Easy Granola Bars

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Easy Granola!

Easy Granola!

Who doesn’t like a nice, tasty granola bar? Call it what you will: protein bar, energy bar, “health” bar, as long as it can’t be compared unfavorably to a brick of sawdust, it is probably popular and thusly sells very well. Add chunks of chocolate, or a thin base of chocolate underneath and you probably have the sales leader!

But are they really as healthy as you think? That depends. Like cars, they all tend to have the same basic shape, and they all have many of the same parts – it’s just that some parts are better for you than others. The trick is in knowing which is which.

Why not make your own?

If you make it yourself, you know exactly what goes into it. You can adjust ingredients to meet your desired goals. Want more quick energy? Add a bit more honey. Want more protein? Vitamin E? Zinc? Add some wheat germ. Need the extra crunch? Pumpkin seeds will help, and they pack in some unexpected protein, too!

Based on a recipe from the culinary team at my office, here is an easy recipe for making your own granola bars. And hey, it’s an easy activity kids can help with (except the stove-top and oven parts. Use common sense, people!)

Prep Time: 15 minutes                   Cooking Time: 20 – 25 minutes                   Cool-down time: 3 hours

This recipe makes 16 bars, maybe more, maybe less, depending on how you cut them.

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups of rolled oats (as in Quaker Oats found in the cylindrical cardboard package)

1 cup of almond slivers

1 cup of shredded coconut

1/2 cup of pepitas (roasted pumpkin seeds)

3 tablespoons of unsalted butter

2/3 cup of honey (use locally harvested, if you can. Legend has it local honey helps build immunity to allergies. Is it true? I have no idea. But it’s a cool idea, isn’t it? Plus, you’ll be helping out a local business. And who’s against that? I didn’t think so!)

1/4 cup of light brown sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla

1/4 teaspoon of salt

1 1/2 cups of dried cranberries (or any combination of dried fruits, i.e. 1 cup raisins and 1/2 cup cranberries.)

Directions:

–    Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. or gas mark 4 for certain UK ovens, or Stufe 3 for das Deutsch – Ofen. [good granola bars know no borders!]

–    Take a small bit of butter and coat the bottom and inside walls of a 9×13 inch baking dish.

–    Now line the pan with parchment paper. Make sure you have enough paper to overlap the sides of the dish. I didn’t do this when we made the bars today, but now I see the value. Trust me – line with parchment paper. Getting the bars out later will be sooooo much easier!

–    In a large heat-resistant (i.e. Pyrex) bowl, toss the oats, almonds, and coconut together.

–    Pour mixture onto baking sheets and spread thin and evenly.

–    Bake in the pre-heated oven for 5 minutes; take out, stir gently, re-flatten out, then place back in the oven for 5 more minutes or until toasty and lightly browned.

–    Remove from oven and pour mixture back into large heat-resistant bowl.

–    In a small sauce pan, place the unsalted butter, honey, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt. Stir ingredients together as you heat the mixture over medium heat, just until the mixture starts to boil.

–    Once boiling, reduce heat just a bit and stir for one minute.

–    Pour the hot liquid over the oat mixture and stir with a wooden spoon. Why wooden? Why wooden you? Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

–    Add the dried fruit and stir again until thoroughly mixed.

–    Pour everything into your prepared 9×13 inch baking dish. Press down until you have an even thickness throughout.

–    Reduce the oven heat to 300 degrees F. (gas mark 2 or stufe 1.5)

–    Bake the granola for 20 minutes, then check every few minutes until the desired level of browning is reached. We stopped after 22 minutes.

–    Remove from oven and let cool for three hours. Refrigeration may help but we didn’t try it this time.

When ready, slice the bars and serve. Ours were about 1 inch wide by 6 inches long. If you don’t want to serve them right away, you can wrap individual bars up in plastic bags. Once sealed up, these bars will keep for several days. They make great snacks for traveling, too!

Enjoy!

Quinoa Mac-N-Cheese

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Quinoa Mac-N-Cheese

Quinoa Mac-N-Cheese

Food trends – like haute fashion from the runways in Paris, the latest and greatest food trends seem to change with the seasons. For those old enough to remember, in the 1960s we all loved to buy anything labelled “space-age.” In fact, as a kid I remember all of my classmates drinking Tang because it was the breakfast drink of the astronauts!  Personally I prefer real orange juice, from real oranges, but I know – I have always been a marketing department’s nightmare.

