getting my grits (stone ground) from a place called the Redneck Gourmet in Newnan, Ga.  You can’t purchase them from their website (deepest apologies to all of you who can’t obtain them, because they’re amazing and you’re really missing out), but if you ask they’ll sell them to you in the restaurant.  The Redneck is kind of famous in my part of Georgia – they’re huge Georgia Bulldogs fans there so they really represent during football season – but they also have some extremely good food.  If you’re in Newnan on a Friday, you should really stop by, because that’s Dawg day, and they have some of the best hotdogs you’ll find – I recommend the RG Dawg: chili, cheese, onions, and slaw.  It’s crazy good.

But I digress.  The grits.  I remain a loyal customer of the Redneck, and keep their grits on hand – they’re coarsly stone ground, so they cook up really large and tender – but I wanted to try the ones from Anson Mill to see if they really were as good as I’d heard.   Well, sleep soundly tonight, dear reader, because they are.  I have to mail order them, and their recipes are a little fussy, in my opinion, but they do have a great deep corn flavor, and the texture is spot on.  You want grits to be smooth and tender, but still with a little chew, and these are just perfect.  They do take a little longer to cook, and they recommend soaking them overnight, which takes more planning than I’m sometimes prepared for, but they are totally worth it.  And if you’re not from around here, and don’t eat grits very often, or, heaven forbid, have only had the instant kind, these are the ones you should try.  These are what instant grits want to be when they grow up. 

Now I’m giving you the recipe provided by Anson Mills – they actually have a disclaimer that says “not all recipes will work with our products, and our products won’t work with all recipes” – and this is true to some extent.  It really does cut down the cooking time if you soak them the night before, or at least a couple of hours, but in my experience letting it come to a boil and then simmering doesn’t adversely affect them, and I have never gone through all the rigamarole of adding water slowly, etc.  This isn’t risotto people, it’s grits, and like the people of the south, grits tend to be made of pretty sturdy stuff.  Just cover with water, simmer, add S&P, chives, cheese, and a pat of butter, and enjoy.

 

Native Coarse Blue Corn Grits

6 ounces (1 cup) Grits
 Salt and Pepper
2 to 3 tablespoons unsalted butter

 Place the grits in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan (preferably a Windsor saucepan) and cover them with 2½ cups water. Stir once. Allow the grits to settle a full minute, tilt the pan, and skim off and discard the chaff and hulls with a fine tea strainer. Cover and let the grits soak overnight at room temperature. If you are not soaking the grits, proceed directly to the next step.

Set the saucepan over medium heat and bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the first starch takes hold, 5 to 8 minutes. Reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting and cover the pan. Meanwhile, heat 2 cups of water in a small saucepan and keep hot. Every 10 minutes or so, uncover the grits and stir them; each time you find them thick enough to hold the spoon upright, stir in a small amount of the hot water, adding about 1½ cups water or more in 4 or 5 additions. Cook until the grits are creamy and tender throughout, but not mushy, and hold their shape on a spoon, about 50 minutes if the grits were soaked or about 90 minutes if they weren’t. Add 1 teaspoon of salt halfway through the cooking time. To finish, stir in the butter with vigorous strokes. Add more salt, if desired, and the pepper.

 

Dutch Baby, Etc.

I had an excellent holiday season.  As you can see, my friends and relatives have pretty much accepted that I’m obsessed with food/cooking (and Julia Child, but really, the two go hand in hand) and they have bestowed upon me a wealth of new cooking tomes (Tomes.  That’s a cool word.  How often do we really use it though?  Like, never).  Before you go getting all jealous that I have the best family ever (I do) that spoils me with excessive gifts on Christmas, I should go all full-disclosure on you and admit that I also had a birthday last week that accounts for some of my haul. And I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I got about receiving so many of these “defining” cookbooks, as it were.

That Cook’s Illustrated one, oh it is Awesome.  With a capitol A.  I have been reading it like a novel (yes, I am a nerd.  Deal.) and I had to stop sticky-noting the things I wanted to cook because I was putting one on every page.

The Commonsense Kitchen, aside from the story behind it being one of the coolest things I’ve ever heard, has some of the best, and most simple, “home-style” recipes I’ve come across in a while.  The Dutch Baby I’m sharing with you below comes from it, and it was so good that it was eaten before it’s photo shoot was complete.

And really what kitchen is complete without How to Cook Everything?  I have a love-hate relationship with Mark Bittman since I’ve had some …weird (for lack of a better work)…luck with his recipes in the past, but he does know his stuff, and his kitchen tips are invaluable. And you really can’t beat it for a wide selection – there’s bound to be something in 2000 recipes that sounds good to you.

The others three in there are more specialized, and most importantly to me, are about my favorite kitchen pursuit.  I love to bake, and I don’t discriminate.  Cookies, cakes, pies, bread, you name it, I love it.  So that Peter Reinhart book pretty much made my day.  He is one of the ultimate authorities on bread-baking and an excellent teacher.  Despite the fact that almost all the recipes in this book require a starter of some sort, he explains everything in such a way that it not only sounds like an easy, approachable project, but something you should go out and do Right Now.  As someone who does not particularly care for the typical sandwich loaves sold so prevalently in our supermarkets, this book is invaluable to me since it will (hopefully!) be able to teach me to create bakery style breads at home.

Sky High is the book for you if you like to bake celebration cakes; i.e. towering, three story cakes with a variety of flavors, fillings, and frostings.  Which I do.  Actually, I made one from the book for my birthday, which I will share with you another day.  The pictures are gorgeous, and makes me want to eat the book, but I guess I’ll just have to make them all instead, since I would miss it terribly if anything untoward were to happen to it.

Farmer’s Market Desserts is another book that is near and dear to my heart.  You see, I hate cold weather. I enjoy fall and spring (I mean, it’s gorgeous outside, so I can’t really dislike it), but winter is just not for me.  I hate snow with a passion, and cold, blustery days make me want to stay inside with a cup of coffee and Pinterest Big Bang Theory reruns anything but laundry a good book. Summer, however is my season.  I love everything about it: the produce (oh, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, any-and-all berries, peaches, pears, how I love you!) the weather, the beach, the long days, all of it.  So when I saw this book, I pretty much had to have it.  I mean who doesn’t need to know like a thousand to new ways to use up all of that wonderful stuff that fills the farmer’s markets in the warmer months?  The book also has chapters such as “Autumn Harvest” and “Winter Citrus” for those of you who like that sort of thing, but let’s be honest; I got it just for Aprium Almond Tart.

Lastly, As Always, Julia is a must-read for anyone with an interest in Julia Child.  The book is a collection of the letters between Julia and her friend Avis DeVoto, who played a prominent part in getting The Book published.  Most people have seen the movie, or read those other books, and so know something about how Mastering the Art of French Cooking came to be written, but this is really a whole ‘nother view of it.  Avis was very involved in the editing of the book and finding someone to publish it after the original deal fell through and I really enjoyed seeing all of that behind-the-scenes type stuff.  And all of the little things that two friends talk about (gossip, politics, popular culture, etc) was really very entertaining.

So, what I’m saying is “Go out and get these books immediately.”  Or just stick around here and see what I make from them.  Whatever.

Dutch Baby

Adapted from The Commonsense Kitchen

These are also known as German Pancakes, and are sort of a cross between a pancake and a crepe.  The batter will be very thin but when removed from the oven will be puffy and golden.  After cooling for a moment it will sort of settle down into a thin pancake (or a thick crepe) that is the perfect marriage of the two.   You can serve it with fruit and powdered sugar, or syrup and  butter, or really anything, just be prepared to take pictures for your blog immediately because if it’s anything like our house, it won’t sit around very long.

  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup sifted flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 tbsp butter

Preheat the oven to 450°.

Beat the eggs, milk, flour and salt in a medium bowl until very smooth.  I started out using a “spoonula” (one of those silicone spoon, spatula hybrids), because I wasn’t sure if I needed to be whisking a lot of air into the batter, but I couldn’t get it smooth at all, so I switched to just stirring with my whisk (not whipping) and that worked perfectly.

Melt the butter in a heavy 10 or 12 inch oven-safe skillet (I used a 10 inch cast iron).  As soon as the butter is bubbling, pour in the batter and immediately put skillet into the oven.  After 15 minutes, lower the oven temperature to 350° and continue to bake for 7-9 minutes until the pancake is deep golden brown and edges are crispy looking.  (If the center if is puffing up in really large bubbles in the first 10-15 minutes, you can pierce them with a fork, although I forgot, and I didn’t notice that it affected the taste.  See above about not lasting long enough for decent photos.)

Cut the pancake into wedges and serve immediately with your topping of choice.  I used powdered sugar and sliced strawberries, while Jacob chose maple syrup, though again, it’s your choice, and either way it’s delicious.