More recently, we have seen everything under the heat lamp seasoned with something “chipotle” even though there still remains disagreement as to how to pronounce the word. I mean, is it chi-po-tal or is it chi-po-tlay? Then there was the trend of customized cakes, which eventually fell to “cup-cakeries.” I think gourmet doughnuts are next.

Regardless, a trend worth trying is the “good for you” food known as the tiny little quinoa. Pronounced “keen-wah,” it looks a little bit like couscous, but the important difference here is that quinoa is neither a pasta nor a grain. It is a seed! Originally a staple of the Inca, this complete protein in a micro-pod has become the newest cash crop in many dry and arid lands. My quinoa came from Israel by way of the grocery store across the bay. There was no slight intended, Inca, it was the only brand in the store. Nothing to lose your head over. Especially mine.

Sorry, I digress.

So – just what do you do with a keen-Wah, I mean, quinoa?

Well, if mac-n-cheese comes to your mind, you are not alone. I did a quick and highly unscientific Google search and found healthy chef and fitness expert Monica Nelson’s blog. And lo and behold – there was a recipe for Quinoa Mac N Cheese.

Had to try it.

Of course, like always, I changed a few things to fit what I had in the pantry, but I am confident you could follow Monica’s recipe verbatim and end up with a great vegetarian and gluten free entree. Here’s my version (it’s very close, actually.)

Monica’s Quinoa Mac-N-Cheese

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F. Prep time 10 minutes if you are slow. Cooking time: 60 minutes plus or minus a few depending on your oven, etc.

Serves 4 – 6 people, or three teenagers.

Ingredients:

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil

1 medium leek – trim off the tip of the white end. Slice and chop the rest of the white and some of the pale green parts. No leaves. Rinse and pat dry.

1/2 cup diced tomatoes

1 1/2 cups of quinoa. Rinse in a bowl of water and, using a strainer, drain

1 teaspoon of minced garlic

1 teaspoon of seasoning salt (I used Emeril’s Bam!Burger Seasoning)

3 cups of water

2 large eggs

1 cup of milk (again, your choice. I used organic 2%)

3 cups grated, medium-sharp, Cheddar cheese

Topping: 1 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs mixed with 1/2 shaved Parmesan cheese

Directions:

Using a medium heat setting, heat the oil in a 2 quart sauce pan.

Add the chopped leeks and diced tomatoes, stir, cover and cook for 5 minutes.

Stir in the quinoa; add the garlic. Stirring occasionally, cook uncovered for 4 minutes.

Add your seasoning salt and stir once more.

Pour in the three cups of water; stir. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer 20 minutes or so, until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Remover from heat and let stand for 5 minutes. (I actually skipped this part – I was too hungry. The awesome smell made me do it.)

In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs together with the milk. Remembering that a lot of heat transferred from the stove top to the sauce pan, carefully add the quinoa mixture into the egg/milk bowl. Using a spatula, fold the quinoa into the liquid until fully combined. Add cheese here. Add more if you want. Go ahead – it will be okay.  That said, I think three cups of Cheddar cheese made for a great dish, so try more cheese the next time you make this dish.

The whole thing will look kind of drippy, soupy, watery, gruel-ee. But we want that. Don’t panic.

Spray some cooking spray into a 13×9 baking dish, then add the quinoa “batter.”

Optional: top with the seasoned bread crumbs mixed with Parmesan cheese shavings.

Bake in the pre-heated oven for 30 minutes or until the edges start to brown up. I’d start watching it around 20 minutes, but don’t be surprised if it takes longer than thirty minutes. The key to success, I think, is the 13×9 pan. You will end up with a mac n cheese that is about an inch thick, and this works very well on the plate. If you use a round casserole dish, 2 quart size for instance, the cooking times go awry and you may end up with soupy mac-n-cheese on the inside topped by burnt bread crumbs on the outside. But hey – it’s your choice.  (go 13×9, hint hint)

When it’s done – it’s done. Stop reading. Start eating!

Buen provecho, amigos!