Blueberry Muffins

There is just nothing like a warm, slightly tart, slightly sweet, fluffy, crunchy topped muffin to start  your day.  I bought these blueberries last week with the intention of making muffins, and then I completely forgot about them.  Luckily, on Saturday morning, while I was shoving things around in my fridge trying to find something appealing for breakfast, the carton fell out and they scattered all over my kitchen…as if to remind me that they were still there, and would I please bake them up into something wonderful?  So, after chasing them all down (a huge disappointment to the dog, who, of course, thought I had obligingly thrown them all about just for him to play with) and cleaning them up a bit, I dug out the first cookbook I ever received as a gift and found a recipe for muffins.  Blueberry Streusel Muffins, to be exact.  What was the cookbook you ask?  The All-New, Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook, given to me by my mother for Christmas, 2008.  The recipe is so simple, and it takes almost no time at all to whip these beauties up, and get them in the oven.  They bake for 20 minutes, which is just long enough for you to feed the dog his breakfast, get the coffee on, and hunt down your husband, who is out in the garage building the world’s most awesome vehicle, or whatever it is they do out there.  Then you pull them out of the oven, smear on a little of that butter you made (homemade butter!  More on that later, I promise) and sit down to a perfect weekend breakfast.

 

Blueberry Streusel Muffins:

 

  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds   (I used chopped walnuts, since I was out of almonds)
  • 1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons all purpose flour, divided
  • 3 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
  • 1/4 cup uncooked rolled oats
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 1/2 cup fresh blueberries
 
  1. Pulse almonds, brown sugar, 2 tablespoons flour, and butter 4 or 5 times in a food processor or until nuts are chopped and topping is crumbly.  Stir in oats and set aside.
  2. Combine 2 cups flour and next 5 ingredients in a large bowl; make a well in center of mixture.  Whisk together buttermilk, oil, and egg; add to flour mixture, stirring just until moistened.
  3. Toss blueberries with remaining tablespoon flour and gently fold into batter.  Spoon batter into greased muffin pans, filling three-fourths full; sprinkle batter with crumble topping, gently pressing into batter.
  4. Bake at 400° for 20 minutes or until lightly browned and muffins spring back when touched lightly in center.  Remove to wire rack to cook.

 

Makes 14 muffins.

 

( a note on the lemon, it was quite strong…Next time I would use a little less, maybe even half of that.  I would have liked to taste a little more of the berries, and not so much lemon.)


 

 

 


lemon-poppyseed scones

I’ve missed my little home here in cyberspace!  But to make up for my absence, I’ve made the most wonderful scones to share with you.  I’ve always been a fan of lemon-poppyseed breakfast breads, but these are excellent.  I got this recipe from the wednesday chef, and like her, I think they are quite good, if I do say so myself.

The recipe couldn’t be simpler, and after just a few minutes you can have these tender little bites of biscuity goodness in the oven.  Like biscuits, you don’t want to over mix the dough or they will be small and hard and not good at all.  Just barely mix the wet and dry ingredients until they come together, then flour your counter and cut them out.  Brush on a some butter and sprinkle with a little sugar and in they go.  Instead of buttermilk the recipe calls for heavy cream, which actually makes them a little dense and sort of makes you feel like you’re having the most wonderful treat for breakfast.

I only zested a lemon and a half, and you can see the pile of poppy seeds I put in.  They give the scones just the right amount of crunch and combined with the bite from the lemon, these scones are the perfect breakfast with a cup of coffee.  I’ll be enjoying these on my way to work for the next week or so, since the recipe makes 10-12 of them, depending on how big you make them.  The recipe says to cut them out into 3 in rounds, but I just pulled the dough apart and made some scone-type shapes, and I think that worked pretty well.

For those of you who aren’t living here in Dante’s inferno (that is, Atlanta, Ga) I hope your summer is starting off a little cooler than ours is – it was 99 degrees out when I got off work yesterday.  I think my next project is going to be a frozen margarita cake I found somewhere…Meanwhile, I’m off to water my tomatoes so they don’t rebel against me.

lemon-poppyseed scones:

3 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar, divided
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons poppy seeds
3 tablespoons grated lemon zest
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 3/4 cups whipping cream
2 tablespoons melted butter

1. Mix the flour, one-half cup sugar, poppy seeds, lemon zest, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl until combined. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg and the whipping cream. Stir the cream mixture into the dry ingredients just until combined; do not overmix.

2. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and gently pat into a 1-inch-thick round. Cut out scones with a 3-inch round cutter that has been lightly sprayed with nonstick spray. Place the scones on a parchment-lined baking sheet, several inches apart. Brush the tops with melted butter and sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon sugar.

3. Bake the scones 20 to 24 minutes, until lightly golden on the sides and bottom.